Friday, 24 March 2017

Patrick and Palladius - Who Came to Ireland First?

In one of the most interesting parts of his discussion of the topic 'Patrick and the Historians',  Dáibhí Ó Cróinín presents the case, originally made by medievalist Mario Esposito (1887-1975), that contrary to the accepted wisdom, Palladius may have been Patrick's successor rather than his predecessor:
Esposito put forward the proposal that Patrick might, in fact, have preceeded Palladius in date and that his missionary activity may have taken place during the last years of the fourth century and the opening of the fifth, a full generation before Palladius arrived. There is much to recommend the AD 390 theory, and it would certainly account for two of the principal differences with the earlier chronology of the two men, namely that Patrick never mentions Palladius and secondly that Palladius was sent to an already existing community of Christians in Ireland. If these Christians were, in fact, some of Patrick's original converts, it would verify his claim to pioneering missionary status, and also explain how the fledgling community to which Palladius was sent had come into existence in the first place. It would also account for Patrick's silence about Palladius, since by this reckoning, Palladius came after Patrick, not before him. 
There are, however, some drawbacks to this theory:
It would not, of course, explain why Palladius was designated 'first' bishop of the Irish by the Pope, but given the obviously maverick nature of Patrick's career, his episcopal status might not have been recognised as canonical in Rome, (if indeed he had ever come to the attention of the papal see). Throughout his writings, Patrick is at pains to stress his valid orders, which suggests that there were others in the British Church, it seems, and perhaps in Ireland as well, who disputed that validity.

Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 57-58.
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