Probus Lector

Probus Lector an Irish monastic, flourished in the Monastery of Slane, Ireland, A.D. 949. His original name was Ceanchair, but, like many Irish scholars and missionaries of that period, he Latinized it. He wrote the first Life of St. Patrick about 600 years after the saint's death. Piacre had previously written some verses on the saint, and Muirchu had alluded to him in another work, but the first Life of St. Patrick was from the pen of Probus. He gives no authorities for his statements in this Life, and we know of none then extant that he could have given. He wrote in a dark period, the midnight of the Dark Ages. He seems to have written from his own fancy, viewing the ecclesiastical affairs of the infant Church of Ireland in the 5th century through the medium of his own times. Bishop Lanigan, the Roman Catholic historian, admits that his facts cannot be distinguished from his fancies. He became a devotee and a high ritualist, and was esteemed in his day a very holy and learned man. When the pagan Danes set fire to the Monastery of Slane, he refused to be separated from the precious MSS. and relics in it, and rushed into the flames and perished with them. His Life of St. Patrick, and still more that of Jocelin, who wrote about 150 years after him, have ever since been the store-house from which the material of every Roman Catholic Life of the Irish saint has been drawn. Jocelin lived in an age of fiction in regard to Ireland, and seems to have written according to the liveliness of his fancy or to the supposed credulity of his readers. He asserted many things about St. Patrick which had never been heard of before and for which he gives no authority, and which intelligent Catholics now indignantly reject. Dr. Colgan, the Irish antiquarian, says that the fable of the expulsion of the venomous serpents from Ireland was for the first time put forth by Jocelin. This and similar fabrications being thus boldly and dogmatically asserted in a dark age, and remaining for centuries uncontradicted, thousands afterwards received them as historical facts. Dr. Johnson says somewhere, "One may tell a bona-fide lie, and if he shall tell it over ten times, and no one shall contradict him, he will begin to believe it himself." This has been really true in regard to Ireland. Fables and monstrosities remaining thus uncontradicted have been credited by thousands, while others who could not receive them have foolishly and sceptically thrown aside well-attested truths and regarded nearly all Irish history as fabulous. Perhaps the real life and character of no one, so long and so thoroughly incorporated in history, are so little known as those of St. Patrick. See Moore, Hist. of Ireland; Usher, Religion of the Early Irish. (D. D.)

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