Celtic Christian Studies

We frequently hear from persons very interested in knowing more about Celtic CHRISTIAN spirituality.  There are many good books on this topic covering the years from the coming of Christianity to the Celtic lands to the present.

The list of books here is but a small selection on the development of the Church, primarily in the Celtic lands, and the influence the Celtic experience of the Christian Faith had on the Universal Church.

These books can be read and studied alone or in study groups.  We will occasionally have such groups online and they will be open to those who may wish to join.  We encourage you to form local groups where there is interest, and enjoy the journey into Celtic Christian spirituality.
 

Celtic Studies Track 

Follow the readings in order as much as possible because each topic/book builds on the previous in terms of development of philosophy, Christian theology, spirituality and piety.  It is easier to see the reason for each book/topic if read in sequence listed below. 

CELTIC OLD TESTAMENT

Far different from the Greek and Roman mythology that influenced the Western world and religions, Celtic gods and culture had its own unique approach to gods, women, and society.  This serves as comparative religious study and a basis of understanding the development of Celtic Consciousness.

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“Druid thought is perhaps the lone known example of an attempted philosophical  system to which monism was integral.” Jean Markale

  • THE DRUIDS: CELTIC PRIESTS OF NATURE        Feb 1, 1999by Jean Markale    

ONLY Chapter 20: DRUIDIC THOUGHT p. 204 to the end p. 243.  Markale outlines what surviving fragments from historians who wrote on druids and their philosophical thought, and retraces the root of Celtic mythology and the lessons it teaches.

(A scholarly study of Celtic Christianity and of its history in each of the Celtic lands of northwestern Europe.)  Ellis has another 2 books of interest historically (not required) :  DRUIDS, and  CELTIC MYTHOLOGY.

Monastic Experience   Theory, theology, spirituality in action…

Thom illustrates how Celtic consciousness resulted in a specific life choice for the Irish based on pre-Christian and Christian synthesis of values and beliefs.  Excellent.

This book serves as a general synopsis of material more fully elaborated in several other books (see below) on the individual topics.  

 

A general understanding of the Brehon Laws and their effect on the Penitentials would be helpful for this study.  

Those books:

 

  • THE LOST LAWS OF IRELAND: HOW THE BREHON LAWS SHAPED EARLY IRISH SOCIETY by  Catherine Duggan 

(Duggan's book, sadly, is currently unavailable at a reasonable price.  A good substitue is currently:
 

  •  BREHON LAWS: THE ANCIENT WISDOM OF IRELAND by Jo Kerrigan 

  • THE IRISH PENITENTIALS  edited by Ludwig Bieler, with an Appendix by D. A. Binchy, Dublin: The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1963/1975.  

(The Irish Penitentials PREDATE the conception of the Sacrament of Penance as inflicting punishment on a sinner for a crime committed, to seeing the Sacrament as medicinal and the penance as a means of helping the sinner heal from what led him or her to sin and to transform her or his life. 

To grasp this meaning in the text itself, this book is to be read in conjunction with Chapter 3, "The Penitentials: The Human Dilemma," pages 48-67, in Thomas O'Loughlin, CELTIC THEOLOGY (see below, 2. Studies.)

  • THE CELTIC PENITENTIALS AND THEIR INFLUENCE ON CONTINENTAL CHRISTIANITY by John Thomas McNeill  

 

1st DISCUSSION POINT:  How did the Celtic OT influence the PRACTICE of the New and form a unique Celtic approach to accepting and living the Gospel life?  Much of this material will be new to you. How does it all affect your approach to Celtic spirituality, so far?

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Respectfully listening for the voice of God in DREAMS and the synchronous events in life, and working with one’s dreams is a tradition within Celtic spirituality which is ancient.  

 

In these books on shadow work and dream work, Robert Johnson presents this work seriously, and uses Jungian insights to help the reader understand and actively engage in shadow and dream work for personal transformation and integration.   These books flow naturally with Celtic Christian spirituality precisely because of the tradition of honoring dreams.   The intention for these books is for both personal challenge and growth, and to assist in pastoral work which is personal as well as communal.

