St. Patrick – The Celtic Lion
Patrick’s Early Years
Patrick was born of Christian parents, his father, Calpurnius, though of British race was by birth a Roman citizen, and held the rank, Decurion. The father and grandfather of Calpurnias, Potitus and Odissus, had both been Christians; so that the family had kept the faith for at least several generations.
Conchessa, Patrick’s mother, was a near relative of the great St. Martin of Tours. She was a wise and good woman, and sought to bring up their children in the fear and love of God.
As the son of a Roman Citizen, and a British noble, Patrick was bound to have had some education. According to the custom of British citizens of the Roman Empire, Patrick was given three names, rendered in Latin as Patricius, Magonus, Sacatus. Patricius meaning, “Noble”, and Sacatus, a Celtic word meaning, “Valiant in war.”
Patrick had a brother, Sannan, and five sisters. They all became servants of God and the church.
Calpurnius dwelt at Bannavem Taberniae, which was near the rock of Dumbarton, or in Wales. It was certainly in some part of Roman Britain or Brittany.
The fact that St. Patrick worked great and wonderful miracles is beyond question, and those miracles won him enthusiastic admiration and enduring love of the people.
From Patrick’s childhood he had been able to understand the things of God. Patrick, in his Book of Epistles, said, “And God had pity on my youth and ignorance, and He took care of me before I knew Him, and before I could distinguish between good and evil. And He strengthened me and comforted me as a father does his son. “
Fostering was a custom peculiar to the tribal system of ancient Ireland and was regulated by the Brehon laws, which ordained that the sons of nobles should be educated in the homes of the tribesmen until they reached the age of seventeen – the daughters until their fourteenth year.
No doubt the druids knew of the progress of Christianity in Britain and Europe. Their brethren abroad had been discredited and they were afraid of the same fate. They were very much afraid of losing their influence and authority.
Patrick leaving the friendly hospitality of Dichu, sailed southward and arrived at Inver Colptha, the mouth of the river Boyne. They followed the course of the stream, for about 12 miles until they came to the hill of Slane, where Patrick proposed to celebrate Easter.
While they rested there on the hill, they saw the magnificent view beneath of the river Boyne; to the north, far away were the purple mountains of Mourne, and to the south lay the beautiful hills of Wicklow. Against this background, about 10 miles away, stood the royal hill of Tara. The roofs of the palaces were shining in the setting sun.
We see the Fire
When the sun had set, Patrick prepared to begin the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. It was the first time the paschal fire was lit, never to be extinguished in the land.
Hardly were the Christian torches seen to blaze, when the attention of the High King was drawn to the scene. The whole of Mag Breg, (the Beautiful Plain), was illuminated by the fires, while Tara was still in darkness.
Angrily the King called his attendants and told them to find out who had dared to light the fires, and break the law he had made for the occasion of the festivals of Beltane and Samhain. The Druids told King Laeghaire that there was no need to send messengers to Slane for they knew what the fires were. “We see the fire,” they said, “And we know that unless it is quenched on the night in which it is made, it will not be quenched forever. The man who kindled it, will vanquish the kings and lords of Ireland, unless he is forbidden.”
“This shall not be!” cried the king, “but we will go down and kill this man who made the fires.”
The horses were hastily made ready.
Meanwhile on the hill of Slane, Patrick had begun with the others the celebration of the Easter festival, singing and worshiping God.
It was late when nine chariots, bearing the king and queen with two chief Druids, and a number of nobles came thundering toward Slane. The wizards began to fear that the king might fail by taking a hasty action. As they drew toward the Christians, the druids spoke to King Laeghaire, “You should be careful,” they cautioned the king, “Not to go down to the place where the fire was made, and give any respect to the man who kindled the fire. Stay outside and have him brought out to you, so that he will know that you are the king, and he is the subject.” The king was flattered and agreed.
