This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

March 17 -- Feast of Saint Patrick

Bertrand, 3rd Earl Russell
It is about time I actually wrote about the first bishop of Ireland.  I have not entirely slighted him, but neither have I dedicated a post to him.  Until now.

Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS [I leave it to you to make of those letters what you want.  My suggestions are to puerile to publish.]  is quoted as having written:
You will find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress toward the diminution of war, every step toward the better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has ever been in the world, has consistently been opposed by the organized churches of the world.

One might ask Lord Russell how much the aristocracy has done to oppose war, racism, and slavery, but that would be beside the point.  Lord Russell was a logician, and as such he could easily observe that the aristocracy was instituted to advance the interests of its members at the expense of everyone else.  Presumably, Lord Russell only criticizes the Church for failing to live up to its ideals while the earls and dukes have faithfully adhered to their mission. 

Reader:  I thought this was about Saint Patrick?
Major: I'm getting there.  Be patient.

Desmond Tutu
Let us then consider Lord Russell's sweeping, nay absolutist statement.  I am fortunate that he wrote so absolutely, for one counter-example is sufficient to scuttle his frigate.  I might start with Martin Luther King Jr. and Desmond Tutu, but he wrote this in 1927.  He lived until 1970, so there was time for him to have been impressed by Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, by the myriad of white and black clergy who used their churches (and synagogues and mosques) to improve "treatment of the colored races," but we'll let that pass.  He might have taken the time to become familiar with the work of Rev. Charles Freer Andrews, but perhaps the news of his own time interested him less than --

Reader:  Shamrocks and snakes, man!  When are you getting to Saint Patrick?
Major: Patience.

William Wilberforce
I wonder if the name William Wilberforce meant anything to Lord Russell?  His anti-slavery work followed his conversion to evangelical Christianity rather than the other way around.  If you were picking one person to stand as the icon of British abolition of slavery and slave trade, it would be Wilberforce, a co-founder of the Church Mission Society.

If Andrews and Wilberforce (and their allies in the clergy) did not stick in Lord Russell's expansive mind, then American clergy like Henry Ward Beecher, Theodore Weld, and Charles Finney must have also escaped his notice.  The fact that the core of the American abolition movement was organized in seminaries and churches -- notably Congregational, Presbyterian,  and Quaker, with some Methodist and Baptists -- just didn't seem to stick.  In fact, --

Reader:  I've gotta go, man.  Maybe next year, you can write about --
Major:  No, wait!  He comes the tie-in, the takeaway, the payoff, the big point.
Excommunicating the slavers!
Could it be that Lord Russell had never heard of Saint Patrick?  We all know of course that Patrick was from a Roman family in Britain, but then kidnapped as a young man and sold into slavery in Ireland.  He escaped, but later returned to bring the Word of God to the pagan Irish.  Once he established himself as a bishop and the Word was spreading nicely, he found that the old wars were impeding his work.  We have an extant letter to King Coroticus of Britain (identified as Ceretic Guletic, king of Alt Clut) in which he condemns a raid into Ireland that killed many recent Christian converts and delivered others into slavery under pagans.  Coroticus and his men are condemned in blunt language by Patrick, culminating in their excommunication.

Okay, Happy St. Paddy's Day
Patrick's interest was his own flock.  He did not condemn slavery as much as the particular enslavement of his followers, especially since they were sold to pagan Picts.  He did not condemn war so much as war waged by one group of Christians against another group of Christians.   I am not holding Patrick up to be as progressive as Dr. King, Archbishop Tutu, Mr. Wilberforce, and Revs. Andrews, Beecher, Weld, and Finney.  But surely even the example of Saint Patrick should have been sufficient to temper his statement if he practiced the logic that he professed. 

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