Friday 25 March 2016

Jocelin and his Vita Patricii: 'undervalued for far too long'

We conclude the octave of posts in honour of the feast of Saint Patrick with a final tribute to Jocelin of Furness and his Life of Patrick by one of the current generation of scholars who are reassessing the author and his work. I was only recently able to find an affordable copy of Helen Birkett's study of Jocelin and his Vitae and am finding it a fascinating read. In the extracts below, Birkett lays out her conclusions, first on the Life of Patrick and then more generally. Her initial thoughts reminded me that one of the basic rules of the modern approach to hagiography laid down by Pére Delehaye is 'that whatever a vita tells us, it tells us more about the time of its composition - its theology, spirituality, politics - than of the time of the saint, and more about the mind of the hagiographer than of the mind of the saint':
The Vita Patricii was not commissioned to document the life of a fifth-century missionary but to record the legend of a twelfth-century saint. It offered a carefully crafted version of Patrick as a figure who was recognizable in both word and deed but also as one who was clothed in contemporary fashions and values and .... whose face was turned firmly towards a twelfth century present... 
...The Vitae can now be recognised for the complex, carefully constructed and communicative texts that they are. Jocelin too, must be reconsidered. As an author whose movements and patronage have been shown to straddle various geo-political, ecclesiastical and cultural boundaries, he emerges from this study as a potentially significant figure for our understanding of wider British history during this period, a time which saw the increasing permeability of these borders. This is not to make an extravagant claim about Jocelin's importance but merely to bring greater attention to the work of a writer who has been undervalued for far too long.

Helen Birkett, The Saints' Lives of Jocelin of Furness: Hagiography, Patronage and Ecclesiastical Politics ( York Medieval Press, 2010), 51-2, 285.

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Thursday 24 March 2016

Saint Patrick's Aunt

We have seen that Jocelin's Life of Saint Patrick provided our patron with an extended family, with an emphasis not on the line of the father and grandfather named in Saint Patrick's own writings but on the matrilineal. In the opening chapter of his Life, Jocelin introduces not only the French mother of Saint Patrick but her unnamed sister who is to play a part in the saint's childhood. Both of these women are depicted as having been brought to Britain as slaves, but Conchessa rises above this station to marry Patrick's father:
THERE was once a man named Calphurnius, the son of Potitus, a presbyter, by nation a Briton, living in the village Taburnia (that is, the field of the tents, for that the Roman army had there pitched their tents), near the town of Empthor, and his habitation was nigh unto the Irish Sea. This man married a French damsel named Conchessa, niece of the blessed Martin, Archbishop of Tours; and the damsel was elegant in her form and in her manners, for, having been brought from France with her elder sister into the northern parts of Britain, and there sold at the command of her father, Calphurnius, being pleased with her manners, charmed with her attentions, and attracted with her beauty, very much loved her, and, from the state of a serving-maid in his household, raised her to be his companion in wedlock. And her sister, having been delivered unto another man, lived in the aforementioned town of Empthor. (Chapter I, p.135)
As we saw yesterday, the anonymous aunt is actively involved in the care of her nephew Patrick and his sister Lupita:
And Patrick, the child of the Lord, was then nursed in the town of Empthor, in the house of his mother's sister, with his own sister Lupita. (Chapter IV, p.138)
Auntie is also depicted as being involved in agriculture and in the episode below she falsely accuses her nephew of being negligent in his duties as a shepherd. In true hagiographical style our saint patiently bears the injustice and by his faith is able to vindicate himself:
WHILE Saint Patrick was a little boy, his aunt entrusted him with the care of the sheep, and to these he diligently attended with his aforementioned sister. ...But as the boy Patrick was one day in the fields with his flock, a wolf, rushing from the neighboring wood, caught up a ewe-lamb, and carried it away. Returning home at evening from the fold, his aunt chided the boy for negligence or for sloth; yet he, though blushing at the reproof, patiently bore all her anger, and poured forth his prayers for the restoration of the ewe-lamb. In the next morning, when he brought the flock to the pasture, the wolf ran up, carrying the lamb in his mouth, laid it at Patrick's feet, and instantly returned to the wood. And the boy gave thanks to the Lord, who, as he preserved Daniel from the hungry lions, so now for his comfort had saved his lamb uninjured from the jaws of the wolf. (Chapter VIII, p.142-143)
In a second episode involving the young Patrick and his aunt's livestock, she is presumably rather happier that he is on hand to deal with an outbreak of mad cow disease:
THE aunt who had nursed Saint Patrick had many cows, one of which was tormented with an evil spirit; and immediately the cow became mad, and tore with her feet, and butted with her horns, and wounded five other cows, and dispersed the rest of the herd. And the owners of the herd lamented the mishap, and the cattle fled from her fury as from the face of a lion. But the boy Patrick, being armed with faith, went forward, and, making the sign of the cross, freed the cow from the vexation of the evil spirit; then drawing near to the wounded and prostrate cows, having first prayed, he blessed them and restored them all even to their former health. And the cow, being released from the evil spirit, well knowing her deliverer, approached with bended head, licking the feet and the hands of the boy, and turned every beholder to the praise of God and the veneration of Patrick. (Chapter IX, p.143-144).
Overall, I am left with the impression that although the aunt remains anonymous she is nonetheless an important part of the extended family supplied by Jocelin for Saint Patrick. And with her 'many' cows she also appears to have been of some means. It leaves me wondering therefore, why the writer was unable to furnish a name for her.

