Patrick, A Man for All Christians

Though Patrick has been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, he does not belong to it alone.  He is a father in the faith to all Christians. Whether one marks the beginning of church history from Abraham’s call or the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Magonius Sucatus Patricius is part of that history. His missionary work in Ireland is a story of godliness for all Christians to know and learn from.  And since the good news that Patrick announced is for all people, his story is a divine gift for those outside the Church.

In his “Confession” he tells us about himself:

I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many.  My father was Calpornius, a deacon, son  of Potitus, a priest, of the village Bannavem Taburniae; he had a country seat nearby, and there I was taken captive. 

I was then about sixteen years of age.  I did not know the true God.  I was taken into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of people –and deservedly so, because we turned away from God, and did not keep His commandments, and did not obey our priests, who used to remind us of our salvation.  And the Lord brought over us the wrath of His anger and scattered us among many nations, even unto the utmost part of the earth, where now my littleness is placed among strangers.

 And there the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my abjection, and mercy on my youth and ignorance, and watched over me before I knew Him, and before I was able to distinguish between good and evil, and guarded me, and comforted me as would a father his son.

Hence I cannot be silent – nor, indeed, is it expedient – about the great benefits and the great grace which the Lord has deigned to bestow upon me in the land of my captivity; for this we can give to God in return after having been chastened by Him, to exalt and praise His wonders before every nation that is anywhere under the heaven.* 

When Patrick wrote these words, he was looking back over his life’s work of exalting and praising God’s wonders before the Irish.  This was no small task.  He and his companions trekked across Ireland, taking the gospel to territories claimed by powerful chieftains and Druid  priests.

Copy of Details_Roman_Road_Santa_Agueda cropped for blog

Steadfast throughout his life and trusting to God’s gracious providence, the very people who had enslaved him for six years were freed from spiritual bondage and came to know the true and living God.  Patrick gave God the glory.

One way to understand Patrick is to read (or sing as my church will do tomorrow) the poem that has been attributed to him, St. Patrick’s Breastplate.  Though it is not certain that he wrote it, its language is believed to be at least as early as the 6th century, reflecting the spirit of his Bible-driven commitment to Christ.  Prepare to be drenched in a downpour of truth.

ST. PATRICK’S BREASTPLATE **

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 Judgment 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 holyVirgins,
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 splendour 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.

While you or I might not agree with everything Patrick says, still here is a worldview that integrates the reality of the Triune God as Creator,  Christ’s  lordship over all things and a humble trust in Christ’s protection in all situations.   In other words, Patrick didn’t just think great and essential truths about God; he trusted in the living God about whom these things were true.  His example is worth following.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* Gallico, Paul.  “Confession.” The Steadfast Man.  New York: Doubleday and Company,1958. 203.

** Moran, Patrick Francis Cardinal. “St. Patrick.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 16 Mar. 2013 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11554a.htm&gt;.

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The Good News Is Better Than We Imagine

The Gospel

It is not about you and I *                                            

going to heaven when we die.

It is about the risen King 

ruling over everything.

Christians have broken up the gospel and distributed the fragments throughout the Church at large. Some are clinging tightly to the fragment about having a personal relationship with God. Others are clinging just as tightly to this personal fragment, but have wrapped it in careful language drawn from their denominational heritage. Still others have taken this Jesus-in-my-heart fragment in one hand and with the other have picked up the social-justice fragment, calling it “Jesus in my neighbor.”  Liberal Christians have been holding onto this social-justice fragment for a long time; but they seem to have forgotten how justice comes, so their fragment is breaking up into sand. One could go on, but you get the idea.

Why can’t we take hold of the whole gospel? The answer is a long, sad tale of being seduced by the Spirit of the Age rather than listening carefully to the Spirit of the Living God. The inspired Scriptures tell us that Jesus Christ came to be a King who would rule over the universe. This rule would be focused on delivering man from sin and misery, and restoring a ruined Creation to glory.

It seems that Christians are so often satisfied with pieces of the gospel. Given the bigness of the gospel and the smallness of our minds, that is somewhat to be expected. But it cannot be tolerated. The Creator is not about to save a few souls and let the Devil have the rest of mankind, with the cosmos to boot. Jesus Christ has been given all authority in heaven and earth. He has told us to make disciples of all nations…Nations! This means that our Lord, who rules over all things at the right hand of the father, is extending his rule over the whole earth, teaching the nations to love and serve him. Isaiah the prophet tells us that one day the nations will flow to the house of the LORD and walk in his ways. (Isaiah 2:1-5) God will renew the universe and put his redeemed people on a new earth to live there forever.

So let’s no longer pick up pieces of the gospel. Let’s take the whole thing! Surely it is this whole gospel that is truly good news for us and worth announcing to our neighbors.

~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~   ~    ~   ~   ~   ~     * Of course, this first-person pronoun is supposed to be in the objective case; but it’s the only way I could make my little poem rhyme.

The Real Immanuel

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the
prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,      
and they shall call his name “Immanuel” (which means “God                                               with us”).                                                                       Matthew 1:22-23

In the past weeks many of us have sung “O Come, O Come, Immanuel.” What kind of coming have we had in mind? Probably we have thought of a wonderful, humble and gracious coming. True, as far as it goes. But did we envision a coming with terror? Yes, I did say “terror.” While the name “Immanuel” points to a wonderful and gracious salvation, it also points to a mighty and terrible destruction. This is because God saves his people by destroying their enemies. All of the great saving events of the Old and New Testaments include salvation for the humble and destruction of the proud. Think of Noah’s flood, Israel’s exodus and conquest of Canaan, and Jesus’ Second Advent. God’s people are not saved unless he destroys their enemies. The prophet Isaiah had this reality in mind when he introduced the name “Immanuel” into biblical literature.

While King Ahaz of Judah was facing an attack by Syria and Israel, Isaiah called him to trust in the LORD. Ahaz refused. Upon that unbelief the LORD gave him a sign: Immanuel. A son would be born and called by that name, indicating that the LORD had come to be with his people.

“The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah – the king of Assyria.” (Isaiah 7:17)

Make no mistake: God being with his people meant  he would destroy, by means of Assyria, the proud who trusted in man and deliver the humble who trusted in him.

“Because this people have refused the waters of Shiloh that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory.” (Isaiah 8:6-7)

This coming would bring both “destruction” and “overflowing righteousness”; destruction of the proud unbelievers who oppressed the poor and overflowing righteousness for the humble who looked to the LORD. (You may read more about this in Isaiah 9 & 10)

While Isaiah’s words had a near fulfillment in his own day, they pointed ultimately to a Son who would come to bring final salvation to his people. This Immanuel would be like the first; he would save his people from their enemies. That salvation could only happen by destroying those enemies which included not only sin, death and the Devil, but also their human oppressors. In 70 A.D. Immanuel destroyed the proud and wicked generation of Jews. His remnant survived and spread the good news around the Roman Empire. Destruction…overflowing with righteousness.

As we celebrate the coming of the King of Kings, it is right for us to sing “O Come, O Come, Immanuel.” But let us remember that his coming was both wonderful and terrible. There is no other way the One and only, holy God could come and save his people from their sins.

Christmas Day, 2012