If 64 bishops, saints or not, have written about the life of St Patrick, there is some possibility that one or two of them made an error due to contaminated tradition. Or that their common transcriber into one story did by relying on Geoffrey Keating too much. "He was born in County Tipperary c. 1569, and died c. 1644." - in other words, after the Britain traditionally seen as St Patrick's home had become by and large Protestant and therefore inimical to Irish Catholics. But so was, of course, Coroticus too - the British Pirate who harassed St Patrick's neophytes. Also, Father Geoffrey Keating was contemporary of Owen Roe O'Neill "(Irish: Eoghan Ruadh Ó Néill; 1590–1649)", founder of the first Irish Republic, also known as Kilkenny Confederation. And descending from Niall of the Nine Hostages. And very important for the Catholic cause at the time. His Republic or Confederation was blessed by Pope Innocent XI.
The one item I am least confident in, or rather decidedly diffident in, after reading the Life of St Patrick such as the late Father Philip Lynch C.S.Sp. transcribed it from 64 holy bishops but not without an eyeglance now and then to Geoffrey Keating,
And whether Bannavem Taburniae was in Armorica or anywhere between Strathclyde and Isle of Wight does not affect that after he left the home to go to Rome, he was in a monastery in Gaul, in Marmoutiers. It does not affect the fact that St Patrick's cell is still identified there. Nor the miracles St Patrick worked especially in Ireland, after returning there as a missionary. Nor his date of death, Wednesday 17 of March 493. Nor the places in Ireland where he founded Churches. It is easy for someone taking Niall of the Nine hostages as slightly larger in importance than he was to understand a journey into the English Channel - especially if worded as a journey between England and France - as if he landed on the French side too.
There are two lists of the privileges a voice from God or an angel from Heaven conceded to St Patrick. Both end with his being made the judge on judgement day for the Irish tribe. Only one of them includes that Ireland shall never by either force or consent be held by the Saxons. I can suspect a certain nationalistic intrusion there. But in fact the invaders of Ireland:
- did not include St Patrick's roughly contemporaries Hors and Hengest;
- nor did it include King Alfred who was certainly more British and less Saxon than Horse and Hengest (I wonder if his ancestor Cerdic is the Brit Coroticus whom St Patrick disowned, and yes, Cedric - probably misspelling for Cerdic in analogy of Germanic names in -ric, is supposed to have been living in Wessex "Cedric, roi de Wessex ca 470-534" according to Genea.Net, so he was in the life time of St Patrick. He could have been a bit older than born 470, he could have been very young when misbehaving as pirate against the Irish, and St Patrick very old when reprehending him. Or the Brit Coroticus* could have been a generation older than this one and his godfather.)
- And when English finally arrived under Strongbow, their aristocracy was no longer speaking the language of Wessex but that of Normandy (a place where Danes had subjects not just from Latin and Gaulish but also British stock, honouring St Patrick in a few parishes;
- and later still the settlements came from not England in the main but rather Wales (like C. S. Lewis' grandfather) or even more from Scotland, which Niall of the Nine Hostages is said to have renamed Scotia Minor after the Irish Scoti.
So, that privilege need not be a later addition, it may have been very strictly fulfilled.
And there is a question whether here and there one miracle may have crept in to make one place more glorious by association with St Patrick.
But here there is a French saying: "on ne prête qu'aux riches". If you have no money you will not find willing moneylenders. If you have no ground for a certain reputation at all, your made up reputation will not reflect that.
Julius Caesar is said to have been a soldier. One could imagine one of his battles were there to make a place in France more glorious. But one cannot imagine he got a reputation for working a miracle in Gaul to make a French locality more glorious. In Caesar's case, only battles will do. Or fornication - that was another thing he did.
Cicero was a writer. One not only could imagine, but actually has imagined, that Rhetorica ad Herennium was attributed to him, because he was such a glorious writer. But he was not a soldier or a saint, one cannot imagine him as healing a lame or leading a legion to conquer a city. In his case, only a book will do.
So many priests have made no miracles, at least not during the lifetime. We can be quite sure Monsignor Lefèbvre was too modest ever to pray for an ostentatious miracle when a Holy Ghost Father and Missionary in Africa. And if someone was tempted to attribute to him a levitation of an African sorcerer neding with the sorcerer falling to the ground and dashing his brains out, I for one cannot imagine who that would be. Neither European nor African could imagine such a thing about the rather well behaved and protected seminarian that Marcel Lefèbvre had been.
Any addition to a tradition must when done have been conceived of by the man adding as a probable thing or a thing taken as probable by his audience. It must have been conceived of as a marginal augmentation of a reputation already there.
It is impossible - at least for anyone not excluding miracles on Humean principles - to imagine that all of St Patrick's life was without the miracles attributed to him and then these were added.
If a man writes not one book, he will not have books attributed to his name. If a man fights no fight, he will have no glorious military victories tacked on to his reputation. And if a man is rather a scholar than a saint, very studious but as barren in miracles as Father Mendel, who discovered Genetics, he will maybe in a few hundred years have academic works or discoveries attributed to his name, but not one miracle.
