Saturday, 10 March 2012

Saint Patrick and the 'Sun'

Saint Patrick and the 'Sun' is the title of a paper by Dr David Woods which examines a puzzling episode in the saint's Confession:

St. Patrick and the ‘Sun’ (Conf. 20)
(University College Cork)

According to St. Patrick, he suffered some form of Satanic attack one night during his wandering in a wilderness following his escape from slavery in Ireland. It is not clear whether the ship in which he had been travelling had landed in Britain or in Gaul, and it is difficult to explain how Patrick and his companions could really have wandered anywhere in either location for twenty-eight days as alleged before making human contact again, but these problems need not detain us here. I want to focus here on the nature of Patrick’s response to the Satanic attack, the reading and significance of the words which he is alleged to have called out during the course of this attack. The standard edition and a recent translation run (Conf. 20):

That very night, while I was sleeping, Satan strongly tried me – I shall remember it ‘as long as I am in the body’. Something like an enormous rock fell on top of me and I lost all power over my limbs. But where did it come to me, for I was ignorant in spiritual matters, that I should call on Helias? And at this point I saw the sun rise in the sky and while I called out ‘Helia, Helia’ with all my strength, behold the sun’s splendour fell on me and dispelled immediately all the heaviness from upon me. And I believe that Christ, my Lord, assisted me, and his spirit had already cried out through me. And I hope it will be so ‘in the days of my distress’ as it says in the gospel: ‘On that day’ the Lord declares, ‘it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who will speak in you.’

Who, or what, was Helia? As the author of the above translation, who carefully refuses to commit himself on this issue, has noted, this is ‘one of the knottiest problems in this text’.

Continue reading here.

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