Between sips of my Guinness draught this weekend, I’m reviewing the exploits of Celtic Christians Brendan, Brigid, Patrick and others. Kathie Walters paperback, Celtic Flames describes the highlights of Patrick’s miraculous life of faith. Too often merely connected to green beer and lepraucauns, this man was a true Christian hero, responsible for converting much of Ireland to Christianity in the 4th century.
The enduring legends are that he used a shamrock to explain the Trinity and banished all the snakes from Ireland.
But what about the mighty miracles Patrick performed by the power of God? This short article is not intended as a biography of the man who lived from 398 A.D. to 471 A.D., rather a tiny tribute to his inspiring faith.
Sold as a Slave
The Picts and Scots raided Britain, plundering and taking hostages when Patrick was 16. He and his sister, Lupita were taken captive across the Irish Sea to their new home in Ireland, along with thousands of others. During his captivity he was left hungry, half-naked, cold and close to collapsing. These raiders sold him like a mere animal. His new owner, Milcho, a sheep farmer, treated him little better than his captors. Milcho was a druid and opposed to Christianity, which was spreading across Ireland at that time. But it was during this arduous time that God was made real to Patrick, and as he said later, his eyes were opened to see his unbelief, disobedience and his rejection of the Gospel.
Walters writes, “He was truly converted. All the scripture he learned as a child flooded his mind and heart, deciding that somehow, he would become a servant of God.”
From the beginning of his new walk with God, Patrick was gripped with a desire to pray. He would wake in the night to pray. He would rise early before dawn to seek God, even in rain, frost and snow without any ill effect to his health. On mountain tops, forests and fields, he prayed earnestly. He believed the reason for this great fervency of heart was that the Spirit of God burned in him as a fire. He was aware that this zeal and desire came from God, not man, tradition or religion.
Fast forward to A.D. 432: After many other journeys, Patrick returned to Ireland to fulfill the prophesy given to him by an angel that he
“was commanded by God to go to Ireland, strengthen their faith and bring the gospel to the Irish.”
However, the druids and wizards tried desperately to keep Patrick away from the kings. Patrick knew if the kings could be won for God, the people would follow.
Battle at Hill of Tara
One of the first spiritual battles between Patrick and the druids was fought at the Hill of Tara in 433 A.D. King Laeghaire (Leary) had invited sub-kings and nobles to a lavish festival, set to commence with great bonfires. Until the first ceremonial fire was lit by the Chief Druid, other fires were forbidden. King Laeghaire had opened himself to the power of wizards, magicians and Druid priests in his effort to be more powerful than the lower kings. No doubt the druids knew of the progress of Christianity in Britain and Europe; their brethren had been discredited, and they feared losing their influence and authority.
Patrick arrived at the Hill of Slane where he had a clear view of the Hill of Tara, about 10 miles away. At sunset, he lit a fire to celebrate Easter. Hardly were the torches set ablaze at Slane, when King Leary noticed. The whole plain was illuminated while his Tara lay dark as night. He angrily ordered his men to find out who broke the law. The druids already knew it was Patrick, informing King Laeghaire who ordered his death.
Nine chariots bearing the king, queen, nobles and chief druids proceeded toward Slane, where they gathered in solemnity, awaiting Patrick be brought to them by messenger. All eyes fixed on Patrick as he approached the king singing, “Some trust in chariots, some in horses, but we will call upon the name of the Lord our God.” Patrick’s clear voice caused faith to arise in one of the warriors, Erc who believed in God at that moment. He was later baptized, becoming the first Bishop of Shane.
But back to the King and those druids …
The wizard Lochru maliciously spewed insults at Patrick and blasphemed the Holy Trinity, angering Patrick who asked God aloud to let the man die. No soon had he finished speaking, a supernatural force levitated the wizard then dropped him, causing him to strike his head and die. His death greatly impacted the witnesses, who realized Patrick’s God was much greater than their demonic powers. The enraged King again ordered his death.
Patrick stood firm and resolute, courageously declaring, “Let God arise and His enemies be scattered … let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” It was now sunrise, but at Patrick’s words, the skies grew dark and an earthquake shook the ground. Swords and shields clashed while warriors fled, horses galloping away in fright. The queen interceded; her husband was spared afterwards agreeing to believe in Patrick’s God, but was a false gesture.
So an earthquake and dead wizard aren’t enough?
King Leary invites Patrick to a banquet, where he survived poisoning by praying over his meal. The King suggested several competitions take place between his wizards and Patrick (reminiscent of Elijah and the false prophets of Baal as told in 1 Kings 18) to demonstrate who was greater, Patrick’s God or the druids. After several manifestations of druid magic, the King saw his wizard was losing. He ordered the Christian books be thrown into the water. Patrick was willing, but the druid was not, thinking the water was a god (referring to the rite of baptism). “Then throw them into the fire,” orders the King, but the wizard again refused, saying “He venerates the god of fire” (referencing the Holy Spirit). Patrick suggested they both be locked into huts set ablaze …
The huts were set on fire and like Daniel, Patrick is spared, but the druid wizard perishes. (Yes, I can hear your cheers). Great was this king’s anger when he realized he was deprived of a second druid wizard. He wanted to kill Patrick but God warned him that unless he converted quickly, he would surely die. The King bowed before Patrick a second time, but was never truly converted. Many thousands of his people converted and were baptized as a result of the king’s example.
Patrick’s theory proved true: win over the leader and their subjects would follow.
Inspired and emboldened by the courageous example of this obedient Irishman, I raise my glass to him. Cheers Saint Patrick! May your courageous faith be replicated in young believers in my century, to the glory of King Jesus!