i think john matthews does what is necessary and returns the data where it belongs............in pre-christian hands......and hearts...........people like father sean will not allow the primal past to bleed over into the too recent "news" of christianity. there is much joy and hope in this book. why the crankiness on father sean's part? dogma. nonetheless, compassion and understanding also pre-dates the fishy catacombs of rome, etc. we have to give this intolerance space to speak. intolerance is not divisive. it only delays our eventual unity...
By bringing his own non-Christian agenda to these stories of Celtic saints, John Matthews has created an inaccurate, unsatisfying, and impolite book.
Neo-pagans are as interested in reclaiming Celtic roots as are Christians. But Matthews has gone too far. In this book he takes the lives of Christian people and de-Christianizes them, making them nothing more than spiritual archetypes or the heroes of charming folk tales. Although his prose is charming and his selection of twelve saintly subjects is good, I can not recommend this book to anyone who is interested in encountering the saints as they really are.
He works hard to make sure you never find out they are Christian. For example, in his re-telling of St. Brendan's story, Matthews several times has Brendan and his monks trusting themselves "to the rhythms of the sea," but never once trusting themselves "to God."
Another example is his treatment of St. Canair. The original story is quite short, one small page-full. There is no reason to leave out any detail. St. Canair has a vision directing her to St. Senan's island which is to be her "place of resurrection." St. Senan turns her away at the edge of his island since he does not allow women on it. They have a debate, in which St. Canair clinches her case by saying that "Christ died for women as well as for men." Matthews omits this line, although it is the crux of her argument. There is nothing to indicate a Christian context for the story at all.
In fact, in the four stories I read before I got fed up, he omits anything that indicates that these peole were Christians. Naturally, I object to this as a Christian and as a priest. But I object to it as a polite human person, also. I would not expect a writer to write about a great Buddhist as if he were not Buddhist, or about Muslim saints as if they never mentioned Allah. To rejoice in the holy people of another tradition is fine; but to appropriate them is another matter entirely. To do so denies them of what they held to be most important and misses their own chosen purpose of their lives.
That is the bulk of my complaint with the book. The fact that he claims, in the introduction, that women celebrated the Eucharist is just an annoyance. As beautiful as the idea is, as much as many people may want it to be true that there were femal Celtic Christian priests celebrating the Mass, and in spite of a very few vague hints, there simply is not one drop of evidence to justify a bald statement that it happened. And that is what Matthews says, with no documentation or proof. No worthy cause is helped by shoddy or deceitful scholarship.
I do not recommend this book at all.