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Celtic Christianity

Four Perspectives

There seem to be four perspectives on Celtic Christianity, or if you like, four types, four ways of treating it:

They do, of course, overlap and intermingle. For example, very few of us think of it only as the first, because, even though we do see it as such, we always want to apply it to our own situation. So we also see it in at least one of the other three ways. The fourth, seeing Celtic Christianity as the Real, Pure, True Christianity, is not uncommon but, though some of us might truly seek to embrace it as pure Christianity, very few of us can do so without also seeing it as either Extension or Antidote.

So it is the second and third that most concern us here: Given that it has an historical dimension and that we wish to discern its relevance to us today, should we see Celtic Christianity as an Extension and Corrective or as an Antidote and Reaction?

There are two main things I like about what I see as Celtic Christianity.

Love for the Natural World?

The more obvious of these is that it is associated with the natural world and natural, agricultural way of life. I like the non-human world and like to serve it, and find peace and perspective there. I am taken out of myself. Many find this. We romanticise Celtic Christianity as an extension of our desire for nature and peace, and see it as an antidote to the rush, shallowness and pressure of modern urban and online life.

But how much are we romanticising? I am struck by the fact that many of those who live (and not just rest) in the natural world find it very hard and with its own pressures. The Celtic leaders ("saints") of old were often engaging with kinds and lord in their courts, and those courts would have been full of noise, bustle, arrogance, competitiveness and shallow, immediate, unsatisfying pleasures. The cities of today happen to be larger, but do not similar principles apply?

It is indeed true that it is nice to be able to get away into God's natural creation away from such junk, but I think there is something deeper in Celtic Christianity than mere naturality.

The second is, perhaps, an absence of dualism, at least in relative terms. Let me explain.


Many of the problems in mainstream European Christianities is a dualism of sacred versus secular, which was a 'Christening' of the Greek dualism between form versus matter, and gave birth to the Humanistic dualism of nature versus freedom. Most European Christianity, Roman and Protestant, arrived via Greece and Rome in the early days. It was squeezed through the filter of Greek thought, which was dualistic rather in outlook. It saw all reality as a combination of form and matter (define a chair as having the form of a chair but it does not matter what matter it is made of). Form was seen as more important. Form is eternal, reliable and important; matter is transient, decaying, lets us down, and is unimportant. Think of reason versus passion, thinking rather than reacting. Is not careful argument better than fighting? Actually, in real life perhaps both have their place, but the Greeks split life in half, one superior to the other. The dualistic outlook spread through all life: those who work with the mind are superior to those who work with the hand, philosopher is superior to peasant. Do we not see this today: is not university superior, in our eyes, to technical college? Degree superior to apprenticeship? Manager superior to worker? Greek thinking pervaded much of Europe, especially Rome.

Though the Christianity that Paul and others brought into Europe was Jewish rather than dualistic, the converted population retained a dualistic outlook, and 'converted' that outlook from Matter-Form to Nature-Grace or, as we say today, Secular-Sacred. This makes things related to religion superior to things of common, ordinary, everyday life. Praying is superior to playing or paying. Church is over State, theology is 'queen of sciences'. In his excellent booklet The Great Divide, Mark Green believes the Sacred-Secular Divide is "the greatest challenge facing the church today". For more, see The Sacred-Secular Divide.

Escape from Dualism?

But there is another church. Not all Christianity was filtered through Greece. Some moved along the north coast of Africa, and up into Spain, then into Ireland and from there into Scotland, down into England and then into the Low Countries in Europe. The result of this has become known as Celtic Christianity.

Celtic Christianity is, at root, non-dualistic, because it began with Hebrew roots and was not squeezed so finely through Greek outlooks. Hebrew thought is integral: the whole of life matters in God's eyes and is not split into two.

The only 'superior' thing is our attitude of heart, not our form of life, our profession, or what we are made of, not even what we do in the time we have. All things are from, of and two God; did not God make them all and all their health-giving and joy-giving possibilities? Only sin arising from arrogance and self-dependence is abhorrent to God. That is the Biblical outlook - integral under and towards God.

This Biblical outlook survived longer in the forefathers of Celtic Christianity. That is why, in Celtic Christianity, there are more hymns and poems about the ordinary things of life.

I like that.

Perhaps I am romanticising. Maybe I should say something about the dangers in Celtic Christianity. But perhaps there is still something valuable in it, and I am content to thank God for that at the moment.

Perhaps it is what lies deep in me and my attempt at a 'New View in Theology and Practice'.

This page, "", is offered to God as on-going work. Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden at all dates below. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

Part of his pages, that open up discussion and exploration from a Christian ('xn') perspective. Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: 16 November 1999 - but never completed and not uploaded. Last updated: 29 July 2018. Completed and uploaded. Also added .end, .nav.