February / March - 2020 Vol. 108

                  returns to Ireland as a missionary bishop
My Confession by St. Patrick of Ireland
(387 - 460 AD)

  Adapted and abridged for modern readers
 by Don Schwager 

I pray that those who believe in God and who read this confession, which I, Patrick, an unlearned sinner have written in Ireland, may recognize that whatever I achieved or taught that was pleasing to God, was done so by the gift of God. This is my confession before I die.
Rebellious youth, captivity, and conversion
I am Patrick, a sinner, son of Calpurnius, a deacon of the church at Bannavem Taburniae [Roman Britain]. When I was a rebellious 16 year old, I was taken captive to Ireland along with many others. I did not truly know God at the time. God, however, took pity on my youthfulness and ignorance, and he watched over me and protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son. He opened my mind to see the futility of my unbelief and to remind me of my sins, and he helped me to turn to him with all of my heart. 

God’s chastisement in the land of captivity helped me to recognize him. He gave me so many graces and favors that I cannot remain silent nor cease to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven. 

For I do confess [as stated in the ancient Christian Creed] that there is no other God, but God the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ, who always existed with the Father and the Spirit. All things visible and invisible were created by him. Christ became a man and conquered death for us. When he ascended to the Father in heaven he received all power over every name and creature in heaven, on earth, and in hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is both Lord and God (Philippians 2:9-11). Christ will come again as judge of the living and the dead. He has abundantly poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit upon all who believe in Christ. The Spirit, who is the pledge of our unending life with God, makes us sons of God and co-heirs with Christ. We worship one God who is a Trinity of persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

My ignorance and youthful sins held me back
I had thought of writing my testimony for some time, but I hesitated until now, because I feared the criticism of others, since my upbringing was very simple and rustic, and I was unlearned and did not know the Scriptures like many others. I acted foolishly in my youth and my life was like a stone lying in a deep mire. But why make excuses now in my old age for my youthful ignorance and sins which prevented me from choosing the path of wisdom? And who will believe me, even though I should say it again? As a young man, almost a beardless boy, I was taken captive before I knew what I should desire and what I should shun. So, even today I still feel ashamed to speak of my ignorance and my lack of eloquence.

The Lord had to humble me first through my captivity to get his attention. Then in his mercy he came and raised me up and lifted me to the very top of a wall. And from there I can only shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favors which he showed me without measure. 

Whether you be great or small, learned or simple, listen, and consider how God summoned me, a fool and a wretch in this world, to serve him with reverence, faith, and humility. It was the love of Christ that inspired me to give my life in service to this people. So, after many years of hardships and trials during my captivity, the Lord granted me, his unworthy and humble servant, this great favor among the people here in Ireland, something which I neither hoped for nor imagined as a youth.

Patrick as a young slave caring for
                                sheep in Ireland

The Spirit was burning within me
During my captivity the Spirit was burning within me. But after I reached Ireland, my first job was to look after a flock of sheep every day. While out in the fields, I grew accustomed to pray many times a day. More and more the love of God, my respect for him, and my faith increased. My daily prayer times multiplied into the hundreds, and my prayers in the night were also numerous. Besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain. But these conditions didn’t stop me nor make me feel ill, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning within me at that time. 

And it was there of course that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me: “You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country.” And again, a very short time later, there was a voice prophesying: “Behold, your ship is ready.” And it was not close by, but, as it happened, two hundred miles away, where I had never been nor known any person. And shortly thereafter I turned about and fled from the man whom I had been serving for six years, and I came, by the power of God who directed my route to advantage (and I was afraid of nothing), until I reached that ship. 

And on the same day that I arrived, the ship was setting out from the place, and I said that I had the wherewithal to sail with them; and the steersman was displeased and replied in anger, sharply: “By no means attempt to go with us.” Hearing this I left them to go to the hut where I was staying, and on the way I began to pray, and before the prayer was finished I heard one of them shouting loudly after me: “Come quickly because the men are calling you.” And immediately I went back to them and they started to say to me: “Come, because we are admitting you out of good faith; make friendship with us in any way you wish.”

