Saint Patrick: Was He Really a Catholic?

I’ll admit off the bat that I am no theologian, at least not on a professional level. That said, I want to take a look at someone who has his name on every calendar in the western world: Saint Patrick. Of course, I let my mind wander down this tangent because Saint Patrick’s Day is on Saturday. I’ll share with you briefly my impressions of his main workthe Confessions of Saint Patrick. It is the only truly revealing writing that has come down to us from the earliest Christian missionary to Ireland. My thought while reading it was this: was Patrick really a bonified Roman Catholic? as they would like us to unquestionably believe today?

The preponderance of evidence that I pulled from his writings led me to see Patrick as being a far cry from the quintessential modern Catholic. A “modern Catholic” is a burdensome concept in and of itself, because of the serpentine evolution of the church. Leaving that rabbit trail, I find the lack of Catholic terms used by Patrick to be of some evidentiary weight in this argument. Granted, he was living on the very edge of civilization, ministering to a pagan people, but if he were as solidly Catholic as the church wants us to believe, why does he never use a blatantly Catholic term in his writing? He never lauds the pope; he never alludes to the authority of Rome or the Virgin. I realize that he lived during a formatory period of the Roman church, and was quite removed from the centers of power, but this does not totally excuse his lack of reference to that center.

Instead, Patrick makes numerous, repeated reference to terms that have a distinct Protestant ring to them. And again, he lived during a period before the Catholic church’s rise to dominance; even further before the Reformation and rise of Protestantism. But if we today compare his words to the beliefs of these two camps, to which camp do his words belong?

I find it convincing that Patrick mentions faith in Christ and repentance to God, tenets which are bedrock of Protestantism. He entreats the steersmen of his ship to “Be converted by faith with all your heart to my Lord God, because nothing is impossible for him.” He also states his belief that the Holy Spirit is the gift of God to the believer only. He mentions his view that Jesus is the very Son of God, and salvation is accessible by his atoning blood.

An argument such as this presents curious difficulties. Patrick himself lived and died before these differences of doctrine were fleshed out between the two church structures. The Catholic Church had not been extant for very long, and many of the beliefs that make it Catholic had not yet been uttered in ex cathedra.

It seems to me, however, that Patrick would not want to be associated with what the Roman Catholic Church of today espouses. The Church did not co-opt him as it’s poster boy of Irish Christianity until well into the 17th century. By then, they had become proponents of transubstantiation, the divinity of the Virgin Mary, extreme unction, forgiveness of sins by a priest, confession, penance, and countless other unscriptural doctrines. In summary, Patrick’s religious beliefs bore little similarity to those of the Catholic church, then or now. He has been taken as a popular symbol and slapped on a “religious feast” as a method of advertisement. Hopefully I will continue this examination of Patrick’s life and belief, plus it’s relation to the popular conceptions of today, in future posts here.

I could not find a non-Catholic depiction of Saint Patrick, so I’ll share my favorite city’s March 17th tradition instead!

A Hidden Treasure

I was surprised recently as  I was reading the Rockford Register Star, my local paper, to see that a gem of a house was up for auction. I’ve always admired the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, and I knew that he designed many buildings in the Chicago area. The surprise came when I saw that one of his houses was up for auction in my home town of Rockford. Upon doing some more digging, I discovered that I drive within a half-mile of this house every day on my way to work.

I love the layout of the house, its open floor plan and seamless integration of brick and wood. The Laurent House was the only house which Wright specifically designed for a handicapped client, the obvious reason for its wide open floor plan.

The house was bought at auction by the Laurent House Foundation, a local organization that formed in order to purchase the home for preservation. They will do some minor renovation, and eventually open it to the public, at which time I hope to be able to view it! Until then, here are a few pictures to fill the gap. Enjoy!

Sitting Room/Portrait WindowsView from the Living Room into the Sitting Room

View from the Living Room into the Sitting Room

Front View/Side Drive

Symbology in Ancient Egypt: Horus, Seth, and King Khasekhem

As Egypt reached the end of what we call its First Dynasty, one might have thought that it’s prospects for the future were bright. A steadily growing economy, an increasingly established monarchy, and quickly expanding society left Egypt as a whole in a promising position. All things withstanding, the reality is that the records of Early Egypt are scarce and disjointed, leaving the precise facts up to debate. We have spent time examining the Palermo Stone, a historical treasure that sheds much light on a few specific swaths of Egypt’s early history. The Second Dynasty, however, occupies the dark area of history, and is a time period under much scholarly speculation.

