Framework of the two biographies and their underlying philosophy
Patrick’s life is of great interest to us who look at the past, especially students of late antiquity. Among those who lived in the fifth century, he is the only human being able to give us full details of the events of those times through his autobiographies.
Biographers view St. Patrick’s Confessio and Epistola as the primary source of the saint’s life story. These are manuscripts of the original letters, part of the Book of Armagh, now being kept at Trinity College, Dublin. Other important sources include Jocelin, the monk, St. Feich who provides some in-depth study of the saint’s life and death, and St. MacEvin who provides 8th-century ideas about the saint. There are other books about St. Patrick’s life now at Irish College in Rome and Dublin. Muirchú’s and Tírechán’s works are of great importance to studying St. Patrick’s biography. Readers can see similarities but also differences, considering that some were written centuries apart and evidence was found and presented at different periods in time.
The Confessio and Epistola are well-documented and fully supported with evidence from original manuscripts by the saint’s biographers. However, the writings of the saints and the hagiographies are their interpretations of the saints’ lives. How they prove these presentations determines the authenticity of their writings. Many of these writers lived centuries after the death of St. Patrick, which means that their writings were influenced by the tradition and ideas of their time. Hagiographies or stories of saints’ lives are especially enlightening because of the interest they provide to Christian conversion. Stories of churches and conversions are sources of hagiographies preserved in time by church people (Fisher par. 5).
The message of the two biographies does not just tell of the life of the saint but shows how this man transformed into a saint (Wood 117). Patrick acknowledged that he was no better than any human being and he was a sinner saved by the cross of the Lord Jesus. The first letter speaks about his personal life while the second one is a condemnation of a British ruler and the soldiers under him (“Full Text of St. Patrick” par. 1).
The biographies were written in narrative form, simple as it is, and reflect the common beliefs, legends, and traditions in those times. The Confessio appeared like the Epistola but it is also a hymn, a chant praising the grace-filled magnanimity of Christ (Daly 249). They reveal Patrick’s personality and his relationship with the Lord, portrayed in a humble acceptance of faith. St. Patrick pictures himself as a man of suffering and pain but perseveres until the end because of his strong belief and trust in God. The introductory line introduces the writer himself, who he is, and where he came from. His confession first tells of the Trinity and graces are given to him through God’s compassion (Skinner 10).
In the course of preaching about the Trinity, he was asked: how can it be that there are three divine persons in one God? Patrick used a Shamrock in explaining three leaves attached to a stem. This explanation later convinced people about the Trinity and made Patrick identify to the Shamrock (“Keep Saint Pádraig in St. Patrick’s Day: Naomh Pádraig (Saint Patrick): The Story of Ireland’s Famous Saint” par. 6).
The term ‘confessio’ means confession in English with underlying meanings, such as ‘confession about grace,’ or St. Patrick’s ‘acknowledgment of God’s dealings with him (Kelly par. 20). Three interpretations emerged from the Latin term ‘confessio,’ referring to faith, sin, or praise. These three meanings, or modes, are present in Patrick’s writings. They are first-hand experiences of an ordinary human being brought to captivity in Ireland and a man of God receiving messages in a dream (Doherty 3).
‘Epistola’ literally means letter, written by Saint Patrick for Coroticus and the soldiers under him. Patrick wanted to rebuke and excommunicate them for the evil they had done, such as murder, kidnapping, and slavery of many of Patrick’s followers. The letter exposes and condemns the crimes of Coroticus and his soldiers who tortured and killed Christians, particularly Patrick’s co-slaves in Ireland. This letter is actually a judgment, but it also tells the innocent not to give compassion to those evil people, not until they had performed penance and freed their captives.
Epistola is not a mere letter; rather it presents a social reality in Ireland in those times. Jennifer Karyn Reid argued that the letter meant that Coroticus and his men and the people in fifth-century Ireland were literate in the Latin language and that communication by letter was common among military or administrative functions (Reid 88). It provides accounts of Patrick’s mission in Ireland and the occurrence involving the British soldiers. Coroticus took some Christians, Patrick’s converts, and sold them to the Picts. Patrick immediately sent someone to ask the chieftain to free their captives and allow them to go home. Saying in his letter that he was the duly appointed bishop of Ireland and upon knowing that the British soldiers ignored his letter, St. Patrick issued an ex-communication order for Coroticus and the soldiers. This meant that anyone should not indulge with, eat, or drink with the soldiers, until they had freed their captives and repented of their sins (De Vinné 43).
Through the Epistola, Patrick expresses his compassion and grief over his baptized brothers and sisters who were “devoured” by the devil’s angels, or “greedy wolves”. The murdered slaves were addressed as ‘flock of the Lord’ and those who had entered the monastic life were “monks and virgins of Christ”.
