St. Patrick: The Trinity and the Shamrock
by Tom Stewart
July 22, 2001
St. Patrick (373-465 AD)
is the patron saint of Ireland, and long before man gave him the title of St., God
had already made him one. "Unto the Church
of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to
be Saints" (1Corinthians 1:2). Though
the Church of Rome claims St. Patrick as its own, he is more appropriately owned
by the "General Assembly and Church of
the Firstborn, which are written in Heaven" (Hebrews
12:23), where "Christ is
the Head of the Church: and He is the Saviour of the Body"
(Ephesians 5:23). Historians believe that St. Patrick's missionary
career in Ireland took place in the 5th Century, though they are uncertain of the
date of his birth. "But the very hairs
of your head are all numbered [by God]" (Matthew 10:30).
Born in Britain (373 AD), Patrick was kidnapped into slavery
at the age of sixteen to serve as a herdsman in Ireland for six years, where he turned
in faith to the LORD Jesus Christ. "When
He [God] slew them, then
they sought Him: and they returned and enquired early after God" (Psalm 78:34). During the second half of the 4th
Century, when Roman power was in decline in Italy and Britain, Irish raiding expeditions
were common along the west coast of Britain, and unconverted Patrick was seized by
such raiders. "I will go and return to
My place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek My face: in their affliction
they will seek Me early" (Hosea 5:15).
In a dream, he heard that the ship in which he was to make his escape was ready,
so he fled his master and found his way back to Britain. "I
being in the way, the LORD led me" (Genesis 24:27).
A passage from Patrick's spiritual biography, "Confessio" (Latin, Confession), tells of a dream that came to Patrick after he had escaped from Ireland and returned to Britain. One Victoricus appeared to Patrick, delivering him a letter entitled, "The Voice of the Hibernians". Hibernia is the Latin name for the island of Ireland. As Patrick read the letter, he seemed to hear a company of Irish beseeching him to return to Ireland. "9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. 10 And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the LORD had called us for to preach the Gospel unto them" (Acts 16:9-10). Though Patrick doubted his fitness and educational preparation for such a task, he entered his missionary task to the Irish people (405 AD) with the zeal of an Apostle Paul. "19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more... 22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1Corinthians 9:19, 22). He met with great success in Ulster and Tara, though he faced the continual threat of martyrdom. Remember, he preached the Gospel where pagan idols were worshipped and Druid human sacrifice was still practiced. "For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the Living and True God" (1Thessalonians 1:9). His success with the Irish was matched by his trouble with his ecclesiastical superiors in Britain; but through it all, he humbly promoted the "Gospel of the Grace of God" (Acts 20:24).
Excerpt from "Patrick's Confession"
"I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a presbyter, of the settlement of Bannaven Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our presbyters who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners.
"And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.
"Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.
"For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and his son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by him. He was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe. And we look to his imminent coming again, the judge of the living and the dead, who will render to each according to his deeds. And he poured out his Holy Spirit on us in abundance, the gift and pledge of immortality, which makes the believers and the obedient into sons of God and co-heirs of Christ who is revealed, and we worship one God in the Trinity of holy name."
The Trinity and the Shamrock
Legend has it that St. Patrick was responsible for ridding the Emerald Isle of snakes; but more importantly, it is said that Patrick used the shamrock as a symbol to explain the Trinity to Unbelievers, i.e., how God is One God in Three Persons. "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19). Patrick would hold up a shamrock and challenge his hearers, "Is it one leaf or three?" "It is both one leaf and three," was their reply. "And so it is with God," he would conclude. "19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of Him from The Creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His Eternal Power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" (Romans 1:19-20). Of course, doctrines such as the Trinity or the Divinity of Jesus Christ can only be received by willing hearts, who have committed themselves to obey whatever the Spirit reveals from the Scriptures. "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine" (John 7:17). St. Patrick, no doubt, was careful not to confuse pagan idolaters with the idea of Polytheism, i.e., the false notion that there are many separate gods; but, his dependence upon the Holy Spirit to give him the illustration of the shamrock to illustrate the Trinity, gave him success in preaching the Gospel. "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the Power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16). [See our article, "Who Then Can Be Saved?: Or, The Simplicity of Gospel Salvation" ---New Window, for a brief discussion of what must we do to be saved.] Thank God for the testimony of Patrick of Ireland!
