loren Eric Swanson: Rediscovering the Celts by Martin Robinson

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Rediscovering the Celts by Martin Robinson

Robinson, Martin. Rediscovering the Celts: The True Witness From Western Shores; Fount (an imprint of Harper Collins), London, (2000).

Conversion of the English—the use of Story

Edwin became King of Northumbria in 616. “The drama that accompanied his conversion included the famous incident when Edwin called a council of advisors which included political and religious leaders. During the council, one noble told the story in which he compared human life to a sparrow which flew into a lighted hall from the winter darkness. During its short flight through the warm hall it experienced a brief moment of light and warmth before entering the winter darkness again. The suggestion was that Christianity might offer hope of light in the darkness of the afterlife.” P. 35

These (monastic communities) were centers of learning at a time when education was a remote possibility for most Saxon society. Those who lived within them had a reputation for holiness, asceticism and the life of prayer, which brought its own appeal. Moreover, their ability through hard work, discipline and skill to bring back into productive use a landscape which had been devastated b invasion won the respect of nobles and peasants alike. Their commitment to poverty and charity won the hearts of the poor as much as it excited the devotion of royals. Their mission was not just a new set of moral and social values to reshape the whole of society in a Christian image. Their purpose was both to cast a vision which would capture the imagination of a whole society and live out that vision in practical demonstration. P. 60

A person entering a monastery or convent was expected to leave family behind and view the new community as their new family. Traditional cultural ties of kinship, obligation, and even of inheritance were transferred to the new family. The novice was expected to choose a “soul friend,” the anamchara in Ireland and periglour in Wales. The soul friend was tutor, mentor and confessor. The relationship involved a high degree of affection and closeness. P. 62

It would be possible for those who have ceased to be concerned for the material to be blind to the material needs of others. Yet the Christian practice of spirituality has rarely taken such a path. Service towards and compassion for the poor, the outcast, the suffering and the needy has always been an integral part of the spiritual life for Christians of all traditions. In the case of the Celtic saints, their concern for the poor became a significant feature of their ministry and renown. This aspect of their life Is discussed in more detail in Chapter 0 The stories of their generosity towards the poor are numerous, characterized by the occasion when the king gave Aidan a fine horse, for urgent or difficult journeys, only to find that Aidan gave it to the next poor person whom he men, such was his compassion for others…. “What are you saying your Magesty? Is this child of a mare more valuable to you than this child of God? P. 64-65

Leslie Hardinge suggests that occasionally a threefold (and sometimes a fourfold), system of interpretation was used. The three would be the literal meaning (stoir), the mystical or allegorical meaning (sens) which related to its eternal significance, and the moral (morolus) which had to do with its present practical meaning. P.98

Though never formally Pelagian, the Celtic Church’s embrace of creation and the divine spark within human nature allowed for a prevailing sense that the gospel was strongly echoed in creation. The created order spoke of the goodness of God. For those with eyes to see, the God of the Bible was to be found speaking through creation. This was the very way in which Patrick introduced the ‘new God’ to the daughters of the High King of Tara:
When these questioned him as to who the New God was, and where he dwelt, Patrick replied, ‘Our God is the God of all men, the God of Heaven and Earth, of sea and river, of sun and moon and stars, of the lofty mountain and the lowly valley, the God above Heaven, the God in Heaven, the God under Heaven; He has his dwelling round Heaven and Earth and sea and all that in them is. He inspires all, he quickens all, he dominates all, he sustains all. He lights the light of the sun; he furnishes the light of the light; he has put springs in the dray land and has ste stars to minister to the greater lights….’. p.113

Nature represented a second boo, alongside scripture which could be read by those who knew how to look. This is not the same as mere natural religion because scripture, with its divine revelation of the incarnation, represents the key by which the second book of nature is opened and read. Philip Sheldrake quotes Celtic literature to this effect: Seek no farther concerning God; for those who wish to know the great deep must first review the natural world. P. 115


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