Born: 387 Died: 461
St. Patrick of Ireland is one of the world’s most popular saints. Apostle of Ireland, born at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland, in the year 387; died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, 17 March, 461.
Patrick was born around 385 in Scotland, probably Kilpatrick. His parents were Calpurnius and Conchessa, who were Romans living in Britian in charge of the colonies.
As a boy of fourteen or so, he was captured during a raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep. Ireland at this time was a land of Druids and pagans. He learned the language and practices of the people who held him.
During his captivity, he turned to God in prayer. He wrote, “The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same.” “I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.”
Patrick’s captivity lasted until he was twenty, when he escaped after having a dream from God in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast. There he found some sailors who took him back to Britian, where he reunited with his family.
He had another dream in which the people of Ireland were calling out to him “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.”
He began his studies for the priesthood. He was ordained by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre, whom he had studied under for years.
Later, Patrick was ordained a bishop, and was sent to take the Gospel to Ireland. He arrived in Ireland March 25, 433, at Slane. One legend says that he met a chieftain of one of the tribes, who tried to kill Patrick. Patrick converted Dichu (the chieftain) after he was unable to move his arm until he became friendly to Patrick.
Patrick began preaching the Gospel throughout Ireland, converting many. He and his disciples preached and converted thousands and began building churches all over the country. Kings, their families, and entire kingdoms converted to Christianity when hearing Patrick’s message.
Patrick by now had many disciples, among them Beningnus, Auxilius, Iserninus, and Fiaac, (all later canonized as well).
Patrick preached and converted all of Ireland for 40 years. He worked many miracles and wrote of his love for God in Confessions. After years of living in poverty, traveling and enduring much suffering he died March 17, 461.
He died at Saul, where he had built the first church.
The beautiful prayer of St. Patrick, popularly known as “St. Patrick’s Breast-Plate”, is supposed to have been composed by him in preparation for this victory over Paganism. You can see the contemporary words and hear the beautiful, haunting tune played on the organ, by clicking HERE. The following is a literal translation from the old Irish text:
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.
I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.
I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.
Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Patron Saint of the Excluded
Patrick’s enslavement as an adolescent had to have been a critical factor in the development of his unique attitude toward the Irish. Even in captivity, he must have come to know them as human, hence, deserving of the gospel. This set the stage for his call to convert them.
As a result of his enslavement, Cahill, whose particular interest is the “hinges of history,” says, “Patrick grew into a man that he truly would not otherwise have become. So you would have to say that Patrick’s kidnapping was a great grace, not just for the people of Ireland, but for all of Western history.”
Had he never been kidnapped, it seems quite likely that it would have been decades, probably centuries, before Ireland was converted. It certainly would not have been in a position to “save civilization,” as Cahill so dramatically puts it in his book, when the Roman Empire crumbled and literacy was lost—lost, that is, by all but the Irish monasteries planted by Patrick and his successors.
Not surprisingly, his own experience in captivity left Patrick with a virulent hatred of the institution of slavery, and he would later become the first human being in the history of the world to speak out unequivocally against it.
“The papacy did not condemn slavery as immoral until the end of the 19th century,” Cahill says, “but here is Patrick in the fifth century seeing it for what it is. I think that shows enormous insight and courage and a tremendous ‘fellow feeling’—the ability to suffer with other people, and to understand what other people’s suffering is like.”
In fact, although he is renowned as the patron saint of the country and the people he evangelized, a better advocate than Patrick cannot be found for anyone disadvantaged or living on the fringes of society.
“He really is one of the great saints of the downtrodden and excluded—people that no one else wants anything to do with,” Cahill says.
Women find a great advocate in Patrick. Unlike his contemporary, St. Augustine, to whom actual women seemed more like personifications of the temptations of the flesh than persons, Patrick’s Confession speaks of women as individuals. Cahill points out, for example, Patrick’s account of “a blessed woman, Irish by birth, noble, extraordinarily beautiful—a true adult—whom I baptized.”
Elsewhere, he lauds the strength and courage of Irish women: “But it is the women kept in slavery who suffer the most—and who keep their spirits up despite the menacing and terrorizing they must endure. The Lord gives grace to his many handmaids; and though they are forbidden to do so, they follow him with backbone.” He is actually the first male Christian since Jesus, Cahill says, to speak well of women.
“The Fathers of the Church had the most horrible things to say—it’s frightening to read what people like Augustine or John Chrysostom had to say about women. As remarkable as anything about Patrick is that in his writings there is never anything remotely like that.”
In fact, there are clear instances of him saying warm and appreciative things about women. O’Donoughue adds, “It is clear that the man who wrote the Confession and “Coroticus” is deeply and sensitively open to women and womanhood….But he does not take refuge in either ‘the pretentious asceticism, nor yet in that neurotic fear of and contempt for the feminine’ that has entered so deeply into the attitudes and structures of the Christian Church….In this respect he is a complete man.”