Adventures in Bookland: St Patrick: His Confession and Other Works translated by Neil O’Donoghue

For the whole of the fifth century in Britain and Ireland, we have precisely one contemporary writer: Patricius. From the historian’s point of view, it’s therefore a shame that he didn’t write a detailed history of his times, this most momentous century when Britain went from being divided between Empire and Caledonians, to a congerie of competing kingdoms of Britons, Romano-Britons, Gaels, Picts, Angles, Saxons, Jutes and no doubt more besides. But from Patrick’s point of view, as he makes clear in his Confessions, he had more important work to do. Born in Britain, Patricius was taken by the slave traders as a boy and sold to Ireland, where he lived as a shepherd. It was a hard life, but one that forged his extraordinarily intimate life in God. Prayer, in sun and rain, in wind and calm, under cloud and under stars, formed him, and God called him forth. These are Patrick’s memories, written forth in answer to an attempt to discredit him and his work. For having brought him from Ireland, God sent him back again: the first man, at least in the west, to break the mental and cultural boundary between Rome and beyond, between civilisation and barbarian, beyond the world and what lay beyond the end of the world. Because Patrick did that: he went beyond the world’s ending and found a world there and made it anew. This is the most personal and moving of testimonies, by a man who placed his entire life at the service of the people of Ireland. For a thousand years and more, that sacrifice held good. Would that it will again.


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