Thursday, March 17, 2011

"I arise today..." the Lorica of St. Patrick

I will admit it... the commonly sung St. Patrick's Breastplate has always made me a little nervous. The opening line "I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity" always seemed inappropriate as a baptismal hymn. The action in baptism is exactly the opposite, God in Jesus Christ binds himself to us. I see a large number of people quoting snippets from this hymn all over Facebook and I figured I would quote the actual source material.

Patrick's Lorica (the Latin word meaning "breastplate") is one of three surviving writings of his: Patrick's Confession, this Lorica, and The Letter to Coroticus. The last of these is a denunciation of the British king who raided the Irish coast and slaughtered a number of Christian converts as they were being baptized. Patrick lived and served in dangerous times. Numerous times he was jailed. He faced opposition from druids as well as Pelagian heretics. His Lorica is then an invocation seeking God's protection in his work. This invocation seems much more appropriate for a baptism than the hymn version. I will grant however, that the invocation of God, seeking his protection is in fact a "binding" of God as one would bind a breastplate upon one's body.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation
From Lives of Saints, ed. Joseph Vann, 1954, John J. Crawley & Co. pp 119-121

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

McLaren addressing Bell on Hell: An insight into Dogma

I have been confused and amused at the maelstrom swirling around Rob Bell's new book Love Wins (even before it has been released!). The extremely violent reaction against Bell by a number of conservative pastors and theologians arises because Bell considers that the place of Hell in theology might not be as important as once thought.

I have wondered why glancing at numerous books on my shelves by Lutherans (and Roman Catholics, and United Methodist, and Anglicans, and ... well you get the picture) no one seems to deal with hell. It just isn't that important. There are plenty of folks that I have heard in Lutheran circles who simply believe that hell does not exist. I don't want to go there, but hell is not a cornerstone of my preaching to be sure.

I ran across Brian McLaren's post on his blog about Rob and the "kerfuffle" (McLaren's word, not mine). There McLaren writes:
What's quite pathetic, as I see it, is that many critics won't even begin to get Rob's real point. (I've read the book, so I'm not just going by conjecture....) It's not that he's being given a multiple-choice test between a) traditional exclusivism and b) traditional universalism, and he's choosing b) instead of a). Rather, it's that Rob has come to see that the biblical story is bigger and better than a narrative about how souls get sorted out into two bins at the end of time.
I think McLaren uses theology very well here. Theology is not about promulgating a clear line in the sand about beliefs, but instead theology (or dogma to be more specific) is about helping to elucidate the good news.

The Danish Lutheran Regin Prenter in his book Creation and Redemption points out that our word dogma comes mainly out of two matrices, one legal the other philosophical. In the philosophical usage, dogma points to a "well-founded and certain knowledge of truth". In the legal usage, dogma is an "authoritative command." The legal sense of dogmatic theology certainly seems to have won the day in the history of Christianity and certainly here in the response against Bell. But Prenter points to the philosophical use of dogma. Prenter writes,
We may with equal justification take the philosophical connotation as our point of departure. Instead of dogmas, understood as the authoritatively established doctrinal statements, we may prefer to speak of the dogma, meaning the basic insight into the essential content of the Christian message, an insight which is immediately given in and with faith in the truth of the message, but which cannot be directly equated with faith, inasmuch as the faith which contains the insight is itself more than the insight. ...

Stricly speaking, there is but one dogma, because there is only one divine revelation. The dogma is therefore always christological or--what is really the same thing--trinitarian. Through the dogma light from God's revelation is thrown upon the sinner's way from death to life, from condemnation to salvation. This light comes from God the Father, who is the source of revelation. It is mediated by the Holy Spirit, who is the power of revelation among sinners. And it shines upon Jesus Christ, who is the content of revelation. Most concisely stated, the dogma is: Jesus is Lord, Kurios Iesous (1Cor. 12:3)
Creation and Redemption, pp. 4-5
Dogma then is about spinning out the core of the Christian faith, most notably Jesus. Hell is not so important unless we begin to see that the power of God in Christ Jesus lays waste to the power of hell. Bell seems to be heading down this path, that Jesus and God's desire in him is stronger than the power of Hell, both in reality and in our preaching.

I look forward to reading Bell's book.