St. Patrick—How Ireland was first Christianized—Pagan Rome used
providentially to promote the Faith—The Mission of St.
Palladius—Innocent I. claims authority to found Churches and condemn
Heresy—Disputes concerning St. Patrick's Birthplace—Ireland receives
the Faith generously—Victoricus—St. Patrick's Vision—His Roman
Mission clearly proved—Subterfuges of those who deny it—Ancient Lives
of the Saint—St. Patrick's Canons—His Devotion and Submission to the
Holy See.

[A.D. 378-432.]

t has been conjectured that the great Apostle of Ireland, St. Patrick,
was carried captive to the land of his adoption, in one of the
plundering expeditions of the monarch Nial—an eminent instance of the
overruling power of Providence, and of the mighty effects produced by
causes the most insignificant and unconscious. As we are not writing an
ecclesiastical history of Ireland, and as we have a work of that nature
in contemplation, we shall only make brief mention of the events
connected with the life and mission of the saint at present; but the
Christianizing of any country must always form an important epoch,
politically and socially, and, as such, demands the careful
consideration of the historian. How and when the seed of faith was sown
in ancient Erinn before the time of the great Apostle, cannot now be
ascertained. We know the silent rapidity with which that faith spread,
from its first promulgation by the shores of the Galilean lake, until it
became the recognized religion of earth's mightiest empire. We know,
also, that, by a noticeable providence, Rome was chosen from the
beginning as the source from whence the light should emanate. We know
how pagan Rome, which had subdued and crushed material empires, and
scattered nations and national customs as chaff before the wind, failed
utterly to subdue or crush this religion, though promulgated by the
feeblest of its plebeians. We know how the material prosperity of that
mighty people was overruled for the furtherance of eternal designs; and
as the invincible legions continually added to the geographical extent
of the empire they also added to the number of those to whom the gospel
of peace should be proclaimed.

The first Christian mission to Ireland, for which we have definite and
reliable data, was that of St. Palladius. St. Prosper, who held a high
position in the Roman Church, published a chronicle in the year 433, in
which we find the following register: "Palladius was consecrated by Pope
Celestine, and sent as the first Bishop to the Irish believing in
Christ."[110] This mission was unsuccessful. Palladius was repulsed by
the inhabitants of Wicklow,[111] where he landed. He then sailed
northward, and was at last driven by stress of weather towards the
Orkneys, finding harbour, eventually, on the shores of Kincardineshire.
Several ancient tracts give the details of his mission, its failure, and
his subsequent career. The first of those authorities is the Life of St.
Patrick in the Book of Armagh; and in this it is stated that he died in
the "land of the Britons." The second Life of St. Patrick, in Colgan's
collection, has changed Britons into "Picts." In the "Annotations of
Tierchan," also preserved in the Book of Armagh,[112] it is said that
Palladius was also called Patricius,[113] and that he suffered martyrdom
among the Scots, "as ancient saints relate."

Prosper also informs us, that Palladius was a deacon[114] of the Roman
Church, and that he received a commission from the Holy See to send
Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, to root out heresy,[115] and convert the
Britons to the Catholic faith. Thus we find the Church, even in the
earliest ages, occupied in her twofold mission of converting the
heathen, and preserving the faithful from error. St. Innocent I.,
writing to Decentius, in the year 402, refers thus to this important
fact: "Is it not known to all that the things which have been delivered
to the Roman Church by Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and preserved
ever since, should be observed by all; and that nothing is to be
introduced devoid of authority, or borrowed elsewhere? Especially, as it
is manifest that no one has founded churches for all Italy, the Gauls,
Spain, Africa, and the interjacent islands, except such as were
appointed priests by the venerable Peter and his successors."

Palladius was accompanied by four companions: Sylvester and Solinus, who
remained after him in Ireland; and Augustinus and Benedictus, who
followed him[116] to Britain, but returned to their own country after
his death. The Vita Secunda mentions that he brought relics of the
blessed Peter and Paul, and other saints, to Ireland, as well as copies
of the Old and New Testament, all of which were given to him by Pope

The birthplace of the great Apostle of Ireland has long been, and still
continues, a subject of controversy. St. Fiacc states that he was born
at Nemthur,[117] and the Scholiast on St. Fiacc's Hymn identifies this
with Alcuith, now Dumbarton, on the Firth of Clyde. The most reliable
authority unquestionably is St. Patrick's own statements, in his Confessio. He there says (1) that his father had a farm or villa at
Bonavem Taberniæ, from whence he was taken captive. It does not follow
necessarily from this, that St. Patrick was born there; but it would
appear probable that this was a paternal estate. (2)The saint speaks of
Britanniæ as his country. The difficulty lies in the identification of
these places. In the Vita Secunda, Nemthur and Campus Taberniæ are
identified. Probus writes, that he had ascertained as a matter of
certainty, that the Vicus Bannave Taburniæ regionis was situated in
Neustria. The Life supposed to be by St. Eleran, states that the parents
of the saint were of Strats-Cludi (Strath-Clyde), but that he was born
in Nemthur—"Quod oppidum in Campo Taburniæ est;" thus indicating an
early belief that France was the land of his nativity. St. Patrick's
mention of Britanniæ, however, appears to be conclusive. There was a
tribe called Brittani in northern France, mentioned by Pliny, and the
Welsh Triads distinctly declare that the Britons of Great Britain came
from thence.

