The King of Glory
A shorter edition this week but still packed with good stuff. Dr Carly Macnamara's second article on St Patrick and some links to the good stuff you might have missed.
This is a shorter edition this week as next week we are publishing again as it is of course Good Friday. Below is a short reflection from me (Eric Hanna) and the second part of our St Patrick article by the excellent Dr Carolyn Macnamara of the University of Glasgow. There is also some links to a few articles you may have missed over the last month or two. We are blessed to have had so many great writers, both known and not so known contribute their time and talent freely. Take a look through our archive for yourselves.
As ever if you like what you read share it with others. St Moluag’s Coracle is a free online Catholic magazine which I hope will play a part in the building up of our faith here in Scotland.
The King of Glory
Psalm 24:9 - 10
Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.
This verse forms part of the entrance Antiphon for Palm Sunday calling us to gaze at the coming King, the one who will ride on a Donkey through Jerusalem with the people laying palms at His feet in adoration. A week later, some of those same people will have been calling for His blood and the release of a criminal instead. How this is so reflective of our own hearts and our own faith. One end of the week to another can see Christ start as our centre and by the end of it become an afterthought or even the focus of our ire. Did Christ know this about the crowd? Of course He did, but that did not stop Him from fulfilling the will of the Father who desired through the death of His Son that we (the crowd) can become Sons and Daughters of the King through adoption. Whatever week/Lent/Year you may have had, God’s goodness is infinite, His grace ever present and His mercy abundant. Lets lift up our heads to the King of Glory - Jesus Christ.
Part II: Critical Thinking with St Patrick
Last time we spent our time looking at the context within which Patrick’s Confessio was written, and looking at his personal history which we are able to extract from the text itself. Today we will spend some time looking at a two specific moments that Patrick describes for us, and using the questions we identified last time to help us pull information out of these moments. Just as a reminder, the questions that will be most useful today are:
· Who is their audience?
· What are they claiming to write about?
· Are they writing about their own personal experience?
· What is their goal in writing?
We will first look at Patrick’s decision to return to Ireland with the goal of converting the Irish there. Patrick tell us that ‘yet He inspired me, before others, so that I would faithfully serve the nations with awe and reverence and without blame: the nations to whom the love of Christ brought me’ (§13). Patrick’s audience in this moment appears to be his peers in the church. He is making it clear that he believes his mission is one that comes directly from God.
Patrick also makes it clear to us that, once he was reunited with his family, they firmly ‘pleaded with [him], that after all the many tribulations [he] had undergone, [he] should never leave them again’ (§23). Near this time Patrick reports a vision (one of multiple that he recounts in his Confessio), when Victoricus appeared, ‘coming as it were from Ireland with so many letters they could not be counted. He gave [Patrick] one of these, and [he] read the beginning of the letter, the voice of the Irish people’ and this voice said to him ‘[w]e beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us’ (§23).
Here it is apparent that Patrick is building an ecclesiastical and spiritual foundation for the mission he undertook to Ireland. This is the kind of argument that should best hold against his clerical peers: that he was directly tasked by God with this mission, making it superior to any other task given by his peers, and unable to be challenged or stopped by them. In addition to Patrick’s family not wanting him to undertake his mission to Ireland, it seems the church was against the plan as well. Patrick tells us directly that he went ‘even against the wishes of some of [his] superiors’ in his mission to Ireland (§37) and that ‘there were many who forebade this mission (§46). Through all this, Patrick views himself as one in a cohort of holy historical people ‘whom the Lord foretold would announce his gospel in witness to all nations before the end of the world’ and he explicitly counts himself amongst that number; ‘we are witnesses that the gospel has been preached right out to where there is nobody else there!’ (§34).
From these statements by Patrick we can confirm that he is writing for an educated, ecclesiastical audience, likely his peers and superiors in the church. Although he is acting against advice and preference, he is firm in his claim that the authority for his actions and choices comes from the highest source, acting ‘with God guiding [him]’ (§37).
The mission Patrick undertook was difficult not only on the side of his church and family, but through his experiences and reception in Ireland as well. Patrick gives some insight into what it was like to travel as an outsider through early medieval Ireland. The difficulties involved are clearly indicated when Patrick says he ‘bore insults from unbelievers, so that I would hear the hatred directed at me for travelling here’ (§37). More specifically, Patrick informs us that he was arrested multiple times and even put in chains (§37). One particular instance involved Patrick being taken prisoner with his companions, bound in iron, and having all his possessions confiscated (§52). This condition persisted for fourteen days, whereupon they were all released, with their possessions returned to them (§52). Other occasions required Patrick to interact with the Irish court system, whereupon he was required to pay handsomely for the right to continue his mission; he tells us he ‘gave out not less than the price of fifteen persons’ (§53).
From this, we can understand that Patrick was vulnerable on his travels, and the taking of companions who were the noble sons of kings (§52), was an attempt to safeguard himself from attack and give himself standing in the customary legal system of Ireland. Patrick’s need for attendants, especially capable young men, is likewise obvious from his writings. Patrick’s conversion work included the noble sons and daughters of kings in Ireland, who forsook their secular duties in order to become ‘monks and virgins of Christ’ (§41). This is partially indicated via the displeasure of their fathers, as indicated by Patrick (§42). A present-day Christian, and perhaps even a fifth-century Christian, may celebrate these conversions, however we need to consider the perspective of the local kings whose children were converting. This was a time when alliances with neighbors were vital; alliances were frequently cemented via marriage. If kings’ children were taking vows of celibacy, then they were no longer available to help assure the security of their people through marriage alliances. Patrick’s purpose here is not to give a balanced and unbiased account of his travels. He is recounting the trials and tribulations of his mission to the same audience we have already determined. However, here we are able to pick through his purpose to get at underlying information that tells us not only about his own experiences, but also about the nature of society in Ireland at this time.
Thus it becomes clear that some of the difficulty experienced by Patrick was due to his position as an outsider, and needing to acquire a recognized position in society, which he obtained partially through giving gifts to kings and associating himself with their sons. Part of his difficulty was due to the disruption he brought to the usual flow of behaviour and expectations in the communities he encountered in Ireland. From these brief investigations and critical analyses of Patrick’s Confessio, we get a deeper understanding of Patrick, himself. We see him as a courageous and strong-willed man, who stood up not only to the kings whom he hoped to convert to Christianity, but also to the wishes of his family and his superiors of the church.
Patrick’s writing is an excellent example of how to bring critical analysis to the works we encounter and want to understand better. The tools discussed here can be taken anywhere, whether to Patrick’s other work, his Epistola, or Letter to Coroticus, and to today’s news headlines, giving you greater opportunity for deeper engagement and understanding.
Dr. Carolyn McNamara
Part 1 of this article in below.