It must be said at once that there is no such thing as ‘Celtic Christianity’ as something other than the Christian Faith as it is properly handed down to us. What there is, however, is a Celtic Spirituality which is undoubtedly closer to the primitive origins of the Faith than much of our contemporary forms in that it is essentially joyful and holistic and makes no unreal distinction between ‘religion’ and ‘life.’
The first sense in which Celtic Spirituality is holistic is that it holds together, without fear, the two basic human faculties of reason and intuition. There is no ‘airy-fairy’ mysticism (true mysticism is anything but that!) and there is no spirit-numbing rationalism either. The Celtic Saints were intuitives whose feet were very firmly planted on the ground. It is their equilibrium as human beings which is much of their appeal, and in this, as in the holiness their lives display, they are Christlike.
Thus declares a man who was made an honorary Canon of Newcastle Cathedral after serving in the Anglican Church for a number of years. The late Anthony Duncan, author of The Christ, Psychotherapy and Magic, as well as various other texts of Christian mysticism, studied at Chichester Theological College and was ordained into the Anglican church, first serving as a curate and later as parish priest to five parishes in both Gloucestershire and Northumberland. As a theologian and scholar he was brave enough to plunge beneath the root and branch of our current church history and dogma to explore the seedling depths of the “forgotten faith.”
Duncan begins with the land itself – that old mystical Albion layered with the myriad residues of ancient spirits. He is drawn to what he calls its “thin places” – places where he can reach through the temporal envelope, through successive tribal invasions, to breathe the same air as the ancient Britons. He is willing to suffer invasion and exile in order to trace the scars of his people, ever-ready to share the birthing pains of new faiths and subsuming traditions. He takes us to the work of the Llan, the Muinntir, and the mostly peaceful missionary bishops of the early Celtic church. In a stunning survey of both persona and title, the reader is introduced distinctly different set of saints such as Ninian, Patrick, Gildas, Illtyd, Samson, Cadog, Paulinus, David, Teilo, Padarn, Columba, Tysilio, Bueno, Melangell, Kentigern, Asaph, and Maelrubba. Unlike their later counterparts, these saints were working human beings with dirt under their nails, peaceful and ascetic wanderers seeking to enhance the quality of life for themselves and their people.
Beyond the stirring historical overview provided by this book Duncan offers additional and most erudite analysis on many subjects portending to the church and its role in our lives and rituals. He openly considers old pagan influences as well as the cultural enrichment that came through secular texts such as the Mabinogion and other elements of the Arthuriad. He also comments at length, and controversially so, on the ‘universal feminine principle’ and how Augustinian legacy has served to replace it with a malignant misogyny. He examines the coming of Augustine to Canterbury and the hegemony of the Synods as the end of an era that represented a more organic version of the Christian church. But in such an acknowledgment he also offers a way for the new church to learn from the old – the wonderful legacy of a newly remembered faith. One only has to attune to the sacred places and be open to new discoveries.
Skylight Press is honoured to publish another work from the Anthony Duncan canon, a diverse treasure trove of the spiritual and the scholarly. The Forgotten Faith: The Witness of the Celtic Saints is available from various retail outlets such as Amazon, Amazon UK, or direct from the Skylight Press website.