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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

Patrick having erected his cathedral church, naturally thought of defining the diocese that would be subject to his own immediate jurisdiction. His usual practice was to establish a bishop near the chieftain’s dun in each sub-kingdom, for he knew well that the men of one tribe would be very reluctant to submit themselves to a spiritual jurisdiction seated in another tribe. Now the great kingdom of Oriel, founded by the Collas, had, at that time, as was shown before, its chief royal seat at Clogher; wherefore Patrick, in accordance with his usual practice, had gone there several years before and set Bishop McCartan over the see which he had founded close to the royal residence.

But Oriel (Orghialla) was a very extensive territory, and really included two great kingdoms, those of Eastern and of Western Oriel. The name of Eastern Oriel is still retained in that of two modern baronies of Upper and Lower Orior, in the Co. of Armagh, and reference is made to it also in the Tripartite, where it is said the Daire and the nobles of Orior (Oirthir) attended St. Patrick when he was measuring and consecrating the site of his cathedral church on the hill of Armagh.

In this sense of the word, Oirthir, or Eastern Oriel, appears to have included six territories or sub-kingdoms; of these the King of the Ui Niallan, ‘of shining fame,’ appears to have been the nominal chief, and he dwelt at Armagh, partly on account of its ancient fame as the royal seat of Ulster, and partly, no doubt, because the land around it is amongst the best in the province. Therefore Patrick resolved, under the guidance of the Angel, to set up his own cathedral church in the same seat of ancient royalty, and thus include all Eastern Oriel within his own diocese of Armagh, as he had already assigned Western Oriel to the See of Clogher.

There was some reason to fear that all the sub-chiefs might not sanction this arrangement, and it would appear that Patrick was not himself free from all apprehension on the subject. But, according to the Tripartite, as he was resting at the end of a night—the early dawn—at Tipra Cerna, in Tir Tiprat, the Angel went to him and awoke him. Then Patrick, somewhat alarmed, said to the Angel, “Is there aught in which I am wont to offend God, or is His anger roused against me?” “There is not,” said the Angel, “but it has been ordained for thee by God, if it seems good to thee, that no one else shall have a share in Ireland save thee alone—(that is, that he should have primatial jurisdiction over the whole country)—and the extent of thine own termon, or boundary of thy See, from God is from Dromma Breg to Sliab Mis, and to Bri Airigi.” “But, surely,” replied Patrick. “Sons of Life will come after me, and I desire that they should have honour from God—(that is, jurisdiction)—after me in the land.” “That is charitable of you,” said the Angel, in reply, “but God hath given all Ireland to thee, and every freeman that abides in Ireland shall be thine”—that is subject to thy primatial jurisdiction. “I give God thanks,” said Patrick.

A somewhat different account is found in the Liber Angeli, in the Book of Armagh, a treatise which was intended to set out the prerogatives and privileges of the See of Armagh, and hence is more or less open to suspicion as a record of fact. It is true, indeed, that the Angel came to Patrick to make known to him the will of God at all the most critical times in his life, and Patrick’s Confession assures us that he had such celestial visitants more than once. This occasion, too, was certainly an important one, when there was question of defining the extent of his own episcopal jurisdiction. On the other hand, the Book of the Angel appears to have been written for a purpose, after the death of Patrick himself, and is, consequently, open to grave suspicion in narrating the angelic visions alleged to have been vouchsafed to the Saint.

The account of this particular vision is very circumstantial and plausible.

