The commemoration of Saint[1] Patrick that you will not find on Wikipedia, or see represented by Google’s doodle, or discern from the many stories concerning him and his mission comes from Patrick’s own Confessions.

While some have attempted to cast doubt on the authenticity of this ancient collection of writings, the highest critical authorities consider Confessions the genuine composition of Patrick himself. Predating the formalization of the Roman Catholic Church[2], the legacy of Patrick’s testimony of faith in Jesus Christ and missionary zeal for the glory of God and salvation of sinners has left an indelible mark in history.

May the saints of God be encouraged by the example of faith, humility, and devotion expressed in Patrick’s personal Confessions. The following quotes are taken directly from these autobiographical writings.[3] These are the things that I find most worthy of remembering this day:

The opening line from Patrick’s own pen reflects a humility scarcely appreciated. In ancient epistolary style, he writes, “I Patrick, a sinner, the rudest and the least of all the faithful, and an object of the greatest contempt to many.” After briefly describing his family situation, he writes, “I was then nearly sixteen years old; I was ignorant of the true God, and was brought to Ireland in captivity, with so many thousand persons, as we deserved, because we had turned away from God, and had not kept his commandments, and were disobedient to our priests, who admonished us of our salvation; and the Lord brought on us ‘the anger of his fury’, and scattered us among many nations, even to the uttermost parts of the earth, where now obscurity seems to be my lot, amongst a foreign people. And there the Lord brought me to a sense of my unbelief, that I might, even at a late season, call my sins to remembrance, and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who regarded my low estate, and, taking pity on my youth and ignorance, guarded me, before I understood anything, or had learned to distinguish between good and evil, and strengthened and comforted me as a father does his son.”

Patrick openly confesses his purpose in writing: “Although I am imperfect in many things, I wish my brethren and relatives to know my disposition, that they may be able to perceive the desire of my soul. I am not ignorant of the testimony of my Lord.” In his own words, he confesses faith in the fullness of “one God in the Trinity of the sacred name.” He clearly proclaimed Christ fully God and fully man,  and final judge of all. Patrick referred to salvation as a new birth. He described conversion by saying that “the love of Christ transferred … me.”

He relates his liberation from physical slavery to his liberation from slavery to sin. In this he praises God and attributes his every liberation to Him by His grace, who “often liberated me from slavery.” He insists that he could not be silent about the greatness of God’s grace. He attributes his faith, knowledge, and love of God entirely to His grace. In one place, he writes that the Lord “frequently admonished me [to consider] whence I derived this wisdom, which was not in me, who neither knew the number of my days nor was acquainted with God; whence I obtained afterwards so great and salutary a gift as to know or to love God.”

Rightly, this became the ground of his missionary zeal. He reports how the grace of God compelled him, “that I should give up my home and parents. And many offers were made to me with weeping and tears, and I incurred displeasure there from some of my elders, contrary to my wish; but under the guidance of God I in no way consented, nor gave in to them; yet not I, but the grace of God which prevailed in me, and resisted them all, in order that I might come to preach the Gospel to the people of Ireland, and bear with the ill-treatment of the unbelieving, and that I should be reproached as a foreigner, and have to endure many persecutions, even to bonds, and that I should give up my free birth for the good of others” (cf. 1 Cor 9:19).

Sharing in the missionary heart of Paul (Acts 20:24; 21:13) for the sake of Christ and His gospel, Patrick declared, “And I am ready at this moment to lay down even my life with joy for his name’s sake . . . Because I am greatly a debtor to God, who has bestowed his grace so largely upon me that multitudes should be born again to God through me.”

We must remember that these things were expressed nearly 1100 years before the Reformation and the unmistakably clear exposition of justification by faith alone. All the more remarkable was Patrick’s understanding and life in the gospel. Any tendency to associate Patrick with a merit-based belief and practice fails to notice his emphasis on conversion, new birth, and grace.[4]

From Patrick’s own pen, we find a testimony of grace worthy of our appreciation in as much as it magnifies the Lord Jesus Christ to the glory of God and the joy of all in Him.

Patrick concludes his composition with these transparent words: “Behold again and again I briefly set forth the words of my Confession. I bear witness in truth and joy of heart, before God and his holy angels, that I never had any occasion, except the Gospel and its promises, to return to that nation from which at first I escaped with difficulty. But I pray those who believe in and fear God, whoever may think fit to look into or receive this writing which I, Patrick, a sinner and unlearned, wrote in Ireland, that no one may ever say, if I have demonstrated anything, however weak, according to the will of God, that it was my ignorance. But do you judge, and let it be most firmly believed, that it was the gift of God. And this is my Confession, before I shall die.” History reports that Patrick died March 17, A.D. 461 in Ireland; his testimony to the gospel has been commemorated ever since.

May we be refreshed in the gospel of Christ at the thought of the man named Patrick who was distinctively marked and set apart by the power of God in and for the love of Christ.

[1] A saint is a biblical name for a Christian and does not describe the personal moral purity of the individual but rather identifies him as a justified sinner, one “set apart” by grace through repentant faith in Christ and Him crucified alone.

[2] We ought to be careful not to dismiss “St. Patrick’s Day” too quickly as purely a Roman Catholic ordeal.

[3] Saint Patrick, The Confession of St. Patrick with an Introduction and Notes, trans. Thomas Olden (Dublin; London: James McGlashan; James Nisbet and Co., 1853), 43.

[4] We must be careful to rightly assess the historical situation. Error and corruption will always rush in to mingle with and corrupt the true gospel whenever human response is emphasized above divine initiative. Outward renunciation of the world and its ways has an inevitable tendency to introduce the notion of human merit and to render less distinct the truth of the gospel as a work of grace: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). The slightest obscurity of this detail affords self-righteous men the opportunity to preach the tree of self-denial at the expense of the forest of grace. The “good news” is not found in mortification, self-torture, martyrdom, or monasticism, but in the grace of God. May we hold the whole counsel of God in harmonious tension, remembering that renouncing the world and urging piety does not in truth undermine justification by faith but rightly springs from it.


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