St. Patrick: Apostle of Ireland
A Ten Chapter Excerpt (Chapters 9-18) from "History of the Scottish Nation"
IT is seldom that a great career destined to be crowned with complete and enduring
success opens in victory. Yet so it was in the case of Patrick. He crossed the sea,
and the Scots of Ireland surrendered to him at the first summons. So it may be said,
for in these first converts the nation is seen giving pledges of full submission
in due time. With the arrival of this man on the Irish shore a mighty unseen influence
goes forth over the land, and like that plastic force that stirs in the bosom of
the earth in spring, and sends forth the little flower to tell that winter has fulfilled
its months, and that summer is returning, so this influence which was descending
from a higher sky had sent forth these first blossoms to tell that the dark winter
of the land was past, and that a sweeter spring tide than any that had ever before
freshened its fields was drawing nigh.
In after years a church was erected on the site of the humble edifice in which Patrick had opened his ministry and gained his first triumphs. The form of that church was rectangular, like that of the barn which it replaced. And like the barn, too, the church stood from north to south. It had not yet been decreed that the true orthodox position of a church is from east to west, and that unless it is so placed, the sacraments dispensed in it lack converting power. The idea of such a thing had not dawned on Patrick's mind, and so he went on preaching in churches turned in every direction without finding that the efficacy of the Gospel was in the least impaired thereby; and the fact is undoubted that never was there such a multitude of conversions in Ireland as in those days when the churches of that country stood in directions that flagrantly transgressed the afterwards established rubric. This venerable, though uncanonical sanctuary, which arose on the site on which Patrick's first sermon was preached, was styled Sabhal Padriuc, that is, Patrick's Barn.  The place retains the name to this day, and is situated about two miles northeast of Downpatrick.
Drawing fresh strength, doubtless, from this auspicious commencement of his career, Patrick went forth to prosecute his ministry throughout the surrounding region. Much he joyed to give liberty to a land which had given slavery to himself, and that joy received an accession with each new convert. In following the steps of our great missionary it is vain attempting to record his progress from day to day, or even from one year to another. We cannot tell the order in which he visited the several districts and clans, nor do we know the number or the rank of the converts he baptized at the various points where he preached. The task of chronicling such a progress, stage by stage, so easy in the case of a modern mission, is altogether impossible in the case of the missions and missionaries of fourteen hundred years ago. Not only are all contemporary records, such as the men of their own day would have given, wanting, but there hangs between us and these remote evangelists a cloud of fables and prodigies, the creation of men who lived long after these early labourers had gone to their graves, and who neither sympathized with their pure spiritual aims nor were able to rise to the conception of the simple greatness of their characters. The men and the events of those days look out upon us from a legendary fog.
In the case of the apostle of Ireland, this disadvantage exists in a more than usual degree. A score of legendary pens have been set to work to distort and disfigure him. Each individual biographer has created a St. Patrick in his own likeness. Open the pages of this biographer; the features on which we gaze are those of an excited visionary or a delirious fanatic.
Turn to a second; it is a worker of miracles and a fore teller of future events, that stands before us. A third exhibits Patrick as a necromancer, silencing contradiction and compelling submission by the mysterious forces of incantations, spells, and exorcisms. A fourth paints him as proud and choleric, more ready to avenge than to forgive an injury, and thundering malediction on all who oppose him; while a fifth invests him with power over the elements of nature, of which he makes ready use for the discomfiture of his foes, covering them with thick darkness, or dispersing them with frightful tempests, engulfing them by earthquake, or consuming them by fire from heaven. We feel instinctively that this is not the apostle of Ireland, but a grossly conceived and hideously-painted caricature.
There is but one authentic likeness of Patrick; a likeness, it is true, drawn by his own hand, but drawn all unconsciously the hand doing a work which the mind listed not of, the Confessio, to wit. It authenticates itself by its unlikeness to all other biographies of the same man, and by being such as the medival biographers were utterly unable to have produced.
Let us mark the manner of the man as he has unwittingly revealed himself to us. He is clothed in a long woolen garment. His eye burns with energy; his brow is meek but courageous. Benign his aspect. He speaks, and his voice draws the natives round him. There is a tenderness and a beseechingness in it that compel them to listen. How artlessly he adapts himself to their prejudices and habits! and how gentle and patient is he with their gross and carnal ideas! how persevering in his efforts to find an entrance for the light into their dark minds! His own heart, schooled in spiritual affliction, knows how to lay itself alongside theirs. Thus quietly but earnestly he pursues his work from day to day, availing himself of the principles of natural religion which Druidism had dimly lodged in their minds, to awaken conscience to a sense of sin, and to call up the image of a judgment to come: and when he finds that the arrow has entered, and that the wound has begun to bleed oh, how does he rejoice! Not that he has pleasure in the anguish of the sufferer, but because he anticipates the joy of the cure.
