There's a lot of misinformation concerning the Christian church's beginning's among the British Isles. What is myth, what is fact, and what is speculation? This is difficult to determine for the records are few and far between.
"It is the misty and vague aura surrounding this age that accounts for much of its appeal… The absence of hard facts has allowed hagiographers, romanticists and propagandists for various causes to weave myths and spin legends." writes author Ian Bradley in his book
Celtic Christianity. [http://www.faithandworship.com/Celtic_Christianity.htm.]
Ynys Wydrin (Glassy Island, aka Avalon) in eastern Wales is where the first group of Christians settled in 37 AD, a place given to them by King Gweirydd (aka Arviragus) whom they baptized. The leader of this Christian group was Joseph of Arimathaea a disciple of Jesus Christ, who was accompanied by 40 followers. Joseph was no stranger to south-west Britain, for he imported into Palestine tin from several mines located in Cornwall. [Adrian Gilbert, Alan Wilson & Baram Blackett, The Holy Kingdom. (London: Bantam Press, 1998) P. 181.] After Joseph of Arimathaea was in south-west Britain, came the Apostle Simon Zealots: [Robert D. Mock, M.D., http://www.biblesearchers.com/hebrewchurch/primitive/primitive6.shtml.
Dorotheus, Bishop of Tyre (ca. 300 AD) – “Simon Zelotes traversed all Mauritania, and the regions of the Africans, preaching. He was at last crucified, slain, and buried in Britain.” (Dorotheus, Synod. de Apostol.; Synopsis ad Simon Zelot.)
Druidic centers of learning
All learning in ancient Ireland was maintained by the Druidic class in their 'bardic schools.' This learning included history, music, law, genealogy, and general knowledge of the culture. All knowledge was oral and took decades to commit to memory and complete the courses. It should be understood that these people were not ignorant because they did not write, but the Druids chose not to use writing for it kept their unique status in society safe and elevated. The early Christian communities in Ireland adopted this mode of learning (learning centers not oral memory) to such success that students as far away as Gaul, Spain, and Southern England came for education. The early Christian missionaries to Ireland are the ones who brought about the teaching and use of writing in the 5th century. During the 'Golden Age' of Ireland (7th & 8th centuries) missionaries left the Emerald Isle and Iona to the continent and established the majority of universities throughout western Europe. One such center was St. James Abbey, Schot-tencloister, Bavaria, Germany, whose patrons were the kings of Munster, Ireland in the 11th century. During this same period the Irish monasteries (centers of learning) were responsible for such works of art as the Books of Kells and Durrow, and the Lindisfarne Gospels. These monasteries would also be responsible for preserving almost all that we know of the Classical World, by copying the texts of Greece and Rome, in addition to religious texts, and keeping these manuscripts safe during the tumultuous Middle Ages. These learning centers also taught Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Not even the pope knew Greek. [Thomas Cahill, How The Irish Saved Civilization. (New York: Doubleday, 1995).] As the monasteries were established came a great thirst and hunger for all knowledge and culture. Monks began to write down the old poems and sagas that the bards and seannachies told around the fires in the evening to society. The knowledge of the old religion was not a threat or horror to the Celtic monks as it was to their counterparts on the continent. Though it is necessary to extract the interpolated Christian elements from the ancient Celtic ones. [Brendan Lehane, Early Celtic Christianity. (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1993 edition) P. 29.]
By the year 314 AD, there were three Celtic British Bishops representing Britain at a Church Synod in Arles, France, on 1 August. These representatives from Britain were Eborius of York, Restitutus of London and Adelphius, whose See may have been Lincoln, Colchester or Caerleon (Wales). [Victor S. Harper, "Was There a British Church Before Augustine Came?," Wake Up!, July/August 1991. Posted on Wisconsin Lutheran College website at http://www.fourthcentury.com/the-council-of-arles-ad-314/. Accessed 18 Jan 2016.] Such an early start for the Celtic Church helps explain some of its later uniqueness's. At that time, for example, the Council of Nicaea had not yet occurred (325 AD). This means that the 'Great Age of Church Uniformity' had not yet begun.
The Druids were connected to nature; they understood the energy that emitted from all things. The Druidic curriculum included: natural philosophy, astronomy, arithmetic, botany, geometry, law, medicine, poetry, oratory and natural theology. The Druidical priesthood had three priestly orders: [Mock.]
The religion of the Druids was kept by oral laws and nothing was written in parchment or stone. The Triads were committed to memory on the simple beliefs of God and the trinities of life, nature, and worship. Some of these triads have been preserved from antiquity: [Mock.]
No slave could be a Druid, and if he became a slave, he forfeited his Druidic Order and the privileges within the Order. Herein lay the fundamental principles of the freedom that the early Celts coveted and fought to preserve. [Mock.]
This knowledge was infused into the beliefs and practices of the early Irish Christians and when Rome learned of this it was considered barbaric, heathen and pagan. The Celtic Christians did not believe or practice the same as those on the continent, and Rome wanted uniformity, and the Celts were not willing to give in to it.
