The Scriptorium

God's Story, not Patrick's

Patrick considered himself “poor and insignificant.”

Patrick’s Confession (16)

However, it would be tedious to tell in whole or in detail of my undertaking. I shall relate briefly how the most holy God frequently freed me from slavery, and from the twelve dangers which threatened my life, as well as from many snares which I cannot express in words. I do not wish to affront my readers, but God, Who knows all things before they happen, is my authority that He readily and frequently gave me His counsel, just because I am in His care, though I am poor and insignificant.

Fore where did this understanding come to me, who had knowledge neither of the number of my days nor of God? From where did I afterwards receive so great and so beneficent a gift – to know and to desire God, relinquishing homeland and family for Him?

They offered me many gifts, with tears and lamentation, and I offended them, as well as going against the wishes of certain of my seniors, but God guided me not to agree with them or consent to them. This was no thanks to me; rather it was God who triumphed within me and opposed them all, so that I might come to the Irish heathen to preach the Gospel and suffer the insults of unbelievers. But then! – to endure disgrace because of my departure! And many prosecutions, even to the extent of imprisonment, and to sacrifice my patrimony for the sake of others! I am ready indeed to give my life, freely, in His Name, and I choose to spend it here even until death, if the Lord will allow me.

Translation Liam De Paor, St. Patrick’s World

Patrick wanted to make it clear that the only reason he was in Ireland – and the reason he would not leave to return to Britain and give an account of his ministry – is that God had brought him and was keeping him there.

He does not fill his Confession with abundant details about his travels, preaching, winning souls, and the like. We know he did these things because he mentions them in passing, as we shall see, and later writers recall them, sometimes with great exaggeration. But his point is not that his ministry justifies his staying in Ireland. He can do no other. God saved him, after just discipline. God gave him the gift of knowing the Lord, and delight in pursuing that knowledge as far as he could. God delivered him from slavery. God called him to Ireland. And God gave all the increase of fruit and harvest from his ministry. He will remain in Ireland, doing what he’s been doing, until God’s story for his life has turned its final page.

Patrick truly considered himself “poor and insignificant.” He regarded God and Jesus Christ as supremely worthy and deserving of all honor and glory. Those who were challenging his ministry were really challenging the work of God and thus seeking to cast aspersions on the glory of God. Patrick is not being snotty; he insists he doesn’t want to “affront” his readers. But he wants everyone to be clear about what’s at stake in his decision – once again – to defy his “seniors” and stay the course in Ireland. The God Who triumphed in Patrick in giving him the initial boldness to come to Ireland will triumph again and keep him there. Patrick prefers the insults of heathen to the accusations and slander of “Christians” in Britain.

Patrick’s account may be his Confession, but it’s God’s story of the beginnings of revival amid the pagan peoples of fifth-century Ireland.

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.
Books by T. M. Moore