St. Patrick

The Story of St Patrick

 What Patrick Wrote

Saint Patrick has left us a letter which he wrote in Latin fifteen hundred years ago. Later on in his life, he also wrote, or dictated to a secretary, a personal account of his work as a bishop in Ireland. This piece of writing, called by some his confession, tells all who read it much about Patrick as a man and a Christian who loved to serve God by caring for people. Writing in his old age, he looks back on his life which he admits was full of faults and short-comings. In the end, however, he is deeply thankful for what he was called to do among the people of Ireland. The confession is not a simple biography, nor does it concentrate solely on his failures; it is much more a thanksgiving and a meditation full of praises for the goodness God showed to him in all the dangers and hazards of a life full of adventure and activity.

The Confession and the Letter to the soldiers under the command of their chieftain Coroticus are recognised widely as containing Patrick’s own thoughts and words. Patrick himself has, as it were, given us a picture of his personality. As we read the Confession and the Letter we try to capture his appearance, the expression on his face, his character, his firm faith, his humble approach to the great task that was assigned to him. There is much more to be discovered about him: he is more than a name, more than a legend, more than a symbol of Ireland and the Irish wherever they live. He is a saint and, as has been said, ‘saints are not made by accident’. They are part of history. Indeed, someone said that saints were those who did ordinary things extraordinarily well.

The aim of this character sketch is to distinguish between what actually happened in Patrick’s life and the many later stories, often legendary but also embodying truths about him, which have circulated in his honour. There are memoirs, biographies, hymns, and unwritten traditions associating him with people and places throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. These are signs of his popularity. Such traditions reveal the inspiration of a leader and a teacher who spread the good news of Christianity on his travels, through many an encounter with strangers and friends. He had enemies too. His spiritual victories were never claimed by him as personal achievements. He gave the glory and the honour to the God whom he came to know intimately when he arrived in Ireland as a slave-boy. He lived to call himself God’s slave and servant. In God’s service he learnt the secret of a true and perfect freedom.