The early Irish Christians
Besides the infusion of Druidic knowledge of energy and nature, the early Christians retained the use of the white clothing and the crescent tonsure, which was shaving the front of the scalp by drawing a line from ear to ear. This became a major issue with the church in Rome who used a tonsure of shaving the crown of the scalp so that it looked like a halo, or as Rome thought, reminded them of Christ's 'crown of thorns.'
As mentioned previously, the Irish Christians had centers of learning that became the great mona-steries. These were living and breathing communities, first was an open glade in the forest, then small villages of wattle & mud buildings scattered with a few made of logs all with thatch roofs, in time a simple stone chapel. The great stone edifices didn't come into existence until after the reign of the High-King Brian Boru who was slain in 1014 AD. Each Christian community was inde-pendent from the others. In the Bog of Monaincha are two islands. On one was a monastery for men, their wives occupying the neighboring Woman's Isle. [http://www.sacred-texts.com/pag/idr/idr33.htm.] So it might be that, as Higgins wrote, "The Culdees were the last remains of the Druids."
Of course there were a few monastic communities that were very austere, such as Skellig Michael island located off the south-west coast of Ireland.
As monastic's, abbots were not necessarily ordained (i.e. they were not necessarily priests or bishops). They were usually descended from one of the many Irish royal families, and the founding regulations of the abbey sometimes specified that the abbacy should if possible be kept within one family lineage. [Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, in Youngs, pp. 13–14 ; Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Early Medieval Ireland: 400–1200. (London, 1995). Susan Youngs, ed., 'The Work of Angels', Masterpieces of Celtic Metalwork, 6th–9th centuries AD. (London: British Museum Press, 1989.) ISBN 0-7141-0554-6.] The abbot was the top tier of leadership, and out ranked the position of bishop which the Roman church found to be barbaric, and the property didn't belong to the church, but to the clan administered by the chief/king.
In each college there were twelve brethren, and one who was 'provost' or 'abbot'; wherever the Culdees formed a new settlement or college of presbyters (elders, priests), the fixed number of the council was twelve, following the example of the apostles of Jesus Christ. . [Wayne Laurence, N.Z., THE CELTIC MEMORY - GAELDOM REVISITED: The Gaelic Celts of Ireland and Scotland, http://www.ensignmessage.com/
Unknown in the Roman church with its uniform rites and prayers, the various rites and prayers of the Celtic Christians were usually written by the abbot of the community and it might differ from the neighboring abbey. Also the Celtic Christians used the Syriac (Byzantine) scriptures instead of the Latin vulgate of Rome.
Because of its autonomy and geographical isolation, the Celtic Church remained uniquely uncorrupted by Hellenistic Greek philosophy or Roman jurisprudence. It was not austere as the church of Rome, unbending nor cruel. The Celtic Church was more in line with teaching and living the Gospel of Christ. The Celtic communities maintained its identity and fundamental unity through its storytelling, music, art, liturgical and private prayers, all of which were expressions of its spirituality, emphasizing, as it did, the spiritual bonds of tribe, family, and soul friends. Some of its primary characteristics include a dedication to simplicity and small communities, a great devotion to learning, an inclusivity regarding women's leadership, a collaborative and non-dualistic stance, an appreciation of the marginalized, a deep respect for the reality of sin, and a spiritual kinship with nature that is linked with a love of beauty. It was a more kinder, gentler church writes Prof. Edward Sellner. [http://www.aislingmagazine.com
dSellner.html. Edward Sellner, Ph.D., is professor of pastoral theology and spirituality at the College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, Minnesota, ]
Although the British Celt, Patrick, was not as is popularly supposed, the first missionary to take Christian teaching into Ireland. He was undoubtedly the most successful missionary but, as already pointed out, we find Caranoc, mentioned by the Book of Ballymote, as the first recorded Christian in Ireland. According to Prosper of Aquitaine it was Pope Celestine I (AD 422-432) who sent a missionary called Palladius to be 'the first bishop to the Irish believing in Christ,' thereby implying that there were already Christian communities in Ireland at that date. Palladius was a Gaulish Celt who had been deacon at Germanus's monastery of Auxerre. According to some scholars, Palladius is supposed to have died in Britain about 431 AD, and been replaced by Patrick. Professor James Carney, however, maintains that Palladius worked in Ireland for many years with three other missionaries from Rome, Secondinus, Auxillus and Iserninus. Professor Thomas O'Rahilly argues that Palladius did not reach Ireland but died in Britain. [Laurence.]
Palladius' replacement was born at the northern town of Bannarem Taberniae (near present day Dumbartan, Scotland), to a Briton magistrate in the Roman government, a boy named Sucat in 421 AD. This young man was captured in an Irish raid, captured and served as a slave in the County Antrim area in north-east Ireland for fourteen years. Sucat escaped aboard a ship sailing to Brittany, France, where he entered the Roman churches clergy and in 432 AD (debated), was to replace Palladius as 'bishop to the Irish believing in Christ.' Patrick had great success and his life is recorded by himself in his Confessions. Of course there are many stories about the Patron Saint of Ireland, the problem with many of the stories about the holy man is how to tell which stories are myth and which are fact. St. Patrick made his headquarters in northern Ireland at Armagh and died in 459 AD. [Laurence.]
