It seems that wherever you go in the church of England these days, you are never far from something that is described as ‘Celtic,’ whether it is an approach to prayer, an approach to music, or even an approach to God. But what is Celtic spirituality? What makes something ‘Celtic’? and, most importantly of all, what is the value of it? Does it, as Marian Raikes asks in this booklet, provide ‘Light from dark Ages’?
Having explored the reasons for the contemporary revival in interest in all things Celtic, Raikes then notes the challenge faced when looking for that which is ‘Celtic’: whilst a history of Celtic Christianity can be traced from Patrick’s mission to Ireland in 431 through to the Synod of Whitby in 664 and beyond, there are comparatively few early reliable sources, and many later ones. Nevertheless, from these sources Raikes carefully traces through early Celtic theology and spirituality.
We then come to look at modern Celtic spirituality, and the recognition that much of what is described as Celtic now is not true to the sources. Rather, Raikes describes it as syncretistic and sentimental, owing more to a romanticism than to reality. As such, it holds a mirror up not to the Celtic world of the early middle ages, but to contemporary theological distaste for doctrines such as original sin, or forensic justification.
There are however, some interesting challenges to be found in the early Celtic sources. As with any engagement with historical forms of Christianity, we find things to affirm, things to challenge, and expressions of spirituality and theology which rightly challenge us. For this, ‘Light from Dark Ages’ is a helpful guide on a worthwhile journey.
James Hughes is a member of the Latimer Trust Council, and Vicar of St Alkmund's, Duffield. More information on this book can be found here.