Coroticus was the chieftain of Strathclyde. Paying for his soldiers and officers was his duty, which he found difficult, that is why he used to commit acts of plunder among his neighbors. The Picts of Galloway and the Scots helped him accomplish the mission of marauding. The ceremony of baptism was being consecrated when Coroticus and his men arrived, plunging with their swords while others were holding the slaves captive (Bury and Charles-Edwards 156). It was possible that Patrick was near the carnage or he could have performed the baptism himself because immediately afterward, he sent his most trusted priest to Coroticus asking that the captives be released including the booty. Patrick’s letter was received with contempt and mockery. Bury and Charles-Edwards narrated that soldiers of Coroticus were Christians and “Romans,” and the Picts and Scots were the ones who massacred the Christians (Jones 112).
As we begin to read and examine Confessio, we are immediately introduced to the writer, Patrick, and his evaluation of himself as a sinner – “the least of all sinners”. He introduces himself as the slave in Ireland, a person with no faith, but who realizes during his slavery his many sins and ‘failings’. He now confesses to God and formally accepts the power and mystery of the Trinity. He praises God and accepts that without his grace, he cannot accomplish his mission (Boylan 8). An important reason for writing Confessio was to explain to the British bishops the saint’s side regarding alleged corruption charges in his church in Ireland. We sense some emotional undertones as we read through.
Patrick, the man, and saint
Humility is a common virtue of saints. We see how humble he is, even as a bishop. Patrick wrote that he was not worthy of the grace and mission given him by God – to be the Evangelizer of a divided and “barbarous” place, with different kingdoms and ethnic groups vying for supremacy (“Resurrection Miracles Performed by St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland” par. 7).
Patrick was British and his father Calpurnius was ‘officially’ a Roman citizen. He was born in the latter part of the fourth century, believed to be in 389 A.D. (Bury 16). There are several claimants to the place of birth of Patrick, such as Scotland and Britain, in addition to France. Robert King argues that Patrick was born at Tours and his father Calpurnius was a deacon of the church, or a decurion (King 25). John Bury states that Patrick was born in Wales and Britain was then comprised of England, Scotland, and Wales, but the Britain in which Patrick began his life was under Roman rule for approximately three centuries and a half.
The boy Patrick was a dreamer. He would play on a hill and watch the boats passing by on England’s shores. The port was just nearby where he would watch the men with their catch, loads of fish. England’s shores were like watching the Irish Sea (Janda 10).
Patrick’s father Calpurnius was said to have lived in Bannaventa, but this information is not certain. The monk Jocelin, who translated into Latin “The life and Acts of St. Patrick,” described Calpurnius (also spelled Calphurnius) and Contessa as just and believers of God, who were respected because of their firm belief in God and being true to their religion (Jocelin 2).
Calpurnius became a deacon as his father Potitus was formerly a presbyter. According to John Bury, the village in which Calpurnius and his family lived was a village of decurions since this was Calpurnius’ social classification in accordance with the properties he owned. If a family head possessed lands and was not classified in the senatorial class, he was forced to belong to the class of decurions for as long as he had 16 acres of land or more. However, it was on the shoulders of the decurions that heavy taxes were imposed by the imperial authority. This class of landowners during the empire started to diminish due to the cruelty and heavy burden of taxation and aggravated with the fact that wealthy senators, who were not taxed in municipal towns unlike the decurions, were growing in number. Treasury authorities were also deemed cruel and corrupt so that the decurions tried all possible means to escape from their positions by divesting themselves of their lands to become ordinary laborers of wealthy landlords (Bury 17).
Three ruthless enemies of Britain were fighting for its possession during the birth of Patricius. One ruthless group was comprised of the Picts from the region of Caledonia, another was the Scots of Ireland, and the last group longing to conquer the island was the Saxons or the ‘freebooters’ (pirates in today’s parlance). Roman Emperor Theodosius defended Britain from these three enemies and the Britons enjoyed little peace. It was short-lived because Maximus usurped the throne and brought new misery to the people once again. When Maximus fell, the three enemies came once again to claim Britain. The son of Emperor Theodosius came to the rescue by sending an able general, Stilicho, but the ruthless foes restored their quest to claim the British booty (Bury 20).
During this time, Patricius was born from Calpurnius and Contessa. Patrick had two names, one was Latin and the other was Sucat, to carry on the British name which originated from the Brythonic language of Calpurnius’ ancestors. It could also be, according to John Bury, that Patrick was also named Magnus, which means that in the registry the boy, after coming of age, would carry the name ‘Patricius Magonus Sucatus’ (Bury 23). Muirchú’s biography gives the saint four names, adding Cothirthiacus, as it appeared in the writing of Bishop Ultán of Connor (Freeman 59).
Coming from a family of a deacon, Patrick obtained some kind of Christian education, the teachings of the Christian bible, and the ways of reverence to the mighty empire that was Rome. This is reflected in his two biographies. The people of Britain at that time fully revered the empire for, to them, Rome was a mighty sign of peace and hope and their only defender from the Picts, the Scots, and the freebooters. As Patrick grew up, the enemies were coming close, especially when Emperor Theodosius died and his successors were sleeping and not attending to the security of the empire. The barbarians were ready to devour the precious Rome. The Goths under Alaric successfully captured Greece and Athens (O’Loughlin 61).
