When reading The Confession of Saint Patrick (edited and translated by D. R. Howlett; Liguori, Missouri: Triumph Books, 1996), what emerges is a portrait of a man far more interesting than the popular stories about him.
Patrick, born in 373, wrote a confession before he died around 463. It is a confession in the sense that in it he acknowledges his sins and weaknesses. It is also a confession in the more important sense of being a witness to Jesus Christ. Patrick opens his twofold confession by writing, “I, Patrick, a sinner, very rustic [ignorant] and least of all the faithful” (45).
Patrick divided his confession into five parts. In the first part he talked about his beginnings. He was born and raised in western Britain. His father was member of a town council and deacon in the church. His grandfather was an elder in the church. Patrick was kidnapped by raiders and sold by them into slavery to a man in Ireland.
Patrick believed his enslavement was punishment by God for his indifference to God. Having placed Patrick in dire straights so that he might repent of this indifference, God then had mercy on him by rescuing him and calling him to be a great evangelist. Patrick felt honored to tell others about God’s grace.
Once in Ireland, Patrick was put to work herding animals. During this time he learned to pray. While his personal circumstances were difficult, he nonetheless had an abiding sense of joy by the power of the Holy Spirit.
One night God spoke to him twice about his impending liberation. Patrick was to head south 200 miles and escape by ship from a port he had never visited. After six years of captivity, Patrick fled his master without fear “in the power of God” (62).
Having arrived at the port, Patrick found a ship and asked for passage. The captain told him to get lost. Walking away, Patrick prayed to God. The captain changed his mind and sent a messenger to call Patrick back to the ship.
While at sea Patrick talked to his companions about Jesus. After three days at sea they put into port. Then came twenty-eight days of walking through wilderness without food. The captain and crew, rightly fearing death, challenged Patrick to pray to his god for salvation. Patrick prayed. A herd of wild pigs wandered by and were happily devoured. All thanked the god of Patrick and held him in the highest esteem.
After another month, Patrick made his way back to his parents in western Britain. They rejoiced to see him and wished never to lose him again. Patrick, though, had a dream in which a group of Irishmen pleaded with him to return to them. He did so to take to them the Gospel.
For thirty years Patrick spoke boldly of Christ with the Irish. Even so, he was brought to trial on a serious charge before his religious superiors. The charge stemmed from a confession he made to his closest friend of a sin he had committed when he was fourteen and still indifferent to God. In a dream God comforted Patrick by expressing his disapproval of the proceedings. During this difficult period God also sustained Patrick by the power of the Holy Spirit. Patrick continued to preach everywhere in Ireland, through good times and bad, to fulfill Christ’s words that the Gospel would be preached even to the ends of the earth and then the end would come. During his ministry, Patrick was twelve times imprisoned and threatened with death and twelve times delivered by God.
During his years of ministry with the Irish, Patrick converted thousands, ordained hundreds, and planted churches. Converts included sons and daughters of royal families. One beautiful princess who became a Christian was told by an angel to remain a virgin as she dedicated her life to Christ. Her parents persecuted her in an attempt to shake her commitment to this new way of living. She remained steadfast and many others became Christians in response to her witness.
Members of the religious establishment questioned Patrick’s credentials as an evangelist because of his lack of formal education and because of rumors he was growing wealthy on gifts taken from grateful converts. Patrick praised God for calling and making use of him despite his ignorance. He also responded by saying he always returned gifts from converts even though they always resented him for doing so.
and deign that I shall give back to Him a faithful [witness]” (108).
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