Saint Patrick of Ireland
Born 387 AD, Died 493 AD
St Patrick wrote an autobiographical “confession” that has survived until our time. We can therefore hear him tell us about much of his life in his own words.
St Patrick begins by humbly calling himself “a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many…” His father was a deacon named Calpurnius, and as a boy Patrick lived in a settlement called Bannavem Taburniae in Scotland. His mother was Conchessa, who was related to St. Martin of Tours. As a boy of about sixteen years of age Patrick was taken captured by marauders and taken to Ireland to work as a slave, which he says was just punishment for not following the precepts of God.
Patrick tended his master’s sheep, and during that time he relates that “the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied me in my youth and ignorance. He watched over me before I knew him, and before I had enough sense to distinguish between good and evil, and He protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.”
Patrick began to love God, praying many times a day as he tended his flock. “More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase. My spirit was moved so that in a day I said up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number. I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.”
“Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favors and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing Him, our way to repay Him is to exalt Him and confess His wonders before every nation under heaven.”
St Patrick magnificently confesses, “For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and His son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by Him. He was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave Him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe. And we look to His imminent return to judge the living and the dead, and to render to each according to his deeds. He poured out his Holy Spirit on us in abundance, the gift and pledge of immortality, which makes the believers and the faithful into sons of God and co-heirs of Christ who is revealed, and we worship one God in the Trinity of His Holy name.”
One night in his sleep St Patrick heard a voice saying to him: “You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country,” and a short time later, “Behold, your ship is ready.” St Patrick fled from his master and went along a route as God directed until he had travelled two hundred miles to a port where he had never been.
St Patrick arrived just as a ship was prepared to set out, and although the men who owned the ship initially refused him passage, they later relented after St Patrick prayed to God for assistance.
After three days they reached land, but then they journeyed for twenty-eight days through uninhabited country. When their food ran out and hunger overtook them, the steersman asked St Patrick: “Christian, you say your God is great and all-powerful, so why can you not pray for us? We may perish of hunger, for it is unlikely indeed that we shall ever see another human being.”
St Patrick answered confidently: “Be converted by faith with all your heart to my Lord God, because nothing is impossible for Him, so that today He will send food for you on our road, until you be sated, because everywhere He abounds.” Soon a herd of swine appeared on the road before them, of which they slew many. They remained there for two nights until they were full of meat and well restored, for many of them had fainted and would otherwise have been left half-dead by the wayside. After this they gave the utmost thanks to God, and Patrick was esteemed in their eyes, and from that day on they had food abundantly. They discovered wild honey, besides, and they offered a share to Patrick, who said to them: “It is a sacrifice,” and would taste none of it.
That very same night Satan violently attacked St Patrick while he was sleeping, falling on him as if he were a huge rock, making it impossible for Patrick to move his limbs. Patrick cried out “Helias!” with all his might, and lo, the brilliance of the sun fell upon him and immediately released him of the weight. Patrick believed he was aided by Christ, and that His Spirit was crying out for him as it will be in the day of his affliction, just as it says in the Gospel: 'In that hour', the Lord declares, 'it is not you who speaks but the Spirit of your Father speaking in you.'
St Patrick returned to his kinsfolk, who welcomed him and requested that after the great tribulations he had endured that he should not go away from them. In a short time, however, in a vision of the night, St Patrick saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming to him as if from Ireland with innumerable letters. He gave one of them to Patrick, who read the beginning of the letter: 'The Voice of the Irish.' As he was reading Patrick seemed to hear the voice of those who lived beside the forest of Foclut near the western sea, who were crying as if with one voice: 'We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.' Stung intensely in his heart, Patrick could read no more and thus awoke.
On another night it seemed to Patrick that he saw someone, either within him or beside him, praying for him. Dumbfounded, he could not understand, though at the end of the prayer he heard these words: 'He who gave his life for you, He it is who speaks within you.' And thus Patrick awoke, joyful.
On a second occasion Patrick had a vision of someone once again praying within him, as if inside his own body. He was praying powerfully with sighs, at which Patrick was astonished and wondered who it could be who was praying within him. At the end of the prayer it was revealed that it was the Spirit. Patrick awoke and remembered the Apostle's words: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we know not how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for utterance.” And again: “The Lord our advocate intercedes for us.”
St Patrick traveled to Gaul and Italy, meeting St Martin and St Germanus of Auxerre, where he stayed for several years. Patrick studied to become a priest and was then made a bishop in the year 432. Pope Celestine gave him the mission of returning to Ireland to convert the Irish to the True Faith, giving St Patrick his apostolic benediction.
