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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

It would be interesting for us if we could ascertain anything for certain regarding Patrick’s personal appearance and physique. But neither from his own writings, nor in the early Lives, do we find anything to give us the remotest idea of his personal appearance.

Jocelyn, however, has something to say on the subject, which he may have gathered from the floating traditions still surviving amongst the monks of Down; and although they were seven centuries later than Patrick, they were still seven centuries nearer to him than we are. He tells us that Patrick was not tall, but of rather low stature, and hence he sometimes called himself a little man (homuncio), not only, we presume, in a metaphorical, but also in a literal sense. The fact that he had his strong man, MacCartan of Clogher, to carry him over the flooded rivers, seems to confirm that statement of Jocelyn. When young, he adds, Patrick walked on foot; when older, he made his journeys in a chariot, from which he also preached to the people. He raised his right hand in blessing and his left in ‘cursing,’ and in both his prayer was visibly efficacious. Like a true monk, he gave some time to manual labour, especially to gardening (agriculturæ) and fishing, and took a part himself in building his churches, in this matter setting an example to all his disciples; but, above all things, he was indefatigable in preaching, baptising and ordaining.

Over his tunic he wore a white or grey habit of undyed wool, with the usual hood worn by monks. From the Confession we infer that he wore not shoes, but sandals. Whatever offerings he received he gave all for the needs of the Church. He knew four languages—British, Irish, French and Latin, which is not to be wondered at since he spent several years in the countries where they were spoken. He was himself an excellent scribe, and Jocelyn tells us that besides the Canoin Patraic—which he takes to be, not the Book of Armagh, but a collection of Canons—he also wrote in Irish a Book of Prophecies. This shows at least that there was a number of prophecies in Irish attributed to Patrick in circulation when Jocelyn wrote, but there is no evidence of their authenticity. On solemn occasions he was in the habit of using the strong affirmation—‘Mo De broth,’ which, according to Jocelyn and Cormac, a much better authority, means ‘as God is my Judge.’

During his long and laborious life no reference is made to any illness, which goes to show that if he was a small man, like many other small men, he was hardy and energetic, discouraged by no obstacles and deterred by no dangers.

That he was, though small, a man of imposing presence may, we think, be fairly inferred from the awe which, we are told, his very countenance inspired, not only in the ordinary beholders, but even in the boldest of Erin’s kinglets. Of course, there was always a Divine majesty in his countenance, arising from the perpetual indwelling of the Holy Spirit; but here we rather speak of that dignity of gracious manhood, which would impress the rude chieftains even more than the subtler radiance of holiness manifesting itself through the expression and play of gesture and features.

That Patrick had a powerful, far-reaching voice seems to be a matter of fair inference from the story told of his ‘uplifting his voice’ at Guth-Ard to forbid the adoration of Crom Cruach. His ‘shout’ was heard from afar over the water, and appears, with the threatened stroke of the Staff of Jesus, to have paralysed the idolators and overthrown their idols.

It would appear, also, that Patrick had the Celtic love of music deep in his heart; and hence he not only protected the Bards and purified their songs, but it would seem that he also established a school of Church music in Armagh, of which he made the sweet-voiced Benignus the teacher and head. It was, doubtless, this known love of music made later Bards tell how when Ossian in his old age was blind and helpless, Patrick took him in, kept him in his household at Armagh, and sought to win the heart of the old warrior poet from the wild strains of battle and victory to the diviner music of the Church’s oldest hymns.

We have few specimens of Patrick’s preaching. The fullest is that beautiful instruction which he gave the royal daughters of King Laeghaire on the green margin of Clebach Well. It is brief; but it is wonderfully powerful and comprehensive, and uttered, as it was without doubt, with all the mingled energy and pathos of Patrick’s great heart, we are not surprised at the extraordinary effect which it produced. Equally marvellous effects are elsewhere recorded as the outcome of his sermons; but we have not, on those occasions, the advantage of knowing the purport of the Saint’s address.

That Patrick was a man of excellent health and great physical energy cannot, we think, be fairly questioned. A man who lives to the age of one hundred and twenty years, must have had a great store of health and physical vigour, and have abstained from all sensual indulgence likely to impair it. No doubt, this longevity in Patrick’s case was, to a great extent, due to the hardy, frugal life of his youth-hood, passed in the open air in the woods and brakes of Slemish. Then, as a monk in France and Italy for some thirty years, he passed through another great and healthful discipline of abstemious self-denial. So, also, in Ireland for thirty years, he lived, for the most part, a frugal life in the open air during the whole prolonged period of his missionary activities.

That Patrick was a man of very ardent temperament cannot, we think, be denied. The natural ardour of his character was in fact the basis of his supernatural energy in the service of God. In this respect, as in many others, he was very like St. Paul. If we are to put any trust in the Lives of the Saint, he was not only ardent, but hot-tempered and prone to anger when scandal was given to the weak, or the doing of God’s work was impeded by wicked men. We think the Confession, and especially the Epistle to Coroticus, clearly reveal this trait in St. Patrick’s character. It is very frequently the case with zealous men; their fiery zeal brooks no delays, and is apt to get chafed into wrath by sinful opposition. We see traces of this fiery energy even in St. Paul, and when he denounces the incestuous Corinthian, his language is quite as vigorous as that attributed in the Lives to our own National Apostle.

To deliver up to Satan is, from any point of view, quite as strong a proceeding, as the ‘cursing’ attributed to St. Patrick. In both cases the evil effects might, at least to some extent, be averted by penance. If, however, the criminal continued contumacious, then St. Patrick, like St. Paul, would have no hesitation in denouncing God’s vengeance against God’s enemies in very strong language.

What is harder to explain is Patrick’s alleged severity in the case of repenting sinners. The strongest cases are those of St. Lupita and St. Olcan, both of which seem to have happened at Armagh. In the former case grave scandal was given by a female closely connected with the Church; in the latter case a bishop transgressed the ecclesiastical law in a very important matter. The order ‘to drive over them’ we regard as a manifest exaggeration, for which not even Patrick’s zeal in the service of God could offer any adequate excuse. An Irish scribe, however, would easily deduce that phraseology from the language, which Patrick probably used, namely, ‘Drive on; don’t heed them.’ No doubt Patrick soon relented, as quick-tempered people nearly always do, when the angry impulse is over; but in these things Patrick would be himself the first to deny that he was altogether blameless—that is, if he really acted as some of the writers allege.






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