We have selected LSB 604, I Bind unto Myself Today as our seasonal hymn for Trinitytide, AD 2022. Trinitytide is the first part of the long Trinity season, also known as the, “Time of the Church,” with the overriding theme of the Father’s love. The theme for Trinitytide is the Marks of the Church, namely the pure doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with the Gospel of Christ.1
Attributed to Patrick, Missionary to Ireland (c. 420 – c. 490). Patrick was born in Roman Britain to a Christian family, the son of a civil servant and deacon and the grandson of a priest. What we know about his life comes chiefly from two texts which we wrote. The first of these, the Epistola, is a letter of excommunication to the soldiers of the king Coroticus (?-?), who killed some of Patrick’s converts and enslaved others. The second, the Confessio, likely written in his old age, contains a defense of his work against his detractors (pagan Irish and British clergy), and an account of his spiritual growth. Other sources are vague but confirm that Patrick worked in 5th century Ireland.
In Confessio, Patrick recounts that he was kidnapped to Ireland at age 16, along with thousands of others, and was sold into slavery. He attributes this misfortune to the neglect of his faith. During his time of captivity, he served as a shepherd and learned the Irish language. Additionally, he reports that during this time, he was brought to repentance, and spent much of his time in servitude to prayer and God’s Word, moving to fully trust in Jesus. After 6 years, guided by a dream, he escaped his owner and traveled either back to Britain or to Gaul (France). It is unclear where his theological training took place (either Britain or Gaul). While Patrick declared himself as relatively uneducated, it is clear that he was acquainted with the work of Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, and other Church Fathers. This has led some scholars to believe that Patrick spent at least part of his time training in Gaul.
Having heard in a dream the voice of the Irish in a dream calling him back, Patrick resolved to return to preach the Gospel. Upon the death of Palladius, Bishop of Ireland (c. 408 – c. 457/461), Patrick was appointed his successor. Patrick saw his chief mission as being to the unconverted. From his base at Armagh, he focused extensively on western and northern Ireland, where the Gospel had not been preached. In his preaching and teaching, Patrick placed major emphasis on the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity. His converts included everyone from slaves to the sons and daughters of kings. Largely due to his efforts, Ireland was evangelized. In his writings, Patrick refuted the charges that he was out first and foremost for personal gain, and that he was neglecting his primary call, namely that of being Bishop to the Christian community. He is credited for laying the foundation for the Irish form of church organization around chapters rather than dioceses, given the lack of Roman-defined towns in Ireland at his time. He retained an episcopal structure, yet emphasized pious community living and learning. The Irish churches in turn would go on to play a major role in the evangelization of Scotland, northern England, and parts of Europe.
By church tradition dating back to the 7th century, Patrick is said to have died in Saul (in the present-day County Down, Northern Ireland) on 17 March, and buried in nearby Downpatrick.
Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) was born in County Wicklow, Ireland, to an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family. Prior to her marriage, she was active in the Sunday School movement in Great Britain. She wrote catechetical and doctrinal hymns for children that taught Christian truths in concrete and pictorial terms that children could understand, yet that were not “dumbed down.” Of note, she wrote a series of hymns illustrating the Apostle’s Creed, of which one, “Once in Royal David’s City,” corresponding to, “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,” is in our hymnal (LSB 376).4 Many of her hymns are included in Anglican hymnals. In 1850 she married the Anglican priest Rev. Dr. William Alexander, who eventually became Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, then Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland. Mrs. Alexander is also known for her charitable work among the deaf, single pregnant women, the sick and the poor.
In 1839, George Petrie (1790-1866), head of the Topographical Department of the Irish Ordnance Survey (i.e. mapping agency), while looking for old manuscripts describing a site he was surveying (Hill of Tara, in the present-day County Meath, Ireland), discovered the ancient Irish text of the hymn in an 11th century hymn book in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. Along with the hymn was a heading, attributing the hymn to Patrick, written as he and his monks approached the site surrounded by pagan enemies who wished to prevent the spread of the Gospel. Per the heading, the hymn, “… is a corslet of faith for the protection of body and soul against devils and men and vices.”5 In his survey report, Petrie included the entire hymn in the ancient Irish, along with an interlinear translation into Latin and a prose translation into English.6
Consider: A corslet is a piece of defensive armor covering the trunk of the body. The hymn falls into the category of mediaeval Irish poetry called a lorica, meaning, “breastplate,” a Latin term referring to an incantation to protect oneself against evil powers. The lorica was a pagan form adapted by Christians. From this the name, St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Read Exodus 28:15-30; 1 Samuel 14:39-42; Isaiah 59:17; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 6:14(10-18); 1 Thessalonians 5:8. How was Aaron, the high priest, equipped when he went before the Lord on behalf of the people? How was this used to help determine God’s will and protect His people from sin? How does Isaiah describe Jesus, our Great High Priest? What gift has He given us, to defend against the assaults of the evil one? How do we jointly take hold of His gift (note that the verbs in the Ephesians and 1 Thessalonians texts are plural; you might consider also Hebrews 10:19-25)?
