5

Saint Patrick and the Nations Plunging in the Night

When Caesar’s sun fell out of the sky
And whoso hearkened right
Could only hear the plunging
Of the nations in the night.

GK Chesterton, Ballad of the White Horse

It is easy to lose sight of the historical Saint Patrick in all the fun and frolic of Saint Patrick’s Day.  He was a man of the fifth century and what a disastrous century it was for Patrick’s time and place.  The Western Empire was going down under wave after wave of barbarian invasion, pagan when they were not loosely converted Arian heretics.  Civilization was manifestly dying and Catholicism seemed to be faced with extinction, as it would almost entirely be extinguished in Patrick’s homeland of Britain in the terrible decades to come.  Patrick’s capture by Irish pirates and being held as a slave was typical of the fate of many Christians as the law and order of the old Empire became a fading utopian dream.  In these circumstances Patrick could have been forgiven for running and hiding in a cave as a Christian hermit, convinced that it was his fate and the fate of his generation to see the End Times predicted in Revelations.

Instead Patrick, after his escape from servitude, was filled with a burning zeal to convert the Irish, fired by a dream:

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.”

Obtaining such education as could be had on the Continent, he was ordained, given the powers of a bishop, and sent back to the land of his slavery and labored night and day to bring the Irish into the light of Christ.  By the end of his life he could truly say that he had found Ireland entirely pagan and now it was mostly Christian.  His mission was one of pure Christian optimism in the face of disaster when most rational men would have told him that what he was doing was all for naught.  Instead, in the ages to come, Ireland became the fabled land of saints and scholars, where western civilization was maintained in the darkest of centuries and where the true sons and daughters of Saint Patrick, Catholic missionaries, brought the light of Christ back to lands which had forgotten Him.  It was a grand story, and no miracle attributed to Saint Patrick can surpass what he accomplished in cold historical fact.

To understand what Saint Patrick was up against, and the true miracle of what he accomplished, read below a letter of his in which he discussed the massacre of Catholic converts: Continue Reading

3

CS Lewis on the Trinity

 

 

 

You know that in space you can move in three ways – to left or right, backwards or forwards, up or down. Every direction is either one of these three or a compromise between them. They are called the three Dimensions. Now notice this. If you are using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you are using two, you could draw a figure: say, a square. And a square is made up of four straight lines. Now a step further. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body: say, a cube – a thing like a dice or a lump of sugar. And a cube is made up of six squares.

Do you see the point? A world of one dimension would be a straight line. In a two-dimensional world, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways – in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.

Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings – just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do, we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint, of something super-personal – something more than a person. It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already. Continue Reading

3

Saint Patrick and the Trinity

Well, the Trinity is a hard concept for human minds to grasp, something we often encounter when describing God.  Saint Patrick probably never used a shamrock to describe the Trinity, but I like to think he did state what the Trinity is when he spoke to two daughters of an Irish King:

 

 

St. Patrick, full of the Holy Spirit, responded, “Our God is the God of all, the God of heaven and earth, the God of the seas and rivers, the God of the sun and moon, and all the other planets; the God of the high hills and low valleys; God over heaven, in heaven, and under heaven; and He has a mansion, that is, heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them. He inspireth all things. He quickeneth all things. He enkindleth all things. He giveth light to the sun, and to the moon. He created fountains in the dry land, and placed dry islands in the sea, and stars to minister to the greater lights. He hath a Son, coeternal and coequal with Himself; and the Son is not younger than the Father, nor is the Father older than the Son. And the Holy Ghost breatheth in them. And the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are not divided. I desire, moreover, to unite you to the Son of the heavenly king, for ye are daughters of an earthly king. Continue Reading

3

Saint Patrick Our Contemporary

For the end of the world was long ago,
          And all we dwell to-day
          As children of some second birth,
          Like a strange people left on earth
          After a judgment day.

          For the end of the world was long ago,
          When the ends of the world waxed free,
          When Rome was sunk in a waste of slaves,
          And the sun drowned in the sea.

          When Caesar’s sun fell out of the sky
          And whoso hearkened right
          Could only hear the plunging
          Of the nations in the night.

          When the ends of the earth came marching in
          To torch and cresset gleam.
          And the roads of the world that lead to Rome
          Were filled with faces that moved like foam,
          Like faces in a dream.

GK Chesterton, Ballad of the White Horse

 

 

 

A great deal of frivolity, much of which Saint Patrick no doubt condemns, obscures our perception of the great saint who brought the Cross to the Emerald Isle.  We forget many things about Saint Patrick as he is reduced to mascot status for Ireland.  Among things which we forget is that his time in regard to Catholicism is quite similar to our time, and that as a result Saint Patrick seems like quite a contemporary figure to me.

Catholicism in Western Europe during the life of Saint Patrick seemed to be on the path of extinction as military conquest by pagan tribes, or tribes nominally Arian heretics, seemed to presage an end to the Church in the West.  The urban centers were dying, the hearts of Christianity in the Roman Empire.  As Saint Augustine lay dying in 430, his beloved city was under siege of a Vandal army, and the Church in North Africa was entering a bitter night of persecution for a century.  In Saint Patrick’s Britannia, the Roman legions had been withdrawn and the Island was undergoing a pagan conquest which would virtually extirpate Christianity there.

In our time we see Catholicism on life support throughout Western Europe and predictions abroad about the death of the Church. Continue Reading

6

Saint Patrick’s Bad Analogies: Updated

From those wickedly funny folks at The Lutheran Satire.  On Saint Patrick’s Day it is good to recall this from his confession of faith:

For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and his son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by him. He was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe. And we look to his imminent coming again, the judge of the living and the dead, who will render to each according to his deeds. And he poured out his Holy Spirit on us in abundance, the gift and pledge of immortality, which makes the believers and the obedient into sons of God and co-heirs of Christ who is revealed, and we worship one God in the Trinity of holy name.

Anyone who can say Amen to that will be honoring Saint Patrick today in a manner he would truly approve.

Update:

The folks at The Lutheran Satire delve what happens to YouTube captioning in a video filled with bad Irish accents and Trinitarian jargon:

Then Donall and Conall tangle with Mormon missionaries: