Saint Patrick “found Ireland all heathen and left it all Christian”
MARCH 17, around 461 AD, St. Patrick died.
As a teenager, the Roman Legions guarding his community in Britain had to be withdrawn to defend Rome from invading heathen hordes overrunning the borders.
These tribes had been displaced by the Huns, who attacked westward after the Later Eastern Han Dynasty extended sections of the Great Wall of China along its Mongolian border around 220 AD.
The displaced tribes of Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Franks, Anglos, Saxons, Alemanni, Thuringians, Rugians, Jutes, Picts, Burgundians, Lombards, Alans and Vandals migrated west across Central Asia into the Western Roman Empire.
After Roman Legions were withdrawn from Britain, raiders attacked and carried away thousands to sell into slavery in Ireland.
Patrick was captured and sold as a slave in Ireland, which was ruled by the Druids who practiced human sacrifice.
For six years Patrick herded animals for a Druid chieftain, as he wrote in his Confession:
“But after I came to Ireland — every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed — the love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened.
And my spirit was moved so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountains; and I used to get up for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain …
… There the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God who … comforted me as would a father his son.”
Then Patrick had a dream, as he wrote:
“One night I heard in my sleep a voice saying to me: `It is well that you fast, soon you will go to your own country.’
And again … a voice saying to me: `See, your ship is ready.’ And it was not near, but at a distance of perhaps two hundred miles … Then I took to flight … I went in the strength of God who directed my way … until I came to that ship.”
Patrick eventually made his way back to Britain and was reunited with what was left of his family.
Then, when he was about 40 years old, he had another dream calling him back to Ireland as a missionary.
In his Confession, Patrick wrote:
“In the depth of the night, I saw a man named Victoricus coming as if from Ireland, with innumerable letters, and he gave me one and while I was reading I thought I heard the voice of those near the western sea call out: ‘Please, holy boy, come and walk among us again.’
Their cry pierced my very heart, and I could read no more, and so I awoke.”
Patrick returned to Ireland, confronted the Druids, converted Chieftains, and used the three-leaf clover to teach the Trinity.
The Druids tried to ambush and kill Patrick nearly a dozen times:
“Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity, but I fear none of these things because of the promises of Heaven.”
Encyclopedia Britannica stated that Patrick challenged: “royal authority by lighting the Paschal fire on the hill Slane on the night of Easter Eve. It chanced to be the occasion of a pagan festival at Tara, during which no fire might be kindled until the royal fire had been lit.”
As Patrick’s fire on the hill of Slane illuminated the countryside, King Loigaire (King Leary) is said to have exclaimed:
“If we do not extinguish this flame it will sweep over all Ireland.”
Mary Cagney, in “Patrick the Saint” (Christianity Today, Issue 60), wrote:
“Predictably, Patrick faced the most opposition from the Druids, who practiced magic … and advised Irish kings.
Biographies of the saint are replete with stories of Druids who ‘wished to kill holy Patrick’ …
One biographer from the late 600’s, Muirchu’, described Patrick challenging Druids to contests at Tara …
The custom was that whoever lit a fire before the king on that night of the year (Easter’s eve) would be put to death.
… Patrick lit the paschal fire before the king on the hill of Slane.
The people saw Patrick’s fire throughout the plain, and the king ordered 27 chariots to go and seize Patrick …
Seeing that the impious heathen were about to attack him, Patrick rose and said clearly and loudly,
‘May God come up to scatter his enemies, and may those who hate him flee from his face.’
… By this disaster, caused by Patrick’s curse in the king’s presence because of the king’s order, seven times seven men fell … And the king driven by fear, came and bent his knees before the holy man.'”
Baptizing 120,000, Saint Patrick founded 300 churches.
The World Book Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Field Enterprises, Inc., 1957, p. 6142):
Saint Patrick “found Ireland all heathen and left it all Christian.”
St. Patrick wrote:
“Patrick the sinner, an unlearned man to be sure. None should ever say that it was my ignorance that accomplished any small thing, it was the gift of God.”
In the next century, Irish missionaries sailed back to Europe and evangelized the heathen hordes which had overrun the Roman Empire.