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St. Patrick, the Saint for All of Us?

On my first trip to Ireland as a relative newlywed with my Irish inlaws, I fell in love with the beauty of the Emerald Isle and its witty people. One day after touring a cathedral where a statue of St. Patrick stood out front, I naively asked a question that embarrasses me now when I think of it. The docent had just told us some of the amusing superstitions connected to the statue— hop around it on one foot and be married within the year type of thing.

“Was St. Patrick a Catholic or a Protestant?” I inquired.

“He was simply a Christian,” was the reply.

Charmed by the response, I thought the docent was very diplomatic, and at the time didn’t realize that my question revealed great gaps in my knowledge of early Christian history.

Patrick lived circa 387-493, predating the Protestant Reformation by more than a thousand years, and is venerated not only by the Roman Catholic Church, but by the Eastern Orthodox, Anglican Communion, and the Lutheran Churches, as well.

In recent years, even some Adventists have found reasons to love Ireland’s patron saint, claiming that Patrick kept the Seventh-day Sabbath. Their claims are based on a book by Leslie Hardinge “The Celtic Church in Britain” which TEACH Services republished in 2005.

“One of the most arresting characteristics of the writings of Patrick is the number of biblical citations they contain,” Hardinge said, and he suggests that Patrick and the early Celts believed in a literal interpretation of the Scripture with practically no use made of non-canonical books. He suggests that Patrick and the early Celtic Christians believed in the second advent of Christ, too.

“Worship on the seventh day is quite in keeping with the milieu and the age in which Patrick lived,” Hardinge wrote. He points to the Senchus Mor, ancient Irish laws believed to have been framed with the help of Patrick, and these laws required that “every seventh-day of the year” should be devoted to the service of God.

In his Life of Patrick, the seventh century historian Muirchu also tells of how God visited Patrick every seventh-day, so if Patrick didn’t keep the seventh-day as Sabbath, apparently God did and found in the missionary Patrick a willing listener. But it is hard to know what to believe from the Muichu document which tells of Patrick’s many miracles, including raising someone from the dead. Certainly, Patrick comes across as the Moses of Ireland leading them away from pagan gods to Christ. But writing several centuries after Patrick lived, Muichu was working in and from a tradition that was marked by biblical stories retold with would be saints as central characters. Miracles were the point of these stories. Modern skeptics thus are left feeling they know more about the writers of the stories than truly about the historical persons.

Since Patrick also predates the monastic movement in Celtic Christianity, in which spiritual seekers of recent years have found much to admire, it is difficult to say for sure that one truly knows what Patrick did in Ireland, other than preaching about Christ. He is acknowledged for starting the great missionary movement of the Celtic Church. Details of his biography aside, it is not difficult to know that Patrick was an ardent follower of Christ. His prayer known as Patrick’s Breastplate has inspired generations.

Now, when the celebration of Ireland that takes place on the day marking the anniversary of his death seems to be more about wearing green, eating corned beef, cabbage, and drinking beer, it is good to remind ourselves of the inspiring beauty of his words and faith in Christ.

Patrick’s Breastplate

I rise today:

In power’s strength, invoking the Trinity,

Believing in threeness,

Confessing the oneness,

Of Creation’s Creator.

I rise today:

In the power of Christ’s birth and baptism,

In the power of his crucifixion and burial,

In the power of his rising and ascending,

In the power of his descending and judging.

I rise today:

In the power of the love of Cherubim,

In the obedience of angels

And service of archangels,

In hope of rising to receive the reward,

In the prayers of Patriarchs,

In the predictions of prophets

In the preaching of Apostles,

In the faith of confessors,

In the innocence of holy virgins

In the deeds of the righteous.

I rise today:

In Heaven’s might

In Sun’s brightness,

In Moon’s radiance,

In Fire’s glory.

In Lightning’s quickness,

In Wind’s swiftness,

In Sea’s depth,

In Earth’s stability,

In Rock’s fixity

I rise today:

With the power of God to pilot me,

God’s strength to sustain me,

God’s wisdom to guide me,

God’s eye to look ahead for me,

God’s ear to hear me,

God’s word to speak for me,

God’s hand to protect me,

God’s way before me,

God’s shield to defend me,

God’s host to deliver me:

From snares of devils,

From evil temptations,

From nature’s failings,

From all who wish to harm me,

Far or near,

Alone and in a crowd.

Around me I gather today all these powers:

Against every cruel and merciless force

To attack my body and soul,

Against the charms of false prophets,

The black laws of paganism,

The false laws of heretics,

The deceptions of idolatry,

Against spells cast by women, smiths, and druids,

And all unlawful knowledge

That harms the body and soul.

May Christ protect me today:

Against poison and burning,

Against drowning and wounding,

So that I may have abundant reward;

Christ within me, Christ before me, Christ behind me;

Christ to the right of me, Christ to left of me;

Christ in my lying, Christ in my sitting, Christ in my rising;

Christ in the heart of all who think of me,

Christ on the tongue of all who speak to me,

Christ in the eye of all who see me,

Christ in the ear of all who hear me.

I rise today:

In power’s strength, invoking the Trinity,

Believing in threeness,

Confessing the oneness,

Of Creation’s Creator.

For to the Lord belongs salvation,

And to the Lord belongs salvation

And to Christ belongs salvation.

May your salvation, Lord, be with us always.

(Celtic Spirituality, translated and introduced by Oliver Davies, Paulist Press, 1999, pp. 118-120.)

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