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now. "I beheld,” he says, “ in a vision of the night a man called Victoricus, coming as it were from Ireland with letters innumerable. And he gave me one of them which contained 'The Voice of the Irish, and while I was reading aloud the beginning of the letter, methought that at that very moment I heard the voice of those who lived beside the wood of Foclad, which is near the Western Sea. And as with one voice they thus exclaimed, “We beseech thee, O holy youth, that thou come hither and still walk with us.' And I was greatly affected at heart and could read no more ; and so I awoke. Thanks be to God that after many years the Lord granted to them according to their request.” His friends tried to persuade him to remain with them, and being himself intensely home-loving, he was loth to go again into exile. But the Divine call was urgent; and thus it was that, as he says, he “ came to the heathen Irish to preach the Gospel.” His success in that work astonished no one more than it did himself; for he was a man of rare humility, and very conscious of his limitations, especially of what he calls his "rusticity and lack of learning." There were a number of Christians, and perhaps a few Christian Churches, in Ireland before he began his labours; but the conversion of the people was practically his achievement, or rather, as he would have said emphatically, it was “the gift of God ” through him.
His Confession is not a confession in the ordinary sense, not a disclosure, that is, of his faults and misdeeds, though it begins and ends with the description of himself as “ Patrick the sinner.” It is rather an apology or defence of himself against some who were jealous of his success and had spoken disparagingly of him. Thus it is not unlike St. Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians. One of his detractors, a former friend, to whom he had given his confidence, had declared that Patrick was unworthy of the office of bishop, to which he had been raised, because of a sin committed in his boyhood, some forty years before. Others regarded him as unfitted for the office because of his lack of culture. And Patrick admits that everything that is said against him is true. He owns sorrowfully to the sin of his boyhood; he confesses that he is no scholar, only a plain, uneducated man. How then, he asks, was it that he had been able to bring the heathen Irish to the feet of Christ, and how came he to be appointed Bishop over them ? He could only answer that it had all been brought about by the grace of God. “I was,” he says, “ like a stone lying in the deep mire, and He that is powerful came and in his mercy lifted me up, and placed me on the top of the wall.” The stone which some of the builders would have rejected had been made the head of the corner; and all through the Confession there is the acknowledgement that “it is the Lord's doing," and that it is marvellous in Patrick's own eyes.
But although Patrick was not much of a scholar he must have been a man of great practical ability. The Irish people in his time were divided up into various clans or tribes and petty kingdoms; with one “high king” or overlord, having his seat at Tara ; and their conversion bespeaks a force of character and a resource and skill in the management of men that belong only to the greatest leaders. Above all Patrick was possessed of a consuming zeal for the Gospel he preached, and an apostolic passion for souls; and he had such a sense of the presence and help of God as made him regardless of danger and incapable of admitting defeat. For the heathen people among whom he worked he had a real affection, and for all that was worthy in them he had an ever ready word of appreciation. Once, it is said, some one spoke to him about Ossian, the heathen poet, describing him as one "who never asked anything from any man, and never refused any man anything; for himself he wished only to keep the head with which he ate, and the feet with which he walked.” “ That is a great character,” said Patrick.
As to the kind of doctrine which Patrick taught we may learn something from the story which is told of his meeting with the two daughters of the king of Meath.
They had come to a fountain near which Patrick and others who were strangers to them, were seated, and they asked, “ Whence have ye come and where is your home?" And Patrick answered, no doubt with a smile, “ It were better for you to believe in the true God whom we worship than to ask questions about ourselves.” Then the elder girl said, “Who is God, and where is God, and of whom is he God ? . . . Is he in heaven or on earth, in the sea, in the hill places, in the valleys ? Tell us how we may know him.” And Patrick answered : “Our God is the God of all men, the God of heaven and earth, of sea and rivers, of sun and moon and stars, of the lofty mountain and the lowly valleys, the God above heaven, and in heaven, and under heaven; he has his dwelling around heaven and earth and sea and all that in them is. He inspires all, he dominates all, he supports all. He lights the light of the sun, he furnishes the light of night; he has made springs in the dry land, and has set stars to
minister to the greater lights. He has a Son co-eternal with himself, and like unto himself. The Son is not younger than the Father, nor the Father older than the Son. And the Holy Spirit breathes in them. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are not divided. I wish to unite you with the Heavenly King, as ye are daughters of an earthly one. Believe."1 And they believed, and were baptized in the fountain there and then.
Under such teaching the people forsook the Druid altars and adopted the new faith, "a people,” as Patrick says," whom the Lord took from the ends of the earth, as he formerly promised through his prophets.”
Patrick's sympathetic nature, which reveals itself in every line of the Confession, must, as I suggested, have been one great secret of his success in bringing the heathen Irish to Christ. The tenderness of his heart comes out in his sensitiveness to the reproaches that were being cast at him. It was no mere offended self-love that made him complain of his detractors, and made him seek to justify himself in the eyes of the world. It was because he felt that this detraction was poisoning the springs of his influence for good over the souls of those whom he had gathered into the Christian Church, and because it tended to make men irresponsive to the love that welled up in his own heart towards them, that he decided to write the Confession.
One of the most noteworthy things about the Confession is the absence of miracles, while the lives of the saint are full of them. If we ask why Patrick records none, perhaps the best reply is, because his whole life seemed to him a transcendant miracle. That God had
* J. B. Bury, Life of St. Patrick, pp. 138–40.
chosen just him, out of so many, him the sinner, the least of all the faithful, unlearned as he was, to carry out such a great work as the conversion of the Irish-that filled his soul with amazement ! God had been with him, besetting him behind and before. As he says in the poem, called his “ Breastplate":
God's virtue to pilot me,
Alone and in a multitude -in the sense of this Divinity that encompassed him and shaped his ends, life became for Patrick a perpetual miracle.
St. Patrick is supposed to have died in 463. The most famous of his successors, Columba, was born in the north of Ireland nearly sixty years later, in 521. He was of royal lineage, being descended from one of the kings whom Patrick had converted to Christianity. During the sixty years much had been built on the foundation laid by Patrick, and the people had been more com