Notes from Exile
Saint Patrick's "Jewish" Message
By David Irby
Mar 20, 2005 - 7:30:00 PM

IRELAND—St. Patrick's Day is big in the USA because it is a day when everyone likes to become "a little bit Irish." This includes a lot of good-natured silliness; raucous parades, shamrocks, leprechauns, green hats, green hair and faces, and even green beer.  And needless to say, often "green gills" from all of that on the following morning!

It's much the same here in Ireland, of course.  But St. Patrick's Day also has its serious side.  Catholics are required to go to mass and most Protestants celebrate the day, too.


There a lot of myths about Patrick, and some even think that he is a "myth" himself.  But he was a real person, one who even left us an autobiography from which we learn that he was a Celt of "British" race similar to today's Welsh, who lived in Roman Britain long before the Anglo-Saxons came to what is now England.  His father was both a Roman civic official and a deacon of a Church, which was "Catholic" in that it was the Empire's official religion.

Photo courtesy of Google

But because that Empire was beginning to collapse in Britain, young Patrick was captured by Irish brigands and made to serve as a slave in Ireland.  But he was a devout boy who believed that this was a "just penance" for previous "faithlessness" on his part. 


Later he escaped and made his way to Europe (apparently Roman Gaul) where he became a monk.  And in A.D. 432, he was made a bishop and returned to preach the Christian religion to his Irish former captors.


His writings, while very brief, are a precious window into Britain and Ireland of his time and also of his religion, which was that of the people he calls "the Holy Romans."  But perhaps his most important statement is that which he directs against the Celtic pagans' "Sun God":

"I hold it certain, that I shall have gained my soul along with my body, because without doubt, we shall rise on that day in the glory of the Sun; that is to say, in the glory of Jesus Christ, because it is from Him and through Him and in Him that we are to reign.  For the Sun, which we see (with our bodily eyes) rises daily at God's command for our sake, but it will never reign, nor will its splendor abide.  And all who adore it will come to punishment as unhappy men.  (But) We on the other hand (are people) who believe in the True Sun and adore Him, Christ, Who will never perish."


But how did Patrick around A.D. 490 know that the Sun was not an all-powerful (and sometimes malevolent) "god," but that it is rather a "created thing"; that is, in our modern terminology, a "material thing" long before that could be proved by science? 

He was able to do so by a combination of faith and logic. He was really reiterating the same combination of faith and logic which sustained the Jews in their captivity at Babylon a thousand years previously (587-538 B.C.) 


For it was at that time that people whom scholars call "the priests" composed the first chapter of Genesis (almost certainly as a means to hold their people to their faith against the onslaught of Babylon's mythological paganism) in which it is stated that it was indeed Israel's God who, "In the beginning created the heavens and the Earth, and also that he "made two great lights" to govern the day and the night."


Today there are those who create false dichotomies between scientific understandings of the world (most notably that of "evolution") and "religious truth."  But there are also those who are able to keep these two "ways of knowing" in their proper tension, one with the other, and who also understand that the "religious truth" which was first learned by the Jews in their travails and later reiterated by such people as Patrick (who must have meditated long on these in his own time of enslavement) which banished the superstitious myths of paganism and laid the groundwork for the forms of scientific reasoning which have made Western Civilization great. 


So, next time St. Patrick's Day rolls around, perhaps it would be well amid all of the green hats and green beer (and green gills the following morning!) to remember the real message of St. Patrick and that of the ancient Jewish "priests" at Babylon who really laid the foundations of today's great civilization.


A Westwood native, David Irby is a writer and social justice activist, who is now based in Dingle, in beautiful Ireland.  Contact him via .

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