York profs explore Christ in Celtic Christianity

Michael Herren, distinguished research professor of classics, and Shirley Ann Brown, professor of art history, have just published a collaborative book entitled Christ in Celtic Christianity: Britain and Ireland from the Fifth to the Tenth Century. The book appears in the series “Studies in Celtic History”, published by the Boydell Press in the UK.

Working mostly summers at their cottage, Herren and Brown strove over a 15-year period to produce a book which they hope will change the way people think about early Celtic Christianity. Reacting equally against recent romantic notions and rooted pietist perceptions, Herren and Brown portray Celtic Christianity as rigorist, hell-oriented, exclusivist and overwhelmingly oriented to the goal of the individual’s salvation.

The authors also challenge the received opinion that Celtic Christianity was in unity with Rome in all matters except the method of Easter reckoning and the shape of the clerical tonsure – a myth propagated by the Venerable Bede in the eighth century and accepted ever since.

Herren and Brown maintain, “On the contrary, according to the evidence examined, the Pelagian heresy, which rooted itself in Britain in the early fifth century, influenced the theology and practice of the Celtic monastic churches on both sides of the Irish Sea for several hundred years. Combining the more moderate strain of semi-Pelagianism and effort-based monasticism with the Pelagian core, the churches of Celtic Britain and Ireland created a theological spectrum that set them apart from the churches on the continent.”

The authors link this distinctive theology with the images of Christ in literature and art which served the devotional and religious thought of the intertwined monastic and secular strata of Celtic Christian society. Supporting visual images are drawn from manuscripts, metalwork and sculpture.

Herren wrote the chapters on theology, church history, and the literary images of Christ; Brown wrote the chapters on visual images. Both hold their main appointments in the School of Arts and Letters, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies.