Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ephesians 1 and Fingal's Cave

View of Iona Island from inside Fingal's Cave
From the Bible we learn that God planned our salvation already before the creation of the world, before the making of the Sun and Moon and the stars.

Such truly long-term divine planning comes to my mind with the unique view from deep inside Fingal's Cave in the Staffa Island in Inner Hebrides. The visual focus and conformity given by the opening of the cave towards the Island of Iona brings together a very special combination of elements: Nature, Church history, Classical music and the Apostolic mission to proclaim good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, starting from Jerusalem and Samaria and to the end of the world.

God's long term plan according to the Epistle to the Ephesians
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment —to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 1:3-14 NIV

God's Carpentry shop - Fingal's Cave
Entrance to Fingal's cave
Staffa Island is made of unusual basalt prisms that somewhat resemble wood work. Such rather rare geological formations are rocks that result from the cooling of volcanic basalt under special conditions including the penetration of water into the magma.

The formations create a magnificent cave that resembles a natural cathedral.  And that's what it is.

Divine acoustics
Fingal's cave is famous for the acoustics and how the sound of the waves repeat on the walls and vaults. Felix Mendelssohn visited the cave in 1829 and was immediately taken by the sounds. He was given a beautiful melody to go with the sounds - this is how I see it - and wrote to his sister a letter including the main theme.

Mendelssohn developed the theme in what is today known as Fingal's Cave Overture (or The Hebrides Overture) - a very special peace that has since become a beloved treasure of Western classical music.

Here it is conducted by none less than Claudio Abbado himself youTube

Island of Iona
This is an amazing cradle of Christianity among the Europaeans, a burial ground of Scottish tribal heads and kings, a monastery where the Book of Kells was began...

Why all this?
Well, Mikko, you are claming that God Himself created Fingal's cave as a natural cathedral with unique majesty and beauty, exceptional acoustics and that His holy angels even gave a melody to Felix Mendelssohn as a gift to the entire humanity. And He began to work on it already millions of years ago when forming the Hebrides Island and when not one human being had yet been born?

Why would God do something like that and aim the view from inside the cave across the sea to the Island of Iona?

I think for two reasons

Firstly, that we would appreciate the memory of the Irish and Scottish Christians, mostly monks in the monasteries in the rough islands of the Hebrides, Ireland and High Lands of Scotland, who so bravely spread the Gospel to Europe. Even the patron saint of my country Finland, Saint Henrik, who brought Christianity literally to the "end of the world" (fin-landia) and was later murdered by a Finn, apparently came from the British Isles.

that when we are meditating and wondering all this, the majesty and beauty of Creation in and around Fingal's cave, the awesome rolling of the Atlantic waves, the arrival of Christianity from Jerusalem to Ireland and Scotland and from there on to Germany, Scandinavia, even Finland, and when listening to the wonderful music of Mendelssohn, a melody and composition that truly is a gift to humanity, and when remembering that we also have been taken to the Kingdom through the water of baptism and the Spirit of new birth, despite of all what we are and do and ...

with all this and more we would just simply bow down our heads in front of our God and say
"Thank you, Father".

For this is the real purpose why we are here to the glory and praise of His amazing grace, predestined to be for His glory, as said three times in the above quoted passage from the Epistle to the Ephesians1:

to the praise of his glorious grace,
for the praise of his glory 
to the praise of his glory

It is not a bad idea once inside Fingal's Cave also to remember how Rex Regum, the King of Kings, taught us to pray - and to do so!

Our Father in Heaven
hallowed be thy name
thy kingdom come
thy will be done

Thursday, July 19, 2012

People of Wells

Well, well...

Internet is such an amazing global library

I just asked in the previous posting as a total novice in Irish history if there might be something in the Druid religion in which baptism found a connection.

Something like Sun cult for late Romans, Constantine the Great met Christ in the Sun
in hoc signo vincet

So I asked ... and got an immediate answer from Celtic Twilight

Irish Druids And Old Irish Religions

That so wet a country as Ireland should have so great a reverence for wells, is an evidence how early the primitive and composite races there came under the moral influence of oriental visitors and rulers, who had known in their native lands the want of rain, the value of wells. So deep was this respect, that by some the Irish were known as the People of Wells

Living Waters or broken wells?
Indeed, Jesus Christ found a point for His Patrick to reach those ancient Irish people and convince them about the well of Living Waters!

The referred Celtic Twilight pages maintained by Gordd Cymru do have a certain nostalgic atmosphere with perhaps some anti-Christian sentiment?

I really hope that for Celtic revivalists there is no temptation to return to the pre-Patrick days when all kind of natural phenomena were worshipped instead of the One God of Israel who has made it all and has conquered Ireland in such a wonderful and loving way.

Then the prophetic words of Jeremiah would become sadly true - again, this time in some people's hearts in Ireland like once in ancient Israel

“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water."
Jeremiah 2:13

St Patrick and baptism - some observations

The few excerpts from Bishop Tírechán's text in the previous postings show how absolutely fascinating his work on Saint Patrick really is.
 [Read the entire English translation from here.]

Tírechán takes us to the front lines of Christ's Kingdom and the borders expand with baptism. In the beginning of my Rex Regum blog I suggested that we can see the expansion of the rule of the invisible King Christ by following baptism. Nowhere in Migration era Europe is this more clear as in the work of the Apostle of Ireland.

