Novak (novak) wrote,

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Theological Notebook: A Brief Meditation on the Genius of Patrick of Ireland

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

I had to laugh that one of the first things that came up in an image search for "Saint Patrick" (almost all of which is astonishingly awful) was a photograph of Andrea Corr wearing a slinky black belt dress.

Although of the Irish saints I have a deeper connection (even a familial one) to Colum Cille, I find the study of Patrick to always be worthwhile, even with as few sources as we have. The utter genius of Saint Patrick as an evangelist (from what we're able to figure out about him--we have only his surviving Confession and one letter attempting to free slaves) seems to be that he realized that the paganism of Ireland was qualitatively different from the paganism of the Mediterranean. The druid religion, in bulk, didn't have to be destroyed. While human sacrifices and the like had to be eliminated, and the Celtic gods could be retired to other orders of reality or story, he seems to have realized that much of druidism was merely a spiritual reflection on nature, and so that with this attention already established on creation, Jewish/Christian insight on God the Creator had been given a huge cultural preparation. This approach that allowed much of Celtic culture to be expanded by the Christian message proved electrifying and outrageously successful. Ireland had been solidly resistant to Christian missionaries, but with the advent of this roaming missionary Bishop, the culture transformed in the space of a lifetime. The druids still functioned in their traditional forms of spiritual leaders, historians, lawyers, and the like, but now no longer as "druids," per se, but rather as monks, priests and bishops. A distinct Catholic culture arose that inherited and absorbed the pagan, Jewish and Christian resources of the West, and became the sudden land of schools and scholars that would preserve the West's heritage until it fully blossomed and helped re-seed Western Europe in later centuries, after the barbarian German invasions had come to an end. Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization is a well-written, fairly-reliable, popular introduction into the drama of all of this happenstance.

The resurgence of interest in Celtic spirituality has real potential, but only as long as it is not watered-down into the sentimental eco-spirituality that so much of it is cast as today. Separated from the incarnational locus of Christianity, there isn't the ascetic, historical and even political edge needed for a real ecological spirituality that will have any significant impact. The ancient druids recognized the difference made by a God who could be discerned as active in normal, researchable, arguable and verifiable human history. The contemporary so-called druidism sacrifices all that in a typical post-Christian way that "dis-invents the wheel" and thinks it progress, but reduces spirituality once again to the level of personal preference and wish-fulfillment. Ancient druidism instead leapt forward into the concrete reality demanded by Christianity and gave us paths into the best of both worlds of native spiritual insight and the universal conversation of the Catholic world. It is interesting to see people who are authentically exploring this insight again today. The Prayer of Protection (the "Lorica" or "Breastplate") attributed to Patrick is one of the ancient Irish prayers that best preserves some of these modes of spirituality. It has been a favourite of mine for years:
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

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 summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.
Tags: art, cultural, europe, historical, ireland, mysticism/spirituality, personal, theological notebook, trinity

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