The title of this post comes from Patrick’s “Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus,” a furious open letter that Patrick wrote to the people of Britain after British slavers under Coroticus raided Ireland, carrying off in slavery some Irish Christians that Patrick had confirmed the previous day. From the letter:
I myself have composed and written these words with my own hand, so that they can be given and handed over, then sent swiftly to the soldiers of Coroticus. 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.
The very next day after my new converts, dressed all in white, were anointed with chrism, even as it was still gleaming upon their foreheads, they were cruelly cut down and killed by the swords of these same devilish men. At once I sent a good priest with a letter. I could trust him, for I had taught him from his boyhood. He went, accompanied by other priests, to see if we might claw something back from all the looting, most important, the baptized captives whom they had seized. Yet all they did was to laugh in our faces at the mere mention of their prisoners.
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. …
Because of this, let every God-fearing man mark well that to me they are outcasts: cast out also by Christ my God, whose ambassador I am. Patricides, they are, yes and fratricides, no better than ravening wolves devouring God’s own people like a loaf of bread. …
When we look at ancient sources, the silence or acceptance regarding slavery seems depressingly universal, a broad darkness. In that darkness, Patrick’s letter is an early and lonely light. He truly was a voice crying out in the wilderness, practically alone.
So here’s to Saint Patrick, archbishop, missionary, visionary, one of the first to raise his voice against the international slave trade.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.