Columbanus called upon bishops to join him in living out the ‘canons’ of Jesus Christ, and, invoking Jerome’s authority, he held up parallel courses for bishops and clergy on the one hand, and monks on the other, both parties looking to Christ as their leader. Thus the authority Columbanus recognized was that of Christ, not the bishops.
- Clare Stancliffe, “Jonas’ Life of Columbanus and His Disciples”
But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happenedto me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ…
- Philippians 1.12, 13
The apostle Paul gloried in referring to himself as a “prisoner” of Jesus Christ (Eph. 3.1; 4.1; 2 Tim. 1.8; Philem. 1, 9, 23). Though Rome had clapped him in irons, his “chains” were in Jesus Christ. Nothing could keep him from seeing Christ, obeying Christ, striving to be conformed to Christ, and proclaiming Christ. He belonged to Jesus, and he gladly thought of himself as having been imprisoned by the Lord Who loved him and gave Himself for his salvation.
The 17thcentury English poet John Donne desired the same for himself, as he expressed in his poem, “Batter My Heart,” where he called upon the Lord,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
Columbanus would have agreed with both Paul and Donne, for he saw himself as belonging to Jesus in every aspect of his life. For Columbanus, Jesus was his focus, objective, shelter, direction, hope, strength, and rule. He was a man of Christ, and he would be bound by no other obligations or expectations than those which he understood as coming from Jesus alone. He insisted that the only freedom to be known in life was the freedom of belonging to Jesus and walking in obedience to Him.
For Columbanus, whatever did not comport with Jesus’ call was not to be heeded, whether orders from a king or demands made by priests and bishops. He belonged to Jesus, and he recognized no human authority above that of the Lord, and any human authority only so far as it was subject to the will of Jesus. He believed that human beings could embody and lead in the authority of Jesus, and he structured his work around that belief. His personal disciplines and the monastic rules by which he organized his monasteries were meant to keep Jesus in the center, and to honor Him in every way.
Besides being Christ’s prisoner, Paul expresses this idea of being a man of Christ in various ways:
For to me, to live is Christ… Philippians 1.21
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the lifewhich I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2.20
But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4.20-24
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.Romans 13.14
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3.13, 14
For the man of Christ, to live is Christ, Christ living in you, learning Christ and being clothed in Christ, and continuously pressing on for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. The man of Christ is the one who knows his life has been hidden with Christ in God, and that he is seated with Christ in heavenly places (Col. 3.1-3; Eph. 2.6). He knows the presence of Christ with him always (Matt. 28.20), and he always comports himself in a manner that causes the fragrance of Christ to arise in all his words and deeds (2 Cor. 2.15, 16). For the man of Christ, his goal is nothing less than continual, increasing, and fruitful transformation into the very image of Jesus (2 Cor. 3.12-18).
And Columbanus was, indeed, such a man of Christ.
His life challenges us to consider how much more there is to know of Jesus, how much of His great salvation yet awaits our faithful appropriation, and how vast is the power of Jesus to make all things new in our lives.
Thank God for Columbanus, man of Christ, and let his example spur you on to greater submission to and completeness in Him.
Psalm 2.9-12 (Agincourt: O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High)
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.
Rejoice with fear in Jesus’ grace, and worship before His exalted face!
Beware His anger and judgment grim: How blessed are all who rest in Him!
Lord Jesus, I want You to increase and me to decrease today as I…
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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.
Clare Stancliffe, “Jonas’Life of Columbanus and His Disciples,” in John Carey, Máire Herbert & Pádraig Ó Riain, Saints and Scholars (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001), p. 202.