Patrick, Missionary to Ireland | Church Year Commemoration

Our devotional reading was originally printed in The Church from Age to Age, and the hymn text is attributed to St. Patrick.

Devotional Reading

The origins of Christianity in Ireland are uncertain, but Patrick of Armagh (d. 461) is credited with establishing the Church among the Irish clans. He was born in England about 389, son of a deacon and grandson of a presbyter. At age 16, he was carried off during a raid by some pirates and sold to a devotee of druidism in Ireland. Here, for seven years he tended swine, which, a biographer informs us, became exceptionally good breeders. After being reunited with his parents, Patrick went off to Gaul where he spent fifteen years with Germanus of Auxerre, learning theology and secular literature. He was consecrated a bishop and returned to Ireland to preach.

The accounts of his missionary activities, mostly written years later, are filled with legends and miracles. According to his own account, Patrick baptized thousands, ordained many priests, and preached throughout the island. He followed a dual method in his approach to the pagan: aiming at the conversion of the heads of clans and establishing numerous monasteries. Patrick established himself in the See of Armagh, which became the mother church for Ireland. Since towns or urban centers were practically nonexistent, Christianity radiated from monastic centers, which in turn became the administrative centers of the Church. Therefore, in Ireland it was the abbot, not the bishop, who guided the central administration, which was based on tribal and clannish units instead of dioceses. The pope was referred to as the “abbot of Rome,” and occasionally Christ was called “the great abbot of God.”

Irish monasticism was characterized by a severity that rivaled that of the Egyptian desert. It is here that we first find the practice of private Confession and Absolution and the emergence of a penitential system. Irish Christianity was also marked by a strong individualism, having considerably weaker ties with Rome than the English Church had. During the sixth and seventh centuries, the Irish monasteries became centers of learning and repositories of culture, giving the island ever after the title “isle of saints and scholars.”

Devotional reading is from The Church from Age to Age, page 259 © 2011 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.


I bind unto myself today
   The pow’r of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
   His ear to hearken to my need,
The wisdom of my God to teach,
   His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The Word of God to give me speech,
   His heav’nly host to be my guard.

Hymn text is from LSB 604:3.

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