Saint Patrick- a complex man?

tomorrow many celebrate the feast day of a Catholic saint the world knows as “Saint Patrick.” But the real Patrick, gleaned from his writings, history, and what he left behind, is different.

First, he was not a Catholic like we think of Catholic. He was a man after God’s own heart, and involved in a church that was not structured like today, nor entirely like the first century church. Separating Patrick from all the Catholic myth, he is definitely not your typical Catholic saint material.

There are three pieces attributed to be from Patrick.

His Epistle to Coroticus is not headline material. But it clearly reveals these things:

  • “Saint” Patrick was first and foremost a follower of Jesus
  • His life was full of the Word of God, he knew it well.
  • He reveals his knowledge of The Word in such a natural way, he has utter confidence in what God says
  • He refers to followers of Jesus as baptized- numerous times; he fully believed in the same practice of water baptism as a requirement for salvation as the first century church did, the Baptists do, and those who are involved in the last and final reformation of the church. There is definitely a difference between his view and that of many Protestants and Catholics today.
  • He saw himself as a bishop, called and appointed as a bishop by God, whether the British church reognized it or not.
  • He believed that those who practiced evil were slaves to sin and could and indeed did have demons within them.
  • He did not call himself Roman Catholic, but he called all those baptized holy
  • Certainly, this may all be interesting, but we have two other documents written by Patrick as well… 

Patrick’s Breastplate

  • He believed in the trinity of God- Father, Son, Holy Spirit
  • Now the trouble with the Breastplate is that we have different translations flavored by this or that. But what we do not have is any call on the saints, the Virgin Mary, or any other exclusively Catholic creed.

The Confession

The Confessio is his account of how he was captured as a youth and what happened afterward. In it, we learn new things about Patrick:

  • He believed God could do anything.
  • The fact that he called “Hellas” when in danger suggests he might have had some Roman superstitions; he was a man, not perfect.
  • He had a close relationship to God; God told him when he would be free from slavery- he listened for the voice of God
  • He did have some ties to the  established church at the time
  • He was made a bishop, but it is confusing whether he was chosen bishop by elders or not
  • He was on trial for something he did in his youth before he became a follower of Jesus, but did not defend himself in person
  • Some of the text leaves more mystery than answers

In all, these writings reveal a time period and a church that is much different from today and had, indeed, changed some since the earliest church. It is, therefore, difficult for many to form a vision of this man based on only his writings. But one thing we can clearly say about him, he did believe in God and had a very strong faith.

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