A Brief Outline of Scripture Concerning the Doctrine of the Trinity
1. The Old Testament Scriptures speak of God as More Than One. "And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the Earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the Earth" (Genesis 1:26). "And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of Us, to know good and evil" (3:22).
2. God is spoken of as Three in Scripture. "Come ye near unto Me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from The Beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the LORD GOD, and His Spirit, hath sent Me" (Isaiah 48:16).
3. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are equally referred to as God.
- "Doubtless Thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: Thou, O LORD, art our Father, our Redeemer; Thy Name is from Everlasting" (Isaiah 63:16).
- "Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto Everlasting Life, which the Son of Man shall give unto you: for Him hath God the Father sealed" (John 6:27).
- "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His Name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).
- "27 My sheep hear My Voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: 28 and I give unto them Eternal Life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. 29 My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father's hand. 30 I and My Father are One. 31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. 32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from My Father; for which of those works do ye stone Me? 33 The Jews answered Him, saying, For a good work we stone Thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God. 34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your Law, I said, Ye are gods? 35 If He called them gods, unto whom the Word of God came, and the Scripture cannot be broken; 36 say ye of Him, Whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?" (John 10:27-36). [See our editorial, "John F. Kennedy, Jr.: America's Departed Prince" ---New Window, for an exposition of the 82nd Psalm, from which Jesus cited, "Ye are gods".]
- "And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:2).
- "7 Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? 8 If I ascend up into Heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in Hell, behold, Thou art there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; 10 even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me" (Psalm 139:7-10).
- "But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost... thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God" (Acts 5:3,4).
4. The Father sends the Son, Who sends the Spirit.
FATHER SENDS THE SON:
- "For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have Everlasting Life" (John 3:16).
- "Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you" (20:21).
SON SENDS THE SPIRIT:
- "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, Whom the Father will send in My Name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (14:26).
- "But when the Comforter is come, Whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me" (15:26).
- "Nevertheless I tell you the Truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you" (16:7).
Excerpt on the Trinity from "Sermons on Gospel Themes" ---New Window, by C. G. Finney ---New Window:
"Let me say again: the manner in which the Bible reveals God is also a great stumbling-block to many; the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, there are a great many that stumble at it because they cannot understand it, any better than they can understand a great many other things; because they cannot understand it they reject it, and say that it cannot be, and so they will not receive it simply because they cannot explain it. Just so with respect to the incarnation of the Son of God; many men because they cannot understand how humanity and Deity could be united, reject the doctrine, and will not believe it. Now it is admitted at once, there is no occasion for denying it, and to do so would be as absurd as it is unnecessary, that these doctrines are very mysterious; but they are announced as facts, that God was in Christ, that Christ was both God and man; of course it is readily admitted that this declaration is a great trial to the faith of finite creatures; but then the announcement is made by God himself and ought to be believed. The doctrine of the atonement is another stumbling-block to men; that God should give his own Son to die for the sins of mankind, and that he should actually suffer, is a difficulty that can only be overcome by faith -- unbelief will suggest a multitude of difficulties and reject it... If God's attributes are what he declares them to be, there are things that cannot be explained to finite beings. Now for example; take the doctrine of the Trinity. To be sure human reason cannot explain that, nor is any explanation called for; God simply announces the fact in the bible, that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are God. Now that God should manifest himself in ten hundred thousand beings at one and the same time is not contrary to reason. For example, we find that at one time, before the destruction of Sodom, three individuals appeared to Abraham, and one of them who is called Jehovah, informed Abraham what they were going to do, and Abraham put up a prayer to have Sodom saved -- you recollect the afflicting circumstance. We learn that there were three men, or apparently so; two of them probably were angels in human form, and the other was no less a being than Jehovah himself. Now mark! Who can doubt but that God could have assumed the same form in millions of cases at the same time in different parts of the world, for there would be nothing contrary to reason in that. There is nothing then unreasonable in the supposition that God should exist in three persons or three hundred thousand million persons! We say there is nothing unreasonable in it. Who does not know that there is not? What then do men mean when they say that they cannot believe in the Trinity? Why not believe? What do such men suppose they know about infinity? Can they affirm of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost that these three cannot exercise and manifest the attributes of God? But as the fact is announced, there need be no evidence of it to the man who has faith. Faith makes no effort to understand it. If you object to this, let me ask, how do you know that you exist yourselves? O yes, you say, we know that we exist; we believe it. What makes you believe it? Can you explain it? Did you choose your body? Can you tell the connection between matter and spirit? How can you prove what yourselves are?"
