Remembering the Saints (9)
It then befell that Patrick came to sow the faith among the men of Ireland, and to baptize them…For before Patrick there were none to maintain faith and belief in Erin but Ciaran, and Ailbe, and Declan, and Bishop Iubar. All things were accomplished by Patrick as Jesus bade him; and he rescued the men of Erin from the hands of demons, and from the worship of idols.
- Anonymous, The Life of Ciaran of Saighir (I)
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
- Hebrews 11.39, 40
I will make Your name to be remembered in all generations;
Therefore the people shall praise You forever and ever.
- Psalm 45.17
The Gospel first came to Ireland late in the fourth century. The Bishop of Rome sent a missionary named Palladius to begin the work there. Of him we know only that he arrived in Ireland and took up the work of leading the Celtic peoples there to Christ.
It must have been incredibly difficult work. The Celtic peoples of Ireland were idolaters, warlike, illiterate, and violent. Needless to say, they did not speak Latin.
Palladius must have had some success, albeit slight, for before Patrick arrived in 432, at least three monastic communities had been established and were doing good work in propagating the Gospel and advancing the Kingdom. Ciaran, Ailbe, Declan, and Iubar were perhaps the fruit of Palladius’ ministry. The fact that Iubar was a bishop indicates that some churches had been started and some men ordained to pastoral leadership. Ciaran, Ailbe, and Declan appear to have been abbots in monasteries, training young men for service in ministry. Iubar’s work was to oversee theirs.
I see no evidence in Patrick’s writings to indicate that, as certain traditions have it, he took his initial training at a monastery in Gaul (France) and was sent to Ireland by the Bishop of Rome. According to his own report, Patrick was called to Ireland by a vision from Jesus when he was among his family in the west of Britain, having lately returned to them after escaping slavery in Ireland. He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, despite opposition from his family and pastors. He cashed in his inheritance and headed to Ireland, where he must have been received by one of the monasteries in the southeast, perhaps Emly, where Ailbe was abbot.
There he would have received his initial training and preparation to fulfill the vision which the Lord had given him. The men who labored before him did not enjoy anything like the scope and success of ministry which Patrick did. However, it’s safe to say that without their having established a Kingdom beachhead in Ireland, Patrick’s work might not have been as fruitful as it was.
We are always laying a foundation for those who will succeed us in the work of the Kingdom. Just as the saints of the Old Testament established the base on which those of the New Testament built, and as those early Irish leaders prepared the way for Patrick, so we are laying the groundwork for those who will succeed us in the work of the Gospel.
How firm a foundation are we laying? Are we devoted to the Lord, to growing in Him and His Word, and to doing the work of our Personal Mission Field faithfully and well? Will the people who follow us in the next generation look back at what we have done, and at the kind of disciples we were, and find inspiration, guidance, courage, instruction, and hope to do their own work beyond anything we managed to achieve?
We do not live for ourselves alone, but for those who, in the generations to come, will carry on the work of making disciples. Let’s make sure that, to the fullest extent of our individual ability, we leave them some Kingdom beachhead on which to build.
1. What do you think it will take for you to establish a secure Kingdom beachhead for those who succeed you in the next generation?
2. What will you do today to build on that beachhead?
Sing 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.
Help me today, O Lord, as I work my Personal Mission Field so that…
Resources about Celtic Christians
To learn more about the Celtic Revival, order a free PDF copy of our book, The Celtic Revival: A Brief Introduction, by clicking here. You might also order a free copy of our book, The Legacy of Patrick, by clicking here. For longer excerpts of writings from the Celtic Revival, visit our Celtic Legacy webpage by clicking here. And, in the historical theology installments of our InVerse Theology Project, we’re exploring saints’ lives in more detail. You can begin listening by clicking here (scroll through to find more).
Please prayerfully consider becoming a supporter of The Fellowship of Ailbe. It’s easy to give to The Fellowship of Ailbe, and all gifts are, of course, tax-deductible. You can click here to donate online through Anedot or PayPal, or send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.
T. M. Moore, Principal
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.
 Plummer, p. 100.