Keith Hunt - Celtic Church in Britain #5 - Page Five   Restitution of All Things

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The Celtic Church in Britain #5

Basic Celtic Doctrines


by Leslie Hardinge (1972)     

The object of this chapter is to sketch the principal doctrines
of the Celts, beginning with the time of Patrick and ending at
the period when the last segment of the Celtic Church conformed
to Roman usages.

The Celtic Christian's devotion to the Scriptures has been
demonstrated from his writings and from the records of his
contemporaries. From the Bible Patrick derived his understanding
of what should be believed and practised. He took his duties as
the apostle of Ireland very seriously, affirming "that according
to the rule of faith in the Trinity, I should define doctrine,
and make known the gift of God and everlasting consolation,
without being held back by danger, and spread everywhere the name
of God without fear, confidently". And so he later came to be
regarded as "the father of teaching and faith for Irishmen"
Irish missionaries disseminated Patrick's teachings across
Britain and into the Continent. This chapter is partly based on
passages in the Lives and ancient laws and penitentials which
bear on theology, but its conclusions are derived mainly from the
almost twelve

* No systematic study of Celtic doctrines has been carried out
from the sources. Since the topics covered in this chapter are so
wide, discussion of each doctrine is kept very brief in this
initial investigation.

thousand Old-Irish glosses on passages from the Psalms, part of
the Gospels, and the Epistles of St Paul. These constitute a
remarkable window into the Celt's mind. J. F. Kenney assigns the
earliest comments to the seventh century, and the major portion
to the eighth. They seemingly reflect the views of the Irish
scholars uninfluenced by the dogmas of the Roman party, and,
although written by two or three hands, form a homogeneous body
of Celtic Christian thought.

(So we must remember that this history of Celtic theology is way
after true Christianity came to the Britain in the first century
AD - hence some truth had in part become lost - Keith Hunt)


The Celtic view of Deity was trinitarian, but there was no
speculation, for as the commentator remarked, "we know little of
the mysteries of God". God was eternal, without beginning, and
omniscient. He upheld the universes and might predict events,
thus revealing his omnipotence," and worthiness to be adored.
Arianism was believed to have made inroads among early British
Christians. Evidence for this has been drawn from the fact that
mention of the names of the Father, Son, and Spirit were omitted
from the baptismal formula. But arguments based on silence form a
perilous platform. That the Celtic Christians were aware of
Arianism appears from the attempt to extract trinitarian meanings
from less obvious texts. Commenting on St Paul's statement: "Now
our Lord Jesus Christ, himself, and God, even our Father, ...
comfort your hearts", the Old-Irish theologian noted: "He
indicates the Trinity here: the Son, when he says, 'our Lord';
the Father, when he says, 'God'; and the Holy Ghost when he
speaks of 'a Comforter'." He evidently was on the lookout for
trinitarian passages!

(The "trinity" doctrine has many forms as I have explained
elewhere on this website. You have the "nothingness of God"
teaching by some - no form or shape, cannot be thought of as form
and shape; you have the "ONE but can be three or two or one, at
any time" teaching; you have the trinity of "three persons, with
form and shape - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" teaching. So the
word "trinity" means different things to different people.
Certain we know from the Bible, as clear as a coudless day, there
is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But understanding them
correctly....well that takes all of the Bible to understand,
which I have given you on this website in various studies - Keith
Columba, so the tradition goes, was reproved by Pope Gregory, to
whom he had sent a copy of "Altus Prosator", because it failed to
stress belief in the Trinity. But this is probably a comminatory
story to establish Roman connections. Disbelief in the Trinity,
however, is certainly not discernible from the sources. The gloss
on St Mark corrects a quaint view, mooted by some unknown student
The quaternity, i .e. that our belief should not be thus, that we

* These have been conveniently collected and translated by W.
Stokes and J. Strachan in Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus. In the
references which will be given the relevant Scripture will be
noted first, as the essential root from which the comment sprang.
For the Celtic baptismal practices see chapter 4 below,

should deem different the Person of the Son of God and [that of]
the Son of Man, i.e. so that it should be a belief in four
persons with us, i.e. a Person of the Father, and of the Son of
God, and of the Son of Man, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Well of course Jesus did become man, but while retaining His
divinity. Hence I guess the argument, Father, Son of God, Son of
man, the Holy Spirit - Keith Hunt)

The supreme governmental authority of God, exhibited in
disciplining his people, was often noted. Punishment, it was
believed, was always administered in order to correct sin, and
never in spite or anger, because God gave his Son to justify and
not to condemn fallen man.
The Celt was absorbed in Christ's character and ministry and
produced a large and beautiful devotional literature on this
theme, but made no attempt to deal with the mystery of his
nature. Patrick affirmed that while Christ "always existed with
the Father", He was also "begotten before the beginning of
anything", suggesting that the saint had slight Arian leanings.
This tendency is also indicated by the gloss on St Paul's
statement, "Today have I begotten thee", that this referred to
"the day of the existence of God". Christ's coming into being was
thus definitely stated as following God's, and hence would fit in
with semi-Arian arguments. Yet the Deity "gives equal honour with
himself and with the Godhead of the Son to the Manhood of the
Son", for Christ was equal with the Father in might and majesty.
But with uncritical statements such as these the Celt ceased to
discuss the matter, terming it a "mystery"," and leaving it at

(We see here some had as stated a leaning towards Christ Jesus
being created at some point by the Father. This is Arian
teaching. It is INCORRECT! The Bible gives both the Father and
the Son to be ETERNAL - all proved in other studies on this
website. The scriptural statement "Today have I begotten you" is
in regard to Christ becoming a human flesh and blood being -
Keith Hunt)
Christ's equality with God was unaffected by his humanity. There
evidently arose some discussion as to whether our Lord maintained
his own divine status as a man, or whether he received divinity
as a gift from his Father. The commentator sighed: "Whether it be
from the Godhead of the Son or from the Godhead of the Father
that the Manhood of the Son assumed that which he hath assumed,
it matters not." But then he noted tensions caused by wisps of
Arian heresy:

     It is from the Father that the Son hath received power, i.e.
     this is what the heretics say, that the Godhead of the Son
     is less than the Godhead of the Father, for it is from the
     Father that the Son hath received power; he then who
     receives is less than he from whom it is received, and he
     who is endowed than he who bestows it.

