This book presents St Patrick, using his own words, as a marvelous human being, who faced the mystery of life and death with exemplary courage and refreshing honesty. It answers a growing demand today for more sharing of faith from direct personal experience. Patrick wrote deliberately for those who came after him, for people like ourselves, that we might know what kind of man he was. As result he has described a personality and any of us would want to claim as a friend.
In recent years scholars have tended to move away from the sterile study of the saints chronology and the precise location of his mission, and have become more concerned with exploring his background in more general and comprehensive way. A secondary purpose of this book is to bring their last insights to wider public and to suggest some new connections.
Patricks original Latin and new translation into Latin are included.
There are several good reasons for a new edition of Patrick in his own words, published initially in 1972 and reprinted many times since then.
The first is to introduce Patrick to a new generation of potential readers. His account of his life is without question one of the most remarkable stories in Irish history, full of compelling drama and adventure. It is also one of the great classics of our Christian tradition with a timeless and universal message which deserves to be kept available in the most accessible form.
Perhaps for modern readers the great asset of these writings is their brevity. It was as if Patrick foresaw the difficulty we have these days to find a few minutes to sit down and read. Everything relates directly and immediately to the message. The Confession, the longer of the two writings, is an overview of his Christian life in terms of his conversion, vocation and mission and in the light of serious and damaging charges made against him by his fellow-clergy in his native Britain. The Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus, on the other hand, is a sharp denunciation of a British prince who had raided his mission and brutally killed some of his converts.
Patricks method in his Confession is to describe a series of key incidents in his life which he saw as Gods direct intervention. This intervention came mostly by way of dreams which made such a profound impression on him that he could recall them vividly at the end of his life and put them into their context. He was so convinced of the truth of these experiences that he saw them as defining moments which gave meaning and direction to his life.
There is a growing demand today for more sharing of faith from direct personal experience. This is the area where Patrick has much to offer. When he wrote his Confession, his faith-life had reached maturity: it was solidly grounded in Scripture and the creeds of the early Church and fully integrated into the ups and downs of daily life. For him his Christian life was his real life; when he spoke about Christ he was speaking honestly and humbly about himself and this comes through in his writing. The story of his life as he tells it unfolds the great universal themes of the Christian life: his appreciation of and total dependence on Gods grace, his radical conversion of heart, his response to Gods call at different critical times in his life, his total and unremitting dedication to his ministry.
Apart from giving his account as accurately as possible, Patricks main concern is to convince his readers. He is fully aware that his visions have to meet rigorous criteria if they are to be believed. This means including details which show him at a disadvantage, for example, admitting personal faults which were embarrassing. He sets out the facts of his life for his contemporaries and invites them to judge the truth of his story for themselves.
Only in recent years has the exceptional quality of Patricks selfdiscernment been acknowledged. His difficult and concentrated style tends to obscure an intimate familiarity with Biblical and Patristic culture and a shrewd sensitivity to the political realities in which he found himself. Mention must also be made of the priority he gave to consecrated religious life which is difficult to explain unless he had some personal experience of the kind of monastic community described in the biographies of Martin of Tours and Germanus ofAuxerre.
Patrick comes across as a caring pastor who was also a prophet with the courage to move into new pastures. The Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus burns with inconsolable heartache and deeply felt rage at the fate of his converts: in the Confession he stubbornly refuses to take a well-earned rest in order to protect his consecrated virgins. For a man of intense passion and iron commitment he has many endearing human qualities. He never underestimates the agonising demands of faith, he feels the isolation from home and family, he is patient with the weakness of the flesh.
For the reader who wants to follow Patrick more closely and, perhaps, consult his original Latin, which is provided here in an appendix, a few reminders may be in order. Patrick did not write in Classical Latin but in Late or Vulgar Latin, of which there are virtually no other surviving samples from fifth-century Britain or Ireland. The outstanding achievement of the distinguished Austrian scholar, Ludwig Bieler, in the 1940s and 50s was to identify and study in depth this form of Patricks Latin. Despite his work, however, and that of his successors in the field, we still cannot be certain of the precise meaning of several words and phrases. This means in practice that the translator often comes between Patrick and his modern reader.
