Patricius of Ireland

St. Patrick’s Day is upon us. It is a day of wearing green and parading the city. But, I would wager that the population at large gives little thought to the man behind the celebration. Much controversy surrounds the life of this missionary to the Irish. There has been many a tale told of the mystic-like powers of St. Patrick. One story has him casting out all the snakes from Ireland from atop a mountain. Another legend places Patrick in a time of fasting at the same mountain. It is said that during the fast he was tormented by demons who were found in the form of black birds. It was further told that in response to this demonic affliction the monk sang psalms at the birds while ringing a bell, which he later broke by throwing it at the demons. There are many other such legendary tales of this very real man, none of which can be validated but many of which can be found in the work, Tripartite Life, being written some four hundred years after the life of St. Patrick. The intention of Tripartite’s authors was to immortalize St. Patrick as hero of Ireland. This book was designed as a series of sermons to be shared over the course of the weeks surrounding St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick (Latin: Patricius; Irish: Pádraig; Welsh: Padrig)

While Tripartite Life is not representative of the saint’s actual life there is one such piece of writing that is — St. Patrick’s very own work entitled, Confession. In this autobiographical work, St. Patrick reveals a true faith in Christ. Moreover, Confession discloses the amazing journey that this man embarked upon that ultimately brought him to the Lord.

Confession begins with a simple confession; the saint writes, “I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all faithful, and utterly despised by many.”[2] Here we see this mans undeniably honest look at himself, stating that he is a sinner and uneducated; moreover, revealing a humbleness by making known a lack of faith. In this historic work St. Patrick goes on to tell the astonishing story of how he came into the service of the Lord. At the age of sixteen Patrick was taken captive along with thousands of other people, being removed from his home in Britain, and sent to Ireland by a group of Celtic raiders. Of the cause of this abduction Patrick writes that they were taken in to captivity, “and deservedly so, because we turned away from God, and did not keep His commandments, and did not obey our priests, who used to remind us of our salvation.”[3] This statement is very reminiscent of the reason for Israel’s repeated captivity. One thing this quote tells the reader is that at the time of his capture Patrick was not a true follower of Christ. As is recorded in Confession, while in captivity the Lord made Himself known to the young Patrick and he converted with all his heart to the Lord. His profession of faith was as follows:

Because there is no other God, nor ever was, nor will be, than God the Father unbegotten, without beginning, from whom is all beginning, the Lord of the universe, as we have been taught; and His son Jesus Christ, whom we declare to have always been with the Father, spiritually and ineffably begotten by the Father before the beginning of the world, before all beginning; and by Him are made all things visible and invisible. He was made a man, and, having defeated death, was received into heaven by the Father; and He hath given Him all power over all names in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, in whom we believe, and whose advent we expect soon to be…[4]

By this statement we see St. Patrick’s true belief in Christ. In this confession the saint goes on to express his hesitation in writing for any to read and scrutinize because of his lack of formal education, which others in his profession had. One such evidence of his educational deficiency is found in Patrick’s poor ability to use Latin properly, according to Alannah Hopkin, author of The living legend of St. Patrick, where he states, “Patricius’ Latin is rough, to put it mildly, and he points out more than once that Latin was not his normal daily language.”[5] Again, one can see Patrick’s humilty in making public his weakness and timidity.

During his captivity, when Patrick was made to be a shepherd, he began to rely heavily on the Lord. He notes in his confession that he would pray upwards of one hundred times daily, wanting to be in a fixed state of communion with God. So it was that after six years of being detained by the Irishmen, Patrick heard the voice of the Lord saying, “It is well that you fast, soon you will go to your own country.”[6] Then the captive young man, being now twenty-two years of age, heard God speak yet again telling Patrick that his ship was ready. With that word, Patrick fled from his captors and made his way to the shores of Ireland, being directed by God. Patrick, having found a ship that would take him back to Britain, sailed for home. Although, after having landed on the shores of his own country he and the ship’s crew traveled through the deserted parts of Britain making their way, on foot, towards civilization. While on this twenty-eight day trek, hunger overcame the travelers. Patrick says that the ships captain new him to be a Christian and so said, “Tell me, Christian: you say that your God is great and all-powerful; why, then, do you not pray for us? As you can see, we are suffering from hunger; it is unlikely indeed that we shall ever see a human being again.”[7] Patrick then tells the men to be truly converted with all their hearts to the Lord. Upon the men’s profession Patrick writes that a herd of swine came walking over the hill, which the travelers then took for food.

Patrick returned to his people where he remained for years, ever growing in the knowledge and love of the Lord. About ten year after his return Patrick saw a vision from God of an Irish man named Victoricus who was holding countless letters. Patrick said that in the vision he opened one of the letter whereupon was written, “’The voice of the Irish’; and as I read the beginning of the letter I thought that at the same moment I heard their voice — they were those beside the Wood of Voclut, which in near the Western Sea — and thus did they cry out as with one mouth: ‘We ask thee, boy come and walk among us.’”[8] At this Patrick’s heart was burdened for those who had once been his captors. No one knows whom this Victoricus was that Patrick saw in his vision; however, many scholars have speculated that it was possibly his owner while in captivity.

St. Patrick went on to devote the rest of his life to bringing the gospel to the Celts of Ireland. Patrick ends his confession by saying, “If I did or showed forth anything however small according to God’s good pleasure; but let this be your conclusion and let it so be thought, that — as is the perfect truth — it was the gift of God. This is my confession before I die.”[9]

Much can be gleaned from and admired in the life of the monk who became known as St. Patrick — a man who was humble and who exposed even his weaknesses to the world so that they may know that it was not he who did great things with his life but rather Christ in him.

Works Cited:

[1] Chodorow, Knox, Schirokauer, Strayer, Gatzke, The Mainstream of Civilization, (Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994) 136.

[2] Alannah Hopkin, The living legend of St. Patrick, (Grafton Books, 1990) Appendix I The Writings of Saint Patrick, 163.

[3] Alannah Hopkin, The living legend of St. Patrick, (Grafton Books, 1990) Appendix I The Writings of Saint Patrick, 163.

[4] Ibid. , 163.

[5] Alannah Hopkin, The living legend of St. Patrick, (Grafton Books, 1990) Appendix I The Writings of Saint Patrick, 163.

[6] Ibid. , 165.

[7] Ibid. , 166.

[8] Ibid. , 166.

[9] Ibid. , 173.

Like what you read? Give Dylan Higgins a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.