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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

The subsequent narrative, until the arrival of St. Patrick in Ireland, although clear in things substantial, is rather confused in detailing the order of events. Yet, it is of great interest and importance, and must be set forth with care in all its details.

The narrative in the Fourth Life is, so far as it goes, both clear and orderly. After detailing the ineffectual attempt of Palladius to preach the Gospel in Ireland, and recording his death in Pictland, or, as others say, by martyrdom in Ireland (Hibernia), the author proceeds:—“Germanus, thereupon, as we have stated before, sent the Blessed Patrick to Rome in order that he might be able to set out on his evangelical mission with Apostolic authority, for so right order demanded, wherefore he passed on shipboard through the Tyrrhenian Sea, and received in a certain island the Staff of Jesus, from a certain young man, Christ himself being his host. And the Lord spoke to Patrick in the mountain, and commanded him to return to Ireland. When he arrived in Rome he was honourably received by the holy Pope Celestine, and having obtained from him the relics of saints, he was by the same Pope Celestine despatched to Ireland.”

Then it states in the next paragraph that Patrick, having got this ‘licentia apostolica’ to preach in Ireland, though not yet consecrated a bishop, set out direct for that country, and coming to what is now called the English Channel, with the Staff of Jesus on the shore he changed a heap of sand into a solid stone, in answer to the challenge of two turbulent brothers contending amongst themselves, and whom he wished to restore to unity. It was at once a proof of his sanctity and a model of the unity to which he desired to win their adhesion.

Then in the 31st section, having brought Patrick, as it were, to the French shore of the Channel, it tells how, hearing there of the death of Palladius in Britain, which his disciples Augustine and Benedict and others returning from Pictland announced to Patrick and those who were with him, they turned aside (declinaverunt) to a certain holy and venerable bishop, Amatorex (Amathoregem) by name, who dwelt hard by. There Patrick, foreknowing what was to happen, ‘received (episcopal) grade.’ There also Auxilius and Esserninus, with others of inferior grade, were ordained, and all set out for their Irish mission.

Now, it is well to note the series of events as set out in this narrative.

(1) Some rumour of the failure of Palladius and of his departure from Ireland reached Germanus and Patrick in Gaul. (2) In consequence (ergo) Germanus resolved to send St. Patrick to Rome, and we know from other sources that he sent with him Segetius, his own assistant priest, bearing testimonial letters from Germanus in favour of Patrick. (3) They went, not over the Alps, but by sea (from Arles or Marseilles to the Tiber). (4) During the voyage Patrick received the Staff of Jesus from a certain young man in a certain island, where Christ himself was his host—but neither the name of the young man nor of the island is given. (5) The Lord also appeared to him on a certain mountain, and commanded Patrick to return and preach the Gospel in Ireland, so that, like St. Paul, he had a very special extraordinary mission. (6) But all the same he went to Rome, where he was honourably received by the Pope, who sent him to preach in Ireland, but did not yet give absolute authority for his consecration as Bishop. (7) He went with his companions to the Gallic shore of the British Channel, and there, it seems, authentic information was brought to them of the death of Palladius in Britain. (8) Whereupon they ‘turned aside’ to the holy Bishop Amatorex, who dwelt near at hand, and gave episcopal Orders to Patrick and other Orders to his companions, on the strength of the Papal Commission which they carried with them, and which, it appears, gave authority for the consecration of Patrick, only when certain knowledge of the death of his predecessor would render it lawful and becoming.

The narrative, as here set out from the Fourth Life, may not be exact in all its details, but it is reasonable, and as to the Pope’s action it is just what we should expect from a wise and experienced Pontiff like Celestine. Patrick was long anxious to set out for Ireland; the angel Victor repeatedly called upon him to make ready. But Palladius had gone to Ireland, and for some cause or other not known to us Patrick did not go with him. But still strong in faith he waited the manifestation of God’s will. The winter of 431 brought them news, so far as we can judge, of the failure of Palladius, but not yet of his death. Then Germanus, as the law required, sent Patrick to get the authority of the Pope to go to Ireland. The Pope received him kindly, and gave him authority to go and preach in Ireland as a simple missioner; but, having no information of the death of Palladius, he declined to allow him to be consecrated Bishop before he obtained certain information of the death or failure of Palladius. It seems, however, he gave conditional authority for his consecration for the Irish mission; and hence when the messenger announcing his death met Patrick, so far as this story indicates, on the coast of the British Channel, they went to a neighbouring bishop named Amatorex—a common Gaulish name—and the latter, on the strength of the licence of the Apostolic See and the letters of Germanus, consecrated Patrick and his companions, who forthwith sailed away for Ireland. Such certainly is the drift of the clear and orderly narrative given in the Fourth Life, and we venture to think it is the true one.

