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This article examines contemporary Celtic Christianity and defines its main characteristics. Set in the context of post-modern Ireland, this new religious movement is characteristically syncretic and involves a re-definition of transcendence on a human basis. It also bears witness to the fashion of pagan archaic ternarity as opposed to Christian binarity.
People today “hunger for a rhythm of worship that has roots but is not too ‘churchy’, which reflect the human concerns of our time yet also allows heaven into our everyday world. People want a framework for worship that enables them to relax, to experience awe, but also to express spontaneity, variety and local colour”. Ray Simpson, Celtic Worship Through the Year
This is how the publisher justified the publication of the work entitled Celtic Worship through the Year, which offers postmodern Christians a whole series of Celtic-inspired liturgical texts for private or collective use. Its author, Ray Simpson, inspired by the practice of exile and the mystical asceticism of the first Irish saints, settled on the island of Lindisfarne, from where he invites Christians anchored in the realities of the contemporary world. to follow the model bequeathed by the early Middle Ages which, according to him, can alone meet their deep aspirations. Ray Simpson’s work is in fact part of a very active movement of revival of Celtic spirituality which particularly affects the British Isles but begins to be exported at least to the United States, as evidenced by the very recent publication of Discovering Celtic Christianity (its Roots, Relationships and Relevance) by Bruce Reed Pullen, an American pilgrim in Celtic land. As in the days of Ireland’s Golden Age, between the VI and X centuries, some today turn their hearts and minds to the holy Irish scholars, suddenly metamorphosed into spirit guides of the western new age post-Christian.
In Ireland itself, Celticism — Chelteachas — is fashionable as evidenced by the publication and republication of numerous works dealing with the religious history of the early Middle Ages or the pre-Christian period. That the postmodern version of Celtic spirituality is also in the spotlight in post-Catholic Ireland has been amply demonstrated by the extraordinary success of the essay published in 1997 by the Irish poet, author, priest, and Hegelian philosopher Fr. John O’Donohue, Doctor of Philosophical Theology of the university of Tübingen: Anam Cara : Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World.
All over the world, the Church has perturbed about the rapid growth of new religious movements, regarding the development of a more personalised religion, fashionable, in short, about spiritualities which have eluded her. John O’Donohue’s work consequently drew anxious comment from the associate director of the Western Theological Institute Galway, Rev. Prof. Eamonn Conway. Inspired by early Celtic Christianity (that is to say still strongly tinged with paganism) and Meister Eckhart, a XIV century mystic condemned for heresy, the author retains apocryphal theories from the Christian tradition; it also makes little reference to Jesus Christ and makes no mention of the Church.
Also drawing on Hegel, Eastern philosophies and certain paganisms, clearly influenced by the New Age movement, John O’Donohue reinterpreted early Irish Christianity as an anchor and source of hope in a lonely world disenchanted because of its means of access to oneself and to communion with others.
According to Eamonn Conway, the Anam Chara —soul friend— phenomenon is indicative of the spiritual quest that characterises the contemporary era . It is also symbolic of the Church’s inability to offer refuge in the face of existential difficulties. A complex movement with sometimes confused theories, teeming with contradictions, the new Celtic Christianity is very clear on one point: the Christian churches have understood nothing of Christianity, which must be totally reinterpreted and re-created from the reinvention of the Celtic religious imagination and non-Roman primitive Christian.
Using authentic Irish prayers and blessings, he reveals the treasures that lie hidden within your own soul and the ‘ secret divinity’ in your relationships. As he traces the cycles of life and nature, he draws from the holy waters of Ireland’s spiritual heritage to lead you to a place where your heart can be healed and nourished. .
For the researcher, a wide field of investigation opens up here: analysis of ideological-religious content, sociological analysis, analysis of the process of reinventing a religious universe which is ultimately not well known and somewhat abused by its contemporary followers, etc.; everything has to be done. However, in the first place, a reflection is necessary about the phenomenon considered as rejection of an earlier system carried to the pinnacle by an all-powerful modernity and on which postmodern Ireland casts a critical eye. This will be the subject of this article.
