St Patrick's Breastplate (Hymn Sermon)
St. Patrick’s Mighty Shield
Ephesians 6:13 - Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
1) The Hymn - St Patrick's (390 – 461) breastplate is a remarkable hymn. It is a tremendous call to follow Paul's exhortation to “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10 – 18). Patrick put on this Trinitarian armor in the face of human-sacrificing Druids, wizards, deadly tyrants, and worst of all, “the heart's idolatry.” This magnificent hymn reflects the life and faith of Patrick. The original hymn, the Lorica of St. Patrick (meaning breastplate or armor) is found in the Book of Armagh. Historian Philip Schaff says it is “called St. Patricii Canticum Scotticum, which Patrick is said to have written when he was about to convert the chief monarch of the island (Laoghaire or Loegaire).”
2) The History - Ireland was not part of the Roman empire, where the faith spread through the Roman order with significant Roman structures in the Church. “The church-history of Ireland is peculiar. It began with an independent catholicity (or a sort to semi-Protestantism), and ended with Romanism, while other Western countries passed through the reverse order...it was Christianized without bloodshed and independently of Rome....” (Schaff, 43). Patrick's faith spread more under the auspices of monastic centers, rather than ecclesiastical structures. These monastic communities fostered deep piety, sometimes stringent discipline, but also brilliant learning. Many monks recited the Psalter on a daily basis. In fact the oldest written language discovered in Ireland is found in copies of the Psalter. Thus it was “the isle of saints and scholars” and was used greatly to preserve Western culture while Europe was being overrun by barbarians. Hence, this is How the Irish Saved Civilization (Thomas Cahill). Patrick baptized thousands and consecrated over 350 ministers.
3) The Hill - The milestone event which explains the setting for which the Lorica was written was on the eve of Easter Day in 433. Patrick and a band of believers made their way to the seat of the high Irish king, Laghaire at the Hill of Tara, County Meath. It was the druid practice to put out all fires before a new one was lit at Tara. Patrick set the hill to blazing. This was a daring encounter with paganism. But on Easter Day, Patrick preached to the assembled chieftains using a shamrock to explain by its triune shape the great doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. On that Day of Resurrection, the gospel triumphed and new life came. The king was converted and gave permission for the gospel to be preached throughout the land. On their way to this great watershed confrontation, they chanted, “I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity.”
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more