Palladius and Patrick is the title of a most stimulating and entertainingly-written paper by Charles Thomas, published in a collection edited by Ailbhe Mac Shamhráin called The island of St. Patrick : church and ruling dynasties in Fingal and Meath, 400-1148 (Dublin: Four Courts, 2004), 13-37. Thomas is a doughty champion of Saint Palladius and amasses evidence from history, archaeology, linguistics and placename study to argue the case that there was an attempt by later Patrician writers to turn the first bishop of the Irish into a type of 'Orwellian non-person'. Let's start with the historical evidence of Prosper of Aquitaine and its importance in preventing the total erasure of Palladius from the record:
'Prosper of Aquitaine, a cultured Christian layman, was born around 390 and when young lived in Marseilles, where he became swept up into the exciting and challenging new world of monastic endeavours there. He also became a fervent champion, against the heresies of Pelagius, of St Augustine's teachings about Grace and free will. In 430 he went to Rome, met Pope Celestine the First, and urged him to write to the bishops of Gaul condemning anti-Augustinian views. Then he returned for a while to Marseilles, where he wrote, among other things, an Epitome Chronicae, a potted world history to AD 433 (this was a special interest of his). Finally he went back to Rome, entered the service of Pope Leo I as a notarius and, having updated his Chronicle to AD 455, died in that year.'In 429, Prosper noted that heresy was present in Britain as well as Gaul. Specifically a Pelagian heretic, Agricola, son of a Pelagian bishop Severianus, was insidiously corrupting the congregations of Britain, ecclesias Britanniae, with his teachings; this suggests that the unknown Agricola, wherever he operated, was influential. But through the negotiation of the deacon Palladius, Pope Celestine sent Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, to act on his behalf; and Germanus routed these heretics and directed the Britons to the Catholic Faith.'Under the year 431 Prosper again mentions Palladius, whom he must have known personally; of a notable gens, either a personal deacon to bishop Germanus at Auxerre, or acting as a papal deacon. ' Palladius was ordained by Pope Celestine, and sent to the Irish believers in Christ' (ad Scotos, in Christum credentes) 'as the first bishop'. Why? We get the answer in cap.21 of Prosper's short tract Liber contra collatorem(a riposte to John Cassian, who had dared to question St Augustine's stand on grace and free will). Listing steps taken by successive popes to defend orthodoxy, and to assert papal primacy in outlying provinces of the empire, Prosper spells out the actions of Celestine, pope from 422 to 432, including these several Insular interventions:'And with no less active a concern, he freed Britain from the same disease (i.e., Pelagian heresy)when he shut out, from their remote Ocean retreat, certain enemies of grace who were in possession of their ancestral lands (this is the 429 visit by Germanus and Lupus) and, ordaining a bishop for the Irish, he made the barbarian island Christian, while taking care to keep the Roman Island Catholic (i.e. to keep Britain orthodox).'There you have it clear as daylight. The statement that in AD 431, absolute date, Celestine despatched Palladius as primus episcopus, ad Scotos in Christum credentes, is the single most important external reference in Ireland's history. Building on the earlier undated introduction of some element of Latin literacy, it marks Ireland's tardy incorporation into Europe; and it sheds more light on Irish Christian beginnings than all of St Patrick's writings. It also provides a starting-point for Irish monasticism. And in the morass, manoeuvring, and muddles, of the next 250 years within Irish Christian records, Prosper's little chronicle-entry could not be set aside, and it was not forgotten; despite the later Armagh drive to render Palladius a kind of Orwellian non-person.'
Thomas has started as he means to go on, as far as the Armagh promoters of Saint Patrick are concerned:
'It is a truism among historians, and I suppose it remains the favourite argument for a 'late' Patrick, that revisionists at the alleged proto-Patrician foundation, the episcopal church of Armagh, faced with this immutable record of what happened in 431 were stuck, and knew they were stuck, with 432 as the earliest credible date for Patrick's return to Ireland as a bishop – a second bishop. The hard pill could be mollified by having Palladius fail dismally, or die, or quit in despair for Pictland as soon as possible. Further awkwardness arose, probably by the seventh century, from the annalistic date of 493 for the death of Patrick; and worse, a date of 535 (or 103 years on from 432) for the death of an acceptably historic Mochta or Maucteus, said to have been Patrick's younger disciple, a Briton whose existence was still known to Adomnan of Iona in the 680s.'
