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Chapter 2 - The Call of God

Today I gird myself
With the power of Christ’s birth together with his baptism,
With the power of his crucifixion together with his burial,
With the power of his resurrection together with his ascension,
With the power of his descent to pronounce judgment of Doomsday.

God enters human history in Jesus Christ, revealing and fulfilling his purpose in
the human person. In his life, death and resurrection, Jesus completes the divine
call to bless all nations through the children of Abraham and create one new man
from the Jew and Gentile nations who will bear his image and likeness. In Christ,
God calls His people to Himself.1

This second verse of Patrick’s Breastplate focuses upon the power of this calling
revealed in the life of Jesus. By praying these words, the believer seeks protection
with the power revealed in every aspect of Jesus’ life. Why pray for this power?

Through His life, death and resurrection, Jesus provides redemption for the
believer. His life, death and resurrection also reveal a pattern that guides our
own lives. This prayer reminds us that in Christ, we discover our own calling,
and through his power, we enter into the reality of that calling.

In four simple lines, this prayer creates a composite image of the life of Jesus
Christ. Each line is but a snapshot, focusing on a specific aspect of the call
revealed in Christ Jesus. In some ways, these four lines correspond with four
images the of Jesus found among the ancient Celtic Christians:
Jesus as the Model Monk
Jesus as the Dread Judge
Jesus as the Wonder Worker
Jesus as the Harrower of Hell2

These four images shine light into the Celtic understanding Jesus’ call, and can
help us reflect more deeply on how Jesus reveals the call in our own lives.

Jesus as the Model Monk
1
N.T. Wright’s reading of the gospel has influenced this approach to call and blessing. For a better grasp of
his insights, read…
2
Michael W. Herren and Shirley Ann Brown, Christ in Celtic Christianity: Britain and Ireland from the
fifth to the tenth century, The Boydell Press (Woodbridge), 2002.
Right after Peter realizes the stunning truth that Jesus is “the Christ, the son of
the Living God,” Jesus stuns him again by announcing, "If anyone desires to
come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”3

The call to follow Christ is dangerous: follow Jesus and you’re sure to die. The
earliest Celtic monks heard this call and obeyed. In this call to ultimate
humiliation, they encountered Jesus as the model monk.

This image of model monk plays a primary role among the Pelagians. Pelagius
was likely a Briton or an Irish ascetic who had traveled to the continent sometime
in the late fourth century, early fifth century. Shocked by the moral laxity in
Rome and influenced by some ideas among the Eastern Church Fathers,4 he
responded to Rome by challenging the common understanding of original sin
and the need for God’s grace to live holy lives.

Instead, he suggested that grace is “created nature itself”5 and man has the
freedom and the capacity to obey the law of God. He denied that man’s condition
changed after the garden of Eden and believed that man always had to power to
choose to live and to do right.

Pelagius lived an exemplary life and preached the value of obeying everything in
Scripture: Old and New Testament. Those who taught or follow his ideas became
known as Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians. Some of the key ideas found in their
writings, include the following:

1. Nature is defined as grace and includes the freedom of the will, the laws
of Moses and Christ, and instruction. Baptism (and penance to a lesser
extent) is the only thing that is outside man’s power if given by God but
must be accepted by man.

2. Adam’s sin is not transmitted to all men even though his disobedience
found many imitators.

3. Man is responsible to obey the whole law (Old and New Testament). Jesus
is a new Moses, the giver of a New Law.

3
Matthew 16:24 (NKJV).
4
McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia, “Pelagianism,” Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003 by
Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.
5
Herren, p. 71.
4. Because scripture reveals the law, true Christians must learn to read, so
they can know and obey the law for themselves.

5. Scripture is our only guide. They rejected commentaries and the writings
of the church.

6. Poverty is the highest virtue. Likewise, riches are the highest sin: the root
of all evil.

7. Miracles are rejected because they are signs of God’s intervention on
behalf of some. This indicates that God might show favorites, and he
doesn’t. All men are responsible to live holy lives without the intervention
of any extra grace and power from God.6

The Pelagians looked to Jesus as a model for living this holy and devout life.
They emphasized the stories of Jesus fasting in the wilderness, fighting the devil,
and undergoing the suffering of the cross. At the same time, they de-emphasized
the miracle stories of Jesus.

St. Augustine battled with Pelagius for many years and eventually in 431,
Pelagianism was officially condemned at the council at Ephesus. 7 In spite of an
official reprimand, Pelagian thought continued to spread and exert a
considerable influence throughout the empire and particularly in the Celtic
world.

In fact, a strong Pelagian influence upon the Celtic churches continued through
the sixth century and was still occasionally referenced in the ninth century. St.
Patrick’s Confessions and Patrick’s Breastplate8 appear to respond to Pelagian
influence by focusing heavily man’s dependence upon God’s grace.

