The Truth about St Patrick

by Jim on 17 March 2010

I’m re-publishing to the blog here an article I wrote many years ago (with a few minor changes) about St Patrick.  Without further ado, here it is!

Patricius (Patrick)

385 – 465 AD (?)

Have you ever had a dream, only to have it shot down by the people around you?  Maybe they’re doubtful of your abilities, or think that the thing you want to accomplish is impossible.  If so, maybe you’ll be interested in how one man accomplished the impossible with the power of God, and changed the course of history…

Patrick (Patricius) was born to a noble family, and at least a third generation Christian, the son of a deacon (also a “decurion”, an important magistrate) and grandson of a priest.  He was born in southwest Britain, and so was a Roman citizen, likely in the 380s AD.  Early in his life, however, he did not follow his parent’s example.  But when he was 16 years old, God got his attention.

Fierce Irish raiders broke through the now weak defences of Roman Britain, and attacked Patrick’s town.  He was carried away as a slave, sold to a warrior chief, and was sent to work in Ireland caring for livestock.  Suffering from constant hunger, cold and loneliness, he turned to God for strength, and from then on became a man of prayer.

County Mayo, Ireland
County Mayo, Ireland, where Patrick may have worked as a slave.
Photo courtesy of Jim Moran

When Patrick was about 22 years old, he heard a voice saying, “You do well to fast.  Soon you will return to your homeland.”  Soon the voice spoke again,”Come and see, your ship is waiting for you.”

Taking this as his queue to escape, he fled about 300km (185mi) to a southeastern harbour, where he boarded a trade ship, and eventually made it back to Britain.

Finally safe at home, the story could have ended happily with that reunion with family and friends.  But then, Patrick had a dream – the Irish people were calling to him – “Please, holy youth, come and walk with us again.”  Patrick’s heart was moved for his former captors, and he decided to go.

It’s likely that Patrick first went to Gaul (France) to study at a church, and in time was ordained as a deacon.  The church leaders were apparently not confident in Patrick’s ability as a missionary, and at first sent another man.  But after only a year the first worker passed away, and Patrick, now past 40, was at last allowed to go to Ireland.

In later years, Patrick would write:

For by descent I was a freeman, born of a decurion father; yet I have sold this nobility of mine, I am not ashamed, nor do I regret that it might have meant some advantage to others.  In short, I am a slave in Christ to this faraway people for the indescribable glory of “everlasting life which is in Jesus Christ our Lord”.

Patrick’s Mission

When Patrick arrived, aside from a few small churches, most of the Irish were pagans, worshipping everything from planets to plants.  Magic and even human sacrifice was practised by the druids and priests.  Patrick’s strategy was not to take away people’s beliefs in spirits, but to expose the spirits as demons and show that God’s power was greater.

Of course, he met with stiff opposition, and was constantly in danger of being murdered by the druids.  Patrick, however, convinced a local king to tolerate Christianity, and when the king’s brother was converted, Patrick was granted land on which to build a place for a church to meet.

Soon he moved on to other unreached areas.  When there was a group of new Christians, he would build a church, and, if he had the support of a wealthy landowner, he would also build a monastery, as a centre of learning and missionary training centre.  In only fifteen years’ time he had evangelized across Ireland, and was now well known as a man of God.  He planted some hundred churches and baptized perhaps a hundred thousand believers.  All this in spite of the fact that he still felt he was uneducated compared to many he worked with, and was often very nervous to speak.

The Power of One

The Celtic churches and Celtic missionary movement were largely a result of Patrick’s ministry.  Women played a large role in the ministry, although Patrick himself was careful not to even accept gifts from women, to avoid any mark on his reputation.  Patrick continued in ministry for 30 years, and it’s said that Ireland became fully literate for the first time in his generation.  He died in the 460s, in his 70s.

The heritage that Patrick left is still with us today, even in the area of law.  Patrick was instrumental in laying the foundations of law in Ireland based on the ten commandments.  More than 450 years later, the English monarch ‘Alfred the Great’ would make the ten commandments and the golden rule the basis of the code of law for England, which affected law and government around the world, most notably in Canada and the United States.  Patrick was also among the first to speak out against slavery, with a passion that only a former slave could have had.

After Patrick’s death, while chaos was sweeping across a fallen Roman Empire and the illiteracy was becoming the norm, the now literate Irish had their own renaissance of sorts, copying many of the classics and of course transmitting the Scriptures.

In the later years of Patrick’s ministry, rumours about his past and suspicion about his methods were rumbling around in his homeland of Britain.  He wrote his “Confession” to defend his ministry and give the credit to God. May all those in ministry be able to echo his words:

“I pray those who believe and fear God,
that no one should ever say that my ignorance accomplished any small thing that I did
in accordance with God’s will;
judge, and let it be truly believed, that it was the gift of God.
And this is my confession before I die.”

Read more about Patrick:

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Grandma C March 24, 2010 at 1:30 am

Even though I’m reading this a week after this year’s St. Patrick’s Day, it was a good, much needed review for me. Thanks Jim

Grandma C March 24, 2010 at 1:32 am

P.S. Yes, this great man is a wonderful example that one person can make a huge difference, not only in his place at his time, but also for history and eternity! What a model for us!

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