The Armagh dirty tricks department knows no shame:
'The reason that we cannot turn at once to modern critical editions of any Vita Palladii, Acta Palladii, Dicta Palladii, is not that none of them ever existed. They did, and quite a few people knew of them. It is that by the early eighth century, almost without exception, all and any records of Palladius had been misappropriated to St Patrick, bypassing a slight obstacle that Patrick's writings make no reference to any other named evangelist. The monolithic claim of the post-Patrick church of Armagh is fancifully set out in the mid-seventh century tract Liber Angeli. In imitation of the Confessio, Patrick is made to undergo yet another angelic dream visitation. The angel assures him (and all intended readers) that Armagh merits a terminus vastissimus, a paruchia, embracing the whole of Ireland, a spiritual overlordship that reflects Patrick's missionary labours. But here, from whatever tangled background, is a mind-set, that must have known – in writing – far more about Palladius than we ever can today; knew that Prosper's uncompromising record of a 431 arrival was beyond challenge; but was on course to reduce the Leinster landing of Palladius with his companions to the intrusion of a funny foreigner, who dithered ineffectually for a bit, and then died, or departed. You can indeed fool most people for a very long time.'
Thomas then moves on to a more sober dissection of the implications of Prosper's information:
'The Scoti, believing in Christ, were Christians in Ireland, generally the barbarian island because it was outside the Imperial limites, but that does not mean they all had to be exclusively Irish natives. They had no previous bishop (and per Professor Dan Binchy, as yet no loanword from episcopus). But, as Christian groupings, ecclesiae, they were, in 431, numerous enough, or spatially concentrated enough, or both, to warrant a first bishop. It is then likely that a Christian presence went back some decades; at a diffused scale, those believers could have had some rudimentary churches already and some officiating priests, perhaps later elevated in memory as those obscure pre-Patrician saints. We can certainly assume worship and instruction took place in Latin, using pre-Vulgate Biblical texts; and that goes along with a previously-conveyed picture of Latinity in Ireland by, and considerably before, the year 400. Their first bishop Palladius, was not a provincial chosen for them by a British synod. He was a man of standing, influentially connected, a papal favourite chosen for the job, and he had already been prominent (as Prosper knew) in a campaign to combat the Pelagian heresy threatening Britain. Ergo, Rome had perceived a danger of heretical infection reaching the Christian innocents of Hiberione, which argues for repeated Irish-British contact (west Wales to Leinster and south-east Munster, say), and a measure of correspondence, if not official visits, to arrange a suitable reception for Bishop Palladius. But do not picture Palladius wading ashore wherever it was, a lonely figure, with a grip in his hand, slithering among seaweed. Germanus and Lupus were supported by a regular throng of their Gaulish followers. We shall identify likely members of Palladius' familia; and make a good guess as to at least part of his volumina atque impedimenta. ...'
This view of Palladius as a man handpicked for the job at the very highest level is in stark contrast to the traditional view that he simply wasn't up to the task and quit at the first sign of trouble. Thomas then goes on to examine another twist in the Patrician tale, the idea that there was more than one Patrick:
'One by-product of Armagh's drive to establish, historically-justifiable, hegemony over the entire realm of Ireland's Christianity was an invention, in the seventh century, of a doublet. The concept of a Patrick, Apostle to the Irish was divided like an amoeba. It was claimed that the 431 Palladius was really, or also, called Patricius (qui Patricius alio nomine appellabatur), whence a distinction became necessary between an 'Old Patrick', senex Patricius, Sen Phatric, or Palladius; and a younger, later one, Patricius secundus, Patrick the Briton, who died 493. The more readily then could all and any of the doings, remembered sayings, written references, and associated dramatis personae of Palladius – senex Patricius – be transferred to the inflated Patrick of what some have called "the Armagh propagandists"'.
