The Celtic Revival: Patrick (15)
“So earnestly I ask each servant of
the Lord, if he is willing, if the love
of God constrains him, bear this letter, so
that no one may pretend he does not know
what I have written; read these words aloud
in public, in the presence of the proud
Coroticus himself. Because if some
time God may in His mercy, let them come
unto their senses and return to Him,
repenting of their gruesome, cruel, and grim
iniquity – however late – if they
should come to hate their murderous way
of life, and set their prisoners free, then may
they know His mercy, and again obey
His Word, and by repentance show that they
have been restored unto Christ’s holy way.
Now, in the Father, Son, and Spirit, peace
be unto you, and may His grace increase.”
- Patrick, Letter against the Soldiers of Coroticus (5th century)
But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
- Jude 20-23
Patrick was not a vindictive person. Those he had recently baptized were carried away to slavery by the soldiers of Coroticus. Patrick’s appeal for the release of the captives, and his call for the soldiers to repent of the injury done to many was rebuffed. Thus Patrick’s ability to care for the flock entrusted to him was called into question by the cruel actions of a renegade band of soldiers.
And yet Patrick longed for them to come to repentance. He wanted them to know the forgiving and renewing grace of God, even though they were guilty of horrible crimes against their victims, the Church, and the Lord.
So Patrick sought to enlist all his readers as agents of grace in this effort, by calling for a community effort to have his letter read in public, and to Coroticus and his soldiers, all along the route of their return home. He did not call for kings or rulers friendly to him to mount some political or military action against these brigands. His letter is filled with quotes and allusions to the Word of God. Patrick was willing to let that living and powerful Sword do its work on the souls of those violent men.
God had not sent Patrick to condemn the Irish, but that the Irish through him might be saved (cf. Jn. 3.17). He saw himself as an agent of grace, even to the most wicked and wretched of sinners. Thus, while his epistle is blunt and his action of excommunication extreme, Patrick reasoned that the grace of God needed a hard edge to penetrate the hard hearts of such men as these.
And a repeated witness. The grace of God flows to the sinful world through the community of God’s people, as they follow the lead of their shepherds, receive the equipping and direction those shepherds provide, and do their part to call the sinful world to repentance and faith. Maybe all someone could do was make a copy of Patrick’s letter. Perhaps another would agree to run copies ahead to communities along the route. Others might agree to read the letter to the Christians in those communities, and perhaps even one or two would have confronted the retreating soldiers along the route, and read excerpts of Patrick’s letter as they passed.
Patrick’s Letter against the Soldiers of Coroticus is a letter of condemnation and excommunication. But it was also a vessel of grace, and a resource to enlist and equip others as vessels of grace, seeking the bring the grace of God to bear on wicked men for repentance, forgiveness, and eternal life.
It is doubtless with all this in mind that Patrick concluded his letter with prayer for the increase of grace and peace on all who read or heard it.
What excellent lessons on our calling as agents of grace are to be learned from the example of Patrick!
Psalm 105.1-5 (Warrington: Give to Our God Immortal Praise)
Give thanks unto the Lord Most High;
call on His Name, before Him cry!
Make known His deeds in every land;
sing praise for all the works of His hand.
Glory in God, rejoice in heart,
all you who seek His holy part.
Him and His strength and presence seek;
His works proclaim, His judgments speak.
Lord Jesus, You have sent me to the world to be an agent of grace, and today I…
Improve Your Calling as an Agent of Grace
Jesus has sent us to the world as agents of grace. Our Mission Partners Outreach can help you follow God’s call to share the Good News of Christ and His Kingdom with the people in your Personal Mission Field. The training and materials are free, and the program is available in two formats, and can be used in your Bible study group or Sunday school class. Watch this brief video (click here), and download the informational flyer to learn more.
The Legacy of Patrick
Patrick made a lasting impact on Ireland and Europe, igniting a revival that lasted for nearly four centuries. He has left for us a legacy of priorities which we can appropriate for our own walk with and work for the Lord. Order your copy of The Legacy of Patrick from our online store (click here).
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T. M. Moore
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Verse translation excerpts of Patrick’s Letter against the Soldiers of Coroticus from T. M. Moore, Celtic Flame (forthcoming).