Alaric’s force entered Italy, to the great fear of Emperor Honorius after he had received the news from General Stilicho who was bound to defend western Europe. The Irish king Niall raided Britain which was left unaided when the Romans left.
Patrick was a young lad at sixteen when a flotilla of Irish pirates came to the shores of the village and took young people and brought them to Ireland to become slaves. Patrick’s parents were not one of them, some report was that they may have escaped or were not there when the marauding occurred (Bury and Charles-Edwards 21).
Patrick’s narration of the events during captivity showed how he was grieving like a Roman. According to the saint, when they reached Ireland they were led into the kingdom of Cannaught, in ‘the wood of Fochlad’ (sometimes spelled “Foclut”) where he was to meet and ultimately serve a master (Bury and Charles-Edwards 22). There are several versions to this portion of Patrick’s biography but the one which has been strongly considered is that of Bury and Charles-Edwards, who provide evidence taken from the biographers.
A big portion of the desolate place was owned by Amolngaid who later became king of the place. Some authors would agree (e.g. Bury and Charles-Edwards) that it was in Fochlad that Patrick served as a slave for six years. Some records also suggest that there was another place that Patrick may have served as a slave, which was farthest from Fochlad; it is called Ulaid. Patrick was given to a master only known as Miliucc (or Milcho) who owned pigs the boy had to tendon Braid’s valley, right at the incline of Mount Miss. It was here that Patrick served as a slave for six years. It could be that, according to Bury and Charles-Edwards, Patrick was sold to another master (Bury and Charles-Edwards 24).
While performing the work as a slave, Patrick experienced a spiritual transformation. He expressed in his Confessio that he had not reflected much of his beliefs in God but the Lord opened his eyes during his captivity. The love and fear for the Lord filled his spirit that he would pray to him day and night, all the days of his captivity. He pictured himself in the forest and on the hillside, waking up at dawn praying in spite of rain or hailstorm (Bury 30).
The period of his captivity was a precious time for his ‘conversion,’ regarded as the most crucial part of his life. In his sleep, he heard voices and messages telling him to go home as his ship was waiting. Like an ordinary human, Patrick felt homesick and longed to go back to the fold of the Roman Empire, which had already weakened.
Patrick would pray hard, expressing his love of God and thanking him for the enlightenment he received even as a slave. He suffered hard enough, enduring the pain, hunger, and thirst, but at the same time, receiving angelic messages sent to him from God. The messages told him that he was going home and that his ship was waiting for him. This ship later came to be hundreds of miles away. After six years in captivity, he sailed with pagans and strangers to the land where he was born (“Saint Patrick’s Confessio: Muirchú’s Text in English (transl. L. Bieber)” par. 4).
In going back to Britain, he sailed with strange and wicked people. Like Moses, he was trapped with these people in the desert for about 28 days. The pagans complained bitterly, like the Jews when they fled from Egypt, but instead of cursing them, Patrick offered compassion and understanding. The captain of the ship asked him to pray to their god to help them in the terrible hunger and thirst in the desert land. Patrick prayed to the real God who answered his prayer by sending them food in the form of pigs. This was allegorical to the biblical time when God sent quails to Moses and the Jews in the desert. The pagans ate pork but Patrick did not because he knew it was an offer of sacrifice. He was tested like Jesus in the desert when Satan attacked him in his sleep. In his dream, Patrick felt like he was buried under a pile of huge rocks. He called the name of Elijah, the prophet, and was saved when the sun shone on his face and the prince of darkness and the evil forces fled from him (“Saint Patrick’s Confessio: Muirchú’s Text in English (transl. L. Bieber)” par. 5).
After six years, Patrick was reunited with his family who begged him not to leave again. Patrick was now about 30 years old and had wanted to serve the world following in the footsteps of Christ. He visited and gave respect to the apostolic bishop, the head of the entire Christendom, for as he says in his biographies, he had the longing to be endowed with divine wisdom and the Holy Spirit so that he could preach to the world and the Irish people (Freeman 62).
When he was in Britain, he sensed his calling and mission through dreams and messages from Victorious, pleading him to go back to Ireland, to the place where he served as a slave. Patrick’s experience is recalled in his Confessio, like Samuel when he was called by God in the Old Testament, and Saul when Jesus asked him to stop persecuting the Christians and from that time on he became Paul (Declan 23).
Christianisation of Ireland
Patrick had a number of biographers and one of them, Daniel De Vinné, indicated that the narration of the events of Patrick’s missionary work was never told in detail by the saint but was researched and provided by his biographers (De Vinné 34).
Patrick’s voyage to preach the gospel began by crossing the sea south of his homeland in Britain. He had wanted to travel across the Alps before proceeding to Rome. On this journey, he met the holy bishop Germanus who gave him advice about preaching and such other important traits as patience, discipline, and respect. He learned many things from the bishop, especially about love, religiosity, and compassion for the downtrodden (Freeman 61).
Patrick spent many years in Gaul. An angel told him in a dream that time had come that he had ‘to fish people’ like the apostles of Christ in the bible. The fishes were the barbarians or the people from ‘the wood of Foclut’ who were waiting to be baptized and to be taught words of wisdom from the bible.
