St. Patrick: Apostle of Ireland
A Ten Chapter Excerpt (Chapters 9-18) from "History of the Scottish Nation"
THE scene that next opens takes us to a land which a narrow sea parts from the
country to which, at this day, the name of Scotland is exclusively applied. But though
withdrawn for a time from the soil of Scotland, it does not follow that we are withdrawn
from the history of Scotland. On the contrary, it is only now that we feel that we
are fairly launched on the great stream of our nation's annals, and may follow without
pause its ever-enlarging volume. The events on which we now enter, though episodical,
are the pregnant germs of the great future that is to succeed. They determine that
Scotland shall be a puissance in the world; not a puissance in arms like Rome, but
a moral puissance, to go before the nations, and open to them the paths of knowledge
This new and greater commencement in our country's career had its birth in the soul of one man. Let us mark its beginning, so obscure as to be scarce perceptible. We behold one of Scotland's sons, borne away to captivity in Ireland, and there, amid the miseries and wretchedness, bodily and mental, attendant on the lot of a slave, brought to the true knowledge of God, and prepared as an instrument for spreading the light of the Gospel in the land to which he was carried captive. From Ireland that light is to be carried back to Scotland where it is to shine in a splendour that shall far surpass the feeble illumination of all previous evangelisations. The time was driving near when the dim and expiring light of Candida Casa was to be superseded by the brighter lamp of Iona.
Between the setting of the one and the rising of the other, comes in the episode of Succat. This youth, whose story rises from romance to the dignity and grandeur of history, forms the connecting link between the two Scotlands, the Scotland on the hither side of the Irish Channel, and the Scotland on this, its eastern shore. In his life and labours the history of the two countries runs on for some time in the same channel in the same person.
In entering on the story of Succat, whom our readers will more familiarly recognise under his later and better known appellative of St. Patrick, we feel that we tread on ground more stable and reliable than that which we had to traverse when relating the earlier evangelization of Whithorn. St. Patrick, it is true, has not wholly escaped the fate which has usually befallen early and distinguished missionaries at the hands of their monkish chroniclers. Unable to perceive or to appreciate his true grandeur as a humble preacher of the Gospel, some of his biographers have striven to invest him with the fictitious glory of a miracle-worker.
No monk of the Middle Ages could have imagined such a life as Patrick's. These scribes deemed it beneath their heroes to perform, or their pens to record, whatever did not rise to the rank of prodigy. Humility, self-denial, deeds of unaffected piety and benevolence, discredited rather than authenticated one's claim to saintship. Boastful professions and acts of fantastic and sanctimonious virtue were readier passports to monkish renown than lives which had no glory save that of sterling and unostentatious goodness.
We can trace the gradual gathering of the miraculous halo around Patrick on the pages of his successive chroniclers. His miracles are made to begin before he himself had seen the light. His story grows in marvel and prodigy as it proceeds. Each successive narrator must needs bring a fresh miracle to exalt the greatness of his hero and the wonder of his readers. Probus in the tenth century outdoes in this respect all who had gone before him, and Jocelin, in the twelfth, outruns Probus as far as Probus had outrun his predecessors. Last of all comes O'Sullivan in the seventeenth century, and he carries off the palm from every previous writer of the "Life of St. Patrick." The man who comes after O'Sullivan may well despair, for surely nothing more foolish or more monstrous was ever imagined by monk than what this writer has related of Patrick.
So rises this stupendous structure which lacks but one thing-- a foundation. But happily it is easier in the present instance than in most cases of a similar kind, to separate what is false, and to be put aside, from what is true, and, therefore, to be retained. Before the monks had any opportunity of disfiguring the great evangelist by encircling him with a cloud of legends, Patrick himself had told the story of his life, and with such marked individuality, with such truth to Christian experience, and with such perfect accordance to the age and the circumstances, that we are irresistibly led to the conclusion that the life before us is a real life, and must have been lived, it could not have been invented. The confessions here poured forth could come from no heart but a heart burdened with a sense of guilt; and the sorrows here disclosed with so simple yet so touching a pathos, authenticate themselves as real not ideal. They are the experiences of the soul, not the creations of the imagination. Succat the first name of the man who has taken his permanent place in history as Patrick or St. Patrick was born on the banks of the Clyde. So much is certain, but the exact spot it is now impossible to determine. The present towns of Hamilton and Dumbarton compete for the honour of his birthplace; near one of the two must he have first seen the light. He himself says in his "Confession," "My father was of the village of 'Bonaven Taberni,' near to which he had a Villa, where I was made captive." In the dialect of the Celtic known as the ancient British, Bonaven signifies "the mouth of the Aven," and the added "Taberni," or place of Tabernacles, indicates, doubtless, the district in which the village of Bonaven was situated. This favours the claims of Hamilton, and leads us to seek in Avondale, on the banks of the torrent that gives its name to the dale, and near the point where it falls into the Clyde, the birthplace of the future apostle. And what strengthens the probability that here may be the spot where Patrick was born, is the fact that some greatly defaced remains show that the Romans had a station here; and as the legionaries had but recently quitted Britain, the buildings they had vacated may be presumed to have been comparatively entire and fresh in Patrick's time. This would decide the point, if the evidence stood alone, and did not conflict with other and varying testimony.
Fiacc, one of the earliest and most reliable of his biographers, tells us that Patrick "was born at Nemthur," and that his first name, among his own tribes, was Succat. Nemthur signifies in Irish the lofty rock; and the reference undoubtedly is to All-Cluid, or Rock of the Clyde, the rock that so grandly guards the entrance of that river, now known as the Rock of Dumbarton, which then formed the capital of the British Kingdom of Strathclyde. Here too are the yet unobliterated vestiges of a Roman encampment, and one of much greater importance than any on the southern shore, for here did the Roman wall which extended betwixt the Firths of Forth and Clyde terminate. This must have led to the creation of a town, with suburban villas, and Roman municipal privileges, such as we know were enjoyed by the community in which the ancestors of Patrick lived. Tradition, moreover, has put its finger on the spot, by planting here "Kilpatrick," that is Patrick's Church. Here then, on the northern shore, where the Roman had left his mark in the buildings, in the cultivation, in the manners, and in the language of the people, are we inclined to place the birth of one who has left a yet deeper mark on Scotland, and one infinitely more beneficent, than any left by Roman.
There is yet greater uncertainty as regards the year in which Patrick was born. We can hope only to approximate the time of his birth; and we think we are not far from the truth when we place it towards the end of the fourth century. It was an evil age. Apostolic times were fading from the memory, and apostolic examples vanishing from the sight of men. An incipient night was darkening the skies of countries which had been the first to brighten beneath the rays of Christianity. There was need that the simple Gospel should anew exhibit itself to the world in the life and labours of some man of apostolic character, if the decline setting in was to be arrested. Tokens are not wanting that it is to be so. For now as the shades gather in the south, the light of a new day is seen to suffuse the skies of the north.
Patrick was descended of a family which, for two generations at least, had publicly professed the Gospel. His father, Calpurnius, was a deacon, and his grandfather, Potitus, a presbyter in the Christian Church. He was well born, as the phrase is, seeing his father held the rank of "decurio," that is, was a member of the council of magistracy in a Roman provincial town. These facts we have under Patrick's own hand. In his autobiography, to which we have referred above, written but a little while before his death, and known as "Patrick's Confession," he says, "I, Patrick, a sinner, had for my father, Calpurnius, a deacon, and for my grandfather, Potitus, a presbyter." We should like to know what sort of woman his mother was, seeing mothers not infrequently live over again in their sons. Patrick nowhere mentions his mother, save under the general term of "parents." But judging from the robust and unselfish qualities of the son, we are inclined to infer that tradition speaks truth when it describes "Conchessa," the mother of the future apostle, as a woman of talent, who began early to instruct her son in divine things, and to instill into his heart the fear of that God whom his father and grandfather had served.
Here, then, on the banks of the Clyde, within sight, if not under the very shadow of the rock of Dumbarton, was placed the cradle of that child, which, in after life, was to win, though not by arms, so many glorious triumphs. The region is one of varied loveliness and sublimity. It is conspicuous, in these respects, in a land justly famed for its many fine combinations of beauty and grandeur. As the young Succat grew in years, his mind would open to the charms of the region in which he lived. His young eye would mark with growing interest the varying aspects of nature, now gay, now solemn; and his ardent soul would daily draw deeper and richer enjoyment from the scenes amid which his home was placed. He saw the ebbing and flowing of the river on whose banks he played, And doubtless mused at times on those mighty unseen forces that now compelled its waves to advance, and now to retreat. He saw the white-winged ships going and coming on its bosom: he saw the fisherman launching his net into its stream, and again drawing it ashore laden with the many treasures of the deep. He beheld the silver morning coming up in the east, and the day departing behind the vermilion-tinted tops of the mountains in the west. He saw the seasons revolve. Spring, with her soft breath, wooing the primroses and the buttercups from their abodes in the earth to bedeck mountain and vale; autumn spotting the woods with gold; and winter bringing up her black clouds, in marshaled battalions, from the western sea. These ever-changing aspects of nature would awaken their fitting responses in the soul of the youth. His heart would expand this hour with joy as the hills and shores around him lay clad in light; and now again, as mountain and vale were wrapped in gloom, or trembled at the thunder's voice, there would pass over his soul, as over the sky, darkness and terror. Thus he would begin to feel how awful was that which lived and thought within him! How vast the range of its capacity for happiness or for suffering: and how solemn a matter it is to live.
