Here are some questions. Who was this Patrick? What is the origin of this day? What should Christians think about this day?
Who was this Patrick? He lived in the fourth and fifth centuries. He was born either in Romano-Britain, Wales, or Scotland. His birth name was Maelwyn. He was kidnapped at the age of 16 and sold as a slave in Ireland, where he worked as a shepherd. After 6 years, he escaped and eventually made his way home. He returned to Ireland 20 years later as an evangelist, and using the name Patricius (the name change may have occurred in a monastery in Britain). He labored in Ireland for about 30 years, dying on March 17, 461 A.D. He is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. Though, he was not the first to have tried (These are generally accepted facts. See – Who is St. Patrick?, history.com; Saint Patrick by Joshua J. Mark, worldhistory.org; St. Patrick: The Man, The Myth by Lisa Bitel, thedailybeast.com; 8 St. Patrick Day Facts You Never Knew Before by Diane J. Cho, people.com).
There are many later legends. It is difficult to separate the truth from fiction. What about driving the snakes out of Ireland? There is no evidence that Ireland ever had snakes. Many believe that this is symbolic. “The legend of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland has to do with the Christian triumph over pagan beliefs, not literal snakes” (worldhistory.org; Also, 10 Things to Know About the Real St. Patrick, snopes.com).
What Patrick a Roman Catholic? This is claimed by the Roman Catholic church. Others do not agree. Keith Sisman writes, “The Celtic Church that Patrick evangelized for… would be taken over and forced into submission to Rome over many decades… Ireland did not become truly Roman Catholic until in the reign of Henry the Second, who was crowned King of England in 1154. Shortly after his coronation, Henry sent an embassy to the newly elected Pope Adrian IV. Led by Bishop Arnold of Lisieux, the group of clerics requested authorization for Henry to invade Ireland. After the invasion the Irish Church finally came under the control of the Pope, nearly seven hundred years after the death of ‘Saint’ Patrick” (Keith Sisman, Traces of the Kingdom, p. 82). Philip Schaff writes, “The Roman tradition that St. Patrick was sent by Pope Caelestine (Celestine I, B.H.) is too late to have any claim upon our acceptance, and is set aside of St. Patrick himself in his genuine works” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 4, p. 45). His doctrine seems to differ from what Roman Catholics today teach. Gerald Foster writes, “Patrick believed in teaching before baptism, ‘for it cannot be that the body should receive the sacrament of baptism before the soul receives the verity of faith’” (Gerald Foster, Following the Denomination Called Baptist, p. 130 quoting Patrick’s Government Tripartite Life). Keith Sisman writes, “Patrick… baptized believers by immersion… denied purgatory and taught the Lord’s supper as a memorial” (Traces of the Kingdom, p. 82). Philip Schaff writes, “The Christianity of Patrick was substantially that of Gaul and old Britain i.e. catholic, orthodox, monastic, ascetic, but independent of the Pope, and differing from Rome in the age of Gregory I in minor matters of polity and ritual. In his confession he never mentions Rome or the Pope; he never appeals to tradition, and seems to recognize the scriptures… as the only authority in matters of faith” (History of the Christian Church, Vol. 4, p. 47). It is not certain that St. Patrick should be considered a Roman Catholic. I believe that Roman Catholicism developed later.
What is the origin of St. Patrick’s Day? “The March 17 celebration started in 1631 when the church established a Feast Day honoring St. Patrick” (The True History Behind St. Patrick’s Day, time.com). “Until the 1700’s, St. Patrick’s Day was a Roman Catholic feast only observed in Ireland and without the raucous revelry of today’s celebrations. Instead, the faithful spent the relatively somber occasion in quiet prayer at church or at home. That started to change when Irish immigrants living in the United States began organizing parades and other events on March 17 as a show of pride. For many people around the world, St. Patrick’s Day has evolved into a secular ode to Irish culture… characterized by parties, music and iconic food” (St. Patrick’s Day Legends and Myths Debunked by Jennie Cohen, history.com). The day seems to have become an excuse for a party.
What should Christians think about this day? (1) While there is nothing wrong with enjoying a culture’s food and music, we are to avoid drunkenness (Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). (2) We should focus on Christ and not men, religiously speaking. “Who then is Paul and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed…?” (1 Corinthians 3:5).