At that time a man named Jocundus appeared before the king and announced that he knew of a church of the holy apostle Peter, in a lonely spot in the Apennines…it had long been called Bobium, from the brook that flowed by it…Thither Columbanus now went, and with all diligence restored to its old beauty the church which was already in half ruins…and provided whatever else was necessary for a monastery.
- Jonas, Life of St. Columban
These things have seemed good to be ordained for those who wish to take the high road to the topmost peaks of heaven, and who, while the sins of savage men surround them in the darkness, wish to cleave to the One God, sent upon this earth. They shall doubtless receive immortal rewards with the highest joy, which never declines forever. Here ends the Communal Rule of St. Columban the Abbot. Thanks be to God.
- Columbanus, Communal Rule
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
- 1 Peter 5.2-4
Jonas draws near to the end of his account of the life of Columbanus, focusing on the saint’s last great work, the founding of the monastery at Bobbio in northern Italy. In many ways, this last work is a parable of Columbanus’ entire ministry, a ministry of renewal and restoration for lost and lapsed people and the churches of God.
We have seen that, prior to his leaving as a missionary to Gaul around 585 AD, Columbanus spent many years in the Irish monastery at Bangor, teaching Scripture and training young men for the work of the Gospel. At a time when most people today are looking forward to retirement, Columbanus set off for Gaul, accompanied by a team of twelve men, to renew lapsed Christians, awaken lost sinners, and restore the glory of the half-ruined church of the Franks.
His method, following the example of his Irish forebears, was to found a monastery and use that as a school for disciple-making. He recognized the importance of a team effort, both in modeling the life of faith and for instructing the many who were drawn to Annagrey, Luxeuil, and Fontana. To succeed in this effort, Columbanus knew that he and his monks would need a common rule of life. He wrote two to guide himself and his charges, his Monks’ Rule and the Communal Rule.
Columbanus summarized the purpose of these rules in his opening to the Monks’ Rule: “First of all things we are taught to love God with the whole heart and the whole mind and all our strength, and our neighbor as ourselves…”; and in the conclusion to his Communal Rule, cited above. These rules were rigorous in their demands. They addressed personal growth and conduct, communal life, work, worship, study, spiritual practices, and more. The rules were accompanied by a Penitential which spelled out the consequences of disobedience or failure to abide together in love, but in ways intended to reclaim and edify more than to punish.
The purpose of Columbanus’ rules was to fit men for the journey of sanctification and disciple-making, and thus to prepare them for seeing Jesus face to face and being with Him forever (1 Jn. 3.1-3). The rules equipped the monks and their students to recognize and resist the temptations of the world, cleave to the Lord in every situation, shepherd the flocks of the Lord, and look forward with hope and joy to their eternal and unfading reward of glory in the presence of Jesus.
Columbanus understood that renewing and restoring people and churches is hard work, requiring much discipline and faithfulness. His legacy of courage, vision, team-building, disciple-making, witness, and perseverance should encourage and challenge us in our walk with and work for the Lord.
In the remaining meditations in this series, we’ll consider the lasting impact of Columbanus’ work, as evaluated and reported by scholars from a variety of disciplines. Columbanus died at Bobbio in 615 AD, continuing to his last day the work God had given him. He is a witness to us all of the power we can know through nurturing a Kingdom vision, making faithful use of Kingdom disciplines, and eagerly pursuing those Kingdom outcomes that evidence true and lively faith in love for God and for our neighbors.
Psalm 115.1-3, 9-11 (Plainfield: Nothing but the Blood of Jesus)
Not to us, O God, not us, but unto Your Name give glory!
For Your love and faithfulness, ever to Your Name be glory!
Why should the nations cry, “Where is their God on high?”
You rule us, Lord, on high: Ever to Your Name be glory!
All who trust in Jesus yield – ever to His Name be glory! –
find in Him their help and shield: Ever to Your Name be glory!
O Israel, trust the Lord! He helps us evermore!
Fear Him obey His Word! Ever to Your Name be glory!
Lord, be with me today for courage, love, and faithfulness as I…
Living to Rule
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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.