The Real Patrick: Missionary to Ireland
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.
March 1999 by Pastor David L. Brown
What nationality do you think of when you hear the name ODonahue? Irish of course. I have a good part of Irish blood running though my veins. Why? My maternal grandmother was an ODonahue. Her parents were directly from Ireland and like more than a million others they fled starvation about the time of the Irish potato famine which began in 1845.
Now, when most Americans think of the Irish, they think of St. Patricks Day. Yearly, on March 17th many people wear green, particularly green shamrocks, think of leprechauns with pots of gold at the end of a rainbow, drink green beer, smile at the thought of the old Irish saint chasing the snakes out of the emerald Isle and then the Catholics go to a special mass in St. Patricks honor.
The Truth About St. Patrick
But, theres a BIG problem with all of this. None of its true, except it is perhaps true that the one called Patrick (actually Patricus) died on March 17th sometime between 465 and 493 A.D.(the year is disputed). Actually his real name was Maewyn Succat. It is believe that he took the Latin name Patricius (Patrick) when he began his missionary work. He was not Irish but was a "free born" son of an area Roman-British decurio. A decurio was an area magistrate, a nobleman who was the leader of ten others, such as the head of a municipal council. Further, Maewyn (well call him Patrick from here on out), would have had nothing to do with leprechans. These fairies have their origins in the bloody occult religion of the Druids, whom Patrick preached against. As for green beer, that is a the modern invention of perverse capitalists looking for a "pot of gold" in the pockets of the drunkards they serve. Oh, I must not forget. There were never any snakes or other reptiles in Ireland, just as their were never any kangaroos in America (until they were imported).
Let me see. What have I missed? Oh yes. Green...shamrocks. To be sure, Ireland is the "Emerald Isle" because of its green pastureland. Legend has it that Patrick illustrated the truth of the Holy Trinity by using the three leaf green clover. While there is clear evidence that Patrick did believe in and teach the Trinity, there is no clear evidence that he used the green three-leafed clover to illustrate that Bible truth. Oh yes, there is one more thing. Indeed, perhaps the most important thing of all. Patrick was NOT a Catholic! Here is how Thomas Cahill puts it in his wonderful book "How The Irish Saved Civilization" -- "Patricks gift to the Irish was his Christianity -- the first de-Romanized Christianity in human history, a Christianity without the sociopolitical baggage of the Greco-Roman world... Ireland is unique in religious history for being the only land into which Christianity was introduced without bloodshed." Cahill is nearly correct, with one exception. To be sure, Patrick was not a Catholic. They claimed him later and made him over in their own image. His name is nowhere to be found in Catholic writing until almost two centuries after he had died. But, the first de-Romanized Christianity in human history was the Christianity of the Apostles and the Apostle Paul which is recorded in the New Testament and which was spread throughout the known world for the first 150 or so years after the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. What missionary Patrick preached to the Irish pagans was the Biblical Christianity of the New Testament. He taught salvation by grace through faith in Christ, not a the spurious works oriented version of salvation propagated by the Roman Church. He taught believers baptism. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Lets go back to the beginning.
Authentic Information About Patrick
Part of the problem you encounter in doing research about Patrick is that there is very little authentic information available. It is almost as difficult as doing research on Nicholas of Myra, dubbed by Catholics as St. Nicholas. This preacher of Asia Minor has been mythologically transformed into todays Santa Claus.
Concerning authentic information relating to Patrick, we have two authentic documents. The first is his Epistle to the Irish more commonly called The Confession of Patrick which begins, I Patrick, a sinner..." It is his testimony, written later in his life, about his life, his salvation, his beliefs, call to missionary service and a brief accounting of his missionary trials and triumphs. The second authentic document we have is his Letter to Coroticus which is an open letter to British Christians under the rule of cruel king Coroticus. There is one hymn that could have originally been authored by Patrick, but most historians believe there have been measurable additions and changes throughout the years. It is called The Loric or Hymn of Patrick which is also known as The Brestplate (or Shield) of St. Patrick and The Deers Cry.
From Birth To Age 16
Patrick was born some time between 385 and 415 A.D. No one knows for sure. But he was a Roman Brit. His father Calpurnius was a civil magistrate, a tax collector as well as a deacon in their local church. His mothers name was Conchessa. His grandfather, Potitus, was a presbyter, or a pastor. He lived in England during a very turbulent time. For 470 years, the Roman legions had held off the foreign barbarians from pillaging the English countryside. When the last legion sailed from Britain in 400 A.D., immediately Irish warlords and others raided the once peaceful coastal towns. These roving bands of pirates looted, pillaged, raped and captured huge numbers of slaves to sell to the highest bidder back in their homeland.
When Patrick was about 16 years of age a fleet of 50 currachs (longboats) weaved their way toward the shore, where the young Roman Birt and his family lived. "The warriors quickly demolished the village, and as Patricius darted among the burning houses and screaming women, he was caught."1 We learn more by reading Patricks Confession which says, "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, and did not obey our pastors, who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought over us the wrath of his anger and scattered us among the nations " Patrick was sold as a slave to Miliucc, a Druid tribal chieftain and put to work herding pigs and or sheep. He lived like an animal himself, with the animals day and night, often in hunger and thirst. He felt helpless and hopeless. He went from an noblemans son with all the privileges to a swine herding slave overnight.
