ST., one of the most noted of Christian saints, is distinguished as a missionary of the 5th century, and is commonly designated as the Apostle of Ireland. There is much uncertainty as to his personal history, and great difference of opinion regarding his religious sentiments. About his life we know very little, except what is derived from his own writings. He left only two short compositions, his Confession and his Epistle to Coroticus, both of which are well authenticated. Of the former the London Quarterly for April, 1866, says, "There is now almost a universal agreement in regard to St. Patrick's Confession. Its genuineness is admitted by bishop Usher, Sir James Ware, Spelman, Tillemont, Mabillon, Ducange, Lanigan, and a long list of both Roman Catholics and Protestants. Formerly there was some difference in regard to the place of his birth; at present the best authorities are nearly unanimous in believing that he was born in Armoric Gaul, about A.D. 387."
According to his own account of himself (Conf. 5): "I had for my father Calphornius, a deacon, the son of Potitus, a presbyter in the Church, who lived in the village of Benavem of Tibernia, near the hamlet of Enon, where I was captured." In his Epistle to Coroticus, he adds (sect. 5), "I was born free according to the flesh; I was the son of a father who was a decurio (a Roman magistrate). I sold my nobility for the advantage of this nation. But I am not ashamed, neither do I repent; I became a servant for Jesus Christ our Lord, so that I am not recognised in my former position." Elsewhere (Conf. 1) he says, "I was about sixteen years old; but I knew not the true God, and was led away into captivity to Hibernia, with a great many men according to our deservings." Uncontradicted tradition says he was bought by Milcho, who lived in Dalvidda, now the county of Antrim. He lived with him six years. His occupation was herding or keeping cattle. His conversion and employment are thus described (Conf. 6): "My constant business was to keep the flocks; I was frequent in prayers. The love and fear of God more and more inflamed my heart. My faith and spirit were enlarged; so that I said a hundred prayers in a day, and nearly as many at night. And in the woods and on the mountain I remained, and before the light I arose to my prayers, in the snow, in the frost, and in the rain; and I experienced no evil at all. Nor was I affected with sloth, for the spirit of God was warm in me." Near the close of the sixth year of his captivity he dreamed that he was soon to return to his parents, and that on the sea-coast he would find a vessel to take him to them. He readily found the vessel, but at first he was very roughly refused a passage. On retiring he began to pray; soon one from the ship came after him, and kindly offered to take him with them. On the third day of their voyage they reached land, but he does not tell us what land, and immediately adds that they entered the desert, which required twenty-eight days to pass through it. At last he reached home.' His parents received him very affectionately, and entreated him never again to leave them.
In regard to his return we have no trustworthy account, except that in his Confession, which is wholly defective in dates and places, and seems to have been intended merely as an acknowledgment of God's goodness in his deliverance. There is here a hiatus of unknown length in his life; a chasm, however, which his mediaeval biographers have filled up according to the liveliness of their fancy, or the supposed credulity of their readers. They wrote of his studying with St. Germain, of his attending a monastery near the Mediterranean, and finally of his going to Rome and receiving ordination from the pope. All these are mere inventions, and were not put forth till more than five hundred years after St. Patrick's death, and all of them are presented without a shadow of proof. They are not worthy the time or the space to disprove them. All that is really known of St. Patrick during this interval is from himself. Some time during this long interval St. Patrick had a dream. He says (Conf. 10), "I saw in my dream a man coming to me from Ireland, whose name was Victoricus, with a great number of letters. He gave me one of them, in the beginning of which was this word, Hibernioecum. While I was reading this, I thought I heard the voices of the inhabitants who lived near the woods of Floclu crying with one voice, ‘ We entreat thee, holy youth, that you come here and walk among us.' I was greatly touched in my heart, and could read no more; and then I awoke."
