St. Patrick: The Marshmallow Loving, Beer-Drinking, Snake-Charming Leprechaun

You’ve all probably seen a post or two setting the record straight regarding the origins of St. Patrick’s Day. If you missed the onslaught of facts these last couple of days and are still sober enough to read them (here’s hoping) – I’ll highlight some of my favorites here:

  • St. Patrick wasn’t Irish.
    Wait, so he wasn’t a leprechaun?
  • St. Patrick’s birth name was Maewyn
    He probably had a lot of friends as a kid…
  • St. Patrick was a slave and missionary
    You don’t usually see those items on a resume.
  • St. Patrick’s Day venerates his death
    That makes the green top-hats and bar crawls seem a little obtuse, doesn’t it?
  • St. Patrick’s color is blue, not green
    The Lucky Charms guy lied to us! For shame, Sir Charms – for shame.
  • St. Patrick never expelled snakes out of Ireland
    Samuel L. Jackson remains sole champion of that vocation.
  • St. Patrick’s Day, as a holiday, originates in the Unites States
    ‘Merica!
  • St. Patrick’s Day used to be a dry holiday
    Um, this is awkward… 

What many people don’t know is that St. Patrick changed the landscape of Christendom in a deeply profound way.

After being taken by Irish raiders, Patrick lived as a slave for over six years. Upon escaping captivity he returned back home to Britain where God began to stir something scandalous in his heart. He would later return to Ireland in AD 432, to the very people that held him enslaved all those years, not with malice but with a burning passion to show them the life-altering love of a gracious Creator God.

In “The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity”, author Richard Fletcher writes:

“Patrick’s originality was that no one within western Christendom had thought such thoughts as these before, had ever previously been possessed by such convictions. As far as our evidence goes, he was the first person in Christian history to take the scriptural injunctions literally; to grasp that teaching all nations meant teaching even barbarians who lived beyond the border of the frontiers of the Roman Empire.”

In his Confessio, Patrick writes stirringly of his passion to reach the people of Ireland with the good news of Jesus Christ – no matter the cost.

“Daily I expect to be murdered or betrayed or reduced to slavery if the occasion arises,” Patrick wrote while in Ireland. “But I fear nothing, because of the promises of heaven.”

Patrick regularly upset the social order by challenging women push back on the prevalent notion of the 5th century that women were mere commodities. When the Roman worldview asserted that Ireland was barbaric and cruel – Patrick audaciously advocated that Ireland was worth reaching, worth loving.

While most scholars agree that his education was lacking and his Latin was particularly poor (probably due in part to that whole “being dragged off into slavery” thing), Patrick ardently promoted study, examination, and the monastic life. An ascetic at heart – Patrick, with the power of the Holy Spirit, pursued a life of dedication and discipline – all for the goal of more deeply entering into the storyline of those who had lost their way.

Patrick’s civil disobedience made him many enemies, but the threat of death paled in comparison to the righteous burden God placed within his heart. This is the man whose life we celebrate today. How very tragic it is that a life lived in beautiful Kingdom-centered rebellion is now remembered chiefly by doing quite the opposite. How very easy it is for us to be lulled into social compliance, cultural worship, and muted docility. For the Christ-follower, we must remember that life will unrelentingly draw us toward spiritual amnesia – the opposite of the “renewed mind” (Romans 12:2) that we are called to.

While St. Patrick didn’t likely write the famed Breastplate Prayer (scholars assert that the language postdates him by almost 300 years), it is a beautiful reminder of the kind of life he lived. And maybe, just maybe –  a stirring reminder to us of the kind of life to pursue.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer

Christ behind me, and Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, and Christ above me,
Christ to my right, and Christ to my left,
Christ when I lie down, and Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mind of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, and
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through your mighty strength,
The invocation of the Trinity,
Through believe in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness,
Of the Creator of creation.

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