March 17, 2009

How Christianity Came to Ireland

Erin Go Braugh! May the blessings of St. Patrick be upon you all on this fine day. As I'm sure many of you noticed from my overtness, I am of Irish heritage and very proud of it. Indeed, there is nothing grander than the pride in one's heritage, especially if that heritage is Irish. The pride of the Irish is pride in their character. We are a people who love life, and love it unapologetically. Yet we love all aspects of life, including death, and have a joy and a sadness which is mixed better than a black and tan. Well, I guess that's not too hard... but anyway, it is well mixed.

Today is St. Patrick's Day, which is not a day for drinking and wearing green. In Ireland, to which I have never been but desperately wish to go, there is no drinking, for it is a holy day. Here in America, it has become a day to celebrate Irishness, but since I do that all year round, today I celebrate the salvation of the Irish.

The Tale of St. Patrick1

Patrick was born a Briton (one of the Celtic tribes of what is now England) in the fifth century A.D. (not C.E.!) At this time, Christianized Rome had captured England and most of the Britons had converted to Christianity. Indeed, Patrick's grandfather was a priest. However, Patrick wanted no part of it.

When he was sixteen, he was kidnapped by Celtic Pirates and enslaved in Ireland. During his enslavement, he came to love and understand the Irish people. Additionally, he found God Himself, recognizing His hand in nature.

After 6 years, in a vision, God provided a way for Patrick to escape, which he did. He eventually made his way back to England and served as a priest there for many years.

When he was 48, he received a vision which he interpreted to be a missionary call to Ireland. He made an appeal to Rome, who ordained him as a bishop. Along with an entourage of priests, seminarians and others, he arrived in Ireland in 432 A.D.

Patrick's method was very different from what we are used to. He established Christian communities with his entourage, and invited the Irish to join them. Often these communities were called "monasteries", but that's not entirely accurate. They were self-governed villages essentially, where the inhabits worshiped God together. This was a rather original idea, and was done to target Irish culture, which Patrick knew intimately.

Through Patrick's methodology, these communities spread across the island, where the Irish could find peace and rest from tribal life. Conversion mostly came from immersion, rather than cerebral discussion, or emotional experientialism. Ireland developed a distinct look into the Christian faith with was loving, kind, natural, communal, and deep. I'm not claiming that Christianity is perfectly represented in the Irish. Of course not. But Christianity suited the Irish very well, and vice versa.

A Prayer

In this post, I hope to educate some of you into the importance of this day. Let us not celebrate by drinking to a stupor, but instead let us celebrate on the sacrifices and passion of St. Patrick. He is one of the greatest evangelists the church has ever produced, and a fine example of what it takes to spread the faith.

I conclude by offering a prayer developed in one of the celtic communities which derived from his designs:
I lie down this night with God,
And God will lie down with me,
I lie down this night with Christ,
And Christ will lie down with me;
I lie down this night with the Spirit;
And the Spirit will lie down with me;
God and Christ and the Spirit
Be lying down with me.
1. George G. Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, (Nashville, TN: Abindon Press, 200), chapter 1.
2. Ibid, 34.


pchurcher87 said...

Thanks for the post.
Unfortuneatly I'm afraid that I may have to shatter an illusion. Irish people do indeed get drunk on St. Patrick's Day. A beautiful country however. You should indeed go one day. (I'm English by the way).
I thought you'd also like to know a story. St. Patrick is also fabled for driving all the snakes off of the Island. (It is true the Ireland has no snakes!) However this came from the truth the he removed paganism from Ireland. At the time a snake statue was used as part of thier rituals. So in a sense he did indeed drive all the Snakes out of Ireland!
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
In Christ,
Your brother from over the Pond!

Mason said...

JC, thanks for posting this, I quite enjoy church history and the story of St. Patrick is always an interesting one.
Though 90% of Americans may have no idea why St. Patrick matters, we can learn a lot from him and the richness of Irish Christianity.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Now... where is that Guinness

Pizza Man said...

Hi Martin, Thanks for the history. I have some Irish blood too. Most Americans have a little I would venture. I've heard that even Muhammad Ali does (perhaps that accounts for his boxing skills). ;)

I learned a while back from my mother-in-law (who also is part Irish) that Irish Protestants are actually supposed to wear orange rather than green on St. Patrick's day - because of "William the Orange". I've never bothered to do so myself, I'm guessing most people wouldn't get the distinction.

Madeleine said...

When I wrote my blog on St Patricks day I really struggled to get good info and you had some I had not seen! The more I look at Patrick the more interesting he seems!

I too have a lot of irish in me so maybe that's the attraction.

Jc_Freak: said...

Thank you all for your comments. St. Patrick is one of my heroes, so I St. Patrick's day is rather important to me.

pchurcher87: Thanks for the correction. Can't say it surprises me ;). I do know that they celebrate St. Patrick's Day with reverence rather than the way we treat it over here. Do you know anything about Irish customs on St. Patrick's Day?

Madelene: you may notice that both of my references came from the same source (Ibid means same source; don't ask me how). The Celtic Way of Evangelism has had a deep influence in my ecclesiology and missiology. I highly recommend. Additionally, the author is an expert on the history of Ireland and the first couple of chapters are a great history lesson.

gurnygob said...

Jc I just found your blog by chance. I live in Ireland and I can tell you in all my 50 years and long long before that the Irish have used the feast of St Patrick for a good old swig or two of the black stuff and illegal spirits. You need to stop romanticizing about the old country for as God is my judge I can tell you St Patrick would hardly recognize Ireland as a christian country because for the most part it is not. Sorry my friend.