Posts Tagged Christian History
Two days ago, people all over the world celebrated the holiday St. Patrick’s Day, probably by wearing green and looking out for the little people. Much like Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day is a beloved holiday, but many people know little of its origins. I hope I can shed some light on this man, who was the first missionary to a pagan Ireland.
Patricius was born in the 4th century in Kilpatrick, Scotland to a relatively well-to-do family. During his youth, he wrote that he did not much care for God and thought that priests were fools. His entire life changed, however, when he was taken captive by Irish raiders when he was fourteen and taken as a slave to a pagan land. At this time, Ireland was entirely unevangelized, and the people worshipped the forces of nature, had priests called Druids, and were generally superstitious. Patricius became a shepherd of sheep and had little clothing and food. It’s a miracle that he survived for the six years he did.
As many people are wont to do in dire circumstances, Patricius began to pray, remembering the God he learned of in his youth. He wrote, “Tending flocks was my daily work, and I would pray constantly during the daylight hours. The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more – and faith grew and the Spirit was roused, so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers and after dark nearly as many again, even while I remained in the woods or on the mountain. I would wake and pray before daybreak – through snow, frost, rain – nor was there any sluggishness in me (such as I experience nowadays) because then the Spirit within me was ardent.”
One day, Patricius heard a voice telling him that it was time to go home. Travelling at least 200 miles to the coast, Patricius found a ship that would give him passage to his homeland. Trusting in God he went; but not without great trial. When they landed, they began to traverse inland. They found only desolation (perhaps due to the Gaul’s invasions). They found themselves for some time without food, and the captain challenged Patricius: “How about it, Christian? You say your god is great and all-powerful, so why can’t you pray for us? We’re starving to death, and there’s little chance of our ever seeing a living soul!”
Patricius replied, “From the bottom of your heart, turn trustingly to the Lord my God, for nothing is impossible to him. And today he will send you food for your journey until you are filled, for he has an abundance everywhere.” Not moments later, a heard of pigs come running down the hill towards them, and we can be certain they feasted well that night.
Reaching home, Patricius was quite a different person than when he was captured. As he stayed in his parent’s house one night, Patricius had a dream. He saw a man he knew in Ireland standing before him imploring, “We beg you to come and walk among us once more.” He was stabbed to the heart with conviction, and began his studies as a bishop. Patricius would become perhaps the first great missionary since Paul the Apostle.
Patricius began to evangelize the Irish people. Many legends abound about this time of his life – some say he could change into a deer to hide from his enemies – but we can be certain that, as always, there were those who hated him and those who loved him. It is evident that Patricius had a deep love and care for the people God has called him to evangelize. He was concerned with the slaves, saying, “But it is the women kept in slavery who suffer the most – and who keep their spirits up despite the menacing and terrorizing they must endure. The Lord gives grace to his many handmaids; and though they are forbidden to do so, they follow him with backbone.”
Thomas Cahill says of Patricius in How the Irish Saved Civilization, “Patrick devoted the last thirty years of his life – from, roughly, his late forties to his late seventies – to his warrior children, that they might ‘seize the everlasting kingdoms’ with all the energy and intensity they had lately devoted to killing and enslaving one another and seizing one another’s kingdoms. When he used that phrase in his open letter to the British Christians, he was echoing the mysterious saying of Jesus, which seems almost to have been uttered with the Irish in mind: ‘From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.’ In the Gospel story, the passionate, the outsized, the out-of-control have a better shot at seizing heaven than the contained, the calculating, and those of whom this world approves. Patrick, indeed, seems to have been attracted to the same kinds of oddball, off-center personalities that attracted Jesus, and this attraction alone makes him unusual in the history of churchmen.”
St. Patrick did more for our world than perhaps we can ever know. He wrote of his constant dangers, and this is how I shall end:
“Every day I am ready to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved – whatever may come my way. But I am not afraid of any of these things, because of the promises of heaven; for I have put myself in the hands of God almighty.”
