Finding the Truth behind the Missionary
Elixa Neumann – 13101442
Exchange from University of Ottawa, Canada
HI221: Medieval Ireland, 5th-9th Century
Dábhí Ó Cróinín
Word Count: 1,447
November 1st, 2013
“The wise person is known through speech, and also understanding and knowledge and the teaching of truth.” ~ St. Patrick1
Finding truth can be a very difficult path. Historians have often debated the topic of St. Patrick and the many issues in regards to truth that have arisen from his story. There are many contradictions amongst historians as to what actually happened in history when St. Patrick came to Ireland in and around 432 AD and the time that he spent here until the his death. A general consensus has never been determined despite the many theoretical ideas that have been discussed over time. Despite this, there are certain facts that we hold as positively true from St. Patrick’s personal written works such as the Confession and the Letter which can help us to confirm his identity. The main problem of St. Patrick is to determine what the truth is behind who he was as a missionary to the Irish people. In developing this question, it is crucial to first of all identify what we know for certain about St. Patrick and then examine the link between what was his own workings and what could potentially be the collection of work from others who worked for the same cause and were instead masked by his footsteps. Therefore, it is difficult to understand a man with a hidden identity and so it is easy enough to confuse the truth.
Many centuries have been spent trying to determine the truth about who St. Patrick was and what he accomplished. There are very few facts that we know for certain about St. Patrick. From his written works, we can deduce with certainty his real name, who his father was, who his grandfather was, his hometown, the age at which he was taken from home, how many years he spent as a slave and finally the place where they landed in Ireland. Other than these particular facts, it is possible to question what St. Patrick wrote. This is due to the fact that he wrote his story after the fact and in addition, the stories told about St. Patrick were also documented years afterwards rather from direct observers and recorded within the same century.
This being said, St. Patrick’s works were not published by himself, rather, they were found and published for the first time in the year 1606 as part of the Book of Armagh. This book represents a collection of writings, brought together by scholars at Armagh in the ninth century2, although this does not mean that the writings were not changed when collected to be a part of this book. The scholars would have examined his works to try and solve their own questions in regards to the apostle of Ireland as Patrick became of great fascination to be studied and analyzed. This was due to the fact that he was the only man of the Roman Empire to have been taken by raiders and sold as a slave and who was able to document his journey.3 However, they were no closer to a solution in regards to Patrick back in the ninth century than we are today.
It is necessary, when examining the story of St. Patrick, to also take into consideration another man who came to Ireland, only a year before Patrick himself supposedly arrived on this island. This man goes by the name of Palladius. According to the Annals of Ulster, Palladius arrived in Ireland in 431 AD with a mission given to him by Pope Celestine in Rome. It is said that Palladius was “consecrated by Celestine, bishop of the city of Rome,” and “is sent to Ireland…as first bishop to the Irish so that they might believe in Christ”.4 Having said this, it could be expected that more would be available about Palladius and his mission to help the Irish convert their faith to Catholicism, but only handed-down stories remain.
The first steps taken in Ireland towards organizing the first Irish Christian communities