He Is Patrick

The Real Sinner St. Patrick & His Saintly Parade

When I was in college, people I knew would make the five-hour trek every March to Savannah, Georgia, for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival. As far as I knew, it was a day of parades, shamrocks, leprechauns, and drunk fests, usually involving copious amounts of green beer. Later, I learned that in Chicago, they actually dye their river green. Anyway, although I come from Irish stock (hard to deny it when you have red hair and green eyes), it wasn’t until well into adulthood that I learned St. Patrick was a real man from history. You probably know more about these things than I did then, but did you know:

  • That Patrick was not Irish but was born in late Roman Britain?
  • That he was kidnapped as a youth, taken to Ireland, and there sold into slavery?
  • That he escaped and years later returned, convinced that God had called him to preach the gospel to Druids and pagans?

In order that the world might know more about the man behind centuries of legend, CBN Films has produced an excellent docudrama on his life. Featuring John Rhys-Davies (Gimli from Lord of the Rings) and Sean T. O’Meallaigh (Vikings) as the older and younger Patrick, I Am Patrick: The Patron Saint of Ireland blends dramatized reenactments filmed in Ireland with expert historical commentary and Patrick’s own writings, particularly his Confessio, written in his last years, to bring to the screen the life of this man whose singular dedication to God changed the course of history.

Patrick was born around the year 400 into a relatively comfortable life. The son of a deacon and grandson of a priest, he could read and write and was catechized, but he remained indifferent to the faith. All that changed at the hands of Irish raiders:

I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others.

He spent the next six years as a shepherd, in loneliness and severe deprivation. He reflected on himself, his life, and his relationship to God:

We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments. We would not listen to our priests, who advised us about how we could be saved. The Lord brought his strong anger upon us, and scattered us among many nations even to the ends of the earth. It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was.

Eventually, he came to see the hardship as a merciful chastisement from a loving God:

It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognised my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance.  

I drew out these excerpts from his Confessio, although that part of the story only takes up a short portion of the film, because in that segment, he presents us with a profoundly counternatural response to suffering. I’m not sure I would say anyone “deserves” to be kidnapped and sold into slavery, but set that aside and ponder the humility that drove such a profession. Here was a man who knew he stood before God as a sinner without excuse. God owed him nothing. He owed God everything. There was no way to break that impass except to acknowledge it.

The problem of suffering may be the most difficult question of all for the Christian faith, and I wouldn’t dare try to address it in a run-of-the-mill blog post ... except to say this: if the picture of God we have in Scripture is accurate, Patrick’s response is appropriate. He’s left us an example, and we do well to reflect on it.

The film goes on to chronicle his escape from slavery, years of training to become a bishop, and return to Ireland where he would, like the Apostle Paul before him, preach, teach, baptize, and establish Christian enclaves until his death in 461. Through it all, he encountered opposition, both from Irish pagans and church clerics. And through it all, he entrusted himself to the God he had come to know as a loving savior and father, like David before him, while tending sheep.

“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,” wrote the Apostle Peter, “and he will lift you up in due time.” This is what Patrick the sinner did, and he never would have become Patrick the saint if he’d responded differently in his season of suffering. Years later, a parade of Irish Christian missionaries, the fruit of his labor, would cross the English Channel to the Continent and evangelize a post-Roman empire Europe. They established churches and monasteries in Gaul (France), Germany, Switzerland, and even Italy. There is no way to measure the effect on the world of Patrick’s humble acceptance of suffering.

But we can learn from his example. I Am Patrick: The Patron Saint of Ireland will be showing in theaters March 17th and 18th. The parades are being cancelled, anyway, so plan to see it as part of your St. Paddy’s day observance. Click here to see the trailer or here for theater and ticket information.

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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