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

Peregrinatio Pro Christo

We make disciples as we are going.

The Celtic Revival: Age of the Peregrini (1)

And these clerks began their preaching, and they had fair Latin books with them, and they recited their reading clearly, and praised the Creator fervently. And it was recreation of mind and heart to the hosts to listen to them. And those who had never thought of God before, turned their thoughts to Him now.

  - Life of Colman Ela, Irish, 17th century from an earlier ms.[1]

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

- Matthew 28.18-20

Beginning in the third generation of the Celtic Revival, toward the middle of the sixth century, monasteries in Ireland began commissioning members to evangelize in areas where the Gospel had not yet penetrated. Patrick provided the example for such activity, since much of his ministry involved wandering about Ireland looking for opportunities to preach and do good works.

The monastic centers which began to dot the landscape of Ireland early in the sixth century were active in doing the work of evangelism among their near neighbors. Various hagiographers describe the work of people like Brigid, Colman Ela, and others as they reached out, by words and deeds, with the Good News to the Celtic peoples of Ireland.

But beginning in the middle of the sixth century, the work of evangelism expanded to reach peoples beyond Ireland. We may mark the beginning of the age of the peregrini with Finnian of Clonard, who charged twelve men – the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland” – to take the Gospel throughout Ireland and beyond where the Word of Christ had not been heard before. These men became the prototypes of the peregrini, wandering evangelists whose mission was to sow the Word of God in places it had not come before or where it had ceased bearing fruit.

Monks who went on peregrinatio – wandering under the direction of the Holy Spirit – were prepared to respond to whatever situations or opportunities might arise. The early peregrini do not seem to have had any concrete plans other than to leave their monastery and follow the Lord’s leading each day. As they were going (cf. Matt. 28.18-20), they responded as opportunities required, looking for ways to preach the Gospel to whomever they encountered.

In one story of Brendan, we find the saint, as he walked with his mentor, Erc, in a version of local peregrinatio, encountering a man who was being pursued by a band of brigands. Brendan instructed him to take shelter in the shadow cast by a standing stone. Standing stones were religious monuments, often quite tall and bulky, which served as sites for religious rituals and as rallying places for pagan worshipers to connect with the unseen world. As the man’s pursuers approached, they mistook the standing stone for the man they sought and, with their swords, chipped off the head of the stone, thus desecrating a holy place. In terror at what they’d done they looked around for some safety or deliverance, at which time Brendan stood forth and preached the Gospel. All were converted, and the man who was fleeing them was made safe.

In another account, Columbanus and his troop, including Gall, were departing Gaul for a new location, and had to pass through what is today part of Switzerland. They came upon a group of pagans gathered around their local idol, worshiping beside a lake. Gall seized the opportunity and preached an eloquent, sweet, and most appealing sermon about the salvation of the Lord. Then, instead of giving an “altar call”, he took up their idol and threw it into the lake.

As you might imagine, the reviews were mixed, and the Irish peregrini had to depart the scene.

Thousands of wandering missionaries took to the pathways and highways of Ireland, Scotland, and the Continent during the sixth and seventh centuries. Some cast themselves adrift in leather canoes upon the wild sea, looking for God to lead them to where they could serve Him best. Others became hermits, following the example of Anthony and Paul (not the apostle) from the period of the early Church, serving as best they could any who passed by their cell. Still others attracted followers, settled in a particular place, established a community, and, in due course, commissioned peregrini of their own.

The names of Fursa, Colum Cille, Brendan, Columbanus, and Gall stand out in the record as the greatest of the Irish missionaries. We’ll take a closer look at each of these men, who committed their lives to wandering on mission for Christ and His Kingdom.

We are the heirs of this tradition. We who are called to make disciples as we are going are the modern equivalent of these Irish peregrini. We must prepare well each day so that we can serve the cause of the Gospel and the Kingdom, by words and deeds, with everyone we meet.

For Reflection
1. What does “make disciples” require of you?

2. We should also encourage our fellow disciples in their own peregrinatio pro Christo. Whom will you encourage today?

Psalm 47.7, 8 (Truro: Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns)
God is the King of all the earth,
sing praise to Him with glorious psalms!
He rules the nations by His worth,
and on His throne receives their alms.

Lord, today I’ll go wandering about with Jesus, and as I am going, help me to…

Personal Mission Field
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Thank you
Thanks so much to those of you who faithfully support the work of The Fellowship of Ailbe. God uses your gifts and prayers to reach thousands of people every day in over 160 countries. We praise the Lord for His having moved and enabled you to share with us in this ministry.

If you’re not a supporter of this ministry, won’t you please prayerfully consider making a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe? Only God can move you to do this, and we believe He intends to support this ministry from within the ranks of those who are served by it. If this includes you, please seek the Lord in this matter. You can click here to donate online with your credit card or through Anedot or PayPal, or send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

T. M. Moore, Principal
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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.


[1] Plummer, p. 163.

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.
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