The ‘Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus’ is written to a warlord in response to the massacre and enslavement of newly baptized Irish men, women and children. Below there are excerpts – perhaps we today should send letters and more to our own warlords across the globe.
“I am Patrick, yes a sinner and indeed untaught; yet I am established here in Ireland where I profess myself bishop. I am certain in my heart that “all that I am,” I have received from God. So I live among barbarous tribes, a stranger and exile for the love of God. If I have any worth, it is to live my life for God so as to teach these peoples; even though some of them still look down on me.
I am not addressing my own people, nor my fellow citizens of the holy Romans, but those who are now become citizens of demons by reason of their evil works. They have chosen, by their hostile deeds, to live in death; comrades of the Scotti and Picts and of all who behave like apostates, bloody men who have steeped themselves in the blood of innocent Christians. The very same people I have begotten for God; their number beyond count, I myself confirmed them in Christ.
Because of all this, I am at a loss to know whether to weep more for those they killed or those that are captured: or indeed for these men themselves whom the devil has taken fast for his slaves. In truth, they will bind themselves alongside him in the pains of the everlasting pit: for “he who sins is a slave already” and is to be called “son of the devil.”
I do not overreach myself, for I too have my part to play with “those whom he has called to himself and predestined” to teach the gospel in the midst of considerable persecutions “as far as the ends of the earth”, even if the enemy reveals his true envy through the tyranny of Coroticus, who fears neither God nor the priests whom he has chosen and to whom he has given the highest divine power, namely that “those whom they bind on earth are bound in heaven.”
It would take too long to discuss or argue every single case, or to sift through the whole of the Law for precise witness against such greed. Sufficient to say, greed is a deadly deed. You shall not covet your neighbour’s goods. You shall not murder. A homicide may not stand beside Christ. Even “He who bates his brother is to be labelled murderer.” Or, “He who does not love his brother dwells in death.” therefore how much more guilty is he, who has stained his own hands in the blood of the sons of God, those very children whom only just now he has won for himself in this distant land by means of our feeble encouragement.
Can it be out of the kindness of my heart that I carry out such a labor of mercy on a people who once captured me when they wrecked my father’s house and carried off his servants? For by descent I was a freeman, born of a decurion father; yet I have sold this nobility of mine, I am not ashamed, nor do I regret that it might have meant some advantage to others. In short, I am a slave in Christ to this faraway people for the indescribable glory of “everlasting life which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
How bitterly they despise me! Just see how your sheep are torn apart and despoiled, and by those gangsters I have named, bound to the last man by the inimical mind of Coroticus. Far away from the love of God is the man who betrays my Christians into the hands of the Scotti and Picts. “Ravenous wolves” have gulped down the Lord’s own flock, which was flourishing in Ireland and tended with utmost care.
I grieve for you, how I mourn for you, who are so very dear to me, but again I can rejoice within my heart, not for nothing “have I laboured,” neither has my exile been “in vain.”
Now you, Coroticus — and your gangsters, rebels all against Christ, now where do you see yourselves? You gave away girls like prizes: not yet women, but baptized. All for some petty temporal gain that will pass in the very next instant. “Like a cloud passes, or smoke blown in the wind,” so will “sinners, who cheat, slip away from the face of the Lord. But the just will feast for sure” with Christ. “They will judge the nations” and unjust kings “they will lord over” for world after world. Amen.
My chief request is that anyone who is a servant of God be ready and willing, to carry this letter forward; may it never be hidden or stolen by anyone, but rather, may it be read aloud before the whole people — Yes, even when Coroticus himself is present.
May God inspire these men sometime to come to their senses in regard to God again, so that they may repent, however latter day, of their grave crimes, namely homicide against the brothers of the Lord, and that they free these baptized women whom they have taken, so that then they may deserve to live to God and be made whole once more, here, now and for eternity…”
Translated from the Latin by John Skinner in The Confession of St. Patrick (1998).
March 17, 2011