One of the most credible possibilities for what occurred during the Second Dynasty centers around the monarchy’s assimilation with the Egyptian religious centers. The religious base of the god Horus was found largely in the regions of Lower Egypt, while the base of the god Seth was found in Nubt, a desert region in the south of Egypt. Horus was the celestial deity, while Seth was the desert god. What little evidence exists for the happenings of the Second Dynasty seems to show that Egypt’s monarchy devolved into a competition between successive kings. The royal capital was moved several times, and different monarchs tried to elevate different gods as their own personal icons. The predominant royal deity of the First Dynasty was Horus, but a Second Dynasty king attempted to move the capital and adopt Seth as the royal deity. In a nutshell, the petty personal feuds and selfish motives of the Second Dynasty kings were well on their way to making Egypt a fractured state of local warlords once again.

Horus the Falcon against Seth the Typhon

Enter Khasekhem. His name literally means “the power has appeared.” His intent, as signaled by his very name, was to restore the Egyptian monarchy to the potential it had possessed at the end of the First Dynasty. Upon his ascension to the throne, he quickly began to instate his vision upon the country, beginning with his re-adoption of Horus as the royal deity. The true success of Khasekhem’s reign, according to some scholars, was to avert the potential fracturing of the infantile Egyptian state. It had been unified by Narmer, but, as we have seen, began to be stretched during the Second Dynasty.

The best evidence supporting the theory that Khasekhem averted a potential rift is seen in the evolution of his royal title. He began his reign as Khasekhem, “the power has appeared.” By the end of his reign, he was known to Egypt as Khasekhemwy, a subtle difference in our English alphabet, but a major difference to the Egyptian mind. His new name meant “the two powers have appeared.” It can also be read “the two lords are at peace in him,” the two lords being Horus and Seth. Khasekhemwy had succeeded in unifying Egypt once again, as his royal title signifies by placing both Horus and Seth atop his royal cipher. Khasekhem placed Egypt on solid ground again, and in time, the first pyramids would rise from the solid ground.

The Royal Cipher of Khasekhemwy (Horus/Seth)

Symbology in Ancient Egypt: The Palermo Stone, The Following of Horus and Taxes

As of late, we’ve been examining some of the implications of the monarchy in First Dynasty Egypt. Like all good monarchies throughout history, Egypt’s rulers learned the finer points of taxation. By and large, monarchy has not survived to the present day, but alas, taxes have. We begin with the discovery of the Palermo Stone, named after the residence of the main fragment, but itself a part of the larger artifact known as the Royal Annals.

The Royal Annals is a stele, a rock slab, inscribed with the records of Egypt’s first Old Kingdom kings. It focuses on the kings of the first through the fifth dynasties, and the fragment known as the Palermo Stone is the largest piece to record the royal history. The Palermo Stone sheds light on the development of the Egyptian monarchy directly following Egypt’s unification.  A particular practice of the early monarchy that I’d like to focus on is what the Egyptian’s called “The Following of Horus.”

The Palermo Stone

The “Following of Horus” was an bi-annual event that the Palermo Stone indicates as taking place during the reign of King Aha (I love these Egyptian names), believed to be the immediate successor of the unifying King Narmer. Scholars believe it consisted of the king and his royal court making journey along the Nile River Valley, most probably as a “P.R. tour.” At least, that is our modern-day equivalent of the king’s purpose. His journey most probably allowed the people to catch a fleeting glimpse of the king, enough to keep him above the people but satisfy their curiosity at the same time. Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson believes that it also helped the king’s court to gain a closer perspective of the popular sentiment. As a result of their itinerant schedule, they could help settle disputes in each region, devise and implement new laws or policies, and even help maintain justice by using their higher government status as royal consort. The “Following of Horus” seems to have been an ingenious method of the Old Kingdom monarchy, a method that they tweaked to perfection with one final inclusion.

A Vase Shard with the name of King Aha

What was the last purpose of the royal journey? You guessed it: to take a census for the purpose of taxation. It started off as simply a gathering of money from the people, in order to support the royal court. Over time, probably within the two-hundred years spanning the mid-First to the Second Dynasties, this simple taxation sprouted into a full-fledged census of the population and agricultural crops, all for taxation purposes. This new system seems to have been successful, allowing the monarchy to consolidate its power even further, and making possible the construction of Egypt’s earliest national icons.

Last item for today, I can’t decide between one of two topics for my next post, so I’ll let my readers decide! Here are the choices. 1) An examination of the early pyramids and their use/symbolic status or 2) the origin of Horus as the first national god and his use by the monarchy as a symbol of ascendancy. Thanks in advance!

Symbology in Ancient Egypt: The Royal Tomb of Djer and Human Sacrifice

The greatest historical evidence for the mindset of the Ancient Egyptians lies entombed in hidden crypts throughout the arid desert land. These tombs reveal much about the way Egyptians thought and lived. The tombs were, after all, a launching point for the afterlife. All the necessary items for a luxurious “life after death” were buried with the deceased, up to, and even including their human servants. In the First Dynasty, human sacrifice was a common phenomenon. The Royal Tomb of Djer proves a stunning example of life, and death.

In life, the King was the focal point of the entire Egyptian society. The people viewed him as the embodied guarantee of the god’s blessing, and they treated him as such. Because they believed in the afterlife, much of a king’s life was spent in preparation for his death. Hordes of workers labored to prepare the royal tomb, which also happened to be their own tomb.

