The "Coroticus" Epistle

Translation by Sir Samuel Ferguson

(Before A.D. 500)
[The corresponding sections of the Epistola are indicated by "|".]

^ | I, Patrick—I, a sinner and unlearned,
Here in Hibernia constituted bishop,
Believe most surely that it is from God
I hold commission to be that I am,
[5] A proselyte and pilgrim, for His love,
Here amongst savage peoples. He who knows
All things, knows also if this be not so.

^ I would not aught so harsh and so severe
From me proceeded ; but constrained I am
[10] By zeal for God and for the truth of Christ,
And stirred to anger for my people's sake,
My sons in God, for whom I made exchange
Of kin and country, and did vow myself
For rest of life, if worthy, even to death,
[15] To teach the Heathen ; though, indeed, by some
My function now be held in small esteem.

^ | Therefore these words I, with my proper hand,
Have framed and written, for delivery
To these the soldiers' of Coroticus ;
[20] I say not, to my fellow-citizens,
Nor fellow-citizens of pious Romans,
But rather fellow-citizens of Fiends,
Because of their ill deeds, who, barbarously,
In manner full of hatred, live in death,
[25] Companions of the Scots and Picts apostate,
Intent to glut their savage souls in blood
Of innocents unnumbered, by myself
In God begotten and in Christ confirmed.

^ | The day wherein my white-robed neophytes—
[30] The chrism still wet and glistening on their brows—
Passed at the sword's edge of these murderers,
The day next following, sent I my Epistles
By one whom from his youth I had brought up,
A holy Presbyter, with other clerks,
[35] Beseeching that some portion of their spoils
They might forgive us, and set free again
The baptized captives whom they still detained :
They answered my request with jeers and laughter. |
Alas, I know not which the more to mourn,
[40] Them slain, or them made prisoners, or them
Whom Satan therein made his instruments ;
Who, with himself, must in the pains of hell
Hereafter have their lasting recompense :
For, He who sins the servant is of sin,
[45] And worthy to be called the Son of Satan.

^ | Know ye then, all men having fear of God,
That alien unto me and unto Him.
Whose office here I execute, are they
Fratricides, parricides, devouring wolves
[50] Who swallow up the people of the Lord
As 'twere a meal of bread. But it is wiitten,
The wicked have mude void Thy law. That law,
Which in Hibernia in those latter days,
Thou didst set up so fair and excellent.

^ [55] God granting, | I intrude on no man's right,
But have my part, with others He has called
And pre-appointed, to proclaim His gospel,
Through no small persecutions, to earth's ends ;
Albeit the enemy doth strive against me
[60] By tyranny of this Coroticus,
Who knows not fear of God or of God's priests,
His chosen ones, to whom He delegates
The power supreme and awful : Whatsoe'er
Ye bind on earth it shall be bound in heaven.

^ | [65] Wherefore, beseech you, all that holy are,
And all of humble heart, that with such men
Ye hold no flattering converse. You, with them,
Eat not nor drink ; nor of them take their alms,
Until with rigorous1 penance, and with tears
[70] Effused, they make atonement, and set free
These new-baptized handmaidens of Christ,
For whom He died and suffered on the cross. |
For the Most High doth not respect the gifts
The unjust offer. He who offers up
[75] Out of the poor man's substance, is as he
Who slays the son in presence of the father.
Again : The riches he is gorged withal
Forth from his belly he shall vomit up.
Death's messenger shall hale him, and the ire
[80] Of dragons shall assail him. Tongue of asp
Shall slay him. Inextinguishable fire
Consume him. Woe to them that fill themselves
With that not theirs. What profits it a man
To gain ths whole world, if he lose himself,
[85] And suffer condemnation, of his soul ?

^ | Long were the list, to run through all the law
Denounced by God against cupidity.
Greed is a mortal sin. Thou shalt not covet
Thy neighbour's goods. Thou shalt commit no murder.
[90] The homicide cannot le one with Christ.
Who hates his brother shall a murderer
Be deemed, and he who loves not his own brother
Remains in death. How much more guilty he
Who stains his hands in blood of God's own children,
[95] Lately acquired to Him in earth's far ends,
Here through my Littleness's ministry.

^ | What! was it then without God's promises
Or in the body only that I came
To Ireland ? Who compelled me ? Who me bound
[100] In spirit that I should no more behold
Kindred or early friend ? Whence came the sense
Inspiring me with pity for the race
That once were my own captors ? I was born
Noble ; my father a Decurio ;
[105] That privilege of birth I have exchanged
(I blush not for it, and I grudge it not)
For benefit of others, bartered so
In Christ, and given over to a race
Extern to mine, all for the glorious hope
[110] Ineffable, of that perennial life
Which is in Jesus Christ our Lord ; | albeit
My own not know me. And 'tis also said,
A prophet in his own land hath no honor.

^ Belike they think we are not of one Father
[115] Nor of one sheep-fold. But the Lord declares
Who is not with me is against me. He
Who with me gathereth not, scattereth.
Ill fares it when one builds and one casts down.
And seek I not the things that are mine own ?
[120] Not for mine own delight: 'twas God that stirred
That strong solicitude within my heart,
That, of the hunters and the fishermen
Whom He aforetime for these latter days
Had pre-appointed, I too should be one.