There is also the use of Christian terminology. While, as we have seen, Patricks work is intensely personal and was certainly not composed as a teaching manual, he expresses himself in the style and language of the Bible and the Church of the fifth century. Recent studies have shown evidence of his acquaintance with the writings of the great Latin Fathers. He was also keenly aware of the Church law of the day. In fact, not only the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus, which was a formal letter of excommunication, but the Confession itself was born out of the experience of an ecclesiastical trial. The details of the case against Patrick are so central to his thinking that they give us a valid basis for analysing the entire text. We have his formal introduction, the marshalling of his arguments, the flow of scriptural quotations to support the arguments, and, finally, the conclusion, followed by a postscript and a second conclusion.
Lastly, there is the thorniest question of all, the historical context and background of these writings over which so much ink has been spilled. As a fellow Monaghan man, Henry Morris, once said of Patricks life: its like looking at the actors without being able to see the stage. On the other hand, the controversies of the last hundred years have shed much new and interesting light at different times on various sections of that vast stage, the sets of which move freely, and often vaguely, from Britain to Ireland to the lands of the Picts and the Gauls. The temptation has always been to use Patrick to light the stage rather than to see what the stage has to tell us about Patrick. It seems better to accept that, for the present at least, parts of the stage remain unlit. But if we want to reach the real Patrick , and there is every reason why we should , we do well to give the historians their say.
In gratefully acknowledging the work of Patrician scholars over the years, and especially those mentioned in this volume, the last word goes to the general reader. Patrick is too important to be left to the scholars. He belongs to all of us, north and south of Ireland, east and west of the Irish Sea, even to distant parts beyond which nobody lives (C 34).
Repaying a debt
1 I am Patrick, a sinner, the most rustic and least of all the faithful, the most contemptible in the eyes of a great many people. My father was Calpornius, a deacon and the son of the presbyter Potitus. He came from the village of Bannaventaberniae where he had a country residence nearby. It was there that I was taken captive.
I was almost sixteen at the time and I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of people. We deserved this fate because we had turned away from God; we neither kept his commandments nor obeyed our priests who used to warn us about our salvation. The Lords fury bore down on us and he scattered us among many heathen peoples, even to the ends of the earth. This is where I now am, in all my insignificance, among strangers.
2 The Lord there made me aware of my unbelief that I might at last advert to my sins and turn whole-heartedly to the Lord my God. He showed concern for my weakness, and pity for my youth and ignorance; he watched over me before I got to know him and before I was wise or distinguished good from evil. In fact he protected me and comforted me as a father would his son.
3 I cannot be silent then, nor indeed should I, about the great benefits and grace that the Lord saw
fit to confer on me in the land of my captivity. This is the way we repay God for correcting us and taking notice of us; we honour and praise his wonders before every nation under heaven.
Profession of faith in the Trinity
4 There is no other God,
there never was and there never will be,
than God the Father
unbegotten and without beginning,
from whom is all beginning,
holding all things as we have learned;
and his son Jesus Christ
whom we declare
to have been always with the Father
and to have been begotten spiritually by the Father
in a way that baffles description,
before the beginning of the world,
before all beginning;
and through him are made all things, visible and invisible.
He was made man,
and was received into heaven by the Father,
who has given him all power over all names
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth;
and every tongue should acknowledge to him
that Jesus Christ is the Lord God.
We believe in him
and we look for his coming soon
as judge of the living and of the dead,
who will treat every man according to his deeds.
He has poured out the Holy Spirit on us in abundance,
the gift and guarantee of eternal life,
who makes those who believe and obey
sons of God and joint heirs with Christ.
We acknowledge and adore him
as one God in the Trinity of the holy name.
