Saint Patrick The Man and The Legend

Very Little is actually known about Saint Patrick.  His tale is shrouded in mystery and legend.  What we do know comes to us by his own writing.  There are two of those.  One his Confession.  The confession is spiritual autobiography and the second his Letter to Coroticus.  This a denunciation of the British mistreatment of the Irish people.  The two works together are a slim volume and take up less than one hundred twenty pages.
Here is what we do know as fact.  Patrick was most probably born in the late third century.  He died in the late fourth century.  There are some who believe that he lived to be about 120.  The same age as Moses.  We know his most active years were in the fourth century.
Patrick was born in Britain at a time when Rome was withdrawing from the isle.  Patrick was born a Roman citizen as well as a Christian and by this time the Roman state religion was Christianity.  We know his father was wealthy and his grandfather was a priest.  Patrick enjoyed being the son of a wealthy man and paid little attention to his religion besides giving it the lip service that society demanded.  But all that would change.
Britain, with the withdraw of the Roman armies, had become a vulnerable island.  Pirates from Ireland would come and raid regularly taking almost anything they wanted.  During one of these raids the Irish pirates took captive many British people and one of these was Patrick.  He was taken to Ireland and sold as a slave.
The time of this abduction is unclear.  Some scholars put it at the age 14 and others as old as 16, but whatever the age the boy was taken from his family and to a new much harder life.
Patrick was put in charge of the livestock of his new master.  Some say he was a simple shepherd left alone with the sheep for months on end.  Winter spring summer and fall Patrick tended to the animals.  He also found himself being drawn to God.
Patrick writes of this time.
“The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul rosed, so that in a single day I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same.  I prayed in the woods and on the mountains, even before dawn.  I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.”
Patrick had found God as a slave, but God would not leave him there.
After 6 years of captivity Patrick heard a voice telling him that he would soon go home and that ship was ready for him.  Escaping from his master Patrick traveled two hundred miles to the Irish coast where he did find a ship, but he had to persuade the captain of the vessel to allow him to board.  Patrick eventually was able to convince the captain, possibly thru a miraculous sign, and the ship set sail for Britain.
It took three days for the ship to reach the British coast.  After many adventures and at one time almost starving to death, Patrick returned to his home and family.  He was in his early twenties.
When Patrick arrived home, he was no longer a boy, but a man.  He began to study Christianity in earnest.  While studying Patrick had a vision.
“I saw a man coming, as it were, from Ireland.  His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them.  I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”.  As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea-and they cried out, as with one voice. “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”
Patrick was given his mission, but he still had to train.  We know Patrick went to Europe to study and was ordained a priest by Saint Gremanus of Auxerre.
Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary and not without difficulty led almost the entire country to Jesus.  He writes,
“Never before did they know of God, except to serve idols and Unclean things.  But now, they have become the people of the Lord and are called children of God.  Son and daughters of the leaders of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ.”
In his time in Ireland Patrick taught the Christian faith.  He built churches, ordained priests and baptized thousands of new believers.  His popularity did not go unnoticed and it is assumed Patrick was accused of some crime, possibly the misuse of funds, as his Confession seems like a defense.  Patrick, however refuted those accusations and gave proof that he not only did he not misuse funds but that he gave away what he had.
Patrick would die in the fourth century.  The date of his death was March 17, the day we celebrate him every year.  The year is unknown.
Many legends grew up around Patrick.  One is that he drove all the snakes out of Ireland.  Another is that when he wanted to cross from Britain to Ireland a leper wanted to join him.  Patrick welcomed the leper but the people on the ship crowded ship did want the leper on board.  Patrick had been given an altar stone by the Pope and Patrick ordered the stone to be thrown into the sea.  The stone floated and the leper climbed aboard the stone and was pulled across the sea in greater comfort than those who were on the overcrowded ship.
There is another legend of Patrick that may of may not be true.  It is said of him that he taught of the doctrine of The Holy Trinity by using the the clover.  The Clover is a three-leaf plant that has one stem and this in Patrick’s mind was a good way to illustrate the Triune God. There have been other illustrations used over the years one if the egg which as three parts, the shell, the yolk and the white, a third the water which can be solid, liquid or steam.  All three are really not very strong illustrations as the three in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a mystery not to be completely revealed on this earth.
There is one other piece of writing credited to Saint Patrick.  No one knows for sure if he wrote it.  It is called The Breastplate Of Saint Patrick.  It is a prayer, and it follow:
The Breastplate of Saint Patrick
I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.
I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.
I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, smiths, and wizards,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.
Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.
May you find inspiration and hope in the life of Saint Patrick.

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