The Real Saint Patrick
Rev. Angus Stewart
(Slightly modified from a series of articles in the
Though similar to the
audio speech on St. Patrick, it is not a transcript.)
(1) Patrick: The Myth
(2) Patrick's Life
(3) Patrick's Message (Part 1)
(4) Patrick's Message (Part 2)
(5) Patrick's Missionary Labours
(6) The Significance of Patrick
(I) PATRICK: THE MYTH
Patrick is undoubtedly the world's most famous patron
saint. Few know the patron saint of Spain or Poland outside of those
nations but Patrick has attained international fame. Patrick is also the
patron saint of fishermen—and almost every other occupation—along the
River Loire in France. There are churches named after Patrick all over
the world, including in Rome itself.
The popular conception of Patrick is of the mitred
bishop who illustrated the Trinity using a shamrock, drove the snakes of
Ireland into the sea and victoriously confronted Loeghaire (pronounced
Leary), the High-King of Ireland, and the druids at Tara. He is seen as
typically Irish and dearly loved by the Irish populace of his day.
Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated by many the world
over and not just by the Irish and those in the Irish diaspora. The
parade in New York—the largest demonstration of its kind in the
world—sees over 100,000 march up Fifth Avenue. Green beer; shamrocks;
green, white and orange flags; and public speeches are the order of the
day. The world turns green and everybody discovers that they have at
least some Irish connections.
Patrick, apparently, was a colourful character, a
fun-loving guy. One author lends some support to this conclusion. Thomas
Cahill puts it this way: Patrick "didn't take himself too seriously."1
Many aspects of the "popular Patrick" are promoted
not only by the Irish diaspora and the Irish tourist board and the Irish
government, but also by the Roman Church. According to Romish reckoning,
Patrick was sent to Ireland by the pope. Clerical vestments are his garb
and he carries a pastoral staff. He is accompanied by a guardian angel
and works miracles. He is, in short, a "holy man." Thus when Pope John
Paul II was in Ireland, he was allegedly walking "in the footsteps of
Saint Patrick." It is strange that Patrick has not been canonised by the
the last Sunday of July, Roman Catholics are still to be seen climbing
Croagh Patrick (see insert) in County Mayo, some in their bare feet.
Allegedly, Patrick once spent the forty days of Lent on that mount, and
the Roman Church promises the faithful access to his merits. The island
on Lough Derg in County Donegal on which Patrick allegedly had visions
of purgatory is another holy place that is frequented by pilgrims. In
reality, however, the legend of Saint Patrick's purgatory began with the
pilgrimage to Lough Derg of a soldier known as the Knight Owen in the
middle of the twelfth century.
Not content with all this, the papal church even
declares Patrick's daily ritual. The Roman Breviary for March 17 tells
Every day he worshipped God three hundred times
with genuflections and during each canonical hour he made the sign
of the cross one hundred times. He divided the night into three
periods, devoting the first into the recitation of one hundred
psalms, accompanied by two hundred genuflections; the second to the
recitation of the last fifty psalms, but immersed in cold water,
holding the heart, the eyes and the hands towards Heaven; the third
he devoted to a short rest, lying on the bare stone.
But is this a faithful presentation of the Patrick
who laboured in Ireland in the fifth century? Is this really the man who
evangelised the Emerald Isle? And if it is, do we really want to know
such a man, never mind make him the object of a special study?
Ironically, the presentation of Patrick that embellishes his life with
"pious legend" and papal fictions to make him appealing and interesting
rather than making us admire him, makes any real appreciation of this
remarkable man impossible. Thankfully, as John T. McNeill points out,
"The popular image of Patrick partakes largely of the legend and
bears little relation to the historical person."2
Thankfully, we possess two writings of Patrick which,
incidentally, constitute the oldest existing Irish literature. First, in
his Letter to Coroticus Patrick rebukes Coroticus and his
soldiers for attacking some of his Christian converts. Some were
slaughtered but others were kidnapped to be sold into slavery. Second,
Patrick wrote his Confession near the end of his life as a
defence of his mission work in Ireland. Patrick’s two writings have been
translated into English several times and exist in many editions. They
are well worth obtaining and make rewarding reading, taking us back to
the work and world of a Christian missionary in fifth century Ireland.3
Papal writers sometimes betray a certain amount of
disappointment with Patrick’s Confession and his Letter to
Coroticus. They appear to be dissatisfied with the simple account of
his gratitude to God and labours on behalf of the gospel of Christ.
"Where are his miraculous works?" they seem to be thinking. "Where does
he speak of the practices of the Roman Church?" Something more is
expected of a saint, and so the myths and exaggerations of the centuries
succeeding Patrick are latched upon and promoted.
Admittedly, there are several historical
difficulties. Patrick's writings are brief and they were not intended to
provide later readers with his "Life and Times." They are occasionally
ambiguous and can sometimes be interpreted in different senses. Our
knowledge of the times during which he lived is still somewhat sketchy,
and this provides further opportunity for an honest difference of
Patrick's first two biographers, Tirechan (pronounced
Teera-hawn) and Muirchu (pronounced Murra-hoo), both wrote in the second
half of the seventh century, at least two hundred years after his death.
Later works betray an even greater desire to heighten Patrick's repute.
It was one of these, the Tripartite Life, probably compiled near
the end of the ninth century, which (sadly) became the most popular
account of Patrick in Ireland until the twentieth century.
At the outset, we need to debunk some of the myths.
First, Patrick was not Irish. He was born in Britain. Second, the
tradition of Patrick's driving the snakes out of Ireland is palpably
false. Third, the shamrock story was first mentioned about one thousand
years after Patrick. Fourth, the confrontation at Tara, though taken for
truth by many, is mythical. R. P. C. Hanson states, "There was no
High-King of Ireland in his day," and "mitres were not invented for at
least 500 years after Patrick."4
Fifth, the green beer is not of an old vintage.
Sixth, the claim of Patrick's papal connections is
denied even by some Roman Catholic scholars. Aidan Nichols, in a recent
Vatican publication, states,
Patrick's own writings ... make no such
pretension to papal support. It seems that the conversion of those
Celtic areas that lay outside the civil zone of Roman Britain was
initiated by British Christians themselves.5
It is highly significant that when Patrick was
challenged as to his credentials for working in Ireland, he does not
appeal to Rome (Conf 23ff.). Had Patrick been a papal missionary,
such an omission would be unthinkable.
If this helps us in understanding what Patrick was
not, we are still some way in understanding what he was really like.
According to one scholar, Patrick "is one of the few personalities of
fifth-century Europe who has revealed himself with living warmth, in
terms that men of any age who care for their fellows can understand."
This quotation may serve to encourage us in our quest for the real Saint
Patrick, the man behind the myth.
