St. Patrick, the Irish, and Christianity
When history recalls the ancient Irish, the words civilized and cultured are never the language and description used. They are remembered as a passionate and vibrant, but illiterate and barbaric as well. Often the ancient Irish are referred to as charming, wild, impulsive, passionate, hot-tempered, corrupt, repressed, and unafraid, but never civilized or cultured - lol! In the grand scheme of Christian history however this people group from a tiny island on the edge of Europe had one of the more glorious moments in the developing years of Christianity. Around 600 A. D. the Empire of unparalleled power, and the great cities of the “Roman way” were ransacked, burned, and laid waste. The Germanic barbarians and heathen Gaul’s rushed through these great cities destroying civic buildings, libraries, and many of the great churches. They burned every book, scroll, or written content they could possibly get there hands on. They also destroyed any historical artifacts they could find. For all intent and purpose they “looted history.” But it was during this time, the Irish who were just learning to read and write, amazingly took on the mission of rescuing western literature. Faithfully and meticulously they copied everything they could get their hands on. Day after day, month after month, year after year Ireland would send these young monastic converts of Christianity as missionaries to the great cities of the Roman empire where history was literally being destroyed. These Irish missionaries would return to the remote monasteries that began on the tiny Isle of Iona with volumes of rescued books, literature and manuscripts. Then they would begin the tedious and difficult process of diligently and methodically copying, translating and accurately rewriting all of western history (of which included most all of the known Christian literature to that date). These same Irish monks and scribes went on to introduce and evangelize Europe to the Christian ways of life, faith, and Christ-like thinking. How did this historical salvation come about? It all began 200 years earlier. At the conception and heart of this mission was Ireland’s first missionary. His name was Patricius.
Partricius or Patrick (as we now call him), brought to Ireland the gift of Christianity. Not just any Christianity but a Christian belief that was for the first time de-Romanized. A faith in God and the Gospels of Christ that was free for the first time in history of the Socia-Cristo-Politca (my own word creation) ideology of the Greco-Roman world. Patrick was from Britain. At 16, (along with many other young boys) Patrick was kidnapped, enslaved, and brought to Ireland by an Irish king. These slave boys were placed in remote mountainous regions alone to live and work as shepherds. He lived a life of physical hunger and poverty, while each day he grew in spiritual strength. He prayed each day to God for deliverance, he prayed for his family, he prayed for courage and for knowledge of the truth. Patrick would later write, “As a shepherd boy I would pray a hundred times each day, and at least as many times at night before I cried myself to sleep.” One night after prayer he fell asleep only to be awakened to a voice that said to him, “Your hungers are rewarded, you are going home. Look your ship is ready”! He was nowhere near the sea, but he got up and started walking. Miraculously Patrick was not stopped, detained or confronted by a soul until he had reached seaport. It was later discovered that he had walked some two hundred miles from his place of enslavement. At seaport he was able to find ship transportation as a stow-away and returned to Britain and his family. Patrick who was no longer a boy now, but a holy man of vision, courage, and faith. His next few years at home were awkward and unsettled and his education was far behind that of his peers, but he continued his formal education and spiritual studies. Sometime in his early forties Patrick has a vision. In his vision, a man he had once known in Ireland visits Patrick. The man is crying and holding a letter that he delivers to Patrick to read. It letter says, “We beg you come and walk among us again.” He responds to this vision and divine messenger as a call from God and returns to Ireland, only this time not as a slave, but as an ordained Bishop. Ironically, it was Pope Celestine of the Christian (Catholic) Church who ordained Patrick and commissioned his return to Ireland.
As I said earlier, at this time Ireland was an illiterate and barbaric society formed around the sole ideology of conquest. The conquests are of strength, sex, and superstition. There were no boundaries for these people, only victories and defeat. Yet, Patrick by the power of the Holy Spirit evangelized this nation for Christ, and before his death he was a living witness to an Irish nation that boldly proclaimed complete allegiance and faith in God. Along with the message of Christ, Patrick delivered the message of learning to read and write. Hundreds upon hundreds of young men received Christ, and became obedient to the call of the Christian priesthood, as Irish monasteries were established and filled the mountains and shorelines of Ireland. From these young converts were those who would become priests, monks, bishops, and pastors. They would continue by the power of God, and inspiration of Patrick, to lead the spiritual and educational revolution of this nation. They would lead the mission of rescuing significant and essential religious and historical western literature. In doing so they would substantially contribute to insuring the authentic delivery of the truth of Christ’s Gospel, and the history of Christian faith to another age and another world.