So passed the boyhood of the future apostle of Ireland. As he advanced in years, his nature expanded and grew richer in generous impulses and emotions. All those exquisite sensibilities which fill the bosom in the fresh dawn of manhood were now stirring within him. Every day opened to him a new source of enjoyment, because every day widened the range of his capacity to enjoy. A sudden thrill of pleasure would, at times, shoot through his being from objects he had been wont to pass without once suspecting the many springs of happiness that lay hidden in them. Relationships were growing sweeter, friendships more tender. In a word, all nature and life seemed to teem with satisfactions and pleasures, endless in number, and infinitely varied in character. He has only to open his heart and enjoy. But this was a happiness which was born of earth, and like all that springs of the earth, it returns to the earth again. Young Succat's sensibilities were quickened, but his conscience slept.
The youth had not opened his heart to the instructions of home. The loving counsels of a mother, and the weightier admonitions of a father, had fallen upon a mind preoccupied with the delights of sense, and the joys of friendship: his cup seemed full. He knew not that the soul which is the man cannot feed on such pleasures as these, nor live by them. It must drink of living waters, or suffer unappeasable thirst. His relations to God that matter of everlasting moment had awakened in him no thought, and occasioned him no concern. The age, we have said, was a degenerate one. The lamp of Candida Casa burned low and dim. The teachers that emanated from it possessed but little authority; their reproofs were but little heeded. The truth which is the light was dying out from the knowledge of men; and the feeble Christianity that remained in the kingdom and church of Strathclyde, in which Succat's grandfather had ministered, was becoming infected with pagan ideas and Druidic rites. A few more decades, it seemed, and the Christian sanctuaries of Caledonia would give place to the groves of the Druid, or the returning altars of the Roman.
The handful of missionaries sent forth from the school of Ninian, could but ill cope with the growing, apostasy. They were but poorly equipped for the warfare in which they were engaged. There needed one man of commanding eloquence and burning zeal to redeem the age from its formalism and impiety. But no such man arose; and so the stream of corruption continued to roll on; and among those who were engulfed in its flood, and drifted down in its current, was the grandson of the Presbyter Potitus. Succat, with all his fine sympathies, and all his enjoyment of nature and life, lived without God, and he would so have lived to the end of his days, had not He who had "chosen him front the womb, and ordained him a prophet to the nations," had mercy upon him. Sudden as the lightning, and from a cloud as black as that from which the lightning darts its fires, came the mercy that rescued him when ready to perish.
One day a little fleet of strange ships suddenly made their appearance in the Clyde. They held on their course up the lovely firth till past the rock of Dumbarton. Whence, and on what errand bound, were these strange ill-omened vessels? They were piratical craft from across the Irish ocean, and they were here on the shores of the Clyde on one of those marauding expeditions which were then but too common, and which the narrow sea and the open navigable firth made it so easy to carry out. Succat, with others, was at play on the banks of the stream, and they remained watching the new arrivals, not suspecting, the danger that lurked under their apparently innocent and peaceful movements. Quietly the robber crew drew their barks close in to the land. In a few minutes the bandits, rushing through the water, leaped on shore. The inhabitants of Bonaven had no time to rally in their own defense. Before they were well aware of the presence of the piratical band in their river, the invaders had surrounded them, and some hundreds of the inhabitants of the district were made captive.
Driving the crowd of bewildered and unhappy men before them, the pirates embarked them in their ships, and bore away with them to Ireland. In this miscellaneous company of miserable captives was the son of Calpurnius the deacon, now a lad of nearly sixteen. He himself has recorded the event, telling us that it happened at Bonaven Taberni, "near to which my father had a farm, where I was taken captive. I was scarcely sixteen years of age. But I was ignorant of God, therefore it was that I was led captive into Ireland with so many thousands. It was according to our deserts, because we drew back from God and kept not His precepts, neither were obedient to our Presbyters who admonished us for our salvation." 
