Christian Cyclopedia

About the Cyclopedia

Celtic Church.

1. Many facts regarding the Celtic Ch. have been brought to light in the 20th c. It was once regarded as a half-mythical organization, whose true hist. was obscured by traditions and contradictions. Careful hist. research has revealed a religious organization of great influence and of almost unmatched miss. achievement. It played an important role in the evangelization not only of the Brit. Isles, but of Gaul, Switz., and even It. and the Germanic lands.

2. Martin (ca. 315–ca. 399); bp. Tours; a founder of the Celtic Ch.; had little sympathy with Lat. Christianity; est. monastery at Ligugé and a Celtic miss. training school near Tours; the latter was called Logo-Tigiac (“bright white house”). A great opponent of Arians, Martin was flogged by order of the magistrates of Milan for speaking out against Arianism. See also Church Year, 17; Wales.

3. Ninian (ca. 360–ca. 432); one of Martin's most famous pupils; b. Pictland (now Scot.); educ. Tours; sent by Martin to Pictland; est. miss. training school (Celtic muinntir, “community”), called Candida Casa (Lat. “bright white house”), at Whithorn, SW Scot., ca. 397; trained hundreds of missionaries who went throughout the Brit. Isles.

4. Piran (ca. 352–ca. 430; some say a c. later). Irish Pict; est. a ch. and training center at Perranzabuloe, Cornwall; trained men who were then sent on preaching tours throughout W Eng. and Cornwall. Ruins of his ch. were discovered 1835.

5. Patrick.* Celtic, not RC, miss. to Ireland; built on foundations laid by Ninian's missionaries.

6. Finbar (ca. 490–578); Irish Pict; est. training school at Maghbile, Ulster; sent missionaries to Britain; founded colony and churches at Dornoch; friend of Comgall. Cainnech (ca. 515–600); Irish Pict; labored as miss. among W Picts and in Pictland of Alba; est. training center at Achadh-Bo, Ireland. Ferghil; trained by Cainnech; miss. to Salzburg. Kentigern (Celtic for “High Lord”; also called Mungo, i. e., “the beloved one”; ca. 518–603); miss. in Scot. Traditionally the 1st bp. of Glasgow. Petrock (fl. ca. 550); Celtic miss. to Cornwall and probably Devon.

7. Columba (ca. 521–597). B. Donegal; d. Iona*; Celtic miss.; “Apostle of Caledonia”; est. training school on lone 563; sent missionaries to Britain and the Continent; founded Gaidhealic Ch., which succeded Pictish Ch.; built on foundations laid by Ninian, Piran, Patrick, and others. See also Symbolism, Christian, 4.

8. Comgall the Great (ca. 516–ca. 601). Famous preacher; est. training center at Bangor, SE Northern Ireland, on S side of entrance to Belfast Lough. Those trained include Columban,* Gall,* Maelrubha,* and Moluag.*

9. Other Celtic leaders were Aidan,* Dewi,* Drostan,* Kilian,* and Servanus.*

10. The Celtic Ch. fl. 4th–9th c. It long antedated the Lat. Ch. in N Eur. and was a powerful rival of Rome. Its date of Easter was different; it rejected the Roman type of tonsure, knew nothing of bps. as the Lat. Ch. understood them, rejected the jurisdiction of the pope, and knew nothing of the worship of Mary, intercession of saints, purgatory, transubstantiation, Communion in one kind, and other typical Roman traditions.

11. Perhaps the most notable characteristic of the Celtic Ch. was its fiery miss. zeal. It maintained a far-flung chain of muinntirs, which were miss. training schools. Here men were trained who made their way throughout the Brit. Isles and to the Continent, reaching places as far away as Austria, S Ger., Switz., and Italy. They were missioners, not pastors. They made little attempt to found permanent congs., but were content to be “awakeners,” going two by two on lengthy preaching tours. Each great training center maintained a dozen or more communities where a “family” of preachers lived and from which they went out on their preaching missions.

12. The Celtic Ch. has a multitude of “saints,” but in the old Celtic languages this word means merely “cleric” or “missionary,” nothing more. The Celts did not canonize their noted men; nor did they dedicate their chs. to apostles, martyrs, or noted leaders. The Celtic Ch. was composed of several divisions, the more important of which were the Brito-Pictish Ch., the Iro-Pictish Ch., and the Ch. of the Gaidheals. The Picts and the Gaidheals regarded each other as erring groups.

13. The older accounts of the Celtic Ch. present a maze of contradictions and anachronisms; this led many to declare that its true hist. was lost beyond recovery. But considerable progress has been made by a group of careful historians. A. Macbain, W. D. Simpson, A. R. MacEwen, and A. B. Scott deserve special mention. These and others have made available an abundance of material on the Celtic Ch. and have done much to purge it of the thick veneer of legend, idle speculation, and confusion that until recently obscured its true hist. The Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness also furnish much material.

14. The Celtic Ch. is important for its great miss. achievements and its ev. character. Its hist. fills in what was once a strange gap of 450 yrs. bet. the end of the apostolic and patristic era and the time of the rise in influence of the RC Ch. Many famous MSS of the NT were due to the industry of Celtic scribes, to whom we owe the preservation of such treasures as the Muratorian Fragment, the Codex Boernerianus, and the Codex Sangallensis. FRW

See also Cerne, Book of; Culdees; Druids.

A. B. Scott, The Pictish Nation: Its People and Its Church (Edinburgh, 1918) and St. Ninian, Apostle of the Britons and Picts (Edinburgh, 1916); W. D. Simpson, Saint Ninian and the Origins of the Christian Church in Scotland (Edinburgh, 1940), The Historical Saint Columba, 2d ed. (Aberdeen, 1927), and The Celtic Church in Scotland (Aberdeen, 1935); N. Chadwick, Celtic Britain (New York, 1963); M. Anderson, St. Ninian: Light of the Celtic North (London, 1964); F. R. Webber, A History of Preaching in Britain and America, I (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1952), pp. 29–108.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

Internet Version Produced by
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
Concordia Publishing House
All rights reserved.

Content Reproduced with Permission

Stay Connected! Join the LCMS Network:

Contact Us Online
(Staff Switchboard)
(Church Info Center)
1333 S Kirkwood Rd
Saint Louis, MO 63122-7226 | Directions


Featured Publication

The Lutheran Witness

LCMS Communications

Interpreting the contemporary world from a Lutheran Christian perspective.
Visit TLW Online