Ireland is in the process of secularisation: this is the most obvious mark of rupture with the past. The secularisation thesis highlights the contemporary split between the political and the religious. Post-nationalist Ireland no longer recognises religion as a priority national identity constituent and is gradually breaking away from the constraints linked to the previous situation. Atheism, however, seems only marginally to gain ground: as in the rest of the Western world, if secularisation and dechristianisation are indeed at work, observers note the signs of a return of the religious, of a revival of the sacred. , of a new quest for transcendence, but in a private and no longer public mode. Denis Jeffrey, defending the hypothesis of shifts in the experience of the sacred, presents the “reappropriation of religion by the individual”  as one of the primary characteristics of postmodern religiosity. Confronted with the tragedies inherent in human existence and the particular difficulties, loneliness, dehumanisation and the loss of landmarks which characterise the contemporary way of life, the individual seeks a tool which allows him to manage the unmanageable and to achieve personal fulfilment on this earth, in the secondary hope of an Another World where it is fully realised.
This is the first project proposed by John O’Donohue in Anam Chara and in Eternal Echoes: Exploring our Yearning to Belong, published in 1998. According to him, the solution to the existential malaise is not to be found in the beliefs and practices of sects, but in a reinterpretation, one could almost say a rehabilitation of God and his image, misunderstood and betrayed in the past:
We have done terrible damage to the image of God as an ungracious moral accountant: we have frozen the feeling of God and drawn the separated mind of God into war with our own nature. God has not done that. Our thinking has; the results have been terrible, We have been abandoned in an empty universe with our poor hearts restless in a haunted longing ; furthermore this has closed the door on any possibility of entering into our own true belonging. We are victims of longing and we cannot come home. The thinking that has invented and institutionalised this life has damaged us ; we are at once guilty and afraid .
This barely disguised criticism of the proclaimed negative thought conveyed by the modern Church echoes another testimony from the neo-Celtic movement, in the Anglican context of Wales, this time: paying a vibrant tribute to the Trinity as glorified by the hymn entitled Altus Prosator, attributed to St Columba, Esther de Waal concludes:
I do not want to treat [this confession of faith] as I did the creeds which shaped my early upbringing, when I stood stiffly as though it were for the National Anthem, shoulder to shoulder with my mother and my sister in the vicarage pew as we all made this public statement weekly about our faith. 1 want to be able to take my Trinitarian understanding into my daily life, into my praying and living, and words such as this help me to do that. 
In both cases, it is individual “secular spirituality” that is at stake, comparable, claim its followers, to Celtic Christian spirituality. It is secular because it is anti-dogmatic, anti-authoritarian, anti-clerical, anti-Church; it is personal because it is in him, at the heart of his unique and incommunicable interior universe that the individual will find it. “We cannot continue to seek outside ourselves for the things we need from within”, writes John O‘Donohue; “The blessings for which we hunger are not to be found in other places or people. These gifts can only be given to you by your self. They are at home at the hearth of your soul ”.  These characteristics perfectly fit this religious thought into the postmodern movement. 
The same is true of the intimate association between the old and the new. For all the theorists of its renaissance, neo-Celtic thought is anchored both in the distant past and in the present. Sociologist Michel Maffesoli sees in a double anchoring of this type one of the characteristics of religious postmodernity.  Opposites, ancient beliefs and contemporary values are reconciled in a religious universe where elements that could have appeared contradictory and incompatible according to the Christian tradition inherited from the Renaissance take on a new meaning and coherence, reinterpreted as they are by the subject in daily quest for religiosity. “There is something ancient at work in us creating novelty,” writes John O’Donohue.  Speaking, from 1969, of the interest of the intellectuals of the two Americas for the origins of the modern nations of their continent, Mircea Éliade evoked “the desire to start history again, the nostalgia to relive the beatitude and the creative exaltation of the beginnings” ,  a time when the Puritan pioneers of North America believed “to prepare the millennium by means of a return to the virtues of the early Church” , Nostalgia for the origins, for a lost golden age, which is usually expressed in times of crisis and uncertainty is, in the same way, at work today among the defenders of the heritage of Celtic Christianity.
It manifests itself by a return to a formula of Christianity still close to Celtic paganism, and in fact presents itself as a kind of Christianised neo-paganism. It is as if the notion of contradiction between paganism and Christianity imposed by the Renaissance were forgotten and that we were returning to a high-medieval representation of the sacred, considering religious mutation as an adaptation in continuity and not as a rupture. This Christianity venerates mother earth, the light of life, water and fire. God is worshiped in his creation and as lord of the elements. The references are indistinctly pagan and Christian: Diarmuid and Grainne (Tóraíocht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne), the children of Lir (Oidheadh chloinne Lir), the Tain, the pre-Christian Other World and the ideal of sensuality presented as Celtic go hand in hand with Patrick, Columba, the ascetic poets of nature and Brigitte, at the same time mother goddess, saint and model for women of the postmodern era.
