Nearly all that we definitively know about the 5th Century Patrick is what we learn of him from his own writing, his Confession. Since his death there has been much biographical information added regarding him, nearly all of it without the backing of proof. Of particular interest is that in some cases this information was not brought to light until centuries after Patrick’s life and death. March 17 is celebrated to commemorate the date of his death.
Lie #1: Patrick was Irish. Assumption gets you to the idea that Patrick was a saint that had something to do with Ireland, and that is somewhat true. Patrick was not from Ireland originally. He was from a town in Scotland, which was a territory of Britain. In his Confession, Patrick explains how he was captured by pirates at the age of 16 (around 376 A.D.) and became a slave in Ireland. After many years there God brought him to deliverance. He left his responsibilities of shepherding for his master, and found passage toward his homeland aboard a merchant ship. It was some time later that Patrick felt called to return to the land of the Irish to minister to them. He is a well-known figure because he brought the gospel to the people of Ireland, and established the Christian church there.
Lie #2: Patrick was Catholic. When I hear mention of the word “saint” in an extra-Biblical sense I think of the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church definitely claims him as their own by citing history of Patrick’s travel to Italy, and of his having studied to become a priest before being made a bishop. It is even said that “Pope Celestine gave him the mission of returning to Ireland to convert the Irish to the True Faith, giving St Patrick his apostolic benediction” (http://www.roman-catholic-saints.com/st-patrick.html). It sounds good, but is that an accurate history?
Conversely, B.G. Wilkinson states that it was 200 years after Patrick’s death before any writing appeared that would attempt to connect Patrick to a papal commission, nor had any records from Rome mentioned him (Truth Triumphant, 85,86). Some authors speculate that because Patrick’s accomplishments and successes in his missionary efforts were not written about and acclaimed by Roman Catholic Popes and historians of his time, this “is strong evidence that Patrick had no Roman commission in Ireland” (William Cathcart, D.D., The Ancient British and Irish Churches, pp. 83).
We get a pretty large clue about his not being Catholic from Patrick’s Confession as he wrote about his family. “I, Patrick, ….had Calpurnius for my father, a deacon, a son of the late Potitus, the presbyter / priest…,” Patrick reported. The Roman Catholic Church holds to the ecclesiastical law of “clerical celibacy.”
Council of Elvira (c. 305) (Canon 33): It is decided that marriage be altogether prohibited to bishops, priests, and deacons, or to all clerics placed in the ministry, and that they keep away from their wives and not beget children; whoever does this, shall be deprived of the honor of the clerical office.
A father and grandfather both not keeping to this decree of the church, and yet maintaining their church positions seems unlikely. By comparison, it is reported that Celtic Christianity held “relaxed ideas of clerical celibacy”.
A further point of consideration in this matter is that Patrick is publicly respected, but not officially a saint. The fact is that though many databases list Saint Patrick among the Saints of the Roman Catholic church, he has yet to be officially canonized. A true saint of the Roman Catholic church has to undergo a process of canonization, before permission is given for public veneration. Throughout history many individuals have been made saints in this way, including Joan of Arc, Mother Theresa, and several popes as well. Could it be that Patrick was never canonized because he was never a Catholic?
Truth: Patrick was a Sabbatarian. The first ecumenical council, as a beginning effort to attain consensus in the Christian church, had been convened in 325 at Nicaea. So where did Patrick stand within Christendom? He stood on the Word of God. Based on his writings mentioning no council or creed besides the Bible alone we can assert that Patrick took the Bible as his sole authority, and “gave credit to no other worldly authority” (Truth Triumphant, 82-84).
How can I say that Patrick kept the 7th day Sabbath according to God’s word? Because of quotes such as these:
“It seems to have been customary in the Celtic churches of early times, in Ireland as well as Scotland, to keep Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, as a day of rest from labor. They obeyed the fourth commandment literally upon the seventh day of the week.”
(James C. Moffatt, D.D., The Church in Scotland,140).
“In this latter instance they seemed to have followed a custom of which we find traces in the early monastic church of Ireland by which they held Saturday to be the Sabbath on which they rested from all their labors.” (W.T. Skene, Adamnan: Life of St. Columba, 96).
“The Celts used a Latin Bible unlike the Vulgate, and kept Saturday as a day of rest, with special religious services on Sunday.” (A.C. Flick, The Rise of the Medieval Church, 237).
“T. Ratcliffe Barnett, in his book on the fervent Catholic queen of Scotland who in 1060 was the first to attempt the ruin of Columba’s brethren, writes: ‘In this matter the Scots had perhaps kept up the traditional usage of the ancient Irish Church which observed Saturday instead of Sunday as the day of rest’.” (Barnett, Margaret of Scotland: Queen and Saint, 97).
So it seems that though we don’t know much about Patrick’s personal practice as a Sabbatarian, various historians and writers agree that the early Celtic Christians of Ireland and Scotland rested on the seventh day, Sabbath.
A portion from Patrick’s Confession regarding his beliefs about God:
“For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and His son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by Him. He was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave Him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe. And we look to His imminent return to judge the living and the dead, and to render to each according to his deeds. He poured out his Holy Spirit on us in abundance, the gift and pledge of immortality, which makes the believers and the faithful into sons of God and co-heirs of Christ who is revealed, and we worship one God in the Trinity of His Holy name.”