Culdees The name Culdee is variously derived and explained by several different authorities. Ebrard gives "Kile De" — man of God;" Dr. Braun, "Gille De" — "servant of God." But the latest, and perhaps best authority, gives us Cuildich as the only name of the Culdees known among native Celts. This word means "a secluded corner;" a Culdee, therefore, is "the man of the recess." This accurately enough describes the Culdees' mode of life; though not monks, they were in a certain sense recluses.
The Scottish Church, when it first meets the eye of civilization, is not Romish, nor even prelatical. When the monk Augustine, with his forty missionaries, in the time of the Saxon Heptarchy, came over to Britain under the auspices of Gregory, the bishop of Rome, to convert the barbarian Saxons, he found the northern part of the island already well-nigh filled with Christians and Christian institutions. These Christians were the Culdees, whose chief seat was the little island of Hi or Iona, on the western coast of Scotland. An Irish presbyter, Columba, feeling himself stirred with missionary zeal, and doubtless knowing the wretched condition of the savage Scots and Picts in the year 565, took with him twelve other missionaries, and passed over to Scotland. They fixed their settlement on the little island just named, and from that point became the missionaries of all Scotland, and even penetrated into England. Before the end of the 6th century they had filled the country with their institutions, and subjected it, at least nominally, to Christ. Invited to England by Oswald, king of Northumberland, to preach the Gospel to his people, they sent Corman, who failed because of too great austerity of behavior, and then Aidan, who, without knowing the people's language, succeeded, and proved himself one of the noblest of missionaries. The people in the south of England converted by Augustine and his assistants, and those in the north who had been won by Culdee labor, soon met, as Christian conquest advanced from both sides; and when they came together, it was soon seen that Roman and Culdee Christianity very decidedly differed in a great many respects. The Culdees, for the most part, had a simple and primitive form of Christianity, while Rome presented a vast accumulation of superstitions, and was arrayed in her well-known pomp. The result was, that in England the Culdee soon gave place to the Roman, and retired to his Northern home. Columba no doubt chose the little island of Iona as a place of safety from barbarian attack, as also because it was near to Ireland, whence he had brought his divine message. Besides, the loneliness of a small island in the sea was favorable to meditation, and accorded with the ascetic tendencies which at least touched the best men of those ages. The institution set up by Columba has been called a monastery, but, in truth, it had no claim to that name. True, the members of the community lived in cells, to which they retired for devotion and study, but this no more made them monks than a similar life makes monks of theological students of our own day. The Culdee recluses were not pledged to celibacy; many of them were married; many of them were succeeded in office by their own sons ; they were not dedicated for life to their calling, but were free at any time to change it for another. Their families did not live within the sacred enclosure, but the husbands, their work within being done, passed out to spend the rest of their time with their families. Nor, indeed, was the aim of the institution at all kindred to that of monachism. The monk generally retires for his own improvement solely; he is weary of the world, and will have no more contact with it. He renounces it. The Culdee went to Iona that in quiet, with meditation, study, and prayer, he might fit himself for going out into the world as a missionary. Indeed, Iona was a great mission institute, where preachers were trained who evangelized the rude tribes of Scotland in a very short time. To have done such a work as this in less than half a century implies apostolic activity, purity, and success. With the exception of the principal men, they must have been much more out of their cells than in them. Traces of the schools and churches they established are found all over Scotland. The reason of this freedom from Romish asceticism may be found, at least in part, in the doctrines of these men. They had no dogma of purgatory, no saint worship, no works of supererogation, no auricular confession, or penance, or absolution; no mass, no transubstantiation, no "chrism" in baptism, no priesthood, and no third order (bishops). They knew nothing of any authoritative rule except the Holy Scriptures. "These were held to be the one standard of truth, and were made by the missionaries a subject of close and constant study. Columba's own home work and that of his disciples was transcribing the Scriptures. These early missionaries were thoroughly Biblical. Columba's life by Adamnan represents him in almost every page as familiar with the Word of God, and ready to quote it on all occasions as of supreme authority." . . . "The great subject of their teaching was the simple truth of the Gospel of salvation. It was 'verbum Dei,' the Word of God. Adamnan says of Columba that from his boyhood he was instructed in the love of Christ." "The spirit of the Culdean Church may suitably and rightfully be described as an evangelical spirit, because it was free and independent of Rome; and when it and the papal Church came into contact, it always and obstinately repudiated its authority, under appeal to the single and supreme authority of holy Scripture; but, above all, because in its inner life it was penetrated throughout by the main principles of the evangelical Church. The Culdees read and understood the Scriptures in their original texts. Wherever they came they translated them orally and in writing into the language of the country, explaining them to the inhabitants, exhorting them to diligent and regular Bible reading. But the Scriptures were more to them than a codex of authoritative doctrines of faith. They were the living word of Christ. In the most earnest manner they preached the natural, inborn inability of man for good; the atoning death of Christ; justification without all merit of works; the worthlessness, especially, of all mere outward works; and the necessity of the new birth" (Ebrard). These views of life and doctrine reveal sufficiently the reason why the Culdees were missionaries rather than monks. The truths of the Gospel, pure and simple, just as they warmed the hearts of the apostles, had possession of them, and all their work was to make men feel and accept them. Their theory of Church government was very simple. The institution at Iona was under the presidency of a presbyter called a presbyter abbot, who had associated with him twelve other presbyters. In case of a vacancy in the headship, these brethren elected their abbot. That he was a presbyter simply there can be no doubt. Bede, who belonged to the Romish Church, himself mentions it as a very strange thing "that a man who is merely a presbyter should govern a diocese, and have even bishops under him." The truth is, that the missionaries sent out from these Culdee seminaries were appointed and ordained pastors of the churches they founded, and the pastor of the church was the overseer of it, i.e. the bishop. The presbyter abbot, therefore, had ordained an elder, but, by appointment to a parish, had made him a bishop. They evidently knew nothing of the distinction between the order of presbyter and that of bishop. After the success of Augustine and his monks in England, the Culdees had shut themselves up within the limits of Scotland, and had resisted for centuries all the efforts of Rome to win them over. At last, however, they were overthrown by their own rulers. Margaret, the daughter of William the Conqueror, the queen of Malcolm Canmore, devoted to the cause of Rome, notable for piety, of powerful mind and skillful in the management of others, set her heart upon exchanging the Culdee for the Romish Church in Scotland. She got the Culdee presbyters together, and for three days discussed the matter with them in person. She succeeded by persuasion and artifice. This was in the latter part of the 11th century. It was not, however, till the 13th century that Culdeeism was completely overturned and Romanism established. Nay, it is more than probable that Culdeeism, with its simple and powerful Gospel influence, continued to live in the hearts of the people long after its forms and public ministrations had been buried beneath the finery of triumphant Romanism. There was a readiness among the Scotch to embrace the Reformation when it came, which, together with their sturdy evangelical character, reminds the historical reader of Culdeeism.
Literature. —McLauchlan, The Early Scottish Church from the 1st to the 12th centuries (Edinb. 1865, 8vo); Alexander, Iona (Edinb. 1866); Ebrard, Kirchen-und Dogmengeschichte (4 vols., vol. 2); Zeitschr. f. d. hist. Theol. 1862, 1863; King, The Culdees and their Remains, 1864; Meth. Quart. Rev. Oct. 1861; Brit. and For. Ev. Rev. Jan. 1866; Princeton Rev. Jan. 1867; The Church of Iona, by the Bishop of Argyll, 1866. See IONA.