The Patrick portrayed in public celebrations and by
the Roman Catholic Church is mythical and useless. In Patrick’s
and Letter to Coroticus we meet a godly Christian missionary who
both commands our admiration and deserves greater attention. Thus we
shall consider his life, his message and his missionary labours, before
concluding with an analysis of his significance.
(II) PATRICK'S LIFE
Leading twentieth century Patrician scholars reckon
that he was born between c. 389 and c. 415 and that his death was
between c. 460 and c. 493. They estimate Patrick lived between seventy
and seventy-eight years. Many reckon that he was buried in or near
Downpatrick, Co. Down. His mission in Ireland occurred between c. 430 at
the earliest and c. 490 at the latest, and lasted at least thirty years.
Augustine of Hippo’s dates are 354-430 and the Roman empire fell in 476.
If we think of Patrick labouring in Ireland from the death of Augustine
to the fall of Rome and perhaps beyond, we shall not be far wrong. Thus
he stands at or near the fall of the old world and the beginning of the
dark ages. But it is doubtful how much he knew of Augustine or of
Odoacer's conquest of Rome for he was on the very periphery of the
What of his family? Patrick was born into a family
with ecclesiastical connections. His father, Calpornius, was a deacon
and his paternal grandfather, Potitus, was a presbyter or elder (Conf
1). Hanson writes,
We should not be surprised that both Patrick's
father and grandfather were clergy; clerical marriage was
countenanced in one form or another well into the Middle Ages,
indeed as late as the eleventh century, and in Patrick's day carried
no particular stigma.7
Patrick’s father was a member of the local town
council responsible for raising taxes to finance local government under
the administrative system of the Roman Empire. He also owned an estate.
Thus he was a member of one of the higher stratas of Roman British
society. In keeping with his relatively high station in life, Patrick
speaks of "the men and women servants of my father's house" and refers
to his own "worldly position" and "aristocratic status" (Letter
Patrick did not live in one of the major population
centres but in "the village of Bannavem Taberniae" (Conf
1). We are unsure of its location but it seems safest to conclude that
it was on or near the west coast of Britain, either in Scotland, Wales
or England. This would be the most accessible region to Irish pirates,
for it was through one of their plunderous raids that the sixteen
year-old Patrick, "almost a beardless boy," found himself a slave on
Irish soil (Conf 1, 10).
the young Briton, was sold as a slave by his captors and, like many
other men used in the gathering and preservation of the church, was
employed for a time as a shepherd (Conf 16). This must have been
quite a change for Patrick. Hanson opines that Patrick was "perhaps
spoiled" and "certainly waited on by servants." Now he was a servant not
a master. He experienced many long nights "in the woods or on the
mountain ... in snow and frost and rain" (Conf 16). Some reckon
that Slemish was the mountain on which Patrick laboured as a shepherd
(see insert). He was also a stranger in a strange land for Ireland was
to him "an outlandish nation" (Letter
It is at this point that we gain an insight into
Patrick's spiritual condition. Although he was brought up in a covenant
home, he had not yet believed in the God of his fathers. Patrick speaks
of the days before his Irish captivity: "I was not a believer in the
living God, and had not been since my infancy, but I lay in death and
disbelief ... Then I used to take no thought even for my own
[salvation]" (Conf 27-28). At the time of his kidnapping he
confesses, "I did not then know the true God" (Conf 1). He was
only converted to God when a slave in Ireland (Conf 2). As an old
man looking back on his life, he understands that his Irish captivity
was God's chastening him on account of his sins (Conf
Patrick, however, was able to escape. Following the
guidance of a dream, he journeyed some 200 miles (Conf 17) to a
coastal town where he managed to board a ship. A few years later in
Britain, Patrick received another dream.
I saw in a vision of the night a man coming
apparently from Ireland whose name was Victoricus, with an
unaccountable number of letters, and he gave me one of them and I
read the heading of the letter which ran, "The Cry of the Irish [Vox
Hiberionacum]," and while I was reading aloud the heading of the
letter I was imagining that at that very moment I heard the voice of
those who were by the wood of Voclut which is near the Western Sea,
and this is what they cried with one voice, "Holy boy, we are asking
you to come and walk among us again," and I was deeply struck to the
heart and I was not able to read any further and at that I woke up (Conf
Patrick became a deacon (Conf 27) and then a
missionary bishop in Ireland.
Roman Catholic scholars have been especially
interested in arguing that Patrick received his theological training in
Lerins in southern France. This would make it easier for them to unite
him to the Roman pontiff. However, Christine Mohrmann in her 1961
lectures at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, pointed out,
"There is nothing in [Patrick's] language which supports the tradition
of a prolonged personal contact with Lerins or with any form of
Continental monasticism." She notes that the key traits of Continental
monastic writings, such as special monastic terms and very frequent
reference to the Psalms and demonology, are missing from Patrick's
Patrick did, however, visit France (Conf 43;
cf. 32); that much is clear. But he was a British bishop sent by the
church of mainland Britain to Ireland. Hanson's conclusion bears
The internal evidence from Patrick's own writing
compels us to realize that he was educated for the ministry in
Britain, spent his ministry between ordination and the mission to
Ireland in Britain, was in fact wholly the product of the British
Church, and that later tradition, which sends him with such
imaginative abandon to Lerins or to Auxerre or to Rome or to an
island in the Tyrrhenian sea, must be discounted.11
His thirty years or more of labour in Ireland saw
much fruit. Paganism was dealt a mighty blow. Human sacrifice was all
but finished. "Within [Patrick's] lifetime or soon after his death,"
writes Thomas Cahill, "the Irish slave trade came to a halt, and other
forms of violence, such as murder and intertribal warfare, decreased."12
Paganism was not, however, completely vanquished. One merely has to
think of the abiding place of fairies and leprechauns in Irish thought.
Patrick writes of "large numbers" and "so many
thousands" of converts (Letter 2; Conf 14, 50), with not a
few from amongst the ruling classes. Patrick even takes the time to tell
us of the baptism of "one blessed Irish woman, an aristocrat of noble
race very beautiful and of full age" (Conf 42).13
At his death the church in Ireland had been well established in many
parts of the island and was served by the many office-bearers he and
others had ordained. Some form of monastic life had also taken root. The
church of Jesus Christ in Ireland, in whose formation Patrick was
instrumental, was to play a vital role in the evangelisation of many
parts of Europe in the dark ages after the fall of the Roman Empire.
