Monday 20 March 2017

Did Saint Patrick Study on the Continent?

So he crossed the southern British sea, and beginning his journey through Gaul with the intention of eventually crossing the Alps, as he had resolved in his heart, he came on a very holy bishop, Germanus, who ruled in the city of Auxerre, the greatest lord in almost all of Gaul He stayed with him for quite some time, just as Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel; and in all humility, patience and obedience he learned, loved and treasured wholeheartedly knowledge, wisdom, purity and every benefit to soul and spirit, with great fear and love for God, in goodness and singleness of heart and chaste in body and spirit.

A. B. E. Hood, ed. and trans. Muirchú's Life of Saint Patrick, (London and Chichester, 1978), p.84

Thus does Saint Patrick's seventh-century biographer, Muirchú, describe the training received by his subject at the feet of one of the most pre-eminent saints of his age, Germanus of Auxerre. Yet Saint Patrick himself makes no mention of his famous teacher or of any years spent in Gaul in his own writings. The episode is found only in the writings of his later hagiographers and as a result has come under the scrutiny of modern scholarship. In his discussion of Saint Patrick's Gaulish training for his Irish mission, Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, acknowledges that there are some mentions of Gaul in the extant writings of the saint:
True, he does mention later in the Letter (s.14) the 'custom of the Gallo-Roman Christians of ransoming captive Christians from their heathen captors'. And in the Confession (s.43) he also mentions his wish that, at some stage, he might have an opportunity (apparently unfulfilled) to visit the brethern in Gaul; but these are hardly the kind of statements we would expect from a man whose training had been received in the foremost cathedral school in Gaul, under the most prominent Gallican bishop of his time.
The real issue for Ó Cróinín is that if Germanus of Auxerre had prepared Patrick for his mission then that would have provided some pretty powerful ammunition for Patrick to have used against those who questioned its validity:
Had Patrick really studied at Auxerre under Germanus, his detractors at home could have no conceivable grounds for complaint about his inadequate training; on the contrary he could have boosted a superior religious formation probably than any that was to be held in Britain at that time.
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), 53-54.

It's an interesting point and one upon which the academic jury is still deliberating. Tomorrow we will look at the nature of the objections to Saint Patrick's mission.

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