Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.
Crosfigell

Ruled for Holiness

Bring holiness to completion.

The Celtic Revival: The Monasteries (8)

Growth in holiness must be accompanied by moderation. The monk should strive after holiness with sincerity and joy of heart. His mind should be perpetually attuned to heaven, manifesting a preference for light over darkness.

  - The Rule of Cormac Mac Ciolionáin

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

  - 2 Corinthians 7.1

We are considering aspects of the various monastic rules that have survived from the period of the Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800 AD). From these monasteries – Glendalough, Clonfert, Clonard, Moville, Bangor, Derry, Iona, Lindisfarne, Luxeuil, and many, many more – streamed thousands of devoted missionaries, scholars, and pastors, who led and fueled a revival of Christian faith that endured for four centuries, and that brought renewal to the spiritual, cultural, and social lives of millions of people, and “saved civilization” (Thomas Cahill) throughout Europe.

Nothing like this can be achieved without vision, discipline, clear goals, and firm devotion. It behooves us to understand the kind of discipline Celtic Christians submitted to in devoting their lives to God and His Kingdom. We can learn from their example how to live for the cause of revival, renewal, and awakening in our own day.

The rules of monastic discipline surviving from this period give us a glimpse into the lives of these ancient people. The purpose of monastic rules and the goal of monastic life, in the best manifestations, was to promote love for God and neighbors, as we have seen. By nurturing a clear and compelling vision of Christ and His Kingdom, members of a monastic community grew to fear and love the Lord. In that love, they devoted themselves to building a community where love for God and neighbor was the rule and practice of all.

But, as Columbanus reminded us in his sermon on discipline, achieving such a vision does not come easily. One must submit to a disciplined life, following a rule of disciplines, if one is to gain discretion and subdue and re-order the ways of the flesh for seeking God and His Kingdom and glory. For Celtic Christians, it was not enough to desire God’s Kingdom, nor to seek it in vague or merely personal ways. As communities, Celtic Christians bound themselves in covenants of mutual edification and support, and these took the form of the monastic rules, some of which are preserved for us in The Celtic Monk by Uinsean Ó Maidín.

The monastic rules surviving from the period of the Celtic Revival are clear about the kinds of discipline this would require. Five different types of discipline are included in these rules, not in any particular order, but scattered about in various ways. These disciplines fell into spiritual, relational, vocational, communal, and provisional categories. They were all designed to promote holiness and to foster communities of love.

The monastic rules preserved in The Celtic Monk follow in many ways the prescriptions for the training of the soul which we glimpsed in the Monks’ Rule of Columbanus. The practice of spiritual disciplines was considered most important in training the mind, subduing the heart, bridling the will, and shaping the life. Most frequently mentioned among the spiritual disciplines of the monastic rules from this period are prayer and the reading and study of God’s Word. Less frequently mentioned are the disciplines of silence, fasting, Sabbath-keeping, and almsgiving.

These spiritual disciplines were fundamental to life in a Celtic monastery. Practiced individually and communally, they provided the foundation for all aspects of community development, allowing monks individually and together to “strive after holiness with joy and sincerity of heart.”

What mattered most, as new monasteries and churches were built, was that a solid spiritual foundation should be in place. Buildings and members would come only after a community had been established on the practices of prayer, the Word, and the other disciplines essential to Christian life and growth. Today we might be seen as having our priorities backward: We have lots and lots of great facilities, but very little spiritual maturity or true holiness among the members of Christ’s Body, and not much love for discipline.

Only as we devote ourselves to holiness will we have the vision, will, and courage to live for Christ in every area of our lives. Like Paul and our Celtic Christian forebears, we must strive to bring holiness to completion in the fear of God. Otherwise, the facilities in which we pursue our Christian lives may become little more than white-washed tombs, full of dead men’s bones.

For Reflection
1. How would you explain what it means to perfect holiness in the fear of God?

2. How can having a more disciplined life help us to increase in holiness?

Psalm 51.7-9 (Passion Chorale: O Sacred Head Now Wounded)
In Jesus’ blood and mercy, Lord, cleanse my evil heart!
Let me washed, cleansed, renewed be and pure in whole and part.
Bring joy again and gladness; look not upon my sin.
Deliver me from sadness; renew me yet again!

Lord, I want to be holy as You are holy. Help me today to…

Living to Rule
If you’d like to know more about how Celtic Christians pursued a disciplined life in community, write to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I’ll send you a PDF of our study, Living to Rule. This brief overview looks at the various monastic rules preserved
in The Celtic Monk by Uinsean Ó Maidín and arranges them by categories to help us in considering how to redeem our time.

Thank you
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T. M. Moore, Principal
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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.

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 the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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