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Monday, 24 July 2017
Saint Declan as a Pre-Patrician Saint
Yesterday I posted on a modern scholar's analysis of the tradition that Saint Declan of Ardmore, whose feast we celebrate today, was one of four 'pre-Patrician saints', credited with the introduction of Christianity to Munster before the coming of Saint Patrick. In reading the Life of Saint Declan, it is interesting to observe how the hagiographer is keen to establish his subject's pre-Patrician credentials whilst at the same time showing the proper respect to Saint Patrick as the chief bishop of the Irish. The headings below are mine, the text from the translation by Fatther Patrick Power at CELT .
In chapter 7 we are told that Declan first takes himself to Rome for study:
Declan judged it proper that he should visit Rome to study discipline and ecclesiastical system, to secure for himself esteem and approbation thence, and obtain authority to preach to the Irish people and to bring back with him the rules of Rome as these obtained in Rome itself. He set out with his followers and he tarried not till he arrived in Rome where they remained some time.
Declan obtains papal approval for his mission to his countrymen and even attracts some Roman followers:
When Declan had spent a considerable time in Rome he was ordained a bishop by the Pope, who gave him church-books and rules and orders and sent him to Ireland that he might preach there. Having bidden farewell to the Pope and received the latter's blessing Declan commenced his journey to Ireland. Many Romans followed him to Ireland to perform their pilgrimage and to spend their lives there under the yoke and rule of Bishop Declan, and amongst those who accompanied him was Runan, son of the king of Rome; he was dear to Declan.
and in the next chapter he encounters Saint Patrick, who is not yet either a bishop nor commissioned to undertake a mission to Ireland:
On the road through Italy Bishop Declan and Patrick met. Patrick was not a bishop at that time, though he was (made a bishop) subsequently by Pope Celestinus, who sent him to preach to the Irish. Patrick was truly chief bishop of the Irish island. They bade farewell to one another and they made a league and bond of mutual fraternity and kissed in token of peace. They departed thereupon each on his own journey, scil.:—Declan to Ireland and Patrick to Rome.
A few chapters later Declan's fellow pre-Patricians are named, but again, not at the expense of acknowledging Patrick's contribution as all-Ireland evangelist:
After this Declan came to Ireland. Declan was wise like a serpent and gentle like a dove and industrious like the bee, for as the bee gathers honey and avoids the poisonous herbs so did Declan, for he gathered the sweet sap of grace and Holy Scripture till he was filled therewith. There were in Ireland before Patrick came thither four holy bishops with their followers who evangelized and sowed the word of God there; these are the four:—Ailbe, Bishop Ibar, Declan, and Ciaran. They drew multitudes from error to the faith of Christ, although it was Patrick who sowed the faith throughout Ireland and it is he who turned chiefs and kings of Ireland to the way of baptism, faith and sacrifice and everlasting judgment.
Yet not all of the pre-Patrician four were as reconciled to Patrick as Declan:
After this the holy renowned bishop, head of justice and faith in the Gaelic island came into Ireland, i.e. Patrick sent by Celestinus, the Pope. Aongus Mac Nathfrich went to meet him soon as he heard the account of his coming. He conducted him (Patrick) with reverence and great honour to his own royal city—to Cashel. Then Patrick baptised him and blessed himself and his people and his city. Patrick heard that the prince of the Decies had not been baptised and did not believe, that there was a disagreement between the prince and Declan and that the former refused to receive instruction from the latter. Patrick thereupon set out to preach to the prince aforesaid. Next, as to the four bishops we have named who had been in Rome: Except Declan alone they were not in perfect agreement with Patrick. It is true that subsequently to this they did enter into a league of peace and harmonious actions with Patrick and paid him fealty. Ciaran, however, paid him all respect and reverence and was of one mind with him present or absent. Ailbe then, when he saw the kings and rulers of Ireland paying homage to Patrick and going out to meet him, came himself to Cashel, to wait on him and he also paid homage to him (Patrick) and submitted to his jurisdiction, in presence of the king and all others. Bear in mind it was Ailbe whom the other holy bishops had elected their superior. He therefore came first to Patrick, lest the others, on his account, should offer opposition to Patrick, and also that by his example the others might be more easily drawn to his jurisdiction and rule. Bishop Ibar however would on no account consent to be subject to Patrick, for it was displeasing to him that a foreigner should be patron of Ireland. It happened that Patrick in his origin was of the Britons and he was nurtured in Ireland having been sold to bondage in his boyhood. There arose misunderstanding and dissension between Patrick and Bishop Ibar at first, although (eventually), by intervention of the angel of peace, they formed a mutual fellowship and brotherly compact and they remained in agreement for ever after. But Declan did not wish to disagree at all with Patrick for they had formed a mutual bond of friendship on the Italian highway and it is thus the angel commanded him to go to Patrick and obey him:—
