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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

The statement of the Tripartite that when Patrick was setting out for Rome from Armagh he left Sechnall in charge thereof during his absence, raises difficulties of another kind. Was St. Sechnall alive after Patrick had founded Armagh, about the year 455? This is an interesting question of itself and open to considerable discussion, but, as we have already referred to it more than once, we need not further discuss it here.

On the other hand the Annals of Ulster assign Sechnall’s death to 447, and he is described as the first Bishop that went under the sod in Ireland, which would go to show an early date for his death. The question is surrounded with considerable difficulty, and cannot, we fear, be determined in the present state of our knowledge.

The whole narrative regarding Sechnall’s poem in praise of his uncle, as given both in the Tripartite and by the Scholiast, represents him as meeting St. Patrick in Armagh, and the story about Fiacc’s chariot tends in the same direction.

It was about this time also, whilst Patrick was sojourning at Armagh, that Sechnall made the panegyric in praise of his uncle, which is referred to elsewhere. “When shall I make a panegyric for thee?” said Sechnall. “The time for that is not yet come,” said Patrick, who did not wish to be praised during his life. “But it must be made,” said Sechnall. “Then by my word,” said Patrick, “the sooner it is done the better,” for Patrick knew that Sechnall’s death was not far off; and he was the first bishop who went under the sod in Ireland.

The occasion of writing the poem is then explained. Sechnall had said to some of Patrick’s household at Ferta Martar—the first church founded by Patrick—“Patrick is a good man; were it not for one thing he is a most excellent man.” That remark went out amongst Patrick’s family, so that he himself coming to hear it asked Sechnall what it meant. “I meant,” said Sechnall, “O my father, that you did not preach charity, that is the giving of alms and offerings.” “But my little son,” said Patrick, “it is for charity’s sake that I do not preach that charity. For if I preached it I should not leave a yoke of two horses for any of the saints present or future that are to come after me. Everything would be given to me, my share and their shares.”

Then Sechnall felt he had done Patrick a wrong, and he resolved to make amends by writing after the fashion of the Irish Bards this amhra or eulogy on St. Patrick. So Sechnall, having composed his hymn, came to Patrick with it, and it appears they met at the Pass of Midluachair, now the Moira Pass, as Patrick was coming southwards into the territory of Conaille.

Patrick, on his journey southward, was resting at the foot of the mountain when Sechnall hastened up to meet him, coming apparently from the opposite direction. The ‘mountain’ appears to refer to Slieve Gullion, which overhangs the pass, and in that case the west of the mountain would mean the slopes of Slieve Gullion overlooking the road which led through the pass from Forkhill to Armagh.

When they met in the pass they blessed each other, and Sechnall, addressing Patrick, who was still resting himself by the wayside, said, “I wish you would listen to a eulogy which I have made for a certain man of God.” “Welcome to me,” said Patrick, “is the praise of God’s household.” Then Sechnall began after the manner of the bards and recited the poem, suppressing the stanza which mentioned Patrick’s name as the subject of the poem. Patrick listened until Sechnall came to the verse which describes the subject of the poet’s eulogy, as—Maximus namque in regno cœlorum; that is, ‘the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ Then it seems Patrick began to grow uneasy, either because he thought the epithet too strong, or it seemed to be intended to apply to himself. So he rose from the place where he was sitting by the public highway or pass called Elda, and when Sechnall asked why he interrupted the reading, Patrick replied, “Let us go to a quieter place, you can finish the reading of your poem there.” As they walked on to a quieter spot Patrick said, “How can it be said of anyone that he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” “Oh,” replied Sechnall, “the superlative is there put for a strong positive; it only means that he excels most of his race, whether Britons or Scots.” Just then they came to the place called Dallmuine, where Patrick once more prayed and sat down, whereupon Sechnall recited for him the remainder of the poem, including the stanza naming Patrick as its subject. Patrick now submitted to the eulogy, and even wished joy to Sechnall as the author of the poem.

“Now,” said Sechnall, after the manner of the Bards, “I claim the reward of my poem;” but it was not a sordid reward. The text of the Rolls’ Tripartite is either corrupt or very obscure, and Colgan’s version does not make clearer the exact nature of the reward. But we gather from it, and from the explanation of the Scholiast, that Patrick first promised that as many of those who recited the hymn would go to heaven as there were hairs in the woollen chasuble of Sechnall. But Sechnall was not content with that. Then Patrick promised that every disciple of his who kept up the custom of reciting the poem every morning and evening would go to heaven. “It is good,” said Sechnall, “but the poem is long and difficult.” “Then,” said Patrick, “he shall still be saved if he keep up the custom of reciting the three last stanzas or even the three last lines; yea, even the three last words.” “I give thanks to God,” said Sechnall.

The hymn, which came to be known as Patrick’s Hymn, having such a promise, came to be recited in after times by most of the holy men of Ireland, both in monasteries and private families, and it was known to produce marvellous results. Once, says the Tripartite, Colman Elo recited it three times in his refectory. Patrick, long dead, came from heaven and stood with the brethren in the refectory whilst they were reciting the hymn. But all did not see him, for one who was present, not a brother but a layman, cried out, ‘Have ye no other prayer to recite but this one?’ Then Patrick departed at the word of the foolish man.

Once again when Cainnech was at sea, perhaps going to Iona, he saw a crowd of demons passing his boat through the air. “When you return tell me,” said Cainnech, “where you were.” The demons obeyed the Saint and said, “We went out to meet the soul of a rich man who, with his sons and sons-in-law, used to celebrate every year Patrick’s feast with a great banquet, at which, it seems, they usually ate and drank more than was good for them.” “But,” said the devil, “he used to repeat everyday two or three stanzas of Patrick’s Hymn; and although I declare to your holiness that it was rather a satire than a panegyric (from the way he recited them), still by that we have been vanquished and the sinner has been saved.”






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