Reading Time: 4 mins

Commemorating the Feast of St. Patrick

Reading Time: 4 mins

Patrick's breakthrough came when he began to leverage his knowledge of the native language and customs to build a bridge between Irish lore and the Christian mythos.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Christ.
May your salvation, Lord, be ever with us. 

— The Prayer of St. Patrick

For one thousand years, Ireland has observed the Feast of St. Patrick. The celebration commemorates the death of Patrick in the fifth century and Christianity arriving once and for all in Ireland. But apart from the legends around him, who was Patrick? 

Patrick was born to a wealthy family in Roman Britannia in 385 AD. He was initially named Maewyn Succat. At the age of sixteen, he was snatched away from his home and land by Irish pirates and made to be their slave. Afterward, he was sold to Miliue of Antrim, a local Irish chieftain, where he was forced into service as a shepherd and swineherd. 

In his Confessio, Patrick wrote: 

At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others. We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments. We would not listen to our priests, who advised us about how we could be saved. The Lord brought his strong anger upon us and scattered us among many nations even to the ends of the earth. It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was.

While a slave, Patrick began to pray, asking God to open a way for him to escape his enslavement. Then, in a vision, the Lord revealed to Patrick that he should flee to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to spirit him away back home. One hundred and eighty miles later, after crossing the harsh Irish wilderness, Patrick arrived at the coast and spied a British ship waiting for him. 

Once home, Patrick received another vision. This time, God showed him the people of Ireland. They were crying out for Patrick to preach to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

As Patrick wrote in his Confessio

I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: 'The Voice of the Irish.' As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea — and they cried out, as with one voice: 'We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us'.

Spurred on by this, Patrick trained for the priesthood. He trekked to Gaul, where, after years of study, he was ordained by St. Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, who sent the newly minted priest to Ireland to preach the Gospel. 

Patrick arrived in Slane on March 25, 433 AD. As one would expect, the local population, who had worshiped the same gods for centuries, were not excited to receive the priest, so they imprisoned him and even attempted to take his life on several occasions, which is why Patrick took to carrying a dagger with him wherever he went. 

Patrick's breakthrough came when he began to leverage his knowledge of the native language and customs to build a bridge between Irish lore and the Christian mythos. For example, he shifted the dates of Christian feast days to overlay them on pagan holy days. Likewise, he found the symbol of the shamrock to be useful for evangelizing people. Amongst the Irish, the number three was a significant number. They had three deities that they worshiped. Also, the triple spiral symbol, the Triskelion, was a common sight at ancient altars. So Patrick took these symbols captive to the Gospel, employing them to teach the people about the Trinity. 

When Patrick "drove out the serpents," as the story goes, it's a symbolic interpolation of his casting out Satan from Ireland. 

It is written in the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland that: "Nothing is clearer than that Patrick engrafted Christianity on the Pagan superstitions with so much skill, that he won the people over to the Christian religion before they understood the exact difference between the two systems of belief."

In Saul, Northern Ireland, he built his first church, then traveled the length and breadth of Ireland, establishing more. As the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland point out: "It was by him that many cells, monasteries, and churches were erected throughout Ireland; seven hundred churches was their number. It was by him that bishops, priests, and persons of every dignity were ordained; seven hundred bishops and three thousand priests [was] their number."

Finally, the legend of the snakes dominates most conversations about Patrick's ministry in Ireland. But did he drive the snakes off the island into the sea? Well, no and yes. Ireland did not have snakes, but it did have a snake cult. That is, the adherents of the old religion worshiped the ancient serpent. So when Patrick "drove out the serpents," as the story goes, it's a symbolic interpolation of his casting out Satan from Ireland. 

Patrick died in the year 493 AD (although some historians argue that he died in 461 AD). It is said that he was 122 years old. The date of his death is March 17, the day the churches now observe the Feast of St. Patrick. His feast, which commemorates his legacy, is a tale told so often throughout the history of the Church: God works in and through his saints to convert sinners by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to recapture stolen territory that the glory of Jesus Christ might drive away the Luciferian darkness of the world. 

So, thank God for St. Patrick. Thank God for all his gospel preachers sent out to declare the good news of the kingdom. And, above all, praise be to Jesus Christ!