On analysis of the available evidence, surviving documentation and archaeological inscriptions, it can be seen that Ireland had two contemporaneous evangelists advocating Catholic philosophy but both coming from entirely different standpoints. Both missions were conducted in an apparently Christian conscious Ireland by the early 5th century CE. It is also clear that these missionaries proclaiming equal faith, first Palladius (as advocate of Pope Celestine), then Patrick (as advocate of God), had some impact on their own co-existing communities. With the rise of Catholic historical documentation, monastic propaganda reduced the efforts of Palladius’ ‘failed’ mission and, for no reason other than expediency, merged all credit for Christian conversion exclusively to Patrick, whose ‘successful’ mission was better serving the purposes of the advocations of Catholicism.
By the 5th century CE Pelagianism (and paganism) were proliferating in Western Europe and Ireland to such effect that Roman Catholicism, led by Pope Celestine I (Celestine the Deacon) (422-432 CE), himself a Roman and zealous for orthodoxy, sent Palladius as a Bishop to Ireland in 431. The chronicle of the contemporary St. Prosper of Aquitaine presents two important entries relating to Palladius. Under the date of 429 it has, “Agricola, a Pelagian, son of Severianus, a Pelagian bishop, corrupted the churches of Britain by the insinuation of his doctrine; but at the insistence of the Deacon Palladius (ad actionem Palladii Diaconi), Celestine sends Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre as his representative to root out heresy and direct the Britons to the Catholic Faith”. Again under the date of 431, in the consulship of Bassus and Antiocus: “Palladius was consecrated by Pope Celestine and sent to the Scots believing in Christ, as their first bishop” (Ad Scotum in Christum credentes ordinatur a Papa Celestino Palladius et primus episcopus mittitur).
It is clear then that by ordaining a bishop for the Irish (Scotis), whilst he laboured to keep the Roman Island (Britain) Catholic, he made also the barbarous Island (Ireland) Christian. The words of the second entry to the chronicle, “to the Scots believing in Christ” can only have the meaning that when the chronicle was being written in 447, the Irish had become a Christian people. Another relevant source to the authenticity of Palladius’ papal authority is The Seventh Century Life Of St. Patrick by Muircu Maccumachthenus in the “Book of Armagh” which expressly styles Palladius “Archidiaconus Papæ Coelestini urbis Romæ Episcopi”, repeated in several of the other lives of St. Patrick.
The conversion of Ireland was very significant to Celestine because, according to the writings of St Jerome (c.347-420), an Illyrian Christian priest and apologist , we suspect that Pelagius himself was of Goidelic-Celtic origin, q-Celt, (perhaps Irish), “He tells us that he was descended from the Scots (Irish) de vicinia Britannorum, and that he was “reared on Scotch porridge.” This simple fact feasibly meant that if Celestine could conquer the homeland of Pelagius, ‘the seat of his realm’, this may discredit his philosophy. Palladius soon abandoned the mission and was quickly replaced by an ostensibly self-appointed evangelist calling himself Bishop Patricius. In his ‘Confessio’ he elaborates in some detail as to the success of his mission (he attributes this success to God) when he writes, “’it is not you who speaks but the Spirit of your Father speaking in you.’ (Confessio Vs 20) This proved an ideal declaration of divine faith and his successful work was endorsed by his Roman contemporaries. The efforts of his predecessor, whose contribution to Irish Christianity was minimal, were inexplicably obliterated.
Christian inscriptions in Irish began about the middle of the 5th Century CE and are primarily located in the south-eastern side of the country. They show that Christian teaching must have been accepted among the native Irish, of this region, prior to the arrival of both missionaries. ‘The chiefs of the pre-Patrician saints include St. Ailbe in Co. Tipperary, St. Ibar of Wexford, St. Declan of Waterford, …..the controversy between Cashel, as the premier home of the Christian church and Armagh as the latter implies that it is possible two evangelists were at work in the country. Palladius to the South and Patrick to the North, “it is exactly the sort of controversy that was inevitable if these Southern Churches looked back to an independent origin and an earlier date than that of the apostle of Ireland, whose later glory had obscured their own”.