(Jesus said Himself that all He had as a human being was from the
Father - all in the gospel of John. But Jesus was still Immanuel
- God with us - an eternal member of the Godhead became flesh and
blood. Jesus was both human and divine. After His reusrrection he
was back in the eternal Godhead, but went to the Father's right
hand, not inside him, not on top of Him, but on His right hand.
The NT gives everything the Father so also is the Son, but only
in ONE area is there a difference; the Father has the ultimate
AUTHORITY over everyone and everything - see 1 Cor.11:1-3. Jesus
is on the Father's RIGHT HAND, hence the Father is on the throne
of heaven as the book of Revelation makes very clear - Keith

He was certain, however, that the Godhead was never subject to
the manhood of Christ. Christ was the true image of God , and
held to be eternal, manifesting fully the nature of God, having
"the same form and substance " as the Father. Regarding Christ as
very God, the glossator warned against those who maintain "that
the Godhead of the Son is less than the Godhead of the Father,
which, however, is a heresy". He failed to note that, when he
acknowledged that the Son's being followed that of the Father, he
was in a measure denying the strict coeternity of the two
Persons. However, he might counter in the words, God granted his
Son equality of honour with himself.

(However people want to argue, the Scriptures are clear on the
matter - the Son (Christ Jesus) is God. The Father is God. Both
are the Godhead, both have been from eternity. But the one we
know today as the Father is GREATER in AUTHORITY. He is the ONE
on the heaven throne, the Son is at His right hand - all
expounded in other studies on this website - Keith Hunt)

Appreciation for the great love Christ manifested in taking human
nature in order to die for the fallen race is often noted His
advent and his entire ministry of reconciliation fulfilled the
Old Testament predictions and types. But in the works of Patrick
and other Celtic writers, including the glossators, there is no
mention of the virgin birth, nor is there any conscious effort to
suppress the fact. Faith is simply expressed in his birth. But in
the Lives, written after union with the Roman party had been
achieved, there are many allusions to the virgin birth, and some
strangely superstitious notions: he was born through the crown of
the Virgin , while Mary was impregnated by the breath of the
Third Person.

(Obviously the Celts had lost the truth of the "virgin birth" as
they never mentioned it until falling in with the Roman church,
and then strange ideas from Rome came into the virgin birth -
Keith Hunt)
Because man's sin resulted in his condemnation and separation
from God, Christ went "to foreign parts" to help the human race,
and to rescue lost mankind by striking it from the grasp in which
the Devil held it, who was ready to mete "penal death" to the
finally unrepentant. This death, the Celt believed with Pelagius,
was different from the common death of mankind, which later, in
the context, seems to suggest final annihilation. There would
evidently be no eternally burning hell. Eternal life, lost to the
human race by Adam, could be restored to the victorious sinner
only through Christ, who suffered, not for one or two persons
only, but for all. This salvation was accomplished through
Christ's "material blood" which poured from his side as he hung
on Calvary, and became effective in the case of the individual
sinner through his faith.

(Interesting to note, the Celtic teaching was final annihilation,
and no eternally burning hell fire. Of course it was so, because
it was the Roman church that brought in the "immortal soul"
doctrine and the eternal burning hell fire teaching - Keith Hunt)

The resurrection of Christ is often alluded to in the glosses.
When he ascended to glory he was immortal and in the fullness of
Deity. A belief in this truth was regarded as of vital
consequence, for the commentator remarked: "it is manifest that
unless you believe the resurrectlon of Christ from among the
dead, your faith will not sanctify you in that wise, and will not
save you from your sins." Man's existence in that case would be
confined to this present world. When Christ was "received up" to
his Father, he was enthroned above all powers in heaven and
earth, and began his ministry as the mediator between "himself
and man". This was possible because Christ had procured the
atonement, which the glossator pleasantly defined as "peace with
God through faith in Christ". This relationship came about as the
result of no afterthought on the part of God, but sprang from
"the secret counsels of Deity", which brought about the
forgiveness of sine, and the restoration of the broken communion
between God and the sinner. There is no hint of any other
intermediary--angel, saint, or priest - between God and fallen
man in the writings of Patrick and for three centuries after his
day. Christ alone was regarded as making "intercession - he
mediates, i.e. the manhood which he received from us makes
supplication to the Deity that we may not die". For the Celt
faith laid hold on his resurrected Lord with the petition, "May
Christ prepare my pleadings". This view must be set against that
held in Roman Christianity with its many intercessors.

Celtic literature is pervaded by devotional expressions of
adoration. But perhaps the most beautiful invocation of the Lord
Jesus Christ, in all his attributes, is the magnificent prayer,
part of which now follows:

     Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; 
     Naught is all else to me, save that Thou art, 
     Thou my best thought, by day and by night, 
     Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
     Be Thou my Wisdom, Thou my true Word; 
     I ever with Thee, Thou with me, Lord. 
     Thou my great Father, I Thy dear son; 
     Thou in me dwelling, I with Thee one....
     With the High King of heaven, after victory won, 
     May I reach heaven's joys, O bright heaven's Sun! 
     Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
     Still be my Vision, 0 Ruler of all.

