The Real St. Patrick, Bishop of Ireland

by Fr. Kristopher and Matushka Elizabeth Dowling

The following is paraphrased from St. Fiacc's Hymn of St. Patrick. St. Fiacc, commemorated on October 12th, was a bard before St. Patrick made him a Bishop. Although some modern writers believe that St. Fiacc's Hymn of St. Patrick was written many centuries later; this thought is based on later additions of footnotes following the hymn. However, footnotes in Irish books copied by hand were always added by later copiests; the earlier the book, the more footnotes with Scriptural and other references. Thus, the very well footnoted Hymn of St. Patrick is from a very early source, as is St. Secundinus's Lorica, Hymn on St. Patrick. Whether St. Patrick was one of the group of Priests that travelled to Britain with St. Germanus or not, it is certain from other sources that St. Patrick was a pupil of St. Germanus for a long time, and would have had the same theological foundation. Perhaps modern writers were uncomfortable with the miracles of St. Germanus which occured when he fought the heresy of Pelagius. These miracles are also recorded by St. Bede.

St. Patrick was born in the late Fourth Century. His Father was Calpurnius, a Briton and a Deacon; his mother, Concess, was a Frank and a close relative of St. Martin of Tours. At sixteen years of age, St. Patrick and many others were kidnapped from the family estate near Bannavem Taburniae (some say this was in western Britain, others say it was in Brittany) by the seven vengeful exiled sons of a king of the Britons. This happened after Rome required that all Briton soldiers under Roman authority go to Rome to defend that city from barbarians, leaving Britain without any army or police, as recorded by St. Bede. Many acts of violence and greed were recorded at that time, which St. Bede called a terrible shame in Britain, which had been Christian a long time.

St. Patrick's father was killed; his sister disappeared.

St. Patrick was sold into slavery in Ireland. His life turned from youthful simplicity into a lesson for all of us. He was a slave, but obeyed his master. He would not depart until given leave to do so.

St. Patrick's escape from slavery was accomplished with miracles. He was visited in a dream by an angel in the form of a bird, Victor, the conqueror, who arranged a miraculous escape. Patrick said that he needed his master's permission to go home, but his master required a ransom of gold as large as his head. The angel told Patrick to follow a boar. The boar's rooting turned up the gold which was to ransom him. The angel took him to the seacoast sixty miles in one day to meet a ship, but instead the lord of the port sold Patrick to others. Then the fee, a set of brazen cauldrons, tormented the betrayer and his family. When they were admiring the cauldrons, their hands stuck to the metal. The lord of the port repented, was forgiven by Patrick. He converted to the will of God, ransomed Patrick from the slavers, and sent Patrick home. He was baptized by Patrick later, when St. Patrick returned. St. Patrick had been a slave six years.

Patrick had a dream that he must preach the Gospel to the Irish, but Victor had told him to seek an education first. He found his education under St. Germanus of Auxerre, who lived close to the southern part of Gaul which is next to the Mediterranean sea. (St. Fiacc does not record other miracles. The town of St. Patrice near Tours in France claims that it was visited by St. Patrick in midwinter. He was tired and cold, and the frost-covered thorn tree he slept under burst into soft warm blooms above him. In December every year until the tree was destroyed the "flowers of St. Patrick" bloomed there. French archaeological and agriculture societies testified to the truth of this phenomenon into this century.)

St. Germanus took his pupil to Britain to save that country from the errors of Pelagius. (The error of Pelagius was a belief that we may attain salvation through our own efforts without God's help, as if the image of God in us were completely separated from the help of the Holy Spirit, the grace of the living God. This heresy is seen today in mistaking the Holy Spirit for the whims or emotions of the mob; "zeitgeist" instead of Holy Spirit.) St. Fiacc records the work of St. Patrick in Britain under St. Germanus to show the development of his saintly leadership, but St. Patrick, in his Confessio, does not mention this, perhaps because the focus of his life's work was in Ireland. St. Germanus, with a group of priests that included St. Patrick, travelled through Britain convincing people to turn to God, throwing out the false priests of Pelagius known as snakes. St. Bede records in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People that this was accomplished by great miracles of healing. St. Patrick suggested fasting to turn a city from their heresy, but it would not turn, and at nocturns the third night the earth swallowed the city. Later, the same place that St. Germanus and St. Patrick had fasted with their company became the location that clerics went to fast. St. Patrick, who obeyed God's will, defended reverence for God's grace which is necessary for Salvation.

St. Patrick told St. Germanus that he had often heard the voice of the Irish children calling to him "come St. Patrick and make us saved." St. Germanus said that St. Patrick must go to Pope Celestine (Bishop of Rome from 422 to 432), to be consecrated, because it was proper to do so. But another had been sent to be Bishop of Ireland before him (Bishop Palladius), and St. Patrick had to wait. Bishop Palladius began missions, but he did not live very long.

St. Patrick went to the island of Alanensis in the Mediterranean sea (in the Lerins district, known as St. Honorat near Cannes in France) to pray, and was given Jesus Christ's own staff on Mount Arnum to hold him up. (An engraved stone on the side of the main monastery of the island records that St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, came there to study in the fifth century the sacred sciences in preparation for his mission to Ireland. The staff of Jesus Christ was publicly burned in Dublin in 1538 during the reign of king Henry VIII of England.) In 432, St. Patrick went back to St. Germanus, telling him of the vision and the staff. St. Patrick was then sixty years old. He was sent back to Pope Celestine, who had heard that Palladius had died. The chief consecrator of St. Patrick was Bishop Amatorex of Autissiodorens. Pope Celestine lived only a week after St. Patrick's consecration, and was succeeded by Sixtus III (432-440). Celestine gave St. Patrick relics and many books. At the moment of Patrick's consecration, the Pope also heard the voices of the children calling out: Crebriu and Lesru, two daughters of Glerand, recorded as Saints by St. Fiacc. Patrick later baptized the children. They said out of their mother's womb, "All of Ireland cries unto you." (This cry was to God, not to St. Patrick.)