With St. Patrick came flourishing literacy and the subsequent documentation of reality, by his cohorts, was inexorably biased in favor of the message advocated their apostle. The primary strategy of Patrick was to introduce an episcopal church which indicates that he had some papal influences. In the ‘Catalogue Of The Order Of The Saints’ for the period 432-543 it is clearly stated that there were founders of churches who worshipped Christ and followed one leader, Patrick, and this clearly implies that in his lifetime he was undoubtedly held in high reverence by his contemporaries and immediate generations to follow. This loyalty manifested itself in propaganda that all but eliminated the presence and influence of Palladius. Interestingly, these passages also indicate that the Roman Church tradition was firmly in place, “one tonsure, one celebration of mass, one Easter” It is fair to conclude from this that Patrick’s mission had deep long lasting impact and was far more significant than that of Palladius.
While academics often give credit to both these men for the introduction of Christianity the more common view is that Patrick was indeed the true Apostle of Christ regardless of papal appointment or not. There is still good reason to debate the timeline of Palladius and Patrick, with ‘possibility’ being a significant part of the deliberations. By considering the surviving documentation, The Chronicles Of Prosper Of Aquitaine, The Annals Of The Irish Churches and Patrick’s own writings, it can be seen that the papal commission of Palladius coincided with the mission of Patrick though only the latter reaps commendation.
To track the short timeline of Palladius’ mission we turn to the ‘Chronicles of Prosper of Aquitaine’, “Ad Scottos in Christum credentes ordinatus a papa Caelestina Palladius primus episcopus mittitur”, Palladius was sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine as the first bishop to the Irish who believe in Christ in 431 AD. In 434 Prosper again wrote regarding Palladius, that Pope Celestine ‘having ordained a bishop for the Irish, while he labours to keep the Roman island [Britain] Catholic, has also made the barbarian island [Ireland] Christian’ in his Contra Collatorem. These two passages place Palladius in Ireland evangelising to the Irish from 431 onwards. In Ireland, church Annals record Palladius’ arrival. The Annals of Ulster show Palladius, having been approved by Pope Celestine, is sent to Ireland in the consulship of Aetius and Valerius in 431 while the Annals of the Four Masters say that Palladius landed in the county of Leinster in 430. With these pieces of evidence added to the writings of Prosper it verifies that Palladius was in Ireland fulfilling his papal commission in the early 430’s.
In order to establish Saint Patrick’s time in Ireland, the surviving sources are principally recorded internally by the Irish church Annals. The Annals of the Four Masters also go on to record that Patrick arrived in 432 and proceeded to baptize and bless the Irish. The Annals of Ulster confirm that Patrick reached Ireland in 432 the ninth year of the reign of Theodosius Mino. These church writings firmly place Patrick arriving in Ireland and converting the people at the same time as Palladius.
To corroborate this we can garner some facts from Patrick’s own writings in his Letter to Coroticus demanding the release of enslaved, by Tyrannus, Irish Christians and his later life biographical Confessio both of which survive in the Book Of Armagh.
According to RPC Hanson, there are two men who could have gone by the name Tyrannus, the son of a man called Cuned from North Wales who had a child possibly named Coroticus or the King of Dumbarton on the coast of Scotland. Either of these still place Patrick in Ireland writing this communication in the first half of the fifth century. In his Epistola, Patrick mentioned “…with many thousand solidi, to redeem baptized captives…” This solidi was a gold coin reintroduced by Constantine the Great in 312 and remained in circulation throughout the supremacy of the Roman Empire. The fact is that the coins were last minted in 411 so circulation had diminished. The further into the fifth century, the less likely it is that Patrick would refer to the coin in his letter. Passages of Saint Patrick Confessio have an eschatological tone and it is obvious from this that his mission was based around the fall of Rome which occurred in 410. R.P.C. Hanson states that this tone places Patrick in Ireland in the early half of the fifth century. The information gathered from the surviving evidence of the Confession of Saint Patrick and his Letter to Coroticus points to him writing these letters from Ireland in the first half of the fifth century. The same time that Palladius was converting the Irish to Christianity.
Palladius mission in Ireland is clearly recorded internally by the Annals of the Irish churches and externally by the chronicles of Prosper of Aquitaine. These sources place Palladius converting the Irish to Christianity from 431 onwards. There is reliance on deductive reasoning in determining a timeframe for Patrick’s mission based on his own writings. The answers gathered from those deductions point to the first half of the fifth century and corroborate Patrick’s mission with the recorded dates of the Annals of the Four Masters and the Annals of Ulster. By not getting immersed in the theories of Patrician scholars and remaining within the confinement of surviving evidence, it is provable that the mission of Palladius to convert the Irish to Christianity must have been at the same period of time as that of Saint Patrick.
With Thanks To:
Dr. Liam Irwin.