When called as a missionary into a different, anti-Christian culture, it requires real wisdom to know when to accommodate and when to confront. Often, a way has to be found to do both.
Section 60 of St Patrick’s Confession is a clear case in point.
The sun which we see rising for us each day at his command, that sun will never reign nor will its splendour continue forever; and all those who adore that sun will come to a bad, miserable penalty. We, however, believe in and adore the true sun, that is, Christ, who will never perish. Nor will they perish who do his will but they will abide forever just as Christ will abide forever . He lives with God the Father almighty and with the Holy Spirit before the ages began, and now, and for all the ages of ages. Amen.
It is clear that Celtic pagan rites centred on Sun-worship. There is considerable evidence for this, discussed here. The name of Bel, still retained in the Celtic Beltinne, indicates its Phoenician origin in the term Baal. St. Patrick would seem at first to roundly condemn Sun-worship here when he says: All those who adore that sun will come to a bad, miserable penalty.
And yet, that is not his only response.
St Patrick acknowledged – with his Celtic listeners- the presence of divine forces in all aspects of nature, sun, moon and stars. This acknowledgment is evident in his many descriptions of divine encounters. See particularly this previous blog post. The sun, particularly, was celebrated as the giver of life, fertility and healing.
His response to this worship was not to categorise it as a false understanding, but as a limited one. The sun which we see rising for us each day at his command, that sun will never reign nor will its splendour continue forever. Nature itself is temporal, transient and is created matter. Therefore, the sun rises and sets each day at his command.
By comparison, he stressed both the eternality of God, and of his servants: We, however, believe in and adore the true sun, that is, Christ, who will never perish. Nor will they perish who do his will but they will abide forever just as Christ will abide forever.
This is, effectively, a quotation from 1 Jn 2:17 which reads, “And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.” The verse contains the same parallel between the temporality of the physical and the eternality of those who do his will.
Lord, give me the grace to know when to accommodate, and when to confront, and the wisdom, when I possibly can, to do both.