Friday, March 19, 2021

The Real Patrick of Ireland

The Real Patrick of Ireland

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The Myths

The Saint Patrick of our knowledge is a mythical being, a Christian Saint in the sense of a miracle making prophet of God. That is not an accurate description of either a saint nor of Patrick. The Irish love their myths and the Catholics love their saints and between the two of them, the real Patrick was unrecognizable.

Here are a few of the better known and lesser known legends that surround the myth of Patrick.

St Patrick Versus Ancient Irish Heroes

In Celtic mythology, Oisin was one of the legendary Fianna, the hero warriors led by the greatest Irish hero, Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhail). Oisin was said to be Fionn’s son. Oisin fell in love with Niamh, a Celtic goddess and one of the queens of Tir na Nog, the Celtic land where the gods and goddesses dwelt, a land of where none ever age or die. Oisin lived in Tir na Nog for several hundred years, never ageing and retaining all his youth and strength. Of course, as always happens for those from Ireland, he got homesick so his goddess lover, Niamh gave him permission to return to Ireland on condition that he remained sitting on his magical horse at all times and did not touch the ground, even for a second.  When arrived back in his native land all his friends and other Fianna warriors had been dead for many long centuries. He was a stranger in his own home land. He turned to return to Tir na Nog and Niamh but he saw a man struggling to lift a huge stone. Oisin stopped to help but as he strained from his horse help lift the stone, the strap on the saddle broke and he fell from the horse. Upon touching the, he began to age rapidly, turning into a feeble old man. As he lay there dying, St Patrick walked by and stopped to talk. The discussion turned to the relative merits of their two religions and civilizations. St. Patrick of course wins of the debate.


St Patrick banishes snakes from Ireland, the most famous of all the Patrick legends.

The story goes that St Patrick had subjected himself to a 40-day fast on the top of the mountain now known as Croagh Patrick. As he came down after finishing his fast, he saw snakes gathering in front of him.  He then proceeded to chase them into the sea and banished them forever. From that day forward, there were no snakes to be found in Ireland. It seems however that it was the Ice Age, that destroyed the snakes in Ireland and not Patrick’s snake herding ability.




 St Patrick, Shamrocks and the Holy Trinity.

 In this legend the pagans of Ireland that Patrick was trying to teach about the Trinity just couldn’t understand, this contradictory concept, God was both one God and yet three distinct person, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Patrick plucked up a common shamrock and used it to explain, the deep theological truth of the Godhead. The shamrock was a single plant and yet it was made up of three leaves, each leaf represent one facet of God. The first known reference to it, according to the Oxford English dictionary, is 1726.


 St Patrick Designs the Celtic Cross


 While preaching to the ancient Celts, St Patrick is said to have tried to make Christianity blend into their culture whenever possible. The story is that he saw that the Celts liked circular patterns and decided to blend those patterns with the Christian cross. The idea was that the Cross of the new faith would be more palatable to the Celts if it incorporated symbols from their own culture.

Actually, the cross shape was popular with the Celts long before St Patrick and Christianity. It was used to symbolize north, south, east and west… and also earth, fire, air and water.


Patrick’s Walking Stick that turns into a Living Tree

  Legend has it that St Patrick carried a walking stick made from an ash tree. One day, after visiting his
parent’s home in Britain, Patrick was taking the opportunity to preach to the people he met as he travelled back to Ireland. When he would stop to preach, he would thrust his walking stick into the ground. Once he preached so long that the stick grew roots and turned back into a living tree. The place where it happened became known as Aspatria, meaning ash of Patrick.


The Theft of the Man

Though Patrick was not a miracle worker nor a legendary super saint, but do not underestimate his influence to the life of Irish Christianity and to Ireland itself. Ireland began its “Golden Age” after Patrick’s days of evangelism, church and monastery building. While much of the rest of Europe was entering the dark ages after the Roman Empire withdrew back to Italy, Ireland was a shining light of education, freedom and civil rights and the work of the Gospel.

For this reason Patrick’s name history and heritage was stolen by the Catholic Church. It was obvious that the only way the Catholic Church was to gain a foothold in a Christian Ireland was to kidnap their most famous Christian missionary and this is exactly what they did.

Dr. J. Lewis Smith, wrote a treatise, “Patrick of Ireland Not A Romanist.” In it he says, “We have in hand now 140 letters of Pope Leo the Great and we have not found a line written by him or any other Pope or any other man rejoicing over the wonderful additions to the Roman Church by Patrick and his disciples.”

