We live in a time of the anti-hero. Too often, the good guys
are the bad guys and vice versa. Celebrities are often held up as heroes, until
we learn too much about them.
But to see a true hero, look at the real St. Patrick, who
has a day dedicated in his honor. Unfortunately, many people only observe his
holiday, March 17, by drinking themselves silly, which is totally contrary to
the spirit of the man who Christianized Ireland.
In fact, Patrick shows what God can do through someone who
is committed fully to Him.
Thomas Cahill, author of the book, How the Irish Saved
Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome
to the Rise of Medieval Europe, notes that Patrick and the Irish came at
the moment of a cultural cliff-hanger and played a key role in helping to save
In the 5th century, barbarians overran the Roman
Empire---which was the repository of much of Western civilization---until it
finally collapsed. Meanwhile, through the missionary work of Patrick (387-461),
the gospel was brought to Ireland; and numerous men became monks as a result,
who meticulously copied manuscripts of the Bible and of many of the writings of
Cahill writes: “For, as the Roman Empire fell, as all
through Europe matted, unwashed barbarians descended on the Roman cities,
looting artifacts and burning books, the Irish, who were just learning to read
and write, took up the great labor of copying all of Western
literature---everything they could lay their hands on.”
He notes, “These scribes then served as conduits through
which the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures were transmitted to the
tribes of Europe, newly settled amid the rubble and ruined vineyards of the
civilization they had overwhelmed.”
Cahill adds, “Without this Service of the Scribes,
everything that happened subsequently would have been unthinkable. Without the
Mission of the Irish Monks, who single-handedly refounded European civilization
throughout the continent in the bays and valleys of their exile, the world that
came after then would have been an entirely different one---a world without
books. And our own world would never have come to be.”
The man at the center of all this was St. Patrick.
Many of the details of his life we learn through a document
he wrote late in his life, Confession. This was not a book of
confessions of his sins, but rather a statement of his beliefs. It is
autobiographical in nature.
Patrick (to the surprise of many) was not Irish by birth,
but rather grew up in England as a nominal Christian. He said in Confession,
“I did not know the true God.”
At the age of 16, marauding Irish pirates laid waste his
city and captured slaves, including Patrick. Later he would write of this:
"As a youth, nay, almost as a boy not able to speak, I was taken captive,
before I knew what to pursue and what to avoid."
Patrick said, “I was taken into captivity to Ireland with
many thousands of people---and deservedly so, because we turned away from God,
and did not keep His commandments."
For six years, he worked as a slave for a landowning chief.
Cahill notes that during this time, Patrick had two companions---hunger and
While he served as a shepherd, he remembered his prayers of
his youth and came to know God truly through Christ. After six years of
captivity, he was able to providentially escape from Ireland.
The late Dr. D. James Kennedy notes, “[Patrick] vowed
revenge---the noble revenge of sharing the gospel with the people who held him
captive. He believed that he had been called by God to return to the land of
So Patrick, after some theological training, eventually
returned to Ireland where he spent the rest of his life (about thirty years) as
a missionary. Patrick may well have baptized about 120,000 souls. Some scholars
note that he was the most successful missionary since the Apostle Paul.
Patrick wrote this, "Daily, I expect murder, fraud or
captivity…but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I
have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.”
There’s a famous prayer attributed to Patrick that was
inspired by him---although in its present form, it was likely written later.
This beautiful statement of faith is called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.”
Here is a portion of the prayer: “I arise today through
God’s strength to pilot me: God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide
me…Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ
beneath me, Christ above me…”
So remember the next time you see someone get drunk on St.
Paddy’s Day, they dishonor the memory a great hero of the faith and of the
Dr. Jerry Newcombe is a TV producer and the cohost of Kennedy
Classics. He has also written or co-written 24 books, including The Book
that Made America (on the Bible) and (with Dr. Kennedy) What If Jesus
Had Never Been Born? and (with Peter Lillback), George Washington’s
Sacred Fire. Jerry hosts gracenetradio.com Thursdays at noon (EST). www.truthinaction.org
Jerry Newcombe, D.Min.
P.O. Box 1
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33302