The Real Story of St. Patrick, the Conclusion, Part IV
In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher concludes the real story of St. Patrick with Part IV.
The Amazing Story of St. Patrick
For the last month, we’ve been looking at what really happened in the life of St. Patrick, one of the main characters in my upcoming novel, The Bonfires of Beltane. (Click here for Part I. Click here for Part III. Or use the navigation bar on the left to go back.)
The Long Road to Becoming a Bishop
In our last post, Patrick learned from a series of visions that God was asking him to return to the land that had kept him a slave—back to Ireland, back where he’d herded sheep for six, long years, out alone on the cold, rainy moors. He was in comfort at his father’s Roman villa. Yet his heart broke for the people he’d left. They had never heard the good news of Jesus that would pull them out of their spiritual darkness. If no one told them, they would experience an eternity apart from the God who loved them. And this knowledge ate at his soul.
His goal was to spread churches across the island. And to train priests. But he couldn’t do that unless he, himself, became a bishop. So he started at the bottom, as a layman in the local church at Bannaventa Berniae. He was soon appointed a deacon, the lowest ranking member of the church. To go higher he needed religious training. Some believe he received it in the monastery of Lérins, on an island off the southern coast of Gaul, where the gulls would cry and the Mediterranean breezes blew. The minimum age to become a priest was thirty. In Lérins, he studied, all the while hearing the lost, pagan Irish call to him. Eventually, he became a priest, but even more years passed until he was appointed a bishop. But just as he was ready to go, the Pope appointed someone else to go to the land that Patrick thought of as his life’s mission. He was devastated.
His Precursor Fails
The Pope sent the bishop Palladius, a man steeped in the upper levels of church politics. Palladius landed in southern Ireland in AD 431. But by all accounts, within a year his mission failed miserably, and he returned home. Immediately, Patrick was given the charge to go. Thus, in AD 432 he set sail from Britain, most probably landing at Sabhall in Strangford Loch, in the northeast. There, he began to preach.
Patrick Was Like One of Their Own
After his long years as a slave, he spoke Irish Gaelic like a native. At first, he would have gained few converts, mostly women. The churches he founded were small, with only a dozen or so people. But the Irish saw something in Patrick that Palladius never had. This man, so full of fire to bring the gospel to this land, displayed the very qualities they most admired. Bravery and courage—he feared them not. He defied druids and kings with a will to bring them his message. Generosity—he’d brought expensive gifts from home to distribute to the Irish kings and princes. Gold and silver, swords, lavishly sewn capes. He gave generously of his time to all. And loyalty—as time passed, the Irish saw his steadfastness and dedication to them.
Yes, Patrick was like one of their own. And he began to make more and more converts. Across Ulster in the North, over to Connacht in the west, and south to northern Leinster, Patrick took the gospel, planted, churches, and brought light into a world of darkness.
Why Did The Irish So Readily Convert?
All their lives the Irish had heard from the druids about the angry, vengeful, and capricious gods and spirits they worshiped. To placate the anger of the spirits, they would take small sacrifices of food to hide in the forest, offerings to keep the crops from being ruined, or the cattle from dying. The pictures of the druids’ gods are enough to give anyone nightmares. The worst was Crom Cruach, before whose altar even children were sacrificed. Yes, they practiced human sacrifice, offering usually adults, sometimes druids, but in the worst cases, children.
Into this world of deep spiritual darkness comes Patrick, speaking of a God who loves, who sent his Son so that that all their sins would be forgiven. The druids taught about an eternal Otherworld. But what kind of place would that be, where Manannán mac Lir, the sea god, ruled. The deities they worshiped were angry, fearsome, always needing to be appeased. Instead, Patrick showed them a God of love and the way to an afterlife of bliss, all for the price of belief. After the dark message of the druids, Patrick’s message of truth was a beam of light and hope.
Hundreds, Maybe Thousands of Churches Planted
By all accounts, Patrick’s ministry focused mainly on the northern half of the island. Ancient Ireland, what they called Ériu, was a pagan land that worshiped the dread gods of the druids and the spirits of trees, streams, and forest. But before he died, he’d brought countless Irish to the message of Christ, and left behind hundred, possibly thousands, of small churches.
There is so much more to Patrick’s story, more than we can recount here. You’ll find some of his tale in my novel of Christian historical fiction, The Bonfires of Beltane, to be released on June 20. Next week, I’ll review Michelle Griep’s novel, Undercurrent. Following that, we’ll continue our look at aspects of the early medieval world.
(This history was gleaned from a variety of sources: Patrick’s own Confessions, Philip Freeman’s St. Patrick of Ireland, Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, and T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin’s The Course of Irish History.)