St. Patrick and the truth about the shamrock

St. Patrick. Without him, we would be a different civilization today.

My love of St. Patrick began when I was well into my twenties.  When I was a kid, I knew very little (heck, I probably still know very little) about my Irish heritage. Dad would tell me stories about how the Irish and the Dutch in our small home town just didn’t get along. I knew that we were Irish, and the quaint Mennonites were all Dutch. And that was pretty much that.

I began to fall in love with Celtic things when I was twenty. That was when I first heard Clannad. They had a video on a fly-by-night video channel that came and went my sophomore year in college. But it was beautiful and haunting, and I never forgot it. Here it is.

Clannad- I will find you

So I started doing a little reading and researching into my heritage. Along the way, I stumbled across Loreena Mckennit and her music. One of her albums was The Book of Secrets. Here is the prologue to that album.

Loreena McKennitt “Prologue” The book of secrets

So being a complete geek, I actually read all the stuff on the cd cover. And she mentions this 1500 year old Bible, The Book of Kells. And she says something about Thomas Cahill‘s How the Irish Saved Civilization. Back then I was broke as a convict, so I went without a few meals, and I bought the book.



So, like the Shamrock, there are three things to be said about St. Patrick that are being forgotten today.

1. Forgiveness is the grace that will lead us home.

St. Patrick was actually English. He was captured and enslaved by Irish pirates. Yet, he forgave them, and brought the Word of God to them. I’ve worked fairly hard in my life. I only have a vague idea of what true slavery is like. But I can tell you, I don’t have Christian thoughts toward my employees. I think if I got free of them…I might give them something very different from the Word of God……(but I guess that’s why he’s a Saint, and I ain’t!!!)

Here’s a cute version of the story.

St. Patrick

2. Scholarship is important, no matter what your station or  so-called intelligence.

Anyhow, there is an amazing story in How the Irish Saved Civilization, about a man who was exploring Ireland in the eighteenth century. He was being ferried across a river, and noticed that the ferryman’s son was reading aloud to his father….in Latin! This simple, humble lad was being taught Latin by his own father. And it turned out that the family had owned the book for hundreds of years. Until about 1840, that was not a totally uncommon thing in Ireland. Books nearly as old as The Book of Kells were the textbooks for simple farm boys. Education was felt to be essential by even the simplest of people.

And it turned out that there was over a millennium of tradition, going back to the monks that had been taught by St. Patrick himself. A tradition of scholarship and humble Christian service. And without those Irish monks, many of the Roman works of antiquity would be lost to us today.

3. We can find profound truths in the natural world that surrounds us.

While the Veggietales video makes fun of paganism, that world view still had a powerful hold on the mind of men back then. Even the greatest saints were at least somewhat influenced by it. Perhaps that is why Patrick could relate to pagans. He had a similar view of nature. He revered nature, not so much because She was holy, but because Her Father was Holy.  I won’t debate the Trinity here (or even the existence of God) but the best example of the principle before the twentieth century was St. Patrick’s metaphor of the shamrock. Other than some writing by C. S. Lewis, I have found nothing that explained the concept of the Trinity better.

Patrick’s Rune:

In this fateful hour

I call on all heaven with its power

And the sun with its brightness

And the snow with its whiteness

The fire with all the strength it hath

And the lightning with its rapid wrath

The winds with their swiftness

The sea with its deepness

The rocks with their steepness

And the earth with its starkness

All these I place

By God’s almighty help and grace

Between myself and the powers of darkness