It has often been criticism from both Reformed and Catholic sources on the naturalism of Celtic Christianity. It has been at least, leveled at me, that all Celtic Christianity really boils down to is paganism hid in a Christian box. There could be nothing farther than the truth! What is true is that the way Christianity was brought to the Celts on the British Isles, and particularly Ireland provided for the assimilation and preservation of culture while becoming fully Christian. The prayer of the New Moon in the Carmina Gadelica seems to cover this in depth.
The New Moon
In name of the Holy Spirit of Grace
In name of the Father of the City of Peace
In name of Jesus who took death off of us
Oh! In the name of the Three who shield us in every need!
If well thou hast found us tonight,
Seven times better you leave us without harm
Thou bright white moon of the seasons
Bright white Moon of the seasons
Celtic Culture, Faith in Christ
In Celtic places like Cornwall, and Scotland The Carmina Gadelica tells us Christians would recite this prayer and then bow to the moon, turn silver in their pockets or turn wedding rings around on their fingers, making a prayer for the coming season. But even the 1800’s in these areas doining these things were frowned upon by some clergy. This is because colonial Christianity had spread back into the old country. But the book states for the most part the indigenous people still honored the old ways by using them to worship God. This is conversion of spirit, rather than culture. It is the purist of Christian evangelism.
How this prayer is crafted shows the stark difference between the missionaries that brought Christianity to the Irish and those who later spread it in the New World and Africa. St. Patrick did not attempt to replace the Irish Culture with Cambrian culture (Patrick was born in England) he instead melded the culture with the new Christian faith. There were many ways this was accomplished. An example would be the Celtic Cross. Before they were crosses’ they were circular and meant to worship the sun.
Instead of attacking the culture for worshipping the sun, he worked to show them that there was a God who had created the sun. This gave the Celts the ability to still honor the sun, but now honoring it as an amazing work of a bigger God. This is why the circle rests in the middle of Celtic Crosses, it’s a word picture that says “the sun is great, but behind the sun there is a God who is willing to die for you.
Compare that style of evangelism with what has been, and in some cases, continues to be done to indigenous populations all around the world. In cases like America and Africa, the local populations were “converted” by manipulation and destruction. The greatest destruction being the loss of these amazing cultures that God had gifted to the world. You see, in their push to convert, the Christians also required the total conversion of culture.
This meant all vestiges of the old culture were considered evil and antichrist. Because of this, the Gospel of Jesus Christ became something the natives feared rather than loved. The single greatest failure of 18th and 19th century Christianity was the destruction of cultures by weaponizing the gospel. The concept of Christianity as a colonial tool, was never the intention of the gospel.
The reason for the destruction of indigenous culture had nothing to do with the Gospel message and everything to do with colonialism. The great European powers used Christianity as a scape goat so they could tax their people to fund bigger expeditions to the New World.
We fall into this same trap today. If I told you I needed one million dollars to feed the homeless, its likely you would help out. But if I was really using that money to buy out a homeless shelter to create a parking lot for my business, I would be a fraud and a liar. But that is exactly what the European kingdoms did to convince their governments to send funds for the armies that eventually eradicated cultures in both Africa and America. The United States inherited this process from England and crossed an entire continent, in many cases using Christianization as the tool to force people off their land and into churches where they were forced to act European in dress and attitude.
Removing Barriers Not Culture
The following is a verse that is used many times to describe how we are all the same in Christ. For many this meant all others needed to look like the Christian spreading culture. But I believe nothing could be further than the truth here:
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise… -Galatians 3:27-29
It is true that we are all one in Jesus Christ. But we must understand the context of the verse. Here the writer is discussing three socio-economic issues of the time. First was a religious one, The Jewish minority of Christians had often wanted new Christians to basically become Jewish in practice. The writer is saying here not that all needed to become Jewish, but that they were neither Jewish or Pagan anymore, they were Christian. This has nothing to do with being Greek born or Israeli born. Secondly, the writer speaks to the status of slave and free. These were caste levels in ancient society. This meant We were no longer in a caste system, but all equal at the table of Christ. And finally the verse addresses gender disparity. In the Gospel of Jesus Christ, women and men were equal and of the same honored status.
This verse shows us the gospel wasn’t interested in the destruction of cultures, but the destruction of caste systems, domineering religions, and gender inequality. Cultures were created by God and meant to show the diversity of the Image of God. To destroy a culture is to attempt to destroy the Image of God.
The God of the Celts, The God of All
So, where many see nature worship, I see a beautiful mix of Celtic/Irish culture and the faith of Jesus Christ that I have simply fallen in love with. I see in the poem above a culture that absolutely loves the Triune God, but still honors its culture by acknowledging the beautiful moon that God has provided. I see a culture that was invited in as a tribe of Christ, that were respected culturally and converted spiritually. This is the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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