Remembering the Saints (12)
Columban, who is also called Columba, was born on the island of Ireland. This is situated in the extreme ocean and, according to common report, is charming, productive of various nations, and free from the wars which trouble other nations. Here lives the race of the Scots, who, although they lack the laws of the other nations, flourish in the doctrine of Christian strength, and exceed in faith all the neighboring tribes.
- Jonas, Life of St. Columban (early 7th century)
Who would listen to a greenhorn? Who would not say at once: Who is this bumptious babbler? For all we Irish, inhabitants of the world’s edge, are disciples of Saints Peter and Paul and of all the disciples who wrote the sacred canon by the Holy Ghost, and we accept nothing outside the evangelical and apostolic teaching…
- Columbanus, Letter to Pope Boniface
And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
- John 1.46
God does surprising things sometimes. Things we’d never expect and may even find difficult to believe.
Such as begin a great revival of Christian faith in a remote, obscure, unknown place like Ireland.
Even a century and a half into the Celtic Revival, Jonas, writing from northern Italy, had to explain to his readers where Ireland was. Ireland was the end of the world, “situated in the extreme ocean,” right near “the world’s edge.” Nobody went there, and nobody who was anybody was from there; most educated Europeans had perhaps heard of Ireland but wouldn’t have known much about it.
The Romans, though they ferried across the English Channel to subdue all of Britain, didn’t consider Ireland, much closer by water, worth the effort.
The “Scots” – scotti as the Irish race was then known – were regarded as a drunken, violent, and unruly lot. When Eriugena, during the afterglow of the Celtic Revival, met with the Carolingian king whose court he had come to serve, the king, seated across the table from Eriugena, and wanting to let him know his place, asked in Latin, whether he knew what separated a drunkard – sotti – from an Irishman – scotti. With typical and biting Irish wit, Eriugena answered, “Only a table.”
Columbanus knew that he was looked upon as a “nowhere man” – a “greenhorn” and a “bumptious babbler.” He did not have a spiritual pedigree that could be traced back to Rome, since at that time the Irish Church was not subject to the Roman pontiff. Yet he dared to advise the pope and to defy the lapsed clergy in Gaul. He was a nowhere man to the Frankish clergy, who scorned him and tried to shut down his work.
Columbanus might have grown up in lawless Ireland, but he was a product in the third generation of those who had embraced “the doctrine of Christian strength” and were disciples of “Saints Peter and Paul and of all the disciples who wrote the sacred canon by the Holy Ghost.” He was fully assured of his faith in Christ, and firmly grounded in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. And whatever these revealed to him about faith and life and building the Church and the conduct of his ministry, he would stand by and proclaim.
Such firmness and boldness made him fruitful in the work of evangelism and disciple-making, though it also rankled Christians in high places who resented Columbanus’ fervor and success.
Christianity today is increasingly regarded as the Irish were in Columbanus’ day, and Jesus in His. No one with any intelligence or common sense is a Christian. We are the “nowhere” people, looked upon with scorn, despised as ignorant meddlers, and mocked as hypocrites and bumptious babblers.
It’s enough to make you want to keep your faith to yourself.
Unless you’re like Columbanus – confident in Jesus and His Word, confirmed in your calling to the Kingdom and glory of God, and determined to work your Personal Mission Field whatever the risk, for as long as the Lord gives you strength.
It didn’t matter to Columbanus that pagans and other Christians thought of him as a Nowhere Man. He was right where the Lord had sent him, and he would do the work the Lord had given him to do as long as he had strength to do it.
We can do nothing less. The world may scorn or mock us, but we are the spiritual heirs of Peter, Paul, and Columbanus. We are the followers of the Man from Nazareth. He may have been a Nowhere Man in His day, but He is the Now Here God/Man, Lord over all the earth, and we are His disciples.
We accept nothing but what our evangelical and apostolic heritage demands. Let us embrace our callings and give ourselves to them without reservation or restraint. We might be surprised to see what God can do.
1. What opportunities will you have today to live out your faith in Jesus?
2. How should you prepare for each of those opportunities?
Psalm 116.7-14 (Mit Freuden Zart: All Praise to God Who Reigns Above)
Full well the Lord has dealt with me; my soul from death He delivered.
My weeping eyes, my stumbling feet, He has redeemed forever.
Forever I before His face shall walk with those who know His grace,
and dwell with them forever.
Afflicted, I believe His Word, though lying men would undo me.
What shall I render to the Lord for all His blessings to me?
Salvation’s cup I lift above and call upon the God of love
and pay my vows most truly.
Come what may, O Lord, I know You have called me, and I will…
Help for the sowing
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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.
 Jonas, p. 3.
 G. S. M. Walker, ed. and tr., Sancti Columbani Opera (Dublin: The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1957), pp. 37, 39.