  • OWNING YOUR OWN SHADOW: UNDERSTANDING THE DARK SIDE OF THE PSYCHE,  June 9, 2009    by Robert A. Johnson 

 

The following goes hand in hand with the previous book and is excellent for assisting anyone who seriously wishes to integrate the spiritual life into daily life, i.e. to be an integrated mature adult.

  • INNER WORK: USING DREAMS AND ACTIVE IMAGINATION FOR PERSONAL GROWTH,  March, 1986     by Robert A. Johnson  

Many good books by Johnson add to this Jungian self-understanding and can be of help, although NOT required for this course of study.

 

2nd DISCUSSION POINT: This topic is academic but only makes sense if used personally to understand HOW to apply the ideas to understand one’s own dream life, and help others with this ancient insight into the interior life, made clearer by Jung.

Readers will benefit most by beginning a dream journal, and work on a personal dream or several dreams. 

This can be discussed with others, or with one’s spiritual director or bishop.  The point is this is both personal and spiritual.

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CELTIC THEOLOGY & PHILOSOPHY

  • INTRODUCTION TO CELTIC CHRISTIANITY  – August, 1993 by James P. Mackey (Ed)

(The following are strongly suggested unless you wish to read the entire book: the INTRODUCTION, THEN CHAPTERS, 1, 2, 4, 5, 13, & 14 .)

 

O'Loughlin examines the theological framework within which St. Patrick presented his experiences and considers how the Celtic lands of Ireland and Wales developed a distinctive view of sin, reconciliation, and Christian law that they later exported to the rest of western Christianity.

  • PELAGIUS: LIFE AND LETTERS – by Pelagius (Author), B.R. Rees  (Author) ONLY VOLUME 1  PELAGIUS: A RELUCTANT HERETIC THEN,   LETTER TO DEMETRIAS  (each of these is also published separately).

Collected together for the first time in one volume are the most important critical study of Pelagius to date, together with a selection of his letters. Arriving in Rome in the late 4th century, Pelagius soon acquired a considerable reputation as a reformer and spiritual adviser. In Palestine he became embroiled with Jerome and later with Augustine who had been alerted to the Pelagian threat to orthodox doctrine. Professor Rees here re-examines the evidence for the Pelagian controversy: `A judicious survey of the literature surrounding Pelagius and the movement associated with his name' CHURCH HISTORY (US). The second part of the book consists of Pelagius' letters, which provide the clearest and most succinct statements of Pelagian theology, but few of which have ever been translated into English before. (Reissue; first published in two volumes as Pelagius: A Reluctant Heretic and The Letters of Pelagius and his Followers(The Boydell Press, 1991).

 

  • ADAM, EVE, AND THE SERPENT: SEX AND POLITICS IN EARLY CHRISTIANITY by Elaine Pagels  

Chapters 5 p. 89 “The Politics of Paradise”   Chapter 6 p. 127 “The Nature of Nature.”

Pagels addresses the topic of Augustine, Jerome, and Pelagius, and finally the 12 years of debates that followed between the aging Augustine and Julian of Eclanum.

SUGGESTED FOR FURTHER STUDY BY THOSE INTERESTED IN PELAGIUS. One of the more recent studies on Pelagius and Augustine is:  

This is worth study by priests and ministers who can count on be suspect or questioned about Pelagian thought, theology, and the historic condemnation  of Pelagius himself as well as his defender, Julian or Eclanum starting with Augustine and continuing through the Western Church for centuries until recent years when more study has been done.

The thought of St. Augustine had incalculable influence on the theology of the Christian Church, and for the Celtic Christian Church his thought is also important in understanding Pelagius. 

For a basic understanding of Augustine's thinking, read:

  • AUGUSTINE: HIS THOUGHT IN CONTEXT, T. Kermit Scott, New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1995. This book is also covered in Western Theology below.

