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Saint Patrick: Proclaiming the Name of Jesus in Ireland

4 min

Every year on March 17, millions of people all over the world wear green and eat traditional Irish dishes, such as corned beef and cabbage. Almost everyone in Western Civilization has heard the name Saint Patrick, but very few know the remarkable story of his life and testimony. The story of Saint Patrick has become surrounded by a dense fog of legends and traditions. But behind these legends is the life of a very real man who preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Ireland more than fifteen hundred years ago.

Patrick was born around A.D. 389 in Scotland to a Christian family. His father was a deacon at a church founded by early missionaries to the British Isles. Patrick was known in his early youth as a little boy with a tender heart and warm disposition. His mother was a pious lady who endeavored to lead her son in the paths of righteousness. The boy deeply loved his parents and eagerly listened to their Gospel teachings. But a tragedy befell the family before Patrick had personally accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior.

When Patrick was sixteen years old, he was playing near the sea with two of his sisters. While they were playing, some evil men arrived on boats and kidnapped the three children! The children were sold as slaves in Ireland, and young Patrick found himself a slave charged with herding and feeding swine. Perhaps because of this job, some of the early biographies of Patrick gave him the British name or title Succat, which means “swineherder.”

The lad was miserable. Several years passed. While engaged in the drudgery of slave labor, he longed for his parents and native land. He also recalled the teachings his father and mother had given him from God’s Word. Finally, with tears of repentance, Patrick bemoaned his sins. Alone in a field, with only the pigs about him as in the account of the prodigal son, Patrick sought forgiveness of his Heavenly Father through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. He would later write in his own memoir, Confession of Saint Patrick, “In that strange land the Lord opened my unbelieving eyes . . . and I called my sins to mind, and was converted with my whole heart to the Lord my God, who regarded my low estate, had pity on my youth and ignorance, and consoled me as a father consoles his children.”

Eventually, Patrick was rescued from slavery and returned to his native land of Scotland. But he could not forget the memory of the pagans in Ireland who had once held him captive. Patrick heard and yielded to God’s call for him to become a missionary to the very people who had kidnapped him, obeying literally the command of the Lord Jesus to “love your enemies.”

As a missionary among the green hills of Ireland, Patrick would use a drum to assemble the people to a clearing. Once the people were gathered, he would preach the Gospel to them in their own native tongue, which he had learned during his time as a slave. Eventually, the Irish people were enlightened by the Gospel, and some were genuinely converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Patrick was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland. Others had gone before him. Evangelists before him had planted the Gospel seed and watered it. But Patrick was the instrument of the Lord to bring in the spiritual harvest. As the Scotsman preached and taught across Ireland, scores of Druids and chieftains came to lay aside their paganism and embrace the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ. Patrick became known as the “Apostle of Ireland.”

Many legends abound, among them that Saint Patrick banished all snakes from Ireland. Some of these legends have their roots in actual events. Others are probably fanciful tales made up by imaginative hagiographers, who write biographies of saints or venerated persons. But the lasting influence and legacy of Patrick’s life upon Ireland cannot be denied or dismissed.

It is said that Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock as an illustration of the Trinity as he proclaimed the Gospel in Ireland. Thus, the shamrock has often been associated with Ireland and with Saint Patrick’s Day. The initial purpose of the shamrock was not a good luck charm but a symbol of the Trinity.

By the end of his life, it is said that Patrick had founded three hundred churches in Ireland. Although Patrick was eventually canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, the Celtic believers of Scotland and Ireland owed no allegiance to the Bishop of Rome at this time in history.

The legacy of Patrick did not end with his death in A.D. 461. The followers of Patrick and later Celtic Christians, such as Columba in the sixth century, became known as Culdees, which means “servants of God.” Ancient hymns such as “Be Thou My Vision” arose from this region in this era. Druidical chants were replaced by the singing of Christian hymns and the psalms of David. The name of Jesus Christ was exalted where it was largely unknown before. Pagan orgies were replaced by the worship of Jesus Christ. Druid priests offering human sacrifice were replaced by humble prayers of men, women, and children who would gather on the green hills of Ireland to worship the Lord Jesus Christ in spirit and in truth.

Sources and for Further Reference: 

  • Federer, William. Saint Patrick. St. Louis, MO: Amerisearch, 2002.
  • D’Aubigné, J. H. Merle. The History of the Reformation. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 2001.
  • D’Aubigné, J. H. Merle. The History of the Reformation. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 2001.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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