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Orthodox Saints

The Canons of St. Patrick

Translated from the Latin by Ludwig Bieler.


We give thanks to God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. To the priests, deacons, and all the clergy -- Patrick, Auxilius, Iserninus, the bishops, greetings.

We deem it better to forewarn the negligent rather than to condemn accomplished deeds; as Solomon says: It is better to reason than to be wroth. Copies of our decisions are given below, and begin thus:

1. If a man has collected money for captives in his community on his own, and without permission, he deserves to be excommunicated.

2. Readers should acquaint themselves with the church in which each is to sing.

3. There should be no vagrant cleric in the community.

4. If a man has obtained permission, and money has been collected, he should not ask for more than is needed.

5. If anything is left over, he should lay it on the bishop's altar, to be given to some needy person.

6. Any cleric, from ostiary to priest, that is seen without a tunic and does not cover the shame and nakedness of his body, and whose hair is not shorn after the Roman custom, and whose wife goes about with her head unveiled, shall be held in contempt by the laity and removed from the Church.

7. Any cleric who, when summoned, out of negligence fails to appear at the meetings for matins or vespers shall, except he be held under the yoke of servitude, be considered a stranger.

8. If a cleric has given surety for a pagan in whatsoever amount, and it so happens -- as well it might -- that the pagan by some ruse defaults upon the cleric, the cleric must pay the debt from his own means; but should he contend with him in arms, let him be reckoned to be outside the Church, as he deserves.

9. A monk and a virgin, the one from one place, the other from another, shall not take lodging in the same inn, nor travel in the same carriage from village to village, nor carry on prolonged conversations together.

10. If a man has made an auspicious beginning as a psalmist, and then quits and lets his hair grow, he is to be excluded from the Church, unless he returns to his former status.

11. If any cleric has been excommunicated by someone and some other person receives him, both are to perform the same penance.

12. If a Christian has been excommunicated, not even his alms are to be accepted.

13. Alms offered by pagans are not to be accepted for the Church.

14. A Christian who has committed murder, or committed adultery, or sworn before a druid as the pagans do, shall do a year's penance for each of these crimes; the year of penance completed, he shall present himself, accompanied by witnesses, and then be freed of his obligation by a priest.

15. And he that commits theft shall do penance for half a year; twenty days on bread only; and, if possible, he shall return the stolen goods; thus shall he be restored to the Church.

16. A Christian who believes that there is such a thing as a vampire [lamia], that is to say, a witch, is to be anathematized -- anyone who puts a living soul under such a reputation; and he must not be received again into the Church before he has undone by his own word the crime that he has committed, and so does penance with all diligence.

17. A virgin who has made a vow to God to remain chaste and afterwards has taken a spouse in the flesh, shall be excommunicated until she changes her ways; if she converts and dismisses the adulterer, she shall do penance; and afterwards they shall not live in the same house or on the same farm.

18. If a person is excommunicated, he shall not enter the church even on Easter Night, until he pledges himself to a penance.

19. A Christian woman who has taken a man in honourable marriage and afterwards deserts the same and gives herself to an adulterer, she who does this shall be excommunicated.

20. A Christian who, acting like a pagan, fails to pay a debt shall be exommunicated until he pays the debt.

21. A Christian whom someone has wronged and who calls that person to court, and not to the Church, for the case to be tried, he who does this shall be a stranger.

22. If a man has given his daughter to a man in honourable marriage and she loves another, and he connives with her and receives a bride-price, both shall be excluded from the Church.

23. If a priest has built a church, he shall not offer the holy sacrifice in it before he has his bishop come to consecrate it; for so it is proper.

24. If a newcomer joins a community, he shall not baptise, or offer the holy sacrifice, or consecrate, or build a church, until he receives permission from the bishop. One who looks to laymen for permission shall be a stranger.

25. If gifts are made by pious people on days when the bishop stays in the several churches, they shall, as is the ancient custom, be the bishop's to dispose of as pontifical gifts, either for his own needs of for distribution among the poor -- as the bishop himself will decide.

26. But if a cleric contravenes and is caught encroaching on the gifts, he shall be cut off from the Church as one greedy for sordid gain.

27. Any cleric who is a newcomer in a bishop's community is not allowed to baptise, or to offer the holy sacrifice, or to perform any functions; if he does not abide by this, he shall be excommunicated.

28. If a cleric has been excommunicated, he shall say prayer alone, not in the same house with his brethren; nor is he allowed to offer the holy sacrifice or to consecrate until he has corrected himself; if he does otherwise, he shall be doubly punished.

29. If one of the brethren wishes to receive the grace of God, he shall not be baptised before he has kept the forty days' fast.

30. Any bishop who goes from his own parish to another must not presume to ordain unless he has received permission from him who holds jurisdiction in the place; on the Lord's Day he shall offer the holy sacrifice only by arrangement, and be content to comply in this matter.

31. If one of two clerics who happen to be at odds over some matter hires an enemy of the other who has offered to kill him, he is rightly called a murderer; such a cleric is regarded as excommunicated by all righteous people.

32. If a cleric wishes to come to the aid of a captive, he should assist him with his own money; for if he kidnaps him, many clerics will be blamed because of one thief. He who does this shall be excommunicated.

33. A cleric who comes from the Britons without letters, even though he lives in a community, is not allowed to minister.

34. Similarly, if one of our deacons goes away to another parish without consulting his abbot, and without letters, he should not even be given food; and he shall be punished with penance by the priest whom he has disobeyed. Also a monk who goes wandering without consulting his abbot is to be punished.

St. Patrick of Ireland

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