St Patrick - Why St. Patrick is Important
St. Patrick's Youth
The Ireland that St. Patrick first met in the early 5th century was a land without cities or literacy. Ireland, in those days, lived under the Druids in a place where magic infused reality, where gods lived in the very forests and stones. Warriors terrified their enemies by their ability to shape shift and the Irish still practiced human sacrifice.
The young boy, Patricius, now known to us as St. Patrick, lived a middle class existence as a Romanized Briton. Slavery was a rampant scourge of the day when Irish slavers kidnapped Patricius. The boy was sent into wild country as a shepherd where he lived a life of poverty and isolation.
Patricius, in his solitude, turned to prayer and after six years, heard the word of God who promised him that he was going home. After escaping in a boat, he returned to his family, then went on to study theology in France (then Gaul). He became a priest, then a bishop and decided to return to Ireland as a missionary.
Ireland - a Unique Brand of Christianity
That the bloodthirsty Irish put down their battleaxes in exchange for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the loving God that Patricius offered is a testament to Patrick’s courage and, no doubt, charisma. The pagan virtues of loyalty, courage and generosity exemplified by Patricius won him converts by the thousands. When Patricius implored the Britons to stop slaving in Ireland, be became the first public figure to take a stand against slavery.
In the early 5th century as Rome fell, the Irish quickly embraced literacy and education. The warrior society led into Christianity without bloodshed enjoyed the dramatic stories of early Christian martyrs. In their desire to create martyr-like circumstances, pious men developed the concept of the Green Martyr. These reclusive holy-men went into the forests and wild places, took themselves out of society to peruse prayer and study. From these roots grew the concept of monasteries where religious people gathered for study and prayer, and to copy the old books. The prehistoric Irish virtue of hospitality engendered the famous hospitality of monasteries, all were welcomed.
Libraries grew and the open-minded brand of Christianity in Ireland, isolated from Roman Catholic dictates on the continent, included ancient knowledge of past, pagan civilizations in their literary repertoire. After the Bible and Gospels were copied, the stories of Greek mythology and the prehistoric Irish tale, the Tain, were set down in monastic scriptoriums. Unlike Christian Rome, Irish monasteries viewed all learning as sacred.
St. Columbanus, a later missionary/warrior monk bragged to Pope Boniface of ‘the freedom of discussion characteristic of my native land.’ The open mindedness of the Irish brand of Christianity included the old holidays like May Day, and Halloween. They kept Easter according to the old calculations banned by Rome.
Ardpatrick in County Limerick
Fall of the Roman Empire
As the Roman Empire fell in the 5th century to Gothic illiterate rule, scriptoriums were destroyed, books burned and the employment of copyists ended. Europe fell into anarchy and the roads became dangerous due to roaming thugs. Seats of education fell to ruin. The learned fled to the distant outpost of Ireland. Irish monasteries became the culture hubs of exiled European intelligencia where the last remaining books of antiquity were copied and treasured.
Thus – the Irish, former shape-shifting fiends, isolated from the anarchic ruins of a crumbling Europe, were able to rescue and save ancient knowledge and scholarly texts. The Irish, introduced to the printed word by St. Patrick, saved the literary traditions of western culture. And that’s why St. Patrick is so important.