Re-visiting some texts on Celtic Christianity, I am struck by the similarities between the early Celtic church and Quakerism. Of course, there are definite differences, such as prayer to the saints, and I do not mean today's Celtic church, which can be quite fundamentalist, but those caveats aside, there are strong similarities with the 'primitive church'. 

The early Celtic church had a strong emphasis on simplicity. Their places of worship were often wattle and daub and were rarely built of stone like the churches of the Roman tradition of the time. They emphasised poverty. The first theological college in England, at Lindisfarne, had a large proportion of freed slaves who became early Celtic clergy and missionaries. 

Equality came not only with freed slaves, many of whom were purchased and freed by the Celtic clergy, but also in the role of women. Brigid, Hilda, Ebba and Ethelberga exercised leadership roles in their communities, and there were many church communities, often mixed male and female, raising their children in their monasteries. Brigid was abbess in charge of the community at Kildare. There is a legend that Brigid was ordained as a bishop after a fiery pillar rose from her head to the roof of the church. When one man objected, basing his argument on the fact that Brigid was a woman, the ordaining Bishop Mel replied: 'No power have I in this matter. That dignity hath been given by God unto Brigid.' Hilda also led mixed communities at Tadcaster and Streanaeschalch (Whitby).

Like Quakers, the Celtic Christians had a strong affinity for and with nature and a particular care for creation. Their view of the Holy Spirit was different from that of other churches of the time, and was pictured as the Wild Goose because of its power, rather than the more timid dove. Prayer in Celtic churches was often, but not always silent, both meditative and vocal prayer had their place.

Early Celtic Christians also acted as mediators between warring tribes, as the Celtic missionaries passed and repassed through territories, gaining the trust of the tribe leaders through their integrity.

So, there it is, some obvious differences, but great similarities in simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality. We lost a lot when the developing churches agreed to follow the rule of Rome at the Council of Whitby in the 7th century.When we talk about restoring primitive Christianity, we see the footsteps of those Celtic Christians before us. They did not have the concept of the priesthood of all believers, because they predate Protestantism by a thousand years, but there is much we might learn from them. A good introduction to Celtic Christianity can be found in the book 'Restoring the Woven Cord' by Michael Mitton. 

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Replies to This Discussion

I agree the similarities are striking. I wrote this piece a year or so ago. Quakers and Celtic Christianity

Thanks for your link, Ray. May I refer to it in a talk? Our meeting has a Quaker Learning session once a month after meeting. I've agreed to do one on Celtic Christianity next year. At present I'm still putting together sources and ideas. 

Of course, you are very welcome.

Alison Irving said:

Thanks for your link, Ray. May I refer to it in a talk? Our meeting has a Quaker Learning session once a month after meeting. I've agreed to do one on Celtic Christianity next year. At present I'm still putting together sources and ideas. 


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