Wednesday 24 May 2023

Saint Patrick - Donal A. Kerr - CTS Biographies

Saint Patrick
CTS Biographies
Donal A. Kerr
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 0851835279
ISBN 9780851835273
CTS Booklet B560

This book was another that was harder to track down, it was well worth doing so. I love readings books that are part of the CTS Biographies series. I have read some published just this year (2023) and some over 100 years ago. This is one of three different biographies of Saint Patrick from the Catholic Truth Society I have read. 

They are:

The description on the back of the book is:

“Patrick was born in Britain. At sixteen he was suddenly captured and taken to Ireland, where he was sold into slavery. He was lucky to escape with his life. But one night in a dream he heard the voice of the Irish calling him back. How Patrick answered that call is one of the most splendid chapters in the history of the Irish people.

Donal A . Kerr is Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Maynooth College, Ireland.”

And the sections in the volume are:

Saint Patrick
The facts about Patrick
Not a biography
Roman and British
The Slave
Journey through a desert
Preparing to Return
The Irish Mission
Pirates Again
The Confession
Glory to God
In the Spirit
Life spent for the Irish
The National Saint

I highlighted numerous passages while reading this small volume. They are:

“Like Saint Patrick, I too have heard 'the voice of the Irish' calling to me. Pope John Paul II, Phoenix Park, Dublin, 29 September 1979.”

“A British bishop who while remaining deeply attached to his own land so loved his adopted land of Ireland that he refused to leave it to return home; a patron whom the Irish have so venerated since that they include him with God and the Virgin in their daily greeting; a missioner who looking back on his life saw in its tangled pattern God's wonderful design for the Irish: this is St Patrick.”

“A century after Patrick's death, and as a direct result of his mission, the Irish were seen in a very different light. Columba, Aidan, Finan and their countless fellow-monks were revered as the great and gentle evangelizers of Anglo-Saxon Britain; Columbanus and his followers were seen as some of the world's greatest missioners and the preservers of western civilization in one of its darkest hours.”

“What do we know about this man who, under God, was responsible for this achievement? Bafflingly little if one is concerned with precise dates and places, but far more than about most saints of his time if one is looking for the essentials.”

“But the essential knowledge about a saint concerns his holiness, his values, what inspires him, his spiritual wrestling, and his inner achievements; and on those aspects of Patrick we are well informed for we possess two contemporary documents. What gives those documents their unique value is that they are not the work of a pious biographer writing years after the saint's death but letters written by Patrick himself. Neither document attempts to give a history of his life; both are spontaneous reactions to two crises in his life.”

“Patrick wrote his Confession in old age and he says himself, 'This is my confession before I die.' In it he looks back in wonder on the haphazard course of his life, realizing now that in the varying turns and twists it had taken, so inexplicable when they occurred, the hand of God was present. As a man whose task is nearly done, who is coming through the last and greatest crisis of his life, he relives the great moments of his career. In doing so he gives us some fascinating detail on his life and on the events which he now realizes were God's hidden plan for the salvation of the Irish.”

“Patrick's father was a state official, a member of the urban council and a deacon in the church, in every sense a member of the establishment. With this background it was understandable that Patrick should, throughout his life, feel identified with the Roman Empire. His family would have been well-off, with the amenities enjoyed by people of their standing-a town and country dwelling with baths and running water, servants, and teachers for their children.” 

“Then Patrick had to endure a long sea journey to Ireland before, exhausted and terrified, he was sold as a slave to a farmer. So this well-bred son of a good family had to exchange his fine clothes for the ragged garments of a shepherd. Tradition tells us that it was in County Antrim, on Slemish mountain, that Patrick spent six years of harsh slavery. He himself does not name the place but speaks of the snow and frost and rain in mountain and forest; certainly Slemish with its view of the heartland of Ulster was bleak, cold and forbidding.”

“This catastrophe, however, was to prove a beginning, and not just an end. God spoke to young Patrick through his misfortune and misery and, in anguish of soul, the young captive turned to God.”

“'I used to pray many times during the day,' he wrote. ‘Even in times of snow or frost or rain I would rise before dawn to pray and I never felt the worse for it ... My faith grew stronger and my zeal so intense that in the course of a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night.'”

“When Patrick stepped aboard, they immediately set sail, and one can imagine his relief as he saw the coast-line of Ireland, where he had suffered as a slave for six years, fade away in the distance.”

“There is doubt as to where he studied for the priesthood; some scholars think it was in Britain, but most believe that it was in some of the great Christian schools of Gaul-probably including Auxerre, the residence of the saintly Bishop German us. It is to these two countries, Britain and Gaul, that Patrick owed the indispensable training and continuous support be got for his hazardous Irish venture.”

“Traditionally, the date of his mission to Ireland is set at AD 432, though some scholars place it later. One wonders what Patrick’s thoughts were as his boat came into sight of Ireland, the land from which he had escaped with difficulty after so much suffering, he had no illusions; he knew that it was only because the Holy Spirit drove him to it that be had returned.”

“Patrick came back, not from any human attraction, but driven by the Spirit of God. He made himself the servant of those who had injured him, to win them for Christ.”

