Celtic Sabbath-Keeping                                      Study No. 264


Proof of Celtic Sabbath-keeping is easy to find.  The curious thing is why Church of God missionaries do not return to Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and thunder the Gospel message of repentance, calling on today’s Celtic peoples to return to the faith of their fathers.


Henry Charles Lea, the foremost authority on the Papal Inquisitions, records in the period of the commencement of persecution involving judicial capital punishment for heresy, that at the time of the execution of Priscillian with six of his followers in 385 AD., that “others were banished to a barbar­ous island beyond Britain,” A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, vol. 1, New York: Harper & Brothers 1887, p. 213.

What was this barbarous island? Most likely, it would appear to be Ireland. Britain and Ireland were favorite places for banishment and the marketing of slaves in those days. If indeed, many faithful “heretics” were ban­ished to Ireland for centuries, it could not but have had a profound effect on that island, which became a great center of light under Patrick (5th century), Columba (521-597), and Columbanus (c. 540-615) as the darkness of papal tyranny descended over the conti­nent. Missionaries went forth from Ire­land to Switzerland, Bohemia, and Kiev.  Ireland was one of the most difficult areas for Rome to subjugate, and this explains why such unending efforts have been made for over 1200 years to completely subjugate this island.

The Celtic Church which occupied Ire­land, Scotland, and Britain, had the Syriac (Byzantine) scriptures instead of the Latin vulgate of Rome. The Celtic Church, with the Waldenses and the Eastern empire, kept the seventh-day Sabbath.

When Queen Margaret fled to Scotland with her father Edward Atheling, a pretender to the English throne, she wrote “to her English cousins expressing astonishment at the religious practices of the Scots. Among the ‘peculiarities’ of the Scots was that ‘they work on Sunday, but keep Saturday in a sabbatical manner.’ To another correspondent she complained, ‘They are accustomed also to neglect reverence for the Lord’s days (Sun­days); and thus to continue upon them as upon other days all the labours of earthly work.”

David Marshall tells us, “The observance of the Saturday Sabbath by most Scots went hand in hand with their refusal to ‘recognize the overlordship of the Pope in matters spiritual.’ Despite the best efforts of King Nectan centuries earlier, Scottish Christianity was still of the ‘Columban’ or ‘Celtic,’ not the ‘Roman,’ variety.

“The most popular narrative history of Scotland — Scotland: A Concise History by P. Hume Brown (Langsyne) — confirms that at Margaret’s accession, ‘the people worked on Sundays and observed Saturday as the Sabbath day.’  Peter Berresford Ellis in Celtic Inheritance (Constable, 1992) page 45 writes: ‘When Rome began to take a particular interest in the Celtic Church towards the end of the sixth century A.D., there were several differences between them . . . . The Celtic Sab­bath was celebrated on a Saturday.’ Ellis’s comment covers the Celtic Church in Wales, Ireland, Cornwall and Gaul, as well as Scotland. Romanism was, apparently, coming into Scotland but had no strength north of the Forth.

“This gave Queen Margaret her crusade (and her route to canonization): ‘Margaret did all she could to make the Scottish clergy do and believe exactly what the Church of Rome commanded.’ This involved the enforcement of Sunday-keeping, a policy continued by her son, King David I.  Nevertheless, on the eve of the Reformation, there were still many communities in the Scottish Highland loyal to the seventh-day Sabbath, as opposed to ‘the Papal Sunday.’

“Two books published in 1963 — to commemorate Columba’s landing at lona in 563 — concerned themselves with the ‘Celtic distinctives’ and counted among them the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath. Dr. W.D. Simpson published The Historical St. Columba in Edinburgh. He confirms that Columba and his companions kept ‘the day of the Sabbath’ and in case there should be any doubt adds in a footnote ‘Saturday, of course’ . . . . F.W. Fawcett was commissioned to write his Columba — Pilgrim for Christ by the Lord Bishop of Derry and Raphoe. His book was published in Londonderry and printed by the Derry Standard in connection with the Irish commemoration of Columba’s mission. Fawcett outlines eight Celtic dis­tinctives. Among these that the Celts had a married priesthood and that they observed the seventh day as the Sabbath.” — David Marshall, The Celtic Connection. England: Stanborough Press, 1994, pp. 29, 30.