They drove to the place called, “The Graves of Fiacc’s Men,” and they unyoked the horses. The king and his nobles sat in solemn state, and the warriors stood with their shields erect in front of them. In the light of the fires they looked very fierce. The king forbade anyone to rise to greet Patrick or any of his company, (contrary to the custom of the Irish). A messenger was sent to fetch Patrick.
We Call Upon the Name of the Lord
Soon a bright procession appeared descending the hill. As Patrick advanced, all eyes were fixed on him. Calmly he sang as he approached the king, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will call upon the Name of the Lord our God.”
As Patrick’s clear strong voice resounded, a feeling of awe filled the minds of the warriors. One man. Erc, the son of Deg, rose to greet Patrick. By grace, in a moment, he believed in God, and Patrick blessed him. Later on he was baptized and eventually became the first bishop of Slane. And Patrick prophesied to him, “Your city on earth will be high and noble.”
After a “formal” greeting between Laeghaire and Patrick, the druid wizard, Lochru attacked him angrily with contention and shouting. He became malicious and hostile, and even violent, blaspheming the Holy Trinity. Patrick’s anger was roused and he called upon God, “O Lord, Who can do all things. And on Whose power everything depends. You have sent us here to preach Your Name to the heathen. Now let this ungodly man, who blasphemes your Name, be lifted up and let him die.”
No sooner had Patrick finished speaking than a supernatural force raised the wizard in the air. He fell heavily down, his head striking a stone. And so he died in the presence of those assembled.
The heathen seeing their own subdued, and realizing that Patrick had more powers than the druids, were greatly affected.
Patrick Stood Firm
But the king was enraged at the fate of Lochru, on whom he had greatly depended. He then wanted to take the life of Patrick. “Slay this man,” he cried to his guards.
But Patrick stood firmly in his place. With flashing eyes and resonant voice he said, “Let Gods arise and His enemies be scattered. Let them that hate Him, flee from before His face! As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish away: as wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.”
By this time the sun had begun to rise and the morning splendor bathed the earth. But at the words of Patrick, darkness crept back over the sky and the ground shook with an earthquake.
The swords and spears of the warriors clashed against their shields and it seemed to them that sky was falling down, and there was no hope of escape from impending destruction. The frightened horses galloped away in wild confusion, and the wind blew so fiercely that the chariots were moved.
Because of the confusion and fear, the warriors began to figh
t among themselves, and some were Killed. Realizing their mistake, they fled, leaving only three people with King Laeghaire and Queen Angas.
The king remained sullen and silent but the queen rose and approached Patrick. She spoke to him with respect. “Just and mighty man,” she said, “Do not destroy the king. He will come to you and he will do your will and he will kneel and believe in your God,” Her influence prevailed and because the events of the past few hours had shaken him, the king kneeled before Patrick, offering peace. It was a false gesture, designed to allow him to avoid the present situation.
Laehaire designed a plan in his mind to try and kill Patrick on the way to his castle. “Follow after me, to my castle, Cleric,” said the wily king, “And at Tara I may believe in your God in the presence of the men of Ireland.”
The Deer’s Cry
Patrick consented and Laeghire gave orders to his servant that an ambush should be set on several paths between Slane to Tara. The chariots were yoked once more by the attendant who had now returned, and the royal party set out back to the palace. They were very weary and discouraged after their disastrous night with Patrick
Patrick and his company continued the interrupted Easter Day celebration with hearts full of gratitude to God. Then Patrick selected his companions and blessed them before setting out for Tara. There were eight young clerics, including Patrick, and the boy, Benignus, who never left Patrick’s side. They had ten miles to walk, “But God covered them with a cloak of darkness,” so that they could not be seen. God had revealed to Patrick the evil design of the king.
The servants as they watched saw only eight deer and a fawn (Benignus). It was after this that Patrick wrote his famous hymn, “The Deer’s Cry,” in which he gave God praise and expressed his firm belief in the Resurrection, the Incarnation and, Death and Ascension of Christ. He declared glory to God, who was his defense against the wiles of the devil and against all forms of superstition and idolatry; ending with an appeal to Christ to be with him always and speak to him through every creature.