“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
This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.
- 2 Corinthians 2.6-8
Patrick ended his letter of excommunication with instructions for the faithful and hope for the offenders.
In a previous section Patrick commanded the believers who read his letter to shun Coroticus and his soldiers, to refuse them any courtesies, help, assistance, or recognition, to drive home the fact of their excommunication in dramatic fashion. Here at the end of the letter he calls on them to read this letter in public before Coroticus and his men, and, through Patrick’s words, to call them to come unto their senses, realize the depth of their sin, repent, and return to the Lord.
For the purpose of church discipline is not merely to punish, but to achieve restoration—restoration of the transgressors to good standing with the Lord, and restoration of the Body of Christ to purity, wholeness, and peace. In this dual emphasis Patrick reflects the teaching both of Jesus and the apostle Paul, and once again demonstrates his commitment to the Word and ways of Christ.
The incident involving Coroticus and his soldiers allows us to see into aspects of Patrick’s ministry which helped to make it so effective for so long. Three stand out in my mind.
First is Patrick’s hatred of sin but, at the same time, his love and concern for sinners. These are not mutually exclusive, as some may think. We must love those who sin, even those who deny they have sinned or are unrepentant. But that doesn’t mean we give them a pass. They must be confronted in their sin or else they may come to believe that sin doesn’t matter. This was the mistake the people of Corinth made and for which Paul took them to task in 1 Corinthians 5.
Second, Patrick’s hatred for sin derived from his love for the Law of God and all His Word. He knew the Word of the Lord which commanded all who love Him to hate evil (Ps. 97.10). However hard it may have been for Patrick to learn the Word, and despite the difficulties he experienced as he obeyed it, Patrick showed his unfailing commitment to the Word by his courageous action against Coroticus and his men. These brigands, while professing faith in Jesus, were not above using violence to get their way. Patrick’s action took courage—the courage of his conviction that obeying the plain teaching of Scripture was more important than doing what might have been prudent for safety’s sake.
Put another way, Patrick loved the Word of God more than his own life.
Finally, this incident shows us that Patrick loved the people to whom God had sent him. That Coroticus and his men had killed some believers and were carrying others off to sell them into slavery in Scotland was a blow to Patrick’s heart. He had given up everything he owned to come among the Irish with the Good News of Christ. He cared not only for their wellbeing but also that they should love the Word of God and carry out whatever it required. Patrick devoted nearly his entire adult life to crisscrossing Ireland, evangelizing, doing good works, teaching the Scriptures, making disciples, freeing slaves, teaching literacy, and training up a contingent of Scripture-loving shepherds to care for the Lord’s flock after he was gone.
Patrick was loved by those he served and revered by those who followed him as shepherds of God’s flock in Ireland. He left a legacy of vision, diligence, faithfulness, and love that endured for centuries and from which we can benefit in our own callings.
1. How is it evident that you love the Word of God?
2. How is it evident that you love the people of God?
Psalm 97.7-12 (Darwall: Rejoice, the Lord Is King)
While Zion gladly sings, let all be brought to shame
who to vain idols worship bring and scorn His Name.
Refrain v. 9
all gods and nations be exalted, God of love!
All you who love the LORD, despise sin’s wicked ways!
Praise Him Who guides us by His Word through all our days.
Lord, help me to hate sin, to love Your Word and Your people, so that in all I do…
T. M. Moore
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.