(III) PATRICK'S MESSAGE (Part
But what was the message that Patrick preached to the
Irish? Patrick leaves us in no doubt here, giving us a simple Rule of
Faith near the beginning of his Confession:
There is no other God nor was there ever in the
past nor will there be in the future except God the Father
ingenerate, without beginning, from whom all beginning flows, who
controls all things, as our formula runs: and his Son Jesus
Christ whom we profess to have always existed with the Father,
begotten spiritually before the origin of the world in an
inexpressible way by the Father before all beginning, and through
him were made things both visible and invisible; he was made man;
when death had been overcome he was received into Heaven by the
Father, and he gave to him all power above every name of things
heavenly and earthly and subterranean and that every tongue should
confess to him that Jesus Christ is Lord and God; and we believe in
him and await his Advent which will happen soon, as judge of the
living and the dead, and he will deal with everybody according to
their deeds and he poured out upon us richly the Holy Spirit the
gift and pledge of immortality, who makes those who believe and obey
to be sons of God and coheirs with Christ and we confess and adore
him, one God in the Trinity of sacred name (Conf 4).
Several things must be emphasised from this
confession. First, Patrick was not a Unitarian; he was a full-blooded
Trinitarian. His creed is structured according to the Three Persons of
the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Later he refers to the
above creed as "the rule of faith of the Trinity" (Conf
14). Near the end of his Confession, Patrick writes, "We believe
in and adore ... Christ who reigns with God the Father Almighty and with
the Holy Spirit before ages and now and for all ages of ages. Amen" (Conf
60; cf. Conf 40; Letter
21). It is this great God "who controls all things" (Conf
4) as Patrick was to learn time and time again (e.g., Conf 17,
Second, and in keeping with this, Patrick was not an
Arian. The great confession of every tongue on the great Judgment Day is
"Jesus Christ is Lord and God" (Conf 4). Notably, however,
the creed shows no awareness of the controversy concerning the Person
and natures of Christ. It betrays no knowledge of the Creed of
The Christocentric character of the Rule of Faith is
reflected in Patrick's writing. Patrick sees Christ as the true sun (Conf
20, 59-60). He speaks of his whole life as nothing other than a
"sacrifice ... to Christ my Lord" (Conf 34), for Christ was the
One who gave His life for him (Conf 24). Nowhere does Patrick
mention the Virgin Mary. Patrick preached a message of "Christ alone"
not "Christ and Mary."
Third, Patrick was a confessional Christian. Hanson
observes that the Latin style of the creed in Confession 4 is
"markedly different from the rest of the Confession."14
It was not his own production. Given that Patrick was a British
Christian, and that his Confession was written for a British
audience, and that he introduces his creed with the phrase "as our
formula runs," it is highly likely that we have in Confession
4 the Rule of Faith of the British Church in the fifth century. Patrick
was not some theological lone-ranger. As a member of the British branch
of the universal Church of Christ, he confessed his faith in the creed
of his church. Like the Belgic Confession, the Rule of Faith is
intensely personal: "we profess," "we believe ... and await" and "we
confess and adore" (Conf 4).
The arch-heretic Pelagius (c. 360-c. 420), like
Patrick, was probably born in Britain. Moreover, they both lived around
the same time, with Pelagius being the earlier figure. This has drawn
forth comparisons. M. Forthomme Nicholson, in a contribution to a recent
work on Celtic Christianity, has written that "Pelagius and Patrick
share a similar concept of grace."15
This is a very serious charge against Patrick.
Nicholson produces only two pieces of evidence for
her assertion which even merit consideration. First, she states,
"Neither [Pelagius nor Patrick] believes in a confrontation between
God's grace and human freedom." This is strange language and indicates
that she does not properly understand the doctrines of grace. Augustine
and all advocates of sovereign grace deny that grace "confronts" human
freedom as if grace reduced man's freedom of choice to some shadowy
power of acquiescence or made him a mere automaton. The Canons of
Dordt declare that the Lord
opens the closed and softens the hardened heart,
and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities
into the will, which though heretofore dead, he quickens; from being
evil, disobedient and refractory, he renders it good, obedient and
Nicholson's second argument is that, "There does not
seem to be any clear concept of created grace in [Patrick's]
Confession. All is gift, but there is no special gift that can be
called 'grace' in the Augustinian sense." But ought we to expect Patrick
to use words in their "Augustinian sense?" Especially is this not to be
expected if Patrick, as appears most likely, never read Augustine. And
if Patrick does not use words in an "Augustinian sense," does this mean
that his view of grace is Pelagian?
Nicholson does not bother to quote even so much as
one line from the Confession or from the Letter to the
effect that Patrick was weak in his understanding of the grace of God.
Nowhere in either of his writings does Patrick praise man's native
powers or ascribe any goodness to man. Nowhere does he glory in man's
free will or present salvation as the result of our not resisting God's
grace. Nowhere does he speak of the possibility of sinless perfection or
of the Fall of Adam as a bad example. Admittedly, he does speak highly
of monasticism (e.g., Conf 42f.) but this does not make him
Pelagian either. Practically all the church leaders of Patrick's day
advocated the monastic life in one form or another, including Augustine,
the champion of sovereign grace.
Patrick's Confession is a declaration of the
mercy and faithfulness of God to him in Jesus Christ. Always and
throughout his writings Patrick speaks of himself as only a lowly sinner
who was pitied of the Lord. We see his humility in the immortal first
line of his Confession: "I am Patrick, a sinner, most
uncultivated and least of all the faithful and despised in the eyes of
many" (Conf 1). He speaks of the sins of his youth and he
presents them as being committed against God. He knew that "We
shall all certainly render an account even for the smallest sins
before the judgment seat of the Lord Christ" (Conf
8). In his waywardness, he had deserted the God of his fathers and
disobeyed His commandments and neglected the church's message of
salvation, but the Lord was gracious to him (Conf 1).
And it was [in Ireland] that the Lord opened the
understanding of my unbelieving heart, so that I should recall my
sins even though it was late and I should turn with all my heart to
the Lord my God, and he took notice of my humble state and pitied my
youth and my ignorance and protected me before I knew him and before
I had sense or could distinguish between good and bad and
strengthened me and comforted me as a father comforts his son (Conf
Note that in Patrick's salvation the Lord is active.
The Lord "opened" Patrick's heart. The Lord "noticed," "pitied,"
"protected," "strengthened" and "comforted" Patrick. It is true that
Patrick tells us that he "recalled" his sins and "turned" with all his
heart to the Lord but this was the result of the Lord's work upon
his heart. "The Lord opened the understanding of my unbelieving heart,
so that I should recall my sins ... [and] turn with all my heart to
the Lord my God," he writes (cf. Acts 16:14).
"So that is why I cannot keep silent," he begins his
next sentence. He thanks the Lord for His "great acts of kindness" and
His "great grace" and speaks of his desire to "praise and confess his
wonderful works among every nation that is under the sky" (Conf
3). Many years later Patrick still marvels at the grace of the God who
Consequently I am strictly bound to cry out so as
to make some repayment to the Lord for those benefits of his which
were so great here and in eternity which the mind of man cannot
calculate (Conf 12).
Such fulsome praise only issues from a heart that
knows the great mercy of the Lord.
