PATRICK, St., Apostle of Ireland. The early references to St. Patrick are few, The first is made by Cummianus in A.D. 634; Adamnan, in time same century, also makes reference to the saint; and of later authorities there is no lack. Prosper of Aquitania, the Venerable Bede, Columban, and others are silent on the subject: the remoteness of Ireland is sufficient to account for this.
Our chief sources of information are two writ. ings which seem undoubtedly to be the work of St. Patrick, - the Confession, and the Epistle to Corolicus. The former is found in the Book of Armagh, an Irish manuscript of about the year 800; and both, in later but independent manuscripts. The Armagh copy professes to be transcribed from an original in the handwriting of the saint. The earliest lives extant quote from the Confession, showing tleat at an early date the work was considered genuine: so time external evidence is not without value. The internal evidence is so overwhelming that the two treatises are accepted practically universally as authentic.
The poem known as The Hymn or Loricum of St. Patrick has been considered genuine. It is in very ancient Irish, gives no facts, and, whether genuine or not, is valuable as showing the simplicity of doctrine of the early Patrician Church.
The secondary sources of information are (1) The Hymn of Secundinus. This dates probably about AD. 500, gives no facts, and has only the same va1ue as the Loricum. (2) The Hymn of Fiacc. This bears internal evidence of being later than A.D. 554. lt gives only a few names, and already the miraculous and legendary has crept in. (3) The Acts of St. Patrick, by Muirchu Maccumachtheni. This life is found in the Book of Armagh, belongs to about A.D. 700, and is probably the oldest life of St. Patrick. The author admits that even then the facts of the saint's life were hopelessly obscured, and we see legend already gathered about it. (4) The Annotations of Tirechan. This is also found in the Book of Armagh, and is of about the same date as the Acts, but contains more legendary matter. The mission is ascribed to Pope Celestine. (5) Legendary Lives. Of these Colgan has collected seven, some of which are very ancient. They make St. Patrick study with St. Germain of Auxerre and St. Martin of Tours, visit Rome, receive episcopal ordination and commission to preach from Pope Celestine, and work miracles. Much of this, of which no trace appears in the Confession or Epistle, is, perhaps, taken from some Acts of Palladius, now lost: it is repeated, with additions, in successive lives, and culminates in that by Jocelyn in the twelfth century. It is possible that comparative study of the older lives might extract some truth; but at present, as historical authorities, we can only reject them.
It is impossible to settle the dates of St. Patricks life. Nicholson labors to show that his work belongs to the third, instead of to the fifth century, but brings forward little in support of this view. Killen dates his mission A.D. 405 on insufficient and contradictory grounds. All the earlier ecclesiastical writers assume that St. Patrick was commissioned by Pope Celestine, and so fix the date of the mission A.D. 431 or 432. Todd makes out as strong a case as we can perhaps hope to have for about A.D. 440. A passage in the Confession fixes his age at this period as forty-five, which would give A.D. 395 for his birth: this passage is, however, doubtful, not being found in the Armagh manuscript. The Annals of Connaught make the year of St. Patricks birth 336; Ussher, Tillernont, and Petrie, 372; Lannigan, 387; the Bollandists, 378. The year of his death is equally uncertain. Tillemont gives 455; the Bollandists, 460; Nennius, 464; Lannigan, and many following him, 465; Useher, Petrie, and Todd, 492 or 493. Lannigans date (465), which is the favorite with recent writers, resth on the assumptions of the commission from Celestine and of a regular succession of bishops, such as prevailed at later date, at Armagh, of which St. Patrick was the first. There is nothing against the ordinary date of 492, and all tradition ascribes extreme old age to the saint.
From the Confession we learn that St. Patrick was carried away captive at sixteen from Bonavem of Taberniæ in the "Britaniæ," and it is usually assumed that lie was born there. His father, Calpurnius, was a deacon, and at the same time a Roman civil officer: his grandfather, Potitus, was a priest. The fact that a priest and deacon were married men does not seem to St. Patrick to have needed any explanation. Research has failed to identify Bonavem of Taberniæ. The authorities are divided between some point on the coast of Armoric Gaul, possibly Bologne-sur-Mer, and the place since called Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland. The probabilities are in favor of Gaul; the strongest argument against the supposition, namely, that the Confession distingl.iishes between Gaul and Britain, being explicable. But it is quite possible that neither of these places is the right one.
Tlie young Patrick, being carried away with many others, was sold in Ireland, Tirechan tells us, to a chieftain called Milcho. There he was set to watch cattle, and the religious teachings of his youth bore fruit. In six years, guided, as he believed, by a divine vision, he made his escape; and after long wanderings, and undergoing another captivity of sixty days, Patrick, now twenty-two years old, regained his friends. All is unknown until the mission to Ireland; and, if we assume his age at that period to have been forty-five, here is a gap unfilled of twenty-three years. His Latinity, his ignorance of the doctrine and practice of the Roman Church and of the Hieronyian Vulgate, show that the time was not spent in study under learned doctors, like St. Germain of Auxerre, or St. Martin of Tours. But we know nothing of his private life, which might explain all. We learn from the Confession, which is largely a justification of his life, that he formed the plan of preaching to the Irish himself, that he persisted in it in spite of the opposition of his friends, and that he attributed his mission to no pope, bishop, or church. Patrick was consecrated bishop, and sailed for Ireland with a few companions. Again the Confession fails us: we have almost no details of the work in Ireland. The pages of Lannigan and Todd may be consulted by any one who wishes to see arranged in the best form possible the conflicting accounts. We can gather, however, that the work was by no means the easy and perfect conquest of tradition. Danger and opposition were encountered, and th~ final success was only partial. Leoghaire, the over-king, lived and died a ferocious Pagan: heathen practices survived the saint many years. His plan, in fact, seems to have been to win the chiefs, and trust to tribe feeling to draw the clan. Such Christianization must, of course, have been superficial; but the work was done, and a native church with native clergy established. Of his death and burial-place we know nothing; although, of course, tradition and invention have been active enough in the interest of various churches. In the authentic writings of St. Patrick we find no trace of purgatory, adoration of the Virgin Mary, transubstantiation, or the authority of the Pope. Still we must not think of St. Patrick as opposing these doctrines: he seems merely to have been ignorant of them. The church he founded was monastic, ascetic, and sacramental. To represent St. Patrick as a protester against the special doctrines of the Roman-Catholic Church is not less absurd than to represent him as a Roman bishop, teaching the doctrine and practices of the twelfth century.
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|The Confession of St. Patrick (Christians Classics Ethereal Library)|
|L. Gwynn, ed., The Book of Armagh. The Patrician Documents. Dublin, 1979.|
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|St. Patrick (Patrick Francis & Cardinal Moran)|
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|Robert E. McNally, "Two Hiberno-Latin Texts of the Gospels," Traditio 15 (1959): 387-401.|
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|George T. Stokes [1843-1898], Ireland and the Celtic Church. A History of Ireland From St. Patrick to the English Conquest in 1172, 6th revised edn. London: SPCK, 1907. Hbk. pp.382. pdf [This material is in the Public Domain]|
|E.A. Thompson, "St. Patrick and Coroticus," Journal of Theological Studies 31.1 (1980): 12-27.|
|E.A. Thompson, Who Was Saint Patrick? The Boydell Press, 1985. Hbk. ISBN: 085115428X. pp.192.|
|James Henthorn Todd, St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland. Dublin: Hodges, Smith, & Co., 1864. pp. xxi + 564.|
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