Patrick of Ireland: A Devotional History
Nowhere in the New Testament does the Apostle Paul lift his voice against the institution of slavery. Paul knew that such a pervasive and embedded sin in society could be conquered only by purely spiritual means and so he sent Onesimus back to the service of his master—with letters that would demolish the spirit of slavery in the Colossian church.
The early church fathers followed the same principle as Paul—“that [the slave] might obtain from God a better liberty.” Ignatius, who writes to Polycarp, “Despise not slaves,” at the same time writes, “Let them [the slaves] submit themselves the more for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 7:20–22). The early church fathers writing in the Didache, however, speak of individual Christians purchasing slaves to save souls, and the Apostolic Constitutions, written around the time of Patrick’s birth (ad 380), speaks of the slaves resting on the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day (Saturday and Sunday).
For all of the ways the church tried to ameliorate the slave’s sad lot in life, Patrick of Ireland was the first to raise an unequivocal voice against the cruel industry in his letter to Coroticus. It was a letter wet with tears, not only for the physical loss of those killed in the raids and the danger faced by those who survived, but for the spiritual danger of the Christians taken into “distant lands, where sin is rife, openly, grievously and shamelessly; and there freeborn men have been sold, Christians reduced to slavery” (Letter, sec. 15).
He says, “I do not know what more to say or speak concerning those of the sons of God who have departed, whom the sword struck all too hard. For it is written: ‘Weep with those that weep’; (Romans 12.15) … Therefore the church mourns and weeps for its sons and daughters” (Letter, sec. 15).
Does the church still mourn and weep for its sons and daughters, for those who have fallen on hard times, fallen into sin, or suffered lost? How often do I mourn and weep for the saints, or am I more prone to murmur than mourn?
“Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.”—Francis Schaeffer