Thank you for joining me on
my website. The text on that opening graphic is a paraphrase of an excerpt
from a prayer of Patrick's, popularly known as "St. Patrick's Breast-Plate."
If I have space, I will include it later. Or, more accurately perhaps,
if I feel this has not gotten too long. I had notes from one website
I visited November 21, 2018 (last on the list) in my files, but it was
more about what took place after Patrick. I ended up looking at an additional
ten URLs in the last few days, once I knew I would be doing this newsletter.
I do not like to stay connected to the Internet more than I have to,
and some of the pages were quite lengthy, so I started copying and pasting
the text into a Word document I could read afterward. The file ended
up being 35 pages long. I am only going to include a little of that
text, so here are the web addresses if you have further interest.
"In the 5th and 6th centuries (and even beyond!)
the Celtic church was one of the most spiritually vibrant churches in
The Irish Christians were all spiritual children
and grandchildren of Patrick, the man who brought Christianity to the
Irish. If he had not come to Ireland, they would all still be lost in
their idol worship. The Irish have never forgotten him. Sixteen hundred
years after his death, he is still their national hero.
However, the rest of the world had already forgotten
Patrick by the time he died. In fact, outside of Ireland, few people
had ever even heard of him. Those who had heard of him probably heard
mainly negative things. If someone had told them that someday Patrick
would be the most famous person of their age, they would have laughed
derisively. Today, their names have all been forgotten, but his name
lives on. The reason he is so well remembered is that he built his work
out of 'gold, silver, and precious stones' (1 Corinthians 3:12). His
name endured because his work endured. The church he left behind was
a vibrant church eager to spread the Gospel throughout the whole world,
regardless of the cost."
Myth: St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland.
"In 431, before Patrick began preaching in Ireland,
Pope Celestine reportedly sent a bishop known as Palladius 'to the Irish
believing in Christ' — an indication that some residents of the Emerald
Isle had already converted by then."
"The dates of Patrick's life cannot be fixed with
certainty, but there is broad agreement that he was active as a missionary
in Ireland during the fifth century. Nevertheless, as the most recent
biography on Patrick shows, a late fourth-century date for the saint
is not impossible. Early medieval tradition credits him with being the
first bishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, and they regard him as
the founder of Christianity in Ireland, converting a society practicing
a form of Celtic polytheism. He has been generally so regarded ever
since, despite evidence of some earlier Christian presence in Ireland."
Myth: St. Patrick was Irish.
"Though one of Ireland’s patron saints, Patrick was
born in what is now England, Scotland or Wales (interpretations vary
widely) to a Christian deacon and his wife, probably around the year
390. According to the traditional narrative, at 16 he was enslaved by
Irish raiders who attacked his home; they transported him to Ireland
and held him captive there for six years. Patrick later fled to England,
where he received religious instruction before returning to Ireland."
"Patrick was born in Roman Britain (claims have been
advanced for locations in both present-day Scotland and Wales). Patrick
was not an active believer. According to the Confession of Saint Patrick,
at the age of sixteen he was captured by a group of Irish pirates. They
took him to Ireland where he was enslaved and held captive for six years.
Patrick writes in the Confession that the time he spent in captivity
was critical to his spiritual development. He explains that the Lord
had mercy on his youth and ignorance, and afforded him the opportunity
to be forgiven his sins and convert to Christianity. While in captivity,
he worked as a shepherd and strengthened his relationship with God through
prayer, eventually leading him to convert to Christianity.
After six years of captivity he heard a voice telling
him that he would soon go home, and then that his ship was ready. Fleeing
his master, he traveled to a port, two hundred miles away, where he
found a ship and with difficulty persuaded the captain to take him.
He returned home to his family, now in his early twenties. Although
his father was a Christian deacon, it has been suggested that he probably
took on the role because of tax incentives and there is no evidence
that Patrick came from a particularly religious family. During the time
he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people, lonely and afraid,
he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian. (It
is also believed that Patrick first began to dream of converting the
Irish people to Christianity during his captivity.)
After returning home to Britain, Patrick continued
to study Christianity. Patrick recounts that he had a vision a few years
after returning home: I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His
name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one
of them. I read the heading: "The Voice of the Irish.” As I began the
letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very
people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western
sea — and they cried out, as with one voice: "We appeal to you, holy
servant boy, to come and walk among us."
