Celts appear to have come from continental Europe, around modern-day Marseille, first referred to as ‘Keltoi’ by the Greeks in 517BC. In the 5th century BC, Herodotus mentioned Keltoi living around the Danube (the Black Forest area of modern Germany) and they were also found in the far west of Europe.
To the Romans in the 1st century BC they were known as Gauls, or Galli, although Julius Caesar noted that they referred to themselves as Celts. The Continental Celts (primarily France and Iberia) could regard themselves as those who stayed close to home, and they became known by themselves and others as the ‘Gauls’.
But a divergence had also occurred; a wandering of cousins north and east.
First, the Insular Celts had migrated north. They were the Celts of Britain and Ireland, the subject of our studies in Celtic Christianity. They came to southern Scotland which was then considered as far north as you could (safely) go. This was the land called Hen Ogledd or the ‘old north.’ The Celts painted their bodies and were known to the Greeks as ‘Pretani’ or ‘painted ones.’ Their lands were called ‘Pretannia,’ from which comes Britannia and the name for the whole island of Britain; its people being the Britons. The people living beyond them, in what is now central and northern Scotland, also painted their bodies. The Romans reached that far north and recorded them in AD297 as ‘Picti’ – Latin indicating painted or tattooed people. They were the Picts. The Insular Celts were crushed up against the Picts, but through intermarriage and intermingling, the Celts became utterly dominant in the new Kingdom of Scotland.
Second, some Celtic, or Galli, people had travelled east and south looking for a new home and a new identity. These Galli found both in 3rd century BC, settling in the highlands of central Turkey which became known as Galatia.
Paul wrote to the Galatians (Galli, Gauls and Celts – call them what you will). But if Paul was writing to family – to third cousins, twice removed of the ‘Scottish’ Celtic people – what did he have to say in his Letter to the Galatians? Is it relevant for the Celtic Christians?
Paul was concerned about the Galatians’ faith and emphasised that there was no other gospel. You will recall that paganism had counterattacked against initial evangelism (by Ninian and later by others) and that a desire for a consistent approach in the Faith was one factor in uniting under the Augustinian ‘Roman Church.’
Paul was at pains to explain his credentials and his mission amongst the Gentiles. The Celtic Christians worked amongst the Picts, Anglo Saxons and their own Celtic kin in spreading the Word.
Paul highlighted faith above (but not to the exclusion of) works. The Celtic Christians were led, by their faith, to act through hospitality, mission work, soul friendship and prayer.
And finally, and tellingly, Paul wrote to the Galatians of life by the Spirit. Their relationship with the Holy Spirit was so important to the Celtic Christians, and we have already seen how they were not so much anchored by their faith as led by it. They had freedom in going where the Holy Spirit led – of chasing the Wild Goose – for after all:
“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:18)
[from Timothy Pitt]