St. Patrick: One of the greatest missionaries of all time, he found Ireland totally pagan and left it resoundingly Christian. March 17 is celebrated as the birthday of St. Patrick, the Roman Catholic patron saint of Ireland who drove the snakes out of the Emerald Isle. It’s a wonderful day for Irishmen all over the world. However,There are a few facts you probably ought to know about St. Patrick before the celebration starts.
One: St. Patrick was not Irish
Two: He was not born on March 17th.
Three: He did not drive the snakes out of Ireland, (There were none in Ireland.)
Four: St. Patrick was not a Roman Catholic.
No man has ever been more famous for what he didn’t do than St. Patrick. A great many legends have grown up around him, but the truth about this amazing missionary is far more wonderful than the myth.
St. Patrick was born in 389 A.D. on the west coast of what was then Roman Britain. His father was a magistrate and a pastor of the British church. Patrick was a preachers kid, a PK, and he lived up to the stereotype. He was, he himself said, a willful and rebellious youth.
Kidnapped at 16
Patrick was born at a time when the great “Pax Romana,” the peace of Rome, was giving way before barbarian invaders. Roman forces had been recalled from Britiain to defend the gates of Rome, leaving Britiain exposed to the Picts, the Scots, and those fierce and fanatical pagans that dwelt across the misty sea to the west in the dark land of Hibernia, a land never ruled by Rome. The fearsome Druids lived there, with their human sacrifices and their contempt for human life. Their ferocious raiding parties would often sweep down and take captives back to what we today call the Emerald Isle.
One day, at the age of 16, Patrick and two of his friends had spent the day in the breakers in the ocean. They were sitting in the mouth of a cave planning their escapades, when suddenly they saw a band of Irish pirates. These raiders came towards the cave. The boys leaped to their feet, but were quickly caught by the pirates, who bound them hand and foot and dragged them aboard their ship with several hundred other young English boys and girls. They were taken to Hibernia and forced to march 200 miles inland.
Patrick was sold to a Druid chieftain, who put him to work feeding swine in the deep forests of Ireland. His youthful companions were taken away, but two other companions never left him throughout the six years he was there – cold invading his barely clothed body and hunger gnawing at his stomach. He endured the most miserable form of servitude.
While there, Patrick remembered what his father had said to him, “Patrick, there is a God, and he is a God who is able to deliver you. Do not forget that.” He remembered hearing his father talk about how God had loved the world and had sent his only son in a remote corner of the British Empire on the other side of the world. There on a Cross he had died for sins – not his own – but for our sins.
In his “Confession,” Patrick tells how God opened his blinded eyes and gave enlightenment to his confused mind. He saw, he understand, and he committed his life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and Master of all. In the years he spent as a slave in Ireland, he made a tremendous impact upon those he met. They thought of him as that “holy youth.”
Escape by Ship
One night, after six years, he heard a voice in a dream that said, “Behold, your ship is ready.” He left the swine and staggered through 200 miles of frigid forest and finally burst out onto the beach. There he saw a ship loaded with Irish Wolfhounds. He begged for passage, and though rebuffed at first, he was taken aboard for passage to Gaul, and later to England to be reunited with his family.
He had left at 16; now he was 22 and a rugged young man. He tried to forget that terrible experience, but the people of Ireland kept coming back to his mind. One day, twenty years later, he had another dream, where he saw Irish Druids standing on the beach looking out across the sea saying, “We beseech thee holy youth to come and walk once more among us.” He took that to be the call of God upon his life.
He prepared himself and set sail across the Western misty sea and landed in Northern Ireland. There he began to challenge the Druid chieftains, realizing that it wasn’t enough to win individuals – he had to go right to the centers of power. He took them on one after another. Finally, he went to Tara, the hill fortress of the high king of all the druid chieftains and there confronted him with the Gospel. For almost 30 years he crisscrossed Ireland.
It is said that Patrick converted and baptized 120,000 people. He built over 300 churches. He found Ireland totally pagan and left it resoundingly Christian. The church he established was distinct from the Roman church of the middle ages. In fact, it was not until 1167 that King Henry II sent 5,000 iron-clad Papal soldiers to Ireland to subdue to the Papal authority the Irish evangelical church that Patrick founded. Their conquest was completed in the year 1172, centuries after Patrick died.
St. Patrick was a preacher of the Gospel of grace – one of the greatest missionaries of all time. So vital was the Christianity that pulsed within the bounds of Ireland that it could not be contained on the small island. Irish missionaries poured forth across Europe. There was St. Columbia, who evangelized Scotland and part of England; St. Killiam who traveled to Cologne to preach the Gospel there; and Virgil, the Irish Bishop who brought the Gospel to Salzburg. Missionaries poured forth from what was known as the Isle of the Saints. Writer Patrick Cahill said in his book, “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” that right after the barbarian invaders swept across Europe and destroyed all of the books, it was the Irish, converted by Patrick and his followers, who took up “the great labor of copying all of Western literature.” Without that, we would probably have no history of our own antiquity. There probably would be no modern civilization.
St. Patrick wrote, And now, for me, life is Christ.” As with Paul, who declared “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), serving Christ was Patrick’s consuming passion. Every day of his life he was in mortal danger. He served among some of the most fierce, cruel people the world has ever seen – the Druids. It was in the power and protection of Christ that Patrick faced them and, by the power of the Gospel, changed that entire nation.
There are numerous legends about St. Patrick. It is believed that he died on march 17, around 460-461 A.D. Some credit St Patrick as using the Shamrock, a three leafed plant, to illustrate to the pagans the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity; the teaching of the three persons in one God. It is also alleged that to impress pagan followers of the importance of the cross, he superimposed the powerful pagan symbol of the sun onto the Christian cross; thus making what is today called the “Celtic Cross.”
Happy Saint Patricks Day to all the wonderful Celtic People and everyone in general.
God Bless you all
2 thoughts on “The Real St. Patrick”
Nice Post on St. Patrick. These are things I did not know.