^ | [125] Men bear me envy : Lord what shall I do ?
Men much despise me : Lord, behold thy sheep
Are torn around me, and are made a prey
Of these aforesaid robbers, by command
Of this, Thy foe, Coroticus, whose mind
[130] Is far from charity : who, Christian men
Delivers into hands of Soots and Picts
Lord, ravening wolves have oaten up thy flock
Which here in Ireland had such fair increase,
Sons of the Scots and daughters of the Kings
[135] Now holy monks and handmaidens of Christ,
So many, past my counting. Wherefore thou,
Coroticus, no pleasure in these wrongs
Done to the just hast now, nor ever shalt have,
Now nor till judgment, and the final day
[140] Of condemnation to the under world.2 |
What man of holy life would not abhor
To jest, to feast, with such as these ? They fill
Their houses with the spoils of Christians slain.
They live on rapine. Pity they know not.
[145] They drink of poison ; and the poisoned cup
They offer to their kindred, even as
Eve Know not 'twas death she offered Adam. So
Fares it with all the wicked ; endless death
And endless pain the fruit of all they do.

^ | [150] This custom do the Gaulish Christians use
And Roman. Fit and holy Presbyters
They send the Franks and other extern Heathens,
With money charged, so many thousand coins,
Wherewith to ransom their baptized slaves :
[155] Thou slayest and sellest into extern lands
Which know not God, my Christians, and dost cast
Christ's baptized virgin members in a stews.
What hope canst thou, so acting, have in God ?

^ Him who thinks with thee, him who to thy crime
[160] Gives words approving, God will judge. | For me,
I know not how to speak or what words use
Of these dead dear ones of God's family
Thy sword has touched, alas, too close. 'Tis writ,
To weep with them that weep. And writ again,
[165] If ails one member all do ail with it.
And still the Church bewailing must lament
Those sons and daughters whom as yet the sword
Leaves living, but who live in exile far
Across the sea, where, that the sin may show
[170] Fouler by want of shame, the impudent
Sits shameless and abounds ; where free-born men
And Christians, sold for money, serve as slaves
To basest, wickedest, apostate Picts.

^ | Therefore with lamentation unrestrained
[175] I will uplift my voice ; oh dearest brothers,
Loveliest and most beloved, my sons in Christ
Begotten of me, past my power to count,
What shall I do for you, unworthy I,
To succour God or man ? The iniquity
[180] Of the unjust has overcome us. They,
Belike, believe not that one baptism
We both have been baptized in; that one God
We both have over us. Belike, think scorn
Of us, that haply Ireland gave us birth. |
[185] For this do I bewail you, oh my brothers.
Yet, on the other hand, do, in myself,
Rejoice that my poor toils in your behoof
And pilgrim labours were not all in vain,3
Though such unspeakable and horrid crime
[190] Has happened during this my ministry.
Thank God, the baptized of you, and believing
Are gone from this place into Paradise.
I see you as ye take your parting flight
To where shall be no night nor any grief,
[195] Nor ever death may enter ; in whose fields,
Even as young calves let loose, ye shall exult,
And under foot tread down your enemies,
Who dust and ashes 'neath your feet shall lie.

^ | There, with apostles and with prophets, ye
[200] Shall reign, and martyrs, and eternal crowns
Enjoy ; as He has witnessed, saying thus:
Coming from east and west they shall sit down
With Abraham and Isaac and with Jacob
In kingdom of the Heavens. Without are dogs,
[205] Sorcerers, and murderers, and perjurers,
Whose portion shall lie henceforth in the lake
Of ever-burning fire. And not in vain
The apostle tells us : Where the justest man
Is hardly safe, where shall the sinner look—
[210] The impious, and transgressor of the Law—
To find himself ? | Where shall Coroticus,
With his most wicked rebels against Christ,
Look to be found ? Where find them they who now
Bestow the baptized women and the spoils
[215] Of orphans on their filthy satellites,
For sake of this world's fleeting sovereignty,
Which, in a moment, passes as a cloud,
Or smoke that dissipates before the wind.
So shall the sinner and the fraudulent
[220] Perish before God's face. But they, the just,
Shall banquet in the heaven of heavens with Christ,
Judging the nations, and o'er unjust kings
Rule throughout ages without end. Amen.

^ | Before my God and His most holy angels
[225] I bear my witness that it shall be so,
Even as my poor Ignorance has said it.
For these are not my words. These are the words
Of God and His apostles and His prophets,
Who never lied, which I here put in Latin.
[230] They who believe are safe. Who not believe
They shall be damned. The voice that speaks is God's.

^ | I now beseech His servant, whosoe'er
Shall set him forth to be the carrier
Of these my letters, that he suffer none
[235] Abstract them privily, but have them read
Before all peoples publicly, yea, read
In presence of Coroticus himself.

^ May God inspire them that they think at length
Of Him, and even late although it be,
[240] Repent them of the wickedness they've done.
Manslayers of their brethren in the Lord
They have been. May they yet repent, and free
Their captive baptized women ; so that yet
They may themselves deserve to live in God,
[245] And have eternal safety. Now be peace
To Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.


1" With rigorous penance : " Crudeliter, agreeable to the Irish cruaid "hard."^
2"Of condemnation to the under-world :" Quam obrem injuriam justorum non te placeat, etiam usque ad inferos non placebit. "Ad inferos," equivalent to the Irish use of "go brath," to the condemnatory judgment, for ever.^
3"In vain ; " in vacuum; agreeable to the Irish idiom, dul ar nemnid.^

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