From Catholicity and Covenant:
Thus Bede describes the experience of Britons at the end of Empire. This was the world of Patrick. The opening words of his Confession tell of how the end of Empire found dramatic expression in his life:
I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age … I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people.
The events in which Patrick was caught up would shook Christian communities across the known world. In far off Bethlehem, Jerome would weep at the news of the fall of Rome and ask in his commentary on Ezekiel:
Who could have believed that Rome, founded on triumphs over the world, could fall to ruin; and that she, the mother of nations, should also be their grave?
Following this sacking of Rome itself, Augustine would also write his De Civitate Dei, answering those “who now complain of this Christian era, and hold Christ responsible for the disasters which their city endured”.
And yet, as the Empire crumbled and at the remotest outpost of the known world, Patrick in his Letter to Coroticus tells of a growing church:
the flock of the Lord, which in Ireland was indeed growing splendidly with the greatest care; and the sons and daughters of kings were monks and virgins of Christ – I cannot count their number.
His Confessions similarly tell the story of how the church could grow in a time of instability and discord, even at the ends of the earth:
I am greatly God’s debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon a after confirmed, and that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth, just as he once promised through his prophets.
In a time of economic crisis, of the fall of great powers, of a culture of de-Christianisation, the Church in postmodern societies can look to Patrick – to be encouraged that the grace of the Triune God, not the culture of the cities of this world, is the founding hope of our life as ekklesia and koinonia.