LCG: Patrick Was NOT the First to Bring Christianity to Ireland

Dr. Douglas Winnail, January 2008

Today is the day normally observed as “St. Patrick’s Day” by many Catholics, Irish, and others.

Although it has been claimed that Patrick was the first to bring “Christianity” to Ireland, this is not true.

The following was written by Dr. Douglas Winnail, and is in the March-April 2008 edition, of the magazine of the Living Church of God called Tomorrow’s World:

Facts vs. Fables

     But what happened to the true gospel, which the Apostles brought to Europe’s western isles in the first century? How do the above-mentioned reports jibe with widely accepted traditions that Patrick converted the Irish in the fifth century, and that Augustine brought Christianity to England in the seventh century?
     On these points, reputable scholars make some surprising admissions. Irish Catholic historians relate that “traditionally… Saint Patrick has been credited with converting the entire Irish race from paganism in the very short period between 432 and 461… however, we have to admit that there were certainly Christians in Ireland before Patrick arrived… and that the saint worked as an evangelist only in part of the island [the north]” (Walsh and Bradley, p. 1). Irish writer Liam de Paor wrote that “Ireland was not converted by one man [Patrick]… it may be that Christianity reached the west country [of Britain] and the southern Irish sea virtually independent of the Roman system, at a very early date… centuries before Patrick” (Paor, pp. 21, 23). There are traditions that the Apostle James preached the gospel in Ireland before returning to Jerusalem, where he was martyred (see MacManus, The Story of the Irish Race, p. 103). Indeed, many historical sources confirm that the apostles brought true Christianity to Ireland four centuries before Patrick’s visit. The story that Patrick was the first to bring Christianity to Ireland is a fable!
     Traditions surrounding Augustine also look very different when we know the facts of history. Bede, an Anglo-Saxon monk living in northeast England in the 700s, wrote what has been called the primary sourcebook for this period: The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation. Bede was a highly respected scholar, but he has also been called a “medieval spin doctor” because he tended to gloss over subjects that did not fit the story he was telling. As a Saxon, he glorified the Saxons and put down the Britons. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of Roman Catholicism. He writes nothing of the apostles coming to Britain and Ireland, only briefly mentions Christians preceding Augustine in early Britain, and instead focuses on Augustine as if he were the “bringer of the true faith” to the English nation.
     However, when we read Bede’s account carefully, it becomes obvious that British bishops already functioning on the island would have nothing to do with Augustine or the religion he represented! They would not accept the Roman Catholic observance of Easter, or their method of baptism, or the notion that Rome could give Augustine the authority to become Archbishop of England. Augustine told the British bishops: “You act in many particulars contrary to our custom, or rather the custom of the universal church” (Bede, Bk. 2, chap. 2). Bede describes what he calls the “errors of the Britons” and writes that the “Scots in no way differ from the Britons in their behavior” (ibid., chap. 4). Describing why the Scottish bishops, at a confrontation at Witby in 664ad, refused to adopt the Roman Easter, Bede reports that these bishops followed an ancient practice—”the same which St. John the Evangelist, the disciple of our Lord, with all the churches over which he presided, is recorded to have observed” (ibid., chap. 25).
     Bede’s account reveals that the Scottish bishops were actually observing the biblical Passover (at the beginning of Nisan 14, shortly after sunset) and Days of Unleavened Bread (see Leviticus 23:4–8). Bede countered the Scots’ appeal to scriptural practice and apostolic tradition with a reference to then-current customs of the Roman Church, and with ridicule that “the Picts and the Britons, who foolishly, in these two remote islands of the world… oppose all the rest of the universe” (ibid., Bk. 2, chap. 25). Yet this same battle had raged several centuries earlier in Asia Minor, when a Roman bishop had excommunicated the followers of John (called Quartodecimans) for observing the Passover on Nisan 14 instead of the Roman Easter. Following the confrontation at Whitby, the remnants of apostolic Christianity retreated to Scotland, Wales and southwest England, while the Saxons and eventually more Britons embraced Roman Catholicism. In Europe’s western isles, the original teachings of Christianity were pushed aside by a different gospel emanating from Rome…
     There is another reason why the truths about the first arrival of Christianity in the West, and about true Apostolic Christianity, have been obscured and forgotten. As historian Fletcher deftly observes, “history is written by the winners” (Fletcher, p. 75). He explains that in the theological disputes that raged over the centuries, individuals or groups who wound up on the losing side—whether right or wrong—were “systematically vilified, their writings hunted down and destroyed” (ibid.)—which is exactly what happened in Britain and Ireland. The British bishops who opposed Augustine and the teachings of the Roman church were labeled “perfidious [treacherous] men” and hundreds were murdered (Bede, Bk. 2, chap. 2). Today, Bede’s biased history is widely available in English, yet Ussher’s text—long recognized as “the most exact account” of the planting of Christianity in Britain—is found almost exclusively in Latin, if it can be found at all. It is no wonder that fundamental truths have been forgotten. 

