St. Patrick's Mission to Ireland

Following his six-year enslavement in Ireland, his escape, and his 20 years in France, Patrick again received a celestial vision, this time that he should return to Ireland as a bishop, with a new purpose, one that had not before been sanctioned by the Church.

It was then, in the fifth century, far from uncommon for Catholic clergy to receive papal appointments to live in far-off lands, working among Christian people, and striving to influence their conversions to the Catholic church. Had

Pope Gregory
merely this been the purpose of Patrick's intended return to Ireland, critics would have been largely silent, and perhaps Pope Celestine might even have chosen one of many others who favored such an appointment.

But Patrick's vision was far broader and controversial, as his purpose would rather be to convert the non-Christian "Irish heathen barbarians"1 to Catholic Christianity, something no Catholic bishop had ever before done. In fact, if was not until more than a century later and the time of Pope Gregory I when in a letter to Mellitus, the first Bishop of London, he wrote of the practice, providing to it official sanction, as was reported a century afterwards, in Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum.

Prior to the appointment of Patrick, Pope Celestine had provided to Palladus a more conventional ministry to Ireland, to serve as bishop for the "Irish who already believed in Christ."2 But Patrick took these people for granted, and it was his wish to reach out to others, seeking not to serve the believers, but rather to convert the non-believers. As Patrick himself wrote in his Epistle. "I live for God, so as to teach the pagans."

Knowing full well his intentions, Patrick's numerous critics failed to comprehend his purpose and his desire to place himself into what was generally considered extreme danger. Patrick himself fully understood and accepted such danger, and was said to have felt that imprisonment or even death was possible, and if his fate, would be welcomed.3

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1,2,3 "Who Was St. Patrick", E. A. Thompson, 1985, St. Martin's Press


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