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March 17, 2005
L Fhile Phdraig Sona Dhaoibh!

The title says, 'Happy Saint Patrick's Day to all of you,' and as a celebration of the event today, I'm listening to a new set of CDs sent to me by the Irish band Poitn. The one spinning at the moment, Winter Brew, has a good mix of traditional Irish instrumental music along with pub songs and even a bit of sean-ns, for true traditionalists. Right now, I'm listening to " Sullivan's March", a lively instrumental. After this CD finishes, I'll be listening to Barley Mash, which I think is actually the better of the two CDs. If you love Irish music and haven't heard Poitn, be sure to pick up these two worthy and entertaining albums.

I may or may not get much of a chance to celebrate tonight; in the Twin Cities, St. Patrick's Day gets an insane turnout at the local pubs, especially at places like Keegan's, which sponsors the NARN. If I'm not there in body, boys, I'll be there in spirit. I've stocked up on Guinness at home, just in case. I may spin up a good Irish movie with the First Mate, like The Secret of Roan Inish, one of the finest family films I've seen about Ireland that has any connection to the true nature of the country. (You can read my IMDB review, written in July 2002.)

But of course, I digress from the saint himself. Many legends and myths have attached themselves to the name of Saint Patrick, which unfortunately detract from the true nature of an extraordinarily remarkable man. I found an excellent biography of Patrick at American Catholic written by Anita McSorley, based partly on an interview with Thomas Cahill, who wrote How The Irish Saved Civilization, an excellent and eminently readable history of the Dark Ages. McSorley captures the historical impact Patrick had on Christianity and Western civilization:

And although almost any other qualification pales by comparison to Patrick's zeal for his mission, he must have set off equipped with an intellect both subtle and supple. For he not only decided, unilaterally, to do what no man in 400 years of Christian history had done before himto carry the gospel message to the ends of the earthbut he also found a way to do it.

It's hard to grasp just what an accomplishment that was, says Cahill. When Patrick decided to "willingly go back to the barbarians with the gospel," Cahill explains, "he had to figure out how to bring the values of the gospel he loved to such people. These were people who still practiced human sacrifice, who warred with each other constantly and who were renowned as the great slave traders of the day.

"That was not a simple thing. This was before courses were given to missionaries in what is now called inculturationhow to plant the gospel in such a culture," Cahill says. "No one had ever even thought about how to do it; Patrick had to work his way through it himself.

"I know that Paul is referred to as the first missionary," Cahill says, "but Paul never got out of the Greco-Roman world, nor did any of the apostles. And here we are, five centuries after Jesus, who had urged his disciples to preach to all nations. They just didn't do that. And the reason they didn't is because they did not consider the barbarians to be human."

That ability to do what we would call 'thinking outside the box' today led to the mechanism by which we have many of the great writings of our ancient cultures. As McSorley relates, Patrick's conversion of the Irish almost completely and permanently within his lifetime created a Western monastic movement that had great consequences centuries later. The monks of Ireland would make copies of all these works while Europe descended into darkness, and only the reverse missionary work of the Irish into Europe centuries later would restore these works to greater Europe. Without Patrick and his remarkable mission to the barbarians of the wilds of Ireland, those works may have been forever lost, and Western civilization along with it.

If you have a few moments, take the time to read about the man we celebrate today, in addition to the merry myths we bandy about for fun. After all, even Patrick would object to getting too terribly serious about St. Patrick's Day, I think.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 17, 2005 12:32 PM

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