A new study looking at Patrick’s own writings in their historical context argues that the saint may have in fact fled to Ireland deliberately to avoid becoming a ‘Decurion’ – a Roman official responsible for tax collection.

The onerous duties of Decurions, and especially the requirement to make up for any shortfall in the tax revenues from their own pockets, was a strong incentive to abscond. Historians have long been aware of the possibility that Patrick’s own father, Calpornius, exploited a bail-out clause in Roman law that allowed him to leave his post as a Decurion by joining the clergy.

What seems to have escaped notice, however, is that the position of Decurion was de facto hereditary and, in addition, Decurions who joined the clergy were obliged by Roman law to install their sons in their place. However, by the time that Patrick was due to inherit his father’s office, the usual hardships of the Decurionate were exacerbated by the political and economic decline that Britain was experiencing.

“In the troubled era in which Patrick lived, which saw the demise and eventual collapse of Roman occupation in Britain in 410, discharging the obligations of a Decurion, especially tax-collecting, would not only have been difficult but also very risky,” says Dr Roy Flechner, of the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic.

According to Flechner, once Patrick was faced with the obligation to become a Decurion following the void left by his father, he preferred to emigrate overseas. Ireland would have been a natural choice, given its proximity and links with western Britain.

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Patrick alludes in his writing to some unnamed "great sin" that he had committed early in his life that deeply troubled him and later was made public, nearly ruining him personally. Theories include the possibility that Patrick had led his slavers to a nearly British settlement while in captivity (it was fairly common for slaves to do this in attempt to gain favor and privilege with their masters), that he'd committed a murder as a youth, and that his "sin" was of a homosexual nature (since sexual sins were and are more grievous with Christians, and homosexuality was acceptable in Roman society at that time but would've been taboo for Patrick and his community). It's entirely possible that Patrick could have been a Roman slaver himself, and while there was no concept of human rights in the ancient world, his own experiences as a slave could have opened his eyes to the idea that slavery was an evil.

It has all the hallmarks of "what really happened" in regards to motivation and the Catholic Clergy:

  • Self-interest
  • Self-Preservation
  • Self-Concern 

"It" being...?

"It" being…?"


Certainly wouldn't be the first time that a mythos was built up around a religious figure to convey a sense of divine importance or appointment, or to "clean up" less-than-noble motivations. This is possible, and I definitely wouldn't put it past the Church to manufacture saints; but I'm inclined to agree with Pat, that this seems speculative. Lest we forget, correlation does not imply causation...

Sure, I agree… but, "correlation does not imply causation" is also a bit misleading sometimes, with regard to the "does not". I think the statement is an aphorism in this form, a more axiomatic version might be: "correlation does not automatically imply causation"

"I'm inclined to agree with Pat, that this seems speculative."

True, but I'm less inclined to go with the official version, …for obvious reasons.

Sorry, I meant to say "correlation does not necessarily imply causation." I'm not as well-versed in stating axioms.

Personally, I don't place much stock in histories outside of sources that can be historically corroborated. The Patrick story has always rung too mythological to me anyway, so I don't think it matters much either way. All we can be reasonably sure of is that a Christian missionary named Patrick probably lived some time between the 4th and 5th centuries. As far as I'm concerned the rest is dubious.

The scholarship (Department of ASNC, Trinity College Cambridge University) of the article, isn't as easily dismissible as the RCC as far as "history" is concerned, just an opinion, …nothing more.


So granting that the new findings are more accurate than the traditional stories, what is the take-away from this for you? For Christians? For atheists? I prefer to leave scholarly wrangling to the scholars and academicians and focus on application of new data; and as a writer, I'm always more interested in the narrative created by new information.

For Christians: that all the official stories of saintly drivers-of-snakes from the Emerald Isle may not have been all that saintly after all.

For Atheists: One more nail, however trivially small, in the coffin of the moral priority of religion - to the extent that it still has any.

The new data is that knowledge which had already been there, but universally ignored, now paints a significantly different picture when it is considered in the context of historical mythmaking.  

Notwithstanding what i just wrote (below), and conceding this is speculative also, here's one (of more than one) possible scenarios.

Patrick's father doesn't want to be a Decurion. He bails out of the job, and sonny boy is stuck with it. Patrick doesn't like it anymore than his father, so he make a bee line west across the Irish Sea, out of the reach of the authorities. He hides out while keeping his head attached to his torso, or maybe staying out of the British slave market himself. Maybe he was, or was not a slave in Erie. He might have been, considering he was a foreigner, and not a member of any tribe or clan. He tires of the place, or escapes, and heads back home, thinking the heat is off. Of course, there was no place else to go, considering Ireland was the edge of the known world at that time. He gets back home, and (parting ways with Dr. Flechner's speculation) considering the family wealth has been seized to pay the taxes he was responsible to collect when he abandoned the job, he turns to the church for gainful employment. The powers that be say, "Fine. You abandoned your responsibility as a Decurion, we're dumping you right back to the place where you fled to. Paybacks are a bitch. Ohhh, and make sure to write if you get work." He turns a bad situation into a success (similar to the ne'er do well American William A. Morgan in the Cuban Revolution). The church exploits and exaggerates the the events, which turns out to be a medieval bestselling work of mostly fiction. And 1,600 years later, on what was then an unknown continent, people named Kowolski drink green beer and wear shamrocks every March 17th. I would note here that my name sake (raised Irish Catholic) was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland, only the most successful. Palladius, Ciaran Saighir, and Auxillius were among several predecessors of Patrick, who worked in a different neck of the woods (Leinster and Munster), than Patrick (Ulster).

The whole article seems rather speculative to me. I think way too many inferences are being made based upon a small amount of actual evidence. It reminds me of a cautionary lecture I received in an upper level archaeology class on the danger of stretching too many inferences based on the coupling of actual and anecdotal evidence.

Three thousand years from now, civilization has emerged from a similar "Dark Age," as that which occurred after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Archaeologists are shedding new light on all the yellow arches begin found in the remains of settlements in the mid-section of North America. A recent discovery in a major settlement on the mid-section of the Mississippi River shows that, contemporaneous in time with the thousands of yellow arches previously discovered, the inhabitants had erected an arch approximately 630 feet in height. The obvious explanation is that all the yellow arches represented religious temples and the large arch was the major religious center for this, as of yet, unknown cult.




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