St Patrick’s Day
St Patrick was an evangelist who shared the Gospel in Ireland.
Download and print copies of this evangelistic leaflet to give out for St Patrick’s Day.
So, who was St Patrick?
St Patrick’s Day is a Saint’s day – but who was St Patrick?
Legendary stories make it hard to know the truth about early saints. We don’t know anything about some saints, like St Valentine, and what we know about other famous ones, like St Nicholas, is contradictory and confusing. Even for some Biblical saints, like St Matthias or St Bartholomew, there is very little information.
So what do we know of St Patrick? Not much, but a lot more than we know of St Matthias or St Bartholomew. The central elements of his life story are not really in doubt; the details of the events are difficult to be certain about.
Many people are shocked to hear that Patrick was neither Irish nor Roman Catholic! He was most likely Welsh, though it may be safer to call him British. He belonged to the ancient Celtic church whose bishops attended the Council of Arles in 314AD, nearly 300 years before Augustine was sent by the Pope to evangelise the Anglo-Saxons of England, and more than 1200 years before the Council of Trent defined Roman Catholicism.
Patrick was born sometime around 390AD into a Christian family. His father was a deacon and his grandfather a presbyter. When he was 16 year old Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders and forced to tend sheep as a slave in East Antrim. It was when he was an Irish slave that he first took an interest in Christianity and found God. Prior to that he spoke of his life as having “gone away from God” and not listening to “how we could be saved”.
Later in life he described his conversion:
“I recognized my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance.”
After six years of slavery, Patrick escaped back to Britain to be reunited with his family. He trained for the ministry and was made a bishop before returning in 432AD to spend the rest of his life in Ireland. He went in response to the Lord’s direction to be a missionary bishop and never felt free to return home or visit his relatives. For about 30 years he travelled around Ireland preaching the gospel, baptizing thousands, ordaining clergy, and negotiating with tribal chieftains. In so doing he turned the whole land away from violent paganism. As with any leader, especially a Christian evangelist and missionary, he faced a deal of opposition and false accusations.
In his last days he wrote his “Confession”, which tells of his life, his belief, his work and his defence against attacks. It is not a long document, only about 7000 words. In it we see something of the heart of the man – his understanding of the gospel, his passion for the lost, his awareness of his own frailties and his great confidence in God. It is peppered with hundreds of Biblical quotations and allusions, as he explains himself and his mission.
He knew he had been forgiven and so wrote of his mission:
“That is why I cannot be silent – nor would it be good to do so – about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven.”
It was not just the response to God’s blessings of forgiveness and salvation, but also his understanding of the Christian gospel. For as he goes on to explain his missionary endeavour he wrote;
“This is because there is no other God, nor will there ever be, nor was there ever, except God the Father.…and his son, Jesus Christ, whom…the Father gave…all power over every being, both heavenly and earthly and beneath the earth. Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ, in whom we believe and whom we await to come back to us in the near future, is Lord and God. He is judge of the living and of the dead… He has generously poured on us the Holy Spirit, the gift and promise of immortality, who makes believers and those who listen, to be children of God and co-heirs with Christ. This is the one we acknowledge and adore – one God in a trinity.”
We should thank God for St Patrick; rejoicing to see how God used him to change a whole nation. More importantly we should consider the message Patrick brought to Ireland to see its relevance to our nation today – and relevance to our own heart as well.