After a single year in his monastery of Bobbio, Columban the man of God, ended his devout life on the KI day before the Kalends of December [November 21, 615 AD]. If anyone wishes to learn of his activity, let him seek it in the saints’ writings. His remains are buried there, where they have proved their virtues, by the aid of Christ. To Him be glory for ever and ever, world without end. Amen.
- Jonas, Life of St. Columban
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
- Philippians 1.21
We begin our assessment of the life and ministry of Columbanus, appropriately enough, with Jonas’ own summation: Columbanus was a man of God.
In what sense or senses was that true?
Columbanus was a man devoted to God. We see this from early on in his life, when he fled home and family to preserve himself from the temptations that were everywhere threatening his commitment to Christ. He took literally Paul’s counsel in 1 Corinthians 6.18 to flee immorality, which he had not yet committed, but which he certainly knew he was capable of falling into as long as he remained in Leinster. He left his mother and fled to the school of Sinell, on Lough Erne, where he deepened his devotion to the Lord before moving on to Bangor. No sacrifice was too great if it would enable Columbanus to maintain unbroken communion with and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.
At Bangor, Columbanus proved himself to be a man immersed in God. He sank into God’s Word with a depth and determination that made him one of the foremost teachers of his day. Further, he embraced and mastered those disciplines of prayer, fasting, self-denial, and hard work that would characterize each of the four monasteries he founded after he left Ireland.
In Gaul, Columbanus demonstrated that he was a man committed to God and unwilling to compromise on any aspect of God’s truth or his own calling. He preached Christ to the locals, confronted clerical slackers and exhorted their papal boss, indicted royals of sin, insisted on purity among his followers and students, and resisted every attempt to throttle or curtail his ministry. God had called him to Gaul to preach the Gospel and renew the Church. Nothing short of forced exile was going to keep him from this commitment.
In every stage of his ministry, Columbanus was a man led by God. He nurtured a vision of Christ in glory that allowed him to see the world and its fleeting pleasures as altogether undesirable. He spent many hours in solitude, seeking the Lord in prayer and waiting on Him for guidance and provision. He counseled his monks to stay close to the Lord, seeking Him in His Word but also in the creation around, so that they might delight in knowing Him, discern His will, and obey Him in all His commands.
Columbanus was looked upon by all who knew him as a man empowered by God. Not just because it pleased the Lord to work miracles by his hand, but because his teaching was clear and compelling, his preaching was forceful, his witness persuasive, and his resolution rock firm. He led his company of monks as a good shepherd, following the self-denying example of Jesus with His disciples, and he inspired multitudes of young Franks to follow Jesus and serve Him.
Columbanus was a man of God as well because he left a legacy to the praise of God, in the first place, of men who were, like him, disciplined, courageous, and devoted to Christ and one another. But he also left a legacy of monastic foundations which continued training and discipling men after his death, and served as models for many other monasteries and nunneries in Europe. He also left a legacy of writings – letters, sermons, poems, and monastic rules – which give us keen insight to the nature, vision, and mission of this man of God.
Columbanus was a man of God, and as such, he is a man from whom we can learn to improve our walk with and work for the Lord. “As for the saints who are in the ground,” David wrote, “they are the holy ones, in whom is all my delight” (Ps. 16.3, my translation). If we delight in the Lord, we will delight in those who delight in Him, for they can open to us broader vistas on the Kingdom and righteousness of God, and show us, by their words and example, how we can realize more the presence, promise, and power of this divine realm.
Psalm 16.1-3, 11 (All to Christ: Jesus Paid It All)
Preserve me, O my God; I refuge seek in You.
You alone are all my good, my Lord and Savior true!
Refrain v. 11
Make me know life’s way! Pleasures fill Your hand.
Fill my life with joy each day! Before Your face I stand.
The saints within the earth, majestic in their day,
Delight me with the worth of all they do and say.
Help me to learn from Columbanus and others, Lord, how I might grow and improve in…
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.
Jonas, p. 36