History Highlight—Week of March 13

“Unto the Church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place that call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours…” —I Corinthians 1:2

Saint Patrick (Allegedly) Died on this Day,
March 17, A.D. 461

Before the light of the Protestant Reformation dawned in the 16th century, many in the Christian Church believed that only a certain few Christians in history should be designated as “saints”, though the Bible explicitly teaches that every true believer possesses that title. That being said, in the pre-Reformation times, certain important historical men and women in the church were commonly only known by the “Sainthood” designations given them by the Church, such as St. Patrick, St. Augustine of Hippo, or St. Chrysostom. The best known in America, by far, is Patrick, primary patron saint of Ireland. But the reality is that few actually know his story, other than myths that accrued to his name after his death.


Patrick of Ireland (AD 385-461)


Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430)

The Letters of Patrick

The phrases “cannot be fixed with certainty” and “there is no reliable documentation for” and other such expressions lie on almost every page concerning “super-saints” of pre-medieval times. The man who called himself Patricius, however, left two known documents for future generations to ponder: Confessio (Declaration) and Epistola (Letters to the soldiers of Caroticus). From these two sources — generally recognized by historians as authentic — we can glean a few useful details of Patrick’s life.

A Briton Slave to Irish Pirates

Christians brought the Gospel to Britain, probably in the apostolic or immediate post-apostolic era, during Roman occupation. Patrick lived in the fifth century, i.e. 450 years after Jesus Christ’s ascension. It seems he was born into a Briton Christian family but was not a believer himself till sometime after his capture by Irish pirates and being taken to Ireland as a slave. His grandfather was a priest and his father a deacon. He spent his time as a slave herding sheep and used his time wisely in contemplation and prayer. He claims that he became a true believer sometime in those six years. Patrick recorded that he heard a voice telling him to return home, so he ran away, got passage on a vessel, and returned home, age about twenty-one.

Bringing the Gospel Back Home to Ireland

Patrick received some type of theological training, perhaps on the continent, and returned to Ireland as a missionary. The stories of his peripatetic ministry have grown with the telling. Shrines to his work are found in many places in Ireland. He apparently founded a number of churches, one of the most important being in Armagh where two cathedrals there today bear testimony to his effectiveness — one Roman Catholic, and one Protestant.* It is probable that he was not the first Christian in Ireland but the extreme success of his promoters, ancient and modern, claim that he was. He faced down the Druidic cults that dominated Celtic society, and, so widespread was his ministry, that some claim all Ireland became Christian, or very nearly so.


St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Armagh


St. Patrick’s Protestant Cathedral in Armagh

Preaching Christ in Great Peril

I’ll not rehearse the legends of St. Patrick, they are easily found. What is certain though, in the Providence of God, is that a young British slave saw a need for the Gospel among the pagan Celts of Ireland and returned there in peril of his life and preached the Grace of Christ, building churches and monasteries from which the faith would continue after his death. His demise on March 17 is mere unverifiable tradition to which has stuck all sorts of other aspects — leprechauns, the color green, and questionable behavior — that have obscured the reality of a historical Christian saint. By God’s Grace, one man can sometimes make an almost unbelievable impact on the Kingdom of God. Ask Martin Luther.

 

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Image Credits:St. Patrick (Wikipedia.org); 2 St. Augustine (Wikipedia.org); 3 St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland Catholic (Wikipedia.org); 4 St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland Protestant (StPatricks-Cathedral.org)

2017-04-24T21:37:09+00:00 March 13th, 2017|History Highlights|

History Highlight—Week of March 6

John Chrysostom Becomes Bishop of Constantinople, 397

Today, he looks down on a congregation of tourists from a frieze in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey (formerly Constantinople). Dressed in white livery and holding a copy of the Scripture under his arm, the archbishop John Chrysostom is probably preparing to speak, for his name literally means “golden mouthed” in Greek. His life began in the middle of the Fourth Century A.D. and ended in 407 but his influence, wisdom, popularity and reputation is second only to Augustine of Hippo, among the church fathers of the post-apostolic era; he was “the prince of preachers” of his time.


1,000-year-old mosaic of John Chrysostom in the Hagia Sophia


The Hagia Sophia, constructed 532-537 AD

Raised in the ‘Nurture and Admonition of the Lord’

Chrysostom was born in Antioch, the second city of the Eastern Empire, Byzantium. When his father Secundus died, a Roman soldier in Syria, his twenty-year-old mother raised him in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord,” although all the heresies of the era were abundant in the city. He received the finest classical education available, especially in rhetoric, though most of it from pagan Greeks. The man who made the difference in his life, however, was the pastor and teacher Meletius, who preached the Word of God and taught him how to study the Scripture. About the year 370 (age c.23), John made profession of faith in Christ and was baptized. He was attracted to the ascetic life and became an anchorite, living in the caves of Antioch, praying and studying Scripture. His health ruined, he returned to the city to recover and picked up where he had left off as a lector (a reader in the church, preparatory to the diaconate).


Panoramic view of modern-day Istanbul with Hagia Sophia visible on the right

A Bold and Fearless Preacher

In 386 Chrysostom was ordained by the church and began a ministry of preaching that lasted for twelve years, in which time, his gift for preaching powerful and practical expository sermons benefited thousands and his written commentaries gained church-wide renown and are highly appreciated today. John Chrysostom finally became the Bishop of Constantinople, the most powerful position in the Eastern Church, where he preached plainly against corruption in the church and state. He raised money for the poor, founded hospitals, and rebuked the ungodly. His famous statement that “the road to hell is paved with the bones of the priests and monks, and the skulls of the bishops are the lampposts that light the way,” won him no friends among the clergy. His holding the civil authorities accountable to Christ, got him exiled by Empress Eudoxia. Chrysostom wrote about family life and children and, in a day when life was cheap and mercy a sign of weakness, he proclaimed that “to destroy the fetus is something worse than murder, the one who does this does not take away life that has already been born, but prevents it from being born.“ How is our age any better? We need the pulpits of our land to echo such belief.


Saint John Chrysostom and Empress Aelia Eudoxia, by Jean-Paul Laurens

A Heavenly Home

John Chrysostom was not as doctrinally pure as we would like. He believed that the Virgin Mary was instrumental in some way to a person’s salvation and he promoted the supposed escape from the world and the flesh practiced by monks and other ascetics. Nonetheless, he rightly proclaimed “I am a Christian. He who answers thus proclaims everything at once: his country, his profession, his family; the believer belongs to no city on earth, but to the heavenly Jerusalem.” He died in exile but the many lives he touched expanded Christ’s kingdom and showed the practical implications of biblical truth.

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Image Credits:John Chrysostom (Wikipedia.org); 2 Hagia Sophia Chrysostom (Wikipedia.org); 3 Constantinople (Modern-Day Istanbul) (Wikipedia.org); 4 John Chrysostom and Empress Eudoxia (Wikipedia.org)

2017-04-24T21:40:07+00:00 March 7th, 2017|History Highlights|