Pelagianism emphasized the ascetic life, the disciplined life. Thus the cross
makes a perfect symbol for this life of self-denial. While Pelagianism was rightly
condemned as a heresy, it did bring an important focus to the deception of riches

6
Michael W. Herron, pp. 69-80.
7
Pelagius, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.
8
While the earliest manuscripts for Patrick’s Confessio is the seventh century, historians view these as free
from the typical hagiographical elements of the time and thus consider this writing to reflect a real person
named Patrick. See Patrick: The Pilgrim Apostle of Ireland, Maire B. de Paor, New York: HarperCollins,
1998, p. 20. According to John Carey, some scholars still defend Patrick’s Breastplate as originating with
Patrick but most believe that is was composed sometime in the eighth century. See King of Mysteries:
Early Irish Religious Writings, John Carey, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000, p. 128.
and the value of serving the poor, the importance upon Scripture, and the central
place of the cross.

Service to the Poor
The image of Christ as the model monk stirred Celtic Christians9 to reject wealth
and focus on service to the needy. St. Aidan leaves his home of Iona to bring the
gospel to the pagan Lindisfarne in Northumbria. While serving as a guest of
King Oswald and later King Oswin, Aidan established a monastery with a
reputation for serving the poor of the land. Everything he and his monks owned
was shared with the community. Nothing could be hoarded.

According to David Adam, Aidan’s favorite biblical passage reads, “For God so
loved the world that He gave…” This provides a pattern for all men, to be like
God we give away all that we have.10 If Aidan ever received more than he
needed, he promptly redistributed the gift to those in need. On more than one
occasion, Aidan bought a local slave and then freed him.

Aidan traveled everywhere on foot, so King Oswin gave him a fine horse and an
expensive saddle. After riding a short distance, he saw a beggar on the side of the
road. Aidan promptly dismounted and gave the beggar the saddle, telling him he
could sell it and get much needed money. He started to walk away, then paused,
turned around and went back, giving the beggar the horse as well.11 When King
Oswin confronted Aidan for giving away this precious gift, Aidan simply
replied, “King, what are you saying? Surely this son of a mare is not dearer to
you than the son of God?”12

Reading the Scripture
Because the scripture played such a key role in shaping lives, Celtic monks
devoted themselves to studying Scriptures, copying Scripture, and preserving
books. As a result of their devotion, we enjoy breathtaking treasures today such
as the illuminated Book of Kells. In addition to copying Scripture, they read it.

9
When referring to Celtic Christians I am generally focusing on celibate and non-celibate Christians
associated with the monastic movements. They may or may not have been initiated as monks, but they were
connected to the monastic community. It is difficult to know how Celtic Christians apart from the monastic
centers practiced their faith. Indications are that they may have only attended church on occasions and were
more likely to mix their faith with local customs forming some syncretistic expression of faith. See…
10
David Adam, Flame in My Heart: St. Aidan for Today, Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1998, p.
73.
11
Adam, p. 110-114.
12
Sellner, p. 52.
How do we know they read it? The saint stories and legends repeat an
interesting detail: reading. One legend tells the story of St. Ciaran who laid his
book in the horns of a stag while he read. Once a noise startled the stag and it ran
off into the woods. The next day it returned and the book was unharmed and still
opened to the same page. Again and again we discover saints and unusual
miracles stories related to reading the Bible and other spiritual books.13

While these stories may or may not have all happened, they do reveal the values
of those who wrote and read them. To consistently include stories about reading
the Bible and other spiritual books, the early Celts must have placed a high
premium on reading.

The Cross
The embrace of self-denial and suffering helped to shaped one the earliest Celtic
images for Jesus Christ—that of the model monk. Jesus’ willingness to suffer for
the sake of God’s will inspired Celtic hermits to embrace the cross as an ideal
expression of yielding to humiliation and suffering as they followed Jesus.
Celtic hermits embraced what came to be known as green martyrdom.

In the first centuries of the church, the empire killed Christians: they were known
as red martyrs. After the official persecution ceased, groups of men and women
began moving to the desert, thus dying to the comforts of this world: they were
called white martyrs. The Celtic hermits following the patterns of the Desert
Fathers, left their homes and families to embrace the rigors of life in the green
wilderness of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They called this journey into solitude
green martyrdom.

One such hermit that captured the imagination of many Celtic Christians was St.
Kevin of Glendalough.14 According to some stories, Kevin lived for seven years in
isolation, wearing only animal skins, and eating the herbs and fruits and nuts of
the forest. He was known to pray the daily office while standing in the middle of
the cold lake with his arms outstretched to heaven.

According to one legend, a blackbird landed upon Kevin’s palm and began
building a nest while he lay sleeping in his hut. He refused to disturb the nest
but kept his hand extended until she laid her eggs and hatched her brood.