Next Declan acts to placate Patrick and stop him from cursing his land and people:
The angel of God came to Declan and said to him ‘Go quickly to Patrick and prevent him cursing your kindred and country, for to-night, in the plain which is called Inneoin, he is fasting against the king, and if he curses your people they shall be accursed for ever.’ Thereupon Declan set out in haste by direction of the angel to Inneoin, i.e. the place which is in the centre of the plain of Femhin in the northern part of the Decies. He crossed Slieve Gua and over the Suir and arrived on the following morning at the place where Patrick was. When Patrick and his disciples heard that Declan was there they welcomed him warmly for they had been told he would not come. Moreover Patrick and his people received him with great honour. But Declan made obeisance to Patrick and besought him earnestly that he should not execrate his people and that he should not curse them nor the land in which they dwelt, and he promised to allow Patrick do as he pleased. And Patrick replied:—‘On account of your prayer not only shall I not curse them but I shall give them a blessing.’ Declan went thereupon to the place where was the king of Decies who was a neighbour of his. But he contemned Patrick and he would not believe him even at the request of Declan. Moreover Declan promised rewards to him if he would go to Patrick to receive baptism at his hands and assent to the faith. But he would not assent on any account. When Declan saw this, scil.:—that the king of the Decies, who was named Ledban, was obstinate in his infidelity and in his devilry—through fear lest Patrick should curse his race and country—he (Declan) turned to the assembly and addressed them:—‘Separate yourselves from this accursed man lest you become yourselves accursed on his account, for I have myself baptised and blessed you, but come you,’ said he, ‘with us, to Patrick, whom God has sent to bless you, for he has been chosen Archbishop and chief Patron of all Erin; moreover, I have a right to my own patrimony and to be king over you as that man (Ledban) has been.’ At this speech they all arose and followed Declan who brought them into the presence of Patrick and said to the latter:—‘See how the whole people of the Deisi have come with me as their Lord to thee and they have left the accursed prince whose subjects they have been, and behold they are ready to reverence you and to obey you for it is from me they have received baptism.’ At this Patrick rose up with his followers and he blessed the people of the Deisi and not them alone, but their woods and water and land. Whereupon the chiefs and nobles of the Deisi said:—‘Who will be King or Lord over us now?’ And Declan replied:—‘I am your lord and whomsoever I shall appoint offer you as lord, Patrick and all of us will bless, and he shall be king over you all.’ And he whom Declan appointed was Feargal MacCormac a certain young man of the nation of the Deisi who was a kinsman of Declan himself. He (Declan) set him in the midst of the assembly in the king's place and he was pleasing to all. Whereupon Patrick and Declan blessed him and each of them apart proclaimed him chieftain. Patrick moreover promised the young man that he should be brave and strong in battle, that the land should be fruitful during his reign. Thus have the kings of the Deisi always been.
Saints Ailbe and Declan receive their rewards as 'second Patricks':
As Patrick and the saints were in Cashel, i.e. Ailbe and Declan with their disciples, in the territory of Aongus Mac Nathfrich, they made much progress against paganism and errors in faith and they converted them (the pagans) to Christianity. It was ordained by Patrick and Aongus Mac Natfrich in presence of the assembly, that the Archbishopric of Munster should belong to Ailbe, and to Declan, in like manner, was ordained (committed) his own race, i.e. the Deisi, whom he had converted to be his parish and his episcopate. As the Irish should serve Patrick, so should the Deisi serve Declan as their patron, and Patrick made the rann:—
Humble Ailbe the Patrick of Munster, greater than any saying,
Declan, Patrick of the Deisi—the Decies to Declan for ever.
This is equivalent to saying that Ailbe was a second Patrick and that Declan was a second Patrick of the Decies. After that, when the king had bidden them farewell and they had all taken leave of one another, the saints returned to their respective territories to sow therein the seed of faith.
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