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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

The Sixth Life was written by Jocelyn of Furness. Colgan thinks that he was a Welshman, and belonged to the monastery of Chester. In 1182 John de Curci expelled the secular Canons from the Cathedral of Down, and imported in their stead a colony of ‘black monks,’ apparently from Chester. Amongst them was Jocelyn, probably their prior, who, at the request of Thomas, Archbishop of Armagh, and of Malachi, Bishop of Down, undertook to write the Life of St. Patrick in a more elegant style than his previous biographers, ‘pruning the superfluous, expunging the false, and elucidating the obscure statements’ of the older Lives, composed, he says, by illiterate men. The author, however, is rather pedantic in his style, aiming at what he considers elegance of language, rather than accuracy of statement. Thomas (O’Connor) was created Archbishop of Armagh in 1185, so the Life cannot have been written before that date. Neither was it written after 1186, for it contains no reference to the invention and translation of the bodies of Patrick, Brigid and Columcille, which certainly took place in that year. Hence, we infer that it was composed in 1185–86, and finished before the alleged invention took place. Malachi, the Bishop of Down at the time, was not the great St. Malachi, who died in 1148, but another Malachi, the third of the name, who ruled the See from 1176 to 1200, or perhaps 1201.

Jocelyn wrote at the request of John de Curci, the conqueror and plunderer of Ulster, but the “loving servant of St. Patrick,” who wished to have the Saint’s life and deeds worthily recorded. Some Irishmen, however, sneered, it would seem, at an Anglican monk undertaking such a task, but the monk resolved to treat them merely as ‘envious vipers,’ and, like St. Paul, shake them off his hand into the fire. So he tells us himself.

One fact stated by the author lends considerable authority to the narrative of Jocelyn. He quotes more than once a Life of St. Patrick written by his nephew, St. Mel. Unfortunately, that Life appears to be no longer extant, and hence we are unable to judge of the accuracy of Jocelyn’s quotations or references; but that he had such a work before him cannot be doubted, and this lends to the Vita Sexta an authority which otherwise it certainly would not possess. The fact, too, that he wrote in Downpatrick may have given him an opportunity of collecting local traditions regarding the Saint, which all the ecclesiastical writers did not possess. Jocelyn, like his countryman and contemporary, Gerald de Barri, was credulous; but we have no reason to doubt his veracity, and hence the Sixth Life is of considerable value, as reflecting the current views of the literary men of the time, in the North-East of Ireland, regarding the history of our national Apostle.






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