SSP: Findings on the Form of Patrick’s Bible

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

saint-patrick-2Before summarizing the findings of this comparison, I must note the necessarily tentative nature of the following conclusions and the need for additional comparative work on this topic. This study has examined but six examples of Patrick’s work; given his numerous allusions and quotations to the Biblical text, I fully expect further research along these lines to provide additional insight into the form of Patrick’s Bible and the place of the Latin Bible in fifth century Ireland.

Now, to offer some preliminary findings concerning the form of Patrick’s Bible: First, Patrick exhibits signs of employing a mixed version of the Latin text, one that was strongly Vetus Latina in origins, but possibly reflecting the increasingly popular Vulgate. This is especially evident in his quotation of the Great Commission, which clearly relies upon a mixed-type written source.[1] Second, his Psalter appears to have been non-Vulgate, possible Gallic (as Bieler suggests[2]), and he may have been using a proto-form of what later became the Irish Psalter.

Apostle Paul
Apostle Paul

Third, Patrick’s citation of Romans, while indicating affiliation with any one textual tradition, does suggest his near-immediate access to at least some books of the Bible, here obviously including Romans. Also noteworthy is the apparent affirmation of Bieler’s argument that Patrick’s form of the Pauline Epistles differs from the version included in the Book of Armagh.[3] Fourth, due to the nature of extant manuscript evidence, it should be noted that some of Patrick’s citations cannot reveal one particular genesis, as numerous early traditions offer  single (or extremely close) reading.

Fifth, as his use of Isaiah suggests, there are places in which the source for Patrick’s citation appears to have either been lost or resided in the saint’s faulty memory. This is not to criticize Patrick, but rather to underscore the reality that we do not appear to possess the autographs of his Biblical text. Sixth, the variety of differing types of reading indicates that Patrick likely possessed several different types of Latin manuscript, not just a single pandect standing in a particular tradition. It may even be that his manuscripts contained (like Codex Claromontanus V) different types of reading within a single codex.

Finally, this comparison reveals the need for further contextualized research which undertakes extensive study of Patrick’s Bible text.[4] Though historians and textual critics will always desire additional manuscript information, readily available manuscripts already allow for a more fully contextualized understanding of Patrick, his Biblical text, and the shape of the Irish Christian Church.

[1] Though this particular quotation is not the source for Bielier’s argument, I note that his conclusion is similar. See Bieler, “Libri Epistolarum”, 34-35.

[2] Bieler, “Der Bibeltext I”, 31-58.

[3] Ibid., 31-58.

[4] As well as the Biblical apparatuses of other late ancient and early Christian writers.


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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