The Legacy of Saint Patrick

The legend of Saint Patrick is almost mythical, but he was actually a real man who lived 1558 years ago. The story of Patrick is fascinating, but the legacy he left behind was also amazing.  His legacy is not parades, shamrocks, and beer. His legacy is bigger than that!

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Patrick’s legacy is Christ! Being “in Christ” and proclaiming Christ was by far his greatest legacy. Christ changed him. Christ saved the Irish. Christ changed a nation. Christ built his church. Patrick opened of his Confession by saying,

“My name is Patrick, I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many.” (Confession, 1)

Like the apostle Paul, Patrick’s humility (Eph. 3:8; 1 Cor. 15:9), was less of him and more of Christ,

“For [Christ] I perform the work of an ambassador, despite my less than noble condition. However, God is not influenced by such personal situations, and he chose me for this task so that I would be one servant of his very least important servants.” (56)

Patrick was a simple and humble slave of Christ. Patrick was no longer a slave to the Irish; he had a new Master. It was because of this grace that he first tasted as a slave in Ireland that he could not be silent,

“God came along and with his power and compassion reached down and pulled me out, raised me up, and placed me on top of a wall. Because of this I must proclaim my good news…I must pay God back in some way for all that he has done for me here on earth and what he will do in eternity.” (13)

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Patrick knew nothing about the Americas, so when he looked across the Atlantic he believed that Jesus’ command to go into all the world had been carried out. He thought Ireland was the “ends of the earth.” (38)

Patrick’s passion was to spread the fame of Jesus’ name (40),

“I can say: Who am I, Lord, or what is my calling, that you have worked with me with such divine presence? This is how I come to praise and magnify your name among the nations all the time, wherever I am, not only in good times but in the difficult times too.” (34)

He was willing to spend his life for the sake of Christ (36-39, 53, 58-59). This was heart and soul of his Confession,

“If I be worthy, I am ready even to give up my life most willingly here and now for his name. It is there that I wish to spend my life until I die, if the Lord should grant it to me.” (37)

William Carey, the English missionary to India, was influenced by Patrick. He said, “Surely it is worthwhile to lay ourselves out with all our might in promoting the cause and kingdom of Christ.”

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History tells us prior to Patrick, the Irish worshiped the sun (and mountains and rivers), which was almost universal in early times. People naturally worship creation rather than the Creator. Patrick tells us the Irish worshiped, “idols and unclean things.” (41)

Irish Druids were known to sacrifice their first born sons to please their gods. They worshiped trees, wells and pillar stones which are so common throughout the country. Later Christian missionaries carved crosses on the pillar stones in order to draw away people from superstition and turn their attention to the Gospel of Christ.

Many of Patrick’s British friends were offended and angered that he would spend priority time with pagans, sinners, and barbarians (46-48). They thought since the Irish were illiterate brutes that they were out of reach of the gospel.

Does this sound familiar? It sounds a lot like the Pharisees who called Jesus a “friend of tax collectors and sinners,” and who said of Himself, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Patrick was just following in his Master’s footsteps! His Confession was a defense of his mission to pagans and resembles Romans 10:12-14,

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Little did Patrick’ murmuring friends know that within a 100 years Ireland would become a reservoir of knowledge and faith, he instilled a sense of literacy and learning that some historians would say “The Irish saved civilization.” The Irish guarded for centuries manuscripts and records on Western civilization that on their island were untouched by the wars and plagues.

Although Patrick loved pagan’s he boldly spoke out against their evil practices. There is a famous saying, “Patrick was a gentleman, who through strategy and stealth. Drove all the snakes from Ireland.” While there is no fossil record of snakes ever existing in Ireland it can be safely said that these snakes weren’t snakes, but pagan teachers.

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After being threatened of an ambush by the Irish King of Tara. It is said that Patrick sang this prayer of protection,

“Christ, be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. Salvation is of the Christ.”

