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

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The Celtic Church in Britain #6

Sabbath and Festivals


by Leslie Hardinge (1972)

The book is fully of reference notes, which before I have not
retained. I do give the numbers in thism chapter. It is not my
intent to produce all the reference notes at the end of this
book, which covers about 50 pages - Keith Hunt


     Particular days have been connected with acts of worship in
the Christian calendar. Some of these times of devotion recurred
weekly, while others fell annually.
     Like other Christian bodies in both the East and West, the
Celtic Church set aside special days to fulfil its sacred
obligations. The Sabbath was ever carefully kept by the Hebrews,
and was observed by our Lord. 1 The first converts to the
Christian faith had been Jews. They continued to observe the
Sabbath. But several factors combined to induce Christians to
give up the observance of the Sabbath in favour of Sunday in
succeeding centuries. After the fall of Jerusalem in 70, and then
the crushing of the revolt led by Bar Cochbar in 135, the Jews
were scattered and their name and religion execrated. One of the
more obvious marks of a Jew was his observance of the Sabbath.
Christians, keeping the Sabbath, not because they were Jews but
in honour of creation and in obedience to the fourth commandment,
were, however, stigmatized as Jews. They were accused, especially
in Roman metropolitan areas, of practising an illegal religion.
     Soon after the founding of the faith Gnosticism and
Mithraism raised tensions in Christian thinking. 2 Gnostics
"celebrated the Sunday of every week, not on account of its
reference to the resurrection of Christ, for that would have been
inconsistent with their Docetism, but as the day consecrated to
the sun, which was in fact their Christ". 3 The influence of
Mithraism tended in the same direction, for, as G. L. Laing
declared rightly: "Our observance of Sunday as the Lord's day is
apparently derived from Mithraism. The argument that has
sometimes been used against this claim, namely, that Sunday was
chosen because of the resurrection on that day, is not well
supported." 4 Those Christians who were looking for a way out of
their difficulty with Sabbath observance moved towards a greater
regard for the first clay of the week. But others on the
outskirts of the Empire, where anti-Semitism did not exist,
continued their veneration of the seventh clay Sabbath.
     For two centuries the issue was undecided, but gradually
Sunday proved to be more popular. When, on 7 March 321,
Constantine decreed the observance of the "venerable day of the
Sun", 5  the extinction of Sabbath observance among the majority
of Christians became a foregone conclusion. But there are records
that both days, Saturdays and Sundays, were kept in Mediterranean
lands for at least two centuries after Constantine's edict. 6
     The Council of Laodicea in 364 went so far as to rule that
the Sabbath should be deliberately desecrated: "Christians shall
not Judaize and be idle on Saturday, 7 but shall work on that
day: but thr Lord's day they shall especially honour, and, as
being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If,
however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from
Christ." 8 But these ecclesiastical legislators apparently spoke
only for a faction of Christians. At the beginning of the fifth
century Socrates (+ 445) wrote of the situation as it then
existed: "Although almost all churches throughout the world
celebrate the sacred mysteries on the Sabbath of every week, yet
the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some
ancient tradition, have ceased to do this." 9 He makes it plain
that Christians at Alexandria and Rome had once observed the
Sabbath but had moved to Sunday. In north Africa Augustine noted
to what purpose Saturday was devoted on his own age: "On this
day, which is the Sabbath, mostly those are accustomed to meet
who are desirous of the Word of God ... in some places the
communion takes place daily, in some only on the Sabbath and the
Lord's day, and in some only on the Lord's day." 10 Jerome (+
420) has left this picture of how Sunday was observed in his own
community: "On the Lord's day only they proceed to the church
beside which they lived, each company following its own
mother-superior. Returning home in the same order, they then
devoted themselves to their allotted tasks and made garments
either for themselves or else for others." 11 Seemingly after
divine worship on the morning of Sunday the rest of the day was
regarded as secular time in which work might be done. The
sabbatizing of Sunday had not yet begun.
     Since Celtic practice received much of its inspiration from
the monachism of Egypt, it would be helpful to consider the
position of the Sabbath in Egypt during monasticism's formative
years. Palladius in the fifth century observed that the monks of
Nitria "occupy the church only on Saturday and Sunday", 12 at
which time they celebrate the Lord's Supper. 13 When Palladius
called on John of Lycopolis, he 

     found the vestibule of his cell closed; for the brethren
     built on later a very large vestibule holding about 100 men,
     and shutting it with a key they opened it on Saturday 14 and
     Sunday. So, having learned the reason why it was closed, I
     waited quietly till the Saturday. And having come at the
     second hour for an interview I found him sitting by the
     window, through which he seemed to be exhorting his
     visitors. 15

     John evidently conducted his spiritual counselling and
preaching on the Sabbath as well as on Sunday. Paesius and Isaias
decided to become monks on the death of their father. One
bestowed his fortune on the Church, and having learned a trade,
supported himself by his own labours. "But the other parted with
nothing, but making himself a monastery and getting together a
few brethren welcomed every stranger, every invalid, every old
man, every poor man, preparing three or four tables every Sunday
and Saturday." 16 In this way he spent his money." 17 Various
modes of monasticism were practised in Egypt: "For having divided
the property, they applied themselves each to his purpose of
pleasing God, but by different tactics." 18
     Elpidius established his hermitage in a cave near Jericho.
"During his twenty-five years' life there he used to take food
only on Sunday and Saturday 19 and would spend the nights
standing up and singing the psalms." 20 Marcarius ate only on
Sunday. 21 The virgin Taor and her companions went to church for
communion on Sunday. 22 One of Nathaniel's visitors identified
himself thus: "I am so-and-so's little servant and I am carrying
loaves, for it is this brother's agape, and to-morrow when
Saturday 23 dawns offerings will be wanted." 24 Dom C. Butler
summed up the evidence 25 in these words:

     The celebration of the Sabbath as well as the Lord's Day,
     the Saturday as well as the Sunday, common throughout Egypt
     and the East, is well illustrated in the 'Lausiac History.'
     These were the only days on which the monks assembled at
     church, took communion, received visitors, fed the needy,
     and relaxed their fasts. 26

     Accounts from the sources showing that both the Sabbath and
Sunday were kept throughout the early centuries of the Christian
era might be multiplied. Out of this background the Celts drew
their understanding of the days which should be observed.

