Reading: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
Patrick’s mention of “monks and virgins” (Confession, sec. 41) presents some difficulty to the modern evangelical mind. We should remember that the Celtic church (Irish, Scots, and Welsh) was very much separate from the Roman church for centuries. The celebration of Easter, the marriage of clergy, the absence of the word “Catholic” from his writing, and the threat that Celtic monasteries posed to the hierarchy of Rome all show how detached Patrick was from the Roman church. Roman Catholic monasticism originated in Egypt in the later part of the third century. Irish monasticism was different from it in form and content. The Irish monasteries were the home of theological and spiritual activity and from them Ireland got the name of being the “land of saints and scholars.”
The original rationale of the monastery was born out of a godly desire to live a life of self-denial and dedication to the Lord. It was a choice to abstain from the legitimate and natural practices of life in order to live more unto Christ as Paul spoke of it in 1 Corinthians 7:25–28. As the monastic movement developed into solitary retirement and then into “societies,” it grew more and more distant from biblical teaching. It was the first stage, in the simplicity of the gospel desire for a wholly dedicated life, that Patrick speaks about; he speaks of the rich daughters of kings and also of those in slavery practicing this “self-denying” life and suffering “persecution,” “threats and terrorization,” to do so. “But,” he continues, “the Lord has given grace to many of His handmaidens, for though they are forbidden to do so, they resolutely follow His example.” (Confession, sec. 42).
Christian, how much of your life is spent denying self and the flesh in order that the heart, mind, and body might be of better service to the Lord? “Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD” (Lamentations 3:40). Let us seek to serve Him with the whole heart and life. But let us be careful not to let the practice of holiness replace the power of it in the life. Protestantism has its own form of asceticism, when the manner of living, rather than Christ, becomes the focus of the life.
“It is not by telling people about ourselves that we demonstrate our Christianity. Words are cheap. It is by costly, self-denying Christian practice that we show the reality of our faith.”—Jonathan Edwards