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, a Brit who lived in the early 400s, was raised in a churchgoing family. But he rejected the faith until the age of 16 when Irish raiders forced him into slavery. Patrick turned to Christ.
He was shipped to Rome. This was the period when invading barbarians were destroying the Roman Empire as well as Western civilization. The creeping chaos gave Patrick an opportunity to escape, so he did, going to Ireland as a missionary.
Even though Christianity had come to Ireland in the 300s, the Irish had no written alphabet. Patrick introduced written language. The Irish embraced it with zeal, copying all of the western literature they could get their hands on. Celtic Christianity blossomed.
And 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.” 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. 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 Irish. He was familiar with Guinness’ legacy. It was said Lewis could down three pints before lunch. Not to get drunk, but to taste the revelry of insatiable love. By going further up, Lewis went further in—all the way to why millions of Americans drink green beer to celebrate the Emerald Isle and St. Patrick’s Day.
Do you want to go further up and further in? I hope so. We begin 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/
 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)
 Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity (Blackwell, 1996)
 Stephen Mansfield, The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer That Changed the World (Thomas Nelson, 2009)