The Story of St. Patrick

The Story of Patrick and the Celtic Church

The history of God's faithful people during the ages of Rome's supremacy are written in heaven, but they have little place in human history books. Rome endeavors to write history to show herself in the best light. But the stories can still be found.

Here is the story of St. Patrick and the Christianity he and his converts established in Northern Briton.

The Irish "Celtic" people trace their conversion to Christianity to Patrick, who came to them early in the fifth century:

It all began when the great empire of Roman declined and its legions were withdrawn from the defense of the British Continent. From the north the Irish, then called Scots, began swooping down on the English coast, sailing up the rivers, raiding the settlements, and carrying off plunder and slaves. Among those captured was a young man named Patrick. So Ireland's patron saint was not Irish! Patrick had been reared in a Christian home. His father was a deacon. Yet Patrick did not take religion serious until he was captured and sat as a swineherd in a foreign country. Here he began to pray for his freedom. His conversion dates from this captivity. "The Lord opened to me the sense of my unbelief," he says. After six years he managed to escape and found his way to the coast where he boarded a ship carrying a cargo of hounds.

He would have gladly remained in England had he not had a dream one night in which the babies of Ireland pleaded with him to come back to their country and tell them about Christ. Patrick decided to return, but first he had to learn more about Christianity. Ordained a priest, at length he was sent out, to be a missionary to the people among whom he had once been a slave. He was appointed, sometime after 431A.D., as successor to St. Palladius, first bishop of Ireland.

From this point we have only legends. We know, however, that a century later the entire structure of the church in Ireland was monastic. Presumably, the monastic community, maintaining itself on the land, fitted the agricultural communities of the Celts better than the parish-church system, which was more common elsewhere.

We also know that Ireland became the base for the evangelization of Britain.
In fact one historian (Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History Of The Catholic Church, p. 94), says that "these Irish monks were the leading missionaries of the age, and they carried their monastic ideal across the length and breadth of Europe in the sixth and seventh centuries."

Then in the 6th century the Roman pope sent Augustine (of Canterbury) to evangelize the Anglo Saxons. So the missionaries from Rome were working up from the south, while the missionaries from Ireland and Scotland were working from the north. As they worked, the papal missionaries and their converts met the primitive Christians from the north. There was a striking contrasted between them. The northern Christians were simple, humble, while the papal representatives manifested the pomp and arrogance of popery. The later demanded that these Christian churches acknowledge the supremacy of the sovereign pontiff. The Britons meekly replied that they desired to love all men, but that the pope was not entitled to supremacy in the church, and they could render to him only that submission which was due to every follower of Christ. They acknowledged no other master than Christ.

According to Merle D'Aubigne, in History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, b. 17, ch. 2, the Roman missionaries said, "If you will not unite with us in showing the Saxons the way of life, you shall receive from them the stroke of death."

Did you know that Patrick may very well have been a Seventh-day Sabbath keeper.

According to one historian:
"We find traces in the early monastic church of Ireland that they held Saturday to be the Sabbath on which they rested from all their labors." (W.T. Skene, Adamnan Life of St. Columba, p. 96)

Also Professor Moffet says: "It seems to have been customary in the Celtic churches of early times, in Ireland as well as Scotland, to keep Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, as a day of rest from labor. They obeyed the fourth commandment literally upon the seventh day." (The Church in Scotland, p. 140)

This seems to have been the case until about 1066 when the Norman invasions of England took place. William II, duke of Normandy (area in France bordering the English Channel) invaded England and established himself there as William I, king of England. The reigning pontiff favored William in his invasion, blessed his armies and consecrated his banners and took the opportunity to also establish his own spiritual authority. William permitted him to do so in order to more effectually humble the Saxon clergy and aggrandize his Norman prelates.