Myth: St. Patrick was British.
"His birthplace doesn’t mean Patrick was a Brit,
however — at least not technically. During his lifetime the British
Isles were occupied by the Romans, a group that included Patrick’s
parents and thus the saint himself. It is unknown whether his family
— thought to have been part of the Roman aristocracy — was of
indigenous Celtic descent or hailed from modern-day Italy. When
Patrick penned the two surviving documents attributed to him, he
wrote in Latin and signed his name 'Patricius,' but according to some accounts he was born Maewyn
"The only name that Patrick uses for himself in his
own writings is Pātricius, which gives Old Irish Pátraic, Modern Irish
Pádraig, English Patrick, Welsh Padrig, and Cornish Petroc."
"Patrick reported that he experienced a second revelation
— an angel in a dream tells him to return to Ireland as a missionary.
Soon after, Patrick began religious training, a course of study that
lasted more than 15 years. After his ordination as a priest, he was
sent to Ireland with a dual mission: to minister to Christians already
living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish. (Interestingly,
this mission contradicts the widely held notion that Patrick introduced
Christianity to Ireland.)
Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick
chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity
instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance,
he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring
their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol,
onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross,
so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish.
Although there were a small number of Christians
on the island when Patrick arrived, most Irish practiced a nature-based
pagan religion. The Irish culture centered around a rich tradition of
oral legend and myth. When this is considered, it is no surprise that
the story of Patrick’s life became exaggerated over the centuries —
spinning exciting tales to remember history has always been a part of
the Irish way of life.
Careful to deal fairly with the non-Christian Irish,
he nevertheless lived in constant danger of martyrdom. The evocation
of such incidents of what he called his 'laborious episcopate' was his
reply to a charge, to his great grief endorsed by his ecclesiastical
superiors in Britain, that he had originally sought office for the sake
of office. In point of fact, he was a most humble-minded man, pouring
forth a continuous paean of thanks to his Maker for having chosen him
as the instrument whereby multitudes who had worshipped 'idols and unclean
things' had become 'the people of God.'
The phenomenal success of Patrick’s mission is not,
however, the full measure of his personality. Since his writings have
come to be better understood, it is increasingly recognized that, despite
their occasional incoherence, they mirror a truth and a simplicity of
the rarest quality. Not since St. Augustine of Hippo had any religious
diarist bared his inmost soul as Patrick did in his writings. As D.A.
Binchy, the most austerely critical of Patrician (i.e., of Patrick)
scholars, put it, 'The moral and spiritual greatness of the man shines
through every stumbling sentence of his ‘rustic’ Latin.”
St. Patrick banished snakes from the Emerald Isle.
"Legend has it
that Patrick stood on an Irish hillside and delivered a sermon
that drove the island’s serpents into the sea. While it is true
that the Emerald Isle is mercifully snake-free, chances are that
has been the case throughout human history. Water has surrounded
Ireland since the end of the last glacial period, preventing snakes
from slithering over; before that, it was blanketed in ice and
too chilly for the cold-blooded creatures. Scholars believe the
snake story is an allegory for Patrick’s eradication of pagan
(I mentioned in my last newsletter my affinity
for the characters of the Hundred Acre Wood. I was delighted to
find a graphic, or two, of them celebrating Saint Patrick's Day.
Piglet looks like he is rejoicing about no snakes even if the
legend is not true!)
"St. Patrick continued until his death to visit and
watch over the churches which he had founded in all the provinces in
Ireland. He comforted the faithful in their difficulties, strengthened
them in the Faith and in the practice of virtue, and appointed pastors
to continue his work among them. It is recorded in his Life that he
consecrated no fewer than 350 bishops."
The legends and stories of Patrick's time in Ireland
are way too numerous to get into in this newsletter. I have often said
that if even only a very small percentage of what is said about his
life were true, it would still be a miraculous thing to behold. St.
Patrick: The Irish Legend is a 2000 television historical drama
film about the saint's life. Patrick is portrayed by Patrick Bergin.
