Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The World of Saint Patrick (Oxford University Press)

March 17th is quickly approaching. Even the secular world knows this to be St. Patrick's Day. However, their associations with the day are grossly misinformed. They think of leprechauns, pots of gold, shamrock shakes, and green beer with an excuse to get drunk for no good reason. What they don't realize is that March 17th is actually the day he died. He used the shamrock to help simplify the mystery of the Trinity. He also banished all the "snakes" from Ireland. These probably weren't real snakes, but the serpent symbolism of the Druids. If you would like to learn more about St. Patrick, I recommend you read writings about him, by him, and about other saints from Ireland. Oxford University Press has compiled a nice collection in their recent book The World of Saint Patrick. Within this book, the following texts are included:
  • Saint Patrick's Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus
  • Saint Patrick's Confession
  • The First Synod of Saint Patrick
  • The Hymn of Saint Secundinus
  • Saint Patrick's Breastplate
  • Muirchu's Life of Saint Patrick
  • The Life of Saint Brigid
  • The Voyage of Saint Brendan
Each of these three other saints - Secundinus, Brigid, and Brendan were people who lived in the century following St. Patrick's death. I am familiar with Saint Patrick's Confession and Saint Patrick's Breastplate, but the other texts were new to me. In both his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, we see St. Patrick's humility, as he starts both works with an introduction of who he is. His first description for himself in both works is a sinner. The Life of Saint Patrick and The Life of Saint Brigid were both insightful and gave us key info on their lives, as well as some of the legends associated with them. In both tales, we also get brief descriptions of some of the miracles that both St. Patrick and St. Brigid performed.

The Voyage of Saint Brendan was the most enjoyable selection for me. For starters, I had never heard of Saint Brendan before, and it's always fascinating to learn about new saints. Like many tales of early saints, people can try to read too much into them and take tradition to be history as we know it, meaning actual facts and dates. Those who try to draw the conclusion that Saint Brendan and his companions made it to the Americas would be reaching for something that might not have happened. Instead, one should read this tale as a spiritual journey. Saint Brendan and his fellow monks were searching for their "desert" like the monks and spiritual fathers in Egypt had. The account of them encountering Judas while sailing was a mixture of interesting and puzzling. I read it several times, and I have to wonder both the significance and spiritual lesson one takes from it.

So if you are an Irish-American Catholic, a Catholic with a love for Irish saints, or just someone who enjoys reading older texts about saints, I highly recommend this book for you.

This book was provided to me for free by Oxford University Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!