So, who is St. Patrick, anyway, and why do we like him so much?
Well, first, who he is not: he is not the benign figure wearing a green bishop's miter holding a shamrock and casting the snakes from the shores of his homeland, the Emerald Isle, even as he brought the saving message of Christianity to Irish pagans.
The saint we know as Patrick lived, most probably, in the mid fifth century Anno Domini, at a time before Roman Catholic bishops wore miters. Although he preached the Christian doctrine of the Trinity (that God is manifest in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), using a shamrock to illustrate the teaching is a later attribution to him. There were no snakes in Ireland, as testified by Roman writers well before Patrick's time. And Ireland was not his native land; rather, Patrick was a Roman Briton who first came to Ireland as a slave, then returned as a missionary, yes to convert the heathens on the wild island, but also to organize the Christians who were already there into a coherent church structure.
In fact, Patrick was an angry son of a gun, uneducated despite his noble lineage, totally insecure, with few friends and legions of enemies within the British church that dispatched him to Hibernia in the first place (after much lobbying by him)--and accused of malfeasance by those same enemies who moved to have him removed from his ministry and position of authority. He was, for all that, a remarkable communicator (think Billy Graham for a modern comparison), brave in the face of very real dangers, indefatigable, stubborn in his embrace of the true faith, generous to a fault, a mystic and a man of deep humility and constant prayer.
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