On his tours he entered the huts of the peasantry, shared in their humble meal, and while seated at table with them he would take occasion to draw the conversation from ordinary matters to those of highest concern. He would tell them in simple words of that great event which had come to pass, four hundred years before, in Jerusalem, which had been already made known in so many lands, and which was now published to them also for the forgiveness of their sins. He would tell them that He who died on Calvary was now alive, was reigning in Heaven, and would come on the great final day as Judge; but meanwhile, before that great day should come, He was sending His messengers to all nations with the command that they should believe and obey His Gospel. Their hearts would be touched by the tidings of a death so wonderful and a love so great, and the visit would end as similar visits had ended in primitive times, by the householder saying, "See, here is water; what hinders that we should be baptized"?
On the hillside he would sit down amid the shepherds and cowherds, and tell them of a Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep. He would not despise his audience because they were mean, nor despair of them because they were ignorant, seeing it was while he himself sat on the hillside as a cowherd that his own hard heart began to melt and his own blind eye to open. How vividly now would the whole scene return and present itself before his memory! As the labourers rested in the fields at noontide, he would join himself to them, and opening the Scriptures, he would read to these toil-worn men a parable or a story from Holy Writ. It might be of that Lord of the vineyard who, when evening was come, summoned His servants before Him, and proceeded to reckon with them, giving, without stint or grudge, to the man who had laboured but one hour in the vineyard even as to the man who had laboured twelve hours, the penny of an everlasting glory. Would they not like to be the servants of such a Master, and when their evening had come, to be called into His presence and have their poor services acknowledged by so transcendent a recompense?
Or he discoursed to them of that runaway from home and father who kept swine in the far country. He showed him to them, as he sat amid his vile charge, raggedness on his back, famine in his hollow cheek, and remorse in his soul, a supremely pitiable spectacle. He asks them whether they had ever known one who resembled that poor prodigal; whether they had known any one who had committed the same folly and plunged himself into the same gulf of wanton wretchedness? They answer him with a sigh, and they begin to say each within himself, "I am that prodigal. I have wandered far from my Father: alas! I know not the way back to Him." "I, too," responds the missionary interpreting their unspoken thoughts, "have played the runaway. I, too, have been in the far country, and have felt the pangs of that hunger which there preys upon the heart.
And I should have been sitting there to this hour, shut in with my wretchedness and utter despair, had not a voice spoken to me and said, 'In your Father's house there is bread enough and to spare, while you perish with hunger.' Being come to myself, I arose and went to my Father. I invite you to do so also. If you sit still in this land of famine you shall certainly perish. Your Father's door is open to you. The same welcome that met me at its threshold awaits you, and the same arms which folded me to His heart will be opened to embrace you. Arise and go to Him."
Patrick, in the prosecution of his mission, visited the towns as well as the villages and rural districts. On these occasions, we are told, he would assemble the inhabitants by tuck of drum. To face a town assembly was a more formidable affair than to open a familiar conversation with a company of shepherds on the hillside, or begin a discourse to a group of labourers in the field; but the centers of influence, which are the cities, must be won if Ireland is to be gained for the Gospel. The tocsin has been sounded, and the men of the city, knowing that it announces the arrival of one of whom they have heard such strange things, flock to see and hear him. Along with them come a multitude of the baser sort, zealous upholders of the customs of their fathers, which they have been told this man everywhere speaks against. They greet the missionary with clamour and scowls. Undismayed, Patrick rises up before them, and amid the gaping wonder of some, the rude mocking of others, and the silence of a few, proceeds to unfold his message. He does not directly attack the rites of the groves. He must first show them a better altar and a holier sacrifice than that of the Druid, and then they will forsake their bloody oblations of their own accord. He speaks to them of a God whom they have not seen, for He dwells in the heavens, but the workings of whose power, and the tokens of whose love, are all around them. Can He who spread out the plains of earth, who decks them with the flowers of spring, and waters them with the rain of the clouds, and clothes them year by year with bounteous harvests, take delight in the cruel sacrifices you offer to him in the dark wood? So far from demanding the immolation of your innocent offspring, He has sent His own son to die in your room. Other sacrifice He does not demand and will not accept. It is a cry for vengeance, not a prayer for pardon, which rises from the blood that streams on the altar of the Druid. But the sacrifice I announce to you speaks peace: it opens the heavens: it reveals to you the face of a Father: are you willing to be reconciled to Him? We hear some in that crowd, who had felt the unseen power that goes along with this message, reply, We are willing. From this hour we go no more to the altars of the Druids. We have borne their heavy yoke too long. We cast ourselves at the feet of our Father, and humbly beg for the sake of His own son to be receded back into His love.