Reasons for writing
5 He himself has said through the prophet: Call upon me in the day of your trouble; and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. He also says: It is honourable to reveal and confess the works of God. 6 Although I am imperfect in many ways I want my brothers and relatives to know what kind of man I am, so that they may perceive the aspiration of my life. 7 I know well the statement of the Lord which he makes in the psalm: You will destroy those who speak falsely. He says again: A lying mouth destroys the soul. The same Lord says in the Gospel: On the day of judgement men will render account for every careless word they utter. 8 I ought therefore to dread with fear and trembling the sentence of that day when no one will be able to escape or hide, but when all of us will have to give an account of even our smallest sins before the court of the Lord Christ.
9 For this reason I long had a mind to write, but held back until now. I was afraid of drawing general gossip on myself because I had not studied like the others who thoroughly imbibed the law and theology, both in equal measure. They never had to change their medium of speech since childhood but were able rather to improve their mastery of it while I, on the other hand, had to express myself in a foreign language. Anyone can easily see from the flavour of my writing how little training and skill in the use of words I got. As Scripture says: Through the way he expresses himself shall the wise man be discerned, and his understanding and knowledge and instruction in truth.
10 But what good is an excuse, no matter how genuine, especially since I now presume to take up in my old age what I failed to do as a young man? It was my sins then that prevented me from making my own of what I had read superficially. But who believes me although I should repeat what I said at the beginning?
The letter may not be elegant
I was taken captive as an adolescent, almost a speechless boy, before I knew what to seek and what to avoid. This is why I blush with shame at this stage and positively quail at exposing my lack of learning. I am unable to open my heart and mind to those who are used to concise writing in a way that my words might express what I feel. 11 If, indeed, I had been equipped as others were, I would not be silent in making my reparation. And if by chance I seem to some to be pushing myself forward, with my lack of knowledge and my slow speech, it is after all written: The tongues of stammerers will quickly learn to speak peace. How much more, then, must we earnestly strive, we who are, in the words of Scripture, a letter of Christ bearing salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth? The letter may not be elegant but it is assuredly and most powerfully written on your hearts, not with ink but with the spirit of the living God. The Spirit elsewhere is a witness that even rustic ways have been created by the Most High.
Gods gift must be told
12 I am, then, first and foremost a rustic, an untaught refugee indeed who does not know how to provide for the future. But this much I know for sure. Before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in the deep mud. Then he who is mighty came and in his mercy he not only pulled me out but lifted me up and placed me at the very top of the wall. I must, therefore, speak publicly in order to repay the Lord for such wonderful gifts, gifts for the present and for eternity which the human mind cannot measure.
13 Let you be astonished, you great and small men who revere God! Let you, lords, clever men of letters, hear and examine this! Who was it who roused me, fool that I am, from among those who are considered wise, expert in law, powerful in speech and general affairs? He passed over these for me, a mere outcast. He inspired me with fear, reverence and patience to be the one who would if possible serve the people faithfully to whom the love of Christ brought me. The love of Christ indeed gave me to them to serve them humbly and sincerely for my entire lifetime if I am found worthy.
14 My decision to write must be made, then, in the light of our faith in the Trinity. The gift of God and his eternal consolation must be made known, regardless of danger. I must fearlessly and confidently spread the name of God everywhere in order to leave a legacy after my death to my brothers and children, the many thousands of them, whom I have baptised in the Lord. 15 I am not at all worthy to receive so much grace after all the trials and difficulties, after captivity and so many years among that heathen people. The Lord, indeed, gave much to me, his little servant, more than as a young man I ever hoped for or even considered.
When 16 I had come to Ireland I was tending herds every day and I used to pray many times during the day. More and more the love of God and reverence for him came to me. My faith increased and the spirit was stirred up so that in the course of a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night. This I did even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountain. Before dawn I used to be roused up to pray in snow or frost or rain. I never felt the worse for it; nor was I in any way lazy because, as I now realise, the spirit was burning within me.
