There’s a great deal of myth and legend about St. Patrick, but the real story of his life is a good one, so we offer this compilation of information about a real man who was used of the Lord significantly to help spread the gospel of Jesus Christ in Ireland. To a certain extent, details about St. Patrick are limited, but there are two of his writings which remain in existence today. He is generally held to have been born in the late 4th century to Roman parents in Britain, so he himself was not Irish, but was a great missionary to Ireland. This is part of what makes his true story a reflection of the heart of Christ.
While in his teens, Patrick was captured by Irish raiders and carried off into slavery in Ireland. He served as a shepherd for 6 years and he says in one of his writings that he spent many, many hours of each day during that time praying and coming to true faith in God. He testifies that even though his father was a cleric, “I did not, indeed, know the true God”. (Confessio) At the end of the 6 years, he felt God was telling him his escape was prepared, so he did leave by boat and eventually returned to his home and parents.
Patrick went to France to study for entering the ministry. In a dream, he felt he heard voices from Ireland calling him to return and he took that as his call to Ireland ~ the place of his slavery ~ as a missionary. It is at this point that some of the confusion about Patrick occurs ~ he is often mistaken for Palladius, the first bishop of Ireland sent there by Pope Constantine in 431. Patrick was sent as the second bishop; so he also did not bring Christianity to Ireland. He did travel to the far parts of Ireland, to people who had never heard the gospel before and had the privilege of baptizing thousands into belief in Christ. This was not easy and he was often imprisoned by local chiefs, and also came to have some trouble with jealous colleagues.
According to legend, St. Patrick is credited with driving the snakes from Ireland. Probably there were no snakes in the island country of Ireland to begin with, but the association may have arisen from overcoming much of the pagan belief prevalent at the time which involved serpents images in its rituals. The shamrock, often called “the national flower of Ireland”, was used by Patrick to explain the Trinity to pagans.
Jesus said, in Matthew 5:39 “to turn the other cheek” and later in verses 44-45 of the same chapter, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
St. Patrick, in returning to the place of his former slavery, to bring the people of the far parts of the island of Ireland the good news of Jesus Christ, followed the Lord’s command and example in this, but also in the great commission of the Lord to us found in Matthew 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Biographical information sources: BBC> Religions/About.com/Wikipedia
[Editor’s note – this piece was first published 3/17/2013 and is frequently shared here on March 17th.]