This soon-to-be saint set out for the long road. He was to meet Segitius who was sent by Bishop Germanus to consecrate Patrick as bishop. Palladius had previously been consecrated bishop by Pope Celestine and was ordered to convert the Scots in Ireland. It is with much evidence that Palladius went to Ireland for the Scots (Todd 286).
However, Palladius died in Britain when he was to meet Pope Celestine. When Patrick heard of it, he and his companions left to meet another bishop named Amathorex who consecrated him the rank of bishop (Freeman 64).
Tírechán’s narrative version does not mention anything about Palladius’ journey to the Britons but says that Palladius met his martyrdom among the Scots (Todd 292).
Patrick set foot on the British Isles where no Roman soldiers had trod. This is true with respect to Ireland because it was only this island that the Roman armies had never penetrated. At what is now the port of Wicklow, Patrick started his mission. The place was dominated by the pagan religion Druidism (De Vinné 33). At first, Patrick and his companions were pleasantly received but after a while, they were driven and were forced to board their boats. They passed by Rath Jubber, which was along the river, but without much success. Then they proceeded to an island which, in the course of history, was named after Patrick, and they rested for a while. They proceeded to the Bay of Dundrum where they were mistaken for robbers, but afterward, the people of the place realized their mistake and received them nicely. Dicho, the chief on the island, honored them by letting Patrick and his companions preach the gospel. The place where Patrick gave a sermon was named “Sabhul Phadruic,” translated as “Patrick’s barn,” which became the subject of superstitions but also honored by the natives of the place.
Patrick wanted to witness the annual pagan festival at Tara, which was near the river Boyne. This festival was considered very solemn by the king, who celebrated it together with the chieftains and all the people of the land. One of the sacred ceremonies they celebrated was that at some time in the celebration, they extinguished all the fires and before the people were allowed to light their fires, there was one at Tara that would first be lit. During this time, the pagan Irish king allowed the preaching of new ideas or religion, and Patrick took hold of this opportunity to spread the mission of Christianity (De Vinné 35).
Writer Joceline (qt. in De Vinné 35) wrote that Patrick and company settled in a distance from the king’s palace and lighted a lamp to celebrate the Paschal eve. It was supposed to be the time when all the fires at Tara should be put off before a great fire would be lit at the hill. King’s men were sent to investigate and they brought Patrick and company before the king. Patrick pleaded that he would be allowed to explain his side, but in appearing at the king’s court, only one courtier stood up to give respect to Patrick and company. In Irish custom, it was a sign of lack of respect. Patrick explained the basic lessons of Christianity, in which the king and his people listened, sometimes with approval. Patrick was allowed to speak about Christianity before the king and the pagans under him (De Vinné 35).
When Patrick appeared before the king and the Druids, only one, a popular poet named Dubtach, arose to give respect. The poet was converted to Christianity on that occasion. De Vinné reasoned that the occasion had a Pentecostal effect in that those who witnessed the event at Tara went home to tell their own stories about what happened there. Another poet named Feich gave respect to Patrick and believed in his Christian teachings. Feich wrote a poem about St. Patrick and later was consecrated Bishop of Sletty. He reworded some of the poems dedicated to pagan deities and fashioned them in praise of the true God. He was also instrumental in the propagation of the Christian faith on the island. St. Feich is one of the biographers’ sources about St. Patrick.
Only the king and subordinate rulers were hesitant to accept the Christian faith, but the ordinary people in Ireland readily accepted Patrick’s teachings with joy. A few of those with higher social status accepted the Christian faith but most of the leaders did not want to be converted. Despite this, Patrick convinced them to allow their children to be a part of Christian fellowship (De Vinné 36). Many women accepted the faith and recognized that Christianity could be the authentic religion because it honored family relations and taught the virtues of love, compassion, and understanding. Some direct descendants of the king were baptized (De Vinné 37).
The Tara Pentecostal occasion was perceived in other parts of the island. Patrick’s mission seemed to have become easy when thousands welcomed and received him to listen to the gospel message. No one tried to oppose him because everyone on the island received and understood the teachings. He was praised and respected, most especially in the north, so that Patrick and company rested in a mountain which was later named after him, Phadruic Cruach. In imitation of his Master and Lord Jesus Christ, Patrick prayed alone and fasted, and asked God for the success of their mission in Christianising Ireland.
Patrick visited the place where he served for six years as a slave, under his master Milcho. Once again, he was able to witness the scene in the mountain where he tended pigs and other animals, where he endured the rain and the hail and prayed hard to his God for mercy and safety.
In the north, he succeeded in baptizing thousands. It occurred this way. One of the local kings died and the people were in a situation to choose one of the seven sons of the king to be a successor. Patrick took the opportunity to preach to a great multitude of people. Many biographers would agree that Patrick was successful in Christianising thousands of people, who renounced the pagan cult Druidism (De Vinné 38).
