“Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” Acts 16:31
Patrick left us two pieces of writing, his “Confessio” or “Declaration” in which he talks about his life and his mission, and his “Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus.” The letter is written after Coroticus’ men have raided a Christian community, killing many of the people and taking others into captivity. Patrick’s letter is demanding the return of the captives and expressions of regret by Coroticus and his soldiers.
When we read the letter, we encounter four “r”s: response, rejection, rebuke and repentance.
Patrick begins with a description of his own response to the Good News of Jesus in the opening paragraph,
I declare that I, Patrick, – an unlearned sinner indeed – have been established a bishop in Ireland. I hold quite certainly that what I am, I have accepted from God. I live as an alien among non-Roman peoples, an exile on account of the love of God – he is my witness that this is so. It is not that I would choose to let anything so blunt and harsh come from my mouth, but I am driven by the zeal for God. And the truth of Christ stimulates me, for love of neighbours and children: for these, I have given up my homeland and my parents, and my very life to death, if I am worthy of that. I live for my God, to teach these peoples, even if I am despised by some.
Later in the letter Patrick emphasises that his response has been to the call of God, that it is not his choice, but what he is bound to do, he writes, “Surely it was not without God, or simply out of human motives, that I came to Ireland! Who was it who drove me to it? I am so bound by the Spirit that I no longer see my own kindred.”
When we read of Patrick’s experience, what do we think about our own response to God?
Patrick realizes that the Gospel he proclaims has been rejected by those to whom he is writing, that they are far removed from all he believes and all that he preaches. The sense of rejection he feels is made clear:
For this reason, let every God-fearing person know that those people are alien to me and to Christ my God, for whom I am an ambassador: father-slayers, brother-slayers, they are savage wolves devouring the people of God as they would bread for food. It is just as it is said: “The wicked have routed your law, O Lord.”
If Jesus himself suffered rejection, then those who follow him have to expect that they will face rejection, that people will not want to hear what is being said. In a country where the church has known power and authority, we should maybe be asking how faithful it has been? If there has not been rejection, has there been courage to follow Jesus as Patrick did?
Patrick is not intimidated by what has happened, he is stern in his rebuke of Coroticus and his men for their violence:
So where will Coroticus and his villainous rebels against Christ find themselves – those who divide out defenceless baptised women as prizes, all for the sake of a miserable temporal kingdom, which will pass away in a moment of time. Just as cloud of smoke is blown away by the wind, that is how deceitful sinners will perish from the face of the Lord that is how deceitful sinners will perish from the face of the Lord.
Patrick acknowledges that the soldiers may triumph for a time, they have “a miserable temporal kingdom,” but they will be subject to eternal judgement. Patrick’s condemnation of Coroticus and his men could not have been expressed in stronger terms.
To rebuke evil, especially evil carried out by powerful people demands great bravery, the church today rarely has such courage. Dare we speak up to rebuke the wrongs we see in our own society?
A response to God, an expression of a sense of rejection, a rebuke of the wrong, Patrick concludes the letter with openness to repentance, if Coroticus and his men will acknowledge their sin, they will receive forgiveness:
I bear witness before God and his angels that it will be as he made it known to one of my inexperience. These are not my own words which I have put before you in Latin; they are the words of God, and of the apostles and prophets, who have never lied. “Anyone who believes will be saved; anyone who does not believe will be condemned” – God has spoken
Patrick does not believe in a covert and private faith, he believes in integrity, the truth should be spoken openly and repentance is to be open.
I ask insistently whatever servant of God is courageous enough to be a bearer of these messages, that it in no way be withdrawn or hidden from any person. Quite the opposite – let it be read before all the people, especially in the presence of Coroticus himself. If this takes place, God may inspire them to come back to their right senses before God.
Forgiveness can only come through repentance, it is often something the church has forgotten, in the words of a writer fifteen centuries later, we have made grace into something “cheap.”
Response, rejection, rebuke and repentance – Patrick is as relevant in the 21st Century as he was in the 5th Century.