« Pastor Patricius, or St. Patrick Patrocius, a martyr »

Patricius, or St. Patrick

Patricius (10) (St. Patrick), Mar. 17, the national apostle of Ireland, has been the subject of much controversy. His existence has been doubted, his name ascribed to 7 different persons at least, and the origin and authority of his mission warmly disputed.

I. The Documents.—The materials for St. Patrick's history which have a claim to be regarded as historical are, in the first place, the writings of the saint himself. We have two works ascribed to him, his Confession and his Epistle to Coroticus. Both seem genuine.

We have a copy of the Confession more than 1,000 years old preserved in the Book of Armagh, one of the great treasures of the library of Trinity College, Dublin. This copy professes, in the colophon appended to it, to have been taken from the autograph of St. Patrick. "Thus far the volume which St. Patrick wrote with his own hand." Dr. Todd, in his Life of St. Patrick (p. 347), sums up the case for the Confession of St. Patrick: "It is altogether such an account of himself as a missionary of that age, circumstanced as St. Patrick was, might be expected to compose. Its Latinity is rude and archaic, it quotes the ante-Hieronymian Vulgate; and contains nothing inconsistent with the century in which it professes to have been written. If it be a forgery, it is not easy to imagine with what purpose it could have been forged." This strong testimony might have been made stronger and applies equally clearly to the Ep. to Coroticus. There are two lines of evidence which seem conclusive as to the early date. The one deals with the State Organization, the other with the Ecclesiastical Organization there alluded to and implied. They are both such as existed early in the 5th cent., and could scarcely be imagined afterwards.


To take the State Organization first. In the Ep. to Coroticus he describes himself thus: "Ingenuus fui secundum carnem, decurione patre nascor." We now know that decurions—who were not magistrates but town councillors rather, and members of the local senates—were found all over the Roman empire to its extremest bounds by the end of the 4th cent. Discoveries in Spain last century showed that decurions were established by the Romans in every little mining village, charged with the care of the games, the water supply, sanitary arrangements, education, and the local fortifications; while Hübner in the Corp. Insc. Lat. t. vii. num. 54 and 189, showed that decurions existed in Britain (cf. Marquardt and Mommsen, Handbuch der römischen Alterthümer, t. iv. pp. 501–516 and Ephem. Epigraph. t. ii. p. 137; t. iii. p. 103) This institution necessarily vanished amid the barbarian invasions of the 5th cent. Now, St. Patrick's writings imply the existence of decurions. Again, the Confession calls England Britanniae, using the plural, which is strictly accurate and in accordance with the technical usage of the Roman empire at the close of the 4th cent., which then divided Britain into five provinces, Britannia prima and secunda, Maxima Caesariensis, Flavia Caesariensis and Valentia, which were collectively called Britanniae (cf. Böcking's Notitia Dig. t. ii. c. iii. pp. 12–14). Further, the Ecclesiastical Organization implied is such as the years about A. D. 400 alone could supply. St. Patrick tells us in the opening words of his Confession that his father was Calpurnius, a deacon, his grandfather Potitus, a priest. A careful review of the councils and canons will shew that in Britain and N. Gaul there existed no prohibition of clerical marriage in the last quarter of the 4th cent. Exuperius, bp. of Toulouse, wrote in 404 to pope Innocent I. asking how to deal with married priests who had begotten children since their ordination. Innocent's reply, dated Feb. 20, 405, shews, first, that the prohibition of marriage was only a late innovation, as be refers to the decree of pope Siricius, not quite 20 years before (Mansi, iii. 670; Hefele, ii. 387, Clark's ed.); secondly, that Innocent permitted the clergy of Toulouse to live with their wives if they had contracted marriage in ignorance of papal legislation.

The aspect of the political horizon, and the consequent action of the church as depicted in these writings, correspond with their alleged age. In the Ep. to Coroticus Patrick says, "It is the custom of the Roman Gallic Christians to send holy men to the Franks and other nations with many thousand solidi, to redeem baptized captives." The term Roman was then used to express a citizen of the Roman empire wherever he dwelt; and the custom itself is one of the strongest evidences as to age. The writings of Zosimus, Salvian, and Sidonius Apollinaris prove the ravages of the Franks in Gaul about the middle of the 5th cent. Salvian mentions the rescue of a captive taken at Cologne in Ep. 1. SEVERINUS, the apostle of Austria, a little later in the century, devoted his life to the same work in another neighbourhood, and introduced the payment of tithes for this special object. (See his Life in Pez. Scriptores Rerum Austriacarum, t. i., and in Pertz, Monumenta.) By the end of the 5th cent. the Franks had been converted, and Clovis was the one orthodox sovereign of Christendom, the ally and champion of Catholic bishops. The redemption of captives would be then no longer necessary. This passage could only have been written about the middle of the 5th cent. at the latest. These instances will show how capable St. Patrick's own writings are of standing the tests of historical criticism.

