The Celtic Martyrs

In similar thought with my last post about martyrdom and whether emergents can be called martyrs, I have found the Celtic Christians’ (some of the first emerging Christians) perspective on martyrdom to be one of great interest and perhaps offering some insight into our current culture. I just finished How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill, and have found some good summaries in Sun Dancing, by Geoffrey Moorhouse.

Ireland is unique in religious history for being the only land into which Christianity was introduced without bloodshed. There are no Irish martyrs… And this lack of martyrdom troubled the Irish, to whom a glorious death by violence presented such an exciting finale.. If all Ireland had received Christianity without a fight, the Irish would just have to think up some new form of martyrdom…

The Irish of the late fifth and early sixth centuries soon found a solution, which they called the Green Martyrdom, opposing it to the conventional Red Martyrdom by blood. The Green Martyrs were those who, leaving behind the comforts and pleasures of ordinary human society, retreated to the woods, or to a mountaintop, or to a lonely island… there to study the scriptures and commune with
God. (Cahill)

They didn’t go alone however. Most often went with twelve others, also remaining available to those who seek insight, instruction and baptism. As more began to stay these hermitages gave way to what many know as the monastery. The monasteries, centers of learning, writing, and languages, preserved much of what was lost as the Western empire was collapsing.

Green martyrdom, however, failed, “both because of the apparently unquenchable Irish tendency to sociability and, perhaps even more important, because of the natural fertility of Ireland itself, which possessed nothing resembling an Egyptian desert…” (Cahill)

With the monk, Columcille, a new martyrdom began in order to reach continental Europe with the gospel. Monks setting off in boats
doing the hardest thing an Irishman could do, a much harder thing than giving up his life: he was leaving Ireland. If Green Martyrdom had failed, here was a martyrdom that was surely the equal of the Red; and henceforth, all who followed Columcille’s lead were called to the
White Martyrdom, they who sailed into the white sky of morning, into the unknown, never to return. (Cahill)

It was in this way that Christianity was revived in Europe.

So that leaves us with today’s emerging church. Are some of them martyrs? False martyrs? Is everything according to traditional orthodoxy? When was any movement completely in line with traditional orthodoxy? Only time will tell as to what difference is made through those of us who are seeking to live out our faith in a way that seems more authentic for us in this day and age.


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One thought on “The Celtic Martyrs”

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