The attitude of Celtic theologians to the problems connected with
the conflicts and tensions of Christology is reflected by the
terms in which they described aspects of the ministry of Christ:
the salvation of man was a mystery, as was the incarnation and
birth of Christ, and the cross on which he suffered. The theme of
Calvary, the glossator warned, would be obscured were the
preacher to indulge his eloquence; simplicity must be the way of
its presentation. Even then, the preacher should never forget
that he is proclaiming a mystery. The spirit of the glosses is
simple and sincere, with the purpose of stressing the practical
force of Christian teaching with no attempt at defining its

(The apostle Paul was inspired to tell is that the mysteries of
God hidden, were now revealed in the NT age. All that is
important to know about the Godhead, slavation, the age to come,
the judgment of the dead, and our eternal abode on the new earth,
is all now revealed to us in the Scriptures - both old and new -
Keith Hunt)

No question arose regarding the deity of the Spirit. Patrick and
the commentator both regarded him as one of the Trinity. But
while he breathes in the Father and the Son, Patrick noted that
it was Christ alone who shed on the believer the gift of the
Spirit as the earnest of salvation. The Nicene Creed, on the
other hand, affirmed that the Spirit proceeds from both the
Father and the Son. Patrick apparently did not know this formula,
or chose not to adhere to it.

(Patrick was right, that Christ gave the gift of the Spirit as the
earnest of salvation; but it is also correct that the Spirit does
indeed proceed from both the Father and the Son. The Spirit is
NOT a third literal form and shape being in the throne room of
heaven. The Spirit is the very nature and power that comes from
the Father and Son. All fully explained in other studies on this
website - Keith Hunt)

The Holy Spirit was believed to have spoken through the prophets
of the Old Testament and the writers of the New. This would, of
course, account for the veneration with which the two Testaments
were regarded in the Celtic Church. Not, only did the Spirit
manifest himself by inspiring the writers of the Bible, he also
poured "gifts" upon the faithful." Among these the glossator
mentioned the gift of healing, explaining this as power bestowed
upon the missioner to attend the sick as physicians do. This was
the notion of Pelagius also, and has nothing of the miraculous in
it. Another gift of the Spirit was teaching, a ministry, carried
out amazingly well by Celtic evangelists for many centuries.
The Spirit was also believed to inspire belief which resulted in
salvation, inducing men to obey the divine laws, and enabling
them to become sons of God and joint heirs with Christ. The
Spirit placed his sign on the faithful so that they might be
recorded as being in unity with Christ, through their drinking
great draughts of the grace of the Spirit. Thus the Spirit helped
to restore in man's fallen nature the divine ideal which he had
lost at the fall. Patrick noted the same thought, remarking that
it was the Spirit who dwelt in his heart and who had brought
about the change in his character. The Christian's mind was
termed "the guest-house of the Spirit", and with him abiding
within it was easy for the disciple to do what was good.

The Spirit also enables man to discover truth by illuminating his
mind through grace; and directing his prayers, which were held to
be ineffectual without the inspiration of the Spirit. This
illumination will bring about "the resurrection" or new birth
through baptism, (the new birth in actuality is at the time of
the resurrection, or being made immortal, at the last trump when
Jesus shall literally come back to earth - the new birth is fully
explained in a study on this website - Keith Hunt) which results
in the believer's possessing "the mind or desires of the Spirit",
for it is the Spirit who places holy aspirations in the soul of
man. An Old-Irish poem epitomized the longing for the in-dwelling
of the Holy Spirit:

     The Holy Spirit to inhabit our body and our souls, to
     protect us speedily ...
     O Jesus, may it sanctify us, May Thy Spirit free us!

From the fragmentary evidence which comes from the Old-Irish
period the semi-Arian view of Christ's birth and the single
procession of the Spirit from Christ alone are the peculiar
emphases of the Celtic doctrine of the Trinity.

(The Celtic teachers of this late date DID NOT have all the truth
that the first centuries of Christianity in Britain did - some truth
had become lost, and more and more truth would still become lost
as Celtic Christianity was taken over by the church of Rome -
Keith Hunt)


Celtic cosmological views were based on a literal interpretation
of the story of Genesis. The elements which make up the material
universe came into being as the result of a fiat creation ,
through the agency of Jesus Christ and by his power. One of the
purposes, stressed by the commentators, for which the world was
brought into being, was that the character of God might be
learned through a study of it. For instance: "Not less does the
disposition of the elements set forth concerning God and manifest
Him than though it were a teacher who set forth and preached it
with his lips." While it is true that there was no spoken
language through which nature communicated with men, the Celtic
mystic felt that "without art of learning and practice by anyone,
it is understood in every nation the way in which the elements
sound and show forth the knowledge of God through the work that
they do and the alteration that is on them". It was probably this
appreciation of nature's revelation of the character of God that
led to the production of so much beautiful mystic nature poetry.
But following the time of the Danish invasions Celtic writers
more and more formulated running stories of Creation, the Fall,
and the working out of the plan of salvation based on
speculation. The "Salthair na Rann" appears to have anticipated
the plan of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. In this ancient
poem the universe was pictured as consisting of seven heavens
surrounded by coloured and fettered winds, with the sun passing
through the open windows of the twelve divisions of the heavens.
This curious concept of the heavens was matched by an equally
interesting concept of the earth surrounded by a firmament, like
a shell around an egg, and constituting the centre of the
universe. These views are in marked contrast with the Old-Irish
records which hold to a literal interpretation of the scriptural
narrative. The later views were themselves modified into highly
speculative, poetic fantasies such as are contained in the "Ever
New Tongues"

