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Dove of the Church

What's in a name?

Colum Cille (4)

Colum cille (‘Dove of the Church’) i.e., he was a dove for his gentleness: ‘of the church’ from his coming from the church, from Telach Dubglaise, to meet the neighbouring children, and this was what they used to say among them: “Has our little dove come from the church?” Now Cremthann was his original name, Colum…cille ‘of the church,’ for his coming from the church…’Tis that Colum cille who from his youth gave vast love to Christ.

  - Oengus mac Oengobann, Felire Oengusso (Martyrology of Oengus)[1]

And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua.

  - Numbers 13.16

“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

  - Matthew 16.18

We are familiar with the Biblical practice of changing the names of certain people. One reason this was done—as in the case of Joshua—was to better indicate their role in God’s covenant and for the people they were called to serve. In Simon’s case, Jesus meant to show that he who was so “unstable” (the meaning of “Simon”) would become an example of rock-solid faith for all who would follow Jesus. Names in the Bible matter, and Celtic Christians understood that very well.

Crimthann (as most spell his name)—“the fox” or perhaps “wolf”—may have been an apt name for one who was in line to inherit his father’s kingship. But it didn’t fit the young man whose heart for Jesus erased from his aspirations any greater longing than to serve the Lord. Oengus wrote his calendar of the saints (“martyrology”) somewhere early in the 9th century, as the Celtic Revival was cooling and settling. He assigned saints for each day of the year, that those in the reform movement of which he was a part would have a saint to remember, emulate, and thank God for day by day. Colum’s day is June 9, and it is significant that, in remembering him, Oengus pointed to his character, specifically, his love for Jesus and commitment to the Church.

But notice also how the children eagerly welcomed Colum as he came to them from the church. They seemed to have been longing for him and were excited that he was coming. They called him Colum Cille—“Dove of the Church”—because he came with such grace and gentleness among them.

His “vast love to Christ” translated naturally into love for His Word. Oengus, remembering Ciarán on September 8, recalled how Colum loved the Scriptures: “Now when Ciarán was beginning to make a gospel with Finnén, Colum cille came to Finnén to study.” Finnén was Finnian of Clonord, one of the great teachers of the early to mid-6th century. “‘Dost thou deem it pious to make a gospel?’ says Finnén to him, ‘for every one is making it. Ciarán alone has the book of it.’ ‘It is pious,’ says Colum cille, ‘and I will go to Ciarán.’ He goes accordingly. Ciarán was then preparing his Gospel lesson, and this is especially what he said: ‘Whatsoever ye wish men to do unto you, that do ye unto them.’ Colum cille enters the hut. ‘Dost thou share the book with me?’ says Colum cille. ‘It is not easy (says Ciarán) for me to refuse it, since that which we have just said is against us unless we give it. So let the book with (my) blessing be thine,’ says Ciarán. ‘Half of Ireland to thee!’ says Colum cille”[2]

As we shall see, Colum had a great passion for the Word of God; but, as a student, gentle, pious, and good-natured as he was, he had a problem with submitting to authority. And a book of the gospels would be the source of a controversy and tragedy that would see Colum expelled from Ireland to continue his ministry on Iona.

Passionate, gentle, eager to learn, hungry for the Word of God—this was the young man who for 32 years would teach, train, evangelize, prophesy, write, and perform miracles to bring the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God to astonishing visibility in Scotland and beyond. He was the Dove of the Church also because the Spirit of God so possessed and transformed him that all who knew him praised God for his fellowship, friendship, and example.

If those who know you were to change your name, or give you an appropriate nickname, what would they call you? What do your interests suggest? What about how you spend your time? The manner of your relating to others? Your devotion to the Lord and His Church? Your diligence in working your Personal Mission Field? What name would your friends give you to tell the world how they regard you?

God will give a new name to all those who overcome and prevail in faith throughout the course of their lives (cf. Rev. 3.10-12). He says, “I have called you by your name, and you are mine” (Is. 43.1). The Name He puts on us is His Name—Christian. Let’s make sure we live up to that Name in everything we do.

For Reflection
1. What do you think of when the name “Dove of the Church” is mentioned?

2. If you were to assign yourself a name to express your aspirations in life, what would that name be?

Psalm 20.5-9
(St. Leonard’s: May the Mind of Christ, My Savior)
In Your Name we raise our banners;  Lord, fulfill our every prayer.
Saved are we in glorious manner, free from every care.

Answer from Your holy heaven, save us by Your mighty hand!
Some to earthly boasts are given; in Your grace we stand.

They have bowed and fallen, Savior, while we rise and stand upright.
Grant to us Your royal favor, hear us day and night.

Lord, let Your Name be upon me and show through me today as I…

What’s your vantage point on life?

You can learn to see things from within the Presence of God, and thus have His vantage point on the world. Our book, Vantage Point, explains how to live like Colum did. Order your free copy by clicking here.

Support for Crosfigell comes from our faithful and generous God, who moves our readers to share financially in our work. If this article was helpful, please give Him thanks and praise.

And please prayerfully consider supporting The Fellowship of Ailbe with your prayers and gifts. You can contribute online, via PayPal or Anedot, or by sending a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 103 Reynolds Lane, West Grove, PA 19390.

T. M. Moore, Principal
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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.


[1] Oengus the Culdee, The Martyrology of Oengus, Whitley Stokes, tr. and ed. (London: Henry Bradshaw Society, 1905, 1984), pp. 145, 147.

[2] Oengus, ibid., p. 203.

T.M. Moore

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 the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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