BOOK REVIEW: CELTIC CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES

12. April 2007, 22:32 | by WD Milner | Full Article |

A brief review of the book Celtic Christian Communities, Ian Bradley, Northstone Publishing, 255 pages, ISBN 1-896836-43-7.

 

The fourth book by this author on Celtic Christianity, it proposes to strip some of the romanticism and uncritical enthusiasm from his subject, religious communities and monasteries in the Celtic Christian church, and their relevance to the idea of a modern day Christian community. It only partially succeeds as, in spots, the author’s ardour for his subject takes him again towards the romantic, despite the book’s obvious intent to be a somewhat more academic volume than previous works.

The first thing you notice when you look at this book is a plethora of titles. The cover reads “Colonies of Heaven, Celtic Christian Communities, Live the Tradition”. In fact, the book was published in North America as “Celtic Christian Communities: Live the Tradition” and in the United Kingdom as “Colonies of Heaven: Celtic Models for Today's Church”. In this reviewer’s opinion the latter is a more accurate title.

The book jumps right in with a brief description of the monastery and church structure in Celtic Britain and its place in the community. It continues with an extrapolation of the monastic model to the modern day religious order as a member of the larger community. While intriguing and having some merit, it tends to ignore some of the practical problems in modern life in its continued enthusiasm for the Celtic way of life. The author then continues with a discussion of the role of blessings and cursings among the Celtic Christians. This chapter, while retaining some romanticism, is a refreshing look at the presence of God, blessings and even maledictions, so uncommon in what has become a world of politcal correctness, rather than affirmation of one’s beliefs.

The third chapter on penance and pastoral care is a definite must read, and could spawn an entire work on its own. The concept of confession, penance and reconciliation as practices in Celtic Christianity, as seen through the writings could have a major impact if implemented in modern society. Indeed, the gradual spread of restorative justice programs and community service are a major part of Celtic Christianity's pastoral care and system of penance. In a slight shift of focus we are then led into a discussion of worship patterns of Celtic Christians. This becomes somewhat problematic as the overwhelming majority of the writing in this area from the period encompassing the early Celtic Church is all monastic. As a result we have only a vague idea of the nature of worship amongst the wider community. While this is pointed out, the author makes some far reaching, though somewhat justified, speculations as to the nature of community worship and ministry of the time.

The discussion of worship and the communion of the saints in the next two chapters provides an interesting insight into a more personal relationship with God and its reflection in worship practices that are in stark contrast with those practiced in most modern denominations. He brings us a view of an immediate communication with the Divine, and an awareness of the spiritual that has all but disappeared from modern Christian worship, with its increasing preoccupation on syncretism, polity, and secularism. The mystery and spirituality of Christian worship were a very real thing for the Celtic Christians as is so well illustrated in these chapters.

The book finishes off its journey with a chapter on pilgrimage, in the Celtic sense. But beyond merely discussing the important role of pilgrimage among Celtic Christians, it draws us into an application of the practice for modern life. The point is clearly and thoughtfully developed that a pilgrimage is not a means to an end, but an end in itself - an inner journey of discovery and fulfillment in faith - and serves to provide a binding insight into the earlier chapters.

In conclusion, this is an excellent work for exploring the some of the most basic underpinnings of the meaning of “community” among Celtic Christians. For those in love with the romantic Celtic ideas, there is some of that aura to be sure, but there is more of hard practical reality than the popular ideas of the Celts so popular today. This work deserves consideration as an excellent information source for an overview of Celtic monasticism and Christian spirituality.

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Categories: ,
Keywords: celtic,christianity,monastic,theology,religion,god,communities

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