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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

The Seventh Life is the famous Tripartite, as Colgan called it, and is far the most valuable and complete of all the extant Lives of the Apostle. Neither the time nor place of its composition, nor the name of the author, can now be ascertained with certainty; but that he was a master of the Gaelic tongue, was fairly acquainted with Latin, and had a marvellous knowledge of the topography of all Ireland, is quite evident from every page of his work. He traces the missionary journeys of the Saint with the greatest care, showing an accurate acquaintance with the history of the personages, and the names of the places, which he often describes with minute fidelity. No doubt the writer had existing records before him, but he must have mastered them thoroughly, and reproduced them exactly, if he did not actually follow the footsteps of the Saint throughout the land. In this respect neither Muirchu nor Tirechan gives us the same abundant details, nor the same vivid local colouring to the narrative. And yet this Life was spoken as a homily in three parts, addressed, probably, on the three festive days of the Saint, the 16th, 17th and 18th of March, to the religious community in which the speaker resided, but which, unfortunately, we cannot identify.

Colgan attributes this Life to St. Evin of Monasterevan, who flourished about the middle of the sixth century, and regards it as that which Jocelyn describes as written partly in Latin and partly in Irish, and attributes to St. Evin. O’Curry, on linguistic grounds alone, would be prepared to admit that the work might have been written by St. Evin, but he was staggered by the various references in the text to personages who flourished, and events which took place, at a much later period—some so late as the ninth, and even the beginning of the tenth century. Stokes—who was the first to print the Irish Tripartite, and has given us an admirable edition, not only of that work itself, but of almost all the Patrician documents derived from the Book of Armagh and other sources—holds that the “Tripartite could not have been written before the middle of the tenth century, and that it was probably compiled in the eleventh.”

His reasons are partly linguistic, and partly historical. The manifold forms of Early Middle Irish to be found in the text tend to show, he says, that the work was compiled in the eleventh century, and we must admit with him that some of the historical personages referred to certainly flourished in the ninth century. We will only observe, with reference to the first argument, that, in case of popular works like the Tripartite, it was quite a common custom for the scribes of successive generations to modify the more ancient linguistic forms, so as to render them intelligible to the scholars of their own times; and also to interpolate passages of their own, to show the fulfilment of the alleged prophecies quoted in their text. We believe it can be easily shown that the introduction of later grammatical forms, and of later historical events, can be easily explained, if we only bear in mind these two undoubted facts. We do not attribute the Tripartite in its present form to St. Evin, but it appears to us that there is nothing to prevent his being the original author of the work.






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