Patrick was uniquely suited for communicating the timeless universal message of the gospel to this particular time and place. And the Irish were particularly suited for the saving of Western Civilization and, even more importantly, one could say Christianity as well. Keep in mind what else was happening at this time. The Roman Empire was crumbling. External pressures were mounting. Internal rot was worsening. The barbarian hordes were sweeping down like a plague of locusts, destroying everything in their path. By the end of the 5th century, all the great libraries established by the reigns of Augustus on down through Constantine had vanished.
Now enter, stage left, the Irish and their new found love of learning, literacy, books, and copying. And copy they did – Plato, Virgil, Cicero, and especially the Bible. Countless manuscripts in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin were preserved all out on this little island the Romans had never bothered to conquer. And then, as the torch was passed from Patrick to his successors and as the Irish themselves began to move forth into Scotland, England, Iceland, Greenland, and on through Europe, they took this commitment to the Book with them. “These scribes,” Cahill says, “served as conduits through which the…Judeo-Christian cultures were transmitted to the tribes of Europe.” They “re-established literacy and breathed new life into the exhausted literary culture of Europe.” “Without this service of the scribes,” Cahill concludes, “our own world would never have come to be…Twelve centuries of lyric beauty, aching tragedy, intellectual inquiry…and love of Wisdom…would all have gone down the drain of history.” All that is to say, the rest, as they say, is history. His-story of providence.
Connecting all these dots to our own lives, let me leave you with this to consider. For His great providence continues over everything in our barbaric lives as well. Consider these words from The Heidelberg Catechism (adopted and published 1563):
27. Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?
A. God’s providence is His almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come not by chance but by His fatherly hand.
28. Q. What does it benefit us to know that God has created all things and still upholds them by His providence?
A. We can be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and with a view to the future we can have a firm confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from His love; for all creatures are so completely in His hand that without His will they cannot so much as move.
So wear your green, do what you will with the beer, and smile over the shamrocks. But don’t forget what’s really behind it all. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.