But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
There are many myths and legends that have developed through the years as to the man St. Patrick. First of all, it is important to make clear that Patrick was not Irish, but he was a Romanized Englishman. I will give more details on that shortly. Secondly, there is a legend that St. Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland. The reason that there are no snakes in Ireland today is that Patrick cast them all out! (I might want to move there now!) A third legend is that Patrick was a bishop sent by Rome to Ireland and there he taught the Irish about the Trinity using a shamrock. Lastly, “Kiss me, I’m Irish,” did not come from Patrick!
Now for the real St. Patrick: God raised up Patrick at a time when the church was in great decline as a result of Pope Leo. Tertullian, in the 3rd century, already speaks of merchants and soldiers bringing the teachings of Christianity to the British Isles. Patrick was born toward the end of the 4th century, about 389/390, a little before the fall of the Roman Empire. Rome had stretched its territory to the British Isles, into England, Wales and Scotland, but had not conquered Ireland. Most agree that Patrick, really Patricius, was born in southern England (some say northern England). His native language was Latin.
We learn these things from Patrick’s own autobiography which he called, like Augustine, Confession of St. Patrick. At the very beginning he declares that he is, “A sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many.” At age 16, England was raided by Irish pirates and Patrick along with thousands of Englishmen, was taken captive to the west coast of Ireland into slavery, where he would be for seven years. The reason he gives for Irish captivity is that the English have rejected God and have fallen into sin. The captivity is God’s judgment upon them. It was here that Patrick first learned of the sense of his own depravity and need of grace. He would be converted when he escaped from captivity and returned to England at age 23.
Following his conversion, God gave this Englishman a love in his heart for the pagans of Ireland. The Druids were of great influence there and promoted not even a hint of peaceful religion. The Druids were involved in all kinds of wickedness, even the sacrificing of their own children. It would not be until 430/431 that Patrick would return to Ireland to bring the gospel to them, never to return to England.
This came about in three main instances: The first was a vision that God had given to Patrick, much like that of the apostle Paul in Acts 16, when he saw the Macedonians say to him, “Come over here and help us!” Patrick claims to have had a similar experience of the Irish pleading for him to return to bring the gospel. Secondly, he felt compelled of God to go. He says, “I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favors and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.” Then lastly, Patrick understood that through the preaching of the gospel, God would call Abraham’s sons to himself according to his promise. So Patrick says, “We should fish well and diligently…It behooves us to spread our nets, that a vast multitude and throng might be caught for God.”
God granted Patrick great success in the northern half of Ireland. He spent his final 30 years preaching the gospel there until his death in 461. St. Patrick should be kissed, not because he was Irish, for he was not, but because God led him to return the land of his captivity and brought the gospel to them.
So during the month when Patrick’s life is celebrated, let us remember the real St. Patrick, and let us have a heart for the perishing like he had.
“Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (2 Corinthians 13:12)
Kiss me I’m…a Christian!