I just finished reading the book, St. Patrick of Ireland, by Philip Freeman (Simon & Schuster), and I highly recommend it to you. This biography of the man known in history as St. Patrick is well written, well-documented, and tells an inspiring story of one of the greatest Christian missionaries in world history. The book is based primarily on the letters of St. Patrick, Letters to the Soldiers of Coroticus and Confession. These letters, combined with excellent research by Professor Freeman, give us a reliable picture of the man and the times in which he lived. The story separates fact from legend, yet the picture it paints is no less inspiring and exciting.
I don’t want to ruin the story for you, but just imagine a 15 year old boy born into nobility in Roman England just prior to the turn of the 4th century AD who is seized by Irish raiders in the dead of night and forced into slavery in a brutal, pagan land with little hope of escape. It is a story of a world turned upside down, a story of re-energized faith in God, and a story of dedication to the will of God.
It was a hard and brutal world into which Patricius (Patrick) was born, even though he was the son of nobility. Slavery was present everywhere – in England, in Ireland, and throughout the world. It was considered to be a “natural state,” even by church leaders.
Patrick, however, had, for his day, a bright future in front of him. Listen to this description by Patrick himself from one of his letters…
“My Father was Calpornius, a deacon of the Church, and my grandfather was Potitus, a priest. His home was the village of Banna Venta Berniae, but he also had a country estate nearby.”
He would be well-educated in learning and would live a privileged life. But that was not God’s plan for Patrick.
As early as 55 B.C. Roman warriors crossed the English Channel in an attempt to subdue the Celtic tribes who then ruled England. Although that attempt failed, in 43 A.D. Roman legions cross the Channel again and this time the effort was successful, although the conquest of England, Wales, and Scotland was not completed until 84 A.D. It was into this Roman England that Patrick was born.
But he was thrust from this world of peace and privilege into a life of slavery in Ireland. While such an event might have led you and me to be bitter and angry at God, Patrick looked around him and saw the devastation that a life without faith in Jesus created. He was not angry, but instead he took pity on his captors and drew closer to God.
His incredible escape from slavery and his even more incredible call to return to Ireland as a missionary is a story that will captivate and amaze you. This imperfect vessel of clay was used by God to do great things for the people of Ireland and for the world. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the world is a better place today and that tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, took the path to heaven thanks to Patricius of Ireland.
You know the legends and the stories, but I encourage you to take a couple of enjoyable hours to read the facts about the amazing life of Patricius of Ireland. It’s a story that will inspire, amaze, and encourage you. Wherever the Gospel is told, and whoever God is pleased to choose as His instrument in sharing the Gospel, it is always a story worth reading. It’s a great story of love and compassion and grace. It is story that gives hope and life to those who embrace it.