St. Patrick Bishop, Apostle of Ireland
by Rev. Charles Fell and Bishop Richard Challoner 1750
Patrick, a native of that part of Britain now called Scotland, was born about the middle of the 4th Century. The Romans having left this Island naked and defenseless, it’s inhabitants were an easy prey to their troublesome neighbors the Irish, who made several incursions, and carried off considerable booty. Our Saint was sixteen years old, when he fell into the hands of those plunderers; and was carried into Ireland, where the hardships of slavery were to prepare him for the labors of an Apostle; and the experience he had of the spiritual necessities of that people was to inspire him with the charitable design of carrying the Light of the Gospel amongst them. After he had spent five or six years in that Ireland, he found means to make his escape, and return to his own country. He stayed there about four months, and in that time had frequent visions relating to the place of his late captivity, which he took as so many Divine admonitions for endeavoring the conversion of the Island he had left.
Some time afterwards he accompanied his parents to Armorica, which now makes part of France, and is called Britany. Here they were set on by Barbarians, who murdered his father and mother, and sold him to some of the Picts, a savage people, that then inhabited this Island; but recovered his liberty after two months Service. About the Year 400 he was taken a third time by pirates who infested the British Coast. They carried him to Bourdeaux, and sold him.
He did not remain long with his new master, who, pitying his misfortunes, gave him leave to follow his own inclinations. They directed him to religious retirement in the Monastery of Marmoutier, built near Tours by St. Martin, Bishop of that City. Here he received the Monastick Tonsure from the hands of that holy prelate’s immediate successor. The pious founder of that House had formed his devout Community by the rules of excellent discipline, and made it a nursery of virtue. Patrick spent three years here and employed that time in the practice of religious and penitential Exercises. St. Martin’s Life and Labours for the Conversion of the Heathens were the constant object of his thoughts, and pushed him on to exert himself in the same manner.
With this view he returned to Britain, with a design of preaching the Gospel in Ireland. But meeting with several difficulties in his way, he was obliged to desist for the present, so went back into Gaul; from thence he made the tour of Italy and spent almost seven years in visiting the several monasteries and hermitages in that country and the adjacent Islands. In 410 he was ordained a priest by Senior Bishop of Pisa, and remained three years under the direction of that prelate to improve himself in the knowledge of Church affairs. During that time his concern for the salvation of the Irish gave him much disturbance; he had a great compassion for their misery, and considered them with the tenderness of an Apostle, and therefore could enjoy no repose, while at that distance from what his visions made him look on as his flock.
In the Year 413 he gave a loose to his zeal; and believing himself called to the labors of that mission, went for Ireland. He preached to the natives of that Kingdom; but without any success; which put him upon reflecting on his own conduct, and concluding that the miscarriage of his endeavors proceeded from his want of a vocation and a regular mission, being thus humbled he went to France, to consult the most virtuous and wisest Prelates of that country, upon his inclinations and duty.
At Auxerre, he found St. Amator Bishop of that city, put himself under his direction, and continued with him till he died, which was three years after our Saint’s arrival. Amator was succeeded in that See by the famous St. German. Patrick spent the same number of years under him, and copied all the virtues and qualifications of a true Pastor from that admirable Master.
In the Year 410 Honoratus, afterwards Bishop of Arles, founded a Monastery in a small Island then called Lerins, and now known by the Name of that Saint, lying off the Coast of Provence. This House was already grown very famous for the piety and angelical life of it’s inhabitants. Our Saint, whose whole aim was perfection, went to this School of Virtue in the Year 421, and spent nine years there under the direction of St. Honoratus, and Maximus his Successor in that charge.
After considerable improvements made in that holy society, he went to Rome, with the advice of St. German Bishop of Auxerre; for he was now resolved to do nothing without his approbation his design in that journey was to receive Celestin’s Orders for the Mission of Ireland. But the Pope had just sent Palladius into that Country with the character of Bishop. At this new Apostle’s arrival, a party of the Irish were preparing for a descent into the North of our Island, where they were joined by the Picts, and made themselves master of a considerable track of land, which has since bore the name of Scotland, from these new inhabitants, then called Scots. These commotions, and Palladius’s ignorance of the language and customs of the people made his expedition to Ireland fail of success. He quitted the country, and went with that new colony into great Britain, where he died soon after.
St. Patrick, not finding the Pope disposed to employ him as he wished and desired, went back to Auxerre. In the Year 431 the news of Palladia’s Death reached that place; upon which St. German sent him to Rome a second time with letters of recommendation to the same Pope who gave him a very good reception, and put him in possession of what had so long been his only wish. He consecrated him, and gave him commission to preach the Gospel in Ireland; but died before the Saint had received his full instructions, or could be provided with proper companions in this evangelical work.