(The Roman church was making inroads into the Celtic theology, as
that this earth was the center of the universe, just as was
taught for centuries that the sun travelled around this earth -
all Roman Catholic teaching through the so-called "dark ages" -
dark in many ways - Keith Hunt)


As already noted, Celtic Christians accepted the story of the
beginnings of the human race as recorded in Genesis. Formed by
God, from whom all things have their origin, first created Adam
was put as ruler over birds, fish, and all beasts. Man himself
was understood to be constituted in the threefold designation of
the Apostle, body, soul, and spirit. The commentator has left
these two definitions: "The soul and spirit are one part, and the
flesh is another, but the division of them is understood by the
Word of God ... The soul itself is the animal life; the spirit is
the spiritual reason in the souls' Spirit - the primary part of
the soul, by which we understand." But by the term spirit he
appears to have understood the mind of man, while "it is the soul
that is ready to fulfil the law of God, and not the body".

(The Celtics were close to being correct here. We are in the soul
as is the animal, but we have a "spirit in man" that the Bible
talks about, which is far above the spirit of the beast. The
"spirit in man" is explained in a study on this website - Keith

Although created perfect, man's first parents, having been
attacked by the Devil and seduced, fell into sins. It is in his
body that man "sinned from Adam". His immortality, the Celt felt,
was contingent on his obedience to the law of God. This should be
stressed. Man was mortal and after punishment the sinner would be
annihilated. If he lived merely for pleasure, he resembled the
quadruped, but should he overcome, an immortal dwelling would be
set down around him from heaven, and the victor would be granted
eternal life when the deeds of the flesh had been mortified. Here
again stress upon the divine requirements should be noted, as
another instance in which Pelagius was followed. Man's nature is
immortal only on condition of his obedience to God's law.

(Interesting is the last sentance, for it reiterates Jesus' words
to the young rich man in Matthew 19. The keeping of the
commandments of God does not give you eternal life, but if you
are not willing to keep them, you will not be saved by grace. My
in-depth study called "Saved by Grace" puts it all together for
you; makes the salvation topic clear - Keith Hunt)

The Celtic Christian seems to have regarded himself as a part of
the divine scheme of things; his life was under the guidance of
God. Patrick, for instance, was confident that he had been
foreordained by providence: "I make no false claim. I have part
with those whom he called and predestinated to preach the Gospel
amidst no small persecutions, even unto the end of the earth."
The glossator attempted to explain this doctrine of
predestination in the context of God's dealings with the Jews and
the Gentiles: "God's purpose was the election of one [the Jew]
through mercy, and the condemnation of the other [the Gentile] by
a just judgment",  but notwithstanding, being the one God over
all, he desires the salvation of all mankind. The commentator
equated adoption and election in his estimate of the meaning of
the Apostle's statement that God has predestinated man to be his
children, "sons by election, not by nature."

(The subject of "predestination" is fully covered in a study on
this website - Keith Hunt)

The Celt set out to find the solution of the age-old question,
Why, if God desires the salvation of all men, are not all men
The answer is not difficult: Because no one is constrained
against his will; or, a part is put for the whole, for there is
no race or language in the world, of which some one was not
saved; or, it was those only whom he desired to save that he did
save, i.e., "who will have all men to be saved", that is,
Augustine says, as much as to say, no one can be saved except him
whom he wills.

(Well for sure the NT teaches that none can come to the Father
unless the Father draws him with His Spirit. See my study called
"Called and Chosen - When?" and the study "The Great White Throne
Judgment" - Keith Hunt)

While he remarked that the answer was not difficult, the presence
of no fewer than five different explanations reflects the
existence of the grave difficulty which has confronted all
theologians in their discussions of the dealings of God with man.
The first answer was by Pelagius, who stressed man's free choice.
Later comments, showing dissatisfaction with this answer,
indicate a quest for others. In God's plan, the glossator noted,
all men were in the same state through their unbelief. This was
not because God arbitrarily decided to condemn mankind, but is
perfectly reasonable, since all men have sinned. No one has any
advantage over another, and "to boast of one's merits is of no
avail here, so that it was by God's mercy that they were saved".
The expression "a law of providence" recurs in the glosses. It
seems to mean an overruling divine purpose. Some argued that
there was no such providence, and that "might was right". Others
contended that, when the poor or weak were under the rich or
powerful, God was carrying out his plan to help them. Eventually
God will vindicate all who trust in him, for those who are
disciplined by tribulation are often much more ready to be
grateful for God's help, and become eager to pray for it. The
Pelagian point of view is here manifest. Man's freedom of will,
modified by trials, should be exercised in choosing God's way.
Thus the operation of grace would bring about man's ultimate
well-being. But nowhere was there any peculiarly Celtic view

(Much truth did the Celtic Christian have here - Keith Hunt)

Secondus' concept of man's human nature was an exalted one.
Nowhere in the commentaries of Old-Irish writers was there any
stress on the worthlessness of the body. Secundus sang of
Patrick: His "flesh he hath prepared as a temple for the Holy
Spirit; by whom, in pure activities, it is continually possessed;
and he doth offer it to God as a living and acceptable
sacrifice". But Patrick himself was all too aware of his own
human weaknesses:

     I do not trust myself as long as I am in the body of this
     death, because he is strong who daily endeavours to turn me
     away from the faith, and from that chastity of unfeigned
     religion which I have purposed to keep to the end of my life
     for Christ my Lord. But the flesh, the enemy, is ever
     dragging us unto death, that is, to do that which is

Only God's empowering grace, he felt, would turn this impotence
into victory, but final glorification of man would be attained
only after the resurrection at the last day:

     Most surely I deem that if this should happen to me, I have
     gained my soul as well as my body, because without any doubt
     we shall rise on that day, in the clear shining of the sun,
     that is, in the glory of Christ Jesus our Redeemer, as sons
     of the living God, and joint heirs with Christ, and
     conformed to his image, that will be; since of him and
     through him and in him we shall reign.