     Since the Celtic Church began when Sabbath observance had
not been relinquished by Christians at large, it would be
surprising, were the Sabbath not revered among them 27 The early
life of Patrick by Muirchu has two stories indicating Patrick's
attitude towards the seventh day. These traditions had persisted
for more than two centuries after the saint's death. His
biographer observed:

     The angel was wont to come to him on every seventh day of
     the week; and, as one man talks with another, so Patrick
     enjoyed the angel's conversation. Moreover in the sixteenth
     year of his age he was taken captive, and for six years he
     was a slave, and throughout thirty changes of service the
     angel used to come to him; he enjoyed angelic counsel and
     conversation. 28

     Muirchu identified Patrick's visitor: "Victor was the angel
who was wont often to visit Patrick." 29 The saint himself
referred to an acquaintance of his with this name. In his account
of his call to missionary service in Ireland he wrote:

     I saw in the night visions a man whose name was Victoricus,
     30 come as it were from Ireland with countless letters. And
     he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the
     letter, which was entitled, "The voice of the Irish"; and
     while I was reading aloud the beginning of the letter, I
     thought that at that very moment I heard the voice of them
     who lived beside the Wood of Foclut which is nigh unto the
     western sea. And thus they cried, as with one mouth, "We
     beseech thee, holy youth, to come and walk among us once

     Years ago Alfred Anscombe made an illuminating suggestion
identifying Victoricus. 32 Victricius (+ 407), bishop of Rouen,
paid a visit to Britain, possibly to help the Christians to
combat Arianism, but also to minister to believers from among the
Morini and Nervii who were serving in the Roman legions, encamped
near the Wall in Cumberland. Anscombe suggested that Victricius
probably penetrated as far as Cumbria, and that Patrick might
well have heard him preach, and that Victricius was changed to
Victoricus in later accounts. Traditions of Patrick's contacts
with Victoricus transformed him into an angel. Victricius might
well have been the inspiration for Patrick's missionary ambition.
Muirchu simply recorded that Patrick and Victricius met "every
seventh day of the week" for prayer and spiritual converse. 33
Worship on the seventh day is quite in keeping with the milieu
and the age in which Patrick lived.

     Muirchu noted the method used by Patrick in working for the
conversion of pagans. This narrative also makes reference to the
seventh day. A young lady of royal birth (in eulogies converts of
the saints were frequently of royal birth!) named Moneisen,
contrary to her parents' wishes, desired to remain unmarried. In
their quandary her mother and father "having taken advice given
to them by God, heard of Patrick as a man who was visited by the
everlasting God every seventh day; and they sought the Scottic
country with their daughter, looking for Patrick". 34 And so the
legend grew. Patrick's sabbatic devotions, associated with
Victricius, became in course of time converse with an angel
Victor, and finally developed into Patrick's weekly visit by the
everlasting God on every seventh day! Patrick himself says
nothing of Sunday.

     Almost five centuries later, when the movement to sabbatize
Sunday was under way, in accounts of Patrick's activities several
comminatory anecdotes for Sunday observance are fathered on the
saint. Patrick's journeys were occasionally terminated in the
records by the phrase "and he rested there on Sunday". 35 Then
stories were introduced into his activities as propaganda for
stricter Sunday observance. For instance, at Mag Reta, "Patrick
abode there through a Sunday. And on that Sunday they were
digging the foundation of Rath Baccain, the royal stronghold of
the district. Patrick went to forbid this. Nothing was done for
him." 36 So Patrick was recorded as cursing the building and its
builders. A storm vindicated the saint by destroying what had
been erected. Another anecdote was told to show how carefully the
saint kept Sunday and how heaven blessed him for this:

     From vespers on Sunday night until the third [Roman] hour on
     Monday, Patrick used not to go out of the place wherein he
     was biding. [And] on a certain Sunday Patrick was afield at
     the hour of evening, and a great rain poured on that earth,
     but it poured not on the place wherein Patrick was staying,
     as happened in the case of Gideon's shell and fleece. 37

     Since the day was held by the Celtic Christians to begin at
sundown, Patrick is said to have commenced his devotions on
Saturday evening and to have continued them until dawn on Monday.
"These are among the earliest Irish attempts to persuade
Christians to observe Sunday as Sabbath" 38 is the correct
observation of A.O. Anderson.
     In the Senchus Mor, ancient Irish laws believed to have been
framed with the help of Patrick, the relationship between the
"tribe of the church" and the "tribe of the people" is carefully
spelled out. These Christianized Brehon laws required that.
"every seventh day of the year" should be devoted to the service
of God. 39 The first section of the paragraph in which this
directive occurs dealt with the Christian's goods, defining the
tithes and offerings which he should dedicate to God. Next, the
time which the Christian should spend on sacred duties was
regulated. That the later legal glossator understood the
expression "every seventh day" as applying to the weekly rest day
is proved by his comment, "he puts Sunday in the reckoning" 40
This, of course, would be a natural conclusion for him to draw
after Sunday had superseded the Sabbath in the Celtic Church.
Skene rightly observed on this point: "It is very characteristic
of the spirit of these laws that the day of rest - the seventh
day - should form one of the demands of the Church upon the lay
tribe, which its members were bound to render for the service of
God with their other dues." 41 When all regard for the seventh
day had finally disappeared from the calendar of Celtic
Christians, the tradition still persisted that Patrick had
believed that there was some special significance attached to the
Sabbath. In a propaganda story to establish the virtue of
Secundus' "Hymn in Praise of St Patrick" is a conversation
between the saint and an angel:

"Is there aught else that he granted to me beside that?" saith
Patrick. "There is", saith the angel. "Seven persons on every
Saturday till Doom [are] to be taken out of Hell's pains." ...
"Is there aught else, then, that will be given me?" said Patrick.
"There is", saith the angel. "Thou shalt have out of [Hell's]
pains seven every Thursday and twelve every Saturday." 42

     Thursday and Saturday were evidently days of devotion, in
which special blessings might be claimed from God.
     A record of David's regard for the Sabbath was preserved in
the Second Life of St David:

     From the eve of the Sabbath, until the light shines in the
     first hour, after the break of day on the Sabbath, they
     employ themselves in watchings, prayers, and genuflections,
     except one hour after morning service on the Sabbath; they
     make known their thoughts to the father, and obtain his
     leave with respect to what was asked. 43

The "eve of the Sabbath" was Friday at sunset. David evidently
began his sabbatic devotions then 44 and continued them until
dawn of Sunday.