The attribution of the hymn to Patrick is impossible to determine with certainty. Scholars who argue for Patrick’s authorship point out the petitions for protection against the pagan spells as evidence that the hymn was written at a time when paganism was rampant in Ireland. Furthermore, they point to the antiquity of the language forms in the hymn as consistent with the thesis that Patrick himself authored the hymn.
The English translation (actually a paraphrase) stemmed from a desire to include hymns of Irish origin in the hymnody of the (Anglican) Church of Ireland. Hercules Henry Dickinson (1827-1905), Dean of the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle, member of the Church of Ireland hymnal committee, sent a collection of the prose translations of the hymn to Cecil Frances Alexander, by then a well-known hymnwriter, with a request to produce a singable version. She responded within a week, and her work was an immediate success, selling 30,000 copies the day it was published in Dublin in 1889.
The original Irish text of the hymn consisted of 75 lines of poetry, of which LSB used lines 1-10 as stanzas 1-2, lines 31-49 as stanzas 3-4 and lines 69-75 as stanza 5. When Mrs. Alexander’s paraphrase was published in London in c. 1889-1890, it consisted of one stanza of 4 lines, followed by 8 stanzas of 8 lines. LSB uses stanzas 1-2, 5-6 and 9.
Missing are the following:
I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of Cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour;
That 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 to-day
The virtues of the star-lit 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.
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, the 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 me,
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 Today was included in the 1982 Lutheran Worship (LW 172). The LW hymn included the stanza, “… the virtues of the star-lit heaven” as stanza 3.7 The LSB stanza 4, “Against the demon snares…” did not appear in LW. The LW includes LSB stanzas 1, 2, 3 and 5, and, like LSB, is 5 stanzas total. In LW, the hymn was included in the section on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, while in LSB it was included in the section Baptismal Life, as at our Baptism we receive the Name of the Holy Trinity and daily invoke His protection against the attacks of the evil one.
Consider: Read The Litany, LSB 288-289, and compare the text with that of the hymn (including the missing stanzas). What similarities do you see? What differences? Read Psalm 143. How do The Litany and I Bind unto Myself Today fit the pattern of prayer that God has given us in the Psalm? How may these function as a, “breastplate” for us?
The tune is an Irish folk tune, originally set to the text of the hymn Jesu dulcis memoria (O Jesus, King Most Wonderful, LSB 554, set there to the tune St. Agnes), attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). Originally transcribed by George Petrie, it was discovered by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), who matched it to I Bind unto Myself Today, for the publication of the 1906 The English Hymnal. The arrangement in LSB contains some minor variants from the Petrie transcription.
Vocabulary: bind – join/tie/fasten tightly; invocation – the calling on earnestly in prayer (Latin: in [upon] + vocare [to call; as an aside, your vocation is literally your calling])
Read Matthew 28:19. Note that the Greek text literally says, “baptizing them into the Name…” On what basis may we bind ourselves unto the strong Name of the Trinity? Who has done the work? When was it applied personally to each of us? Read Psalm 145:18; Matthew 6:9-10a (Luke 11:2; SC Lord’s Prayer, First Petition); Romans 8:15 (Galatians 4:6); Hebrews 10:19-22. What has God promised us when we invoke His name in faith? From 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Ephesians 6:14 (read above), what happens when we bind ourselves unto the Holy Trinity?
Vocabulary: incarnation – taking on flesh
Read John 6:44, 65; 1 Corinthians 1:23, 2:14, 12:3; Ephesians 2:1, 8-9. Who gives us the power of faith? Read 1 Peter 1:1-9. What impact does the power of God’s faith have on our lives? How might this relate to a body armor imagery? Read Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31-33, 39-55, 68-69, 2:11, 29-32. Why is Jesus’ Incarnation considered as integral to the breastplate (and included in The Litany obsecrations8)? Read Matthew 3:13-17, noting v. 15 (Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22); Romans 6:4. Why is Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan integral (and included in The Litany)? Read Matthew 12:39-40 (Matthew 16:4; Mark 12:39; Luke 11:29), 16:21 (Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22); Luke 24:6-7, 26-27; John 19:30, 20:19,26; Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, 50-57, among countless others. Why are Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection integral (and included in The Litany)? Read John 19:39. What is meant by, “spiced tomb”? Read John 20:19-29; Acts 1:9 (Luke 24:51); Revelation 5:6; also John 16:4-15. Why is Jesus’ ascension integral (and included in The Litany)? Read Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:11-21:4ff. Why is the promise of Jesus’ final coming integral (and strongly alluded to in The Litany)?