Relations with the British Bishops
One of the intentions of the Confessio was to explain to the British bishops Patrick’s side regarding allegations of corruption in Ireland under his leadership and for the “unknown sin”. This “sin” was brought up against him when he was fifteen years old, or when he was still an unbeliever. Patrick says that thirty years after this sin was remembered and brought up against him. He reasoned that he did not leave Ireland and continued his mission even to the point of almost succumbing to death because of the hardships in the place. This is discussed in §27 and §28 of his Confessio (“Saint Patrick’s Confessio: Confession” par. 27).
K. L. Maund (qt. in Dumville 136) states that Patrick’s position as bishop was opposed by British church leaders. This is discussed in §43 of the Confessio of his going back to Britain. In §32 Patrick points out some reasons why he was not elected bishop and the post was given to someone else. In §33 up to §46, Patrick emotionally expresses what had happened to his vocation as a missionary in Ireland. First, he went against the will of his parents and loved ones who begged him not to go. Why did he have to offend his parents and relatives? Patrick felt that there was continuous pleading from the Irish people, especially those near the “wood of Foclut,” asking him to be with them (“Saint Patrick’s Confessio: Confession” par. 23).
Patrick was to be appointed as bishop, but according to K. L. Maund (qt. in Dumville 137), in A.D. 314, some components of the British church were beginning to form, with the convening of the Council of Arles which appointed a bishop of York. Palladius was appointed bishop for Ireland. There were several appointments made by Pope Celestine and it was presumed that the British province was being composed. However, some details of the biographers are contradictory that it came out that Palladius was consecrated bishop for the Scots of Ireland (Freeman 7).
Preachers and those who knew Ireland have to know one fact about this country, that ancient Irish culture considered every human had a rank, i.e. slave, noble, king, etc. This is not in consonance with the universal human right, and biographers had to take note of that in describing their subjects who are less relevant than the country’s culture and history (Freeman 82).
Previous Missionaries and Contemporaries
Saint Brigid was one of Patrick’s contemporaries who also preached in Ireland. Muirchú lived in the seventh century and his considered fathered, whether spiritual or biological, was Cogitosus who wrote St. Brigid’s hagiography. Brigid’s importance to the church of Ireland has much to do with Kildare, which grew as an ecclesiastical center along with that of Armagh (Freeman 97). The poet St. Feich helped in St. Patrick’s preaching.
St. Ailbe preached and was baptized in the district around Dal-Aradia, now Co. Down (Todd 206). Even though he had preached before St. Patrick, the entire Christianisation of Ireland was destined to no one but Patrick. A contemporary of Ailbe was St. Declan and both first came to Ireland ahead of Patrick (Todd 206). Other saints, like Martin and Germanus, lived and studied together with St. Patrick and have parts in Ireland’s Christian history (Haydock 73).
The Armagh Foundation
A site for a monastic foundation was donated by the king of Daire for Patrick. This was located at the foot of the hill and Patrick considered it the beginning of the ecclesiastical city of Ireland. Houses for monks were built. There was a circular place wherein a Great House was built and believed to be the residence of monks, with a kitchen and a small oratory. The bishop gained favor from the king, who was later converted to Christianity. Patrick won the respect and admiration of King Daire so that the latter granted him the land on the hill, which was a favorable place for a monastery. This is the origin of Armagh, which became the supreme ecclesiastical city of Ireland. There is not enough record about it in the biographies but Patrick must have laid the foundations of this authority. Bury and Charles-Edwards indicated that some of Patrick’s successors may have supported the supremacy and domination, albeit with few “misrepresentations and forgeries”. On other occasions, some bishops of Rome also provided fabricated documents and allowed fabrications in historical accounts so that they could provide for their extravagance. However, misrepresentation could only be made possible if it is “to increase or confirm an authority which was already acknowledged and to extend the limits of a power which had been otherwise established” (Bury and Charles-Edwards 130). This was the case of the ecclesiastical city of Armagh.
At the beginning of the fifth century, the Picts of Galloway were beginning to be Christianised. This feat was made possible by a Briton by the name of Ninian, who received higher education in Rome and imitated the works of St. Martin of Tours. This man devoted his life to spreading the gospel among the forest people of Galloway and built a stone church. Because this was the only stone building in a rather obscure place, the people named it the White House, or Candida Casa. Around this place, the people built a monastery that became known throughout Ireland in the sixth century (Bury and Charles-Edwards 151).
Relation with the Roman See and the churches
At around A.D. 441 to 443 Patrick had the intention to visit Rome even before he started assuming the bishopric in Ireland. It is unknown and the biographers cannot find evidence if Patrick did this, but considering that he had experienced so much pain, including disappointments, losses, and successes, surely he would have wanted to meet the leader of the entire Christendom. Patrick knew that the Roman see had its attention on the growth of the new Church of Ireland. He was also interested to have some glimpse, or show respect, on the relics of holy men, which was quite a religious practice in the fourth century (Bury and Charles-Edwards 123). Patrick could have longed to take hold of a fragment of a cloth of a saint and place this for veneration in the Church of Ireland. The biographers expected that Patrick could have met Leo the Great I, Celestine’s successor. According to evidence gathered by the biographers, Patrick went to Rome a year after he became bishop of Ireland. He had to give an account of his successes as the newest member of the Catholic Church, and receive formal approval from the Roman see and a gesture of moral support from the new Pope (Bury and Charles-Edwards 123).
