Patrick, St.

views updated May 08 2018


Apostle of Ireland; b. c. 389; d. c. 461? (feast, March 17). Patrick (Patricius), as he himself relates, was born in Roman Britain, son of the decurio (alderman), and later deacon, Calporn (i) us. The dates of his birth and death are disputed, as is his chronology generally. At the age of 16, while staying on his father's country estate (probably near Ravenglass), he was seized by Irish raiders and sold as a slave in Ireland. After six years' servitude as a shepherd, and encouraged by a voice in his sleep, he escaped, found a ship to take him on board, and eventually reached home. For the worldly youth that he had been, though a nominal Christian, captivity had become a means of spiritual conversion. A desire to preach the Christian faith to the Irish grew within him to the certainty of a vocation. Once in a dream he even heard the "voice of the Irish" calling him back. He went to the Continent to train for the priesthood and probably stayed for some time as disciple of St. germain at Auxerre. Perhaps he visited colonies of monks at Lérins and on the islands of the Tyrrhene Sea.

His desire for converting the Irish did not find favor with his superiors, mainly because of his defective education, for which he had never been able to compensate properly. Upon the death of Palladius, whom Pope celes-tine i had sent to the Irish as their first bishop in 431, Patrick was appointed his successor. His mission concentrated on the west and north of Ireland, where nobody had preached the gospel before. Having secured the protection of the local kings, he toured the country extensively and made numerous converts. Church organization had to be adapted to the political and social conditions of Ireland. Since there were no towns on the Roman pattern, Patrick established episcopal churches with quasimonastic chapters as were found not infrequently on the Continent, especially in Gaul. Although he never mentions his own see, the claim of Armagh to be Patrick's church, though not recorded before the 7th century, seems to represent a genuine tradition. The clergy was

originally recruited on the Continent (Gaul) and in Britain, but later increasingly from among the native converts. Patrick also propagated monasticism in the primitive form as practiced in the islands off the Mediterranean coast of Gaul.

In his missionary work he had to face frequent dangers to his freedom and even to his life. The Druids were probably his chief opponents. Patrick's conduct of the mission was severely criticized by the British clergy and also, it seems, by some persons in Ireland. Things would appear to have come to an issue when Patrick demanded the excommunication of the British Prince Coroticus, who during a retaliatory raid on Ireland had killed some of Patrick's converts and sold others into slavery. To his critics Patrick replied with his Confessio, written in his old age.

Writings. Of the writings that go under Patrick's name, his Confessio and the letter (Epistola ) concerning the raid of Coroticus are commonly accepted as genuine. The Confessio is an account of Patrick's spiritual development and a justification of his mission, but above all it is a homage to God and thanksgiving for His grace, for having called Patrick, an unworthy sinner, to the apostolate. Autobiographical and historical detail are merely incidental and often difficult to interpret.

The letter is directed partly against the raiders and Coroticus, their leader, partly against the higher clergy of Britain and their scornful attitude toward the Irish bishop. Both works are written in an unusual mixture of Biblical and Vulgar Latin, which often results in strained and obscure language.

Opinion is divided about the authenticity of the Dicta (Sayings) of Patrick in the Book of Armagh, especially the first one, which refers to a sojourn on the Tyrrhene Islands, and the last one, which urges the chanting of Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison at all canonical hours. The canons of a circular letter issued by Bishops Patricius, Auxilius, and Iserninus after the so-called synod of St. Patrick, are probably substantially genuine. Ecclesiastical life as implied in this document, and in particular the frequent references to diocesan jurisdiction of bishops and to canonical discipline, are consistent with a 5th-century date and would not fit into the pattern of the Irish monastic Church of later times. A number of these canons are quoted under Patrick's name in the Collectio Hibernensis alongside others that are spurious. The beautiful Old Irish morning prayer known as "The Breastplate of St. Patrick" is of later date than the saint's lifetime.

Doctrine. Patrick was a man of action, with little inclination for learning. His writings are proof of his firm belief in his vocation, of his devotion to his cause, and of his courage and humility. His"voices"foretelling his escape from captivity, calling him to the Irish apostolate, comforting him when in disgraceare for the most part capable of a perfectly natural explanation; only the experiences related in the Confessio (ch. 24, 25) have the characteristics of mystical prayer.

Of his doctrine, little can be stated beyond its orthodoxy. A certain emphasis in his teaching regarding grace might possibly be interpreted as anti-Pelagian. The credal statements in his Confessio (ch. 4) echo a formal creed of Gallican type. Patrick's Biblical text, as far as can be judged, is also Gallican.

