July/August 2010 - Vol. 41

St. Patrick's Breastplate 

also known as The Deer Cry

A hymn attributed to St. Patrick of Ireland, 387-460 AD

(translation by Cecil Frances Alexander)

This Celtic hymn, which dates from the late seventh or early eighth century, is traditionally ascribed to St. Patrick. It reflects many of the themes found in Patrick's thought. It is believed that Patrick wrote this hymn as a breastplate of faith for the protection of body and soul against all forms of evil – devils, vice, and the evil which humans perpetrate against one another. Legend has it that the High King of Tara, Loeguire, on Holy Saturday 433 AD, resolved to ambush and kill Patrick and his monks to prevent them from spreading the Christian faith in his kingdom. As Patrick and his followers approached singing this hymn, the king and his men saw only a herd of wild deer and let them pass by. This hymn is both a prayer and statement of faith to be recited for protection, arming oneself for spiritual battle. 
I bind unto myself today 
the strong name of the Trinity, 
by invocation of the same, 
the Three in One and One in Three. 

I bind this day to me forever, 
by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation; 
his baptism in the Jordan River; 
his death on cross for my salvation; 
his bursting from the spiced tomb; 
his riding up the heavenly way; 
his coming at the day of doom: 
I bind unto myself today. 

I bind unto myself the power 
of the great love of cherubim; 
the sweet “Well done” in judgment hour; 
the service of the seraphim; 
confessors’ faith, apostles’ word, 
the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls; 
all good deeds done unto the Lord, 
and purity of virgin souls. 

I bind unto myself today 
the virtues of the starlit heaven, 
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray, 
the whiteness of the moon at even, 
the flashing of the lightning free, 
the whirling wind's tempestuous shocks, 
the stable earth, the deep salt sea, 
around the old eternal rocks. 

I bind unto myself today 
the power of God to hold and lead, 
his eye to watch, his might to stay, 
his ear to hearken to my need; 
the wisdom of my God to teach, 
his hand to guide, his shield to ward; 
the word of God to give me speech, 
his heavenly host to be my guard. 
[Against the demon snares of sin, 
the vice that gives temptation force, 
the natural lusts that war within, 
the hostile men that mar my course; 
of few or many, far or nigh, 
in every place, and in all hours 
against their fierce hostility, 

I bind to me these holy powers. 
Against all Satan's spells and wiles, 
against false words of heresy, 
against the knowledge that defiles 
against the heart’s idolatry, 
against the wizard’s evil craft, 
against the death-wound and the burning 
the choking wave and poisoned shaft, 
protect me, Christ, till thy returning.] 

Christ be with me, Christ within me, 
Christ behind me, Christ before me, 
Christ beside me, Christ to win, 
Christ to comfort and restore me, 
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, 
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, 
Christ in hearts of all that love me, 
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. 

I bind unto myself the name, 
the strong name of the Trinity, 
by invocation of the same, 
the Three in One, and One in Three, 
of whom all nature hath creation, 
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word. 
Praise to the Lord of my salvation: 
Salvation is of Christ the Lord. 

[The translator, Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander (1818-1895), was a hymn-writer and poet. She was born in Dublin, Ireland. Her husband, William Alexander, was appointed a Church of Ireland bishop, and later became Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. 

Mrs. Alexander was a keen supporter of the Oxford Movement, and in 1848 published Hymns For Little Children, which includes three of the most popular hymns in the English language: "Once in Royal David's City," "All Things Bright and Beautiful" and "There is a Green Hill Far Away."] 

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