We Have Celtic DNA

When Augustine arrived at Canterbury in 597, sent by the church in Rome, he discovered a well-established and thriving native church already there. There are various theories about how the Christian church got to the British Isles. One story has it that Christianity was brought by Joseph of Arimathea. We call that native church Celtic and its traditions and way of understanding God and life are at the heart of Anglicanism.
Some of the core beliefs and practices of Celtic spirituality are:

  1. Oneness of Creation – All of life, both spirit and matter, are woven together inseparably. Humanity and creation are intertwined.
  2. Incarnation – The divine presence is in all creation. Therefore all creation is good and holy.
  3. The Way of Blessing – in a collection of ancient Celtic prayers there is frequent mention of the “bending of the knee” (i.e. to the rising sun, the new moon) a sign of being humbled by evidence of the presence and creative design of the God of life.
  4. Trinitarian – a devotion to the Trinity. Many Celtic prayers include ones mentioning God, One in Three and Three in One.
  5. Spiritual Practices – The Celts believed that spiritual practices strengthen the yearnings we have for wholeness. These practices include: the practice of prayer, the practice of soul-friending (The Irish call the soul friend anam cara), the practice of pilgrimage, (this practice includes the practice of the search for the holy), and the practice of social justice. These practices lead us to transformation into the person God has always dreamed for us to be.
  6. Awareness of Life’s Woundedness – Celts believed in a balance of joy and sorrow in life. They also were aware of sin. They saw humanity, at the core, as essentially good, but at times bound in the chains of sin which could only be loosed by Jesus.
  7. Honoring of Women – Women were honored as spiritual guides and heads of joint convents/monasteries. It is believed that there were female bishops in the Celtic church.
  8. Shaped by the Arts – The church was full of the artistic expression of its people…poetry from Wales and Ireland, songs from the people of Scotland, in particular the Outer Hebrides, beautiful descriptive poetry from throughout the British Isles, mysticism, and imagination.

ll of these characteristics of the Celtic tradition can be found within the Anglican tradition and are a part of our heritage. This helps explain why there are very few systematic theologians in the Anglican tradition. Most of our theology has instead been expressed in poetry, story and drama by such writers as George Herbert, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, John Donne, John Keble, Christina Rossetti, William Wordsworth, Evelyn Underhill, Madeleine L’Engle, and more recently Bono. We are blessed to have the Celtic tradition in our ecclesiastical DNA!

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