Perhaps the clearest—and the most earthy—presentation
of the sovereignty of God in Patrick's salvation is found in his simile
of the stone in deep mud.16
Before I was humiliated I was like a stone that
lies in deep mud, and he who is mighty came and in his compassion
raised me up and exalted me very high and placed me on the top of
the wall (Conf 12).
It is hard to conceive of imagery which more sharply
conceives of the passivity of the sinner and the glorious saving power
of the Almighty. It is also significant that this language came from
Patrick's heart and experience. Elsewhere, his writing indicates his
great dependence on Scriptural language, but here he tells us what his
salvation was to him in his own words. "I was like a stone in deep mud,"
he tells us, "but the mighty God reached down and lifted me up."
Christine Mohrmann is nearer the mark than Nicholson
in her assessment of Patrick: "The doctrines of grace are one of the few
theological elements which are mentioned several times [in Patrick's
writings], and there is a clear anti-Pelagian trend in his work."17
However, this does not mean that Patrick consciously wrote against
Pelagianism in either the
Confession or the Letter. Nothing he says supports
Pelagianism and everything that he says is contrary to it. This is as
far as we can go with regard to a possible influence of the Pelagian
controversy on Patrick.18 We can, however,
affirm that Patrick's understanding of grace is much more biblical and
forceful than the majority of the pre-Augustine church fathers (if not
them all). Patrick had grasped clearly that salvation is a "gift of God"
(Conf 14) and this is the message that this simple missionary to
the Irish preached.
(IV) PATRICK’S MESSAGE (Part 2)
We have seen that Patrick believed and preached the
grace of the Triune God in Christ. Patrick’s understanding of grace is
demonstrated yet further in that he repeatedly refers to his call to
preach the gospel in Ireland as a "gift" of God to him (e.g., Conf
16, 33, 62). God, not Patrick himself, called him to his mission (Conf
56), for he received his office from God's hand (Letter 1).
Patrick humbly confesses that he was not worthy of the high calling of
the bishopric (Conf 32). "I truly am a debtor to God," he affirms
(Conf 38). With a sense of the greatness of God's blessings to
him, he cries out, "Who am I, Lord?" (Conf
34; cf. 55-56; II Sam. 7:18). These are the words of a man who believed
and preached the gospel of grace.
Perhaps most striking is the fact that Patrick
realises that he was "called and predestined to proclaim the
Gospel" (Letter 6). He knows that he, and all true ministers of
Jesus Christ, were eternally appointed to their glorious task. It is no
wonder that God should deliver him from all his perils. After all, God
is the One "who knows everything even before it takes place" (Conf
35). When on one occasion during his ministry in Ireland he was "put in
irons," it was not his Irish captors but the Lord who struck his chains
Patrick speaks of his desire to return to his
"country and kinsfolk" in Britain and to see the saints in Gaul, but
knows that he dare not do so. He would be sinning against the Lord for
he is "bound in the Spirit" to his Irish calling (Conf
43). His life, he tells us, is one of service to "Christ my God, on
whose behalf I am fulfilling a mission" (Letter 5; cf. Conf
56). John T. McNeill rightly speaks of Patrick's "intense consciousness
of divine authorization."19
His hard labours were the fruit of God's grace also (Conf
51, 53) and only in the Lord was he able to persevere (Conf 58).
Similarly the results of Patrick's labours are in the Lord's hands.
Patrick knows that the Lord has His children whom He gathers from the
ends of the earth (Letter 9; Conf 39). In one passage
Patrick speaks of the believers in Ireland as "a people who had recently
come to belief whom the Lord chose from the ends of the earth" (Conf
38). The natural understanding of this is that those whom God chooses
before the foundation of the earth come to faith at the appointed time.
For Patrick, nothing is merited; it is all gift and
all grace. One who knows the "great grace" of God in the forgiveness of
his own sins (Conf 3) can preach salvation even to wicked
idolaters like the Irish. God saved him, a rebellious child of the
church, so why cannot He convert the pagans? Even Coroticus and his men,
who, while professing the faith of Jesus Christ, killed and kidnapped
many of Patrick's Irish converts, are exhorted to repentance so that
they may "be made whole here and in eternity" (Letter
Patrick, however, is not soft on sin. Nor is he a man
to mince his words. He speaks of the soldiers of Coroticus as "fellow
citizens of the devils" living "in death in an atmosphere of enmity" (Letter
2). "They shall inherit Hell equally with [Satan] in eternal punishment,
because, of course, he who commits sin is a slave and is called a son of
the devil" (Letter
4). Patrick urged that these recalcitrant robbers be excommunicated and
forbidden fellowship by all Christians (Letter 6-7).
It would be a theological anachronism to claim that
Patrick set forth the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Another
millennium would pass before that dogma would be clearly set forth over
against the full-blown heresy of justification by faith and works that
was the death knell of the Roman Church. Hanson is correct, however,
that Patrick had a "good practical grasp of what justification by faith
Patrick's own conversion experience points us in the
direction of his "good practical grasp" of justification, as does
the comfort which he received in believing the promises of God:
I daily expect either assassination or trickery
or reduction to slavery or some accident or other, but I fear none
of these things on account of the promises of heaven because
I have thrown myself into the hands of Almighty God who reigns
everywhere as the prophet says, Cast your care upon the Lord and he
will nourish you (Conf 55).
Patrick speaks often and boldly of his steadfast
trust in God:
I believe most confidently that [should my
body be torn limb from limb or devoured by birds] I have gained my
soul along with my body, because, without a shadow of doubt,
on that Day we shall arise in the radiance of the sun, that is in
the glory of Christ Jesus our Redeemer, as children of the living
God and coheirs with Christ and destined to be conformed to his
image, because we shall reign from him and through him and in him (Conf
Patrick had an eschatology of hope. He had no doubt
about his eternal destiny. He would partake in the resurrection of the
just and live and reign with Christ forever. Patrick had the certainty
of eternal life because the Lord Jesus "died and was crucified" for the
"slaves of God and the baptized maidservants of Christ" (Letter
7). Patrick "awaited" the final fulfilment of God's promise of the
salvation of the nations when forever believers "will sit down with
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (Conf 39; Matt. 8:11). This steadfast
and fearless gaze into eternity distinguishes Patrick from much of the
medieval church, for wherever the doctrine of justification by faith and
works enters, confidence in one's eternal salvation vanishes. After all,
how can one ever be sure of acquittal at Christ's judgment bar if even
the smallest part of our salvation depends on us?