Chronology. The only contemporary sources for Patrick's life are his genuine writings and the entries concerning St. Germain and Palladius in the Chronicle of prosper of aquitaine. The former are, unfortunately, not precise enough for even approximation of an absolute chronology of the events referred to; they merely place Patrick within the 5th century. The Confessio does contain elements of a relative chronology: capture at the age of 16; escape from slavery at 22; some form of ecclesiastical censure because of a sin he had committed when barely 15 years old, disclosed "after 30 years"but the date upon which they are reckoned is not clear. On the other hand, the precise dates given by Prosper (delegation of St. Germain to Britain in 429, mission of Palladius to Ireland in 431) bear on the chronology of Patrick only on the assumption that a document from the church of Auxerre, embedded in some lives of St. Patrick, is a genuine record of the saint's life, which some scholars doubt. According to this document, Patrick succeeded Palladius after a very short time; this would bear out the Irish annals, which date the beginning of his mission as of 432. These annals, however, record the death of a Patricius senex in 457 or 461, and the death of the "apostle" Patrick in 493 or thereabouts. However, the value of the Irish annals as sources for the early Christian period has been questioned by J. V. Kelleher of Harvard.

The Latin and Irish Lives of St. Patrick from the 7th century onward are written mainly with a view to promoting the territorial and juridical claims of the See of armagh. They portray a powerful miracle worker, in the manner of Irish hagiographical legend, who has little in common with the author of the Confessio. How much genuine tradition in regard to persons and places they may contain is largely a matter of speculation. It has been observed that most of the persons with whom they bring Patrick into contact belong to the late rather than the middle decades of the 5th century and that the annalistic obits of many of Patrick's disciples fall in the first decades of the 6th century.

This conflicting evidence has been differently interpreted. J. Bury accepted 432 as the initial year of Patrick's mission and 461 as the date of his death. He was followed, in the main, by E. MacNeill, P. Grosjean, and L. Bieler. T. F. O'Rahilly believed that the mission of Palladius, whom he identified with Patricius senex, lasted from 432 to 461 and was continued by the British Patrick from 461 to c. 490. J. Carney allows for only one Patrick, whose mission he dates from 457 to 493. Accordingly, he maintains that Palladius was sent to Scotland, not to Ireland, and the first mission to Ireland, including the foundation of Armagh, was the work of St. Secundinus (annalistic date of arrival: 439), to whom an early hymn on St. Patrick is ascribed in later manuscripts. M. Esposito would make Patrick precede rather than succeed Palladius. D. Binchy, weighing carefully the arguments on all sides, concludes that the balance of probability favors the opinion of O'Rahilly. C. Mohrmann, analyzing Patrick's Latin, inclines to accept the chronology of Bury. It does seem possible, without forcing the evidence, to vindicate the chronology of Bury in all essentials, except that 432 as the initial year of Patrick's mission is probably a little too early.

Cult and Relics. A cult of St. Patrick is attested in the 6th century. The day of his death is first recorded in the 7th-century Life of St. Gertrud, who died on March 17, 659. In the 9th century Ferdomnach, scribe of Armagh, testified to the celebration of St. Patrick's feast as a triduum. The cult of St. Patrick and some of his relics were brought to Péronne in Picardy by St. Fursa (middle of 7th century); the cult soon spread over France, Italy, and Germany. When the Anglo-Normans established themselves in Ireland, they took over the cult of St. Patrick and of other Irish saints. In 1186 relics of SS. Patrick, Brigid, and Columcille were solemnly deposited in the cathedral of Down under the patronage of John de Courcy and Bishop Malachy. An English Cistercian of De Courcy's entourage, Jocelin of Furness, was commissioned to write a life of St. Patrick, and this became the standard text of later times. With the recent Irish emigration the cult has spread over many parts of the New World.

St. Patrick's Purgatory in Lough Derg, a place of penitential pilgrimages since the 12th century, has probably no connection with the saint. The earliest pictorial representation of St. Patrick dates from c. 900. The two most common onesPatrick's expelling all poisonous snakes from Ireland and his symbolizing the Holy Trinity by the shamrock leafare based on legend.

Feast: March 17.