It was in these simple and easily understood terms, for the Gospel is ever the mightiest when preached in plain unvarnished phraseology, that Patrick found entrance for Christianity into the Scottish municipalities and clanships of Ireland. We have no written chronicle of his sermons, but we know on what model he formed himself as an instructor of the ignorant; and the incidental allusions which he makes in his "Confessio" to his ministry assure us that this was the spirit and style in which he discharged it. Yet meek and unassuming though he was, he spoke as one having authority, and not as the Druids. If his language was plain the truths he uttered were weighty, and such as even these poor ignorant men could not but see in some sort to be inexpressibly grand. They met the deepest needs and cravings of their hearts. Those who received them felt that by some marvelous power they had awakened within them feelings and motives they had never known till now. They felt that they were other men than they had been before. And this transformation of soul was not long of making itself manifest in the outward life. Their townsmen and neighbours saw that they were different men from them, and different men even from their former selves. There was a purity, a charity, an unselfishness in their lives which they could not well explain, but the power and beauty of which they could not but see, and this new and lovely character was exhibited with a grace so natural and easy that manifestly it was not assumed or acted, but genuine; it was the result of a change wrought in the deepest principles of their being. These were the monuments Patrick left behind him in every town which he visited, of the divinity of the Gospel. These men, changed in the very essence of their character, the whole scope, aim, and influence of their lives now become the very reverse of what they had aforetime been, were the most convincing proofs that in making known to them the death and rising again of that great ONE who had come on earth for man's deliverance, he had not been entertaining them with an idle tale, or trading on their simplicity and credulity by narrating to them "a cunningly-devised fable."
Having delivered his message in one town, Patrick must needs go forward and publish the "good tidings" in this other also. When he took his departure he had the satisfaction of thinking that the Gospel remained behind him, and that it would speak to the pagan populations by the transformed characters and pure lives of those who had embraced it. Thus he multiplied missionaries as he went onward. They might be few: two in a sept, or one in a city, but their strength lay not in their numbers, but in their character; they were light-bearers in their several communities.
The conquest of Ireland to the Gospel was, there is reason to think, neither easy nor sudden. On the contrary, every reference to it, direct or incidental, in the "Confessio," confirms us in the belief that as the work was great so its accomplishment consumed long years of anxious and exhausting labour. We have seen the gleam of success that heralded its commencement; nevertheless it found no exemption in its after stages from the law that requires that every great cause shall be baptized in suffering. Delay, disappointment, and repeated failure must test the faith and mature the wisdom and courage by which ultimate success is to be achieved and rewarded. For the long period of sixty years, with but few intervals of rest, Patrick had to maintain this great combat with the two potencies Druidism and Darkness which had so long held possession of Ireland. Victory came slowly, and only late in the day. That pestiferous priest craft which had struck its roots deep into the soil, was not to be extirpated in a day, and the nation delivered by a few rapid and brilliant strokes. Such a work could be done only in anxiety and weariness, often in cold and hunger, with many tears and strong cries for help, and amid privations cheerfully submitted to, reviling meekly borne, and dangers courageously braved. Such was the man who carried the Gospel to the Scots in Ireland, and through them to the whole island. Days and nights together, he tells us, he was occupied in reading and interpreting the Scriptures to the people. All his journeys were performed on foot. We see him, staff in hand, regardless of the blast, traversing quaking bog, and threading dark wood, happy if at the end of his way he could impart light to some dark mind. And this work he did without earthly recompense. He coveted neither dignity from pope nor gold from chieftain. "I accepted nothing for my pains," said he, "lest the Gospel should be hindered."
The only reward Patrick received was persecution. This, and not papal consecration, was the badge of his apostleship. And persecution in every variety of form, save that of death, befell him. His life, though often in extreme jeopardy, was providentially shielded, for it was the will of his Master that the desire of his heart, which was the conversion of Ireland, should be given him. But, short of this last extremity, every other species of indignity and suffering had he to endure. There were incessant journeying over a wild country; there were the ambushes set for him in the way; there were the discomfort and sleeplessness that wait on a couch spread under the open night sky; there was the uncertainty of daily bread; there were the gibes and buffetings of pagan crowds; there was the dangerous wrath of powerful chieftains, who feared the effect Patrick's preaching might have on their serfs and who were not likely long to hesitate when called to decide between the life of the missionary and the loyalty of their dependents. And there was the fury of some mob or clan which the priests of Druidism had instigated to violence against the preacher, whom they branded as a contemner of their worship and a reviler of their gods. But when chased from any particular scene of labour by the frown of chieftain or the violence of the populace, his regret was the less from knowing that the work would not suffer interruption thereby, for the words he had spoken would germinate in hearts in his absence, and when the storm subsided he would find disciples to welcome his return.