In returning to Ireland, Patrick began to activate the church of Armagh by stationing the sea of Ireland there, making it the primary church of the island. Bury and Charles-Edwards express their views that this could also be one of the reasons for Patrick’s visit to Rome. Rome is indirectly mentioned in his Confessio as being “approved of the Catholic faith”. One great proof that Pope Leo and the Roman see gave their approval of Patrick was the gifts which he brought to Ireland, the relics of the apostles’ Peter and Paul. There the relics are now preserved and part of the history of the Church of Ireland (O’Leary 21).
Many miracles were accredited to St. Patrick, some are true while others are mere myths or legends. Like his Master and Lord Jesus Christ, Patrick healed the blind and the crippled, restored hearing to the deaf, and cured any sickness brought to him and ascribed to his name and power. It was also reported that 33 dead people had been brought back to life, some even were in their graves before they were brought back to life (“Resurrection Miracles Performed by St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland” par. 3).
The monk Jocelin wrote many miracle stories attributed to St. Patrick. He accounted for the story of a man named Gorman, who was blind since birth. Gorman dreamed that a voice commanded him that he should go to a boy named Patrick to gain his sight. When he approached Patrick, Gorman touched the ground and made the sign of the cross, and a fountain of water burst. He then wiped his eyes with water from the healing stream, as repetition of the blind man washing his eyes from the water of Siloe in the days of Jesus Christ, Gorman gained sight and became a learned man. This fountain still pours sweet water up to this day and has been attributed to St. Patrick. The fountain heals people with different illnesses and an altar has been built before it (Jocelin 4).
The legend of the “Stone of Saint Patrick” goes that the saint was born there, or others would say that he used to say mass there. One miracle attributed to the stone is when a controversy occurs among the inhabitants. The villagers involved were brought to the stone and the controversy was settled. However, if someone lies and takes his oath on the stone, water comes out but after that, the stone returns to its usual dryness. One bishop known as Bishop Saint Mel believes in the miracle (Jocelin 5).
Another miracle is about the well that dried up. Jocelin tells the story of the boy Patrick who, along with his sister Lupita, grew up in the house of their aunt in the town of Emptor. During winter, a well had exceeding water which threatened to flood the houses at Emptor. The water-filled the houses, even the mansion where Patrick and his relatives lived. The boy Patrick was hungry that he asked for bread but no one could give him what he needed. Instead of being fed, the boy was about to drown. A miracle happened when the boy submerged his three fingers into the water – he was standing on the dry floor. The boy made the sign of the cross using the flood water and the power of the Holy Trinity and ordered the water to subside. Immediately, the water subsided and there was dryness once again. All things in the house appeared to have not been submerged in water. There were sparks of fire and not water coming from the fingertips of the boy. God was praised by the villagers but the boy was also magnified as he was worthy of admiration (Jocelin 6).
Miracles were attributed to Patrick in his youth. Patrick and his sister were tending animals when, in a hurry, the girl hit her head on a stone and was nearing death. Patrick cried hard, raised her from the ground, blessed the wound by making a sign of the cross, and the girl was brought back to life. The wound was healed but a scar remained (Jocelin 131).
Final years and death
St. Patrick dreamed of an Ireland changed by the power of his teachings. He succeeded in consecrating bishops throughout the different parts of Ireland, such as in Tara and in Leinster, and he also established bishoprics. He consecrated 355 bishops who were formerly men of authority, belonging to families of kings and nobles, and landed individuals from whom the church obtained donations on which they built churches and cathedrals (O’Byrne 7).
In his final years and immediately after his death, slaves were not anymore sold but were freed, and conflicts between ethnic groups and violent criminalities decreased (Cahill 53). At the near conclusion of his life, he was more than a preacher, telling everyone to follow and live the teachings of Christ. Patrick received messages through dreams and it is often said that he truly lived his dreams (Janda 161).
St. Patrick was believed to have reached 122 years old but there are some historians who recorded that he was 120 at the time of his death. He had spent 60 years of his life in Ireland, serving the country as the first bishop whom Pope Celestine or Pope Leo I had sent to Christianise the Irish. Patrick separated them from an idol or serpent worship, forced demons out of their minds and bodies, and led them from a life of sin to a world of faith and good deeds (“Cultural Heritage Ireland: The Death and Burial of St. Patrick” par. 2).
Upon his death, there were those who fought for the possession of his body, such as the kings of Tara and Ulta. A story is told that when the two factions were fighting for Patrick’s body, they tried to cross a river to get it. However, there was a sudden high tide; afterward, they talked and agreed on certain terms by bringing the body with them and there was no cause for a fight (“The Death and Burial of St. Patrick: Irish History from the Annals” par. 4).
