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Celtic Christianity

Celtic Christianity is the term currently used to describe a modern revival of what is believed to be a more spiritually free form of Christianity abandoned after the Synod of Whitby enforced Roman Catholicism as the standard form of Christianity in the British Isles. Many believe that this older worship more closely resembled Eastern Orthodoxy. It is also considered very close to Anglicanism in many respects.

Celtic Christianity is presently undergoing something of a revival: in the North of England at the Community of St. Aidan and St. Hilda on Lindisfarne, and in Scotland at the Iona Community. It presently embraces both Charismatic and Evangelical Christians, as well as some pagan elements. Celtic Christianity has become increasingly popular in the United States, and an annual conference on the subject is held every year.

Its main features are:

  • Love of nature
  • Lack of dogmatism[?]
  • Friendship to and tolerance for other religions.


Many historians use the phrase Celtic Christianity to describe Christianity as it was first received and practiced by communities with Celtic backgrounds that observed certain practices divergent from those in the rest of Europe. The conversion of pagan England was brought about by two very different missions; one, led by Augustine, from Rome that landed in Kent in AD 597, and the other, led by Columba, who went from Ireland to Iona and later to Northumbria.

On the one hand, it is too easy to exaggerate the cohesiveness of these communities. The members of Celtic Christianity never saw themselves in opposition to the Catholic establishment based on Rome as did the Arians, Priscillianists or the Donatists in North Africa. Even at the height of the conflict between these communities and other Christian groups, they acknowledged the supremacy of the Pope and acquiesced to his specific commands.

On the other hand, these communities did see themselves as separate from their competitors, the Anglo-Saxons. An early Welsh ecclesiastical rule levied penalties for interacting with the English, and for sharing communion with them. When St Augustine attempted to meet with a delegation of seven British bishops on the borders of the domains of Ethelbert of Kent, these bishops refused to talk or even dine with his party; and when Aethelfrith of Northumbria went to battle with Solomon, son of Cynan, king of Powys, hundreds of British Christian monks are said to have assembled to pray for the Venedotian king. It is noteworthy that the British failed to attempt to convert the Anglo-Saxons, and that the successful Celtic missions had come from further away, from the Dalradian Scots.

The exact practices by which the Celtic church varied from the rest of Catholicism differ from source to source. It is clear that two points definitely are included in this list:

  • the method of calculating the date of Easter
  • the method of Tonsure practiced by the clerics

Other points may have included: the form of baptism practiced, and a preference for monastic abbots, instead of bishops, to lead the communities.

The Easter Problem[?] -- that is, the proper method to be used to calculate the date Easter will fall on in a given year -- is a long and tedious story that extends beyond the topic of Celtic Christianity. As it applies to this topic, the Celtic peoples had lost contact with Rome when Victorius[?] created the tables that were adopted as approved practice in 457. But as they learned of the current practice, the various communities of the Celtic church gradually returned into harmony with the predominant practice: southern Ireland agreed to this at a Synod in 632; northern Ireland at the Council of Birr[?] around 697; the Northumbrian Church at the Council of Whitby in 664; the island of Iona celebrated Easter on the Roman date in 716; and Wales in 768. Various other churches founded or influenced by clerics trained in Ireland or Wales came to celebrate Easter on the Roman date at later times.

Prominent individuals associated with Celtic Christianity include Adamnan, Aidan, Brigit[?], Columba, Columbanus, David, Gildas, Patrick, Piran, and Samson of Dol.

Although it's impact continued, Celtic Christianity officially ended in 1172 when the Synod of Cashel ended the Celtic Christian system and brought them under Rome.

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