St. Patrick: A Son of Issachar for the 5th Century (Part 1)
Is it really possible? Can one man change the course of history…of a people, a nation, or even a continent?
The great need of the 21st century is for such “sons of Issachar” to arise and leave their imprint on our generation…men and women who understand their time and know what to do. (I Chronicles 12:32) Over 1,600 years ago just such a son of Issachar arose to leave his mark on Ireland, Europe, and the world. A man whose influence reverberates to the present day. One known to us as St. Patrick.
Born into an upper-class Christian family in Britain around 389 AD, Patrick didn’t personally embrace the faith of his family. His Christianity was merely nominal. He lived the privileged life of a Roman aristocratic son until his sixteenth year. Then, suddenly, Patrick’s life was shattered.
The Roman legions had abandoned Britain, returning to defend the fraying empire. The edges of Roman civilization were left completely defenseless. An Irish raiding party captured Patrick and took him back to Ireland as a slave. For the next six years, Patrick kept his master’s sheep in the remote and desolate hills of northern Ireland. He endured brutal loneliness, as well as constant hunger and thirst. In this most unlikely of places at the far reaches of the Roman Empire, God reached down to transform a pampered adolescent into a mighty man of God.
St. Patrick’s Conversion
In such dire circumstances, Patrick turned to the Lord. As he later recalled in his Confession,
I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity with many thousands of people – and deservedly so, because we turned away from God, and did not keep His commandments….And there the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God…
I would pray constantly during the daylight hours. The love of God and fear of him surrounded me 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 after dark nearly as many again….I would wake and pray before daybreak – through snow, frost, rain…because then the Spirit within me was ardent.
After six years of captivity, Patrick heard God’s voice in the night: “It is well that you fast, soon you will go to your own country…..See, your ship is ready.” Patrick fled the next morning, traveling over 200 miles to the coast. There, he found a ship of traders bound for the continent of Europe. Upon their arrival in Gaul (modern-day France), they found the land devastated by barbarian raids. Unable to find food and fearing starvation, the captain mocked Patrick,
Tell me, Christian: you say that your God is great and all-powerful; why, then, do you not pray for us? As you can see, we are suffering from hunger; it is unlikely indeed that we shall ever see a human being again.
Patrick, full of faith and confidence in his God, replied, “Be truly converted with all your heart to the Lord my God, because nothing is impossible for Him, that this day He may send you food on your way until you be satisfied; for He has abundance everywhere.” No sooner had Patrick finished speaking, than a herd of wild pigs appeared, seemingly from out of nowhere. The next two days were spent feasting.
St. Patrick’s Call
Some time later, Patrick returned home to his overjoyed family in Britain. They had long since given up any hope of ever seeing him alive and implored him never to leave them. Once again, however, the Lord visited him, this time in an encounter reminiscent of Paul’s Macedonian vision.
And there I saw in the night the vision of a man, whose name was Victoricus, coming as it were from Ireland, with countless letters. And he gave me one of them, and I read the opening words of the letter, which were, “The Voice of the Irish”; and as I read the beginning of the letter I thought that at that same moment I heard their voice….and thus did they cry out as with one mouth: “We ask thee, boy, come and walk among us once more.”
Despite his parents’ heartfelt appeals that he remain with them, Patrick once more left Britain, this time not as slave to the Irish, but as the bondslave of Christ. After some theological training, he was sent as a missionary bishop to Ireland around 432 AD. It was an incredibly historic and significant moment for the advance of the Great Commission. Patrick became the first real missionary since the Apostle Paul, and the first ever to carry the Gospel beyond the borders of Roman civilization.
Cagney, Mary. “Patrick the Saint,” Christian History. (Carol Stream, IL:Issue 60, volume XVII, No. 4).
Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization – The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. (Doubleday, 1995).
Christian History Institute. Glimpses #75 and # 195. (http://www.chi.gospelcom.net).
Federer, William. Saint Patrick (Amerisearch Inc., 2002).