SSP: The “Third Part” of Patrick’s Bible

This post is part of an ongoing series on the Scriptures of Saint Patrick of Ireland.

Early Church FathersBefore turning to our examination of the form of Patrick’s Bible, a brief word must be said concerning Patrick’s relationship with the “third part” of the New Testament:[1] the writings of the Church Fathers. While Hanson argues that Patrick was literally a man of one book who was not exposed to any substantial literature apart from the Biblical text,[2] many readers of Patrick have noted in the Confessio echoes and references to a number of non-canonical early Christian writings.

Bieler’s critical edition of the Confessio locates allusions to Augustine (Sermon 233), Auxentius (Symbolum), the Synod of Carthage (Canon 5), Cyprian (On the Lord’s Prayer and Epistle 59), Hilary of Poitiers (Contra Auxentium and De Synodia), and Victorinus Petavionensis (Commentary on Revelation).[3] Similarly, Conneely’s critical edition notes some twenty Fathers who are linked textually with Patrick—most notably Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome—in addition to several references to conciliar documents.[4] Indeed, Conneely goes so far as to write that, “although his extant writings are no more than an open pastoral letter and a letter of excommunication, when one compares these texts with the Patristic literature of the time, one sees both how well verses he was in Patristic theology and how typical an exponent he was of it in content, style and method.”[5]

Saint Augustine
Saint Augustine

The most common possible connection between Patrick and another Church Father involves his potential knowledge of Augustine’s Confessions.[6] Morhmann and J.J. O’Meara argue that Patrick did not come into contact with Augustine’s works,[7] with O’Meara saying that, “even if Patrick had heard of, or even read, Augustine’s Confessions, his own document reveals no sure echo of it….”[8] Conversely, Bieler, Conneely, de Paor, George Misch, Pierre Courcelle, and Peter Dronke affirm Patrick’s relationship with the Confessions.[9] Dronke and Conneely correctly shy away from suggesting direct literary dependence (i.e., that Patrick sat with a copy of the Confessions and copied portions of it into his Confessio), instead advocating thematic and structural parallels such as the interiority of spiritual experience and the transcendence of God.[10] With this type of thematic connection in mind (as well as the considerations of genre above), it does seem likely that Patrick had experienced Augustine’s Confessions and paralleled that work in his own writing.

[1] At least according to Robert of Melun in his Sentences I.I.12.

[2] Hanson, Life and Writings, 44.

[3] Bieler, “Libri Epistolarum”, 117. Especially convincing for Bieler regarding Patrick’s general knowledge of other Christian writers is his apparent use of Cyprian’s On the Lord’s Prayer 24 in Epistola 9. See Bieler, “Place of Saint Patrick”, 68-9.

[4] Conneely, 178. For Conneely’s index of Patristic allusions and quotations, see pgs. 243-248. For Conneely’s index of allusions to conciliar documents, see 249.

[5] Conneely, 203.

[6] For general information on  the influence of Augustine on the Late Antique World, see Henri-Irenee Marrou, Saint Augusin et la fin de la Culture Antique (Paris: E. de Boccard, 1958.

[7] Mohrmann, 4f. J.J. O’Meara. “The Confession of Saint Patrick and the Confessions of St. Augustine.” Irish Ecclesiastical Record 85 (1956): 190-197. J.J. O’Meara. “Patrick’s Confessio and Augustine’s Confessions.” Edited by John J. O’Meara and Bernd Naumann. Latin Script and Letters, A.D. 400-900: Festschrift Presented to Ludwig Bieler. Leiden, 1978. 44-53.

[8] O’Meara, “Confession of Saint Patrick”, 197.

[9] Bieler, “The Place of St. Patrick”, 65-98, esp. 69ff. Conneely, 142. de Paor, 19. Georg Misch. A History of Autobiography in Antiquity. London: Routledge and Kegan, 1950. 189-193. Pierre Courcelle. Les Confessions de saint Augustin dans la tradition litteraire. Paris: Etudes Augustiniennes, 1963. 211-213. Peter Dronke. “St. Patrick’s Reading.” Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies I (Summer 1981), 21-38.

[10] Conneely, 142-150, especially 148.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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