Saint Patrick cannot say like Saint Paul
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
1 Cor 1:17 NIV
For baptism was the essential tool in his work and is done along with preaching and teaching according to the command of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20 NIV

Visiting holy places
As Terry O’Hagan describes we really get the impression from Bishop Tírechán personally visited many of the sites he is telling about and gives accurate information about the things "still today there": the church is square, made of clay as there is no trees, and the burial is on the hill above it. In some cases he uses the title "holy man" rather than Saint Patrick whose memory may not have been so closely associated with all these sites with holy memories.

Baptism extended!
It is remarkable how the concept of baptism is extended in Tírechán to a baby not yet born whose mother is about to die and to the men beyond the grave. Particularly striking is the story of the voice from the grave explaining the cross and St Patrick's action of simply moving the holy cross to the right place.

A legend on such an encounter would surely have saved also this pagan laying beside the body of a Christian!

The tremendous power of baptism is like fresh news from a spiritual battle field and Tírechán's account authentically reflects 7th century concepts and beliefs. It is interesting, how he makes a difference between "druids" and "pagans".

Druid water worship as background?
The importance of wells and the stories of druid worshipping them as gods as well as the rising of Celtic Crosses near them all seem to suggest that there were ancestral beliefs connected with these water sources.

Saint Patrick is described as a Moses figure, demonstrates that there are no spirits in the well, only water, touching the rock of the well with his staff and blesses it with mighty Christian words - powerful things that bring flocks of local people to baptism and Christianity.

Could it be that old Irish religions contained a strong element connecting to wells which where then used by Saint Patrick and the Twelve Apostles in bringing the folks to Christ?

Something symbolic of this is in the National Cathedral of Ireland, Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, which is said to be built on the place where there was once a well and a high cross.

St Patrick baptises a new born baby

He also entered Mag Sereth across the river between Assaroe and the sea, and founded a church in Ráith Argi, and camped in Mag Sereth.

And he found a good man of the race of Lathru, and he baptized him and his young son with him, who was called Hinu or Ineus; his father had bundled him in linen (and carried him) round his neck, because he was born on the way, coming with his father from the mountain: and
Patrick baptized the son
and wrote for him an alphabet
and blessed him with the blessing for a bishop
Tírechán 47

St Patrick baptises a fetus in the womb

And behold, Patrick proceeded to the land which is called Foirrgea of the Sons of Amolngid to divide it between the sons of Amolngid, and he made there a square earthen church of clay, because no timber was near.

And they brought to him a sick woman who was pregnant, and he baptized the son in his mother's womb (the woman's liquid served as the son's baptismal water), and they buried her on the hill of the church above, and the holy man's seat is beside the church to the present day; and he built a church for the community in the bay of the sea, that is, Ros mace Caitni.
Tírechán 44

St Patrick and the misplaced holy Cross

He came to Findmag in the territory of the Uí Maini and found there the sign of the cross of Christ and two new graves, and from his chariot the holy man said: 'Who is it that is buried here?'

And a voice answered from the grave: 'I am a pagan.'

The holy man replied: 'Why has the holy cross been placed beside you?' and again he answered:

'Because the mother of the man who is buried beside me asked that the sign of the cross be placed beside her son's grave. But a stupid and foolish man placed it beside me.'

And Patrick leaped from his chariot and took hold of the cross and pulled it from the pagan grave and placed it over the head of the baptized man, and mounted his chariot and prayed to God in silence.

When he had said 'Deliver us from evil', his charioteer said to him: 'How is that,' said his charioteer, 'why did you (merely) talk to the unbaptized man? For I pity a man without baptism. It would have been better in the eyes of God to bless him as in baptism and pour the water of baptism over the dead man's grave.'

And (Patrick) did not answer him; I think he left the man (as he was) because God did not want to save him. Let us return to our story.
Tírechán 41

The importance of Baptism

And holy Patrick came through the plains in the territory of Mace Erce in Dichuil and Aurchuil.

And in Dichuil Patrick came to a huge grave of astounding breadth (?) and excessive in length, which his people had found, and they were amazed, with great astonishment, that it extended a hundred and twenty feet, and they said: 'We do not believe that there could have been such a thing as a man of this length.'

Patrick answered and said: 'If you wish you shall see him', and they said: 'We do', and he struck the stone on the side of the head with his staff and signed the grave with the sign of the cross and said: 'Open, o Lord, the grave', and it opened. [staff like that of Moses...]

And a huge man arose whole, and said: 'Thanks be to you, o holy man, that you have raised me even for one hour from many pains',  and, behold, he wept bitterly and said: 'May I walk with you?' They said: 'We cannot have you walk with us, for men cannot look upon your face for fear of you.
But believe in the God of heaven
and receive the baptism of the Lord,
and you will not return to the place in which you were.

And tell us to whom you belong.'

'I am the son of the son of Cass son of Glas; I was the swineherd of Lugar king of Hirota. The warrior band of the sons of Mace Con killed me in the reign of Coirpre Nie Per' (a hundred years ago from now). [Irish sense of genealogy...]

And he was baptized, and confessed God, and fell silent, and was laid again in his grave.
Tírechán 40

St. Patrick, Druid worship of wells and baptism

And he came to the territory of Corcu Temne to the well of Sine, where he baptized many thousands of men, and founded three churches.

