The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Patrick, Saint

Edition of 1920. See also Saint Patrick on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

PATRICK, Saint, the apostle and patron saint of Ireland. The date of his birth has variously been placed at from 373 to 389; and his death from 461 to 493. One tradition says he was born at Kilpatric, another at Dumbarton, Scotland, but the place of his birth, Benneventa, has never been definitely settled. Some authorities are inclined to place it somewhere on the southwest coast of Britain, near the Irish Channel; others as stoutly maintain it was in the north, while others place it on the Severn River. His Celtic name was Sucat, to which, as he seems to have been brought up as a Christian, the name of Patricius was probably added. His father, Calpurnius, a native Briton, seems to have been a man of some influence in the community, a decurion, or member of the municipal council and apparently a friend of the Romans. His grandfather, Potitus, was a presbyter. When 16 years of age Patrick was taken prisoner by some Irish who made a raid on western Britain, and was carried off into slavery in Ireland “near to the western sea.” After six years, he succeeded in making his escape to the Continent, probably to western France, an uninhabited country through which he and those with him traveled 38 days suffering many hardships, before they came to an inhabited part of the country. There Patrick finally found refuge in the Monastery of Lérins, on an island off the west coast of Provence, where he seems to have remained for some years, after which he returned home to Britain. There he claims to have had a vision of himself going as a victorious apostle of Christianity to the Irish. This he regarded as a divine call; and he went back to Autissiodorum (Auxterre) in Gaul, where after a period of study and preparation, he was ordained bishop together with two other prospective missionaries for Ireland. This work of preparation in Gaul seems to have covered 14 years, for it was not until 432 that he became bishop of Ireland on the death or retirement of the Irish bishop Palladius. He at once took possession of his new office, filled with enthusiasm for a work to which he seems to have long looked forward. It is probable that the Christian communities in Ireland were, at this time, confined to the south and west of the island; and the task before the new bishop was not only to minister to these and to hold them together, but also to gain the goodwill of the various local rulers, or as they styled themselves, kings. His knowledge of Irish and Latin was a very valuable asset in this work; and his experience of six years in the country had given him an insight into the character of the people that he could probably not have learned as well in any other way. It is probable that he landed at the mouth of the river Vartry in Wicklow at a place called Inverdea; and from there he went into east Ulster (Ulidia); and began his missionary work on the southwest side of Strangford Lough, in a wooden barn given him for religious purposes, by an Irish convert known as Dichu, a chief and a man of importance in that part of the island. True to his mission, he seems not only to have preached, but also to have done his best to interest in Christianity the rulers of the various districts, over whom was a head ruler or king called Loigaire. Through the influence of Patrick, Fedilmid, brother of Loigaire, declared himself a Christian and gave his support to Patrick and presented him with an estate at Trim, to be used to found and support a church. Through his influence the bishop seems to have gained the protection of Loigaire, though the latter never deserted the faith of his ancestors, and thus to have been enabled to gain converts and to found churches in various parts of the island, though he seems to have given more of his attention to the north than to the south of Ireland. Many legends and traditions, most of them of a miraculous character, are connected with this period of his work and with various parts of the island. It seems that he visited Rome (441-443), saw Pope Leo, got his enthusiastic approval of the Irish work and brought back with him noted relics from the papal city.

On his return to Ireland in 444 he made Armagh the ecclesiastical capital of the island. The land on which the church here was built had been given him by King Daire of Oriel. In his later years he was bitterly criticized and he finally resigned his office as bishop and retired probably to Saul in Dalardia where he died, it would seem according to the best authority, in 461. He has left two important documents; one of which is his ‘Confessions,’ which is a sort of autobiography, written toward the close of his life, and the other, the “Letter to Coroticus,” the British king of Strathclyde. In this latter document Patrick urges the Christian subjects to have nothing whatever to do with the king until he repairs certain very grave offenses against the Christians in Ireland.

Saint Patrick seems to have been a man of very strong will power and very considerable executive ability. He must have been much of a diplomat to have achieved the success he did in the midst of warring factions at a period when the power of druidism was very strong in Ireland. Whatever may be doubtful about his life, there can be no doubt that he was a great organizer, and that his enthusiasm and his faith in his work inspired him to treat with kings and princes, as though they had been put there for his purposes of the spread of the Christian faith. He was a man of tireless action and enthusiasm in his work; and we are told that he founded 360 churches, baptized with his own hand 12,000 people, and ordained a great many priests. Though, at the conclusion of his work, Ireland was still more pagan than Catholic, yet he had dealt a death blow to the religion of the druids, which was shortly to disappear before the onward march of the ideas set into motion by him. He influenced strongly the Irish mind, and Celtic imagination has surrounded him with picturesque legends. He banished the snakes and toads out of Ireland; he performed the most astounding miracles in his contests with the druidical priests; he confounded his enemies by bringing down darkness upon them; and many equally wonderful things tradition credits him with doing. His name is connected with scores of localities throughout Ireland, and generally there is some local story connected therewith. At his death so great was the glory that there was no night for 12 days.

Bibliography. — Archdekin, ‘Vitæ et Miraculorum S. Patricii Hiberniæ Apostoli, epitome’ (Louvain 1617); Buillon, ‘Histoire de la vie et du purgatoire de Saint Patrice’ (Avignon 1642); Bury, ‘St. Patrick and his Place in History’ (London 1905); Coleonus, ‘Vita Sancti Pairicii’ (1617); Cusack, ‘Life of Saint Patrick’ (London 1870); Healy, John, ‘The Life and Writings of Saint Patrick’ (Dublin 1905); Morris, ‘Ireland and Saint Patrick’ (London 1888); Newell. E. J., ‘Saint Patrick, his Life and Teaching’ (London 1890); 01den, T., ‘Epistles and Hymns of Saint Patrick’ (Dublin 1895); Pérez de Montalvo, ‘Vita y Purgatorio de San Patricio’ (Madrid 1627); Robert, ‘Etude Critique sur la vie de San Patrice’; Shearman, J. F., ‘Loca Patriciana’ (Dublin 1882); Stanihurstus, ‘De vita Sancti Patricii’ (1587); Stokes, ‘Tripartite Life of Saint Patrick’ (1887); Swift, ‘The Life and Acts of Saint Patrick’ (Dublin 1809); Todd, J. H., ‘Saint Patrick the Apostle of Ireland’ (Dublin 1861).