British History, 407-597, by Fabio P. Barbieri

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Chapter 4.4: The chapter of the damned

Fabio P. Barbieri

A writer called Charles Fort, still popular in some circles, once wrote an essay called The book of the damned; the "damned" being "data that science had overlooked, ignored, or otherwise excluded from science heaven"[1].  There aren't enough such data about St.Patrick to fill a book; but if not a book, at least a chapter of the damned.  Many are earlier than the Patrician continuity which Carney exhibited but misunderstood, and therefore likelier to have something to do with the real, historical St.Patrick - the man who did not confront King Loegaire in Tara one Easter Day; who did not come to Ireland from outside when he heard that Palladius was dead; who was not the former slave of Miliucc of Ulster; who did not condemn Maccuil Moccugreccae to wandering the seas on a skiff without oars until he should find the isle of Man; who did not get his God to turn Coroticus into a small fox - the anxious, harassed, passionate, administratively incompetent, undereducated but brilliantly communicative preacher on whose shoulders the responsibility of the Irish mission fell like a boulder.

The chapter of the damned, 1: Patrick and Amator

In point of fact, it has long been recognized that these “damned” data have a coherence of their own.  Scholars both ancient and modern have gathered them together and held them to relate to Patrick’s predecessor Palladius, often identified as “the first Patrick” or even called Palladius Patricius[2].  The problem is that there is not a smidgen of evidence for this.  Irish texts are unanimous that Palladius died within a year of reaching Ireland, and not even in the island, but in Britain, and that Patrick succeeded him.  And having decided against the Carney scheme, whose sum of data adds up to the “second Patrick” of ancient and modern speculation, it behoves us to look at these pseudo-“Palladian” data more closely.

Muirchu says that Palladius came to Ireland, failed to set up a church there, and, on the way back, died in Britain.  Three Irish annals agree, giving the unfortunate first bishop only a year; one rather dubious source - none other than our old friend Nennius - claims that he never reached Ireland at all.  Two Irish annals and some manuscripts of Muirchu[3] make him die in the land of the Picts, but the Armagh manuscript of Muirchu and one other Life - the Vita tertia - claim that he died in Britonum finibus.  This interesting expression seems to distinguish the "boundaries of the Britons" from other lands; it applies badly to an island such as Britain, where the notion of fines is inappropriate, but well to the actual political situation in which a people which described itself as the Brittones, identifying itself with the great island, nevertheless controlled only part of it.  The alternative reading that makes Palladius die among the Picts could even mean that he actually met his end in Ireland, among one of the Ulster tribes which, though native, called themselves Cruithne - Picts.  Patrick based himself in Ulster, though not among the Cruithne, and this might have something to do with that.

But given the significant variation between "the borders of the Britons" and the land of the Picts, I find it easier to guess at some connection with the political division of Britain between post-Roman Britanniae and the kingdom of the Picts, with the texts wavering as to which side of the border the bishop died on.  Palladius' supposed date of death corresponds with the very unsettled period in which the Saxons were called in to resist a threatened Pictish invasion.  Palladius might even have died at Pictish hands, but in finibus Brittonum, during a raid.  And there is a fourth possibility: we know that about this time a terrible plague ravaged Britain and destroyed a significant part of the population.  If, on another occasion, we heard of a fit and vigorous man, strong enough to travel to a far country and take up a difficult job, suddenly dying, just as a plague was ravaging the same country in which he is said to have died, we would know what to think.  In short, we have no reason not to believe in Palladius' early death in Britain in 432 - there are plenty of things he could have died of[4].

Muirchu is our earliest source for the tradition that Palladius died early and was succeeded by Patrick.  There is however no need to take everything he says at face value, the more so since he immediately hits us with a positive shower of howlers.  According to him, Patrick, who was not in Ireland, heard that Palladius had died, and went to be consecrated bishop by "bishop Amatorex", at the request of Germanus of Auxerre, at whose feet he had been learning Christian doctrine and practised as a priest.  Both these statements are problematic.  It is a very frequent assumption that Patrick cannot have been trained as a priest by the great Germanus.  The latter, it is implied, had a major role in British history and was remembered in later hagiography, and therefore - notice the sequence - their association must have been contrived and legendary.  I may be over-sensitive, but I can’t help feeling the universal prejudice against hagiography at play.  As I already said, the basic scholarly assumption, once we unwrap its elegant language, is that hagiography lies as a matter of course; and I sense a reflection of that unthinking habit of mind in the widespread view that, because Germanus was a famous bishop with a famous concern for Britain, therefore Patrick must have been associated with him because of his celebrity.  Does this follow - or non sequitur?  Such things do happen, especially in Celtic saints' legends; but we have to prove, first, that the story is impossible, a legend, not true, before we explain how it came to be formulated.  Otherwise we would be saying that St.Augustine cannot have learned Christianity from the very famous St.Ambrose, or that Beethoven cannot have studied with Haydn because Beethoven and Haydn were the two most famous musicians of the period.  Well, they did.  Famous people do meet, and even learn from, each other.

Bishop Hanson feels - with his usual strength of feeling - that Patrick's wobbly Latin makes it impossible that he should have learned the trade of priest from such a man as Saint Germanus.  To which I would answer that while I have no doubt that all the clergy in his Lordship's diocese were trained to the highest standards of Oxford and Cambridge, such has by no means semper et ubique been the case.  The priesthood has not infrequently harboured ignorant, even illiterate persons; and it may be a coincidence, but the French Catholic Church has in recent centuries been the worst offender[5].  French country curates were by-words for ignorance, and it must be admitted that, when the Republic fought to remove rural education from their hands and place it in those of State-educated schoolmasters, it had its reasons.  I am not saying that the Gaulish countryside in which we must imagine Patrick ministering was in any way close to the French countryside of the last couple of centuries, but it is possible - though I will leave it to better historians than myself to evaluate the possibility - that some common, long-range factor was at work, something of what French historians have called the longue durée.  And while Germanus was no doubt educated, to assume that he demanded the same level of education from all the priests in his service is to ask the evidence to say what it cannot say.  There is nothing to tell us what was the level of education of the average Gaulish presbyter - the kind who did not get promoted to bishop, did not engage in public debate, did not become house chaplain to rich and well-read aristocrats, and did not do any public or polemical writing; they left no more trace of themselves than their cowherds.

On the other hand, "Amatorex" is simply indefensible; and he comes at a point we have already seen reason to suspect.  Palladius dies, and Patrick, who was then in Gaul, is consecrated bishop in his place at Amatorex' hands.  Now, I have already pointed out that Patrick’s coming to Ireland after Palladius’ death is suspect, as being far too close a fit with the legend of Loegaire, which demanded that the national saint should light his very first fire on the day of the King’s own fire festival.  And if Patrick's journey is unlikely, his ordination by "Amatorex" is downright impossible.  Amatorex is certainly a misreading of Amator: and while it is easy to suppose that Irish legend would want to associate St.Patrick to the celebrated Germanus, a Saint famous throughout the West and who left a mark in Insular history, it is not so easy to see why the rather more obscure Bishop Amator, whose mention in the Penguin dictionary of Saints I can only describe as sniffy[6], should be selected for the honour of consecrating him.  It also happens to be a chronological impossibility: Bishop Amator was Saint Germanus' own predecessor in Auxerre! - and, while not quite neglected, was nowhere near as famous and admired as his successor, even in Gaul.

This gross error of fact, in which every subsequent hagiographer followed Muirchu, is accompanied by a canon-law absurdity: Germanus sends Patrick along to "a neighbouring bishop" Amatorex, who consecrates him on his own.  What, pray tell, happened to the time-honoured principle that no bishop can consecrate another bishop without the presence of at least two more reigning bishops as co-consecrators?  In asking his "neighbour" to consecrate a bishop - and consecrate him, at that, for Ireland: a region far outside both their competences - Germanus would have asked him to commit a sin, and a sin which he did not have the guts to commit himself: and he, "Amatorex" and Patrick would have been, all three of them, automatically excommunicated and in schism.  A nice start for the Irish church, and a nice charge to lay against such a man as Germanus!

In other words, this is howling nonsense: a string of blunders which, I intend to argue, can only go back to misunderstood written fifth-century sources.  To begin with, Muirchu knew Amator's name (misspelled), but did not know who Amator was: Vita Patricii 1.9 cannot possibly depend on any independent knowledge of him, unless we are perchance willing to imagine a hagiographic tradition in which every single item of information, title and date has been lost, but a name is still honoured.  No reader would ever imagine that he was either a bishop of Auxerre, or Germanus’ predecessor: the text clearly denies both things.  Auxerre is the only diocese in the world of which Amatorex cannot be bishop; and he is Germanus' contemporary.  Nothing, in short, could be more clear than that Muirchu has no idea whatever who Amator was and where he reigned, and that he only describes him as most holy because he expects that anyone connected with Germanus and Patrick must be holy.  This would at any rate be typical of his mind, as we saw it in his entirely conventional and sometimes downright foolish reinterpretation of Patrician passages.  The misspelling of his name is fully in keeping with Muirchu’s confusion[7].

This misspelling is one of a number, all of which occur in Muirchu 1.5-6,8-9; just as Amator becomes Amatorex, so Autisiodorum becomes Alsiodorum, Britanniis turns into Britannis, and there is one mysterious place-name, Ebmoria, of which scholars have not been able to make sense, and which looks very much like another misspelling or mistranscription[8].  The blunder about Britannis/Britanniis (which is not repeated in the manuscripts of Patrick's own Confession, where Britanniis recurs no less than three times) is therefore part of a complex of errors.  Their common features are the kind of things that would happen as the result of the evolution, or degradation, of a spoken account, on the lips of people remote from its geography, until it was taken down by an equally unfamiliar scribe, without being checked by any better judge: and this strongly suggests that, by the time these items were written down, neither Patrick nor any missionary of Continental origin were available to correct it.

However, the passages are consistently based on real people and places.  Just as the name Britanniae was actually in the plural in the period concerned, so too Germanus was the bishop of Autisiodorum and Amator was his predecessor.  In other words, these three names were closely associated, and their turning up, all misspelled and all close to each other, in one confused notice, testifies that that notice originated from a description of something real.  My point is that the evident blunder about Amator's date and see shows the same origin: an early notice about a real person, a historical bishop, that had been thoroughly misunder-stood.  At the back of all these errors, therefore, there is not deliberate myth-making, but some sort of reality.

The notice was about Patrick, and involved no idea of Bishop Amator beyond the fact that he was a bishop and had ordained Patrick.  Further, it did not know where Amatorex was bishop: therefore, it probably just said "Amator(ex) ordained Patrick", and nothing else.  An Irish churchman would then naturally conclude that Amatorex was a bishop somewhere, since only a bishop would have ordained a priest - let alone another bishop.  This, of course, strengthens the argument for the notice being early and misunderstood, it also comes across as thin, a mere scrap of information, perhaps in no more than three words - nothing like a legend, and very like a misread entry from a lost item of information.  I think we may take it that "Amator ordained Patrick" was a very early notice indeed.

