|As regards the accumulated results of his
mission there is a sort of unanimous consent among the biographers of Patrick. His labours
are commonly summed up in three hundred and sixty-five churches founded, three hundred and
sixty-five bishops ordained, and an army of three thousand presbyters, or about nine
presbyters to every bishop. So says Nennius, writing in the ninth century, and his
successors repeat the statement, with some variety as to numbers. This may be accepted as
a probable approximation to the fact. It is a truly marvelous achievement, when we reflect
that it was accomplished in one lifetime, and mainly by a single man, in a barbarous
country, and in the face of a powerful Druidism. It truly entitles Patrick to the proud
appellation of the "Apostle of Ireland." It justifies for him a high rank among
the benefactors of mankind, and places him on a loftier eminence than the founders of
empire. Lands far remote from the Hibernian shore, and generations long posterior to
Patrick's day, have had cause to bless his memory and pronounce his name with reverence.
We must view the ecclesiastical machinery
which he constructed, in the light of the age in which it was created, the condition of
the country in which it was set up, and the stage which Christian knowledge and personal
piety had then reached. "Three hundred and sixty-five " is the low estimate of
the number of bishops ordained by him. The term " bishop " has since Patrick's
day changed its meaning. That Ireland was partitioned into three hundred and sixty-five
dioceses; that each diocese was presided over by a bishop; that each bishop had under him
a staff' of priests, and that each priest had committed to him a congregation or parish,
is a supposition so extreme and violent that few, if any, we believe, will find themselves
able to entertain it. Doubtless these three hundred and sixty-five bishops of the one
country of Ireland, like the company of presbyters of the one city of Ephesus, whom Paul
styles bishops, were the overseers, pastors of single congregations. Their special duty
was to preach. The others associated with them would find ample scope for their gifts in
the various labours of teaching the youth, of visiting the sick, and exercising a general
superintendence of the flock. Diocesan episcopacy was not possible in Ireland in Patrick's
day. Other organizations in the Irish Church, besides that stated above, we are unable to
trace. We can see nothing like the modern machinery of Presbytery, Synod, and General
Assembly, although it is reasonable to believe that Patrick at times took counsel with the
body of the pastors, and, as the result of these joint deliberations, issued directions in
cases of emergency and difficulty, and these would furnish a groundwork for the doubtful
record of "canons" and "synods " of Patrick which have come down to
Nothing will assist us more in
forming a correct idea of the ecclesiastical order established by Patrick in Ireland, than
a short study of the Christian Church as seen in the pages of the New Testament, and the
writings of the early Fathers. A flood of new light has been thrown on the organization of
the Church at Rome in the first ages by the recently discovered work of Hippolytus.  His book gives a
picture of the Roman church in the beginning of the third centurythat is, about two
hundred years before Patrick's time. The apostle of Ireland would naturally copy the model
that was before him. Here it is as seen and depicted by Hippolytus while that model was
still in existence. "Every town congregation of ancient Christianity was a
church," says Bunsen, in his analysis of the work of Hippolytus. The first part of
the church to come into existence was the congregationnot the bishops or overseers,
but the flockthe body of believers. The essential powers of a perfect
societythe right of liberty and the power of orderwere lodged in these
persons. All rights and privileges are inherent in the congregation, and are exercised by
them and for them, and none the less when transferred by delegation to their pastors and
elders. The epistles of inspired men are addressed to the congregations in the various
cities and provinces. Acts of discipline are done by the congregation and declared and
carried out by the pastor or elder. His power is not lordly but ministerial. In Paul's
epistles and in the writings of Clemens, Romanus, Ignatius, and Polycarp, the highest
organ of power in the church is the congregation, guided and ruled in the earliest times
by a body of elders. These elders discharged the double function of teaching and ruling.
The next step was to elect one of their number to preside over the body of the elders. The
one judged the fittest was chosen, and to him was given the name of overseer, bishop or
pastor. Through this functionary the congregation governed itself. Its bishop or pastor
was its servant, not its master. The elder, whose special work was teaching, was chosen by
the congregation, and being so elected, the pastors of the neighboring congregations
inducted him into his office by prayer, and the laying on of hands. Consecration and
ordination was one and the same act. Such are the conclusions fairly deducible on this
head from the facts disclosed by Hippolytus.
