When does "Celtic" cease to be Celtic? ....
Some thoughts on cultural appropriation and interpretation of our tradition.
Rt Revd Dom Alistair Bate OSBA, M.A.Div
The Celtic Christian tradition is not a monolithic oak but rather, it more resembles a pliant willow. It is flexible and will bend with ease in one direction or another. In the Holy Celtic Church we mainly lean in a Liberal/Old Catholic direction, whilst others bend towards Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism or even Protestant evangelicalism, however, bend the branch too much and it will break. Being ”Celtic” is not whatever you want it to be.
One may argue that the sentiments expressed in some of these random quotes is consistent with Celtic spirituality .... Well, that may or may not be the case. If in doubt, check the source and if it is consistent with the teaching and example of the Celtic saints themselves, rather than by what the Christian equivalent of Llewellyn Publications considers to be Celtic.
One may also ask, "Well, what is a primary source? Surely the Celtic Christian tradition is a living tradition and not a museum piece?" This is a good point and there is no easy answer, however, my personal response would be that whilst ancestry counts for something, particularly if there is a living oral tradition of stories from "the old country" within a family, there is really no substitute for being immersed in the ambiance of a Celtic country, preferably for some length of time, because the spirituality is inextricably linked to the Land and it is those who connect to the Land in some tangible way who are best qualified to interpret the tradition. The great Irish philospher/poet, John O'Donoghue is a good example of someone who used a minimum of primary source material in his works, yet because of his total immersion in Gaelic culture was able to articulate Celtic spirituality in an entirely original way, yet completely true to the tradition at the same time. This is a rare gift.
The Celtic monks of old were definitely not ethno-centric. They were zealous missionaries who evangelised much of northern and central Europe. They were also good Catholics. Following their example, we ought to be outward looking, ever ready to share the riches of Celtic spirituality, but at the same time we ought to be careful of cultural misappropriation and bending the tradition to fit our personal agenda.