And he came to the well of Findmag, which is called Sian, because he had been told that the druids honoured the well and offered gifts to it as to a god. The well was of square shape and the mouth of the well was covered with a square stone (and water flew over the stone, that is through ducts closed with cement) like a regal trail ( ?), and the infidels said that some wise man had made for himself a shrine in the water under the stone to bleach his bones perpetually because he feared the burning by fire ; and they worshipped the well as a god.

And Patrick was told the reason for its worship, and he had the zeal of God for the living God, and said: 'It is not true what you say that it was the king of the waters' (for this is the name they gave the well: 'king of the waters').

And the druids and the pagans of that region and a very large crowd gathered together at the well and Patrick said to them: 'Lift the stone; let us see what is under it, whether bones or not, for I am telling you: under it there are not the bones of a man, but—so I believe—some gold and silver from your wicked sacrifices leaks through the cementing of the stones'; and they were unable to lift the stone.

And Patrick and his servants blessed the stone, and Patrick said to the crowd: 'Stay away some distance for a little while, so that you may see the power of my God who dwells in heaven'; and he stretched out his hands and lifted the stone from the mouth of the well and put it to the other side of the mouth of the well, and (there) it is for ever.  [still at the time of this telling...]

And they found nothing in the well but only water.

And there sat a man at a distance beside the stone which the holy man had rooted (in the ground), and Patrick blessed him; his name was Caeta or Cata. And Patrick baptized him and said to him: 'Thy seed will be blessed for ever.' [fragmented tradition?...]
Tírechán 39

Deadly Eucharist

(after the maidens had been baptised)

And they demanded to see the face of Christ,

and the holy man said to them: 'Unless you taste death you cannot see the face of Christ, and unless you receive the sacrament.'

And they answered: 'Give us the sacrament so that we may see the Son, our bridegroom',

and they received the eucharist of God and fell asleep in death, and their friends placed them on one bed and covered them with their garments, and made a lament and great keening.

Druid reaction
And the druid Caplit, who had fostered the one, came and wept, and Patrick preached to him and he believed, and the hair of his head was shorn off.  (-- tonsure, monk)

And his brother Máel came and said: 'My brother has believed Patrick; not so I, but I will bring him back to heathendom', and he spoke harsh words to Mathonus and Patrick.

And Patrick preached the faith to him and converted him to the penance of God, and the hair of his head was shorn off, that is, the (hair cut in) druidic fashion (which was) seen on his head, airbacc giunnae, as it is called. Hence comes the saying that is the most famous of all Irish sayings, 'Máel is like Caplit', because (both) believed in God.

Respect to Saints relics and Irish shrines
And the days of mourning for the king's daughters came to an end, and they buried them beside the well of Clébach, and they made a round ditch after the manner of a ferta, because this is what the heathen Irish used to do, but we call it relic, that is, the remains of the maidens.

And the ferta was made over to Patrick with the bones of the holy virgins, and to his heirs after him for ever, and he made an earthen church in that place.
Tírechán 26

St Patrick teaching and baptising

And the maidens said as with one voice and one heart: 'Teach us with all diligence how we can believe in the heavenly king, so that we may see him face to face. Tell us, and we will do as you say.'

And Patrick said: 'Do you believe that through baptism you cast off the sin of your father and mother?'

They answered: 'We believe."

'Do you believe in penance after sin?'

'We believe.'

'Do you believe in life after death?

Do you believe in the resurrection on the day of judgement?'

'We believe.'

'Do you believe in the unity of the Church?'

'We believe.'

And they were baptized, with a white garment over their heads.

Saint Patrick and baptism - Tírechán

Baptism is, of course, very important in Saint Patrick's mission. We do not have his own writings except for the obvious importance he gives to baptism in his Confessio "I have baptised thousands." The location of Saint Patrick's Cathedral is said to be that of a holy well that he used when bringing people of Ireland to Christ.

There are significant passages in Tírechán's text concerning Christian baptism and other aspect relating to the conversion of Irish people to Christian faith. God really "gave him the whole island with its people through an angel of the Lord" as Tírechán wrote.

The following excerpts are from the English translation of Tírechán by L.Bieler (subtitles added by me).

Bible is present in baptism
And when he had opened the book and baptized the man named Erc, he heard men behind his back laughing at him together because of that action, for they did not understand what he had done; and he baptized many thousand men on that day.
Tírechán 4.

Christ brought to Ireland church hierarchy, order and literacy 
Concerning the number of bishops whom he consecrated in Ireland, (that is,) 450. As regards priests, we cannot give a number, because he baptized people daily and read the letters to them and wrote alphabet-tables for them, and of some of them he made bishops and priests, who at a sober age (had ?) received baptism.
Tírechán 6.

Christian teaching and baptism
God gave him the whole island with its people through an angel of the Lord,
ii. and he taught them the law of the Lord,
iii. and baptized them with God's baptism,
iiii. and made known to them the cross of Christ,
and preached His resurrection;
Tírechán 18.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Saint Patrick, Pelagius and sin

Two Celtic Christians have a mission in the Church of God at the turn of the fourth/fifth century Anno Domini.