“We tend to think of Patrick's Irish mission as one glorious, successful, triumphal march right through a land that was only waiting for his arrival to become Christian and that welcomed him with open arms. The facts, insofar as we can now ascertain them, are quite different. It was a long bard struggle with the odds stacked against him, for the difficulties were enormous.”

“But if Ireland had no written language, she had evolved a splendidly distinct culture with a rich oral literature, elaborate art styles, and a mass of customary law carefully handed on and preserved.”

“Often Patrick was ill-received: ‘I came to the pagans of Ireland to preach the Gospel and to endure insults from unbelievers. I heard my mission abused, I endured many persecutions even to the extent of chains.'”

“Patrick's progress must have been risky and painfully slow, as in kingdom after kingdom he tirelessly proclaimed the good news and patiently set about laying the foundations of a Christian community. It is unlikely that he covered all Ireland, and it appears certain that his mission was mainly in the northern half of the country, particularly Ulster. Slemish, Saul, Downpatrick, Lough Derg are just some of the many places in the northern half of the country associated with Patrick.”

“Perhaps Patrick's most striking success was in the way he managed to touch the hearts of the young people of Ireland who flocked to him. Scores of them committed their lives in the way he had committed his-to preach the Gospel and to follow Christ in the priesthood and the religious life. It was his greatest joy. Yet it was not achieved without difficulty. 'How is it,' he asks, 'that the sons and daughters of Irish chieftains are to become monks and virgins dedicated to Christ?' The girls, in particular, got no support from their parents, but rather harassment. Yet they showed extraordinary courage: 'Their fathers disapprove of them, so they often suffer persecution' and unfair abuse from their parents, yet their number goes on increasing.'”

“Patrick was horrified, and immediately sent one of his priests demanding the release of the captives. The slavers laughed him to scorn. Patrick now sent Coroticus a letter. This reveals a different side of his character-the shepherd of the flock rising up in wrath against rapacious wolves. Fearlessly he attacked Coroticus, excommunicating him and his men, demanding the immediate release of the prisoners who were still in their hands and insisting that the culprits do penance.”

“To a sensitive person like Patrick the betrayal of his confidence by a close friend was acutely painful, and the calling into question of the mission in which he had laboured so long and so tirelessly almost broke him. But it had a purifying effect, too, for Patrick; let down by men on whose loyalty he had counted, he cast himself more completely on God.”

“This searing trial, too, had one immensely important result for us - it impelled Patrick to write the so-called Confession. This priceless document is by far and away the most important source we have for real information about Patrick. Like the Letter to
Coroticus, the Confession was written by Patrick himself and is regarded as authentic by all historians.”

“His intention is to show us the great work of God in converting the pagan Irish, work in which he was an unworthy instrument. Insofar as he gives us some glimpses into his life, this is solely in order to make known how it was shot through with God's grace right from the beginning.”

“Misunderstood in the past, Patrick hoped that if they read it, they would finally grasp how he saw his long, arduous but successful mission and that, further, they would understand him: I want my brothers and kinsfolk to know what kind of man I am and understand my soul's desire.'”

“Patrick's humility is no false humility, for he had learned it the hard way-through humiliation. It was indeed a shameful humiliation for a well-reared young Roman citizen, well-cared for and decently, perhaps elegantly, dressed, to eat the bitter crumbs of servitude, clad in rags and treated as a slave-boy. Yet Patrick's comment was: 'We have deserved this fate because we had turned away from God; we neither kept his commandments nor obeyed our pastors who used to warn us of our salvation.'”

“Before the conversion of Ireland was completed, the humble Patrick had died an obscure death. Others, zealous contemporaries and devoted successors, completed the work. Gradually, Patrick's fame spread throughout all Ireland and abroad. From that time on the Irish in every land have honoured as no other national saint has been honoured that simple but heroic man who, moved by the plea of the pagan Irish, returned to the land of his sufferings to bring them, by his word and witness, to know and love God the Father, through Christ our Saviour, in his Holy Spirit.”

This was an amazing little biography. And of the three from the CTS I have read it is my favourite. The one by Gerard Culkin is a close second. I am very thankful I was able to track down this volume. One of my son’s middle names is Patrick and he asked if he could have this one when I finished it. I will likely return to this little booklet again. It was so inspiring and it will challenge readers of all ages. I can easily recommend this book.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.


Books in the CTS Great Saints Series:
Antonio Rosmini - J.B. Midgley
Bernard of Clairvaux - J.B. Midgley
Benedict Patron of Europe - J.B. Midgley
Charles Borromeo - J.B. Midgley
Dominic - J.B. Midgley
Elizabeth of the Trinity The Great Carmelite Saint - Jennifer Moorcroft
Francis de Sales - J.B. Midgley
Gemma Galgani Gem of Christ John Paul Kirkham
George: Patron of England - J.B. Midgley
John Baptist de La Salle - J.B. Midgley
John of the Cross - Jennifer Moorcroft
John Vianney - J.B. Midgley
Louis Marie de Montfort His Life, Message and Teaching - Paul Allerton SMM
Martin de Porres - Glynn MacNiven-Johnston
Patrick Missionary to the Irish - Thomas O’Loughlin 

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