Text: St. Patrick (5th century, probably) Tune: Irish folk
1. I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity by invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three.
2. I bind this day to me forever, by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation, his baptism in the Jordan river, his death on cross for my salvation, his bursting from the spiced tomb, his riding up the heavenly way, his coming at the day of doom, I bind unto myself today.
3. I bind unto myself today the virtues of the starlit heaven, the glorious sun’s life-giving ray, the whiteness of the moon at even, the flashing of the lightning free, the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks, the stable earth, the deep salt sea around the old eternal rocks.
4. I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead, God’s eye to watch, God’s might to stay, God’s ear to hearken to my need, the wisdom of my God to teach, God’s hand to guide, God’s shield to ward, the word of God to give me speech, God’s heavenly host to be my guard.
5. Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
6. I bind unto myself the name, the strong name of the Trinity by invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three, of whom all nature has creation, eternal Father, Spirit, Word. Praise to the Lord of my salvation; salvation is of Christ the Lord! Tr. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)
Celtic spirituality has attracted a lot of attention over the past decades. For one, its tunes are gorgeous; people love to sing them. For another, the vivid poetry of the songs, plus the all--encompassing view of the poetry. God, the creator of all, is also seen in everything. The world is filled with his presence. The names for things are also fun. St. Patrick’s Breastplate is attributed to St. Patrick, but we really can’t know. Tradition says that it was sung by St. Patrick on his way to bring the Gospel to Tara. His enemies were camped against him at Loegaire to ambush him as he passed by with his retinue, but as he appeared his opponents only saw wild deer with a fawn. So this has also been called The Deer’s Song. Others translate it as a Mist of Concealment.
This kind of song uses an old Irish pre-Christian concept, Lorica, which means breastplate. The word is also found in Ephesians 6, urging believers to put on the breastplate of righteousness. Scholars note that it bears the mark of St. Patrick’s Christianity, with its deep sense of the battle between good and evil and the need to cry out every day to Christ for protection and praise.
Along the way it tells the story of Christ’s becoming flesh to live with us and bring us salvation. In the middle the Irish blessing and prayer for protection in stanza 5—Christ be all around me so that I am enveloped completely in Christ—in a way clothed in him—but here the clothing is armor against the evil one.
Sages have said that the first thing the wicked one does is persuade us that he does not exist. People dabble in magic and unknown spirits because they don’t think there is anything out there. But then they realize they are imprisoned by the darkness.
As G. K. Chesterton said when people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing, they believe in everything. St. Patrick knew the world was filled with spirits of every kind. The only way he could fight the evil one was in Jesus' name, arming himself every day to be kept safe. Whether or not you have a sense of those principalities and powers in your life, this song from ancient Ireland is a good way to remind yourselves of all the ways in which you can be armed for the daily spiritual battles you are fighting. The devil cannot endure Jesus' Name. Say it out loud as you begin your day or end it. Then, like Luther, who also had a keen sense of the enemy in his life, you can go about or go to sleep in confidence that Christ is with you, protecting and keeping you safe.
HYMN INFO We know very little with certaintly about St. Patrick's life, exactly when he lived, only that he was the child of Roman Britons. He came to Ireland as a slave with his captors and worked as a shepherd. He learned to speak and write the language during that time. He escaped and then came back as a missionary. He was fundamental to the conversion of Ireland and created a Celtic Christianity that differed a bit from Roman Christianity.
Cecil Frances Alexander, the writer of "Once in Royal David’s City," and "All Things Bright and Beautiful," plus many more children’s songs, was born in Dublin, and married an Anglican priest who became Bishop of Derry and Archbishop of Armagh; she loved all things Irish. She was asked by the Dean at the Chapel Royal of Dublin Castle to do a metrical version of the prayer, or Lorica, as the Dean referred to it. She quickly did so. This is an especially complicated hymn because it basically has three metrical parts so needed at least two tunes, and a chant in the middle. Composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), also born in Ireland, and taught at Trinity College, Cambridge University, set it using two Irish tunes. While it hasn’t quite made the hit parade, it is always there on St. Patrick’s Day or Trinity Sunday, or whenever people need an Irish blessing. Hymnal committees in the past half century have put it into their hymnals and since it has gotten more attention among Lutherans and Episcopalians in this country, especially.
LINKS Choir of Trinity College, Melbourne University https://youtu.be/gXj_epqheMw
Moises Pacheco/solo https://youtu.be/UuzYaDrwwz8
Concordia Seminary chorus https://youtu.be/DhROzB1rxPY