17 In my sleep there indeed one night I heard a voice saying to me: It is well that you fast, soon you will go to your own country. After a short while I again heard a voice saying: Look, your ship is ready. It was quite a distance away, about two hundred miles; I never had been to the place, nor did I know anyone there. Shortly after that I ran away and left the man with whom I had spent six years. The power of God directed my way successfully and nothing daunted me until I reached that ship. 18 The day I arrived the ship was set afloat and I spoke to the crew in order that I might be allowed to sail with them. But the captain was annoyed and he retorted angrily: On no account are you to try to go with us. When I heard this I left them to go back to the little hut where I was lodging. On the way I began to pray, and before I had ended my prayer I heard one of them shouting loudly after me: Come quickly, these men are calling you. I went back to them at once and they began to say to me: Come on, we will take you on trust; make your bond of friendship with us in any way you wish. I refused on that day to suck their nipples out of reverence for God, but rather hoped they would come to faith in Jesus Christ for they were heathens. Thus I got my way with them and we set sail at once.
Food for the journey
19 After three days we came to land and for twenty-eight days we made our way through deserted country. Supplies ran out and the party was the worse for hunger. One day the captain began to say to me: Tell me this, Christian. You say your God is great and all-powerful; why then can you not pray for us? As you see we are in danger of starving; it is unlikely indeed that we will ever see a human being again. I said to them confidently: Turn sincerely with your whole heart to the Lord my God because nothing is impossible for him, that this day he may send you food on your way until you are satisfied; for he has plenty everywhere. And with the help of God so it happened. Suddenly a herd of pigs appeared on the road before our eyes; they killed many of them and stopped there for two nights.
They were well fed, and had their fill of pork, for many of them had grown weak and had been left half-dead along the way. After this they gave profuse thanks to God and I became honourable in their eyes. From that day they had plenty of food. They even found wild honey and offered me some. One of them said; This is offered in sacrifice. Thank God, I tasted none of it.
20 The same night when I was asleep Satan tempted me with a violence which I will remember as long as I am in this body. He fell on me like a great rock and I could not stir a limb. How did it occur to me in my ignorance to call on Elijah? Meanwhile I saw the sun rising in the sky, and while I was shouting Elijah! Elijah! at the top of my voice the brilliance of that sun fell suddenly on me and lifted my depression at once. I believe that I was sustained by Christ my Lord and that his Spirit was even then calling out on my behalf. I hope this is how it will be in my time of trouble, as he said in the Gospel. On that day, the Lord declares, it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
21 And so it was that, after many years, I was taken captive again. On my first night among my captors I received a divine message which said: You will be with them for two months. That is just what happened. On the sixtieth night the Lord rescued me from their hands. 22 As well as food for the journey he also gave us fire and dry weather every day until we met people ten days later. As I said above, we were in all twenty-eight days travelling through deserted country and the night we met people we had not a pick of food left.
Call of the Irish
On 23 another occasion, a few years later, I was in Britain with my relatives who welcomed me as a son and earnestly begged me that I should never leave them, especially in view of all the hardships I had endured. It was there one night I saw the vision of a man called Victor, who appeared to have come from Ireland with an unlimited number of letters. He gave me one of them and I read the opening words which were: The voice of the Irish. As I read the beginning of the letter I seemed at the same moment to hear the voice of those who were by the wood of Voclut which is near the Western Sea. They shouted with one voice: We ask you, holy boy, come and walk once more among us. I was cut to the heart and could read no more, and so I learned by experience. Thank God, after very many years the Lord answered their cry.
Prayer of the Saviour
24 Another night , whether in me or beside me I do not know, God knows , I was called in the most learned language which I heard but could not understand, except for the following statement at the end of the prayer: He who gave his life for you, he it is who is speaking in you. At that I awoke full of joy.
Prayer of the Spirit
25 On yet another occasion I saw a person praying within me. I was as it seemed inside my body and I heard him over me, that is, over the inner man. There he was, praying with great emotion. All the time I was puzzled as I wondered greatly who could possibly be praying inside me. He spoke, however, at the end of the prayer, saying that he was the Spirit. In this way I learned by experience and I recalled the words of the apostle: The Spirit helps the weaknesses of our prayer; for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself pleads for us with sighs unutterable that cannot be put into words. Again: The Lord our Advocate pleads for us.