13
Edward Sellner’s Wisdom of the Celtic Saints contains a variety of these saint stories.
14
The following stories of Kevin are drawn from the Edward Sellner’s Wisdom of the Celtic Saints. This
little book provides an overview of many legends and gives tools for helping understand the role of the
saint story in the Celtic Christian world.
Edward Sellner provides an excellent glimpse into how this story reinforces the
image of Christ as model monk with this story:
An angel came to visit Kevin, and ordered him to stop the penance in
which he was then engaged and to return to society once more. Kevin
said, “It is no great thing for me to bear this pain of holding my hand
under the blackbird for the sake of heaven’s king, for upon the cross of
suffering Jesus bore every pain on behalf of Adam’s seed.15

From the Celtic landscape dotted with stone crosses to the illuminated
manuscripts such as the book of Kells to the poetry that has been crafted for over
a 1000 years, the cross appears as the preeminent image etched into the Celtic
consciousness. Celtic heroes like St. Cuthbert and St. Columbanus embraced a
life of solitude, a life of suffering and a life of service on behalf of others.16 St.
Columbanus declared,
…for this is the truth of the gospel, that the true disciples of Christ
crucified should follow him with the cross. A great example has been
shown, a great mystery has been declared: the Son of God willingly…
mounted the cross as a criminal, leaving to us, as it is written, an example
that we should follow in his footsteps.17

In a seventh century homily, we find the cross being introduced as an example
for asceticism as well as service to the needy:
….we carry the cross of Christ in two ways, both when we mortify the
body through fasting, and when, out of compassion for him we regard the
needs of our neighbour as our own. A person who has compassion for the
needs of his neighbour truly carries the cross in his heart, as Paul says:
’Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.’ (Gal 6:2).18

When the Celt prays to be gird with “the power of his crucifixion together with his
burial,” he is embracing this image of Jesus of the model monk. Paul captures this
aspect Jesus’ call when he writes to the Philippians,
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the
form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made
Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in
the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He
15
P. 161.
16
There is often a tension in there thoughts between exclusive solitude and being in the presence of others
for the sake of service.
17
Columbanus, Letter, IV6, cited in Michael Herron, p. 140.
18
The Cambrai Homily, fos 37c-d (tr Ramsey) cited in Michael Herron, p. 142.
humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the
death of the cross.
Philippians 2:5-8 (NKJV)

Jesus humbled himself. But this is not like the asceticism common among
Pelagians. The great focus of the cross in the gospel looks less like a monk going
into the wilderness on an ascetic journey and more like a sheep led before the
slaughter. Isaiah 53 captures the image of the suffering Servant as one who is
despised, rejected, afflicted, wounded, smitten, bruised, oppressed, and
numbered among the transgressors.

He is compared to a sheep that meekly submits to its humiliation. In his death
and burial, we see Jesus humiliated and treated as a blasphemer. Isaiah and Paul
both reveal that this humiliation results in our redemption and his exaltation. So
humiliation is not an end in itself. It leads to life.

When God crushes and breaks and batters the human soul, it is not some kind of
perverse demonstration of his cruel power as almighty potentate. Rather, it is the
outworking of his loving kindness. This is one of his tools for working out his
purposes in our lives. As the psalmist prays, “I know, O LORD, that Your
judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me” (Psalms
119:75; NKJV).

So embracing the way of the cross does not necessarily mean a masochistic desire
for abuse. And it is not really about creating our own crosses. Rather, it is the
uncomfortable prospect of submitting to cross that often appears without signs,
without supportive crowds and without remedy.

The cross comes as a surprise gift that we probably did not expect and most
likely do not welcome. It comes in humiliation, tribulation, distress, persecution,
famine, nakedness, peril, and even the sword. In other words, it comes with the
problems we face every day in this life. Part of the calling to follow Christ is a call
to this cross.

Each day there will be opportunities to take offense. Each of us will be wronged.
Someone will misunderstand us and we’ll want to defend ourselves. Someone
else may wrongfully use us. One way or another, we all will face the pain of
humiliation in our daily pursuit to follow Christ. Yet this humiliation is truly a
gift from heaven. In the breaking, the painful crushing, the lover of our souls
draws near.
As the prophet Isaiah reminds us,
“For thus says the High and Lofty One
Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
"I dwell in the high and holy place,
With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,
To revive the spirit of the humble,
And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
Isaiah 57:15; NKJV

In humiliation, the veil of false strength is stripped away. We come to realize how
weak and how desperate we really are. We discover our absolute dependence on
Him. In weakness and not strength, we discover the stunning glory of intimacy
with God.

Like the ancient Celts, we can all find inspiration as we look to Jesus as the model
monk walking in the way of the cross. We may not stand in the middle of
freezing waters to show our devotion, but we do learn from him the path of
submission to the loving chastisement of our Father. The writer of Hebrews
reminds us of our focus by saying,
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of
witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily
ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2
looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy
that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has
sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2; NKJV

This way of suffering serves only to remind us that we are truly his and we are
truly loved. For the end of suffering is glory.
7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son
is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without
chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate
and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected
us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in
subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few
days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we
may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful
for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable
fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:7-11; NKJV

Miles Coverdale suggests that submitting to this discipline is a form of godly
patience resulting from trust in the goodness of God. He exhorts us:
And specially the unspeakable fidelity and love of God towards us ought
lawfully move and persuade us, to suffer God to work with us even
according to His will and pleasure; for by this means we give God this
honour, that he doth us no wrong nor injury, but disposeth all things most
wisely, and will direct them to a good end.19
As we follow Jesus our model monk, we draw strength from him and his grace to
endure suffering and to live a life devoted to resting in His love and pouring out
our lives on behalf of others. This way of His life prepares us for the day when
we encounter Jesus as the dread judge.