Patrick’s own relatives were against this sacred calling, confronting Patrick with stories of the dangers he would be exposing himself to if he returned to heathen Ireland. St Patrick recalls that God supported him through these trials, and so he persevered in his intention. He said good-bye to his family and gave up his inheritance, consecrating his soul to God as he prepared to set forth on his mission.
He composed the following prayer to help with the coming task, a prayer which is now known as “St Patrick’s Breast Plate.”
“I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity;
I believe in the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgment Day.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.
I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.
I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.
Christ, protect me today Christ
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ on the deck,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe in the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.”
Upon arriving at Ireland, St. Patrick was confronted by a tribal chieftain who thought to strike the Saint with his sword. Raising the weapon against Patrick, the chieftain’s arm became stiff and he could not move at all until he agreed to obey St Patrick. He was soon converted, and St Patrick continued with his mission.
St Patrick learned that the Irish chieftains had recently been called by Leoghaire, their head, to assemble at Tara for a celebration. St Patrick decided to go to Tara to confront the Druids, whose strange cult dominated the minds of the Irish.
On his way there, St Patrick rested at the residence of a tribal chieftan named Secsnen. He and his family were friendly to Saint Patrick and accepted the faith. Their youngest son, Benen, cried and clung to St Patrick when it came time to leave. He asked to stay with the saint, and with his parent's permission, did so. He is known today as St Benignus.
Saint Patrick and his companions continued on their way, unaware that there were armed men waiting for them in the woods to kill them. They heard St Patrick drawing near, as he and his companions were signing praises to God, but when they moved to attack they saw nothing but eight deer and a fawn. They went away not understanding that God had preserved St Patrick and his friends once again.
It happened that the chieftains assembled on Easter Sunday in the year 433. That night they intended to light a great bonfire, and no other fires were allowed to be lit upon the island. St Patrick, on the hill across the valley from Leoghaire and his chieftains, lit a Paschal fire in defiance of the edict.
The Druids were not unaware of St Patrick’s arrival, and they knew what his presence meant to them. They had no trouble convincing the king that St. Patrick needed to be punished and his fire extinguished, yet God protected Patrick from their weapons and likewise the fire, whose flames could not be quenched.
The following day, Easter Sunday, St Patrick processed to Tara. Attempting to stop the procession, the Druids employed the assistance of demonic powers to cover St Patrick and his companions in a profound darkness. St Patrick asked them if they also had the power to remove the darkness, which they said they did not. Patrick prayed for relief, and at once the sunlight penetrated the darkness to completely dispel it.
In another effort to show their power, the Arch-Druid began to levitate high into the air, suspended by invisible demons. St. Patrick sent a prayer to God, and the Arch-Druid fell to his death upon the stones. Thus the Druids were defeated, and Leoghaire gave his permission to St Patrick to preach the Truth to the Irish.
St Patrick tells us himself that “it is tedious to describe in detail all my labors one by one. I will tell briefly how most holy God frequently delivered me, from slavery, and from the twelve trials with which my soul was threatened, from man traps as well, and from things I am not able to put into words. I would not cause offence to readers, but I have God as witness who knew all things even before they happened, that, though I was a poor ignorant waif, still he gave me abundant warnings through divine prophecy.”
St Patrick travelled the length and breadth of Ireland, building churches and preaching to the people. During his life he consecrated hundreds of bishops, and cast down many graven idols. When he was not preaching, St Patrick spent a great deal of time in prayer.
St Patrick had a favorite mountain where he retired to pray, and the place is known now as St. Patrick’s mountain. Later in life he went there and fasted for forty days in a small cave which little protected him from the elements. He spent the time praying for the Irish people, and obtained from God the following concessions:
1. That many souls would be freed from the pains of purgatory through his intercession.
2. That whosoever in the spirit of penance should recite his hymn before death would attain the heavenly reward.
3. That the barbarian hordes would never obtain sway in his Church.
4. That seven years before the Judgment Day, the sea would spread over Ireland to save its people from the temptations and terrors of the antichrist,
5. and finally, that Patrick himself should be deputed to judge the whole Irish race on the last day.
St Patrick died on the 17th of March, 493. He awaits the day of resurrection, as he wrote in his Confession: “For the sun we see rises each day for us at His command, but it will never reign, neither will its splendor last, but all who worship it will come wretchedly to punishment. We, on the other hand, shall not die, who believe in and worship the true sun, Christ, who will never die, no more shall he die who has done Christ's will, but will abide for ever just as Christ abides forever, who reigns with God the Father Almighty and with the Holy Spirit before the beginning of time and now and forever and ever. Amen.”
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