ULTÁN WATCHES ME with wary eyes. He is afraid. The others are no less fearful, but they are older, so hide it better. I do not berate them nor belittle their lack of faith. Their fear is well founded. High King Loegair has decreed that to strike a fire on this Beltane night is certain death to him who strikes it. And here on the hill of Cathair Bán we are about to kindle a beacon that will be seen from one end of this dark island to the other.
I do what I can to calm them. “Brothers,” I say, “I pose a question. Answer if you can. Which is greater, a salmon or a whelk?”
“The salmon, king of fish, is obviously greater,” answers the trusting Fergal.
“Beyond all doubt?”
“Beyond any doubt whatever,” he replies; the others nod and murmur in agreement.
“Then tell me this: Which is greater, a salmon or a man?”
“Not difficult, that,” replies Fergal. “A man is certainly greater.”
“And is God then greater than a man?”
“Infinitely so, lord.”
“Then why do we stand here with long faces?” I say. “Kindle the flame and light the bonfire. King Loegair—for all his warriors and weapons, horses, chariots, and strongholds—is but a whelk upon a rock that is about to be overturned by the hand of God.”
So begins Stephen R. Lawhead’s book, Patrick: Son of Ireland.
Today, as is well known, marks the Feast Day of Saint Patrick (Pádraig in Irish Gaelic), the “Apostle of Ireland.” Patrick was actually born in modern day Scotland around 390 CE (although, at the time, there was no division between Britain and Scotland). His mother, Conchessa, was related to St. Martin of Tours. His father, Calpurnius, was a deacon, and his grandfather, Potitus, was a priest. However, according to Patrick’s own admission, he wasn’t a very religious person when he was growing up.
When he was about 16, Patrick was captured during a raiding party and taken to Ireland, with “thousands of others.” There he remained for six years as a slave taking care of sheep. During his time in Ireland, Patrick would later write, he prayed constantly - “up to one hundred times” a day “and at night perhaps the same” - and found true faith in G_d.
When Patrick was about 22, he heard a voice telling him that he would soon return to his native land via a ship. When the moment came, Patrick ran away and boarded the ship for home. It would be several years before he finally reached Britain.
While he was there with his family again, he had a vision. A man named “Victoricus” came from Ireland with “so many letters they could not be counted.” As Patrick read one of these letters, he could hear the people of Ireland pleading with him, “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.”
Years later, Patrick became a deacon and then a priest and then he was ordained a bishop (which he felt he “did not deserve”), and went back to Ireland. He landed in Ulster around 433 and set up his episcopate in Armagh. Easter of that same year he had the fateful confrontation with the Ard-Righ (High King) Leoghaire.
During his life, Patrick led a monastic lifestyle and incorporated some of the local customs in to The Way of Jesus. One such custom was the high regard for women. In Ireland, women could own property, be lawyers, and lead communities of both men and women. Therefore, Patrick ordained men and women into service for G_d. The bonfire mention above is another custom. Also, according to some, Patrick superimposed a circle representing the sun, a powerful symbol to the Irish, over a cross showing that at the center of life was Christ.
There are two authentic works of Patrick, his Confessio and his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. The earliest known hagiography of Patrick was Muirchu’s Life of St. Patrick.
I’ll leave with another quote. This is from Sellner’s Wisdom of the Celtic Saints.
Patrick’s Place of Resurrection
Now after these great marvels, the day of Patrick’s death, and of his going to heaven, drew near. With his companions, he began to go to Armagh in order that his resurrection might be there. Beside the road, however, a bush was ablaze, but it did not burn down, as had happened to Moses before. In the bush was the angel Victor (Victoricus - jg), who often used to visit Patrick. This Victor sent another angel to Patrick to stop him from going where he wanted to go.
[The angel] said to him: “Why do you go on a journey without Victor’s guidance? Victor calls you; change your route and go to him.”
So Patrick changed his route as he had been told and asked what he should do.
The angel answered, “Return to the place from which you came (that is, to Saul); for it is there you shall die, and not in Armagh. But it has been granted you by God, that your dignity and your pre-eminence, your piety and your teaching shall be in Armagh as if you yourself were alive there.”
It is Armagh that I love,
A deep thorpe, a dear hill,
A fortress which my soul haunts.
When the hour of his death was approaching, Patrick received the sacrament from the hands of bishop Tassach for his journey to a blessed life.
Patrick died on 17 March around 460 CE (though some have the date much later) in Saul, Ireland.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
All of my quotes come from this online version of Patrick’s Confessio.