Celtic Spirituality 1
A prayer of St. Patrick
“Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ above me, Christ beneath me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”
The Celts were a religious people whose faith penetrated every aspect of their lives who eventually settled in present day Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. The first documentation of Celtic Christianity was in the 5th century associated with Patrick’s conversion of Ireland to Roman Christianity. Patrick, however, built upon and incorporated much of the Celts’ natural existing religious culture into Christianity, comparing the shamrock to the Trinity and organizing the church around monasteries which resemble the nation’s tribal system. The high Celtic cross with a central circle some believe is the blending of the worship of the sun and moon into the cross. Because of this incorporation of Christianity into the Celtic religion, the Irish Celts made the transition quite quickly without persecution or martyrdom or wars. Specific traits of Celtic Christianity evolved.
1. A powerful sense of a supernatural world and a life beyond death.
2. The Immanent Presence of God in every aspect of life. God is near at hand, integral to daily life, often feminine.
3.The sacredness of the earth, especially water, woods, and hills. Religious ceremonies were often held outdoors.
4. A high value placed on learning, literary expression, and music,
5. The importance of community and personal relationships.
Phillip Newell also writes about several features of the Celtic tradition which distinguish it from the Mediterranean or Roman or Orthodox tradition.
1. In Celtic spirituality, what is deepest within us is the image of God.
Our sin and defects have distorted this image but not erased it. In the Mediterranean tradition, through original sin, what is deepest within us is our sinfulness.
2. Celtic spirituality believes in the beauty of creation. Creation is a blessing, an expression of God. In the Mediterranean tradition, there is a separation between spirit and matter. Spirit is better.
Celtic art with everlasting patterns where one strand is woven together inseparably, signifies that the spiritual and the physical cannot be torn apart. Redemption is connecting to God deep within us and among us in creation.
As Celtic spirituality spread across the Irish Sea, there now were two types of Christianity in England, Roman, well-organized and tied to the rest of Christianity and Celtic, strongly monastic, contemplative, and mission minded. In 664 a synod was held at Whitby to determine which tradition should be the church in England. The Roman church prevailed, and now it has taken 2000 years for so many of us to be introduced to and again incorporate the Celtic tradition into modern day Christianity. I have also always wondered how Anglican Christianity would have developed if at the Synod of Whitby there had been a blending of the two, Celtic and Christian traditions, as was done at the reformation in England in 1559 with the Elizabethan Agreement where Catholic and Protestant faiths were blended into a Via Media.
John Miriam Jones, With an Eagle’s Eye, 1998.
Phillip Newell, Celtic Benediction, 2000.
Phillip Newell, Christ of the Celts 2008.