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Céli Dé in Ireland

Céli Dé in Ireland: Monastic Writing and Identity in the Early Middle Ages

WESTLEY FOLLETT
Volume: 23
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 268
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81g70
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  • Book Info
    Céli Dé in Ireland
    Book Description:

    The Céli Dé [`clients of God'], sometimes referred to as the Culdees, comprise the group of monks who first appeared in Ireland in the eighth century in association with St Máel Ruain of Tallaght. Although influential and important in the development of the monastic tradition in Ireland, they have been neglected in general histories. This book offers an investigation into the movement. Proceeding from an examination of ascetic practice and theory in early medieval Ireland, followed by a fresh look at the evidence most often cited in support of the prevailing theory of ‘céli Dé’ identity, the author challenges the orthodox opinion that they were an order or movement intent upon monastic reform at a time of declining religious discipline. At the heart of the book is a manuscript-centred critical evaluation of the large corpus of putative ‘céli Dé’ texts, offered as a means for establishing a more comprehensive assessment of who and what ‘céli De’ were. Dr Follett argues that they are properly understood as the self-identified members of the personal retinue of God, in whose service they distinguished themselves from other monks and monastic communities in their personal devotion, pastoral care, Sunday observance, and other matters. A catalogue of ‘céli Dé’ texts with manuscript references is provided in an appendix. WESTLEY FOLLETT is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Southern Mississippi.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-453-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. LIST OF MAPS AND FIGURES
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. x-x)
  6. SIGLA
    (pp. xi-xi)
  7. A NOTE ON ORTHOGRAPHY
    (pp. xii-xii)
  8. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-8)

    Céli Dé or culdees, as they are often called, appear about midway in the timeline of early medieval Irish monasticism. They emerged in the second half of the eighth century, some three hundred years after St Patrick began promoting the religious life to the Irish in the fifth century and a little more than three hundred and fifty years before the introduction of foreign religious orders in Ireland in the twelfth century.¹ Céli Dé were religious, as the meaning of their name, ‘clients of God’,² suggests, and in the view of most modern scholars who have written on the topic...

  9. I CÉLI DÉ HISTORIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 9-23)

    For the last century or so academic interest in céli Dé has been relatively settled. The prevailing calm, however, belies a tumultuous past. Prior to the mid-nineteenth century the scholarship was characterised by etymological arguments, often quite specious, and rampant conjecture on céli Dé identity. Attention centred on Scotland where the term remained in use right up to the early modern period. Studies up to that time often revealed more about the sectarian biases of their authors then they did the subject at hand. There was little consensus regarding céli Dé among scholars and for some, like Francis Barham, not...

  10. II IRISH ASCETICISM BEFORE CÉLI DÉ
    (pp. 24-88)

    It is practically axiomatic in modern church scholarship that Irish religious in the early middle ages were deeply ascetic. In works that shaped the opinions of students for generations after, Charles Plummer, John Ryan, and Louis Gougaud regarded monastic austerity as a hallmark, indeed, ‘national tradition’, to use Ryan’s words, of the insula sanctorum that was pre-Norman Ireland.¹ Only in recent years as long-held views on the supposed predominance of monasticism as an organising principle of the early medieval Irish church have begun to give way have scholars turned to reconsider the ascetic nature of early Irish religious.² As already...

  11. III CÉLI DÉ AS REFORMERS: THE EVIDENCE OF THE TALLAGHT MEMOIR
    (pp. 89-99)

    The evidence that proponents of the reform theory have cited most often in support of their position consists of statements in the Tallaght memoir expressing céli Dé displeasure with the state of discipline in other churches. D.A. Binchy was the first to call attention to a couple of passages in The Monastery of Tallaght which show the ‘obvious disapproval’ of céli Dé of their religious contemporaries. It was clear to him that the céli Dé ‘movement’ was ‘a sharp reaction against the laxity and corruption of the older monastic foundations’.¹ Binchy was followed by Kathleen Hughes, who was no less...

  12. IV A SURVEY OF TEXTS ATTRIBUTED TO CÉLI DÉ
    (pp. 100-170)

    The extent of the corpus of céli Dé texts has never been properly defined. There are ten or so works that most scholars who have commented upon them agree were authored by céli Dé, but as many as two dozen more texts that have occasionally been associated with them in some, usually imprecise, way. Remarkably, previous discussions of céli Dé texts – specifically those of Kenney, Flower, Hughes, and O’Dwyer – have largely neglected manuscript history as a means of elucidating textual authorship, origin, and relationships, and identifying céli Dé writings. One need only look to Richard Sharpe’s Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives...

  13. V TOWARDS A REASSESSMENT OF CÉLI DÉ
    (pp. 171-215)

    This chapter begins with the question posed at the end of the previous chapter: what made céli Dé different from other Irish religious? Did they indeed see themselves as the monastic ‘elite’ as some scholars have suggested? If they were not out to reform ascetic observance in other churches, were they at least intent upon keeping a higher standard for themselves? Alternatively, was there something other than their asceticism that set them apart from the rest of Christian society? Turning to the texts identified in Chapter 4 as most likely representative of céli Dé in the eighth and ninth centuries,...

  14. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 216-219)

    Modern scholarship has unhesitatingly regarded the céli Dé ‘movement’ a failure.¹ From the perspective of the reform theory, it is not difficult to understand why. According to the received wisdom, céli Dé were intent upon countering the ascetic laxity that supposedly characterised Irish churches by the eighth century. Their aims were deemed comparable to those of other reformers in early medieval Europe intent upon restoring the spirituality and vitality of clergy and religious who had become worldly and lethargic.² Yet unlike Continental reformers such as Benedict of Aniane in the ninth century or the Cluniacs in the tenth century, céli...

  15. APPENDIX: A CATALOGUE OF TEXTS ATTRIBUTED TO CÉLI DÉ
    (pp. 220-234)
  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 235-246)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 247-254)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-257)