There is evidence that St Patrick was in fact Jewish. There’s a lot about that guy you might not know actually. The truth has been hidden behind copious amounts of beer, leprechauns, and rivers dyed green in his honor. But all of this would be utterly foreign to this hero of faith from the fifth century. His remarkable story as a pioneer of the Gospel has nothing at all to do with leprechauns, beer, or the color green for that matter, other than the fact that the country of Ireland is famously green because of all the rain there. But Patrick wasn’t even from the Emerald Isle. He had been taken there in captivity from his home in Bretan (thought to be either Britain or Brittany, France). But let me start from the beginning.
The story of St Patrick
Patrick (real name Maewyn Succat) was born in the late fourth century and at the age of sixteen was captured by pirates and trafficked as a slave to Ireland. That’s how he ended up there. He was forced to work as a shepherd, caring for sheep in the inclement weather for six years before he miraculously escaped. During those six brutal years of suffering in a godless and pagan country, Patrick became personally acquainted with the God he’d learned about in his youth. Much as King David had grown close to God as he tended sheep in solitude, so Patrick learned to walk with God and commune in constant prayer. Finally, thanks to God’s divine intervention on his behalf, and some considerable effort, Patrick got passage on a boat back to his parents and back to his homeland. Relieved to be free again, he took the opportunity to delve deeper into his faith by training for ministry. But at night, thoughts of the entire country of Ireland in darkness with no knowledge of God troubled him deeply.
The voices of the Irish, lost in Druidism and pagan practices, called out to him for help in his dreams. Eventually he understood God was calling him to return to the place of his enslavement and to go willingly to preach the Gospel back in Ireland.
So, you see, not Irish at all.
Long story short, he and God came up with a great strategy to reach the entire island, and he did remarkable exploits in the name of Jesus. Where other attempts had failed to make an impact, Patrick saw great numbers came to faith as he appealed first of all to the tribal leaders and was vindicated by signs and wonders like the Jewish apostles before him. Ireland is known as a Christian nation even till this day as a direct result of Patrick’s willing obedience and Spirit-filled witness. The shamrock, the three-leaved clover leaf, is a symbol connected with Ireland thanks to Patrick’s use of the leaf to illustrate the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being three in one. He died on 17th March 461, which is why St Patrick’s Day is celebrated on that date.
Hiding his Jewish identity
So now, back to the question: was he really Jewish? It’s a funny thing that two apparently Anglo heroes of old have origins in the Promised Land! Patron saint of England, St George, came from Lod near Tel Aviv (where Ben Gurion Airport is today) with a Greek father and Palestinian mother, although George probably wasn’t Jewish. Early writings, however, suggest that St Patrick was. Moreover, that he was from the tribe of Judah:
“Of the sons of Israel Patrick was verily. But when the children of Israel were scattered by Titus and Vesapian in bondage throughout the four quarters of the world, in revenge for Christ’s blood, then did Patrick’s stock come to Brittany because St Patrick’s stock is of the sons of Israel.” 1
Many Jewish people fled the land of Israel as Roman oppression stepped up, and were effectively forced from the country in 135 AD after a Jewish revolt. Jewish communities developed in the surrounding nations, including Jewish families who believed in Jesus as Messiah while maintaining Jewish customs and lifestyle. Patrick was from an aristocratic background, and many names of the nobility in Brittany at that time were Jewish. As the Roman Empire waned in the fourth century, a family known as the Merovingian Dynasty, revered for being related to Jesus, became more visible. They still kept many Jewish traditions such as laws related to ritual purity, keeping the Sabbath, and celebrating Passover rather than Easter.2 There are numerous ridiculous legends surrounding this bloodline, but suffice to say, they had come to live in the area of Brittany and early records indicate he was part of this family.