In Rome at that time of the early 5th century, the title 'Patricius' was often conferred upon high officials of the empire to indicate rank. Various researchers state that before the arrival of Patrick was a missionary named Palladius who arrived in Leinster to minister to a small fledgling group of Christians. Palladius landed on the Emerald Isle just a year before Patrick, and that the lives of the two got merged to become St. Patrick. [Laurence.]
Of the various Christians that had been sent to Ireland, St. Patrick had the best success for he knew the people, he understood their culture for he had lived among them, and he knew that to convert a king his clan would follow, plus Patrick's manner was the opposite of strict Rome.
As St. Patrick set up the Christian communities in Ireland he left a copy of The Liber ex Lege Moisi, to help in the guidance of the new converts. Patrick's successors did the same in Ireland and Scotland.
Summary of contents:
1. The seventh day Sabbath.
2. Slavery and the relationship of master to servants
3. Various capital offences.
4. Compensation in money of “kind” for different crimes.
5. Animals’ offences against person and property.
6. Animals used as food, clean and unclean, and slaughtering.
7. Sex and marriage.
8. Feminine hygiene.
9. Tithes, first-fruits, vows, and offerings of all kinds.
10. Justice, bribery, witnesses, traduction, and usury.
11. Cities of refuge, asylum, and hospitality.
12. Wizards and necromancy and human sacrifices.
13. Inheritance, and the Sabbatical and Jubilees years, debts.
14. Sights of a true prophet.
15. Cursing and blessing.
Of all the classic writings that have been handed down one of the most important is the Confession of St. Patrick. This reveals a mind steeped in the Scriptures, affecting his every thought and action even to the mundane tasks of everyday life. It also reinforces the view that these early Christians on the fringes of Britain and Ireland were very much in touch with the natural world in which they lived.
" ... after I had come to Ireland I daily used to feed cattle, and I prayed frequently during the day; the love of God and the fear of Him increased more and more, and the faith became stronger, and the spirit was stirred; so that in one day I said about a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same; so that I used to remain in the woods and in the mountains ... "
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger….
And at the poem’s climax
… I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The three in one, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature has creation;
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word,
Praise to the Lord of my salvation
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Often the word for the Irish and Scottish Christian church, including its doctrines and teachings is called the Céli Dé (Latin, colidei), Cele-De, or Culdees, an Irish phrase meaning "companions of God." However it was the Culdees who were the laymen of the Christian community. The Céli Dé were the Christian heirs of the Druids. [fn. Ward Rutherford, Celtic Lore: the History of the Druids and their Timeless Traditions. (1993) P.114.]
They lived in a monastic community but did not take monastic vows. [Edward D'Alton, "Culdees," The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908). 13 April 2015.] The Culdees were analogous to secular canons of the Roman church (who would replace them; a prior and five vicars), they held an intermediate position between the monastic and parochial clergy. They were the officiating clergy of the churches and became the standing ministers. The maintenance of divine service, and in particular, the practice of choral worship, seems to have been their special function, and made them an important element. They also had care of the church building; they had separate lands and sometimes charge of parishes. When a chapter was formed (circa 1161) the prior usually filled the office of precentor, his brethren being vicars choral, and himself ranking in the chapter next to the chancellor. He was elected by his brother Culdees and confirmed by the primate, and had a voice in the election of the archbishop by virtue of his position in the chapter. [William Reeves, "The Ancient Churches of Armagh," Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol.IV, no.4, p.213, July 1898.]
In the celebration of the sacrament the Céli Dé did not believe in the real presence of God during the Eucharist, but that it was a solemn act of religious commemoration. Nor did they believe in penance or priestly absolution. [Thomson, v.1, p. 141.]
Like the later Presbyterian Faith and John Knox, the Culdees strongly believed in predestination, and in good works as the fruits of faith. [Article 1, "The Ter-Centenary of the Meeting of the First General Assembly," The Presbyterian Quarterly Review, July 1861, Volumes 10-11, p. 9. https://books.google.com/booksid=YOAWAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA11&lpg=PA11&dq=Robert+the+Bruce++and
Only one Culdee community existed in England and Wales: at York in northern England, and one at Bardsey, Wales, till about 1150. [Catholic Encyclopedia - Culdees:
In truth very little else is known about the Culdees. The Irish Annals mention the Céli Dé from 792 - 919 AD. After that the group is mentioned in the histories of Scotland well into the 14th century.
Irish Christian church vs. the church of Roman
1) Independent of the Pope. Irish Christians cited the authority of John, son of Zebedee and brother of James. Jesus handed over his mother to John's care (John 19: 26-27), a fact which appealed to the mother goddess orientated Celts, and tradition was that John was the unnamed disciple whom Jesus loved. This was the argument also put forward by the theologians of the Eastern Orthodox Church too. Rome's authority is claimed to come through the Apostle Peter, who was bishop of Rome.
2) One visible difference between the Celtic clergy and Roman clergy at this stage was that while the Romans adopted what they described as the tonsure of St Peter, shaving the head on the crown as symbolic of the crown of thorns, the Celts used what they called the tonsure of St John, shaving a line from ear to ear (a crescent). The Roman argument was that this was merely a Druidic practice which had been maintained, and it was thus regarded as 'barbaric' by Rome. [A. W. Haddan and W. Stubbs (ed.), Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, 3 vols. (Oxford: 1869–78) Vol. I, pp. 112-3.]