But besides this notion of the resurrection of the body in the
last days, other views were also mooted. Some wondered whether by
the idea of the resurrection was meant "sons succeeding their
fathers", or even the coming out of bondage and tribulation of
God's people.

But whatever the road, the goal of godly living was eternal life
in future glory, to the attaining of which the Celtic preacher
constantly urged his hearers. Patrick, too, looked forward to
this ultimate consummation of life's hopes: "We, on the other
hand, who believe in and worship the true sun, Christ - who will
never perish, nor will any one who doeth his will; but he will
abide for ever, as Christ will abide for ever, who reigneth with
God the Father Almighty, and with the Holy Spirit, before the
worlds, and now, and for ever and ever." While the belief was
held that the righteous will be resurrected on the last day, the
wicked would then be destroyed in hell. Patrick's declaration
illustrated this point regarding "those whom the devil grievously
ensnared. In everlasting punishment they will become slaves of
hell along with him; for verily whosoever committeth sin is a
bondservant of sin, and is called a son of the devil." The crux
of the relationship between fallen man and God's grace was human
choice. Placed on the side of divine providence it made possible
the outworking of God's purpose on behalf of the sinner. In the
emphasis placed on the need for man to exercise his will to do
right Pelagian overtones are detectable.

(As far as is given to us by Hardinge, we have seen the Celtic
teaching was immortal glory for the Christian and eternal death
for the unrepented sinner, and not a burning in hell-fire for all
eternity - Keith Hunt)


Celtic interest in the Decalogue has been noted. This section
considers the theological implications of this attitude. The term
law, loosely applied by Celtic writers to the entire message of
God, meant:

     These four laws are recognized in judicature. The law of
     nature, i.e. the rule which Adam had. The patriarchal law,
     i.e. this was the rule which his Pater, his Father, spoke to
     Moses. Law of the prophets, i.e. Isaias, &c. The law of the
     New Testament, i.e. this is the rule of the testament from
     the birth of Christ to the present day.'

But more specifically the word law pointed to the Decalogue.
Through the law of Moses sin was defined to the believer, who
discovered that it ultimately brought about death. Sin cannot be
discerned without law, and the very Decalogue is called the "law
of sin because it makes sins manifest". To those who see sin
through the ministry of law, and who then purpose to carry out
its requirements, all the rewards which God has promised will be
granted, and the very law itself will prove to be a delight. This
enjoyment of the commandments by the Christian himself
constitutes a proof that it is good. In these emphases on the
function of law further Pelagian overtones are to be seen.
All who disobey will be condemned by the Decalogue which they
have outraged, and suffer the vengeance which has been
threatened. Those, on the other hand, who fulfil all its
requirements will attain to all the blessedness promised in the
Bible. In none of the writings of Celtic theologians is any
antinomian view to be found. But there is indication that this
enthusiasm for the Decalogue was deprecated by detractors who
"used to count as a reproach to us that we should be subject to
Law". But in spite of a high regard for the law the commentator
was well aware of its limitation in not being able to "completely
accomplish justification"; since it was obvious the law could
make no one perfect. Its weaknesses were shadowed forth by the
ritual of the ancient Hebrews, and yet these very transitory
ceremonies of the law adumbrated Christ's sacrifice and
mediation: "for it is he that hath been figured in the Law and
declared in the Gospel; to bring you from the gospel into the ten
commandments of the Law". This is an interesting point of view:
the Old Testament laws with their ritual and sacrifices pointed
to Christ as the fulfilment of their hopes; Christ and the gospel
turned the Christian back to the Old Testament Decalogue to find
out why his Lord needed to die. Having discovered this the
Christian is more ready to accept what his Saviour has done for
him. In exposing sin the law drives the penitent to Christ, who
empowers him to live according to the divine standard, and then
the Christian comes back to the Ten Commandments to check his own
progress in righteousness. Prohibition clarifies sin, and
underlines guilt. The knowledge of the law then increases

(Ah so far the Celtic theology was right on the button - Keith

The role of the Decalogue in the life of the Celtic Christian was
of great importance. It modified the old tribal regulations and
made the sentences for crimes less barbarous. It was reflected in
the observances of many of the Old Testament regulations, and
moulded theological attitudes towards sin and righteousness.

(Yes, it was for them as Jesus said, man was not to live by
physical bread alone, but by every word that came from the mouth
of God - Keith Hunt)


Since the human race was ungodly because of the Fall, man was
believed to be helpless until he became a follower of Christ.
Left to his own resources he could not serve God. Only by the
empowering of divine grace could man accomplish any good. Patrick
was conscious of the working of this heavenly impulse in his
life: "The Lord opened the understanding of my unbelief that,
even though late, I might call my faults to remembrance, and that
I might turn with all my heart to the Lord my God", and it is
thus that God "makes those who believe and obey to become
children of God the Father and joint heirs with Christ". So man
is saved, not by the merits of his deeds, "but by God and His
grace." This Celtic viewpoint was again stressed by the
The merits of Christ were felt by Celtic theologians to be vital
to salvation. Imputed by the Saviour to the believer, they
procured his acceptance by God. The sinner could claim no other
goodness, his own or the works of the law, as the basis of his
salvation. Through belief in his heart the sinner was regarded as
righteous. By his confession of faith he was made "safe".
"Through these two means a man becomes righteous, and is saved,
so that he may be so forever." By an act of will the penitent
places himself on the side of Christ and righteousness. The sin
he served he regards as dead. He then is about to cry exultantly,
"I am only alive because Christ is in me." So man is justified,
the glossator noted, "by faith only, i.e. by faith on belief in
Jesus Christ".