Bibliography: St. Patrick's Confessio, the 7th-century Life by Muirchú, and the Breviarum by Tírechán have been collected in the Book of Armagh, an early 9th-century manuscript, now in Trinity College, Dublin. Editions. j. gwynn, ed., Liber Ardmachanus (Dublin 1913). l. bieler, ed., Libri Epistolarum s. Patricii Episcopi in Classica et mediaevalia 11 (1950) 1150; 12 (1951) 79214; repr. in 2 v. (Dublin 1952); The Irish Penitentials (Scriptores Latini Hiberniae 5; Dublin 1963), the canons; The Works of St. Patrick (Ancient Christian Writers 17; Westminister, Md.London 1953), Confessio, letter, sayings, canons, hymn attributed to St. Secundus, Breastplate. e. i. hogan, ed., Documenta des. Patricio (Brussels 1884). j. colgan, ed., Trias thaumaturga (Louvain 1647) 11116; new eds. are being prepared by l. bieler.w. stokes, ed., Tripartite Life of St. Patrick, 2 v. (Rerum Britannicarum medii aevi scriptores 89; London 1888; repr. New York 1965), critical ed. and tr. k. mulchrone (Dublin 1939). Literature. j. b. bury, The Life of St. Patrick (New York 1905). j. f. kenney, The Sources for the Early History of Ireland: v. 1, Ecclesiastical (New York 1929) 319356. e. macneill, St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland (London 1934; 2d ed., j. ryan, 1964). t. f. o'rahilly, The Two Patricks (Dublin 1942). l. bieler, The Life and Legend of St. Patrick (Dublin 1949). j. carney, The Problem of St. Patrick (Dublin 1961). c. mohrmann, The Latin of St. Patrick (Dublin 1961). d. a. binchy, "Patrick and His Biographers," Studia Hibernica 2 (1962) 7173. r. e. mcnally, American Catholic Historical Review 47 (Washington 196162) 305324. j. b. bury, The Life of St. Patrick and His Place in History (Mineola, N.Y. 1998). d. n. dumville et al, eds. l. abrams, Saint Patrick, A.D. 4931993 (Woodbridge, UK ; Rochester, N.Y. 1993). n. d. o'donoghue, Aristocracy of Soul: Patrick of Ireland (Wilmington, Del. 1987). r. p. c. hanson, The Life and Writings of the Historical Saint Patrick (New York 1983). l. de paor, Saint Patrick's World: The Christian Culture of Ireland's Apostolic Age ([S.l] 1993).

[l. bieler]

St. Patrick

views updated May 23 2018

St. Patrick

St. Patrick (died ca. 460) was a British missionary bishop to Ireland, possibly the first to evangelize that country. He is the patron saint of Ireland.

Although Patrick was the subject of a number of ancient biographies, none of them dates from earlier than the last half of the 7th century. A great deal of legendary information, often contradictory, gathered around his name. Of the various works ascribed to Patrick, the authorship of only two is certain, the Confession, written in his later years, and the Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, written at some point during his career as bishop. These two works provide the only certain knowledge of Patrick's life.

Patrick was born in a village that he identified as Bannavem Taberniae, probably near the sea in southwestern Britain. Evidence does not allow a more exact date for his birth than sometime between 388 and 408. His father, Calpornius, was both a deacon and a civic official; his grandfather, Pontius, was a priest. Patrick's family seems to have been one of some social standing, but, in spite of the clergy in it, he did not grow up in a particularly religious or intellectual environment.

At the age of 16 Patrick was abducted by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland, where he tended sheep and prayed for 6 years. In his words, "The love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened." In this religious fervor a voice came to Patrick, promising him a return to his own country.

Patrick was given passage on a ship by its sailors. The details of his voyage home are unclear; some believe that Patrick returned from Ireland to Britain by way of Gaul. This seems unlikely. Again, little is known of this period in his life. It may be that he resumed his education, although he was never learned. Indeed, he wrote at the beginning of the Confession, "I blush and fear exceedingly to reveal my lack of education; for I am unable to tell my story to those versed in the art of concise writing."

Elected a bishop, Patrick was sent by the Church in Britain to evangelize Ireland. His friends tried to dissuade him from "throwing himself into danger among enemies who have no knowledge of God." But Patrick believed that he had a divine call. One purpose of the Confession is to set forth his confidence in that calling and to witness the divine help that enabled him to fulfill it.

As a missionary bishop in Ireland, Patrick was a typical 5th-century bishop. He recorded that he baptized many thousands of people. He celebrated the Eucharist, instituted nuns and monks, and ordained clergy. No record shows that he consecrated other bishops or indeed that other bishops existed in Ireland.

The Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus gives the details of one event in his career. In reprisal for an Irish raid on the southwestern coast of Britain, Coroticus attacked the Irish coast, indiscriminately slaughtering its inhabitants. The Letter reports that one band of Coroticus's soldiers killed a group of newly baptized persons and took more captive. Patrick excommunicated Coroticus and called upon him to repent his crime and to free his prisoners.

