Monday, March 17, 2003

St. Patrick's Day

Ireland is hereToday is St. Patrick's Day. If you're in Ireland, don't expect a New York City style celebration. It's a somber day of reflection, honoring a man who played a significant part in the unfolding story of humanity. Without Patrick, there would have been no Irish Christians to preserve Greek and Christian thought. And without the preservation of Greek and Christian thought, there would have been no one to remind the West of its heritage, no Rennaisance, etc. The world we live in would have been a very different place.

I pay attention to that sort of thing. Plus, part of my ancestry is Irish. I've learned Patrick was a former captured slave who was called by a vision of Christ to be a missionary to the Irish in the fifth century. Paul may have been the first such appointment. What is surprising is that there were four centuries between the two when there were no missionaries of note.

For Roman citizens, being in a Roman city or villa was the place to be. It was unthinkable, even for someone like Augustine, to think of venturing beyond the Ecumene--the territory of Roman governance. Outisde the Imperium, the map may as well have said "Here do be monsters" as many medieval maps would say of unmapped territory. Even Paul, great Christian missionary though he was, never ventured beyond the Greco-Roman Imperium.

Celtic CrossPatrick was the first missionary to take the gospel to the pagani, the barbarians beyond the reach of Roman law. He followed Jesus' command to take the Gospel to the "ends of the earth." "The Gospel," he reminded his accusers late in his life,
"has been preached to the point beyond which there is no one"--nothing but ocean. Like Paul before him, he was not blind to the dangers that he faced: "Every day I am ready to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved--whatever may come my way. But I am not afraid of these things, because of the promises of heaven; for I have put myself in the hands of God Almighty."

At one point, one rising petty king along the western coast of Britain, Coroticus, fell upon the peaceful northern coast of Ireland, butchering many, and taking away thousands of Patrick's converts as slaves. Patrick appeals to fellow British citizens to do something, writing of this "crime so horrible and unspeakable." He writes from experience, having been taken from the comfortable and predictable life of a British Roman village at age sixteen to be a slave shepherd in eastern Ireland, where he suffered hunger and cold, and much loneliness, for seven long years.

Historian Thomas Cahill has declared Patrick "the first human being in the history of the world to speak out unequivocally agains slavery." No voice as strong would be heard until the seventeenth century. He's a real example of a missionary who was concerned not only with people's spiritual well-being, but also their social and physical well-being.

Patrick dearly loved his adopted people, loved them as individuals, beyond a generalized "Christian" benevolence. His emotional grasp of the Christian truth made him the perfect vessel for reaching Ireland's rugged, passionate, warrior people. He could speak to their Iron Age ethos of beauty, loyalty, bravery, and generosity. Of his warrior children in Christ, he wrote: "O most dear ones. . . I can see you, beginning the journey to the land where there is no night nor sorrow nor death. . . . You shall reign with the apostles and prophets and martyrs. You shall seize the everlasting kingdoms, as he himself proclaimed when he said: 'They shall come from east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.'" He understood God's grace (if not God's sense of irony); that even slave traders can turn into liberators, even murderers can act as peacemakers, even barbarians can take their places among the nobility of heaven.

The following is from Patrick's great prayer in Irish Gaelic, known as "Saint Patrick's Breastplate."
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

. . .

I arise today
What's in me pot o' gold?Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this.

7:18 PM, April 16, 2007  

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