3) The Celtic Sabbath ('day of repose') was celebrated on a Saturday, the last day of the week and Hebrew holy day. The Romans had now begun to observe Sunday, the first day of the week as their Sabbath, it being symbolic of the Resurrection. Michael Herren in his book Christ in Celtic Christianity, page 37, wrote:
"...the Culdees not only kept the Sabbath on Saturday but they kept it in accordance with the Mosaic law." About the Culdees in Scotland, William F. Skene says: "... they seem to have followed a custom of which we find traces in the early Monastic Church of Ireland, by which they held Saturday to be the 'Sabbath on which they rested from all their labours." [In Celtic Scotland. Vol. II, (Edinburgh : David Douglas, 1877) P. 349.]
4) 7th & 8th centuries, the services were conducted in Greek by the Celtic clergy, not Latin.
5) The Eucharist, bread and wine, was given by the celebrant who stood facing the altar, not behind it. The wine was given by a deacon. When the blessing was given, the Celtic priest raised the first, third and fourth fingers to represent the Trinity. The Roman priest held up thumb, first and second finger.
6) 'The blessing' in the Celtic Church was given before communion and the breaking of bread was at the end of the service. As in the Orthodox Church, the Celtic bishops celebrated the mass, so called by Rome from the Latin missa (dismissal) but called the 'offering' in the Celtic and Eastern Churches.
7) The Celtic Church emphasized active participation in the worship by the people; while the deacon led the congregation in prayers, the people would respond with psalms and hymns. The deacon fulfilled an important link between priest and people.
8) Celtic bishops were under the authority of abbots.
9) The clergy could, of course, marry but this was not unique because it was only in the eleventh century that Rome expressly forbade its clergy to marry. As the tonsure, this was to be a major issue. Of course, in the Eastern Church today, the clergy can still marry. Also the Celtic priesthood was hereditary like the Hebrews, where as Rome was by election.
10) In the Celtic world there were mixed monasteries in which the religieux of both sexes lived and worked. Confession was not obligatory but voluntary and could be made in public or in private. Absolution did not follow immediately, and sometimes a penance could last some years.
11) The most famous difference between the Celtic Church and Rome was the dating of Easter. The rules governing the Christian calendar were originally agreed at Nicaea in 325 AD, with the years reckoned from the year of the birth of Christ. Rome altered its computations during the time of Pope Leo I (440-461 AD) when the 'Alexandrian computation' was adopted in 444 AD. Amendments were added by Victorius of Aquitaine during the time of Pope Hilary (461-468 AD) and more were adopted following proposals by Dionysius Exiguus during the pontificate of Felix III (IV) in 527 AD. The last time Rome seriously altered the calendrical system, which now affects the entire Christian calendar, was in 1581 when Pope Gregory XIII ordained that ten days be dropped and the years ending in hundreds be leap years only if divisible by 400. The Gregorian Calendar was eventually adopted throughout the Christian world, by England in 1752, and by the Eastern Orthodox world this century.
12) Were opposed to auricular confession, the worship of saints, relics or images, purgatory, transubstantiation, tithes, prayers for the dead, and the seven sacraments. [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc4.i.ii.xiv.html , History of the Christian Church, V.4, Mediaeval Church, #19: the Culdees.] [The Presbyterian Quarterly Review, July 1861, Volumes 10-11, p. 10. https://books.google.com/books?id=YOAWAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA11&lpg=PA11&dq=Robert+the+Bruce++and
The Celtic Christian church didn't worship saints, saints were created by the Roman church. These saints lives are worth studying to learn of Gospel principles. An example is the life of St. Aidan: It is said that St Aidan's lavish generosity was such that on one occasion when King Oswin had given him a particularly fine horse for his own use, a poor man met him and asked for alms, upon which he immediately dismounted, and ordered the horse, with all his Royal trappings, to be given to the beggar. Perhaps it was only natural that the King should be somewhat annoyed at the prompt way in which his gift was disposed of, but Aidan pointed out to him, "…that man, made in the image of God, was of more value than his fine horse," and Oswin threw himself at his feet exclaiming that he would "... never again grudge anything to the children of God."k here to edit.
Roman Christianity tended to be authoritarian, hierarchical, male dominated, rational and strongly legalistic. In contrast, the Celtic church celebrated grace and nature as good gifts from God and recognized the sacredness of all creation. It had a love of mysticism and poetry, and included women in its leadership. Celtic society was rural, hierarchical, family based and tribal in nature, with each tribe ruled by its own king. The Church took over this pattern, with the basic unit of organization being the monastery. [http://www.faithandworship.com/Celtic_Christianity.htm.]
Following the example of the Desert Fathers of the East, the early Christian leaders sought isolation in the wild and desolate places, away from what they saw as the encroachment of the world upon their faith. They wanted to centre their thoughts and their lives totally upon God, to be as close as was spiritually possible to the Creator.
In the Celtic Christian world, every 'center of learning' was monastic. The leadership was provided by abbots who were also bishops, and hardly any distinction existed between the cloister and the church.