This is a link to what is known as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”, a famous prayer. Though it probably was not written by the man himself, it is a powerful prayer and represents everything he stood for: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick’s_Breastplate
Much of what I discovered about St. Patrick’s story was found in the book I mentioned, “How the Irish Saved Civilization” by Thomas Cahill. It’s an interesting read, particularly if you love history, and puts the importance of St. Patrick in context.
For a fun video about the other little things about St. Patrick’s Day, check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5tth-ntGO0
That delightful holiday, Valentine’s Day, is soon to arrive, and for some of you it may be an enchanting day where you get to spend time with a beloved, or, for those who have no such special friend, I hope it will be a time of remembering Christ’s love for the church. Whatever your feelings may be for Valentine’s Day – dread, joy, or bitterness – I hope you hear me out on the history of Valentine’s Day which, surprisingly, has little to do with romance. In doing this, I hope to remind you what our lives are really all about.
Valentine’s Day was set in our calendars back in 496 AD by Pope Gelasius I in honor of three saints named Valentine. All three are honored as martyrs, but it is primarily with Valentine of Rome, who lived around 270 AD during the reign of Emperor Claudius, that I am concerned with. Not much is known about him, and for this reason the Catholic Church has decided to remove the holiday from their religious festivals. However, we may perhaps truth in legends, for every tale has its origins in some fact.
As the story goes, Valentine was a Christian priest during the reign of Claudius who, like most Emperors before him, persecuted the church heavily. Many Christians were thrown into cruel prisons, where they were beaten, tortured, and left in poor conditions. Valentine had had enough, and began saving prisoners covertly. Another tale reports he was performing secret Christian marriages, though this may be an addition to add romance to Valentine’s history. Nonetheless, he was discovered by the Emperor and was immediately jailed for his faith. It is said that Valentine had an interview with Claudius himself, and he was asked what he thought of the Roman gods. I imagine him answering in this fashion:
“The gods of the Romans are indeed no gods, O Emperor, but are sticks and stones made by men’s hands. There is only one true God, the God of all the heavens and the earth and thou shalt be answerable to Him, O Emperor, for thy actions. Yet this God sent His Son to us as a sacrifice that we might be forgiven our misdeeds, and He alone is Lord of all the earth.”
It is also said that Claudius was impressed with Valentine’s speech, yet, angered that he was the one being proselytized and not Valentine, Claudius threw him into prison.
Yet he continued to minister, preaching to the guards in the prison. One guard, a good man, had adopted a blind girl as his daughter, and asked if perhaps God would have mercy on his daughter. Valentine prayed, and soon the blind girl could see. There was great rejoicing and glorification of God, and the guard and his family became Christians. Valentine found great joy, even in the deepest darkness.
Of course Claudius heard what had happened. It seemed this Valentine would not, for any price or penalty, cease speaking of this Jesus. Thus, Valentine was beheaded.
John 15: 13 reads, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” Valentine was willing to lay down his life for the cause of Christ, and, like Paul before him, became an “ambassador in bonds” (Eph. 6:20). He knew the immeasurable worth of Christ.
Unfortunately, much of Valentine’s Day is commercialization now; it’s all about chocolate, hearts, roses, and, as a friend of mine put it, “a short, chubby toddler coming at you with a weapon.” Alas, we are too prone to forget the important things and care too much about the trivial.
Valentine’s Day is a holiday about love. Love is not what the world would have us believe it is, though: a mushy feeling you get, like butterflies playing ping pong in your intestines, lightheadedness, and an irresistible force to be obeyed. 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 says, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Nothing about feelings here. Love is about sacrifice, and, primarily, selflessness.
True love was expressed for man upon the cross where Jesus died. Romans 5:8 reads, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” There was nothing we could do about our condition: we were entirely without hope, estranged from God with no bridge to get us back. Then Christ came and, offering His own life as the perfect sacrifice, gave Himself for our sins. “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
If you have someone you love this Valentine’s, rejoice in that, inasmuch as it is God given. But whether you do or do not, know that you shall not ever find fulfillment in any love save God’s, for He is the essence of love. Delight in Him, and you shall find a fountain overflowing that shall not run dry. In all things, pray to be more like St. Valentine, who gave his all for the gospel, and that Christ would be exalted in your life or your death, now and forevermore.