Today many people across our country and throughout the world will find themselves wearing green and eventually drunk all in the name of ‘saint patrick‘. Yet, most are clueless as to who he was, what he really did, and why celebration began…
First, a few misconceptions about Patrick:
Patrick isn’t really a Saint with a capital S, having never been officially canonized by Rome. No, Patrick was protestant and a few trips to Belfast, Northern Ireland (as I have done many times) will clearly remind you that this is a touchy subject. Also, there’s the “snake myth” – ha – Patrick couldn’t have driven the snakes out of Ireland because there were never any snakes there to begin with. He wasn’t even the first evangelist to Ireland (Palladius had been sent in 431, about five years before Patrick went).
Patrick isn’t even Irish. It is believed by many that he was from what’s now Dumbarton, Scotland (just northwest of Glasgow). And, he definitely didn’t look like this picture!
Patrick was 16 years old in about the year 405, when he was captured in a raid and became a slave in what was still radically pagan Ireland. Far from home, he clung to the religion he had ignored as a teenager. Even though his grandfather had been a priest, and his father a town councilor, Patrick “knew not the true God.” But forced to tend his master’s sheep in Ireland, he spent his six years of bondage mainly in prayer. He escaped at the suggestion of a dream and returned home.
Patrick was in his mid-40s when he returned to Ireland. Palladius had not been very successful in his mission, and the returning former slave replaced him. Intimately familiar with the Irish clan system (his former master, Milchu, had been a chieftain), Patrick’s strategy was to convert chiefs first, who would then convert their clans through their influence. Reportedly, Milchu was one of his earliest converts. Then by going clan to clan, community to community, he was able to plant “Christian” churches and ultimately play a large role in spiritually liberating Ireland.
Though he was not solely responsible for converting the island, Patrick was quite successful. He made missionary journeys all over Ireland, and it soon became known as one of Europe’s Christian centers. This, of course, was very important to fifth-century Christians, for whom Ireland was one of the “ends of the earth.”
So, today, go ahead and wear the green IF you want but keep your wits about you – enjoy some irish stew or corned beef & cabbage – but ultimately be encouraged and challenged by the life of a former slave who, at all costs, obeyed the Great Commission to spread the Great News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
Honored to honor a Church Planting Hero: Patrick,