Austere monk Pelagius travels apparently from the British Isles to Rome where he is shocked by the moral liberties and life of supposedly Christians. The reason to the lax behaviour is, according to what we know about Pelagius' theology, in the wrong preaching of God's grace.

Augustine's pious "demand what you want, God, and give me what you demand" seems to Pelagius to be the root of the evil that has crept into the Christian church. He is much more optimistic than Augustine about the ability of children of Adam and Eve to live according to God's will. The citizens of Rome, including Augustine himself, could not find a fault in his holy ways of life.

It has been suggested that Celtic Christianity carries some of the mental framework of British Isles with him, the religious attitudes of druids who saw men victorious in the fight with the powers of darkness, able to control such powers for evil and good. Man could even destroy the beasts of the dark in mighty battle. If so, Pelagius could be seen as representing optimistic, humanistic Christianity and indeed the Roman Catholic Church has adopted a half-Pelagian doctrine in which man is not doomed to failure but God's grace and man together work together for the eternal salvation of the baptised.

The other man with mission is Saint Patrick who is called to preach and baptise the inhabitants of Ireland. We only have two authentic documents written by him - in contrast to the numerous volumes by Saint Augustine and also Church fathers writings about Pelagius and his own surviving texts.

The Confession contains some reflection on some sin of the youth Saint Patrick remembers. The text is not long and perhaps not too much should be read into it. But the general impression we get from the Confessio is really very far from the memories and experiences of Saint Augustine he describes in his Confessions.

Could it be that both Saint Patrick and Pelagius indeed represent a somewhat more optimistic and positive view of human ability to fulfil the commandments of God than Saint Augustine? Can this be explained at least partly on the basis of their joint background in the early Christianity of British Isles?

By no means I suggest that Saint Patrick is "pelagian" or "augustinian". The comparison is more about the general cultural and spiritual framework from which the two men with mission, Saint Patrick and Pelagius, came.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Saint Patrick and Helias

That same night while I was sleeping, Satan strongly put me to the test – I will remember it as long as I live! It was as if an enormous rock fell on me, and I lost all power in my limbs.

Although I knew little about the life of the spirit at the time, how was it that I knew to call upon Helias?

While these things were happening, I saw the sun rise in the sky, and while I was calling “Helias! Helias!” with all my strength, the splendour of the sun fell on me; and immediately, all that weight was lifted from me.

I believe that I was helped by Christ the Lord, and that his spirit cried out for me. I trust that it will be like this whenever I am under stress, as the gospel says: “In that day, the Lord testifies, it will not be you will speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”
Confessio 20
Helias is an intriguing word. For example, Muirchú who was writing about two hundred years later understood the word as the biblical name who quickly became a saint also in the Christian church Eliah.
In that same night Satan attacked him vigorously in his sleep, as if burying him under huge rocks and crushing his limbs, but he invoked Elijah twice and at once the sun rose for him and its brightness dispelled all the shadows of darkness, and his strength was restored to him.
Muirchú I.2
I wonder would Saint Patrick invoke a Saint in such a manner as he was according to his own confession an intimate friend of Lord Jesus who spend most of his free time talking with Him in prayer.

The translator of Confessio text used in this post suggests that the word may actually refer to Helios, Sun, and refers to another passage in the Confessio where Saint Patrick talks about Jesus Christ as the true Sun.
The sun which we see rising for us each day at his command, that sun will never reign nor will its splendour continue forever; and all those who adore that sun will come to a bad, miserable penalty. We, however, believe in and adore the true sun, that is, Christ, who will never perish. Nor will they perish who do his will but they will abide forever just as Christ will abide forever[Nota]. He lives with God the Father almighty and with the Holy Spirit before the ages began, and now, and for all the ages of ages. Amen.
Confessio 60
The suggestion that this is the Helias in the nightly fight with the Devil seems quite convincing.

Constantine the Great was a worshipper of Sun Invictus who was a popular god in Rome from Empereor Aurelian on during the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. In the Sun he saw the sign and hear thd voice "in hoc signae vincent".

After becoming the sole ruler Constantine the Great dedicated the joyous feast of Sun in Rome to the Son of God, Jesus Christ giving thereby Western Christianity the date of December 25th for celebrating His birth.

This is genuine Roman background for connecting the Son of God with the Sun.

What was the local Celtic religious tradition - did the druids and others worship Sun and would Saint Patrick have such influence in his faith?

Cosmic Christ and Saint Patrick

Interior of St Patrick Cathedral Dublin (1199 AD)
National Shrine of Ireland
photo Historical Cathedrals
According to critical analysis Saint Patrick (386-460), the Apostle of Ireland, wrote himself the Confessio and Epistola (Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus). These two are the only authentic documents surviving from his own writings. Early on in his Confessio Saint Patrick confesses his Christian faith in a way that includes strong rejection of Arianism without mentioning him. The controversy about Arius' teachings was raging in the Church beyond the borders of Rome and at the time of Saint Patrick the Gothic Kingdoms were still Arian.

In a 2011 post Jesus le Petite Prince I wrote about the fundamental change in our perspective when we look at the Universe through our modern instruments. Once we figure out the place of planet Earth in the enormous Cosmic context modern space sciences have revealed, the ruler of our planet is a diminutive character, indeed!

Deacon Arius was a rationalist more than a theologian and he reasoned that if Son was born of Father there must have been time when the Son did not yet exist. Arius also emphasized the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John 14:28 "Father is greater then me".

