One further incident will I relate:
Though I am but a sinner and not great
in learning, yet I am a bishop to
the Irish people, charged to care and do
for them all that I can that they might know
the saving mercy of the Lord. And so
I readily admit that what I am
is of the Lord. According to His plan
for me I live among barbarians,
and so I know the ways of all these sons
of demons. And when one of them, who claimed
to be a Christian—Coroticus was his name—
attacked the flock of God, I wrote to him
a letter, stern and harsh, and very grim…
- Patrick, Letter Against the Soldiers of Coroticus
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
- 1 Corinthians 5.4, 5
Paul was bold, firm, and clear in calling on the Corinthians to excommunicate a man who was guilty of scandalous sin. The integrity of the Body of Christ required it, and it would be the man’s only hope of ever coming to repentance and being restored to faith.
Patrick followed suit with Paul in excommunicating from all Christian fellowship a nominal Christian named Coroticus and those soldiers who, with him, had committed dreadful sins against the Body of Christ. Patrick wrote a letter, copies of which were sent along the route Coroticus and his men would have followed as they returned to their native region. He insisted the letter be read to all believers along the way and to Coroticus and his men as they passed through each village. It was a bold and courageous step, like a shepherd standing up to a lion which had just ravaged his flock. But it’s what shepherds must do, when necessary, to fulfill their calling from the Lord.
Coroticus and his men were out marauding—rustling cattle and seeking slaves—when they came upon a baptismal ceremony in progress. Declaring themselves to be Christians, they gained entrance to the ceremony, only to disrupt it violently, killing some of the newly baptized and carrying off others to slavery.
Word of the slaughter reached Patrick, and he sent some of his colleagues after Coroticus, to confront him with his sin and demand release of the captives. Coroticus and his soldiers laughed them to scorn and continued on their way.
That’s when Patrick, acting in his role as Bishop of the Irish, took the drastic step of excommunicating him and his soldiers, and calling on all Christians to join in the condemnation and shunning that the act of discipline required.
Paul had done the same with the man in Corinth. He commanded the churches there to put the man out of their fellowship and to have nothing to do with him, not even to share a meal with him, until he repented of his sin and sought restoration to the Body of Christ.
Paul’s hope was that, being cut off from fellowship, the man would be subject to the oppression of spiritual forces of wickedness, come to guilt and shame, repent, and seek the aid of church leaders in making things right. As it happened, the situation turned out just as Paul had hoped. The man repented and the church received him back to fellowship.
We don’t know about Coroticus and his soldiers. There is no mention of this incident in Patrick’s Confession and no follow-up report has survived.
Patrick knew what it was to be a slave, to be fearful of death and subject to the whims of cruel and violent men. He could not restore those new believers who had been slain, but he hoped to recover those who were being carried off into slavery, and, if possible, to restore through repentance Coroticus and his soldiers.
Coroticus was a violent man. He might well have turned on Patrick and any others who opposed or sought to judge him. But who Coroticus was and what he might do was not the issue. Patrick feared the Lord and served His people, and he had to do what the Word of God required, come what may.
And so must we.
1. Why is it important that churches practice church discipline, like Paul and Patrick did?
2. How should you discipline yourself, so as to remain free of sin?
Psalm 51.15, 18, 19 (Aughton: He Leadeth Me
Now build Your Church, raise high the wall
of those who on Your mercy call.
And take our lives and let them be
sweet sacrifices, LORD, to Thee!
LORD, open now our lips to raise
to You sweet songs of joyous praise!
Thus let Your favor on us fall,
and build and strengthen Zion’s wall!
Lord, keep me from sin. Fill me with Your Spirit so that…
You can read more about the impact of Patrick’s ministry in our book, The Legacy of Patrick. Here you’ll learn how Patrick’s work has affected generations of Christians down to our own day. Order your copy by clicking here.
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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.