St. Patrick, the Missionary part 2.


Part 1 on St. Patrick looks into his early life, specifically his salvation and captivity into slavery. Growing up in Oklahoma, St. Patrick was some dude a celebration was named after. St. Patrick’s day was really about green clothing, Irish food, and when old enough, pub specials. After I got saved, St. Patrick was a Catholic church holiday I wanted nothing to do with. Thankfully men like Shawn (the author of this blog) and Dr. Haykin (check out his book) revealed the real Patrick, a missionary similar to the missionaries we support in our church. He is really an orthodox, early patristic Christian with a heart for the Gospel. Reading his story reminds me of Philemon. Thank you Shawn for your excellent work. Here continues part 2 on St. Patrick’s ministry. — Jason

Patrick’s Escape and Return to Britain

For six years, Patrick apparently serves a single master as slave. Suddenly, on a given night, Patrick offers a vivid description of dream that compels him to leave his slave owner and travel back home for Britain.

“It was there one night while I was sleeping that I heard a voice speaking to me: ‘You have fasted well. Soon you will return home.’ Later I again heard a voice saying: ‘Behold, your ship is ready’.”[1]

Now at the age of 22 — taken captive at age 16 (Con. 1) — Patrick, upon hearing this voice/dream, takes voyage to trek across Irish terrain for 200 miles. Patrick recalls,

“But the ship was not nearby. It was perhaps two hundred miles away in a place I had never been nor did I know anyone there. But soon after this I ran away and left the man I had served as a slave for six years. I traveled with courage from God, who guided my way toward good. I feared nothing — until I came to the ship.”[2]

So, it appears that the dream/voice is a divine beckoning to travel back home. He took courage from God and trusted He would rightly steer him towards the shipyard.

According to T. M. Charles-Edwards, “This was not an easy feat, for the district in which he was living as a slave was beside the Wood of Voclut, near Killala in the north of the modern Co. Mayo, close to the Atlantic coast.”[3]

Upon arriving at the shipyard, the Captain was quite angry with Patrick and exclaimed, “There is no way you are coming with us!”[4] But as Patrick is turning back towards the Inn and praying fervently, he hears a voice of one of the sailors, “Come back! We want to talk with you.”[5]

So, Patrick is headed towards Britain. After three days, they arrive on the coast and then wander for another 28 days in a seemingly desolate land.[6] After commenting on a few events that happened with the traveling sailors, Patrick finally returns homeland and with his parents “after a few years.”[7]

Fascinating as it may be, Patrick immediately details another vision that he saw during the night. As readers of his Confessio, we’re left thinking this vision happened the same night or shortly thereafter his return.

He recalls a man approaching him, by the name of Victoricus, as if coming to him from Ireland. Victoricus identifies himself and hands Patrick many letters that were written from Irishman. As Patrick opens them, he reads “The voice of the Irish.”[8] He continues to reflect,

“While I was reading this I thought I heard the voice of those who dwell beside the wood of Voclut near the western sea. It was as if they were crying out with a single voice: ‘Holy boy, we beg you, come back and walk among us again.’ I was struck through my heart and could read no more, then I awoke.”[9]

“This vision,” as E. A. Thompson suggests, “was one of the turning points of Patrick’s life, perhaps the most crucial of all it was this which decided him to go back to Ireland and win the inhabitants to his own religion. To the end of his life he considered himself to be God’s chosen man to do this work.”[10]

As soon as Patrick returns home, Patrick receives a personal call to ministry. Ministry that would cause him, once more, to leave Britain and return to Ireland — not as a slave of the Irish natives, but as a slave of God.

Patrick’s Return to the Irish Lands

Finally, Patrick returns to the Irish lands. His return to Ireland is not without opposition from his British fellows. This opposition is unlike the earlier criticism of his previous sins. Rather, the opposition may be due to fear of pending persecution.[11] As Patrick recalls, “Many people offered me gifts with weeping and tears.”[12] They fear that Patrick will put himself in danger among pagan barbarians.[13]

The motive to return to Ireland is both based in Trinitarian confession as well as a deep desire to proclaim the Gospel to the Irish pagans.

“Since I believe in the Trinity, I must make known the gift of God and his eternal peace without fear of danger.”[14]

“I did this [Mission to Irish] so that I might come to the Irish pagans to preach the gospel and suffer insults from unbelievers, so that I might hear reproach because of my wanderings and suffer many persecutions, including being placed in chains, while I sacrifice my free birth for the good of others.”[15]

Patrick’s Trinitarian foundation compelled his love for the Irish. He knows pending persecutions are coming; yet this does not deter his overall mission. Why? Because he seeks the good for one another.

“If I am worthy, I am even ready to give up my life freely and without hesitation for the sake of his name. It is in Ireland I wish to live out my life to the end, if the Lord will grant my prayer.”[16]

His pursuit of this mission is so secure that, though he wants to return to Britain and be with family he chooses otherwise.

“I am bound by the Holy Spirit who declares that if I left I would be guilty of sin. I’m afraid of abandoning the work I’ve begun here. No, not my work, but that of Christ the Lord who has ordered me to stay with these people for the rest of my life.”[17]

This famous expression of being “bound by the Holy Spirit” is part of the Trinitarian compulsion to stay until his death.

Patrick, himself, is well aware of the risk and intends to be the recipient of persecution. In his travels around Ireland, he risks “many dangers for your sake even to the farthest places beyond which no one lived.”[18] In fact, he “expect[s] to be murdered, kidnapped, made a slave, or something else.”[19]

Patrick’s love for the conversion of these Irish folk supersedes his fear of death.

“If I have ever done anything good for the sake of my God that I love, I ask of him that I might be able to shed my blood with those converts and captives for the sake of his name, even if it means I will not be granted a grave or that my poor body will be torn apart by dogs or wild animals or devoured by the birds of the air. I firmly believe that if this should happen to me, I will have gained my soul as well as my body.”[20]

Despite these fears of pending death and persecution, Patrick also mentions scores of conversions. At his death, Patrick hopes his ministry will provide a theological foundation for “thousands of people, the ones that I baptized in the Lord.”[21] Clergy, monks, and virgins are developed from his labors. After conversion, he hints at some form of catechism and then confirmation for ministry.[22]

“I am in great debt to God, who gave me such grace so that many people have been reborn in him and then brought to completion. Clergy have also been ordained for these people who are just now coming to the faith, the ones the Lord has brought to himself from the ends of the earth.”[23]

Patrick’s evangelistic and teaching endeavors had such impact that it transcended social class systems. Sons and daughters of Irish kings were being converted and becoming monks and virgins for Christ.[24]

[1] Confessio 17.

[2] Confessio 17.

[3] T. M. Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 217–.

[4] Confessio 18.

[5] Confessio 18.

[6] Confessio 19.

[7] Confessio 23.

[8] Confessio 24.

[9] Confessio 24.

[10] Thompson, Who Was Saint Patrick?, 37–38.

[11] Thompson, Who Was Saint Patrick?, 80.

[12] Confessio 37.

[13] Confessio 46.

[14] Confessio 14.

[15] Confessio 37.

[16] Confessio 37.

[17] Confessio 43.

[18] Confessio 51.

[19] Confessio 55.

[20] Confessio 59.

[21] Confessio 14.

[22] Cf. Confessio 50. “When I baptized thousands of converts, did I ever expect even a small token from them in return? If so, tell me and I will repay you. Or when the Lord ordained clergy everywhere through my unworthiness and when I gave my ministry to them for free…”

[23] Confessio 38.

[24] Confessio 41–42.