Throughout history, hardships and trials have come in the lives of men. Many times it is hard to see the purpose of these difficulties while we endure them, but afterwards we see God’s providential purpose in bringing about these events.
Such events occurred in the life of Patrick of Ireland (or Saint Patrick as he is better known). Patrick was born into a Christian family sometime around 387 A.D. in northern Britain. His father Calpurnius was a deacon in the church and apparently a Roman citizen of good standing, having a small villa in Roman-Era Britain. Though he grew up in a Christian home, Patrick says in his Confession that he was a rebellious child and “did not, indeed know the true God.”
At age 16, Patrick encountered God’s providence. The Visigoth of Germany had invaded Italy and sacked Rome. To defend the capitol city, the Roman Legions stationed in Britain headed back toward Italy to attack the Visigoth. This left the coasts of Britain unprotected from the Irish raiders. Patrick was captured by one of these raiding parties and taken to Ireland were he was sold as a slave. All of this was under God’s sovereign control.
It was in this distant and foreign land that Patrick recognizing himself as one who had transgressed the laws of God, turned from his sin and put his faith in the one true God.
“[In Ireland] the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance.”
For six years Patrick remained a captive in this barbaric land, serving his master as a shepherd. Patrick says that he prayed up to one hundred times each morning and said the same number of prayers at night. It was in the mountains of Ireland that his fear of God and his faith increased. After six years, he heard a voice telling him “Behold, your ship is ready,” and after a 200 mile trek across Ireland he joined the crew of a ship bound for Britain.
Once he was reunited with his family, Patrick had a vision of a man bringing him a letter from Ireland begging him to return and walk among them. After an unknown number of years of study and preparation, Patrick returned to Ireland where he would remain for the rest of his life.
In his Confession, Patrick expresses his reasons to return to Ireland:
“I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on my 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.”
Indeed that is what Patrick did. He preached the gospel up and down the Ireland coast, through the swamps and over the mountains. He saw it as his personal calling to bring the gospel to the heathens in Ireland.
Patrick’s character was uncompromising. Prior to his ministry, the Pelagian heresy sprang up in Britain and ran rampant through western Europe. But Patrick’s Confession demonstrates his fast holding to the biblical doctrines of Original Sin and the Sovereignty of God. He also exhibited godly character in his refusal of gifts from his converts and bribes from important citizens.
Patrick’s influence on western civilization is not known by most people, though it is far reaching in it application. When a king or ruler of an Irish tribe would be converted, Patrick left with him a book, Liber ex Lege Moisi (The Book of the Law of Moses). The book included the Ten Commandments and case laws from Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. These laws were then implemented throughout Ireland and became the basis of Irish Common Law. When Alfred the Great united England in the ninth Century, he implemented a uniform law code based on the Mosaic law derived from Patrick’s Liber ex Lege Moisi, which he had studied under Asser, a Celtic Christian scholar. This law code created the foundation of English Common Law, and became the principle on which the Constitution of the United States was built.
Patrick of Ireland is truly a remarkable man. Not only for his impact on western civilization, but also for his desire to live among the barbarians of Ireland for the sole purpose of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.