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Wednesday 23 March 2016

Saint Patrick Heals His Sister Lupita

As we have already seen, Jocelin's Life of Saint Patrick supplies our patron with a trio of sisters and goes on to name their offspring as his willing cooperators in the mission to Ireland. Jocelin features one of the sisters, Lupita, in the earlier section of the Life dealing with Patrick's childhood, where he presents the pair as having been raised together in the home of their maternal aunt:
And Patrick, the child of the Lord, was then nursed in the town of Empthor, in the house of his mother's sister, with his own sister Lupita. (Chapter IV, p.138)
Lupita then features in her own miracle story in Chapter VI when she suffers a bad fall. Although other family and friends rush to offer assistance, needless to say there is really only one person able to heal her - her brother Patrick:

 How the Sister of St. Patrick was healed. 
 ON a certain day the sister of Saint Patrick, the aforementioned Lupita, being then of good stature, had run about the field, at the command of her aunt, to separate the lambs from the ewes, for it was then weaning time, when her foot slipped, and she fell down and smote her head against a sharp flint, and her forehead was struck with a grievous wound, and she lay even as dead; and many of the household ran up, and her kindred and her friends gathered together to comfort the maiden wounded and afflicted; and her brother came with the rest, compassionating his sister, but confiding in the divine medicine; for, drawing near, he raised her, and, touching with his spittle the thumb of his right hand, he imprinted on her forehead, stained with blood, the sign of the cross, and forthwith he healed her; yet the scar of the wound remained as a sign, I think, of the miracle that was performed, and a proof of the holiness of him who, by his faith in the cross of Christ, had done this thing. (Chapter VI, p.141)

Tomorrow I will look a bit more at the figure of the aunt in Jocelin's Life of Patrick.

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Tuesday 22 March 2016

How Saint Lumanus Sailed against the Wind and the Stream

Yesterday we were introduced to the extended family of Saint Patrick as recorded by Jocelin of Furness in his Life of the saint. Today we look at the account of a miraculous voyage by one of the reputed nephews of Saint Patrick, Lumanus, in the service of his uncle's Irish mission:


How Saint Lumanus Sailed against the Wind and the Stream. 

AND Saint Patrick, having sailed over from Ulidia, came unto the territory of Midia, at the mouth of the river Boinn, among barbarians and idolaters; and he committed his vessel and its tackle unto his nephew, Saint Lumanus, enjoining him that he should abide there at the least forty days, the while he himself would go forward to preach in the interior parts of the country. But Lumanus, abiding there the messenger of light, and being made obedient through the hope of obtaining martyrdom, doubled the space of time that was enjoined unto him, which no one of his companions, even through the fear of their lives, dared to do. Yet was not this child of obedience disappointed of his reward. For while he received the seed of obedience, he brought forth unto himself the fruit of patience, and deserved to fertilize strange lands, even with the seed of the divine Word, to the flourishing of the flowers of faith and the fruits of justice; and the more devotedly he obeyed his spiritual father, the more marvellously did the elements obey him. And having fulfilled there twice forty days, and being wearied with the continual expectation of the saint's return, on a certain day, the wind blowing strongly against him, he hoisted the sails, and, trusting in the merits of Saint Patrick, even by the guidance of the vessel alone passed he over unto the place where he was appointed to meet him. O miracle till then unheard and unknown! The ship, without any pilot, sailed against the wind and against the stream, at the bidding of the man of God, and bore him with a prosperous course from the mouth of the Boinn even to Athtrym; and He who formerly turned back the stream of Jordan unto its fountain did, for the merits of Patrick, guide the vessel against the wind and against the stream.

Rev. James O'Leary, The Most Ancient Lives of Saint Patrick including the Life by Jocelin, (New York, 1904), 191.