St. Fiacc does not record the details of what happened at Tara, but this is recorded elsewhere. In 432, Easter coincided with the Druid (pagan) festival. No fire was supposed to be lit but the new lighting of the pagan fire. But St. Patrick lit the Easter fire first. The tradition warned King Laoghaire that if that fire were not stamped out, it would never afterward be extinguished in Erin. The king invited St. Patrick to Tara the next day. St. Patrick was reciting his Breastplate prayer (the "Deer's Cry") on the way from Slane to Tara on Easter Sunday. King Laoghaire had stationed soldiers along the road, expecting to intercept St. Patrick before Tara. The Tripartite Life says, "St. Patrick went with eight young clerics and St. Benen (commemorated November 9th) as a gillie with them, and St. Patrick gave them his blessing before they set out. A cloak of darkness went over them so that not a man of them appeared. Howbeit, the enemy who were waiting to ambush them, saw eight deer going past them, and behind them a fawn with a bundle on its back. That was St. Patrick with his eight, and St. Benen behind them with his tablets on his back." (The Tripartite Life was an eighth century book in three parts to be read in the three day celebration of St. Patrick's Day.)

The wizards before St. Patrick's time (Druids) predicted that an adze head would come over wild sea, his mantle hole-headed (vestments tailored with an opening for the head, not cloth wrapped as the Druids did), his staff crook-headed (Jesus Christ's Pastoral staff, not straight as the Druid's staves), his table in the anterior part of his house (an altar), and all his household (the church) will always answer, "Amen. Amen." They told the king that they would not hide the truth from him, that the posterity of this man would remain until doomsday, because he is the herald of the Prince of Peace.

St. Patrick was called by the Lord and sent to Ireland. He taught that the Trinity is ever with us to sustain us, even when all is misery. He knew firsthand. He taught that God loves us, despite the buffetings of the world.

St. Patrick was diligent until the day he died. He dispelled iniquity. He preached, he baptized, he prayed, he constantly praised God with Psalms, he sang one hundred Psalms every night, he slept on bare flagstone with a wet quilt about him, and his pillow was a pillar stone. He preached for three-score years (including the time before his consecration as bishop when he was a Priest under St. Germanus). St. Secundinus records in his hymn that St. Patrick bore the stigmata of Christ in his righteous flesh.

The folk of Ireland used to worship "si-de" (spirits). They did not believe the true Godhead of the true Trinity. But when St. Patrick was finished, all Ireland believed in the Holy Trinity, believed in Jesus Christ, did not follow nature spirits, and the court at Tara was replaced by the court of Christ at Armagh. In the Confessio, St. Patrick said that he was God's debtor for the great grace of baptism given to so many thousands, for the people reborn in God and then confirmed, and clerics ordained for them everywhere. "Not wishing to bore his readers," St. Patrick gives only a small mention of persecution even unto bonds, twelve dangers to his life, and numerous plots against him. For example, St. Odran, a charioteer for St. Patrick (commemorated February 9th) was warned of danger and pretended weariness, so St. Patrick took the reigns, and Odran in the place of honor was killed with a lance meant for St. Patrick.

When St. Patrick became ill, he decided to go to Armagh. He was met by an angel, who took him to see Victor, and Victor, speaking to him out of rushing fire, said, "Primacy to Armagh; to Christ render thanks. Unto heaven thou shalt go soon. Thy prayers have been granted: the hymn thou hast chosen in thy lifetime shall be a protecting corslet to all. Those men of Ireland that are with thee on the day of doom shall go to judgment."

One of the clergy, Tassach (commemorated April 14), remained with him and gave him Communion. St. Fiacc recalls Joshua: if the sun should stay still in the sky for the death of the wicked, how much more appropriate it should be for brightness to shine at the death of saints. Ireland's clerics came to wake St. Patrick from every road; the sound of the chanting (of angels) had prostrated them. They said that the place was overrun with singing birds: as Victor had appeared as a bird, they thought the winged angels were birds. St. Patrick's soul had separated from his body after pains. God's angels on the first night were waiting upon it without ceasing. When he departed, he went to the other St. Patrick (of Glastonbury, called "old Patrick" commemorated August 24th), because St. Patrick, son of Calpurnius, had promised old Patrick that they should go to heaven together. It is said that from the eighteenth of March to the twentythird of August, to the end of the first month of Autumn, St. Patrick was with angels about him awaiting old Patrick, and together they rose to Jesus, Mary's Son.

St. Fiacc said, "St. Patrick, without sign of vainglory, meditated much good. To be in the service of Mary's Son, it was a pious circumstance wherein he was born."

(Much later in the twelfth century, King Henry II of England, after his part in the death of St. Thomas Beckett, received permission from the Pope to take over Ireland, which had by that time sent its monks to educate all of Europe. The Irish monks read Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and other languages. Henry II ruled that no Irish were allowed to attend a seminary. All Irish monasteries in Europe were taken away, mistaking the term Scot which meant the Irish from the north, with Scotland. After that, all of Europe fell into an age of illiteracy which lasted until the Renaissance.)

Mary Ryan D'Arcy notes in, The Saints of Ireland, that, although the staff of Jesus Christ was burned, the hand bell of Saint Patrick and a reliquary box still exist.

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