There is no surviving Arian confession of faith summarizing his views that I know about but something of it has survived in the confession of Wulfila, the Apostle of the Goths, which displays how dominant was the Arian intellectual play on the relation between Father and Son.

It is therefore very educational and interesting to hear how Saint Patrick emphasizes the divinity of Jesus Christ when confessing his Trinitarian faith:
This is because there is no other God, nor will there ever be, nor was there ever, except God the Father. He is the one who was not begotten, the one without a beginning, the one from whom all beginnings come, the one who holds all things in being – this is our teaching.

And his son, Jesus Christ, whom we testify has always been, since before the beginning of this age, with the father in a spiritual way. He was begotten in an indescribable way before every beginning. Everything we can see, and everything beyond our sight, was made through him.

He became a human being; and, having overcome death, was welcomed to the heavens to the Father. The Father gave him all power over every being, both heavenly and earthly and beneath the earth. Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ, in whom we believe and whom we await to come back to us in the near future, is Lord and God.

He is judge of the living and of the dead; he rewards every person according to their deeds. He has generously poured on us the Holy Spirit the gift and promise of immortality, who makes believers and those who listen to be children of God and co-heirs with Christ.

This is the one we acknowledge and adore – one God in a trinity of the sacred name.
The Confessio of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick is extraordinarily biblical writer and his Confessio contains interwoven in his text over 500 references to the Scriptures. The quoted passage refers, among other verses, Saint Paul's Letter to the Colossians
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Col 1:15-17 NIV
Everything we can see, and everything beyond our sight, was made through him.

For us today this "everything" means the entire world as modern natural sciences teach us. Saint Patrick gives us in his confession of faith a truly Cosmic Christ!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

St. Patrick and Tírechán - on the paths of truth

"Bishop Tírechán has written this, based on the words and the book of bishop Ultán, whose fosterling and pupil he was."

Thus begins the Life of Saint Patrick by Bishop Tírechán. The book is truthful and obviously a valuable historical source about the beginning of Christianity in Ireland. It is filled with names of people and places. As a skilful historian Terry O’Hagan is able to reconstruct how, when and where Tírechán worked and so to bring the ancient book alive in a truly fascinating way.

Bishop Tírechán does painstaking research and apparently risks his own health and life by walking on those treacherous desert roads between Irish towns and villages of the time. His efforts are not in vain and the world learns so much about early history of Christian Ireland and about the character, work and significance of Saint Patrick from him.

It is important for us to note how the Golden Legends reach the nations and people's hearts while dry historical facts and research remain in the chambers of historians and other scholars.

Apparently that is how it is.

St. Patrick and Muirchú - the Decay of truth

The difference between Saint Patrick's Confessio and Muirchú's Life of Saint Patrick is truly shocking.

How it is possible, that in less than two hundred years Irish Christianity changes so much from the truthful, simple and Biblical world of the man whose name is Patrick to the murky religious waters of Muirchú where truth obviously has very little importance?

Reading Muirchú after the Confessio is at least for me a truly disgusting experience and makes me again to admire the skill of the Devil in spoiling the wheat fields of Christ.

Ireland is, of course, not the only place where there is such a slide down from Christianity emphasizing Truth to a form of religion enjoying all sorts of holy tales and entertaining legends people have invented to tell about the greatness of this Saint or that.

The life of Saint Martin of Tours by SS contains many wondrous things but the writer is very careful to tell only what he believes on the basis of his own examination and evaluation to be true. But after a few hundred years we meet such a growth of legendary stories that drown the voice of truth under them.

Only diligent analysis can extract truthful elements from ancient documents like Muirchú which otherwise is causing great damage to the memory of the real Saint Patrick.

I fully agree with Elizabeth Dawson who uses the books by Muirchú and Tírechán to study not so much Saint Patrick who lived almost two hundred years earlier but the importance of conversion to Christianity and what was associated with it in seventh century A.D. Ireland.

This is not, however, how Christians then and now understood holy legends and the damage to the cause of the Kingdom of Heaven can be considerable.

Christ and Saint Patrick

Ebony and ivory in perfect harmony - valuestockphoto

The Confessio reflects the theological atmosphere of fourth and fifth centuries Anno Domino in the way Saint Patrick emphasizes Trinity and the role of Christ. In the background we can feel the battle between Arianism and Orthodox Christianity that was still raging especially in the Gothic world. Saint Patrick expresses his faith in Jesus Christ with deepest theological sentences of the Church.

It is remarkable how the Confessio is absolutely filled with Biblical references. The Hypertext Stack project giving the English translation uses a smart, non-intrusive quoting technique to provide relevant Bible verses in the text. Nevertheless, the editors still decided to limit the number of these references in order not to to clutter the text with them. Someone has calculated that Saint Patrick used more then five hundred verses from the Bible and Apocrypha in this relatively short text.

Saint Patrick expresses deepest love, humble gratefulness and simple countryman's faith in Jesus Christ, his Lord.  And Jesus has Himself merged in faith with His servant as Christ speaks through him to the Irish people and to the entire world. He as a person is a living letter of Christ.

The merging of Word of God with Saint Patrick's person happens without crushing the identity or personality of Saint Patrick as a human being with his strengths and weaknesses. Christ and Patrick are like the ebony and ivory of the piano keyboard in the song of Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney: they live in perfect harmony!

