The Scriptorium

The Zeal of God

Patrick is out to "clean house."

Letter Against the Soldiers of Coroticus (1)

I, Patrick, a sinner and unlettered, declare myself to be a bishop publicly established in Ireland.

I am firmly of the opinion that whatever I am, I have received from God. I live among barbarian foreigners, a stranger and exile for the love of God – as He is my witness. And I would not have chosen to speak as harshly and as sternly as I must; but the zeal of God compels me, and Christ’s truth urges me, for love of my neighbors and children on whose behalf I gave up my parents and my homeland, and my very life until death. If I am worthy, I will live for my God to teach the heathen, even if many look down on me.

With my own hand I have written and set out these words to be sent, transmitted and delivered to the soldiers of Coroticus – whom I will not call fellow-citizens of mine or of the holy Romans, but rather – because of their evil deeds – fellow-citizens of the demons. After the manner of the Enemy, they live in death, allies of the Scotti and of the apostate Picts. I denounce them as bloodthirsty men embrued in the blood of the innocent Christians whom I have brought to life in countless numbers for God and whom I have confirmed in Christ.

Translation: Liam de Paor, St. Patrick's World

Here is the second of the extant writings of Patrick. It amounts to a bull of excommunication against the soldiers of one Coroticus, for their violent crimes against Christian catechumens. We note Patrick’s characteristic humility and deference to the will and call of God. He is unlettered, but a bishop; a person of no-account, except that God has called and used him mightily; an exile, yet at home among the people he loves and serves.

We shall learn more about the occasion of this letter as we proceed. For now, Patrick makes it clear from the beginning that this is a most serious missive, full of stern language and what some may regard as harsh statements and judgments. But Patrick’s love for God and his neighbors will allow him to speak in no other way. Like Jesus, throwing the money-changers out of the temple, Patrick is determined to “clean house” of certain vile offenders.

The letter is addressed to the offenders, but, as we shall see, it was intended to be read to people who may have lived along the route of return of the soldiers of Coroticus. These men claimed to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, but their works proved otherwise. We note the careful distinction Patrick makes between these men being “fellow-citizens of mine or of the holy Romans.” In other words, these men could not regard themselves as members either of the Church in Ireland or the Roman Catholic Church. Patrick, of course, was not unaware of the Roman Church; however, he saw his own mission as somehow distinct from that communion. This distinction would continue until the end of the seventh century.

We see Patrick’s shepherding heart: These people are his flock, the fruit of his labors, the disciples in his congregation. No wonder he is so inflamed at the violence to which they had been subjected.

Want to learn more about Patrick and the impact of his ministry? Order T. M.’s book, The Legacy of Patrick, from our online store.

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.