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Monday 21 March 2016

Extending Saint Patrick's Family

The Life of Saint Patrick by Jocelin of Furness added to the stock of stories surrounding our patron saint. This included the development of an extended family for Saint Patrick, who in his own writings had mentioned only the names of his father and grandfather. As we will see in the extract below, Jocelin supplies a trio of sisters for our patron and their offspring in turn become Uncle Patrick's willing helpers in his Irish mission:
Of the Sisters and the Nephews of St. Patrick.  
AND the saint had three sisters, memorable for their holiness and for their justice, and they were pleasing unto the Lord; and of these the names were Lupita, Tygridia, and Darercha. And Tygridia was blessed with a happy fruitfulness, for she brought forth seventeen sons and five daughters. And all her sons became most wise and holy monks, and priests, and prelates; and all her daughters became nuns, and ended their days as holy virgins; and the names of the bishops were Brochadius, Brochanus, Mogenochus, and Lumanus, who, with their uncle, Saint Patrick, going from Britain into Ireland, earnestly laboring together in the field of the Lord, they collected an abundant harvest into the granary of heaven. And Darercha, the youngest sister, was the mother of the pious bishops, Mel, Moch, and Munis, and their father was named Conis. And these also accompanied Saint Patrick in his preaching and in his travel, and in divers places obtained the episcopal dignity. Truly did their generation appear blessed, and the nephews of Saint Patrick were a holy heritage. 
In his 1985 study of medieval households, which includes a chapter on Ireland, scholar David Herlihy puts Jocelin's account of Patrick's family into context:
The Irish lives make frequent mention of the avunculate tie, and of other relationships running though women. In the life of St Patrick written by the English Cistercian Jocelin of Furness (after about 1180), Patrick is represented as the great-nephew of St Martin of Tours; his mother Conquessa is Martin's niece.  Jocelin is the first to claim that the two saints were related, and significantly, he runs their blood tie through two women.  Still according to Jocelin, to his cognatus Patrick, Martin gives  the monastic habit and his rule. As a boy, Patrick had been reared in his aunt's house in a town called Nemphtor (presumably Clyde) in northern Britain. The aunt was his mother's sister. Patrick himself had three sisters, one of whom, Lupita, had seventeen sons and five daughters. They all become priests and nuns, and all come to help Patrick on his mission; so also did his other nephews, sons of sisters. "Truly the offspring of these [sisters] appears blessed... and a holy inheritance was the nephews of St Patrick". The embellishments, which Jocelin added to the ancient legends of Patrick, are extraordinarily rich in matrilineal allusions.
David Herlihy, Medieval Households (Harvard and London, 1985), 41.

Tomorrow we will look at a miracle recorded in Jocelin's Life which involved one of these reputed nephews, Bishop Lumanus.

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Sunday 20 March 2016

Saint Patrick: An Acceptable Saint in 12th-century England

As we have just witnessed the annual and ever-growing phenomenon of Saint Patrick's Day being celebrated all over the world (and not just by people of the Irish diaspora), I found it interesting to reflect that his cult had already spread beyond these shores in medieval times. Jocelin of Furness was one of three English writers who wrote a Life of Patrick in the twelfth century. I have already made a post on the conclusions of Professor Robert Bartlett on this subject here. The conclusion of another recent scholar is also worth considering in trying to put Jocelin's work into context:
In the 12th century the British Isles were free from hagiographical barriers: cults of Irish saints, notably Patrick and Brigid, were perfectly acceptable in England. No reader of the twelfth-century Life of Patrick by Jocelin of Furness, which was dedicated to the Ulster conquistador John de Courcy, as well as to northern Irish bishops, could avoid the message that Patrick the Briton's career belonged to Britain and Europe as well as to Ireland.
R. Frame, 'Exporting state and nation: being English in medieval Ireland' in L. Scales and O. Zimmer, eds., Power and the Nation in European History (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005), 155.

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Saturday 19 March 2016

Jocelin's Secular Patron: John de Courcy

We continue the series of posts on the Life of Saint Patrick by Jocelin of Furness with a look at the secular authority who commissioned its writing - the Anglo-Norman adventurer, John de Courcy. In 2012 I attended a conference on the theme of John de Courcy and the Normans in Downpatrick at which I was privileged to hear several leading scholars in the field talk about this compelling yet still enigmatic figure in our history. The term adventurer is a particularly apt one for de Courcy as he was a man who seems to have made his own luck. He was the son of a younger son of the de Courcy family and thus whilst he had the family name he had no prospect of inheriting the family land. John arrived in Ireland in the autumn of 1176, landing in Dublin with a small group of 22 knights and 300 other soldiers. He left the garrison without permission and led his band northwards, passing peaceably through two Irish kingdoms and possibly even recruiting Irish auxiliaries en route. He appears to have exploited the rivalries between native rulers and arrived unannounced in Downpatrick, taking the town the following summer after two bloody battles. The entire enterprise was undertaken without the consent of King Henry II and as his newly-conquered Ulster territory did not adjoin any other Anglo-Norman lands, de Courcy was free to run it as his personal possession. This independence eventually caused him to fall foul of King Henry's successor, King John, and by 1204 John de Courcy drops out of the historical record, with even the date and circumstances of his death uncertain.

So where does the commissioning of a Life of Saint Patrick fit into all of this? Well, for one thing John de Courcy may well have been aware of the cult of Saint Patrick before he ever set foot in Ireland. Steve Flanders has established in his research that a network of family ties stretching from the de Courcy family seat in Somerset through to Cumbria and back to their original homeland in Normandy was of vital importance to John. The cult of Patrick was known in Normandy, it was also known in Somerset at Glastonbury, near the family seat of Stogursey (Stoke Courcy) and it is also reflected in the place names of northern Britain, in Gospatrick in Cumbria, for example. Jocelin himself alludes to de Courcy's reputation as an admirer of Saint Patrick as he lays out the reasons behind the writing of his work saying that he has been 'enjoined by the commands of the most reverend Thomas, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, and of Malachy, the Bishop of Down; and to these are added the request of John de Courcy, the most illustrious Prince of Ulidia, who is known to be the most especial admirer and honorer of St. Patrick, and whom we think it most becoming to obey' (Proeme, p.133).