Now if Patrick was ordained by Amator, this can only mean that he had not been ordained as a bishop at all.  Amator died in 407[9].  The fact that no other bishop takes part agrees; the presence of a single bishop is perfectly canonical for the ordination of a presbyter (priest) but thoroughly uncanonical for that of a bishop.  It is easy enough to see why the later Irish would have taken him for a contemporary and neighbour of Germanus'.  As the legend of Loegaire and the Easter fire demands that Patrick should come to Ireland from outside, so it demands that he should be a bishop, a head of the church, from the moment he landed.  The two historical unlikelihoods - Patrick coming to Ireland only after Palladius was dead; Patrick being consecrated bishop of Ireland outside Ireland, by a completely extraneous authority, and in an uncanonical manner - go together: they both depend on the underlying idea of the legend, of a great wizard-bishop coming in from Outside.  Therefore any mention of Amator as the man who ordained Patrick would be taken to refer to the order of bishop.  And a rationale would have to be concocted for why Germanus had not consecrated Patrick himself; to be honest, the idea that he simply sent his pupil along to a neighbouring bishop hardly shows too much imagination.

The account of Germanus and Amator as contemporaries adds up if we postulate two brief notices: one that said no more than that Amator ordained Patrick, and one that Patrick had served as a presbyter under the great Germanus, before he went to Ireland.  The person, whether Muirchu or an earlier writer, who first edited the scanty notices about Patrick's Gaulish apprenticeship into a coherent narrative, knew that "Amator ordained Patrick", but had no idea that Germanus was Amator's successor: he made Patrick go to Alsiodorum as Germanus was already a bishop.  Yet nothing makes more sense than that Patrick, having been consecrated a priest by Amator, should continue to serve his successor; and once you remove all the narrative aspect from the data (as well as the impossible notice that Amator ordained Patrick a Bishop), that is exactly what we have.  Patrick was ordained by Amator; Patrick served as a presbyter under Germanus.  As a matter of bare data, there can be nothing wrong or dubious about such a scheme, and it is easy to see how it could be misunderstood: if, according to the legend of Loegaire, Patrick was an ordained bishop before he reached Ireland, his ordination could only have happened in Germanus’ time; hence, whoever was known to have consecrated him must be a contemporary of Germanus.

What these mistakes show is an entire concentration on the figure of Patrick.  Amator and Germanus are only present to give an account of the hero's early days.  In other words, they are not the kind of mistakes anyone would make if he had a strong imaginative connection with Amator and Germanus themselves - if he had read their Lives and legends, and decided to use them in a fictional life of Patrick because they themselves loomed so large in his own imagination.  They do not; they are wholly marginal characters, present only ad maiorem Patricii gloriam.  Simply the kind of writing this is makes it practically impossible that a hagiographic tradition about Amator, perhaps even about Germanus, should be known to the first Patrician hagiographers.  They only knew their names.

The chapter of the damned 2: Patrick and Gaul

So the historical Germanus never ordained Patrick bishop, nor asked anyone else – let alone his dead predecessor – to.  And anyone who reads Patrick's Latin will understand why: such an undereducated priestling must have seemed very poor episcopal material indeed.  Germanus may have loved Apostolic poverty, but, as an educated high-ranking Roman, he would hardly consider promoting the enthusiastic but scarcely Virgilian Patrick beyond presbyter rank; and if Patrick had been ordained by Amator, he must have remained one for at least 25 years, which does not argue tremendous upward mobility.

The Letter’s passage on the Gaulish Christian Romans is more important for dating Patrick than has been generally understood.  Consuetudo Romanorum Gallorum Christianorum: mittunt uiros sanctos idoneos ad Francos et ceteras gentes cum tot milia solidorum ad redimendos captiuos baptizatos: "[this is] what the Roman Christians of Gaul do: they send suitable holy men to the Franks and other gentile tribes with so many thousands of gold solidi to buy back baptized captives".  Has anyone remarked on the enormity of that expression tot milia solidorum?  A century later, the Emperor Mauricius budgeted 50,000 gold solidi to pay the Frankish king Childebert to invade Italy[10]: that was what it cost to hire a barbarian horde for a full-scale campaign.  And yet Patrick says that the Gaulish Church was spending many thousands of gold solidi on ransoming enslaved Christians.  If it cost the Gaulish Church thousands of gold solidi to ransom the slaves taken in the course of ordinary small-scale border raids, it would have been bankrupted in short order.  What Patrick is describing is an extraordinary state of affairs, in which the Franks went on major slaving raids, demanding gold in cofferfuls to free their captives: something very like a war[11].

We have definite archaeological evidence for three, and no more than three, such events.  "Unlike the cut-up silver hoards... dating from the early fifth to the sixth century... a relatively long period, there is another series of precious metal hoards which were apparently laid down during the first half of the fifth century"[12].  These hoards come in three groups.  The first dates from about 397 to 406 and is found on both sides of the lower and middle Rhine up to the Mainz area, spreading east along the Ruhr to modern Thuringia and west to the Flemish half of modern Belgium.  The second group dates from about 407 to 411 and is found between the Weser and the Waal, and south to the Ruhr: though it follows the first group immediately in time, there is hardly any overlap in space, and it seems obvious that it was a different group of tribes that was profiting to such a monstrous extent.  The third and last covers an uncertain period, between about 420 and 430; it is spread over the same geographical area as the first, the 397-406 item, except that it stretches much further westwards - there are hoards as far as the Somme and the Seine, and one isolated item near the bend of the Loire (not far, we notice, from Auxerre).

A child could read these signs, given a reasonable knowledge of late Roman history.  The first and third group of hoards correspond with the area of the Frankish confederation, and were accumulated in periods in which the Franks were very active in Gaul.  The hoards end in 406 because, basically, a much badder mutha has entered the neighbourhood: it is at the end of 406 that the Alan/Vandalic/Swabian horde broke into Gaul.  This changes everything, and we next hear of Frankish troops and Frankish kings fighting Alans and Vandals on the Rhine, and Frankish and Alamannic armies entering Spain with Constantine III in an ill-fated attempt to put down Gerontius' usurpation[13].  On their way to Romania, these ultra-barbarous barbarians had mauled Frankish and Alamannic territory first, and the Franks and Alamanni cannot have liked the presence of these new and obstreperous hunters in their preserve.  But the Franks backed the wrong horse, entering the service of two usurpers in succession - Constantine III and Jovinian - who were both defeated and destroyed by Honorius; and so, in addition to a ferocious war against powerful enemies, they found themselves, as the smoke settled, in a more unfavourable political situation.  It may also be that the second group of hoards may represent another reason why their plunder ceased: their hated neighbours[14], the Saxons, had taken advantage of the mess to go raiding on their own in areas to which the Franks, camped all along the Rhine between the Saxons and Romania, had previously had prescriptive rights.

The third group is the one we want.  It represents the period of intense disruption between the death of Honorius (423) and Aetius' re-establishment of (some sort of) order in the Gauls, and hits a peak about 425, while Byzantium is bloodily putting down the popular usurper John and subduing Italy, and Aetius is among the Huns awaiting events – and nobody is minding the Gaulish store.  The hoard of Xanten, buried in 425, contained no less than 400 gold solidi; since this is surely only a fragment of what the Franks got away with in that year - one that happens not to have been recovered, perhaps because its owner was subsequently killed by Aetius - it gives an idea of the amount of wealth leaving Gaul for Francia; tot milia solidorum indeed.  Unlike the disorders of 397-406, this period of raids left traces - in the form of a buried hoard - to within a few miles of Auxerre, where Irish tradition has Patrick studying "like St.Paul at the feet of Gamaliel" with Germanus.  If the British priestling was anywhere close to the episcopal authority - and the additamentum to Tirechan has he and Iserninus speaking with Germanus in person - he would have witnessed the selection of "holy and suitable men", people who spoke the language and were known to the barbarians; the enormous effort of finding the necessary wealth; the leave-taking of those brave ecclesiastics; the nervous weeks of expectation while the mission was away among dangerous and powerful enemies who did not even worship the same God; and finally, the relief as the "holy and suitable men" returned with a trail of exhausted, penniless prisoners, glad to be home, but faced with financial ruin and personal tragedy.  One detail strongly suggests that this was the case: the word idoneos, "suitable", for the Church's envoys, making the point that the men in question must not only be of spotless integrity, sancti, but also apt to the task at hand, idonei; a point neither necessary to Patrick’s argument nor developed afterwards.  Why mention it?  For only one possible reason: because he was there and saw it being done.  Perhaps, being the person he was, he had volunteered for this dangerous mission, only to be asked how good his Frankish was - or his Latin, for that matter; or perhaps he had only thought of it, and come to the same conclusion unaided.

Patrick had been through this; and then he saw the supposed Christian Coroticus driving off baptized Christians with less consideration than the pagan Franks, and the British Church looking on in complacent silence.  Is there any reason to doubt?  Only the need to place Patrick wildly late in order to accept obviously unacceptable self-serving Irish dynastic and monastic legends.  Max Martin insists that these periods of hoard-making and hoard-burying are altogether exceptional, that there are no similar finds before or after.  Patrician scholars eager to date their subject to the second half of the century have assumed far too comfortably that Frankish kidnappings for ransom were regular events that may even have lasted after Clovis' conquest of the country and his conversion to Catholicism[15].  Even if there were any grounds to assume so - and so far as I can see, it amounts to a guess - it would founder on Patrick's expression tot milia solidorum: amounts of money incompatible with small-scale raiding.

The chapter of the damned 3: the transition from Gaul to Ireland

If Patrick was not consecrated a Bishop by Amator or Germanus, this leaves us with no transition from Patrick in Gaul studying Christian doctrine – with whatever profit - from Germanus, to Patrick in Ireland, claiming – his contemporaries said, usurping – the title of Bishop.  We remember that we had concluded, from his own words, that he was in charge of the Irish church when he wrote his two surviving documents, but that, though probably elected to the see by his flock, he had not been recognized by the British bishops: this agrees.  Patrick went to Ireland as a presbyter, certainly with Palladius, and was somehow left in charge, or perhaps elected to take over, when Palladius' death left the mission leaderless.  His amicissimus told him - and surely all the Irish mission agreed - that he should be "given over to the upwards step to the Episcopate", quod non eram dignus, says he simply and ungrammatically - [of] which I was not worthy.  This is simply the classic response to a nomination: a suitably humble candidate is always expected to respond nolo episcopari, I do not wish to be made a Bishop - and at any rate, Patrick really was humble.