Everyone who had charge of a
congregation in a city was styled a bishop. Hippolytus had charge of the congregation at Portus, a small town at
the mouth of the Tiber, opposite Ostia, the harbour of Rome. As bishop or pastor of
Portus, he was a member of the Presbytery of Rome.The Roman Presbytery in Hippolytus' day
consisted of the bishop, the presbyters (pastors), and deacons of the city of Rome, with
the bishops (pastors) of the suburban congregations. " Much smaller towns than Portus
had their bishop," says Bunsen; " their city was called their diocese." In
those times there existed no parishes in the proper sense of the word. The city of Rome,
however, formed an exception. From the earliest days of Christianity there were certain
centers of Christian work in the metropolis corresponding with the regimes of the
city. After the time of Constantine, a church was built in each of these regiones.
These churches were termed cardines, and from this is derived the title cardinalis
for a parish priest, a word which has been in use from the time of Gregory, about A.D.
600. The parochial clergy of this city formed the governing body of the Church of Rome.
With them were associated in this government the seven deacons, established for the
service of widows and the poor, and the seven suburban pastors or bishops. This body grew
ultimately into the college of cardinals. We now see the congregational liberties
beginning to be curtailed, and the laity excluded from the government of the Church. The
plea of the Presbyterian divines of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, that the
elders were both an officiating, that is, a teaching and ruling body, "is quite
correct," says Bunsen, judging by the light thrown by Hippolytus on the early
organization of the Church at Rome. "The ancient Church," says Bunsen, "
knows no more of a single presbyter than of clerical government and election."  It was only in very small and remote villages that a
single bishopusing the word in the sense in which Paul and Peter use it -managed his
little community. "He was called," says Bunsen, "a country bishop "
(chorepiscopus, i.e., a country curate).
Standing alone he could exercise no act of government in the strict sense. The rule of the
Church was in the hands of no single man in early times; it could administered only by a
body or council of church officers.
For the pastor there was set a chair in the
apse or circular recess at the eastern end of the church. On either side of the pastor's
chairnot yet changed into a throne were ranged rows of benches, on which sat
the elders. The communion table occupied the space betwieen pastor and elders and the
congregation; it was the connecting link betwixt clergy and people. It was a table, not an
altar, for as yet no sacrifice had been invented save the symbolic one of self-dedication
over the bread and wine, which alone were seen on that table.
In the times that preceded the
Council of Nice (325), the government of the church was presbyterial; in the post Nicene
period it was hierarchical. "The Ante-Nicene Law," says Bunsen, "exhibits
every town as a church presided over by a bishop and a board of elders (presbyters); but
at the same time, it represents the bishops (not the congregations) of the smaller places,
as clustered round the bishop of the large town or city, which was their natural
metropolis. These bishops formed part of the council or presbytery of the
mother-congregation for all matters of common interest. In the post-Nicene system the
congregation is nothing, its bishop little. The ante-Nicene canon law is fundamentally
congregational, and its bishop, as such, represents the independence and, as it were,
sovereignty of the congregation."
In the days of Hippolytus, the bounds of
the presbytery of Rome were modest, indeed, compared with what they soon afterwards came
to be. Down to the middle of the third century, the presbyterial bounds embraced only the
pastors of the city and those of its seven suburban towns. After the beginning of the
fourth century, the presbytery of Rome extended its authority to all the subvicarian
towns, its jurisdiction equal to the jurisdiction of the Vicar of the City, which
stretched to the Apennines on the north and the shores of the Italian peninsula on the
south. This was the prelude of much greater extensions in the centuries that followed; and
as this jurisdiction widened its sphere it grew ever the more hierarchical and despotic,
and departed ever the farther from the simplicity, the equality, the liberty, and also the
purity of the church of apostolic and primitive days.
Our general summing up from the facts
disclosed in the work of Hippolytus is to this effect, that where there was a
congregation, a pastor, and a body of elders, there was held in early times to be a
complete church, self-governing and independent. In this deduction we have the support of
Bunsen's concurrence. "Where such a council can be formed," he says, "there
is a complete church, a bishopric." The elders are teachers and administrators. If an
individual happen to be engaged in either of these offices more exclusively than the
other, it makes no real alteration in his position, for the presbyters of the ancient
church filled both situations. Their office was literally an office, not a rank.
Let us next turn our eyes for a few moments
on the church of Africa. It is the middle of the third century, and the most conspicuous
figure that meets our gaze is Cyprian, bishop of Carthage. But though styled bishop,
Cyprian's rank, duties, and powers, are simply those of a pastor of a single congregation.