“When Miliuc [Patrick’s slave master] saw that he was a faithful man, he bought him from the other three, that he might serve him alone. And Patrick served after the custom of the Hebrews“.3
“After our Lord had died on the cross for the sins of the human race, the Roman army, avenging His Passion, laid waste Judea, and Jews taken captive were dispersed among all the nations of the earth. Some of them settled among the Amoric Britons, and it is stated that it was from them that St Patrick traced his origin.” 4
One of the main reasons that his Jewish heritage has been shrouded in mystery is that it was considered a scandalous disgrace in the time that many sources about St Patrick were written and later edited.5 There have always been Jewish people who believed in Jesus throughout the ages, but for much of history it wasn’t easy to be a Messianic Jew and sit in a pew undisturbed. The church has been pretty antisemitic for much of its history, and there are many reasons for this sad fact, but a fact it is. So, for those descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who found their Messiah, it’s historically been a much smarter option just to go with the flow and join in with gentile Christendom. Consequently, it’s hard to ascertain how many Jewish people actually believed throughout the centuries. But there are often clues. Patrick’s lineage has been played down and even edited out in some texts, erasing Jewish names from his genealogy for example,6 but we are left with enough evidence to deduce that he was indeed a Jewish believer.
“The original text in the Fourth Life is geographically specific and very clear in what it says. It claims that St Patrick’s ancestors were Jews who were dispersed from the Holy Land before they settled on the north west coast of Brittany, France”.7
Back to our roots
As many western Christians yearn for something more substantive, authentic, and deep after existing on a diet of spiritual fast food, some start to investigate more traditional versions of church. Even in the realms of spiritually-starving atheists, people are finding faith in Jesus, but often choosing more orthodox expressions of that faith. Agnostic social commentator, Douglas Murray, observed this pattern among several of his friends who have recently come to faith: “They have gone to the most traditional forms of that faith, they go to mass… they don’t go to the weaker forms of it because they want to drink as directly from the well as they can.” Bells, smells, Celtic crosses, and robes have given many the idea that they are going deeper rather than just backwards into human tradition. The truth, as St Patrick could tell you, lies not in man-made traditions or the accoutrements of religion, but simple love and trust in the Jewish Messiah. The origin, the source, the tree, the root, is with God’s covenant to Israel which was made open to all.
“The fact is… that the Christian religion is simply our Jewish faith opened to all the nations of the earth. Who made it possible that Jewish values, morals and wisdom should prevail throughout the world? Should reach to so many hundreds of millions over two thousand years? Only the Messiah could have done it. Because of his work the Holy Book of the Jews had been translated from Hebrew into a thousand languages and dialects.” (Sabina Wurmbrand, wife of Messianic Jewish pastor, Richard Wurmbrand)
If you are itching for more depth in your walk with God, if you want to go back to the ancient, historical roots of your faith, don’t stop with Christian saints—go all the way back to the source!
- Book of Leinster, p.353 of facsimile, as cited by Whitley Stokes, Tripartite Life of St Patrick, 2 Vols, (HMSO, Dublin, 1987) p.357, and a similar version of the quote found in Stokes, Life of St Patrick from the Book of Lismore (Llanerch, 1995) p.150: “The learned declare that he [Patrick] was of the Jews by origin. When vengeance was inflicted on them by Titus and Vespian, Jews were scattered throughout the world. Patrick’s original kindred came to Brittany and developed their heritage.”
The Old Irish word translated as Brittany is ‘Bretnu’, which is why some believe he was from Britain.
- Marcus Losack, Saint Patrick and the Bloodline of the Grail, the Untold Story of St Patrick’s Royal Family (Nicholson & Bass, 2011) p.95
- ibid p.125
- Fourth Life (Vida Quarta:I). Bieler, FLL, p.51
- Losack (2011) p.121-125 “The authors of Colgan’s second and third ‘lives’ of St Patrick engaged in selective editing which suggests that there was an attempt to distance Patrick from controversial claims that related both to his origins in France and his Jewish ancestry.”
- Stokes, Lebar Bredd Homily on St Patrick, in Trip Life, p.433
- Losack (2011) p.124
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