Book by Philip Freeman, published by Simon and Schuster, NY 2004
Most of what we think we know about Patrick of Ireland is myth. He did not drive any snakes out of Ireland. He didn’t use a clover to teach the concept of Trinity. His doctrine was nothing like that of the current Catholic church. He was not even Irish.
But we do have access to Patrick’s real story, contained in letters he wrote over 1500 years ago. Philip Freeman has taken these letters, combined them with the history and archeology of the region and has written a spellbinding biography of the early missionary.
Patrick’s story begins with his abduction at age 15 by Irish pirates in the slave trade, who carried him back to their country and sold him to the highest bidder. Patrick ended up working as a shepherd, alone with is thoughts all day long, far from home and friendless. Like Joseph, those who sold him meant it for evil but God meant it for good. Patrick said:
But it was here in Ireland that God first opened my heart, so that—even though it was a late start—I became aware of my failings and began to turn with my whole heart to the Lord my God.
During his six years in slavery, Patrick was able to learn the language and customs of the people of Ireland. He escaped from his captors, returned home and then, to everyone’s amazement, felt the call of God to return to Ireland as a missionary. He led a long and fruitful life mightily used by God. He closes his Confession with these words:
My final prayer is that all of you who believe in God and respect Him—whoever you may be who read this letter that Patrick the unlearned sinner wrote from Ireland—that none of you will ever say that I in my ignorance did anything for God. You must understand—because it is the truth—that it was all the gift of God.
The full text of Confession and Patrick’s other surviving letter have been translated from Latin and are included in the book, available through the Mid-Continent Library system or from Amazon.com for about $11.00 (paperback).
Book review by Susan Verstrate