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History Of The Scottish Nation
Vol 2, Chapter 13 - Patrick; Greatness of his Mission; Passadius sent from Rome to counteract him


Attended by a few companions, humble men like himself, Patrick crossed the sea, and arrived in Ireland. He was now thirty years of age. The prime of his days and the commencement of his life-work had come together. The work on which we now behold him entering, and in which he was to be unceasingly occupied during the sixty years that were yet to be given him, is one that takes its place among the great movements of the world. Till we come to the morning of the sixteenth century we meet with no work of equal magnitude, whether we have regard to the revolution it produced in Patrick's own day, or to the wide issues into which it opened out, and the vast area over which its beneficent influence extended in the following centuries. It was, in fact, a second departure of primitive Christianity; it was a sudden uprising, in virtue of its own inextinguishable force, of the pure simple Gospel, on new soil, after it had been apparently overlaid and buried under a load of pagan ideas, philosophic theories, and Jewish ceremonialism in the countries where it first arose.

The voyage of Patrick, to begin his mission, was the one bright spot in the Europe of that hour. The wherry that bore him across the Irish Sea may with truth be said to have carried the Church and her fortunes. The world that had been was passing away. The lights of knowledge were disappearing from the sky. Ancient monarchies were falling by the stroke of barbarian arms. The Church was resounding with the din of controversy, and the thunder of anathema. Religion had no beauty in the eyes of its professors, save what was shed upon it by the pomp of ceremony, or the blaze of worldly dignities. Christianity appeared to have failed in her mission of enduing the nations with a new and purer life. She had stepped down from her lofty sphere where she shone as a spiritual power, and was moving in the low orbit of earthly systems. It was at this time of gathering darkness that this man, in simplicity of character, and grandeur of aim, so unlike the men of his age, went forth to kindle the lamp of Divine truth in this isle of ocean, whence it might diffuse its light over northern Europe.

Patrick arrived in Ireland about the year A.D. 405. In fixing this date as the commencement of his labours, we differ widely from the current of previous histories. All the mediŠval writers of his life, save the very earliest, and even his modern biographers, date his arrival in Ireland thirty years later, making it fall about A.D. 432. This date is at variance with the other dates and occurrences of his life—in short, a manifest mistake, and yet it is surprising how long it has escaped discovery, and not only so, but has passed without even challenge. The monkish biographers of Patrick had Palladius upon their hands, and being careful of his honour, and not less of that of his master, they have adjusted the mission of Patrick so as to harmonize with the exigencies arising out of the mission of Palladius. They have placed Patrick's mission in the year subsequent to that of Palladius, though at the cost of throwing the life and labours of both men, and the occurrences of the time, into utter confusion. We think we are able to show, on the contrary, that Patrick was the first to arrive in Ireland; that he preceded Palladius as a worker in that country, by not less than twenty seven years, and that it was to the converts of Patrick that Palladius was sent as their first bishop. This is the fair, one may say, the unavoidable conclusion to which we are constrained to come after comparing the statements of history and weighing the evidence on the whole case. But this is a conclusion which inevitably suggests an inference touching the view held by the Scots on the claims of the pontiff, and the obedience due to him, which is not at all agreeable to the assertors of the papal dignity, either in our own or in mediŠval times; and so the two missions have been jumbled and mixed up together in a way that tends to prevent that inference being seen. Let us see how the case stands. It throws light on the condition of the Christian Scots at the opening of the fifth century, and their relations to the Italian bishop.

The starting point of our argument is a fact which is well authenticated in history, and which must be held to rule the whole question. In the year 431, says Prosper, writing in the same century, "Palladius was sent by Pope Celestine to the Scots, believing in Christ as their first bishop." We know of no succeeding writer who has called in question the statement of Prosper; but let us reflect how much that statement concedes, and how far it goes to make good our whole contention. It is admitted, then, that in A.D. 431 the Scots, that is, the Scots in Ireland—for Ireland[1] was then the seat of the nation—were "believers in Christ." The words of Prosper cannot mean only that there were individual converts among the Scots; they obviously imply that a large body of that nation had been converted to Christianity. The fact of their Christianisation had been carried to the metropolis of the Christian world, it had received the grave attention of the pontiff. Celestine had judged the Scots ripe for having a bishop set over them, and accordingly, consecrating Palladius, he dispatched him to exercise that office amongst them. The words of Prosper can bear no other construction. They show us the Scots formed into a Church, enjoying, doubtless, the ministry of pastors, but lacking that which, according to Roman ideas, was essential to the completeness of their organization—a bishop, namely. And accordingly Celestine resolves to supply this want, by sending Palladius to crown their ecclesiastical polity, and to receive in return, doubtless, for this mark of pontifical affection, the submission of the Scots to the papal see.