     In later Roman and Western Church usage Saturday was made a
fast while Sunday always was a festival. In the Book of David (c.
500-25) Sunday and Saturday were put on equal footing as far as
the prohibition of fasting was concerned: "A bishop who wilfully
commits murder, or any kind of fornication or fraud, shall do
penance for thirteen years; but a presbyter seven years on bread
and water, and a repast on Sunday or Saturday." 45 That fasting
and abstinence from baths were not part of the ritual of Celtic
Christians for Sabbath observance is illustrated by this
anecdote: "A certain rich neighbour having prepared himself to
bathe on the Sabbath day, as was his custom, saw them coming,
weary from their journey and voyage; and seeing them, he would
not bathe until the strangers, who were more worthy of bathing,
had first bathed." 46 David observed Sunday as well as the
Sabbath. His biographer recorded that "on Sunday, David sang
mass, and preached to the people"; 47 and that on one occasion
"on the intervening Sunday, a great multitude heard him preach a
most excellent sermon". 48
     This Welsh church leader, David, once called a synod in the
absence of Cadoc, who was away on pilgrimage. The story records
that on his return Cadoc was very incensed, but was admonished by
a celestial messenger to be patient because "the irregularity of
this business was allowed to blessed David by angelic
intervention". 49 Cadoc was mollified and rewarded by the angel
in these words:

     Because thou hast obeyed my voice, and at my entreaty hast
     forgiven what was committed against thee, the Lord my God
     will deliver thy castle full of the souls of men from
     eternal punishment, in the day of judgement; and as many
     shaggy hairs as are in thy cloak (a kind of garment which
     the Irish wear out of doors, full of prominent shaggy hairs,
     woven into a kind of plush), so many will be delivered by
     thee from eternal punishment. And also on every Sabbath,
     from this night for ever, one soul will be delivered from
     eternal torments for thy love. 50

(We should be able to see that by this time in church history and
Celtic church history in Britain, truth of the Sabbath and other
truths of the Bible were being perverted and falling into the
hands of the church of Rome, or even before Rome entered Britain,
Satan was working to corrupt the original truth of the word of
God that had arrived in Britain in the first century AD. - Keith

     The Sabbath was held to be a day of blessing in Wales as
well as in Ireland and other Celtic lands.
     Columba was also vitally concerned with the Sabbath. In the
story of the monastery of Tallaght the old point of view was
preserved that there was little difference between the sacredness
of the Sabbath and Sunday: "In the Rule of Columcille, Saturday's
allowance of food and Sunday's allowance are equal amounts,
because of the reverence that was paid to the Sabbath in the Old
Testament. It differs from Sunday in work only. And in other
rules there is similarity of allowances on Sabbath and on
Sunday." 51 The Sabbath was revered by those who lived by the
Rule of Columcille, and other monastic rules as well, and
evidently, as in the case of Jerome's nunnery noted above, work
might be performed by Columba's followers on Sunday after
attendance at morning worship. But with the shift away from
Sabbath observance after the Romanizing of the Celtic Church the
regulation regarding the Sabbath was dropped, for, as A. O.
Anderson points out, "The surviving 'Rule of Columcille' does not
contain this item, but no authentic Rule of Columcille has
survived." 52 Against the Celtic Sabbath observance the
penitential of Theodore inveighs in no uncertain tone. 53 There
does not appear to be any direct evidence from his own works that
Columbanus observed the Sabbath. But there does exist an epistle
which has been attributed to him in which the topic is mentioned.
This letter, which Walker included in his appendix to the works
of Columbanus, has been variously attributed. Its title page has
been lost, and so both the name of the author and that of the
recipient are missing. On linguistic ground it is believed to
have been composed by Columbanus, but "the authorship of the
letter can only be left an open question" for the present. 54 The
epistle, however, is held to be contemporaneous with Columbanus,
and might well have been written by someone close to that saint.
It dealt with the Hebrew festivals as well as with the Sabbath,
and shows an affinity with early Celtic practice in quoting
solely from the Scriptures, except for a possible allusion to an
epigram by Jerome. The third section of the letter runs like

     We are bidden to work on six days, but on the seventh, which
     is the Sabbath, we are restrained from every servile labour.
     Now by the number six the completeness of our work is meant,
     since it was in six days that the Lord made heaven and
     earth. Yet on the Sabbath we are forbidden to labour at any
     servile work, that is sin, since he who commits sin is a
     slave to sin, so that, when in this present age we have
     completely fulfilled our works, not hardening our hearts, we
     may deserve to reach that true rest, which is denied to the
     unruly, as the Lord says through David, If they shall enter
     into my rest. 55

     This passage reveals that the writer believed that Saturday
has been the Sabbath, but that in his segment of the Church it
was esteemed only in a spiritual sense as a type of resting from
sin. This is borne out by a previous statement in the epistle:
"And also in the Gospel the Lord Jesus declared the ending of the
Sabbath, when he bade the cripple, Take up thy bed, which is
clearly forbidden in the law, I mean the bearing of burdens on
the Sabbath." 56 The significance of this letter lies in the
light it throws on the controversy which was apparently going on
regarding the Sabbath and other festivals of the Hebrews. This
tension is understandable in a Celtic Christian setting with its
overtones of stress on the validity of the Old Testament.
     Adamnan made several references to the Sabbath in his life
of Columba. He told of a Sabbath service in which Columba blessed
a barn. 57 Adamnan invariably employed the original biblical
name, Sabbath, for the seventh day of the week, and spoke of it
in a manner betokening a respect which is not detected in writers
two centuries later. In discussing this matter with Diormit
Columba is reported as declaring:

     This day is called in the sacred books "Sabbath", which is
     interpreted "rest". And truly this day is for me a sabbath,
     because it is my last day of this present laborious life. In
     it after my toilsome labour I keep Sabbath; 58 and at
     midnight of this following venerated Lord's day, in the
     language of the Scriptures I shall go the way of the
     fathers. For now my Lord Jesus Christ deigns to invite me."

     From this and other passages it is true that Columba had
some regard also for the first day of the week. 60 But a
sabbatical Sunday had not yet been accepted in Iona at the time
when Adamnan wrote. 61
     This respect for both days is illustrated also from the
canons of various penitential books. Finnian ruled that "married
people, then, must mutually abstain ... on Sunday night or
Saturday night ..." 62 So from sunset on Friday until after the
hours of Sunday has passed reverence for both days had to be
shown. There are traces that the earliest settlers on the Faroes
and Iceland probably observed the Sabbath, and so were accused of

     these islands were first inhabited by the Picts and papae
     ... the papae had been named from their white robes, which
     they wore like priests; whence priests are all called papae
     in the Teutonic tongue. An island is still called, after
     them, Papey. But, as is observed from their habit and the
     writings of their books abandoned there, they were Africans,
     adhering to Judaism. 63

     This is perhaps the earliest record of Celtic Christian
settlers who were stigmatized as Judaizing. The statement that
they were Africans is most baffling. It might indicate that their
Scriptures had affinity with the African version, as had already
been pointed out. But this is only a guess.
     But with the acceptance of the Roman Easter and other rules
the movement to sabbatize Sunday gained momentum. Pope Gregory (+
604), as champion of Roman usages, had upheld the careful
observance of Sunday, and had stigmatized any respect for the
Sabbath as Judaizing. In a letter to the Roman people he wrote:

     It has come to my ears that certain men of perverse spirit
     have sown among you some things that are wrong and opposed
     to the holy faith, so as to forbid any work being done on
     the Sabbath day. What else can I call these but preachers of
     Antichrist, who, when he comes, will cause the Sabbath day
     as well as the Lord's day to be kept free from all work. 64