Vocabulary: stay – curb/check; hearken – listen; ward – guard/protect
Read Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 18:1-2, 46:1, 71:3, 90:1, 91:9. Who has the power to hold us and restrain evil? Why is this integral to the breastplate (and included in The Litany)? Read Exodus 13:21-22, 15:13. Who has the power to lead us? Why is this integral to the breastplate (and included in The Litany)? Read Psalm 34:15 (1 Peter 3:12). Who watches over us and hears our prayers? Why is this integral to the breastplate (and included in The Litany)? Read Colossians 3:16; 2 Timothy 3:16-17. How does God teach? Why is this integral to the breastplate (and included in The Litany)? Read Psalm 51:15; 1 Peter 4:11. Who gives us the words to speak well to God and our neighbor? Why is this integral to the breastplate (and included in The Litany)? Read 2 Kings 6:17; Psalm 91:11-12; Luke 16:22; Hebrews 1:13-14. What is an important role for God’s heavenly host? Why is this integral to the breastplate?
Vocabulary: vice – immoral/wicked personal characteristic; lust – sensual (gratification of the senses) appetite that is sinful; mar – spoil; nigh – near
Read Matthew 6:13 (Luke 11:4; SC, Lord’s Prayer, 6th and 7th Petitions), 12:43-45; Romans 7:15-25; Jude 18-20, and review Ephesians 6:10-18. What tools has God given us by His holy powers, to resist the attacks of the evil one and the temptation to sin? Why is this integral to the breastplate (and included in The Litany)?
Read Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1. Which Persons of the Trinity were present at creation? Why is this integral to the breastplate? (As an aside, how does the hymn text address the Arian heresy?) Read Psalm 3:8; Isaiah 12:1-6, 25:9; John 6:39; Revelation 7:10, among countless others. From Whom does our salvation come? Why is this integral to the breastplate (and included in The Litany)?
- Ap VII/VIII 5
- Information on the author and history of the hymn is taken from Joseph Herl, “I bind unto myself today,” in Joseph Herl, Peter C. Reske, Jon D. Vieker, Lutheran Service Book, Companion to the Hymns, Volume 1 (St. Louis: CPH, 2019), pp. 692-697; Gifford A. Grobien, “Patrick,” in Joseph Herl, Peter C. Reske, Jon D. Vieker, Lutheran Service Book, Companion to the Hymns, Volume 2 (St. Louis: CPH, 2019), pp. 571-572; Cormac Bourke, “Patrick (Patricius, Pátraic, Pádraig)” in Dictionary of Irish Biography, at https://www.dib.ie/biography/patrick-patricius-patraic-padraig-a7225 (accessed 4 April, AD 2022).
- Information on the translator is taken from Steven P. Mueller, “Alexander, Cecil Frances,” in Companion, Volume 2, pp. 184-185
- Two others, still widely sung in Anglican congregations, include, “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” corresponding to, “maker of heaven and earth,” and “There is a Green Hill Far Away,” corresponding to, “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.” See https://hymnary.org/text/each_little_flower_that_opens and https://hymnary.org/text/there_is_a_green_hill_far_away (both accessed 4 April, AD 2022).
- Herl, Companion, Volume 1, p.693
- Interestingly, Petrie’s inclusion of the hymn in his report was based on a mistranslation of the opening words. The Irish text begins, A tomriug indiu, which Petrie translated, “At Temur (Tara) today.” In 1857, Celtic scholar Whitley Stokes (1830-1909), showed that the Irish word atomriug actually means, “I join to myself,” this the hymn opens, “I join to myself today.” As Herl points out, had Petrie gotten the translation correct, he would not have included the hymn in his report and to this day it may have remained unnoticed. See Herl, Companion, Volume 1, p. 692.
- Herl reports that there was debate among the members of the Commission on Worship over whether this stanza adequately taught how God protects us. Some argued for its inclusion, arguing that binding ourselves to the reality of God’s creation is needed to counter the gnosticism prevalent in the surrounding culture. In the end, the stanza was not included. See Herl, Companion, Volume 1, p. 694, footnote 6.
- The Litany obsecrations are the listed works of Jesus, the grounds for our petitions. See Introducing the Litany, at https://catalinalutheran.org/posts/ (accessed 6 April, AD 2022).