23 December 2023


As Christmas approaches and you look for last-minute presents along the shelves of 'Church' bookshops: a word of advice. Don't buy anything from the shelves in the section labelled 'Celtic'.

Historians have decisively abandoned the concept of the 'Celtic' and especially of a supposed distinctive 'Celtic Church'. In a recent major scholarly work on this subject, Professor Charles-Edwards' Early Christian Ireland (Cambridge, 2000), the distinguished author writes dismissively of 'that entity - beloved of modern sectarians and romantics, but unknown to the early Middle Ages - ''the Celtic Church'' ', and surveys in a footnote the scholarly work of the last thirty years which has established this.

'Celtic' is the sexy religious thinggy because the 'Celtic' saints are distant figures in the past who , when they were alive, were rather combative old people but pose no particular threats to us now because they're dead except in in books and so they can easily be moulded to our own fads by suppressions and misrepresentations. And because 'Celtic' Christianity is in the past, people with hangups about the actual real Christianities available in the present day can invent their own 'Celtic Christianity'. Commonly such DIY constructions are all about being rather Mystical in pieces of remote and beautiful countryside, and about being 'close to nature'. If you are tempted to buy their books, check carefully whether the contents actually are sourced somewhere ancient or are merely the author's own compositions 'in the Celtic Spirit'.

If the 'Celtic' industry really had any serious interest in the Christianity of the 'Celtic fringe' during its first millennium, they would be rather keener to revive use of the earliest surviving Missal from these islands, the Stowe Missal, which dates from the 790s but was copied from an original which must have dated from before the changes made in the Mass by Pope S Gregory the Great in the late 500s. It is of southern Irish origin. I published a little academic something on it a few years ago. Its Eucharistic Prayer is almost entirely identical with the current Roman 'First Eucharistic Prayer', except that it contains rather more saints and describes the Pope as 'thy most blessed servant N our Pope, Bishop of the Apostolic See'. It has a lovely Prayer of Humble Access, so much more mystical and uplifting than Cranmer's, which includes beautiful (if possibly politically incorrect) phrases like 'I am unworthy because I filthily adhere to the mire of dung and all my good deeds are like a rag used by a menstrual woman'.

See if you can find it on those bookshelves!


PM said...

The modern 'Celtic' industry has also had a baleful effect on what passes for liturgical music in the Novus Ordo. Sir James Macmillan - who really does know and understand traditional Scottish music as well as traditional liturgical music - has complained that the progressive liturgical establishment 'have a commitment to the kind of cod-Celtic-ness that owes more to the sound tracks of The Lord of the Rings and Braveheart, than anything remotely authentic.'

A blessed Christmas to Fr Hunwicke and all his readers.

Gregory said...

Thank you for this, Father. I have no familiarity with (pseudo) scholarly manifestations of the Celtic Church myth; however, I have read some fiction (perhaps the same thing as the scholarship on the issue?) about a supposed Celtic Church by "Peter Tremayne" (aka Peter Beresford Ellis) and Stephen Lawhead. Whatever the merits (or demerits) of their books, both Tremayne/Ellis and Lawhead seem to have an agenda regarding sticking a finger in the eye of Latin/Roman Catholicism, which in the end detracts from whatever good qualities their writing contains. Huzzah for the Synod of Whitby!

Mark said...

Like most scholars of Oxford, you tease.

What is the name of your work on the Stowe Missal?