St. Patrick’s Writings

Updated on March 23, 2018
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I am an adopted son of the MostHigh, a husband of a beautiful wife, father of three amazing P's, and a Discipleship Pastor in South Carolina

Introduction

As one of the early church fathers, St. Patrick is one that clearly shows his zeal for reaching lost people, despite cultural boundaries. In the expansion of the Roman Empire, Patrick left the comforts of a civilized and metropolitan existence, and willingly traded them for that of a wandering missionary in a land of pagan cults and uncertain geopolitical dominions. His ministry marks the end of one church age and ushers in another, but in his life and his ministry today’s reader can see how timeless his methodologies were, and the Christian of today can glean much information from the study of St. Patrick.

Historical Context

The date of St. Patrick’s birth is not recorded, but scholars estimate the year of his birth to be about A.D.373.[1] During this time, the Roman Empire extended north through present day Germany and France, and extended halfway through the United Kingdom. However, where once the Roman Empire extended to the Antonine Wall in the Scottish Lowlands, by the early 400’s, Rome had withdrawn its armies and Britain was left to look after its own defenses.[2] In Patrick’s early years, he would have been keenly aware of the then current political upheaval and would have understood the danger posed by the removal of a Roman security force, as well as the possibility of attack from different people groups from the north.

During the time of the Roman occupation, Britain had gained much by the presence of the Romans during their advance. The metropolitan ideal, the cities, the culture, the education, they all played a part in the “civilizing” of the entire southern portion of the Isle of Britain. Rather than roving tribes and bands of warriors in the north and in Hibernia, the Roman culture could thrive and grow due to the security provided by a protecting army set at the northern limits of their territory. When civilians did not need to worry about maintaining their own security, they had time to focus on education and culture.

However, what Rome saw in Britain, they did not see in the Island of Hibernia, or modern day Ireland. Rome saw nothing in Hibernia they desired, so they left the island to the people groups who dwelt there. This meant that while Britain grew more cosmopolitan in culture and their Religion was influenced by what was en vogue in Rome, Ireland was left untouched and maintained its tribal politics and pagan religion.

Kidnapped

With the destabilization of southern Britain by the removal of Roman security forces, this set the stage for raiders from other places to enter Britain and do as they please. In approximately A.D.389, at the age of seventeen, Patrick was kidnapped from his home and sold into slavery on the island of Hibernia. While in slavery, Patrick tended sheep near Mount Miss for about six years.[3] It was during this time that Patrick’s faith would be forged in the crucible of slave labor and human trafficking. Sometime in his sixth year of captivity, Patrick had a vision telling him that his ship was ready, and he understood that to be an admonition to escape his captivity and return home. During his voyage home, much calamity befell Patrick and the crew of the ship he had signed on. Patrick was known to be a Christian to the crew, and during an terrestrial period of hunger and thirst, the crew asked Patrick to pray for them. [4] After Patrick’s earnest plea to God concerning their plight and his missional instruction to the ship master to truly turn to God, a herd of pigs miraculously appeared and the men were able to catch and eat them. The crew viewed this as a miracle, as they were sustained from then on with provisions during their journey.

Patrick’s Return Home and Call to Ireland

Eventually Patrick escaped servitude on the crew and returned home to his family, where for 30 years he studied in the church and made up for educational time that had been lost during his captivity. However, again Patrick had a vision. In this vision a man named Victoricus visited Patrick and allowed Patrick to read a letter called “The Voice of the Irish”.[5] As he read the letter, Patrick heard voices calling him to return to Ireland. From this, Patrick prepared and gained a commission from the church to return to the island of his imprisonment and to reach them with the Gospel of Christ.

During Patrick’s mission to Ireland, he knew he was returning to a pagan culture with which he was familiar. Because of this, Patrick was required to change the delivery of the Gospel message to one that the inhabitants of Ireland would understand. With Patrick’s understanding of the pagan religion of Hibernia and its worship of the earth, stars, and planets, Patrick used his command of the Scripture to adjust his delivery to something the hearer would understand. Rather than appeal to any level of education or culture, as would have been in case in Rome, Patrick used what was known by his audience to convey the message of Christ. Patrick also was required to appeal to individual townships and clans, as rather than one nation under Rome, Ireland was divided by separate clan territories.[6]

Patrick’s Writings

There are multiple writings that are attributed to St. Patrick, but only three are agreed upon as authoritative. The first is his Breastplate or Patrick’s hymn. In this, Patrick prays for his day and for God to protect and strengthen him for anything that may come up during his activities reaching the lost. The second known writing is Patrick’s Letter to Coroticus. This epistle or letter is possibly the best example of showing Patrick’s heart for the lost as well as for the souls under his watch care. After an attack by Coroticus’ army and their subsequent murder and kidnapping of recent Christian converts, Patrick wrote a scathing letter to Coroticus, accusing him of evil and pleading with anyone around him to escape his reign and come to true faith in Christ.[7] It is this letter that shows Patrick’s desire for those that have done him the most harm to repent and turn to Christ. It also is evidence that Patrick was not afraid to interject himself in political and moral issues of the day and level the full judgement of the church at the offending person. Finally, Patrick penned his Confession which could almost be considered his autobiography. It does not contain his entire life story, but in it Patrick gives the reader certain information on his life, his imprisonment and escape, as well as his ministry. Moreover though, he gives insight into the way he spread the gospel. Patrick became respected by the local Irish people by appealing to their understanding of everything from culture and politics to religion. He approached Kings with an entourage of his own, and he spread the Christian faith through scripture that they could easily relate to.

Conclusion

In the twenty-first century, the facts of Patrick’s life are not too dissimilar to the predicament we face in ministry today. We are to step outside of our culture and educational levels and reach a lost world for Christ. The church of today cannot rely on methods or methodologies that worked 30 years ago; in this digital age the church must adapt not the message, but the methods. Patrick stepped outside of his socioeconomic status and entered a pagan culture with the same message of Christ that we deliver today. Patrick entered a pagan culture with the same message of salvation that we are to share today. The principle that we must understand is that, like 1600 years ago, we are asked by God to go, and Christians like Patrick must be willing to obey. We are not all asked in a vision or a dream, we may not be given a mission field that is completely safe, but we are all called to be obedient to the command, go.

References

[1] Rev. Charles H. H. Wright, D.D., The Writings of St. Patrick: The Apostle of Ireland; A Revised Translation with Notes Critical and Historical, 3rd ed., Christian Classic Series 6 (Woking and London: Religious Tract Society, 1878), 30.

[2] Bury, J. B. 2010. St Patrick : The Life and World of Ireland's Saint. London: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2010. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed September 10, 2017) 18.

[3] Bury, 23.

[4] Ibid., 27.

[5] Wright, 57.

[6] Bury, 54.

[7] Jennifer Karyn Reid, “MEDIATING THE WORD: ST. PATRICK, THE TRIVIUM, AND CHRISTIAN COMMUNICATION,” MediaTropes eJournal 2, no. 1 (2009): 84-116, accessed September 10, 2017, https://doaj.org/article/d51b4f2c28264163a2c571369eb25a85.

© 2018 Pastor Kevin Hampton

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