The last 5 characteristics are equally compelling –
- Creation Affirming – Their love of nature and affirmation of creation wasn’t rooted in pantheism (the view that God is everything and everyone and that everyone and everything is God, so a tree is God, a rock is God, an animal is God, the sky is God, the sun is God etc) but rooted in a wonder of the One who created all things, holds all things together and who will one day restore the created order. This expressed itself in their strong sense of place, land, roots and identity as well as a care for all living things with an affinity with animals (which predated Francis of Assissi).
- Spiritual Warfare – Possibly due to their Druidic roots and pagan culture the spiritual realm was very real and accessible. It was also seen as a place of spiritual conflict and warfare with powers of evil constantly trying to destroy the work of God. They similarly trusted in the power of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to protect and used liturgical prayer to confront these powers wherever they may be found – in the heart or the land. Many historians who recorded the lives of the saints mention their signs, wonders, healing and miracles. The sign of the cross, the erecting of High Crosses at crossroads and key places were part of their approach.
- Belief in the Trinity – A common theme throughout Celtic religion was triune gods – gods with 3 manifestations so the Celts were naturally open to a presentation of the three-in-one Father-Son-Holy Spirit. There were echoes within their existing pantheon of an all powerful father and heroic self-sacrificing son so it is no wonder the Trinity was deeply engrained in the Celtic Christian’s understanding and flowed through their praying. There was no issue with God as three persons in loving relationship from whom all community flows.
- Love of Learning – deeply rooted in the scriptures they loved listening and learning, but more as a quest for wisdom than knowledge. They wanted to learn how to live, how to follow Jesus as a way of life. Monasteries were centres of learning and education where creativity was encouraged in music, story, and calligraphy as exemplified in the Book of Kells. They produced hand crafted gospels for the monks to take with them on their wanderings to preach from.
- Understanding of time – Time was a sacred dimension to be used wisely and well. Not merely chronological i.e. one event following on from another but connected to the temporally everlasting God who was, and is, and is to come. The past, present and future all linked to God’s now so we can be aware of the great crowd of witnesses, those saints who have gone before us as we walk forward.
At different times we will focus on one of these characteristics, on particular saints or how we express them, but hopefully this gives you some sense of the longer term historical roots of the journey.