Sixtus III was raised to the Sea of Rome in 432, and finished what his predecessor’s death had left imperfect. Patrick took Auxerre in his way to the scene of his Apostolical labors and spent some days there in receiving Saint German’s directions for his conduct. He landed first in Great Britain; and after converting several of the inhabitants of Cornwall, and Cambria, or Wales, pursued his journey to Ireland; where he arrived toward the close of 432, and began his mission in Leinster; and before that year was out, had the satisfaction of gaining several in that Province. When he had made a considerable harvest there, he left a sufficient number of those that came with him from Rome, to finish what he had so happily begun, and followed the dictates of his zeal, which carried him to Ulster; where his endeavors met with an equal success. One of the new converts there devoted a considerable part of his substance to religious uses, which enabled our Saint to build a Monastery near Down, the head town of the County of that name. The House was called Sabal-Pardrigh, i.e. St. Patrick’s Grange, and the town itself is still called Down-Patrick.
As soon as that religious Retreat was built, our Saint filled it with such as were desposed to quit the World, when they took their leave of paganism which alone may let us see what progress religion made in that country, when we remember, how few, even good Christians, think themselves obliged to follow what we call Evangelical Counsels. The Almighty confirmed his ministry, and encouraged his labors by the success that attended them and the miracles performed by his hands. Those, who had assisted him in this great and glorious work, had as yet no other character but that of laborers under our Saint. But finding the flock increase in an extraordinary manner, he was obliged to create new pastors for their use; and therefore ordained several priests and bishops in different parts of that Island. The ardor with which the Irish attended to their instructions was a great encouragement to the zeal of those holy preachers. God worked so powerfully in the hearts of those people, that they demolished the temple of their idols, and all remains of pagan superstition with the utmost alacrity, and raised Churches to the true God in their room.
When he left Ulster, he carried the Light of the Gospel into the Province of Connaught, and the County of Meath; and, left no corner of the whole Island unvisited. The fatigues of so laborious and difficult a mission might seem a sufficient mortification. The badness of the roads the great variety of bad weather, and the grossness and stupidity of those he had to deal with gave him trouble enough to ground an excuse for not practicing austerities on himself. But our Saint was not tender of his own person; he joined rigorous fasts, and other penitential severities to his Apostolical labors.
In 444, He made a journey to Rome, to give an Account of his endeavors and success, and communicated his joy to St. Leo, who then filled St. Peter’s Chair, and was engaged by his Station in the Church to a concern for the whole Christian World. At his return he made some stay in the West of Britain, where he preached; and waited for a fresh supply of Bishops, who joined him, and accompanied him to Ireland. Our Saint disposed of them in the Provinces of Leinster, Connaught, and Meath, and then went to Ulster; where he founded the Metropolitan See of Armagh.
The success that attended his labors was so prodigious that he soon wanted more persons to carry on the work in which God had engaged him. With this view he crossed into Britain. He found that Island miserably corrupted by Pelaginism, and Arianism, but recovered great numbers of his countrymen from those pestilent heresies. He got together several men of great learning and piety, whom he carried over with him, formed them to the Mission of Ireland, consecrated thirty of them Bishops, and disposed of most of them in the adjacent Islands, and the Western parts of Britain. The inhabitants of the Province of Munster gave him the most employment; for we are told he spent seven Years in that part of Ireland only. In the Year 455 he made another journey to Rome; where he gained the Pope’s confirmation of the Metropolitan Church he had erected; and was afterwards favored with the Pallium, and the Title of Apostolical Legate in Ireland, which title descended to his Successors. At his return, he dedicated the Cathedral of Armagh, and convened a Council of Bishops to consider of proper regulations for the Church of Ireland.
St. Pairick’s strength was now quite exhausted by his continual labors, and he no longer was able to travel as he had done. From the Year 456 he lead a more sedentary life, sometimes at Armagh, and sometime at his Monastery of Sabal. Though his Weakness confined him to a narrow compass, he knew not what it was to be idle. He preached still every day, held councils once a Year, and governed his religious with great exactness.
The natives of Ireland not only owe their Christianity, but even their recovery from ignorance and barbarity to our Saint. When he came amongst them, they were strangers to learning of all sorts; had not the least notion of either reading or writing; and knew no other way of preserving the memory of their Prince’s actions, the genealogy of their chief families, or the boundaries of their respective possessions, but by rude and uncultivated rhymes,which had no poetry or harmony. St. Patrick therefore introduced the use of letters amongst them, and laid the first foundations of humanity as well as religion in that Island. Full of merit, and pleased with the success of his ministry, he concluded his labours and his life together about the Year 460.
He was buried at Down; and his Sanctity manifested by a great number of miracles performed in favor of such as recommended themselves to his Intercession. The English were masters of Ireland in 1185, when our Saint’s relics were found ; and in the following year proposed to public veneration by a solemn translation of them to Trinity Church in Down, which afterwards bore the Name of our Saint. That Church and St. Patrick’s shrine felt the rage of the Reformation, and were demolished by the Lord Grey, Lord Deputy of Ireland, under King Henry VIII. The seventeenth of March is kept in Honor of this Saint, and is supposed to be the day of his Death.
O God, Who didst deign to send blessed Patrick, Thy Confessor and Bishop, to preach Thy glory to the nations; grant, through his merits and intercession, that what Thou commandest us to do, we may by Thy mercy be able to accomplish. Through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen