Colum Cille (5)
At one time, when the venerable man, while still a youth, was living in Ireland with the holy bishop Finbarr, acquiring knowledge of sacred Scripture…
- Adomnán, Life of Columba
He was learning’s pillar in every stronghold…
The teacher wove the word.
By his wisdom he made glosses clear.
He fixed the Psalms,
he made known the books of the Law,
those books Cassian loved…
The books of Solomon, he followed them.
Seasons and calculations he set in motion.
He separated the elements according to figures among the books of the Law.
He read mysteries and distributed Scriptures among the schools,
and he put together the harmony concerning the course of the moon,
the course which it ran with the rayed sun,
and the course of the sea.
He could remember the stars of heaven, the one who could tell all the rest
which we have heard from Colum Cille.
- Dallán Forgaill, Amra Choluimb Chille
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
- Matthew 28.18-20
From his youth, Colum Cille demonstrated a hunger to learn. Frequently, such youths would be sent into a “foster” situation, to be brought up in the home of an acknowledged teacher or mentor. Colum was sent to the priest Cruithnechán, where he began to learn the psalms—to read, pray, and sing them. This was typical of the fosterage program that many teachers like Cruithnechán employed.
Later, as he grew older, he moved to sit under the tutelage of Finbarr, who would have continued to increase his knowledge and understanding of Scripture. Dallán Forgaill reports, in his poem upon Colum’s death, concerning the wide scope and great depth of his learning. Not only did he know the Scriptures, but he also learned from the fathers of the Church, such as Cassian. He was a student also of the book of creation, studying the patterns of the sky, the tides, and much more. Adomnán reports that Colum’s learning was so broad, his understanding so acute, and his ability to integrate his learning for the praise of God so excellent that it seemed to his colleagues that he was able to see the whole world in a single ray of sun.
Colmán mac Béognai, a student of Colum, gives us some insight to the kind of learning Colum promoted in his monastery on Iona:
"What should be learned by people? Not difficult: constancy at holiness, brevity of talk, tender brotherliness, requesting with equanimity, fulfilling a rule without discussions, rising at first summons, stepping in obedience to God, merciful forgiveness, tending the sick, devotion in prayer, fasting with serenity, compassion to a neighbor, lowering pride, simplicity from the heart, destruction of desire, overcoming nature, patience towards suffering."
"What is the best for the mind? Breadth and humility, for every good thing finds room in a broad, humble mind. What is worst for the mind? Narrowness and closedness, and constrictedness, for nothing good finds room in a narrow, closed, restricted mind."
Learning under Colum was not just a matter of acquiring knowledge; it was a course of Christian discipleship. And it’s the kind of learning program that produced disciples who changed their world for the Lord Jesus Christ.
The heart of true discipleship is learning. The very word “disciple” is rooted in “learning”, and Jesus expects all those who follow Him to invest considerable effort in learning His ways, His will, and His world. We are not true followers of Christ merely because we think we are. Jesus said, “learn from Me” (Matt. 11.29) and the apostle Paul echoed that by insisting there was a right way to “learn Christ” which involved growing in Him and His mind, being transformed by His Spirit, and living for the glory of God in all we do (1 Cor. 2.16; 2 Cor. 3.12-18; 1 Cor. 10.31).
True followers of Christ are eager receivers of His revelation, both from His Word and His world. Colum Cille shows us the power of learning and sets an example of the heart of a disciple that we can all embrace.
1. Why is learning so important to a life of following Jesus?
2. In what areas would you like to improve your discipleship by learning Jesus more perfectly?
(Festal Song: Rise Up, O Men of God)
I lift my soul to You; O Lord, in You I trust.
Let me not come to shame, nor let my foes o’er me exult.
All they who wait on You shall never come to shame.
Yet they to shame shall come who stand against Your holy Name.
Make me to know Your ways, teach me Your paths, O Lord!
My Savior, all day long I wait and seek You in Your Word.
Lord, thank You that I have the mind of Christ! Help me to grow into His mind more 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.
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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.
 Adomnán’s Life of Columba, Alan Orr Anderson and Marjorie Ogilvie Anders, ed. and tr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 95.
 Thomas Own Clancy and Gilbert Márkus, Iona: The Earliest Poetry of a Celtic Monastery (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1995), pp. 107, 109.
 Colemán mac Béognai, The Alphabet of Devotion in Clancy and Márkus, pp. 201, 206.