At this time the papacy was undergoing massive endeavors to gain control of all religious activities. Christian society, they maintained, must be organized under the pope, and guarded against all possibility of error by the presence of Peter perpetually present in his successors, the bishops of Rome. (Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, p. 182)

Pope Gregory VII (1073) successfully asserted the absolute papal power over the Church. It was he who declared that "the pope can be judged by no one, the Roman church has never erred and never will err till the end of time; the Roman church was founded by Christ alone; the pope alone can depose and restore bishops; he alone can make new laws, set up new bishoprics....he alone can revise his judgments; his legates...(A Concise History of the Catholic Church, p. 112)

The movement was to "free" the entire church from secular control and make everything subject to the pope. Gregory insisted that the church was above the state. It was Gregory who humiliated the German emperor Henry VI making him stand barefoot in the snow for three days begging for forgiveness.

During this time we see a Queen in Scotland named Margaret, wife of King Malcolm III Canmore (1057-1093). Raised in the Hungarian court, she promoted, in conformity with the Gregorian reform, the interests of the church. She was later granted Saint hood by Pope Innocent IV in 1250 for her great benefactions to the church.

In the book (Turgot, Life of Saint Margaret, p. 49) we read:
"It was another custom of theirs (people of Scotland) to neglect the reverence due to the Lord's day, by devoting themselves to every kind of worldly business upon it, just as they did upon other days. That this was contrary to the law, she (Queen Margaret) proved to them as well by reason as by authority. ‘Let us venerate the Lord's day,' said she, ‘because of the resurrection of our Lord, which happened upon that day, let us no longer do servile works upon it.....Her next point was that they did not duly reverence the Lord's day, but in this latter instance they seemed to have followed a custom of which we find traces in the early Church of Ireland, by which they held Saturday to be the Sabbath on which they rested from all their labours."  (See also Skene, Celtic Scotland, Vol. 2, p. 349)

(Barnett, Margaret of Scotland: Queen and Saint, p, 97) writes: "In this matter the Scots had perhaps kept up the traditional usage of the ancient Irish Church which observed Saturday instead of Sunday as the day of rest." (Lewis, Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America, Vol. 1 p. 29) says "There is much evidence that the Sabbath prevailed in Wales universally until A.D. 1115, when the first Roman bishop was seated at St. Davis's. The old Welsh Sabbath keeping churches did not even then altogether bow the knee to Rome, but fled to their hiding places."

But the worst was still to come for Ireland. The total ruin of Patrick's church.

In 1156 Pope Adrian issued to King Henry II of England a bull authorizing him to invade Ireland. It was Dermot of Leinster, a man from Ireland itself, that carried out the dreadful order. Because of his cruelty as a chief, the people of Leinster had driven him out of Ireland. Blinded with revenge he aligned himself with the Norman King of England, Henry II and the Pope of Rome who had already resolved upon the destruction of Ireland.

Why would Rome want the invasion of Ireland?

We will refer frequently throughout the remainder of this webpage to (Lawrence, Historical Studies pp. 360-392 written in 1876,) in which we find the full story.

"The chief boast of Ireland was its independence...Christianity, in its purer form, came to Ireland about the middle of the fifth century....In the year 432 there were no images, nor crucifixes, no pompous ritual, no spiritual despotism, no moral corruption emanating from Rome....Patrick, therefore, the humble slave and missionary, brought to Ireland the simple elements of an apostolic faith..not the Romish practices..Ireland became a Christian country renowned for its intelligence, its pious genius, and its missionary zeal....Avarice and priestly pride were unknown to the successors of Patrick. Their doctrines were from the study of the Scriptures..."

"The Irish bishops firmly maintained their independence against the constant menaces of popes or councils; would consent to hold no intercourse with the Court of Rome; denied its claim to the right of ordination and consecrated each other by a simple laying on of hands; rejected the worship of images, the adoration of Mary, the infallibility of the pope, and in all their schools and colleges persisted in a free study of the Scriptures. They inculcated and exercised a general liberty of conscience founded upon the wide education of the people. The honesty, simplicity, and pious zeal of the Irish teachers were recognized by their opponents.

