'I was like a stone lying in the deepest mire; and then, "he who is mighty" came and, in his mercy, raised me up. He most truly raised me up on high and set me on top of the rampart.'-- St Patrick (c. 389-c. 461) in his Confessio.
Patrick was the apostle-missionary to heathen Ireland, a Celtic Christian, and, arguably, the most famous saint of the 5th century. He was at least a 3rd generation Christian, as he speaks of his father as a deacon and his paternal grandfather as a presbyter.
St. Patrick left two short works, his Confessio and his Epistola. Confessio outlines the story of his life. It was not what we would call an autobiography, by modern standards, as it left wide gaps in the story of his life. His life, therefore, remains obscured and enveloped in controversy, conjecture, legend and myth.
Patrick used simple illustrations from the world around him to explain God and the Christian faith to the Irish. His life exemplifies the enthusiasm of the Celtic Church. He frequently quoted that other great missionary, St. Paul. After 30 years of arduous and perilous missionary ministry to the Irish, he founded up to 300 churches and baptized as many as 120,000 believers. Ireland, which had been pagan when Patrick started his ministry, became a center from which Christianity radiated to the British Isles and to continental Europe.
Ireland become a center of Celtic monastacism (although Patrick was never himself a monk), and Christian culture, as well as of missionary zeal. The monastaries became the repositories of ancient Christian writings, as the barbarian hordes descended on continental Europe, destroying many ancient texts there. Ireland, it should be noted, did not officially become a Roman Catholic country until the 12th century, long after Patrick's lifetime.
"He [Patrick] conquered by steadfastness of faith, by glowing zeal, and by the attractive power of love."-August Neander, General History of the Christian Religion and Church, 1855.
For further reading:
Bury, John, The Life of St. Patrick and His Place in History, New York: Macmillan, 1905. Reprinted by Books for Libraries, 1971.
Cahill, Thomas, The Hinges of History, Volume I : How the Irish Saved Civilization, New York: Doubleday, 1995.
Hanson, R. P. C., The Life and Writings of the Historical Saint Patrick, San Francisco: Harper, 1984, 144 pages.
Latourette, Kenneth Scott, A History of Christianity, Vol I: to A.D. 1500, Revised Edition, New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1975, pages 101-102.
Neil, Stephen, A History of Christian Missions, New York: Penguin Books, 1980, pages 56-57.
Olsen, Ted, Christianity and the Celts, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003, 192 pages.
Tucker, Ruth, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983, pages 38-40.