March 17 will be celebrated as St. Patrick’s Day. Those of Irish decent will proudly wear green. In Chicago, the river will be temporarily dyed green on that day, during a festive parade downtown. The most popular Irish name for newborn boys is still Patrick, and Patricia for girls.
However, much of what surrounds the legend of St. Patrick is just that: legend. For instance, Patrick is credited with the banishment of snakes from Ireland, when he chased them into the sea after a 40 day fast. Though hard to prove that Ireland’s absence of snakes is attributed to St. Patrick, it is a curious story.
St. Patrick is also reputed to have used the three leaves of the shamrock clover to illustrate the Trinity of the God-head.
Legends abound with many supernatural miracles and visions attributed to this curious man of the fifth century. Many stories surround him and his deeds.
There actually was a historical character named St. Patrick. Interestingly, he was not born in Ireland, but in Britain, to Christian parents in AD 389. Though his father was a deacon in the church of his hometown and his grandfather was clergy, Patrick’s early faith in Christ was nominal at best.
At age 16, Patrick was captured by pirates, taken from his homeland and traded into slavery to the Celts of Ireland. It was there he served by tending cattle for the next six years. It was during this time that Patrick noted the strong influence of the Druid priests and the overwhelming paganism of the Irish. Also, during his servitude Patrick experienced a religious fervor in his spirit, which probably could mark his actual conversion to the faith of his parents and grandfather. According to his later “Confessions”, he wrote that the time he spent in captivity was critical to his spiritual development. He explained that the Lord had mercy on his youth and ignorance and afforded him the opportunity to be forgiven his sins and convert to Christianity. While in captivity, Patrick would pray often and strengthen his relationship with the Lord.
He finally escaped to France where he was again enslaved for a short period. But it was there he would have a dream where a man from Ireland was begging him to come over and help them. Patrick would obey this divine calling and devote the rest of his life to the conversion to Christianity of the Celtic people of Ireland. As Patrick later speaks in his “Confessions”, “I am greatly a debtor to God, who has bestowed His grace 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.” (Schaff, Vol. IV p. 46)
Though not Irish, Patrick had a deep love for the people of this island. Being a man of deep personal piety and warm evangelistic fervor, Patrick gave himself without reservation to the evangelization of Ireland for the next 35 years. He would be exposed to many kinds of dangers from Druid chieftains, armed soldiers and robber bands. Wikipedia notes that his refusal to accept gifts from kings placed him outside the normal ties of kinship, fosterage and affinity. Legally he was without protection, and he was on one occasion beaten, robbed of all he had and put in chains, perhaps awaiting execution. Despite the opposition, this courageous missionary baptized thousands of converts, planted hundreds of churches and ordained many to the clergy (Kane, p. 13).
During the time of the Dark Ages in Europe, Ireland was a missions center from which monks and missionary scholars were sent out to all of Europe. For instance, it was from Ireland that (missionary) Columba set forth to win the Scotts to Christianity. The Celtic church of Ireland and Scotland were both missionary-minded churches in the fifth and sixth centuries (Cairns pp. 128-129). Patrick died in AD 465. His body was laid to rest beneath a marked stone in Downpatrick, Ireland, the place where his ministry journey began.
The Roman Catholic Church has canonized St. Patrick. The Evangelical church tends to question his existence, yet history cannot ignore Patrick’s faithful evangelistic zeal and deep devotion to the Great Commission! Would to God we would be so burdened for the salvation of such a people of our influence! St. Patrick’s true story is an illustration of what one obedient person loving God and people can accomplish. We are likewise called to go into all the world, preach the gospel and teach all nations –Mark 16:15; <st1:bcv_smarttag_s>Matthew 28:18-20; <st1:bcv_smarttag_s>Acts 1:8. Amen!