Christianity first reached the Celtic people of Ireland and Britain as early as the second century C.E. and began to blossom by the fifth century.
This encounter between the Christian religion and Celtic tradition engendered a deep and distinctive spirituality rooted in the goodness of creation.
The Celtic way of Christianity has since made abundant contributions to art, literature, and theology, with expressive symbolism and imagery, a unique understanding of human nature, and its own monastic traditions.
Though the Celtic expression of Christianity has long encountered tension with mainstream Christianity, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have seen a revival of interest in the Celtic spiritual tradition.
At this critical juncture in history, for both the Church and the world, Celtic spirituality has much to offer Christians today.
In contrast to dualistic strains of Christian thought, which prioritize spirit over matter, Celtic Christianity emphasizes the sacred essence of all creation.
Creation, like Scripture, reveals God’s heart. Yet we enact great violence on creation daily, and climate change threatens life as we know it on earth. Recapturing the high value that this spirituality places on creation—and our care for it—is of urgent importance for our world and indeed the fate of humanity.
Likewise, The Celtic way of Christianity emphasizes the essential goodness of humanity, rather than the Augustinian notion of original sin.
While acknowledging the existence of sin, Celts prioritize the goodness inherent in individuals; each bears the imago dei. “The presence of God’s spirit in all things is what makes them beautiful,” Pelagius wrote. “[I]f we look with God’s eyes, nothing on the earth is ugly” (Letters of Pelagius, 71).
This understanding of humanity has the power to tear down the walls that separate us from one another, both in our neighborhoods, in our brutally divisive national politics, and in the global community.
Celtic spirituality offers new ways of viewing the Christian mission in the world, too.
David Adam observes that “The Celtic church did not so much seek to bring Christ as to discover Him: not to possess Him, but to see Him in ‘friend and stranger’; to liberate the Christ who is already there in all his riches” (Ian Bradley, The Celtic Way, 75).
In stark contrast to the imperializing role that Christian mission has played throughout church history, Celtic spirituality offers a way to engage in mission and evangelism that acknowledges the dignity and respect inherent in each person.
Finally, Celtic spirituality calls for us to slow down, to be contemplative, to cease from the brutal pace of the world that robs us of vitality and life.
This spirituality offers a pathway to a deep connection to creation, to God, to others, and to our very selves.
In these ways and others, Celtic spirituality offers Christians today possibilities for growth, newness, and depth.
-Arthur M. Wright, Jr.
Arthur is an Affiliate Professor of Spirituality and New Testament at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.
He’s published a number of essays and articles on the Gospels and the Roman imperial context of the New Testament. His book, The Governor and the King: Irony, Hidden Transcripts, and Negotiating Empire in the Fourth Gospel, is forthcoming from Wipf and Stock.
Art’s research and teaching interests include the Gospels, Revelation, the Roman Empire in the New Testament, and perspectives on the afterlife in the Bible and early Christianity. In the spirituality area, his interests include spiritual disciplines, centering prayer, and Celtic spirituality. Art participated in a Wabash Center workshop for Online Learning and strives to make his online courses as engaging and meaningful for students as traditional face-to-face courses.