If someone was the leader of a Celtic Village or tribal settlement, it was an indication that character, training, and performance had all come together in that individual. This means that a charismatic method was used to determine leadership. In much the same way as Celtic warriors chose their leaders, that is, on the basis of actual performance in battle, the villages chose their judges and priests by their practical demonstrations of wisdom and insight. This resulted in a repetition of our Lord’s own methods with His Disciples. . [Paul Cullity, Monasticism – The Heart of Celtic Christianity, unpublished manuscript, abt 1995, Cape Cod, USA.]
The Monastic Rule of St David in the west of Wales prescribed that monks had to pull the plough themselves without draught animals; to drink only water; to eat only bread with salt and herbs; and to spend the evenings in prayer, reading and writing. No personal possessions were allowed: to say "my book" was an offence. David taught his followers to refrain from eating meat or drinking alcohol.
Each monk lived in their own hut, or cell, more like hermits in a group than brothers in a family. This contributed to each monks need for solitude and privacy, but unlike hermits, gave the opportunity for close interaction at the Hours, and at meal times, some of which were held in common. [Cullity.]
The Early Celtic Christian leaders often chose twelve recruits, and took them along on their missions. Eventually, these each led their own missions, with twelve more disciples of their own. This can result in very individualized “theologies,” since each church leader was trained by only one other leader, each with incomplete information. [Cullity.]
St. Columcille when he left Derry to establish a community on the Isle of Iona in 562 AD, took with him twelve of his Kindred. [John Jamieson, An historical account of the ancient Culdees of Iona, ... . (Edinburgh: John Ballantyne & Co., 1811) Pp. 34-5.]
From Ireland, Wales, and the Isle of Iona, Celtic Christian monks traveled as missionaries converting the pagan world they encountered to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They traveled as far as Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and even Russia. They also set up centers of learning that would become universities. The majority of these traveling monks/missionaries were on their 'superior peregrinatio,' [Caitlin Corning, The Celtic and Roman Traditions: Conflict and Consensus in the Early Medieval Church. (New York: Macmillan, 2006) P. 18.]
A tradition of undertaking a voluntary ;peregrinatio pro Christo,' in which individuals permanently left their homes and put themselves entirely in God's hands. In the Irish tradition there were two types of such 'peregrinatio,' the 'lesser peregrinatio,' involving leaving one's home area but not the island, and the 'superior peregrinatio,' which meant leaving Ireland for good. This voluntary exile to spend one's life in a foreign land far from friends and family came to be termed the 'white martyrdom' or 'exile for Christ.' [Richard Woods, "The Spirituality of the Celtic Church," Spirituality Today, Fall 1985, Vol. 37 No. 3, pp. 243–255 Archived 3 November 2013, at the Wayback Machine.]
It would seem that these early British Christians saw themselves as independent of the Roman church - as Bishop Diaothus' reply to St. Augustine on the authority of Rome in Britain would seem to indicate; "Be it known and declared that we all, individually and collectively, are in all humility prepared to defer to the Church of God, and to the Bishop in Rome, and to every sincere and Godly Christian, so far as to love everyone according to his degree, in perfect charity, and to assist them all by word and indeed in becoming the children of God. But as for any other obedience, we know of none that he, whom you term the Pope, or Bishop of Bishops, can demand. The deference we have mentioned we are ready to pay to him as to every other Christian, but in all other respects our obedience is due to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Cærleon, who is alone under God our ruler to keep us right in the way of salvation."
While the Church in Britain had enjoyed its independence and distinctive character, the continental church had grown more and more structured. When Rome instituted a mission to England, in 597 AD, it sent Augustine who brought a very different concept of the church to Canterbury. This church did not accept the possibility of the Celtic Church continuing to operate in its own sphere without coming under the authority and structure of the Roman organization.
Apostle to Scotland: St. Columcille
In the vicinity of Gartan in County Donegal about 521 AD, was born a son named Crimhthann (Ir. Fox) to Fedelmidh, a chieftain of the Clan O'Donnell (whose great-grandfather was King Niall of the Nine Hostages), and his wife Ethne, eleventh in descent from Catliaire Mor, King of Leinster, and, to complete his genealogical credentials, he was through his father's mother, a great grandson of Lorne Mac Erc, the co-founder of Albain Dalriada. [http://www.monasticireland.com/storiesofsaints/colmcille.htm.]
Later tradition has also woven a story around Columcille 's coming to Iona, portraying him as a once proud and contentious man in defense of whose honor 3000 men of the north-west O'Neill/O'Donnell
Clan died in battle - and who came to Iona as an exile in expiation of this sin. The tale is not redolent of simple piety. According to this version, Diarmid, the High King of Ireland, had dragged from sanctuary and murdered a kinsman of Columcille 's, and aside from this sacrilege and an impending blood-feud, he also imprisoned the priest himself at Tara after passing judgment against him in a suit concerning the ownership of a psalter which Columcille had copied and the original owner was none other than his first monastic teacher named Finnian, who insisted that the copied psalter was his too. Columcille was rescued by members of his clan and the whole Ui Neill rose to avenge the insult. The armies met at Cooladrummon near Sligo in 561 AD, and Diarmid's host was slaughtered in this trial by battle. Diarmid thereafter arranged for a Synod at Meath to excommunicate Columcille but even in those early days the Church would not permit mere kings to meddle, and the sentence was annulled. However, for Columcille, conscience-stricken and admonished, the consequence was a self-imposed penance. of exile, never to look again upon his native Ireland until he had converted to Christ as many souls as he had caused to perish at Cooladrummon. And so he went to Iona, the Island of Hu, the Island of the Druids, where Ireland was over the horizon and founded a small sanctuary in the Bay of the Coracle in sight of Mull - at first a simple structure of mud and wattle, but which was to become the heart of the Celtic Church in Scotland. [http://www.colmcille.org/colmcille/adult-lif-in-ireland.]
