The Letters of Patrick
The phrases “cannot be fixed with certainty” and “there is no reliable documentation for” and other such expressions lie on almost every page concerning “super-saints” of pre-medieval times. The man who called himself Patricius, however, left two known documents for future generations to ponder: Confessio (Declaration) and Epistola (Letters to the soldiers of Caroticus). From these two sources — generally recognized by historians as authentic — we can glean a few useful details of Patrick’s life.
A Briton Slave to Irish Pirates
Christians brought the Gospel to Britain, probably in the apostolic or immediate post-apostolic era, during Roman occupation. Patrick lived in the fifth century, i.e. 450 years after Jesus Christ’s ascension. It seems he was born into a Briton Christian family but was not a believer himself till sometime after his capture by Irish pirates and being taken to Ireland as a slave. His grandfather was a priest and his father a deacon. He spent his time as a slave herding sheep and used his time wisely in contemplation and prayer. He claims that he became a true believer sometime in those six years. Patrick recorded that he heard a voice telling him to return home, so he ran away, got passage on a vessel, and returned home, age about twenty-one.
Bringing the Gospel Back Home to Ireland
Patrick received some type of theological training, perhaps on the continent, and returned to Ireland as a missionary. The stories of his peripatetic ministry have grown with the telling. Shrines to his work are found in many places in Ireland. He apparently founded a number of churches, one of the most important being in Armagh where two cathedrals there today bear testimony to his effectiveness — one Roman Catholic, and one Protestant.* It is probable that he was not the first Christian in Ireland but the extreme success of his promoters, ancient and modern, claim that he was. He faced down the Druidic cults that dominated Celtic society, and, so widespread was his ministry, that some claim all Ireland became Christian, or very nearly so.