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Saint Patrick

St. Patrick's Day


Church History

St. Patrick, by Joseph A. Dunney [1945]

What bitter storms beset the Church in this, the first of the five dark ages! Heretics fought Catholics so ruthlessly it looked as if Arianism might rapidly supplant Christianity. But the papacy stood firm like a lighthouse on the rocks of time, and bad as things were from every point of view, the Church actually renewed her strength. One reason was the toleration proclaimed by Theodoric the Goth in 493; another was the conversion of Clovis and his Franks in 496. After that, the Mother of the Nations, aided by the Sons of St. Patrick and the Sons of St. Benedict proceeded magnificently and patiently to convert the broken Empire, which had become a group of barbarian kingdoms.

A dozen years before the fevered century the dim figure of Patrick appears out beyond the orbit of the Empire. This free–born son of Calpurnius moves among the sheep and swine on Slemish mountain overlooking the vales of Antrim. In his youth Patrick had been dragged from his natal villa "Enon" (was it in Gaul, Wales, Caledonia or Roman Britain?) and brought to Ireland. Nial of the Nine Hostages, chief of the Kings, still dwelt in that dark but beautiful isle. And many a fierce marauder rose at his command, crossed the seas and ravaged the mainland. A court poet of the Emperor Honorius describes these war–bent Scots plying their oars:

totam cum Scotus Ibernam
Movit, et infesto spumavit remige Tethys.

In one of those bloody raids Patrick was seized and made captive. His parents slain in the siege, two of his sisters carried off in the fleet, the stalwart tad was sold as a slave and put to serve under a hard master. One wonders whether the young exile imagined that one day he would go away and come back to Ireland a conquering hero of Christ. "Was it the will of God," Patrick would write in later years, "or according to the flesh that I came to Ireland? I was bound in the Spirit that I should never again see any one of my relations. Do I not love tender mercy, when I thus act toward that nation which of old enslaved me?" [1]

A High–born Exile

The Antrim chief, Milcho, made him a herdsman and as the rugged slave followed his flocks up hill and down dale he found plenty of time to think and pray. The gates to the past were closed it is true, yet that fact did not down him, for even then Patrick, pious from childhood up, was given to higher things. Of his inner life at that time the saint himself has left a brief but vivid record: "On coming to Ireland," he says in his Confessions, "I was daily tending sheep, and many times in the day I prayed, and more and more the love of God, and His fear grew in me, and the spirit was strengthened, so that in a single day I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly as many; so that I remained in the woods and on the mountain, and before the dawn I was summoned to prayer by the snow, the ice, and the rain, and I did not suffer from them, nor was there any sloth in me, as I see now, because then the Spirit was burning within me." Notice the deep abiding spirit of prayer in this noble exile who walked with God all through the most trying years of his youth. There is no surprise that "the Lord deigned to grant him many favors and graces in the land of his captivity"; even so early the holy herdsman received intimations of the future in store for him. One night Milcho had a dream in which his gifted slave appeared, hair on fire, and drew so close that the burning hair almost suffocated the restless sleeper. Milcho pushed him aside, when suddenly in his dream the flame leaped upon the two daughters who lay asleep in the same bed, and the wind scattered their ashes over the land. Never was a master more startled than the Scots chief by this strange, terrifying experience. Asked the meaning of it all, Patrick frankly replied that the flame was the faith of the Holy Trinity which Milcho, sad to say, rejected but not so his daughters who would die the death of the just and become the glory of Ireland.

Six long years Patrick, clad in sheepskin, served his Antrim master well. And not unfruitfully either, for they were years when the youth, having known and loved God from the first, was nurtured by hidden graces; it was as easy for him to be true to Christ as for the Irish skies to be blue, or shamrocks green. By degrees the vigilant herdsman, brought in friendly contact with the natives, began to dream of their conversion, and a holy hope was kindled that would never die. His heart went out to the lively, passionate people on this isle, who loved the unknown Creator in their own crude way.. Yet that same great heart ached with pity when he beheld them observing black Druid rites and offering human sacrifices. The very thought of the lovable Irish, so warped in spirit, sickened him through and through. One day, he dared hope, all this would be changed, one day when God saw fit. In the year 393 Patrick made his escape to the west coast, and fled over the sea to Gaul. "After three days," he wrote, "we reached the land and for twenty–eight days we made our way through a desert. Food and drink failed us, and hunger pressed us sorely." Now that he had won through by the power of prayer, the freeman realized that he must spend years of study before he could return to Ireland as a missionary. But luckily for Patrick there was a monastery at Marmoutier on the banks of the Loire, ruled over by his kinsman St. Martin of Tours. Monks and missionaries from afar made it their resting place after the heat and burden of years spent in carrying the gospel to the barbarians. This abode of prayer and peace provided a veritable "heaven–haven" for the young pilgrim; its cells and caverns housed saints; its school offered the highest knowledge under the direction of seasoned instructors. "When then," asks Sulpicius Severus, "was there a church or city which did not aspire to possess priests from the Monastery of St. Martin?"

