So, we’re coming upon the minor holiday called St. Patrick’s Day. I thought I would remind us who and what St. Patrick really was. Was he Irish by birth or religious background? History tells us, “No.” Was he part of the Catholic religious establishment? History tells us “No.” Matter of fact, Patrick was thought by the scholastic clergy to be “rusticitas” or unlearned and unqualified to be one of them. HE WAS RUSTIC! Hallelujah! Let’s get a glimpse into this man’s journey and his heart.
In the 5th century, which is the A.D. 400s to A.D. 500s, there were already hundreds of years of Christianity in England and at least a few Christians in Ireland. However, piracy still plagued the isles. Patricius Magonus Sucatus was born into a Welsh Christian family in about the year A.D. 389. He was the son of Calpurnius, who was a deacon in the Christian Church. He was educated in the Christian faith, but, like most of us, Patrick grew up to be a wayward teen. He only took himself and his ambitions seriously until one day when he was sixteen and tending the animals on the family farm.
On this calm day, a fleet of Irish pirates came across the narrow strip of sea separating Ireland from England seeking plunder and captives. Pirates love to enslave the young. They are easier to capture and keep. They are longer living for a lifetime of abuse and labor and they can easier be brainwashed by their new slaving culture. In Patrick’s own words, “After I came to Ireland, I was daily attending sheep, and I prayed frequently during the day, and the love of God, and His faith and fear, increased in me more and more and the spirit was stirred. In one day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers…I was roused to prayer in snow and ice and rain, and I felt no injury from it; nor was there any laziness in me, as I see now, because the spirit was fervent within me.” He endured slavery for six, long years. As we all know, six years to a teen-ager is an eternity. But he learned the Irish tongue and the customs of the land very well during this time.
Patrick was under a constant state of duress from his pirate captors. But, in that stress and anxiety, there was undergirding hope because he had learned from his family the One who would never fail him; the Lord Jesus. St. Patrick goes on to tell us in his “Confessions” that he heard a voice while he slept that told him to get up because, “Behold, your ship is ready.” The next morning, he fled from his captivity and “came in the strength of the Lord, who directed my way for good. I feared nothing until I arrived at that ship.” He signed on with the crew and escaped to the continent and freedom. The ship was headed for southern France and landed there within three days. He aided the crew on ship and on land until he was released from duty near the border of France and Italy. There, he was encouraged to join a monastery of Christian monks to learn the Holy Scriptures.
Some fifteen years later, Patrick felt he was ready and called to bring a revival of Christianity to the place of his captivity, Ireland. Patrick took a small contingent of monks with him and “bells, chalices, patens, books of the Law and gospel books” to the Irish shores he had once hated and prayed against. He soon walked into the hall of kings with their pagan druidic priests attending. He made use of his knowledge attained while a captive and announced to all that “Christ, the son of God is my Druid.” He used the Irish cognate for the Druid as an extremely wise person. The Irish king’s eyes were opened and God gave Patrick providential protection. He eventually baptized thousands of people and taught many to become Christian monks.
What “brand” of Christianity are we talking about? From his subsequent writings, we can see that Patrick was what might be called a Proto-Presbyterian. As he left us a volume of his writings, we find that there is no veneration of saints, relics, or of Mary; nor most of the trappings of the Catholic faith. This monk did not think that the Pope was more than a special bishop in the fifth century. And, Patrick quoted from the Book of Exodus, Psalms, Malachi, The Gospels, Acts, 1st John, Paul’s letters and Revelation. This means that the Irish had the whole Bible to learn from as early as the time of St. Patrick. His fellow Irish monks sponsored the people to obtain the Scriptures in their own language at a time when the Roman Catholics were restricting it to Latin only and becoming the Imperial Church with the Pope as secular king of Western Civilization.
Patrick’s true legacy is of a man who learned from what he was slaved to, was patient through the years with clergy who berated him as a “rustic” and answered the call to further the Kingdom of God in spite of the fact that he could have had a comfortable life cloistered in monasteries. What can we learn from him on this St. Patrick’s Day?