Saturday, March 17, 2007


A couple of years ago, when Marina was helping out at Portadown Independent Christian School, she did a project with her class about Saint Patrick. On a school trip, Marina and her class (I drove the bus) visited a church graveyard, located on a hilltop in Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland where Patrick is supposed to be buried.

I have no idea if he is buried there or not, but there is little dispute that he died on March 17. There is less agreement, however, on the year that he died, but evangelicals prefer the earlier date, 465 AD. Not matter when he died, his 60 years of ministry had a tremendous impact on the island.

So, who was Patrick, and what is his legacy?

It’s sometimes difficult to decipher fact from fiction when it comes to the origins of Christianity and the role of Patrick in Ireland. The Irish love their myths and fairy tales, and Patrick is surrounded by them.

But one thing is certain; Patrick was a Christian, in the biblical sense. His writings and a hymn attributed to him, but which was probably written by someone else at a later date, clearly show that the early Irish church reflected more the beliefs and practices of Christianity as found in the New Testament than that of the rest of Christendom on the island of Britain and the European continent, especially as it came more and more under the influence and control of the Bishop of Rome.

Much of Patrick’s message, and that of the early Celtic church in Ireland, was in fact at odds with the extravagances and extra-biblical teachings that were beginning to characterise the Christian religion elsewhere. His belief in the Atonement, sovereign grace and salvation by faith comes out clearly in the extant writings.

Patrick left behind two documents that are accepted by all as genuine: the ‘Confession of Patrick’; and his ‘Letter’.

In these documents he writes in plain language. He describes, among other things, his life in a Roman home in Britain, his capture by Irish raiders, his years of slavery in Ireland and his escape. He recounts that his eventual call to Ireland was from God, and he makes no mention of any human agency. His understanding of Christianity was a lot different from that which came to hold sway on the island in the 12th century when pope Adrian gave the Emerald Isle to the Catholic king of England.

One of the most common myths about Patrick is that he drove all the snakes from Ireland. Not true, although, he did do tremendous damage to the greatest snake of them all!

Another ‘myth’ may very well be true. They say he used a shamrock to explain the Trinity. His writings mention the Trinity a number of times, so there is every possibility that he used this common plant to illuminate the truth of the triune God.

There is little doubt that Christianity had reached Ireland before the appearance of Patrick, through traders and the like, but it is Patrick who is credited with the widespread dissemination of the message of Christ and His love. Praise the Lord for Patrick.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

If you would be interested in hearing a nonconformist view on Patrick, and not just the one-sided official stuff that you find in most history books and encyclopaedias, drop me a line, and I’ll send you an informative article. (briggsntm at yahoo dot com)


Extract from Encyclopædia Britannica

…He was born in Britain of a Romanized family. At the age of 16 he was torn by Irish raiders from the villa of his father, Calpurnius, a deacon and minor local official, and carried into slavery in Ireland, where, during six bleak years spent as a herdsman, he turned with fervour to his faith. Hearing at last in a dream that the ship in which he was to escape was ready, he fled his master and found passage to Britain. There he came near to starvation and suffered a second brief captivity before he was reunited with his family. Thereafter, he may have paid a short visit to the Continent.
The best known passage in the Confessio, his spiritual autobiography, tells of a dream, after his return to Britain, in which one Victoricus delivered him a letter headed “The Voice of the Irish.” As he read it he seemed to hear a certain company of Irish beseeching him to walk once more among them. “Deeply moved,” he says, “I could read no more.” Nevertheless, because of the shortcomings of his education he was reluctant for a long time to respond to the call. Even on the eve of reembarkation for Ireland he was beset by doubts of his fitness for the task. Once in the field, however, his hesitations vanished. Utterly confident in the Lord, he journeyed far and wide, baptizing and confirming with untiring zeal. In diplomatic fashion he brought gifts to a kinglet here and a lawgiver there but accepted none from any. On at least one occasion he was cast into chains. On another, he addressed with lyrical pathos a last farewell to his converts who had been slain or kidnapped by the soldiers of Coroticus.
Careful to deal fairly with the heathen, he nevertheless lived in constant danger of martyrdom. The evocation of such incidents of what he called his “laborious episcopate” was his reply to a charge, to his great grief endorsed by his ecclesiastical superiors in Britain, that he had originally sought office for the sake of office. In point of fact, he was a most humble-minded man, pouring forth a continuous paean of thanks to his Maker for having chosen him as the instrument whereby multitudes who had worshipped “idols and unclean things” had become “the people of God.”
(Encyclopædia Britannica 2007 Ultimate Reference Suite.)