But we must examine it more closely point by point, especially in the light of the facts recorded in the other Lives.

The Tripartite gives prominence to the fact that at this time, when Patrick had completed the sixtieth year of his age, and the thirtieth of his sojourn in France, his guardian angel, the same Victor who had watched over him whilst he was in bondage with Milcho, now appeared to him, and, it would seem from the other Lives, more than once commanded him to prepare for his Irish mission. “Thou art commanded,” said Victor, “by God to go to Ireland, to strengthen faith and belief, and so bring them by the net of the Gospel to the harbour of Life. For all the Irish cry aloud for thee; they think thy coming is now timely and mature,”—as indeed it was.

Some critics cannot understand Patrick’s long sojourn of thirty years in Gaul; they think in fact that God should arrange things after their own notions. Not so Patrick; he waited long and patiently, trusting to that divine guidance which was never wanting to him in seasons of perplexity and peril. The voice of God spoke to him, and he at once obeyed. He bade farewell to Germanus, who gave him his blessing, and sent his own assistant priest along with him, a trusty old man, Segetius by name, to guard him and to testify for him—that is to testify on the part of Germanus to his character, his studies, his Orders, and the purpose that had for many years filled his heart.

All this, of course, implies that Germanus wished Patrick to get from the Pope what he could not lawfully give himself, episcopal orders and authority to preach the Gospel in Ireland. If it were a mere question of having Patrick consecrated without the authority of the Apostolic See there was no need of sending Patrick away at all. Germanus, the greatest prelate in Gaul, or any of his neighbours, could do themselves what was wanted.

But Germanus knew well both the law and the practice of the Church at the time—that the missionary should go forth to preach with the licence of the Apostolic See, ‘sic enim ordo exigebat’—as the Fourth Life puts it. The law, indeed, was clear. Pope Siricius, in a letter to the Bishops of Africa, had clearly proclaimed the law that “no one should, without the knowledge and the sanction of the Apostolic See, that is of the Primatial See, presume to ordain” (a bishop). The same law was laid down by Innocent I. at a later date, yet still before the time of St. Patrick’s ordination. But the Pope frequently delegated his authority to the Metropolitan for his own province, and in this way also the ordination took place, with the sanction of the Apostolic See. But no Metropolitan at the time in any part of the west would venture to ordain a prelate for any diocese or mission outside of his own province, without the express sanction of the Holy See. Germanus himself did not go to England without the authority of the Apostolic See, although he was chosen by a synod of Gallican bishops for that purpose. When St. Ninian went to preach in Galloway about the year A.D. 400 he also, as Bede tells us, went to Rome to get the authority and blessing of the Apostolic See, and such undoubtedly was both the law and practice during the fifth century.

As to the fact we may accept the testimony of the ancient Lives as quite conclusive, and that testimony has never been questioned except for controversial purposes by a few later writers. We simply adhere to the ancient authorities, who are unanimous, and had no assignable reason for inventing the Roman Mission of Patrick, seeing that no one at the time denied the Papal Supremacy, either de facto or de jure. As to the purely negative arguments usually advanced against the Roman Mission, of St. Patrick, we shall deal with them later on.

It is an interesting point to ascertain how did St. Patrick travel from Germanus to Celestine. All the Lives appear to imply that he went by sea. The Tripartite says so too, and that he sailed with nine companions, doubtless either from Arles, which was then a much frequented seaport, or from Massilia. It would be an easy voyage from either port to Rome, in fact merely a coasting voyage, during which they called at that island where Patrick saw a ‘young man’ in a ‘new house,’ and a very old hag, who was the grand-daughter of the young man. For the latter had received the gift of perpetual youth, because he had once long ago made a feast for Christ whilst He was still in the flesh, and as a reward Christ blessed their house and themselves, so that they were destined to abide there in perennial youth—himself and his wife—until the day of judgment. We may pass over this as an Irish tale of later date. But the important point is its alleged connection with the Staff of Jesus. The Son of God had foretold to them how Patrick was to preach to the Gael, and he left them as a token, to be given to Patrick, the Staff in question.