(And so, on that day, out of fear of God, I resolved not to let these men influence me, but nevertheless I had hopes that they would come to faith in Jesus Christ, because they were barbarians.) And for this I continued with them, and we put to sea speedily. 

My two month journey with barbarians
After three days we reached land, and for twenty-eight days journeyed through uninhabited country, and the food ran out, and hunger overtook them. One day the steersman began saying, “Why is it, Christian? You say your God is great and all-powerful, then why can you not pray for us? For we may perish of hunger. It is unlikely indeed that we shall ever see another human being.” In fact, I said to them, confidently, “Be converted and believe with all your heart in the Lord who is God, because nothing is impossible for him, so that today he will send food for you on your road, until you be sated, because everywhere he abounds.”

With God's help this came to pass. Behold, a herd of swine appeared on the road before our eyes, and they slew many of them, and remained there for two nights, and they were full of their meat and well restored, for many of them had fainted and would otherwise have been left half dead by the wayside. And after this they gave the utmost thanks to God, and I was esteemed in their eyes, and from that day they had food in abundance. They discovered wild honey, besides, and they offered a share to me, and one of them said: “It is a sacrifice.” Thanks be to God, I tasted none of it. 

Satan attacked me violently
The very same night while I was sleeping Satan attacked me violently, as I will remember as long as I shall be in this body. There fell on top of me as it were, a huge rock, and I was unable to lift or move it. But for some odd reason unknown to me, I began to call upon Elijah. Meanwhile I saw the sun rising in the sky, and while I was crying out “Elijah, Elijah” with all my might, lo and behold, the brilliance of that sun fell upon me and immediately shook me free of all the weight; and I believe that I was aided by Christ my Lord, and that his Spirit then was crying out for me, and I hope that it will be so in the day of my affliction, just as it says in the Gospel: “In that hour,” the Lord declares, “it is not you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking in you.” 

On the journey he provided us with food and fire and dry weather every day, until on the tenth day we came across some people. As I mentioned above, we had journeyed through an unpopulated country for twenty-eight days, and in fact the night that we came upon people we had no food. 

And a second time, after many years, I was taken captive. On the first night I was with my captors, I heard a divine prophecy, saying to me: “You shall be with them for two months.”  And so it happened. On the sixtieth night the Lord delivered me from their hands. 

Return to Britain
And after a few years I was again in Britain with my parents, and they welcomed me as a son, and asked me, in faith, that after the great tribulations I had endured I should not go any where else away from them. Of course, there, in a vision of the night, I saw a man whose name was Victor coming from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: “The Voice of the Irish,” and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voices of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: “We beg you, holy youth, that you come and walk again among us.” I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke. Thanks be to God, because after so many years the Lord heard their cry. 

Another night  – God knows, I do not, whether within me or beside me  – I heard many words which I could not understand, except at the end of the speech it was represented thus: “He who gave his life for you, he it is who speaks within you,” and thus I awoke, joyful. 

On a second occasion I saw someone praying within me, and I was, as it were, inside my own body, and I heard him above me – that is, above my inner self. He was praying powerfully with sighs. As this continued, I was astonished and pondered who it could be who was praying within me. But at the end of the prayer it was revealed to me that it was the Holy Spirit. So I awoke and remembered the Apostle's words, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

A living sacrifice for Christ my Lord
Thus I give untiring thanks to God who kept me faithful in the day of my temptation, so that today I may confidently offer my life as a living sacrifice for Christ my Lord. Who am I, Lord, that you should give me so great a calling – to exalt and magnify your name in whatever place you put me, even if it be among barbarians, or some affliction? Whatever befalls me, be it good or bad, I will accept it equally, and give thanks always to God. I will put my trust in him and dare to undertake so holy and so wonderful a work, so that I might imitate those who have gone before as heralds of the Gospel to all peoples, even to the ends of the earth. This commission is being fulfilled even today, as we witness the Gospel being proclaimed in far away places such as this land. 

It is tedious to describe in detail all my labors one by one. I will tell briefly how the most holy God frequently delivered me from slavery, and from the twelve trials with which my soul was threatened, from man traps as well, and from things I am not able to put into words. I would not cause offense to readers, but I have God as witness who knew all things even before they happened, that, though I was a poor ignorant waif, still he gave me abundant warnings through divine prophecy. 

