The document generally known as the First Synod of St. Patrick (Kenney, no. 30) is a circular letter to the clergy of Ireland by the bishops Patricius, Auxilius, and Iserninus.

Technically speaking, it is not a penitential. Its inclusion seems justified on the grounds that it is, to our knowledge, the earliest surviving document concerning ecclesiastical discipline in Ireland, and that it contains, inter alia, penitential matter in the narrower meaning of the term.

Ludwig Bieler suggestes that this synod was held in 457. This date would fall within the Irish mission of St. Patrick according to Carney's chronology as well as to Bury's.


We give thanks to God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. 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: . . .

14. A Christian who has committed murder, or committed adultery, or sworn before a druid as 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 restore the stolen goods; thus shall he be restored to the Church.

16. A Christian who believes that there is such a thing in the world as a vampires 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. ...

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 excommunicated 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 anyone has given his daughter to a man in honourable marriage and she loves another, and he connives with her and receives a brideprice, both shall be excluded from the Church. . . . .



Synod of St. Patrick

murder 1 year
adultery 1 year

theft Half year, plus restitution

accuse someone of being a witch excommunication until reputation repaired

desertion of husband excommunication

failure to pay debt excommunication until debt paid

taking a fellow Christian to civil court
rather than before Church authorities excommunication (shall be stranger)

conspiracy to get “brideprice” excommunication