Saint Patrick- The Man Who Saved Irish Culture from Christianity

Saint Patrick- The Man Who Saved Irish Culture from Christianity March 17, 2021

What St. Patrick Can Still Teach the World| National Catholic RegisterThis week we celebrate Saint Patrick. Here in the United States, this usually means the nations bars will fill up with green clad twenty somethings that will drink the night into oblivion. No judgement here, I have certainly had my share of blurry eyed Saint Patrick’s celebrations. And to be honest, Patrick deserves a tip of the cap and a raising of the glass. Not for bringing Christianity to Ireland, but for saving early Irish culture from being erased by Roman Christianity.

Patrick, The Irish Slave

Patrick’s actual name, Magonus Sucatos Patricius was not from Ireland but Cumbria in modern England. Patrick was born into a family that served the Lord and the church. His father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest. But young Patrick was known as a wild child. At age 16, he was captured by pirates and sold as a slave in the Armagh region of Ireland. There he worked as a shepherd. It was in Ireland, where Patrick met committed Christians that deeply moved him toward the faith. It was not the pedigree, but the example that made Patrick a Christian. This would be a staple of Patrick’s future efforts in Ireland.

Not of Human Inheritance

By the age of 23, Patrick, a slave of 6 years had fully converted to Christianity. One thing that Patrick’s life teaches us is that we can never inherit true belief in Christ from our family. True belief comes in a personal relationship with God. Christianity is not hereditary; we each are given the opportunity to unique relationship with God. One night, Patrick dreamed of a boat that would sail him away from Ireland and to freedom. He subsequently walked hundreds of miles, found the boat he saw in his dream and sailed to Gaul (France) and to freedom. He eventually returned to his home, but he would not stay long.

Patrick is Called to Serve His Captors

Patrick began hearing a voice compelling him to “Come back and walk with us” in Ireland. Patrick felt deep conviction to return to Ireland as a missionary. This is an incredibly odd thing. A person who was enslaved by a people, escapes those bonds and returns home, only to return to those people to bring them the gospel? We must also remember the environment that awaited Patrick. He returned to a Druidic Ireland that killed new male converts to Christianity and sold women converts as sex slaves. For all intents and purposes, Patrick was signing his own death warrant by returning as Christian missionary. Many times while Patrick was a missionary, attempts on his life were made.

You would think in this environment that Patrick would seek to destroy these violent cultures. Clearly the Druids wanted to destroy him. So did Patrick violently strike down this culture that was hell bent on resisting Christianity through violence? He did not because he understood that violently prying a culture away from its roots doesn’t breed Christians, it breeds fear. It also breeds cultural Christians, who attend church like good Christians but really have no desire for the faith. They are only of the faith because of the consequences of not being Christian in the culture.

Patrick Incorporates Culture into Christ

Patrick, and many others after him in Ireland did not seek to separate locals from their culture to make them Christian. Instead Patrick used the lens of their culture to show them Jesus. For example, The druids worshipped the sun. Instead of calling them heathens for doing so and tearing down all cultural references to the sun, he instead used this as an evangelism tool. He explained that the sun was very powerful, but it was created by an even powerful God, Jesus Christ.

We can see this in the Celtic Crosses today where the sun circle remains but has a cross behind it. This is to mean that the sun is relevant because God created the sun. I would submit that this is true of the many different cultures on the planet. They are relevant because God created them that way. And as scripture says, what God has created, let no man tear asunder.


Imagine what the modern Christianized world would look like if we had followed Patrick’s example? I would argue that this would have prevented the genocide en masse in Asia, Africa and America for the cause of Jesus Christ. What we, as a western church have done is infused our culture with Christianity and have deemed that Christianity as superior and as the only accepted form of Christianity.

This has created a worldwide Christianity that is disjointed and unnatural. It is a faith of fear of hell instead of the promise of heaven. Church is something to be done, not something to be enjoyed. And here in the US, Christianity has become a cultural religion instead of a lifechanging journey with Jesus Christ. Our hands are soaked in the blood of natives and slaves we have cut down under the guise of making them our kind of Christian. In truth we sound more like the Druids and less like Patrick.

Saint Patrick’s Call

Patrick saved an entire culture, and that culture with its Christian clothing, almost two thousand years later is not only thriving but celebrated. Imagine if we would do for other native cultures what Patrick did for the Irish Celts. Imagine if we separated culture change from being a requirement for conversion. We would see a Christianity of true faith and a journey where we walk hand in hand, not because of our Christian culture, but because of Jesus Christ having room for all cultures. So, the challenge is this: Is your faith like Patrick’s or like the Druid? How you treat other cultures will give you the answer.

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2 responses to “Saint Patrick- The Man Who Saved Irish Culture from Christianity”

  1. Wonderful! I can’t resist pointing out the parallels with Rene Girard’s analysis as well. Opting to nurture and develop people’s culture gives them the option of discarding outmoded or destructive elements, while insisting on correcting it turns false dichotomies into fuel for division.

  2. Bishop John, I think and hope that the intent behind your article has some good elements to it, but that it could be said better and with fewer errors. For example, early in your piece you write that St. Patrick should be toasted because, and I quote the sentence in its entirety:

    “Not for bringing Christianity to Ireland, but for saving early Irish culture from being erased by Roman Christianity.”

    Um, let’s see. St. Patrick has been known ever since his magnificent Christian life as the one who especially helped Ireland to learn Christianity and to become Christian. Particularly, he loved and served and was a part of the Catholic Church (the Roman Catholic Church).

    No, Christianity and the Catholic Church helped Ireland greatly, and the Irish have helped and formed the Church as well. In fact, Irish missionaries have sailed from Ireland to many other places in the world, to bring both the Catholic faith and Irish culture to people. It has been a wonderful symbiotic relationship—better than that, even.

    What tried to eradicate Irish culture was the English. The English enslaved the Irish for hundreds of years. They even wanted to erase the Irish. For example: Edmund Spenser was roughly equivalent to a poet laureate of England and was also a chief colonizer of Ireland on behalf of the crown. He wrote a famous British poem, “The Faerie Queene,” which actually praises the Tudors and Elizabeth I, if you can believe that. And he also strongly urged the crown to eradicate, to destroy, the people of Ireland. He desired that England commit genocide against the people of Ireland and scrub every last Irishman and Irishwoman off of the land of Ireland. Personally, Spenser massacred lots of Irish people and stole lots of Irish land.

    The Church saved Ireland. The sense of Justice that the people of Ireland have is second to none. Rather than fold and go quietly off into the night, the people of Ireland loved their nation, their culture, and their Faith, and resisted this slavery, occupation, and genocide. And a century ago their fight secured their independence from England. Ireland is now free. (Of course, the centuries of brutal slavery under the English have left scars and marks, which the Irish and the Church are still working through.)

    Our basic history classes tend to skip over and attempt to erase such gigantic facts. But it is politically correct to attack the Church—glad you’re not prey to the lower elements of culture.

    And the unique contributions of the Irish Catholic Church continue to bear great fruit in the world today. In the last century, Irish Catholics have fought against the kkk, and have also championed the cause of Justice in other international situations.

    Thank God for the Irish and for the Catholic Church.

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