Whence came to me such great wisdom which was not my own, I who neither knew the number of days nor had knowledge of God? Whence came to me so great a gift of knowing and loving God, even though I should lose both my homeland and family? It was not grace of my own, but grace from God who gave me strength to preach the Gospel to the people of Ireland, and strength to suffer insult from unbelievers, reproaches from others when I went abroad, and many persecutions, including being put in chains. I am ready to spend my life and energy for the benefit of others, and should I be worthy, to even give up my life without hesitation and most gladly for my Lord. It is here among the people of Ireland that I wish to spend my life until I die, if the Lord grant me this grace.

A great harvest in Ireland 
I am very much God’s debtor, because he gave me such abundant grace that many people were reborn in God through me, and afterwards confirmed, and clergy were ordained for them. The masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth, just as he once promised through his prophets: “To you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth, and shall say, ‘Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit’” (Jeremiah 16:19). Again, “I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the uttermost ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47). There I wish to wait for his promise which will surely be fulfilled as the Gospel states, “They shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob,” as we believe the faithful will come from all the world.

For that reason one ought to fish well and diligently, just as the Lord has taught, saying, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” and again through the prophets: “Behold, I am sending forth many fishers and hunters, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 16:16). Christ compels us to spread our nets, so that a vast multitude who are hungry and ready might be caught for God, and be baptized and taught by the clergy, just as the Lord says in the Gospel, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always to the end of time” (Matthew 28:19).

Again he says, “Go forth into the world and preach the Gospel to all creation. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does not believe shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). And again, “This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached throughout the whole world as a witness to all nations; and then the end of the world shall come” (Matthew 24:14).

Likewise the Lord foretells through the prophet, “And it shall come to pass in the last days (says the Lord) that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams; yes, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit and they shall prophesy” (Joel 2:28-29).

In Hosea he says: “Those who are not my people I will call my people, and those not beloved I will call my beloved, and in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘Sons of the living God’” (Romans 9:25-26; Hosea 2:23, 1:10). 

How did it come to pass in Ireland that those who never had a knowledge of God, but until now always worshiped idols and impure things, have now been made sons of God and a people of the Lord, and that even sons and daughters of Irish chieftans are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ?

Among others, a blessed Irishwoman of noble birth, beautiful and full-grown, whom I had baptized, came to us and told us that she had received a prophecy from a divine messenger, who advised her to be a virgin of Christ and draw near to God. Thanks be to God, on the sixth day after this she most laudably and eagerly chose what all virgins of Christ do. Not that their fathers agree with them: no, they often suffer persecution and undeserved reproaches from their parents; and yet their number is ever increasing.

 How many have been reborn there so as to be of our kind, I do not know, not to mention widows and those who practice continence. But those women who live in slavery suffer the most, due to threats and harassment. But the Lord gave his grace to many of his handmaidens; for, though they are forbidden to do so, they follow him bravely.

A life-long mission to Ireland
If I should wish to separate myself from them and go to Britain, how I would love to go to my own country and my parents, and even as far as Gaul in order to visit the brethren there and see the face of the saints of my Lord! God knows how much I desired it, but I am bound by the Spirit, who gives evidence against me if I do this, telling me that I shall be guilty, and I am afraid of losing the labor which I have begun. For it was not I but Christ the Lord who commanded me to come here and stay with them for the rest of my life. And if the Lord wills, he shall shield me from every evil so that I may not sin before him.

I do believe I have chosen the right course. But I do not trust myself as long as I am in this mortal body, because the strong one, the devil, daily strives to turn me away from the faith and the purity of true religion to which I have devoted myself to the end of my life, to Christ my Lord. The flesh which is hostile to God also seeks to drag us into sinful desires that lead to spiritual death. I know that in part I did not lead a perfect life as did the other faithful; but I confess to my Lord, and do not blush in his sight, because I do not lie. From the time I came to know him in my youth, the love of God and the fear of him have grown in me, and up to now, thanks to the grace of God, I have kept the faith.

