St. Patrick

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Traditional image of St. Patrick

The 17th century Franciscan monk, Luke Wadding, brought the Fifth Century Christian missionary Patrick to the attention of the Catholic Church. Largely due to his efforts celebrations are held around the world to commemorate his death on 17th March.  Patrick was born in the year 373 a.d a Roman British citizen somewhere near the River Clyde.  

According to his confession (one of only two documents that exist containing his writings) he was taken prisoner by Irish pirates when he was 16 yrs old.  They transported him across the Irish Sea to Ireland where he spent several years as a slave working as a shepherd.  During this period of captivity Patrick became a believer in Christ.  After 6 years he managed to escape and returned home to his family.  At some point he felt the call of God upon his life to take the Gospel back to Ireland which he did in 405 a.d.

The Bishop of Rome, Celestine I, upon hearing of Patrick’s success as sent his own missionary to Ireland by the name of Palladius in 431 a.d. in order to bring the Irish churches under submission to Rome.  Palladius’s mission failed and he soon left Ireland for Britain.

The churches in Ireland would only succumb to Rome in the 12th century when King Henry, under instructions from Pope Alexander, invaded Ireland and imposed Roman Catholicism in Ireland.

It is reckoned that Patrick established some 365 churches across Ireland. during a ministry that lasted 60 years.  Each church pastors and elders, who served the flock and not as ecclesiastical monarchs.

A number of things are attributed to Patrick, however these only begin to surface centuries after Patrick’s death.  It is said that he miraculously rid Ireland of snakes, however there is no evidence of there ever existing snakes in Ireland. 

In the 18th century the legend of Patrick using the Irish Shamrock to teach the Irish about the trinity surfaced, since then Patrick has been forever linked with the Shamrock.

In the 12th century the legend of Patrick speaking with the Irish ancestor appears.

Although never having been formally canonised as a saint by the Catholic Church, Patrick is recognised as a Popular Saint–one who was recognised as such by popular acclaim.

In traditional Catholic artwork Patrick is always seen dressed in ornate green vestments wearing a Mitre and carrying an ornate shepherd’s crook.  There can be little doubt that Patrick never wore such attire.  His clothing would have been much the same as anyone else during the 5th century; a thick, coarse and warm tunic made of mainly linen and wool dyed in browns and golds, greys, greens and pale blues, but not the bright Emerald Green which would have been too ostentatious for a minister of the Gospel.  Like anyone who travelled he would have carried a staff, or a crook, but nothing ornate.  Apparently the first church he ever founded met in a barn donated by a local chieftain in the village of Saul just outside of Downpatrick.  This chieftain, called Dichu, we are told was one of the first people Patrick brought to faith.

Patrick remains an enigmatic figure.  His life is shrouded in myth and legend.  His memory has been politicised to the point where he is a Nationalist symbol for the Irish around the world. 

So what are we to make of this man?  What would this man make of what people have done in his memory?  Would Patrick be happy that people use the commemoration of his life as an excuse for drunken behaviour and carousing?  Would he be pleased that this should be the legacy that he is remembered for?  He travelled to Ireland to bring the message of Christ to the Irish Celts, but all this seems to have been lost or forgotten. 

The Romanised church has appropriated Patrick as one of their own yet he was not sent to Ireland by any of the ecclesiastical authorities, he went simply because he felt the call of God to go as he himself testified:

I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming as if from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: The Voice of the Irish, and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us. And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke. Thanks be to God, because after so many years the Lord bestowed on them according to their cry
(The Confession of Patrick, p. 3.)

This article has largely been based on Who Was The Real St. Patrick? by Richard Bennet, Berean Beacon, © 2003, 2010, Films for Christ.

 

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