Like other contemporary religious forms, Celtic Neo-Christianity is further syncretic and ecumenical. Anchored in the present, John O’Donohue does not hesitate, for example, to suggest an oriental reinterpretation of the Celtic theory of the transmutation of souls by proclaiming: “Your clay selves wandered for thousands of years through the universe”, [14 ] He goes on to establish a parallel between the Buddhist Kalyana Mitra and the Celtic Christian anam chara who, a little lightened from his functions of spiritual guide and confessor, becomes with him the other self of intimate friendship or ‘love. This friend of the soul, central notion of Celtic neo-Christianity is moreover interpreted differently according to the authors, proof if there is any of the rights of the individual on the reinvention of the religious and the conceptual confusion of the movement. , if there really is movement. This Celtic Christianity with a New Age tendency is, in any case, also seen as the precursor of the Reformation and, in a way, in its contemporary form, as the herald of the reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants.
In search of a rhythm that allows the individual to reclaim time, the followers of neo-Christianity finally celebrate the circular perception of time bequeathed by the pagan Celts, then Christians.
The year is a circle. There is the winter season which gives way to the spring; then summer grows out of spring until, finally, the year completes itself in the Autumn. The circle of time is never broken. This rhythm is even mirrored in the day ; it too is a circle. First the new dawn comes out of the darkness, strengthening towards noon, falling away towards evening until night returns again. Because we live in time, the life of each person is also a circle. We come out of the unknown. We appear on the earth, live here, feed off the earth and eventually return back into the unknown again.
In Celtic times, the cycle of the feast and its reassuring repetition inscribed man in a form of eternity which structured his life by making him participate in the manifestations of the vital energy of Creation. Ray Simpson proposes to revive the lost liturgy of these feasts of yesteryear and the scansion of human life that it induces. As part of the long tradition of updating religious festivals, it thus proposes to bless the earth, the harvests, to celebrate the benefits of fire, to mark, finally, the summer and winter solstices as well as the traditional ones. Christian holidays. To reappropriate time is in a way to apprehend, if not domesticate, eternity. “Time is veiled eternity”, affirms John O’Donohue;  because in the “great circle of God” everything is one: “God is the greatest circle of all, the largest embrace in the universe which holds visible and invisible, temporal and eternal as one”. , The One, the All, the Absolute is that in which the whole of Creation comes together.
The thought of Celtic neo-Christianity is essentially unary. It refers in fact to the μῦθος—mûthos and not to the λόγος—logos, to the world of revealed knowledge and not to that of knowledge constructed by reason.  She venerates a God who has defined Himself by proclaiming “I am who I am”; this God is incarnated in man with whom he is therefore one. According to John O’Donohue and the theorists of the Celtic-Christian revival, God is clearly very close to his creature who can find the divine in himself: “The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit”, one reads; “The face always reveals the soul; it is where the divinity of the inner life finds an echo and image”, we find elsewhere; “If we believe that the body is in the soul and the soul is divine ground, then the presence of the divine is completely here, close with us”. 
John O’Donohue bases his certainty on a great mystical thought of medieval Christianity, that of Meister Eckhart, condemned in 1329 for twenty-eight of his theses, deemed heretical or “unhealthy, reckless and suspected of heresy”.  Presenting the theory of mystical union with an exacerbated interpretation which deifies the human soul, considered in a union so intimate with God that it is no longer distinguishable from its creator, Meister Eckhart, also suspected of pantheism, is rejected from Catholic thought to be rehabilitated only very late, in the nineteenth century, mainly by Protestant thought. “You are a child of Divine Longing,” concludes John O’Donohue; “In your deepest nature you are one with your God”. As Meister Eckhart says so beautifully: “The eye with which I see God is God’s eye seeing me”.  In the same vein, it is elsewhere Pelagius, also condemned for heresy, that we are trying to rehabilitate. Now Pelagius, too, postulates, in a certain way, the capacity of man to unite with God while remaining totally free of his choices, in particular in his relationship to the Creator and in his attitude towards God. good and bad. In both cases transcendence and immanence come together, as they come together in postmodern personal religions in general and in Celtic neo-Christianity in particular.