Some may laugh and scorn at this, but I shall not be silent, nor will I hide the signs and wonders which the Lord has shown me many years before they came to pass, as he knows everything even before the beginning of time.

I refused gifts and payments for my service
Many have tried to thwart my mission in Ireland. They have spoken behind my back saying, “Why does this fellow throw himself into danger among enemies who have no knowledge of God?” I don’t think it was malice on their part, but it simply did not appeal to them to expose themselves to this kind of rigorous life and danger. I was more use to it due to my rustic upbringing. But I was not quick to recognize the grace God had given me, otherwise I would have followed him earlier than I did. 

You know, as God does, how I lived among you from my youth with sincerity and faith. And even among the heathens I have been honest and trustworthy. Whenever any of you gave me gifts, including gifts left at the altar from holy celibate women, I returned them if at all possible, even though this caused you some offense.

When I baptized thousands of people, I did not receive any favors or payment. In fact it cost me dearly and exposed me to many dangers for your sake. I ordained clergy without payment as well. I did all this by the grace of God, with love and joy for your salvation. 

When I met with kings I gave them presents, as customary, and I financially supported those who traveled with me in my ministry. On one occasion, when my traveling band and I were robbed and put in chains, the Lord delivered us on the fourteenth day, and restored what we had lost.

I do not seek honor from others because the Lord himself is enough for me. Although I am most unworthy, the Lord has exalted me beyond measure. I prefer poverty and failure rather than a life of wealth and pleasure. After all, Christ the Lord himself was poor for our sakes. I fear nothing, not even betrayal, slavery, or murder, because of the promises of heaven. I am in the Lord’s hands, as Scripture says: “Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.” 

One of the least of his servants
I commend my soul to God who is most faithful. For he is no respecter of persons, since he has chosen me for this obscure mission that I might be one of the least of his servants. I give to God what he has given to me, because I can do nothing unless he has granted it to me. I am ready to drink his chalice, just as he has offered it to others who have loved him. 

May I never be separated from this people whom God has redeemed in this remote land, and may God give me perseverance to remain a faithful witness to him to the end of my days. 

If I have done any good for the sake of my God whom I love, I pray that he may allow me the opportunity to shed my blood for his name’s sake, even if my body should be torn limb from limb by dogs or savage beasts, devoured by birds, or left unburied. On the last day we shall rise again in the brightness of the sun, that is, in the glory of Christ Jesus our Redeemer, as sons of the living God and co-heirs with Christ, made in his image; for we shall reign through him, with him, and for him. 

Each day we see the sun rise at God’s command, but its splendor will not last for ever. Those who worship the sun will perish. We who believe in Christ and worship him, the true sun, will never die. For those who do the will of Christ will be with him forever, who reigns with the Father Almighty and with the Holy Spirit both now and forever. Amen.

I testify in truthfulness and joy before God and his holy angels that I never had any reason, except the Gospel and its promises, to ever return to that nation from which I had previously escaped with difficulty. 

I pray that those who believe in God and who read this confession, which I, Patrick, an unlearned sinner have written in Ireland, may recognize that whatever I achieved or taught that was pleasing to God, was done so by the gift of God. This is my confession before I die.

[See online version of full text in English with Scripture references and in the original Latin]

Patrick was born a Briton around 387 AD in the latters days of the Roman occupation near the end of the fourth century. We do not know the location of the village he grew up in, but it likely lay near the West coast of Britain. Patrick wrote his autobiographical confession in Latin around the year 450 AD. Several early manuscript copies still exist, the oldest dating back to 807 AD by the Irish scribe called Ferndomnagh. Another shorter writing by Patrick, called the Letter to Coroticus, still survives today. Patrick wrote this letter to the soldiers of King Coroticus to chastize them for capturing Christians of Patrick's flock as slaves. Both writings provide us a window into the soul of this great missionary bishop who brought thousands to faith in Jesus Christ.
Don Schwager is a member of The Servants of the Word and author of the Daily Scripture Reading and Meditation website.

photos from movie trailer clip for I Am Patrick: The Patron Saint of Ireland, Christian Broadcasting Network, 2020
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