Thursday, September 11, 2014

Philip Freeman's "The World of Saint Patrick"

Philip Freeman is Qualley Professor of Classics at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and a former professor of classics at Washington University in St. Louis. He earned the first joint Ph.D. in classics and Celtic studies from Harvard University, and has been a visiting scholar at the Harvard Divinity School, the American Academy in Rome, and the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C. His books include St. Patrick of Ireland, Julius Caesar, and Alexander the Great.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The World of Saint Patrick, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The World of Saint Patrick begins the prologue of The Life of Saint Brigid by the Irish churchman Cogitosus. My little book, The World of Saint Patrick, is a collection and translation of the best writings of early Irish Christianity—and The Life of Saint Brigid is certainly one of my favorite texts in the anthology. It's the earliest story we have of an Irish saint, male or female, apart from the two letters of Saint Patrick himself. Brigid was a remarkable woman who founded a monastery in the generation after Patrick at Kildare to the west of Dublin. She was a historical figure, but her Life is a wonderful mixture of stories inspired by the gospels and legends from pre-Christian Celtic mythology. She heals the sick, turns water into beer, and always has a special interest in the lives of oppressed women.

Brigid’s stories are very different from the legends that grew up around Patrick. The patron saint of Ireland is presented in tales written two centuries after his death like an Old Testament prophet or Moses taking on the evil forces of the pagan world and slaying those who dare to stand against his God. Brigid is much more subtle. When a young nun who has fallen from the path of chastity comes to her and confesses she is pregnant, Brigid doesn’t cast her out, but instead prays with her and causes the pregnancy to vanish as if it had never happened. When a beautiful girl pleads with her to help her escape the clutches of a lecherous man who would turn her into his private sex slave, Brigid exposes the man as a liar and fraud to liberate the young woman from his service.

The story of Brigid shows a different vision for the early Irish church, one in which men and women, young and old rich and poor are equals in the eyes of God and each other.
Learn more about the book and author at Philip Freeman's website.

The Page 99 Test: Alexander the Great.

--Marshal Zeringue