"Were all the tributes of Scotia [Ireland] mine, From its midland to its borders,
I would give all for one little cell
In my beautiful Derry.
For its peace and for its purity, For the white angels that go
In crowds from one end to the other,
I love my beautiful Derry.
For its quietness and purity,
For heaven's angels that come and go
Under every leaf of the oaks,
I love my beautiful Derry.
"My Derry, my fair oak grove,
My dear little cell and dwelling,
O God, in the heavens above I Let him who profanes it be cursed. Beloved are Durrow and Derry, Beloved is Raphoe the pure, Beloved the fertile Drumhome, Beloved are Sords and Kells! But sweeter and fairer to me The salt sea where the seagulls cry
When I come to Derry from far,
It is sweeter and dearer to me -- Sweeter to me."
The Easter calendar dating conflict
In the three hundred years before this time, disputes had arisen over the correct date for Easter. Since this is based on a calculation of the lunar year compared to the Solar year, different calculations will obtain different dates. The method used by the Celtic Church was considered outmoded and unacceptable. It only came to a head, as these things often do, when it affected a royal family.
As it happened, King Oswy of Northumbria was converted to Christianity through the ministry of Aidan, therefore keeping the Celtic Traditions and calendar, but his wife, Queen Eanfled, became a Christian through the mission of Paulinus, connected with Augustine’s Roman mission. This left her celebrating the Christian feasts, particularly Easter, on the Roman schedule.
Bede 'the Venerable,' a cleric of Northumbria of the Roman church, tells us. “The Queen with her followers kept Easter as in Kent… When the King had ended the Lenten fast and was celebrating Easter, the Queen and her party continued in Lent, being only at Palm Sunday.”
This situation brought about a need for decisive action in a way that no previous attempts at conformity had done. When a synod was called at Whitby, in 663 AD, the conclusion was already established. No regional church could set their own traditions above or beside the Universal Traditions of the Church. From this moment, the fate of the Celtic Church was truly decided. All churches were required to come into conformity with the representatives of Rome at Canterbury, and all liturgies and calendars were to conform as well.
This was legislated in 663 AD, but as much as 500 years would pass before most traces of the Celtic Church were erased.
At its heart, the issue is one of hierarchy. If the Celtic Church could claim independent decisions on its holidays, and perhaps on some other minor issues like appearance of its monks or choice of Liturgy, then perhaps it would rebel against the Church on weightier matters as well. If, for example, the Roman Church levied a penalty of excommunication for some political allegiance, then a church not affiliated with Rome could ignore such a ban.
In many parts of Celtic Britain, the Monks and Abbots simply ignored these new orders from Rome, but eventually all Britain was brought into a measure of compliance one way or another. One of the ways chosen was both spiritually and politically expedient. All of the sites of Celtic Monasteries were eventually offered to other monastic groups, such as monks from Cluny, many Benedictine Houses, Cistercians, Augustinians, and others. This created the appearance of supporting the monastic work of these places, but served to displace the Celtic Traditions responsible for establishing the work.
The Arles calendar dating system was based on the Hebrew lunar calendar which allowed Easter to fall, as did the Passover, in the month of Nisan. This was the seventh and spring month of the Hebrew calendar (March/April) in which the Passover fell at the full moon. Under this method, the first Easter had been on the fourteenth day of Nisan. Using this calculation, the Celts celebrated the festival on whatever Sunday fell between the fourteenth and twentieth days after the first full moon following the spring equinox. They would do this even if Easter then fell on the same day as the Passover.
Rome altered its computations during the time of Pope Leo I (440-461 AD) when the 'Alexandrian computation' was adopted in 444 AD.
Amendments were added by Victorius of Aquitaine during the time of Pope Hilary (461-468 AD) and more were adopted following proposals by Dionysius Exiguus during the pontificate of Felix III (IV) in 527 AD. [Laurence.] Rome's last change to the calendar was in 1581 when Pope Gregory XIII ordained that ten days be dropped and the years ending in hundreds be leap years only if divisible by 400. The Gregorian Calendar was eventually adopted throughout the Christian world, by England in 1752, and by the Eastern Orthodox world this century.
The Celts saw the early amendments taking them further from the original dates and rendering the commemorative ceremonies and anniversaries arbitrary and without meaning.