     It is not at all surprising, then, with the coming of
Theodore of Tarsus (+ 690), the most successful protagonist of
the Roman Church Britain had yet seen, to note a mounting
emphasis on the observance of Sunday to the exclusion of all
regard for Saturday. In his first book of Penitentials, Theodore
drew up seven canons to deal with the keeping of Sunday, and in
his second book he added a further four. 65 In fact a whole
section was entitled "Those who despise the Lord's day, and
neglect the appointed feasts of the church of God". Theodore
prohibited all labour on the Lord's day, and forbade all fasting
on it. One canon ruled: "If he fast out of contempt for the day,
he shall be abhorred as a Jew by all the Catholic churches." 66
     In marked contrast with what has been noted regarding the
attitude of Patrick and Columba to the observance of the Sabbath
and the Lord's day is the directive in the later Old-Irish
Penitential (c. 800): "Anyone who fasts on a Sunday through
carelessness or austerity does a week's penance on bread and
water." 67

     But the long debate continued among the Christians of
Britain, and especially in Ireland, between those who advocated
the observance of the Sabbath, and those who wished to keep both
the Sabbath and Sunday, and those who pressed for a sabbatizing
of Sunday only. A protagonist of Sunday observance went so far as
to substitute "Lord's day" for "Sabbath" in the Ten Commandments
as recorded in Exod. 20:8-11  in a sermon preserved in the
Leabhar Breac. 68
     Columbanus allowed his monks to wash their hair or feet on
Sunday 69 This was, of course, contrary to a strict sabbatarian
view of Sunday, and also went counter to Hebrew Sabbath

     Columba made journeys on Sunday, 70 and Adamnan mentioned
quite casually that pilgrims reached Iona who had travelled on
Sunday. 71 In his description of the last night of Columba, a
Sunday night, Adamnan tells of men who were fishing. Among them
was a future holy monk and pilgrim for God. 72 So even at the end
of the seventh century the washing of hair, travelling, or the
gathering of food by fishing were not regarded as infractions of
the laws of Sunday observance as they were understood by Celtic
     But during the next two centuries the Romanizing of Celtic
Christianity continued apace and the attitude towards Sunday
altered greatly. Travelling was condemned in a comminatory story
describing the arrival of Cronan's relatives with food for his
monastery for the feast of Easter. When the visitors were still
some distance away, they heard Cronan's vesper bell on Saturday
evening. Immediately they camped by the river until Monday
morning. 73
     But it would seem that, the advocates for the secularization
of the Sabbath and the rigidly sabbatic observance of Sunday
found their progress too slow. They therefore fabricated
propaganda to impress the rude masses of the people. An "Epistle
of Christ" was said to have fallen from heaven in Rome 74 on the
altar of St Peter. Its opening paragraph consisted of a catalogue
of pseudo-biblical episodes which the author averred had occurred
on Sunday, and so enhanced the sacredness of that day. But most
of the stories are not to be found in the Scriptures. This would
suggest that the rank and file of the Christians in Ireland
during the later decades of the ninth and tenth centuries, had
become ignorant of the contents of the Bible. The introduction to
the "Epistle of Christ" concluded: "Therefore, it is through
these commands that God has enjoined Sunday to be kept holy, for
God's own hand has written that command to men, lest they should
do either work or servile labour on Sunday." 75 The ancient
annalist recorded for 886: "An Epistle came with the pilgrim to
Ireland, with the Cain Domnaig, and other good instructions." 76
The following paragraphs present some of the arguments contained
in the "Epistle" and give its flavour:

     Here begins the Epistle of the Saviour our Lord Jesus Christ
     concerning the Lord's Day, which his own hand wrote in the
     presence of the men of Heaven, and which was placed upon the
     altar of Peter the Apostle in Rome of Latium, to make Sunday
     holy for all time. When this Epistle was brought from
     Heaven, the whole earth trembled from the rising unto the
     setting of the sun; and the earth cast its stones and trees
     on high, for dread of their Creator and for joy also at the
     attendance of the angels who had come with the Epistle; and
     so great was the din at that time, that the place opened
     where the body of Peter the Apostle lay buried in Rome. When
     the abbot of Rome was at Mass, he saw the Epistle on the
     altar. 77

     The "Epistle" having listed many fabulous calamities which
had visited mankind as a result of the transgression of Sunday,
then anathematizes all desecrators of this day: "'Whoever shall
not keep Sunday', said the heavenly Father, 'within its proper
boundaries, his soul shall not attain Heaven, neither shall he
see me in the Kingdom of Heaven, nor the Archangels, nor the
Apostles.'" 78 After tabulating further dreadful misfortunes
which would follow the breaking of Sunday, the writer added this
strange piece of reasoning: "Now, even if this wonderful command
for keeping Sunday holy had not come from Jesus Christ himself
out of Heaven, the day should be sacred, venerable, perfect, and
honoured, on account of all the many miracles that have happened
thereon." 79 The Irish pilgrim Conall MacCoelmaine was believed
to have been in Rome when the letter arrived and made a
transcript of it: "Conall then wrote with his own hand the
Epistle of Sunday from the Epistle which was sent from Heaven
unto the altar of Peter the Apostle in Rome. When it was time to
lift the shrine, the saint revealed it in a vision to the priest
who was at the altar." 80 Now Conall MacCoelmaine died about 590.
The fact that the bringing of the "Epistle" to Ireland had been
fathered on one who had gone to his rest three centuries before
its actual arrival (886) indicates the doubts which must have
filled the minds of many regarding its authenticity and

(And those who know their Bible and the truth of the Lord know we
do not go to heaven at death, or at any other time. The truth is
heaven is coming to us, as expounded in many other studies on
this website. What we are reading is clever, deceitful made up
false teachings by the church of Rome - Keith Hunt)

     The "Epistle" presented a detailed list of what might not be
done on Sunday, and then stipulated that:

     Whosoever shall do this on Sunday, unless he shall perform
     great penance for it, his soul shall not attain Heaven. "I
     swear," saith the abbot of Rome, "by the might of God the
     Father, and by Christ's Cross, that this is no invention of
     mine, and no fiction or fable; but it is from God the Father
     this Epistle was sent unto the altar of Peter in Rome of
     Latium to make Sunday holy." 81

(Oh it may have indeed been sent, maybe even a miracle, but not
from the Father or Christ, but by the working of the miracles of
Satan the Devil - Keith Hunt)

     Even baptism was prohibited on Sunday. What was permitted
was the "seeking a person in orders for the sake of Communion;
but baptism is not sought unless it is likely that the infant
shall be dead". 82 The "Epistle" ended with this recommendation
to all duly constituted legal organizations to enforce Sunday
legislation: "There is a further enactment of this law:
whatsoever meeting and whatsoever assembly in which tribes or
kings meet, that it be the law of Sunday which is first passed
therein. It is enacted: The curse of every person on all who
shall break this law of Sunday. 83

