The story of Saint Patrick is remarkable, given that he was born in Roman Britain, captured as a slave and taken to Ireland, and wrote about his experiences. Two letters written by him survive which provide valuable information about late Roman Britain. Unfortunately, however, the materials that survive “from him” are not without their own problems: we know very little about Patrick’s identity; his letters were copied into the Book of Armagh c.807 and may have been altered by clerics in an effort to boost the reputation and status of the church there and to make Patrick into a religious icon. The originals do not survive, only later copies, and much is disputed about the origins and identity of Patrick, including the years of his life.
The following is an adaptations of Newport J. D. White, Libri Sancti Patricii: The Latin Writings of St. Patrick. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1905.
§ 1. I, Patrick the sinner, am the most rustic and the least of all the faithful, and contemptible in the eyes of very many. My father was Calpornus, a deacon, a son of Potitus, a presbyter, who belonged to the village of Bennavem Taberniae. He had a small farm close by, where I was taken captive. I was then sixteen years old. I did not know the true God, and I was led into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of people, according to what we deserved, because we departed from God and did not keep his commandments, and were not obedient to our priests, who would admonish us for our salvation. And the Lord poured upon us the fury of His anger, and scattered us amongst many heathen people to the ends of the earth, where now my insignificance can be seen amongst men of an alien origin.
§ 9. On this account I had long since thought of writing, but I hesitated until now; for I feared that men would speak their disapproval of me, because I have not studied as others have, who in the highest recommended methods have absorbed both law and Holy Scripture, and have never experienced a change of language from the time that they were born, but have instead been constantly improving it.
For my speech and word is translated into a foreign language, as can easily been shown from the style of my writing the fashion I have been taught and am learned in language; for the Wise Man says, “By the tongue will be discovered understanding and knowledge and the teaching of truth.”
§ 16. After I arrived in Ireland, my daily occupation was the tending of flocks; and I prayed constantly during the day. Love of God and fear of Him increased more and more, and faith grew and the spirit was roused, so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night nearly as many, even while I was out in the woods and on the mountain side. Before daybreak I used to be roused to prayer, and I felt no hurt, whether there was snow, frost, or rain; nor was there any sluggishness in me – as I now see, because then the spirit was fervent within me.
§ 17. And one night I heard a voice in my sleep saying to me, “You fast well, who will soon go to your homeland.” And again, after a very short time I heard the answer of God saying to me, “Behold, your ship is ready.” And it was not near to hand, but was about two hundred miles away. And I had never been there, nor did I know anyone there. And so I quickly escaped and left the man with whom I had been for six years, and I came in the strength of God who allowed me to prosper for good, and I did not encounter anything to alarm me until I reached the ship.
§ 23. And again, after a few years, I was in Britain with my family, who received me as a son and earnestly pleaded with me that I would not leave them again, given all of the troubles I had experienced.
Then truly I saw in night visions a man whose name was Victorious coming as it were from Ireland with countless letters. And he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter, which was entitled “The Voice of the Irish.” And while I was reading aloud the beginning of the letter I thought at that very moment that I heard the voice of those people who lived beside the wood of Foclut, which is close to the Western Sea. And they cried, as if with one voice, “We plead with you, holy youth, to come here and walk amongst us.”
I was terribly heart-broken and could not read any more and I awoke. God be thanked that after many years the Lord granted them their wish.
§ 38. I am greatly in God’s debt, who granted me such great grace that many peoples should be regenerated to God through me, and that clergy should everywhere be ordained for them, a people recently converted, who the Lord took from the ends of the earth, as he had in times past promised through his prophets. […]
§ 41. Those people in Ireland had not previously had knowledge of God, but until now had only worshipped idols and abominations; they have been made a Christian people only recently, so that they are called children of God; sons and daughters of Gaelic chieftains are seen to become monks and virgins of Christ.
§ 42. There was in particular one blessed lady, of Scottic [i.e., Gaelic] birth, of noble rank, most beautiful, mature, whom I baptized; and after a few days she came to us for a certain cause. She informed us that she had received an answer by the good pleasure of God, and He warned her to become a virgin of Christ and live closer to God. Thank God, after six days, she most admirably and eagerly seized on that which all virgins of God do in similar manner, not with the consent of their fathers, but they endure persecution and shameful reprimands from their parents; and nevertheless their number constantly increases, and we do not know the number of converts of our people, besides widows and celibate people.
Those who are kept as slaves suffer especially. They constantly endure terrors and threats. But the Lord gave grace to many of my female servants, for although they are forbidden, they earnestly follow the example set for them.
§ 49. Although I am unsophisticated in all things, I have nevertheless attempted to some degree to keep watch over myself, even regarding the Christian brethren and the virgins of Christ, and the religious women who would of their own free-will present me with little gifts and would throw their trinkets upon the altar and I returned them back to them. And they were scandalized at my doing so. But I did it in the hopes of gaining immortal life, so as to guard myself, especially so that the heathen might receive me and the ministry of my service on any grounds, and that I should not, even in the smallest matter, give unbelievers reason to defame or disparage.
§ 51. I spent for you that they might receive me, and both amongst you and wherever I journeyed for your sake, through many dangers, even to remote lands beyond which no man lived, and where no one had ever come to baptize or ordain clergy, or confirm the people, I have done everything carefully and gladly by the bounty of the Lord, for your salvation.
§ 52. I used to give presents to the kings occasionally, besides the employment that I gave to their sons who accompany me, and nevertheless they seized me with my companions. And on that day they most eagerly wanted to kill me, but my time had not yet come. And they took everything they found on us, and they bound me with irons. And on the fourteenth day the Lord freed me from their power, and whatever was ours was restored to us for the sake of God and the near friends, whom we had provided beforehand.
§ 53. Moreover, you know by proof how much I paid to those who acted as guides [judges?] through all of the districts which I more frequently visited; for I assess that I paid to them no less than the price of fifteen men, so that you might enjoy me, and I might ever enjoy you in God. I do not regret it, nor is it enough for me. Still I spend and will spend more.