Ireland has a very distinctive history. It was an island untouched by the Roman legions, and Patrick, the Evangelist, brought to it the Gospel of grace. Patrick was himself descended from a family that had been, for two generations at least, in Christ Jesus. His father, he tells us was “the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a presbyter, of the settlement of Bannaven Taburniae.”1 These facts are recorded in Patrick’s own testimony of faith. This authentic document is preserved in five manuscripts: one in the Book of Armagh of the seventh century, the second in the Cotton Library of the tenth century, a third in the French monastery of St. Vedastus, and two more in the Cathedral Library of Salisbury. This authenticated document is the main source of both the person and the mission of Patrick, and also his clear statement of the Gospel of grace.
Patrick was born in the year 373 in a town on the River Clyde in Roman Britain, now a part of Scotland. When he was sixteen years old, Patrick was captured by a band of pirates who sold him to a chieftain in what is now county Antrim in Northern Ireland. For six years he tended flocks. In his testimony he tells us, “I was taken captive before I knew what I should desire and what I should shun.”3 It was during the time of his captivity that he turned from his careless ways and came to a saving knowledge of Christ Jesus. He was convicted that he was a sinner. In his own words,
“before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and He that is mighty came and in His mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for His great favours in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot measure.”4
Patrick, like so many of the godly men of history, found God’s favor in the riches of the grace of Christ. This was the theme echoing throughout the testimony of Patrick, in his own words “I am greatly God’s debtor, because he granted me so much grace.”5 He then grew in the grace of God. Having believed on “the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,”6 he directly received “of his fullness...grace for grace.”7 In his own words,
“More and more did the love of God, and my fear of Him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.”8
Patrick relates how, after six years, he escaped and after a difficult journey on land and sea returned to his people in Scotland. In his own words, “I was again in Britain with my family [kinsfolk], and they welcomed me as a son, and asked me, in faith, that after the great tribulations I had endured I should not go any where else away from them.”9
His Direct Mission from the Lord
Like the Apostle Paul, he received a clear and personal call from the Lord to preach the Gospel in the land of his former captivity. He described his call in these words,
“I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming as if from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: ‘The Voice of the Irish’, and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.’ And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke. Thanks be to God, because after so many years the Lord bestowed on them according to their cry”10
He speaks of being called again in dream another night, but makes it clear how he interpreted what was happening by the Scriptures. He wrote, “‘Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we know not how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for utterance.’” And again, “‘The Lord our advocate intercedes for us.’” Thus, Patrick relies on Scripture to understand his experience and to see that it was the Lord Himself who was calling him. In his own words, “‘He who gave his life for you, He it is who speaks within you.’”11 He understood that Christ Jesus, who had died for his sins, was the One who was calling him to work as an evangelist in the very island where he had been held captive.
A second historical document from Patrick’s own hand is his letter to Coroticus. In it he explains his assignment from God to a foreign nation for the glory of eternal life that is in Christ Jesus. His own words are the following, “Thus I am a servant in Christ to a foreign nation for the unspeakable glory of life everlasting which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”12 This is a major factor in understanding Patrick. He knew himself as a sinner and found salvation where only sinners find it, “in Christ Jesus our Lord.”13 The first words of his testimony read, “I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many.” Likewise, in the beginning of his letter to Coroticus he states, “I, Patrick, a sinner, unlearned, resident in Ireland”. Quite clearly Patrick saw himself as a sinner. He did not look to some spark of life from within himself or to some ritual; rather, he looked unto Christ Jesus. Patrick’s words, “unspeakable glory of life everlasting which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” shows his distinct and personal comfort and courage in Christ. Totally unlike religion that looks to rituals, Patrick had his eyes set on the Lord. Catholicism now, and to some extent even in Patrick’s time, looks to sacraments as necessary for salvation.14 Patrick saw himself only as a sinner saved by grace in Christ Jesus. Patrick’s message is that salvation is totally in Christ alone — a message utterly diverse from that of Roman Catholicism then and now.
There is more here on Wikipedia about the 'two Patricks theory'.