It never ceases to amaze me what survives the storm tossed seas of history and as it’s St Patrick’s Day I’d like to share some passages from the Patron Saint of Ireland’s ‘Letter to the Soldiers of Croticus’. In this remarkable letter, written more than 1,500 years ago, we can read the saint’s own words as he chastises a warlord from the British mainland who was raiding the coast of Ireland, slaughtering men and seizing women and children to be sold as slaves back in Britain. St Patrick was himself a Briton, who’d been kidnapped and sold into slavery by Irish pirates, so he was uniquely qualified to condemn the cycle of violence that perpetuated the practice of slavery on both sides of the Irish Sea and his words echo down the centuries…
EXTRACTS FROM ST PATRICK’S LETTER TO THE SOLDIERS OF COROTICUS
With my own hand I have written and composed these words, to be given, delivered, and sent to the soldiers of Coroticus. I do not say, to my fellow citizens, or to fellow citizens of the holy Romans, but to fellow citizens of the demons, because of their evil works. Like our enemies, they live in death, allies of the Scots and the apostate Picts. Dripping with blood, they welter in the blood of innocent Christians, whom I have begotten into the number for God and confirmed in Christ!
The day after the newly baptised, anointed with chrism, in white garments [had been slain] the fragrance was still on their foreheads when they were butchered and slaughtered with the sword by the abovementioned people I sent a letter with a holy presbyter whom I had taught from his childhood, clerics accompanying him, asking them to let us have some of the booty, and of the baptised they had made captives. They only jeered at them.
Hence I do not know what to lament more: those who have been slain, or those whom they have taken captive, or those whom the devil has mightily ensnared.
I do not know why I should say or speak further about the departed ones of the sons of God, whom the sword has touched all too harshly. For Scripture says: "Weep with them that weep" and again: "If one member be grieved, let all members grieve with it." Hence the Church mourns and laments her sons and daughters whom the sword has not yet slain, but who were removed and carried off to faraway lands, where sin abounds openly, grossly, impudently. There people who were freeborn have, been sold, Christians made slaves.
Therefore I shall raise my voice in sadness and grief, O you fair and beloved brethren and sons whom I have begotten in Christ, countless of number, what can I do you for? I am not worthy to come to the help of God or men. The wickedness of the wicked hath prevailed over us. We have been made, as it were, strangers. Perhaps they do not believe that we have received one and the same baptism, or have one and the same God as Father. For them it is a disgrace that we are Irish. Have ye not, as is written, one God? Have ye, every one of you, forsaken his neighbour?
Where, then, will Coroticus with his criminals, rebels against Christ, where will they see themselves, they who distribute baptised women as prizes , for a miserable temporal kingdom, which will pass away in a moment? As a cloud, or smoke, that is dispersed by the wind, so shall the deceitful wicked perish at the presence of the Lord; but the just shall feast with great constancy with Christ, they shall judge nations, and rule over wicked kings for ever and ever. Amen.
To read the full text click here