Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day

I just read on the New Advent website the Catholic Encyclopedia’s excellent account of the life of Erin’s great apostle. I would highly recommend it if you can spare fifteen minutes today. I can’t think of anything I’ve read elsewhere over the years about the saint that is not included, at least in summary, in this magnificent article. It was written by Francis Patrick Cardinal Moran, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia. (+1911)  The life of Cardinal Moran is itself a wonder and can be found also in the Encyclopedia here.  At his funeral, a quarter of a million people lined the main thoroughfare in the heart of Sydney in July 1911 to pay him tribute.

I especially appreciated Cardinal Moran’s account of Saint Patrick’s forty day penitential retreat on the mountain that became known as Croagh (Mount) Patrick. Of the five major concessions the apostle exacted from God through his angel on the mountain the last one was always a problem for me — that Patrick should judge the Irish race — especially after hearing Brother Francis’ comment on this tradition; namely, that he would rather be judged by Our Lord Jesus Christ. But, lo and behold, that is not the actual promise Patrick won. The actual promise, as Cardinal Moran has it, is that Patrick should be deputed to judge the whole Irish race on the last day, not the singular particular judgment at death. That is much easier to understand than what is wrongly believed by some Irish that Saint Patrick will judge their own soul at the moment of death. Concerning the general judgment, Our Lord Himself told His Apostles that they would judge the twelve tribes of Israel.

The question used to always come up, especially if in company with Italian friends, as to Saint Patrick’s nationality. We Irish used to be enthusiastically informed that our patron saint was not Irish, but Italian. None of my Irish Catholic friends ever thought Patrick was Irish, by the way. But, was he Italian?  His mother, Conchessa, was a near relative (some writers say sister) of Saint Martin of Tours, and that great saint was not Italian, or French, but Pannonian (or Illyrian). It was during Saint Patrick’s sixty years in Ireland that Emperor Theodosius II conceded Pannonia to the Huns. So, it eventually became known, as it is today, as Hungary. Saint Patrick’s father, Calphurnius, however, was from a high ranking Roman family, serving as decurio in the empire’s furthest western outpost in Scotland. A decurio was some kind of provincial official of ancient Rome, or perhaps a cavalry man in charge of ten soldiers (decius, ten).  So, yes, one could say that Saint Patrick was Italian (I am always happy to do so), even though the peoples of Italia in the fifth century were no ethnic relation to the Italians of later centuries who sprung mainly from the Germanic Lombards.  Interestingly, it was in the late sixth century that the Lombards were forced by the Huns out of — guess where? — Pannonia. By the eight century almost all of Italy (not the Roman province) was ruled by the Lombards. The south, however, Ravenna and other areas, were actually Byzantine. Then the Normans came in the eleventh century  and conquered the Byzantine territory.

Now, here is a very interesting fact linking Saint Patrick even more with the Pannonians. Ancient Illyria, in which kingdom Pannonia was located, was a huge area on the western side of the Balkans bordering the Adriatic Sea, whose inhabitants shared a common language. Illyria was a Greek word, so the kingdom was part of the Hellenistic world. The Romans conquered Illyricum in 168 B.C. In Our Lord’s time the Romans divided Illyricum into Pannonia and Dalmatia (which became Yugoslavia). Both territories shared a similar Illyrian language. Saint Jerome, the great Doctor of the Church, was a Dalmatian. While a young man studying in Trier (circa 370), Jerome happened to stop at the city’s marketplace during a slave auction. The slaves being sold were captured by the Romans from the shores of eastern Ireland. Jerome was astonished as he listened to the captives speaking their native Gaelic. Why? Because he could understand a good portion of what they were saying. Now, if, as many historians believe, the Irish originally (circa 1500 B.C.) migrated from Galatia (the Gaels),  then the ancient mother tongue of the Irish would be eastern European. Would that be the same mother tongue from which the Illyrian language came? It would seem so; otherwise, how was it that Saint Jerome, whose native language was Illyrian, was able to understand something of what the Irish slaves were saying?

Another connection of the Irish with the Galatians is that some historians believe that the Gaelic migration took them first to the south, and into Egypt. Their Druid religion has undeniable similarities with that of the Egyptians in the times of the pharaohs and Moses, circa 1500 B.C. The magicians of pharoah were able by diabolic power to perform amazing prodigies, just as the druid magicians of high-king Laoghaire (Leary) did in their confrontations with Saint Patrick, as was seen at Tara. Certainly the Gaels left traces of their migration in the cultures of northeastern Spain (the Basques) and on the east coast of France (Gaul) in Brittany. That’s another story.

Finally, I was grateful to read in the Cardinal’s article about the origin of the name Patrick. I had thought that it was from his father, who was assumed to be a “patrician.” This is not the case. Rather, it was Pope Celestine himself who, in commissioning the son of Calphurnius to go to Ireland in 432, gave him the name “Patercius” or “Patritius”, “not as an honorary title, but as a foreshadowing of the fruitfulness and merit of his apostolate whereby he became pater civium (the father of his people).” What was Saint Patrick actual name? Maewyn Succat. I do not know the source for this, but it is found, often with a question mark, in many biographies of the saint. Cardinal Moran does not venture even a guess at what Patrick’s name was, although he does provide that of his parents.

Nor does this brilliant and holy cardinal mention the expulsion of the snakes from the island at Patrick’s command. I have my own opinion about this. I give it to you by way of a tongue-in-cheek article I once wrote on the subject. I am sure some of our readers who are childlike at heart will enjoy my defensus traditionis: vadete serpentes (Be Gone ye Serpents!)

So, what is my conclusion? The Irish race may not have been so foreign to Saint Patrick, after all. Perhaps 2000 years before Maewyn Succat was born the ancestors of the Irish and their apostle were one people, Galatian.