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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

We need not now give a full account of this, the most authentic and venerable of all our ancient historical books. It has been conclusively shown by the late Dr. Graves that the Book was copied in its present form for Torbach, heir of Patrick—who was Primate of Armagh in the year 807–8, for his death took place in July of the latter year. The actual scribe was Ferdomnach, who died in A.D. 845; but it is expressly stated he made this copy from the dictation of Torbach, heir of Patrick. So the Book was written in 808, or rather copied from earlier documents, which the Primate himself read from the old copies in his custody, even then, perhaps, partially obliterated.

The first document in the Book of Armagh is the MEMOIR, or brief Life of St. Patrick, by Muirchu Maccu Machteni. He tells us, in the short preface, that he wrote it in obedience to the command of Aedh (or Hugh), Bishop of Sletty, who died A.D. 698. The writer apologises for his rude style—vilis sermo—and refers to the different accounts of the Acts of Patrick, even then in circulation, which made it a difficult task for him to produce one clear and certain narrative.

The first leaf of this invaluable Memoir is lost from the Book of Armagh, but its contents have been supplied by Stokes and others, in their published copies from the Brussels MSS. The first page of leaf 9 of the Book of Armagh contains the Dicta Sancti Patritii, written in rather rude Latin; and, though immediately following Muirchu’s narrative, they appear to be otherwise disconnected with it, and were probably not written by him originally, but by some other scribe.

The second important document in the Book of Armagh, beginning at the second page of leaf 9, is the Notes or Annotations of Tirechan on the Life of St. Patrick. They do not, as their name implies, form a consecutive narrative, but were partially copied from an older book, and partially jotted down from the dictation of Bishop Ultan, of Ardbraccan, who died in A.D. 656, and was tutor or foster-father of Tirechan. The book of Bishop Ultan, to which Tirechan refers, appears to be the Commemoratio Laborum, which was said to have been written by St. Patrick himself. If this be not the Confession, as we have it, that work is no longer in existence. These Notes of Tirechan being so early, and derived from sources so authentic, form, perhaps, the most authoritative of any of the documents regarding St. Patrick. The Additions to Tirechan’s Notes in the Book of Armagh comprise many entries which relate to the associates of St. Patrick, and give short notices of their missionary labours. Some briefer notes still, or catchwords, have been written in a smaller hand, and by a different scribe, in this part of the Book of Armagh, but all bearing on the history of St. Patrick.

At folios 20 and 21 we have what is called the Book of the Angel—Liber Angeli—which is quite distinct from Muirchu’s Memoir and from Tirechan’s Notes. It purports to be a Revelation made to Patrick by an Angel, as he rested or slept one day near his city of Armagh. The Angel, in reward for the Saint’s great labours, by command of God, defines the boundaries of his vast See, and also the rights and privileges which it was to enjoy amongst the men of Erin for all time. The record is valuable as furnishing us with an early and authentic account, not only of the extent of the See of Patrick, but also of the manifold prerogatives which it enjoyed from time immemorial. This record was of particular value at a later period, when the Primate made his periodical visitations, not only in Ulster, but also in Munster and Connaught, and everywhere ‘received his due.’ Perhaps it was to lend additional authority to this venerable record of the privileges and jurisdiction of Armagh, that, in after times, it was attributed to an Angel, sent specially to reveal them to Patrick. This would not be considered wonderful, as it was known that Patrick was often privileged to receive angelic visitants.

The last and most important Patrician document in the Book of Armagh is the CONFESSION of St. Patrick. He himself at the very end pathetically says—“And this is my Confession before I die.” The copyist adds—“Thus far the volume which Patrick wrote with his own hand”—which seems to refer to the Confession only, and to indicate that the document which the copyist had before him was the autograph writing of the Apostle himself. The Confession is admitted by all competent critics to be authentic, for the evidence, especially the intrinsic evidence, is quite conclusive. The Confession never could have been the work of a forger. The best edition is perhaps that of Haddan and Stubbs. We shall examine its authenticity more fully hereafter.






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