It was after this fashion that Patrick stormed and won the Septs of Ireland. These were the real miracles that illustrated his career, and they far excel the marvels and prodigies which the fertile but credulous imaginations of his monkish biographers have credited him with. In these labours so patiently prosecuted, in these sufferings so meekly endured, and in the success which crowned his efforts, but of which he never boasts, we see the true Patrick not the Patrick of monkish story or of vulgar romance, who routs hydras and chases dragons from the soil of Ireland, but the Patrick who, seizing the sword of the Spirit, rushes into the darkness of that land, and encounters things more difficult to be overcome than hosts of literal monsters, even the evils begotten of deep ignorance, and the beliefs engendered by an ancient superstition. All he discomfits, and cleanses the land from the dragon brood that possessed it. This was a higher achievement than if he had yielded sovereign authority over the elements, and been obeyed by the lightning of the sky and the waves of the deep. So did it appear to Patrick himself. "Whence to we this grace," says he, "that I should come to the Irish tribes to preach the Gospel and endure these wrongs at the hands of the unbelieving? that I should bear the reproach of being a wanderer and an alien, and undergo so many persecutions, even to bonds and imprisonment, and sacrifice myself and my nobility and rank" (he was the son of a Decurio) "for the sake of others? And I am ready, if I should be found meet, and the Lord should indulge me so far, to lay down my life for His Name, because I am greatly a debtor to God, who bestowed so great grace upon me." 
Not in his own person only was Patrick persecuted; he had frequently to suffer in the persons of his converts. This, we may well believe, gave him more poignant grief than what touched himself. It wrung his heart to see the serf incurring the anger and enduring the blows of his pagan master for no fault save that of obeying the call of the Gospel and becoming a follower of the cross. His sympathetic nature would not permit him to stand aloof and refuse his mediation in behalf of "the sons of the faith," when he beheld them enduring stripes and imprisonment at the hands of some cruel lord whose slaves they continued to be, although now they were the freed men of Christ. He would give his money when his other good offices failed, and in this way he was able to redeem from temporal slavery many whom he had already rescued from spiritual bondage. In the family, as in the clan, the influence of the missionary had often to be put forth. Enmities and rankling sometimes followed the entrance of the Gospel into households, and Patrick had to mediate between the heathen father and the Christian child. Such were the clouds that darkened the morning of the Christian Church in Ireland. But suffering only endeared the cause to the convert. Neither the leader in this war of invasion, nor any soldier in the army under him, thought of retreating. The auguries of final triumph were multiplying from day to day, and the banners of light were being borne farther and still farther into the darkness of the land. It is at this point of his career that some of Patrick's biographers throw in an unexpected and most surprising episode. Arresting him in his work, they dismiss him for a while from the field of his labours and of his fast-coming triumphs, and send him on a journey to Rome, to receive consecration as a bishop from the Pope. Had Patrick begun to covet the "pall" which the bishop of Rome was about this time beginning to send as a "gift" to the bishops of the Christian world, with covert design of drawing them into an admission of his supremacy? Or had he begun to doubt the sufficiency of that commission of which it had been his humble boast that he received it "from Christ himself" and did he now wish to supplement his Master's grace with the pontiff's consecration. It must be done so, if indeed it be the fact that he went to Rome to solicit the papal anointing. But where is the proof of this? What Pope anointed Patrick?
What contemporary record contains the alleged fact? Neither Prosper, nor Platina, nor any other chronicler, mentions Patrick's visit to Rome, till Marianus, a monk of Cologne, proclaims it to the world in the eleventh century, without making it clear in what way or through what channel a fact hidden from the six previous centuries was revealed to himself.
