Saturday, 25 March 2017

Saint Patrick - 'A Unique Voice from the Dawn of Irish History'


Today is the Octave Day of the Feast of Saint Patrick and thus brings to an end of the series of posts based on the work of modern scholar Dáibhí Ó Cróinín. I hope you will agree that he has raised some very interesting questions about the career of our national apostle and we shall give him the last word on the importance of Saint Patrick and his writings:
It is possible that Patrick's later dominant position in Irish tradition owes as much to the fact of a popular belief that he was the first Christian missionary of note (and a missionary of the people at that) as to the fact that it was his writings (and not any of Palladius's) that survived.
Ó Cróinín goes on to refer to the censorship of those writings at Armagh but finishes with a glowing tribute:
Thankfully, the full text of the Confession and the Letter survived intact in other copies, and remains to this day, as the testimony of a remarkable man, a unique voice from the dawn of Irish history, whose life and career were probably unparalleled and whose account of that time is one of the most remarkable documents of human expertise.

Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 58.


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Friday, 24 March 2017

Patrick and Palladius - Who Came to Ireland First?



In one of the most interesting parts of his discussion of the topic 'Patrick and the Historians',  Dáibhí Ó Cróinín presents the case, originally made by medievalist Mario Esposito (1887-1975), that contrary to the accepted wisdom, Palladius may have been Patrick's successor rather than his predecessor:
Esposito put forward the proposal that Patrick might, in fact, have preceeded Palladius in date and that his missionary activity may have taken place during the last years of the fourth century and the opening of the fifth, a full generation before Palladius arrived. There is much to recommend the AD 390 theory, and it would certainly account for two of the principal differences with the earlier chronology of the two men, namely that Patrick never mentions Palladius and secondly that Palladius was sent to an already existing community of Christians in Ireland. If these Christians were, in fact, some of Patrick's original converts, it would verify his claim to pioneering missionary status, and also explain how the fledgling community to which Palladius was sent had come into existence in the first place. It would also account for Patrick's silence about Palladius, since by this reckoning, Palladius came after Patrick, not before him. 
There are, however, some drawbacks to this theory:
It would not, of course, explain why Palladius was designated 'first' bishop of the Irish by the Pope, but given the obviously maverick nature of Patrick's career, his episcopal status might not have been recognised as canonical in Rome, (if indeed he had ever come to the attention of the papal see). Throughout his writings, Patrick is at pains to stress his valid orders, which suggests that there were others in the British Church, it seems, and perhaps in Ireland as well, who disputed that validity.

Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 57-58.
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Thursday, 23 March 2017

When did Saint Patrick die?



The vexed question of the chronology of Saint Patrick which we looked at yesterday affects the date of his death as much as the date of his arrival in Ireland. Once again there are competing theories among biographers old and new, but just as AD 432 became the accepted date of his arrival, AD 461 became an accepted date for his death. Indeed just as in 1932, 1961 was celebrated in Ireland as a 'Patrician Year'  with the Patrician Congress 'marking the 1,500th anniversary of the death of St Patrick with all the panoply of a State visit' as a contemporary report in the Irish Times put it.  AD 461 was not universally accepted, however,  as Dáibhí Ó Cróinín briefly summarizes:
This confusion about the date of Patrick's arrival was also reflected of course in the controversy surrounding the date of his death: some gave it as having taken place in AD 461, others in AD 493, some annals indeed gave more than one date for the saint's death.
Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 56.

Tomorrow I hope to look at one of the most interesting aspects of the chronology of Saint Patrick, the relationship between the timing of his mission and that of Saint Palladius.

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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

When was Saint Patrick in Ireland?


We will be dealing today with yet another question regarding the mission of Saint Patrick which remains unresolved - when was he in Ireland? I have a copy of the volume of studies issued in 1932 (see picture above) to commemorate the 1500th anniversary of his coming amongst us, one of many events and publications which celebrated the occasion. But how secure is this date? As Dáibhí Ó Cróinín sees it, the answer is not very:
Patrick gives no dates whatsoever in either his Confession or his Letter. 432 was simply taken over from the chronology of Palladius..stated by Prosper to have been sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine in 431. Later Irish historians (from the seventh century on), puzzled by the subsequent silence in the historical sources concerning Palladius, concluded that the vacuum in the narrative would best be filled by bringing Patrick to Ireland as soon after AD 431 as possible. Hence AD 432 became the 'official' date of his arrival, and the date was entered retrospectively into the Irish annals. Once that date had become enshrined in Irish historical tradition, it was almost impossible to shift it.

Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 56.

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Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Saint Patrick - Preaching Where no Man Has Gone Before?