So the Christians celebrated the Hebrew Passover in memory of Christ's execution and called it, in the Latin calendar, Pasca from the Hebrew Pesach (Passover). To the Celts, it became a little nonsensical when, in 325 AD, the Council of Nicaea declared it unlawful to celebrate a Christian festival on the same day as a Hebrew one. After all, Jesus, a Hebrew, was known to have been executed during that particular Hebrew feast. The Christian Easter then became an arbitrary date for the commemoration and not one with any relevance to the actual anniversary. Seen from this point in time, it could well be argued that the Celtic dating of Easter was far more accurate than the later reformed calculations. [Laurence.]
The End of Celtic Christianity
The full subjection of the Celtic Church of Ireland to that of Rome was accomplished after 1050. Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury found opportunity to interfere in Ireland in 1074, and sent a letter to the High-King Torlogh Ó Briain, through Gilpatrick, the Norse bishop of Dublin. Instigated by both, Gregory VII. sent a letter to Ireland and appointed Gilbert, the Norse bishop of Limerick, papal legate for Ireland. As in the seventh century, so now, the bishop of Armagh resisted. But in the end Gilbert found a man who fell in with his views, when in 1106 Celsus succeeded to the See of Armagh. At the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1120 it was decided to divide Ireland into twenty-four dioceses, all except Dublin subordinate to Armagh. In 1152 a synod was held at Kells, under the presidency of the papal legate, Paparo, and Ireland was divided into four provinces, Armagh was selected as the see of the primate, and the bishops of Dublin, Cashel, and Tuam were promoted to archbishops and received pallia brought from Rome. The complete Romanization of the Irish Church in internal affairs was effected in furtherance of the political interests of the Anglo-Normans at a synod held at Cashel in 1172 by command of King Henry II. [http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc02/htm/iv.vi.ccxxvi.htm.]
Papal Blessing for Ireland's Invasion
In 1154 Henry of Anjou, ruler of the Angevin Empire was crowned Henry II, King of England. In the same year an Englishman became Pope Adrian IV. Under Henry II the Angevin Empire stretched from Scotland to the Pyrenees, taking in England, much of Wales and Ireland, Normandy, Anjou, and Aquitane. They were also known as Plantagenet's after Geoffrey Count of Anjou. The Angevins were noted for their ruthless exercise of royal power, which they greatly extended and which aroused considerable baronial and ecclesiastical hostility.
Normandy was part of the Angevin Empire in Europe, but the Anglo-Normans in England had independent political ambitions. The Earl of Pembroke (Strongbow) led an expeditionary force of Anglo-Normans into Ireland in 1169, after Dermot MacMurrough, exiled King of Leinster sought help from King Henry to combat the superior strength of Rory O'Connor, High-King of Ireland: Henry, not to be undermined by his Anglo-Norman subjects, laid claim to Ireland with the authority of a 'Papal Bull'.
When King Henry II of England landed with an army of 4,000 at Waterford in October 1171, he came at the Pope's behest and carrying his authority the Papal Bull "Laudibiliter" by which the Roman Pontiff claimed the right to bestow Ireland as a gift to the English king on condition that he suppressed the ancient Celtic or Culdee church, and brought the island and its people into submission to Rome.
"ADRIAN, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to his most dearly beloved son in Christ, the illustrious king of the English, greeting and apostolical blessing. Laudably and profitably doth your Majesty consider how you may best extend the glory of your name on earth and lay up for yourself an eternal reward in heaven, when, as becomes a Catholic prince, you labour to extend the borders of the Church, to teach the truths of the Christian faith to a rude and unlettered people (the Irish), and to root out the weeds of vice (the ancient Culdee faith) from the field of the Lord; and to accomplish your design more effectually you crave the advice and assistance of the Apostolic See (Papacy), and in so doing we are persuaded that the higher are your aims, and the more discreet your proceedings, the greater, under God, will be your success; because, whatever has its origin in ardent faith and in love of religion, always has a prosperous end and issue. Certainly it is beyond a doubt, as your Highness acknowledgeth, that Ireland and all the other islands, on which the Gospel of Christ hath dawned and which have received the knowledge of the Christian faith, belong of right to St Peter (pope) and the holy Roman Church. Wherefore we are the more desirous to sow in them the acceptable seed (Christian Irish people) of God's word, because we know that it will be strictly required of us hereafter. You have signified to us, our well-beloved son in Christ, that you propose to enter the island of Ireland in order to subdue the people and make them obedient to laws, and to root out from among them the weeds of sin (the ancient Culdee faith) and that you are willing to yield and pay yearly from every house the pension of one penny to St Peter, and to keep and preserve the rights of the churches in that land whole and inviolate.
"We, therefore, regarding your pious and laudable design with due favour, and graciously assenting to your petition, do hereby declare our will and pleasure, that, for the purpose of enlarging the borders of the Church, setting bounds to the progress of wickedness (Celtic Christianity), reforming evil manners (Celtic Christianity), planting virtue, and increasing the Christian religion, you do enter and take possession of that island, and execute therein whatsoever shall be for God's honour and the welfare of the same.