There can be no doubt, however, that St. Patrick was intimately
connected with Gaul. His mother, Conchessa, was either a sister or niece
of the great St. Martin of Tours; and it was undoubtedly from Gaul that
the saint was carried captive to Ireland.

Patrick was not the baptismal name of the saint; it was given him by St.
Celestine[118] as indicative of rank, or it may be with some prophetic
intimation of his future greatness. He was baptized by the no less
significant appellation of Succat—"brave in battle." But his warfare
was not with a material foe. Erinn received the faith at his hands, with
noble and unexampled generosity; and one martyr, and only one, was
sacrificed in preference of ancient pagan rites; while we know that
thousands have shed their blood, and it maybe hundreds even in our own
times have sacrificed their lives, to preserve the treasure so gladly
accepted, so faithfully preserved.[119]

Moore, in his History of Ireland, exclaims, with the force of truth,
and the eloquence of poetry: "While in all other countries the
introduction of Christianity has been the slow work of time, has been
resisted by either government or people, and seldom effected without
lavish effusion of blood, in Ireland, on the contrary, by the influence
of one zealous missionary, and with but little previous preparation of
the soil by other hands, Christianity burst forth at the first ray of
apostolic light, and, with the sudden ripeness of a northern summer, at
once covered the whole land. Kings and princes, when not themselves
amongst the ranks of the converted, saw their sons and daughters joining
in the train without a murmur. Chiefs, at variance in all else, agreed
in meeting beneath the Christian banner; and the proud druid and bard
laid their superstitions meekly at the foot of the cross; nor, by a
singular blessing of Providence—unexampled, indeed, in the whole
history of the Church—was there a single drop of blood shed on account
of religion through the entire course of this mild Christian revolution,
by which, in the space of a few years, all Ireland was brought
tranquilly under the dominion of the Gospel."

It is probable that St. Patrick was born in 387, and that in 403 he was
made captive and carried into Ireland. Those who believe Alcuith or
Dumbarton to have been his birthplace, are obliged to account for his
capture in Gaul—which has never been questioned—by supposing that he
and his family had gone thither to visit the friends of his mother,
Conchessa. He was sold as a slave, in that part of Dalriada comprised in
the county of Antrim, to four men, one of whom, Milcho, bought up their
right from the other three, and employed him in feeding sheep or swine.
Exposed to the severity of the weather day and night, a lonely slave in
a strange land, and probably as ignorant of the language as of the
customs of his master, his captivity, would, indeed, have been a bitter
one, had he not brought with him, from a holy home, the elements of most
fervent piety. A hundred times in the day, and a hundred times in the
night, he lifted up the voice of prayer and supplication to the Lord of
the bondman and the free, and faithfully served the harsh, and at times
cruel, master to whom Providence had assigned him. Perhaps he may have
offered his sufferings for those who were serving a master even more
harsh and cruel.

After six years he was miraculously delivered. A voice, that was not of
earth, addressed him in the stillness of the night, and commanded him to
hasten to a certain port, where he would find a ship ready to take him
to his own country. "And I came," says the saint, "in the power of the
Lord, who directed my course towards a good end; and I was under no
apprehension until I arrived where the ship was. It was then clearing
out, and I called for a passage. But the master of the vessel got angry,
and said to me, 'Do not attempt to come with us.' On hearing this I
retired, for the purpose of going to the cabin where I had been received
as a guest. And, on my way thither, I began to pray; but before I had
finished my prayer, I heard one of the men crying out with a loud voice
after me, 'Come, quickly; for they are calling you,' and immediately I
returned. And they said to me, 'Come, we receive thee on trust. Be our
friend, just as it may be agreeable to you.' We then set sail, and after
three days reached land." The two Breviaries of Rheims and Fiacc's Hymn
agree in stating that the men with whom Patrick embarked were merchants
from Gaul, and that they landed in a place called Treguir, in Brittany,
some distance from his native place. Their charity, however, was amply
repaid. Travelling through a desert country, they had surely perished
with hunger, had not the prayers of the saint obtained them a miraculous
supply of food.

