Wikipedia's article titled Catholic Church and slavery says Saint Patrick advocated abolition of slavery in the fifth century, and cites Life in Medieval Times by Marjorie Rowling. I've read that same assertion in other places.

Where is this in Saint Patrick's writings?


2 Answers 2


He was himself an escaped slave, so at the very least we know he was in favor of abolition of slavery in that one case.

We actually only have two writings from St. Patrick himself. Most of our material about him comes from other sources. So limiting yourself to just those two writings, while indeed much more historically sound, is a rather drastic limitation.

However, since there are only two, and they are public domain, the analysis isn't tough to do.

Confession -

This mentions slavery as it pertains to himself several times, but nothing useful about it in general.

A Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus -

I think the following passage strongly implies that he considers making slaves of Christians and anyone who wasn't born into that condition to be immoral:

For they have been taken far away and abandoned in a land where sin abounds, openly, wickedly, impudently; there freeborn men are sold, Christians are reduced to slavery, and worst of all among the most worthless and vilest apostates, the Picts

But again, these are the only two surviving examples of his writing. We know of more from his biographers, plus many speeches and sermons that did not get written down at the time. There is even some known early third-party biographical material that has been lost (eg: The Book of Ultán). This material is all inferior to the above two first-hand accounts of course, but in History, particularly Medieval history, you have to do the best you can with what little you have.

  • This is a good summary of what the writings attributed to St Patrick say, but it should be noted that there is a lot of historical disagreement about who exactly St Patrick was and whether he did the things attributed to him (there are a lot of legends known to be false, and some which may or may not be true), and a suggestion that some or all of the Patrick stories may actually relate to an earlier missionary, Palladius. Hence, we can't be certain who Patrick was, what he thought, or when he lived. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick
    – Stuart F
    Dec 22, 2020 at 17:17

At the very least, we can say that Patrick thought that people being enslaved was a bad thing.

Patrick wrote two surviving works. One of them was the Confessions, another was titled A Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. In the latter, Patrick notes in a very displeased manner that “For they have been taken far away and abandoned in a land where sin abounds, openly, wickedly, impudently; there freeborn men are sold, Christians are reduced to slavery, and worst of all among the most worthless and vilest apostates, the Picts”. In the former, the Confessions, Patrick speaks more generally about slavery when he says that "Those who are kept in slavery suffer the most." This suggests that Patrick is not a very happy person about the idea that people are kept in slavery.

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    How does this contribute beyond the existing, accepted, answer? Additionally, you seem to based this answer totally on research already present in the accepted answer, without giving credit. Dec 17, 2020 at 20:42
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    @PieterGeerkens - Looking through the edit history, it appears its intended to reach a different conclusion than the existing, accepted answer. It was then fleshed out into something textually deserving of an answer rather than a comment. That's in general probably a good use of an answer, but I guess if experienced users are now missing the difference, further edits should probably be made to highlight that difference better.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 17, 2020 at 21:27
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    As a protip, I will suggest that its a good idea to put the shortest possible formulation of your answer to the question right up at the top in the first line. (I don't always do this myself, but its still a good idea). That would likely fix the confusion in this case. Note that the question was if the man in question was an abolitionist. I take that to mean "in favor of (universally?) abolishing slavery".
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 17, 2020 at 21:48
  • @T.E.D. Thanks. I added that header as you suggested.
    – arara
    Dec 18, 2020 at 3:53
  • @PieterGeerkens My research wasn't from the main answer at all. I knew about all of this prior to reading T.E.D.'s answer. Furthermore, I expanded on it. Whereas TED offered one quote where the slavery of Christians is discredited, I noted a second thing that Patrick said in his Confessions that TED appears to have missed which is, in fact, a more general statement concerning Patrick's views on slavery. The crucial part of my answer, therefore, was not previously noted.
    – arara
    Dec 18, 2020 at 3:56

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