Interestingly, the Irish believers slain by
Coroticus' men (Letter 2-3, 15) are described by Patrick as being
in "Paradise" (Letter 17) and in "the kingdom of heaven" (Letter
18). On the other hand, the wicked have "their part in the lake of
everlasting fire" (Letter
18). Patrick's writings leave no place for purgatory and James Bulloch
points out that "No reference to purgatory is found in ... any ... Irish
writing prior to the tenth century."21
Underlying all of Patrick's faith and hope is his
unshakeable trust in the Word of God. He can go as a missionary to a
hostile land because he is armed with the Word. He can face fierce
opposition "on account of the promises of heaven" (Conf
55). He can rebuke the powerful Coroticus and his bloodthirsty soldiers
because he knows that the message he brings is not his but the Lord's.
As he says near the end of his Letter,
That which I have set out in Latin is not my
words but the words of God and of apostles and prophets, who of
course have never lied. He who believes shall be saved, but he who
does not believe shall be damned. God has spoken (Letter
That last sentence, "God has spoken," has a deathly
ring of finality about it. Here is Patrick's authority: the Triune God
speaking in Holy Scripture.
According to Edward T. Stimson's analysis,
[Patrick] quotes the Bible 54 times in his
Letter to Coroticus and 135 times in the Confession,
often unconsciously, quoting from 23 out of the 27 books of the New
Testament, 12 books of the Old Testament, and 3 of the Apocrypha. He
quoted most from the Psalms, Romans, Acts, Corinthians and Matthew,
in that order.22
Sometimes Patrick quotes Bible text after Bible text
as if he would bury his readers in Scripture (e.g., Conf 38, 40;
2, 18). At other times his use of the Bible is less overt and more
subconscious. Christine Mohrmann puts it well:
In every sentence, in every thought which he
formulates, there are traces of Biblical language. And not only his
language but also his way of thinking is determined by the Bible.
But there is also in his writings a constant flow of Biblical words
and phrases, which seem to belong to his normal vocabulary.
She speaks of "a sort of omnipresence of Holy
Scripture" in Patrick's writings, for Patrick was a man saturated with
His sober exegesis also deserves recognition. Hanson
states that Patrick's "biblical interpretation is remarkably sound and
sensible," and notes that after reading the "far-fetched allegorising"
of many of the church fathers, both of the East and of the West, "one
turns with relief to the straightforward and simple use which Patrick
makes of the Bible."24
Patrick was a man of one book and the Bible that he
read and from which he quoted was the Old Latin translation, not the
later Vulgate of Jerome. We find no quotations or references to the
church fathers in Patrick. This is probably due, at least in part, to
the fact that he only received a limited education as a boy. His studies
were incomplete when he was kidnapped by marauding Irishmen and he was
never able to make up for this.
Thus when he writes, in the first line of his
Confession, "I am Patrick, a sinner, most uncultivated and least
of all the faithful and despised in the eyes of many" (Conf
1), he is not feigning humility, as some contemporary scholars would
have it. What he said was true. His learning was meagre, his Latin
grammar was very poor, and he knew it. Often in his Confession he
bewails his "lack of education" (Conf 46; cf. 2, 9-12, 49, 62),
and the same note is found in his Letter (e.g., Letter 1,
Though scholars struggle in places to decipher
Patrick's Latin, Patrick's lack of learning enhances the value of his
work in one important respect. His lack of knowledge of rhetoric renders
him incapable of writing for effect. Thus we gain a clearer and surer
light into the inner thoughts of this man of God.
We should note, however, that although Patrick does
not cite the church fathers, he does quote the Apocrypha. Hanson
identifies eleven quotations from Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Song of
the Three Holy Children and I Maccabees.25
Nor does Patrick merely quote them as books "which the church may read
and take instruction from" as our Belgic Confession
puts it (chapter VI). In Confession 11, he quotes from
Ecclesiasticus 7 with the words "in another place the Spirit testifies."
In this, however, Patrick was no further astray than the church of his
day. Only with the struggle regarding Scripture versus church tradition
at the time of the Reformation did the Church make a final, clear
proclamation on the canon and sufficiency of Scripture.
Perhaps more objectionable are his seven or eight
references to his dreams. Two of these dreams occurred at significant
junctures in Patrick's life: the message he received as a slave to
depart from Ireland by ship (Conf 17) and his call as a
missionary to Ireland by Victoricus (Conf 23), both mentioned
earlier. The former, no doubt, merely presents to his mind the desire of
his heart to escape from the land of his captivity. The latter is best
explained, not as a supernatural revelation, but merely as the product
of his burden to reach the Irish with the gospel of Christ. This was on
his mind and he ended up dreaming about it one night. The other dreams
are more trivial and can be understood along the same lines.
Most striking is the fact that Patrick introduces two
of his dreams with the words "I saw in a vision of the night," evidently
taken from Daniel 7:13 (Conf 23, 29). From this it would appear
that Patrick, in his devout faith in the Scriptures, did not understand
that revelatory dreams from God terminated with the apostolic witness in
the first century. In this error, as in his view of the Apocrypha,
Patrick was merely a man of his times.
(V) PATRICK'S MISSIONARY LABOURS
We have considered the biblical message of the gospel
that Patrick knew in his heart and which he brought to the people of
Ireland. We have also seen that Patrick was called by the British church
to labour in Ireland and that he had unshakeable confidence in his
divine calling. However, he was not sent to preach in wholly virgin
territory. That there were some believers in Ireland before Patrick's
visit is evident from the writings of a contemporary, Prosper of
Aquitane, and Patrick himself tells us that there were believers in
Ireland before his mission (cf. Conf 51).
But how did Patrick go about his work? Philip Hughes
gives a fine summary of Patrick’s labours:
The saint spent himself in an endless apostolate,
preaching, baptizing, ordaining, consecrating other bishops,
everywhere establishing monasteries and a curious kind of
ecclesiastical settlement, part monastery, part seminary, part
centre of administration, which, in this country where cities were
unknown, serve as the bishop's see.26
Diligent labour, Patrick explains, was the means of
his success. After the kidnapping and murder of some of his converts, he
speaks of "the flock of the Lord which was increasing in Ireland nicely
as a result of hard work" (Letter
12). Patrick spent himself for the souls of his Irish converts (Conf
53), taking trouble and labour for the salvation of others (Conf
28). Thus he had a good conscience, serving God "in faithfulness to the
truth and in sincerity of heart" (Conf 48).
But he does not accredit this to his own power. Right
from his earliest days as a Christian, Patrick learned to supplicate the
throne of grace. Even as a shepherd-slave he would "rise before dawn"
and pray fervently in the power of the Spirit (Conf 16). The
great missionary to Ireland confesses, "By God's gift I achieved
everything industriously and willingly for your salvation" (Conf
That Patrick saw his mission in terms of preaching is
clear. He speaks both in his Confession and in his Letter
of "hunting" sinners and "fishing" for them with the gospel net (Conf
40; Letter 11). "The children of God whom [the Lord] has recently
gathered at the ends of the earth," Patrick says, have been saved "through
my exhortation poor though I am!" (Letter 9). He confesses
that God enabled him "to come and preach the gospel to Irish tribes" (Conf
37). Mohrmann reckons that Patrick must have been a "very eloquent
preacher," since "the language and style" of his writings are "very
But what did Patrick see as the basis for preaching?