Several years ago it was my first real introduction to the broader story
of Patrick, and some of the incredible legends connected with him. I
am pretty sure we have a copy of it in the library at the Center, but
it might be in a VHS format. Even so, we have a VCR there to play our
VHS tapes on.
St. Patrick Was Never Canonized as a Saint
"He may be known as the patron saint of Ireland,
but Patrick was never actually canonized by the Catholic Church. This
is simply due to the era he lived in. During the first millennium, there
was no formal canonization process in the Catholic Church. After becoming
a priest and helping to spread Christianity throughout Ireland, Patrick
was likely proclaimed a saint by popular acclaim."
"17 March, popularly known as Saint Patrick's Day,
is believed to be his death date and is the date celebrated as his Feast
Day. The day became a feast day in the Catholic Church due to the influence
of the Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding, as a member of
the commission for the reform of the Breviary in the early part of the
For most of Christianity's first thousand years,
canonizations were done on the diocesan or regional level. Relatively
soon after the death of people considered very holy, the local Church
affirmed that they could be liturgically celebrated as saints. As a
result, Patrick has never been formally canonized by a Pope; nevertheless,
various Christian churches declare that he is a Saint in Heaven (he
is in the List of Saints). He is still widely venerated in Ireland and
Patrick is honored with a feast day on the liturgical
calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) and with a commemoration on the
calendar of Evangelical Lutheran Worship, both on 17 March. Patrick
is also venerated in the Orthodox Church, especially among English-speaking
Orthodox Christians living in Ireland, the UK and in the US. There are
Orthodox icons dedicated to him."
Popular St. Patrick’s Day festivities
have their roots in Ireland.
"Until the 1700s, St. Patrick’s Day was a Roman
Catholic feast only observed in Ireland — and without the raucous
revelry of today’s celebrations. Instead, the faithful spent the
relatively somber occasion in quiet prayer at church or at home.
That started to change when Irish immigrants living in the United
States began organizing parades and other events on March 17 as
a show of pride. For many people around the world, St. Patrick’s
Day has evolved into a secular ode to Irish culture (or at least
an oversimplified version of it), characterized by parties, music
and iconic foods."
"St. Patrick may be the patron saint of Ireland,
but many St. Patrick’s Day traditions were born in the United States.
Every March 17, the United States becomes an emerald country for a day.
Americans wear green clothes and quaff green beer. Green milkshakes,
bagels and grits appear on menus. In a leprechaun-worthy shenanigan,
Chicago even dyes its river green. Revelers from coast to coast celebrate
all things Irish by hoisting pints of Guinness and cheering bagpipers,
step dancers and marching bands parading through city streets. These
familiar annual traditions were not imported from Ireland, however.
They were made in America.
In contrast to the merry-making in the United States,
March 17 has been more holy day than holiday in Ireland. Since 1631,
Saint Patrick’s Day has been a religious feast day to commemorate the
anniversary of the 5th-century death of the missionary credited with
spreading Christianity to Ireland. For several centuries, March 17 was
a day of solemnity in Ireland with Catholics attending church in the
morning and partaking of modest feasts in the afternoon. There were
no parades and certainly no emerald-tinted food products, particularly
since blue, not green, was the traditional color associated with Ireland’s
patron saint prior to the 1798 Irish Rebellion.
Boston has long staked claim to the first St. Patrick’s
Day celebration in the American colonies. On March 17, 1737, more than
two dozen Presbyterians who emigrated from the north of Ireland gathered
to honor St. Patrick and form the Charitable Irish Society to assist
distressed Irishmen in the city. The oldest Irish organization in North
America still holds an annual dinner every St. Patrick’s Day. Historian
Michael Francis, however, unearthed evidence that St. Augustine, Florida,
may have hosted America's first St. Patrick’s Day celebration. While
researching Spanish gunpowder expenditure logs, Francis found records
that indicate cannon blasts or gunfire were used to honor the saint
in 1600 and that residents of the Spanish garrison town processed through
the streets in honor of St. Patrick the following year, perhaps at the
behest of an Irish priest living there.
