Who was St. Patrick?


(Adapted from www.anglican1000.org)

St. Patrick was a dynamic, missionary bishop who was used by God to lead a church planting movement across the green island of Ireland during the fifth century.  Originally born a Roman citizen in Britain, he was captured as a young, wealthy, tumultuous teenager and sold into slavery to a Druid chief in Ireland.  During his time of servitude, he began to worship the Living God as he saw the created order around him “declaring the glory of God” – the same one that he had learned about in the catechism, but mocked as irrelevant to his life.  He providentially escaped from slavery, returned to Britain, and eventually studied for the ministry.  Late in life, he received a call back to those who had enslaved him – a call to take the Gospel to the Irish.  By the end of his ministry (of 28 years), he led a movement that saw 700 congregations planted, 1000 priests ordained, about 30-40 of the 150 tribes become substantially Christian, a marked decrease in tribal warfare, and set the course for the abolition of slavery in Ireland in the sixth century.


The Celtic Way of Evangelism, George Hunter recounts the uniqueness of St. Patrick’s method of ministry – The Apostolic Band:

Patrick’s entourage would have included a dozen or so people, including priests, seminarians, and two or three women.  Upon arrival at a tribal settlement, Patrick would engage the king and other opinion leaders, hoping for their conversion, or at least permission to camp near the people and form into a community of faith adjacent to the tribal settlement.  The “apostolic team” (in the sense of the Greek word meaning “sent on mission”) would meet the people, engage them in conversation and ministry to look for people who appeared receptive …The team would spend weeks, or even months, as a ministering community of faith within the tribe, which produced astonishingly indigenous churches.  If they were successful, they built a church … left behind one of Patrick’s protégés to be the priest, and took one or two young people with them from the village.  Patrick engaged in this approach for 28 years.

This is radically different from the way many think about evangelism and church planting today:

In significant contrast to contemporary Christianity’s well-known evangelism approaches of “Lone Ranger” one-to-one evangelism, or confrontational evangelism, or the public preaching crusade, and in stark contrast to not reaching out at all, Celtic Christians usually evangelized as a team – by relating to the people of a settlement; identifying with the people; engaging in friendship, conversation, ministry, and witness – with the goal of raising up a church in measurable time.

Today, many church planters are following the advice of Hunter to recover the Celtic Way of Evangelism pioneered by St. Patrick of Ireland.  For example, Saint Patrick’s Church in Kentucky uses this as their guiding story.  Others, like William Beasley, are reintroducing the concept of the Apostolic Team as an incredibly effective means of planting remarkably indigenous congregations of faith.

For Saint Patrick’s own account of his conversion and life of service, read: The Confessio of Saint Patrick

Brigid and St. Patrick:
Brigit herself was considered in popular Irish mythology to be both mystic mother and bride of St. Patrick. Some legends have it that St. Patrick died as one of her sacrificial victims and entered the underworld via her sacredgrove at Derry Down. As the old Distich went, “On the hill of Down, burried in one tomb, were Bridget and Patricius.”

St. Patrick’s legends:
An Irish slave who grew to become bishop, St. Patrick is credited for traveling all over converting the Irish to Christianity. Patrick’s name meant “father ” and historians believe he may have been seen in the eyes of the ancient Irish as a new version of Brigit’s old consort The Dagda or “father god(s)”. The Dagda, also known as “the good god”, was the Celtic God of the earth and plenty. As snakes were symbols of both the earth and the male life force, it is no wonder that they showed up in St.Patrick’s most popular legend. The legend of St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland has come to be accepted as an allegory, as snakes were sacred to the Druids and also represented in Celtic thought esoteric knowledge.

Brigid’s Shrine:
The Celtic world in pre-Christian times was devoted to the goddess Brigit, the all encompassing goddess of healing, farming (particularly dairy), crafts (particularly smith crafts and poetry, the craft of words) and fire. At Brigit’s shrine at Kildare an ever burning sacred fire was kept lit in her honor by all female devotees. This shrine was later claimed by the church and there was built a convent. Brigit was canonized as St. Brigid and Catholic tradition had it that as a Druid convert to Christianity St.Brigid founded this the first convent in Ireland.