     That the Cain Domnaig, or the Law of Sunday, was actually
brought with the "Epistle of Christ" from Rome is to be doubted.
The Cain Domnaig appears to be a Christianized Brehon law tract
based on the "Epistle". It has a definitely Irish flavour, and
was probably devised as part of the movement to sabbatize the
observance of Sunday. It was the first ecclesiastical Sunday law
in Ireland. Not only did it regulate the keeping of the day, but
it also pronounced the most terrible curses on any who failed to
observe Sunday. 84
     Following the arrival of the "Epistle of Christ" and the
formulation of the "Cain Domnaig, the Lives of the Saints" are
filled with comminatory anecdotes showing how they enforced
Sunday observance. Aed was cross with a woman for washing her
hair on the Lord's day. If women persisted in doing this, he
fumed, they would become bald. If later they repented, their hair
would grow back 85 Colman was averse to chopping wood on Sunday.
A man who persisted found that his axe was caught in the log and
he himself could not let go of its handle. 86 Cellach passed
Guaire in silence, insulting him. On being invited to make things
right, he retorted, "I will not go, 'tis vesper-time, and no
transgression of the Lord's day do I." 87 The sons of Ua Corra,
becoming lepers, went on a pilgrimage to a distant island. They
there saw a man digging with a spade, the handle of which was on
fire. Asked the cause, he confessed that he had worked on the
Lord's day, and now this had happened to him! Another unfortunate
was discovered riding on a horse of fire. 88 An Irish sage used
to wander round a cemetery periodically meditating on death. One
Sunday he inadvertently flicked a chip of wood from the path with
the end of his staff. Because of this he was deprived of the
visit which an angel used regularly to pay to him. 89 And the
list of stories like these might be multiplied. They portray a
very obvious and rustic desire to influence what would seem to be
a primitive and quasi-pagan Christian populace towards a more
pharisaical observance of Sunday. 90

     Gradually, concurrently with the Romanizing of the Celtic
Church, the observance of Sunday became more and more sabbatical,
and the observance of the Sabbath fell into disuse. When Queen
Margaret of Scotland (+ 1093) summoned the remnants of Celtic
Christian clerics to her synods to discuss doctrine with a view
to their uniting with the Roman Church, she found that:

     They were accustomed also to neglect reverence for the
     Lord's days; and thus to continue upon them as upon other
     days all the labours of earthly work. But she showed, both
     by reason and by authority, that this was not permitted. She
     said: "Let us hold the Lord's day in veneration because of
     the Lord's resurrection, which took place upon it; and let
     us not do servile labours upon [the day] in which we know
     that we were redeemed from the devil's servitude." 91

     After due pressure the ancient Celts capitulated, for "none
dared on those days to carry any burdens, or to compel another to
do so" 92

     There is a hint that, when the Romanizing party sought to
bring the remnants of Celtic Christians into the orthodox fold in
Iceland, one of the points necessary was the regularization of
the observance of the Lord's day. "Thorgeir then dealt with the
observance of the Lord's Day and fast days, Christmas and Easter,
and all the important feast days." 93 All these records of the
secularization of Saturday, coupled with earlier traces of
sabbatizing strongly suggest that in Celtic lands, as was also
the case in other countries, there was a gradual shift from the
keeping of Saturday, the seventh day Sabbath, to the observance
of both Saturday and Sunday and then to the celebration of Sunday

(And indeed so it was as recorded in all church history records,
also brought out by one of the greatest Sabbath/Sunday scholars
of the 20th century - Dr.Samuele Bacchiocchi and his many books
on the subjest of the 7th day Sabbath and Sunday, which can be
found on this website - Keith Hunt)

     The time at which the Celtic Christians commenced their
Sabbath and Sunday observance is of interest. The Hebrews began
their day with sunset. 94 The early Christians also started their
Sabbaths at sunset on Friday and concluded worship at sundown on
Sabbath. As has been stated, Celtic Christians likewise commenced
their day with sunset, but might end it at dawn on the following
clay. When Sunday took on a religious character, it too was so
observed. The Cain Domnaig stipulated that "the sanctity of the
Lord's day is from vespers on Saturday till after matins on
Monday". 95 But apparently, as in many points of Celtic belief
and practice, there were no set rules which were observed by
every section, and the sacred hours might end at sunset or at
dawn the next morning according to choice.
     As ascetic practices became widespread, fasting on specified
days of the week grew more common. This custom was also a
survival of Jewish custom, being endorsed by the example of John
the Baptist and the precept of our Lord. Fasting was observed by
the Apostles, and, as the Christian community became more
thoroughly organized, Wednesdays and Fridays are mentioned as
days of abstinence by the church fathers. Fasting on these two
days each week is also noted by Celtic writers. In the monastery
of Iona Wednesday was regularly a day of abstinence:

     On a third day of the week, the saint thus addressed the
     brothers: "On the fourth day of the week, tomorrow, we
     propose to fast; but nevertheless a disturbing guest will
     arrive, and the customary fast will be relaxed." ... For on
     the same fourth clay of the week, in the morning, another
     stranger shouted across the strait: a very religious man, by
     name Aidan, Fergno's son, who (it is said) for twelve years
     attended upon Brenden mocu-Alti. He, when he arrived,
     relaxed that day's fast, as the saint had said. 96

     Evidently the rules for fasting might be waived in honour of
guests. Adamnan does not mention that Friday was a fast day on
Iona. But the Old-Irish glossator, Diarmait, called this the "day
of the last fast". 97
     Aidan, the Celtic missionary to Northumbria, fasted "on
Wednesdays and Fridays", 98 and this custom was imitated by "many
devout men and women who were inspired to follow his example". 99
The penitential of Cummean (c. 650) required fasting "on the two
appointed week days", 100 without, however, specifying which.
Theodore regulated that those who had been baptized a second time
should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays for seven years. 101 This
suggests that fasting on those days was not obligatory upon other
members of the Christian community. He imposed fasting "on
Wednesdays and Fridays during the three forty-day periods", 102
for those who had been married twice or more times. While there
is this dubiety in the early Anglo-Saxon Church, the Celtic
Christian sources leave no doubt that these two days were devoted
to fasting and prayer from the earliest times. 103

(We again should be seeing how man made traditions, with no
Scriptural authority, was coming into the Celtic church, albeit,
influenced by the church of Rome at this time in Celtic church
history - Keith Hunt)
     The Amra Coluimb Chille recorded of Columba that "knowledge
of the Godhead ... used to be sent to him, for every Thursday he
used to go ad Dominum". 104 What this weekly act of worship was
is not clear, but, as has been noted, 105 Patrick was believed to
have regarded Thursday as possessing something of a religious
character. Thursday might have been a primitive Celtic Christian
day of minor devotion.


