Letter against the Soldiers of Coroticus (10)
I bear witness before God and His angels that, for all my lack of learning, it will be as I have indicated. The words that I have expounded in Latin are not mine, but those of God and the apostles and prophets, who certainly have never lied. “Whoever will believe will be saved; whoever will not believe will be condemned.” God has spoken.
Most earnestly, I ask whichever servant of God may be willing, to be the bearer of this letter, so that no one may for any reason withdraw or hide it, but rather so that it may be read aloud in public, and in the presence of Coroticus himself. Because, if some time God should inspire them to come back to their sense of Him and – however late – if they should repent of such unholiness as they have committed – murder of the Lord’s brethren! – and if they should release the baptized prisoners whom they had captured; so may they merit life from God, and may they be restored to wholeness now and forever! Peace in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Translation Liam De Paor, St. Patrick’s World
It is fitting that Patrick’s stern letter of warning and excommunication should end with an offer of hope and a benediction of peace. Patrick was a man who knew adversity. He had faced unlikely odds in the past, and God had done great things through him. How likely was it that Coroticus and his soldiers would repent? Only as likely as the grace of God, which everywhere abounds to lost sinners, and which Patrick experienced throughout the course of his ministry. Patrick was as urgent to restore these vicious sinners as he was to excommunicate them, following the example of Paul with the man in Corinth (1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2.1-7).
Note the care as well with which Patrick links his actions to the Word of God. He has done nothing but what the prophets and apostles would approve. Patrick was a man of the Word of God. In this letter and his Confession we may identify over 125 quotations, references, or allusions to passages of Scripture, from both the Old and New Testaments. Patrick understood that the power and authority for his ministry were from God, according to His Word, and not at all from himself, much less from the clergy in Britain who were seeking to recall him from the field. He was confident in God’s call and firmly rooted in God’s Word.
So end the works of Patrick, slight though they be. In them we discover a man of humility, courage, conviction, grace, and evangelical firmness, who knew himself to be called of God to the work of evangelizing the Irish, and who would not be thwarted in following that call, whether by family, ecclesiastical superiors, pagan rulers, or violent heretics. It is no wonder that subsequent generations of Irish Christians looked back to this remarkable man with such admiration, or that, in seeking to communicate his greatness to their own generation, they enlarged the scope of his work beyond what he himself reported. In understanding Patrick and his ministry, we must begin with his own words, and we must be guided by those words as we consider adding on anything of subsequent legend or lore. Patrick in his own words should be enough for us.
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