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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

The Tripartite gives the following brief summary of Patrick’s labours:—

After founding churches in plenty, after consecrating monasteries, after baptising the men of Ireland, after great endurance and great labour, after destroying idols and images, after rebuking many kings who did not do his will, and raising up those who did his will, after ordaining three hundred and three score and ten bishops, after ordaining three thousand priests and folk of every grade in the Church besides, after fasting and prayer, after mercy and clemency, after gentleness and mildness to the Sons of Life, after love of God and his neighbours, he received Christ’s Body from the Bishop Tassach, and he then sent his spirit to heaven.

Though brief, it is a very complete summary of Patrick’s manifold labours. The author does not give the number of churches founded by Patrick, but Nennius, in the ninth century, gives it at 365, while Jocelyn puts it down as 700. Again, Nennius says that the number of bishops consecrated by Patrick was 365; the Tripartite here gives it as 370, and Jocelyn has it as 350—whom, he says, Patrick consecrated with his own hand. Both Jocelyn and the Tripartite give the number of priests whom Patrick ordained as 3,000, in round numbers, we may assume; but Jocelyn raises the figure to 5,000.

No doubt it will appear strange to many persons that Patrick should consecrate 350 bishops in Ireland, whilst in our own times we have not more than twenty-seven or twenty-eight independent Sees. But in ancient times bishops were much more numerous than they are under the present discipline of the Church. Every town of any importance had at that time its own bishop.

In Ireland, too, we must bear in mind that in Patrick’s time there was a great number of tribes and sub-tribes, practically independent, each of which would claim to have its own bishop, and be thus as independent in spirituals as in temporals. At present we have in Ireland more than 300 baronies, which usually represent the ancient sub-tribes, so that it is not to be wondered at if Patrick found it necessary to appoint some 350 bishops in Ireland during his primacy—for it is not said that they were all alive at one time. The number of priests also appears large, but it probably includes the clergy of all grades in the Church—both Secular and Regular, as we now say. No doubt a large number dwelt in religious houses of some kind, which the Tripartite usually calls cloisters or habitations, but sometimes monasteries. These monasteries included first the less or liss, that is the enclosing rampart, then a tech mor or great house, a cuile or kitchen, and an aregal or oratory for the little community of monks or clerics. The great house served the purpose of a living house, and probably a sleeping house, for the monk generally slept in his habit on a bed of rushes, with a rug or blanket over him.

Although the figures given above might at first sight appear to be exaggerated, they are in substance confirmed by statements made by Patrick himself in his Confession. He says that he ordained clerics everywhere; and that Ireland (Hiberione), which previously had no knowledge of God and had always worshipped idols and things unclean, was now become the people of the Lord, and were called the Sons of God. In this sentence Patrick clearly claims the conversion of the country as a whole. He also refers to his preaching and baptising and ordaining priests even in the remotest districts, where no Christian priest had ever penetrated before. It was surely true; for Patrick had not only preached the Gospel in the great inland plains but penetrated into the fastnesses of the western hills, surmounted the soaring cone of Cruachan Aigle, crossed the great rivers of the West and North, stood on the brow of the Grianan Ely, saw the wild waves that break around the northern shores from Malin Head to Ben More, and thence carried the Gospel through the Wicklow Hills as far south as Knockmealdown, and southwest to the hills of Slieve Luachair.

No other man before or since ever travelled so far or accomplished so much for God and for Ireland, in the face of so many difficulties and dangers, as was accomplished by St. Patrick. St. Paul, in self-defence, gives an account of his own labours. St. Patrick, also in self-defence, refers to his own toils and perils and success in preaching the Gospel, and in truth they were not less, so far as we can judge, than those of the great Apostle of the Gentiles. Twelve times he tells us his life was imperilled, and even to the last he was in danger of death or captivity from relentless foes of the Gospel, so that God’s angel was sent to console him in his tribulations, and assure him that God would give him all the tribes of Erin to be his own—those tribes whom he had converted to the Lord by arduous labours and mighty preaching at all times in the face of manifold dangers from the Pagans, in heat and cold, in hunger and thirst, daily journeying with tireless zeal from tribe to tribe for the conversion of them all. No wonder the ‘tribes of Erin’ at home and abroad still cherish the memory of Patrick deep in their hearts, and love him with such a passionate and enduring love.






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