Letter against the Soldiers of Coroticus (5)
How much greater a criminal is he who stains his hands with the blood of those children of God whom He won recently at the ends of the earth through my unworthy preaching. Was it without God’s intervention or in a purely human way that I came to Ireland? Who was it that drove me? It is by the Spirit that I am prevented from seeing any of my family again. Is it from me that the mercy comes which I show to that same people which once enslaved me and pillaged the male and female slaves of my father’s household? According to the world’s reckoning I was a gentleman, the son of a decurion. I have sold my patrimony, without shame or regret, for the benefit of others. In short, I serve Christ on behalf of a foreign people for the ineffable glory of life everlasting which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And – if my own people will not give me recognition – “a prophet is without honour in his own country.”
Perhaps we are not of the one fold, and do not have the one God. As He says: “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”
It makes no sense: one destroys, the other builds. I do not ask for what is mine. It is not my kindness, but that God has placed in my heart an urge to be one of His hunters or fishers, whom He once foretold would come in the last days.
It is begrudged to me. What should I do, Lord? I am treated with great contempt. Look: Your sheep are mangled around me and are carried off, and by these robbers I have spoken of, on the orders of the hostile Coroticus. Far from the love of God is he who betrays Christians into the hands of Scotti and Picts. Savage wolves devour the Lord’s flock, just when, by great care, it has reached its best growth in Ireland – and I cannot number the sons of the Scotti and daughters of chiefs who were monks and virgins of Christ. Therefore do not accept this injury to be just; it is unacceptable all the way to hell.
Translation Liam De Paor, St. Patrick’s World
Patrick has acted courageously and justly against vicious men. There was no doubt some danger in this, but that did not trouble Patrick one bit.
It may, however, have troubled some of those who, upon reading this letter of excommunication, would have understood that they were expected to shun the soldiers of Coroticus as they were returning along their way to their native land. Surely these men who acted with such violence against innocent Christians would not restrain themselves against those who refused to make provision for them?
This section of Patrick’s letter appears to make their infraction a personal slight. Coroticus and his band have not only offended God, they have offended God’s faithful servant, Patrick. There is a reason for this. Soon Coroticus and his men will be out of Ireland. But Patrick will still be there – the servant of the Lord, the man whom all knew and acknowledged as God’s chosen vessel for the evangelizing of Ireland, who by his faithful labors had brought many to a saving knowledge of Christ.
The soldiers of Coroticus came to Ireland to take and kill, charged with their mission by a hostile and uncaring, ruthless enemy of the flocks of God. Patrick had come to Ireland, sent by God and His Spirit, sacrificing his comfortable life in Britain, to serve and give life, and God had abundantly shown His pleasure in Patrick’s work.
So it should have been obvious whose “side” God was on; if the people reading this epistle refused to carry out the decree of excommunication, and to take their part in making that effective, they would be found on the side of the savage wolves who had ravaged the flocks of God, and against Patrick and the God Who had brought him to Ireland. They would be “criminals” like the soldiers of Coroticus if they did not act with as much courage and resolve in carrying out the ban of excommunication as Patrick had in issuing it.
Those who were of the true fold of the Lord, Patrick knew, would not be found siding with those who scattered the Lord’s sheep, but with him who had gathered them for Jesus Christ. Patrick’s “people” in Britain did not give him recognition; indeed, they tried to thwart and throttle his ministry to Ireland. Coroticus and his soldiers did not recognize Patrick’s authority.
Where would the Christian people of Ireland come down in this matter? As tenders of the flock, or savage wolves against the purposes of God? As those who built up the body of Christ, or as those who destroyed it?
Faith requires courage when savage wolves are at large in the land.
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