Going Further In

March 16th, 2020

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Every year millions of Americans drink green beer to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. I get why green—Ireland, the Emerald Isle. But why beer? And how is beer connected to a missionary like Patrick? The answer lies in Christianity’s often forgotten past.

Christianity arrived in Britain in the 1st century, mainly through traders. Patrick was born about 390, in southwest Britain, son of a deacon and grandson of a priest. But he cared nothing about the faith until he was 16 when he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. Patrick turned to Christ.

After six years, Patrick either escaped or was freed. He made his way back to England to become a priest. This was the same period of time when invading barbarians were destroying Western civilization in Europe.[1] Patrick was commissioned to go to Ireland, not knowing that one day his work would save Western civilization.

Salvation came from Patrick introducing the Irish to a written alphabet. Christianity had come to Ireland in the 300s, but the Irish had no written alphabet. The Irish embraced words with zeal, copying all of the Western literature they could get their hands on. Celtic Christianity blossomed.

And it grew. Over the course of 29 years, over 120,000 were baptized. As many as 600 churches established. Within 100 years, Celtic Christianity was embraced by “powerful royal clans.”[2] By the 700s, Ireland was known as “the isle of saints and scholars.”

Two centuries later, these saints and scholars—Western literature tucked in their boats—reconnected Europe with its own past. They established monasteries that would become centers for learning, the predecessor of our modern universities.

But what’s this got do with beer? Here’s a little-known fact: In his mission to Ireland, Patrick brought only one associate—his personal brewmaster, Mescan.[3] They brewed lots of beer. Why? Patrick was part of a tradition that went further up and further in.

I know that’s C. S. Lewis’ phrase. But ancient church traditions did indeed go further up and further in. They saw that the gospel as ultimately about love, best depicted in nuptial union. So they saw what Lewis called “the revelry of insatiable love.” By that, Lewis meant that our experience of love is like the act of drinking, “thirst delighted yet not quenched.” The entirety of creation, including beer, points us towards eternity.

Older church traditions know this. St. Arnou said loving our neighbors comes “from man’s sweat and God’s love” and is why “beer came into the world.” St. Brigid, the Irish saint who labored in a leper colony, asked God to turn bathwater into beer so that her lepers could also enjoy the taste of beer.

Alas, this picture of the gospel faded over time. In 1689, as incidents of alcoholism arose, Parliament forbade the importation of liquor. Upset, the people of Ireland and England began to make their own gin. Alcoholism soared. Arthur Guinness, an Irish Christian, decided to fight gin with beer—making a brew low in alcohol.

But he did much more than that. Like Patrick, brewing beer was part of loving neighbors, but so was founding the first Sunday Schools in Ireland. Guinness opened a hospital that provided free medical care to the poor and indigent By the 1920’s a Guinness worker enjoyed full medical and dental care, subsidized meals, a company-funded pension, educational benefits, and much more.

C. S. Lewis was an Irishman. He was familiar with the Guinness legacy. Lewis could down three pints before lunch, not to get drunk, but to taste the revelry of insatiable love. He saw why millions of Americans drink green beer, but recognized St. Patrick’s Day is more than simply drinking green beer and getting drunk.

That’s a bit of what we see when we go further up and further in. The gospel is bigger than we imagine. But that’s next week. For now, a reminder: if you’re newly subscribed, this series, further up and further in, began on February 10th. Might want to start there.

Be sure to check out the latest Clapham podcast: https://claphaminstitute.podbean.com/


[1] Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (Anchor, 1995)

[2] Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity (Blackwell, 1996)

[3] Stephen Mansfield, The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer That Changed the World (Thomas Nelson, 2009)

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6 Responses to “Going Further In”

  1. John Seel says:

    Prayer attributed to St. Brigid:

    I’d like to give a lake of beer to God.
    I’d love the Heavenly Host to be tippling for all eternity.
    I’d love the people of Heaven to live with me. To dance and sing,
    If they wanted, I’d give for their use vats of suffering.
    I’d make Heaven cheerful because the happy heart is true,
    I’d make the people contented, I’d like Jesus to be there too.
    I’d like the people of Heaven to gather from all around,
    I’d give a special welcome to women, the three Mary’s of great renown.
    I’d sit with the men and women of God. There by the lake of beer.
    We’d drink good health forever, and every drop would be prayer.

  2. John Mays says:

    From A.E. Housman’s poem “Terence, this is stupid stuff”:

    Oh many a peer of England brews
    Livelier liquor than the Muse,
    And malt does more than Milton can
    To justify God’s ways to man

  3. Mike Metzger says:

    Thanks to John and John
    Enjoy a good brew tomorrow

  4. Tim Shultz says:

    Good morning Mr. Metzger. I really enjoy your posts. They are thought provoking, creative and innovative. I look forward to reading them when they arrive. I had a different reaction to what Arthur Guinness did. I thought of the company houses and stores in which the coal and steel companies in Pennsylvania and Ohio placed the families of employees. I wonder if Guinness followed the example of Andrew Carnegie in this? It turned out to be terribly distorted and abusive. I do not know about the long term impact of the Guinness version of this. I hope it enriched families instead of indenturing them for years. Again, I love your stuff. Cheers.

  5. Mike Metzger says:

    Hi Tim:

    I appreciate your question. However, Guinness could not have followed Carnegie’s example, as Guinness died in 1803, 32 years before Carnegie was born.


  6. Tim Shultz says:

    Yes, you are right. Thanks.

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