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Critically assess the view that the two Patrick theory solves the puzzle of Patrick
The Two Patrick’s theory was first delivered by Thomas O’Rahilly on the 20th of March, 1942. In it he summarises the studies he undertook in the years 1934-35. Originally, his interest was contained to the fifth and sixth century annals. It was while he studied these however, that he noticed the discrepancies surrounding the dating of Patrick’s mission. Although he notes that “the history of Christianity in the fifth century bristles with difficulties, many of them in chronological order”, he remains hopeful that “the most serious of our difficulties [regarding Saint Patrick] will resolve themselves quite readily once we get our chronology right.” Bury’s suggests the date 432-461 for Patrick.
From 1905, this date was held as the “official” dating of Patrick’s mission. O’Rahilly believes that Bury limited his work, because he was not an Irish language scholar, and he failed to look at sixth century annals while compiling his chronology. O’Rahilly firmly believes that if he had have studied the sixth century annals, and taken them into account then he would have a completely different view to the dating of his mission.
The beginning point for a Christian mission is the reference of Prosper of Aquitaine to the sending of Palladius in 431. This date not only marks the beginning of the official introduction of Christianity into Ireland, but it also marks the beginning of Irish history as a whole. No other date apart from this one regarding Christianity in Ireland is certain.
It was while he was studying the annals that Thomas O’Rahilly noticed the recorded death dates of the accepted contemporaries of Patrick in the sixth century annals, for example Mochta. Mochta, we know was a disciple of Patrick. There are two different sources to base this on. The first is when Adomnï¿½n refers to him, as “a certain stranger, a Briton and a holy man, disciple of the holy bishop Patrick. Mochta by name.” And the second, when the Annals of Ulster recorded Mochta’s death under the year 535, they quote the beginning of a letter that Mochta himself wrote, in which he says “sancti Patrcii discipulus”.
O’Rahilly also noticed that from 488 until 544, the annals have recorded the death dates of over twelve bishops, all who were confirmed to have been contemporaries of Patrick. This brought a question into O’Rahilly’s mind, “if Patrick died in 461, how do we explain the fact that so many of his fellow works die fifty, sixty or even seventy years later?” O’Rahilly believes that the annals are the most trustworthy guide, and the safest thing to go by. If we are to assume that these are indeed correct, then O’Rahilly asks, “What justification is there for the general opinion that Patrick died in 461?”
Several attempts have been made by O’Rahilly and other scholars to provide some sort of explanation, such as suggesting that the dates are wrongly recorded or recorded late so that the lifespan of the Saint was expanded. Another idea that was mentioned was that the significant dates in some saints lives was moved, so that they correspond with other important figures, however baring in mind the amount of dates that are wrong, by up to seventy years, this is hugely unlikely.
It is clear that the 492/3 date would “fit” other contemporaries, however in accepting this, we must question the date cited for the arrival of Patrick. Bury is convinced that this date is “certain, and rested upon clear and unvarying tradition.” Bury rejects the 492/3 date, and is of the opinion that it was changed in an attempt to equate the lifetime of Patrick to that of Moses. O’Rahilly however argues that the 492/3 date is just as likely as the 461 death date, and he believes that rather the arrival date should come into question.
Since the seventh century, and coming in to the ninth century, there has been a tradition of two missionaries called Patricius, who both worked in Ireland in the fifth century. O’Rahilly points out that there are notes in the appendix of Tï¿½rechï¿½n’s “Brief Account”, in the “Book of Armagh”, which speaks of: “Palladius also called Patricius.” This draws O’Rahilly to the assumption that Palladius’ full name was Patricius Palladius, as Patricius was a common name at this time. He concludes that in Ireland he was referred to as Patricius, where as in the Chronicles of Prosper, they used his surname. If we accept this to be true, this means that Palladius is then, Sen Phï¿½tric. Bury dismisses this idea of Sen Phï¿½tric, saying he is a “mere phantom”.
O’Rahilly is of the opinion that both missionaries had the same name, and that one composite Patrick was made. He believes then, that the work of Palladius was then attributed to Saint Patrick. This means that the memory of Palladius per se, has been subsumed into that of Saint Patrick.
O’Rahilly then moves on to attempt to explain the 432 arrival date. His argument is that this is actually the death date, and not there 492/3 date, which he claims has been interpolated. He believes that the reasoning for this was that the Church of Armagh wanted to glorify the missionary contribution made by Saint Patrick, and associate him as closely as possible with the Church, and the Christianisation of Ireland.
Therefore O’Rahilly believes that his arrival date was pushed to 432, and Muirchï¿½ persuaded readers of his narrative that Palladius had died within a year of arriving in Ireland. According to O’Rahilly, Palladius came to Ireland in 431, laboured for approximately thirty years, and died in the year 461. Patrick the Briton came to Ireland shortly after, laboured for the same amount of time as it says in Fiacc’s Hymn and dies somewhere around 492/3. O’Rahilly believes that all of Palladius’ work was attributed to Patrick, and that this 432 arrival date is fictitious.
If we accept the theory that O’Rahilly suggests, then we are able to accept both dates suggested by the annals. It also gives us information about the famous Sen Phï¿½tric that is often referred to in Irish sources.
There have been a lot of criticisms put forward regarding O’Rahilly’s theory. For example, Carney, who believes that Palladius laboured in Scotland, rather than Ireland, disputes O’Rahilly’s identification of Palladius with the “elder Patrick”. It has also been criticised because it is very much based on assumptions. O’Rahilly assumed that Palladius had worked in Ireland for thirty years, with little to no evidence. This is criticised because if Palladius did minister for thirty years, perhaps Patrick would have mentioned him in his writings?
Murphy points out however, that Patrick failed to mention those who assisted him in his own mission with the Irish, never mind those who predecessed him. Ryan also puts forward a very credible argument. Palladius is widely associated with Auxilius and Iserninus. So if he had been a minister for thirty years, should they not have been the ones to become his success him, rather than an unknown Briton. Hanson is very critical of O’Rahilly’s chronology, saying that its major weakness is that “it discounts internal evidence about him in favour of later tradition…it is not supported by any evidence in Patrick’s writings…and rests on hypothesis.”
It is impossible to say that the Two Patrick theory solves the puzzle of Patrick, when there is so much conflict an debate regarding it, and so little scholars agree.