He has no diocese save the city of Carthage. He has no pastors whom he superintends as
their diocesan. There is but one congregation in Carthage, and Cyprian is its pastor.
Sabbath by Sabbath we see him preaching to this flock and dispensing to them the
sacraments. He has a body of presbyters, eight in number at most, and seven deacons who
assist him in his pastoral work. These presbyters have no congregation; they instruct the
youth, they visit the sick and the prisoners, and being supported by the congregation,
they give their whole time to their duties. In his exile Cyprian writes to the people of
Carthage, as forming one Christian flock, himself being their one and only pastor, and
Carthage his whole diocese. No candid reader of his letters can fail to see that the
" bishop " of the Cyprianic age was a preaching minister, and that the Cyprianic
presbytery in most things represented our parochial session.
The Irish Church in Patrick's day was
the Cyprianic Church over again as regards the number of its bishops. In Pro-Consular
Africa alone there were 164 bishops.  Now Pro-Consular Africa was only a small part of the Roman
possessions in that continent. In the days of Cyprian there must have been several hundred
bishops in Africa. Many of them discharged their ministry in towns and hamlets so obscure
that the learned Pamelius is at a loss where to place them. It is not possible to believe
that all these were diocesan bishops. There was not room enough in Roman Africa for a
fourth of that number. It was in Roman Africa only that Christianity had been embraced.
Most of that great continent was still inhabited by the native population, the Moors. To
them the Latin was an unknown tongue, and as the Gospel was preached in Latin only it
ceased to be intelligible when it reached the confine of the Roman colony, and touched the
Moorish border. This accounts for the fact that Christianity never gained an extensive
footing in Africa, and that it disappeared at an early period. When the Saracens entered
Africa the light of Christianity was found to be all but extinct. We conclude: it is the
undoubted historical fact, attested by the records of the African Church in Cyprian's day,
and by the records of the early Roman Church so unexpectedly and authentically brought to
light through the discovery of the work of Hippolytus, that down to about the middle of
the third century, bishop and pastor were terms indicating the same church officer; that
this church officer presided over a single congregation, that his congregation was his
diocese; and that he was assisted by a body of presbyters or elders, some of whom took
part in the government only of the flock, while others of them, having earned for
themselves a good degree, were admitted to teach, though without being set over a
congregation. Such is the picture of the primitive church, which has been drawn by the
hand of a man who lived while the church was still young. Mingling freely in her councils,
Hippolytus had the best opportunities of observing and depicting her true lineaments. It
is no imaginary portrait which he has given us. Long hidden in darkness, it has been
unexpectedly disclosed, that we, too, in this late age, might be able to look upon the
face of the church primitive, and know the simplicity, the purity, and the beauty that won
for her the love and reverence of her early members.
There rose three hundred and sixty-five
churches for the use of these three hundred and sixty-five bishops. This is proof, were
proof needed, that these were not diocesan, but parochial or village bishops. Had they
been dignitaries of the rank which the term "bishop " came afterwards to mean,
with a clergy three thousand strong, not three hundred but three thousand churches would
have been needed. These churches were humble edifices. Probably not one of them was of
stone. Armagh, the metropolitan church of future times, was as yet an altogether
undistinguished name in the ecclesiastical world. It enjoyed in Patrick's days neither
pre-eminence nor jurisdiction. In the north of Ireland the churches were constructed of
planks or wattles, and in the south, of earth. Like the humble altars of the Patriarchs on
the plains of the early Palestine, they borrowed their glory from the Almightiness of the
Being to whose worship they were consecrated, and also from the fact that they were served
by men adorned not with pompous titles, but with the gifts of knowledge and the graces of
the Holy Spirit the oil of their consecration. A school rose beside the church,
named not infrequently a monastery. The monasteries of Patrick's days, and of the
following centuries, were not at all the same institutions with those which bore that name
in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. They were not the retreat of the idle and the
ignorant; they were not communities of men who groaned under the burden of exerting their
drowsy voices in intoning the various offices which marked the passing of the weary hours
betwixt matins and evensong. The monasteries of Patrick's day were associations of
studious men, who occupied their time in transcribing the Scriptures, in cultivating such
sciences as were then known, and in instructing the young. They were colleges in which the
youth were trained for the work of the home ministry and the labours of the foreign
mission-field; and with what renown to their country and benefit to other lands the
members of these institutions discharged this part of their important duties, we shall see
when we come to speak of the great Columban establishment at Iona. When the youth had
finished their studies for the day, they would shoulder axe and mattock, and would sally
forth and address themselves to the laborious and profitable occupation of clearing the
forest, or trenching the moor and changing the barren lands around their abode into arable
fields, green in spring with the sprouting blade, and golden in autumn with the ripened
It was Patrick's prudent custom, on
entering a district, to address himself first of all to the chieftain. If the head of the
sept was won to the faith the door of access was opened to his people. A plot of ground on
which to erect a sanctuary was commonly the first public token that the chief had embraced
the Gospel, and that he desired, at least did not oppose, its spread among his tribe.