In Confession 40, he lists the classical biblical texts for
missionary work, including Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15-16. The
promises of the gathering of the catholic Church were dear to him. In
both the Confession and the Letter he quotes Matthew 8:11:
"They will come from the east and from the west and will sit down with
Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven" (Conf
39; Letter 18). Patrick describes the Irish as a people
whom the Lord chose from the ends of the earth as
long ago he had promised through his prophets: to you the nations
will come from the ends of the earth and will say: just as our
fathers took to themselves false idols and there is no
usefulness in them, and in another place, I have set you as a
light to the Gentiles so that you may be for salvation even to the
end of the earth (Conf 38).
One striking point about Patrick's missionary work is
that he understood it eschatologically. He speaks often of the "last
days" (e.g., Conf 34; Letter
11) and the Rule of Faith says that "we ... await [Christ's] Advent
which will happen soon" (Conf 4). Patrick quotes the classic text
linking the spread of the gospel and the end of the world: "This gospel
of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony for
all nations and then the end will come" (Matt. 24:14; Conf 40).
For Patrick the mission to Ireland was not merely one of many missions
to hitherto unreached nations. He did not know of Iceland and the
Americas to the west, so he thought of Ireland as being at "the end of
the earth" (Conf 1). Patrick saw himself as one of those whom
the Lord had long ago foretold would declare his
gospel as a testimony to all nations before the end of the world,
and we see as a consequence that it has been fulfilled just so: you
can see that we are witnesses that the gospel has been preached
as far as the point where there is no beyond (Conf 34).
Hanson accurately presents Patrick's thought: "When
the gospel will have been preached to every nation (and the Irish are
the last on the list), then the world will end."28
Like all true missionaries of all ages, Patrick was
motivated to obey the call to go to other lands to preach the gospel out
of love to God and love to the people to whom he ministered. He tells us
that the love of Christ "carried" him to Ireland (Conf 13). He
testifies, "I live among barbarian tribes as an exile for the love of
God; God himself is witness that this is true ... I exist
to teach tribes for my God" (Letter 1).
Patrick thought of his converts as part of the
universal church of Jesus Christ. They are the "flock of the Lord" (Letter
12) and "children of God" (Letter
15) for whom Christ died (Letter 7). Patrick speaks of them as
"most beautiful and most beloved brothers whom I have begotten in
Christ" (Letter 16; cf. Letter 2; Conf 38). William
Henry Scott notes that in Patrick's writings "not the slightest innuendo
betrays any sense of patronizing superiority or paternalism."29
When Coroticus butchered and kidnapped many Irish
Christians, Patrick quotes I Corinthians 12:26: "If one member grieves
all members should grieve with it" (Letter
16). Thus he is filled with "sorrow and grief" (Letter
16). At this point he identifies fully with the Irish Church: "They
think it derogatory that we are Irish" (Letter 16). Of course,
Patrick was not Irish by birth but British, but his heart so burned for
his brothers in the Lord that he adopted their nationality. This was
quite a statement to make in a letter addressed to Britons who despised
the Irish as non-Roman barbarians.
Patrick's love for the Irish people did not result in
his watering down the gospel. We see him declining to partake in Irish
idolatry and immorality right from the time of his escape from slavery
in Ireland (Conf 18). His hatred for their paganism comes out in
Confession 41: "Those in Ireland ... up to now always only
worshipped idols and filthy things." Irish pagans who worship the sun,
Patrick affirms, "will come to a bad end in wretched punishment" (Conf
Persecution resulted but, by the grace of God, this
too failed to make Patrick compromise the gospel.
God ... prevailed in me ... to enable me to come
and preach the gospel to Irish tribes and endure insults from
unbelievers, to bear the reproach of my pilgrimage and many
persecutions, even as far as being thrown into irons (Conf
Patrick speaks of his "twelve perils" (Conf
35) and several imprisonments (Conf 15, 21, 35, 37, 52). Three
times he expresses the hope that God might grant him the crown of
martyrdom (Conf 37, 55, 59). It was always a distinct
possibility. In one place Patrick refers to himself as he "whom this
world hates" (Conf 13). He tells us, "I daily expect either
assassination or trickery or reduction to slavery or some accident or
other, but I fear none of these things on account of the promises of
heaven" (Conf 55).
In many ways Patrick showed faithfulness in his
gospel labours. He was not afraid to travel to the more remote and
barbarous parts of Ireland with the Word of God (Conf
51). He took great pains to be straightforward in his dealings with the
Irish tribes. Patrick was not, as much of the (later) medieval church,
tainted with simony (Conf 55). To avoid even the appearance of
covetousness he refused many voluntary gifts (Conf 48-50).
Patrick's motivation for this is striking:
But I [did it] because of the hope of the
permanence [of my mission] to safeguard myself carefully in every
way, for this purpose that they should not catch me or the ministry
of my service out in any charge of unfaithfulness and that I should
not give an opportunity for denigration or disparagement even in the
smallest matters (Conf 49).
... for the sake of God and his church ... in
case the name of the Lord should be blasphemed through me (Conf
Patrick's reference to the desired "permanence" of
his mission is also important (Conf
49). "The Lord Christ," he tells us "commanded me that I should come to
be with them for the rest of my life" (Conf
43). Patrick was not a fly-by-night evangelist with no long term goals.
Instead, he wanted to stay in Ireland all his days that the church might
be solidly established and so continue to prosper after his death.
Patrick's goal was an indigenous church served by Irish office-bearers.
I must ... promulgate the name of God everywhere
fearlessly and faithfully, so as to leave after my death a legacy
to my brothers and my children whom I have baptized in the Lord,
so many thousands of people (Conf 14).
Just before this Patrick had spoken of the necessity
of his teaching "from the rule of faith of the Trinity" and making known
"the gift of God and eternal comfort" (Conf 14). Clearly the
legacy he wished to leave to the succeeding generations of the Irish
Church was creedal Trinitarian orthodoxy, the comforting gospel of the
grace of God (Conf 51). This alone would stand the test of time.
Patrick's lament was that he could not serve his Lord
perfectly (cf. Conf 13). He knew his academic limitations. He
also knew the struggle with the old man, which he refers to as "this
body of death" and "the hostile flesh" (Conf
44), and with Satan and the wicked world (Conf 13, 20, 44, 55).
But through it all his only hope was in the faithfulness of his God (Conf
35, 54-56). Patrick's closing words in his Confession,
disclaiming all credit for his mission and attributing it all to the
pleasure of the Lord, are especially poignant.