The newcomer, though not a member of the community, spent four years at Marmoutier under the guidance of St. Martin. One may be sure they were years which revived, enlarged and deepened the pilgrim's experience, years of study and prayer, rich in inspiration, teeming with the wisdom of "doctrine and learning." His teachers, perceiving Patrick's spiritual independence and originality, recognized him for what he was - a man sent of God. Had they any idea that their visitor was destined to be the most illustrious missionary of the Dark Ages? Did they dream that once Patrick left their holy retreat he would spend nearly two–score years in pilgrimage? Anyhow, he had much to learn during his stay, much to master about the ways and life of brave monks who had done yeoman service in the field afar. They could tell him about other days of derring–do in the Empire, and many facts about his kinsman, their beloved Abbot–Bishop, Martin, Apostle of Gaul. Born in Hungary in 315, the son of a pagan Roman tribune, he became a catechumen at ten, enrolled in the imperial cavalry and was baptized at twenty. Used to warfare, he now dedicated himself to lifelong service against the forces of evil; this soldier of Christ joined up with St. Hilary at Poitiers, proceeding shortly to combat the Arians in his homeland. And after many years of preaching the gospel and rooting out pagan superstitions, he was elected Bishop of Tours, where he continued to live as a simple monk, eventually founding the celebrated monastery of Marmoutier. The blessed days Patrick spend with St. Martin and his monks proved rich seed–time for the young refugee, but the hour struck when he should again follow the pilgrim path.

Hope Deferred

After four blessed years in Marmoutier, Patrick having received tonsure, bade adieu to the monks and their holy places. But alas and alack! no sooner had he departed than he fell into the hands of pirates. Another experience of waiting and tension, of difficulties and privations, the sort that test the stoutest soul. The saint writes about this episode and the revelation that followed: "And again, after some years, I was once more taken captive, and on the first night I remained with them.... On the sixtieth night the Lord delivered me from their hands. Again, after a few years I was with my relations in Brittany who received me as a son, and there in a vision of the night I saw a man named Vitricius, coming as it were from Ireland, with innumerable letters, one of which he gave to me, and in the first line I read, "The voice of the Irish," and as I repeated the first words of the letter I seemed at the same moment to hear.... "We beseech thee, holy youth, to return and still walk among us." That clear call from above, one of many, must have greatly strengthened Patrick's desire to go back and convert Ireland, yet long years of trial lay ahead before he would reach the goal of holy endeavor. Gaul, in the days of his pilgrimage, appears free from barbarian inroads, guarded as it was by the Rhine and the Alps. So when the Huns were terrorizing the East, this pilgrim of God travelled from shrine to shrine, from monastery to monastery in preparation for his exalted mission. There were simply two things to be done walk with God and obey His holy Will. "A husbandman, an exile, and unlearned," as he humbly describes himself, he carried on for three decades during which he grew in wisdom as in grace.

Think of it, thirty years! Years of hope that never faded, years of faith that never failed. Try to picture the endless stretch of travel, the encounters of peril and rebuff. He spent some time with the zealous and learned St. Vincent at Lerins, a stronghold of Christian piety and letters, garnering many spiritual treasures for his predestined apostolate. He hoped, of course, to go to Rome where Pope Innocent occupied the Chair of Peter but conditions proved anything but favor able. The Goths had invaded the Eternal City and the Church appeared to be in dire peril. Yet the fearless Innocent could say to barbarian and heretic alike - "Is it not known that the things which have been delivered to the Roman Church by Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and preserved ever since, should be observed by all; and that nothing is to be introduced devoid of authority or borrowed elsewhere?" Patrick never saw Pope Innocent; he had no ecclesiastical credentials, so what could the poor wandering cleric do about it? But he did plow along as the years revolved, always resigned to the divine will; one might say his rule of the road read: "circumstances are God's sealed orders." Because Patrick had the faith of a true mystic, which can be summed up in one word, "Immediacy," he made use of the present moment, certain by grace that the Holy Spirit was guiding him.