This dream, and the several accompanying circumstances, led him to believe that it was a call to Ireland, and about it he was variously exercised, sometimes very happy, again strangely perplexed, till he felt "that the Spirit helped his infirmities to pray as he ought." At some time in this interval, he says (Conf. 12), "I was brought down; but it was rather good for me, for from that time, by the help of God, I began to mend, and he prepared me that day for what I should be, which before had been far from me, to wit, that I should have a care and anxiety for the salvation of others. After this I did not think of myself." Perhaps it was on this occasion that he made the vow to God (Conf. 15) "that he would go and preach to the Gentiles, and that he would never leave them." Afterwards (Conf. 15) he says, "I left my country, my parents, and the many rewards which had been offered to me, and with tears and weeping I displeased them, and some of these were older than myself; but I did not act contrary to my vow (sed gubernante Deo nullo modo consensi neque acquidvi illis, ut ego venirem ad Hiberniam). God directing me, I consented to no one, nor yielded to them, nor what was grateful to myself. God had overcome me, and restored all things. So I went to Ireland, to pagans, to preach the Gospel." Thus it would seem that he was sent by no one, but relying wholly on his divine call, without bishop, pope, or council, he went to win a pagan nation to Christ, and he did it. Of the time or events of his passage to Ireland we have no trustworthy account. From tradition and contemporary history it appears that St. Patrick commenced his ministry in Ireland about A.D. 432, when nearly forty-three years of age. His early movements were not noticed. Gildas (A.D. 540) never alludes to him. The venerable Bede (A.D. 731) never mentions his name, but does that of Palladius, his predecessor, and rather tries to attribute the success of St. Patrick to him. There is ample evidence that the early Irish Church was not in repute among the Roman Catholic clergy of the 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries, nor, indeed, fully until the 12th.
Then his mediaeval biographers, in their legendary tales, write much about his movements generally; they represent the whole nation as immediately bowing to the new religion, so that Geraldus, in the 12th century, doubted the genuineness of the Irish Church because it had not been founded in blood and persecution. But St. Patrick and the early Irish converts were persecuted, while the common people received the new faith with great readiness; there is evidence that among the ruling classes and the higher order of the Druids there still existed a secret though smothered opposition to Christianity, which was only kept in check by the masses of the people. St. Patrick writes thus (Conf. 22): "At a certain time .they even desired to kill me, but my time had not come. Everything they found with us they seized, and bound myself with fetters; but on the fourteenth day the Lord delivered me, and what was ours they returned." In Conf. 18, he "thanks God who had given grace to his servants to persevere, and that although they were threatened with terrors, they stood the firmer." Other instances of persecution might be presented. The Irish saint was very taciturn, scarcely ever alluding to his trials, unless to thank God for his deliverance from them. In the establishment of his Church, St. Patrick in no instance ever appealed to any foreign Church, pope, or bishop. In his Epistle to Coroticus (sect. 1), he simply announces himself as bishop: "Ego Patricus, indoctus, scilicet, Hibernione, constitutum episcopum me esse recor: a Deo accepi, id quod sum" ("I, Patrick, an unlearned man, to wit, a bishop constituted in Ireland: what I am I have received from God"). Here is no appeal to any foreign authority; and solely on this authority he superintended the Irish Church for thirty-four years, and while in office he excommunicated the British pirate who had carried off some of his recent converts into slavery. These well-authenticated statements of St. Patrick concerning himself are wholly at variance with those of Probus and Joscelyn, who, for the first time, put forth their fabrications full five hundred years after his death. In regard to his studying with St. Germain at Tours, and of his going to Rome for ordination, all these stories were invented in the 10th or 12th century. Joscelyn, who wrote the fullest life of the saint, about A.D. 1130, has, in one sense, really the praise or dispraise of bringing the Irish Church into that of Rome. The abbe, not being embarrassed with facts, dates, or contemporary history, wrote easily and readily, and presented a life of the Irish saint that exactly suited his times, in the beginning of the 12th century. He represented St. Patrick and the early Church of Ireland in the 5th century as exact models of his own in the 12th. This life of the saint was readily received and adopted as the only true one by the Roman Catholic Church, and it has been ever since the "storehouse" from which his numerous and papal biographers have drawn their materials.
After the publication, and the general reception of this book, there was no hesitation in the full acknowledgment of all the Irish Christians, and of St. Patrick among them. Archbishop Usher, on the Religion of the Early Irish, asks (4:320): "Who among them [the early Irish] was ever canonized before St. Malachias, or Malachy, was?" (A.D. 1150). St. Patrick himself seems never to have been sainted till all Ireland was sainted or canonized. From this mere papal acknowledgment the old evangelical Church of St. Patrick rapidly passed through several transformations. St. Malachy went all the way to Rome, and obtained for it the palliums, or papal investures. Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, disregarding the old Irish ministerial line of seven hundred years, ordained several Dano-Irish bishops for the new hierarchy just set up, and in 1167 Henry II of England, by commission from pope Adrian, landed five thousand steel-clad soldiers in Ireland, and, after several sanguinary battles, called, in 1172, a synod at Cashel, to bring the Irish Church to papal conformity. But the old Irish Church was not yet extinct, for in 1170 they held a synod in Armagh, in which they confessed their sins, deprecated the "scourge of God," as they called the English papal soldiers, and liberated all English slaves then held in Ireland. Yet conformity to "papal practices" was very tardy; "Celtic tenacity" predominated in religious as it had in civil matters. The same Brehon laws which St. Patrick heard proclaimed on the hills in the 5th century were again, despite the most barbarous penalties of the English, proclaimed on the same hills and in the same language one thousand years afterwards.