But I beg those who believe in God and fear him
whoever shall condescend to peruse or to receive this writing which
Patrick, a very badly educated sinner, has written in Ireland,
that nobody shall ever say that it was I, the ignoramus, if I have
achieved or shown any small success according to God's pleasure, but
you are to think and it must be sincerely believed, that it was the
gift of God. And this is my confession before I die
(VI) THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PATRICK
We have seen that Patrick was clearly not the
happy-go-lucky guy of popular perception. Nor did he evangelize Ireland
in the service of the Roman Church and bring it under the sway of the
Roman pontiff as, for example, Boniface did for Germany three centuries
Nor was he an abolitionist. Thomas Cahill writes,
"The greatness of Patrick is beyond dispute: the first human being in
the history of the world to speak out unequivocally against slavery."30
But Patrick's Letter
to Coroticus and his men does not condemn slavery per se but the
kidnapping and murder of "the slaves of God and baptized handmaidens of
Christ" (Letter 7). Patrick’s Letter and Confession
are very different from, say, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick
It would be more accurate to refer to Patrick as
"Evangelical" than "Protestant." The distinctive Reformed doctrines were
not developed in his day and it is absurd to expect them to be taught in
the Confession or the Letter. Truth develops over against
the lie. When the time was right the Reformation gospel was stated
sharply over against Roman sacerdotalism. But that would await another
Patrick held to orthodox Trinitarian and
Christological theology. He had a strong faith in God's promises and a
compelling eschatology of hope. His devotion to the Word of God is seen
on every page of his writings. His knowledge of salvation in Christ was
the basis for his missionary zeal to the Irish. Jesus Christ "overcame"
death and received "all power above every name" (Conf 4),
therefore the church must go into all the world and teach and baptize (Conf
The greatness of his work and its difficulties, the
glory of the gospel he preached, and his own limited education were used
of the Spirit to work in him a profound humility. He was no proud
prelate of the same ilk as Augustine of Canterbury, wrongly credited by
some for first bringing Christianity to Britain. The honesty and purity
of Patrick's soul shine through his works. He was a simple follower of
Christ labouring on behalf of His God. He is an example to us all.
Patrick does not hold a place in the history of
dogma. He was not a profound thinker, never mind a speculative
theologian. He did not have the intellectual skills, nor the time, nor
the library, for serious dogmatic reflection. Nor did Patrick translate
the Bible into the vernacular for the Irish as did Wycliffe and his
followers for the English. Instead Patrick sought to diffuse a knowledge
of Latin in Ireland so the church could understand the Old Latin
But Patrick did have what was needed for his
missionary task: an unwavering faith and fervent love for the truth. As
a missionary, several things stand out regarding Patrick. First, he was
an itinerant bishop, one of the few we know of in the post-apostolic
church. Even the Arian missionary to the Goths, Ulfilas (c. 311-c. 381),
was largely stationed in one place. Second, his identification with
those for whom he laboured would be commended by any modern school of
missions. Third, his desire for a truly indigenous church reflecting the
bent of the Irish is highly commendable. Fourth, a Reformed man
appreciates Patrick’s creedal emphasis and concern for the future of the
J. Herbert Kane, in his history of missions, states
that Patrick was "the greatest missionary of his time."30a
Will Durant points out that when Patrick died "it could be said of him,
as of no other, that one man had converted a nation."31
Another peculiarity of Ireland is that it received the Christian faith
without the shedding of the blood of martyrs, Patrick and his anonymous
helpers evidently dying a natural death.
Patrick's writings show a faith very different from
that of the Council of Trent and Vatican I and II. Patrick knows nothing
of transubstantiation, the worship of the host or the mass as a
propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead; nor of mariolatry,
Mary's immaculate conception or her bodily assumption into heaven or her
mediation; nor of papal dominion, infallibility or of religious
inquisition. The seven sacraments, auricular confession, the rosary,
indulgences, worship of idols, prayers to saints, prayers for the dead,
purgatory and clerical celibacy are not part of Patrick's faith.
Ireland, which is now one of the most devoutly
Romanist nations of the world, was only reduced to the Roman yoke in the
twelfth century. For more than eleven hundred years after the
resurrection of Christ, Ireland was independent of the papal see. Then
in 1155, Adrian IV, the only English pope, granted Ireland to the Norman
King of England, Henry II.32 Sixteen years
later Ireland was subdued by the English. The church that was built by
Christ through the labours of Patrick and others was now claimed to be
founded on Peter the rock. At the time of the Reformation, Ireland had
been Roman Catholic for less than three hundred and fifty years.
Non-Roman Catholic Christianity, on the other hand, was to be found in
Ireland for at least eight hundred years before the Norman invasion.
The ancient Irish Church's freedom from both the old
Roman Empire and the Roman Church led William Henry Scott to write,
Nowhere does church history provide an example of
an accomplished indigenous church of this kind equal to that of the
Celtic Church which developed in Ireland in the fifth century.33
But the significance of Patrick can be seen not only
in his role in establishing the Irish Church but in that church's vital
role in the progress of Christianity in the early part of the Middle
Ages. With the collapse of the Roman Empire and the incursion of the
barbarian tribes, European civilization decayed rapidly. Libraries were
destroyed and educational standards plummeted. The church was in great
peril. However, as Kenneth Scott Latourette remarks
Thanks to Patrick and to his imperfectly
remembered associates and contemporaries, in the declining days of
the Empire in the West, Christianity was securely planted in
Ireland, well beyond the farthest limits reached by the legions ...
From Ireland, too, within a very few generations, Christian monks
were to pour into Britain and the Continent, there to revive a faith
which had decayed through the turmoil of the years and to carry it
to pagan peoples.34
Mark Noll, in his book Turning Points,
identifies twelve key events in the history of the Church. In his
introduction he mentions a dozen or so others which almost made it on
his list. One of these is "the mission of Patrick to Ireland in the
early fifth century."35
The missionary passion of the post-Patrician Irish
Church was a continuation of Patrick's zeal. William H. Marnell points
It was the St. Patrick of actuality, the slave of
Christ and his follower in exile but not the wonder-worker of
tradition old or new, who established the tradition in which the
Irish monks who brought Christianity back to Europe in the sixth,
seventh and eighth centuries lived, worked and suffered.36
Similarly, Hughes Oliphant Old writes of the Irish
Not content to achieve their own salvation, their
monasticism was an evangelistic monasticism. They knew that the
Bible taught that they had to share the gospel as well as receive
it. And to that sacred task they gave their lives, with all the
passion that comes so naturally to the Celtic soul.37
The Irish Church followed Patrick not only in their
missionary fervour but also in their love of learning. Patrick, it is
true, was no scholar, but in his writings it is clear that he attached a
high value to knowledge. He lamented the loss of the education he would
have gained in his youth but for his kidnapping (Conf
10) and yearned for "the same talent as the others had" (Conf
11). His children in the Irish church over the next few centuries took
the opportunity they had to gain a good education and they led the way
in European scholarship.
