Thursday, March 16, 2006

Will the Real St. Patrick Please Stand Up?

Before his career as a plump leprechaun posing for greeting cards, Saint Patrick was a skinny slave boy who became a preacher of the gospel. Much of what we know of him comes from his Confession, a short treatise about his life - and a defense of his orthodoxy to the church higher-ups.

Patrick was born in Britain in the fifth century, but was captured and taken as a slave to neighboring Ireland. At the time, Ireland was known for its cruelty. He prayed, up to 100 times a day, that God would rescue him. Through some remarkable events, Patrick was able to escape back to Britain. Needless to say, he had no plans to return to Ireland!

However, his plans changed. One night he had a dream in which a Irish people pleaded with him: "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us." Later, he was told in the night: "He who gave his life for you, it is he who speaks with you." With these and other visions, Patrick was persuaded to return to Ireland in order to win them to the Savior. According to Irish annals, Patrick arrived in the year 431.

In spite of his many dreams, Patrick was deeply committed to the Scriptures. His Confession brims with references to the Bible, and in particular Jesus' Great Commission.

Ireland was never the same. Instead of cruelty, Ireland became known for its scholarship, as its Christian monks dutifully transcribed the Scriptures and other important texts. (A book published a few years back was titled How the Irish Saved Civilization.) Patrick's missionary zeal was retained in Ireland, though in what we would consider a somewhat "Roman Catholic" way -- I call this "missionary monasticism."

As you celebrate St. Patrick's Day, keep in mind that one day Patrick - instead of Peter - might greet you at the pearly gates. Depending on his theology, he may offer you a glass of wine - or perhaps a green beer.

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