Saint Patrick of Ireland
The Celtic variety of the Christian faith would not exist if it were not for the bold love and actions of a man named Patrick…
Patrick was born in Roman Britain in the year 387. His story begins when he was kidnapped as a teenager by raiding Irish pirates. As a slave in Ireland, Patrick tended sheep, an isolated and harsh existence that led him to place his life in the hands of the living God. The years passed and Patrick’s faith increased.
The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same. I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain. – Saint Patrick of Ireland
Then one night he received a dream in which a voice spoke and said: “Your hungers are rewarded: you are going home.” Startled, Patrick woke and sat up to hear the voice continue: “Look, your ship is ready.” Without hesitation Patrick set off for the coast, a 200 mile walk. Indeed, a ship was there and he was able to board and eventually make his way back to his parents in England. But it isn’t long before visions and voices once again are prompting him to take a leap of faith.
I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea-and they cried out, as with one voice: ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’ – Saint Patrick of Ireland
Despite his parents pleadings not to leave, Patrick sets out to Gaul (now France) in quest of theological training, which he completes and is then off to Ireland and it’s pagan warrior people.
Patrick is the first missionary of the Christian faith since Paul of the New Testament. In the years between these two great emissaries, the Gospel has spread within the bounds of the Roman Empire. Here is the first instance of the Gospel being proclaimed to the barbarian peoples outside of Roman territory. This was no easy undertaking, and Patrick knew it: “every day I am ready to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved – whatever may come my way. But I am not afraid of any of these things, because of the promises of heaven; for I have put myself in the hands of God Almighty.”
Patrick’s ministry to the Irish is remarkable. He was able to present the story of Christ in a way that had great appeal to the Celtic people whose pagan religion was based very much in fear. The gods they worshiped were horrible terrors who could scare men literally to death and were appeased in such gruesome rituals as human sacrifice. It is said that Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland. The demonic spirits that once controlled the Irish most likely are the “snakes” he banished. The Irish could not help but note the peace with which Patrick faced each day and how soundly and soberly he slept each night. Over a time period of some 40 years, he established faith leaders and centers of Christian learning throughout the land.
Patrick was the first person to ever speak openly against slavery, and he is passionate about this having been a slave himself. He is responsible for the end of the Irish slave trade and his influence significantly reduced violence and inter-tribal warfare among the Irish Celts. Patrick had a deep love for the Irish and very much considered himself one of them. Patrick looked into the hearts of these people and saw good – “that even slave traders can turn into liberators, even murderers can act as peacemakers, even barbarians can take their places among the nobility of heaven.” (Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, p. 115)
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