These days Saint Patrick’s Day is treated as a drinking holiday. I would like to take a few minutes to remind my readers of who Saint Patrick is, and what he did.
Saint Patrick was the son of a deacon, and the grandson of a priest, (yes, priests could marry back then), but he was not a particularly faithful Christian. At about age 16, he was captured by a band of Irish raiders and carried off as a slave to Ireland. During his captivity, he worked as a shepherd, and his faith grew.
After six years, he claims to have seen a vision telling him to go home, and then he escaped from his master and travelled home by ship. When he got home, he became a priest, and later, a bishop.
Then he received another vision telling him to go back to Ireland as a missionary:
I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.
Patrick’s mission to Ireland was very successful, though he was threatened at times, and by the end of his life, much of Ireland had been converted to Christianity. Meanwhile, the Roman Empire had disintegrated, and pagan barbarians were overrunning the Roman Empire which had become nominally Christian in its latter days. So Ireland was a Christian oasis in an increasingly pagan Europe.
Saint Patrick’s disciples attempted to follow the monastic traditions which had arisen among other Christians, but they were no good at it. The other monasteries emphasized the ascetic, isolated, silent life, but this did not suit Irishmen. Instead, their monasteries become centers for the preservation of Christian literature through manuscript copying. Perhaps through Saint Patrick’s example, they also became centers for missionary activities.
Within a generation of Saint Patrick’s death, Irish missionaries were going back into Europe and England, and converting the pagans to Christianity. They got as far as Germany and Italy. Other Irishmen got on boats and sailed west, looking for other nations to reach with the gospel. After a time, the Irish church which had been geographically isolated, was re-united with Rome.
It is possible that without Saint Patrick’s activities, that Europe would have been made up of divided pagan tribes, and would have surrendered to the Moslem invaders a few centuries later. Our lives would then be very different.