This unary thought is also Trinitarian. God is threefold and one at the same time. Man, God and the co-presence of God with man form another oneness trinity, as do the individual, his Anam Chara and Christ who unites them in love. The Holy Trinity, which echoes, among specialists in Celtic civilisation, the triads of Celtic gods, is an essential anchor of Celtic neo-Christianity. This vision of the world which, according to Nietzsche, locked up man like a serpent was the one that the 19th century of the victory of modernity condemned to death. God is dead, proclaimed the philosopher, and the time had come to break the rings of the serpent to finally live his humanity fully. A century later, the disenchanted of the modern world fear that the death of God will cost the life of his creature and try to restore a ternary in a world where the binary triumphs at the expense of the human being. 
It is not surprising, therefore, that postmodern Celtic Christianity unequivocally condemns binary thinking. “We should avoid this false dualism which separates the soul from the body,” writes John O’Donohue. There is no distinction between body and soul, but neither is there any distinction between life and death, which form only a circular ternary unity. This hostility to binary thought deserves, in the context that concerns us, that we dwell on it for a moment. To oppose this form of approach to the world amounts to opposing the whole of modernity founded on binary reason, the fruit of a two-thousand-five-hundred-year-old debate between the upholders of revealed knowledge and the defenders of knowledge constructed by reason.
According to Robert Dany Dufour, “the history of the West is the history of the competition between the order of Two and the order of Three”.  The Two, served by “increasingly operational forms (…): dualism, dialectics, causality, binarity”  gradually defeated the Three by encompassing it. The Church has actively participated in this history from St Augustine who, at the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth centuries, notably raised the question of the relationship of reason to the mysteries of faith. With St. Thomas, in the thirteenth century, the mystery of the Holy Trinity, revealed Truth par excellence, was integrated into a knowledge constructed by binary reason. In the words of Dufour, “Thomist scholasticism thus corresponds to the passage from an ancient science of the subject and of the social bond, unary and Trinitarian, to a modern binary intelligibility and useful to the world”. 
In order to rediscover the social bond, pagan neo-Christianity is now giving back its letters of nobility to the ancient conception. According to its theoreticians, the Mystery cannot, by definition, in any case be gripped by rationality, hence the accusations indirectly addressed to the Christian Churches of having misunderstood the message of God. For them, it is imperative to take the abandoned path to find the meaning of true faith, that of a time when binarity did not blind the believer and did not divert him from the sacred in the complexity and simplicity all at the same time. times of its revelation.
The question which then arises is that of the reality of the affirmed rupture. According to Eamonn Conway, it is no more and no less about reinventing, using hazy syncretic theories, an effective way of dealing with the problems of postmodern ill-being:
The problem with much of contemporary spirituality is (the following): it supports rather than challenges our post-modern lifestyles. It does not necessarily call any of our values or attitudes into question. It cannot, because this kind of spirituality is itself the product of a directionless post-modernity and thus can only be à coping mechanism for survival within it. .
There is no doubt that such forms of religiosity constitute a pastoral challenge for the Catholic Church or the Christian Churches. That it is taken seriously by the competent authorities seems no less certain. Thus Ray Simpson dedicates his work Celtic Worship through the Year to George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury “because of his willingness from the chair of the Roman Augustine to take seriously the worship needs of the emerging grass roots culture”.  All over the world, the Catholic Church is also watching with the greatest vigilance the progress of new religious movements, as demonstrated by the numerous declarations, publications and surveys devoted to them since the mid-1980s.
Typical of this literature, Le Nouvel Age en Question, an account of a research carried out by the Centre d’information sur les nouvelles religions—Information Center on New Religions (CINR) [27b] at the instigation of the Assembly of Bishops of Quebec is perfectly clear in its conclusions: “It is urgent that the Church adjust to the structures of credibility of the current sensibility (…). The Church must stop giving the impression of possessing the truth and accept to be humbly possessed by it “.  Perfectly in keeping with Pope Gregory writing to Augustine and his Kent missionaries at the end of the 5th century, CINR suggests that the Church adapt in order to survive. This, after all, is what the Church has always done and continues to do. Where beliefs are not incompatible, we must forget all dogmatism. Taking the example of the God within, the authors of the report thus point out that “New Age theories can help the Christian to clarify his faith in God. In these theories, the demarcation is not clear between the human, the divine, the “inner God” and God (…)”. Although by insisting on the fact that there is never, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, a fusional union between the human and the divine, “Pastoral care could insist more on the fact that in the Christian regime, the ‘man and God are, in a certain sense, one.’  Syncretism is also not at all shocking in the eyes of Center researchers, who note with interest that “some American Carmelite convents have introduced Zen meditation and Tai-Chi into their daily schedule.” 
