Who Was St. Patrick?

Who Was St. Patrick? For Saint Patrick’s Day, we look at the life of an early leader of the Celtic Church

A Historical Look at Saint Patrick

St. Patrick was not born in Ireland but was a British Celt. According to some sources St. Patrick was born in Wales or North Britain between 370 – 385 AD. Other scholars believe he was born at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland, in the year 387. Still others place his birthplace in France.

Tradition has it that he died at Saul in Downpatrick, Ireland, between 463BC and 493AD on March 17. While there is no documentation for his birth or death date, March 17 is traditionally considered to be one of the two.

There is a dispute as to his place of burial; the site with the strongest claim seems to be Down Cathedral where a large slab of rock inscribed with the word Patric marks the alleged grave of St Patrick.

Confession of St. Patrick

From a Christian home, Patrick recounts in his “Confession,”—a historical document preserved from his time—My father was Calpornius, a deacon, son of Potitus, a priest, of the village Bannavem Taburni�; he had a country seat nearby, and there I was taken captive.”

When he was a teenager, Patrick was sold into slavery by a group of Irish marauders. “I was then about sixteen years of age. I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of people—and deservedly so, because we turned away from God, and did not keep His commandments, and did not obey our priests, who used to remind us of our salvation.”

It was during his captivity that Patrick grew closer to God. “But after I came to Ireland—every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed—the love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened. And my spirit was moved so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountains; and I used to get up for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm, and there was no sloth in me—as I now see, because the spirit within me was then fervent.”

After six years in captivity, Patrick heard a voice one night urging him to find a ship and escape to sea. His escape from Ireland was successful and he went to Britain.

Patrick was welcomed warmly in Britain upon his return, and legend has it that he spent some 12 – 20 years at Marmoutier Abbey. As time passed, he began to sense his calling was to return to Ireland. “I saw in the night the vision of a man…coming as it were from Ireland, with countless letters. And he gave me one of them, and I read the opening words of the letter, which were, `The voice of the Irish’; and as I read the beginning of the letter I thought that at the same moment I heard their voice—and thus did they cry out as with one mouth: `We ask thee, boy, come and walk among us once more.'”

St. Patrick did return to Ireland and was very successful in winning converts. This enraged the Celtic Druids and resulted in numerous confrontations where Patrick’s life was in danger. Patrick was arrested several times, but always managed to escape. He continued to travel across Ireland, establishing monasteries, schools and churches across the country. He is often credited with converting the entire country of Ireland to Christianity.

Patrick was a leader in the ancient Celtic Church, thought by many historians to predate the Roman Catholic Church. He was considered a saint in Ireland before the Vatican created its canon of saints in Rome. He quoted “The Rule of Faith of the Trinity” of the Celtic Church in his confession:

Because there is no other God, nor ever was, nor will be, than God the Father unbegotten, without beginning, from whom is all beginning, the Lord of the universe, as we have been taught; and His son Jesus Christ, whom we declare to have always been with the Father, spiritually and ineffably begotten by the Father before the beginning of the world, before all beginning; and by Him are made all things visible and invisible. He was made man, and, having defeated death, was received into heaven by the Father; and He hath given Him all power over all names in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue shall confess to Him that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe, and whose advent we expect soon to be, judge of the living and of the dead, who will render to every man according to his deeds; and He has poured forth upon us abundantly the Holy Spirit, the gift and pledge of immortality, who makes those who believe and obey sons of God and joint heirs with Christ; and Him do we confess and adore, one God in the Trinity of the Holy Name.

The Trinity was a cornerstone of Patrick’s teaching and he is credited with using the Shamrock to show how the Trinity is three separate beings, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, united in one entity. His followers adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock on the feast day of St. Patrick.
Patrick is also thought to be the author of the work known as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” “The Shield of St. Patrick” and/or “The Prayer of St. Patrick”(which was written either by him or about him). It is still used in some hymn books today.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

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 when I lie down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17, the anniversary of St. Patrick’s death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for thousands of years.
In America, St. Patrick’s Day was first celebrated in Boston, MA, in 1737. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place not in Ireland, but in the United States. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City on March 17, 1762.

© 2004 by Kathryn E. Darden, all rights reserved. 

1. http://www.historic-uk.com/historyuk/Wales-History/StPatrick.htm

2. http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=89
4. http://www.st-patricks-day.com/about_saintpatrick.asp
5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick
6. St. Patrick’s Confession

7. http://wilstar.com/holidays/patrick.htm
8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick’s_Day

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