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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Building on the Foundation

Just as we do.

Patrick (25)

St. Declan, who possessed the discretion of the serpent and the modesty of the dove, reached Ireland and began to sow the seed of life there…There were four most saintly bishops who were in Ireland with their disciples before Patrick, preaching there and converting many to Christ. They were Ailbe, Declan, Ibar, and Ciarán. And these drew many to Christ with the net of the Gospels, but nevertheless it was Saint Patrick who converted most (and the most important) of the people of Ireland to the faith; and in time he held the supreme archbishop’s see of Ireland…[These four] were not of one mind with Patrick, but differed—although in the end they all made their peace with him.

 - Anonymous, The Life of St. Declan of Ardmore[1]

“Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”

 - John 4.35-38

In the years following the Synod of Whitby (664), efforts were made to rewrite the history of the Irish Church. The ruling at Whitby was that the Irish Church should no longer be an independent Catholic Church but should submit to the Bishop of Rome and embrace the protocols, practices, and traditions of Roman Catholicism.

As part of this effort to solidify Rome’s hold over the Irish Church, certain Lives of Irish saints depicted Patrick and his immediate predecessors as “bishops” and “archbishop” and said they had been sent to Ireland by the pope in Rome. As we have seen, neither Patrick nor Sechnall acknowledged any debt or deference to Rome. Pope Celestine had sent Palladius to Ireland early in the 5thcentury, but we have no record describing his ministry or its fruits.

But it may be that his mission was more effective than is commonly reported. Various Lives from later in the period of the Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800) bear witness to faithful preachers in Ireland prior to Patrick’s arrival. Ailbe, Declan, Ibar, and Ciarán (of Saighir) worked diligently, sowing the seed of the Gospel and calling the Irish to repentance. They enjoyed a measure of success in their efforts. So it may well have been the case, once Patrick began his ministry, that they found reasons not to be “of one mind with Patrick”. However, as Patrick’s work unfolded among them, they saw the hand of God in it and readily submitted to his overall leadership.

We have been considering the greatness of Patrick and the mighty ways God blessed his efforts. But we must not neglect to appreciate the good work of men like Ailbe, Declan, Ibar, and Ciarán, who ploughed the hard soil of Ireland and laid a solid foundation for Patrick to build upon in his ministry. Patrick, in turn, established a basis for saints like Ciarán (of Clonmacnoise), Coemgen, Finnian, and Brendan to flourish in the next generation. And those faithful saints furthered the progress of the Kingdom so that men like Columbanus and Colum Cille could extend the revival even further.

We are always working on some foundation as we go into our Personal Mission Field. The grace of God came to us from those who knew Him before us, and it will spread from us to others who, in turn, will lead others to the knowledge of the Lord.

Which is why we do well to remember and appreciate what God has done throughout the course of history to bring the Gospel to successive generations of believers and to advance His Kingdom like a growing stone. We have much to learn from Christian leaders of the past. We have our own field to sow, cultivate, and harvest, and the more we can learn from the insights and examples of our forebears in the faith, the more we may expect God to work in and through us for His glory.

Every day, as we venture out into our Personal Mission Field, we either water seed we or others have previously sown, fertilize and nurture growing plants, pull out weeds and other harmful elements, or reap some fruit of our endeavors. Cultivate, sow, cultivate, reap. Lay a foundation and build on it. As Patrick worked his calling in Ireland so we must work ours, building on what God has already done in the lives of those to whom He sends us so that, as He is pleased, all may come to know Him, know Him better, or, at least, know of His love for them.

Give thanks to God for those who have gone before us in the faith. And pray that those who come after us will build on the work we have done to make disciples, build the Church, further the Kingdom, and glorify God in everything we do.

Fore Reflection
1. Who are the people who most “cultivated” your walk with the Lord? Give thanks to God for each one of them.

2. Where will you sow, cultivate, or reap today? Pray that God will give you grace to do the work He has appointed to you.

Psalm 16.1-3 (All to Christ: Jesus Paid It All)
Preserve me, O my God; I refuge seek in You.
You alone are all my good, my LORD and Savior true!
Refrain v. 11
Make me know life’s way! Pleasures fill Your hand.
Fill my life with joy each day! Before Your face I stand.

The saints within the earth, majestic in their day,
delight me with the worth of all they do and say.

Thank You, Lord, for those who have gone before. Help me today as I…

T. M. Moore

Patrick’s Legacy
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.

Support for Crosfigell comes from our faithful and generous God, who moves our readers to share financially in our work. If this article was helpful, please give Him thanks and praise.

And please prayerfully consider supporting The Fellowship of Ailbe with your prayers and gifts. You can contribute online, via PayPal or Anedot, or by sending a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 103 Reynolds Lane, West Grove, PA 19390.

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.

[1] In Liam De Paor, Saint Patrick’s World (Notre Dame, London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993), pp. 251, 252, 257.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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