One day during his travels from city to city Patrick arrived in Auxerre where Bishop Amator ordained him deacon. But it was Amator's successor, Germanus, who did so much for the wandering pilgrim. The two holy men got to know each other intimately and Patrick confided in the old bishop, telling him of the visions and "voices of children" summoning him to Ireland. The celebrated scholar and theologian was so impressed that he became Patrick's "philosopher, guide and friend," preparing him for ordination, giving him "the canons and all other ecclesiastical learning." More than that, Germanus, having been appointed papal legate, brought his cherished charge to Britain as a member of his train. This was in 429, and the next year the bishop decided to send Patrick to Rome for an interview with the Vicar of Christ.

The Triumph of Failure

At this time the pilgrim, nearly sixty, was still strong despite long journeys through the disregarded years. "The dignity of his age and the inbred honor of his grey head" were as naught compared with his burning desire to evangelize Erin. As he set out on the difficult journey Romeward, it must have seemed like a second spring, or a St. Martin's summer, so high were his hopes. Over the Alps he hastened, exerting himself mightily along the imperial highway until he reached the Eternal City. "0. Lord Jesus Christ," he prayed, "lead me, I beseech Thee, to the chair of the Holy Roman Church, that receiving authority there to preach with confidence Thy sacred Truths, the Irish nation, by my ministry, may be gathered to the fold of Christ." Now no one knew better than Patrick that the Roman pontiffs carried out the divine commission to feed the lambs and. the sheep. No doubt he could have named countless missionaries despatched from Rome to labor in Europe, Asia and Africa. On arriving at Vatican hill therefore he lost no time in following out Germanus instruction. Pope Celestine, whom Patrick sought out, occupied the Chair of Peter in the balesome presence of heretic and barbarian. The troublesome Nestorius, finally unmasked at the Council of Ephesus, still exerted great power, and the barbarian invasion continued, yet Celestine, a truly great pontiff, ruled firmly and successfully. Though weighed down with the heaviest of cares he had managed to send a missionary, Palladius, to Ireland. That happened just a year before Patrick reached Rome; and as a result the old pilgrim's appeal fell on deaf ears, in fact the Pope paid no heed to him at all.

End of the Road

In trial, it is said, men act well or ill according to their previous life which is then and there revealed by their conduct. Instead of giving up the idea of his mission, Patrick bided his time in faith and hope. A bare glimpse of his odyssey at this trying period is given in his own words: "I bad with me the fear of God, as the guide of my path through Gaul and Italy, as well as in the islands of the Mediterranean Sea." Italy, observe, was overrun by barbarians, the islands pirate–infested, yet Patrick who describes himself as "a sinner untaught and most countrified," travelled through them unafraid. In the meantime, Palladius had gone forth to convert the warlike Scots, only to meet with failure and the end of all mortal plans - "Ireland lay under the wintry cold; these fierce barbarians received not his doctrine readily, nor did he himself wish to remain long in a land not his own; wherefore he returned to him who sent him. On his way, however, after passing the first sea, having begun his land journey, he died in the land of the Picts."[3]

The very next year Patrick–s heaven–inspired plan was realized. In the words of Holy Writ, "The eye of God looked upon him for good, and lifted him up from his low estate and exalted his head; and many have wondered at him and have glorified God Who prepared with him a covenant of peace and made him a prince." The record of that belated triumph is very vague, there being less than a dozen words to throw light on the great event; but the truth of the matter can be re captured, and in all likelihood is as follows: At the foot of the Alps lies the town of Iurea, ancient Eborea, on the route from Ravenna to Gaul and Ireland. It was here Patrick learned the news of the death of Palladius; here too he was, quite certainly, consecrated in conspectu Celestini, in conspectu Germani.

