Monday, October 21, 2013

Celtic Christian Values (1)

Women in the Celtic Church

 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus."                         -Galatians 3:2

“Both men and women were included in the pagan Druid priesthood, having equal status, and this equality was kept in the Irish Christian Church.  Besides the priesthood, the pagan Druid religion also had an order of wandering poets and prophets, called filid, who taught their religion to the common people. The Celtic  Christian Church enthusiastically adopted this ministry. Ordained to the office of “bard,” men and women had the duty of proclaiming the messages of the Catholic gospel in songs and ballads.  

In pagan Ireland, as Elaine Gill describes, Beltane celebrated the balance of female and male energy in sexual, spiritual, and emotional ways. This idea was embodied in the dual monasteries, where men and women had separate accommodations, but shared a common concern for the well-being of the entire community. 

The acceptance by the Catholic Church at the time of the idea of equality in Ireland also probably contributed to the swift embrace of Catholic beliefs, in that the two ways of life, pagan and Catholic, were very similar. In that sense, the Catholic way of life was not completely foreign to the pagan Celts, but was adapted by them to their own customs and traditions. *

 It would appear that Women within Celtic cultures had the possibility of higher autonomy and place, compared to other women in the ancient world^, Celtic Women were able to function within their society  a much more equal footing with men.  In Ireland, as one example, the Roman Church had less influence.  Women had a viable place both within the Druid religion.

The Irish Brehon law gave more rights and protection to women than any other western law code at that time or until recent times. Women had political equality, and could even lead the tribe and were often seen along side their male counter parents as warriors. They could ascribe to any office or profession open to men. They had equal right to divorce and to a share of property in such matters. They were able to own and inherit property. 

Given the attitude towards women in Celtic society as a whole, it was inevitable that the “Celtic church” would also afford women a position of honor, which is in stark contrast to the misogyny shown by the Roman church, influenced by Augustinian attitudes towards human sexuality and women in particular.

Certainly, the universal church custom to only ordain men was the practice in Britain and Ireland, but there was also no clergy/lay divide; women were therefore no more marginalized than a lay brother was.
Women like Brigid, Ebba and Hilda were leaders of mixed monasteries, where men and women lived and worked in co-operation. Their counsel was welcomed and expected at the court of kings. They also exercised authority over ordained clergy who worked alongside them. Women leaders also acted as a soul friends to monks.

Women were also affirmed as mothers, givers of hospitality and in their domestic work. This was as much a holy calling, and to be honored, as their leadership in the church.
* (Robert Van de Weyer, Celtic Fire: the Passionate Religious Vision of Ancient Britain and Ireland (New York, Double Day, 1991
^ Greek women, on the other hand, had no political rights, were subject to arranged marriages and had no right of inheritance.
Roman women became a possession of the husband at marriage, could not own anything and had few political rights.

compiled from several sources

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