My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I sometimes blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
St. Patrick and the Slave Trade
A few years later he received a call from God to return to Ireland and bring Christianity as a missionary. His missionary work was hugely successful, and under his tireless and bold leadership Irish leaders and people converted en masse to the faith.
In the midst of all the work of being a missionary, however, Patrick had not forgotten his experience as a slave. The blight of slavery still existed, and he sought to do something about it.
In his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus we get a glimpse of a man trying to get soldiers to stop supporting the slave trade. More than that, we also see a ministry among Christians that was to purchase the freedom of Christians who had been taken into slavery:
“It is the custom of the Christians of Rome and Gaul to send holy men to the Franks and other nations, with many thousand solidi, to redeem baptized captives. You who slay them, and sell them to foreign nations ignorant of God, deliver the members of Christ, as it were, into a den of wolves. What hope have you in God? Whoever agrees with you, or commands you,, God will judge him. I know not what I can say, or what I can speak more of the departed sons of God slain cruelly by the sword. It is written: ‘Weep with them that weep.’ And again, ‘It any suffers anything, all the members suffer with it.’ Therefore the Church laments and bewails her sons and daughters, not slain by the sword, but sent away to distant countries, where sin is more shameless and abounds. There freeborn Christian men are sold and enslaved amongst the wicked, and abandoned, and apostate Picts.”
One “lesson learned” from St. Patrick seems clear. Spreading the Christian faith – even as a missionary – should not make one blind to the plight of those who are suffering. The choice is not a binary – preach or seek justice. Rather, as the example of St. Patrick illustrates, it is preach and seek justice.
One “modern application” from St Patrick also seems clear. Slavery is a horrible scourge today, with tens of millions of people enslaved with slim chance of relief. Hopefully the example of St. Patrick will prick our conscience to their plight, leading us to support efforts to mitigate such evils. Of course, the issues are complex, as former and current missionaries and abolitionists could attest. Yet something needs to be done, even if just a little thing.
For instance, the next time St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, purchase one less green beer and instead donate the money to an organization that seeks to free enslaved people. That simple act of giving would resonate with the spirit and teaching of St. Patrick in a rich and meaningful way, especially for those enslaved who, to use the words of Patrick, “deserve of God to live and to be whole here, here and hereafter.”
 For examples of Christian organizations seeking to end slavery, see www.ijm.cahttps://www.ijm.ca; https://faastinternational.org/about-us/our-mission; https://www.endslaverynow.org/restoration-ministries
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