St. Patrick of Ireland

On March 17, 461, St. Patrick of Ireland died in Ireland, the land he spent his life working to convert to the Christian religion. Patrick lived an amazing life and was a role model for effective evangelism; however, much of what we associate with him is mythical. For example, we don’t really know whether Patrick used a three-leaf clover to explain the Doctrine of the Trinity. Similarly, the story about Patrick baptizing hundreds of converts to Christianity in a single day sounds apocryphal. Finally, Patrick did not drive all the snakes out of Ireland, though that would’ve been pretty cool![1]

The truth about Patrick’s life is much more interesting than most of these fables. Though we associate him with Ireland, Patrick wasn’t actually from Ireland: He was from Scotland. Patrick’s connection with Ireland began in the year 405 when he was 16 years old. As a 16-year-old boy, Irish raiders kidnapped Patrick and sold him into slavery in Ireland. Patrick then spent the next six years of his life tending sheep as a slave of an Irish chieftain named Milchu. It was during his time as a slave that Patrick learned to cling to the Christian faith which he had spurned as a boy.[2]

After escaping aboard a ship bound for Britain, Patrick was reunited with his long-lost family. However, Patrick wasn’t content to live happily ever after with his loved ones; instead, Patrick claimed he saw a vision in which he read a letter titled, “The Voice of the Irish.” In the dream, Patrick said he could hear the sound of Irishmen pleading for him to return to Ireland. Thus, after some ecclesiastical training, Patrick returned to Ireland not as a slave but as a missionary.[3]

Once in Ireland, Patrick began attempting to win the nation to the Christian faith. Though he wasn’t the first to bring the gospel to Ireland, Patrick was by far the most successful, due possibly to his intimate knowledge of Irish culture. While living as their slave, Patrick learned about the societal structure of Ireland; therefore, he knew that if he could make disciples of the chiefs—men like Milchu, who had been his owner—he could then rely on the chiefs to convert the lower classes of society. In short, Patrick knew that if he could convert the chiefs, Christianity would spread like wildfire in Ireland.[4]

Not only was Patrick’s method effective, one of Patrick’s earliest converts was Milchu, his former slave master.[5] Eventually, Patrick went on to establish monasteries that were important not only for later Church history but also for the history of Western society and culture in general.[6]

St. Patrick of Ireland’s life was not about green beer, shamrock shakes at McDonald’s, and dying rivers green: Patrick was a devoted evangelist who, in spite of every motivation towards bitterness, returned to the land that enslaved him bearing a message of freedom from the slavery of sin.

Notes & Sources

[1] “Saint Patrick Dies,” This Day in History, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/saint-patrick-dies (accessed March 14, 2018).

[2] Ted Olsen, “The Real St. Patrick: A Look at the Famous Saint and his Strategic Missions,” Christianity Today, August, 2008, https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/real-st-patrick.html (accessed March 14, 2018).

[3] “Saint Patrick Dies,” This Day in History, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/saint-patrick-dies (accessed March 14, 2018).

[4] Ted Olsen, “The Real St. Patrick: A Look at the Famous Saint and his Strategic Missions,” Christianity Today, August, 2008, https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/real-st-patrick.html (accessed March 14, 2018).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, vol 1, revised and updated (New York, NY: Harper One, 2010), 257.

 

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