(Again, they had it correct! - Keith Hunt)

The question evidently arose, Does grace abrogate law? To this
the commentator responded, "We establish it [the law] while we
prove the truth of God's promise." The Christian must rest his
faith in God in the same way in which Abraham did, for even in
the Christian era "it is the righteousness of Christ that
justifies, and not the righteousness of the law". Not only did
faith justify, it was the sole basis for sanctification of the
Christian's life which followed his justification. As the
repentant sinner day by day seeks to carry out the will of God as
revealed in his law, he becomes sanctified through empowering
grace. So Patrick affirmed, "Most surely I deem that from God I
have received what I am",  adding, "I am only worth what he
himself has given to me." There is no stress in the glosses, as
there is none in the writings of Patrick and other writers of the
Celtic period, on works of merit. The basis of salvation is the
grace of Christ accepted by faith on the part of the Christian,
and operating in his life to bring about conformity to the will
of God as revealed in his law.

(My oh yes, they had it CORRECT! - Keith Hunt)

The commentator appears to have been confused regarding the
nature of the sin inherited by man. St Paul's term, "the old
man", he defined as "the mass of old sins: or, Adam with his
deed." Explaining the Apostle's statement that humanity was "sold
under sin", he noted that it is "Adam; or, my carnal will sold me
so that I am under bondage to sin". Then, on the implications of
Adam's transgression, he observed, "I say it was not imputed."
This was the view of Pelagius, who understood that each man was
condemned because of his personal sin, and not through any
inherited guilt. There was no such thing as "original sin." But
there was a question whether Adam's guilt was "imputed" to man.
Some argued that if Adam's sin infected all men, then Christ's
righteousness should benefit all men also. But this view was
regarded as heretical. The doctrine of sin was simply left with
the remark that upon humanity "judgment is through one sin by
Adam; grace of many offences, by Jesus Christ, unto me". But
there was an important proviso in the mind of the commentator,
who declared that we have sinned not "from the nature of original
creation, but it is from our sinful nature that we have
transgressed since Adam". This is significant as indicating that
some felt that Adam's sinful nature had passed to his posterity,
while others considered that each man sinned through his own
volition without reference to any potential to sin through his

(The latter is the correct understanding. We sin not by
inheriting sins from others of the past. We sin, because we have
sinned - missed the mark, broken at some point in our time, the
commandments of God. We all have human nature, and sooner or
later our human nature leads us to sin. The Bible teaches only
Christ Jesus NEVER sinned. Everyone else has sinned - Keith Hunt)

Because of Adam's transgression death passed on all. With
Pelagius the Celt differentiated between two kinds of death.
Natural death was "the separation of body and soul". This was the
common death," of all humanity. "Penal death", on the other hand,
would overtake the wicked only. It was this death which Christ
suffered on Calvary, bearing the punishment which should have
been meted to the sinner. But the commentator was unable to
decide whether the view of Pelagius was correct: that sin
resulted in the individual by the exercise of his choice, and did
not originate from Adam's sin through an hereditary succession.
But of the fact that Celtic views on sin were affected by
Pelagius there would seem little doubt.

(Pelagius was correct, the other one was the way the Roman church
came to teach it - Keith Hunt)

Prayer was a marked and vital characteristic of the Celt. Patrick
used to pray as many as one hundred prayers each night. A spirit
of reverent devotion breathes through the brief, epigrammatical
petitions of the Old-Irish glossators:

     I dare to entreat thee that thou hear me. I bind my thoughts
     to thee, I pray that thou forgive me what I pray for to
     thee. I am compelled to pray for them to thee.
     It is best grateful in thy eyes, O God, to offer to thee the
     service of well-doing, for it is that which thou deemest the
     best that is offered to thee.
     Every praise wherewith I have been praised, O God, has been
     wrought through thee.
     My purification is lacking, if thou purify me not, O God.

Scores of these petitions exist. It was evidently a predilection
of Celtic clerics to improvise prayers. Later they were accused
of spoiling the Divine Office with too many! Petitions were
addressed to God, and to Christ, with the understanding that what
was contrary to salvation would be denied by God, in spite of
many prayers. The Christian was warned against a mere repetition
of empty words. "Whosoever, therefore, merely prays with his lips
and belies his prayers by his conduct, procures scorn for
himself; nay, renders himself hateful rather than pleasing to the
Lord. Therefore, they only are wont to be heard by the Lord who
seek a thing by prayer and ensure it by good conduct." To this
careful intention to pray with sincerity must be added diligence,
for prayers from "slothful and sleepy" petitioners are powerless.
Christians were also recommended to pray for each other, for
"mutual intercession" is a necessary part of the life of piety.
The ideas regarding prayer, held in the community in which the
glossator lived at the end of the eighth century, are of
considerable interest in showing his attitude towards the
canonical hours

     Question: What is prayer without ceasing? The answer is not
     difficult. Some say it is celebrating the canonical hours,
     but this is not the true meaning. But it is when all the
     members (of the body) are inclined to good deeds, and evil
     deeds are put away from them. Then, when doing good, they
     are praying to God, that is, they incline their eyes to see
     what is good, as Job says, "I made a covenant with mine

There are traces in the writings of Columbanus and Adamnan that
set hours for prayer were observed, but there is no evidence that
the same practices were followed in other localities by all
Celtic Christians. In fact, one of the reforms achieved by
Malachy was the establishment of the regular canonical hours,
"for there was not such thing before, not even in the city" of
Armagh prior to the twelfth centnry.

