The Scriptorium

Patrick's Authority

Does not love require more patience and tolerance?

Letter Against the Soldiers of Coroticus(4)

It is said that: “The wealth he has accumulated unjustly will be vomited from his belly; the angel of death drags him away; he will be scourged by the rage of dragons; the adder’s tongue will kill him; and an inextinguishable fire will consume him.”

And further: “Woe to them who fill themselves with what is not theirs;” or: “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?”

It would be tedious to analyse in subtle detail and to pick out texts on such greed from the whole of the Law. Avarice is a mortal sin.

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.” “Thou shalt not kill.” A murderer cannot be with Christ.

“He who hates his brother will be known as a murderer;” – or: “He who does not love his brother remains in death.”

Translation Liam De Paor, St. Patrick’s World

Some might suggest that Patrick is acting in a rather heavy-handed way by excommunicating the soldiers of Coroticus with such strong words. Does not love require more patience and tolerance? But Patrick was only expressing within the scope of his episcopal power what the Scriptures teach about those who transgress the Law of God and do violence against their neighbors. His job, as overseer of the Irish believers, was to act according to the Word of God.

Patrick wanted those who read his letter to understand that he was taking this action of excommunication on the authority of the Word of God, and not just on the basis of some personal pique. Those who would not comply with the ban of excommunication would find themselves at odds, not just with Patrick, but with the very Word of God.

We note also Patrick’s readiness to wield the Sword of God’s Law in this situation. Unlike many pastors and church leaders in our day, Patrick understood the Law of God to be in continuing effect unto righteousness for the followers of Christ. He lived and taught it and, as we see here, appealed to it for his decisions and leadership in the Irish Church.

Patrick understood that the Kingdom of God makes progress on earth through a kind of spiritual violence, in which, as we wield the weapons of our warfare, the treachery of the evil one is exposed, attacked, and negated by the living and powerful Word of God and the faith of His saints.

O, that such confidence might be found among church leaders in our own day!

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.