Jesus as Dread Judge
In some ways, Jesus as dread judge is the divine contrast with the very human
Jesus as model monk. Instead of emphasizing the suffering and the service to
those in need, Jesus appears as the one who returns at the end of the age to pass
judgment on human affairs.

The image of Jesus as dread judge seems to have shifted over time between two
ideas. The first, most probably a folk interpretation of Pelagianism, pictures Jesus
returning and judging on the basis on human merits. Jesus evaluates total
behavior of individual persons and then decides their fate. If evil deeds outweigh
good deeds, then the person goes to hell. If good deeds outweigh evil deeds, the
person is redeemed.

Here is a poem that captures this idea:

On Christians Mercy Will Fall
I sought of bishop and priest and judges
From the west to the east:
‘For the good of the soul what course is best?’

Paternoster, beati, and the holy creed
Who chants is well served in his soul’s hour of need,
Till Doomsday protected in word and deed,
19
From an essay on Patience, cited in Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, compiled
by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson and Rowan Williams, Oxford University Press: New York, 2001,
p. 21.
Carve out a way and to it hold,
And fashion peace, which is richer than gold:
Mercy will never die or grow old.

Give food to the hungry, and the naked clothe,
And sing you devotions with suppliant lip,
You’ll escape the grip of the demons you loathe.

The vain have a craving, the idle no less,
To miss the way and go to excess;
Impure is the grain they winnow and press.

Oversleep, wild feasting and excess of mead,
And unrestrained passion given it head—
Sweet things—but bitter in the Day of Dread.

Betraying one’s lord and false swearing for lands,
For the kind with hardness of heart uncaring,
That Day, all these men ill-faring.

From midnight devotions and lauds sung at dawn,
And on saints if we call,
On Christians, mercy will fall.20

Written against the backdrop of Judgment Day, the poem offers suggestions on
how to assure one will receive mercy. Mercy is not linked to faith and confession
of sin but rather to performance of good deeds, avoidance of improper behavior
and spiritual exercises.

Over time, this idea was challenged with a more Augustinian vision. In this
picture, Jesus returns to separate the wheat from the chaff. Those who are his are
predestined to life and others are condemned to hell. William Williams, an 18th
century Welsh hymn writer, captures the sense of this second picture:

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
20
See The Last Judgment, Kennedy (blah, blah, blah) This is a 13th century prayer but not necc
representative of the later Celtic church.
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer,
Be Thou still my Strength and Shield;
Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.

Lord, I trust Thy mighty power,
Wondrous are Thy works of old;
Thou deliver’st Thine from thralldom,
Who for naught themselves had sold:
Thou didst conquer, Thou didst conquer,
Sin, and Satan and the grave,
Sin, and Satan and the grave.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of deaths, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to Thee;
I will ever give to Thee.

Musing on my habitation,
Musing on my heav’nly home,
Fills my soul with holy longings:
Come, my Jesus, quickly come;
Vanity is all I see;
Lord, I long to be with Thee!
Lord, I long to be with Thee!21

21
Oxford, 118
In this picture of the final approach to God’s throne, we don’t see a terrifying
prospect of judgment but a reassuring image of worship and eternal bliss in
God’s presence.

These two end-time pictures of Jesus are not limited to the Celtic world and we
still find them circulating today. While one focuses upon judgment and the other
upon worship, both images find root in the revelation of Jesus Christ as the
express image of God. When the Celt prays that he might be gird “With the power
of his descent to pronounce judgment of Doomsday” he is looking to the end of time
when Jesus’ Lordship will be fully revealed to all mankind.

After Paul presents the Philippians with an image of the humiliation of Jesus as
fully man, he returns to the glory of Jesus as fully God. He writes,
9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name
which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should
bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the
earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to
the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11; NKJV

All powers in heaven, on earth and under the earth will ultimately recognize one
true power: Jesus Christ our Lord. As pilgrims in this life, we pursue the path
and call of God under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Christ is not Jesus’ surname
but his title: Anointed One, King.

At the climax of Israel’s history, the Anointed One came to assume the throne of
David. He came to restore the temple, defeat the enemies, and heal the land.22 In
a twist that sent shockwaves throughout all creation, the Anointed King was not
simply the great conquering king of Israel coming to restore God’s elect people,
he was also the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s songs. As king and servant, he
literally embodied YHWH in the midst of His people. He revealed God as
completely present to his people in their joys and sorrows, in their weaknesses
and suffering, and ultimately in their sin. He achieved victory through an
apparent defeat.

