As he [King Theuderich of Burgundy] very often visited Columban, the holy man began to reprove him because he sinned with concubines, and did not satisfy himself with the comforts of a lawful wife, in order to beget royal children from an honored queen…
- Jonas, Life of St. Columban
Watch therefore for the Church’s peace, succour your sheep, who already tremble at what seem the terror of the wolves…Therefore, that you may not lack apostolic honour, maintain the apostolic Faith, establish it by testimony, strengthen it by writing, defend it by a synod, that none may lawfully resist you.
- Columbanus, Letter to Pope Boniface
And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?”
- Acts 23.2, 3
The dismal state of Christian faith in Gaul is captured in the two quotes above.
The members of the royal court, while professing faith in Christ, were immoral, self-indulgent, and devoted to worldly ways.
The people lived in fear of oppression by religious hucksters – their own shepherds – who took advantage of their flocks and were too busy with their worldly diversions to look to the needs of the people.
And those same priests, monks, and bishops, charged with overseeing the Church at all levels of society, themselves received no effective oversight from the pope, who cared but little about the state of the faith in the hinterlands of Europe.
Columbanus could not stand by and allow the name of Christ to be dishonored and the people of the Lord misled, abused, and abandoned. People were coming to him from all over Gaul and Germany, bringing stories of the woeful conditions among the Lord’s flocks. The bishops of those people, determined to rein in the influence of the Irish peregrini, summoned Columbanus to a synod. He declined to attend, calling on them instead to get themselves and their churches in order.
He wrote to the pope and urged him to “maintain the apostolic Faith” by giving more effective oversight to his clergy in Gaul by every means. He did not regard himself and his monks to be under the authority of Rome, but he strongly urged the head of that Church to be more diligent in his duties.
And the king, who hoped to find another clerical ally in Columbanus, discovered instead one who called him to repent of his sins and set a proper example for the people God had appointed him to serve. Columbanus’ firm stance for truth and holiness would put him at odds with the queen regent, Brunhilda, Theuderich’s grandmother. Ultimately, they would expel Columbanus and his monks, hoping they would be done with his meddlesome ways. But the Lord had other plans.
Like the apostle Paul before him, Columbanus spoke God’s truth faithfully, even to the holders of ecclesiastical and civil power. The Kingdom of Jesus Christ comes on earth unto righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14.17, 18). Whatever stands in the way of that, whatever seeks to resist it, or whoever thinks they can have the Kingdom and the lusts of the world as well – all these we oppose by the proclamation of the Gospel, the teaching of truth, and the example of holiness.
Columbanus’ willingness to speak truth to power is an example for each of us. Wherever, in our Personal Mission Fields, the tares of this world have taken root, we must sow the good seed of the Kingdom. By our lives and words, we represent a new reality, a reality that is coming in power now and in the days to come, and of which we are the harbingers and advanced guard.
We are called to embody and proclaim the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. We must not hold back, but we must earn the right to speak truth to power – whatever form it takes – by the powerful example of our own Christ-like lives.
The courage we need for seeking and advancing the Kingdom of Christ, we can receive from Him directly, by looking to His Word and prayer, and by following the faithful example of saints like Paul and Columbanus in all our daily walk with and work for the Lord.
Psalm 2.7-10 (Againcourt: O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High!)
Proclaim the message far and wide, that God has exalted the Crucified!
From heav’n He sent us His only Son, Who has for us salvation won!
To Christ the Lord be given all who humbly embrace Him and on Him call.
Be wise, be warned: His judgment comes to break the prideful, sinful ones.
Lord, grant me the courage to speak Your Word and live for Your Kingdom in every…
The Gospel of the Kingdom
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T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Truth to Power
- T.M. Moore
- December 25, 2018
We must be ready at all times to proclaim God's truth.
T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.