As we continue the series of posts in honour of Saint Patrick based on a series of questions posed by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín in a 2001 paper, we arrive at one of the biggest questions of all - what was the nature of the objections of the elders (seniores) in Britain to the man and his mission? Our scholar provides this insight:
Part of the difficulty which Patrick's activities presented to his superiors was his manifest concern to preach the gospel among the heathen Irish. He several times remarks that he has taken the Christian message 'where no man has gone before' (Conf. 34) and that such efforts involved him and his companions in physical danger (Conf. 51). It was this physical dangers that drew down the displeasure of his seniores on Patrick.

Now this might strike a modern reader as curious, for one naturally assumes that an element of danger is part of any missionary endeavour. There is always a risk that the message will not be received favourably and the messenger violently rejected.  Later Irish saints, like Killian, for example, found this out in their labours among the Germanic pagan peoples and were martyred for their pains. But Ó Cróinín sets this objection into its historical context and it is one which indeed seems counter-intuitive to the contemporary reader:

The reason for it was that the early church in this period had no concept of mission to the unbelieving, of the kind that we are familiar with today from the work of Christian missionaries in Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The post-apostolic Church developed no conscious institutionalised missionary effort or personnel, conversion as a rule, was sporadic and individual, rather than communal. Palladius, after all, had been sent to 'the Irish believing in Christ' not to the heathen. 

Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 55.

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Monday, 20 March 2017

Did Saint Patrick Study on the Continent?




So he crossed the southern British sea, and beginning his journey through Gaul with the intention of eventually crossing the Alps, as he had resolved in his heart, he came on a very holy bishop, Germanus, who ruled in the city of Auxerre, the greatest lord in almost all of Gaul He stayed with him for quite some time, just as Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel; and in all humility, patience and obedience he learned, loved and treasured wholeheartedly knowledge, wisdom, purity and every benefit to soul and spirit, with great fear and love for God, in goodness and singleness of heart and chaste in body and spirit.

A. B. E. Hood, ed. and trans. Muirchú's Life of Saint Patrick, (London and Chichester, 1978), p.84

Thus does Saint Patrick's seventh-century biographer, Muirchú, describe the training received by his subject at the feet of one of the most pre-eminent saints of his age, Germanus of Auxerre. Yet Saint Patrick himself makes no mention of his famous teacher or of any years spent in Gaul in his own writings. The episode is found only in the writings of his later hagiographers and as a result has come under the scrutiny of modern scholarship. In his discussion of Saint Patrick's Gaulish training for his Irish mission, Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, acknowledges that there are some mentions of Gaul in the extant writings of the saint:
True, he does mention later in the Letter (s.14) the 'custom of the Gallo-Roman Christians of ransoming captive Christians from their heathen captors'. And in the Confession (s.43) he also mentions his wish that, at some stage, he might have an opportunity (apparently unfulfilled) to visit the brethern in Gaul; but these are hardly the kind of statements we would expect from a man whose training had been received in the foremost cathedral school in Gaul, under the most prominent Gallican bishop of his time.
The real issue for Ó Cróinín is that if Germanus of Auxerre had prepared Patrick for his mission then that would have provided some pretty powerful ammunition for Patrick to have used against those who questioned its validity:
Had Patrick really studied at Auxerre under Germanus, his detractors at home could have no conceivable grounds for complaint about his inadequate training; on the contrary he could have boosted a superior religious formation probably than any that was to be held in Britain at that time.
Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 53-54.

It's an interesting point and one upon which the academic jury is still deliberating. Tomorrow we will look at the nature of the objections to Saint Patrick's mission.

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Sunday, 19 March 2017

Did Saint Patrick Fund His Own Mission to Ireland?



We continue the series of posts in honour of Saint Patrick with a look at another of the questions raised by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín - did he, at least in part, fund his own mission to Ireland? Yesterday we saw that Patrick, then back in Britain, recorded a nocturnal vision in which he first read and then heard 'The Voice of the Irish' entreating him to come and walk again among them. Yet he also makes it clear that he did not act immediately on this plea. Indeed, as he says in section 28 of his Confessio 'I did not proceed to Ireland of my own accord until I was nearly worn out'.  In his writings Saint Patrick makes reference to the elders (seniores) and to Ó Cróinín:
The implication of his words..is that Patrick's activities were, in part at any rate, sponsored (and perhaps also subsidised) by some senior churchmen in Britain. But he appears also to have provided his own financial resources for the undertaking, since he remarks in the Letter (s.10) that he had sold his noble rank (uendidi enim nobilitatem meam), which appears to mean that he sold off his parental estate.  
 Ó Cróinín then goes on to speculate that this may perhaps also explain the long delay in Patrick's return to Ireland:
Patrick may have been an only child...nowhere does he mention siblings. If he were the sole heir to his father's properties, Patrick could very well have sold them off to pay for his Irish mission. And if that were the case, it would explain too the long delay before his return to Ireland, for he may have had to wait until his parents had passed on before the opportunities provided by his inheritance gave him the necessary spur to return to Ireland.

Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 52-53.

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