When we think of St. Patrick’s Day we often think of Clovers and green beer…and when we talk about St. Patrick in a modern context we refer to him as the man who drove the snakes out of Ireland. This sad caricature of a great evangelist should NOT be how we remember him. We should remember him as one who put Christ at the center of his life, as we should seek to do as well. Patrick was one of the first men to evangelize to the pagan island of Ireland, in a sense driving the Celts (not snakes, though snake is probably a way to refer to the pagans, though not directly) from Ireland.
But I think there are some more interesting aspects of “The Patron Saint of Ireland” that need closer examination…for example, he wasn’t even Catholic, at least not in the technical sense. The following is from A SHORT HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS (Irony, I know)
“Rome’s most audacious theft was when she seized bodily the Apostle Peter and made him the putative head and founder of her system; but next to that brazen act stands her effrontery when she “ annexed” the great missionary preacher of Ireland and enrolled him among her saints.” In order to conceal the true character of the transaction, Romanists have published lying biographies of Patrick without number, until the real man has been quite forgotten. Modern research has, however, brought the truth to light once more.
Patrick was born about 360, probably near what is now Dumbarton, Scotland. His father was a deacon and a Roman civil officer. At the age of sixteen he was carried away captive and sold into slavery in Ireland. Six years after he escaped, and in later life he was moved to become a Christian missionary to the people among whom he had lived as a slave. These facts, and all other trustworthy information about Patrick, we learn from two of his writings that have survived, his “Confession” or “ Epistle to the Irish,” and an “ Epistle to Coroticus.” The date of his death is as uncertain as that of his birth, but tradition ascribes to him extreme old age
From these writings of Patrick we learn that his teaching and practice were, in many particulars at least, evangelical. The testimony is ample that he baptized believers only. For example, he writes: “ So that even after my death I may leave as legacies to my brethren, and to my Sons whom I have baptized in the Lord, so many thousand men.” “Perhaps, since I have baptized so many thousand men, I might have expected half a screpall [a coin worth six cents] from some of them; tell it to me and I will restore it to you.” Not only is there no mention of infants, but he uniformly speaks of “men,” “handmaidens of Christ,” “women,” and “baptized believers.” It is inconceivable that he should not have added “infants” had he baptized such.
Again, from all that we can learn, Patrick’s baptism was that of apostolic times, which was still general throughout Europe, immersion. He does not speak explicitly on this point in his own writings, but the earliest accounts of his labors agree that his converts were baptized in fountains, wells, and streams. His baptism probably differed from the apostolic in being trine immersion, since that was the form practised in the ancient British church, and in practically the whole Christian world in his day.
Patrick also pays great reverence to Scripture as the supreme authority in religion. He never appeals to the authority of church, or council, or prelate, or creed, but to the word of God; and in his extant writings, brief as they are, no fewer than one hundred and thirteen passages of Scripture are referred to or quoted. There is no trace in his letters of purgatory, Mariolatry, or submission to the authority of pope. He did not oppose these things, he was simply ignorant of them, it would appear, though in some parts of the church they were fast gaining ground.
The churches founded by Patrick, and those existing in other parts of Britain, were not according to apostolic pattern in some things. Patrick was himself a bishop, and the three orders of the ministry seem to have been already developed in the British churches of his day. Though celibacy of the clergy was not required, there was a strain of asceticism and monasticism in these churches that became very pronounced in succeeding ages. It is probable that few, if any, of these monasteries came into existence during Patrick’s life, and in their earlier stages they were valuable educational and missionary centers, not what they afterwards became.
The theology of these churches, up to the ninth century, continued to be remarkably sound and scriptural. They taught original sin and the impossibility of salvation by human merits or effort, Christ alone being the sinner s righteousness. They taught the vicarious atonement, the agency of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of men, justification by faith, the intercession of Christ alone for the saints, and held firmly to the administration of the Lord’s Supper in both kinds. Sacramentalism began to make inroads soon after Patrick’s time, however, for we find such phrases as “a sacrificial mystery,” “the holy Eucharist,” “the mysteries of the sacred Eucharist” and the like used to describe the Supper. This is a long way short of the mass; and so late as the ninth century John Scotus Erigena maintained that the bread and wine are no more than the symbols of the absent body and blood of Christ. These churches too knew nothing of the doctrine of purgatory, but from Patrick onward for centuries taught that the souls of the saints immediately after death enter paradise and are with God.
The progress from the simplicity of the gospel to the corruptions of Romanism was slower in Ireland and Britain than in any other part of Europe. Primitive doctrine and practice survived there, not in absolute but in relative purity, long after they had vanished from the continent. The inevitable end came at last, and these churches also became Romanized; but it was not until the twelfth century that the papacy succeeded in establishing, with tolerable completeness, its jurisdiction over the churches of Great Britain and Ireland.”
So there you have it…the REAL “Saint” Patrick.