There is a bogus theory that goes the rounds within Anglicanism which claims that Anglicanism is rightfully independent of Rome because it is simply the ancient Christian religion of the British Isles. This ancient Christianity (it is maintained) was Celtic Christianity, and it existed separate from Roman control.
Christianity (according to the theory) first came to Britain through the missionary efforts of St Joseph of Arimathea who was a tin trader. He was an uncle of Jesus Christ and some say Jesus visited Britain during the silent years with St Joseph of Arimathea. This ancient Christianity, cut off from Roman control continued in Western England while the Copts from Egypt sailed to Ireland and converted the heathens there. This theory is based on the fact that they have found some carvings in ancient Coptic churches that resemble the tracery in the Book of the Kells.
This beautiful, ancient Christian faith existed in sublime independence from Rome until the missionary endeavors of St Augustine of Canterbury sent by Pope St Gregory the Great in 597. That is when Roman power took over the church. The present day Anglicans are merely continuing the same ancient, noble tradition of being an autonomous ancient church.
The whole thing is baloney. The first Christians in Britain were Roman soldiers and slaves. St Alban is the first British martyr in 304 and he was a Roman soldier. Therefore, de facto, the first Christians in Britain had natural allegiance to Rome. The episcopacy was set up quite early and it was linked to Rome. The British bishops were present at the Council of Arles in 313. There is no evidence of St Joseph of Arimathea visiting Britain other than pious legend, and there is certainly no evidence of Copts founding the Celtic Church.
What we do know is that Patrick in 461 was born into a Romano-British Christian family with continental connections. His mother was French and was related to St Martin of Tours. After being taken captive and enslaved in Ireland he re-discovered his Catholic faith. He escaped to mainland Europe, trained as a monk and priest and accompanied St Germain of Auxerre on missionary efforts to stamp out Pelagianism in Britain. He was called to evangelize Ireland and was eventually sent as a missionary by Pope Celestine. Patrick did not find a thriving ancient Celtic Church founded by Coptic monks. He found bloodthirsty Druids needing baptism. He was always a loyal son of Rome and he founded the Church in Ireland.
Anyhow, I’ve written an article on this that was published some time ago in This Rock. You can read the whole thing here.
“some say Jesus visited Britain during the silent years with St Joseph of Arimathea.”and some sing it:And did those feet in ancient timeWalk upon England’s mountains green?No, they didn’t. And was the holy Lamb of GodOn England’s pleasant pastures seen?Nope, it was not.
Fr. Dwight,A Blessed Feast of St. John Sarkander and St. Patrick.May their examples and holiness continue to enlighten us all as we serve in confessional and pulpit.Fr. Scott, C.Ss.R.
What an interesting article. I was a regular attender at a local Catholic Prayer group called “The House of The Open Door” at Childswickham in Worcestershire, UK. Until, one day, their “leader” started being very anti-Pope and making lots of really horrible remarks about Pope JP 2. I dismissed it and continued going, wondering where on earth these people were coming from, then they introduced a regular series of talks about “Celtic Spirituality”. When I questioned this, they were really hostile and defensive without any logical argument for the talks. The main thrust was that it was free of any Papal Dictates and just the Church as God intended it to be.Interesting Catholic view. And these people are listed as being a recognised lay community in the Archdiocese of Birmingham UK.Frightening. I can vouch that there is something seriously not right about their spirituality. They are good Roman Protestants or Anglo Catholics, but they ‘aint CATHOLIC.
Although the evidence connecting Eastern practices and the monastic practices of Ireland is sketchy at best (bunk, imho), the similarities between the two forms of monasticism is fascinating.
You are setting up an Aunt Sally here, Father. There are also people in Scotland who deny that St Columba was a Roman Catholic, but does any one take them seriously?
Dear Fr. Dwight,There are couple of theories about the link between Christianity in the British isles and Coptic (Egyptian) Christianity. What happened could be a mix of them. (1) Desert fathers (from Egypt) influence on Christendom: The first monks and ascetics were Egyptians and people from around the world came to learn their way of life. Vita Antony by Athanasius the great was well known throughout Europe (remember that both Anthony and Athanasius were Egyptians (Coptic) not Romans). The first monastery in Europe was founded by John Cassian in the fourth century (near Marseilles, France). John lived 7 years in Egypt after taking his monastic vows in the Holy Land.Also, It is likely that the desert fathers writings reaching the Celtic people and influenced them. It is known that the Celtic Church was centered around the monasteries, similar to the Egyptian pattern. And they called the area around the monasteries “desert”, despite there is no deserts there, like the Egyptian (Coptic) desert monasteries. (2) The second theory claims that actual Coptic missionaries/monks lived in Ireland. The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee, an early ninth century monastic bishop of Clonenagh and later of Tallaght, has a litany invoking ‘Seven monks of Egypt in Disert Uilaig, I invoke unto my aid, through Jesus Christ.’ The Antiphonary of Bangor (dating from between 680-691) also contains the text: “House full of delight Built on the rock And indeed true vine Translanted from Egypt”. I believe those are Catholic sacred texts maintaining the Egyptian connection. (3) St Patrick was trained in a monastery in the Gauls (southern France), which was founded on the example of Pachomian monasteries of Egypt (John Cassian type of a monastery). This theory claims that St Patrick himself was influenced by Coptic Christianity and carried that influence into Ireland.It is not certain how Egyptian Christianity influenced Christianity in England. The certain thing is that it did influence it.I don’t think painting the influence of Coptic Egypt on Celtic Cristian as mythical as the claimed visit of Jesus to Ireland is fair. Besides this influence doesn’t have to be at odds with your cause of Catholic England.In Christ,-Ray
A quick reading of Bede’s account of the synod of Whitby shows that the monks of Iona considered their tradition to be from St. John, and not from St. Peter, and that Peter was the Bishop of Rome, but not the Bishop of all Christianity. Another quick reading of the letters of St. Columbanus shows the same. So, the notion that Celtic Christians did not consider themselves to be Roman Christians is not weirdness or balderdash.