The bishop who governed that region was St. Maximus, a fearless leader so kindred in spirit to Patrick that heaven used his holy hands to anoint the Apostle of Ireland. One gets a further glimpse of Maximus, strong as adamant, when Attila stormed down upon Italy. As spiritual ruler of Turin, fully aware of his apostolic duty, he heartened his panicky flock when news came that the Hun was not far off. "We see you," he said, "fortifying the gates of the city; but it is the primary duty of strengthening the gates of justice which presses down upon you. . . for it avails nothing to defend the walls with bulwarks and at the same time provoke God by sin." Turin, be it said, was one of the few cities of northern Italy which escaped the ravages of the scourge of God.

But enough of the scene (time, place and principals) of the victory of Patrick's vocation. Behold now the newly consecrated bishop himself, armed with full authority, ready if need be to face martyrdom. Youth had passed, and middle age, but at long last the prisoner of hope is free to preach the glory of God to the Irish. All the failures, difficulties, oppositions foreseen and unforeseen, all the years of dream and delay are gone forever; the just man of God has his way, God's way, in the end. Westward, through the Alpine passes he hastens, along the familiar Roman road to Auxerre where he finds his beloved patron, Germanus. What a meeting that must have been! Soon the pilgrim embarked on the most wonderful missionary career in the Dark Ages. Can you not fancy Patrick's thoughts when from land's end he looked out upon the dangered sea, straining towards the island of his destiny? No script exists to tell us of those grace–laden hours, but history was to prove his second arrival in Ireland an event of world–wide importance.

Gospel Paths in Ireland

The land of Patrick's holy desire had been thrice–colonized; first by the Firboigs, next by Tuatha de Danann, then by the Scots whom the missionary found in power. Two races, conqueror and conquered, dwelt together side by side in spite of their marked difference. Those whom Patrick called "Sons of Scots" and "daughters of princes" were bold, honor able, daring and bountiful. High statured, with fair skin, golden or brown hair and blue eyes, they exhibited graces of mind and manners far above those they ruled. One of them, Conaire Mor the chief, is pictured as "tall, illustrious, with cheeks dazzling white, sparkling black pupils in blue eyes glancing, and curling yellow hair." Another, Queen Meave, is described as a "beautiful, pale, long–faced woman, with long, flowing, golden yellow hair; upon her a crimson cloak, fashioned with a brooch of gold over her breast." The other race, Tuatha de Danann, were dark–haired, dark–eyed, of medium stature - Dub, Dond, and Dorche, that is, black, brown and dark. These were regarded as "vengeful plunder ers and adepts in the black and terrible mysteries of Druid ism," having for their priests wily men trained in magic as well as in forms and doctrines of ancient paganism. Each chief had his Druid, and every Druid commanded a guard of thirty warriors. Obviously Irish pagan priests formed a wealthy order, "accustomed" as Patrick describes their avarice, "to borrow money to be repaid in the life to come" Druidae pecuniam mutuo accipiebant in posteriore vita red dituri. Easy to see, too, how the Christian message would appeal far more effectively to the dominant race which did homage to courage than to this dark people benighted by evil doings and false teachers. The Scots, ever a hardy, war–bent people, served their local chiefs, elected from the royal family, under the rule of one king; the rest of the folk were divided into "base kins" and "free kins," each territorial division having its king and judges. Their common law, called the Brebon law (unique in the West, and nowise related to Roman or Semitic law), consisted. of an amazing collection of statutes from which our modern law–makers could learn much to their profit. Nial of the Nine Hostages (379-405) reigned supreme when Patrick dwelt there as a slave; his nephew Dathi, who succeeded to power, met his death by lightning in the Alps when on his marauding way to Italy; just four years after Datbi's death, Nial's son, Laeghaire, had become Ard Righ, the all–powerful ruler.

Thirty–nine years had elapsed since Patrick had last seen Ireland. On his return, in 432, he possessed a double com mission, one direct from God, the other from the Vicar of Christ. Again he was an exile in this country, and yet be was no exile; rather a lover of Christ, one at home anywhere in God's world. The Irish people certainly were not strangers, for no one knew better the way it was with them. Therefore to his holy task Patrick addressed himself, confident in the fact that the Celt wanted the truth. That hazards, miseries, delays lay ahead, meant nothing to a man of this saint's moral strength. Was he not waging a holy war against fear and unfaith, greed and ignorance? There were foes aplenty - the Ard Righ, proud chiefs and their cynical Druids - ready to resist him to the teeth, but he had no doubt that the powers of evil would be uncovered. By some dark magic the Druids seem to have divined that the apostle came to chant their requiem; anyhow they warned the chiefs of the unwelcome visitor's approach, even describing the old bishop saying Mass.

