You will see this a lot in March. A lot of Baptist preachers claim that St Patrick was a Southern Baptist because (1) his Christianity looked different from Rome, and (2) he baptized by immersion. Calvinist theologians will claim he was a rock-ribbed Calvinist because the British Isles were always Calvinists and the Culdees hid from Rome.
I used to rebut this claim with fairly weak evidence. I would point to how the Celtic Church in general believed in visions, bishops, and guardian angels–something mosts Baptists do not.
The Reformed Constitutionalist with whom I debated over Christmas ridiculed a bunch of Orthodox sites because he said they were trying to spin the Celtic Church as Orthodox. As usual he has read none of the evidence. While I certainly haven’t read all the evidence (or even a lot), I have read some definitive stuff on the matter.
The following is from Celtic Spirituality edited by Oliver Davies. The book’s introduction is standard academic wackiness on the Celts and can be dismissed. He misses what Pelagius was saying and not saying (Pelagius was wrong, but not for the reasons that Davies thinks he was right). That being said, it is an extremely valuable translation of original documents. This gives us a good glance into the life of the “Celtic Church” and from that we can draw some conclusions.
Morecraft claims the Irish and Scottish churches hid from Rome and resisted valiantly until the advent of John Knox. St Patrick disagrees. According to the Dicta [section 3] he says, “The Church of the Irish, which is indeed the Church of Rome” (Davies, 90). Elsewhere in The Life of Patrick written by Muirchu it tells of Patrick going to the Apostolic See, head of all the churches in the world (Davies, 100).
Invoking the Saints
When he was in danger Patrick called upon Elijah to save him (Davies, 94-95).
The author Muirchu tells of venerating some holy saint’s relics (Davies, 100).
I am only 100 pages into the book, so obviously there is more to be told. One should also mention Celtic thinkers’ rejection of the Filioque.
“It is from the person [substantia] of the Father that the Son is begotten and the Holy Spirit proceeds.”
– John Scotus Erigena, De Divisione Naturae, PL 122, 613
Note: John follows the older Latin understanding of substantia is hypostasis and essentia is ousia which is why I translate substantia as “person” here.
But doesn’t your above quotations on Patrick reveal Patrick to be a Roman Catholic and not an Orthodox saint? Let’s answer this carefully.
At this time period, on both Roman Catholic and Orthodox grounds, there was no difference between “Catholic” and “Orthodox.” The Church of Rome was in communion with the other apostolic sees. Therefore, to say Catholic was to say Orthodox. While Davies and others misunderstand a lot of what Pelagius and other Celts said on original sin and “good nature,” the point is still there: The Celts disagreed with Rome on nature and sin, and they do appear to have come something close to the Orthodox view. Also, it seems fairly clear that Celtic thinkers evidenced a strain of thinking that rejected the Filioque (Protestants really do not understand how important this is).
Finally, the reason the Reformed Constitutionalist laughs at those who say Patrick was Orthodox is because he can’t understand “union.” His presupposition is one of schism. Patrick sought to be faithful to the body of Christ, and at this point in time that was Rome, Constantinople (read Bede), and the other sees.