Saint Patrick

To celebrate Saint Patrick’s day March 17th 2014, here is the history of Saint Patrick:

Early Life

Saint patrick was born to wealthy Roman British born family some time in the late fourth or perhaps early fifth century. His father was a deacon, and grandfather was a priest. According to The “Confessio” of Saint Patrick at sixteen he was captured by Irish raiders and was enslaved. Until one night six years after he had been captured he heard a voice (from The Confession of St. Patrick 17):

And it was there of course that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me: ‘You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country.’ And again, a very short time later, there was a voice prophesying: ‘Behold, your ship is ready.’ And it was not close by, but, as it happened, two hundred miles away, where I had never been nor knew any person. And shortly thereafter I turned about and fled from the man with whom I had been for six years, and I came, by the power of God who directed my route to advantage (and I was afraid of nothing), until I reached that ship.

Regardless of whether or not this was true, it is clear that he did manage to escape and return to Britain once again. Upon reaching Britain he spent a month in the wilderness, during which time he had several experiences along the way (from The Confession of St. Patrick 19):

And after three days we reached land, and for twenty-eight days journeyed through uninhabited country, and the food ran out and hunger overtook them; and one day the steersman began saying: ‘Why is it, Christian? You say your God is great and all-powerful; then why can you not pray for us? For we may perish of hunger; it is unlikely indeed that we shall ever see another human being.’ In fact, I said to them, confidently: ‘Be converted by faith with all your heart to my Lord God, because nothing is impossible for him, so that today he will send food for you on your road, until you be sated, because everywhere he abounds.’ And with God’s help this came to pass; and behold, a herd of swine appeared on the road before our eyes, and they slew many of them, and remained there for two nights,
and the men were full of their meat and well restored, for many of them had fainted and would otherwise have been left half dead by the wayside.

After reading this I strongly question whether Saint Patrick was embellishing his tale. Judging from the customs of the time I believe this to be true and in my opinion, Saint Patrick rebelled against the slave masters and rallied a group of slaves to escape with him. Detached from my opinion, it is true that Saint Patrick gained notoriety in this group of fellow travelers and after some time he was reunited with his family in his early twenties.

Religious Life

Upon Patricks return, he continued to study Christianity and from The Confession of St. Patrick 23:

And after a few years I was again in Britain with my parents [kinsfolk], and they welcomed me as a son, and asked me, in faith, that after the great tribulations I had endured I should not go anywhere else away from them. And, of course, there, in a vision of the night, 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 that 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.

Thus begins the religious life of Saint Patrick. He returned to Ireland as a Christian Missionary and (as far as we can tell) for the rest of his life remained there. Throughout his time there, he was arrested, beaten, robbed, and likely more. He was both practicing Christianity and at the time was considered a hostile religion to that of the Celtic Polytheism, which was practiced by the majority of the people of Ireland at the time. Saint Patrick was also a foreigner of a ruling class, refusing gifts from rulers (meaning he was never included as part of a clan), this caused many issues since he never had any protection from powerful leaders.

However, It was also highly important that he was left “unbound” from any particular clan, enabling him (as he gained respect) to travel between territories without issue, and remain distant from political issues. This is likely the most pivotal decision he made in his success. Being unbound from any particular clan or ruler enabled Saint Patrick to essentially gain the respect from all of the clans.

Fame

It is not explicitly clear what Saint Patrick accomplished in his life. Much of his life is shrouded in mystery, and much of what was attributed to Saint Patrick potentially came from deeds done by others, as well as the legends surrounding him. One of the more clear reasons Saint Patrick became famous seems to be in part because there was a feast held in his honor and being part of the calendar of saints. Another reason Saint Patrick became famous in a large part because he wrote a fair amount for the time and was included in many of the oldest books/written works, including the A Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus which condemned the slaving of Christians.

Beyond being a saint and having some the oldest written work, he clearly made a large impact in the history of Ireland. Yearly, even over 1500 years later we celebrate his life on the day of his death, March 17th. We celebrate it most often with a classic Irish feast and heavy drinking, in remembrance of a former slave, one of the early authors, and one of the major figures in the spread of Christianity.

There are several interesting legends regarding Saint Patrick on wikipedia I would recommend reading.

Sources

Who was St. Patrick?www.history.com
The Confession of St. Patrick www.ccel.org
A Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus www.ancienttexts.org

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