Adze–head (i.e., the tonsured one) will come with a crook–head–staff (crosier): in his house head–holed (chasuble) he will chant impiety from his table (altar) from the front (the eastern part) of his house all his household (attendants) will respond. So be it! Sobeit!

As Patrick reached shore, the land of Wicklow felt the tread of his sacred feet, but not for long. Nathi, a fierce chieftain, who had previously driven Palladius away at the request of an angry high–priest, tried the same thing on the newcomer. But the seasoned traveller had a cool, deep mind able to cope with a foe of any sort; he and his party quietly rembarked, sailed to the north and landed in Meath. Here he was joined by a native child, Benignus, who by the grace of God would stay always with the apostle and succeed him in the See of Armagh. The little group proceeded farther to the north, landing in Down where the Druids again got wind of the missionary's coming. On seeing Patrick, the prince of the province, Dichu, disdaining to draw his sword, set his wolf–hound on the old man, but the great beast stopped in his tracks as rigid as a stone. And when the powerful chief, taken aback, raised his weapon to strike, sword–arm and blade became pinned to the air by some strange power. Fear grew in his soul, then faith lighted it, and he allowed the apostle to depart unharmed.

God's Ways and Means

There was one man in all Ireland whom Patrick dearly wanted to see - Milcho, his old master. But the Ulster chief, half in fear, half in rage at the return of his runaway slave, gathered his treasures in his house, set it on fire, and perished in the flames. The apostle, seeing the blaze from afar, paused in his journey, and after three hours of silence and prayer exclaimed, "That is the fire of Milcho's house, after his burning himself in the middle of the house, that he might not believe in God in the end of his life."[4] We can be sure that this event left a deep impress on the people, high and low; it was the first dread stroke of the Almighty so visible in the Christian invasion. Inspired, Patrick made a bold move which was to win the day for his Divine Master. By direct challenge he carried the fight to the enemy, meeting them, so to speak, in spiritual combat. Only by such an attack can the evil influence of the Druids be destroyed. Only in this way can the chiefs and their clans make sure that he is a man sent of God. Yes, aided by Heaven he will uphold the faith before all men. The Easter pagan festival of the year 433 was at hand when the Ambassador of Christ, having spent all of Lent in prayer and fasting, made ready for the attack. Leaving Slane, be proceeded to Tara hill, and in plain sight of the royal palace lit the Easter fire. Now the Ard Righ had long since given command that Patrick be driven from the island. And lo! here at his doorstep was the despised apostle defying his authority and the Druid law. Did not this brazen stranger know that death was the penalty for anyone who dared blow a spark on Easter–eve before the priests lit their ritual fire?

Ireland never forgot that fire on Tara's hill. It was plainly kindled by. Patrick to praise and glorify the Risen Savior - the Light of the World. For the first time the true Easter light shone in the darkness of northern paganism, but the darkness did not as yet comprehend it! The impact of Patrick's deeply religious act, however, was immediate, and startling. On seeing the embers glow from his palace window, Laeghaire mounted his chariot, determined to put the offender to death. "Nay! nay!" the Druid priests cautioned him. "Stay away from that fire and send at once for the law–breaker." This Laeghaire did, and Patrick approached his sworn foes unfearingly: "They were before him, and the rims of their shields against their chins, and none of them rose up before him (i.e., to welcome him) except one man alone, Erc, son of Daga. . . Patrick blessed him, and he believed in God." Directly the cunning Druids challenged Patrick, using the most subtle of their black arts. A display of rival powers followed in which the old apostle by divinely shaped strategy exposed the tricks of the magicians and laid low their most powerful priest, Luchru. This thing was against all reason, all calculation, and the infuriated Druids incited their chiefs to do away with the Christian newcomer. They were foiled, however, when a terrific tempest broke upon the milling crowd, darkness prevailed and in a panic of fear the pagans slew each other. To all of them the meaning of such a visitation must have been unmistakable. The Lord had clothed Patrick's enemies with confusion, while His sanctification had flourished upon the faithful missionary.