One addition (additamentum) to Tirechan's wholly legendary account of Patrick, may have a historical origin.  Germanus, it says, ordered Iserninus, a priest in his diocese, to go to preach in Ireland.  Iserninus irritated the Bishop by demurring, whereas Patrick, asked after him, submissively said "be it as you say"; and of course Iserninus ended up being storm-blown to Ireland while on his way to somewhere else, and having to obey Germanus' order anyway; and of course meek little Patrick ended up being a full bishop and Iserninus’ superior.  This tradition presents Patrick as a simple and indeed secondary priest in Germanus' court, not even noticed until the more prominent Iserninus had tried to turn down the mission, addressed by Germanus with no respect - "will you be disobedient too?" - and with no mention whatever of the episcopal title that Germanus was supposed to have got for him from the so-called Amatorex.  In every aspect, the figures in this story ring true to what we know of them from other sources: Germanus is as imperious as we would expect a former head of the imperial Gaulish civil service, and Patrick is as meek and self-effacing as he appears in his own writings - a million miles from the terrifying, royal wizard-archbishop of legend.

From Patrick's own words, however, it seems clear that there was more than dutiful obedience involved.  Patrick says nothing of the other Christian slaves who shared his exile: but it is clear that they existed, and that he had some part in whatever religious life they managed, and that he felt guilty about leaving them as he fled, even with the guarantee of a divine Voice.  The dream of Victoricus bearing "the voice of the Irish", those who had walked with him as a boy beside the Western sea, begging him to come and walk with them again, would strike any competent psychologist as a flagrant symptom of guilt; probably that survivor’s guilt so often encountered among men and women who escaped terrible situations while others did not.  So there were Christians in Ireland, and Christians whose condition was so bad that deserting them made Patrick feel guilty – especially since his words imply that he had had some role in their vestigial religious life.  This probably explains why, once he returned to Roman lands, he started training for orders: he may have been something of a religious leader even before his flight.

There would have been both negative and positive incentives for enslaved Romans in Ireland to keep their Christian faith.  On the one hand, slaves were excluded from pagan sacrifice, and therefore had no encouragement to enter the religious life of their captors; indeed, it is a frequent feature of slave-owning societies that slaves are positively discouraged from sharing the religious and intellectual activities of their owners[16].  Conversely, Christianity itself (though associated in their minds with a reality far higher than that of the barbarian lordlings who held them in chains – that of the Roman Empire) nevertheless has no prejudice against slaves, who are repeatedly mentioned in the New Testament as among the faithful.  Thus, whatever their masters thought of it, there would be a positive encouragement not to lose their faith, or their prized Roman identity.  A substantial body of believers must have existed before Palladius: "Bury points out that the Irish must have asked for a Bishop, or at least have been ready for one, since Pope Celestine's Fourth Letter clearly states Nullus inuitis detur episcopus, ‘no Bishop shall be given to anyone without request’[17]".

The vision of Victoricus took place several years before Patrick ever had the opportunity to go back; he did not go, he says, until he was "nearly failing", prope deficiebam, by which I think he meant that he was near to old age.  If Amator, who had died in 407, had ordained him priest, he must have been easily in his fifties when he was called to the Irish mission.  (If this seems a ridiculously old age for the member of a mission, let us remember that Pope Vitalian dispatched the great Theodore of Tarsus to the “frontier” diocese of Canterbury, among a half-unconverted alien nation, when Theodore was already 66, and a Greek to boot; and Theodore proved one of the greatest, and of the most energetic, archbishops of Canterbury in history.  Youth and physical strength are not necessarily the most indispensable qualities for a missionary.)  To him, unlike Iserninus, this must have been the answer to a deeply-felt desire, an urge to atone to the enslaved companions of his youth for abandoning them so many years before - and probably the last chance to do so.

I believe that this happened as Germanus was recruiting for Palladius’ Irish mission.  This mission, I am convinced, was worked out among a knot of ecclesiastics concerned with the persistence of Pelagianism in Britain and its historically documented spread to Ireland, including the Pope, Germanus himself, Palladius and Prosper.  It is from Dumville of all people, from the shrewd and formidable Dumville, that the following non sequitur comes: "If... Patrick escaped [at any time after] 431, the possibility of joining the new Irish Church would not have seemed so remote.  The number of ecclesiastics with experience of Irish conditions and the Irish language - and a willingness to work in Ireland! - must have been exiguous at best.  Patrick, once trained, should have been a welcome addition to the church headed by Palladius or any successor" - as if the same considerations did not obtain, only with more force, to the period of preparation of Palladius' mission!  As if the Papacy would not look anywhere in the West for ecclesiastics with some knowledge of the distant island! - anywhere, of course, except in Britain, whose clergy would still be suspect of Pelagianism; indeed, if my reading of Prosper is correct, the mission to Ireland would be largely dedicated to setting up a counter-power to an already established Pelagian diaspora, perhaps including Pelagians of episcopal rank.  (I already suggested that these might include the South Irish saints, Declan of Ardmore and Ciaran of Sairngir, who claim a non-Patrician origin.)  I honestly fail to understand why, in Dumville's eyes, Patrick's Irish experience would not qualify him for missionary work in Ireland as Palladius' mission was being set up, but would do so once it was up and running; or have I misunderstood him?

The chapter of the damned, 4: Patrick and Pelagianism

There is a peculiar atmosphere in Patrician research which I rarely encountered elsewhere except for New Testament studies, and which I might describe as a nearly universal will not to believe.  Documents are doubted on principle; objections are raised on the thinnest grounds; horrifyingly complex schemes of development are proposed; and above all, the evidence is examined to pieces, each item being challenged separately rather than seen in context.  Nothing is more characteristic of this than the inability of a man of E.A.Thompson’s brilliance to see what is as plain as the nose on his face.  Separating Patrick's statement that he would most gladly (libentissime) have travelled to Britain to see his parentes, as well as to Gaul to see the fratres and the saints of God, from any other Patrician context, Thompson finds it easy to decide that this statement does not prove that Patrick had been to Gaul or had religious friends there.  Of course it does not - until you look at Patrick's use of fratres: fellow-workers, and people who support him in his bid to be recognized as Bishop.  It is his fratres who work to get the hostile British bishops' approval, and who tell him that his amicissimus will argue for him.  I think it is a fair inference that his amicissimus is himself a frater.  Therefore, if Patrick had fratres in Gaul, then he had friends and fellow-workers there.  And if he ever spent time in the shadow of the eminent Germanus, the heir of Martin of Tours and Ambrose of Milan, revered by Galla Placidia and the whole Gaulish episcopate, recognized in his lifetime as a living saint, then he would have good reason to say that in Gaul he might see the saints of God.  (Of course, if any British bishop, perhaps still friendly with excommunicated Pelagians, remembered Germanus' visit with irritation or worse, Patrick's allusion would be salt in the wounds.)

Clearly Thompson’s argument against Patrick going to Gaul is no argument at all.  Patrick’s "people", his kin and nation in this world, whom he would like to see out of carnal affection, are in Britain; but his "brothers", religious brothers, are in Gaul.  He is very uneasy about the bishops of his own fatherland, in whom he senses arrogance, worldliness, lack of faith, even the suspicion of schism and heresy.  And that has a tremendous resonance in the British 430s: wealth was one of the characteristics of the Pelagians of the time, according to Constantius, and arrogance and lack of faith are also E's charges against the British clergy.  Patrick reproaches them with the example of the Gallic church, a model of Christian practice; the same view led the legatio directa to Gaul and took back those models of Apostolic Christianity, Germanus and Lupus, to argue for Catholic Augustinianism in Britain.  Like E and the author of Gildas 92.3, if for different reasons (or are they?), Patrick dreads political interference: the villainous Coroticus may be protected, and the Irish converts sacrificed, by worldly considerations - what worldly considerations, we don't know, but his contemporaries must have known very well.  And he follows this with a terrible intimation: "Perhaps we are not of the same fold and we have not the same God" - frightful words to make public for a man who regarded himself as the holder of a Bishop’s throne: perhaps you are schismatic and heretic - words no Christian priest or bishop would use except for the gravest doctrinal reasons.

He speaks as if this appalling suspicion were clear enough to be expressed, but not enough to be sure.  This peculiar condition, of not being quite certain whether a national Church is in a state of schism or not, is not common in church history; in most cases, I think, the line is relatively easy to see.  But it is the same ambiguity, the same sense of being between two stools, the same dread of worldly wisdom, wealth, and creeping unadmitted schism, that Germanus' contemporaries felt about the British church.  This same uneasy doubt pervades E, Gildas 92.3, Prosper and (after the fact) Constantius: is the British church in communion with the world church, is it Catholic, or has the Pelagian infiltration reduced it to a schismatic body?  Since independence, the Vatican had no political way to control the British episcopate; and when they saw heretics allowed unchallenged, thanks to political pressure, into the fold, after Rome had already expelled them worldwide, they were bound to wonder whether communion with Britain meant anything at all.

(This is another circumstance dating Patrick to the first half of the century: had he lived in the second half, according to the Carney dating, he could have had no doubt about Christian Britain's Catholic allegiance.  Sidonius Apollinaris, in the 470s, is fully in sympathy with the religious beliefs of the British exile Bishop Rigocatus - ille uenerabilis, he calls him, that venerable man - in whose company he was thrown for months; Constantius, writing in the 480s, is quite sure that the Pelagian danger is dead and buried; and the legend of A assigns the sacred substances of the Sacraments to Rome, which involves, as I pointed out, implicit loyalty to the Holy See.)

By the time he came to write the Confession, Patrick seems to have decided not to play up further the hint of schism: as we have seen, his credal statement is eirenic and uncontroversial.  But this angry outburst, torn from him by Coroticus’ terrible blow and written, as we have seen, as an immediate reaction without stopping to think, reveals something of his view of his British opponents; people who, even after the journey of his master Germanus, may still harbour secret schismatic attitudes, may still be “not of one fold and not with one Shepherd”.  And the attitude he shows is that of the Augustinian church, the church which had sent Germanus to fight the British heresy at home and Palladius to pursue it in its furthest secretus Oceani.  If it was with Palladius, that Patrick came over, and from the see of Germanus that he set out, he is hardly likely to have harboured different views from his master and his mission leader.

Interestingly, Muirchu does nothing to associate St.Germanus with the battle against Pelagianism; one might read his whole Life without suspecting that any doctrinal quarrel was taking place.  Did he not know of the Pelagian controversy?  Of course he did; within his century, Pelagianism was prominent enough in Ireland to merit a severe pastoral letter from Pope John IV (640)[18].  It is possible to suspect that Muirchu did not want to draw attention to doctrinal disputes: his Bishop Aed is held to have been one of Ireland’s promoters of unity with Rome, and may not have wanted to emphasize any tradition of heterodoxy or heresy in his church, especially since he and his fellow southerners were vulnerable to charges of Pelagianism.  The very purpose of writing a life of St.Patrick may have been to stress the Roman, orthodox and Latin origins of the Irish church, at a time - the Paschal controversy - when unity with Rome or the reverse was a central issue.  But it is also quite possible - that is what the texts suggest - that Muirchu and his sources had simply never heard of Germanus' role in the battle against the British heresy; that they knew him only, or at least mainly, as Patrick's superior, as we have seen, in the same section of the narrative, about Amator.

