Yesterday, people world-wide celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately, apart from eating certain foods and wearing green, most Christians have little knowledge as to who Patrick really was. The name of Patrick is closely associated with the Christianization of Ireland. Before Patrick’s arrival, the Irish people were mired in deep superstitions. Many attempts to spread the gospel in Ireland were made as early as the second century, it was not until Patrick arrived that Christianity was firmly planted. The accounts of Patrick’s ministry among the Irish unfortunately consist of a mixture of fact and fiction. Therefore, it is rather difficult to draw a complete and accurate portrait of his ministry in Ireland. Nevertheless, Patrick serves a dramatic example of what God can and will do with a life committed to Him.
Patrick was born about 389 in the village of Bonnavem Tabernine to wealthy and prominent parents. His name at birth was Magonus Sucatus Patricius. His father, Calpornius, served as a deacon, and his grandfather, Potitus, served as a presbyter in the village. His godly parents taught him Christianity; however, he testified that his younger days were not lived in a true Christian manner. At the age of sixteen, Patrick was taken captive by Irish pirates. He was sold into slavery and served as a sheepherder in northern Ireland. Although he was reared in a Christian home, Patrick wrote in his Confessions, “I did not know the true God.” As he endured the sufferings of working and sleeping in the cold, harsh outdoor environment, he recalled the Scriptures his mother taught him. He testified that as he remembered her prayers and teachings he was converted.
During the six years he spent in slavery, God planted a love “in his heart for the people of Ireland.” At the age of twenty-two he managed to escape his life of slavery and ended up in Scotland but he could not escape his “Macedonian call” for the Irish people. In the spring of 432 Patrick arrive din Tara, Ireland, during the time of the pagan Druid festival. According to Druid customs, no fires burned on the eve of the great spring festival until the king ignited the ceremonial fire within the sacred enclosure. A crime punishable by death, Patrick mounted the hill called Slane in Meath, about ten miles across the vally of Berg from Tara, and built a huge fire in a direct violation of the Druid custom. King Loaghaire could easily see the light and immediately called forth one of the Druid priests who said, “Oh, High King, unless the is fire which you see be quenched this same night, it will never the quenched; and the kindler thereof will overcome…all the folk of your realm.”
After many other encounters with the Druid priests and many spiritual contests, a spiritual movement spread throughout the area. As the awakening expanded, Patrick preached, introduced Latin to the people, started schools for the clergy, developed training programs for the new Christians, wrote hymns, and organized churches. He mentions in his Confessions that thousands were saved. From his base in Armagh, Ireland, he served the people with such distinction that he is known as the “Patron Saint of Ireland.” He was a revival leader of deep piety, humility, simplicity, and unselfish devotion. In the centuries that followed, Ireland became a mission base to evangelize much of Europe.
Lessons to Be Learned from the Spirituality of Patrick
- Those who are humbly devoted to God in a life of complete surrender will be used mightily for God and the things of the gospel.
- Do not be afraid to stand up against the society and the cultural practices in which you live for the cause of the Christ.
- A life that is used by God is a life devoted to prayer. Patrick wrote, “In a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night.”
- When thinking about missions don’t forget those in your own homeland, community and family who also need Christ.
- Live a life of complete simplicity and unselfishness because we are seeking another country.
- Never stop praying for true heaven-sent revival in your own town and country.
- Do not forget to disciple those whom you lead to Christ through saving faith. Salvation is only the beginning of the journey. Develop training programs that these new converts may grow in their new faith.
For more information on Patrick and the revival in Ireland:
Malcom McDow and Alvin L. Reid, FireFall: How God Has Shaped History through Revival. (Broadman & Holman) 1997.
For more information on Patrick:
Who Was the Real St Patrick? A video from Timothy Paul Jones and Church History Made Easy
Patrick: Missionary to Ireland by George Grant
St. Patrick or Patrick the Christian saint by Michael A.G. Haykin