Next in importance stand the collection of Patrician documents contained in the Book of Armagh. The contents of the book are: 1st, Patrician documents, including the oldest copy of the Confession; 2nd, the N.T. in Latin; 3rd, the Life of St. Martin of Tours. The N.T. is remarkable as the only complete copy which has come down from the ancient Celtic church. "The collections," says Mr. Gilbert (Nat. MSS. of Ireland), "concerning St. Patrick in the first part of the Book of Armagh constitute the oldest writings now extant in connexion with him, and are also the most ancient specimens known of narrative composition in Irish and Hiberno-Latin." These documents are all now accessible in print, though a critical edition of them, and indeed of the whole Book of Armagh, is a desideratum in Celtic literature.

II. Life and History.—The story of St. Patrick's life may be derived from the primary authorities, his own writings and the Patrician documents which really belong to the 7th and 8th cents. He was born probably at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton in Scotland. St. Patrick, in the Confession, names Bannavem Taberniae as the residence of his parents, a name which cannot now be identified. (Cf. archbp. Moran in Dublin Rev., Apr. 1880, pp. 291–326.) He was carried captive into Antrim when 16 years old, in one of those raids which Roman writers like Ammianus Marcellinus and Irish Annalists like the Four Masters shew were so prevalent during the 2nd half of the 4th cent. He became the slave of Milchu, the king of Dalaradia, the commencement of whose reign the Four Masters assign to 388, so that the very earliest year for St. Patrick's birth would be 372. Dalaradia was the most powerful kingdom of N.E. Ireland. It extended from Newry, in the S. of co. Down, to the hill of Slemish, the most conspicuous mountain of central Antrim. In the 7th cent. traditions about his residence there were abundantly current in the locality, as indeed they are still. He lived near the village of Broughshane, 5 or 6 miles E. of Ballymena, where a townland, Ballyligpatrick, the town of the hollow of Patrick, probably commemorates the position of the farm where he fed Milchu's swine (cf. Dr. Reeves's Antiq. of Down and Connor, pp. 78, 83, 84, 334–348) After 7 years he escaped, went to Gaul and studied under Germanus of Auxerre. He remained for a very long period, some say 30, others 40 years, in Gaul, where he was ordained priest and bishop. He then returned to Ireland, visiting England on his way. He landed where the river Vartry flows into the sea at Wicklow, as Palladius had done before him. It was a very natural point for mariners 806in those days to make, though now a port diligently avoided by them. Wicklow head offers shelter along a coast singularly destitute of harbours of refuge. The Danes three centuries later learned its advantage, and founded a settlement there, whence the modern name of Wicklow. The nature of the harbour was attractive to navigators like Palladius and Patrick. Its strand and murrough, or common, extending some miles N. from the Vartry, offered special opportunities for dragging up the small ships then used. St. Patrick was received in a very hostile manner by the pagans of Wicklow on landing. A shower of stones greeted them, and knocked out the front teeth of one of his companions, St. Mantan, whence the Irish name of Wicklow, Killmantan, or Church of Mantan (Joyce's Irish Names, p. 103; Colgan, AA. SS. p. 451; Reeves's Antiquities, p. 378). St. Patrick then sailed N., compelled with true missionary spirit to seek first of all that locality where he had spent seven years of his youth and had learned the language and customs of the Irish. We can still trace his stopping-places. Dublin only existed in those days as a small village beside a ford or bridge of hurdles over the Liffey, serving as a crossing-place for the great S.E. road from Tara to Wicklow, a bridge, like those still found in the bogs of Ireland, composed of branches woven together, which serve to sustain very considerable weights. St. Patrick landed, according to Tirechan, at an island off the N. coast of co. Dublin, still called Inispatrick (in 7th cent. Insula Patricii), whence he sailed to the coast of co. Down, where his frail bark was stopped by the formidable race off the mouth of Strangford Lough. He sailed up this lough, which extends for miles into the heart of co. Down, and landed at the mouth of the Slaney, which flows into the upper waters of the Lough, within a few miles of the church of Saul, a spot successfully identified by Mr. J. W. Hanna in a paper on the "True Landing-place of St. Patrick in Ulster" (Downpatrick, 1858). There he made his first convert Dichu, the local chief, and founded his first church in a barn which Dichu gave him, whence the name Sabhall (Celtic for barn) or Saul, which has ever since continued to be a Christian place of worship (cf. Reeves, Antiq. pp. 40, 220). From Dichu he soon directed his steps towards Central Antrim and king Milchu's residence, where he had spent the days of his captivity. His fame had reached Milchu, whose Druids warned him that his former servant would triumph over him. So Milchu set fire to all his household goods and perished in their midst just as St. Patrick appeared. St. Patrick now (a.d. 433), determining to strike a blow at the very centre of Celtic paganism, directed his course towards Tara. He sailed to the mouth of the Boyne, where, as the Book of Armagh tells us, he laid up his boats, as to this day it is impossible for the smallest boats to sail up the Boyne between Drogheda and Navan. Patrick proceeded along the N. bank of the river to the hill of Slane, the loftiest elevation in the country, dominating the vast plain of Meath. The ancient Life in the Book of Armagh is here marked by touches of geographical exactness which guarantee its truth. Being determined to celebrate Easter on the hill of Slane, he, according to the custom of the early Christians, lit his Paschal fire on Easter Eve, a custom which we know from other sources was universal at that time (cf. Martene, de Antiq. Ritib. t. iii. lib. iv. c. 24, pp. 144, 145, and arts. on " Easter, Ceremonies of," and "Fire, Kindling of," in D. C. A.).