Only the Sovereign God could transform the cross, a cruel and cursed form of
death, into a throne of victory. From the revelation of Jesus as Lord Supreme, we

22
See NT Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, September
1996.
look back to the cross with a fresh vision of God’s glorious rule. Hans Urs Von
Balthasar suggests that,

No fighter is more divine than the one who can achieve victory through
defeat. In the instant when he receives the deadly wound, his opponent
falls to the ground, himself struck a final blow. For he strikes love and is
thus himself struck by love. And by letting itself be struck, love proves
what had to be proven: that it is indeed love. Once struck, the hate-filled
opponent recognizes his boundaries and understands: behave as he
pleases, nevertheless he is bounded on every side by a love that is great
than he. Everything he may fling at love—insults, indifference, contempt,
scornful derision, murderous silence, demonic slander—all of it can ever
but prove love’s superiority; and the black the night, the more radiant
does love shine.23

In the cross, the Jesus reveals his Sovereign rule by restoring all relations. The
broken body of Christ becomes the focal point of the people of God. And in
Christ we who were not a people become a people. Thus the cross is at the heart
of all restored relations: between man and God and between man and man. Von
Balthasar continues, “As the Father’s Servant and as the true Atlas, he took the
world upon his shoulders. Through his own deeds he joined together two hostile
wills, and, by binding them, he undid the inextricable knot.”24

Jesus came as the final king of Israel: the Lord supreme of Israel, and the entire
universe. As the true Sovereign, he revealed the all-consuming love of the Father-
Creator. He invited all nations to the table of the Lord. We come to this table, this
love feast, by simply trusting in Jesus.

In the city of Ephesus, small bands of people meeting in homes put their faith in
Jesus. In so doing, they gave up access to the local social and political power
concentrated in the cult of Diana and the Imperial cult. Outwardly, they were
powerless, weak and helpless, yet their hope remained unshaken in Jesus.
Writing to encourage them, Paul prays for a fresh revelation of Jesus. He prays,

Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love
for all the saints, 16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention
of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father
of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the
23
Hans Urs Von Balthasar, The Heart of the World, Ignatius Press: Fort Collins, CO, 1980, pp. 43-44.
24
Von Balthasar, p. 55.
knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened;
that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of
the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding
greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working
of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him
from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,
21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and
every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to
come. 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head
over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him
who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:16-23, NKJV
Paul realized that the real power was not some earthly passing rule, but the Lord
Jesus Christ, exerting his reign in and through his body, the church.

When we pray for the power of his descent to pronounce judgment of Doomsday, we
are seeking the strength that comes from this revelation of Jesus as Lord over all,
we are seeking the grace to behold and submit our dreams, our strengths, our
weaknesses and all of our lives to Jesus, the King of the Jews, Lord of all
Creation. As we bow in submission to his sovereign rule, we submit to his call,
his purposes and his glory in our lives. He reveals himself in and through us as
Christ the wonder worker.

Christ as Wonder Worker
As the Augustinian emphasis on grace began to influence the Celtic world, we
see the emergence of stories that focus on the miracles of Christ. These miracles
alleviate human suffering and demonstrate God’s love to his children while
revealing the power of God in Christ.

Jesus passes this power onto his disciples. Thus Christ the wonder worker
reappears manifested in the lives of the apostles. Throughout Acts, there are
beneficial miracles, power miracles, and judgment miracles. The power of Christ
the wonder worker is transferred from the apostles to other Christians.

In some ways, the Celtic saint stories are retelling the story of Christ the wonder
worker. This was an innovation away from Pelagianism. The Pelagians did not
focus on saint stories because that would indicate some people had a special
status before God (an idea which would contradict their notion that all men have
the power to choose to act holy). So the emergence of saint stories can indicate a
waning of Pelegian influence. Through these stories, people were acknowledging
the need for God’s power in daily living: the need for grace.
These early Celtic saint stories often emerged through public or local acclaim.
Prior to the tenth century, the church did not have formal process of
canonization, so local churches often-proclaimed saints who were not necessarily
recognized by the church at large. This obviously made room for exaggerations
and complete fabrications, but is also democratized the process. Instead of
making saints an exclusive group of Christians open only to a select few, they
made saints of family, friends and local heroes. Almost every town hosted a
shrine to a local saint.

After the Normans invaded in the 11th century, many of these local shrines were
demolished, but the Celts continued to acknowledge local saints by telling their
stories. These stories build on the image of Christ the wonder worker. So these
stories are not simply about superhuman people who experienced an infusion of
grace or died a martyr’s death, but they’re about common people (many of
whom are born illegitimate) who experience the power of God revealed in Christ.

A glimpse into the life of St. Brighid may help us appreciate the beauty of the
Celtic saint story. 25 A deeply loved female leader, St. Brighid shepherded a
double monastery (male and female) in the mid-fifth century.