Certainly the commissioning of the Life was but one example of John de Courcy's promotion of the cult of Saint Patrick in Down. Another tangible expression was the issuing of a coin bearing the inscription Patricius, which is today used as the logo of the Down Museum, as their website explains:
The Down County Museum logo is based on a coin minted by John de Courcy, about 1190, probably in Downpatrick. It has the name of Patrick, with a crozier, on one side and of de Courcy on the other. It was a symbolic linking of the religious and political associations of the area and because it did not bear the head of Prince John, Lord of Ireland, it was a declaration of independence by de Courcy.
The other main evidence for de Courcy's adoption of Saint Patrick is the role which he played in the discovery of the bodies of the three patrons at Down in 1185. His fellow Norman, the chronicler Gerald of Wales, placed John at the centre of the action writing in his Expugnatio Hibernica:
John de Courcy having discovered a precious treasure, the bodies of three Saints, Patrick, Bridget and Columba, at Down, these relics were by his care translated. (Chap. XXXIV, p. 77).    
Scholar Helen Birkett, however, feels that the primary role in this great discovery was played by Malachy, bishop of Down,  but to examine that will require a separate post.

I find John de Courcy's relationship with Saint Patrick and with Saints Brigid and Colum Cille a fascinating one. Obviously there seems to be more than a touch of self-interest involved in his desire to talk up and appropriate the Patrician associations with Down, the territory he conquered. He was doubtless spurred on by what seems to have been a genuine belief  that he was the 'white knight on the white horse' who would be the first to conquer Ulster, spoken about in a book of prophecies attributed to Saint Colum Cille and which Gerald of Wales tells us de Courcy was supposed to carry on his person as one of his prized possessions.  He remains for me one of the more interesting historical characters to have had a relationship with Ireland's patron saints.

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Friday 18 March 2016

The Life of Saint Patrick by Jocelin of Furness

We begin the octave of posts in honour of the feast of Saint Patrick with a look at the late twelfth-century Life composed by the English monk Jocelin of Furness. Jocelin was commissioned by the Norman conqueror of Ulster, John de Courcy, to write a Life of the Irish patron in connection with the 1185 finding and later translation of the relics of not just Patrick but those of his two co-patrons, Brigid and Colum Cille. Inevitably, this later work has never enjoyed the same status as the earlier Lives by Muirchú and Tírechán, the nineteenth-century English hagiologist, Sabine Baring Gould, for example dismissed it as "of little historical value compared with the earlier and more authentic sources of information, which it not unfrequently contradicts on the authority of some idle legend." But understanding of hagiography has developed since Baring Gould's day and in the last decade a scholarly reappraisal of Jocelin's work has begun. A project at Liverpool University has sought to bring out a new edition of Jocelin's Life of Patrick and to better establish the cultural context in which he was working. It is perhaps worth remembering that despite any sniffiness about this Norman upstart, Jocelin's Life was for centuries a much-used source in both English and Irish language biographies of the saint, as a scholar has recently reminded us:
The Life of Patrick written by Jocelin of Furness in the twelfth century experienced continual popularity among both language communities throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. First popularised for an Irish audience in Thomas Messingham's Florilegium Insulae Sanctorum (1624), Jocelin's Life subsequently could be found in an English translation by the Franciscan Robert Rochford as The Life of the Glorious Bishop S. Patricke, Apostle and Primate of Ireland (1625); another English translation was published by Edmund Swift in Dublin in 1809. In Rockford's publication, Patrick's life was also paired with a life of Bridget...Indeed, these two lives - that of Jocelin and Cogitosus - dominated the hagiography in circulation among eighteenth and nineteenth century scribes. In particular Jocelin's Life of Patrick - who as a subject was in turn the most often cited in these Irish language texts, about twice as often as Bridget- made up approximately half of the surviving lives of this saint in this time period.

N.M. Wolf, An Irish-Speaking Island: State, Religion, Community and the Linguistic Landscape in Ireland, 1770-1870 (Univ. Wisconsin Press, 2014), 200.

Jocelin's Life was also a source for the seventeenth-century Trias Thaumaturga compiled by this blog's hero, Friar John Colgan, where it formed the Vita Sexta or Sixth Life the great hagiologist used.

Over the coming days of the octave of the Feast of Saint Patrick I will bring some more selections and commentary on Jocelin's Life.

Further Resources:

In the absence of a modern, scholarly edition of Jocelin's Life, that of Father James O'Leary contained in his collection The Most Ancient Lives of Saint Patrick is the most accessible. Read it at the Internet Archive here.

One of the scholars involved with the Jocelin project, Dr Clare Downham, has made an article on Jocelin available to read through the academia site here.

Boydell and Brewer have published a 2010 study by Helen Birkett on The Saints' Lives of Jocelin of Furness. Details here.

Proceedings of the Liverpool University's Project 2011 Conference on Jocelin have also been published. Details here

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Thursday 17 March 2016

On the Feast of Saint Patrick - 'a Precious Vessel of Election and Model of Christian Perfection'

To celebrate the Feast of Saint Patrick below is a homily for the occasion delivered by Irish Augustinian Father William Gahan (1732-1804). At the time of his death Catholic Emancipation was still a quarter of a century away, so it is no surprise to see the emphasis on Saint Patrick as someone who bore suffering with resignation. The main theme of the homily is the necessity to hold fast to the original teachings of the Catholic faith and to reject other 'various, strange doctrines'.  Father Gahan ends with a warning of the dangers of 'the odious and destructive vice of drunkenness' and his approach to the celebration of the feast of Saint Patrick is an entirely spiritual one, with an emphasis on prayer, repentance and temperance.  Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!


