Daily Archives: March 17, 2011

St. Patrick’s Day


The Pogues, “Streams of Whiskey”

On the soberer side of St. Patrick’s Day (that is, any time before about 4 pm), Frye in The Great Code cites St. Patrick’s illustration of the Trinity to make a point about metaphor and doctrine:

The sense in Christianity as a faith beyond reason, which must continue to affirm even after reason gives up, is closely connected with the linguistic fact that many of the central doctrines of Christianity can be grammatically expressed only in the form metaphor.  Thus, Christ is God and man; in the Trinity three persons are one; in the Real Presence the body and blood are bread and wine. When these doctrines are rationalized as conceptions of a spiritual substance and the like, the metaphor is translated in metonymic language and “explained.” But there is a strong smell of intellectual mortality about such explanations, and sooner or later they fade away and the original metaphor reappears, as intransigent as ever. At that point we are back to the world where St. Patrick illustrates the doctrine of the Trinity with a shamrock, a use of concrete paradox that enlightens the mind by paralyzing the discursive reason, like the koan of Zen Buddhism. The doctrines may be “more” than metaphors; the point is that they can be stated only in a metaphorical this-is-that form. (CW 19, 73)