The Scriptorium

A Letter of Christ

The work of ministry is a work of obedient faith.

Patrick’s Confession (4)

Therefore, while I have had it in mind for a long time to write, up to now I have hesitated. I was afraid of being exposed to criticism, because I have not the education of others, who have absorbed to the full both law and sacred scripture alike and who have never, from infancy onward, had to change to another language; but rather could continually perfect the language they had. Whereas, with me, our words and our language have been translated into a foreign tongue, so that it is easy to ascertain – from the flavor of my writing – the manner of my education and of my training in expression. Because it is said, “The wise man will be distinguished by his language,” as will judgment and knowledge and true teaching. But excuses, however true, are pointless, especially if we take them in conjunction with my presumption in attempting only now, in my old age, to achieve more than I could in my youth. For my sins prevented me from continuing to build on my early education. But who believes me, even if I repeat what I have already said? As a youth, indeed not much more than a beardless boy, I was taken captive; before I knew what to aim at, what to avoid. So, because of this, today I am ashamed, and agitated with fear, at exposing my lack of education; because I lack the fluency to express myself concisely, as my sprit longs to do and as I try with heart and soul.

But, even if I had been given what was given to others, nevertheless, out of gratitude, I would not be silent. And if perhaps I seem to many people to be pushing myself forward, with my lack of knowledge and my lame language, yet it is indeed written, “The stammering tongues will quickly learn to speak peace.”

How much more out we not to aim at that, since, as it is written, we ourselves are “the letter of Christ for salvation, even to the end of the earth,” and, even if the language does not flow but is blocked and turgid “it is written on your hearts not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.” And again the Spirit affirms that rustic backwardness, to, was created by the Most High.

Patrick, Confession

(Translation, Liam Da Paor, Saint Patrick's World)

We begin to see something more of the complaint against Patrick. Apparently, some were seeking to recall him to Britain because he had never been formerly trained for the work he was doing. Though, in his ministry, Patrick had realized many converts, so that a real awakening of the Irish people had begun, still some thought such work was only to be done by “real” priests – guys with seminary degrees.

Patrick admits he’s never been formerly trained. Nevertheless, he declares that God has proven his call and has used him as an epistle of Christ to the Irish people. He is not pushing himself forward in writing, as some might want to claim; rather, he is only explaining why he believes his call to be valid and why he feels no obligation to return to Britain to give an account of his ministry to people who would not support his work in the first place.

The work of ministry is a work of obedient faith. This is what Patrick sought to do from the beginning.  And he challenged those who were summoning him to repudiate the evidence of his faithfulness. He was persuaded that the Spirit had affirmed his ministry, rustic though he was, and he believed his only accountability was to God and the people of Ireland.

Patrick saw himself as a letter of Christ to Ireland, and he did not believe he was obliged or free to leave his post in order to answer the spurious charges and claims of educated but jealous priests in Britain.

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 Essex Junction, VT.
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