The chapter of the damned, 5: Magonus and a separate British legend of Patrick

Within the British church, there is evidence that the diocese of Whithorn - which must have had a considerable part in the formation of the Christian consciousness of the Northern tribes from which come the legends of A - not only detested Patrick, but carried on this detestation for some considerable time after the struggle was over, long enough to solidify into a local legend.   In the form in which it has come down to us, the legend does not mention Patrick by name; but there is separate evidence, from an unexpected Nennian usage, that an autonomous British tradition of St.Patrick existed.

In his Patrician chapters, Nennius says that Patrick's original name was Maun, and that "Bishop Amathea Rex" renamed him Patrick.  This is his own contribution: in no other Life I have seen does Amatorex rename the bishop-to-be.  And with this goes the name's unique form.  Dumville: "Uitae II and IV offer Magonius... [but] The Historia Brittonum alone has Maun, which would descend regularly from a British *Magunos, 'servant lad', but in defiance of the etymology provided by Tirechan"... as if any trust were to be put in Tirechan!  Ancient etymologies are often wayward, but even by their standards, Tirechan is guilty of some pretty extraordinary misunderstandings.  The name Patricius was turned into Irish as Cothraige, according to sound-laws which were well known to educated Irishmen and regularly used to turn British words into Irish; and yet Tirechan ignores them altogether, making Cothirthiacus - which is no more than a re-Latinization of Cothraige - mean that Patrick has served four houses of druids!

No: if the form Maun is British, then it is the result of a local British evolution; and it means that a local British tradition identified St.Patrick of Ireland with one magonos or "servant-lad" - an understandable enough name for the former abductee of Irish pirates.  The fact that the name developed along expected lines of linguistic evolution, rather than keeping, as in Ireland, the archaic form with the middle -g-, shows that it belonged to a tradition preserved, not in Latin out of books, but in spoken Welsh, until Nennius' own time.  And along with the name, comes another feature found in no Irish account: that the Saint was renamed.  Nennius holds Magonus or Maun to be Patrick's native name, only changed into Patricius by the authority that ordained him, whom he Nennius identified with Amatorex; now, while both Tirechan and Muirchu know "other" names of Patrick, I know of no Irish source that speaks of his original name being changed - by Amatorex or anyone.  This is probably a fragment of a British legend of Patrick.

Though Nennius' account of Patrick is otherwise wholly from Irish legends, the British form of the name Maun and un-Irish detail of the renaming shows that somewhere in Britain a native Welsh-language tradition about the Saint was carried on.  It is remarkable that the British still clearly understood that the Patrick/Maun of their traditions was to be identified with the Apostle of Ireland, in a world which frequently reduplicated saints and kings because of separate local developments of the same legends or different local memories of the same person.

Now there is a legend in the life of St.Ninian about a boy who goes to Ireland - almost certainly to Patrick's stomping grounds of Ulster - with a "stolen" bishop's staff, and who apparently establishes something of a Christian nature which prospers and thrives.  In Alexander Forbes' translation of Ailred's Life of Ninian:

...many, both of the nobles and of the middle rank, entrusted their sons to the blessed Pontiff[Ninian] to be trained in sacred learning.  He indoctrinated these by his knowledge, he formed them by his example, curbing by a salutary discipline the vices to which their age was prone, and persuasively inculcating the virtues whereby they might live soberly, righteously and piously.

Once upon a time one of these young men committed a fault which could not escape the saint, and because it was not right that discipline should be withheld, the rods - the severest torment of boys - were made ready.  The lad fled in terror, but, not being ignorant of the power of the holy man, was careful to carry away with him the staff on which he used to lean, thinking he held the best comfort for the journey if he took with him something that belonged to the saint.

Fleeing, therefore, he sought for a ship to transport him to Scotia.  Now it is the custom in that region to fashion out of light branches a kind of boat in the form of a cup and of such a size that it can contain three men sitting close together.  By stretching an ox-hide over it, they render it not only buoyant but actually impenetrable by the water.  Possibly at that time vessels of great size were built in the same way.  The young man stumbled on one of these lying at the shore, but not covered with leather, into which, when he had incautiously entered, I know not whether by Divine providence or on account of its natural lightness (for with the slightest touch these vessels float far out into the waves), straightaway the craft was carried out to sea.

As the water poured in, the miserable lad stood in ignorance of what he should do, whither he should turn, what course he should pursue.  If he abandoned the vessel, his life was in danger; certain death awaited him if he continued.  Then at last the unhappy boy, repenting his flight, beheld with pale countenance the waves ready to avenge the injury he had done.  At length, coming to himself, and thinking that St.Ninian was present in his staff[19], he confessed his fault, as if in his presence, in a lamentable voice besought a pardon, and prayed for divine aid through his most holy merits.

Then trusting in the kindness as well as the power of the bishop, he stuck the staff in one of the holes.  At once the sea trembled and, as if kept back by a divine force, ceased to flow through the open holes... a wind rising from the easterly quarter impelled the vessel gently.  The staff, acting as a sail, caught the wind; the staff as helm directed the vessel; the staff as anchor stayed it.  The people stood on the western shore, and, seeing a little vessel like a bird nesting on the waves, neither propelled by sail, nor moved by oar, nor guided by helm, wondered what this miracle might mean.

Meanwhile the young man landed, and that he might make the merits of the man of God more widely known, he planted his staff on the shore, praying God that, in testimony of so great a miracle, it might, by sending forth roots and receiving sap, produce branches and leaves and bring forth flowers and fruit.

Divine propitiousness was not wanting to the prayer of the suppliant, and straightaway the dry wood, sending forth roots and covering itself with new bark, put forth leaves and branches, and, growing into a considerable tree, made known the power of Ninian[20] to all that beheld it.  Miracle was added to miracle: for, to the greater merit of the saint[21], at the foot of the tree a most limpid fountain sprang up, sending forth a crystal stream, winding along with gentle murmur and with lengthened course, delightful to the eye, sweet to the taste, and useful and health-giving to the sick.

The unnamed young man's journey is indubitably to Ireland, and specifically to the Patrician district of Northern Ireland.  He sails from Ninian's see of Whithorn - to this day a fishing district on the Solway Firth - and a wind rising from the easterly quarter impelled the vessel gently to The people... on the western shore.  There is, I suppose, a remote possibility that, by sailing with a straight easterly wind from the shore of Whithorn, you might land on the Mull of Galloway; but really, the only sensible way to read this is that the boat was blown to the shore of County Down.  The people of "the western shore" gather to see something they had never seen before... a young Christian man bearing the staff of a Bishop (which he has stolen from St.Ninian); and that very staff becomes a symbol of strength, permanence and fruitfulness, when it is planted in the soil of "the western shore".

There is a surprising, and to all appearances unnecessary, archaic item: after describing the making of ox-hide coracles, Ailred wonders whether at that time vessels of great size were built in the same way.  They were[22]; but why on earth should he ask, since the existence or otherwise of such boats has nothing to do with the story he is telling, which demands that the young man be alone on board?  Quite simply, because this is the fingerprint of an earlier version, in which the boat involved was a large sea-crosser, such as may well have carried the historical St.Patrick across the seas - from Britain to Ireland, and back to Britain, and to Gaul, and to Ireland again.  Sea-crossings are bound to be a part of any legend of St.Patrick.

How about the youth of the boy?  The historical Patrick was an older man.  But, in that wonderfully insightful conclusion for which anyone would excuse all his opinionated and often unacceptable readings, Bishop Hanson has given a portrait of the Saint's mind whose central points I am delighted to quote in full.  "Far be it from any historian to attempt the task of psycho-analyzing Patrick.  But it is clear even to the austerest and most dispassionate investigator of his writings that in his captivity at the age of sixteen Patrick suffered a what we would now call a severe psychological trauma from which in a sense he never recovered.  Even when, as an old man[23], he is writing his Confession... he still cannot help regarding himself as a helpless adolescent, cruelly torn from home and kindred and forced to do slave labour in hunger and cold, without proper clothing, by unfeeling un-Christian barbarians speaking a foreign language.  Even as a venerable bishop who can on occasion thunder forth excommunication and boycott, who is the object of devotion on the part of pious women, who can associate with petty kings and their sons and who can attract aristocrats to the life of religion, he is still proselitus et profuga, seruus, profuga indoctus scilicet, seruulus, proselito et peregrino, pauperculum pupillum, miser et infelix, he desires to be with proselitis et captiuis, and lastly, once again Patricius peccator indoctus scilicet.  He could never quite lose this image of himself as utterly helpless, utterly defenceless, and abandoned.  That is why we feel an inextinguishable sympathy with Patrick.  He has managed to convey to us so movingly own feeling about himself, not what he would like us to feel or to think, but what he really felt himself.  But we never imagine that he is indulging in futile self-pity.  Patrick does not pity himself, because, as he himself tells us, in his moment of helplessness and extreme need he found a helper and a friend in God.  He could never forget his terrible experience as an impressionable boy, but neither could he forget that through this experience he met 'him who is powerful', who drew him out of the deep mud and set him on top of a wall."

If Bishop Hanson could reach this insight though the Patrician texts alone, so could others.  We must, I believe, accept that the legend-making processes of the Christian Celts are primarily literary, based on book-reading and written accounts.  We should not imagine a mainly oral transmission: time and again, we have seen how accounts, however imaginative and unhistorical, have been built on small but written amounts of primary data, as in the matter of Bishop Amator consecrating Patrick and Patrick spending time studying with Bishop Germanus.  In the legend of Coroticus the uolpecula, the author's creativity was fertilized by two separate strands of written tradition - an Irish note that said that one Coirtech king of Aloo, a British tyrant, had had a major clash with Patrick over persecuted and slaughtered Christians; and the Gildasian polemic against British "tyrants", which gave the author the vocabulary of invective infaustus crudelisque tyrannus and the image of the cruel tyrant turned into a uolpecula and chased off.  Both the core materials and the literary impulse come not from any oral medium, but from written items.

Particularly significant for the interpretation of this legend is the Irish way with hagiographical legend-making, as we have seen it in the legend of St.Monesan.  This story is built on themes drawn from St.Patrick's Confession, treated not so much as a historical account as a storehouse of ideas - the supremacy of Jesus over the Sun - the notion of a beautiful royal princess rebelling against her pagan parents to become Christian and take the veil.  In the same way, a good many quite different Patrician themes have found their way into the story of the boy and Ninian's staff.  The unnamed young man is of decent, though not necessarily noble, birth ("I am a freeborn man, the son of a decurion"); he commits a grievous sin in adolescence, but we are not told what that sin was; after this, and to some extent in punishment for this, he is taken to Ireland by boat, and not by his own will; there is an element of doubt and self-doubt (...the miserable lad stood in ignorance of what he should do, whither he should turn, what course he should pursue...); he has stolen the staff of a bishop - i.e. the prerogative of bishop - from Ninian; he nevertheless reaches Ireland and symbolically prospers.  His staff of office becomes a great tree, i.e. his mission is fertile and successful, and at its feet rises a very metaphorical spring of clear water - that is, the Baptismal waters of rebirth.  But we are never allowed to forget that the staff was stolen from Ninian, that is, that the see of Whithorn has prior claim to any missionary activity in Ireland, and that Patrick only prospers after confessing to the staff all the wrong he has done to Ninian; for where the staff was, there was Ninian - in other words, every bit of episcopal power he took to Ireland, every bit of good he did there by welding a bishop's staff as fertile and powerful as an oak, belonged ultimately to Ninian of Whithorn.

