Notes on St. Patrick
(See also The Confession of St. Patrick)
was a native of Scotland. At the age of sixteen, he was captured by
pirates and sold as a slave to Scots in what is now Ulster, North Ireland captured
by pirates, and sold as a slave to the Scots in what is now called Ulster in
Ireland. His daily toil in the
neighbourhood of Slemish, a beautiful mountain, from whose top the prospect is
sublime, and his helpless and hopeless wrongs, led him to think of that Saviour
of whom he had heard so much on the banks of his native Clyde. He touchingly
describes his exercises at this time in his confessions: "I was sixteen
years old, and knew not the true God; but, in a strange land, the Lord brought
me to a sense of my unbelief, so that, although late, I minded me of' my sins,
and turned with my whole heart to the Lord my God, who looked down on my
lowliness, had pity on my youth and ignorance, who preserved me ere I knew him,
and who protected and comforted me as a father does his son, ere I knew how to
distinguish between good arid evil." He found Jesus, and afterwards escaped
from bondage and reached his friends. After
passing through various changes, some of them of a very unhappy character, he
felt he must go and preach to the pagans of Ireland the salvation of Jesus.
He had calls in visions of the night, arid deep impressions throughout
the day, that he must be a missionary in Ireland ; and, in opposition to
remonstrances from friends, and misgivings in his own mind, after some
preparation, he started for the scene of his future labours and successes.
It is probable that he was ordained a bishop in Britain in his 45h year,
notwithstanding all the tales of monks about Pope Celestine sending Patrick to
convert the Scots to the faith of the Holy Trinity.
Nennius says that he preached in
Britain some time before he went to Ireland.
The Irish, he says, beheld in Patrick the most astonishing powers,
natural and supernatural. He gave
sight to the blind, cleansing to the lepers, hearing
to the deaf; he cast out devils, raised nine persons from the dead, and
redeemed many captives of both sexes. He
wrote three hundred and sixty-five canonical and other books; be founded as many
churches, and ordained as many bishops, and three thousand presbyters.
He converted and baptized twelve thousand persons in Connaught.
He baptized seven kings in one day, the sons of Amalgaid, king of
Connaught. He fasted forty days and
nights on the summit of Croagh Patrick, and made three requests to God for the
people of Ireland. First: That God
would receive every repenting sinner, even at the last moment ; second, that the
Irish might never be exterminated by barbarians; and, third, as Ireland will be
overflowed with water seven years before the judgment, that the crimes of the
people might be washed away through his intercession.
Matthew Paris says that in
preparing for his ministry "he read
through the Holy Scriptures, and
made himself master of their divine mysteries."
He preached in Ireland eighty years, and reached the age of 122.
He repeats everything mentioned by Nennius in such a way that it is
evident either one is a copy of the other, or that both are transcripts of some
Patrick invented the Irish
alphabet, and infused a love for learning and for the sacred Scriptures among his converts, which rendered the monastic
schools of Ireland the wonder and admiration of Europe for several ages.
Patrick was a man of
extraordinary ability; He gathered the people by the beat of a drum, and listening,
thousands caught the words of life as they fell from his lips.
In his day chieftains wielded immense power over their dependents, and
the Irish apostle laid siege to their hearts first, and he quickly enlisted them
and their clans. Their bards were
men of commanding influence, and Patrick secured many of the most illustrious of
them, and induced them to compose eloquent songs in honour of Jesus, the man of
Nazareth. Ireland under this remarkable preacher was completely renovated, and
piety of a high order reigned all over the Green Isle.
St. Patrick's religion was
This truth is strikingly
exhibited in the history of the Church which he planted. The monkish historians
of the middle ages have many allusions to this tact in the character of the
Irish Christians. Bede, speaking
about Coinwalch, says: "There came into his kingdom out of Ireland a certain bishop called Agilbert, by nation a Frenchman,
but who had then been in Ireland a long time, 'for the purpose of reading the Scriptures.'" Bede speaks of the most
reverend father Egbert, who long led a monastic life, with St. Chad in Ireland,
praying, observing, continency, and meditating on the Holy Scriptures." Columbanus, a celebrated Irish monk, a
missionary on the continent, was accustomed to retire from his convent into the
dense forest, bearing on his shoulder "a copy of the Holy Scriptures which he wanted to study in the
solitude." Bishop Clement, an Irishman who had some trouble with the
renowned Boniface, apostle of Germany, is said to have denied "to the
writings of the older fathers, and to the canons of councils, authority binding
on faith," from which Neander justly infers "that he conceded such
authority to the Holy Scriptures alone, acknowledging, them as the only fountain
and directory of Christian faith." And speaking of the pious Irish
generally, Neander says: "Ireland became the seat of famous monasteries, in which
the Scriptures were diligently read, ancient
books eagerly collected and studied. They
became missionary schools." Like the revered Patrick, they became masters
of the mysteries of the divine Word by careful reading.. For a couple of
centuries, Ireland was the Bible school of western Europe, whither the student
and man of devout meditations came to read the Scriptures.
The Church of St. Patrick was distinguished by
In A.D. 664, a pestilence swept over the south and north of
England, destroyed a great multitude of people, and creating universal dismay.
The same plague raged with equal fury and fatality in Ireland. Many
of the English nobility, and persons of inferior rank from England, were at the
time in Ireland, either for the sake of divine studies, or of a more continent
life. The Scots (Irish) willingly
received them all, and took care to supply them with food, and also to furnish
them with books to read, and their teaching gratis." Such is the testimony
of the English Bede about men who rejected the pope whom he revered, and who
belonged to a foreign nation. The
Irish Church, for centuries after St. Patrick, was
Independent of the Pope.