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  • JOHN SCOTTUS ERIUGENA (Great Medieval Thinkers) (Paperback)  by Deirdre Carabine  Good introduction and overview of the work of Eriugena.

 

  • THE VOICE OF THE EAGLE: THE HEART OF CELTIC CHRISTIANITY by John Scotus Eriugena and Christopher Bamford  Nov 1, 2000

 

  • PERIPHYSEON ON THE DIVISION OF NATURE, BY John Scotus Eriugena​

 

Classics of Western Spirituality series. Celtic Spirituality offers translations of numerous texts from the Celtic tradition from the 6th through the 13th centuries, in a cross-section of genres and forms, including saints' lives, monastic texts, poetry, devotional texts, liturgical texts, apocrypha, exegetical texts, and theological treatises, a helpful introduction, which covers the origins and characteristics of Celtic Christianity and the different genres included in body of the work. .. insight into the style, form, and character of the texts, including explanation of the Celtic emphasis on orality, the importance of place, emphasis on the environment and animals, and the role of the imagination.

 

 

Thomas O’Loughlin, as the historical theologian, puts Patrick the man in context, rather than depending upon hagiography alone to makes sense of Celtic consciousness.  Celtic priests need to recognize Patrick as the icon of Celtic Christianity in today’s world and need to understood and present him in a realistic way as both the icon AND one to imitate as we spread the good news of God’s love TODAY

 

One can see the development of doctrine inspired by and flowing from the converted bishops whose own education, training, and heritage was the pagan druidic faith and doctrines.  Historians such as Peter Berresford Ellis trace some of these bishops to druidic families (Gaul) indicating the culture they brought to the Faith--including their emphasis on triads in understanding the Divine!. The following book addresses how the MAN influenced the development of Christian theology by understanding through his cultural lens.

ONLY-- Introduction, and Chapter 1  “Irenaeus: Linking Beginnings and Ends”   pp 1-54 

Excellent expose on Irenaeus.  If interest is piqued, the rest of the book is well worth the read as it presents the material in a very readable manner.

 

 

Deep Incarnational Theology/Trinitarian Theology as a bedrock of Celtic Christianity.  

Denis Edwards’ book speaks to how Celtic Christianity and all Catholics can understand Trinitarian and Deep Incarnational theology as Divine Love today in light of our most recent discoveries about our emergent creation. Celtic Christians, always respecting education, are keenly aware of  the practical questions that believers as well as non-believers have in view of recent scientific discoveries.

The natural world around us is in crisis. We know it has a dynamic, evolutionary character. How might we understand this world in relationship to God?

Partaking of God builds on the foundations of the dynamic Trinitarian theology of Athanasius. It develops into a theology of the Word as the divine Attractor and the Spirit as the Energy of Love in evolutionary emergence. Then it explores God’s suffering with creatures, the humility of God in creation, church teaching on the human soul in relation to neuroscience, and grace and original sin in relationship to evolution. It culminates in a Christian theology of ecological conversion.

3RD DISCUSSION POINT:  The development of CELTIC INCARNATIONAL THEOLOGY (right up to today with PARTAKING OF GOD and all that current theology implies regarding ethical treatment of living beings and the Earth and the cosmos), as opposed to the general WESTERN approach to legalistic theology as a vehicle of fear of Divine punishment.
 

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CELTIC LITURGY

  • THE LITURGY AND RITUAL: OF THE CELTIC CHURCH July 20, 2015  by F. E. Warren (Author)

 

Excerpt from The Liturgy and Ritual: Of the Celtic Church:

The following pages contain an account of the Liturgy and Ritual of the Celtic Church in these islands, so far as their character can be ascertained from the limited sources of information open to us. They relate to a subject about which, until recently, very little was known. The great continental Liturgiologists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were either silent about it, or dismissed it as offering no data for information and no materials for investigation.


