The Sixth “Life of St. Patrick” by Jocelin

Rev. William Fleming
The Sixth “Life of St. Patrick” by Jocelin

There was a man named Calphurnius, the son of Potitus, a presbyter, by nation a Briton, living in the village Taburnia (that is the Field of Tents), near the town of Empthor, and his habitation was nigh unto the Irish Sea. This man married a French damsel named Concuessa, niece of the blessed Martin, Archbishop of Tours, and the damsel was elegant in her form and in her manners, for, having been brought from France with her elder sister into the northern parts of Britain, they were sold at the command of her father. Calphurnius being pleased with her manners, charmed with her attentions, and attracted by her beauty, very much loved her, and from the state of serving maid in his household, raised her to be his companion in wedlock. And her sister, having been delivered unto another man, lived in the aforementioned town of Empthor.

“And Calphurnius and his wife were just before God, walking without offence in the justifications of the Lord, and they were eminent in their birth, and in their faith, and in their hope, and in their religion. And though in their outward habit and abiding they seemed to serve under the yoke of Babylon, yet did they in their acts and in their conversation show themselves citizens of Jerusalem. Therefore out of the earth of their flesh, being freed from the tares of sin and from the noxious weeds of vice by the ploughshare of evangelic and apostolic learning, and being fruitful in the growth of all virtues, did they, as the best and richest fruit, bring forth a son, whom, when he had at the font put off the old man, they caused to be named Patritius, as being the future father and patron of many nations; of whom, even at his baptism, the God that is Three in One was pleased by the sign of a threefold miracle to declare how pure a vessel of election should he prove, and how devoted a worshipper of the Holy Trinity. But after a little while, this happy birth being completed, they vowed themselves by mutual consent unto chastity, and with a holy end rested in the Lord. But Calphurnius first served God a long time in the deaconship, and at length closed his days in the priesthood. …”

Chapter XII.—“As, according to the testimony of Holy Writ, the furnace tries the gold, so did the hour of trial draw near to Patrick that he might the more provedly receive the crown of life. For when the illustrious boy had perlustrated three lustres, already attaining his sixteenth year, he was, with many of his fellow-countrymen, seized by the pirates who were ravaging the borders, and was made captive and carried into Ireland, and was there sold as a slave to a certain pagan prince named Milcho, who reigned in the Northern parts of the island, even at the same age when Joseph is recorded to have been sold in Egypt. …”

Chapter XVII.—“And St. Patrick, guided by his angelic guide, came to the sea, and he there found a ship that was to carry him to Britain, and a crew of heathens, who were in the ship, freely received him, and hoisting their sails with a favourable wind, after three days they made land. And, being come out of the ship, they found a region deserted and inhabited by none, and they began to travel over the whole country for the space of twenty-eight days; and for want of food in that fearful and wild solitude were they perishing of hunger” (Jocelin’s “Life of St. Patrick,” translated by E. L. Swift).

Jocelin’s “Life of St. Patrick” deserves the harsh sentence pronounced upon it by Canon O’Hanlon: “It is incomparably the worst” of all the Latin “Lives” of the Saint. Jocelin represents Conchessa, St. Patrick’s saintly mother, as a niece of St. Martin of Tours, and, almost in the same breath, suggests that either St. Martin’s brother, or his brother in-law, sold Conchessa and her elder sister to Calphurnius, a Briton of Clydesdale, as slaves. Although Conchessa was sold as a slave “at the command of her father,” she is said to have succeeded in captivating and marrying her master Calphurnius.

Whilst Ware and Usher sneer at Jocelin’s statement that Calphurnius and Conchessa took the vow of celibacy and devoted themselves to a religious life immediately after St. Patrick’s birth, they eagerly adopt Jocelin’s statement that the Apostle of Ireland was born at “Empthor,” and that the home of Calphurnius was “not far from the Irish Sea,” although this untrustworthy author stands alone among the ancient writers in making this assertion.

Although Jocelin is responsible for the statement that St. Patrick fled to the island of Britain after his escape from captivity in Ireland, the subsequent three days’ voyage by sea and twenty-eight days’ journey by land before reaching his home are fatal to Jocelin’s contention, as Professor Bury clearly demonstrates.

Ware’s Empthor was near Dumbarton; Colgan’s, Dumbarton itself; Usher and the “Aberdeen Breviary” identify it as Kilpatrick; Cardinal Moran rests sure that it is Hamilton, at the mouth of the Avon in Scotland; but St. Patrick’s ship, chartered by Heaven to carry him to his “own native land,” could, if any of the places named were St. Patrick’s native town, have borne him directly almost to his destination, and saved part at least of the three days' journey by sea and the whole of the twenty-eight days’ journey by wilderness before joining his relatives.

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