A B.B.C. Broadcast Refuted
Recently a Network Three talk in a current series on Anglo-Saxon England dealt with the relations between Celtic and Roman churches in a way which could only have disturbed
This was substantially the argument of many Anglicans, of which the broadcast programme set out to repair the foundations. I would be grateful for a little space to remove some of the misapprehensions it may have caused.
Britain was predominantly Christian by the fifth century. The pagan Saxon invaders thrust the British Church back into Cornwall and Wales where it flourished, especially in the sixth and seventh centuries, and maintained an interchange of monks, missionaries and Bishops with the Church in Ireland. Scotland and Brittany. These groups are generally known as the Celtic Church. In the seventh century it was also established in Anglian Northumbria. It was to convert the pagan English, not the Christian Celts, that the Pope sent Augustine in 597. They knew that a native church existed, embarrassed by circumstances and a little out of touch, and that a problem of contact would arise.
Concerning this state of affairs the speakers made the following false statements or inferences: (a) that this contact was new, and that the notion of Papal authority was a novelty to the Celts; (b) that the Celtic Church was "evangelical" rather than "organised" in character; this being so much emphasised that the only possible inference could be an unevangelical qualification for the " Roman " Church', (c) that the Celtic Church differed, not only in the points raised at Whitby, namely the tonsure and the date of Easter, but in fundamentals, such as Roman obedience and the Eucharistic service, which were described as completely different. A mild, and quite ignored, objection was made to the use of the word " fundamental."
Here is a brief guide to the inaccuracies of the above statements: Far from knowing nothing of Roman obedience, the Celtic Church had been established by Bishops specially appointed by Rome, such as Palladius, Germanus of Auxerre and his companions, or trained in Italy and Gaul, such as Victricius, Ninian and Patrick. British Bishops were present at fourth-century councils. From the sixth-century Celtic monks constantly travelled all over Europe, founding churches and monasteries, held in highest esteem, and becoming more instrumental in the spread of "organised" monasticism from their great Burgundian abbey of Luxeuil than any other influence. They by no means constituted a separate church differing in " fundamentals," but fell completely under local authority.
It is quite true that the major point of difference, the date of Easter, occasioned disputes we are no longer capable of appreciating. But the attitude of the Celtic Columbanus, who settled in Gaul seven years before the mission of Augustine, illustrates the position of his church, of which he was the most loyal protagonist. He determined to adhere to Celtic practice, even in Gaul, but by no means as a member of an alien and antipathetic communion. On the contrary, he wrote to Pope Gregory as " Head of the Churches," " Pastor of Pastors."
A prominent Welsh scholar, Professor J. E. Lloyd, wrote: " No theological differences parted the Roman from the Celtic Church. for the notion that the latter was the home of a kind of primitive Protestantism, of apostolic purity and simplicity, is without any historical foundation."
The statement that the Celtic Church was evangelical, which indeed we hope it was, was left quite unqualified. The illustrations which appeared to be dragged along in its support were incredibly inexact and pointless. They were: (a) a citation from a late life of St. David asserting that his monks divided their time between prayer. study and work; (b) a dmription of a Celtic monastery as a group of individuals dwelling in separate huts. without organisation: and (c) a reference to St. Cuthbert spending the nights up to his neck in cold water.
The first could be predicted of any Christian monastery anywhere at the time, with no favour to the Celts. The second gives us quite a false picture. The sixth-century Welsh monastery of Llantwit Major numbered two thousand four hundred monks, who performed the Divine Office according to the custom (Oriental and Galilean in origin) of the " Lasts Perennis," that is, in relays, so that service was unbroken — perpetual adoration ! That so large a community, devoted to such a form of worship. could have lived a life half as " unorganised " as St. Benedict's on Monte Cassino is absurd. Nor is the instance isolated. With regard to Celtic penance, had St. Cuthbert's practice been performed by an Italian Benedictine instead of a C.elt it would be eagerly adduced as an instance of Roman stupidity and exaggeration. Perhaps someone would like to explain how it is evangelical.
The Eucharistic liturgy was described as completely different to the Roman. The speaker was probably totally unaware of the variety of orthodox rites prevalent in the Catholic Church both then and now. An examination of Dom Cicnigaud's analysis of the Celtic rite compiled from the Stowe missal and other sources makes it quite plain that the relationship was as close and precise as that between. say, the Latin and Byzantine rites today. Further, an early authority attributes the introduction of a liturgical cursus into Britain and Ireland by Bishops sent under Papal approval in the fifth century !
Had the two parties at Whitby had more fundamental issues to discuss than dates and haircuts they would certainly have raised them. I must desist from taxing your space further. I have merely touched on funds of evidence available to refute the rash and misleading opinions of speakers in a programme to which the common man listens with confidence. Prejudice takes an unconscionable time in dying.
S. G. A. Luff.
I Grange Road, Ramsgate, Kent.