Christ of the Celts: Whose Christ?

I checked this book out from the library because 1) I am part Celt and thought it would be interesting and 2) I was interested in the argument made by others that the Celtic church had Eastern strands distinct from Latin Christianity and maybe this guy could elucidate.  The book failed miserably on both points.

Have you seen the movie “Meet the Robinsons?”  In the movie the frog tells the bad guy, after one of his plans fails, “I just don’t think this plan was thought through.”  That’s how this book is.  A relatively good idea, strung together by some gnostic texts and cliched feminist arguments, with a little Erigena and St Irenaeus thrown in for giggles.

His initial argument isn’t that off the mark, however.  Quoting Erigena and St Irenaeus Newell says that Celtic Christianity sees the cosmos as a unified whole and points to Christ as the Eternal Memory and the one in whom all of reality is recapitulated.  A bit Platonic, to be sure, but definitely Orthodox and exciting.  Had he stayed on this level he would be okay.  Unfortunately, Newell kept writing.

I don’t think he understood the initial contradiction between quoting (to make the same argument) the gnostic Gospels of St Thomas and the savage anti-gnostic writings of St Irenaeus.  But to be fair, Newell says he opposes gnosticism.  I want to believe him but he uses every cliched gnostic and feminist argument in the book.  He sets up the pure Celtic/feminine/anti-virgin Mary Church over against the evil Imperial church (think Republican Party) of Constantine.  And those meany Constantinians are trying to take over the world and strip-mine matter, introduce original sin, and keep women in the kitchen!  N.T. Wright has already refuted this nonsense and I won’t waste time here.

I stopped reading halfway through.  The book from page 60 onward is pure paganism.

It’s a shame, really.  There really is much promise in studying Celtic Christianity.  The author was utterly unaware there was another expression of Christianity besides the Latin one:  The Christian East.  The Christian East said everything Newell wanted to say, but only better. And more orthodox.  And less silly.

We need sane, serious people to write books on this topic.  Legitimate Cetlic expressions such as Erigena and St Irenaeus, and perhaps a Celticized form of St Maximus the Confessor is the best argument against gnosticism and imperialism.  Newell needs to read some basic intro texts on Church history written by an Easterner.


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