These churches were of small size; the whole inhabitants of Ireland did not then probably
exceed half a million, and its sparsely populated districts could furnish no numerous
congregations. In the distribution of these churches, Patrick conformed himself to the
tribal arrangements. His servitude in Ireland made him well acquainted with its social
condition, and enabled him to judge of the best methods of overtaking its evangelisation.
In some places he planted the churches in groups of sevens, probably because the
population was there the more numerous; and each group had its seven bishopsanother
proof that, like the four hundred bishops of Asia Minor in early times, these were
parochial and not diocesan ecclesiastics. It was not unusual to surround the
ecclesiastical building with a strong stockade. The power of the Druid, though weakened,
had not yet been wholly broken, and the missionaries of the new faith were still exposed
to hostile attacks from the mob, or from the chieftains, at the instigation, doubtless, of
the priests of the ancient worship.
The time had now come when the labours of
the apostle of Ireland were to close. They had been indefatigably prosecuted for upwards
of thirty yearssome, indeed, say sixty and the latter is not too long a period
for so great a work. Patrick was now verging on fourscore; and welcome, doubtless, was the
rest which now came to him in the form of death. Of his last hours we have many legends,
but not a single line of trustworthy record. Whether he descended suddenly into the grave
like Wycliffe and Luther, or whether he passed to it by months of lingering decay and
sickness like Calvin and Knox, we know not. The year of his death is uncertain. The
Bollandists make it 460: Lanigan, founding on the annals of Innisfallen, 465. He died at
Downpatrick. A star in the sky, say the legends, indicated the spot where his ashes were
to repose. St Bridget, with her own hands, embroidered the shroud in which his corpse was
wrapped, and his requiem was sung by a choir of angels, who were heard mingling their
strains with the lamentations of the pastors as they carried his remains to the grave; and
for twelve days, some say a whole year, the sun, ceasing to go down, shed a perpetual day
on the spot where he was interred. After legend has exhausted its powers to throw a halo
round his departure by heaping prodigy upon prodigy, the simple historic fact remains the
more sublime. And that fact is, that on the spot where he began his ministry there he
ended it, and there, after all his battles, did the gates of an eternal peace open to
1. Dr. Todd declares against the
genuineness of the works ascribed to Patrick in Ware and Villeneuva, with the exception of
the Confessio. And as regards. the ecclesiastical canons ascribed to him, Dr.
Todd holds these, from external evidence, to be the production of an after age. We believe
most students of history will agree with him. -- See Todd's Life of St. Patrick,
2. Hippolytus was the disciple of Irenĉus,
the disciple of Polycarp, the disciple of the apostle John. His book, which treats on the
doctrines of the primitive church, was written under Alexander Severus about A.D. 225. His
knowledge of the apostolic doctrine was drawn from the most authentic sources; and being a
member of the Presbytery of Rome, he speaks with the highest authority on the affairs of
the Roman Church. He lived at the period of the church's transition from the apostolic
constitution to the ecclesiastical system. He was the contemporary of two Popes,
Zephyrinus and Callistus, who played no unimportant part in the changes then in progress.
Hippolytus has given us portraits of these two popes. These portraits are the first full
disclosures of the real character of these two notable ecclesiastics, but they are not
such as are fitted to enhance our esteem of the men, or exalt our veneration for the papal
chair. "The book," says Bunsen (vol. i. preface v. ), "gives authentic
information on the earliest history of Christianity, and precisely on those most important
points of which hitherto we have known very little authentically."
3. Hippolytus and His Age, by C.
C. J. Bunsen, D.C.L. London, 1852. Vol. iii. pp. 219-222.
4. Ibid., vol. i. p. 207.
6. Hippolytus and his Age, vol. i.
7. Ibid., vol. iii. p. 221.
9. Hippolytus and his Age, vol.
ii. p. 258, 259.
10. Cypr. Epist.,i.