Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Celtic Christianity: Making Myths and Chasing Dreams

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Celtic Christianity: Making Myths and Chasing Dreams

Article excerpt

Celtic Christianity: Making Myths and Chasing Dreams. By Ian Bradley (New York: St. Martin's Press. 1999. Pp. x, 246. $45.00.)

Celtic Christianity, regardless of how one defines it, plays an important role in the spiritual life and thinking of many English-speaking people. The main question is: does it have some objective reality, even when mixed with various accretions and imaginings, or is it entirely a figment? (Celtic should always be understood here as if in inverted commas.) Ian Bradley whose previous writings promoted Celtic Christianity for its spiritual benefits, now takes a long, cool look at its history and its validity.

There is immense erudition in the book. It covers six periods from the seventh century to the present day, pointing out how in each the supposed golden age of a Celtic Church has been exalted above its prosaic reality. There are just short of 600 footnotes. In post-Reformation times, many writers have taken a denominational stance, the commonest being to assert the Celtic Church's independence and to contrast its freedom of spirit with the authoritarian and legalistic Church of Rome. On the whole, however, Catholics and Protestants have not reacted very differently. Differences, though by no means clear-cut, are now rather between scholars, or the more hard-headed, and the devotees. Surprisingly, devotees abound in England more than in the Celtic fringe: Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

One's background, as Bradley shows, is relevant. My own ancestry is at least three-quarters Celtic and since my teenage years I have lived in the Scottish Highlands, in a spot hallowed by a seventh-century abbot of Iona. For over fifty years I have spoken and read Gaelic and been familiar with Carmina Gadelica, a magnificent collection of Gaelic folk prayers. …

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