387 - March 17, 493
Apostle to Ireland
From Roman England
Served in Ireland
“I bind to myself today, the strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity: I believe the Trinity in the Unity, the Creator of the Universe. I bind to myself today. the virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism, the virtue of His crucifixion with His burial, the virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension, the virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.”
Much myth and legend surrounds the story of Patrick, born in Britain in the late 4th century. St. Patrick is often reduced to a mythical figure who performed magical feats (like driving all the snakes out of Ireland). The truth, as usual, is better than fiction!
All that can be known about Patrick comes from two documents written by him, one of which is “The Confession,” his short autobiographical account. In it, Patrick tells how he was kidnapped as a youth from his devout father’s comfortable home in Britain. Though Patrick’s father was a deacon in the church and had taught him God’s ways, Patrick had become a careless and rebellious young man.
“I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation.”
Patrick was made a slave and a pig herder. There in the difficult and desolate country he found himself in, Patrick called on the Lord he had previously neglected.
“But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.”
Patrick eventually escaped, having been directed in a dream to a ship which took him home to Britain. His relieved family entreated him never to leave! But one night he had a vision:
“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 the 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.”
Patrick did return to Ireland, bringing the true gospel and establishing the church there. You can read the entire “Confession” here.
He was one of the earliest writers to advocate the abolition of slavery.
Patrick was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland, as men such as Secundus and Pallidius were active in the south of the island long before him. However, tradition accords him the most impact, and his missions do seem to have being concentrated in the provinces of Ulster and Connaught which had never received Christians before.
Mythology credits him with banishing snakes from the island of Ireland, though others suggest that for climatic reasons Ireland never actually had snakes; one suggestion is that "snakes" referred to the serpent symbolism of the Pagan priests of that time and place, the Druids, possibly shown by their tattoos or that it could have referred to Pelagianism, symbolized as an Old-Testamental "serpent".
Legend also credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a three-leaved clover, using it to highlight the Christian dogma of 'three divine persons in the one god' (as opposed to the Arian heresy that was popular in Patrick's time).
It is unknown on what date he was born and died but it is believed that March 17 was his death date (according to the Encyclopedia Britannica), and it is the date popularly associated with him as his Feast Day (known as St. Patrick's Day).