Happy Saint Patrick's Day!
You know, there was an actual Saint Patrick. Unlike many of the alleged saints who lived in ancient times or in the Dark Ages, Saint Patrick was a real person. Today he is thought of as the patron saint of Ireland. I hail from Ireland and that makes Patrick a subject of special interest to me. Of course, he is not a patron saint of anywhere. There's no such thing as a patron saint. The Bible knows nothing at all about such beings and the notion that they exist grows out of the pagan ideas that crept into professed Christianity.
However, though Patrick was never a patron saint he was a real man and a real saint in the Biblical sense of the word. Scholars dispute about where Patrick was born. He said that he was born and raised in "Britain." Unfortunately it is almost impossible to be certain as to precisely where he meant. France claims him. Remember that we still have a "Brittany" in France. Scotland claims him and its claims may be superior to those of any other place. His father was a churchman and he grew up herding his father's sheep until one day he was stolen away by a bunch of marauders who took him to Ireland where he lived as a slave. There on the lonely slopes of Slemish mountain, which is in the northern county of Antrim (some believe the mountain in question is the one now known as Croagh Patrick, Ireland's so-called "Holy Mount"), the young slave boy came into a real, personal and living faith in Christ. Finally he managed to escape and make his way home but his engagement with Ireland was just beginning. God gave him a strange dream, somewhat like the vision He gave Paul concerning the man from Macedonia. In his dream Patrick felt God calling him to return to the dark, misty and bog ridden land of Ireland, with its wild people and its endless dangers to win its pagan inhabitants for Christ.
Patrick obeyed. His own Confession tells the story of his conversion and gives us a brief but profound insight into his beliefs. He confessed himself a sinner and threw himself on God's mercy in Christ. He was never commissioned by a pope or by the papal church. He went to Ireland without episcopal ordination, as a man sent from God with a burden to preach Christ to the heathen Irish. What he preached was the gospel of saving grace. And God powerfully blessed his ministry. He moved all over the country and witnessed both to chieftains and serfs. He founded hundreds of churches-and the interesting thing is that those churches were not set up after the fashion of Romish churches.The Patrick of papal mythology never existed. The medieval "histories" of his life and work were inventions through which Rome sought to highjack a ministry that had been conducted entirely without any sanction from Rome or its bishops. There was good reason for Rome's effort. The Churches that Patrick founded were among the very last in Europe to bow to the supremacy of the pope-not until Pope Adrian IV "gave" Ireland to the King of England so that he might subjugate it and bring it into the papal fold. But by that time Patrick had been dead for almost a millennium. Thank God, it was not popery but the gospel of free grace that Patrick brought to Ireland. Today, on St. Patrick's Day, we salute his memory. In the truest sense, he was Ireland's spiritual father and he was Ireland's first Protestant.