Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Celtic Christian Legacy

Direct link to video Celtic Christian Legacy:

Happy St. Patty’s to ya!
Now a wee bit about the actual history of the Emerald Isle and surrounding lands.

There is a rich early Christian History in Ireland and the surrounding islands in the UK that has been largely obscured through the passage of time and other means.  The early evangelization of these areas was brought forth through Celtic evangelists and missionaries with examples like Patrick  and Columcille (Columba – anglicized) who faced stiff opposition from druids and other pagans who weren’t initially at all receptive to their message until signs and wonders won the day as the power of God illuminated their message. 

Buried back in those earlier centuries are bold Christian evangelists facing stiff opposition and persecution, yet prevailing as they relied on God’s power: for example Columcille, who, shut out by the leader Brude from entering Inverness in Scotland, prayed before the gates until God struck the doors open when he made the sign of the cross.  This opened not only the formerly closed gates but Brude’s heart to the Gospel, just like we see in Acts with Paul and Peter as they preached and the Lord confirmed the message through the signs that accompanied their preaching.
There are also rich Christian treasures in Ireland: some of the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament are housed in Dublin at the Chester Beatty Library.  There are also the illuminated manuscripts of the Scriptures and ornate Bibles crafted by Celtic monks, known as the Book of Kells, which can be viewed today right at Trinity College in Dublin, without having to go all the way out to the island of Iona, where they were originally made.  These were so valuable they attracted frequent Viking raids that threatened their existence, and so they had to be moved.  The accompanying video, filmed on location in Ireland, shares about the unexpected way in which God used the raids of the Vikings to bring the Gospel back to the far reaches of Scandinavia, as well as describing the Scriptural treasures found in the Emerald Isle.

We’ve tried to put together a few other videos that give some insight into what is largely the forgotten Celtic Christian legacy, something that has almost been altogether lost in the mainstream by the passage of time and the rewriting of history and political correctness:  Unfortunately many people have been conditioned by our politically-correct culture to not only expect but demand political correctness out of everyone; simply sharing what happened in history can really jerk some people’s chain.   Believers, however, should value truth more than political correctness: Jesus said that the truth will set us free. 

That said, it is not too hip today to point out that there were sharp differences between the early Celtic Christians and the Catholic Church, which eventually imposed itself upon the emerald island and took over its history.  That and Catholicism’s five hundred years of systematically persecuting, torturing, and killing Protestants, Jews, and about anything else that moved, has somehow been forgotten, as well as the fact that the Jesuits and Dominicans carried out these crimes against humanity with utter zeal—Oops! There I go again; now I’ll be getting some letters saying I shouldn’t say those things, always laced with a few choice words of niceness!
Anyways, the early Christians of Ireland and the British Isles were largely Celtic and had different values and beliefs that would be more in line with evangelicals and Protestantism than Catholicism.   They held to justification by faith through grace and the Scriptures as the only true authority for faith and practice—sounds like values that were central to the Reformation when you get right down to it.   They also refused to involve themselves in politics. 

The Celtic monks and missionaries were free to marry or not, and welcomed women into ministry as well, unlike their counterparts on the mainland who imposed celibacy—ramifications of this go on today throughout the world in the clergy sex abuse scandals—upon any who sought to join the “Males Only Club” of ministry as a priest.  Celtic missionaries were actually often in conflict with the Catholic Church as they sought to follow God’s Spirit and proclaim the Gospel as missionaries all over continental Europe. They sought to proclaim the Gospel of Christ as they saw it in Scripture and be a slave to no man.  This incensed many a bishop and priest who was appalled at their refusal to submit to the Pope and the Roman hierarchy.  It seems that they chose rather to look at the whole of Scripture, recognizing that God led Moses to resist Pharaoh and thus Christians shouldn’t be dictated to by a spiritual pharaoh—Matthew 23:8-11 (King James Version) “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.  Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.  But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.”

History, however, is written by the victors until someone digs out other facts and then they are still disputed by lemming-like followers of the system.  Yet, as noted historian Dr. Ruth Tucker—PhD in History and frequent lecturer at Fuller Seminary when I attended there—has written:  “Later historians have attempted to give missionaries commissioned by the pope greater credit than the rightly deserve.  There was strong opposition between Roman Catholic and Celtic missionaries…Yet the intial work of evangelizing [the British Isles] and central Europe was actually carried out by the energetic and faithful Celtic monks.”(1) 

Centuries after the time of Patrick, the Synod of Whitby changed things however, as the Catholic Church, under the guise of unity—be careful of Greeks bearing gifts—absorbed the Celtic Church into its system, to the anger and outrage of many a Celtic monk who knew it was only a matter of time until their unique identity and independence would be absorbed and lost in the sea of a Walmart-like religous system.  Things did change over time after that, and Patrick and other early Celtic evangelists were canonized in order to win the hearts of the people.  Memories fade as time passes, and today few even know that the early pioneers of these areas were Spirit-led radical evangelists who operated in signs and wonders and were part of the loosely knit Celtic Christian Church, which was a different animal altogether than its counterpart on the mainland of Europe.

Further down the road, after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 AD and the taking over of Britain by William the Conqueror—who was actually of Viking stock and from the Normandy area  (á la Norsemen) of France—brought further ethnic cleansing as the bishops and priests of the British Isles and surrounding areas were replaced by those of pure Catholic ideology from the mainland, imposed upon them by William. 

Today, however, the overriding spiritual situation in Ireland as well as much of Europe—regardless of title or denomination or none of the above—can be seen in a little encounter we had while visiting County Donegal in Ireland.

We were staying at a little hostel called the Surf and Turf.  A man showed up one morning from a local TV station with cameras and crews to interview the surfers who hung out there, and since we were from America he had a few questions for us too as he filmed people while eating breakfast.

We shared a bit about surfing Ireland and traveling there and then a bit about our faith.  He began to chat with us after the filming and said, “You know,  I’m a good Roman Catholic. I go to mass every Sunday, but really I do not believe in God at all.  Actually, I am an atheist.  I like what you do though since people should reach out and help each other!”

Religious forms without any semblance of faith is pretty par for the course these days throughout Europe, the child born of a dead religious system full of rituals and no life.
Only the power of the Spirit can revive such a place, just as it once did through bold missionaries like those ancient Celtic Christians who followed the model from Acts and who were led and relied upon the power of the Spirit and signs and wonders to break through opposition, and they often did it just one person at a time as the Spirit led them.

(1) Ruth Tucker. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Corporation, 1983), 38-40.


  1. having been a student of Patrick and the Early Celtic movement, I always love to read about the "real" man behind the folk tales and even "official" biographies. I regularly repost a little piece I wrote a few years back every St. Patrick's Day and I thought some fellow So. Californians would like it.

    1. Thank you for sharing your article DJ! Great piece.