Mar 29, 2010

A Closer Look at St. Patrick's Breastplate

photo via creative commons by madmrmox
This week I'm going to divide St. Patrick's Breastplate into three parts to examine it more closely.

A bit about the Breastplate:
It's a prayer found in the 9th century Book of Armagh. Most scholars agree that it wasn't actually written by St. Patrick because it was written in a later timeframe, but it was certainly penned by someone who had been influenced by the patron saint.

It's also called the Lorica or The Deer Cry. The title Breastplate comes from the ancient warrior battle gear. The prayer is meant to be worn, meaning you wrap yourself in it and take it on as a part of you. A breastplate is protection, and this is certainly a prayer for spiritual protection.


I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgment Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

This part of the prayer is a sort of statement of beliefs: The Trinity; Christ's baptism, crucifixion, resurrection, and second coming; the angels, the Biblical fathers, and modern day saints.

I wondered if this was anything like the creeds the church uses today, so I decided to take a look.
Here is the Apostle's Creed, believed to possibly predate St. Patrick's Breastplate by about four centuries.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.
I don't want to get into church theology here, but while these two statements are not identical, there are some similarities. What the Breastplate has in common with this Creed is a belief in the Creator; the Trinity; Christ's crucifixion, resurrection, and coming again; and a belief in modern day saints. So, there are some things in common. However, one difference I see is between the words "bind" and "believe." You could argue that they say the same thing, but I think "bind" says it better. It speaks to the Celtic belief that the spiritual and the physical are intertwined.

So, not being a religious scholar, I'm wondering....what you do think? Please share.


  1. Cindy, excellent observation about the difference between "bind" and "believe." "Bind" is clearly the stronger word, but not only for the reason you cited (though that is certainly valid). Binding oneself to something indicates a total trust and commitment. Also it can indicate something inescapable, and a form of voluntary slavery.
    "Believe," though a good word, can simply indicate mental assent. Even the devils believe.

  2. I think 'bind' would mean that one is making it a part of oneself - very powerful words.