Colum Cille (6)
Columba arrived in Britain in the ninth year of the reign of the powerful Pictish king, Bride, son of Meilochon; he converted the people to the Faith of Christ by his preaching and example, and received from them the island of Iona on which to found a monastery…Before he came to Britain, he had founded a noble monastery in Ireland known in the Irish language as Dearmach [Derry], the Field of Oaks…From both of these monasteries Columba’s disciples went out and founded many others in Britain and Ireland…
- Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People
…along with the miracles that, by the gift of God, this man of the Lord performed while he lived in mortal flesh, he began from his youthful years to be strong also in the spirit of prophecy…
- Adomnán, Life of Columba
“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”
- Acts 10.38
I find it interesting that Peter began his teaching about Jesus by focusing on the good works He did throughout the course of His ministry. Everyone who knew Jesus knew He was a great teacher and a powerful proclaimer of God’s Good News. But Peter started his witness to Cornelius by pointing to the good works Jesus did in the power of the Holy Spirit. Without those good works, Jesus would have been just another wandering prophet. But the good works Jesus did gave credence to His message, fulfilled the plain teaching of the Old Testament regarding the coming Messiah, set a standard for all who follow Him, and heralded His greatest good work on the cross.
Colum Cille didn’t miss the point. As Bede reported and Adomnán recorded in detail, Colum knew that his witness to the Picts and others in Scotland must be grounded in the truth of God’s Word and made credible by a life of good works.
We’re going to look more closely at Colum’s works and message in subsequent installments. For now, I just want to provide an overview of the “preaching and example” which were the bedrock of Colum’s thirty-two-year ministry.
His teaching was firmly rooted in Scripture. He set his vision of life and the world into a framework of creation, fall, and redemption which the Scriptures outline and unfold. He trusted God and believed His Word. He mastered the Law of God, loved the teaching of Solomon, cherished the gospels (as we have seen), and submitted himself and his ministry to the whole of Scripture. The recorded words of Colum Cille are few, but such as we have do not depart from the teaching of Scripture.
He taught his monks the Word of God by preaching, teaching, through poetry, and by example. He did all the work he expected them to do, so that they learned what obedience requires by watching Colum at his daily tasks.
We don’t know much about the curriculum he pursued in preparing men for ministry—although we may glimpse it in Colmán’s poem—or the way he used the Scriptures in his work of evangelism. But we can be sure that whatever he taught or preached and whenever he proclaimed Jesus to the world, his teaching lined up completely with the straightforward teaching of the Bible. We’ll see this especially as we look more carefully at three of Colum’s extant writings in subsequent installments.
Colum wrapped his preaching, teaching, and writing in the garments of loving service to others. Adomnán reports that Column was most hospitable, receiving guests from near and far. He entertained kings and abbots, missionaries and serfs, evangelists and friends. Saints came to stay with him from all over Ireland, and he welcomed and provided for them all.
Colum showed compassion for the poor and often helped them in their time of need. Dallán Forgaill referred to him as the “chief of the needy”. He healed many who were sick, visited prisoners, and confronted those who brought or taught evil against their neighbors. Adomnán, as we shall see, was especially concerned to record many of Colum’s miracles, prophecies, and visions. We’ll say more about these in due course, and of the work of biography known as “hagiography”—saints’ lives.
He must have been a remarkable man—patient, selfless, energetic, peaceable, studious, deeply spiritual, loving, firm, and serious. Like Jesus. Colum was one of those great saints in whom Jesus dwelled with expansive vision and power, and through whom Jesus became known to others by consistent good works and compelling true words. And Bede reminds us of the impact such a life can have on its times: “Before he came to Britain, he had founded a noble monastery in Ireland known in the Irish language as Dearmach [Derry], the Field of Oaks…From both of these monasteries Columba’s disciples went out and founded many others in Britain and Ireland…”
Words and deeds. What Jesus did and Colum followed, so must we, trusting the Lord to do in and through us whatever is pleasing and honoring to Him.
1. What words and deeds are you preparing to use in your Personal Mission Field today?
2. Why must we maintain both words and deeds as part of our witness to the world?
Psalm 8.1, 2, 5, 6 (Aughton: The Church’s One Foundation)
O LORD our Lord how great is Your Name in all the earth!
The heav’ns display Your glory, and tell Your wondrous worth!
From babes and nursing infants, LORD, let Your strength increase,
‘til all Your foes surrender, and all their boasting cease.
Yet we in Your own image with glory have been crowned,
to worship and to serve You throughout creation ‘round.
These works that sing Your glory in our poor hands are placed,
that we may rule before You to magnify Your grace.
Give me, Lord, the words and deeds I need for today, so that I may…
To see Jesus
The more clearly we see Jesus, the more boldly and joyously we will follow Him. Our ReVision study, “We Would See Jesus”, can help you see Him more clearly than ever. You can download the four installments in this study by clicking here.
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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.
 Bede, pp. 148, 149.
 Adomnán, p. 17.