The Royal Tomb of Djer at Abydos

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of retainer sacrifice at several different First Dynasty sites. Pictorial evidence of such sacrifice has also been found on boxes and jars inside the royal tombs. Such evidence strongly supports the fact that the early kings of Egypt were the absolute rulers, not hesitant to bring their servants with them into the afterlife. A king in this life could not be expected to serve himself in the next, could he?

Symbolically, these human sacrifices discovered in First Dynasty tombs like Djer’s reveal much about the ideology in place during the Early Period. The royal tomb at Djer, in its layout and function, revolves around a central point, the king. The configuration after death mirrored that during life. All things existed to serve the king, and they did so willingly. Egypt’s kings had not yet taken on the mantra of divinity, but they were not loathe to act as the mediator between the gods and mankind. The kings presided over many ceremonies, ceremonies which were designed to elicit the favor of the gods in agriculture, fertility, prosperity, and even war. Obviously then, the king was served willingly by his subjects, for without the king’s mediation, the people would not have the blessing of the gods.

Looking back, we can see how the king’s were simply solidifying their own position through the means of ideology. Their subjects, however, did not see through to the true intentions, and many of them paid for it with their lives, entombed beside their ruler.

A Human Sacrifice, Observed by the King - Earliest Egyptian Evidence of Human Sacrifice

Symbology in Ancient Egypt: Authority Set in Stone

The rulers of Egypt discovered the power of symbology to advance their authority early in Egypt’s history. We have already seen examples of symbolism in sculpture, regalia, and ceremony, but it did not take long for symbolism to be taken to a monumental scale.

King Narmer established Memphis as an early center of the monarchy, and historical documents indicate that it was at Memphis that the earliest examples of royal palaces were centered. The basic architectural style of Egypt’s first palaces was borrowed from a structural style found in ancient Mesopotamian buildings. The climate in Egypt lends itself to a particular style of architecture, a style that emphasizes the brightness of the harsh, desert sun. Tall, thin pillars punctuate the spacious facade of an Egyptian palace, and though no examples of the earliest palaces remain standing, we can glimpse shadows of their form in the great palace of Seti I at Abydos.


The Temple of Seti I at Abydos

It had not been long before the time when those first palaces were built that Egypt had been a land of farmers and cattle herders. Viewed in this context, we see how the advent of monumental stone buildings could be used to the advantage of the ruling class, a tool with which to force the common people into reverential awe of the builders of such marvels. Palaces as symbolic of power did not begin in Egypt, but as with most customs, Egypt improved upon the practices they had borrowed. As we shall soon see, though Egypt built impressive palaces for the living, Egyptian culture and mindset revolved around their plans for the afterlife. The line between palace and temple would blur as the kings took upon themselves the mantles of Egypt’s gods.

Symbology in Ancient Egypt: The Mace-head of King “Scorpion”

When the Narmer Palette was unearthed in Nekhet, another symbolically significant artifact was unearthed along side. It has come to be known as the Mace-head of King Scorpion, a king of upper Egypt in the period prior to Narmer’s unification. It is just what it sounds like it is, the head of a mace, carved in stone and intricately inscribed with the depiction of a royal ceremony.

To me, this early Egyptian relic is an ironic symbol of the ancient Egyptian mindset. The Scorpion mace-head depicts the king performing an irrigation ceremony. He uses a hoe to cut a furrow in the earth, while a servant kneels, basket in hand, ready to receive the first sod in dedication to a bountiful planting. In Egypt, this ceremony must have held a lofty place in the minds of the people, for their very life depended on the blessing of the Nile and it’s watering of the earth.

The Mace-head of King "Scorpion"

The irony inherent in the mace-head’s symbolism is it’s memorialization of a peaceful ceremony upon an instrument of war. Since prehistoric times, maces have been symbols of authority, and the Egyptian monarchy co-opted the mace’s symbolism for it’s own benefit. Egyptian royal authority leaned in a decidedly autocratic direction, as evidenced by the mace-head itself. But even through the pictures of the Narmer Palette, King Narmer depicted in acts of war and desolation, we can see again the preeminence of violence in the Egyptian mindset.

The most telling aspect of the mace-heads true symbolism can be seen around the top ring of the artifact. Several birds, lapwings specifically, are hung by their necks on a series of gallows. In ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, these “lapwings” represented the common people of Egypt, anyone not a part of the royal family. In essence, the mace-head bore a symbolic undertone asserting the royal authority over the common people, an authority that had very little limit. Egypt’s kings had gained their power through violence and they would go to any length to retain their power over a subservient populace. Before long, however, the monarchy would take the marriage of the Egyptian state and the Egyptian religion to new heights, in an effort to maintain control through indoctrination. Pharaoh would become one with the gods.

Lapwings on the Gallows