     Besides weekly celebrations Christians also had regular
annual feasts. The earliest one was the observance of Easter.
This festival attracted a great amount of attention through the
centuries, and during the seventh proved to be one of the major
bones of contention between the Celtic and Roman Christian
parties. There are also references in later Celtic literature to
the observance of three fortyday periods of special fasting, the
celebration of Pentecost and Christmas, and later, the observance
of various saints' days.

(Again, the false influence of Rome had come into the Celtic
church in Britain - Keith Hunt)

     The Easter controversy between the Celts and the
missionaries led by Augustine and later advocates of the Roman
party was concerned with the date on which the festival should be
celebrated. Its overtones finally embraced the question of
ecclesiastical authority. The Hebrew year was lunar. Each month
commenced with the crescent moon. The lunar year is approximately
eleven days short of the solar, so Nisan, the first Hebrew month,
moved nearer to winter by eleven days each year. To keep the
Hebrew calendar synchronous with the seasons an extra month was
occasionally added, seven during each nineteen-year period. When
this month was to be intercalated was determined by the Sanhedrin
by means of a simple rule. The precipitating factor was the
offering, with the Passover lambs, of "the first fruits" of the
barley harvest on the sixteenth of the month. 106 According to
the law, the Passover had to be sacrificed on the fourteenth or
full moon, and from the fifteenth the feast of unleavened bread
continued for a week. Two ripe sheaves of barley were to be
presented on the sixteenth. During the closing days of the
preceding month, Adar, the barley, in a secluded field near
Jerusalem, was carefully observed. Should it appear impossible
for it to ripen in time for the presentation on the sixteenth, an
extra month, Ve-Adar, was added. The Passover was, therefore, a
moveable feast which occurred during the spring on any day of the
week, but it had to fall on the full moon. It came earlier when
the spring was warm, later in colder weather.

(The writer does not know the full range of the movable Hebrew
calendar, nor the many reasons for adding a 13th month. The
calendar in detail, the questions regarding it and etc. are fully
expounded on this website under "The Calendar Question" studies -
Keith Hunt)

     Nisan, the first Jewish month, generally contained the
vernal equinox. It was possible, however, for the full moon, that
is, the Passover, to occur prior to the equinox. Christ was a Jew
and lived according to Hebrew ceremonial regulations. He died
during the Hebrew Passover. The earliest Christians, converts
from Judaism, also followed Hebrew customs. They early recognized
that Christ had fulfilled the Paschal types by his death. 107 His
resurrection, they believed, was typified by the wave sheaf of
barley. 108 These Christians looked upon the fourteenth of Nisan
as the anniversary of the crucifixion and carefully kept it in
remembrance of Christ's death. With the spread of Christianity
among the Gentile peoples and the rise of anti-Semitism the
Paschal season lost much of its flavour. Emphasis moved from an
honouring of the crucifixion to a celebration of the
resurrection. Those Christians who continued to observe Easter at
the same time as the Passover were stigmatized as
"Quartodecimans". But others in some places, with Socrates, held

     The aim of the apostles was not to appoint festival days,
     but to teach a religious life and piety. And it seems to me
     that just as many other customs have been established in
     individual localities according to usage. So also the feast
     of Easter came to be observed in each place according to the
     individual peculiarities of the people inasmuch as none of
     the apostles legislated on the matter. And that the
     observance originated not by legislation, but as a custom,
     the facts themselves indicate. In Asia Minor most people
     kept the fourteenth day of the moon, disregarding the
     sabbath: yet they never separated from those who did
     otherwise, until Victor, bishop of Rome, influenced by too
     ardent a zeal, fulminated a sentence of excommunication
     against the Quartodecimans in Asia ...109

(The aim of the apostles WAS to teach the correct Feasts of the
Lord to be observed, which God had given way back in Leviticus
23. The NT church observed those Festivals. They were never "done
away with." History does record that the two church leaders of
Asia Minor in the 2nd century AD - Polycarp and Polycrates - did
debate with the bishop of Rome over the Easter/Passover
observance. The churches of Asia Minor did at that time still
embrase the church of Rome as "brothers in Christ" - but brothers
who were now beginning to move away from each other in the
theology of God. The great falling away was beginning to take
place as spoken about by Paul in 2 Thes.2. And the anti-christs
were by now indeed MANY, as noted by John [in his epistles]
before he fell asleep in death - Keith Hunt)

     In the same way as the Jewish Sabbath gave place before the
pagan Sunday, the Passover was displaced by the feast of the
resurrection, Easter. Not satisfied with this partial departure
from Jewish usages, a party in the Church sought to arrange that
Easter should never fall on the same day as the Jewish Passover,
even once in seven years. This change was attributed to Pius (+
c. 154), Eleuther, and Victor. 110 But this sixth-century record
smacks of pious fraud. An angel was said to have informed Hermas,
the brother of Pius, that Easter should be observed only on the
Lord's day." 111 The story was regarded as fiction by the Eastern
Church leaders, who strenuously objected to the Bishop of Rome's
assumption of growing authority. 112 There followed a period of
considerable disagreement and dissension, as Epiphanius (+ 403)

     For even from the earliest times various controversies and
     dissensions were in the church concerning this solemnity,
     which used yearly to bring laughter and mockery. For some,
     in a certain ardour of contention, began it before the week,
     some at the beginning, some in the middle, some at the end.
     To say in a word, there was a wonderful and laborious
     confusion. 113

     While a discussion of the details of the controversy during
the first six centuries of the Christian era is beyond the scope
of this chapter, a short summary of the final stages is necessary
to clarify the relationship of the Celtic Church to the paschal

