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St. Patricks "Gift" To Ireland

WHOEVER got the assignment to prepare the editorial on St. Patrick's for the New York Times on March 17, did a perfect job of rhetorical gush-writing for the Catholic Church. If the patron saint of Ireland were with us in the flesh it is doubtful whether he would recognize himself as the hero of the following blurb:


"Today, perhaps, as we recall again his gift of Christianity to Ireland that was to preserve the treasure of ancient civilization when the foundations of older Rome had fled, he may seem our contemporary in a stricken world."


Setting aside the sloppy diction of the editorial (we have heard of "foundations" that "crumble" and "collapse", but never of those that are known to have "fled"), we may remark that there is nothing in St. Patrick's life to suggest that he was interested in the preservation of "ancient civilization". What he was concerned about was preaching an Asiatic creed which he believed would save men from the wrath of God and eternal damnation.


If Christianity is St. Patrick's "gift" to Ireland, the noted saint should be burned in effigy by every self-respecting Hibernian. What he brought to Ireland was the hang-over of an abominable superstition, hatched in ancient Israel by an insufferable tribe of Bedouin barbarians, whose culture for the most part, as measured even by the standards of the time, was abysmally low.


St. Patrick's "gift" to Ireland was a hodgepodge of mythology and ignorance which he had imbibed as a child. In early life, infused with Christian fervor and beholding visions, he sought to displace the religion of the Druids with the religion of Christ. Like Jacques Bossuet, a French bishop and historian of a later period, St. Patrick saw in the sacred delusions of a Semitic tribe a divine revelation which was to redeem the world.


In referring to the obsessions of Bossuet, the English historian Buckle observes:


"Because Bossuet had been taught that the Jews are the chosen people of God, he under the title of Universal History, almost confines his attention to them, and treats this obstinate and ignorant race as if they formed the pivot upon which the affairs of the universe had been made to turn. His idea of a universal history excludes those nations who were the first to reach civilization, and to some of whom the Hebrews owed the scanty knowledge which they subsequently acquired. He says little of the Persians, and less of the Egyptians; nor does he even mention that far greater people between the Indus and the Ganges, whose philosophy formed one of the elements of the school of Alexandria, whose subtle speculations anticipated all the efforts of European metaphysics, and whose sublime inquiries, conducted in their own exquisite language, date from a period when the Jews, stained with every variety of crime, were a plundering and vagabond tribe, wandering on the face of the earth, raising their hand against every man, and ever man raising his hand against them."


How different might have been the history of Ireland if St. Patrick's "gift" had come from the pagan world, with its rich treasures of literature and learning. The classical culture of the Greek and Roman civilizations, with its love of knowledge and inquiry, its appreciation of art and drama, its unsurpassable glorification of wisdom and intellectual liberty would have raised the Emerald Isle to something less pathetic than a broken reed among the nations of the world. Intellectually pauperized, Ireland has suffered more from her venal priesthood and groveling superstition than from her plagues and famines.


If Irishmen had a tenth of the wit and sense of humor they are said to have (there is, I understand, a little Irish somewhere along the line of my antecedents), they would have long ago laughed the Catholic Church out of existence, ridiculed its ludicrous and asinine doctrines, its crass stupidities, its priestly arrogance. They would have scorned the idea that a small and obscure cult, masquerading as the elite of heaven, had been favored by the Almighty with a divine revelation while they, the Irish, were left to gather the crumbs of Hebraic tradition.


St. Patrick, if he existed (and there is considerable controversy among scholars as to whether or not he lived), is anything but a commanding figure in the pages of history and would hardly have called for laudation by the Times had it not been for journalistic expediency. He was not a scholar, a thinker, even a man of moderate culture; his alleged "Confessions" stamp him as an intellectual nonentity, possessed of enough fanatical zeal and muscular vigor to instill an Oriental superstition into the social blood stream of an alien people. "Various charges," says the Encyclopedia Britannica, "had been brought against him by his enemies, among them that of illiteracy, the truth of which is borne out by the crudeness of his style, and is fully admitted by the writer himself."


But a saint does not have to be literate to meet religious standards; it is enough that he have "spiritual insight," a flair for the mystical, the ability to see and converse with spooks. If he has these, he will not only fulfill, as St. Patrick did, the requirements of the Church, but merit the awe and adoration of its insatiable dupes. His emotional instability will more than compensate for anything he may lack in intellectual experience.


Our venerable New York Times could have done better than laud a vulgar superstitionist. If it wished to pay tribute to Irish glory and intelligence, it could have signaled out worthy individuals, such as Tyndall, the scientist, Bury, the historian, and the scholar, Joseph McCabe. These men, born in Ireland and interested in preserving the treasures of civilization, will be remembered in cultural circles long after Patrick, the pious ignoramus, is buried in oblivion.

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