Filed under: Patristics
My other brother Darrell is teaching classes on the spirituality of the ancient Celts. If some of us can’t make it through the snow and ice to get to Georgia in time for his classes, we can at least follow his outline, here and here. His outline makes for handy transfer to your parish, in time for St. Patrick’s Day.
“Celtic spirituality” is a dark and difficult forest to traverse, even for those who have their orienteering merit badge. The article on “Celtic Christianity” from the Encyclopedia of Early Christianity says: “This Christianity has been of special interest to those who have interpreted it as a form of nonecclesiastical or at least noninstitutional religion. Earlier partisans saw the Celts as proto-Protestants, rejecting the works and pomps of Rome, but modern devotees concentrate more on a supposed Celtic individualism, harmony with the natural world, and a constant awareness of the supernatural and mysterious. Not surprisingly, these traits have appealed more to artists and poets than to historians … When missionaries from Rome began to arrive in the British Isles at the end of the sixth century, adherents of old British Christianity clashed with advocates of Catholic Christianity over such customs as the date of Easter and the proper tonsure of monks … The differences were more matters of national and ecclesiastical identity than doctrinal … [T]he vast majority of western Celtic Christians shared the rites and beliefs of their continental co-religionists.”
The Celts can be frustrating because they left behind sparse and somewhat indecipherable remains. So we can project whatever we want onto them. A most offensive recent instance of this is Thomas Cahill’s bestseller How the Irish Saved Civilization, which contrasts the elfish, nature-lovin’ Patrick (“Please. Call me Pat.”) with the dark, obsessed and se%ually repressive Augustine (imagine Simon Bar Sinister and Dick Dastardly from the old Saturday-morning cartoons). I don’t think any of these Celtic fantasists really want to live by the ancient Irish penitential books. Gosh, I sure don’t.
I haven’t read a whole lot in this area, but I’d like to. A scholar I trust recommends Patrick: The Pilgrim Apostle of Ireland, a recent scholarly biography of the Godfather of Green Beer. Any other recs?
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