History Comes to Light

History Comes to Light

There is always great excitement in a household when someone in the family drags out from a dark corner under the stairs, a forgotten tin-box full of letters written by grandparents or great-aunts in times past. Perhaps the box has not been opened during the lifetime of the youngest members of the family. Suddenly they discover that their relations from generations long ago are real people, not merely dim and distant names.

As they read the letters, the writers quickly become personalities. A little bit if family history comes to life. Cries of surprise and peals of laughter are heard when the old-fashioned style of writing is read out aloud round the fireside. Names of places in the neighbourhood, well-known today, are mentioned in these dusty letters, already turning yellow with age.

Sometimes old diaries also turn up to give us news of happenings, completely unheard of or forgotten. Account books and receipts tell a story of the cost of living in the old days. Everyone’s curiosity is aroused. Questions are asked when the meaning is not clear. Genuine history comes out of this inquiry into the past. The family realises that its members, from the oldest to the youngest, are making history every day. The old letters and all the details in the diaries remind the family of its traditions and heritage.

Some of this kind of excitement was felt in Ireland when all learned scholars and students of Patrick’s life and work agreed that a personal letter allegedly from Patrick and a kind of diary called his Confession, really were written by the saint himself about fifteen hundred years ago.

These two pieces of writing are very precious. In days long before printing was invented, they were copied many times by writers of manuscripts into books written by hand. It is thought that Irish history, as recorded in writing, began with Patrick’s Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus and his Confession. They were written in the fifth century A.D. The oldest copies, however, date from about one thousand years ago. These are kept in libraries, as special treasures; some in Brussels, Paris, London, and Oxford and others in different towns in Europe. Part of the confession, the writing that Patrick handed on in his old age to his Christian friends, is kept in the library of Trinity College Dublin with in the covers of the ninth century Book of Armagh, written by hand, with some fascinating pen-drawings.

Today it is generally accepted that the Confession and the Letter are from the pen of Patrick.

We are going to explore these documents. We will that Patrick is more than the mere name of a famous saint, well-known throughout the world, but especially admired in Ireland. We will discover many things about him. We learn about his early days as a boy at home with his parents. When we read what he wrote about himself we learn that he was kidnapped and carried off as a slave. He tells us what his Christian faith meant to him in lonely days of great suffering. His many adventures show us how brave and strong he was in very hard times. These writings introduce us to a very important person, an outstanding hero, about whom many stories were told in later days.

We are going to find out what he was really like, by reading his own words. The manner in what he tells us about himself, without any boasting, makes us realise that we are in touch with the flesh-and-blood Patrick. As the saying goes, he describes himself ‘warts and all’. He is not afraid to point out his weaknesses, but he stands up for the faith in which he had his trust and firmly defends the God who has guided and protected him, in the teeth of hostile criticism.

When Patrick writes with such honest words as ‘I, Patrick, a sinner’, and immediately we warm to him.