If one miracle is added to someone's reputation, he probably has lots already. If Jesus playing with clay birds and giving his life as his buddy tried to destroy them is an addition, as some say, that not being in the Canonic Gospels, then it has been added because Jesus did in fact work very many miracles. It could not have been added to the name of Caesar or Cicero.
But of course, one could be denying this or that class of miracles of St Patrick as additions by some principle that is not very solid.
If on two occasions he made impenitent Druids levitate and dash their brains, one could hear someone argue that Patrick being a Saint precludes that kind of violent miracles. One could argue it is a rehash of St Peter stopping Simon Magus from continued levitation in Rome. But St Peter was kinder to Simon Magus, he prayed for Simon Magus not to die and the mage only broke the bones in his body. In front of quite a few Romans. The Druids, by contrast do not levitate by their own magic, but by St Patrick's miracle. They do not fall to be spared, but to die quickly. The story is not the same. The miracle is not the same. The characters are not the same. I rather think there was a difference in the treatment of them because:
- Simon Magus was destined to sow the seeds of Heresies in the Empire, but the Irish Christendom was to be spared Heresies arising from evil druidry;
- Simon Magus, as far as we know, did not commit human sacrifice. The Druids, like those priests or prophets of Baal slaughtered by Elijah, did use human sacrifice, and therefore deserve a much crueller fate themselves.
As to me, I find it harder to believe St Patrick agreed to a secret variation on the handshake. That may be a lie, added during times when as yet Catholic freemasonries (well before 1717 of course) were working in Ireland and invoking St Patrick's example for a practise of their own. But of course, it may have been very dangerous not to, insofar as the court of King Leary at a time still included Pagans who might have done a cutthroat thing otherwise. But still, I am against believing that about St Patrick.
If one were to imagine for one mad moment that St Patrick's legend were a literary product based on earlier legends about other people, based on still earlier legends about yet other people ... first of all, the exercise serves only the futile attempt to deny miracles happening and being recorded as such, but second, where would you find the literary models? A blend of Jesus Christ and Ulysses, with a hint of Moses and Elijah?
But such an exercise is surely not reasonable, since it is not reasonable to presume that a community (of locality or otherwise) quite forgot either its real secular founders or its real Apostles.
If a Church was attributed to St Patrick if he was not the builder - who would then have built it? Presumably the Church is old enough for such a claim to be reasonable. So, presumably if it was not Saint Patrick it was one of his immediate successors. And almost each of them was a famous holy person too. It does not make sense that they should have been so obscure that their Churches - or their miracles - got into St Patrick's.
The changes in tradition reasonable to presume are things like what names the countries have. Roman Britain later becomes Lagria and Cambria, but that is still a little later than St Patrick's day. Armorica does become Britannia Armoricana or Britannia Minor, but I think that is also after St Patrick's day, though well before Giraldus Cambrensis or Gerald the Welshman drew his maps. However, I admit the settlements of Tractus Armoricanus by Brits under Roman Rule went in three waves, the first of which began before St Patrick was born. But back then Britannia was still a Roman Province, the Legions had not left it to its fate, there was no need yet to rename Armorica Little Britain in order to make a case Rome was keeping together when it was not. Note that Keating was not sloppy, these things have been dug up by scholars after his time with better libraries about possibly not Irish, but at least Roman matters.
Or what languages St Patrick spoke. Saying he spoke an Beurla in an older biography does not automatically mean he spoke English - the Gaelic word means gloss or language learned by reading lists of glosses. Latin is for instance a typical Beurla, though to St Patrick it may as likely as British ahve been his mother tongue. But later on English is in Ireland seen as THE Beurla, although in St Patrick's day the language did not yet exist at all. At least I cannot say the Fæder Ure (language of Wessex probably in King Alfred's time) is the same language as Our Father. So, though Saint Patrick understood English for centuries in Heaven before we did, he hardly did so while still alive. It is possible he knew or that he did not know Saxon as spoken by Saxon Pirates. It is possible he spoke the Germanic tongue of the Franks, since on one occasion fifteen Franks join his familia. But they might have been speaking Latin with him, if they were clerks before coming to Ireland. But at least he spoke Latin, probably British, and Gaelic. And he knew some Greek and Hebrew.
Apart from that reservation about birthplace and languages, I recommend as a factual story, the work Saint Patrick after the Ancient Narrations, by Rev. Philip Lynch C.S.Sp. The book also includes some other material, like two or three other legends - that is lives - with overlay of the versions, and some reflections on Flood Geology (with the slight drawback of not being Geocentric, but after 1820's Catholics must be charitable about that), and on the One, Catholic religion. There is a translation which he made of a Latin hymn, which has the same privileges or indulgences as the Latin original, and some more poetry too.
A drawback is that it is a bit cluttered in the text with parentheses that I would have put as footnotes. But not too great a drawback. It is a good exercise for reading something else than modern academia. Some of the Historians' sources will be a great deal more cluttered with explanations. You get used to it.
Nanterre University Library
Our Lady's Apparition in Lourdes
*Not from same area. See Ceretic of Alt Clut
For ordering the book, write a mail or letter to the author's nephew, James Lynch:
Republic of Ireland
Or Jaslynch1234@gmail.com - either 20 € or 15 £ stg. Post and packaging included.