But the mediŠval chroniclers go on to relate what it is impossible to reconcile with the state of affairs among the Scots as their previous statements had put it. They first show us the Scots believing in Christ, and Palladius arriving amongst them as their bishop. And then they go on to say that the Scots in Ireland were still unconverted, and that it was Patrick by whom this great revolution in their affairs was brought about. Accounting for the repulsed flight of Palladius, they say, "God had given the conversion of Ireland to St. Patrick." The words are, "Palladius was ordained and sent to convert this island, lying under wintry cold, but God hindered him, for no man can receive anything from earth unless it be given him from heaven.[2] Of equal antiquity and authority is the following:—" Then Patricus is sent by the angel of God named Victor, and by Pope Celestine, in whom all Hibernia believed, and who baptised almost the whole of it."[3]

So, then, according to the mediŠval chroniclers, we have the Scots believing in Christ in A.D. 431 when Palladius arrived among them, and we have then yet to be converted in A.D. 432 when Patrick visited them. Either Pope Celestine was grossly imposed upon when he was made to believe that the Scots had become Christian and needed a bishop, or the mediŠval biographers of St. Patrick have blundered as regards the year of his arrival in Ireland, and made him follow Palladius when they ought to have made him precede him. Both statements cannot be correct, for that would make the Scots to be at once Christian and pagan. In history as in logic it is the more certain that determines the less certain. The more certain in this case is the mission of Palladius in 431, and the condition of the Scots as already believers in Christ. The less certain is the conjectural visit of Patrick in 432. The latter, therefore— that is, the year of Patrick's arrival in Ireland,—must be determined in harmony with the admitted historic fact as regards the time and object of Palladius' mission, and that imperatively demands that we give precedence to Patrick as the first missionary to the Scots in Ireland, and the man by whom they were brought to the knowledge of the Gospel. To place him after Palladius would only land us in contradiction and confusion.

Other facts and considerations confirm our view of this matter. Patrick's life, written by himself, is the oldest piece of patristic literature extant, the authorship of which was within the British churches. As a sober and trustworthy authority, it outweighs all the mediŠva1 chronicles put together. The picture it presents of Ireland at the time of Patrick's arrival is that of a pagan country. Not a word does he say of any previous labourer in this field. He is seen building up the church among the Scots from its very foundations. Other witnesses to the same fact follow. Marcus, an Irish bishop who flourished in the beginning of the ninth century, informs us that Patrick came to Ireland in A.D. 405; and Nennius, who lived about the same time, repeats the statement. [4] "The Leadhar Breac,"[5] or Speckled Book, which is the most important repertory of ecclesiastical and theological writings which the Irish Church possesses, being written early in the twelfth century, and some parts of it in the eighth century, or even earlier, gives us to understand that it was known at Rome that Patrick was labouring in Ireland when Palladius was sent thither, for it informs us that "Palladius was sent by Pope Celestine with a gospel for Patrick to preach to the Irish." And in one of the oldest lives of Patrick extant it is admitted that he was in Ireland many years before Palladius arrived in that country.[6]

There are three dates in the career of Patrick which have of late been ascertained with tolerable certainty. These are his birth, his death, and the length of time he laboured as an evangelist in Ireland; and while these dates agree with one another, and so afford a strong corroboration of the accuracy of all three, they cannot be reconciled with the theory that Patrick's ministry in Ireland was posterior to the mission of Palladius. According to the best authorities, Patrick was born about A.D. 373;[7] and Lanigan has adduced good evidence to prove that he died in A.D. 465. The "Book of Armagh " furnishes corroborative evidence of the same fact. It says, "From the passion of Christ to the death of Patrick there were 436 years." [8] The crucifixion took place about A.D. 30; and adding these thirty years to the 436 that intervened between the crucifixion and the death of Patrick, we arrive at A.D. 466 as the year of his demise. Traditions of the highest authority attest that he spent sixty years in preaching the Gospel to the Scoto-Irish. And as between A.D. 405, when, we have said, Patrick arrived in Ireland, and A.D. 465 when he died, there are exactly sixty years, we are presented with a strong confirmation that this is the true scheme of his life, and that when Palladius arrived "with a gospel from Pope Celestine for Patrick to preach to the Irish," he found the British missionary in the midst of his evangelical labours among the Scots, and learned, much to his chagrin, doubtless, that the numerous converts of Patrick preferred to keep by the shepherd who had been the first to lead them into the pastures of the gospel to following the voice of a stranger.

If anything were wanting to complete the proof that Palladius came not before, but after, Patrick, intruding into a field which he had not cultivated, and attempting to exercise authority over a flock who knew him not, and owed him no subjection, it is the transparent weakness of the excuses by which it has been attempted to cover Palladius' speedy and inglorious flight from Ireland, and the very improbable and, indeed, incredible account which the mediŠval chroniclers have given of the appointment by Pope Celestine of Patrick as his successor. If one who had filled the influential position of archdeacon of Rome, as Palladius had done, had so signally failed in his mission to the Scots, and been so summarily and unceremoniously repudiated by them, it is not likely that Celestine would so soon renew the attempt, or that his choice would fall on one of whose name, so far as our information goes, he had never heard—at all events, one of whom he could have known almost nothing. Nor is this the only, or, indeed, main difficulty connected with this supposed appointment by Celestine. Patrick, we are told, was nominated as Palladius' successor, when the Pope had learned that the latter was dead. The Pope never did or could learn that his missionary to the Scots was dead, for before it was possible for the tidings to have traveled to Rome, the Pope himself was in his grave. Celestine died in July the 27th, A.D 432. At that time Palladius was alive at Fordun, or, if he had succumbed to the fever that carried him off, he was but newly dead; and months must have elapsed before the tidings of his decease arrived in Rome, to find the Pope also in his tomb. It hardly needs the plain and positive denial Patrick himself has given, that he never received pontifical consecration, to convince us, that his appointment by Pope Celestine as missionary or bishop to Ireland is a fable.

