Without Celtic Christians we may still be in the Dark…Ages.
In chapter three, Hunter reveals the missionary spirit of Celtic Christianity. After St. Patrick’s death, his pattern of evangelism lived on as the Celts took the good message of salvation to the Picts of Sctoland. Like Patrick and other Britons who had come to Ireland prepared to adopt the culture, Celtic Christians “paid the price to understand the Picts, their language, and their culture;…Within a century, the Picts were substantially Christian.” Later, after the Anglo-Saxons drove many Britons to Brittany or Wales (and absorbed the others into their own culture), Celtic Christians led a mission to reach them. Hunter writes that, once again, the two key elements of apostolic teams and new monastic communities were repeated. It is interesting, as Hunter tells his readers, that the Anglo-Saxons were not won over as quickly as the Celts and Picts had been. (In my opinion, it is also interesting to note that this still seems to hold true today.)
Hunter writes that during this period the Celtic Christians in Ireland believed they were called by God to take His word to the “barbarians.” In AD 600 a man named Columbanus set off to begin missions work on continental Europe. Again, apostolic teams and the establishment of monastic communities were important elements of Celtic missions. According to Hunter, Irish missionaries had a three-fold focus: 1.) convert unbelievers to Christianity, 2.) convert Arian “barbarians” to orthodox Christianity, and 3.) bring revival to those Christians who had fallen into apathy. Those not involved in missionary work continued the Christian scholarship that preserved much of Western culture, which – as Hunter so often loves to refer to – Thomas Cahill writes about in his book “How the Irish Saved Civilization.” Celtic efforts for re-evangelism are largely credited for moving Europe forward from the Dark Ages.
Unfortunately, the Roman church continued to disapprove of the Celtic way. Details such as the haircuts of the clergy and the celebration of Easter on different days were deemed immovable barriers to Christian unity. The true reasons for dissension are more than unfortunate. A society that accepted Christianity would normally be forced to accept Roman church structure and along with it, Roman control. Liturgy and music would have been Roman, never derived of the culture now having chosen Christianity. Over time, Rome did manage to overshadow the Celtic church. Hunter finishes this short chapter by expounding on the importance of incarnational Christianity and how the same issues of unity persist today.
Hunter quotes Nora Chadwick, who said “it is impossible to reach the end without a feeling of regret. A Christianity so pure and so serene as that of the age of the saints could hardly be equaled and never repeated.”
The aforementioned period of Celtic Christian missions was indeed inspiring and even heroic. Call me an idealist, but I do think Chadwick assumes a lot to call the time so good that it is impossible to repeat. Though ordained by God, it was merely humans taking God’s word to others in obedience to Him. There were surely the flaws of humanity amid the glory of divine proclamation. Simultaneously, it is God’s power than did and can do great things in Europe – and especially in Ireland. I can’t wait to be a part of that.
Chapter four, coming next Friday, breaks down five things modern missions can learn from the missions eschatology of the Celtic Christians.s