"But bitter was the hostility with which the Roman Popes and the Italian conclaves viewed the people of Ireland, where their maledictions were treated with neglect, where there was a general refusal to bow to mandates of Rome.

"Its apostolic usages, its Scriptural doctrines and its ever-open Bible were arguments so strong against the fabric of Romish superstition that the Popes felt that they could never be secure until they had swept from their path, in fire and blood, the schools, the churches, and the native bishops of Ireland. To accomplish this inhuman aim. Pope Adrian IV., in 1156, sold Ireland to the Normans."

"The sale of Ireland to its foes is the guiltiest of all the evil deeds of the Italian priesthood. It produced a succession of St. Bartholomew massacres; worse then what happened to the Huguenots; it has proved more fatal to the Irish race than the Inquisition to Spain."

Dermot Macmorrough, with the permission of Henry II, enlisted Richard Strongbow, and Robert Fitz-Stephen to join his enterprise. But impatient at their slowness Dermot, with a small group of men attacked his country. The Irish drove him back and had they pursued him they might have saved the country a lot of trouble. But Dermot swore fealty to Ireland and they accepted his treacherous submission.

In May, 1169, Robert Ritz-Stephen with his army landed in Ireland, and Dermot joined him with a group of warriors of his own. City after city was destroyed. Ireland roused into action and resolved that the whole force of the nation be gathered to wage war against the traitor Dermot. They rallied a great host, led by the Roderic King of Ireland, and Dermot and the Normans, dismayed and disheartened fled and hid themselves in the marshes and forests. Roderic surrounded the Normans in their secret hiding place, and by his immense superiority might have forced them to surrender. But Roderic, perhaps misled by priests or bishops, perhaps fearful at the thought of being assailed by England and exposed to the anathemas of the Roman Church, for some reason unknown failed to press the battle and accepted another oath of allegiance from the traitor Dermot.

But the traitor continued his plans and set about building a larger army. Three years of skirmishes which caused much suffering for the Irish people and in which Dermot himself was killed, finally resulted in the English king sending an armada of four hundred ships filled with knights, soldiers and supplies to Ireland. The war ravaged bleeding land was a helpless victim and yielded to the authority of Henry II.

"When any Irish chief ventured to ask by what authority Henry had taken possession of Ireland, he was told that the Pope, as vicar and head of the Church, had given it to the king; and that he who resisted the generous donation of St. Peter to his favorite son was a heretic, condemned to everlasting reprobation." "It was ever the aim of the Roman Church in those ages--nor does the policy seem yet to have been abandoned— to set nation against nation, and from the horrid discord and general woe to add to its own growing strength. Henry, conscious of the claims of his Italian masters, hastened to lay Ireland at their feet. A council was summoned at Cashel professing to represent the Church of St. Patrick. The Norman king ordered the bishops of Ireland to assemble. A motley group of Norman priests, of martial monks, of the papal archbishops, and a few trembling presbyters, natives of the South, gathered at his command; but it was noticed that none of the bishops of Ulster or Connaught assisted at the destruction of their national faith. They still adhered to the usages of Patrick, and of Columba, that the Irish Church, amidst bogs and forests, still defied the ambition of cruel Rome."

"Every trace of independence was abandoned by the Council of Cashel. The Romish ritual was enjoined on every priest; the worship of Mary, of images, and of saints was to extend throughout the Island; the priest was forbidden to marry; his hair was to be cut after the exact fashion at Rome; the clergy who failed to observe the new customs were condemned with indignant solemnity; tithes were to be paid by the laity; and Ireland for the first time was made tributary to the Romish Pope" (Ibid.).

The conquered lands were divided among the victors while the freedom loving Irish were reduced to the condition of slaves and paupers; driven to live in caves, huts, and forests; outcasts and beggars amidst the lands that once belonged to them.