The more nearly we approach this matter, and the closer we look into the allegations of the chroniclers and of those who follow them, the more clearly does the truth appear. The excuses with which they cover the speedy retreat of Palladius only reveal the naked fact; they are a confession that the Christian Scots refused to receive him as their bishop. The story of Nathy, the terrible Irish chieftain, who so frightened Palladius that he fled for his life before he had been many days in the country, is a weak and ridiculous invention. Instead of a powerful monarch, as some have painted him, Nathy was a petty chieftain, who stretched his scepter over a territory equal in size to an English county or a Scotch parish; and if Palladius could not brave the wrath of so insignificant a potentate, verily his courage was small, and his zeal for the cause which Celestine had entrusted to him, lukewarm. We cannot believe that the missionary of Celestine was the craven this story would represent him to have been, or that he would so easily betray the interests of the Papal chair, or refuse to run a little risk for the sake of advancing its pretensions. The true reason for his precipitate flight was, beyond doubt, the opposition of the Scots to his mission. They wanted no bishop from Rome. Patrick had now for twenty seven years been labouring among them; he had been their instructor in the Gospel; they willingly submitted to his gracious rule; they rejoiced to call him their bishop, although there never had been set miter on his brow; and they had no desire to exchange the government of his pastoral staff for the iron crook of this emissary from the banks of the Tiber. If the "gospel" which Palladius had brought from Celestine to preach to them was the same gospel which Patrick had taught them, what could they do but express their regret that he should have come so long a journey to give them that which they already possessed? If it was another gospel, even though it had come down to them from Rome, which was now aspiring to be called the mother and mistress of all churches, they declined to receive it. In short, the Scots gave Palladius plainly to understand that he had meddled in a matter with which he had no concern, and that they judged his interference an attempt to steal their hearts from him who had "begotten them in Christ," and to whom all their loyalty was due, and of inflicting upon them the farther wrong of robbing them of the liberty in which they lived under the pastor of their choice, and bringing them into thralldom to a foreign lord. But the plain unvarnished record of the fact was not to be expected from the mediŠval chroniclers. They were worshippers of the pontifical grandeur, and hence the contradictions and fables by which they have sought to conceal the affront offered to the pontiff in the person of his deputy. Nor is the fact to be looked for from those writers of our own day who are so anxious to persuade us that the Scots were always in communion with Rome, and always subject to the authority of its bishop. History shows us the very opposite. The first acts of the Scots on their conversion to the Christian faith are seen to be these—they repel the advances of the bishop of Rome, they put forth a claim of independence, and they refuse to bow at the foot of the papal chair. Amen!!


Footnotes

1. We must again remind our readers that the Scotland of that age was Ireland. Porphory (middle of third century) is the first who mentions the ScoticŠ gentes, "the Scottish tribes, " as the inhabitants of the Britannic Isles. From that time Scotia occurs as the proper name of Hibernia. Claudian (A.D. 395) says: "When the Scots put all Ireland in motion (against the Romans), then over heaps of Scots the icy Ierne wept." Orosius, in the same age, says: "Hibernia is inhabited by the Scottish nations" (lib. i. cap. 20). Scotia eadem et Hibernia, "Scotland and Ireland are the same country" (Isidore, lib. xii. c. 6). Ireland is properly the country of the Scots, says Bede. The word properly is used to distinguish them from the Scots who in his day had come to be settled in Argyleshire. Ancient Scotland is spoken of as an island, and Scotland never was an island, though Ireland is.

2. Life of St. Patrick (A.D. 700), preserved in the Book of Armagh; Todd's Life of St. Patrick p. 288.

3. Annotation of Tirechan on the Life of St. Patrick, also preserved in the book of Book of Armagh, a MS. of the early part of the 9th century.

4. "Its claims," says Dr Killen (Old Catholic Church), "have been acknowledged by the best critics of all denominations," by Usher, Ware, Tillemont, Lanigan, and Neander. Dr. Killen strongly supports the view advocated in the text. He thinks that Patrick arrived in Ireland immediately after the death of Nial, or Nial of the Nine Hostages, in the year 405. Introduction to the Irish version of Nennius, p. 19. Dublin, 1838.

5. Dr. Petrie speaks of the Leadhar Breac as the oldest and best MS. relating to the Irish Church, now preserved, or which, perhaps, the Irish ever possessed.

6. Interpolated version of his life by Probus—Dr. Petrie on Tara Hill.

7. Lanigan, i. 129,130.Ibid. i. 362, 363.

8. Betham, ii. 288. Transac. Roy. Irish Acad., viol. xviii. part ii. p. 52.