The Druids didn’t care much for Patrick (52). He faced from them many threats, assassination attempts and betrayal. His response to these threats was,

“I fear none of these things, because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of almighty God, who is the ruler of all places.” (55)

He appeared like a bare-footed child walking in a minefield on D-day. It reminds me of Nate Saint and his colleagues who died at the hands of the Auca Indians in Ecuador, Nate Saint said, “I would rather die now than to live a life of obvious ease in so sick a world.”

You can see the love that Patrick had for the Irish in what he wrote to King Coroticus, a Welsh man who raided Ireland. In the letter, Patrick encouraged church leaders in Britain to shun the king and his bandits who killed Christians and stole Christian woman. Patrick’s grief over his lost loved ones is still felt 1500 years later,

“My newly baptized converts, still in their white robes, the sweet smell of the anointing oil still on their foreheads—you murdered them, cut them down with your swords! . . . With tears and sorrow I will mourn for you, my beautiful, beloved family and children—from the countless number born into Christ through me . . . Don’t they know that the same God is father of us all? No, they hate you—they hate us—because we are Irish.”

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As you read through Patrick’s Confession you see his love for prayer and hearing from God. To Patrick, God was a friend, Father, mentor, and Master. Prayer was his source of power for ministry and his armor against spiritual attack. Prayer for Patrick was birthed in the soil of difficulty and need. His prayer life launched he he was a teenager and slave,

“After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy – as I realise now, the spirit was burning in me at that time.” (16)

May the story and legacy of Patrick inspire you today 1558 years beyond his life. May we mimic his humble life and his Christ!

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Slemish Mountain, supposedly where Patrick was a slave and began to pray.
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The Story of Saint Patrick

There are many myths about Saint Patrick. What I gleaned about the real Patrick, I did from his two writings: Confession (which I will quote from a lot) and Letter to the Soldier’s of Coroticus. I also recommend a church history book by Michael Haykin.

Birth

Patrick was born around AD 390. He grew up in a rural coastal village near what is today Wales, England. He lived under Roman rule, but by this time the empire was shrinking and crumbling.

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A 4th Century Irish homestead.

Teen Years

Patrick’s grandfather was a pastor and his father was a deacon. His family members were devote Christians and he learned the Scripture from a young age. However, as Patrick put it, he wasn’t serious about his family’s faith nor their teaching, rather he lived on the wild side (as a stereotypical pastor’s kid). He would be considered a practical atheist living as if God did not exist.

Do you have a pastor or church leader as a close relative? While this is a wonderful blessing a Christian family doesn’t guarantee you will be a Christian yourself. A young person must follow in the footsteps of Jesus and have faith in him alone, not just that of his family.

Slavery and Salvation

Historically, Rome never conquered Ireland. As Roman soldiers began pulling out of England there were more organized attacks by the Irish. On one occasion Patrick’s village was attacked. He said,

“I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others. We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments. We would not listen to our priests, who advised us about how we could be saved. The Lord brought his strong anger upon us, and scattered us among many nations even to the ends of the earth. It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was.” (1)

In fact, Patrick became a Christian during his captivity in Ireland,

“It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognized my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance. He guarded me before I knew him, and before I came to wisdom and could distinguish between good and evil. He protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son.” (2)

After six difficult and dangerous years as a slave (35), Patrick, escaped Ireland by walking 200 miles to the coast and found a boat to England (16-22). The journey itself was his intro to missions. Overall, God used his time in Ireland for good. He said,

“That is why I cannot be silent – nor would it be good to do so – about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven.” (3)

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Calling and Training

After Patrick returned to England and reunited with his family he said,

“Again with my parents in Britain. They welcomed me as a son, and they pleaded with me that, after all the many tribulations I had undergone, I should never leave them again.” (23)

Isn’t that sweet!?

Patrick stayed for a while in England (and possibly in France) to study the Scriptures. This time made a huge impact on him and his love for the Bible. His writings are saturated with quotes from the Bible. He did cite parts of a creed, which may have been used in his home church in Britain. The creed shows the influence of the Nicene Creed from AD 381.