But even this is not the end. Henry returned to England and for a few years took care of duties assailing him there. In Ireland the old church may have been formally replaced by the Roman approved bishops. But Irish presbyters rejected the authority of the unpatriotic synod.

“At length Henry, when his affairs were somewhat settled in England, resolved to . . . launch the thunders of the Romish popes against the Irish patriots. He had procured from Alexander III a confirmation of the bull of Adrian excommunicating all who opposed his authority over Ireland, and he now prepared to publish the two solemn decrees, in their full enormity, to all its schismatical Church.”

“1175 the two bulls were read by John of Salisbury, who had come from Rome bearing the final decree of Alexander, recited the doom of Ireland. ...Under a florid profession of Christian zeal it contained a bitter denunciation of the Irish Church...and promised Henry the favor of Heaven and an illustrious renown should he succeed in planting true religion in the home of Patrick and Columba. Alexander’s bull was still more effective, for it excommunicated all who resisted Henry’s authority or that of his heirs...every Irish patriot was converted into a child of Satan; every aspiration of freedom was an impious defiance of the Roman Church.”

“Now began that perpetual conflict of races, the saddest in the history of Europe, ...a mournful wail has never ceased to ascend to heaven and blight the charms of Ireland....when the papal decrees were proclaimed they still retained a sentiment of defying the authority of the Italian priests. ..Centuries of fatal discord followed, during which the Normans strove in vain to extirpate the accursed race who refused to obey the decrees of the Popes or submit to a foreign lord. Papal legates launched new excommunications against the Irish, and Romish priests urged on that work of extermination which alone could secure the supremacy of the Romish See. The papal monks declared that it was no crime, no sin, to kill a Celt...” (Ibid.).

Things didn’t get better with the reformation. The chief leaders in the English reformation were Henry the VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. The English had become protestant but they showed no disposition to abandon control of Ireland which they had received from the Papacy of Rome. Elizabeth I continued the conquest to reduce the Irish to a passive subjection to her power.

“The cause of this fresh assault upon the liberties of Ireland was the restless intrigues of the Jesuits. Elizabeth was waging war against the Pope and the Jesuits, the most active and most dangerous of her foes were ever the disciples of Loyola. To ruin and break down every Protestant government, to cover with discord and slaughter every Protestant land, and from the wreck of nations to build up a spiritual empire tyrannical and severe was the secret or open aim of every Jesuit. To wound or destroy Elizabeth the society began its disastrous labors in Ireland. The Jesuits, in various disguises, penetrated to the courts of the native chiefs. They roused the fires of national antipathy; they scoffed at the British as heretics; they allured the Irish to abandon forever the usages of St. Patrick and to ally themselves with the Roman Church; they promised the natives the protection of St. Peter, the shield of Mary, the blessing of the Pope, and the military aid of all Catholic Europe, if they would rise once more in a crusade against the English.”

“The Irish accepted the offers of Rome, threw themselves at the Pontiff’s feet, and became, for the first time, the willing instruments of the Jesuits and the Popes. They may be excused, if not forgiven. Their schools had long been swept away; their people had sunk into ignorance; they had endured centuries of ceaseless turmoil and war. Rome stretched forth its cunning hand to get control of the Irish Church, and after four centuries of violence, succeeded at last by fraud” (Ibid.).

The Irish rallied against the British, but were hopelessly defeated by Elizabeth’s armies. The Pope gave little aid, the Spanish were too far off and the English Raleigh cut down the Irish and Grey massacred the rebels. When Elizabeth died, Ireland was almost wholly conquered by England.

St. Patrick’s day?  The church of St. Patrick is gone.  Rome has claimed his name and largely blotted out the history of the defeat and takeover of the church he established, and the fact that most of Ireland’s present miseries are still ripples of the dark history.

But that is the story if one simply looks in the old history books.

— source:  Author: Ulrike Unruh.