Criticism of Patrick's work came to him from Britain; his seniors, he records, "brought up sins against my laborious episcopate." The basis for such charges is unknown; they did include his betrayal by a friend to whom Patrick had much earlier confessed a sin that he had committed at the age of 13. The Confession appears to be in part Patrick's defense of and justification of his episcopate to his superiors in Britain.

Although Patrick probably made his headquarters at Armagh, as a missionary he traveled around the island a great deal. It is not certain where he died; local traditions give various locations. It is also impossible to date his death more precisely than approximately 460. Patrick himself wrote a suitable epitaph in his Letter: "I, Patrick, a sinner, unlearned, resident in Ireland, declare myself to be a bishop."

Further Reading

Two compilations of St. Patrick's writings are St. Patrick: His Writings and Life, translated by Newport J. D. White (1920), and The Works of St. Patrick, translated and annotated by Ludwig Bieler (1953). The best and most recent study of Patrick is Richard P. C. Hanson, Saint Patrick: His Origins and Career (1968), a careful analysis of all the sources, which presents convincing arguments for accepting only the Confession and Letter as factual. John B. Bury, The Life of St. Patrick and His Place in History (1905), is a reconstruction of events based upon the ancient chronicles and legends. Thomas F. O'Rahilly, The Two Patricks (1942), asserts that another bishop sent to Ireland was called Patrick. See also Paul Gallico, The Steadfast Man: A Biography of St. Patrick (1958). □

Patrick, St.

views updated May 29 2018

Patrick, St.




saynt PAT-trik

Alternate Names


Appears In

The Annals of Ulster



Character Overview

In the Christian religion, St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and was credited with driving evil in the form of snakes out of Ireland. He was born in Britain around 389 ce. He was the son of a Roman official. At the age of sixteen, Patrick was captured by raiders from Ireland and carried back to their homeland. After working as a shepherd for six years, he had a dream in which he was told that a ship was waiting to help him escape his captivity.

The accounts of his journeys at this time differ. He either traveled back to Britain or sailed to Gaul (present-day France). In any event, it seems likely that he visited France, where he joined a monastery and was ordained a priest. According to one of Patrick's personal letters, known in Latin as the Confessio, he had another dream, in which the Irish asked him to return to their island. Patrick left his monastery to travel among the non-Christian Irish chieftains, converting them and their people to Christianity.

Several legends have sprung up around St. Patrick, the most famous one claiming that he drove all the snakes out of Ireland and into the sea. A popular myth holds that he used the shamrock, or three-leafed clover, to explain to an Irishman the Holy Trinity, the idea that God consists of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The shamrock is now Ireland's national flower, worn by the Irish on St. Patrick's feast day, March 17.

St. Patrick in Context

St. Patrick's status as a legendary figure reflects the importance of conversion in Christianity. Irish cultures that existed before the spread of Christianity were often described by Christians as “pagan,” a term that not only described a belief in more than one god, but also suggested to other Christians an absence of true religious belief. Many Christians such as St. Patrick considered it their duty to convert members of these other belief systems to Christianity, and indeed, many were very successful. The adoption of a specific saint such as Patrick by Ireland allows the converted to retain an individual national character even as their own unique, native belief systems fade from prominence.

Key Themes and Symbols

To most, St. Patrick serves as a symbol of Ireland and its now firmly established Christian tradition. One theme found in the myth of St. Patrick is the personalization of Christianity; Patrick uses a beloved native plant, the shamrock, to explain the Holy Trinity to the Irish people. It has been suggested that the snakes St. Patrick drove from Ireland—a country never known for having many snakes—symbolize the nature-oriented belief systems that existed before the spread of Christianity. In Christian mythology, the serpent also frequently symbolizes evil, as in the myth of the Garden of Eden.

St. Patrick in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

St. Patrick has endured not only in Christian writings and art, but also in Irish works that combine older Celtic legends with more modern beliefs. The twelfth-century work Tales of the Elders details a meeting between St. Patrick and members of the Fianna, a band of warriors led by the mythical Irish hero Finn. In modern times, St. Patrick's Day is a holiday recognized in many countries, usually celebrated by the wearing of green—a color that reflects Ireland's nickname, the Emerald Isle.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Today, many people who are not Irish celebrate St. Patrick's Day, and the religious feast has taken on some secular characteristics. Throughout history, there have been examples of religious holidays transformed into secular celebrations, and secular holidays becoming religious. Using your library, the Internet, and other available resources, research one major religious holiday. When did it begin? Under what circumstances did it originate? Who were its original practitioners? Then try to trace how it changed over the years and the reasons for those changes.