From Slavery To Salvation
Psalms 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Patrick had ignored the Lord up to this point in his life. But things were different now, very different. He began to remember some things that his preacher grandfather had told him. The despair of slavery and the solitude of his occupation compelled him to remember his Christian upbringing and his need of the Lord. He writes in his confession, "I was about sixteen but did not know the true God, but in a strange land, the Lord opened my unbelieving eyes, and I was converted."2 Patrick came to know Christ as his personal Savior and was freed from his slavery to sin. Patrick grew in the Lord. "His devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ brought upon him a nickname, Holy-Boy" from his fellow slaves. Through the years, he learned to pray whether he was working or resting."3 It is evident by his own testimony he learned to practice 1 Thessalonians 5:17 which says, Pray without ceasing. He says this in his Confession: "After I came to Ireland, every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed. The Love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened. And my spirit was moved so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountains; I used to get up and pray before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm, and there was no sloth in me because the spirit within me was then fervent."
Patrick remained a slave to Miliucc for six years. Then, one night, when he was 22 years old he testifies, "I head a voice while I was sleeping say, soon you will go to your own country. See, your ship is ready." That night he fled. Assured God was leading him, he plunged through the bogs and scaled the mountains that separated him from the sea. In his confession he says he traveled, "perhaps 200 miles." He goes on, "I went in the strength of God who directed my way to my good, and I feared nothing until I came to that ship." It is obvious that Patrick believed the truth of Psalms 37:23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.
At first, the sailors would not allow him to come on the ship, but as he turned to walk to the hut where he was staying he began to pray. He says, "before I had ended my prayer, I heard one of them shouting behind me, come, hurry, we shall take you on in good faith; make friends with us in whatever way you like. And so on that day I hoped they would come to the faith of Jesus Christ because they were pagans."
Three days later they landed on the coast of Gaul (today called France) but found only devastation. "Goths or Vandals had so decimated the land that no food was to be found in this once furtile area."4 For almost a month they walked searching for food until hunger overcame them. The pagan captain, who had mocked Patricks faith finally came to him and said, "You say your God is great and all-powerful? Then pray for us. We are all starving to death, and we may not survive to see another soul."
Patrick responded, "Be converted from your faith to the Lord my God, to Whom nothing is impossible, that He may send you food in you way, even until you are satisfied; because everywhere there is abundance with Him."5 Patrick believed the truth of Luke 1:37 For with God nothing shall be impossible. Patrick writes in his Confession, "With the help of God, so it came to pass: suddenly a herd of pigs appeared on the road before our eyes, and they killed many of them." God indeed had provided. After quite some time, Patrick made it back to Britain and his family. He was home at last free.
His Call To Missions & Return to Ireland
Look at Acts 16:9. This is a passage of scripture that is referred to as Pauls Macedonian Call. -- And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. Well, Patrick received his Ireland Call in a similar fashion. Victoricus urged in his dream, "We beseech thee, holy youth, come and live among us once more."
The Lord made it clear to Patrick that he was calling him back to Ireland to preach the Gospel. The problem was that his family did not want him to go. It was well known that escaped slaves were woven into giant wicker baskets, suspended over fires, and roasted alive in sacrifice to the Druids gods. But Patrick was called of God and in began his missionary work about 430 A.D. He preached the Gospel in Ireland for about 30 years. Cahill says, "Patrick was really a first the first missionary to barbarians beyond the reach of Roman law."6 One source says, "he planted over 200 churches and had over 100,000 truly saved converts."7 Patrick writes in his confession, "I am greatly a debtor to God, who has bestowed his grace so largely upon me, that multitudes were born again to God through me Hence, the Irish, who had never had the knowledge of God and worshipped only idols and unclean things, have lately become the people of the Lord, and are called the sons of God."
Patrick loved the Lord and urged his converts to follow the Great Commission. He wrote "As the Lord in the Gospel states, exhorts and teaches, saying: Going therefore now, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days ever to the consummation of the world."
While the Roman empire and occupied lands were going from peace to chaos, the land of Ireland was going from chaos to peace under the ministry of Patrick. Under his ministry, "the Irish slave trade came to a halt, and other forms of violence, such as murder and intertribal warfare, deceased."8
God mightily used Patrick and Patrick gave God the glory. In his confession he states, "I give unwearied thanks to God, who kept me faithful in the days of my temptations, so that today I can confidently offer Him my soul as a living sacrifice to Christ my Lord, who saved me out of all my troubles."
Patrick, the missionary to Ireland, was not a Catholic. He was a born-again, blood bought believer who loved the Lord Jesus Christ and preached His Word. He stepped into the presence of the Lord he loved and served on March 17th sometime between 465 and 493 A.D. (the year is disputed).
Is Jesus Christ your personal Savior?
If he is not, read the Bible passages below and call upon Christ to be your personal Savior right now. Patrick did that when he was 16 years old. You can do it today!
Dear Lord Jesus,
I confess that I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. I believe that you, Lord Jesus Christ, died for my sins and rose again from the dead. I now trust only in you Christ to save me from my sins and take me to Heaven. Come into my life, forgive my sins and save my soul. Thank you for hearing my prayer. AMEN
1. Christian History Magazine; Issue 60; Patrick The Saint; p.10
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