 Mementote praepositorum Vestrorum, qui vobis locuti sunt Verbum Dei— imitamini fidem— doctrinis variis et peregrinis nolite abduci. 

 Heb. c. xiii. v, 7 et 9. 

 Remember your Prelates who have spoken to you the Word of God — whose faith follow — and be not led away by various and strange doctrines.

 Heb. c. xiii. v. 7, v 9. 

 WHEN the Almighty singles out men to be the extraordinary messengers of his councils, oracles of his wisdom, instruments of his grace and channels of his boundless mercies, he confers on them those wonderful gifts, talents and virtues, that are requisite to qualify them for the execution of his orders, and for the accomplishment of the grand designs of his all-ruling providence. Thus he qualified Moses, Aaron and the Prophets in the old Law, and the twelve Apostles in the new Law, for the solemn embassy and the heavenly commission on which he was pleased to send them. He invested them with every power they stood in need of, in order to discharge the duties of their ministry with success; he communicated to them all the eminent gifts and talents that were necessary, to enable them to encounter the difficulties and surmount all the obstacles which stood in their way, and which attended the due execution of the high commission they were charged with. Among many other renowned characters and remarkable instances of this truth, we may justly rank St. Patrick, the glorious Apostle and Patron of Ireland, whose feast the Church solemnizes this day, and honours with the privilege of a plenary indulgence, extended to the faithful of the whole kingdom on every day of the ensuing octave. When the Lord in his great goodness singled him out, for the grand work of the conversion of this remote corner of the then known world to the Christian and Catholic religion, when he sent him as an instrument of his divine mercy to announce the mystery of the cross to our ancestors, and to enlighten a people, who, as the Scripture phrase expresses it, were sitting in darkness and in the gloomy shades of death, he qualified him in every respect for the arduous enterprise, and made him at once a most zealous Apostle and an illustrious Saint, that he might diffuse the light of the Gospel all over this island by his indefatigable zeal, and establish the spirit of the Gospel by his eminent sanctity. It is under these two considerations that I intend to represent St. Patrick to you at present, as a precious vessel of election and model of Christian perfection. He rooted up infidelity, and planted catholicity in this country; he banished vice and immorality, and promoted the practice of true piety and solid virtue both by his word and example. Behold the plan of the following discourse and the subject of your favourable attention. Let us previously invoke the aid of the Holy Ghost, through the intercession of the blessed Virgin, greeting her with the words of the Angel, &c. Ave Maria

 The Scripture informs us, that the Saviour of the world retired into a desert, and prepared himself by prayer, and by a rigorous fast of forty days and forty nights, before he entered upon his mission of preaching the Gospel and reclaiming sinners from their evil ways. In like manner, the most authentic histories of St. Patrick's life informs us, that this faithful disciple and follower of Christ our Lord, spent several years in preparing himself by fasting and praying, before he entered upon the sacred functions of the apostolic ministry. That he might preach the Gospel with fruit to others, and draw their souls more effectually to the love and service of God, he first began to preach to himself, to regulate his interior, to cultivate the vineyard of his own soul, and to treasure up lessons of solid piety and true virtue in his mind. Such was the delicacy and tenderness of his conscience, that he accuses himself in his own writings, which are called his Confession, that he was rather tardy and remiss in not having begun at an earlier period to love the Lord his God above all things, and with his whole heart, from the very first instant that the use of reason rendered him capable of paying his Creator this tribute, which is so justly due to his Sovereign Majesty on a thousand titles. Hence he tells us, that he could not refrain from weeping for his past neglect, whenever he recollected that his heart had been, even for a single moment, insensible and void of divine love. Herein our saint imitated the piety of the penitent Augustine, who thought that he could never sufficiently bewail and regret every day, every hour, every minute of his past life, which had not been filled up with acts of divine love, and who, in order to clear off the long arrears of love, which, on account of his former neglect, appeared to be still due by him, made it his constant study, ever after, to redouble his love for God all the days of his life, and laboured with indefatigable zeal to kindle flames of divine love in the heart of every Christian, crying out for this reason in the fervour of his soul, O Beauty, ever ancient, and ever new! O Sovereign Good! O inexhaustible Source of all Sweetness and Perfection! Too late, too late, alas! have I begun to love thee. O that I could begin my course over again, that every moment of my life might be filled with tokens and proofs of my love for thee, my God and my All! Behold here an excellent lesson of edification for all, both young and old. Learn, my brethren, from your glorious patron St. Patrick, that the great precept of charity begins to bind you all at an earlier period than perhaps you imagine. Beware of misplacing your affections on the empty bubbles and painted toys of this transitory life. Look up to Heaven, your native country and happy inheritance, which your dear Redeemer has purchased for you with bis precious blood; let your hearts be where God your treasure is, and where he shews his glorious and beautiful Majesty to the Angels, and Saints. Begin from this instant, if you have not already begun, to love him above all things, not by word of mouth only; but in reality and truth from the very bottom of your hearts and souls, and endeavour to increase every day in this divine virtue, which is to be the crown, the joy and the happiness of the blessed for a never ending eternity. But to return to St. Patrick. Whilst he was, on a certain day, in the sixteenth year of his age, putting up his fervent prayers to Heaven in a retired place, situated near the borders of the sea, be was surprised by a set of barbarian pirates, who then infested the British coasts, and was suddenly carried off from his family and native country, and brought captive into Ireland, the very land which he was afterwards to deliver from the darkness of infidelity, and from the dismal captivity of Satan. Admire here, my brethren, the wonderful ways of divine Providence! We read in the book of Genesis, that the Patriarch Joseph, by a disposition of Providence, was carried off in his youthful days from his native country, and sold as a slave in Egypt, that he might be the means of relieving the Egyptians afterwards in the hour of distress, and supplying both them and his own father's household with the necessaries of life, during the continuance of a dreadful famine that raged over that land for the space of seven years. By a similar disposition of the same divine Providence, about the decline of the fourth century, the virtuous and pious youth Patrick was stolen away from his parents, carried off and sold as a common slave to a petty prince in the county of Antrim that by being inured to hardships, and by being well acquainted with the language and manners of the natives of Ireland, he might be fetter qualified to undertake the great work of their conversion at a future period, and become the happy means of supplying both them and the Churches of his own native country with a sufficient number of zealous clergymen and able missionaries, who would break the heavenly bread of the word of God to the little ones, and nourish their souls with the food of eternal life in the day of their spiritual famine and distress.