There is no indication that Patrick, or Celtic Christians for two
centuries after him, invoked saints or angels. As was seen above,
Christ was regarded as the only Mediator. But following the
acceptance of the Roman Easter and other eighth-century Western
Christian views, hagiographers recorded many petitions addressed
to various saints, angels, martyrs, and the Virgin. Comminatory
stories were told to establish this belief, and later litanies
were fathered on early Celtic saints, including Adamnan, to gain
authority for these changes. Some traces of petitions on behalf
of the dead are found as early as the sixth century, but they
consist of single invocations carved on grave-stones.
Notwithstanding this, a canon attributed to Patrick sought to
show the futility of prayer for the dead:

     Of offering for the dead - Hearken unto the Apostle when he
     saith: "There is a sin unto death, for that I say not that
     any man ask." And to the Lord: "Give not that which is holy
     to dogs." For he who did not in his life deserve to receive
     the sacrifice, how shall it be able to help him after death.

But the Old-Irish Penitential (c. eighth century), reflecting a
Roman influence, represents a modification of this point of view:

     Anyone who kills himself while insane, prayers are said for
     him, and alms are given for his soul, if he was previously
     pious. If he has killed himself in despair or for any other
     reason, he must be left to the judgement of God, for men
     dare not offer prayers for him - that is, a Mass - unless it
     be some other prayer, and almsgiving to the poor and

This simple philosophy of prayer was later changed when the
doctrine of an intermediary state between heaven and hell was
accepted by Celtic Christians, and an involved technique for
rescuing the dead devised.

(Ah yes, when Celtic Christianity was overcome and infiltrated by
the false teachings of the Roman church - Keith Hunt)


From Patrick's simple allusions to angels, their position and
function became more prominent and complex in later writers who
accepted the views of the Romans. Every reference by Patrick to
the functioning of angels was a biblical quotation. The Wurtzburg
glossator gave his view thus: "It is the angels of God who will
be engaged in guarding the righteous man, and their substance is
nobler, and their creation is prior to men, and therefore they
guard him, that the trials of the Devil may not reach him." The
later hagiographers frequently refer to the nine orders of angels
who did not rebel with the Devi1, and who constitute the quire of
the household of heaven. But some of the loyal angels, who make
up the "household of heaven", rebelled and became "fugitive". The
Altus Prosator paints a vivid picture of this concept:

     From the summit of the kingdom of heaven, of angelic rank
     From the brightness of effulgence, from the loveliness of
     Lucifer, whom God had made, fell by being proud,
     And the apostate angels, with the same mournful fall 
     Of the author of vain-glory, and of obstinate envy; 
     The rest remaining in their Principalities.

     The Dragon, great, most foul, terrible and old, ... 
     Drew with him the third part of the stars,
     Into the pit of infernal places, and of diverse prisons,
     Deserters of the true Light, cast headlong by the parasite.

These evil angels were believed to be able even to "preach
another gospel" to the unwary. Fantastic stories were invented
after the tenth century to prove the prowess of angels. One
helped Patrick to clean his hearth; another was midwife to
Senan's mother; others assisted Ciaran to grind his corn; changed
oats into wheat; brought an epistle to Patrick's dictated "the
whole sacred ecclesiastical Rule" to Brenainn; showed Findian
where to build a church in Leinster; in the form of white virgins
fostered Brenainn;" and came for saints on their death-beds.

Comminatory stories using angels as authority for practices which
sprang up later were often told. Angels placed a veil over the
head of a consecrated virgin; taught Patrick and Secundus to sing
the hymn Sancti venite, Christi corpus; inaugurated funeral
wakes; and even became patron angels: "Because Michael was the
angel of the race of the Hebrews, so Victor was of the Irish.
Hence he cared for them by means of Patrick.
Patrick accepted the possibility of man's having personal
encounters with the Devil; he had had such himself:

     Now on that same night, when I was sleeping, Satan assailed
     me mightily, in such sort as I shall remember as long as I
     am in this body. And he fell upon me as it were a huge rock,
     and I had no power over my limbs ... I believe that I was
     helped by Christ my Lord, and that his Spirit was even then
     calling aloud on my behalf.

The glossator believed that the Devil rebelled, and, with his
followers, was cast out of heaven to this earth, and henceforward
ranged himself in opposition to Christ and his followers: "As
Christ works in the righteous, according to what St Paul says:
'God worketh in you,' so does the devil work in the children of
unbelief. Sons, then, are those by works, not by nature. The
children of unbelief or despair are they who despaired of their
salvation through Christ's passions." "Despair" was a concept of
Pelagius. Notwithstanding the power of evil, God always helps
those who cry to him, so that "we are not deceived, that is,
through despair, for he [Satan] is cunning in persuading the sin
so that it is complete; after its completion, he persuades the
sinner to despair". The Devil tempted Juliana in the shape of an
angel, but the advice of the commentator was, "Let him not come
into your heart instead of God". This simple dualism later
degenerated into fabulous tales of the work of the Devil, who
passed through the air to carry off the souls of the wicked.
Brigit was made to see "Satan beside the table, his head down and
his feet up, his smoke and his flame out of his gullet, and out
of his nose"; Brenainn was believed to have observed the Devil,
"awful, hideous, foul, hellish", "Squirting the waters from him,
and killing those who would drink them". Pagan and superstitious
views of angels were encrusted around the earlier, simpler
biblical ones by later hagiographers.