"And, further, we do also strictly charge and require that the people of that land (the Irish) shall accept you with all honour, and dutifully obey you, as their liege lord, saving only the rights of the churches (Roman Church), which we will have inviolably preserved; and reserving to St Peter (pope) and the holy Roman Church the yearly pension of one penny from each house. If, therefore, you bring your purpose to good effect, let it be your study to improve the habits of that people, and take such orders by yourself, or by others whom you shall think fitting, for their lives, manners and conversation, that the Church there may be adorned by them, the Christian faith be planted and increased, and all that concerns the honour of God and the salvation of souls be ordered by you in like manner; so that you may receive at God's hands the blessed reward of everlasting life, and may obtain on earth a glorious name in ages to come."
[Eleanor Hull, A History of Ireland. Volume I. Appendix I, Pope Adrian's Bull "LAUDABILITER," http://www.libraryireland.com/HullHistory/Appendix1a.php#2.] [The original text of this Bull will be found in Dimock's edition of The Works of Giraldus Cambrensis, vol. v, pp. 317-319 (1867).]
PRIVILEGE OF POPE ALEXANDER III TO HENRY II, CONFIRMING THE BULL OF ADRIAN, 1172 [Dimock's edition of The Works of Giraldus Cambrensis, vol. v, pp. 318-319; and Ussher's Sylloge, No. 47.]
"Alexander, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to our well-beloved son in Christ, the illustrious king of the English, health and apostolic benediction.
"Forasmuch as these grants of our predecessors which are known to have been made on reasonable grounds, are worthy to be confirmed by a permanent sanction; We, therefore, following in the footsteps of the late venerable Pope Adrian, and in expectation also of seeing the fruits of our own earnest wishes on this head, ratify and confirm the permission of the said Pope granted you in reference to the dominion of the kingdom of Ireland; (reserving to Blessed Peter and the holy Roman Church, as in England, so also in Ireland, the annual payment of one penny for every house;) to the end that the filthy practices (Celtic Christianity) of that land may be abolished, and the barbarous nation (Ireland) which is called by the Christian name, may through your clemency attain unto some decency of manners; and that when the Church of that country which has been hitherto in a disordered state (Celtic Christianity), shall have been reduced to better order, that people may by your means possess for the future the reality as well as the name of the Christian profession."
Pope Adrian's successor Alexander III wrote to the Bishops of Ireland calling on them to submit to King Henry: [Laurence.]
"Understanding that our dear son in Christ Henry, illustrious King of England stirred by divine inspiration and with his united forces has subjected to his dominion, that people a barbarous one, uncivilized and ignorant of the divine law (Roman canon law) - we command and enjoin upon you that you will diligently and manfully assist the above said King to maintain and preserve that land and to extirpate the filthiness of such great abominations. And if any of the. King"s Princes or persons of the land shall rashly attempt to go against his due oath and fealty pledged to that said King you shall lay ecclesiastical cerisure on such a one."
In a similar vein Pope Alexander addressed these words to the Princes of Ireland: [Laurence.]
"Whereas you have received our dear son in Christ, Henry, illustrious King of England as your king and Lord and have sworn fealty to him... we ward and admonish your noble order to strive to preserve the fealty which by solemn oath you have made."
The same Roman Pontiff in a letter congratulating Henry on his conquest of Ireland wrote: [Laurence.]
"We have been assured how you have wonderfully triumphed over the people of Ireland and over a Kingdom which the Roman Emperors, the conquerors of the world left untouched, and you have extended the power of your majesty over the same people, a race uncivilised and undisciplined. We understand that you, collecting your splendid naval and land forces have your mind upon subjugating that people ... so we exhort and beseech your majesty and enjoin upon you that you will even more intently and strenuously continue ... and earnestly enjoin upon your majesty that you will carefully seek to preserve the rights of the See of St Peter (the Papacy)."
This was indeed what King Henry did and one of his first acts was to call the Council of Cashel in 1172 at which the ancient Celtic Church of Ireland was brought into submission to the Roman or Latin church. [Laurence.]
An interesting background to this part of history was in the year 753AD, when Pope Stephen III produced a document called 'The Donation of Constantine' and used it to claim wide ranging powers. It purported to be a document from the Emperor, dated 315 AD, giving the then Bishop of Rome and his successors this incredible commission: [Laurence.]
"Inasmuch as our power is earthly, we have decreed that it shall venerate and honour the most holy Roman Church and that the sacred See of Blessed Peter shall be gloriously exalted even above our Empire and earthly throne... He shall rule over four principal Sees, Antioch, Alexandra, Constantinople and Jerusalem, as over all churches of God in all the world... Finally, lo, we convey to Sylvester, universal Pope, both our palace and likewise all provinces and palaces and districts of the city of Rome and Italy and the regions of the west."
In 1440 it was proved to be a forgery in a style of Latin not used until four centuries after the death of Constantine. But the damage was done. The Pope cited it as his power to give Ireland to the Norman English, seeking to bring Ireland under his jurisdiction. So a poor eighth century forgery could be said to begin the political problems which have since dogged Ireland. [Laurence.]
The Norman conquest of Ireland was not entirely successful as the development of a powerful state under a strong monarchy in England was very slow, so the help from England was not forthcoming as was hoped. Many of the Norman's became Gaelicized as did the Normans in Scotland. In Ireland the Normans became quite independent from their Anglicized cousins in England, such as the Fitzgerald Earls of Kildare, Desmonds, Butlers and Burkes etc. [Laurence.]