It is said that St. Patrick suffered a second captivity, which, however,
only lasted sixty days; but of this little is known. Neither is the
precise time certain, with respect to these captivities, at which the
events occurred which we are about to relate. After a short residence at
the famous monastery of St. Martin, near Tours, founded by his saintly
relative, he placed himself (probably in his thirtieth year) under the
direction of St. Germain of Auxerre.

It was about this period that he was favoured with the remarkable vision
or dream relating to his Irish apostolate. He thus describes it in his Confessio:—

"I saw, in a nocturnal vision, a man named Victoricus[120] coming as if
from Ireland, with a large parcel of letters, one of which he handed to
me. On reading the beginning of it, I found it contained these words:
'The voice of the Irish;' and while reading it I thought I heard, at the
same moment, the voice of a multitude of persons near the Wood of
Foclut, which is near the western sea; and they cried out, as if with
one voice, 'We entreat thee, holy youth, to come and henceforth walk
amongst us.'
And I was greatly affected in my heart, and could read no
longer; and then I awoke."

St. Patrick retired to Italy after this vision, and there spent many
years. During this period he visited Lerins,[121] and other islands in
the Mediterranean. Lerins was distinguished for its religious and
learned establishments; and probably St. Germain,[122] under whose
direction the saint still continued, had recommended him to study there.
It was at this time that he received the celebrated staff, called the Bachall Isu, or Staff of Jesus.

St. Bernard mentions this Bachall Isu, in his life of St. Malachy, as
one of those insignia of the see of Armagh, which were popularly
believed to confer upon the possessor a title to be regarded and obeyed
as the successor of St. Patrick. Indeed, the great antiquity of this
long-treasured relic has never been questioned; nor is there any reason
to suppose that it was not in some way a miraculous gift.

Frequent notices of this pastoral staff are found in ancient Irish
history. St. Fiacc speaks of it as having been richly adorned by an
ecclesiastic contemporary with the saint.

A curious MS. is still preserved in the Chapter House of Westminster
Abbey, containing an examination of "Sir Gerald Machshayne, knight,
sworn 19th March, 1529, upon the Holie Mase-booke and the great relicke
of Erlonde, called Baculum Christi
, the presence of the Kynge's
Deputie, Chancellour, Tresoror, and Justice."

Perhaps it may be well to conclude the account of this interesting relic
by a notice of its wanton destruction, as translated from the Annals of
Loch Cè by Professor O'Curry:—

"The most miraculous image of Mary, which was at Bailé Atha Truim (Trim), and which the Irish people had all honoured for a long time
before that, which used to heal the blind, the deaf, the lame, and every
disease in like manner, was burned by the Saxons. And the Staff of
Jesus, which was in Dublin, and which wrought many wonders and miracles
in Erinn since the time of Patrick down to that time, and which was in
the hand of Christ Himself, was burned by the Saxons in like manner. And
not only that, but there was not a holy cross, nor an image of Mary, nor
other celebrated image in Erinn over which their power reached, that
they did not burn. Nor was there one of the seven Orders which came
under their power that they did not ruin. And the Pope and the Church in
the East and at home were excommunicating the Saxons on that account,
and they did not pay any attention or heed unto that, &c. And I am not
certain whether it was not in the year preceding the above [A.D. 1537] that these relics were burned."

St. Patrick visited Rome about the year 431, accompanied by a priest
named Segetius, who was sent with him by St. Germanus to vouch for the
sanctity of his character, and his fitness for the Irish mission.
Celestine received him favourably, and dismissed him with his
benediction and approbation. St. Patrick then returned once more to his
master, who was residing at Auxerre. From thence he went into the north
of Gaul, and there receiving intelligence of the death of St. Palladius,
and the failure of his mission, he was immediately consecrated bishop by
the venerable Amato, a prelate of great sanctity, then residing in the
neighbourhood of Ebovia. Auxilius, Isserninus, and other disciples of
the saint, received holy orders at the same time. They were subsequently
promoted to the episcopacy in the land of their adoption.

In the year 432 St. Patrick landed in Ireland. It was the first year of
the pontificate of St. Sixtus III., the successor of Celestine; the
fourth year of the reign of Laeghairé, son of Nial of the Nine Hostages,
King of Ireland. It is generally supposed that the saint landed first at
a place called Inbher De, believed to be the mouth of the Bray river, in
Wicklow. Here he was repulsed by the in habitants,—a circumstance which
can be easily accounted for from its proximity to the territory of King
Nathi, who had so lately driven away his predecessor, Palladius.

