Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

St. Paul’s Letter to the Celts?

While we typically associate the Celts with the green countryside of Ireland, the Celtic peoples used to be the most dominant ethnic group of Europe. Although their numerous tribal divisions and warrior individualism meant that they never formed a unified civilization capable of fielding a phalanx or legion, the Celts managed to migrate into what is today Portugal, Spain, France, Britain, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Austria, the Balkans, and even Turkey before being swallowed up by the Roman Empire and the Germanic tribes that succeeded it. A map below shows the full extent of the Celtic peoples in comparison to Rome, Carthage, and the Greek city-states of the third century BC.


The Celts were also known as Gauls in ancient times. Today we tend to think of the Gauls only as those peoples who lived in the land of first century BC Gaul, which is today modern France - but ancient Gaul was much larger. By the time of Julius Caesar’s famous conquest of Gaul, Rome was expanding into Gallic and Greek eastern Europe, and Gallic Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal) had already been brought under the control of Rome. Thus the continental lands of Gaul in Caesar's day were liminted in the first century BC to what would become modern France, and this is a major reason why we mentally limit the ancient terrority of Gaul. The lands of Gallic Britain and Ireland, however, remained predominantly Celtic until the Germanic Anglo-Saxon invasions of the 5th century AD.

The Gauls were known as fierce and mighty warriors – an asset that undoubtedly helped them spread across Europe. In the year 280 BC (only 43 years after the death of Alexander the Great), multiple Gallic tribes, with warriors numbering in the tens of thousands, invaded Greece. The Gauls split into multiple groups and were eventually all driven out of Greece. One group fought a battle at the Thermopylae (the site of the earlier epic Greek-Persian battle) in 279 BC and even made its way to the Greek holy site of Delphi before being defeated by the Greek defenders. The Celts were skilled warriors, but they emphasized the individual warrior over unit cohesion and thus could not seriously challenge the unified Greeks at war. Because of this, the great Greek general Pyrrhus, upon defeating them in battle, incorporated some Gallic warriors into his army as a kind of ancient special forces team rather than attempting to use them in large numbers to fill the ranks of his phalanx.

This is a Roman replic of the ancient Greek statue "Dying Gaul" which was made by third century BC Greeks to depict the final moments of a fierce Celtic warrior defeated during the failed Celtic invasion of Greece.
Although most Gauls fled north, another group went east, crossing over the Bosporus into Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and laid siege to Byzantium – the future location of Constantinople. Comprised of three tribes, this group of ten thousand Gallic soldiers (and another ten thousand women and children) eventually found itself settling in an area of Asia Minor known as Anatolia. Their capital, Ancyra, is today the capital of Turkey: Ankara. What’s more, since they were Gauls the expanse of their territory was called Galatia. There the Gauls of central Asia Minor grew in numbers over the next two hundred years. Despite becoming a Roman province during the first century BC, St. Jerome noted that the Celtic inhabitants of Galatia were still speaking a Gallic tongue into the 4th century AD.

Long before St. Patrick went to Ireland, St. Paul preached the Gospel to the Celts of Galatia in the first century – and his famous letter to them can be found as the ninth book of the New Testament.

Province of Galatia (red) within the Roman Empire

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