Patrick and early Celtic Christians believed in the second advent
of Christ. The Apostle of Ireland declared: "We look for his
coming soon as the judge of the quick and the dead", to render
just rewards to all, after "his descent for the judgment of
Doom". Columba also looked for "Christ the Most High Lord coming
down from heaven". The commentator was of the opinion that
Christ's second advent would not be like his first, for Christ
would come the second time with the sound of the trumpet which
accompanied God, as on Mount Sinai. And faithful Christians who
recognized the first advent by the gospel would "know the second
advent by revelation".

The final event in history was believed to be the second advent
"at the last trump". This meant the last invitation to accept the
gospel, "for there will not be any sound of assembly after that".
Then Christ will pour out his judgements upon all sinners, for
"he protects neither those who never heard Him, nor those who
having heard transgress". But when Christ as the true Judge
pronounces the sentence on all, "none will be able to absent
himself", but will be compelled to give an account of even his
smallest sins before the judgement seat of Christ the Lord. The
glossator corroborated Patrick's view, remarking that "God the
Father shall execute judgement by Jesus Christ; that is, the Son
shall judge in the day of judgement, according to our Lord's
words (John 5.22)".

(We see here that the Celtic theology was correct in SOME of the
"last days" teachings, but was INCORRECT in ideas of judgment,
sins, and no salvation after Christ's return. The salvation plan
of God is expounded for you in detail on this website in many
studies - Keith Hunt)

Connected with the second advent was the resurrection of the
dead, not "to be examined, but resurrected in order to receive
the condemnation to which they have been sentenced."  Evidently
there was some belief that judgement had preceded the advent, at
which time the sentence would be meted out. Then every man would
be compelled to answer for himself, for no excuse would be
tolerated by the divine tribunal: "If they reply, 'We did not
recognize him, for his human nature concealed his divinity', the
answer will be, 'You believed in the devil, though he also was
incarnate.' It is right, then, that they who are not admitted to
the glory of Christ share the condemnation of the devil." 

(They had the final resurrection judgment and the final second
death mixed up and did not understand the two of them in the
correct light - which I correctly expound to you on this website
- Keith Hunt)

Patrick and the early Celtic Christians believed that the second
advent of Christ and the end of the world were near at hand. The
glossator remarked that "time is short - that is, the end of the
world". Patrick was certain that he had been called by God to
preach a vital message to the wicked so that they might prepare
for eternity. He believed, in fact, that he was actually living
"in the last days":

     I ought to receive it with an equal mind, and ever render
     thanks to God who showed me that I might trust him
     endlessly, as one that cannot be doubted; and who heard me,
     so that I, ignorant as I am, and in the last days, should be
     bold to undertake this work so holy and so wonderful; so
     that I might imitate in some degree those of whom the Lord
     long ago foretold, when forshewing that his Gospel would be
     for a witness unto all nations before the end of the world.
     And accordingly, as we see, this has been so fulfilled.
     Behold, we are witnesses that the Gospel has been preached
     to the limit beyond which no man dwells.

(Patrick like so many after him, thought they were living in the
days when Jesus would return. The NT shows that from Christ
onward it can be regarded as the "last days" - yet we also have
the word of prophecy, both old and new Testaments, that show
there will be a last days of 42 months, and certain prophecy must
come to pass leading up to and during those last 42 months. Then
and only then will Christ literally return to this earth to
establish the Kingdom of God over all nations - Keith Hunt)

Patrick could therefore affirm, "We look for his coming soon to
be." Columbanus likewise believed that "the world is already in
its last days."

(And so it has been the mistake of so many down through the
centuries, who could not, or did not, understand the many
passages of prophecy, that need to come to pass before Jesus can
return. Those prophetic passages I have expounded to you in depth
on this website. Until those events come to pass, Jesus will not
return. We can see before our eyes the rise of a United Beast
Europe. We can see the freedom from dictators in the Arab world,
who are yet to form the united "king of the south" - it is all
taking shape, but it is still taking shape, and has not yet come
to pass as it will and must be. God the Father is in charge of
world events and He can shorten or lengthen the time as He
chooses, for end time prophecy to reach the last 42 months of
this age. Will end time events come to pass in the next 20, 30
years? Maybe they will. Maybe they will not. But what I have told
you about how the end time events WILL BE, WILL INDEED BE, AND
WILL EVENTUALLY COME TO PASS. You must keep watching world
events, for they will come to pass as you have been told in
studies on this website - Keith Hunt)


A consideration of these Celtic doctrines reveals a significant
independence of thought and exegesis. There might be here and
there the echo of some phrase coined by a theologian of the West,
but for the most part the Celtic teacher phrased his
understanding of the meaning of the Bible in his own words,
seeking always to apply it to some practical need. Celtic
theology is biblical theology with no patristic emphases. A study
of the Deity was made to reveal qualities of benevolence working
toward the salvation of fallen man. Human redemption was procured
solely by the sacrificed merits of the Son of God without any
works on the part of man to earn his salvation. And yet man was
believed to be required to exercise his will in obeying the
Decalogue, albeit through the generously bestowed grace of God to
empower his efforts. Great stress was laid upon God's law in all
its bearings, especially in its function as the revealer of sin.
Man's personal responsibility for his own sinning, like the
stress laid on the law, is an echo of the teaching of Pelagius.
Angels were held to be celestial assistants to man, while a
simple dualism sets him against the Devil and evil angels. At the
end of human history Christ was believed to return to
re-establish man in that state for which he was originally
created. The reader in the sources of Celtic Christian theology
finds only a simple devotional study of the Scriptures, which,
taken in their most literal sense, form the basis of Celtic

There is no involvement in theological argumentation or in any
attempt to reach definitions of obscure and theoretical terms.
Aloof from the religious stresses of Mediterranean countries the
teachers of the Celtic west went their own ways, seeking to
understand the will of God for them as revealed in the


To be continued with "The Christian Year."

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