Thus it happened that Patrick, whom Heaven had destined to become one day a great pastor of souls in this island, was previously employed in the low and painful servitude of feeding cattle on mountains, and in forests, where he was for a considerable time constantly exposed to the inclemency of the weather, and to all the rigours of poverty, hunger, and nakedness. Far, however, from repining at his despicable situation, far from murmuring, or complaining of the dispensations of Providence, far from flying in the face of God, as numbers of the distressed and suffering poor of our times unhappily do, whereby they not only lose the merit and reward of their trials find afflictions, but likewise expose themselves to the manifest danger of becoming slaves to Satan hereafter in hell, after having been drudges and slaves to sin in this world, Patrick, I say, far from pursuing so criminal a line of conduct, made a virtue of necessity, and carried his cross, and bore his severe trials with patience and resignation, for the love of his blessed Redeemer, Jesus Christ. His sufferings of course were to him a source of heavenly benedictions, and served only to furnish him with daily opportunities of practising the virtues of humility, meekness, obedience and submission to the holy will of God. Whilst he thus discharged every exterior duty belonging to his state with cheerfulness, and attended the cattle of his earthly master with the vigilance, assiduity and activity of a faithful servant, his conversation was mostly in Heaven, for he united contemplation with action, and in the midst of his daily employments he took care to elevate his heart frequently to God, by pious aspirations, and short, but devout and fervent prayers. It is related in his life, that he was accustomed to adore God on his bended knees no less than an hundred times in the day and in the night, by which means the love of God continually inflamed his tender heart more and more, and acquired every day new strength in his affectionate soul. It were to be wished, my brethren, that this pious method of attending constantly to the divine presence in the course of the day, and raising up the heart often to God, by some ejaculatory prayer, whilst the hands are employed at daily labour, were more generally adopted by all laborious and industrious Christians in the midst of their ordinary occupations and temporal actions. It is highly recommended by the Saints, and was one of the principal exercises whereby they gradually arrived at the height of perfection. St. Francis of Sales advises us to cast ourselves, in spirit, at the feet of Jesus, like Mary Magdalen, and to give our souls to God a thousand times in the day. To breathe forth some pious ejaculations now and then costs no great trouble, nor does it require much time, or interrupt our external duties; it is short and easy, and does not distract or fatigue the mind; a little practice would render it familiar and habitual, and it has this peculiar advantage, that it can be practised at all times, and on all occasions, without being exposed to the danger of vainglory, as it may be secretly performed in the closet of the heart.