And what a life it is!

Saint Patrick

My name is Patrick

I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many.
My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae.
His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner.
I was about sixteen at the time.
My name is Patrick is a web site dedicated to the patron saint of Ireland. The site has rich contents and is maintained by the Royal Irish Academy.

Dating of St. Patrick's life
There is a problem in the historical dating of the Apostle of Ireland, Saint Patrick.
Uncritical acceptance of the Annals of Ulster would imply that he lived from 340 to 440, and ministered in what is modern-day Northern Ireland from AD 428 onwards. The dates of Patrick's life cannot be fixed with certainty but, on a widespread interpretation, he was active as a missionary in Ireland during the second half of the fifth century.
Birth 387 at Kilpatric near Dumbardon, Scotland
Died 493 at the age of 106 at Saul Dumpatric, Ireland
Catholic Encyclopaedia 1913, St Patrick

Alternative year for his death is 460 at the age of 73
St. Patrick's Day is March 17
Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, Holy Days

The writings of St. Patrick
 Wikipedia summarizes
Two authentic letters from him survive, from which come the only generally-accepted details of his life. When he was about 16, he was captured from his home by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family. After entering the Church, he returned to Ireland as an ordained bishop in the north and west of the island, but little is known about the places where he worked. By the seventh century, he had come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland. Most available details of his life are from later hagiographies from the seventh century onwards, and these are now not accepted without detailed criticism.

Two Latin letters survive which are generally accepted to have been written by St. Patrick. These are the Declaration (Latin: Confessio) and the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus (Latin: Epistola). The Declaration is the more important of the two. In it Patrick gives a short account of his life and his mission.

Catholic Encyclopaedia (1913 )has the following to say about the surviving documents
  • The "Confessio" and the "Epistola ad Coroticum" are recognized by all modern critical writers as of unquestionable genuineness. The best edition, with text, translation, and critical notes, is by Rev. Dr. White for the Royal Irish Academy, in 1905. 
  • The 34 canons of a synod held before the year 460 by St. Patrick, Auxilius, and Isserninus, though rejected by Todd and Haddan, have been placed by Professor Bury beyond the reach of controversy. 
  • Another series of 31 ecclesiastical canons entitled Synodus secunda Patritii, though unquestionably of Irish origin and dating before the close of the seventh century, is generally considered to be of a later date than St. Patrick. 
  • Two tracts (in P.L., LIII), entitled De abusionibus saeculi, and De Tribus habitaculis, were composed by St. Patrick in Irish and translated into Latin at a later period. Passages from them are assigned to St. Patrick in the Collectio Hibernensis Canonum, which is of unquestionable authority and dates from the year 700 (Wasserschleben, 2nd ed., 1885). This Collectio Hibernensis also assigns to St. Patrick the famous synodical decree: "Si quae quaestiones in hac insula oriantur, ad Sedem Apostolicam referantur." (If any difficulties arise in this island, let them be referred to the Apostolic See). 
  • The beautiful prayer, known as Faeth Fiada, or the Lorica of St. Patrick (St. Patrick's Breast-Plate), first edited by Petrie in his History of Tara, is now universally accepted as genuine. 
  • The Dicta Sancti Patritii, or brief sayings of the saint, preserved in the Book of Armagh, are accurately edited by Fr. Hogan, S.J., in Documenta de S. Patritio (Brussels, 1884). 
  • The old Irish text of The Rule of Patrick has been edited by O'Keeffe, and a translation by Archbishop Healy in the appendix to his Life of St. Patrick (Dublin, 1905). It is a tract of venerable antiquity, and embodies the teaching of the saint. 
 Catholic Encyclopaedia

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Unification of Celtic Christianity with Rome

We have noted in earlier posts how the Gothic Arian church developed in fifth and sixth centuries and how the Pope in Rome gained power in Spain in the Third Council of Toledo 589. Expansion of Islam during the seventh century wiped out the remains of North African Gothic Christianity.

Standard Western tonsure
Fra Angelico wikimedia
Celtic Christianity was changed more gently with the arrival of the Gregorian missionaries to Britain in early 7th century when Islam was spreading and soon threatening Christianity in Spanish peninsula. It suffered greatly from the Vikings who pillaged Britain, Scotland and also Ireland for over two centuries but Thor was unable to unseat Christ from His throne in the British Isles.

Symbolically speaking we may say that the sign that Celtic or Insular Christianity (insula, island) had merged with Latin Church was when the monks tonsure changed to standard style and the date of Easter was calculated according to the Roman system. All in all, the process took some four hundred years and we may suspect that many other local traditions persisted among the Celts at this time.

Unification during centuries
Saxon connections with the greater Latin West led to papal preferment and brought the Celtic-speaking peoples into closer contact with the orthodoxy of the councils.

The customs and traditions particular to Insular Christianity became a matter of dispute, especially the matter of the proper calculation of Easter. Synods were held in Ireland, Gaul, and England (e.g. the Synod of Whitby) but a degree of variation continued in Britain after the Ionan church accepted the Roman date.

