St. Patrick’s Prophecy of the Great Apostasy

Sunday, 17 March 2013

St. Patrick’s Prophecy of the Great Apostasy

 

There is an obscure prophecy attributed to St. Patrick which appears to foretell the previously unthinkable – a time when Ireland would lose its faith in Christ. Sadly, this prophecy pretty much describes the current state of our beautiful island, which to a large extent, is now shunning the Roman Catholic faith.  What was once before a inextricable part of Irish national identity, is now subject to the calumny of the growing anti-clericalism in the Irish media, which has now filtered out into wider society. The prophecy appears in chapter CLXXV of the vita by the Cistercian hagiographer Jocelyn of Furness (fl. 1175-1214):

The different States of Hibernia are in a Heavenly Vision
shown unto the Saint.

 
 

And the man of God anxiously desired and earnestly prayed that he might be certified of the present and the future state of Hibernia, to the end that he might be assured of the faith, or of the value that his labors bore in the sight of God. Then the Lord heard the desire of his heart, and manifested the same unto him by an evident revelation; for while he was engaged in prayer, and the heart of his mind was opened, he beheld the whole island as it were a flaming fire ascending unto heaven; and he heard the angel of God saying unto him: “Such at this time is Hibernia in the sight of the Lord.” And after a little space he beheld in all parts of the island even as mountains of fire stretching unto the skies. And again after a little space he beheld as it were candles burning, and after a while darkness intervened; and then he beheld fainter lights, and at length he beheld coals lying hidden here and there, as reduced unto ashes, yet still burning. And the angel added: “What thou seest here shown, such shall be the people of Hibernia.” Then the saint, exceedingly weeping, often repeated the words of the Psalmist, saying: “Whether will God turn himself away for ever, and will he be no more entreated? Shall his mercy come to an end from generation to generation? Shall God forget to be merciful, and shut up his mercy in his displeasure?” And the angel said, “Look toward the northern side, and on the right hand of a height shalt thou behold the darkness dispersed from the face of the light which thenceforth will arise.” Then the saint raised his eyes, and behold, he at first saw a small light arising in Ulydia, the which a long time contended with the darkness, and at length dispersed it, and illumined with its rays the whole island. Nor ceased the light to increase and to prevail, even until it had restored to its former fiery state all Hibernia. Then was the heart of the saint filled with joy, and his heart with exultation, giving thanks for all these things which had been shown unto him: and he understood in the greatness of this fiery ardor of the Christian faith the devotion and the zeal of religion, wherewith those islanders burned. By the fiery mountains he understood the men who would be holy in their miracles and their virtues, eminent in their preachings and their examples; by the lessening of the light, the decrease of holiness; by the darkness that covered the land, the infidelity which would prevail therein; by the intervals of delay, the distances of the succeeding times. But the people think the period of darkness was that in which Gurmundus and Turgesius, heathen princes of Norwegia, conquered and ruled in Hibernia; and in those days, the saints, like coals covered with ashes, lay hidden in caves and dens from the face of the wicked, who pursued them like sheep unto the slaughter. Whence it happened that differing rites and new sacraments, which were contrary to the ecclesiastical institutes, were introduced into the church by many prelates who were ignorant of the divine law. But the light first arising from the north, and after long conflict exterminating the darkness, those people assert to be Saint Malachy, who presided first in Dunum, afterward in Ardmachia, and reduced the island unto the Christian law. On the other hand, the people of Britain ascribe this light to their coming, for that then the church seemed under their rule to be advanced unto a better state; and that then religion seemed to be planted and propagated, and the sacraments of the church and the institutes of the Christian law to be observed with more regular observance. But I propose not the end of this contention, neither do I prevent it, thinking that the discussion and the decision thereof should be left unto the divine judgment.

(See here for the full vita of St. Patrick by Jocelyn of Furness)

It is uncertain whether this prophecy was actually made by St. Patrick himself, since it does not appear in the earlier works on the saints life. The other more well-known prophecy of St. Patrick (which foretold that Ireland would suffer from a terrible deluge seven years before the end of the world to spare the Irish from the reign of the Antichrist) is of far greater provenance. (See the earlier post St. Patrick and the End-Time Flood of Ireland). But it certainly interesting, given the current state of affairs in Ireland.

 
Jocelyn attempts to make sense out of the prophecy by linking it to the appearance of the Viking invaders, who ravaged the coasts of Ireland in the early Middle Ages. The light in “Ulydia” (an archaic name for Ulster) which brings about the reversal of the apostasy is rightly connected by Jocelyn to St. Malachy, who was the abbot of Bangor Abbey in the north of Ireland, just outside of Belfast (unfortunately, nothing of the original building remains of Bangor Abbey today, other than a stump of a wall in the grounds of the modern Anglican abbey). St. Malachy had ensured unity of the Church in Ireland with the Roman Catholic Church by travelling to Rome to obtain pallia for the sees of Armagh and Cashel. And in his famous account of the saint’s life, St. Bernard of Clairvaux tells how St. Malachy had helped to restore the Church in Ireland, which had fallen into a terrible state of decay.

The above prophecy is based on the story of the St. Patrick lighting the Paschal Fire on the Hill of Slane in 433AD, in opposition to the pagan festival of Beltane practised by Laoghaire, the High King of Tara. This defiant action was an instrumental moment in the conversion of Ireland.

 
This prophecy attributed to St. Patrick also appears to be associated with the Great Apostasy foretold in Scripture, which speaks of a general falling away of Christians from the faith towards the end of the world. It is interesting then that the reversal of the apostasy in Ireland is associated with St. Malachy – whose famous prophetic mottoes “Glory of the Olive” and “Peter the Roman” seem to connect the Angelic Pope to the Two Witnesses of Rev 11. Could this be once again pointing us towards the importance of the Worthy Shepherd in renewing the faith worldwide?
 
To see the work of St. Patrick being reversed in such a terrible fashion is something cruel to behold for any true Irish person. But through the intercession of St. Patrick, the once fiery zeal of the Irish faithful will one day return to the shores of our beloved land, and the religion which our ancestors strived and died to protect will once again reflourish on the verdant pastures of the Emerald Isle.

Hail, Glorious St. Patrick

Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, dear saint of our Isle,
On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile;
And now thou art high in the mansions above,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, thy words were once strong
Against Satan’s wiles and an infidel throng;
Not less is thy might where in heaven thou art;
O, come to our aid, in our battle take part.

In the war against sin, in the fight for the faith,
Dear saint, may thy children resist unto death;
May their strength be in meekness, in penance, their prayer,
Their banner the cross which they glory to bear.

 
Thy people, now exiles on many a shore,
Shall love and revere thee till time be no more;
And the fire thou hast kindled shall ever burn bright,
Its warmth undiminished, undying its light.

 
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