This fire was at once seen on Tara, where the king of Ireland, Laoghaire, was holding a convention of the chiefs of Ireland. The ritual of the convention demanded that no fire should be lit in his dominions on this night till the king's fire was lit on Tara. St. Patrick's act directly challenged the edict of the king, who proceeded to Slane to punish the bold aggressor. The narrative of the conflict between St. Patrick and king Laoghaire and his priests is marked by a series of miracles and legends, terminating, however, with the defeat of paganism and the baptism of great numbers of the Irish, including Laoghaire himself, who yielded a nominal adhesion to the truth. (See Mr. Petrie's great work on the Hill of Tara, where the subject has been exhaustively discussed.)

The Paschal controversy, about which Cummian wrote (a.d. 634), throws an interesting light upon the date of the introduction of Christianity into Ireland. The Irish have been accused of Quartodeciman practices as to Easter, which is quite a mistake. They simply adhered to the old Roman cycle, which was superseded in 463 by the Victorian cycle. ["Easter," in D. C. A. vol. i. p. 594.] The invasions of the barbarians then cut off the Celtic church from a knowledge of the more modern improvements in the calendar, which they afterwards resisted with a horror natural to simple people. The English surplice riots of bp. Blomfield's time shew how a much shorter tradition may raise a popular commotion. This fixes the introduction of Christianity into Ireland in the first half of 5th cent. The alleged connexion of the Irish church with Egypt and the East, as shewn in art, literature, architecture, episcopal and monastic arrangements, would afford material for an interesting article on the peculiarities of the Irish church. (See Butler's Coptic Churches of Egypt, Oxf. 1885.)

See Sir Samuel Fergusson's treatise on the Patrician Documents in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy (Dec. 1885), and Benjamin Robert's Etude critique sur la vie de St. Patrice (Paris, 1883), where a diligent use has been made of modern authorities, and, pp. 3–7, a convenient summary given of the literature. A cheap popular Life by E. J. Newell is pub. by S.P.C.K. in their Fathers for Eng. Readers, who also pub. the Epp. and Hymns, including the poem of Secundinus in his praise, in Eng. ed. by T. Olden. Cf. esp. The Tripartite Life of Patrick, with other documents, etc., by Whitley Stokes in Rolls Series, No. 89, 2 vols. (Lond. 1887); also W. Bright, The Roman See in the Early Church, pp. 367–385 (Lond. 1896).


« Pastor Patricius, or St. Patrick Patrocius, a martyr »
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