The true St. Patrick was a great hero of the faith. Unfortunately, many celebrations in his name to honor the day of his death, March 17, discredit his memory.
Patrick was a great Christian. He was very bold for Christ. He exemplified what the Lord can do through someone who is committed fully to him. He was a Celtic Christian a few hundred years before Roman Catholicism was introduced into Ireland.
Thomas Cahill, author of the book, “How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe,” notes that the Irish, Patrick in particular, played a key role in history.
In the 5th century, barbarians overran the Roman Empire until it finally collapsed. Meanwhile, through Patrick, the Gospel was brought to Ireland and several men became monks who then became scribes and made copies of manuscripts of the Bible and of ancient writings.
Cahill writes: “For, as the Roman Empire fell, as all through Europe matted, unwashed barbarians descended on the Roman cities, looting artifacts and burning books, the Irish, who were just learning to read and write, took up the great labor of copying all of Western literature—everything they could lay their hands on. These scribes then served as conduits through which the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures were transmitted to the tribes of Europe, newly settled amid the rubble and ruined vineyards of the civilization they had overwhelmed.”
Cahill adds, “Without this Service of the Scribes, everything that happened subsequently would have been unthinkable. Without the Mission of the Irish Monks, who single-handedly refounded European civilization throughout the continent in the bays and valleys of their exile, the world that came after then would have been an entirely different one—a world without books. And our own world would never have come to be.”
The man at the center of all this was St. Patrick.
Many of the details of his life we learn through a document he wrote late in his life, “Confession.” This was not a book of confessions of his sins, but rather a statement of his beliefs. It is autobiographical in nature.
Patrick grew up in England as a nominal Christian. He said in “Confession” that he did not know the true God.
At the age of 16, marauding Irish pirates laid waste his city and captured many as slaves, including Patrick. Later, he would write: “As a youth, nay, almost as a boy not able to speak, I was taken captive, before I knew what to pursue and what to avoid.”
Patrick said, “I was taken into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of people—and deservedly so, because we turned away from God, and did not keep his commandments.”
For six years, he worked as a slave for a landowning chief. Cahill notes that during this time, he had two companions: hunger and nakedness.
While he served as a shepherd, he remembered his prayers of his youth and came to know God truly through Jesus Christ.
After six years of captivity, Patrick felt he heard the voice of the Lord. In his own words: “And there one night I heard in my sleep a voice saying to me: `It is well that you fast, soon you will go to your own country.’ And again, after a short while, I heard a voice saying to me: `See, your ship is ready.’ And it was not near, but at a distance of perhaps two hundred miles, and I had never been there, nor did I know a living soul there; and then I took to flight, and I left the man with whom I had stayed for six years. And I went in the strength of God who directed my way to my good, and I feared nothing until I came to that ship.”
He escaped at that time. The late Dr. D. James Kennedy notes, “He vowed revenge—the noble revenge of sharing the gospel with the people who held him captive. He believed that he had been called by God to return to the land of his slavery.”
So Patrick, after some theological training, eventually returned to Ireland where he spent the rest of his life (about thirty years) as a missionary. Patrick may well have baptized about 120,000 souls. Some scholars note that he was the most successful missionary since the Apostle Paul.
Patrick wrote this, “Daily, I expect murder, fraud or captivity… but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.”
There is a famous prayer attributed to Patrick, though it was likely written later; this beautiful statement of faith is called St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Here is a portion of the prayer: “I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me: God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me… Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me…”
May God grant that we have such love and courage for Christ.
Dr. Jerry Newcombe is a key archivist of the D. James Kennedy Legacy Library and cohost of Kennedy Classics. He has also written or co-written 23 books, including “What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?” and “George Washington’s Sacred Fire.” Jerry hosts gracenetradio.com Thursdays at noon (EST).