The Book of Darrow, one of the oldest of Irish manuscripts, says nothing about his being an ecclesiastic of Rome and in his letter to the Christians under Coroticus and in his “Confession” Patrick makes no mention whatsoever of his being consecrated as a diocesan bishop.

The Irish Church, written by Dr. Hamilton, says this of Patrick’s confession letter: “There is not a faint Roman tinge about it. It is . . . thoroughly evangelical.” And Dr. Todd says: “The confession of St. Patrick contains not a word of a mission from the Pope Celestine.”

Odriscol, who was an Irish Catholic, in his work entitled, “Views of Ireland,” says: “The Christian church of that country, as founded by St. Patrick and his predecessors, existed for many ages, free and unshackled. For 700 years this church maintained its independence. It had no connection with England and differed on points of importance with Rome.” 8

Finally, in 1172 A.D., at the Council of Cashel, that Henry II of England and the Pope prevailed over history and the heritage of the Irish people and stole the Christian hero Patrick making him into a “Saint” and missionary sent by Rome.


His History As Best We Can Know It

When Patrick penned the two surviving documents attributed to him, he wrote in Latin and signed his name “Patricius,” but according to some accounts he was born Maewyn Succat. His “Confession” or “Epistle to the Irish” and his epistle to the Christians under the cruel king, Coroticus. Also there is the Lorica or Hymn of Patrick, also written in Latin and known as The Breastplate. These writings give us out best insight into Patrick’s history and what he believed.

From the “Confession” we know he was a Briton. He was born in the town of Dumbarton on the River Clyde in the south of Scotland about the year 373 A.D. His father was a Christian deacon and his grandfather a clergyman in one of the ancient church of Britain. Many believe these churches were started from Paul’s last missionary trip, unrecorded in the Bible, but one which led to the Gospel being planted in Wales and spreading from there throughout ancient Britain, which at that time was a wild Roman province. The churches established during this time, whether by Paul or another missionary, never come under the authority of the Pope or Rome. At the time Patrick was born the Roman empire was just beginning its so-called conversion to Christianity under Constantine but it would be hundreds of years before it had the power to reach into Britain.

When he was sixteen years, Patrick captured by Scots-Irish raiders, who preyed upon the now defenseless villages of post Roman Britain. As a young boy in good health he was sold as a slave to a Druid chieftain named Milcho, who ruled somewhere in the north part of Ireland. For six years Patrick herded the cattle of this ruthless pagan chieftain.

In “Confession” he writes, “I was taken captive before I knew what I should desire and what I should shun. […] before I was humbled, I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and He that is mighty came and in His mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for His great favours in this world and forever, that the mind of man cannot measure.”


It was during this time of slavery that Patrick turned from himself and came accepted Christ as his own personal Saviour.

“Frequently in the night I prayed and the love of God and His fear increased more and more in me.”

After six years, He felt he heard the Lord speak to him, commanding him to fast and then later to flee and he would find his way back to his home and parents. He escaped and after a tortuous journey over land and sea, returned to his people.

Later, Patrick records that like the great apostle Paul, he received a clear and personal “Macedonian call” from the Lord of harvest to preach the Gospel in the land of his former captivity.

“Again, I was in Britain with my parents, who received me as their son, and besought me to promise that, after the many afflictions I had endured, I would never leave them again. And then, truly, in the bosom of the night I saw a man as if coming from Ireland, whose name was Victoricus, with numerous letters, one of which he gave me, and I read the beginning of the epistle, containing the Voice of the Irish.

“And while I was reading the beginning of the epistle I thought in my mind that I heard the voice of those who were near the wood Focluti, which is near the western sea. And they shouted thus: ‘We beseech thee, holy youth, to come and live amongst us.’ And I was greatly pained in my heart, and could not read very much more; and thus I was proved. Thank God, that after many years the Lord performed to them according to their entreaty.”

As best we can tell Patrick returned to Ireland at about 40 years old and it is believed that he served for over 30 years in Ireland.

His Heritage

Patrick was able by bravery and audaciousness to win an audience with a pagan Irish king by lighting a bonfire to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on a night when no light was allowed. When called before the king he gave testimony of Jesus Christ. Ultimately the king was won to Christ and Patrick’s work flourished.

After the king believed, Patrick won and baptized multiplied thousands of converts soon it seemed as all of Ireland was evangelized. It is believed that during this time, more than three hundred sixty-five churches were organized. All which ordained their own pastors and sent out their own missionaries.