Born as the illegitimate daughter of a local noble man and his slavewoman, a
poor girl begins life (like many Celtic saints) with a social stigma. Her mother is
sold to a druid, and she is raised in the house of the druid. While her mother
went to town to buy milk, the neighbors walked by the house where she slept
and saw flames of fire. This was taken to be sign about her life, and that’s when
the druid named her Brighid, meaning “fiery arrow.”

Fire plays a crucial part throughout the story of Brighid linking her with an
earlier pre-Christian Celtic goddess also named Brighid, who was a deity of
“wisdom, poetry, fire and hearth.” This makes it difficult to determine if Brighid
was in fact a historical person or simply a Christianized retelling of the pre-
Christian legend. While we cannot sort truth from legend with assurance, we
can listen to the rhythms of the story and better understand the values of the
people who told and retold the story.

On a trip to visit her noble father, Brighid’s nurse falls ill. She turns toward a
nearby residence, discovers a feast in progress, and asks the host for some ale to

25
Much of what follows has been adapted from Edward Sellner’s “Wisdom of the Celtic Saints.”
soothe her nurse. The host refuses and Brighid responds to drawing water from a
well, blessing and giving it to her nurse. When the nurse begins to drink, the
water has turned to ale.

Brighid went to take her vows as a nun. While waiting on her turn for
confirmation, a column of fire rose from her head to the top of the church. The
Bishop immediately invited her to come forward and take her vows as a nun, but
he read the vows of a bishop. When he realized what he had done, the Bishop
acknowledged God’s providential hand in the matter and determined that is was
right for Brighid to be made a bishop.

Over time, Brighid became known for healing: she healed blinds eyes, cured
lepers and even sick animals. She eventually started her own community and
when building a fire on the heartstone, she prayed, “may this light burn forever
in the world and may it never be allowed to go out.”

Brighid’s life was characterized by love and kindness and miracles of compassion
for all the hurting. In Brighid’s life, we see Christ the wonder worker revealed
through God’s acceptance of her in spite of her lowly beginnings. We also see
God incarnate the presence of Christ through her miracles of kindness and
compassion to all who were in need.

This story helps us to understand how the image of Christ the wonder worker
translated into the Celtic culture. The image of Christ is an incarnational reality
and not simply a historical event. While affirming that Jesus Christ lived on the
earth at a particular point in time, this incarnational understanding suggests that
he continues to reveal himself in and among his people.

Luke Timothy Johnson talks about the New Testament church as a people giving
witness to divine presence.26 The gospels and letters are testifying to the divine
reality of God’s presence among his people. Jesus is not a distant figure of the
past, but a living presence among his people now. This seems to be the idea
apparent within the Celtic saint stories. Jesus is not simply present among a
select few but these stories remind the listener that he is always present in the
covenant community bringing love and healing, joy and peace, and abundant
life.

26
See Luke Timothy Johnson, Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity: A Missing Dimension in New
Testament Study, Augsburg Fortress Press, 1998.
By asking for the power of Christ’s birth together with his baptism, this prayer focuses
attention on the two key moments in the life of Christ when the glory of Jesus is
revealed to the world. These two specific events in the life of Jesus are associated
with Epiphany: the coming of the Wise Men to the baby Jesus and the baptism of
Jesus when the Father publicly proclaims, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am
well pleased.”

The church uses these two events to celebrate the incarnation. In Jesus, YHWH
reveals his presence among his people. As we join in the prayer for the power of
Christ’s birth together with his baptism, we are asking for the power of his
incarnation to be revealed in and through us. Until the triumph of Jesus is fully
revealed and all evil is permanently eradicated, we live in a world beset by
darkness. Hurting and hopeless people surround us. At times, even the saints of
God struggle and lose hope.

In the midst of this world that strains forward to the consummation of all things
in Christ, we shine out as lights in the darkness. We incarnate his love and power
and presence through our words and actions. As Peter encourages,

10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good
stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 If anyone speaks, let him speak
as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability
which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus
Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever.
Amen.
1 Peter 4:10-11, NKJV

St David, the patron saint of Wales, was reputed to build multiple monasteries all
throughout the land. His austere life story is replete with miracle after miracle
after miracle. Yet, in his final moments on earth, David said a few words that are
still repeated in Wales to this day.

When he knew his final hours were approaching, St. David gathered his
followers and said, “Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little
things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our
fathers have trod before us.”27 In his final words, David summed up the
incarnational life in three words: “the little things.”

27
See…
Instead of spurring on grand vision of conquest for the kingdom or speaking of
miracles from on high, David talks about the “little things.” The kindnesses we
show toward one another; the unreported acts of love and grace to others; the
simple faith expressed small acts of devotion. For him, these “little things”
capture the essence living like Christ in this world. To this day, the Welsh still
speak of keeping “the little things.”

May we all learn to keep the little things. May we give our lives as living
sacrifices to the community of believers and to the world. Whatever gifts we
enjoy from wealth, to wisdom, to hospitality, we acknowledge these as gifts from
God to be shared. In the process of sharing, pouring out our life and love to those
around us, we believe the Jesus’ life is incarnated. God is present in our midst.
For whatever good we enjoy, it is only from the overflowing abundance of His
unending love.