But Patrick said: “I will not take it till He Himself gives me the Staff,” and that favour was shortly afterwards granted him.

For, having stayed with them three days and three nights, Patrick ‘went thereafter to Mount Hermon, in the neighbourhood of the island.’ There the Lord appeared to him and told him to go and preach the Gospel to the Gael, giving him at the same time the Staff of Jesus ‘to be a helper to him in every danger and in every unequal conflict in which he was destined to be engaged.’

We shall say more about the Staff hereafter; for the present we need only say that the tale, as here set forth, is apparently borrowed from the history of Moses. Still, we do not venture to set aside this narrative as a pure fiction; let each man follow his own opinion as to its credibility.

But an interesting geographical question in connection with the tale is to try and ascertain where was the island. Where, too, was the neighbouring Mount Hermon or Mount Arnon, and where was Capua, the Seven-gated city, which was near the scene of these events?

There was certainly only one Capua in Italy, the famous capital of the rich Campanian plain. Now, the story of Probus is that the Angel of the Lord appeared to Patrick, and directed him to go to a certain St. Senior, a Bishop who dwelt in Mount Hermon, on the right-hand side of the ocean-sea, and his city there was defended by seven walls. And when he came there the said Bishop Senior ordained him a priest, and he studied with the venerable Elder for a long time, at the end of which the angel again appeared to him commanding Patrick to go to preach in Ireland; and Patrick went, but failed in his mission. Whereupon he threw himself on his knees and besought God to direct his way to Rome, the head of all the Churches, that he might ask and receive the apostolic blessing and authority to continue his work in Ireland. This he did, going first to Germanus, who sent not Segetius, but Regirus, to be the guide and companion on his way to the Pope. The Pope at first declined to give Patrick episcopal ordination for the Irish mission, as he had already sent Palladius to preach the Gospel in Ireland, but hearing of Palladius’ failure at Euboria, he gave Patrick the apostolic authority, and he was ordained by Amator, as stated in the other Lives.

We have no hesitation in rejecting the story of this first mission of St. Patrick to Ireland as a figment, because we think it wholly inconsistent with his own Confession. He refers only to one mission in Ireland, which took place a long time after his captivity, and he was so devoted to his converts that he declares he never left them, not even to visit his parents in Britain, or to see the faces of his brethren, the Saints in Gaul. Probus mixes up two stories in a most improbable fashion, and is not supported in his statement by any other ancient authority.

Moreover, he knew so little of the true history of what happened on the Continent that he does not give us correctly the name of Segetius, the assistant priest of Germanus—for the name Regirus, which he gives, can hardly be regarded as a mere error of the scribe or printer. We may, therefore, leave this narrative out of the question in trying to trace the journey of St. Patrick to Rome.

Jocelyn’s account is substantially the same as that given in the Tripartite. He calls the mountain Mount Morion, which was, he says, “near the Tyrrhene Sea, and close to the city called Capua.” ‘Morion’ here is probably a copyist’s mistake for ‘Hermon’ as given in the Tripartite.

The Scholiast on Fiacc makes Patrick go to the islands of the Tyrrhene Sea after Pope Celestine refused to confer episcopal orders upon him, and “it was then he found the Staff of Jesus in the island called Alanensis, near Mount Arnon” or Armon, as it is in Colgan—but here we have no reference to Capua.

The Third Life, however, implies that the Angel took Patrick from Rome to Mount Arnon—ar mair Lethe—over the rock of the Tyrrhene Sea, in the city called Capua, and there, like Moses, he saluted the Lord, but no reference is made to the Staff of Jesus. Ar mair Lethe, ‘on the Sea of Lethe,’ seems to be an insertion in Irish explanatory of the other phrase, ‘Super petram maris Tyrrheni.’ The word Lethe is generally taken to mean Latium, but it is really an Irish form of the word Gallia, as we have explained elsewhere.

It is clear from these passages, especially the last, that the city called Capua was on the Tyrrhene Sea, not an inland city like the capital of Campania, and it must be sought near the coast, or on the coast, in the neighbourhood of some island. Colgan conjectures that it was Caieta, where there was certainly a famous and convenient port, and a strong city on the sea, and although much south of the Tiber it would still be the best place for a coasting vessel to find refuge if flying before a storm.

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