The Easter question was settled at various times in different places. The following dates are from A. W. Haddan and W. Stubbs (ed.), Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, 3 vols (Oxford, 1869-78), I, 112-3:
South Ireland, 626-8
North Ireland, 692
Northumbria (converted by Celtic missions), 664
East Devon and Somerset, the Celts under Wessex, 705
the Picts, 710
Iona, 716-8
Strathclyde, 721
North Wales, 768
South Wales, 777
Cornwall held out the longest of any, perhaps even, in parts, to the time of Bishop Aedwulf of Crediton (909)
Read the entire article in wikipedia

Early Christianity in Ireland

Christian high cross with Celtic cross

Using the same method as in previous posts I quote here part of a wikipedia article that nicely summarizes the matter of interest here, the arrival of Christianity to the Celtic speaking world.
By the early fifth century the religion had spread to Ireland, which had never been part of the Roman Empire. The highly successful 5th-century mission of Saint Patrick established churches in conjunction with civitates like his own in Armagh; small enclosures in which groups of Christians, often of both sexes and including the married, lived together, served in various roles and ministered to the local population.

Irish society had no history of literacy until the introduction of Christianity, yet within a few generations of the arrival of the first missionaries the monastic and clerical class of the isle had become fully integrated with the culture of Latin letters. Besides Latin, Irish ecclesiastics developed a written form of Old Irish.

During the late 5th and 6th centuries true monasteries became the most important centres: in Patrick's own see of Armagh the change seems to have happened before the end of the 5th century, thereafter the bishop was the abbot also. Finnian of Clonard is said to have trained the Twelve Apostles of Ireland at Clonard Abbey.

In the sixth and seventh centuries, Irish monks established monastic institutions in parts of modern-day Scotland (especially Columba, also known as Colmcille or, in Old Irish, Colum Cille), and on the continent, particularly in Gaul (especially Columbanus). Monks from Iona under St. Aidan founded the See of Lindisfarne in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria in 635, whence Celtic practice heavily influenced northern England.

The achievements of insular art, in illuminated manuscripts like the Book of Kells, high crosses, and metalwork like the Ardagh Chalice remain very well known, and in the case of manuscript decoration had a profound influence on Western medieval art. The manuscripts were certainly produced by and for monasteries, and the evidence suggests that metalwork was produced in both monastic and royal workshops, perhaps as well as secular commercial ones.

Irish monks also founded monasteries across the continent, exerting influence greater than many more ancient continental centres. The first issuance of a papal privilege granting a monastery freedom from episcopal oversight was that of Pope Honorius I to Bobbio Abbey, one of Columbanus's institutions.
Read the entire article here
The idea in this summary is that Christianity may have entered Ireland - which never was under Roman occupation - during the fifth century from Britain and that it began with the mission of Saint Patrick (387-460). The text emphasizes the importance of Irish monks later on as Jesus Christ reached with them Scotland and continental Europe.

Early Christianity in Celtic Britain

Britain & Ireland in the mid-5th century CE,
between the Roman withdrawal and the founding of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms
Brythonic Goidelic Pictish areas

The history of Christianity in Britain can be divided by the time before and after the mission sent by Pope Gregory I the Great (540-604). To some degree it corresponds also with the demographics so that the early phase concurs with the mainly Celtic presence in the British Isles before the Anglo-Saxon invasion and conquest.

A wikipedia article summarizes nicely the early period
Christianity reached Britain by the third century of the Christian era, the first recorded martyrs in Britain being St. Alban and Aaron and Julius, citizens of Carlisle, during the reign of Diocletian.

Gildas dated the faith's arrival to the latter part of the reign of Tiberius.

Christianisation intensified with the legalization of the Christian religion under Constantine in the early 4th century and its promotion by subsequent Christian emperors, but in 407 the Empire withdrew its legions from the province to defend Italy from Visigothic attacks in which the city of Rome would be sacked in 410. The legions did not permanently return to Britain, Roman tax and army influence ended on the isle and, with the decline of Roman imperial political influence, Insular Christianity retained distinct traditions and practices through the era of Church Councils.

Clerics such as Germanus of Auxerre accused some British bishops of the heresy of Pelagianism and sought their removal from office.

According to hagiographies written some centuries later, Illtud and his pupils David, Gildas, Paul Aurelian, Samson and Deiniol from the next generation, were leading figures in sixth-century Britain. Some of them were also active in Brittany.

Others who influenced the development of British Christianity include Dubricius, Cadoc, Petroc, Piran, Ia and Kentigern (also known as Mungo).

A monastery-centred establishment seems to have grown up in sixth-century Britain, though our knowledge of this period there is limited.

There may have been interaction with Ireland at this time, perhaps partly brought about by a very severe plague in Ireland in 548/9, only a few years after the extreme weather events of 535–536.

However, Bede speaks of "the monastery of Bangor, in which, it is said, there was so great a number of monks, that the monastery being divided into seven parts, with a superior set over each, none of those parts contained less than three hundred men, who all lived by the labour of their hands."

At the end of the 6th century, the face of Christianity in Britain was forever changed by the Gregorian mission.
Read the entire wikipedia article here
Roman rule was not totally limited south of Hadrian's wall but native Celtic speakers all over the British Isles must have associated Christianity with the Latin culture and foreign occupation. The summary above suggests that fourth century was an intensive time for the growth of the Kingdom of Heaven in Britain and that the plant of Christianity survived the departure of the legions at the time of the sack of Rome, Saint Augustine and Pelagius.