As the love flows in and between us, the world is stunned. They behold
something that cannot be duplicated without God. Our love is a demonstration, a
proof of His presence to the entire world. Our love for one another reveals the
power of God that conquered sin and hell.

Jesus as the Harrower of Hell
Looking to Jesus as their final hope, the Celtic Christian sees Jesus as the valiant
warrior who has rescued them from the terrors of hell. The Venerable Bede (673-
735 ) shines light into the lives of early English and Celtic Christians in his
Ecclesiastical History and gives us a glimpse how many would have viewed the
torments of hell:

Eternal Gehenna is a place filled with black fire;
Freezing cold mingles at the same time with glowing flames.
Now ovens (assault) weeping eyes with excessive heat,
Now they [attack] gnashing teeth with terrible cold.
In such alternating miseries wretches pass eternity
Immersed in dark night and pitch black gloom.28

Death surrounded the people in this ancient world. From lack of medical care to
the dangers of other tribes to the potential disasters of nature, Celtic Christians
lived with a continuous threat of death. This fragile existence made the threat of
hell seem ever present.

28
See Herren, p. 154.
According to Herron and Brown, “the avoidance of hell appears to have played a
greater role in eschatological consciousness than the attainment of heaven.”29 The
vision of Adamnan captures some sense of the terrors associated with hell. In a
precursor to Dante’s Inferno, this early Irish vision offers a glimpse into the dark
caverns of hell.

Some of them have streams of fire in their sunken cheeks, some have their
tongues pierced with spikes of flame and others their heads….Then there
is another great crowd there, with red flaming cloaks around them, which
hand down to the ground. Their shuddering and their cries reach to the
heavens. A host of demons without number choke them, urging the
stinking and mangy dogs that they hold with their hands to devoir and
consume them. Around their necks hand red and fiery collars that blaze
perpetually.30

Detailing specific punishments for various sins, the “Vision of Adamnan”
presents a terrifying vision of the afterlife for those who die unprepared.
Responses to visions like this include the extreme asceticism found in early
Pelagian monks as well as an overwhelming sense of grace found in later writers.

The early Christian apocryphal gospel known as the Gospel of Nicodemus31
presents a fantastic story of Jesus’ descent into hell. Here is a glimpse of that
story from chapter seven:

And Hades receiving Satan, said to him: Beelzebul, heir of fire and
punishment, enemy of the saints, through what necessity didst thou bring
about that the King of glory should be crucified, so that he should come
here and deprive us of our power? Turn and see that not one of the dead
has been left in me, but all that thou hast gained through the tree of
knowledge, all hast thou lost through the tree of the cross: and all thy joy
has been turned into grief; and wishing to put to death the King of glory,
thou hast put thyself to death. For, since I have received thee to keep thee
safe, by experience shall thou learn how many evils I shall do unto thee. O
arch-devil, the beginning of death, root of sin, end of all evil, what evil

29
Ibid, 152.
30
“The Vision of Admanan” sourced in Celtic Spirituality, translated and introduced by Oliver Davis and
Thomas O’Loughlin, Paulist Press: New York, 1999, p. 337.
31
The title “Gospel of Nicodemus” does not appear prior to the 13th century, but the document appears
much earlier under titles “Acts of Pilate” and the “Descent of Christ.” Various authors attribute the legend
to sometime between the late second century and the early fifth century. See The Ante Nicene Fathers of
the Christian Church, Volume VIII, edited by Alexander Roberts D.D. and James Donaldson, LL.D.
didst thou find in Jesus, that thou shouldst compass his destruction? how
hast thou dared to do such evil? how hast thou busied thyself to bring
down such a man into this darkness, through whom thou hast been
deprived of all who have died from eternity?32
While it is not clear how much direct exposure the early Celtic Christians had to
the manuscripts of this apocryphal gospel, they most likely were exposed to the
legend because various forms or developments of the legend appear in some of
their writings.

Herren and Brown provide a glimpse into this vision reinterpreted through the
writings of Celtic Christians33:

It is he who suffered on the cross, who was buried beneath cold stone, and
who went after that on a visit to Hell.
He was victorious form fighting that, his battle with the Devil. Miserable
Devil, his strength was crushed; a great prey was taken from him.
It is your Son, Jesus, who cast seven chains about his neck and bound him
(no falsehood!) in the depths of his dwelling.
He then returned to his body when he cast off the great attack, and he
arose (bright tidings!) on Easter after three days.
Blathmac (750-70)

