Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Back from the "Celtic" (if you only speak English that is) Fringe!

Yes, it has been a while, but it's been busy and I finally got enough kip (doon sooth admittedly) to face trotting out some thoughts!  And it's on Celtic Christianity (WTFeck that is)!

I've been reading around this one a bit recently.  It's rather "in" in God bothering circles these days.  My introduction was via the rigours of a History of Spirituality Course at Furryboots Yooni back in the days of good Bishop Elphinstone where we learnt about a discipline of  having a soul friend, standing up to yir oxters in the Sound of Iona reciting the Psalter when you'd been bad and rolling in nettles when the felt any urges that might worry the sheep!  Nae tree huggin like!  I then spent time at Iona Abbey and discovered the modern form with the shared economic discipline of George MacLeod's Milites Christi.  Which none of much of the current stuff seems to keep in mind. I read some "Liturgies from Lindisfarne" recently which were trite, tree hugging, written in Amerikan and kept attributing The Jesus Prayer to a middle aged Anglican male cleric!

My doubts were amply confirmed by 2 critical volumes.  One by Rosemary Power (Iona Community)"The Celtic Quest: A Contemporary Spirituality" and the other by Donald Meek (former Prof of Heedrum-Hodrum Studies at Embra and Furryboots Unis, son of the Tiree Baptist Manse and native Gaelic speaker - or a REAL Celtic Christian who speaks the lingo!) "The Quest for Celtic Christianity".  Both blast the current Celtic Christianity industry as being dubiously connected to the real thing, mainly produced by middle aged, English male clergy on the working fringe of the institutional Church and all aimed not at the genuinely un-churched but those who feel distanced from the institution and want an alternative structure where the centre of power is redistributed (one imagines to them and their pals in the 1st instance).  I generally agree with the critics.  I see the value of "Celtic Christianity" in as much as it refreshes those for whom Flat Church has gone stale.  But I think it's lack of rootedness in sold Christian tradition means it's a very Post-Modern thing which will fade into insignificance within a few decades - rather like Anglican Papalism has.  Aye right, fine if ye like it - whaur's my copy of "The Cloud of Unknowing" gone, that'll last better!


  1. The contemporary Celtic Christianity thing is very selective. Early Irish Christianity was heavily influenced by Middle Eastern and, especially, Egyptian Christianity. This gave it a very monastic feel. The main thing that all the saints of the Celtic Church had in common was that they all deliberately embraced extreme poverty. This has not, unsurprisingly, become the defining practice of its practitioners today.

    Celtic missionaries from Britain and Ireland were very much involved in the formation of the monastic establishments of Northern Italy and it has been suggested that this was a major influence on the thinking and practice of St. Francis of Assisi. The fact is that you will get a better understanding of the ethos and practices of the Celtic church by studying Franciscanism than by listening to modern so-called Celtic Christians.

    In my opinion, modern Celtic Christianity is related mostly to the invented mythology of modern Scotland. It may be great fun but it is far from being historically accurate.

  2. Interesting thought MP. Modern Celtic Christianity has little to do with the mythology of modern Scotland I think. And more to do with establishing an alternative power srtucture for the disaffected within the Church where they can pretend they're under Neo-Monastic "Abbots" and ignore diocesan bishops. Or stay Prot while playing Catholic! Without having to pretend your Rome's 2nd XI!

  3. Sorry. I didn't mean they were related organically. Rather they are a similar type of invention out of wishful thinking. A wrong choice of word on my part.

  4. Ian Bradley's 'Celtic Christianity' is one of the most effective debunking jobs I've read.

  5. "it's lack of rootedness in sold Christian tradition "? Wot?! Check out your church history from 33AD onwards... not from 2011 backwards... :)

  6. My Church History is fine thanks (and I have the John Hope Prize to prove it)- but modern "Celtic" authors all too often read back their present day concerns into the Celtic period. The Celtic tradition was particular to a time and place in history. Like any sound tradition it has things to teach us today. But it should be presented faithfully and not re-cast in our own post-modern image!