Patrick’s Confession (24)
You know, and so does God, how I have been among you since my youth in truth of faith and in sincerity of heart. I have kept, and will keep, faith even with the heathen among whom I live. God knows I have deceived none of them, nor even thought of doing so, lest I stir up an attack on God and His church, and on all of us, and lest the Name of the Lord be blasphemed through me. For it is written, “Woe to the person through whom the Name of the Lord is blasphemed.”
For, although I lack skill in anything, yet I have tried to do whatever I could to safeguard myself in my dealings, even with the Christian brethren and virgins of Christ and with religious women, who would spontaneously offer me gifts of throw some of their personal ornaments on the altar. These I repeatedly gave back to them, and they were offended with me, not knowing why I did so. But I did it from the hope of eternity, because of which I aimed at being careful of my integrity in all dealings, so that the unbelievers should not catch me out in any detail, and so that I would not in the smallest matter give a pretext to them to disparage or denigrate the ministry of my service.
Translation Liam De Paor, St. Patrick’s World
Patrick understood that the success of the Gospel depends on the way believers live it as much as on how effective they are in proclaiming the Kingdom. He kept a close watch on his conduct at all times, since he did not want to give anyone an occasion for stumbling, for blaspheming, or for discrediting or attacking his ministry. He sounds like Paul protesting his clean conscience before Jews and Gentiles alike, and this should not surprise us. Patrick’s life and ministry were grounded in the Word of God, which he took to heart and lived faithfully in all his ways.
Life in Ireland must have been rather tenuous at times. Patrick suggests that the infant Church there was vulnerable to attacks, and, as we see from his Letter against the Soldiers of Coroticus, these could often be violent and deadly. He had to be very careful in his conduct and demeanor not to provoke pagan powers to lash out at those who were becoming followers of Christ. For the most part, he seems to have succeeded in this effort.
Patrick was also careful about his conduct toward the brethren in Christ. He took care whenever he had any dealings with women, and he received no gifts from anyone. He was wise enough to know that there would always be someone ready to impugn his motives if it turned out he was receiving gifts from those he served. This, in fact, was precisely the charge being laid against him by people in Britain. However, as he here insists to his Irish constituency, they knew there was nothing to such a spurious charge.
We note the indirect way that Patrick likens the behavior of those who are summoning him to Britain to pagans. Unbelievers would always be looking for some way to undermine or interrupt a successful and growing ministry like Patrick’s. What excuse did the bishops in Britain have?
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