Ironically, it was a band of Redcoats who started
the storied green tradition of America’s largest and longest St. Patrick’s
Day parade in 1762 when Irish-born soldiers serving in the British Army
marched through lower Manhattan to a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast at
a local tavern. The March 17 parades by the Irish through the streets
of New York City raised the ire of nativist, anti-Catholic mobs who
started their own tradition of 'paddy-making' on the eve of St. Patrick’s
Day by erecting effigies of Irishmen wearing rags and necklaces of potatoes
with whiskey bottles in their hands until the practice was banned in
After Irish Catholics flooded into the country in
the decade following the failure of Ireland’s potato crop in 1845, they
clung to their Irish identities and took to the streets in St. Patrick’s
Day parades to show strength in numbers as a political retort to nativist
'Know-Nothings.' 'Many who were forced to leave Ireland during the Great
Hunger brought a lot of memories, but they didn’t have their country,
so it was a celebration of being Irish,' says Mike McCormack, national
historian for the Ancient Order of Hibernians. 'But there was also a
bit of defiance because of the bigotry by the Know-Nothings against
McCormack says attitudes toward the Irish began to
soften after tens of thousands of them served in the Civil War. 'They
went out as second-class citizens but came back as heroes,' he says.
As the Irish slowly assimilated into American culture, those without
Celtic blood began to join in St. Patrick’s Day celebrations."
Abraham Lincoln was among the many Americans
disturbed at the rise of the nativist movement as he explained
in an 1855 letter: “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all
men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are
created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control,
it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes and foreigners
and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating
to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty
— to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure,
and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”
Saint Patrick and Irish Identity
"Patrick features in many stories in the Irish oral
tradition and there are many customs connected with his feast day. The
folklorist Jenny Butler discusses how these traditions have been given
new layers of meaning over time while also becoming tied to Irish identity
both in Ireland and abroad. The symbolic resonance of the Saint Patrick
figure is complex and multifaceted, stretching from that of Christianity's
arrival in Ireland to an identity that encompasses everything Irish.
In some portrayals, the saint is symbolically synonymous with the Christian
religion itself. There is also evidence of a combination of indigenous
religious traditions with that of Christianity, which places St Patrick
in the wider framework of cultural hybridity. Popular religious expression
has this characteristic feature of merging elements of culture. Later
in time, the saint becomes associated specifically with Catholic Ireland
and synonymously with Irish national identity. Subsequently, Saint Patrick
is a patriotic symbol along with the color green and the shamrock. Saint
Patrick's Day celebrations include many traditions that are known to
be relatively recent historically, but have endured through time because
of their association either with religious or national identity. They
have persisted in such a way that they have become stalwart traditions,
viewed as the strongest 'Irish traditions.'"
Myth: Corned beef is a classic St. Patrick’s Day dish.
"On St. Patrick’s Day, countless merrymakers in the
United States, Canada and elsewhere savor copious plates of corned beef
and cabbage. In Ireland, however, a type of bacon similar to ham is
the customary protein on the holiday table. In the late 19th century,
Irish immigrants in New York City’s Lower East Side supposedly substituted
corned beef, which they bought from their Jewish neighbors, in order
to save money. That’s not to say salt-cured beef isn’t a traditional
Irish dish; pork, however, has historically been more widely available
on the Emerald Isle."
We actually discovered the truth about corned beef
well over a decade ago. A friend, Seamus Byrne, who is an Irish monk,
was visiting from Ireland. Donna was telling him about how her family
liked to have a Saint Patrick's Day gathering with numerous foods including
traditional corned beef and cabbage. He looked at her a little puzzled
and asked, "what is corned beef?"
I am going to wrap up the Saint Patrick's part of
this newsletter with his "St. Patrick's Breast-Plate" prayer. I am leaving
out an unbelievable amount of details from those 35 pages of notes,
including peripheral topics like shamrocks, leprechauns, and traditional
Irish music. Wikipedia.org made mention of a 1999 historical novel
Let Me Die in Ireland by Anabaptist author and attorney David
Bercot. Indicating it is based on the documented facts of Patrick's
life rather than the legend, and suggests implications of his example
for Christians today. Unfortunately, we do not have that in our lending
library at the Teaching & Sharing Center of Grand Ledge.
"The beautiful prayer of St. Patrick, popularly known
as 'St. Patrick's Breast-Plate,' is supposed to have been composed by
him in preparation for [a] victory over Paganism. The following is a
literal translation from the old Irish text:
I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.
I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.
I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.
Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.