We have already heard what signal advantages St. Patrick derived from fervent and frequent ejaculations of this kind. No sooner was he released from his bondage but the designs of Providence began to be brought about; for he felt the strongest impressions from Heaven to set about the glorious work of converting the Irish nation without any further delay. Any other motive than the greater honour and glory of God, could never have induced him to undertake so arduous an enterprise, and so difficult a work as the general conversion of an entire nation, where vice was authorized by practice, and impiety strengthened by custom. Palladius, indeed, had preceded him, and was the first who formed the plan of converting this nation to Christianity; but having met with violent, opposition, he converted but few, and departed in a short time. The general conversion of Ireland was reserved for St. Patrick, who having travelled into Gaul and Italy for the purpose of acquiring a competent stock of sacred learning, chiefly under the tuition of his uncle, St. Martin, the renowned Bishop of Tours, was promoted to holy orders, and received his episcopal consecration and lawful mission from the successor of St. Peter the Apostle, Pope Celestine, in the year of our Lord 431. He did not intrude himself into the ministry without a true vocation. He did not presume to exercise the sacred functions of the priesthood without being regularly ordained. He did not attempt of his own accord, to dogmatize or turn preacher and teacher without a proper mission, like unto the false prophets in the old Law, who as the Scripture complains, came without being sent, or like unto the new gospellers, and fanatics of these latter ages, who are called by our Saviour wolves in the clothing of sheep, and who force themselves into the sheepfold without any mission, either extraordinary from God, like that of the Apostles mentioned in c. xvi. of St. Mark, v. 15, or ordinary from the pastors of the Church, by the imposition of hands, like that spoken of in c. xiv. of the Acts, and x Tim. c. v. v. 22. and 2 Tim. c. i. v. 6. No, my brethren, St. Patrick came to this part of the world duly called, sent and authorized to preach the ancient faith, originally taught by the Apostles, to plant the catholic religion, and to open the fountains of salvation, grace, and mercy to sinners. No sooner did he land at Wicklow, with about twenty fellow labourers, and zealous assistants, but he began to weed, to plant, to water and cultivate the new vineyard of Christ. But how did he compleat his design? He placed his confidence in God, and as he was a man of piety, recollection and prayer, he possessed the art of converting sinners, of softening their hearts, of subduing all the powers of their souls, and of infusing more virtue into them than a more learned man, with all his empty science, and pompous oratory would be able to do; for though a man of extensive knowledge, may argue, convince, and charm others with his eloquence, yet if the spirit of piety be extinguished in his heart, he is no better than a sounding trumpet, though, as St. Paul expresses it, he should speak the language of men and  angels. These maxims were the plan of St. Patrick's conduct, and by these means he had the happiness to gain over innumerable proselytes. He appeared with undaunted courage at the general assembly of the Kings and states of Ireland, which was held every year at Tarah, the residence of the chief King, who was stiled the Monarch of the whole nation. Here our saint met a great number of the Druids, or Heathen priests, and confounded and converted many of them. The shining virtues of his exemplary life were more powerful and more persuasive arguments, than the most elegant discourses. It would be an endless task to enumerate all the labours and fatigues he underwent, in the course of sixty-one years, for the glory of God, and the salvation of souls. He travelled through all the provinces of Ireland, rooting up vice, and planting virtue wherever he went. Like another Elias, he burnt with zeal for the Lord God of Hosts, 3 Kings, c. xix. v. 10. so that he might truly say with the royal Prophet, ps. lxviii. The zeal of thy house has eaten me up, and has made me pine away. Nothing gave him more pain than to see the great God offended; nothing gave him more pleasure than to see him loved, praised and adored. He bewailed the gross errors of idolatry and superstition in which he found thousands of the inhabitants of this country enveloped at the time of his arrival; but glory be to God, his sorrow was soon changed into inexpressible joy. The most obdurate hearts were mollified by his instructions; the greatest sinners cast themselves at his feet, and began to deplore their past crimes with tears of bitterness, and numberless multitudes cried out for Baptism, and embraced the Roman Catholic and Apostolic faith. In short, he dispersed the darkness of infidelity by the brilliant rays of his sanctity, and by the ardour of zeal and piety he made truth and virtue triump over error and immorality. It is recorded of him that he founded above three hundred churches, ordained near three thousand priests, consecrated a great number of bishops, and established seven hundred religious houses, wherein thousands of the faithful devoted themselves entirely to the divine service, and aspired to the summit of Christian perfection by a regular observance of the three evangelical counsels, insomuch that this islands was deservedly stiled the Island of Saints, when St. Patrick finished his glorious career in the hundred and twentieth year of his age and in the four hundred and ninety-third year of our Lord. Nay, during the three succeeding centuries, whilst the greater part of Europe was overspread with inundations of pagan Goths and Vandals, this island was deemed a nursery of piety, a school of virtue, a seminary of learning, and abounded with a long train of illustrious saints, who derived the streams of their sanctity from their great Apostle St. Patrick, and illumined several parts of the, continent with the light of the Gospel and the splendor of their virtues. It is true, indeed, that in the ninth century Ireland was in its turn infested by successive swarms of heathen barbarians, who made it feel the grievances that followed the invasion of the sanctuary, and the demolition of the Roman empire in other countries; but notwithstanding all the various revolutions of nature, the self-same holy Catholic religion, which was planted here by St. Patrick above thirteen hundred years ago, and which was uniformly professed by our pious ancestors ever since, has been carefully transmitted down to us, whole and entire, unchanged and uncorrupted, and is still professed here to this very day in its primitive purity.

 Are we not, then, my brethren, highly indebted to the goodness of God for having, in his great mercy, called our ancestors from the darkness of infidelity to the wonderful light of faith, by the ministry of St. Patrick, and for having extended the same heavenly gift to us by the ministry of his successors and descendants, in preference to so many thousands, in other countries, from whom the true faith of Christ has been withdrawn by a just judgment, and transplanted elsewhere. Have we not reason to thank, praise and glorify the holy name of the Lord for this particular blessing, this singular favour, this special protection, and visible interference of his divine providence? Should we not, as the Apostle recommends in the words of my text, gratefully remember our prelates, who have spoken the word of God to us? Should we not be steadfast in following their faiths and taking care not to be led away by, various and strange doctrines? Should we not be armed against all novelty in religion, and guard against the baneful influence  of those dangerous principles which the new philosophers and unbelievers of this age are spreading in these and other neighbouring countries? Remove not the ancient landmark, which your fathers have set, says the Holy Ghost, Prov. xxii. Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls, Jerem. c. vi. v. 16. Ask thy father and he will shew thee, thy elders and they will tell thee, Deut. xxxii. for there is a way that seems to a man to be right, but its end leads to death and perdition, Prov. c. xiv. v. 12. ; and again, Christ cautions us in the Gospel, to beware of false prophets who make their appearance in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly are ravenous wolves, that come, not to feed, but only to fleece and destroy the flock ; nay, St. Paul does not hesitate to say, Galat. c. 1. v. 8. that although an Angel should descend from Heaven to preach up any new doctrine contrary to the ancient faith once delivered to the saints, we ought to look upon him as an anathema.

