Scribbling furiously with the bloodied broken stump of a leprechaun’s finger, under an apocalyptic cloud of molten ash and flames; blather.nets ‘end of days’ emissary, Ender Wiggan, concludes the I, Patrick saga, concerning the real life and times of the blow in from Britain.
With Extreme Prejudice
Int. British Monastery Kitchen (5H CENTURY) – Day
“Brother Willard, you ever hear of a man called Patricius?”
“Yes, sir, I’ve heard the name.”
“A deacon, attached to Carlisle”
“Luke, would you read that letter for the Brother, please.
FR. LUCAS (READING)
“I, Patricius…a sinner and one truly unlearned…
“This was sent out of Ireland. This has been verified
as Fr. Patricius handwriting.”
FR. LUCAS (READING)
â€œ…the riches which he has unjustly gathered will be vomited from his belly, the angel of death will hand him over to be crushed by the anger of dragons, he will be killed by the vipers tongue and an unquenchable fire shall consume him…â€
“Patricius was one of the most outstanding deacons this country has ever produced. He was a brilliant and outstanding in every way and he was a good man too. Humanitarian man, man of wit, of humor. He joined the Special Missions. After that his ideas, methods become unsound… Unsound.”
“Now he’s crossed to Ireland and has gathered a ragtag tribal army, who worship the man, like a saint, and follow his every order however ridiculous.”
“Well, I have some other shocking news to tell you. Patricius is about to be charged for conduct unbecoming…He’s out there, operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable clerical conduct.
“I don’t follow, Father?”
“Well, you see Brother Willard… In these times, things get confused out there, power, ideals, between old morality and practical church necessity. Out there with these natives, it must be a temptation to be god…to be a bishop. Because there’s a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. The good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Augustine called ‘the better angels of our nature’. Every man has got a breaking point. You and I have. Patricius has reached his. And very obviously, he has gone insane.”
“Yes sir, very much so sir. Obviously insane.”
Britons acting the bollix
Patrick was an embarrassment to the church authorities, for having survived and prospered. At having succeeded against the odds. His interfering with powerful Romano-British ‘free enterprise’ operating in unchristian territories (and therefore outside the law) would have caused consternation. On a theological level, the prospect of a self declared Bishop operating and teaching the pagan masses would have been an affront to the higher clergy. After all, this was a time when another British (of Irish extraction) ‘mad’ monk, Pelagius, was causing similar consternation in Rome and North Africa; preaching a much gentler and humanitarian form of Christian belief and life. (The cheeky bastard).
All in all, the local British Church was under extreme pressure to sort out its dirty laundry (Your people are breaking our balls man, put a fuckin’ muzzle on them for Christ’s sake!).
And so, Patrick put pen to paper a second time, towards the end of his life in order to answer the charges and accusations of ill conduct coming from Britain. They seemed to have insinuated that he had gone for his own benefit, to make money and to take advantage of the tribal nations. They questioned his authority and legitimacy. They seemed to have suggested that he was deviating from official church doctrine. And most definitely, would have made public the sin that had cost him so dearly, so as to make his own congregation doubt him. They demanded he return to face the charges and defend himself.
God’s Lonely Man
Patrick therefore tells his story about how he has come to be an exile, for God, in a foreign country, despised by many. How he considered himself divinely appointed. How hard it has been and what lengths he has had to go to. That people abroad have no idea about the cultural reality on the ground; and the delicate nature of the mission. There’s no way in hell he can leave them. That the vast money he is reputedly spending, is to stay safe and ensure continuity of access to his flock and not a private enterprise. He spends money ‘for’ them, to lay the seeds of belief. He is ‘a fisher of men’, fulfilling the biblical prophecy of end times; that when the gospel ‘has been preached at the ends of the earth’, then the end of the world is coming soon after.
To the majority of fifth century faithful, the prospect of an ‘apocalypse now’ was very real. The Holy Roman Empire was on its last legs; and the writing was on the wall concerning unity, peace and prosperity in the west. It had been all people had known and admired for four centuries. How could anyone survive without it?
And that…is the last we hear (historically) of the real man called Patrick; clinging to love and life in his old age, beyond the ends of the earth; waiting for an approaching apocalypse amidst the gathering storm clouds over Europe; besieged by danger, controversy and innuendo. The words â€œI, Patrick…â€ are the earliest known to been ‘written’ in Ireland. He stands firmly in our national imagination, with both legs astride Irish Prehistory and Recorded History.
A random bloke in special circumstances, all too human and fallible. A hothead, a stubborn rebel and a major pain in the bollox, when angry. A genius administrator and gifted troubleshooter. A man with high ideals, morals and a burning desire to affect social change… a ‘Christian’ in the best meaning of the word. An upper class man who saw a country rife with corruption that needed improving; a cruel and violent society caught up in an economic race to take as much advantage at the expense of others; a society greedily infatuated with self status and profit, full of injustice and ill treatment of its most needy members and immigrants.
Thank heavens such things are all behind us now…
Despite what later hagiographers would have us believe, Patrick did not single-handedly convert the whole country. He wasn’t even the first official missionary. He is but one of many from Britain and Gaul who undoubtedly were active in Ireland throughout the fourth and fifth centuries. Patrick would have probably remained unknown and forgotten in Irish history, if it wasn’t for the chance survival of a few of his letters, no doubt kept and copied by a few of his followers. * In time, as Christianity spread and adapted to indigenous Irish society; Patrick’s ‘Roman’ model of the church, was superseded by a ‘Monastic’ model…much better suited to local conditions.
Throughout the sixth and seventh centuries, as folk memories failed amidst great plagues and upheavals; a new fledgling monastery at Armagh started to put about the idea that she should be the Head Gaffer. As part of such a strategy, she sent out religious academics and scholars to find the oldest evidence lying around the place…and to manipulate it to Armagh’s advantage. One of them must have come across the two Patrick documents…and before anyone knew it, the legend of Patrick was being created and more importantly, associated with Armagh.
The rest, as they say, is…propaganda.
There is one final matter that may hold a grain of historical truth: the association with March 17th. As far back as the ninth and tenth centuries, Patrick’s feast day was being celebrated in Irish religious centres in Europe. While still several hundred years after the fact; such a definitive acceptance of his date of death, with no argument or debate (unlike every other date concerning Patrick’s life) suggests perhaps that such tradition was in place a long time even then; and may extend right back to a contemporary source.
If nothing else, it would explain why for generations, Irish children have been made to stand freezing their nads off, watching a couple of tractors decorated in green ribbon pass down the local main street. I mean, really, if someone old and frail was going to pop their clogs, they’d do it in that type of season and weather surely…
So, next St. Patrick’s Day, when you’re ten deep at the bar, squashed beside a green-clad American tourist poking you in the shoulder blade as he tries to re-enact Riverdance; while several red-bearded children dressed as leprechaun’s get trampled underfoot as the band murder another fucking rendition of Danny Boy…
Spare of thought for the real Patrick…
And raise a glass to the fact that: as the Head of the Irish Church and the Patron Saint of all that is Sacred and Holy…the man held up by Rome as a symbol of our national identity; was an arrogant rule-breaker, sometime heretic and all round general purpose sinner, with all manner of a mouth on him.
Just like the rest of us.
*[Translations of Patrick’s Confessio and Epistola are widely available online; the discerning Historians preferred choices are Bieler (1952) and White (1905) â€“ however two later versions I also particularly recommend are De Paor (1993) and O’ Loughlin (1999)]