"Sufficient to say, greed is a deadly deed.” These are hardly the words that get screen printed on T-shirts for st. Patrick’s day, and yet, of all the ‘legends’ of Patrick, this is the only one that we can safely say are a factual representation of him. He wrote these words as he denounced slave trade.
Without fail and with much fanfare, March is memorialized mostly for the proverbial ‘luck O’ the Irish’ as the 17th day of the month honors the larger than legend Patricius, more commonly known at st. Patrick. Green beer, green rivers, shamrocks and a festive day of parades and general merry-making mark this day like no other in our calendar year. And yet, all of these events, without fail, take any consideration of Patrick or the true historical narrative of his life.
Born in the late 4th century in either Britain or Scotland (even the experts are uncertain), Patrick was captured in a raid at the age of 16 and was taken to what was still a very crude, pagan nation of Ireland. He spent the next several years of his life as a slave tending, and living with sheep. Even though his grandfather was a priest and his father a town councilor, Patrick “knew not the true God”. But in spite of that, he spent his years of bondage in prayer, and even orchestrated his escape that was inspired by a dream that he had.
Upon finding passage to his homeland, Patrick became a Christian and spent years studying in preparation to return to Ireland bearing the Gospel message. He realized this missionary journey at the age of 41 where he would spend the better part of his life circuiting the country. As Ireland was still a rather “uncivilized” country, Patrick knew that in order to be successful, as the prior missionary movements to Ireland had not, he had to win over the chieftains of the local clans. Win them over, and their influence would help win over the rest of the clans.
His theology was driven largely by the recognition of God in creation and legend has it that Patrick would explain the Trinitarian God by using the shamrock as a prop. He would ask, does this have one leaf or three? Those listening would respond with “both”, upon which Patrick would say that both are correct, and so it is with the Trinity (the historical authenticity of this actual happening is at best, scarce).
Other legends of Patrick include stories that he drove out the snakes in Ireland, his walking stick grew into a living tree, and he encountered two ancient Irish warriors who had somehow survived the centuries until Patrick’s time. The end result is that none of these legends were true, and it is also true that Patrick was never canonized by the Catholic church as a saint.
But what is true about Patrick is that he had an undeniable burden for the pagans to have encounter the God of creation, and it was to that end that he devoted his life. His missionary journeys to Ireland paved the way for the expansion of Christianity in the land, and soon after, Ireland would become known as one of Europe’s Christian centers.
Shamrock shakes and leprechaun outfits might be the ‘fun concept’ of Patrick, we can conclude that the only legend that might have some validity is the date; March 17th is assumed to be the day he died, and thus, we mark that date now as st. Patrick’s day.