All worship, praise, and glory to the Thrice Holy God, to the Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit! "Holy, Holy, Holy,
LORD God Almighty, which Was, and Is, and Is To Come"
St. Patrick's Confession ---New Window
by Patrick (373-465 AD)
"I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a presbyter, of the settlement of Bannaven Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our presbyters who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners." --Patrick
St. Patrick: Apostle of Ireland ---New Window
A Ten Chapter Excerpt (Chapters 9-18) from "History of the Scottish Nation"
by J. A. Wylie
"In entering on the story of Succat, whom our readers will more familiarly recognise under his later and better known appellative of St. Patrick, we feel that we tread on ground more stable and reliable than that which we had to traverse when relating the earlier evangelization of Whithorn. St. Patrick, it is true, has not wholly escaped the fate which has usually befallen early and distinguished missionaries at the hands of their monkish chroniclers. Unable to perceive or to appreciate his true grandeur as a humble preacher of the Gospel, some of his biographers have striven to invest him with the fictitious glory of a miracle-worker.
No monk of the Middle Ages could have imagined such a life as Patrick's. These scribes deemed it beneath their heroes to perform, or their pens to record, whatever did not rise to the rank of prodigy. Humility, self-denial, deeds of unaffected piety and benevolence, discredited rather than authenticated one's claim to saintship. Boastful professions and acts of fantastic and sanctimonious virtue were readier passports to monkish renown than lives which had no glory save that of sterling and unostentatious goodness.
We can trace the gradual gathering of the miraculous halo around Patrick on the pages of his successive chroniclers. His miracles are made to begin before he himself had seen the light. His story grows in marvel and prodigy as it proceeds. Each successive narrator must needs bring a fresh miracle to exalt the greatness of his hero and the wonder of his readers. Probus in the tenth century outdoes in this respect all who had gone before him, and Jocelin, in the twelfth, outruns Probus as far as Probus had outrun his predecessors. Last of all comes O'Sullivan in the seventeenth century, and he carries off the palm from every previous writer of the "Life of St. Patrick." The man who comes after O'Sullivan may well despair, for surely nothing more foolish or more monstrous was ever imagined by monk than what this writer has related of Patrick.
So rises this stupendous structure which lacks but one thing-- a foundation. But happily it is easier in the present instance than in most cases of a similar kind, to separate what is false, and to be put aside, from what is true, and, therefore, to be retained. Before the monks had any opportunity of disfiguring the great evangelist by encircling him with a cloud of legends, Patrick himself had told the story of his life, and with such marked individuality, with such truth to Christian experience, and with such perfect accordance to the age and the circumstances, that we are irresistibly led to the conclusion that the life before us is a real life, and must have been lived, it could not have been invented. The confessions here poured forth could come from no heart but a heart burdened with a sense of guilt; and the sorrows here disclosed with so simple yet so touching a pathos, authenticate themselves as real not ideal. They are the experiences of the soul, not the creations of the imagination. Succat the first name of the man who has taken his permanent place in history as Patrick or St. Patrick was born on the banks of the Clyde..." --J. A. Wylie
An Earnest Appeal to Roman Catholics ---New Window
Or, Roman Catholicism Examined in Light of the Scriptures
by Tom Stewart
"We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed: forsake her" (Jeremiah 51:9).
If all would agree that Salvation comes only by the grace of God through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ upon the cross of Calvary-- "8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9)-- then adherence to or rejection of the Church of Rome would simply be a test of Christian nobility, i.e., searching the Scriptures for proof to go out or stay in. "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11).
Further, if anyone resorts to the investigation of Scripture, then a cardinal rule must be observed. You must be willing to obey the Scriptures. Jesus said, "If any man will do His [the Father's] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself" (John 7:17). This cannot be an unreasonable rule, for Jesus Christ identifies Himself as the very Word that "was made flesh" (John 1:14), that we must obey. "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in Truth, the Word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe" (1Thessalonians 2:13).
I propose to demonstrate from Scripture that Roman Catholicism is not a Christian religion, and that the Church of Rome is not a Christian Church. And, if so, then it would only be reasonable for all those who truly name the "Name of Christ" (2Timothy 2:19) to separate themselves from this "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH" (Revelation 17:5). Thus, the warning of the Revelation would fall upon your ears to come out of Babylon the Great. "Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (18:4).
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