     With the coming of the peace of the Church the Emperor
Constantine, determined to bring about unanimity, entered the
controversy. The Council of Arles (314) ruled that Easter should
be observed on the same day by all Christians, but there was no
mention as to which day was intended. The paschal cycle then
accepted was probably the nineteen-year one, and this would
probably have been carried back to Britain by the British
delegates. Some ten years later, by the decision of Nicaea in
325, the observance of Easter on Sunday became a legal necessity.
But the Council laid down no rule for determining on which Sunday
Easter should be kept.
     But while the Council of Nicaea might legislate, and the
Emperor, with his mastery for compromise, might decide that
Alexandria should calculate the date of Easter and Rome should
promulgate it, the results, as far as unity was concerned, were
far from satisfactory. The original fourth-century cycle was
probably closely related to the Hebrew nineteen-year period
attributed to Meton (c. 423 B.C.). The decree of Nicaea lasted
uneasily until 342. Clerical mathematicians produced several
short-lived and unpopular cycles, until the mode of reckoning
Easter was altered into the eighty-fouryear cycle traditionally
attributed to Sulpicius Severus (+ 420-5) but in use in different
areas at an earlier date. In 457 Victor of Aquitaine produced a
532-year table which continued in popular use till 525, when the
nineteen-year cycle of Dionysius Exiguus (+ 550) was adopted.
This in turn was modified in Rome before 664. 114 But there was
no unanimity about any of these cycles. Scattered sections of
Christians followed quite different modes of reckoning. The point
on which this controversy finally focused was a discussion of
authority: Whose cycle should be followed? East was against West,
and there were factions within the larger groups.
     The Christianity into which Patrick was born quite possibly
followed the eighty-four-year cycle of Sulpicius Severus,
although this is by no means settled." 115 Bury suggested that
Celtic Easter computations were based on the very earliest of the
Christian cycles, that is, on the nineteen-year unit, discarded
before 343. 116 Whatever may be the truth, the fact remains that
when Augustine and his mission encountered the British
ecclesiastics, the cycle and method of calculating Easter used by
the Celts differed radically from those employed by the visitors
from Italy. As had been the case in the Mediterranean lands, the
bishop of Rome regarded the settlement of the Easter question
according to his solution a matter of supreme importance.
     The sources dealing with Celtic Easter observances are
contradictory. It is possible to select some statements and form
a picture which is oversimplified. But a study of the details
presents a view which is true to type: there existed among Celtic
Christians many factions with differing observances.
     The Celtic Church reckoned Easter week from the fourteenth
to the twentieth of the month. 117 When the fourteenth, or full
moon, fell on Sunday some apparently celebrated Easter on it.
This is what seems to have happened in the home of King Oswy. 118
Rome had moved away from this to avoid holding Easter on the same
day as the Jewish Passover. The Celts reckoned their equinox on
25 March, but Rome had adopted 21 March as the more accurate
date. Wilfrid alluded to the nineteen-year cycle, which he
attributed to Anatolius, 119 but Bede recorded that the Britons
held to the eighty-four-year cycle, 120 and that they observed
Easter day on Sunday only, 121 although Eddius affirmed that they
did not 122 The Celts themselves declared that they followed
John, 123 and this would make them Quartodecimans. Apparently the
same confusion was also existent in Ireland. The ancient annalist
for 704 recorded a most significant paragraph, noting that:

     In this year the men of Erin consented to receive one
     jurisdiction and the rule from Adamnan, respecting the
     celebration of Easter, on Sunday, the fourteenth of the moon
     of April, and respecting the tonsuring of all the clerks in
     Erin after the manner of St Peter, for there had been great
     dissension in Erin up to that time; i.e. some of the clergy
     of Erin celebrated Easter on the Sunday (next after) the
     fourteenth of the moon of April, and had the tonsure of
     Peter the Apostle, after the example of Patrick, but others,
     following the example of Columhkille, celebrated Easter on
     the fourteenth of the moon of April, on whatever day of the
     week the fourteenth should happen to fall, and had the
     tonsure of Simon Magus. A third party did not agree with the
     followers of Patrick, or with the followers of Columkille;
     so that the clergy of Erin used to hold many synods, and
     these clergy used to come to the synods accompanied by the
     laity, so that battles and deaths occurred between them; and
     many evils resulted in Erin in consequence ... They were
     thus for a long time, i.e. to the time of Adamnan, who was
     the ninth abbot that took [the government of] la after
     Columbkille. 124

     This long quotation is given to demonstrate that even at the
opening of the eighth century there still existed many different
points of view on the celebration of Easter. That there were some
who were genuinely Quartodecimans it would seem unreasonable to

(Once more we see that by this date in Celtic church history in
Britain, much truth had been lost or muddled or confused. Some no
doubt, the few, retained the truth of the matter, and knew when
the Lord's death should be observed - the Passover on the 14th of
the first Hebrew month in the Hebrew calendar, and that the
Easter of the church of Rome was plain and simple - paganism
adopted and adapted to the pleasure of Rome and to accomadate the
influx of pagans into the church of Rome who still wanted to keep
many of their pagan traditions and customs - Keith Hunt)

     The third order of Irish saints "had different rules and ...
a different Paschal festival. For some celebrated the
resurrection on the fourteenth moon, or the sixteenth ... These
continued to that great mortality in the year 666." 125 Theodore
inveighed against the heretic, who was obviously a Celtic
Christian, who "flouts the Council of Nicaea and keeps Easter
with the Jews on the fourteenth of the moon, he shall be driven
out of every church unless he does penance before his  death".
126  These Christians he also called "Quartodecimans". 127 Half a
century before, Columbanus, writing to Gregory the Great
regarding the question of the celebration of Easter; had stated:
"For you must know that Victorius has not been accepted by our
teachers, by the former scholars of Ireland, by the
mathematicians most skilled in reckoning chronology, but has
earned ridicule or indulgence rather than authority." 128 It was
not merely a blind adherence to tradition which induced the Celts
to adhere to their views; they believed that their Easter
calculations were more accurate and authoritative than those of
Rome. The details of this conflict, violent at times and long
continuing, are confused and, at this date, theoretical. What is
significant is their outcome. While Rome and the Western Church
had altered its reckoning from century to century, the Celtic
Christians had failed to follow.
     The result of the conflict has often been traced. The
settlement of the dating of Easter appears to have been the major
plank for the establishment of the authority of the bishop of
Rome in Celtic lands. Whether the Celtic Christians were right or
wrong is of little consequence now. They believed they were
right. When they eventually relinquished their adherence to this
point in favour of Rome, they surrendered their independence on
all points and soon became fused with Roman Christianity.


     Before the period of the Danish invasions there was
apparently little veneration of saints, or observance of their
feast days, although there are traces that the cult of the saints
was commencing in the thinking of Celtic Christians at an earlier
date. In the tenth and following centuries, however, the
festivals of saints were a marked feature of the Christian year,
and were celebrated with homilies based on the traditional lives
of the saints.
     In the "Life of Samson of Dot" there is a very early
reference to this practice:

     Therefore, my brothers, to honour the festivals of the
     saints is nothing else than to adjust lovingly our mind to
     their good qualities, of which we are fully cognisant; [so
     that] by imitating them we may be able to follow the same
     men, under God's guidance, by the straightest course to that
     unspeakable and heavenly kingdom to which they have happily
     attained, not rivalling them in great deeds, but sharing
     their difficult tasks, which by abstinence, prolonged and
     incredible, so to speak, to the untried, with whom all
     things are not thought possible to him that believeth, they
     engaged in until the happy close of this life. 129

     But there is nothing suggesting the invocation of saints in
this paragraph. The example of the departed was held up as an
encouragement to the living to emulate his life and deeds.
While it is impossible from the meagre sources which have
survived to reconstruct a complete list of the saints who were
eventually celebrated each day of the Christian year, some
picture is possible. The festival of the return of the Holy
Family from Egypt was celebrated on 11 January, "Out of Egypt-
-splendid gladness! came Mary's great Son." 130 The feast of the
circumcision of Christ occurred on 2 February, "the reception of
Mary's Son in the Temple, sure inestimable". 131 On 27 March fell
the feast of the conception and crucifixion of our Lord, "Jesus'
Conception on the same day as his crucifixion without respect".
132 Holy Thursday, 24 March, was devoted to cleansing ceremonies,
the washing of the head and cutting of the hair, and the washing
of the feet. The old record declares: "At the washing of the feet
the Beati are recited as long as the washing lasts. After that
comes the sermon on the washing." 133 On Holy Saturday a
peculiarly Irish rite was followed, the lighting of the sacred
fire. This practice might well have been survival of a
pre-Christian ceremony:

     They left their vessel in the estuary and went along the
     land till they came to Ferta Fer Feicc [the Graves of
     Fiacc's Men], and Patrick's tent was pitched in that place,
     and he struck the paschal fire. It happened, then, that that
     was the time at which was celebrated the high-tide of the
     heathen, to wit, the Feast of Tara. The kings and the lords
     and the chiefs used to come to Tara, to Loegaire sone of
     Niall, to celebrate that festival therein. The wizards,
     also, and the augurs would come so that they were
     prophesying to them. On that night, then, the fire of every
     hearth in Ireland was quenched, and it was proclaimed by the
     King that no fire should be kindled in Ireland before the
     fire of Tara, and that neither gold nor silver should be
     taken (as compensation) from him who should kindle it, but
     that he should go to death for his crime. 134

     Having lighted his fire before the king lighted his, Patrick
was believed to have struck a death blow against this heathen
practice. From this event the Irish Easter fire ceremony probably
arose. This later developed into the ritual of the blessing of
the Irish Easter candle which is found in no other liturgy. 135
But it might very well be traced to the Hebrew typical service.
The transfiguration was celebrated on 26 July. 136 As time went
by more and more festivals were added, and with the final merging
of the Celtic and the Western Churches the regular Christian year
came to be observed. At each solemnity it was customary to read a
homily or eulogy, based on the biography of the holy man. This
practice resulted in the innumerable "Lives" which later
panegyrists prepared with so much imagination.

     Besides these regular feasts Celtic Christians also observed
three special fasts of forty days each, 137 occasionally called
the three Lents. Great Lent occurred during the forty days before
Easter. Another occupied the forty days prior to Christmas, and
might be compared with Advent of the Eastern Churches. The third
was observed during the forty days following Whitsun. 138 The
Celtic clerics who worked as missionaries to Northumbria observed
these fasts. Egbert, an English nobleman, having learnt from his
Irish teachers, "ate only one meal a day during Lent ... He
practised a similar abstinence for forty days before Christmas,
and as many after the Feast of Pentecost." 139 When this third
practice began is not known, "but no traces of it can be
discovered in the sixth century", 140 in Celtic lands. That the
Celtic method of observing the fast of Lent was different from
the way in which it was celebrated by the Roman Church is
suggested by Queen Margaret's reaction to the Scottish

     They did not legally keep the fast of Lent; because they
     were accustomed to begin it, not (with the holy church
     universally upon the fourth day of the week) on the
     beginning of the fast (Ash Wednesday, beginning on the
     evening of Shrove Tuesday), but on the second day of the
     [following] week. They said in reply: "The fast that we
     hold, we keep for six weeks, according to the authority of
     the Gospel, which describes the fast of Christ." She
     replied: "You differ in this widely from the Gospel: for we
     read there that the Lord fasted for forty days, and it is
     obvious that you do not. Since six Sundays are deducted
     during the six weeks, it is clear that only thirty-six days
     remain for the fast. Therefore it is clear that you do not
     keep the fast by authority of the Gospel, for forty days;
     but for thirty-six days. It remains for you therefore to
     begin to fast with us four days before the beginning of
     Lent, if you wish to preserve abstinence for the number of
     forty days, according to the Lord's example; otherwise you
     alone resist the authority of the Lord himself, and the
     tradition of the entire holy church." 141

     That it was the custom of the Celtic Church to fast for
forty days excluding Sundays is also vouched for by the Lenten
experience of Cedd: "During this time he fasted until evening
every day except Sunday according to custom. Even then, he took
no food but a morsel of bread, an egg, and a little watered milk.
He explained that it was the custom of those who had trained him
in the rule of regular discipline." 142 When the two lesser Lents
died out the records fail to indicate. The Old-Irish Penitential
mentioned periods of fasting "between the two Christmases and
between the two Easters and at Pentecost, and such persons have
relaxation on the high festivals of the year, and on Sundays and
on the fifty nights between Easter and Pentecost". 143

     The day of our Lord's nativity was observed with the same
regulations as was Sunday. The "Epistle of Christ" mentioned this

     On whatsoever day Great Christmas 144 falls, or Little
     Christmas, it counts as Sunday, and none shall travel
     thereon. It is on the conscience of each one to whom God has
     given sense and reason, though others violate the law of
     Sunday that his neighbours should not take as an evil
     example from him; for it is of himself he shall endure his
     pain, and it is for him who shall fulfil it that his rewards
     shall endure. 145

     There are traces of other festivals, derived from the Old
Testament, to be found in the laws and penitentials. In
discussing the length of time Patrick spent in servitude in
Ireland, his biographer remarked: "He abode in his bondage six
years after the manner of the Little Jubilee of the Hebrews." 146
     There is a defective law regarding land tenure which reads:
"It is forfeit unless it be claimed to the end of the seven
years." 147 This seems to go back to the Pentateuch and applied
to Irish land tenure regulated by the Liber ex Lege Moisi.

     Closely connected with the Sabbatical Year, or the Little
Jubilee, as the Irish writer pleasantly called it, was the Great
jubilee, also based on the Liber ex Lege Moisi, or the fifty-year
release, when "the enslaved shall be freed, and plebeians shall
be exalted by receiving church grades, and by performing
penitential service to God". 148 The penitential canons
attributed to Patrick recorded: "Truly the laws of the jubilee
are to be observed, that is, the fifty years, that a doubtful
method be not established in the change of time." 149

     Light on this obscure and probably garbled penitential is
thrown by a comment from the ancient laws to the effect that
"there are with the Feine seven prescriptions which transfer
perpetual right according to the customs of their merits; land
which is offered to a church on behalf of a soul ... land which
has been away fifty years ... it is upon fifty years it goes into
utter bondage." 150 Whether all these rules were ever practised
or not is unknown. These regulations, however, underline the
interest of the early Celtic Church in following Old Testament
laws, and is still further evidence of the pervasive influence of
the Liber ex Lege Moisi.

     As we conclude this chapter it would be well to summarize
the facts. Celtic Christians differed from their Roman brethren,
not only in their computation of Easter, but also in the
observance of lesser feasts and fasts, and of course in the
observance of the Sabbath. They held a religious service on
Sunday to honour the resurrection and then spent the rest of the
day on their chores or pleasures.



Keith Hunt

To be continued with "Divine Services"

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