It has been asked," Did St. Patrick give the Irish, in whole or in part, a translation of the Scriptures in their own language?" To this we reply, there is no positive proof that he did; but a priori arguments ought not to be despised. 1. St. Patrick was a great Bible reader; in his two short compositions he quotes the Scriptures forty-three times. 2. In his day the Irish had a written language; their annals were then written in it. 3. In his Epistle to Coroticus he "calls upon every family to read it to the people." 4. Can we suppose that St. Patrick and his immediate followers, who founded Iona, "the star of the west," and who were enlightening Central Europe with religion and letters, could have left their own Church and country without at least some portion of God's Word in Irish. Towards the close of his life, about A.D. 455, St. Patrick in Ireland wrote his Confession in what some call "homely Latin." He directed it (Conf. 6) to his "Gallican brethren, and the many thousand spiritual children whom God had given him." Most probably some copy of this and of his Epistle found their way to the Continent, and finally to some of the monasteries, then almost the only repositories of letters, where it seems to have remained unnoticed for a thousand years. When the Bollandists, in A.D. 1660, began their collections of the writings of the fathers, those of St. Patrick were collected, and thus preserved from extinction. In 1848-60 they were copied into abbe Migne's Patrology, and are in vol. 53 of that great work.
According to tradition and contemporary history, St. Patrick died near Armagh, March 17, A.D. 455, in the seventy-eighth year of his age. The anniversary of his death has ever been held as a festive day by the Irish, not only on their own green isle, but in every other part of the wide world to which wars and oppression have driven them. The early Irish, like the Asiatic Christians, celebrated the dying day of their saints, rather than, as with us, the day of their birth. He was the honored means of introducing Christianity to a people who, more than any other in proportion to their number, have spread themselves over the globe, and who have always carried their religion with them, whether in its pure and primitive state, or unhappily in its later and vitiated form. St. Patrick's piety was deep and abiding. He would have been a saint in any age or country. He was a man of great meekness; in his government of the Church and his intercourse among men, love and humility were always and everywhere predominant. His religion lifted him above the love of wealth or of worldly honor. Like the prophet Samuel in the Old Testament, he used to appeal to the people, after living with them thirty years: "If in any way I have taken aught from you, tell me, and I will restore you fourfold." He kept his vow to God "never to leave Ireland." During his mission of thirty-four years among them he nearly lost the use of his mother tongue. He was perhaps the most successful missionary of the 5th century. The Roman Catholics have proudly and exclusively claimed St. Patrick, and most Protestants have ignorantly or indifferently allowed their claim, thus giving to error a gratuity which it is difficult to recover. But he was no Romanist. His life and evangelical Church of the 5th century ought to be better known. The familiar story of the expulsion of the reptiles from Ireland by this saint has the signification of many other legends and allegories, and figures the triumph of good over evil. His resting-place at Down, in the province of Ulster, is still venerated by the people, and his remains were preserved many years, but his church at Down was destroyed in the reign of Henry VIII, and such relics of him as remained were scattered either by the soldiers of Elizabeth or by those under Cromwell. When represented as bishop, he wears the usual dress with the mitre, cope, and crosier, while a neophyte regards him with reverence. As the apostle of Ireland, he should wear a hooded gown and a leathern girdle. The staff, wallet, standard with the cross, and the Gospel are all his proper attributes. A serpent should be placed beneath his feet.
Those who desire all the knowledge so far obtained regarding this noted man and his relation to the Church must consult Potthast, Biblioth. Hist, Med. AEvi, p. 840 sq. Of the latest biographies, that by Miss Cusack (1870) gives the Roman Catholic side of the case; that by Todd (Dublin, 1863) the Protestant view. Besides these, consult De Vinne's Hist. of the Irish Primitive Church, together with the Life of St. Patrick (New York, 1870,12mo), where the authorities on St. Patrick's life, labors, and doctrines are given. See also Todd, Hist. of the Irish Church; Inett, Hist. of the Early English Church; Mrs. Jameson, Legends; Lea, Hist. of Sacerdotal Celibacy; Hill, Hist. of Eng. Monasticism, p. 63, and Append. iii; Maclear, Hist. of Missions in the Middle Ages; Contemp. Rev. Sept. 1868; Westminster Rev. Oct. 1868, p. 240; Brit. Qu. Rev. Oct. 1867, art. i; Harper's Monthly, Oct. 1871; Friends' Review, 4:427 sq. (D. D.)