Although, Patrick was a contemporary of Jerome who wrote the Vulgate (Latin Bible) and Augustine, you don’t see them referenced in Patrick’s writings. They lived far from each other and their educations were very different. Patrick by his own admission said he had a meager education (9-13), yet this likely helped him relate to the Irish who looked down on the high-minded Celts and Gauls of Europe. Yet God uses both educated and uneducated in his service!

Ordained as a pastor, Patrick, shepherded in Britain for many years. At the age of 48 (the average life span was 35), when he should be cashing in on his retirement, he instead had a dream. In the dream a group of Irish called him to return and share the good news (23). Echoing Paul’s call to Macedonia (Acts 16:9), he believed the dream was from God. He was appointed bishop to Ireland by his church and was sent out as a missionary. This is when took on a common Irish name Patricius or Patrick.

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Return and Mission

Patrick returned to the place of his pain with the message of joy—place where he was once a slave he now brought good news of true freedom. In those days there were not many Christians in Ireland. It would have been considered unreached and unwanting (34). Palladius, the first known missionary to Ireland failed and went home discouraged after only a few years.

Patrick understood the Irish. He had lived with them before for six years. He already knew their culture and language. And he loved for them. When the people know that you understand them and love them, they infer that maybe God understands and loves them too. Patrick wasn’t about making civilized Roman Christians, he aimed to see a people and a culture transformed by Christ. He traveled all over the island staying mostly in the northern half. He preached boldly against paganism and got arrested many times by the Irish for stirring up the people against their customs.

Once Patrick stepped foot in Ireland he never returned home to England (43). He spent nearly 30 years in Ireland. He planted around 300 churches, established various Bible schools, and baptized “countless number” into the Church (est. 120,000). He led both kings and peasants to faith in Christ. He never cashed in on that retirement. He died in Ireland around March 17, 461 AD.

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A stone marking a spot near Patrick’s burial place.

The Celtic Church that Patrick helped to advance and establish became for 600 years one of the most evangelistic and mission-minded movements in all of Europe before it was absorbed into the Roman Catholic Church in 1100 AD. The churches Patrick planted believed in salvation by faith through grace. Celibacy was not forced or a requirement. Women were a vital part of ministry. The Bible was intensely emphasized, studied and memorized. Missions was a high priority.

Now that’s a legacy!  And I will share more about Patrick’s legacy in my next post.

7 Myths about Saint Patrick

Do you come from Irish descent? If so, you’re not alone.  34 million Americans have Irish in their DNA. That is seven times the population of Ireland itself. Tomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s a day known for wearing green, drinking Guinness, and parades in big cities, but there is a man associated with this day—Patrick.

Patrick was a Jesus follower. It is not common for protestant or evangelical churches to pause to talk about a church father or missionary, particularly one that Roman Catholic’s have adopted as their own. Growing up in the Catholic church I didn’t know any different. However, Patrick lived at a time when the established Catholic church was in its infancy and he was far enough removed from its influence. Evangelical churches aren’t about venerating saints for it believe that all genuine followers of Jesus are “saints” in the “holy” sense of the word (e.g., Acts 26:10; Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2).

Sometimes it is hard to separate the man from the myth. Over the years many embellished stories were told about Patrick, even by the church. It is good to remember that Patrick was just a man—an ordinary man extraordinarily used by God.

Here are seven common myths about Patrick:

  1. He wasn’t Irish. He was actually born in British.
  2. His real name wasn’t Patrick. He had a Roman name—Maewyn Succat.
  3. He didn’t wear lots of green nor funny bishops hats.
  4. His first trip to Ireland wasn’t as a missionary nor was he Ireland’s first missionary.
  5. He didn’t identify with the Roman Catholic nor was he officially canonized by a pope or the church as a saint.
  6. He didn’t use the shamrock to teach luck, rather he may have used it to teach the Trinity.
  7. He is memorialized on March 17th, but we aren’t sure of the actual date of his death.

Tomorrow, I will peek into the life and mission of the real Patrick.  I will share about his amazing story and legacy.  It is worth knowing about!