Saint-Patrick’s day excerpt

st-patrickIt is easy to miss the larger context of St. Partrick today.  During the early Middle Ages, the the Roman world was  in decline in continental Europe, but Celtic Christianity and spirituality were growing .  Celtic Christianity was marked by a belief that God was very near, that the spiritual world was very real, and that all of nature and life were sacred.  Celtic monasticism, in contrast to other forms, was very focused on reaching out into the world, rather than retreating from it.

Here is a small excerpt from a research paper I wrote on Celtic spirituality, theology, and mission.

…Another important starting point for Celtic theology is its unmistakably strong Trinitarianism.  Although the three-leaf clover is often recalled as an early Irish tool for explaining the Trinity, Olsen notes that this would not have been necessary. Celtic folk religion already had a conception of triune gods or gods that traveled in three or had three heads.  Saint Patrick’s Confession of Faith demonstrates a robust Trinitarian theology in sync with the Nicean (325) creed.  God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, divinely empowered believers to grow into “sons of God” and preach Jesus so that every tongue could confess that their Lord and God was Jesus Christ.  The repetition of the three persons of God is a common motif in Irish liturgy as noted in the opening and closing of St. Patrick’s breastplate:

“I bind unto myself the name,
 The strong name of the Trinity,
 By invocation of the same,
 The three in one, and One in Three, Of whom all nature has creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word, Praise to the Lord of my salvation, Salvation is of Christ the Lord.”

It is also helpful to recognize the theological ending point or trajectory of Celtic theology.  Celtic eschatology largely shaped the rest of their theology and practice.  Christian Celts largely viewed humanity as on a precipice of the end of times.  Patrick’s eschatology is a great example.  Jesus words in Matthew 24:14 must have rung in Patrick’s ears, “And this Gospel will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  O’Laughlin goes as far as to suggest that Patrick saw Ireland as the far outer limit of preaching (with the center being Jerusalem).  This end of the earth, end of time orientation is in stark contrast to the victorious Augustinian, “Kingdom of God” perspective.  It is also what ignited Celtic communalism, radical spirituality and a profound sense of mission.”

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