The supreme test
26 I was put on trial by a number of my seniors who came to cast up my sins as unfitting me for my laborious episcopate. On that day indeed the impulse was overpowering to fall away not only here and now but forever. But the Lord graciously spared his exile and wanderer for his own names sake and helped me greatly when I was walked on in this way. As a result I did not come out of it badly, considering the disgrace and the blame I felt. I pray God that it may not be accounted to them as a sin.
27 The charge against me which they discovered, after thirty years, was a confession which I had made before I became a deacon. In the anxiety of my troubled mind I confided to my dearest friend what I had done in my boyhood one day, in one hour indeed, because I had not yet overcome my sinful ways. God knows , I dont , whether I was yet fifteen. I did not believe in the living God, nor did I from childhood, but remained in death and unbelief until I was severely punished. I was well and truly humbled by hunger and nakedness and that every day.
28 Contrary to the case against me I went to Ireland only with reluctance and not until I was almost exhausted. All this was really to my advantage, for as a result I was purified by the Lord. He prepared me in a way which has improved me so much from my former condition that I now care and work for the salvation of others whereas then I did not even consider my own.
29 The night following my rejection by those mentioned above, I had a vision of the night. I saw before my face a writing that dishonoured me, and simultaneously I heard Gods voice saying to me: We have seen with disapproval the face of the chosen one deprived of his good name. He did not say you have disapproved but we have disapproved, as if to include himself. As he says: He who touches you is as one who touches the apple of my eye.
30 Thanks be to God who supported me in everything, that he did not hinder the project I had undertaken nor the task that Christ the Lord had taught me. Rather did I feel from him no insignificant power and my good standing was approved in the presence of God and the people. 31 For these reasons I say boldly that my conscience does not reproach me here or for the future. God is my witness that I have told no lies in my account to you.
32 My only sorrow that we should have deserved to hear such a report is for my dearest friend. To him I had confided my very soul. Before that interdiction I was told by some of the brothers that he would stand up for me in my absence. I was not there myself, nor was I even in Britain, nor did his intervention originate from me. He it was who had said to me in person; Look, you are going to be raised to the rank of bishop, although I was unworthy. How then did it occur to him afterwards to let me down publicly before all, good and bad, over something that he had previously granted me freely and gladly? And not he alone but the Lord also who is greater than all?
33 Enough said. But I cannot hide the gift of God which he gave me in the land of my captivity. I sought him vigorously then and there I found him. I am convinced that he kept me from all evil because of his Spirit who lives in me and has worked in me up to this day. I am speaking boldly again. But God knows if a mere man had said this to me it may be that I would have held my tongue out of Christian charity.
Prayer of thanksgiving
34 I give thanks to my God tirelessly who kept me faithful in the day of trial, so that today I offer sacrifice to him confidently, the living sacrifice of my life to Christ, my Lord, who preserved me in all my troubles. I can say therefore: Who am I, Lord, and what is my calling that you should cooperate with me with such divine power? Today, among heathen peoples, I praise and proclaim your name in all places, not only when things go well but also in times of stress. Whether I receive good or ill, I return thanks equally to God, who taught me always to trust him unreservedly. His answer to my prayer inspired me in these latter days to undertake this holy and wonderful work in spite of my ignorance, and to imitate in some way those who, as the Lord foretold, would preach his Good News as a witness to all nations before the end of the world. We saw it that way and it happened that way. We are indeed witnesses that the Good News has been preached in distant parts, in places beyond which nobody lives.
Success due to God
Now 35 it would take too long to relate all my labour, item by item or even in part. Let me tell you briefly how the most gracious God often freed me from slavery; how he rescued me twelve times when my life was in danger, as well as from numerous conspiracies and things which I cannot put into words. I do not wish to bore my readers; but God, who knows all things in advance, is my witness that he used to forewarn me often by a divine message, poor orphan and ignorant as I was.