Monasteries were set up by Patrick, but they were not like the monasteries from the Church of Rome. These monasteries were more like seminaries and schools where men came for training in God’s word. They become fortresses of learning which much of the ancient worlds books were copied and preserved.

As a direct result of Patrick work in Ireland many missionaries were sent outside Ireland. Famous and dedicated servants of the Lord such as Columba and his co-workers went to Scotland in 563. Then there was Columbanus with his companions that went to France and Germany in 612. Kilian and the brothers that went as missionaries to Franconia and Wurzburg (Germany) in 680. Forannan and twelve brothers brought the Gospel to the Belgian frontier in 970. 

“For more than six hundred years, Irish missionaries carried the Gospel with the same truthfulness as Patrick’s to Britain, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy and beyond.” – W A Criswell

In his second lecture on Ireland, John L. Stoddard states: “During the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries, especially, this farthest boundary of the Continent held aloft and kept aflame the torch of Christian faith, and glittered like a star upon the dark horizon of the western world.”

His Doctrine

Salvation by Grace Alone –

“I was taken captive before I knew what I should desire and what I should shun. […] before I was humbled, I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and He that is mighty came and in His mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for His great favours in this world and forever, that the mind of man cannot measure.”

“I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many…

Sent by God directly not the Roman Church –

“I am greatly God’s debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon after confirmed, that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, and the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth.”

“I, alone, can do nothing unless He Himself vouchsafes it to me. But let Him search my heart and [my] nature, for I crave enough for it, even too much, and I am ready for Him to grant me that I drink of His chalice, as He has granted to others who love him. Therefore, may it never befall me to be separated by my God from His people whom He has won in this most remote land. I pray God that He gives me perseverance, and that He will deign (condescend to give or grant) that I should be a faithful witness for His sake right up to the time of my passing.”

W A Criswell On Patrick’s Beliefs

Criswell was asked, “What makes you think he was a Baptist?”

First: (in St. Patrick's confessions) because of his appeal to the Word of God; He never appeals to canons.  He never appeals to ecclesiastical authorities.  He never takes orders from some hierarchy.

He quotes from the Old Testament sixty-one times, from eighteen different books; and he quotes from the New Testament one hundred sixty-one times, from twenty-two books of the New Testament.  (No Apocrypha or Catholic creeds)

Second : when he organized churches, he organized them exactly like other Baptist churches are organized.  He organized more than three hundred sixty-five churches, and they ordained their own pastors.  No outside hierarchy.  Each church had its own pastor.  (No connections to Rome)

Finally, Patrick preached the way of salvation like Baptists preach it: repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  And upon that confession of faith, he baptized his converts, just like we do today. (No infant baptism).  

They had the Lord’s Supper and to Patrick it was an emblematic, memorial service.  This represented His body, and they broke bread.  And this represented His blood, and they drank of the cup, just like we do today.

Criswell and His Family Connection to The Preaching of Patrick

The famous former pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas once told of the origin of his family name. Criswell said his Irish ancestors earned the name from being baptized in certain pools designated for baptism, based on the practice by Patrick and those who followed him. The pools were called Christ-wells and the practice of believer’s baptism by immersion in these ancient times was evidence that immersion was practiced by those early Christian taught by Patrick, connecting him to the same true line of the Lord’s Church.


Any attempt at proving history that occurred over 1500 years ago on a remote wild land as Ireland was would be very difficult. There are many legends and myths but facts can be hard to find and even harder to stand by. Still even with that concession, some things should be accepted if we are to accept the person of Patrick at all.

1st. He was a dedicated man of God who took the Gospel back to the very people who had made him a slave, only the love of God could so call and inspire someone to be willing to risk his freedom and life again.


2nd Patrick by his own confession of faith believed in salvation by grace with no addition of works.


3rd His doctrine was in keeping with the church of the New Testament and not with any corruption of the church that was just beginning in his own time.


4th There is no evidence anywhere that Patrick was ever associated with, taught by or sent by the Roman Catholic Church.


As incredible as the myths of driving out snakes, growing trees from walking sticks or conversing with 700-year-old Irish warrior sounds, the true miracle of Patrick was the power of the transforming Gospel. When it was preached to a land of hostile pagan Irishman, it changed a nation and sent missionaries through out the then know world. That feat was greater than any myth.



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