My first introduction to Patrick of Ireland was through one of my close mentors. Like any good mentor, students soon have their “loves” altered through their influence.[1]

Patrick of Ireland is most well known to us as the patron saint of Ireland—patronized in the 7th century by the Irish Catholic Church. He’s rumored to have risen and healed many dead men (cf. Life and Acts of St. Patrick, Jocelin). Especially within Irish folklore, Patrick is rumored to have banished all the snakes from Ireland into the sea.

The following focuses upon Patrick’s Trinitarianism and, more specifically, his opening theological confession in Confessio. According to D.R. Bradley, the Latin in the first half of the creed contains a particular balance and cadence that reflects a polished style in antiquity.[2] As such, it clearly is not part of Patrick’s original composition[3] and is probably something external to him—catechism, other sources, or effects of Nicene theology.

Patrick’s Trinitarian confession reads as follows:

“There is no other God, nor ever was in times past, nor will be hereafter, than God the Father unbegotten, without beginning, from whom is all beginning, who holds sway over all things (omnia tenentem), as we declare; and his Son Jesus Christ, whom we affirm most assuredly to have always been with the Father before the origin of the world, spiritually and ineffably begotten by the Father before all beginning, and by him all things visible and invisible were made; he was made man, and when death had overcome, he was received into heaven beside the Father; ‘and he was given him all power over every name in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess to him that Jesus Christ is Lord and God’, in whom we believe to whose imminent coming we look forward, ‘the judge of the living and of the dead’, ‘who will render to every man according to his deeds’ ; and ‘he has poured forth upon us abundantly the Holy Spirit’, ‘the gift’ and ‘pledge’ of immortality, who makes those who believe and obey ‘sons of God and co-heirs with Christ’: it is him that we confess (confitemur) and adore, one God in the Trinity of the holy name.”[4]

The theology of this confession is quite rich and explicitly Trinitarian.[5] This Trinitarian expression confesses the timeless and unbegotten nature of the Father. He rules and reigns over all things.

Of the Son, Patrick's comments reflect Pro-Nicene theology. The Son has eternally been with the Father. This eternal notion of the Son is anti-Arian. The Son’s incarnation is of a begotten nature with the Father. He functions as the ruler and judge of the world. And, in relation to the later developed Filioque controversy, Patrick affirms that the Spirit proceeds from the Son.

Commenting on the Spirit, Patrick lists a catena of Scripture texts. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son and is the basis by which persons enter into a filial relationship with the Godhead; they become “sons of God” and “co-heirs with Christ.”

In this creedal confession, Patrick’s catena contains partial clauses and allusions exclusive to the New Testament. None are listed for the Father. Yet, Phil 2 appeals to the incarnation, ascension, and rule of Christ—Acts 10 as Judge. The procession of the Spirit from the Son is based upon Tit 3:5. Finally, the Believers filial status is the result of the Spirit, who is both a “gift” (Acts 2:38) and “pledge” (Eph 1:14).

It is also worth noting how this Trinitarian confession functions for Patrick.[6] By looking at how Patrick frames this confession, we see that Patrick is a “confessor.” Prior to the Trinitarian expression, Patrick states,

“we should exalt and confess (confiteri) his [God’s] wondrous deeds before every nation under heaven.” (Conf. 3)

Following the Trinitarian Confession, then, is a quotation of both Ps 50:15 and Tobit 12.7. Tobit reads as follows:

“It is honorable to make known and confess (confiteri) the works of God.” (Conf. 5)

As Michael Haykin observes, “The creedal statement is thus bookended by the ‘heart’s desire’ of Patrick to be a confessor of God’s great works (Conf. 6)—and these works involve not simply his own conversion, but supremely God’s work of salvation in Christ.”[7]

  1. As Augustine recalls of the “loves” and education, “We must, however, observe right order even in our love for the very love by which we love that which is worthy to be loved, so that there may be in us that virtue which enables us to live well. Hence, it seems to me that a brief and true definition of virtue is ‘rightly ordered love’.” Augustine, City of God 15, 22. ↩

  2. D. R. Bradley, “The Doctrinal Formula of Patrick,” Journal of Theological Studies 33 (1982): 125. ↩

  3. Michael A.G. Haykin, Aaron Matherly, and Shawn J. Wilhite, Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact, Early Church Fathers (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2014), 43n3. ↩

  4. Confessio 4, trans. Michael A.G. Haykin. ↩

  5. See Hanson, “Rule of Faith of Victorinus and of Patrick,” in Latin Script and Letters, edited by O’Meara and Naumann, 25–36 for a comparison with Victorinus’s creed. It is possible that Patrick’s creedal confessionalism finds its source in Victorinus.  ↩

  6. See Oulton, Creedal Statements of St Patrick for more. ↩

  7. Haykin, Matherly, and Wilhite, Patrick of Ireland, 45–46. ↩

About the Author:
Shawn J. Wilhite

Shawn J. Wilhite is currently Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University. His research interests include New Testament and Early Christianity, Epistle to Hebrews, History of New Testament Interpretation, Early Christian and Patristic Hermeneutics, and the Apostolic Fathers.

Doctrinae Coram Deo