Light and Darkness

The following day, Easter Sunday, the apostle appeared again at Tara, much to the Ard Righ's astonishment. A new power, hostile to Irish ways of life, had come into their midst, an influence which must be secretly disposed of at once. So they tried to poison the enemy, but failed -when he blessed the proffered goblet, and the poison fell out in the sight of all. That, one might suppose, would be enough for the plotters, but such was far from the case. Though they had faltered and failed, yet there was a last chance. The Celts, be it said, love a trial of strength, not so much for the sake of victory as for the sake of the combat itself, the power of endurance. They proposed with crafty guile that the Saint match wonders with them before the King and his court. Again, after using every trick in their bag, they were badly worsted. With the boldness of his own fearless faith Patrick then proposed - an ordeal by fire! In a fiercely blazing structure of faggots and green wood the Druid Luchat Mae! met his death while Benignus, Patrick's beloved assistant, escaped unscathed. Losing no time, the apostle preached to the astounded onlookers, teaching them about the Holy Trinity and making the mystery clear in the simple form in which it is written in the shamrock's triple leaf. The Queen, wonderful to say, embraced the true faith, many of the court followed her brave step, and that Easter day at Tara became known ever after as the birthday of Christian Ireland.

Up to this time, the missionary's holy hands had been quite tied; but now in 433, with Laeghaire's permission to preach, he converted the Ard Righ's brother, Conall, together with the famous bard, Dubtach. You see him presently on his way to the west where for seven years he evangelized Connaught. By 440 he was back in Ulster, sowing the good seed far and wide, founding the Church of Armagh. Next the province of Leinster was visited; though once rejected there the saint met with a hearty reception and received many into the true fold. From Leinster he moved on into Munster where among others the formidable Aengus, son of the King, was baptized. We are apt to think that the way was easy for Patrick, the work effortless. Far from it; for while there is no record of martyrdom on Irish soil in those first days, none the less such conquests of the faith brought tears and trials; more than once Patrick's life was imperilled, seven times he and his companions were imprisoned. But the acknowledged holiness and eloquence of the great apostle could not be denied and it became increasingly clear that the future of Ireland lay in his hands. Old men, chiefs and clansmen, the bravest of. the brave laid down their arms and quietly submitted to being instructed in the truths of the Captain of Salvation. In a little while the Druid snakes in the grass fled seaward; their black magic disappeared with them as mysteriously as the ebbing tide on Erin's shores. And less than a decade after his arrival, the apostle and his beloved Benignus stood side by side with the Ard Righ Laeghaire, his chiefs, bards and brehons, in a great council of the nation, gathered for the purpose of remodelling the laws of Ireland on a Christian basis.

Never was there such a peaceful Christian penetration as that effected by this extraordinary missioner. Who can ex plain the resurrection of Erin from darkness to light? How, one may ask, could this miracle have been achieved? Well, to begin with, Patrick's insight was glowing, incandescent in charity; his approach was friendly and straightforward, intelligent and understanding. With unfailing judgment he accepted both Scots and Tuatha de Danann, appraising their laws and literature at their true worth. Then, aided by God, be diligently sowed the seeds of faith in their eager hearts, "working from above and not from below." His method was to win their leaders first - chiefs, bards and brehons, upon whom he later conferred spiritual authority over the rank and file. No coercion, no conversions at the point of the sword, but an inspired and inspiring appeal to a people gifted with natural faith. In that natural faith of the Irish you have another clue to the mystery of their rapid conversion. The Celts are a race who believe themselves to be strangers from another country, dwelling half on this earth, half in a land of mystery. They regard the whole world with wonderment; earth, air and sea effect a mysterious but powerful influence upon them. Now all this proved divinely opportune and Patrick was quick to profit by the traits of the folk he knew and loved so well. Once his hearers grasped the nature of his power they responded readily to "the truth that is in Christ Jesus." An ardent people, their souls went out to greet the Friend of publicans and sinners; inured to suffering, they fell in love with the Man of Sorrows; used to do homage to sacrifice, they could clearly glimpse Calvary. For the rest, the Easter fire with its sublime message brought the Light of Life into their poor dark hearts. Never a day but great crowds pressed upon the inspired preacher to hear the Word of God. Enthusiastically they accepted the faith, energetically they professed it, and the tragedy of human passion in their hearts was replaced by the triumph of love of God and of neighbor. If. you look at these facts you will understand how paganism quickly disappeared from Erin, root and branch, while in its place Christianity flowered, exhaling its sweetest fragrance.