Confronted with a Celtic neo-Christianity inspired by a rebellious, anti-Roman island current of the early Middle Ages, and New Age theories of the postmodern era, some, within the Irish Catholic Church, do not remain insensitive to the arguments of those who advocate adaptation. Thus John O’Riordain, CSSR, he published, in 1998, a work which aims to reconcile the two traditions: Irish Catholic Spirituality, Celtic and Roman, revised version of a study published more than twenty years ago under another title. Regretting, like the Church in general, of having lost contact with the popular faith, he expressed his wish to start on a new basis. “I became aware (…) of howlI had been so much part of an institution which had distanced itself from the living popular superstition”, [3l] he indeed declares. “Much of (the) adolescent ‘post-Catholic’ floundering is a reaction to the excessive institutionnalisation from which the Irish Church, and the Church at large, is now emerging”,  he adds further. According to him, however, the Catholic identity is too deeply rooted in Ireland to disappear. And he concludes: “There is a Zen saying which runs: When my house burned down, I got an unobstructed view of the moon at night”;  the mutation is already engaged.
- Ray Simpson, Celtic Worship Through the Year.
- Anam Chara literally means “friend of the soul”. It was the term used in Ireland by Christians of the first centuries to designate the confessor.
- John O’Donohue, Anam Chara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World.
- Eamonn Conway, «Post-Modern Ireland — A Christian Response», in Eamonn Conway & Colm Kilcoyne (eds): The Splintered Heart Conversations with a Church in Crisis, Dublin, Veritas, 1998, p. 75.
- Denis Jeffrey, Jouissance du sacré: Religion et postmodernité, Paris, Armand Colin, 1998, p. 45.
- John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes: Exploring our yearning to Belong, 1998, p. 273.
- Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination, 1996, p. 45.
- John O’Donohue, Anam Chara, op. cit., p. 130.
- Cf. Denis Jeffrey, op. cit., pp. 47-48.
- Michel Maffesoli, Au creux des apparences. Pour une éthique de l’esthétique, Paris, Plon, 1990, p. 16.
- John O’Donohue, loc. cit,
- Mircea Eliade, La nostalgie des origines, Paris, Folio Essais, 1969, p. 151.
- Ibid., p. 161.
- John O’Donohue, Anam Chara, op. cit., p. 45.
- Ibid., pp. 203-204.
- Ibid, p. 18.
- Ibid., p. 276.
- Cf. D. Jeffrey’s analysis of this notion in relation to postmodern religious sensibility in “Critique de la modernité et religion personnelle”, in Bertrand Ouellet and Richard Begeron, Croyances et Sociétés, Montreal, Fides, 1996, pp. 410-411.
- John O’Donohue, Anam Chara, pp. 73, 63 et 85 respectivement.
- Oeuvre de Maître Eckhart, Paris, Gallimard (1942), 1987, p. III.
- John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes, p. 274.
- Cf. the masterful study of Dany Robert Dufour: The mysteries of the Trinity, Paris, Gallimard, 1990. Dufour sees in the new religious movements the only current attempt to return to a ternary mode of representation to re-enchant the world (and he deplores it).
- Ibid., p. 22.
- Loc. cit.
- Ibid., p. 241.
- Eamonn Conway, op. cit, p. 76.
- Ray Simpson, op. cit, p. V.
27b. The CÉINR (Centre d’écoute et d’interprétation des nouvelles recherches du croire— Center for Listening and Interpretation of New Believer Research) was founded under the name CINR (Information Center on New Religions) in 1984 by Richard Bergeron and a group of university researchers wishing to offer a place of dialogue, reflection and open support that respects the experiences of singular, sectarian, Gnostic or esoteric beliefs.
- Richard Bergeron, Alain Bouchard, Pierre Pelletier (éds), Le Nouvel Age en Question, Montréal, Editions Paulines & Médiaspaul, 1992, p. 129.
- Ibid., p. 115-116.
- Ibid., p. 120.
- John O’Riordain, Irish Catholic Spirituality, Celtic and Roman, Dublin, Columba Press, 1998.
- Ibid., p.139.
- Ibid., p.142.