On a certain occasion, it tells us, Patrick went from his city of Armagh to baptise, teach, and cure a great number of people at the well (Tipra Cerna, as above), which is close to the eastern part of the aforesaid city. And he went before dawn of day to await the crowds who gathered there, and as he was weary from his vigils, sleep overpowered him at the well. Then the Angel came quickly from heaven and awoke him from sleep. “Lo, I am here,” said Patrick. “Have I done ought wrong in the sight of God? If so I crave His pardon.” “No,” said the Angel; “not so, but God has sent me to console you, seeing that you have converted all the Irish to the true faith in Him; for you have brought them to God by hard labour and much preaching, luminous with the grace of the Holy Spirit, and most beneficial to all these tribes of Ireland. And you have laboured at all times; in many dangers from the heathen; in cold and hunger and thirst; journeying daily from tribe to tribe, for the salvation of all. Now God sees your present place, which we see close at hand on the hill—how small it is, with your little church, and how it is hemmed in by the people of the place, and how its confines do not suffice to be a place of refuge for all. Therefore it is that God assigns very wide bounds to your City or See of Armagh, which you love so beyond all other lands of Erin, namely, from the Ben of Berbix (a pinna Berbicis) to Sliab Mis, and from Sliab Mis to Bri Erigi, and from Bri Erigi to Dromma Breg (ad Dorsos Breg); such if you wish will be the extent of your diocese. And, moreover, God has given to you, and to this your City of Armagh, all the tribes of Erin, to be under your jurisdiction (in modum parochiae).” Then Patrick, falling on his face, gave thanks to God for giving him such glory.

Now, here we have the primatial jurisdiction which extends over all Erin, clearly distinguished from the diocesan jurisdiction which is bounded by the mountains named above.

These boundaries would almost define the limits of the diocese of Armagh at the present. In our opinion Pinna Berbicis is the Latin of Ben Boirche—the ‘wether’s head’—so called, doubtless, from a supposed resemblance. Sliab Mis is the well-known mountain in the Co. Antrim, but here it seems to denote the whole range beyond Lough Neagh to the east, and in this wide sense the limit may be accepted. Then Bri Erigi we take to be the Height of Errigal, a name which is still retained in that of the parish of Errigal Keiran, in the heart of Tyrone, but belonging to the diocese of Armagh. The word Bri means a conspicuous flat or round-topped hill, and designates, we think, the great hill now called Slievemore, which is in the parish of Errigal, and on the extreme western border of the diocese of Armagh. The Dromma Breg, or Ridges of Bregia, extend across the north-east of Meath and south-west of Louth, forming the boundary of the diocese of Armagh at that point. The name itself is still retained in that of Slieve Bregh, north of Slane, the highest point of which, called the Moat, rises to the height of 753 feet, and is, we believe, that Dromman Breg on whose summit St. Patrick placed a man to watch over that fair Bregian plain until the Day of Doom.

The Book of the Angel then gives some further declarations made by St. Patrick, apparently on this occasion, which do not tend to confirm the authenticity of the alleged vision.

Patrick also said to the Lord, represented by his Angel—“I foresee, O my Lord, that many chosen souls will, through Thy ineffable grace and holy word, arise in this island, who will be as dear to me as if they were my own children, and who will devoutly serve Thee as Thy friends, and they will surely need for themselves some kind of a diocese of their own for the necessary maintenance of their churches and monasteries after my time. Therefore, it is fitting and just that I should share with these perfect religious of Ireland the abundant gifts undoubtedly bestowed upon me, so that I and they may enjoy together the richness of God’s goodness, which have been all given to us to spend in divine charity.” The object of this appears to be to point out that the monastic houses and even the other bishops held their lands and sees, not of strict right, but rather by grace of the successors of St. Patrick.

He also said—“Will not that be enough for me which pious Christian men may freely vow or freely bestow on me from their own lands and goods, according to their own good pleasure?” But this generosity is qualified in the next paragraph, where Patrick is represented as saying to the Angel—“Am I not content to be the apostolic teacher and chief leader of all the nations of Erin, especially as I retain a special tax to be duly paid to me, which has been granted to me by Heaven, and is justly and truly due from all the free churches of the provinces of this island. Moreover, a tax has, without any doubt, been imposed on all the monasteries of Coenobites in favour of the Rector of Armagh for ever.” It is not here stated expressly that the Angel ratified these claims; but it is clearly implied that Patrick claimed these rights for himself and his successors for ever, in virtue of the jurisdiction which God had granted to him over all the churches and tribes of Erin.

These extracts clearly show, in our opinion, that the Book of the Angel, and the visions which it records, cannot be relied on as strictly authentic. They were inserted by some later scribe, after the death of Patrick, to lend authority to the claims of his successors as regards their diocesan and primatial jurisdiction. The rights claimed were undeniable, but this was an attempt to give them a special sanction from Patrick and the Angel, which would render them altogether unquestionable.






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