We’ve been blessed over the years to be able to visit some different places connected with historical events and figures while on ministry trips. One of those places is associated with the man known as St. Patrick.
With this particular figure one needs to be discerning though, because as scholar Ruth Tucker (PhD in History, Univ. of Northern Illinois) says in her book From Jerusalem To Irian Jaya, “Popular opinion notwithstanding, Patrick was neither a Roman Catholic nor an Irishman and his promotion to sainthood was bestowed at the council of Whitby some two centuries after his death as an incentive to bring the Celtic Church under Roman Catholic domination, shrouded by legend and glorified by sainthood, his true ministry has been obscured almost beyond recognition.”
When I was attending Fuller Seminary, sometime before I graduated, Ruth Tucker came and lectured on this very topic at a special symposium. I began to see the truth of the saying “History is often written, or rather rewritten, by the victors.” In this case, the real story is much more interesting than the inaccurate legends promoted in Catholicism, such as: St. Patrick was the first Catholic Bishop of Ireland who drove the snakes out of the land. He wasn't a Catholic bishop and snakes have never existed in Ireland.
As a result, finding some of the real places that have some historical connection to St Patrick has almost been as hard as finding out about the real story of him.
We spent hours at a big cathedral named after him in Dublin only to find out later it has no historical connection to him whatsoever. It was built after his time and thus he never laid one brick there, nor visited it.
I did happen to here of an actual little church he built while out on the coast in County Sligo. We had headed out there and it was a bear of a trip from the start. Long hours in a bus with a not-so-cheerful driver. We actually went right by the hostel we booked but the driver said we couldn't get off there for some unknown reason. He drove us a good five miles away to an official bus stop in town so we could have the fun of hiking back, schlepping along with all our stuff on streets, many of which had no sidewalks, in places with cars whizzing by rather close—makes you realize what a miracle it is when someone goes out of their way to help you like a bus driver did in Germany once.
I heard there was a little church in the area built by Patrick, but it was hard to get info on where this little church might be. It was hard to find anyone who seemed to know or care about a real place connected with St. Patrick. A bit of fun surf in the area compensated for all the difficulties we endured.
Finally, I met a guy while getting a bite to eat who knew a thing or two; it was quite the relief after having people just shrug their shoulders whom I’d asked before this. We were informed, however, that getting there would mean running across an active airport runway…What??
So, we got the lowdown from the guy and headed out, walking out a ways to a little airport, where we found our way round and made sure no planes were coming in and did our mad dash across the runway. Ok, survived that, then it was through some bushes and up a little hill onto an overgrown path taking us out to the ruins of the very humble and broken down walls of an ancient little church. Such a stark contrast from the grandiose cathedral in Dublin.
I felt the Holy Spirit speaking through it all, that this is where he often meets us: in the low, humble, broken places of our lives. Jesus’ very words as he began his ministry were: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised..” (Luke 4:18)
These were the very words Jesus chose to speak as he began His ministry and He still carries this activity on as we open our hearts to the One who was born in a manger and died on a cross. It was quite the contrast to the traditional cathedral that put Christ high on an altar, far away.
He meets us down in the nitty gritty broken places of our lives. This is where St. Patrick himself first met Christ. The real story has important biblical parallels to learn from, as Patrick experienced a conversion to Christ and was called supernaturally into the ministry. While he was herding pigs as a slave, he came to Christ: He had been taken captive amongst a group of boys in Roman Britain by Irish barbarian raiders.
He had grown up previously in Roman Britain in a Christian family with a father who was a deacon and a grandfather who was a minister in the Celtic Church. This was before Roman Catholicism imposed itself upon the area and ministers in the Celtic Church were married.
However, Patrick didn't have a personal faith yet. But while he languished in Ireland, that land of difficult servitude, forced to herd filthy pigs, he had plenty of time to reflect on his life and way, and in that lowly time Patrick began to call upon God and experienced a conversion to Christ.
He says: “The Lord opened the understanding of my unbelief…that I might remember my faults and turn to the Lord…he had regard to my low estate and pitied my ignorance…He comforted and strengthened me as a father does a son.”
There in that lowly time he was redeemed and brought into relationship with Christ. Through this relationship, he discerned the leading of God supernaturally to escape and was led hundreds of miles away to find a ship out of Ireland.
He eventually returned to his family in Roman Britain and they considered him as one who had come back from the dead.
Later on, however, he felt a call to return to Ireland, this time as a missionary. In the depth of the night “I heard the voice of the Irish, of those of Focluth by the Western Sea call out, please holy youth come and walk amongst us again. Their cry pierced to my very heart and so I woke up.”
This Macedonian Call as it is known—a la Paul in Acts 16—led Patrick to go back to the land of his former servitude, Ireland, not as a slave but as a faith missionary.
He didn't go right away though, he spent considerable time preparing, in fact he didn't venture off to Ireland until well after he was in his 40s, which with the short lifespan of those days would be considered pretty late in life.
Once there he had many power encounters with Druids and others with pagan beliefs and the demonstrated power of God led many to conversions. Those converted were taught the Scriptures after receiving Christ, unlike in the Roman system. He also used the shamrock (three leaf clover) to explain the Trinity
Though he saw many converted and became a noted man in his own lifetime, he was ever aware of his own weaknesses and shortcomings, much like Paul the Apostle (Romans 7:14-25; 1Tim.:15-17) and credited God with all that was accomplished, saying of himself: “I pray that those who believe and fear God…[will see] Patrick of Ireland, the sinner, an unlearned man to be sure, that none should ever say it was my ignorance that accomplished any small thing in accordance with God’s will… let it be most truly believed, that it was the gift of God. And this is my confession before I die.”1
As stated by scholars Lang, Curtis and Petersen in their historical piece on St. Patrick: “The Church in Ireland had developed outside the hierarchical system of Rome, because Patrick evangelized the people without relying on the established church.”2 Rather, he was a faith missionary-evangelist that relied on God’s power and leading.
1 -- From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya by Ruth A. Tucker.
2 -- The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History by A. Kenneth Curtis, J. Stephen Lang, and Randy Petersen.
To watch our YouTube video on the Real St. Patrick click here.
Direct link: https://youtu.be/puQ-sT0K2dU