St. Patrick’s image created by the biographers compared to that emerging from his works
Working on the biography of a man who has done many wondrous deeds for a “barbarous” country is challenging for the biographers and even writers of today. Patrick’s biographers used evidence from his two letters and the events that transpired in those times. How authentic these biographies cannot be ascertained, except that we also have to look into the stories of events and evidence that have been collected. This is a challenging piece of work.
Patrick’s life should be understood through his writing. Some biographers of the past criticized Patrick as being only of one book, meaning he referred only to the bible and that Patrick was unlearned (Mohrmann 47). The hagiographies of the saint spoke of the authors and their own interests and not of the subject.
St. Patrick’s biographers applied amazing situations and miracles to make the saint’s mission in Ireland more appealing as one under God’s guidance. The biographers’ accounts seemed with no amount of difficulties that some historians like Geraldus (qt. in De Vinné 42) tended to doubt the authenticity of the Irish Church, that it was not founded on blood. However, De Vinné argued that these observations were not supported by evidence as Patrick’s mission in the island was continually opposed and despised by many, especially the leaders and ruling classes among the Druids (De Vinné 42). Druids worshipped the sun or serpents. It is by the grace of God that Patrick and his companions were not used as a sacrifice.
In Patrick’s Confessio, he would regularly allude to the danger of his life, to some situations when his belongings were taken from him, or to be bound in chains for fourteen days. Patrick’s biographers (qt. in De Vinné 42) made an account that one of the chieftains of the island, named Failgee, made plans to assassinate him. This chieftain hired someone to bring Patrick to a certain place and kill him, but it was Patrick’s assistant, Ordan, who was injured in the incident.
In his Confessio, Patrick never mentioned anything that would destroy the image of the pope or some churches. It could be understood that the early Irish Church was isolated from the other churches or from the Roman church.
One of the reasons why many biographers wrote and based their writings not just on the two letters but on other details in the history of the church in Ireland was due to the claim of the primacy of the church of Armagh to enhance Patrick’s popularity. In other words, members of the Irish churches gathered evidence to support this claim by compiling names, legends, and stories of saints and reconstructing the details of Patrick’s life (Bury xvi). In the course of time, particularly in the 7th and 8th centuries, writers tasked to promote the interests of the church tried to present make-up stories based on those details. More questions were created instead of answers. Puzzles came up regarding Patrick’s identity in the church, whether he was loyal to Rome or to the Church of England (King 61).
As discussed in the above paragraphs, Patrick visited Rome, which is a sign he wanted that his work in Ireland is recognized by the Roman see. With respect to the British church, Patrick always wanted to have a good relationship with the British bishops, but it was these leaders that opposed his appointment as bishop of Ireland.
The two letters remain the main source of the biographers of Patrick’s life and the time of his lifetime of devotion and sacrifice for the Christianisation of Ireland. The biographers had different interests and they added names, places, and legends to support their interests (Mac-Geoghegan 133).
Some critics argue that the Confessio and Epistola were mere reflections of a man inspired by God but they were not scholarly work of a man of the church (Dronke 15). However, recent views by scholars who have studied Patrick’s life and writings contribute to the idea of Daniel Conneely in his study of Patrick’s letters. They provide recent views that Patrick’s ideas of the Fathers are wide-ranging and support the finding that he used Latin in an intellectual way. D. R. Howlett argued much for this idea in “The Book of Letters of Saint Patrick the Bishop” (Mac-Geoghegan 134). Much scholarly work of St. Patrick and his biographies have not emphasized his developmental years as a Christian and most were decisive of his entire life’s work, in particular his dedication for, with, and in the Lord Jesus Christ. Patrick is filled with the teachings and example of Christ (Richards 101).
Writing about the lives of saints, or hagiographies, was popular in the fourth century and Muirchú’s and Tírechán’s biographies of St. Patrick were a continuation to this popular practice of the Christian churches, albeit with some intentions promoting the interest of their own churches. Monasteries became famous sources of hagiographies were stories of churchmen emerged and were celebrated by church people (Freeman 56).
Muirchú was a devoted churchman who wrote St. Patrick’s hagiography in the seventh century. He was one of those in attendance in the Synod of Birr in 697 along with Bishop Aed. The synod enacted the law of Adamnán which sought protection for women and children during conflicts. Muirchú’s biography of St. Patrick is based on the two letters and was written in obedience to the suggestion of Bishop Aed (“Muirchú: Life of St. Patrick” par. 1).
Muirchú’s version of St. Patrick’s letters is a compilation of several transcriptions with Muirchú’s work at the beginning of the book and was attributed to him in the course of time as his work. Some of his writings were taken from Armagh (Bury 262). Lauren Humphrey theorizes that Muirchú’s hagiography of Patrick was propaganda material because it was written during the period of controversy in the Irish church, on matters pertaining to Celtic paganism (Humphrey ii).
