A Celtic Christian Worldview (1)
The disposition of the universe must be understood in two respects, namely in relation to God and in relation to things, that is to the Creator and to creation. Not that we should set God on one side nor that the creature can equal the Creator, but because everything that exists is understood either to be created or uncreated, ruling or subject, eternal or limited to a particular time [temporal]. Therefore what is created, subject, or restricted to time [temporal] is itself a created thing, but what is uncreated, powerful and eternal is God himself.
- Liber de Ordine Creaturarum, 1.1
The earth isthe LORD’s, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell therein.
For He has founded it upon the seas,
And established it upon the waters.
- Psalm 24.1, 2
Celtic Christians can never be accused of having a too-small vision of the faith. Grand, lofty, and compelling visions of God, the cosmos, the history of all things, and the life to come are recorded in several of the extant writings from this period, as well as in much of the art in illuminated manuscripts and on high carved crosses.
The believers who, during the period of the Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800 AD), “saved civilization” (Thomas Cahill) through their efforts in disciplined and spiritual living, making disciples, and proclaiming the Gospel, envisioned themselves as players in a divine drama that was unfolding on a stage and with props, cast, and script prepared by the eternal God, Whose objective at all times is to glorify Himself even as He lavishes rich blessings on the world.
Many Christians today suffer from a problem most cogently diagnosed by J. B. Phillips in his 1952 book (reprinted 2004), Your God is Too Small. Our God is too small, Phillips argued, and thus our faith in and experience of Him, being also small, are hardly attractive to the world. We tend to think of God in terms of our wants and needs, or our familiar stereotypes, rather than as He reveals Himself in His Word and world. We need a bigger view of God to encourage us to stretch out toward the full extent of our great salvation.
Celtic Christians thought of God in this way. Beginning with God’s self-revelation in Scripture, they turned to the world of creation and saw in its enormity, complexity, beauty, bounty, and various powers, refractions of the God Who created and sustains the world. They had a large vision of God, and this gave rise to a large faith and a bold and expansive vision of what they might be able to accomplish as they trusted in God and walked with Him according to His Word.
Today we begin a series of reflections on the worldview of Celtic Christians, drawing from a 7thcentury manuscript by an unknown Irish scholar entitled, Liber de Ordine Creaturarum – The Book of the Order of the Creation (or Creatures). This is a fascinating work, both because of the scope of its subject and the matter-of-fact manner in which it is written. The occasion for the writing of this book is unknown, but copying and writing books was a primary work of monks and theologians during this time, and we may assume this was simply one scholar’s contribution to whatever was the disciple-making regimen of his particular monastic paruchia.
The Liber purports to explain all there is, everything that has been created and that great uncreated Reality, God. It does not try to be exhaustive, but seems interested only in setting up categories for living in the realm of this world and, at the same time, in the unseen realm of God, angels, demons, and departed saints. In a manner reminiscent of Colum Cille’s worldview poem, Altus Prosator, the Liber has much to say about the unseen world, the beginnings of time and history, and the final disposition of all things, but precious little to offer about living in the here and now. We are supposed to take our cues for daily life and use of the creatures of this world from their and our provenance – the eternal holy God of love – and the end toward which everything is moving – the new heavens and new earth.
In our day, when much of the world has chosen to “set God on one side,” assuming that they, mere creatures, “can equal the Creator,” Christians need a confident, clear, and compelling vision of the world and of their place in it. The earth and the universe and everything in them belong to the Lord, and we are His appointed caretakers and developers, taking what Jesus, by His death and resurrection, has reconciled to God and making it reflect His newness and glory in whole and in part.
In the Liber de Ordine Creaturarum we will investigate the worldview that gave one scholar the impetus to serve God faithfully in his calling, in the hope that his vision and faithfulness will enlarge and improve our own.
Questions for Reflection
1. What is a worldview? Who has a worldview? How does a worldview serve those who have one?
2. Would you say that your Christian worldview is bold and expansive? Or is your God too small? Explain.
Psalm 24 (Foundation: How Firm a Foundation)
The earth is the Lord’s, as is all it contains;
The world and its peoples He daily sustains.
He founded it fast on the seas long ago,
And bid gentle rivers throughout it to flow.
Oh, who may ascend to the Lord’s holy place?
And who may appear to His glorious face?
All they who are clean in their hearts and their hands
And true in their souls with the Savior shall stand.
A blessing all they from the Lord shall receive
Who seek Him and on His salvation believe.
For these are His people, the children of grace,
Who earnestly, eagerly seek for His face.
O lift up your heads, all you gates of the soul,
For the Savior would enter and render you whole!
The Lord strong and mighty in battle draws nigh;
He rules in His glory above us on high.
O Who is this King, Who approaches our gate?
His might is before us, His glory is great!
This King is the Lord of all glory above,
Who comes to indwell us in mercy and love!
Lord, I know I need to grow in my understanding of You and my place in your world. Help me today to see…
Worldview: Begin Here
Christian worldview begins in our view of God. We want to see Him as He is, and not as we tend to make Him - too small and insignificant. Our book Be Thou My Visionoffers 28 meditations on the greatness of God and Christ, and can help you move forward into a bigger, truer view of God for yourself. Order your copy by clicking here.
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Liber de Ordine Creaturarum, Rev. J. A. Davies, tr., ed. from text file by Jonathan Wooding (Lampeter: University of Wales, 1998), p. 1