There is no earlier Irish authority for it than a manuscript of the fifteenth century. The undoubted truth is, that oil of Pope never came on Patrick's head. He put no value on papal consecration, and would not have interrupted his work for the space of an hour, or gone a mile out of his way, though it had been to be anointed with the oil of all the Popes. Nay, we may venture to affirm that he would not have left the evangelization of Ireland were it to have been installed even in the chair of Peter. Let us first hear Patrick himself on the point. His words make it clear that from the moment he arrived in Ireland as a missionary till he laid his bones in its soil, not a day did he absent himself from the country. "Though I most earnestly desired to go to Britain," says he, "as if to my country and kindred, and not only so, but even to proceed as far as Gaul,the Lord knows how much I wished it, yet bound in the spirit which declares me guilty if I should do so, I fear lest I should lose aught of my labour, nay, not mine, but Christ's, my Lord, who commanded me to come to this people, and live with them during the residue of my life." Dr. Lanigan, the able Roman Catholic historian of St. Patrick, treats the story as a fabrication. "This pretended tour to Rome," says he, "and the concomitant circumstances, are set aside by the testimony of St. Patrick himself, who gives us most clearly to understand that from the commencement of his mission he constantly remained in Ireland. And again: "It is clear from his own testimony that he remained with the Irish people during the whole remainder of his life." 
All the more authentic accounts of the life of Patrick discredit this alleged consecration by the Pope; or, rather, they make it certain that it never took place. The hymn of Fiacc is silent regarding it. The author, who was bishop of Sletty, and a disciple and contemporary of Patrick, is said to have written his work to record the principal events of his life, and published it not later than the middle of the century succeeding that in the end of which Patrick died. Nevertheless, he makes no mention of his visit to Rome. The ancient Life of Patrick, preserved in the Book of Armagh, is equally silent regarding it.  The story may be dismissed as the invention of writers who believed that no one could be a minister of Christ unless he wore a "pall," and had neither right to preach nor power to convert unless he were linked to the chief pastor on the banks of the Tiber by the chain of apostolic succession.
We must here remark that the organization of the British church in the fifth century was simple indeed, compared with the ecclesiastical mechanism of succeeding ages. There was then no Mission Board to partition heathendom into distinct fields of labour, and to say to one, go and work yonder; and to another, come and evangelize here. The church in the early ages was a great missionary society whose members sought the spring of evangelistic activity in their own breast, and were free to go forth without formal delegation from synod or bishop, and evangelize as they might incline, at their open doors or among remote pagan tribes.
Merchants, soldiers, and even slaves were the first, in some instances, to carry the knowledge of Christianity to heathen lands. These facts help us to understand the position of Patrick. It is hard to say what church, or if any church, gave him formal delegation to Ireland. The church of Strath-Clyde in which his father was deacon, and himself a presbyter the only ordination he ever received, so far as we can make outlooked with no favour on his projected evangelization of Ireland, and was not likely to have given it formal recognition. There is a story, founded on a doubtful legend in the Book of Armagh, that the church of Gaul sent Patrick to convert the Irish and that he received consecration front a bishop of that church, by the name of Amathorex.  But this and all similar allegations are sufficiently refuted by Patrick himself. He says, "I was made a bishop in Ireland."  What meaning are we to attach to these words? Certainly not that of formal episcopal consecration, for there were then no bishops or presbyters in Ireland, save those which Patrick himself had placed in that office. These men, doubtless, recognized him as their chief and bishop; for he who had created the flock had the best right to wear the honour, or rather bear the burden of its oversight. And this interpretation of the words is confirmed by the statement that follows them, in which Patrick ascribes his mission or apostolate to God only. He appears to have viewed the extraordinary events that had befallen him as the Divine call to essay the conversion of Ireland; and hence though he passes lightly over human ordination, and even leaves it doubtful whether he ever received such, he is emphatic as regards the call of the people. He tells us that he heard "the voice of the Irish" crying to him, and saying, "We pray thee, holy youth, to come and henceforth walk: among us." He answered, "I, Patrick, the sinner, come at your call."
 It is Latinised Horreum Patrici, Patrick's Granary. Reeves, Down and Connor, p. 220.
 Patrici Confessio, sec. xv.
 Lanigan, Eccles. Hist., i. 181, 319.
 Todd, Life of St. Patrick, pp. 313-315.
 Todd, Life of St. Patrick, pp. 316-319.
 The statement occurs in his letter to Coroticus, a British pirate, who had made a descent upon Ireland and carried off a number of Patrick's converts. The passage is as follows: "Patricius, peccator, indoctus silicet, Hiberione constitutum episcopum me ease fateor. Certissime a Deo accept id quod sum. Inter barbaros itaque habito, proselytes et profuga ob amorem Dei." The words imply that Patrick's ordination, whatever its form, was in Ireland; Hiberione, in Ireland not Hiberoni, for Ireland.
CHAPTER 9. PATRICK. ---New Window
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. (this page)
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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