WHO WAS SAINT PATRICK?
As a protestant, I'm ashamed to say that I have never heard about St. Patrick in church. Maybe somewhere he was discussed, however, I don't remember learning about him in church in the 30+ years I've been a Christian. I researched him on my own when my son was younger. So, I am familiar with his life. However, today, I decided to revisit his story because St. Patrick's Day is this month. So, who was Saint Patrick anyway? A brief biography follows.
St. Patrick was a Christian missionary who lived in the late 4th-Early 5th Century.
He is considered the “Patron Saint” of Ireland. In the strictest sense, a “Patron Saint” is someone who is supposed to be a heavenly guide or protector of a particular group of people and/or a particular geographic region. In this case, Ireland.
Perhaps this is why the Protestant church is hesitant to discuss him as we don't believe in praying to saints. However, you don't have to pray to Patrick to genuinely appreciate him and what he represented. If you read his “Confessions,” which are his own words, you will find that he was a very humble man who did not consider himself anywhere near holy. Also, he spoke straight out of the Bible.
As a role model, Patrick is a good example of how a Christian (true believer) should view himself. His words remind us of how a true believer should trust in and rely on God as our source of strength and comfort.
When Patrick was 16 years old, he was kidnapped by pirates from his home in Great Britain.
He was taken as a slave to Ireland where he took care of animals. In his confessions Patrick discusses how he believed he was being corrected by God when he was kidnapped and that the Lord used the experiences of hunger and deprivation as a means to bring him to knowledge of the true God.
Patrick had a dream during the six-year period before he escaped and returned to his home in Great Britain. In the dream, God spoke to Patrick and he was converted. He states that before this experience, he had heard of the truths and laws, but did not apply them to himself. His conversion opened his eyes to his own sinfulness and need for God.
Patrick Heads Back to His Hometown
While working with the animals in Ireland, Patrick had a dream. In the dream, God revealed to him that he would be going back home on a ship. And that’s just what happened. He escaped and found the ship. However, at first, the crew of the ship wouldn’t allow him to board. As a result, Patrick went to where he was staying and prayed. A short time later, the crew came looking for him and said he could come along with them on the ship.
While on the voyage home, part of which was on land, he and his comrades were starving and losing faith. Patrick prayed to God and, shortly thereafter, they came upon a herd of pigs. Patrick saw this as an answer to prayer and as an opportunity to witness to the people he was travelling with. The meat from the pigs sustained them, along with wild honey, until they arrived at their destination. Patrick states in his “Confession” that he did not eat the wild honey.
Patrick's Spiritual Battle
Patrick discusses that during this trip, while sleeping one night, Satan attacked him and he had a giant boulder on top of him. Apparently, he overcame this, though it is not clear exactly how, because he made it home in one piece.
When he returned to his home, his parents were so happy to see him that they begged him to never leave again. However, he felt led by God to return to Ireland to witness to the people who did not know the true God.
He did not immediately leave, and according to his “Confession,” sometime later he was accused of a sin that he had previously committed before becoming a Christian. He states that he had already confessed to this sin before being accused, and that he did not understand why the person he confessed to shared the information with others in the church.
Regardless of why, Patrick believed that this was the method God used to correct him to push him to do what he had been called to do: “Go to Ireland and preach the gospel.” Many people became Christians because of Patrick’s missionary work in Ireland.
Was St. Patrick a Christian Martyr?
Patrick was not martyred in the traditional sense. That is, he was not executed. However, based on his “Confession,” he was persecuted by the leadership of the church in Britain, probably because they were offended by his pointed discussions of our sinfulness and need for repentance.
Very similar to the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, the leadership was offended by him and wanted to shut him up by accusing him of sin in order to delegitimize him. God used this persecution to send Patrick where He wanted him to go: Ireland. (Matthew 15:12)
The Legend of the Shamrock
While in Ireland, Patrick followed God’s leading and “drove out the snakes” (snake is symbolic of Satan). The Legend of the Shamrock, which is often connected with the driving out of snakes, refers to the 3-leaf clover, which Patrick used to represent the 3 persons of the Holy Trinity. The “driving out of snakes” and the “the shamrock” are often connected in stories.
It is not clear how Patrick died, but many sources say he died around 461 AD.
In addition to this short article, I have created a fun “Who was St. Patrick” Activity Pack for your kids.
I included the delicious recipes we created for “Kid-Friendly Reuben Sandwiches and Baked Sweet Potato Fries as well.” So don't miss out!
The Confession of St. Patrick