The Dying Empire

Ireland, cloistered by the northern ocean, continued to yield the fruits of the faith, but alas! it was another story and a sad one throughout the Empire. Hun, Goth, and Vandal, had fixed their covetous eyes on Christian lands. It was only a short time before they came, saw, conquered, leaving smoking ruins in their path. Only the Rock of Peter was strong enough to withstand these inexhaustible barbarian waves. Pope Innocent (401-417), who felt their impact when the Goths sacked Rome, was alive to the great responsibility of the papacy's winning them to the cause of Christ. And Pope Celestine (422-432), who had sent Patrick to Ireland, aghast at the havoc wrought on every side, died after a tempest–tossed decade which saw much distress within and without the Church. He could not have dreamed that Patrick's going was in reality the first step in the divine solution of the hopeless barbarian question. In 439 his successor, Sixtus III, despatched three bishops to aid the apostle in spreading the Gospel, and this in the face of increasing difficulties surrounding the Western Church. The wars and campaigns of a wobbly Empire plus the disrupting schisms and heresies of the hour demanded a giant in the Chair of Peter. Leo the Great (440-461) was the one God chose for the tremendous task of preserving unity through faith. An able scholar, incredible diplomatist, and fearless champion, be kept the Church strong amid dire perils; indeed, his reign ranks second only in importance to that of Gregory I. Patrick is said to have visited Pope Leo in the year 442, receiving his approval of the faith in Ireland. What a contrast the Vicar of

Christ and his missionary must have observed between the peace of God settling over Erin and the divine wrath visited on the Empire which had so wickedly persecuted the early Christians. In 451 Attila, the Hun, having ravaged northern Italy led his ruthless barbarians to the very gates of Rome where Leo prevailed upon him to return to the East. The black cloud had scarcely vanished when the Vandals under Genseric crossed over from Africa, besieged Rome from the Tiber and sacked the City. Though they spared the great buildings, thousands were carried off to slavery. After two decades of magnificently consistent rule the great Pope was succeeded by Hilary whose task as Supreme Pastor was to pave the way for peace with the victorious barbarians.

The glory that was Rome came to an end in 476 when Odoacer, the Goth, was hailed King of Italy. Any thought of destroying the Empire itself did not occur to the barbarian leader who venerated the old ideals and institutions even when he was invading territories. Half a century earlier Alaric's successor, Adoiphus, had played nobly the part of a Roman general, married the Emperor's sister, adopted the Roman dress; be even opposed the fiercer barbarians who rode roughshod in Spain. Goths, after all, were of a decent nature, quite unlike either Huns or Vandals, so their barbarism eventually disappeared; and Gothic chiefs like Alaric, Adolphus and Odoacer professed Christianity of a sort, but all of them were Arians who wanted no truck with the Pope of Rome. It was clear to the barbarians that the Empire of the West was now done for, so the title of Emperor went to the East where ruler after ruler proved more unreal and less potent in their sway. New trials burdened the papacy when in 489 Theodoric attacked King Odoacer, murdered him in cold blood, and conquered Italy, giving one–third of the land to his Ostrogoth soldiers and taking over Ravenna for his court city. Nor were conditions any better in the Eastern Church. At Antioch and Constantinople there was riotous disorder, brought about by mischief–makers who brazenly supported Basilicus, the schismatic bishop. But with the restoration of Zeno, the Emperor, came a change for the better; he straightway sent to Pope Felix II a confession of faith and a vow to support orthodoxy. Another promising event towards the century–end, was the baptism of Clovis and his Franks. The warlike leader had married a Christian saint, Clotilda, but stubbornly resisted all her sincere efforts to convert him. However, be made a vow that if the Alemannj met defeat at his hands, the God of the Christians would be his God. Having won the victory, Clovis with 3000 of his warriors received Baptism on Christmas day, 496; then he proceeded at Bishop Remigius command "to adore what he had burnt, and to burn what he had adored." As the battle–scarred chief passed through the ranks of holy monks he addressed the old saint - "Sir, is this heaven already?" "No," was Remegius ready reply, "but it is the road thereto." Alas, many a decade would pass before the war–weary West would find that road and embrace its true Master as He was already known and loved in that little island far to the north.

