The Synod of Whitby and Authority of Peter
When missionaries came to the British Isles from the continent under the authority of Rome 200 years after St Patrick died, they found deviations in the way Catholicism was practiced. This was partly due to the shear geographic isolation of the Isles from the Continent and difficulties in maintaining communication with the bishops of Rome. According to some sources, divorce was allowed by the Church and priests were marrying, cutting their hair funny (tonsure), and setting the date for Easter by a different method than had been decided by the Council of Nicea some 300 years before. This lead to a meeting being called between the Northumbrian Church officials and the missionaries from Rome. In 664, the Synod of Whitby was held and the squabbling was ended. The details of this Council were recorded by the Venerable Bede and basically the Celtic Churches agreed to do things the way of Rome.
Why did they back down so easily ? It went back to Jesus giving Peter the "Keys of the Kingdom," the power to bind and loose etc. Is this oppressive and imperialistic? No, this is the way Catholicism promotes unity with unchanging doctrines on faith and morals. Christ established a Church, which Rome happens to be the center of, and the authority He passed on is held by His suucessors there. Did it really matter how they cut their hair or when Easter was celebrated? I don't know, but I post this to show that Christianity in Ireland did not get snuffed out but grew and remained in communion with the Universal Church centered in Rome. These Celtic Christians had devotion to the Virgin Mary, practiced infant baptism and the sacrament of confession. It would be historically incorrect to infer that the Christians in Ireland were practicing a form of Christianity that had not surfaced until after the reformation. The actual synod debate is recorded below:
"You certainly sin if, having heard the decree of the apostolic see, and of the universal Church, and that the same is confirmed by Holy Writ, you refuse to follow them; for, though your fathers were holy, do you think that their small number, in a corner of the remotest island, is to be preferred before the universal Church of Christ throughout the world ? And though that Columba of yours (and, I may say, ours also, if he was Christ's servant) was a holy man and powerful in miracles, yet should he be preferred before the most blessed prince of the apostles, to whom our Lord said, 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give up to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven'?"
"When Wilfrid had spoken thus, the king said, "Is it true, Colman, that these words were spoken to Peter by our Lord?" He answered, "It is true, O king!" Then said he, "Can you show any such power given to your Columba?" Colman answered, " None." Then added the king, " Do both of you agree that these words were principally directed to Peter, and that the keys of heaven were given to him by our Lord?' They both answered, , We do." , Then the king concluded "And I also say unto you, that he (Peter) is the doorkeeper, whorl I will not contradict, but will, as far as I know and am able in all things obey his decrees, lest when I come to the gate of the kingdom of heaven there should be none to open them he being my adversary who is proved to have the keys." The king having said this, all present, both great and small gave their assent and, renouncing the more imperfect institution, resolved to conform to that which they found to be better. From Brittannia's British History Department.Did Christianity then end in Ireland? No, monasteries continued to flourish and the study of Latin which St. Patrick brought himself to Ireland preserved learning and culture for the rest of the European world when Europe was ravaged by the nordic barbarians. To be sure, there is a small extant Celtic Apostolic Church which claims to trace its roots to the original apostles but is not in communion with Rome . History tells us that the Christian Church (AKA Catholic) started by St. Patrick submitted to the authority of Rome and continues there to this day, though sadly has been weakened over the past 30 years due to the clergy sex abuse scandals and increasing secularization of European culture.