The great light of the world flashes triumphant out of Hell;
dying death is dumbfounded by the beginnings of life.
The furies bound, the fates father round all sides,
Then the prince of the abyss seeks the accustomed arms
by which he subdued the human race to his power.
But as soon as he sees the broken threshold in crumbling ruins
he flees in shock and terror to the depths of his house.
Yet even through the dark caverns the tyrant could not escape:
his foe, more powerful than he, entered and bore off his vessels.
Soon he is seized, captured, bound taut with chains,
overpowered, restrained and cast from the seat
where the prince of the world once sat on high,
a savage and voracious beast, for aeons unvanquished.
But the conqueror of the world, solitary and peerless
dashed him completely and crushed his head.
32
From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 8, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright
© 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.
33
See Herron and Brown, pp. 157-159.
John Scottus Eriugena (859-870)

This heroic image of Christ as a conquering warrior inspired Celtic Christians
actively engaged in a battle between light and darkness as they proclaimed the
gospel among the pagan tribes. This image of Christ also inspired pre-Christian
tribes by picturing Christ as the ideal fighter who conquers his foes in the midst
of what appears to be defeat.

By praying for the power of his resurrection together with his ascension, we seek the
heroic Jesus who defeats evil and forever triumphs on behalf of his people. From
the image of Jesus fighting the powers of darkness to the dramatic resurrection
and ascension into heaven, we can catch a glimpse of Father’s vindication of the
Son.

Before his attackers, Jesus was humiliated. His message appeared completely
foolish and his mission appeared to completely fail. And yet, His resurrection
revealed completely changed everything. Before the eyes of all powers in heaven,
on the earth and below the earth, He was vindicated by His Father and raised to
the highest glory. The hope and promise of Israel was fully realized in and
through Jesus. The curse of Adam was broken, the fate of evil was sealed, and the
day of the Lord revealed a new world where grace reigned supreme.

As we seek to know Jesus in his resurrection, we seek to know him in the power
of His vindication. We seek to live with the realization that evil has been defeated
and God’s glory cannot be stopped. We reach toward the day when God’s
vindication will be seen by the entire world.

The hope of vindication gives us strength to live in the hope of that reality even
now. We act in ways that anticipate the coming kingdom. Every time we stand
against injustice, every time we expose the works of darkness, and every time we
embrace those suffering under oppression, we anticipate the great day of the
Lord: the Shalom of God, when the vindication of God’s elect will be fully
realized in all creation. Vindication gives us hope that good has and will
ultimately prevail.

The call of Jesus and the call of His people
These four lines of prayer, acknowledge that the call of Jesus is intertwined with
the call on His people. He is the head and we are the body. Thus, every aspect of
Jesus’ life can instruct and guide us in our call.
This prayer emerges from a culture of people who followed the liturgical year.
Every year, they celebrated every aspect of the life of Jesus from his coming, to
his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and even final return. Every aspect
of his life teaches us to walk in the reality of our call. As we seek to understand
our call in this life, we might look at Jesus.

Many people spend their lives trying to discover their gifts and their purposes in
the body. Dallas Willard suggests that if a seminar is offered on knowing the will
of God, people flock to it.34 But it might help us to look beyond a specific
vocation, to the calling to follow Christ in all things. In four simple lines, we can
begin to glimpse a stunning picture of Christ call in our own lives.

With the power of Christ’s birth together with his baptism,
We are called to incarnation. God choose to reveal Himself in and through His
people. Our lives and our interests and our talents are simply gifts of God that
we redistribute to the world around us.

With the power of his crucifixion together with his burial,
We are called to humiliation. God chose to perfect His Son and His saints
through suffering. In weakness (not strength), we discover a grace that sustains,
transforms, and lifts us up into glory.

With the power of his resurrection together with his ascension,
We are called to vindication. God chose to defeat evil through His elect people—
and ultimately through His elect person: His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our
Lord. He reveals that victory through His elect people: the saints, the church, the
children of God. Even though we may grow weary, we hold fast, knowing good
has triumphed and will ultimately be realized.

With the power of his descent to pronounce judgment of Doomsday.
We are called to revelation. God chose to reveal Himself to the world through life
of Jesus— who is both fully God and fully man. The world has seen His
humanity, His weakness, His death. But by God’s grace, we behold His glory and
are changed from glory to glory.

Exercise:35
Today I gird myself
34
See ….
35
If the Brendan thing doesn’t work in any other chapters, I may come back and insert it here. The story
of Brendan the Navigator follows the journey of one monk and his men in search of an island
With the power of Christ’s birth together with his baptism,
With the power of his crucifixion together with his burial,
With the power of his resurrection together with his ascension,
With the power of his descent to pronounce judgment of Doomsday.

Pray this prayer slowly and think over each line in relation to God’s call in your
life. Where do you see Jesus in your life? Or what image of Jesus do you connect
with the most? Are there other images of Jesus that have played an important
role in your life now or in the past?

Think of your life as pilgrimage and you might want to write or draw different
stages as different parts of the journey and the different aspects of Jesus presence
that sustained.

Where is he calling you from now?

The liturgical year plays an important role in the formation of the Celtic imagination. Every year,
the Celtic Christian attunes his heart and mind to each aspect of the life of Christ, believing that
every aspect of the life imparts grace for our lives. We see this image on display in the story of
Brendan the Navigator.