In Ireland Again

In Ireland Again

Patrick had been instructed in the teaching of the Church while near his home in Britain. He probably received further training in a monastery in Gaul as he prepared for ordination. The name of Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre in France, was well-known as a leader in both Britain and Gaul. Many think that Patrick came under his influence during his years of training. After this he was commissioned as a bishop to serve in Ireland.

His calling had been heard clearly. He had not taken vows as a monk, but he was familiar with the life of prayer, study and practical work which was typical among those who lived in a monastic community. Patrick was steeped in the scriptures and there were many quotations from the Bible in his writings. He was a man of constant prayer. His love for people was quite remarkable. We have only a few details about the years that led up to his missionary journey back to the island to which he had originally been taken by force. He had suffered much but, looking back on it all, he realised that he had gained for more gained far more than he had lost during those years of slavery.

Christians in Ireland Before Patrick

There were Christians in Ireland before Patrick’s mission began. Prosper of Aquitaine in his Chronicle records: ‘Palladius was ordained and sent as first bishop to the Irish who believed in Christ by Pope Celestine,’ in the year of A.D.431. We do not know very much more about Palladius and the journey he took to this outpost of Europe. His name appears in one of the early Church calendars.

Tradition claims that other Christians, such as Declan from the Waterford area, were in Ireland before Patrick. Shipping and trading from France and Wales provided a link and a contact. Visitors and travellers from the continent to Ireland would in all likelihood have had Christians among their company.

Patrick’s Beliefs

Patrick included in his Confession the words of an early Creed which he knew by heart. In his writing about his beliefs, he mentions the gift of God’s grace repeatedly. He relied upon this active love of God to carry him through many difficulties. He never grew tired of emphasising that through God’s love, and not through any special skill of his own, he had been able to accomplish great things in the face of enemies who despised Christianity and those who misunderstood the faith and tried too often to live independently without a proper understanding of God’s grace. Patrick, at his best, put God first, whatever the problem might be.

Looking Ahead To The End

Patrick had the distinct feeling that the end of the world was very near. The sacking of the city of Rome and the fall of the Empire seemed in those days to mark the end of civilisation. Patrick’s journey as a bishop to bring the Gospel to thousands who had not heard of Christ must have seemed like the end of along expedition which had brought him to the farthest outward edge of Europe.

His Words Have Weight

There was more then enough work waiting for Patrick in the island of his adoption. He did it all for love. He admits that although he was born and brought up in Britain, he became Irish. He felt Irish. His writing in Latin has been criticised as rather still and formal. When we recall that he had a choice of three languages for his teaching and preaching, it is not surprising that he apologises for the stiffness of his Latin style. For conversation, he probably spoke in Celtic-British to talk to the people whom he loved to meet in their own houses. Both these languages were spoken rather than written. Patrick spoke about his ministry in images. He had a lovely phrase for his pastoral work, preaching and visiting. He called it ‘hunting and fishing’. He borrowed the phrase from the Hebrew prophets of the Bible and found that it suited the Irish countryside, through which he wandered as a pilgrim for Christ. He hunted after people. He was concerned for their souls and bodies. He fished patiently for them, looking out for a good catch. In this spirit of simple confidence, he came into direct, personal touch with people, young and old. He bravely went out to meet them. He tried to persuade them to improve their lives and find a better way.

Before Patrick came to their homes and their families and tribes, many were held in the grip of strange fears and superstitions. They were terrified of the dark side of life. The true faith proclaimed by Patrick banished many fears and brought a new freedom to those who were baptised and confirmed in the life and membership of the Church.

Patrick speaks of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit when he refers to his beliefs in his Confession.  This word-picture of God as three persons in one was used by him to explain to his followers that God’s love was shown first when he created the world, when Jesus Christ came into the world, and third, through the Holy Spirit whose love and power works among all the peoples of the world. Many years after Patrick’s time the Christians in Ireland sang a hymn about the Trinity, the three-personed God. The words of this ‘Breastplate’ hymn summed up the important things about God’s love and protection. The followers of Patrick pictured him singing:

I bind unto myself today

The strong name of the Trinity

By invocation of the same

The three-in-one and one-in-three.

From Darkness Into Light

The song made clear to the faithful Christians that they need not fear the dark nor any of the frightening superstitions which prevented many people from enjoying life and sharing the freedom which the God of love gave to them.

The ‘Breastplate’ described how the Christians knew that they were protected by God:

Against the demons snares of sin,

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,

Against the wizard’s evil craft,

Against the death-wound and the burning,

The choking wave, the poisoned shaft.

The druids were important people in Ireland at a time when there were many kings ruling over quite small kingdoms. They advised the kings when problems of state and government needed attention and were also in charge of the education of the young. They had a deep knowledge of poetry and laws and altogether seemed to be people of great influence. We have no writings to inform us about what they taught or prophesied. All their activities were carried out by word of mouth. There was, of course, a good side to their work. Not all druids were forceful and domineering. Some of their laws and their counselling as well as their teaching and healing work did much good.