What a crushing blow to the youth! When it fell on Succat he had reached that season of life when every day and almost every hour brings with it a new joy. And if the present was full of enjoyment, the years to come were big with the promise of a still richer happiness. Standing at the portals of manhood and casting his glance forward, Succat could see the future advancing towards him dressed in golden light, and bringing with it unnumbered honours and joys. For such must life be, passed amid conditions like his, a region so picturesque, companions so pleasant, a station securing respect, and dispositions so well fitted to win and to reciprocate love. But while he gazed on the radiant vision it was gone. In its room had come instant and dismal blackness. A whirlwind had caught him up, and cruelly severing all the tender ties that bound him to home and friends, and giving him time for not even one brief parting adieu, it bore him away and cast him violently on a foreign shore, amid a barbarous and heathen people.
Bending to their oars the sea-robbers swept swiftly down the Clyde. The meadows and feathery knolls that so finely border the river at that part of its banks where Succat's youth had been passed, are soon lost to his sight. Dumbarton rock, with its cleft top, is left behind. The grander masses of Cowal, not yet the dwelling of the Irish Scots, and the alpine peaks of Arran, are passed in succession, and sink out of view. The galleys with their wretched freight are now on the open sea, making straight for the opposite shore, where we see them arriving. The lot of the exile is bitter at the best, but to have slavery added to exile is to have the cup of bitterness overflow. This cup Succat was doomed to drink to the very dregs in the new country to which we see him carried. And without stop or pause did his misery begin. The pirates who had borne him across the sea, had no sooner landed him on the Irish shore, than forthwith they proceeded to untie his cords, and expose him for inspection to the crowd which had hastened to the beach on the arrival of the galleys, not failing, doubtless, to call attention to his well-shaped form, and sinewy limbs, and other points which alone are held to be of value in such markets as that in which Succat was now put up for sale. The son of Calpurnius was a goodly person, and soon found a purchaser. His captors sold him to a chieftain in those parts, at what price we do not know.
We can imagine Sucatt eagerly scanning the face of the man whose slave he had now become, if happily he might read there some promise of alleviation in his hard fate. But we can well believe that in the rough voice and stern unpitying eye of this heathen chieftain, he failed to discern any grounds of hope that his lot would be less dismal than his worst fears had painted it. His apprehensions were realised to the full when he learned his future employment: truly a vile and degrading one, for the son of Calpurnius. Henceforth he is to occupy himself in tending his master's herds of cattle and droves of swine in the mountains of Antrim.
 S. Patricii Confessio, cap. i., sec. i. The best judges have pronounced this work the genuine composition of Patrick, Mabillon, Tillemont Dupin, Ussher. To these may be added Neander, who says, "This work bears in its simple rude style an impress that corresponds entirely to Patricius's stage of culture." Five manuscripts of the Confessio exist: one in the Book of Armagh (7th cent.), a second in the Cotton Library (10th cent.), two in the Cathedral Library of Salisbury, and one in the French Monastery of St. Vedastus.
 Pat. Confess., section i. Villulam enim prope habuit (Calpurnius) ubi ego in capturam dedi... nostrem salutem admonebant. These raids of the Scottish coasts, that is, on the Britons of the Roman Valentia, were not uncommon. They were made not improbably by the Scots of Ireland. Gibbon refers to them; and the early chronicler Gildas speaks of them as being made at regular intervals, and calls them "anniversarias predas." Gildas, cap. xiv.
CHAPTER 9. PATRICK. (this page)
CHAPTER 10. PATRICK IN IRELAND. ---New Window
CHAPTER 11. PATRICK FINDS PEACE. ---New Window
CHAPTER 12. PATRICK AGAIN AT HOME. ---New Window
CHAPTER 13. PATRICK GOES TO IRELAND. ---New Window
CHAPTER 14. PATRICK'S MINISTRY IN IRELAND. ---New Window
CHAPTER 15. PATRICK'S EVANGELISTIC TOURS. ---New Window
CHAPTER 16. DAY OF TARA. ---New Window
CHAPTER 17. THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-FIVE CHURCHES. ---New Window
CHAPTER 18. SCHOOLS OF EARLY IRELAND. ---New Window
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