In God's Green Garden

Beyond the broken Empire Patrick lived on in holiness and justice till the year 492. He had long since retired from the government of the See of Armagh and had consecrated three hundred and fifty bishops, besides visiting all the churches, monasteries and convents. The evening of his life was spent in prayer and penance, enriching the Gospel he had preached, edifying all with the holy thoughts of old age. Had not God Who vouchsafed to send Patrick to Ireland, enabled him to accomplish all that he was commanded to do? Truly then he could never thank the Heavenly Father enough for granting his heart's desire; for confirming his teachings by so many signs and miracles. Every Lent the old Bishop was wont to go up to Crough–Patrick, Ireland's Mount Sinai, and plead with the Most High that his cherished people never deviate from their faith. How could they do other than obey the teachings of this man, so love–enlightened, who shed holiness everywhere like dew on the fleece? With true Celtic sweet ness the ancient chronicle voices their affection when it speaks of Patrick as "a fair flower garden to children of grace; a flaming fire; a lion in strength, and power; a dove in gentleness and humility." A wonderful God–conscious life had assuredly been his, even from childhood. And what a unique rosary of golden years he could count! Over half a sorrowful decade spent in exile among the Scots, four hopeful decades in pilgrim preparation, six glorious decades as an apostle among people dear to his heart. All that remained now was to wait in divine patience for the hour when the Great Husbandman should summon him to an accounting of his unfailing steward ship. Near the threshold of eternity, the apostle, surrounded by holy monks and nuns, asked to be anointed by one of his own bishops. He reached journey's end on March 17, 492, in his monastery at Saul, and passed into that higher life, which is a life of peace.

The work of Patrick, great as it was in his lifetime, had scarcely begun. It would be continued by his devoted disciples for centuries to come. Indeed, a litany could be written of the saint's children in Christ: saints, scholars, missioners, at home and abroad. St. Benignus in Erin, St. Ciaran at Ard Typrait, St. Enda at Arran (480), St. Columba at Iona (521-579), St. Finnian at Clonard (530), St. Kevin at Glendalough (about 544), St. Comgall at Bangor (552), St. Brendan of Clonfert, St. Columban in Burgundy and Lombardy (d. 633), St. Carthach at Lismore (635) and St. Cataldus (640). This list might be greatly enlarged nor can we omit the names of St. Mochta at Lougth, and above all, St. Brigid, the most remarkable Irish woman of the fifth century. The daughter of Dubhthach, a Leinster chief tam, Brigid proved so loyal a friend and co–worker of Patrick that the two were said to have but one heart and one mind. Her nunnery in Kildare, the Church of the Oaks, became center from which radiated houses of piety, and learning throughout all Ireland. Young beautiful girls by the hundreds, daughters of warriors, princesses of noble birth, entered the religious life and vowed to serve Christ all their days. You can easily imagine how they must have sunned God green garden and enriched its growth with the Gospel of peace and love. "There was no desert," the Acts of the Martyr affirm, "no spot, no hiding place in the island, however remote which was not peopled with perfect monks and nuns."[6] These were the heralds of a new dawn who would carry the torch of learning to illumine the Dark Ages. Already in this westernmost isle of the seas, hermits could be seen leaving their cells, gathering about them eager novices into monastic colonies. Great schools arose - Clonard, Moville, Glass nevin, Clonmacoise - where monks from overseas sough direction from able masters who taught the sacred scripture and the practice of ascetism. Spain, Gaul, Italy, all looked to Ireland as a spiritual power–house to assist in the rebuilding of Christendom. And presently, as Newman writes, "Man: holy and learned Irishmen left their own country to proclaim the faith, to establish or to reform monasteries in distant lands, and thus to become the benefactors of almost every nation in Europe."[7]

[1] Confessions, C. IV, Par. 15

[3] Book of Armagh, fol. II

[4] Tripartite Life, p. 383

[6] Acts of the Martyrs

[7] Hist. Sketches, vol. III, p. 126

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