The Celtic Soul-friend
THE CELTIC SOUL-FRIEND
What Place Today?
Andrew J. ScholesThe Celtic Tradition and Spiritual Growth
Books on Celtic Christianity can be surprisingly productive when they focus on a specific topic, as this short but informative volume in the Grove booklet series demonstrates. Taking a close look at the Celtic concept of a soul-friend, or anamchara in Old Irish, it examines the early history and the current relevance of the notion of spiritual friendship. Sitting somewhere between confession, counselling, mentoring and monastic discipline, Scholes ultimately frames the soul-friend in terms of modern-day spiritual direction. The most significant difference is that the original Celtic soul-friend would have helped his or her companion through the process of penance, a notion somewhat out of favour today. As the author explains, this discipline was more akin to medical treatment than punishment, helping to relieve a penitent of the suffocating burden of guilt and aiding spiritual and psychological healing. Scholes is adept at using secondary interpretations of the historical information wisely, concluding that the anamchara soul-friend was an Irish expression of the wider Christian practice of penance and confession, and downplaying the tendency by some scholars to claim druidic, pre-Christian origins for Celtic spirituality. An equally close scrutiny of some of the original source material would also have paid dividends. Scholes follows others in claiming that the Anglo-Saxon writer Bede did not use the Celtic term 'soul-friend', but his prose Life of St Cuthbert contains a textbook example of just such a spiritualis amicitiae between Cuthbert and his counterpart St Herbert in the Lake District - a reminder, if nothing else, that Celtic traditions do actually have far wider currency than is commonly acknowledged, a point which this generally excellent booklet makes admirably for our modern times.
Reviewed by Nick Mayhew Smith
Reflection / Meditation / Spirituality
The Christian Life