By The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul - Celtic Christian Wisdom & Spirituality for the Here and Now – Part 3
The earth is full of your goodness, O God. It sprouts green and grows into the roundness of fruit.
Its touch and its taste enliven our souls.
Let us know the seeds of life’s goodness within us and between us.
And let us handle its gifts with wonder.
Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul – Brief Summary of Introductory Thoughts
Celtic scholar John Philip Newell writes that “we know things in the core of our being that we have not necessarily been taught, and some of the deep knowing may actually be at odds with what our society or religion has tried to teach us. [Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul] is about reawakening to what we know in the depths of our being, that earth is sacred and that this sacredness is at the heart of every human being and life-form. To awaken again to this deep knowing is to be transformed in the ways we choose to live and act.”
[This way of seeing] “can be accessed by anyone, regardless of ethnic origin or religious background, for it is a way of seeing that is based on what the soul already deeply knows, that both the earth and every human being are sacred. And we can apply this way of seeing to the most pressing issues of humanity and the earth today – [to the here and now].”
Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul – Pelagius
“In Celtic wisdom we remember that our soul, the very heart of our being, is sacred. What is deepest in us is of God. Every child, every woman, every man, and every life-form is in essence divine. This is the truth that Pelagius invites us to remember.”
“Around 50 CE a shift began to occur in parts of the Celtic world, a transition from Druidic (pre-Christian) wisdom to Christian wisdom. St. Paul was teaching in Galatia [ancient Turkey] around 55 CE. Word of the mystery of Christ appears to have spread from the Celtic territory of Galatia into Gaul [ancient France] and Galicia [ancient Spain] and from there across the seas to Ireland and into ancient Britain. There was deep receptivity to the new teaching for, as we shall see, the Christ mystery did not seem strange to the Celtic worldview. Rather, it gave further expression to the sacredness the Celts already knew existed deep in the matter of the earth and in the stirrings of the human soul.”
“Significantly, news of the mystery of Christ traveled in spoken form. The Celts at this stage were not a literary people. Theirs was an oral culture. Wisdom was passed from generation to generation through poetry and storytelling. The message of Christ entered the Celtic world not in fixed written form, but in most fluid, spoken form. This made way for a rich intermingling of Christian and pre-Christian wisdom.”
“Historically, the earliest recorded Celtic Christian community was in Lyons in second-century Gaul. Roman writers refer to these Celts as irreligious and godless; irreligious, because they worshipped without temples in the wild, in forests and on mountains, which to the Celts were sacred; and godless, because they refused to worship the emperor, as part of the imperial cult of ancient Rome, which bestowed on the emperor divine authority. This in the end led to persecution and martyrdom among the Celts in Gaul.”
“The first Christian teacher of significance to emerge in Celtic territory was Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 140-202). He had studied in Asia Minor (ancient Turkey) under Polycarp, who in turn had been a student of St. John in Ephesus, the disciple who was so cherished in Celtic legend.”
[Part of that Celtic legend is the much-cherished image of John the Evangelist, also known as John the Beloved, leaning against Jesus at the Last Supper (John chapter 13). Celtic tradition holds that by doing this John heard the heartbeat of God.] “John had fled Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and made his home in that part of Asia Minor bordering the Celtic territory of Galatia.”
“Thus Irenaeus and John were only one teacher apart, and in Irenaeus we hear all the favorite themes of the Prologue to John’s Gospel, for example, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ (John 1:1). As John goes on to say, everything has come into being through the Word. Everything is essentially an utterance of the divine, a sacred sounding, each creature and life-form a unique and unrepeatable expression of the One.”
“From Celtic Gaul and the teachings of someone like Irenaeus, the message of Christ spread to Celtic Britain and Ireland, likely by the end of the second century, still in oral form, and thus still with a fluidity that allowed a confluence with pre-Christian wisdom. It is not until the fourth century that we receive anything like a historical account of Celtic Christianity in Britain. By this stage in Rome, Mediterranean Christianity had become the imperial religion. But Celtic Britain was on the fringe of the empire, and the imperial army had never managed to occupy Ireland. Thus, the Celtic mission in Ireland and Britain was relatively free from the heavy hand of the empire.”
“The first historically recorded writer in the British Celtic world [was] a monk named Pelagius. Around 400 CE he traveled from his homeland in Wales to Rome, where Christianity had become the religion of the empire and thus, at least in part, the servant of the empire. Pelagius challenged the theology at the heart of this alliance between power and religion. What is deepest in every human being, he taught, is sacred; we carry within us the dignity of the divine. This was a threat to the foundations of empire, which were built not on reverence for, but domination of, people and the earth’s resources. In the end, both empire and church denounced Pelagius, but this was not enough to silence him. His vision lived on, and it is rising among us again today, inspiring us to look for the sacred in every human being and to refuse to treat others merely as means to an end.”
Words of Awareness and Wisdom
You have been graced with the dignity of divine birth, says Pelagius. Live this dignity in your life,
safeguard it in one another, and protect it in every human being.
(Reflect for a brief time on the ways this wisdom applies to you life.”
Source: John Philip Newell, Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul, Introduction.
An invitation to our virtual participants: Discussion and comments are very much encouraged and welcomed. Online discussions can be held in the comments section in the post on Facebook for this week’s Deacon’s Reflection which is part of adult formation at St. Francis Episcopal Church.
Awake, O my soul, and know the Sacred dignity of your being.
Awake to it in every living soul this day.
Honor it, defend it, in heart and mind, in word and deed.
Awake O my soul, and know the sacred dignity of your being.
May the light of God illumine the heart of my soul.
May the flame of Christ kindle me to love.
May the fire of the Spirit free me to live this day, tonight, and forever. Amen.
John Philip Newell, Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul, p. 43.
“Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2022.
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