The Scriptures of Saint Patrick: The Form of Patrick’s Bible

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

Saint Patrick of Ireland

Saint Patrick of Ireland

In what constitutes the third part of this series, I examine the textual form of Patrick’s Bible. This type of study has not often been undertaken.[1] The situation is such that Marie de Paor has gone so far as to say that since “we do not now possess the actual version of the Old Latin Bible which Patrick probably used, the Latin text… in Jerome’s Vulgate, is the next best thing.”[2] However, this approach to the recovery of Patrick’s Biblical versions appears unnecessarily pessimistic and unfortunately simplistic. While we may not be able to recover the autographs which Patrick employed as his Biblical text, it does seem probable that extant manuscript forms can shed additional light on the form of Patrick’s Bible.

To this end, in the section below I examine Bieler and Conneely’s critical editions of the Confessio and compare Patrick’s scripture citations to extant versions of the Vetus Latina and Vulgate. The goal of this comparative process is to ascertain the form of Patrick’s Bible: Did he have access to the Vulgate? Or perhaps he had a Vetus Latina tradition? And if so, which one? Is he using a mixed text? Are different collections of scripture from different versions of the Bible? Coming to an understanding of the relationship between the citations in the Confessio and extant manuscript forms allows us not only to better grasp Patrick’s Bible, scriptural universe, and historical context, but also offers concrete insights into the form of the Bible in fifth century Ireland.

Vetus LatinaBelow, I offer six comparative readings of the Confessio, Vulgate, and Vetus Latina manuscripts, followed by some brief comments on the form of each text. The English translation of Patrick’s Confessio is taken from O’Loughlin’s Discovering Saint Patrick, which page numbers in parentheses.[3] The Latin version of the Confessio is taken from Beiler and Conneely’s critical editions, again with page numbers in parentheses.[4] The Vulgate text being used it the Sixteen edition of Jerome’s translation.[5] The various Vetus Latina texts are taken from the Brepolis Vetus Latina Database.[6] The approximate dating and provenance of each Vetus Latina text is included in parentheses, with any additional pertinent information located in footnotes.

Finally, I confess that the following conclusions are necessarily tentative due to the tendency of scribes to—consciously or unconsciously—change the texts on which they worked to accord more closely to their own memories and exemplars.[7] Accordingly, an already complicated relationship between source and text may be further obfuscated by later textual change (i.e., a later copier of the Confessio may have altered Patrick’s quotation to better fit their preferred translation.). This information in hand, I now turn to six considerations of the Biblical text that Patrick employed in the Confessio.

[1] On this situation Bieler writes, “Wahrend der Arbeit en einer kritischen Neuausgabe der Scriften des heiligen Patrick ist auch das Problem seines Bibeltextes in meinen Geischtskreis getreten.” Ludwig Bieler. “Der Bibeltext des Heiligen Patrick I.” Edited by Richard Sharpe. Studies on the Life and Legend of St Patrick. London: Variorum Reprints, 1986. 31.

[2] de Paor, 18.

[3] Thomas McLoughlin. Discovering Saint Patrick. New York: Paulist, 2005.

[4] Ludwig Bieler. Libri Epistolarum Sancti Patricii Episcopi: Part I: Introduction and Text. Dublin: Stationery Office, 1952. Conneely.

[5] Available online at

[6] Accessed through Saint Louis University’s Library Databases. Where appropriate, u’s have been changed to v’s and i’s to j’s in order to facilitate continuity. Additionally, underlining a word indicates nomina sacra recorded in the text.

[7] Bieler, “Libri Epistolarum”, 34-38. See also Denis Brearley. “The Lemmata from the Gospel of Matthew in CLM 6233 and Their Irish Affinities.” Edited by Thomas O’Loughlin. The Scriptures and Early Medieval Ireland. Turnhout: Brepolis, 1999. 11.


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