ST. PATRICK or Patricius (died March 17, 465 or 493) was the son of a deacon, and grandson of a priest, as he confesses himself without an intimation of the unlawfulness of clerical marriages. He was in his youth carried captive into Ireland, with many others, and served his master six years as a shepherd. While tending his flock in the lonesome fields, the teachings of his childhood awakened to new life in his heart without any particular external agency. He escaped to France or Britain, was again enslaved for a short period, and had a remarkable dream, which decided his calling. He saw a man, Victoricius, who handed him innumerable letters from Ireland, begging him to come over and help them. He obeyed the divine monition, and devoted the remainder of his life to the conversion of Ireland (from A.D. 440 to 493).
“I am,” he says, “greatly a debtor to God, who has bestowed his grace so largely upon me, that multitudes were born again to God through me. The Irish, who never had the knowledge of God and worshipped only idols and unclean things, have lately become the people of the Lord, and are called sons of God.” He speaks of having baptized many thousands of men. Armagh seems to have been for some time the centre of his missionary operations, and is to this day the seat of the primacy of Ireland, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. He died in peace, and was buried in Downpatrick (or Gabhul), where he began his mission, gained his first converts and spent his declining years.
His Roman Catholic biographers have surrounded his life with marvelous achievements, while some modern Protestant hypercritics have questioned even his existence, as there is no certain mention of his name before 634; unless it be “the Hymn of St. Sechnall (Secundinus) in praise of St. Patrick, which is assigned to 448. But if we accept his own writings, “there can be no reasonable doubt” (we say with a Presbyterian historian of Ireland) “that he preached the gospel in Hibernia in the fifth century; that he was a most zealous and efficient evangelist, and that he is eminently entitled to the honorable designation of the Apostle of Ireland.”
The Christianity of Patrick was substantially that of Gaul and old Britain, i.e. Catholic, orthodox, monastic, ascetic, but independent of the Pope, and differing from Rome in the age of Gregory I in minor matters of polity and ritual. In his Confession he never mentions Rome or the Pope; he never appeals to tradition, and seems to recognize the Scriptures (including the Apocrypha) as the only authority in matters of faith. He quotes from the canonical Scriptures twenty-five times; three times from the Apocrypha. It has been conjectured that the failure and withdrawal of Palladius was due to Patrick, who had already monopolized this mission-field; but, according to the more probable chronology, the mission of Patrick began about nine years after that of Palladius. From the end of the seventh century, the two persons were confounded, and a part of the history of Palladius, especially his connection with Pope Caelestine, was transferred to Patrick.*
*Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (vol. 4; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 45–47.