Patrick, St.

views updated May 21 2018

Patrick, St.

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Britain around a.d. 389. He was the son of a Roman official. At the age of 16, Patrick was captured by raiders from Ireland and carried back to their homeland. After working as a shepherd for six years, he had a dream in which he was told that a ship was prepared for him to escape his captivity.

The accounts of his journeys at this time differ. He either traveled back to Britain or sailed to Gaul (present-day France). In any event, it seems likely that he visited France, where he joined a monastery and was ordained as a priest. According to his autobiography, the Confessio, he had another dream, in which the Irish asked him to return to their island. St. Patrick left his monastery to travel among the pagan Irish chieftains, converting them and their people to Christianity.

patron special guardian, protector, or supporter

pagan term used by early Christians to describe non-Christians and non-Christian beliefs

Several legends have sprung up around St. Patrick, the most famous one claiming that he drove all the snakes out of Ireland and into the sea. A popular myth holds that he used the shamrock to explain to a pagan Irishman the Holy Trinity, the idea that God consists of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The shamrock is now Ireland's national flower, worn by the Irish on St. Patrick's feast day, March 17.

Patrick, St

views updated May 23 2018

Patrick, St (c.389–c.461). Patron saint of Ireland. Born in Britain, in his youth he was seized by raiders and taken to Ireland. In slavery for six years, he was sustained by prayer. Told in a dream of his impending return home, he made his way to the coast and joined a merchant ship, facing many dangers before rejoining his family. In clerical training, he seems to have spent some years in France at the monastery of Lerins and at Auxerre, where he was probably consecrated by St Germanus before embarking on his evangelistic work in Ireland. Despite hostile druids, he apparently impressed the high king Laoghaire and was favoured by many chieftains. Often at risk, he was fearlessly determined to destroy paganism. Through his efforts, countless numbers were baptized and confirmed, many clergy ordained, and his see established at Armagh, whence he began to organize the emerging church on Roman diocesan lines. In popular legend, the saint who expelled snakes from Ireland was a miracle-worker. Patrick's own ‘Confession’, and letter to Coroticus, reveal a deeply caring man, not well educated, but with a complete trust in God.

Audrey MacDonald

Patrick, St

views updated May 14 2018

Patrick, St (5th century), Apostle and patron saint of Ireland. His Confession is the chief source for the events of his life. Of Romano-British parentage, he was taken as a slave to Ireland, where he experienced a religious conversion; having escaped to Britain, where he received training for the priesthood, he returned to Ireland to preach the Gospel c.435. He founded the archiepiscopal see of Armagh in about 454.

Legends of the saint include the tradition that he used the shamrock to explain the nature of the Trinity, and that he was responsible for banishing snakes from Ireland. His feast day is 17 March.
Order of St Patrick a former British order of knighthood instituted in 1783; its special epithet is ‘most illustrious’.
St Patrick's cross a red diagonal cross on a white ground.
St Patrick's Purgatory a cavern on an island in Lough Derg, Co. Donegal, Ireland, where according to legend Christ appeared to St Patrick, and showed him a deep pit in which whoever spent one day and one night could see the torments of hell and the joys of heaven.

Patrick, Saint

views updated May 17 2018

Patrick, Saint (active 5th century ad) Patron saint of Ireland. What is known of him comes almost entirely from his autobiography, Confessio. He was born in Britain into a Romanized Christian family. Abducted by marauders at the age of 16, he was carried off to Ireland and sold to a local chief. After six years, he escaped back to Britain. He was sent to Ireland as a missionary by Pope Celestine I (432), and established an episcopal see at Armagh. His missionary work was so successful that Christianity was firmly established in Ireland before he died. His feast day is March 17.

Patrick, St

views updated May 21 2018

Patrick, St (c.390–c.460). Christian missionary bishop of Ireland.

The only certain information about St Patrick's life comes from his one surviving letter and from his autobiographical Confession. His authorship of the ancient Irish hymn ‘The Breastplate of St Patrick’ is unlikely. In later legends, he becomes a miracle-worker who drove the snakes out of Ireland. The same legends, concerned to make him the sole ‘apostle of the Irish’, exaggerate the scope of his missionary work. His place of burial was not known, allowing Glastonbury to claim possession of his relics. Feast day, 17 Mar.

About this article

Saint Patrick

All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About content Print Topic


Saint Patrick