“The reason why Pope Gregory I had per­ceived the Celtic Church as such a major threat and why he and his successors expended such efforts in destroying the distinctive ‘Irish customs’ became massively evident.

“A.O. and M.O. Anderson, in the Intro­duction to their Adomnan’s Life of Columba (Thomas Nelson 1961), shed light, not only on Columba’s seventh day Sabbath-keeping practice, but on the gradual ‘adjustment’ of manuscripts by generations of Roman copyists, in an attempt to provide an impression that the Celtic saints held Sunday sacred.

“Adomnan’s use of sabbatum for Satur­day, the seventh day of the week, is clear indication from ‘Columba’s mouth’ that ‘Sabbath was not Sunday.’ Sunday, the first day of the week is ‘Lord’s day.’ Adomnan’s attitude to Sunday is important, because he wrote at a time when there was controversy over the question whether the ritual of the Biblical Sabbath was to be transferred to the Christians’ Lord’s-day.’ — A.O. and M.O. Anderson (editors) Adomnan’s Life of Columba, Thomas Nelson’s Medieval Texts, 1961, pages 25-26.

“The Old Testament required seventh-day Sabbath observance and, reason Adomnan’s editors, since the New Testament nowhere repealed the fourth commandment, the seventh-day was observed by all early Christians. The evidence they adduce suggests that no actual confusion between Sunday and ‘the Sabbath’ occurred until the early sixth century, and then in the writings of the rather obscure Caesarius of Arles. (Ibid., page 26.)

“‘In England, the question of Sunday may have been among the ‘other ecclesiastical matters’ discussed by the Synod of Whitby in 664, reason the Andersons, in addition to the date of Easter which could not have caused such a rift. A weekly, not just a yearly observance separated the Celts from the Romans. But the Romans had the task of writing the history of the Church and of copying the writings of Church fathers. While those who copied the Scriptures appear to have been constrained by the Scriptural injunction not to add or take away from the words of the Book and, in the main, to have done a conscientious job, the same scruples did not apply when they copied out the writings of the Church fathers. As the centuries progressed the writings of the Celtic saints, including Patrick were ‘amended’ to convey the impression that the saints held Sunday sacred, whereas, in the earliest versions of their manuscripts, it is clear that they observed the seventh-day Sabbath. (Ibid., pages 26-28).

The Roman ‘movement’ to supersede the Celtic Sabbath with Sunday ‘culminated in the production of an (apocryphal) ‘Letter of Jesus’, or ‘Letter of Lord’s day’, alleged to have been found on the altar of Peter in Rome; and is said in the annals to have been brought to Ireland by a pilgrim (c. 886). Upon this basis laws were promulgated, imposing heavy penalties for those that violated on Sunday certain regulations derived from Jewish prohibitions for Sabbath. . . . There is in fact no historical evidence that Ninian, or Patrick, or Columba, or any of their con­temporaries in Ireland, kept Sunday as a Sabbath.’ (Ibid., page 28.)

“The seventh-day Sabbath, enjoined by the fourth of the Ten Commandments, had been observed by Jesus and nowhere in Scripture had its sacredness been diminished or transferred to another day . . .

“An early version of The Rule of Columba is reproduced in Columba — Pilgrim for Christ by F.W. Fawcett, MA.  Fawcett is a Church of Ireland clergyman. He was commissioned by the Lord Bishop of Derry and Raphoe to produce this book as part of the celebrations in 1963 of the departure of Columba for lona in AD 563.” — Marshall, The Celtic Connection, 46.

The fifth rule of the Celtic Church listed in The Rule of Columba is “The Seventh Day was observed as the Sabbath.”

— from Cherith Chronicle, April-June 1998, pp. 46-47. W


We recommend: The Celtic Church in Britain, by Leslie Hardinge, 265 pages, $9.00 plus postage from Giving & Sharing, PO Box 100, Neck City, MO 64849.