Thursday, March 01, 2012

St. David's Day (of Wales)

By Fr. David Marriott

St. David can be used as a forerunner, a predecessor of all the challenges and tribulations that we encounter in the church world today: his generation is of the time when the church was one: or was it?

St. David lived in the time of the founding of the Benedictine order by St. Benedict at Monte Cassino; he is thought to have travelled to Jerusalem, and to have learned from his visit of the lives of the desert fathers: the hermit monastic life, on which all future monastic orders were based. The order he founded when back home in Wales followed this early pattern rather then the corporate life of the Benedictines: and once more, we see in this pattern a link to the earlier Christian and Celtic church in Britain, where the hermit life was well understood, alongside the monastic life developing in Ireland, Scotland, especially at Lindisfarne, and Wales.

So this really looks quite peaceful: for sure, the Roman empire was in decline, as we now know, and there were periodic troubles caused by barbarian invasions: especially where the faith had not yet penetrated: We might think of the abduction and slavery of St. Patrick, taken as a young lad from his home, and transported to work as a shepherd in slavery in Ireland. But apart from that the faith had become better defined, the early heresies had been largely resolved: so why do I say that this time reflects the challenges of today?

One word: and that is the word ‘Unity’. 

Because whereas the Benedictines were clearly under the authority of the Roman church, and this latter church with its clergy were present in England at the same time, gradually developing a presence along the south eastern coasts, the rest of the church was still under the influence and control, if one might say, of the Celtic tradition: and it is this tradition that we see in the way of life established by David in the monastery of his see at Menevia, now known as St. David’s. Indeed, the very location of this see, so hard to get to even today, remote and cut off from the world, is in itself an acute reminder of the difference between Celtic, individual faith, and the more corporate expression of the same faith in the Church of Rome.

The key to this enigma of unity in the church is revealed by St. Thomas Aquinas: he considers the role of intellect, that gift which we can use, which we do use, to make decisions, work things out, and manage our lives. And in the gift of that intellect, being the same gift for every human being, there is unity: we are all united by the gift of God of an intellectual capacity, the same intellectual capacity for each one of us. In that way, we are united, we are of the oneness as given us by God: but we are not all the same: We are not united numerically, where we would be all clones one of the other, and each of God. No, we are united in the gift of intellect, but separated by the way in which this intellect is expressed and developed as we each in our own ways, in our own cultures, mature through this earthly life. (Light of Faith - Compendium of Theology #85)

So how can we say that we are united? Because, as St. Paul describes it so very well, we are all members of one body, which is the Church of Christ, but each having different functions. And if this illustration is relevant for man the individual, so it is valid for man, the group, the organisation, the Church; and it is this that St.Thomas Aquinas calls an organic unity. We do not all have to belong to the one, and we can each appreciate the strengths of the other, the friend with whom  we have cordial links, but from whom we differ in habits, in customs, in the food we eat, in every which way. But we are united in the faith we express in God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and we have all been blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit – our belief being an organic unity, the type of unity spoken of by St. Paul: we do not have to say we are one with Paul, or one with Peter, or one with Apollos: we just have to say we are one with Christ.

And it is this that brings me back to St. David, who, whilst expressing his Celtic faith, was still able to see that faith and its expression as being in union, in unity with the expression of faith of the Church of Rome. It was only some 60 years after his death that we read of the synod of Whitby, where the two churches met, so that they could negotiate a common date for the commemoration of the Easter feast. This synod, the first resolution of differences between equals, was the unifying factor between the Celtic Northumbrian church and the Church of Rome, leading to the establishment of York as a Province of the Church, and the gradual incorporation of a common worship across the country; a common worship established between members united organically, that they may be one organically. But each retained that which was specific to their own organic function, as a member, an organ of the whole: they never had need to become one numerically. And it is in this that there is the link between St. David and ourselves, that we might learn.


RC Cola said...

Unity, not uniformity. It's strange that the Catholic Church has under its umbra about 20 Sui juris Chrches other than Roman, yet not a single sui juris Church in the west.
Perhaps the Celtic Church did not quite enjoy the antiquity of the Eastern Churches, but surely it was sufficiently ancient not to be suppressed. (nota bene: I'm not accusing Rome of actively suppressing the Celtic Church, rather I'm of the mind that the Celtic branch died of natural causes; namely, demographics.)
Sadly, those who seem most enthusiastic to resurrect Celtic Christianity are raging leftist syncretists Sinead O'Connor types.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The Celtic Church of the Britons merged with the newer Church of the Angles at the Council of Hertford following the agreements of the Council of Whitby. So, it didn't die.

Canon Tallis said...

Actually, the Roman church did actively engage itself in the suppression and destruction of the Celtic Church. That was what St. Boniface was doing on the Continent. And before that one only has to read Bede to realize that Rome thought itself better than the Celtic Christians.

Given the currant situation with the papacy and their inability to maintain the Catholic Faith in Europe, perhaps it is time that the Roman See itself should be suppressed for its turning its back upon the Church of the first five centuries and its embrace of what St. Paul called prophetically "the doctrine of devils." It would be better for a Godly prince to do it than wait for Islam to destroy the European Church.

RC Cola said...

Fr. Hart,
Can you recommend a sane book about Celtic Christianity?
(One that is neither the neo-pagan syncretist type easily found at Barnes and Noble, nor the turbo-polemic conspiracy theory as just espoused by Canon Tallis.)

Samantha said...

I still don't get it, what's the different thing about Celtic Christianity? How they can conclude that its a Celtic Christianity? I never heard about it before.

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