 Away, then with those irreligious discourses, pernicious maxims, unchristian ideas, unsanctified notions and noxious tares, which the enemy is endeavouring to sow over the good seed. Let us live up to the dictates and duties of our holy religion, and shew the purity of our faith by the purity of our morals, and by a strict observance of the commandments of God and his Church. Let us not forget the example of our holy Patron, but endeavour to render ourselves worthy of his patronage and intercession, by an imitation of his humility, charity, piety and zeal. Let us enter into the spirit of this holy quarantine, and go through it in a manner becoming good Christians and Catholics. Let us not pervert those days of grace and salvation into days of wrath and perdition. Let us not resemble pagans and bacchanalians in the celebration of our festivals, by criminal excesses and intemperance in drinking. Nothing is more opposite to the spirit of the Gospel, and to the sanctity of this present season and time of mercy, than the odious and destructive vice of drunkenness, by which this day in particular, above all days in the year, is most shamefully profaned. There is no vice that debases or degrades man more from the honour of human nature, or that reduces him nearer to the low rank, condition and similitude of the beasts of the field. It robs him of his reason, which is the greatest prero- gative of man, and the most excellent of the gifts of nature. It besots his spirits, clouds his understanding, confuses his judgment, and stupifies his mind in such a manner as not to be able to make one serious reflection, or to distinguish a plain from a precipice, or a friend from an enemy. It renders him a reproach to religion, a disgrace to Christianity, unfit for every spiritual duty, and fit for nothing but for the drudgery of Satan. It should, therefore, be carefully avoided at all times as a brutish vice, but more particularly at present, when the Gospel is crying out loudly to us to watch and pray, to live soberly, justly and quietly, to crucify the flesh with its lusts, to exhibit our bodies, an immaculate and pleasing host to the Lord, and to look well to ourselves, lest perhaps our hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness. Luke, c. xxi. O merciful Jesus, grant us all the grace of a true conversion. Open the eyes of those who are blindly straying away from the path of salvation, and conduct them into the right way that leads to life everlasting. Grant to the just the great gift of final perseverance, that being rescued from the dangers of this sinful Babylon, they may see and enjoy thee for a never-ending eternity, in the sacred mansions of heavenly Jerusalem. Which is the felicity that I wish ye all, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Rev. W. Gahan O.S.A., Sermons and Moral Discourses, Volume I (Dublin, 1825), 198-205.

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Wednesday 9 March 2016

A Novena to Saint Patrick, Apostle of Ireland.

A Novena to St Patrick, Apostle of Ireland.

O BLESSED St. Patrick, glorious Apostle of Ireland, who didst become a friend and father to me for ages before my birth, hear my prayer, and accept for God the sentiments of gratitude and veneration with which my heart is filled. Through thee I have inherited that faith which is dearer than life. I now make thee the representative of my thanks, and the mediator of my homage to Almighty God. Most holy father and patron of my country, despise not my weakness: remember that the cries of little children were the sounds that rose, like a mysterious voice from heaven, and invited thee to come amongst us. Listen, then, to my humble supplication: may my prayer ascend to the throne of God, with the praises and blessings which shall ever sanctify thy name and thy memory in the Irish Church. May my hope be animated by the patronage and intercession of our forefathers, who now enjoy eternal bliss, and owe their salvation, under God, to thy courage and charity. Obtain for me grace to love God with my whole heart, to serve Him with my whole strength, and to persevere in good purposes to the end. O faithful shepherd of the Irish flock, who wouldst have laid down a thousand lives to save one soul, take my soul, and the souls of my countrymen, under thy especial care. Be a father to the Church of Ireland and her faithful people. Grant that all hearts may share the blessed fruits of that Gospel you planted and watered. Grant that, as our ancestors of old had learned, under thy guidance, to unite science with virtue, we, too, may learn, under thy patronage, to consecrate all Christian duty to the glory of God. I commend to thee my native land, which was so dear to thee while on earth. Protect it still, and, above all, direct its chief pastors, particularly those who teach us. Give them grace to walk in thy footsteps, to nurture the flock with the word of life and the bread of salvation, and to lead the heirs of the saints thou hast formed to the possession of that glory which they with you enjoy in the kingdom of the blessed: through Christ Jesus, our Lord.


V. Pray for us, O glorious St. Patrick.

R. And obtain for us the intention of this Novena.

The Augustinian Manual (Dublin,1885), 208-209.

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