In more recent times Dr. Lingard has disclaimed all possibility of any knowledge of the subject: 'Whether the sacrificial service of the Scottish missionaries varied from that of the Romans we have no means of judging.' - Anglo-Saxon Church, edit. 1858, vol. i. p. 271.

This book is a reproduction of an important historical work.

4TH DISCUSSION POINT: CREATE A CELTIC CHRISTIAN LITURGY TO CELEBRATE A RITE OF PASSAGE  (any one of these: Birth, Puberty, Marriage, Healing Prayer for the Sick, Rite of Passage for the Dying,  Grief, Celebration of the Incarnation/Christmas, Protection of the Earth and the Cosmos, etc.)  This can be done individually or with others. 

TODAY'S CELTIC SPIRITUALITY AND EVANGELISM

This topic is beyond the introductory spirituality books by very good authors.  Given the theology and its understanding and application today in the modern world, how do we realistically live this spirituality today and help others live it and apply it to their personal growth as humans loved by God?  This combination of specific Celtic Spirituality, Celtic approach to evangelism, and personal growth brings it home…and to others.

 Thomas O'Loughlin's fresh and original introduction to Celtic spirituality begins by questioning the very notion of a distinctively "Celtic" spirituality. Brilliantly re-examining the original sources, he argues that there is one over-arching theme giving them a unity--the idea of being "on the edge", both culturally and geographically.

5th DISCUSSION POINT:   How do you feel Celtic evangelism and pastoral care may differ from other traditional Christian approaches to care of souls?  Consider ALL the above studies and how they now inform your personal spirituality.  How might it affect your approach to all you meet in the Christian world as well as in the “secular world?”

The following are additional for spirituality and prayer which also can be included in the topic for  liturgies:

Alexander Carmichael, CARMINA GADELICA: HYMNS AND INCANTATIONS COLLECTED IN THE HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS OF SCOTLAND IN THE LAST CENTURY, Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press, 1992.  (Important collection. Contains numerous prayers in the Celtic spirit, asking God's blessing on all aspects of life including the most mundane activities

Timothy J. Joyce, OSB, CELTIC CHRISTIANITY: A SACRED TRADITION, A VISION OF HOPE, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998.  (An excellent short presentation of the basic history of Celtic Christianity.)

Philip Sheldrake, LIVING BETWEEN WORLDS: PLACE AND JOURNEY IN CELTIC SPIRITUALITY, Boston, MA: Cowley Publications, c. 1995.  (A discussion of place and journey, both important concepts to the Celtic mind, as keys to understanding Celtic spirituality.)

Esther de Waal, EVERY EARTHLY BLESSING: REDISCOVERING THE CELTIC TRADITION, Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publications, 1999  [Originally: A WORLD MADE WHOLE, 1991].   (A beautiful and sensitive presentation of the key aspects of Celtic spirituality.)

Esther de Waal, THE CELTIC WAY OF PRAYER, New York, NY: Doubleday, 1997.  (A simple presentation, based on wide scholarship, of the Celtic Christian approach to prayer.)

J. Philip Newell, ONE FOOT IN EDEN: A CELTIC VIEW OF THE STAGES OF LIFE, New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1999.  (A prayerful reflection on the stages of human life, from birth to death, seen through the prism of Celtic spirituality.)

J. Philip Newell, CHRIST OF THE CELTS: THE HEALING OF CREATION, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2008.   (How Christ was envisioned in the ancient Celtic tradition, and what this can mean for us today.)

THE CELTIC VISION, Selected and Edited by Esther de Wall from the Carmina Gadelica, Petersham, MA: St. Bede's Publications, 1988.  (Selections presented by themes, with an introduction to each theme.)

DON'T STOP HERE! 

THERE ARE MANY OTHER EXCELLENT BOOKS AND RESOURCES FOR CELTIC CHRISTIAN STUDIES.
MAY THEY INCREASE YOUR UNDERSTANDING AND DEEPEN YOUR FAITH!