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ST. PATRICK'S CONFESSION & ST. ADAMNAN'S
LIFE OF ST. COLUMBA ST. AUGUSTINE, in a well-known passage in the Confessions, extols the power of memory. He had carried over into his work as a Christian teacher much that he had learnt from Neo-Platonism, and among the rest was the doctrine that all knowledge is reminiscence. According to this doctrine we recognise a thing as true because in some former time--it may be in some former existence—we have known it. The business of teaching is to remind us of things we have forgotten. All our effort after knowledge is just our striving to recall things we have already known. It is so even with the effort after the knowledge of God. Had we never known him we should feel no longing after him. It is by the power of memory that we are able to come back to him, even as it is by the power of memory that birds are able to find their nests and beasts their lairs. It is this memory that keeps us restless till we return to God. “Great is the power of memory !” exclaims Augustine ; “O my God, a profound and infinite manifoldness!”
History is the memory of the race; and it too is a " profound and infinite manifoldness.” It is one of the earliest forms of literature. All the early historians, and the Hebrew ones most of all, wrote under a strong sense of the divine interposition and operation in the affairs of men and nations. It was largely to give expression to this sense of God in history that the Hebrew Scriptures came into being. One of the old prophets declares that when Israel was a child the Lord loved him and called him; and that loving and calling and all that resulted from it was for the Israelite an unceasing subject of wonder and gratitude. And surely in looking back on the history of our own nation, we too have cause for wonder and thankfulness; for not without the love and election of God have we as a people become what we are and been able to do the work that we have done in the world. When we remember the feeble beginnings of our national life away back in the dim centuries, the small extent of these islands in which our ancestors had their home, and then think of the mighty energy and vast area of the present Empire, we may well believe that from of old our people have been divinely destined for great uses and services. “How marvellous it all is !” exclaims Lord Rosebery in an essay on the British Empire. “Built not by saints and angels, but the work of men's hands ; cemented with men's honest blood and with a world of tears; welded by the best brains of centuries past; not without the taint and reproach incidental to all human work, but constructed on the whole with pure and splendid purpose. Human, and yet not wholly human, for the most heedless and the most cynical must see the finger of the Divine. Growing as trees grow while others slept ; led by the faults of others as well as by the character of our fathers; reaching with the ripple of a resistless tide over tracts and islands and continents, until our little Britain woke up to find herself the foster-mother of nations and the source of united Empires. Do we not hail in this less the energy and fortune of a race than the supreme direction of the Almighty ?1"
And if, like the Hebrews, we should seek to form a Bible illustrating God's inspiration and revelation throughout the history of our people, there would be no lack of material. For the story of our beginnings the material would be peculiarly rich, and specially valuable in this respect would be the Confession of St. Patrick, and Adamnan's Life of St. Columba.
Christianity was introduced into the British Isles during the Roman occupation. Of the circumstances of its introduction—whether by Roman soldiers or accredited missionaries or others—we know very little. By the latter part of the fourth century, however, it had churches here and there among the native population even as far north as the Wall of Antoninus, between the Forth and Clyde. St. Patrick is commonly believed to have been born in the neighbourhood of Dumbarton Rock, a fort at the western end of that Wall. About his birth-place, however, as about so much else in regard to him, there is a great deal of uncertainty. The date usually given for his birth is 373, but Prof. Bury puts it fifteen years later. He came of Christian parentage. His father was a farmer, and also held office in the church as a deacon. The Roman rule was beginning then to relax its hold on Britain, and the coasts were exposed to the attacks of marauding bands coming from overseas. A party of these freebooters landed near Patrick's home when he was 16 years of age and carried him off as a slave to the north of Ireland, which he
* Miscellanies, II. PP. 262-3.
speaks of as “the ultimate places of the earth "-describing it thus perhaps, as Prof. Bury says, because Ireland was outside the Roman Empire ; perhaps also because there was as yet little or no Christianity there.
On the hill-sides of Slemish in Antrim, according to tradition, he tended sheep for six years; and therewas it beside some bush of flaming gorse he had an experience like that of Moses of old when leading his sheep about “the hill of God,” an experience which resulted in an inward change and affected his whole destiny. “There," he tells us in his Confession, “the Lord opened the understanding of my unbelief, that, even though late, I might recall to mind my sins, and that I might be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God, who regarded my humility, and took pity on the youth of my ignorance, and protected me before I knew him, and before I had discernment, or could distinguish between good and evil, and strengthened and consoled me as a father his son." It is not to be wondered that the exiled lad should recall the religious teaching in which he had been brought up, and in his lonely broodings should have his spirit stirred to a great fervour of devotion. “The love of God, and the fear of Him, increased more and more," he says, “ so that in a single day I prayed as often as a hundred times, and by night almost as frequently, even while I was sojourning in the woods and on the mountain. Before daybreak I used to be awakened to prayer in snow, frost and rain, and I felt no hurt, because the spirit was then fervent in me." But along with this fervour of devotion, there was the desire to return to his own home; and at last he ran away, and after trudging two hundred miles he reached a port, where he found a ship on the point of sailing. After some hesitation the captain allowed him to come on board, engaging him probably to help in managing the Celtic hounds which were part of the freight. The vessel was bound for Gaul, but that mattered little to Patrick. Anywhere out of Ireland, and any way, even a very long way round, that would bring him home at last, was welcome to him.
Gaul had suffered desolation from invading Vandals and Sueves and other barbarians-desolation so terrible as to make a contemporary Gallic poet say that “ If the whole ocean had poured its waters into the fields of Gaul, its vasty waves would have spared more than the invaders."1 Patrick and his companions travelled through Gaul to Italy, experiencing much hardship by the way. In Italy he seems to have parted from the rest of the company. On his homeward journey he found a resting place for a while, perhaps for some years, on the little island of Lerinus, off the coast of Provence, where a monastery had recently been established. There probably he came under the spell of the monastic ideal, and learnt much that was to prove useful to him in the work of his life. When at last he reached home he was warmly welcomed by his kinsfolk and was glad to be among them again. But ere long he began to feel that a settled and sheltered life among his own people was not to be his. A strong missionary impulse was stirring within him; and his thoughts were ever turning compassionately to the heathen in the land of his captivity. At the critical times in his life he believed that he had guidance from dreams, and such leading was not wanting
1 See The Life of St. Patrick, by J. B. Bury, p. 35.