The Lorica of St. Patrick

St. Patrick Window
                    Window in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

As Timely As Ever:

Pious Tradition v. The “Experts”


   Pious tradition attributes authorship of the prayer above, known as “The Lorica (or “Breastplate”) of St. Patrick”, to the Apostle of Ireland himself.  As is the case with the beloved “Prayer of St. Francis”, experts tell us the eponymous Saint is most likely not the real author.  I myself trust Pious Tradition more than The Experts any day, but for our purposes here we’ll just say that it could have been written by St. Patrick.  In any case, while the prayer as you see it above is the most well-known version, it is really only a part of a much longer composition (I’ve put the full text at the bottom of this post).  At one time this magnificent prayer, in its complete form, was a part of my morning devotions every day.
     “The Breastplate of St. Patrick” is, in fact, written as a morning prayer, and more: it is a statement of faith, a brief but comprehensive catechesis, and a call for Divine help against the dangers that beset us from both earthly and spiritual sources.  Those things are as necessary today as they were in 5th century Ireland, and St. Patrick’s prayer is a powerful and inspiring way to start our daily journey.

“I Arise Today . . .”

     The complete “Breastplate” opens with “I arise today/Through a mighty strength, the invocation of Trinity . . .” St. Patrick is famous for his emphasis on the Trinity, reportedly using the tree-leafed shamrock to illustrate the doctrine (as memorialized in the present-day stained glass window from the cathedral in Armagh, his primatial see).  Here, he also emphasizes “the Oneness of the Creator of creation.”  In converting a pagan people, Patrick needed to impress upon them that there was indeed only one God, as distinct from their pagan pantheon, although expressed in three Persons.  The Triune God is also unlike their familiar gods in that He alone is the universal Creator, as opposed to pagan deities who were more powerful than mortal men, but still finite and fallible beings. In our own day we also need to be reminded that God is Love (1 John 4:8), and Love reaches its perfection in a union of persons, but also that God the Creator is master of all the blind forces of nature with which we wrestle.

                    St. Patrick Lighting the Paschal Fire on the Hill of Slane, 433, by Vincenzo Waldre, 1792


     The next “I arise today . . .” is followed by a brief Christology: incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and descent to the Dead. We, no less than our newly-christened forefathers did, need to understand exactly Who and What is the God that we follow.
     A third “I arise today . . . .” is followed by a litany of various Angels, Patriarchs, Prophets, and Saints, which re-establishes for us that our devotion to the Person of Jesus Christ also connects us to all the lesser persons, living and dead, in the Communion of Saints.
     Next, “I arise today/Through strength of heaven,/the light of the sun . . .” and so on, through a list of natural forces which, St. Patrick here reminds us, come below us in the order of creation, and are so much the more under God’s power (how often we moderns forget both of these truths!).

God’s Providential Care


     After a fifth “I arise today . . .” we see a litany of the various manifestations of God’s Providential care:

     God’s strength to pilot me,
     God’s might to uphold me,
     God’s wisdom to guide me . . .

And so on. At the end of this section we shift our focus to the various evils that beset us:

     God’s host to save me
     From snares of devils,
     From temptation of vices,
     From everyone who shall wish me ill,
     Afar and near.

    In the next section we call for God’s help against these evils, which are laid out in more detail:

     I summon today
     All these powers between me and those evils,
     Against every cruel and merciless power
     That may oppose my body and soul,
     Against incantations of false prophets,
     Against black laws of pagandom,
     Against false laws of heretics,
     Against craft of idolatry,
     Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
     Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.
     Christ shield me today
     Against poison, against burning,
     Against drowning, against wounding,
     So that there may come to me
     an abundance of reward.

Notice the priority given to spiritual evils, which Christians have traditionally understood to be far more serious dangers than the physical hazards at the end of the passage. Today we often ignore or even deride these deadly perils (as I discuss in my post “For Such a Time as This: Powers, Principalities & The Culture Wars“).

The Lorica


     At this point we come to the famous passage quoted at the top of this post (Christ with me,Christ before me, Christ behind me . . .), from which the prayer takes its name. Here we call upon Christ to surround us, to “armor” us, with his protection.
     Finally, the prayer ends by repeating the invocation with which it starts:

     I arise today,
     Through a mighty strength,
     The invocation of the Trinity,
     Through belief in the Threeness,
     Through confession of the Oneness
     Of the Creator of creation.


     As I read through this prayer, which was composed for ancient pagans who knew nothing of Christianity, I am struck by how well it is suited to our current post-Christian, neo-pagan culture. We shouldn’t kid ourselves.  Even with all the amazing gadgetry that we’ve concocted for ourselves over the centuries, we’re still subject to the same basic temptations and hazards that have always haunted humanity. We still could use the breastplate of Christ.

(See also “St. Patrick, Julius Caesar, and Slavery to Sin“)

Here’s a beautiful setting for St. Patrick’s prayer by contemporary composer Ola Gjeilo:

The Breastplate of St. Patrick:

I arise today

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels, In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles, In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

God’s Providence

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

The Lorica

Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me
an abundance of reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

St. Patrick baptizing Irish king

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