Patrick’s orthodox beliefs
‘Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.’ Jude 3
I always find it remarkable that the faith St. Patrick believed and proclaimed almost sixteen hundred years ago is the same faith as orthodox Christians hold today. In the 21st Century, when the Church is under threat from false teaching (especially in the Anglican Communion), it is a comfort to know that what orthodox Christians today believe is the same as early Irish missionaries such as Patrick.
For example, it is well known that Patrick was a full-blooded Trinitarian – not a Unitarian. His creed, outlined in one of the earliest pieces of Irish literature, The Confession, is structured around the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Near the end of his Confession, Patrick writes, ‘We believe in and adore … Christ who reigns with God the Father Almighty and with the Holy Spirit before ages and now and for all ages of ages. Amen’ (Conf 60).
In an era when, like ours, there was much false teaching, Patrick was fully orthodox. And his Confession probably reflects the beliefs of the British Church in the fifth century. Patrick came from the British Church as a missionary to Ireland. So Patrick was not a theological lone-ranger.
Put briefly, Patrick was a man of the Bible. He was unashamed to read and quote from the Old Latin translation (not the later Vulgate of Jerome). Perhaps surprisingly, we find no quotations or references to the church fathers in Patrick, just the Bible.
The scholar Christine Mohrmann puts it well: ‘In every sentence, in every thought which he formulates, there are traces of Biblical language. And not only his language but also his way of thinking is determined by the Bible. But there is also in his writings a constant flow of Biblical words and phrases, which seem to belong to his normal vocabulary.’ She goes on to speak of ‘a sort of omnipresence of Holy Scripture’ in Patrick’s writings.
Patrick was a man saturated with the Bible. According to scholarly analysis, Patrick quotes the Bible 54 times in his Letter to Coroticus and 135 times in the Confession, quoting from 23 out of the 27 books of the New Testament and 12 books of the Old Testament. He quoted most from the Psalms, Romans, Acts, Corinthians and Matthew (in that order). Patrick was an orthodox Christian believer who knew his Bible so well it just poured out of him.
Can we learn anything at all from Patrick about mission in 21st century Ireland? I believe we can. It is to continue faithfully to walk in the orthodox truths of the Christian faith, holding fast to God’s Word and trusting in the Trinitarian God who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Through prayer and a faithful proclamation of the gospel of Christ this part of the world can once again be claimed for Jesus.
Sincerely in Christ,