The one claimed to be St. Patrick by the Romans simply was not the first to bring Christianity to the British Isles.

Hippolytus, in the early third century, seems to have claimed that one of the seventy that Jesus sent out to preach ended up in Britain: 

These two belonged to the seventy disciples who were scattered… 

Aristobulus, bishop of Britain (Hippolytus. Where Each OF Them Preached, And Where HE Met His End).


 If that is so, Aristobulus could have have been placed in charge by one of the apostles as the seventy (Luke 10:1,17) had to have known the original apostles. But it is clear that by the early third century, it was known that some version of Christianity had made it into the British Isles. And as others have also indicated, this could have occurred earlier.  Eusebius, for one example, wrote that Jesus’ disciples reached the British Isles: 

His disciples…to preach to all the Name of Jesus, to teach about His marvellous deeds in country and town, that some of them should take possession of the Roman Empire, and the Queen of Cities itself, and others the Persian, others the Armenian, that others should go to the Parthian race, and yet others to the Scythian, that some already should have reached the very ends of the world, should have reached the land of the Indians, and some have crossed the Ocean and reached the Isles of Britain (Eusebius of Caesarea: Demonstratio Evangelica, Book 3, Chapter 5. Translated by W.J. Ferrar. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. London. The Macmillan Company. New York 1920, p. 113). 

Thus, James, Aristobulus, and/or others (like possibly Paul) came to the Isles well before “Patrick”.

The truth is that when they arrived, the Roman Catholics were unhappy to find a Christianity in the Isles that held to very non-Catholic beliefs (more on this is in the article The Pergamos Church Era ). 

Here is a report from a non-COG scholar for the period 549-1049:

The term Culdee has been improperly applied to the whole Keltic church, and a superior purity has been claimed for it.

There is no doubt that the Columban or the Keltic church of Scotland, as well as the early Irish and the early British churches, differed in many points from the mediaeval and modern church of Rome, and represent a simpler and yet a very active missionary type of Christianity.

The leading peculiarities of the ancient Keltic church, as distinct from the Roman, are:

1. Independence of the Pope. Iona was its Rome, and the Abbot of Iona, and afterwards of Dunkeld, though a mere Presbyter, ruled all Scotland.

2. Monasticism ruling supreme, but mixed with secular life, and not bound by vows of celibacy; while in the Roman church the monastic system was subordinated to the hierarchy of the secular clergy.

3. Bishops without dioceses and jurisdiction and succession.

4. Celebration of the time of Easter.

5. Form of the tonsure.

It has also been asserted, that the Kelts or Culdees were opposed to auricular confession, the worship of saints, and images, purgatory, transubstantiation, the seven sacraments…(Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997. This material has been carefully compared, corrected¸ and emended (according to the 1910 edition of Charles Scribner’s Sons) by The Electronic Bible Society, Dallas, TX, 1998).

Thus, the beliefs of true church had spread throughout many lands. It should be noted that it was the time of Passover, and not Easter, that was always the issue. Also, the true church never adopted the idea of seven sacraments, nor did the early church in the British, Irish, or Scottish regions (later, however, persecution and apostasy also occurred and basically took over in this region).

The truth is that the Greco-Roman confederation did not begin to form until over a century after Jesus died, hence it was not part of the early missionary journeys that the original apostles and their immediate successors made.

Several articles of possibly related interest may include:

Why The Living Church of God Does Not Wear Green on St. Patrick’s Day Should non-Catholics observe a Catholic holiday?
The Pergamos Church Era was predominant circa 450 A.D. to circa 1050 A.D. An especially persecuted Church.  This article discusses early Christianity in the British Isles.
Passover and the Early Church Did the early Christians observe Passover? What did Jesus and Paul teach? Why did Jesus die for our sins?
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?

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