Easter in the West showed
whether a Christian was a papist or a Free churchman.
The Irish followed no Romish custom, and they were specially vigorous in
declining the papal time for observing Easter.
Laurentius deplores their obstinacy in a letter addressed to them and the
ancient Britons, in 605, soon after he succeeded Augustine as Archbishop of
Canterbury. Himself wearing the
livery of the bishop of Rome, he wanted the independent churches of Britain and
Ireland to assume it too. And in
this letter he tells the Scots that he once had a very exalted opinion of them;
but Bishop Dagon (an Irish bishop) "coming into this aforesaid island, and
the Abbot Columbanus in France informed us that the Scots (Irish) in no way
differ from the Britons in their behaviour; for Bishop Dagan coming to us, not only
refused to eat with us, but even to take his repast in the house where
we were entertained." It is evident that the Irish had no respect for
the Roman bishop at this time, when such an insult, solely on religious grounds,
was levelled at one of his exalted prelates.
Pope Honorius wrote to the Irish
about Easter, and gave them to understand how presumptuous it was for a handful
of people, living on the outskirts of the earth, to think themselves wiser than
"all the ancient and modern churches
of Christ throughout the world, and to celebrate a different Easter." John,
his successor, when pope elect, wrote to the Irish, admonishing,, them about
Easter, telling them that "some
among them, contrary to the orthodox faith, do through ignorance reject our
Easter, when Christ was sacrificed." But
neither popes nor archbishops could turn the hearts of these old heroes from the
Bible and the usages of mighty Patrick.
The Irish missionaries in France and Germany established churches and
monasteries everywhere, taught the purest piety, and exemplified it in their own
lives; and if they did not convert nations, they led hundreds of thousands to
the true Saviour, who read the Scriptures, trusted Jesus, and walked with God.
These men were a great source of trouble for a long period to the nominal
Christians around them, who belonged to the old Frankish Church, and in later
times to the Romish Church set up in Germany by Boniface. 'They were hated as
Christ's disciples were detested by the Pharisees; and their worst enemies were
not the numerous Pagans, but the Christian priests of Gaul and Germany.
And we are not surprised at this treatment; for these missionaries
loved God, and were not much afraid of men.
They had an offensive way of telling popes, when they were wrong, that
they disliked heresy or iniquity in any one; and of practising their Church
rites in the Heart of Germany or France before the eyes of Romish priests or
bishops, entirely indifferent to their expostulations and prohibitions.
Columbabus wrote Gregory the Great that he ought not to be governed by a
false humility in refusing to correct what was erroneous, even though it bore
the authority of Pope Leo the Great; "for," said he, "a living
dog may be better than a dead lion." He adjured Boniface IV., by the unity
of the Christian fold, to give him and his people permission, as strangers in
France, to observe their own ancient customs; for they were just the same,
dwelling in the wilderness, as if they were in their own country.
And when Boniface, the Englishman, gathered such hosts in Germany from
idols to the gospel of Augustine of Canterbury, and of the Pope of Rome, the
pontiff, expecting some trouble from a man coming from the country of the
ancient Britons and Scotch heretics, and Irish independents, prescribed a solemn
oath for Boniface, which he took at the tomb of St. Peter in Rome, which, in
substance was as follows "I promise thee, the first of the apostles, and
thy representative, Pope Gregory, and his successors, that, with God's help, I
will abide in the unity of the Catholic faith ; that I will in no manner agree
with anything contrary to the unity
of the Catholic Church ; but will in every way maintain my faith pure, and my
cooperation constantly for thee, and for the benefit of thy Church, on which was
bestowed by God the power to bind and loose, and for thy representative
aforesaid and his successors. And
whenever I find that the conduct of the presiding officers of churches
contradicts the ancient decrees and ordinances of the fathers, I will have no
fellowship or connection with them ; but, on the contrary, if I can hinder them,
I will hinder them; and, if not, report them faithfully to the pope."
This entire oath supposes that in Germany, the See of Boniface, there were
bishops and churches who broke the unity of the pope's faith by not receiving,
him as their master, which he was determined to crush.
And Neander is not mistaken in asserting that the oath of Boniface was
expressly intended to suppress the Irish and British churches in Germany.
The author of a learned work recently published, states the exact truth
when he says : " In the West, the ancient Irish and the ancient British
Church remained for centuries autonomous, and under no sort of influence of
The English gave Ireland to the Pope.
In A.D. 1155, Ireland was not in
the papal ranks. And Henry II of
England, sent a solemn embassy to Adrian, to Rome, to solicit his permission to
"subdue Ireland, and bring into the
way of truth its bestial inhabitants, by extirpating the seeds of vice
among, them." Adrain readily consented, and issued a bull, declaring among
other things, "that to extend the
frontiers of the Church, to teach a
rude people the doctrines of the Christian faith, to extirpate the seeds of vice
out of the Lord's field, to secure to
St. Peter the annual sum of one penny for every house, and to extend
the Christian religion, he might seize Ireland." It
is very ,evident that the Irish of A. D. 1155, were, like Bishop Dagan and
Columbanus, that they had nothing to do with Rome; and while in the twelfth
century they had lost the piety and learning of the sixth, seventh and eighth,
they were still free from the Roman yoke. And
these ages of freedom from Romish interference and ecclesiastical supremacy are
the most glorious centuries in the history of the Irish people.
From the book, The Papal System, by William Cathcart