Thursday, March 17, 2011

Religious leader loved enemies, prayed, taught, stood for grace

Originally published in the Charter Oak-Ute NEWSpaper & Schleswig Leader, Thursday, March 15, 2007 

Once upon a time, in the ‘Dark Ages’ there was a Christian family living near the coast of Britain in an outpost of the dying Roman empire. This family included a young boy by the name of Patrick. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.

Legend has it that he was kidnapped by a band of barbarians, Celtic barbarians. Did you happen to see “Barbarians Week” on the History Channel? Great stuff. The Celts made some great swords, they beat iron into steel... but I digress.

The Celts, known for their pagan worship of tree spirits, took Patrick for a slave. Among his other duties, he was taught fishing and shepherding. During his long hours watching sheep, he spent a lot of time talking to God. Some people call that prayer.

It was an odd thing because he wasn’t mistreated too badly as a slave, as a matter of fact, he became very fond of the people he served and had compassion for them. How about that? Sounds crazy. Actually, it sounds a little bit like something Jesus once said, what was that? Oh yeah, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
But the shepherd slave boy did miss his family. Legend has it that he promised God that he would become a priest if He let him somehow escaped.

Sure enough, (you knew where this was going, didn’t you?) sure enough, Patrick escaped and became a priest. Eventually he volunteered to return to the people who had kidnapped him and became the first serious Christian missionary to Ireland.

Now the legends say that Ireland was being plagued with snakes. In a story that was part Moses and part Pied Piper, Patrick was supposed to have led all the snakes into the sea.

Truth is never as exciting, but sometimes just as important as fiction. Geologists and biologists suspect that there never were snakes in Ireland to begin with, yet archaeologists have found lots of images of snakes there. Well, scholars have two thoughts on the snake thing.

One is that snakes and serpent-like dragons were used in much of pagan Celtic designs. The Celts had at one time dominated most of Europe and eventually settled in the British Isles, so they surely would’ve seen plenty of snakes beyond Ireland. At any rate, some historians think that Patrick’s evangelism was so successful and spreading the Word of Jesus, that he symbolically drove out the snakes by overcoming the ancient spirit and nature worship.
The other theory is that he drove the snakes out symbolically by teaching the truth and overcoming a popular heresy of his time, Pelagianism.

Pelagius was a monk, supposedly from Ireland, who taught that the human will, along with good deeds and self-denial, was enough to be considered righteous. He told his people that being good was all you needed for salvation. To him, the grace of God was just a booster; a help, but not necessarily essential. Pelagius didn’t believe in “original sin,” but thought that Adam had just set bad example, rather than condemning us all to perpetual state of selfishness and short-sightedness. He also thought that Christ’s good example showed us the path to salvation, not by His sacrifice on the cross, but through self control.

Because of the whole Adam and Eve being tempted by the serpent in the garden imagery, this false doctrine of Pelagianism was often represented by snakes.

Whether God miraculously used him to save Ireland from literal snakes or just from “snakes in the grass,” you can understand why Patrick became a national hero.

Perhaps his most important contribution was his helping people overcome their confusion about the Trinity. He used the shamrock, the three leafed clover, to explain how God is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and yet only one being, only one God.

Patrick’s success at converting the Irish people to Christianity upset the Celtic Druid priests and chieftains. They had him arrested several times, but he escaped every time. He established monasteries and set up schools and churches all over the emerald isle.

After thirty years in ministry he retired to County Down, where died on March 17, 461 A.D. That day has been commemorated as St. Patrick’s Day ever since.

No historians have been able to find any evidence that Patrick himself ever tried green beer.

No comments:

Post a Comment