36 How did I come by this wisdom which was not my own, I who neither knew what was in store for me, nor what it was to relish God? What was the source of the gift I got later, the great and beneficial gift of knowing and loving God, even if it meant leaving my homeland and my relatives?
37 Many gifts were offered to me in sorrow and tears. I offended the donors and also some of my seniors against my wishes. Under the guidance of God in no way did I agree or give in to them. It was not I but the grace of God who overcame in me and resisted all those things. I came to the Irish heathens to preach the Good News and to put up with insults from unbelievers. I heard my travelling mission put down, I endured many persecutions even to the extent of chains, I gave up my free-born status for the good of others. Should I be worthy I am ready to give even my life, promptly and gladly, for his names sake; and it is there that I wish to spend it until I die, if the Lord should grant it to me.
38 I am very much in debt to God, who gave me so much grace that through me many people should be born again in God and afterwards confirmed, and that clergy should be ordained for them everywhere. All this was for a people newly come to belief whom the Lord took from the very ends of the earth as he promised long ago, through his prophets: To you the nations will come from the uttermost parts of the earth and say: Our fathers got for themselves worthless idols, and there is no profit in them. And again: I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Duty to preach the Gospel
39 I wish to wait there for the promise of one who never breaks his word, as he promises in the Gospel: They will come from east and the west and sit at table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, just as we believe the faithful will come from every part of the world. 40 For that reason we ought to fish well and diligently in accordance with the advice and teaching of the Lord, who says: Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. There are also the words of the prophets: Behold, I am sending fishers and many hunters, says God; and so on.
It was then most necessary to spread out our nets so that a very great multitude might be caught for God and that there might be clergy everywhere to baptise and preach to a people in need and want. As the Lord says in the Gospel by way of exhorting and teaching: Go therefore now, make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. Again he says: Go therefore into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And again: This Gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.
In the same way the Lord announces beforehand through the prophet: And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. In Hosea he says: Those who are not my people I will call my people and her who had not received mercy I will call her who has received mercy. And in the very place where it was said,You are not my people, they will be called sons of the living God.
Fervour of Irish converts
41 How, then, does it happen in Ireland that a people who in their ignorance of God always worshipped only idols and unclean things up to now, have lately become a people of the Lord and are called children of God? How is it that the sons and daughters of Scoto-Irish chieftains are seen to be monks and virgins dedicated to Christ?
42 There was, in particular, a virtuous Scoto-Irish woman of noble birth and great beauty, already grown to womanhood. I had baptised her myself. A fewdays later she came to us with a purpose, to tell us that she had been advised, in a divine message, to become a virgin of Christ and to draw close to God. Thanks be to God, six days later she carried this out in the most excellent and enthusiastic way. So too, all the virgins. Their fathers disapprove of them, so they often suffer persecution and unfair abuse from their families; yet their number goes on increasing. Indeed, the number of virgins from our own race who were born there is beyond counting, and to these must be added the widows and those who forego their marriage rights. Of them all the women who live in slavery suffer the most. They have to endure terror and threats all the time. But the Lord has given grace to many of his handmaids and, although they are forbidden, they follow him steadfastly.
43 What if I should consider leaving them and going to Britain? How dearly would I love to go, like a man going to his homeland and relatives, and not only there but also to Gaul in order to visit the brothers and to see the face of the saintly ones of my Lord! God knows how much I yearned for it, but I am tied by the Spirit. He makes it clear to me that if I do this he will hold me responsible for the future and I am afraid of undoing the work which I have begun. It was not really I but Christ the Lord who commanded me to come here and to stay with them for the rest of my life. The Lord willing, he will protect me from everything that is evil so that I may commit no sin against him.
44 This, I hope, is my duty, but I do not trust myself as long as I am in this mortal body. Strong is the enemy who tries every day to turn me away from the faith and purity of that true religion to which I have devoted myself to the end of my life for Christ my Lord. My uncooperative bod