Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland

Just happened to read a novelized story of Patrick's life over the last week -- just picked it up and started reading, not really thinking about the fact that Patrick's Day was coming up. Pure serendipity, pure Providence. Finished it yesterday. This was Let Me Die in Ireland by David Bercot, available at Scroll Publishing. When I ordered the book I didn't realize it was fictional or I probably wouldn't have bought it, but it was well enough done so that I feel I got a pretty good sense of the man, although I'd probably have appreciated a straightforward historical biography more.

I'd become aware some time ago that there was a lot more to Patrick than the familiar myths, and thought I'd like to know him better. This book shows him to be a dedicated evangelist who had nothing whatever to do with the Roman Church that has since taken possession of his image. He was a Briton who lived in the 5th century, some four or more centuries before Beowulf, which makes one wonder what sort of "English" he spoke. He was kidnapped as a teenager by some pretty wild and rough Irishmen who had a habit of kidnapping English/Britons and enslaving them.

As a slave in Ireland he served as a shepherd for six years. He hadn't been much of a Christian back in England although he was a member of the English church of the time, a Celtic church independent of Rome, before Rome had grown into the behemoth it later became. But in Ireland, probably under the influence of some other English slaves, he became a Christian and prayed up to a hundred times a day to be set free, for the whole six years he was there.

Finally God did give him freedom and a way back to England, only to call him through a dream to return to Ireland as a missionary. But it was another 25 years before he could go because the English church withheld its blessing from him.

He was almost fifty when he was able to return, but having obediently waited on God all those years, and now having a few equally dedicated companions along with him, he returned in great spiritual power and thousands of Irish were converted through this little band of Englishmen (Britons) under Patrick's inspiration. They lived a life of poverty, in crude huts, often sleeping outside on wet cold ground, a completely sacrificial life dedicated to God entirely and fueled by frequent long prayer and fastings. That is how power comes by the church, it doesn't come through soft self-indulgent worldly people but through those willing to die to themselves.

Patrick established in Ireland a powerful Irish church which in turn sent out its own missionaries, to Scotland and Europe, until it was finally captured by the Roman church at sword point.

Patrick was a truly great man of God, nothing like the silly myths about him, and not a Roman Catholic. He certainly never wore that ridiculous garb he's always depicted wearing, the fancy robes and the pointy bishop's hat. Besides the fact that his church was not Roman but Celtic, and the fact that even in the Roman church this sort of garb was not common in his day, I've already discussed it here as pagan in inspiration anyway. Nothing could be further from the spirit of Patrick than such a get-up, or from Christ Himself either of course.

He died on March 17th, 461.

I'm happy to celebrate his day.

P.S. Here's his own testimony, on which that book was based.