St. Patrick returned to his ship, and sailing towards the north landed
at the little island of Holm Patrick, near Skerries, off the north coast
of Dublin. After a brief stay he proceeded still farther northward, and
finally entering Strangford Lough, landed with his companions in the
district of Magh-Inis, in the present barony of Lecale. Having
penetrated some distance into the interior, they were encountered by
Dicho, the lord of the soil, who, hearing of their embarkation, and
supposing them to be pirates, had assembled a formidable body of
retainers to expel them from his shores. But it is said that the moment
he perceived, Patrick, his apprehensions vanished. After some brief
converse, Dicho invited the saint and his companions to his house, and
soon after received himself the grace of holy baptism. Dicho was St.
Patrick's first convert, and the first who erected a Christian church
under his direction. The memory of this event is still preserved in the
name Saull, the modern contraction of Sabhall Padruic, or Patrick's
Barn. The saint was especially attached to the scene of his first
missionary success, and frequently retired to the monastery which was
established there later.

After a brief residence with the new converts, Patrick set out for the
habitation of his old master, Milcho, who lived near Slieve Mis, in the
present county of Antrim, then part of the territory called Dalriada. It
is said that when Milcho heard of the approach of his former slave, he
became so indignant, that, in a violent fit of passion, he set fire to
his house, and perished himself in the flames. The saint returned to
Saull, and from thence journeyed by water to the mouth of the Boyne,
where he landed at a small port called Colp. Tara was his destination;
but on his way thither he stayed a night at the house of a man of
property named Seschnan. This man and his whole family were baptized,
and one of his sons received the name of Benignus from St. Patrick, on
account of the gentleness of his manner. The holy youth attached himself
from this moment to his master, and was his successor in the primatial
see of Armagh.

Those who are anxious, for obvious reasons, to deny the fact of St.
Patrick's mission from Rome, do so on two grounds: first, the absence of
a distinct statement of this mission in one or two of the earliest lives
of the saints; and his not having mentioned it himself in his genuine
writings. Second, by underrating the value of those documents which do
mention this Roman mission. With regard to the first objection, it is
obvious that a hymn which was written merely as a panegyric (the Hymn of
St. Fiacc) was not the place for such details. But St. Fiacc does mention that Germanus was the saint's instructor, and that "he read his
canons," i.e., studied theology under him.

St. Patrick's Canons,[123] which even Usher admits to be genuine,
contain the following passage. We give Usher's own translation, as
beyond all controversy for correctness:—"Whenever any cause that is
very difficult, and unknown unto all the judges of the Scottish nation,
shall arise, it is rightly to be referred to the See of the Archbishop
of the Irish (that is, of Patrick), and to the examination of the
prelate thereof. But if there, by him and his wise men, a cause of this
nature cannot easily be made up, we have decreed it shall be sent to the
See Apostolic, that is to say, to the chair of the Apostle Peter, which
hath the authority of the city of Rome." Usher's translation of St.
Patrick's Canon is sufficiently plain, and evidently he found it
inconveniently explicit, for he gives a "gloss" thereon, in which he
apologizes for St. Patrick's Roman predilections, by suggesting that the
saint was influenced by a "special regard for the Church of Rome." No
doubt this was true; it is the feeling of all good Catholics; but it
requires something more than a "special regard" to inculcate such
absolute submission; and we can scarcely think even Usher himself could
have gravely supposed, that a canon written to bind the whole Irish
Church, should have inculcated a practice of such importance, merely
because St. Patrick had a regard for the Holy See. This Canon was acted
upon in the Synod of Magh-Lene, in 630, and St. Cummian attests the fact
thus:—"In accordance with the canonical, decree, that if questions of
grave moment arise, they shall be referred to the head of cities, we
sent such as we knew were wise and humble men to Rome." But there is yet
another authority for St. Patrick's Roman mission. There is an important
tract by Macutenius, in the Book of Armagh. The authenticity of the
tract has not, and indeed could not, be questioned; but a leaf is
missing: happily, however, the titles of the chapters are preserved, so
there can be no doubt as to what they contained. In these headings we
find the following:—

"5. De ætate ejus quando iens videre Sedem Apostolicam voluit discere

"6. De inventione Sancti Germani in Galiis et ideo non exivit ultra."

Dr. Todd, by joining these two separate titles, with more ingenuity than
fairness, has made it appear that "St. Patrick desired to visit the
Apostolic See, and there to learn wisdom, but that meeting with St.
Germanus in Gaul he went no further."[124] Even could the headings of
two separate chapters be thus joined together, the real meaning of et
ideo non exivit ultra
would be, that St. Patrick never again left
Germanus,—a meaning too obviously inadmissible to require further
comment. But it is well known that the life of St. Patrick which bears
the name of Probus, is founded almost verbally on the text of
Macutenius, and this work supplies the missing chapters. They clearly
relate not only the Roman mission of the saint, but also the saint's
love of Rome, and his desire to obtain from thence "due authority" that
he might "preach with confidence."