Pelagius' background

Wikipedia gives a compact summary of the life of Pelagius
Pelagius was born about 354. While his exact birthplace is not known, the Encyclopedia of World Biography states that "widespread evidence indicates that he came originally from the British Isles", although a few sources suggest he may have been born in Brittany in modern France. [Paula K. Byers, Encyclopedia of World Biography (1998) p.189 - Pelagius,]

He was a Culdee Monk and wore the moon shaped tonsure of that ascetic Celtic Johannine Christian Order. He became better known c. 380 when he moved to Rome to write and teach about his ascetic practices.There, he wrote a number of his major works:

  • De fide Trinitatis libri III ("On Faith in the Trinity: Three Books")
  • Eclogarum ex divinis Scripturis liber primus ("Excerpts out of Divine Scriptures: One Book")
  • Commentarii in epistolas S. Pauli ("Commentary on the Epistles of Saint Paul")
Unfortunately, most of his work survives only in the quotations of his opponents. Only in the past century have works attributable to Pelagius been identified as such. Pelagius's commentary on Romans is currently available in English, as translated by Theodore De Bruyn (Clarendon Press, 2002), as well as a collection of other writings by Pelagius himself, translated into English by B. R. Rees (The Boydell Press, 1998).

In Rome, Pelagius became concerned about the moral laxity of society. He blamed this laxity on the theology of divine grace preached by Augustine, among others. Around 405, it is said that Pelagius heard a quotation from Augustine's Confessions: "Give me what you command and command what you will". This verse concerned Pelagius because it seemed that Augustine was teaching doctrine contrary to traditional Christian understandings of grace and free will, turning man into a mere automaton.

When Alaric sacked Rome in 410, Pelagius and his close follower Caelestius fled to Carthage where he continued his work and briefly encountered St. Augustine in person. He was subsequently in the Holy Land as late as 418.

Early Culdee monks in Ireland, Scotland?
The summary suggests that the order of ascetic Culdee monks existed in British Isles already on the 4th century AD. Credence to such early presence of Christianity in Ireland and Scotland - when continental Europe beyond Rome was still largely pagan - is given in one of the two authentic letters by the Apostle of Ireland, Saint Patrick (386-640 AD).
The second piece of evidence that comes from Patrick's life is the Letter to Coroticus or Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, written after a first remonstrance was received with ridicule and insult. In this, St. Patrick writes an open letter announcing that he has excommunicated Coroticus because he had taken some of St. Patrick's converts into slavery while raiding in Ireland. The letter describes the followers of Coroticus as "fellow citizens of the devils" and "associates of the Scots [of Dalriada and later Argyll] and Apostate Picts". Based largely on an eighth century gloss, Coroticus is taken to be King Ceretic of Alt Clut. It has been suggested that it was the sending of this letter which provoked the trial which Patrick mentions in the Confession. [Todd, James Henthorn (1863), "The Epistle on Coroticus", St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, Dublin: Hodges, Smith, &Co. (published 1864), pp. 383–385]
Read the entire wikipedia article here
The language is ecclesiastic but if the Picts were already apostates at the time of St. Patrick writing we may justly suspect that there is at least some earlier history of Christianity in the region that is reflected by these words.

Christ and Celtic Ireland

Christ throned (detail)
Book of Kells 800 A.D.
The relationship between Jesus Christ and the inhabitants of Ireland has been of profound significance to the Kingdom of Heaven. The roots go deep in European history placing Ireland in the forefront in the growth of the Kingdom.

At 400 AD we meet a noble Christian visitor in Rome who had arrived to the capital from far away. If Pelagius indeed came from among the Celts of Ireland the date is very early indeed; for example, the Franks, Germans and Anglo-Saxons were not yet Christians. Pelagius probably arrived to Rome by land route and travelled through many pagan regions (there may have been a sea route from Ireland to Italy).

Two literary treasures signify the presence of Jesus Christ in the hearts of these first millennium people
  • the Gothic Wulfila Bible (6th Century AD) - Codex Argenteus - written in silver is a great treasure kept in the Carolina Rediviva Library in Uppsala, Sweden 
  • Book of Kells (800 AD) - Leabhar Cheanannais - with its incredible art is considered by many to be the most beautiful book ever made and is a national treasure of Ireland kept in the Trinity College Library in Dublin.
Both manuscripts are outstanding documents of the Kingdom of God in its early days of expansion from Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to conquer the Empire of Rome and then to reach to the ends of the world as Jesus had commanded.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying,
All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Matthew 28:18-20 NIV
Goths were living on the border regions of Rome and Byzantium and we have followed the way of the Word of God into their midst.

But as Ireland is so far and beyond many regions were different forms of paganism and Roman religions were dominant how come we find a holy man coming from there to Rome and causing such a noise that Bishop Augustine takes serious notice?

How did the Kingdom of God first reach Ireland? What happened there?

Note that while the Medieval Protestants aligned strongly with St. Augustine the largest Christian Church today, the Roman Catholic Church, is often called "half-Pelagian" so this is not a minor character.

And to emphasize the importance of Ireland to Christ let us also remember the crucial role missionaries from the monasteries in Ireland and Scotland had in the victories of the Kingdom of Heaven in Germany and Northern Europe and elsewhere.