Since St. Patrick’s Day is this Wednesday, I’d like to recommend on Patrick and Celtic Christianity. It’s from my friend Ted Olsen, managing editor of news & online journalism at Christianity Today, who also blogs monthly here. Ted’s book on Christianity and the Celts is good stuff (as is that whole series of clearly written and gorgeously produced little silver Intervarsity Press Histories).
To whet your appetite, here is Ted’s brief piece from http://www.christianhistory.net on Patrick. Notice the links at the end of the article to the Christian History issue on Celtic Christianity and an online full-text version of Patrick’s Confessio. I’ve also posted on this blog a famous prayer from Patrick, known as the “Breastplate.” Here it is.
First, a few misconceptions about Patrick:
Patrick isn’t really a Saint with a capital S, having never been officially canonized by Rome. And Patrick couldn’t have driven the snakes out of Ireland because there were never any snakes there to begin with. He wasn’t even the first evangelist to Ireland (Palladius had been sent in 431,about five years before Patrick went). Patrick isn’t even Irish. He’s from what’s now Dumbarton, Scotland (just northwest of Glasgow).
Patrick was 16 years old in about the year 405, when he was captured in a raid and became a slave in what was still radically pagan Ireland. Far from home, he clung to the religion he had ignored as a teenager. Even though his grandfather had been a priest, and his father a town councilor, Patrick “knew not the true God.” But forced to tend his master’s sheep in Ireland, he spent his six years of bondage mainly in prayer. He escaped at the suggestion of a dream and returned home.
Patrick was in his mid-40s when he returned to Ireland.Palladius had not been very successful in his mission, and the returning former slave replaced him. Intimately familiar with the Irish clan system (his former master, Milchu, had been a chieftain), Patrick’s strategy was to convert chiefs first, who would then convert their clans through their influence. Reportedly, Milchu was one of his earliest converts.
Though he was not solely responsible for converting the island, Patrick was quite successful. He made missionary journeys all over Ireland, and it soon became known as one of Europe’s Christian centers. This, of course, was very important to fifth-century Christians, for whom Ireland was one of the “ends of the earth.”
Find out more about Patrick in CH issue 60: Celtic Christianity.
Patrick’s Confessio, his only authentic literary remains, is great reading and available online at www.ccel.org/ccel/patrick/confession.i.html.