You may be planning to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this week, but you probably know little of the true history of Patrick. Contrary to popular belief, he was not Irish at all. He was a British bishop who lived at exactly the same time as St. Augustine. And the people he preached to in Ireland, were not “Irish,” but “Scots.”
Most people don’t know it, but two genuine writings of Patrick survive.
Legend credits Patrick with banishing snakes from the Ireland. One suggestion for the origin of this is that “snakes” referred to the serpent symbolism used by the Druids of that time, or to the heresy of Pelagianism — the idea spread by heretics of that day that we are saved by works and not by grace. Legend also credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Trinity by showing people the shamrock. My Irish grandmother once told me an interesting version of this story concerning Patrick’s explanation of four leaf clovers. If you send me an email, I will tell you about that.
One could also make the claim from reading Patrick’s letter to Coroticus that he was proto-Protestant — or at the very least in tune with the robust Augustinian doctrine of the fifth century.
Most importantly, Patrick was a rescuer. If he were alive today, he would have been a pro-life activist. He denounced the pagan practice of the shedding of innocent blood. He begins his Letter To Coroticus with these words:
I, Patrick, a sinner, unlearned, resident in Ireland, declare myself to be a bishop. Most assuredly I believe that what I am I have received from God. And so I live among barbarians, a stranger and exile for the love of God. He is witness that this is so. Not that I wished my mouth to utter anything so hard and harsh; but I am forced by the zeal for God; and the truth of Christ has wrung it from me, out of love for my neighbors and sons for whom I gave up my country and parents and my life to the point of death. If I be worthy, I live for my God to teach the heathen, even though some may despise me. With my own hand I have written and composed these words, to be given, delivered, and sent to the soldiers of Coroticus; I do not say, to my fellow citizens, or to fellow citizens of the holy Romans, but to fellow citizens of the demons, because of their evil works. Like our enemies, they live in death, allies of the Scots and the apostate Picts. Dripping with blood, they welter in the blood of innocent Christians, whom I have begotten into the number for God and confirmed in Christ!
Patrick writes here of the barbaric practices of the Celtic tribes of northern Europe – the ancestors of the Gaelic speaking peoples of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and northwestern Spain. The Celts were pagan idolaters who commonly sacrificed human beings – even innocent children – to the Mother Goddess.
In fact, Julius Caesar wrote of the Druids of Gaul (relatives of the Gaelic people in the British isles):
The whole nation of the Gauls is greatly devoted to ritual observances, and for that reason those who are smitten with the more grievous maladies and who are engaged in the perils of battle either sacrifice human victims or vow so to do, employing the druids as ministers for such sacrifices. They believe, in effect, that, unless for a man’s life a man’s life be paid, the majesty of the immortal gods may not be appeased; and in public, as in private life they observe an ordinance of sacrifices of the same kind. Others use figures of immense size whose limbs, woven out of twigs, they fill with living men and set on fire, and the men perish in a sheet of flame. They believe that the execution of those who have been caught in the act of theft or robbery or some crime is more pleasing to the immortal gods; but when the supply of such fails they resort to the execution even of the innocent.
Patrick put a stop to ritual human sacrifice in Ireland over 1500 years ago. It is only fitting that we will honor his name by circulating Personhood petitions at St Patrick’s Day events here in Florida.
So, how is it that in Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God; the sons of the Irish [Scotti] and the daughters of the chieftains are to be seen as monks and virgins of Christ.
- The Confession of St Patrick
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