Saturday, March 28, 2009

Celtic Christianity a Historic Overview (pt 1)


Christianity first came to the Celts in the 2nd century (
possibly earlier,) during the Roman occupation. Likely through individual converts in the army. However, it was not until late in the 4th century that the distinct characteristics of Celtic Christianity began to emerge. After the Romans withdrew from Britain, there was nearly 200 years of significant separation between the Celtic and Roman mission. During this time Celtic flourish and developed a distinct flavor.The most significant development of Celtic Christianity, was its understanding of the Christian gospel independent from what was taught on the mainland. European Christianity was becoming hierarchical, male dominated and rational, with an understanding of governance which was inherited from a dying Roman Empire.

In contrast, the Celtic church celebrated grace and nature as good gifts from God and recognized the sacredness of all creation. It had a love of mysticism and poetry, a deep respect for the feminine, included women in its leadership and allowed clerical marriages. The Celtic understanding of church leadership was rooted in its rural and communal culture. The great Celtic monasteries emerged from this tribal system. Although the abbots were generally not ordained, the leadership and power in the Celtic church, lay with the abbot or abbess of the monastery.

Not unlike Native Americans or the indigenous people of Africa or Australia, Celtic people had little concept of land ownership or taxes and had little liking for cities. ll of these were latter introduced into the Celtic lands by the Romans and further established by the Normans.
The Celtic approach to evangelism was a very organic and natural. Christianity was spread in the Celtic countries by converted Celtic Christians, who were usually monks. Martyrdom for the Christian faith was virtually unknown.

Graphic: St. Illtud's Cross and the Houlet Cross: The west church at Llanwit Major stands on one of the oldest Celtic Christian sites in Britain. The cross in the foreground is St. Illtud's or Samson's Cross, which may have once been capped by a wheel cross. It was found buried in the grounds to the north of the church, and when it was dug up two skeletons were found buried beneath it.

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