Many precious manuscripts found their way to Ireland
as did many young men of the continent who sought a first-rate education
at one of the famed Irish monastic schools. The Irish church laboured
hard in copying these precious texts and was renowned for its
calligraphy. The Book of Kells, written very soon after the turn
of the ninth century and on display at Trinity College, Dublin, rates as
one of the world's most famous manuscripts. Irish learning and the books
they preserved flowed back to the continent with the missionary monks as
did the purer form of Latin which the Irish maintained. Roland Bainton
writes that while continental Latin was
corrupted by the emergent vernaculars there was
no such danger in Ireland where the native speech was Gaelic. Here,
Latin continued separate and undefiled, to be brought back to the
Continent, after subsequent invasions, by Irish monks.38
The Irish also led the way in the study of Greek.
John T. McNeill writes, "Nora Chadwick [an expert on the Irish Church]
can speak of a knowledge of Greek under the Frank[ish Empire] as 'an
in which the ancient Irish Church followed Patrick was in her godliness.
After all, Ireland was known not merely as "the Island of Scholars" but
"the Island of Saints and Scholars." Near the end of the seventh
century, Aldfred, king of the Northumbrian Saxons, who was educated in
an Irish monastery, penned the following lines concerning the piety of
the Irish Church:
in each great church moreo'er,
on island or on shore,
learning, fond affection;
welcome and kind protection.
the good lay monks and brothers
beseeching help for others,
their keeping the holy word
it came from Jesus the Lord.
In the next several centuries after Patrick the Irish
Church proved faithful to his legacy. She used her learning and piety in
the promulgation of the gospel to Scotland, England, Iceland, France,
the Lowlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and other lands
farther east. The islands of Iona and Lindisfarne had famous Irish
monastic settlements. Through the great missionary work of Columba,
Columbanus, Gall, Killian, Virgil of Salzburg and hordes of other Irish
monks the white horse of the gospel rode forth from the Emerald Isle.
There is much truth to the words of Thomas J.
Johnston about the Irish monks:
In old chronicles and in manuscripts written by
Irish hands, ample witness of their work remains; but all that
Christendom in Western Europe [owes] to them is by no means fully
known or realized today.40
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 (USA: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1995), p. 147.
John T. McNeill, The Celtic Churches: A History A.D. 200 to 1200
(Chicago, IL, and London: University of Chicago Press, 1974), p. 55;
Patrick's Confession and his
Letter to Coroticus hereafter will be abbreviated Conf
and Letter, respectively. The translation from the original
Latin which is used in this article is that of R. P. C. Hanson (The
Life and Writings of the Historical Saint Patrick [New York: The
Seabury Press, 1983]).
Hanson, Op. cit., p. 1.
5 Aidan Nichols,
"The Roman Primacy in the Ancient Irish and Anglo-Celtic Church," in
Michele Maccarrone (ed.), Il Primato del vescovo di Roma nel
primo millennio (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), p.
Confession though having a very similar title to Augustine's
Confessions, gives no evidence of inspiration from the African
church father. Cahill writes, "Patrick himself probably never heard
of Augustine ... and if he did hear of him he undoubtedly never read
him" (Op. cit., p. 114).
Hanson, Op. cit., p. 77.
Hanson, Op. cit., p. 36.
would appear that the Wood of Voclut was the region where Patrick
laboured as a shepherd. Its location depends on whether the Western
Sea is to be understood as west with respect to Ireland (the
Atlantic Ocean) or west with respect to Britain (the Irish Sea).
Christine Mohrmann, The Latin of Saint Patrick (Dublin:
Dublin University Press, 1961), pp. 45-46.
Op. cit., p. 31.
Cahill, Op. cit., p. 110.
This reference to the attractive appearance of a female baptismal
candidate is not the sort of thing one finds often in the writings
of the Ante-Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.
Hanson, Op. cit., p. 81.
M. Forthomme Nicholson, "Celtic Theology: Pelagius," in James P.
Mackey (ed.), An Introduction to Celtic Christianity
(Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1989), p. 404.
Mud, of course, requires rain. Apparently the Irish climate has not
changed much over the last 1,500 years.
Mohrmann, Op. cit., p. 25.
Hanson: "Efforts to support the argument that Patrick was influenced
either by Pelagianism or anti-Pelagianism do not seem to me to have
been successful" (Op. cit., p. 43).
McNeill, Op. cit., p. 53.
Hanson, Op. cit., p. 39; italics mine.
James Bulloch, The Life of the Celtic Church (Edinburgh:
Saint Andrew Press, 1963), p. 126.
Edward T. Stimson, Renewal in Christ As the Celtic Church Led
"The Way" (New York: Vantage Press, 1979), p. 159.
Mohrmann, Op. cit., p. 43.
Hanson, Op. cit., p. 45.
Hanson, Op. cit., p. 130.
Philip Hughes, A Popular History of the Catholic Church
(Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1954), p. 68. The debate as to
where his centre of labour was (Armagh, Tara or elsewhere) does not
concern us here.
Mohrmann, Op. cit., p. 48. Remember that Patrick would have
spoken to the Irish in Gaelic, whereas he wrote his Confession
in Latin for a British audience.
Hanson, Op. cit., p. 105.
William Henry Scott, "St. Patrick's Missionary Methods," The
International Review of Missions, 50, 146 (April, 1961).
Cahill, Op. cit., p. 114.
30a J. Herbert Kane,
A Concise History of the Christian World Mission (Grand Rapids,
MI: Baker, rev. 1982), p. 13.
Will Durant, The Age of Faith: A History of Medieval
Civilization—Christian, Islamic and Judaic—from Constantine to
Dante: AD. 325-1300 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950), p. 84.
Some Roman Catholic scholars have sought to deny Adrian IV's papal
bull but it is clearly genuine (cf. Appendix II in Henry C. Sheldon,
History of the Christian Church, vol. 1 [USA: Hendriksen, repr.
1988], pp. 544-546). It is highly ironic that Ireland was "given" to
England by the pope.
Op. cit., 137.
Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of the Expansion of
Christianity, vol. 1 (USA: Harper & Row, repr. 1965), pp.
Mark Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of
Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), p. 13.
William H. Marnell, Light from the West: The Irish Mission and
the Emergence of Modern Europe (New York: The Seabury Press,
1978), p. 25.
Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures
in the Worship of the Christian Church, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 111.
Roland Bainton, Christendom: A Short History of Christianity and
its Impact on Western Civilization (New York: Harper & Row,
1964), p. 144.
McNeill, Op. cit., pp. 122-123.
Thomas J. Johnston, John L. Robinson and Robert Wyse Jackon, A
History of the Church of Ireland (Ireland: A.P.C.K., no date),