Thomas now turns his attention to the biographers of Patrick, Muirchu and Tirechan:
'It is in the Collectanea, the so-called Memoir of Tirechan, regarded as slightly earlier than Muirchu's Life – about 670- that the partly-planned mythologizing takes off. Tirechan, a bishop, had been pupil of Bishop Ultan of Connor; he had read material in a book that Ultan possessed... In the Book of Armagh collection that contains this earlier Memoir, ..one section of which is headed 'On the names of the Franks of Patrick'; and in someone's supplementary notes, a very precise statement:In the thirteenth year of the emperor Theodosius, bishop Patricius is sent by bishop Celestine, pope of Rome, for the teaching of the Scots.'Notice the Imperial, though not also western Consular, dating; this comes ultimately from Prosper's Chronicle, in which year 430-1 is headed 'Theodosio XIII, tredecimo'. Then we have: 'Bishop Palladius is sent first'; Palladius episcopus primo mittitur (here Prosper has Palladius, et primus episcopus mittitur) 'who was named Patricius with another name, who suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Scots'. Next, this particular Armagh writer redresses the imbalance: 'Then Patricius is sent second by the angel Victor and Pope Celestine; - he was believed by all Ireland and baptised almost all of it'.
Thomas then turns to another source, the four 'Sayings of Patrick', two of which he introduces as evidence, adding though 'if Patrick the Briton ever uttered any one of them I will personally be Joan of Arc':
'The fear of God I had as my guide through the Gauls (per Gallias) and Italy, and the islands which are in the Tyrrhene sea.Church of the Irish (ecclesia Scottorum), nay of the Romans, in order that you be Christians, as are the Romans, you must sing at every hour of prayer that praiseworthy utterance, Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, let each and every Christian flock that makes up my following (omnis aeclessia quae sequitur me) sing Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Deo gratias.'
For Thomas these sayings
'are remnants, having percolated north from at least one centre in Leinster to Armagh and probably other Ulster churches, of the acta, the contemporary records, and a few numbered sayings, of Palladius. Actually there is a lot of valuable historical detail here. Remembering that Palladius was in the first place chosen, consecrated and sent under the twin aegis of Pope Celestine and Bishop Germanus it would be incredible that he and his companions would not have sent reports of progress, success, safeguarding against heresy, back to base: back to Auxerre, if not also Rome, to Celestine and Leo.'
He bolsters this thesis by drawing attention to what he sees as a giveaway line in Tirechan's Memoir, possibly taken from whatever book Bishop Ultan had compiled:
Haec Constans in Gallis invenit.
(These things, Constans discovered in Gaul).
Thomas believes that this shows that some Irish cleric of the seventh century was able to access and copy material from the Palladian dispatches. He further refutes Tirechan's statement, again derived from Bishop Ultan, that Patrick 'stayed for 30 years in one of these islands which is called Aralensis'. For Thomas this proves not that Patrick experienced monasticism in Lerins, but that Palladius spent time in the city of Arles.
Thomas then goes on to fulfill his promise that we would be able to make a guess at the volumina atque impedimenta of Palladius:
'When in 431 Palladius arrived to oversee the credentes of Leinster, I (for one) believe that he brought not only sufficient companions in appropriate clerical orders to set up a papally-approved diocese, or more than one diocese; but also a large selection of the literature one would expect, including the available range – by 430 quite extensive – of monastic books, Desert Fathers' work, histories, collections, rules. Palladius, unusually as a named person in a known year, stands for Ireland's monastic origins. We recall why he had been sent; to make the barbarian Ireland Christian but also to prevent heretical infection from Christian Britain. In that second of the Dicta Patricii (recte Dicta Palladii) 'in order that you be Christians, as are the Romans' may imply a little more. Does it mean 'orthodox Christians, as are the Romans', a state to be ensured by following their new bishop's teaching in every respect?'
Thus has Palladius the 'funny foreigner who dithered ineffectually for a bit' been transformed into a symbol of Ireland's monastic origins. But Thomas admits that there are still unanswered questions, if we accept that so far from being a short-lived failure, the mission of Palladius was a long-lived success:
'If Palladius worked in Ireland for, say, 20 to 30 years, gradually extending his initial East Leinster, episcopate to further notional dioceses under additional bishops in southern Leinster and most of Munster, does absolutely no trace of this survive? What Tirechan's Bishop Ultan had in a book, which the mysterious Constans found somewhere in Gaul, apparently dealt only with Palladius' Gaulish-Italian backgound, Auxerre, Amator and Germanus, and perhaps reports from the spiritual front line. But we do have a very strange document indeed; called variously 'The Synod of the Bishops' and 'The First Synod of Saint Patrick'. It starts with:Here begins the synod of the bishops (episcoporum), that is of Patricius, Auxilius, Isserninus. We give thanks to God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. To the priests and deacons and every cleric, the bishops Patricius, Auxilius, and Isserninus, greetings.There follow 34 rulings, or provisions, or canons, plainly out of order – out of 5 logical groupings – and some probably of secondary insertion.'
