At a loose end – Read St. Patrick’s Autobiography!

Today is St. Patrick’s Day. But for most people it won’t be observed as other years. This morning I celebrated a “private” Mass in the Seminary Chapel of St. Patrick’s College Maynooth perhaps the most beautiful Catholic church in Ireland.

I think that many visitors to PrayTell may well have a little time on their hands these days as various forms of social distancing take place throughout the world.

So if you have time, it might be well spent today in getting to know the real St. Patrick. We have his spiritual autobiography which gives an extraordinary testimony to his life and ministry, his faith and his struggles. It allows us to meet the real man, stripped of legends of snakes and shamrocks (not to mention green beer). It is one of the most precious documents from the fifth century and can be read in a single sitting.  Yet most people, even in Ireland, have never read it. Admittedly it isn’t an autobiography in the modern sense (it doesn’t even definitively prove that he wasn’t born in modern-day England), but the story he tells is

Dublin’s Royal Irish Academy has done a wonderful service in putting a lot of material on-line, publishing a website dedicated to St. Patrick’s Confessions:  For the first time ever, high resolution copies of the eight medieval manuscript copies of the Confessio have been made available.  These have been hyperlinked and it is now possible to consult any word of the story in all of the manuscripts and even to compile your own critical edition of the Latin text.  The RIA also put pdf copies of some of their own books on-line with free access and have also commissioned some modern introductory material to help contextualize the story.

For those whose early medieval Latin is a little rusty, Fr. Pádraig McCarthy’s English translation is also provided (Pádraig often comments on this blog). Translations into Irish, Portuguese, Italian, German and English verse are also included. People might also be interested in Patricks anti-slavery Letter to Coroticus, an early example of Christian social teaching on slavery is also included.

All in all, it gives enough solid material for the novice or expert in early Irish history to profitably spend an afternoon getting to better know Ireland’s Patron Saint!






One comment

  1. Thank you for drawing attention to this. I discovered by accident this site also on St Patrick’s Day prior to your posting, and read this beautiful document. It also led me to other St Patrick texts – what a great read the Confession is and what an amazing literary voice that reaches out across the ages. I reread the Breastplate and the section with the fabulous invocation of natural phenomena as he turns to the total confidence in God is truly a text for now:
    “I arise today, through
    The strength of heaven,
    The light of the sun,
    The radiance of the moon,
    The splendor of fire,
    The speed of lightning,
    The swiftness of wind,
    The depth of the sea,
    The stability of the earth,
    The firmness of rock.
    I arise today, through
    God’s strength to pilot me,
    God’s might to uphold me,
    God’s wisdom to guide me,
    God’s eye to look before me,
    God’s ear to hear me,
    God’s word to speak for me,
    God’s hand to guard me,
    God’s shield to protect me,
    God’s host to save me

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