Patrick's Confession (2)
Then the Lord made me aware of my unbelief, so that - however late - I might recollect my offences and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God. It was He Who took heed of my insignificance. Who pitied my youth and ignorance, Who watched over me before I knew Him and before I came to understand the difference between good and evil, and Who protected and comforted me as a father would his son. That is why I cannot remain silent (further, it would be inappropriate to do so) about the great favours and graces which the Lord deigned to grant me in the land of my captivity. For the way to make repayment for that revelation of God through capture and enslavement is to declare and make known His wonders to every race under heaven.
(Translation, Liam de Paor, Saint Patrick's World)
Patrick may have been a rustic, and unschooled. But he knew grace when he experienced it.
There can be no misunderstanding Patrick's view of salvation. It comes as an act of divine grace to undeserving sinners. Indeed, salvation is merely the culminative act of many years of gracious and caring oversight and provision on God's part. When God makes His saving grace known to us, the proper response is to acknowledge ("recollect") our sins and turn with all our hearts to Him. Only after God has made His grace known to us - "that revelation", as Patrick puts it - can we see in retrospect just how completely good and loving He has been to us all our lives.
What to do in response? Patrick understood: Make this Good News known as far and wide as possible!
Patrick made "repayment" for God's grace, not "payment." We do not earn salvation; it comes as a gift. But once we know the grace of God the only "appropriate" response is so to live and serve that others may come to know the Lord as well.
We catch the first fleeting glimpse of Patrick's vision: "to declare and make known His wonders to every race under heaven." Patrick understood that the grace he had received deserved an effort without bounds or limits on his part. Would he reach every race under heaven? Of course not.
But that he lived as though that were, indeed, his mission, none can doubt.
I, Patrick, a sinner, am a most uncultivated man, and the least of all the faithful, and I am greatly despised by many.
My father was the deacon Calpornius, son of the late Potitus, a priest of the town of Banna Venta Berniae. He had a small estate nearby, where I was taken captive.
I was then barely sixteen. I had neglected the true God, and when I was carried off into captivity in Ireland, along with a great number of people, it was well deserved. For we cut ourselves off from God and did not keep His commandments, and we disobeyed our bishops who were reminding us of our salvation. God revealed His being to us through His wrath: He scattered us among foreign peoples, even to the end of the earth, where, appropriately, I have my own small existence among strangers.
(All excerpts are from Liam de Paor, tr. and ed., St. Patrick's World)
Patrick was taken captive from his home somewhere around 415 AD. His experience as a slave in Ireland changed his life, and changed the world.
His Confession was written late in his life as a kind of depostion in lieu of his going back to Britain to answer to some spurious charges, which he will herein refute. Immediately he strikes us as a humble, if not chastened, man. He confesses to be a most uncultivated man, which probably means that he had little in the way of formal schooling or training for ministry. Later attempts to ground Patrick's preparation for his mission within the bounds of the Roman Catholic Church have no basis in known fact.
Patrick was raised in a "Christian" home, but he did not regard his faith seriously. He neglected the true God by not listening to his pastors and not walking in the commandments of the Lord. For Patrick there was no separation between the life of salvation and obedience to God's Law. He considered that the lifestyle he and his mates pursued back them had cut them off from God.
Did he regard himself as a Christian at this period? We do not know; subsequent events, however, will prove the staying power of the Gospel, even when it is sown in the heart of one who had cut himself off from God.
At any rate, it was not the love of God but His wrath that finally got Patrick's attention in a big way. Patrick believed that his enslavement was well deserved. We shall see that he felt as though his salvation, and the subsequent blessing of God on his work, was not. His small existence among strangers is, as we shall see, one of the most superb examples of understatement and humility in all of Church history.