Patrick, however, was guided by God to challenge the beliefs of the druids and reading between thee lines of his Confession it seems that the only power he used as he moved among the people was the power of love. He won the confidence of the kings who listened to his preaching. They were attracted by his friendly personality. They saw how he cared for individuals and that he was anxious to show them a better way of life. there had not been much charity or love in paganism.

Kings entrusted their children to Patrick who educated them and trained them to help him in his task of spreading the Gospel. These pupils went with him on his pilgrimages, as ‘he wandered about the country for Christ’. When Patrick’s message was heard and taken to heart it brought something new and hopeful to people’s lives and dispelled their fears of the unknown and the mysterious.

Highest Standards

In the Confession, Patrick tells us about one particular Irish woman, an aristocrat from one of the royal families, and very beautiful. When she heard about Jesus Christ, she wanted to give her life to follow and serve him. Patrick urged her to remain unmarried so that she might devote herself entirely to the service of God. Her family was very troubled about this and objected to the suggestion that she should not marry. They persecuted her and attacked Patrick too. There was a real family row. All that happened makes us realise that in those days it was not at all easy to become a Christian, with freedom to choose between the single or the married life.

Slaves, as well as those who belonged to important ruling families, had difficult experiences to face when they became Christian and received baptism. Suddenly their eyes were opened to see how free the life of a Christian could be – so different from the laws that bound the slaves. The problem was that those slaves who became Christians still remained slaves. They were not very popular with their masters on account of the new outlook on life. In spite of threats and fearful suffering, the slaves bravely spoke out for the truth. They showed that each individual was counted as important in the eyes of God.

Thousands Flock to Patrick

Patrick discovered how close his friendship was with those who suffered so much for their faith. He confirmed many of those he had baptised with prayer as he laid hands on their heads with a blessing. Some of these, later on, he ordained to minister in the Church. Against all expectations Patrick’s mission to Ireland became most successful. If sometimes he thought of moving elsewhere to work as a bishop, perhaps to Gaul or Britain, he soon found himself declaring that he could not take such a step. When he said that he felt himself ‘bound’ in the ‘Spirit; he meant that he had decided to spend the rest of his life in Ireland among the Christians converts whom he loved so dearly. He knew that it would be sinful to leave them. He did not claim to be perfect or free from faults and mistakes. He found out that there were many other Christians in his flock who were far better than he was. He thanked God for ‘the life of perfection’ they were leading. Patrick who so humble that he could not be jealous of others.

Facing His Critics and His Enemies

Many of those whom Patrick met on his journeys through Ireland jeered at him. Although they laughed at him and scoffed on these occasions, he never gave in. He always spoke out bravely about his faith and refused to be silenced. He spoke about his own happiness and told others about the signs of God’s goodness that he had been shown throughout his own life. He told people not only of the wonders of God’s help in dangerous moments but also how patient God was with his ‘stillness’. He praised God for having pity on him on the many thousands of occasions when he had been careless and foolish.

Patrick could not help thinking of all the grumblers at home in Britain who had warned him of the risks and dangers he would face in Ireland.

Patrick kept his faith firmly in spite of many temptations and trials, although very often he had to be careful. For example, he knew it would be wrong to receive gifts when he was welcoming new members into the Church. Jewels were sometimes showered upon him by grateful friends. Valuable and precious as these presents were, he knew that he must not appear to receive rewards, or even bribes, for any spiritual blessings that came to them through Patrick. He gave everything back to these generous donors. He wrote, in his quaint style, ‘Perhaps when I baptised so many thousands of people I expected even half a farthing from one of them. Tell me if I did receive this tiniest coin – which would not even but a shoe, and I will give it back.

Voluntary Service

He certainly did not make any profit out of his preaching. Indeed he had many expenses as he journeyed. Patrick was known as ‘a travelling man’, and tramped on foot through many danger spots, far off any beaten track to parts of Ireland rarely visited. He knew that he was not the very first person to bring Christianity to Ireland, but he was certainly a pioneer, continually breaking new ground. Many places were untouched by the Christian faith before Patrick’s missionary journeys.

We find him giving presents to kings. He paid salaries to those of their sons who travelled round with him, helping him in his ministry. In spite of all this, he was arrested on one alarming occasion and nearly killed. He was robbed and chained up in irons, but happily after fourteen days he was set free. Some close friends – and the Lord – he wrote, rescued him from this disaster.

Patrick mentioned some lawyers whom he met on his travels. They acted as advisors to the kings who had to make decisions and pass judgements when wrongdoers were brought before them. Patrick, as a Church leader, did not go to law when he was attacked and threatened. His happy temperament and his readiness to forgive had enormous influence even among those who were ready to capture or kill him. He felt no fear and never seemed to lose his nerve. His good example showed up the greed and selfishness of those who were his enemies. They couldn’t understand why Patrick worked so strenuously for the love of the people and not for money or material possessions.