Muirchú’s biography follows the classic hagiography – root, messages sent by God, purported miracles, and continual divine intervention. The master storyteller writes with passion, presenting the saint like a hero whose life is similar to other personalities of the Christian faith. First, Muirchú tells some bible stories and saints’ lives but also quotes some passages from Patrick’s Confessio and Epistola (Freeman 57). Ludwig Bieler’s translation includes Muirchú’s work. Muirchú’s names of places did not match other interpretations (Freeman 58).
Muirchú agrees with the other biographers that Patrick’s birthplace was Britain. His father first lived in Thaburniae which has changed its name to Ventre. As a young boy, Patrick did not know the true God but burning inside him was the desire to know God and his life’s mission.
The difference between Muirchú’s interpretation with the others is that in Muirchú’s, there is the second captivity. In all these happenings, he received messages regarding the things that were about to happen. With the help of the Lord, Patrick and the rest were freed, safe and sound (Freeman 63).
The mention of Victorious as a friend could be something not familiar. Muirchú considers Victorious as an ordinary human being who predicts what will happen. In other interpretations, Victorious talks with Patrick in his dreams. This means Victorious could be an angel.
Muirchú mentioned Palladius who was sent by Pope Celestine to convert the people of Ireland. However, Palladius was not the right person or was not destined to be the real Evangelizer for the Irish, in God’s eyes. He died in going back to Britain.
The story of King Loíguire is one of the features in Muirchú’s version. King Loíguire was a successor of King Níall. Loíguire was a wise but evil king because he surrounded himself with evil advisers, people who were skillful in magic and the art of sorcery and witchcraft, and druidism. They had the skill of predicting the events of the future. Two of these magicians could tell what was going on in foreign land, or if some preachers from a foreign country were arriving at their place with a mission to preach about a new religion or new teaching. Loíguire’s evil advisers told the king that someone would bring this news to the people of the land and they, including the king, should honor it; else, they would be killed and there would be a change in the entire kingdom. The advisers’ prediction later pointed to Patrick and company.
Muirchú’s version about King Loíguire and the other kings of Tara is not specified in St. Patrick’s version. Muirchú included legends, magic and sorcery, and the customs and tradition of the ancient times during Ireland’s Christianisation (Freeman 65). There are reasons for this why Muirchú included it in his hagiography, and one of these is to show the power of St. Patrick, and thus the power of God in the hands of the saint. In other words, whether they were true or not, it was no concern for Muirchú. What was important is that he presented something for Ireland and its venerable saint. Patrick’s letters speak of the truth about his life from sinner to a messenger of God (Paor 31).
Tírechán’s Version (traditionally termed Collectanea) compared with Patrick’s version
Tírechán is virtually unknown if not for the work of a scribe who is also unknown. The Collectanea has several translations but the most modern bearing historical facts of Tírechán is that provided by Catherine Swift’s (Swift 55) doctoral dissertation, which was discussed further by Thomas Charles-Edwards.
In the ninth century, the unknown scribe tasked to copy Patrician texts was an assistant of Ferdomnach who was charged to complete the Armagh manuscript. The scribe, upon Ferdomnach’s instruction, wrote as the title of a page a sentence which read that the Patrician texts were written by Bishop Tírechán upon instructions of Bishop Ultán. Without this sentence of the scribe, the author of Collectanea, now a part of the Book of Armagh, could not have been known (“Saint Patrick’s Confessio: Tírechán: Biography and Character Study” par. 9). Bishop Tírechán lived in the seventh century.
The Collectanea tells us the story of St. Patrick and his travels to the far reaches of Ireland, providing names of places, dynasties, church’s organizations, and the different happenings inside the church of Armagh during St. Patrick’s time. Collectanea is still considered unfinished but the many details of this work depict many of Patrick’s relations and contact with people, rather than portraying him as a man of miracles (Bury 41). Bury suggests that Tírechán could have written the texts around 664 A.D. or 684 A.D. (Bury 41).
Most details of Tírechán’s Collectanea focus on the province of Connacht, emphasizing the places, foundations, and countryside sceneries. Tírechán came from the north of this province, now called Co. Mayo. It is believed that Collectanea is the work researched by Tírechán and attributed to St. Patrick’s work (“Saint Patrick’s Confessio: Tírechán: Biography and Character Study” par. 10). The title sentence was written by the scribe also tells us that Tírechán worked under the instructions of Bishop Ultán.
Tírechán provides details about his own dynasty and those coming from the area of Killala Bay where his family ancestors came from and sceneries depicted in the texts showed his clear bias. It can also be viewed that Tírechán belonged to a prestigious family during those times.
Biographers were more concerned with finding miracles from St. Patrick than searching and telling the truth about him. In his biographies, Patrick has provided almost everything about his birth, life, and experiences as a slave and then as a preacher of the Lord Jesus. However, his biographers had other interests aside from telling the facts about him (De Vinné 19). Muirchús hagiography gave more details about Patrick’s life than of his transformation into a saint (Humphrey 1).
In drawing comparison from the different biographies and the two autobiographies of St. Patrick, it is safe to suggest that Confessio and Epistola can give reliable and unbiased details of the saint’s life than his biographers who have added “extra” to promote their organization, dynasty or district.
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