Social Order

Celtic Christians spoke truth to power.

The Celtic Revival: Celtic Christian Worldview (13)

Now after the coming of Adamnan no woman is deprived of her testimony, if it be bound in righteous deeds. For a mother is a venerable treasure, a mother is a goodly treasure, the mother of saints and bishops and righteous men, an increase of the Kingdom of Heaven, a propagation on earth. Adamnan suffered much hardship for your sake, O women, so that ever since Adamnan’s time one half of your house is yours, and there is a place for your chair in the other half; so that your contract and your safeguard are free; and the first law made in Heaven and earth for women is Adamnan’s Law.

   - Anonymous, Cáin Adamnáin (late 7thcentury)[1]

“Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to thepoor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

  - Daniel 4.27

Celtic Christians understood their calling to be that of restoring the fallen creation to uprightness before the Lord. Satan was bound and had no power to resist their work of preaching and teaching and of recovering men and women from the chains of darkness and unbelief. Every individual’s calling and work mattered, and every believer was endowed with time, talents, and treasure to bestow for the progress of the Kingdom of heaven.

But while the Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800 AD) flourished throughout Ireland, Scotland, and in many places in Europe, many women and children in medieval Ireland and elsewhere had yet to experience the liberty and love of the Gospel. This troubled saints like Adamnáin(Adomnan or Adamnan), who served as abbot of the monastery Colum Cille had begun on the island of Iona.

The Celtic name for woman in Adamnáin’s day (late 7thcentury) was cumalach, which means essentially, “female slave.” Women had no possessions of their own. They lived in separate huts from their husbands and could not expect to be safeguarded from the dangers of being a woman in the world. They had no rights, not even in raising their children. 

They could, however, be pressed into service for battle, and it was seeing the results of one such battle – women slaughtered and strewn across a field – that led Adamnáin to intervene on behalf of the women of Ireland. His was the first law in Celtic lands to establish women in their rightful and proper place in society, as outlined in the quote above. And when certain local kings balked at implementing the “Law of the Innocents,” Adamnáin prophesied dire threats and warnings against them, until gradually all agreed.

From his respected position as the spiritual heir of Column Cille, Adamnáin appointed special judges in churches all over the land to ensure that the law he had written was understood and followed. Pain of a fine, church discipline, and even excommunication could come down on those who hesitated to follow the law and treat women with the respect accorded them in Scripture. And the law applied equally to women, who were not allowed to treat other women with anything other than the respect due themselves.

Drafting and implementing the Cáin Adamnáin took fourteen years of continuous preaching, teaching, explaining, persuading, and prophesying. In the process, the “Law of Adamnáin” or “Law of the Innocents” secured rights for children and clergy as well, who were frequently subjected to enslavement. Adamnáin’s law was adopted throughout Ireland and all Britain.

The Celtic Christian worldview embraced the entire world – everything and everyone – and sought the goodness, justice, mercy, and restoration of God, even to the extent of changing the laws of the land and writing new laws more in line with divine revelation. As fervent as Celtic Christians were in preaching the Good News and calling others to repentance and faith, they were equally fervent in applying the teaching of Scripture to all of life, including matters of public policy.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers “so great a salvation” (Heb. 2.3) that it embraces and transforms all aspects of life in the world. Celtic Christians were not content just to see people come to faith in Christ. They were resolved to teach and preach and work for a Kingdom lifestyle in which all things were being made new.

And if that meant insisting that civil magistrates amend their ways and their laws, then they, like Daniel, would not hesitate to work for changes in the social order more in line with the Law of God and all His Word.

Psalm 148.11-14 (Hendon: Take My Life and Let It Be)
Kings of earth and peoples all, young men, maidens, on Him call!
Old men, children, princes, kings, bring to God your offerings,
Bring to God your offerings.

For His people He has raised His salvation: God be praised!
All whom Jesus Christ brings near praise their Savior, ever dear,
Praise their Savior, ever dear!

Lord Jesus, King of kings, give me boldness like Daniel and Adamnáin to stand for Your truth wherever…

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T. M. Moore, Principal
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe PsalterScripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1]Meyer, p. 5.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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