Newly emerging churches nearly always recycle old, pre-Christian ideas to serve their new faith, stitching together the pagan past and the Christian present.

In the Mediterranean world, Christian philosophers reshaped neo-Platonism. In early Christian Gaul, thousands of pagan well-spring shrines were converted into Christian sites, while Pope Gregory the Great told the English church not to destroy pagan shrines but to reuse them, "changing them from the worship of devils to the service of the true God."

We see the same process in the early "Celtic" church—Christians who spoke the ancient Celtic languages: Gaelic, Welsh, and Pictish. These first Celtic Christians wove their new-found faith in Christ into their ancient languages and cultures. Columba, for example, reportedly blessed a Pictish well where a malign spirit lived and turned it into a Christian place of healing.

What was the nature of the Celtic Christianity that emerged from this enculturating process? Today many moderns long to find something different in Celtic Christianity—a beautiful spiritual tradition unlike the messy and compromised history of the larger Western tradition.

But how different was it?

Nature lovers?

"The bird which calls from the willow, / Lovely its little beak with its clear call. / Tuneful yellow bill of the firm black fellow— / A lively tune is sung, the blackbird's voice." So wrote one ninth-century poet in Gaelic. This kind of writing is one of the most instantly attractive aspects to modern admirers of Celtic Christianity.

Celtic Christians have left us some lovely poetry celebrating the natural world as God's creation. But medieval Christians in England and Europe also delighted in creation. There is nothing distinctively Celtic ...

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