Thomas goes on to helpfully summarize the views of earlier scholars regarding this strange document:
'Ludwig Bieler persisted in arguing that this was genuinely a product from the real Patrick, the Briton, and even produced a date of 457 by emending an annalistic year, Binchy, on the strength of several canons dealing with native Irish legal points, and his reading of wording in others, thought it a wholly native product of the mid-seventh century reflecting the Romanizing versus native parties' controversy on the date of Easter and related disputes. Kathleen Hughes offered a compromise of the mid-sixth century. And I think that likely -a very early Leinster copy of the original, ending up at Armagh, where 'PALLADIUS' was altered to 'PATRICIUS', perhaps just a palimpsest, scraping out the four letters LLAD and writing in TRIC (both names, nine letters, start PA and end IUS)'.
Thomas himself, not surprisingly, champions the claims of Palladius and a fifth-century date for the Synod text:
'I believe we have here an ecclesiastic governance, for a part of Ireland, issued possibly 15 or 20 years on from 431 by Palladius and two others – Auxilius, Iserninus – who were, by then, bishops of new dioceses. It is the words used that lead me to the conclusion (and a certainty that this has nothing whatsoever to do with Patrick). One could pick out, as fifth-century Gaulish Latin and possibly southern British Latin – but not taken into Irish usage – plebs to mean what we would now call 'a parish'; aecclesia for both 'the Church' (an abstract word) and 'a church as a building', where for canon 24, aecclesiam (aedificet), my guess is that Patrick would have written dominicum; a distinction, talking about bishops, between episcopus, a bishop in an administrative guise, but sacerdos as to his priestly function; and then we have episode 33, one of a group governing the status of intrusive or of wandering clerics (vagus, vagulus). 'A cleric whom comes to us from the Britains without a letter, although he may be resident in a parish (in plebe), is not permitted to minister'. 'From the Britains' is de Britanis, geographical plural, in the fourth-early fifth century, suggesting the four (or five) provinciae of Brittania (single). This, with perhaps two more canons, takes us back to Palladius as Prosper shows him; the papally-authorized custodian of orthodoxy, and these are precautions against would-be Pelagians drifting across from Britannia'.
For the remainder of his argument, Thomas introduces placename evidence, illustrated by maps. Put simply, the prefix Donagh (as Donaghmore, Donaghadee) comes from an extremely early word, British Latin Dominicum, Primitive Irish Dominech, then Domnach, 'a Christian church building'. Placenames beginning with Donagh tend to be found in the north, where Thomas believes Patrick was active. By contrast, names beginning with another loanword, the Old Irish cell are found more in Leinster, the site of the Palladian mission. This borrowing is from a purely literary Latin source, cella 'Christian locality, of eremitic or monastic nature', and this literary borrowing points to the continental Palladius rather than the British Patrick as far as Thomas is concerned.
I found this paper most thought-provoking, whilst academic it was far from dry and it was interesting to see that Patrician studies can still provoke passion. Whilst I do see Palladius as emerging as one of the winners from revisionist scholarship, for me this does not necessarily make Saint Patrick a loser. It still remains a wonderful treasure to have the personal writings of Saint Patrick, his Confession and Letter to Coroticus, and as a northern woman I am not displeased by the idea that he primarily operated in this part of the country. The saint himself is not responsible for the injustice that was done to Palladius by later writers, indeed, we don't really know if Saint Patrick was even aware of the existence of this southern bishop. Whilst the debate continues among the current generation of scholars, the traditional view of Palladius as a short-lived failure who did the decent thing and departed to leave the way clear for Patrick as the all-Ireland success story, is untenable. As Thomas remarks 'Palladius cannot, alas, come across to us in the same intensely human guise as Patrick, but he deserves a better treatment than footnotes.' I will be curious to see if the revisionist view finds any resonance within popular culture, will there, for example, ever be a parade or national celebration for Palladius? Somehow I think the traditional view of Patrick as the sole national apostle will remain unchallenged in the popular mind for many years to come.
Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2015. All rights reserved.
Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2015. All rights reserved.