A Passion For Justice: Social Ethics in the Celtic Tradition

A Passion For Justice is a book that I picked up because I wanted to study ethics from the point of view of Celtic tradition. The author is a doctor at the Irish School of Ecumenics at Trinity College, Dublin. And the forward was written by president McAleese of Ireland.

The book is divided into three parts. The first is the context for the discussion the author intends to have and it contains 2 chapters. The second is on Saints and social ethics and that contains 6 chapters. And the final part is on Celtic social ethics and it contains 8 chapters. The book has an extensive bibliography that I was delighted with and the glossary provided was a great resource for the book. I do think that this book as intended as a text book because at the end of each chapter a list of the main points was provided as well as test questions.

The first chapter contains two important points, that the author expounds on. The first is how he defines the word “Celtic” and the second is the political and social structure of Ireland from mythical times to just before the Norman invasion of Ireland. The author attacks the romanticized ideas of the 19th century on what it means to be Celtic. My hackles rose a bit because it has now become all the rage to deny that there was ever anything called Celts. However, when I read his explanation I realized that he and I were on the same page. He sees the Celts as a cultural, spiritual and linguistic marker rather than a marker of ethnicity or race, and this is how I see it to, based on the latest archeological evidence that says that there were no large scale migrations to Ireland or Britain but rather some small scale ones before the second century BCE. The author then goes on to his second point of the chapter and that is to describe the political and social structure of Ireland in a simple and concise manner. He talks about the stratification of the Irish society and about the laws that governed them, as well as how the coming of Christianity effected these laws.

The second and last chapter in part one is an eye opener. Not just from the religious point of view but also from the political one. The author was not gushing over Saint Patrick as usually writers do when discussing Christian Ireland, in fact he barely mentioned him and only to say that he was not the first to bring Christianity to Ireland and his influence was only in Northern Ireland and no where else. His system of Christianity which was based on the Roman church was over taken by the monastic system with in a century. The main point of this chapter was when the Irish church changed its system from the monastic to the Roman system and coupling that with the Anglo- Norman invasion they lost their independence and became a colony of Britain and King Henry II. This was because by the time Henry came along with a letter from Pope Adrian IV that “donated” Ireland to him, the Irish Church was already under the influence of Canterbury and the Roman church and so the Bishops were very excepting of this transfer. In the old days, the church or before that the Druids would have been able to get the people to at least fight and continue fighting. The battle was already have won with the Romanization of the Irish church.

Part two of the book starts with four (3-6) chapters about four different saints, Patrick, Brigit of Kildare, Columba, and Columbanus. These chapters talk about these saints’ lives, and how their social ethics played a part in it. What I enjoyed the most was that the author was not romanticizing these saints at all. He was giving you their stories and how they affected people with out being biased for or against them which I liked. Chapter seven is certainly another interesting chapter. It is all about three female saints and their influence on church politics, and on other male saints. The chapter shows just how much females we needed when it comes to the early church and much they were later ignored. Anyone interested in early feminism in the church of Ireland should read this chapter. The final chapter of part two discusses holiness. It was an interesting discussion because it related holiness to socio-political aspects. There are two different ways of seeing holiness, one as separateness and the other is righteousness. Separateness is concerned with social purity and is essential for community identity and purpose while righteousness has to do do with right relations based on justice that is socio-political and economic.

Part three is all about actual Celtic ethics like hospitality, forgiveness, compassion, environmental care, justice and peace building. Each chapter talks about one ethic and then relates it to Ireland today and Celtic tradition. The final chapter talks about Celtic Spirituality in ethical practice.

I enjoyed every page of this book because the author is not biased towards Celtic Christianity even though he is talking about it. You can see the echo of paganism in what he is saying and he is not afraid to say when something could have been from that time. It is a good book to have in your library.

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Brigit: The Exalted One

I wanted to write about Brigit because she is the patron goddess of the tribe I belong too.  She is one of the famous goddesses of the Tuatha De Danánn, and there is so much information (and misinformation) out there about her.

Let us look at the etymology of the name and its possible meaning.  The name Brigit is Old Irish and came to be spelled Brighid by the modern Irish period. Since the spelling reform of 1948, this has been spelled Bríd. The earlier form gave rise to the Anglicization Bridget, now commonly seen as Brigid.  The name Brigit probably derives from the older *Briganti* which might have meant Sublime One or Exalted One.

The some of the sources for most of what we know about Brigit come from Cormac’s Glossary, the Lebor Gabála Érenn, Cath Maige Tuired, Imcallam in da Thurad as well as some inscriptions of what is thought to be variations of her worshiped in Britain and on the continent.

Brigit’s divine responsibilities are in the areas of poetry, prophecy, smithing, medicine arts and crafts, cattle and other livestock.  In Roman Britain she was the equivalent of the Roman goddess Minerva and the Greek Athena. She is sometimes thought of as the patron goddess of the filid.  According to Cormac’s Glossary, Brigit was a set of triplets, each one having the same name: a goddess of poetry, a goddess of smithing and a goddess of healing respectively.  Her favored time of year is said to be spring, and her feast day is Imbolc celebrated around February 1.  And her special region is said to be in Leinster, in the southeast corner of Ireland.

She seems to be a pan-Celtic goddess.  She is known as Bríghde or Bríde in Scotland, as Fraid in Wales, Brigan or Brigandu in Gaul, Brigantia or Brigantis in Great Britain, and Brigindo in Switzerland.  She is associated with rivers and streams and gives her name to the Brent in England, the Braint in Wales, and the Brighid in Ireland.  She is also thought (by some scant evidence) to be a Sovereignty goddess through her marriage to Bres as well as her name being part of the name for King in Welsh, and a goddess of agriculture though her association with lactating ewes and cattle.  She is also linked to fire cults.

Brigit is the daughter of the Dagda though we are not quite sure who her mother is though she is said to be a poet, her brothers are Cermait, Aengus, Midir, and bodb Derg.  She was married to Bres of the Fomoire and their son Ruadán who died while trying to kill the divine smith Goibniu.  Brigit’s lament of her some is said to be the first keening heard in Ireland.

If we really look at what we have of Brigit we can see that we have some information and a lot of speculation especially when the lines between the Goddess Brigit and the Saint Brigit becomes blurred.

Works Cited:

Koch, John T.  Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia.  ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, California.  2006.  Pp. 287-289

Monaghan, Patricia.  The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore.  Facts On File, Inc, New York.  2004 pp59-60

“Brigit” Mary Jones.  Jones’ Celtic Encyclopedia 2004, Access : July 16, 2010 http://www.maryjones.us/jce/brigit.html

“Brigantia” Mary Jones.  Jones’ Celtic Encyclopedia 2004, Access : July 16, 2010 http://www.maryjones.us/jce/brigantia.html