Yes, this is Patrick.  Who else can it be?  Who else in all hagiographical literature could have been said to have been taken to Ireland across the sea as a boy, not of his own will, as punishment for a grave but unstated sin, and to have carried there a doubtful ("stolen") claim to be a bishop, in spite of which his "staff of office" became like a large and fruitful tree from which springs everlastingly the water of baptism?  Whose career included a famous episode of flight by sea, and who could be said to be both well-born and yet, at the same time, a servant lad?

I have no doubt that this legend embodied a Whithorn polemic against the Bishop of the Irish, whom they regarded as having stolen an episcopal prerogative from them. Whithorn, very far from the main areas of Saxon settlement, must have had a continuous institutional history from Roman times until the Christians of Northumbria took it over in the age of Bede and Peohthelm; it may well be that some sort of ancient claim was passed on through some written medium, and eventually expanded, with the help of several images from Patrician writings, into a full-blown miracle story intended to show Patrick as dependent on Ninian.

The legend itself cannot be very early and has little historical value.  It seems to know nothing of Palladius, to take Patrick for the first Bishop of the Irish, to imagine that the diocese was of his own carving rather than created by Pope Celestine, and even to take certain aspects of Irish Patrician legends for granted.  As in Muirchu's account, but not as in real life, Patrick is already a bishop when he reaches Ireland - at least, he has already stolen a bishop's staff, and has already made things right by confessing to the staff; again as in Muirchu and unlike real life, he is the first Christian to reach the island, and comes more or less as a miracle.  On the other hand, the claim that Patrick's episcopal title was "stolen" seems to allude to the great clash about his nomination, and includes a specific element of resentment on behalf of "Ninian" - i.e. of Whithorn.  Though undatable, in short, it certainly is not in touch with the realities of Patrick's mission; yet, as late as it was written, Whithorn still remembered a claim over the Christians of Ireland which Patrick's autonomous diocese had infringed.

(It is curious that Palladius was said to have died, either among the Picts, or in the confines of the Britons: that is, in an area that might well, like the diocese of Whithorn, be a border territory connected with Pictland but with a visible British identity.  Perhaps he had gone there for some reason to do with this Whithorn claim.  Perhaps his death had something to do with this conflict of authority; the Coroticus episode, only a few years later, shows that there were those, in the northern area covered by the diocese of Whithorn, who would stick at no means, however bloody, to destroy the authority and prestige of the new Irish diocese.)

Later a censoring hand removed Patrick's name[24].  Of course, to those who first wrote the legend, it would have had no point unless the supposedly usurping bishop were named and shamed; but it is just as clear that Ailred, writing in the eleven hundreds, has no idea of the rascal boy's illustrious identity.  Perhaps Patrick's name had become so celebrated on both sides of the Irish Sea, that stories disparaging to him simply would not be told or believed any more[25].

The chapter of the damned, 6: the hymn of Secundinus

One of the most “damned” and widely disregarded of Patrician documents is the Hymn of Secundinus, whose attribution to Patrick’s companion is no more widely accepted than, say, the evidence for Santa Claus.  Thus speaketh an unsympathetic scholar: besides being rotten poetry, “the historian deplores that, instead of singing the general praises of Patrick’s virtues and weaving round him a mesh of religious phrases describing in general terms his work as a pastor, messenger and preacher, the author had thought well to mention some of his particular actions”.  Such power has the myth of Patrick the royal wizard-archbishop, changing the face of Ireland with power and will, that Bury does not even seem to understand that the work of a “pastor, messenger and preacher” is simply not to be summed up by heroic and telling “particular actions”.  Bury is still thinking mainly of a politician; but what the author of the Hymn says about Patrick might be said about any missionary, indeed of any conscientious and successful parish priest.  In point of fact, it agrees excellently with the very scarcity of data we find in the records of the “first”, or rather the true, Patrick.  Churches are not established by political triumphs or by the sort of actions that get into annals or historical records, but by contact on a personal or small group level.  The sequence of dozens of homilies, hundreds of personal meetings, acts of charity small and great, the weekly celebration of the Eucharist, the personal contact with converts, priests and deacons, the negotiations on behalf of individual members, rarely do shake the earth; church communities develop invisibly, away from the light – until the Church has spread without notice, until it suddenly is a power in the land.  Then annalistic entries and political power start bubbling up.

Even so, I think that the allusions to recognizable "particular actions", known events of Patrick's life, are rather more frequent than Bury was able to recognize.  The Hymn is composed of twenty-six four-line stanzas, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet.  It knows nothing whatever of miracles or the conversion of kings; on the other hand, there are plenty of echoes of the circumstances suggested in the Confession, including what seem to me some clear allusions to financial difficulties:

Electa Christi talenta uendit euangelica

Quae Hibernas inter gentes cum usuris exigit;

Nauigi huius laboris tum opere praetium

Cum Christo regni caelestis possessurus gaudium.

He sells the choice gospel-talents of Christ

Which he has paid back with interest among the Irish tribes;

As price for the labour of the work of this voyage

He is to possess the kingdom of heaven’s joy with Christ.

The financial images make the point that whatever Patrick is giving away for the sake of taking the Gospel to the Irish, he will be paid back with interest in spiritual terms; compensating, one guesses, for whatever loss he may have incurred on the worldly plane.  Patrick may have proved an incompetent administrator, he may have given away far too much of the fledgling diocese’s wealth without providing for the future; but think of what he has gained in terms of spiritual wealth!

Something of the same message might be carried by two other verses,

Omnem pro diuina lege mundi spernit gloriam

Qui cuncta ad cuius mensam aestimat quiscilia

In exchange (pro) divine Law, he despises all the world’s glory

All of which, compared to (ad) its Food (mensam), he estimates (aestimat) as valueless (quiscilia, i.e. quisquilia)

- language full of words of valuing, estimating, absolute and comparative value, and going back to the point of the immense spiritual value, transcending all the world’s glory, of Patrick’s activity.  Again,

Sacrum inuenit thesaurum in uolumine

Saluatoris in carne deitatem peruidet

Quem thesaurum emit sanctis perfectisque meritis:

Israel uocatur huius anima – “uidens Deum”.

He finds a holy treasure in the Book,

He sees the Saviour’s godhood in the flesh,

Who buys a treasure by holy and perfect merits:

His soul is called Israel – “he who sees God”

- where the emphasis, this time, is on Patrick’s own personal “purchase” of sanctity, rather than on his “exchange” and “sale” of Christian truth to the Irish.  Even this, however, is relevant, since there is a concealed allusion to the story of Jesus and the rich young man, who was told to go and sell all he had and give it to the poor, and he would have a treasure laid up in Heaven.  Patrick does have such a treasure, and the implication is that he has indeed gone and sold all that he had for the sake of the spiritually poor Irish.

These images have no particular point in terms of the later Patrician legend, where Patrick has nothing, spiritually or otherwise, to do with merchants; it belongs with a culture where the idea of sale and purchase, of private rather than communal property, of wide faring in search of bargains and treasures to buy cheap and sell dear, are natural.  I do not have to underline how far they are from the self-enclosed Irish economy of the early middle ages, and how close to the Roman and Mediterranean mind, mercantile from of old.

The Hymn speaks of Patrick’s humility and chastity – both characteristics of the historical Patrick, who knew that he was fighting temptation in the flesh every day, and who had a very low opinion of his own abilities – of his hard work for his faithful (impiger) and the excellent Apostolic example he provides for them, such that those who are not converted by his doctrine are drawn by his good actions (ut quem dictis non conuertit acto prouocet bono); leaving the impression that Patrick had actually had quite a considerable success, as much by the impression of his personality as by the force of his preaching.

The amount of assumptions taken to the Patrician material may be seen by Dr.T.M.Charles-Thomas' remark that "Prosper's remarks [that the mission to the Irish “made the barbarian island Christian”]... represent aspiration rather than achievement".  If we took contemporary sources - Prosper, Patrick, Secundinus, perhaps Leo the Great - to mean what they say, we would have to conclude that the mission was a resounding success; Prosper says that Pope Celestine " appointing a bishop to the Irish... made the barbarian island Christian"; Patrick states that "God's flock, with so much hard work, was growing extremely well all over Ireland"; Leo claims that the spiritual rule of Christian Rome has extended triumphantly beyond the borders of the old pagan empire.  No doubt all these are interested parties; but they knew what was going on, and, with respect, neither I nor Dr.T.M.Charles-Thomas do.  We have no evidence for the speed of the growth of Cristianity in Ireland, and no reason to deny that Patrick's mission was a spectacular success.  Indeed, would the anger and stubborn, voire unprincipled resistance of the British episcopate have arisen, unless Patrick’s new church were strong enough to matter?  Would they have resisted his claim so ferociously, if he and his church had been insignificant?  Internal evidence suggests that he not only organized a great many already existing Christians, slaves from pirate raids, merchants, resident aliens from Britain and Gaul, but also converted so many natives that already by the time of the Letter to Coroticus he can identify his Church as essentially, and himself adoptively, native Irish: indignum est illis Hiberionaci sumus, "it is a disgrace to them [=Coroticus' raiders, or perhaps Patrick's enemies in Britain] that we are Irish".  Many of those Irish converts will have been introduced to Christianity by their slaves, a process noticed by Orosius among the Goths and other continental barbarians.  This does not mean that Patrick converted all Ireland, or even a majority of it; but certainly there were enough converts, including people of royal blood, to create a Church strong enough to survive and eventually prosper.

These allusions, however, are outnumbered by the very frequent insistence on Patrick’s episcopate, leadership, shepherdship.  The very first stanza informs us that he is a Bishop (line 2); then we find that his apostolate has been allotted (sortitus est) by the Lord (line 11)[26], Who chose him to teach barbarian nations and “fish for” the souls of believers [like Sts. Peter and Andrew] (13-15); he is a nuntius, a messenger (as he described himself: Deo meo pro quo legationem fungo), and a minister, a servant, of God, whose example is Apostolic (21-22), who has glory with Christ and honour in this world [i.e. is an outstanding man, a leader, even in this life] (25); indeed, everyone venerates him like an angel of God (26); God sent him like Paul, an apostle to the Gentiles (27) to guide men, as a leader (ducatum[27], from dux) to the kingdom of God.  He is a Gospel-light raised high, a royal fortress on the highest hill, the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven (41-45); a good and faithful shepherd of God’s people, chosen by God (57-58), who lays down his life for them (60), whom the Saviour has made a pontiff for his merits, to give orders (ut moneret) to the soldiers of Heaven, the priests (61-62), and, [like a king], feed and clothe them [like an army] (63; the Hymn uses the technical term annona).  He is - again - the messenger of God (65), chosen by Christ as His vicar on earth (81), and he will reign, a saint, with the apostles (92) – specifically with the apostles, and not, as in the common formula, also with the prophets, martyrs, and all the company of the saints.  Why?  Obviously, because bishops are the successors of the apostles.  The Hymn returns not once, but six times (11, 13-15, 27, 57-58, 61-62, 81) to the idea that Patrick is a bishop, and that his episcopate has been given him by direct appointment from God.  Episcupus… cuius apostolatum a Deo sortitus est…Dominus illum elegit…quem Deus misit ut Paulum ad gentes apostolum…quem Deus Dei elegit custodire populum…Quem Saluatorem prouexit pontificem…Christus illum sibi elegit in terris uicarium; four times chosen by God, twice by Christ the Saviour; a pontiff, a bishop, an apostle, giving orders to the heavenly army of priests, a shepherd of God’s people, a leader, a guide to heaven, an ambassador of God: the author did not want his message to be mistaken in any way – Patrick is not just an exemplary but a legitimate Bishop – and he is so because his commission comes from God.  God Himself, not any power on earth, has appointed this good shepherd Bishop.

This is the Patrick of the Letter and the Confession, a bishop whose appointment is controversial, but who is the undoubted leader of the Irish church, and with a strong sense of appointment from God; only he is Patrick as seen by one of his followers, who, while fully understanding the humility and modesty of the man, regards him as the very pattern of a shining Christian life, and is more than disposed to believe in the Divine origin of his mandate.  The whole hymn is a battle anthem for the supporters of Patrick’s claim to the episcopate, which is the central theme, to which all others are subservient.  Neither Patrick’s humility, nor his hard work, nor his disregard of money and earthly glory, nor his teaching of sound doctrine, nor his good example to his people, are mentioned as often as the fact that his mandate is directly from God.  There is no particular reason to doubt that it was written by a companion of the Saint, and it makes best sense as being another document, like both the Patrician texts, of that period of bitter struggle in which Patrick was nearly borne down by ecclesial resistance to his episcopal claim.  And as the authorship in question is that of Secundinus, it is worth pointing out that, while Secundinus is universally reckoned as dying before Patrick, all his death dates - 446/7/8 - come a few years after my dating of the climax of the struggle in Patrick’s probatio.

If the Hymn is actually from Patrick’s lifetime, another interesting point is that its Latinity is considerably finer than Patrick’s own.  It would seem that one at least of Patrick’s devoted followers was a man of considerably higher education than his leader; the more telling, then, that the author of the Hymn should be so devoted to the author of the Letter and the Confession.  He treats his words as literary classics, or rather as inspired literature, borrowing from them liberally as he would from the Bible; the Hymn is in effect an elaborate confection of Biblical and Patrician terms.

The theme of the hymn seems to me to date it, not in decades, but in years.  Its vigorous assertion of Patrick's episcopate has no echo in later hagiographic legend, where the very idea that other Christians could challenge the validity of Patrick's ordination would have sounded bizarre.  On the other hand, it not only agrees with but clarifies the context of Letter and Confession: their vague hints of a group of fratres supporting his claim, and the suggestion of being "recognized", like the prophets, abroad but not by his own people, are fully confirmed: there was a whole group of Christians in Ireland, including an established network of ecclesiastics of which one was capable of elaborate Latin prose, who were proud and enthusiastic to have the peccator indoctus et rusticissimus as their bishop, indeed who regarded him as a living saint.  This sort of adoration towards a living Christian leader is not untypical of the period; it is, for instance, the attitude of Sulpicius Severus to Martin of Tours, even while Martin was alive.

The chapter of the damned, 7: Patrick’s date and life

For that matter, the annalistic datum about the probatio must be one of the few which cannot reflect later political interests.  It would be to no Irish party’s interests, up to and including Armagh and Tara, to place the national saint’s faith in doubt, even only to the extent that it has to be probata by anybody.  The legendary Patrick is never anything but flawless; it is unimaginable that he, the coat-hanger for every national and local sense of self-worth, carrying the whole self-image of all Ireland, “this kingly island”, as a Christian country, should appear as fallible.  The historical Patrick, on the other hand, was a man of doubts and self-doubt (one thing on which the anonymous legend-maker of Whithorn had rightly seized), who had committed a grave sin in his youth, who thanked God for His patience with his slowness and stupidity, and who felt tempted by sin every day of his life.  The annalistic entry suits his character, and what is more it suits the facts; for the one thing we know for certain about the Saint’s life is that his faith was publicly challenged by his ecclesiastical superiors, in a way that all but destroyed his good name.  Also, the dating to Pope Leo’s second year of reign contradicts the Carney dating scheme, and suits the early dating scheme which I hold to be correct.

Patrick went to Ireland a minimum of 24 years after being consecrated priest by Bishop Amator of Auxerre.  If the latter had ordained him, as canon law dictated, no earlier than his thirtieth year, then he must have been at least in his mid-fifties, in a time when people aged fast; and there is no reason to doubt that Amator had stuck to the letter of the law.  Patrick was 15 or so when he was abducted, 22 or 23 when he fled, and he spent a few years with his family in Britain before vocation and, perhaps, a certain restlessness, took him across the sea to study for the priesthood.  Throughout his years as a priest, he had clearly kept in close contact with his British kin, since when he decided to go to Ireland it was the family who opposed his decision: he describes their tears and their offers of what he calls gifts[28] in a tone that leaves no doubt that he was there, and that this was a typical family drama played out in one or two rooms.  Perhaps a few clerical friends of the household were also present, since he mentions the presence of seniores.

Unwarranted conclusions have been drawn from Patrick's statement, in the Letter, that he had educated a certain Irish presbyter ex infantia.  This is taken to mean "from childhood", and to suggest that since nobody could be consecrated a priest before his thirtieth year, Patrick had brought up this man "from childhood" and therefore had been in Ireland for decades, at least as a priest and probably as a bishop.  But this theory takes into account neither the nature of the Letter as a document, nor the meaning of the word infantia.  First, about the Letter: do we expect great precision of expression and category, scrupulous definition of each person and thing, in such a document?  Do we heck!  The Letter was an angry and direct reaction to a crime against Patrick's fledgling Church.  It is full of uncomposed emotion ("I am hated.  What shall I do, O Lord?  I am very much despised") and its expression is always curter, more allusive, less descriptive even than that of the Confession.  Above all, it is an urgent piece of diplomatic correspondence, built on the implicit claim of dignity for Patrick as a bishop, his Irish converts as Christians, and his church as a real church.  Is he going to downplay the position of priests he himself ordained?  Is he heck: to the contrary, he is going to play up their dignity (and their ecclesiastic learning) as high as he dares.

Second, about infantia: it astonishes me that scholars with far more Latin than I will ever have should not realize that no Latin speaker - and Patrick, however clumsy his Latin, was one - could fail to understand infans and infantia primarily as a person unable to speak clearly and connectedly and the state of such a person (from negative in plus verb fari, to speak articulately and with ease; hence facundus, eloquent); the terms were only applied to children and childhood by derivation.  In Jerome, the ablest Latin writer of the period, inarticulate is undeniably the word's main meaning: his contrary for infantissimus is loquax (Letter 50.5), English loquacious, or "talkative".  The primary meaning of Patrick’s quem ego ex infantia docui is "whom I educated from a state of complete ignorance; whom I taught to speak fluent Latin when he had none" - in fact, it would be one of his clearer and more proper usages.  Patrick's point was that this man might have been born an Irishman, completely infacundus and infans in the language of the Church, but that he was now quite out of his infantia and a proper qualified priest.  And let us never forget Patrick's way of sticking to the point: while the statement that Patrick had brought this man up "from childhood" would be quite irrelevant to his arguments in the Letter - which centre on the validity of his mission and of the church he had set up - to say that he had taught a man, out of a state of complete ignorance of Latin, to the point where he could legitimately be consecrated as a priest would be very much to the point.  His converts are not only good Christians: some of them are educated enough to take orders.

Not to put too much weight on this, the least that can be said is that the word infantia cannot validly be used to argue that Patrick had been a bishop for decades when he wrote the Letter.  Patrick could perfectly well have taught a favoured Irishman - or even an exiled Briton - ex infantia in only a few years, teaching him to write and read Latin to his own not exactly exacting standards, taking him through a course of Biblical instruction (he certainly knew enough Scripture), and teaching him the skills of the trade of priest, which he had practised for decades.  For that matter, we are not even told that he began teaching this priest after he came to Ireland - it is, of course, more unlikely than not, but he might perfectly well have had him in hand before taking up his missionary work, both of them being, one supposes, British/Irish exiles at the court of St.Germanus.

My chronology, however, demands that Patrick’s parents should be really remarkably long-lived.  If Patrick went to Ireland in his mid-fifties in 431 or so, then by the time he was probatus by the Pope, he was in his mid-sixties; and he mentions that his parentes - a word which means in Latin exactly the same as in English - are still alive, and that he dearly wishes he could see them.  Even today, we would not expect a man of about 65 to have both parents still alive.  However, a couple of points make it psychologically suitable to the story we are told.  To begin with, Patrick’s eagerness, frustrated by the urgent need of his Irish converts, to see his parents, would be highly understandable.  It might be the last time.  Also, the tearful home scene when the family found that Patrick meant to return to Ireland strongly suggest that parents were involved; it is fathers and mothers, much more than siblings, who burst into tears and try every device of moral blackmail when a favoured son seems about to take an unacceptable path.  What is completely unimaginable is that he should have been a bishop for decades: who can imagine a twenty-year-old raised to bishop, even in a missionary see?  Except, of course, for the vindictive legend-writer from St.Ninian's see.

The final argument for Patrick's date - which, to my mind, is conclusive - is how completely anachronistic his writings would be in the second half of the century, whatever picture we form of it.  Patrick was fiercely at odds with the authorities of the British church: why did he not mention, either in the Confession or in the Letter, the Saxon war and the wrecking of Roman Britain?  If we take Patrick to have died in 492, and unless we accept the legends that make him die at an age that would make the Guinness Book of Records swoon in amazement, this makes no sense.  Patrick would have been born in the 420/430s.  Kidnapped from his home in the 440s, he would return to a country devastated by the Saxon wars after several years of slavery, and only after several more years, ordained a priest and a bishop, would return to Ireland[29].  He would have plenty of time to familiarize himself with the changed circumstances of a Britain where the Saxons were either the overlords or the great enemy; the end of the late-Roman world of rich country estates and cultured gentlemanly upper classes could hardly have escaped him.  Patrick is a writer to whom the end of the world is not a distant idea but a close and present fact.  He repeats time and again that these are the last days, and indeed takes his own mission as a sign of the impending end, associating his preaching "to the lands beyond which there lives nobody" with the Gospel prophecy that "the gospel shall be preached to every human being, and then the end shall come"; if he had seen the end of the world of his childhood in the apocalyptic circumstances described by Gildas - a Saxon revolt as short as it was savage, as conclusive as it was short, as destructive as it was conclusive - do we believe for a minute that he would not mention it?  Do we believe for a minute that he would not throw this sign of the displeasure of God in the face of his episcopal British enemies?  Come on, now.

But it is not only as an allusion to contemporary conditions that this statement forbids a late date; it is, even more, as a sample of cultural assumptions.  In the new Celtic world of Gildas, the relationship of the ruling classes to culture - any culture - and learning - any learning - was quite different from that of the late-Roman world of Ausonius, and Patrick.  This is a matter quite different from the kind of culture and learning involved.  We may regard the civilization of Ausonius as advanced, and that of the historical Taliesin as barbarous (I certainly do), we may regard the poetry of Taliesin as superior to that of Ausonius (I certainly do), but whichever view we take of it, we have to realize that Ausonius and Taliesin had at least this in common, that they were especially learned in whatever it was that their culture regarded as learning.  They were learned and poets by definition.  But Ausonius was himself a great lord; Taliesin was in the service of one.  This is the difference.  From the days of Plato and Aristotle, Classical culture was something of a caste prerogative of the senatorial and landholding classes, not in a negative, but in a positive way: that is, while there was no stated prohibition on "other ranks" becoming educated, high-born people from families with a tradition of political activity were expected to be cultured.  This had a very practical side: rhetoric and law were fundamental parts of a gentleman's education, and at the same time a direct instrument of power, welded in the courtroom, the senate-house, the court, and the church.  Patrick felt very keenly his lack of this traditional political tool, and vigorously developed his own self-made substitute.

In Gildas' world, however, even when the great territorial lords happened to be learned themselves, their role was to employ learned men; I mean that it was not part of their own role to make use of learning in their own interests.  Maglocunus was learned enough, but he employed learned men in his own service, and it was they who used or abused the skill of learning in his service.  Gildas thunders against these furciferi, villainous individuals - in whom we are startled to recognize the bards which romantic legend has bathed with something of a glow - hired to sing and scream, however insincerely, the praises of their master (the screaming may easily be heard in the vehement tones of the historical Taliesin: "And until I am old and fading/ in the dire grip of death/ I shall never be satisfied/ if I don't praise Urien!"), and, when it comes to a particularly dastardly deed, delegated to find some sort of legal excuse, like the consigliori of a Mafia boss (Maglocunus' "legitimate" marriage with a "widow"!).

This is in sharp contradiction with the Patrician view of the great lords of his country; and let us not forget that to him they were a very live, very contemporary fact - the people against them that he felt he was striving.  Coroticus, though he stands out because of his crime, is in fact an exception in Patrick's world; the saint does not feel any qualms about denying his Roman identity.  Romans, even wicked Romans, were never like this - "living in the evil ways of the Scots and the apostate Picts".  His standard opponents, described as a group in the Confession, were high lords, who spoke classical Latin from birth, and who were learned in rhetoric, Christian scriptures, administration, and law.  They did not need, like Maglocunus and Urien Rheged, to hire specialists of learning to sing their praises and justify the legality of their deeds; they could do all those things by themselves.  In short, they were in no wise distinguishable from Ausonius and his class[30].  And they were still in full power when the Confession was written.  On the other hand, the tradition of the dependency of legal and bardic specialists upon territorial lords who were not themselves either bards or lawyers runs through the history of Wales until its end: in the twelfth-century Life of St.Cadoc, the assembled saints of Britain decide a case of justice according to the ancient legal traditions of the ministri, the servants, of the kings of Britain.

Annals can and do lie; but a man cannot lie about his basic social assumptions, about the things he does not even think about because they are as natural to him as the air he breathes.  And the social ideas of Patrick were obsolete, in Britain, by 480.  The superior value of Roman citizenship was obvious to Patrick; it was not to A.  The direct connection between classical learning (whatever happened to be classical, that is) and high social position was obvious to Patrick; it was not to Gildas or to Taliesin.  I will add a few extra points.

1) Patrick's anxious longing to visit his home - so often frustrated by the Spirit - implies that he expects it to be largely unchanged from the days of his childhood and youth.  This presumes a stable society.

2) Patrick's word for his own lack of education was rusticitas, a word that only has any meaning when the city is as unchallenged a standard of education and manners as the sun is in the sky; it is to be noted that Gildas never once uses it, nor its opposite urbanitas, even for his opponents.  Gildas' standard for gentleness and gentility is not the urban person, but the consecrated servant of the Church, singing his sacred songs.

3) The man whom Patrick saw in his famous vision was probably Victricius, bishop of Rotomagus[31], who was among the first to run the risk of evangelizing barbarous and violent non-Roman peoples on the borders of the Empire, and who claruescit in the first couple of decades of the fifth century.  Patrick is most likely to have been impressed by the story of his work when that work was still a live issue, early in the century; and this agrees with his knowing Gaul - especially on the ecclesiastical side - and being there at the time of the great Frankish raids of 420/430.

To conclude, here is my approximate chronology for the life of the historical Patrick:

- before 377: he is born in a quite Romanized area of Britain's western, or perhaps southern, coast, from a Christian and rather clerical family (grandfather a priest, father a deacon and a decurion);

- before 392: he takes part in a public act of pagan worship, probably to the Sun.  Shortly after, he is taken, along with "thousands" of people from that district, in an Irish slaving raid.  (His parents, however, seem to have managed to escape capture, since they were there to welcome him when he escaped.)

- before 398: after six years of slavery, during which he developed his Christian faith and gained some sort of leading or notable position among neighbouring Christian slaves, he escapes and makes his way back to his parents in Britain.  (He may perhaps have missed the worst of the 407-410 disruption in Gaul and Spain).

- before 407: his vocation leads him to the priesthood.  For reasons he does not explain in the Confession, he does not stay in Britain, but goes to Gaul, is ordained by Amator, bishop of Auxerre, and takes a post among the diocesan clergy of his successor Germanus.  (It is perhaps worth noting that this takes him away from the territory of the pretender imperial government of Britain and to territory still offering allegiance to the legitimate rulers in Ravenna.)

- between 407 and 429: no evidence of any outstanding activity on his part.  He seems to have been very impressed by the activities of his superiors in freeing the prisoners of Frankish raiders ca.425.

- 429.  Following the dethronement of the Mild King and the religious crisis, Germanus travels to Britain and manages to force the expulsion of the Pelagians.  It is not too much to hazard that, as a British Roman, Patrick might have come to his superior's attention, perhaps for the first time: he may have questioned him about local conditions and attitudes.  (Patrick certainly kept in touch with his family across the Channel.)  The most prominent Pelagians migrate to Ireland and maintain contacts with Britain.

- 429-431: Following Germanus' journey, an Irish diocese is planned and set up under Palladius, a former deacon in either Auxerre or Rome.  Setting up a diocese involves of course not only selecting a bishop, but finding the necessary administrative and ecclesiastical staff and making sure that they have the resources: given the distractions in these dreadful years - the Vandal war in Africa, the schisms that led to the Council of Ephesus, the chaos in the West - the fact that it took only two years from conception to completion shows that the Pope and all those involved placed a high priority on it. The anecdote in the additamenta to Tirechan suggests that Germanus was involved in the search for suitable churchmen with Irish experience, and that he singled out Iserninus and Patrick.

- 431-2: Patrick takes up his new missionary post.  Palladius dies suddenly in Britain, leaving the mission leaderless.

- after 432: Patrick is elected head of the mission.  The British church questions his legitimacy and the old scandal of his youthful participation in pagan rites is raked up.  Two factors may possibly influence the attitude of the British bishops: surviving Pelagian sympathies, at which Patrick hints, and a claim to Ireland by the large northern diocese of Whithorn.  At some point in this period Coroticus, perhaps egged on by Whithorn, which would have been his diocese (there is no record of a diocese of Strathclyde until St.Kentigern a century and a half later), raids Patrick's converts in the most atrocious manner and at the time when it would do Patrick most harm.

437: Prominent Pelagian leaders reappear in a British region. Germanus, in one of his last public acts, travels to the island and procures their arrest and conviction; but this is evidence of continuing contacts between exiled Pelagians and Roman Britain.  They were probably very active in Ireland.

440 or 441: the new Pope, Leo I, hears Patrick's case and accepts his orthodoxy (it is possible that Patrick's case may have been cruelly dragged on by the death of the previous incumbent: if Leo gave his judgement within his second year of reign, he must have found the matter on his in-tray when he was elected).  The British bishops still insist on summonsing him to Britain.

442: The Saxon revolt probably distracts the British episcopate from their attempts to destroy Patrick's mission.

446/7/8: Secundinus dies.  Before he died, he had written a Hymn in defence of Patrick's character and claims.

454: Loegaire, son of Niall - whose predecessors had shown no sympathy to the Christian mission, or at least to Patrick's Catholic diocese - becomes king of Tara.  It is possible that he may have invited Patrick to the ceremony, or shortly afterwards, as part of a less hostile policy.  Patrick had by then been leader of Ireland's Catholics for more than twenty years, and his moral character as well as his rank must have entitled him to the consideration of a man who claimed to be king of the kings of Ireland.

457 or 461/2: Patrick dies.


[1]JOHN SLADEK, The new apocrypha: a guide to strange sciences and occult beliefs, London 1974, p.27.

[2] Towards the end of his life, Ludwig Bieler - than whom nobody was better acquainted with Patrician literature - formulated the following theory about “the first Patrick”: “…the much-discussed words Patricius, qui Paladio alio nomine appellatur… [are in my view] an interpolation prompted a misunderstanding of the remark deinde Patricius secundus [viz. Episcopus; P.Grosjean, Analecta Bollandiana 70, 1952, p.326]…mittitur [“then Patrick is sent as second bishop], as referring to a second Patrick.  The ‘First Patrick’ could then have been none other than Palladius, and the common formula X qui et Y [X, who(is) also Y]… was adopted for equating the two missionaries.”  BIELER, The Patrician texts in the Book of Armagh, Dublin 1979, p.234.  Bieler shows that a similar misunderstanding had taken place in the case of Benignus, Patrick’s follower, who had been given the name Stephen because of a misattribution of some features of St.Stephen, the first martyr in Acts; which proves that such things could and did happen.  And while the passage he is commenting on is in Tirechan, it is notable that this is the same mechanism I have postulated (before reading Bieler’s comments) for Muirchu’s second source, with all its misunderstandings based on misreadings of a few historically accurate sentences.

[3]Also some Scottish records; but they would as a matter of course be biased towards any legend, whether or not credible, of saints dying in Scotland; especially saints connected with Ireland, in which Scotland had a constant interest.

[4] The Armagh text of Tirechan claims that Palladius died a martyr’s death, ut tradunt sancti antiqui, “as the saints of old relate” (BIELER op.cit. 234).  Normally, I would put no more trust in Tirechan than in a Murdoch journalist, but this off-hand reference, ascribed to early sources and given almost no emphasis at all, has a rather convincing ring.  At the very least, someone in early Ireland must have come to the conclusion that Palladius’ surprisingly swift death sounded more like the product of violence than of natural causes.

[5]This is not always or necessarily a bad thing.  Poor education does not necessarily make you unfit to care for souls; St.Jean-Baptiste Vianney, the Curé d'Ars, is only one out of an infinity of instances to the contrary.

[6] DONALD ATTWATER, The Penguin dictionary of Saints, Harmondsworth 1965, Amadour (page 42).

[7] And it was to be the beginning of a wonderful career of further distortion, all the way to a king-bishop Amatus rex or Matheus rex!

[8]A consideration, however.  Ebmoria does not sound Roman; it sounds Irish.  And I already argued that there is no reason to believe that Patrick was outside Ireland when Palladius died.  Muirchu says that two followers of Palladius, Augustine and Benedict, brought news of his death to Ebmoria, and then Patrick and his followers went to Amatorex to be consecrated; given that this consecration never happened, is it not possible that Augustine and Benedict were the messengers who brought news of the disaster to the Irish mission's home base, where Patrick and the others were, and that that home base was called Ebmoria at the time, only to swiftly lose its name and have its earlier identity forgotten?

[9]According to his day of death in the anonymous De sancto Amatore, the year in which Amator died can only have been 407, 412 or 418; according to Gesta Pontificum Autissiorensium (History of the bishops of Auxerre), Germanus reigned for thirty years and twenty-five days after succeeding him; according to E.A.Thompson’s highly convincing arguments, Germanus died in mid-437 (THOMPSON, Germanus op.cit; Thompson had earlier been a proponent of the 448 date, but rightly changed his mind.)  Therefore Patrick was made a priest, or at least a deacon, before 407.

[10]GREGORY OF TOURS, Gesta Francorum, 6.42.  This happened within Gregory's term of office; he is hardly likely to have got his facts wrong.

[11]If we could trust Patrick's Latin usage as we do Gildas', his use of the demonstrative particle tot would prove that he is speaking of startling, extraordinary amounts.  Tot means "so much!, so many!", with an overtone of exclamation; especially where, as in Patrick's sentence, it is not followed by a corresponding term, tot or quot (tot uiri, tot - or quot - sententiae, "[there are] as many views as [there are] individuals").  Unfortunately Patrick's Latin is so eccentric that we cannot conclude, without a term of comparison in his own work, exactly what he meant by any one word.

[12]MAX MARTIN, Wealth and treasure, in WEBSTER & BROWN, The transformation of the Roman world, London 1997, pp.52-55.

[13]GREGORY OF TOURS, Gesta Francorum, 2.9, quoting a lost history by one Renatus Profuturus Frigeridus.

[14]We only find out about the hatred between Franks and Saxons in the next century, in the vivid pages of Gregory of Tours; but it is a credible inference that the rivalry between them went back a good deal further.

[15]Authorities quoted by DUMVILLE, St.Patrick op.cit., p.14, notes 11 and 12.  Most astonishing is the argument from sixth-century Lives of Saints, that the ransoming of individual prisoners described as a work of charity in some of them proves that the situation had not changed from the early fifth century: quite apart from asking us to believe that the ransom of individual prisoners could regularly cost the monstrous sums hinted at by Patrick, it speaks as though the liberation of prisoners was something peculiar to the period - whereas it was one of the most ancient and universal works of charity or benevolence known, older even than Christianity!  (For instance, Roman legend has the would-be usurper Manlius Capitolinus support his claim to the kingship by ransoming prisoners - LIVY 5.14.)  The point with Patrick's remarks is not the mere act of ransoming captives, but the sheer enormity of the sums involved, and, it seems, the intervention of the Church in its corporate character as opposed to the charitable activity of individual persons.

[16]Even more frequently, slaves are discouraged from using the language of their masters, especially the educated among them.  Special slave patois are a regular feature of slave societies.  When he came back to Ireland, Patrick must have spoken such a patois, rather than the learned Irish of poetic and druidic schools, and have spoken it with the clumsiness and foreign accent which would result from fifteen or twenty years' disuse; which makes his success with native Irish converts, beyond the Irish residents of Roman descent, so much more remarkable.

[17]HANSON, Saint Patrick op.cit. 53 and note 3.

[18]BEDE, Ecclesiastical History, 2.19.  Like Bede’s other notices to do with Rome, this is reliable: Bede’s associate Nothelm had visited the Vatican and done some research in its archives.

[19]Incredibly, this is the language of Transubstantiation, transferred from the Lord and the Host to a mortal bishop and his token of office!  We are one short step from outright blasphemy and idolatry.  Still, this sort of outrageous remark was not as impossible in the twelfth century as wider reading and a keener perception of Christian doctrine would make it later; things quite as astonishing can be found in Jacopo da Varazze's Legenda Aurea, for instance.  Still, it does nothing to detract from the unpleasant, vainglorious and vindictive character of the whole passage.

[20]Surely: the power of God?  Ninian seems to occupy, in this legend, the semantic space of the Lord, and time and again is described in terms that normal Christian writings apply only to One subject.  The notion that miracles are granted by God, through Ninian's or any other Saint's intercession, is only perfunctorily mentioned; slip of the pen after slip of the pen gives to the founder of Whithorn one Divine attribute after another.

[21]Another expression that rings with Divine echoes: Christians usually speak of miracles happening ad maiorem Dei gloriam, to the greater glory of God, not ad maiorem Sancti Niniani honorem!

[22]SEAN MCGRAIL, Celtic seafaring and transport, in MIRANDA J.GREEN (ed.), The Celtic world, London 1995, esp. pp.264f. and illustration 15.3. Such boats regularly plied trade routes between Gaul, Britain and Ireland, reaching south as far as Bordeaux. It is perhaps relevant to our legend - which was born, after all, in a seafaring land such as Wigtownshire - that, according to Professor McGrail, "light draft meant less resistance to leeway, and modern curraghs and umyaks have a strong tendency to drift downwind"; he expects large keeled vessels of the kind we are speaking of to be less easily driven, but they would still be more vulnerable than wooden ships to the prevailing wind.

[23]Bishop Hanson's chronological scheme and mine are poles apart, but in this we can at least agree, that when the Saint wrote his two surviving works, he was of mature years.

[24]Evidence that this sort of thing could easily happen is in the Irish Life of St.Ailbe, a wholly legendary concoction in which various strands of hagiographical legend are conflated. The Life repeats the famous episode of Gildas being forced to silence by the presence of Nonnita, pregnant with the future St.David - an episode found both in Rhygyvarch’s Life of David and in Caradoc of Llancarfan’s Life of Gildas, and significant of the victory of David’s preaching over that of Gildas. But the Life of St.Ailbe, written for an Irish public who regarded both Gildas and David as equally great, did not want to contemplate their opposition; and so the name of Gildas was removed from the episode, which the Life smoothly ascribes to “a certain priest”. As the great name of Gildas, then, was removed from a context in which he is shown as in conflict with, and humiliated by, another saint, so we may be sure that the great name of Patrick was removed from an episode which did not honour him. Cf. also the editorial changes from the Irish to the Latin Lives of Finian of Moville, where elements suggesting rivalry between Saints in the Irish legend were removed from the Latin - see below, book 9, ch.1.

[25]Patrick attempting to unlawfully get an episcopal title meant for another British saint is a theme found in St. David's hagiography, where an angel drives him from Vallis Rosina because it is reserved for the still-to-be-born David. Patrick is said to take it very ill, wondering what the point of the religious life was, and is offered Ireland as an exchange. It seems that Welsh hagiographers were not unwilling to treat Ireland's great saint as an usurper.

[26]Does this perchance mean that on the death of Palladius, the surviving missionaries to Ireland drew lots for the episcopate, and Patrick was chosen?

[27]In later imperial Latin, ducatum had a specific bureaucratic meaning as the highest grades of civil or military service. The author of the Hymn, whose Latin was far better than Patrick's, probably meant this for a specific allusion to the institutional rank of bishop, the gradus episcopatum of Patrick's amicissimus.

[28]Mention of "gifts" suggests that some members of the family must have thought that Patrick was going to Ireland out of ambition. I have a feeling that they suspected that Patrick was acting as he did because he felt they had not done enough to help him out of a humdrum presbyterate, and that this dangerous venture was his way to promote himself; therefore, the way to convince him not to run this danger was to offer him some sort of advantage or bribe, however late in the day. Of course, if that was the case, they had not understood Patrick at all; but this, too, would be typical of family relationships.

[29]There is evidence that some sort of reduced provincial Roman life carried on under Saxon control; so it is not impossible that the ideal of the cultured Roman gentleman might have outlived the collapse of the Britanniae. What I am saying is: can we imagine Patrick speaking as if the Saxon disaster had not happened, if it had within his lifetime? Of course not. In this case, the argumentum ex silentio has considerable force.

[30]I am, of course, speaking of late Roman culture, with its high content of Hellenism and influences from even further East. Archaic Rome was a great deal closer to the Celtic norm: “Traditionally, in [republican] Rome, poets had been regarded more like craftsmen than artists… patronized by Romans of substance. Their function had been to entertain their patron, and, more importantly, to celebrate and immortalize those grand Romans’ martial achievements [exactly the role of a Celtic bard]. In return, their patrons supported them. A superior class of ‘clients’ they may have been… a client (Ennius) who could immortalize you [must always have been more desirable than one] who, say, escorted you to the forum… but clients they were nonetheless, fitting into this ancient Roman institution”, the clientship (my underline). In my view, “this ancient Roman institution” went right back to the common Celto-Latin past; even the Irish word for the institution - cele - was the same. Indeed, the conventions between client and patron remind us of the multiplicity of kings within the Celtic world: to each client, the patron was a king - he was routinely addressed as rex, a word otherwise badly out of place in republican and even imperial Rome, but a clear fossile of a world in which every man with land and a client following could legitimately call himself a king, if only of the teyrn class. The same convention has lasted in India into modern days.  R.o.a.m. Lyne, Horace: behind the public poetry, New Haven 1995, 12 (the status of clients) and 146,153 (the title of rex). Aspects of the common Celto-Latin cultural background have been examined in my Gods of the West I: Indiges, and more will be examined in further studies in the series.

[31]I have already argued that the description of this figure as an angel is an inappropriate flight of theological fancy by Muirchu, who believed that Patrick could not have seen God and must therefore have seen an angel, and identified the only named individual in Patrick's account of his dreams and visions as one. When Patrick said that Victor was a uirum, a heroic man, he meant exactly what he said.

History of Britain, 407-597 is copyright © 2002, Fabio P. Barbieri. Used with permission.

Comments to: Fabio P. Barbieri

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