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Archiver > Scotch-Irish > 1998-09 > 0905120787

From: Edward Andrews <>
Subject: Re: Fwd: St. Patrick and Presbyterianism
Date: Sun, 06 Sep 1998 23:26:27 +0100

John Carpenter wrote:
> This is an interesting question, but I hope we're not
> going to use it as a rallying point to insult each
> other and stir up old or present hatreds. Edward, is
> this something you might comment on, as it's
> reasonableness? Is is a fair point or is it just
> someone trying to prove his own point?

I must point out that Hamilton is, within its limits quite a good
history of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. We must however
acknowledge that it was written over 100 years ago, and reflected the
prejudices of its time.

The question which we have to answer however has to be to what extend
the Celtic Church of St Patrick was separate from the Catholic Church
of its time, and whether there is any real basis in Hamilton's claim
that Patrick was as it were a Proto presbyterian.

The first point which has to be made is that we are not really sure
who Patrick was. That there was a Patrick who wrote the letter to
Coroticus and the Confession, there can be no real doubt. There can
also be no doubt that he was a Roman Christian. He was the son of a
Deacon, and lived in a settlement which had been marooned by the
removal of the Roman legions from Britain.

It has to be recognized that the Church of say 400 was different from
the Church of 1,000 or of 1600, or of 1887.

While there was an Historic Patrick, however he is not the Patrick
who banished the snakes from Ireland, illustrated the doctrine of the
Trinity by the example of the shamrock. He did not climb Croach
Patrick. He probably didn't even found the see of Armagh, for
Archaeological investigations has shown that the Navan fort outside
the town was long sacked and deserted by the time Patrick reached
A full critique of St Patrick can be found in RPC Hanson, "The
Mission of St Patrick" in Mackey et all see infra. or Hanson RPC "The
life and Writings of the Historical Saint Patrick" New York 1983 (I
have not got an ISBN for this.

The second question which we have to answer is whether there was in
fact a Celtic Church?
The brief answer is yes, in that it contained Christianized elements
of the older Celtic understanding of the World, and has produced a
distinctive Celtic Christianity which stretches across the spectrum of
the faith so that in Mackey et all the et all include an Irish
Cardinal, an Irish Presbyterian Minister, a Welshman, and many others.
Was the Celtic Church different from the Roman Church. The fact that
it was necessary to hold the Synod of Whitby demonstrates that there
were a number of differences between the form of Christianity which
had come through Ireland to Scotland and that which came through
Canterbury with St Augustine. In each case the Christianity from
Scotland and Ireland held to old forms which had been overtaken by
reforms in Rome.

The third question has to be whether the Celtic Church fitted the
description which Hamilton gave it. Again the short answer is probably

My Professor of Theology Jim Mackey - an Irishman has for some time
been working on this whole area, and was responsible for An
Introduction to Celtic Christianity, Ed Mackey T &T Clark 1989 isbn
0-567-09507 X.
He would be the first to admit that there is still much that we do
not know about the Celtic Church.
Perhaps I could finish this section of this note by quoting Hanson.
"(The History of Patrick).. for much of the time bedevilled,
obstructed and distorted by the tendency to use him for the murky ends
of denominational rivalry, a tendency which has now disappeared almost
entirely among serious scholars, but which still survives in less
informed circles."

Any attempt to translate any historical character into the camp of
any particular ideology is doomed to failure, simply because we are
dealing with real people who were they to come back would still be
their own people and would probably disappoint those who would seek to
claim them as their own.
Edward Andrews
St Nicholas Buccleuch Parish Church Dalkeith
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