There are some “heroes” of the Christian faith whose life-stories inspire and inform me. They include William Wilberforce, William Carey, and (just to avoid all my heroes having the same first name) St. Patrick. Now, let’s remember: “Saint” wasn’t his first name. That was a title bestowed on him long after his death, to mark the quality of life that he lived.
Patrick was one of the world’s great uber-missionaries, almost unbelievably returning to the country that had enslaved him to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. (He was born in Britain but was enslaved at age 16 by Irish pirates; he escaped after six years and later returned to Ireland as an adult.) Can you imagine doing that? What a phenomenal demonstration of courage and confidence. “Yes, we can!” and “Just do it” are two contemporary phrases that come to mind when I think of Patrick.
I also admire his ability to contextualize. Some people have an understanding of the Christian message that is trapped within a certain set of vocabulary or thought-patterns. But in reality, Christians believe that the Truth isn’t a certain set of words or thought-patterns — the Truth is a Person. Jesus said so Himself. This is why ever since the days of the Apostle Paul, Christians have sought to articulate and embody the Gospel within the language, culture, and even thought-patterns of the culture in which they live. Patrick was spectacularly good at this. When he returned to Ireland he discovered that the culture there was mired in fear of the spirits and dark things that lived around them; Patrick shared the news of Christus Victor, i.e. how the death and resurrection of Christ defeated the powers of evil and triumphed over the darkness. For that culture and that time, that was the image that resonated with their need and drew them to Christ.
Those of us who were raised in Western evangelical Christianity are more familiar with the image of “substitutionary atonement“, where Christ acts as a substitute for us, who are the ones deserving of death. Scripture has more than one image that expresses what happened when Christ died, and all are true. C.S. Lewis said, “We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself.”
Patrick’s focus on Christus Victor can be seen in the Prayer that is often associated with him, called The Lorica (breastplate) of St. Patrick. We don’t know if he wrote it himself, but certainly its content is inspired by his teaching. On this St. Patrick’s Day, as we engage the powers of evil in our own lives and in the systems of our world, it might be an appropriate prayer to pray.
I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three.
I bind this day to me forever, by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation; his baptism in the Jordan river; his death on cross for my salvation; his bursting from the spiced tomb; his riding up the heavenly way; his coming at the day of doom: I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power of the great love of cherubim; the sweet “Well done” in judgement hour; the service of the seraphim; confessors’ faith, apostles’ word, the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls; all good deeds done unto the Lord, and purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today the virtues of the starlit heaven, the glorious sun’s life-giving ray, the whiteness of the moon at even, the flashing of the lightning free, the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks, the stable earth, the deep salt sea, around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead, his eye to watch, his might to stay, his ear to hearken to my need; the wisdom of my God to teach, his hand to guide, his shield to ward; the word of God to give me speech, his heavenly host to be my guard.
Against the demon snares of sin, the vice that gives temptation force, the natural lusts that war within, the hostile men that mar my course; of few or many, far or nigh, in every place, and in all hours against their fierce hostility, I bind to me these holy powers.
Against all Satan’s spells and wiles, against false words of heresy, against the knowledge that defiles against the heart’s idolatry, against the wizard’s evil craft, against the death-wound and the burning the choking wave and poisoned shaft, protect me, Christ, till thy returning.
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
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 hath creation, eternal Father, Spirit, Word: praise to the Lord of my salvation, salvation is of Christ the Lord.