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Colum's poem "Exalted First Sower".

Colum Cille (10)

The High Creator, Ancient of Days, and Unbegotten
was without origin of beginning and without end;
He is and shall be to infinite ages of ages
with Whom is Christ the only begotten and the Holy Spirit,
coeternal in the everlasting glory of the Godhead.
We set forth not three gods, but we say there is One God,
saving our faith in three most glorious Persons.

He created good Angels, and Archangels, the orders
of Principalities and Thrones, of Authorities and Powers,
that the Goodness and Majesty of the Trinity
might not be inactive in all offices of bounty,
but might have creatures in which it might richly display 
heavenly privileges by a word of power.

  - Colum Cille, “Exalted First Sower”[1]

Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,
And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

  - Psalm 51.4-6

According to The Irish Liber Hymnorum, Colum wrote “Altus Prosator”—“Exalted First Sower”—as a penitential poem to reorient himself to the Lord after his youthful transgression in the battle of Cúl drebene and his subsequent exile to Iona. If this is the case, it is a very early poem and gives us a good look at Colum’s heart, vision, and mission as he took up his new work.

Originally written in Latin, “Exalted First Sower” celebrates the sovereignty of God and His goodness in strict meter and in ABC stanzas, each stanza beginning with the next letter of the Latin alphabet. The Latin of the poem is “barbarous” according to Bernard and Atkinson, suggesting both that Colum was still immature in his use of this tongue but aspiring to create a work of universal appeal. We will look carefully at this poem, the first two stanzas of which we have excerpted above, to see more deeply into a heart and mind formed by the Word and Spirit of God.

He calls God the “Exalted First Sower”—eternal, triune, and full of glory. He envisions God as first creating the heavenly realm and its populace, the angels, “sowing” it into existence out of and into nothing. This could have been derived from Genesis 1.1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” By taking this as a summation of what follows in Genesis 1, it perhaps made sense to Colum to dwell first on the heavenly and unseen realm, to set the stage for events to come in the earthly, physical realm.

We note that Colum’s view of God was entirely orthodox. He is one God in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Trinity is characterized by goodness, majesty, and might. It pleased God to create the angels in the spiritual realm, that they should display His grace and power. When he wrote that God “created good Angels”, Colum did not mean that He did not create Satan and his ilk also, only that when He created them, they were good. Angels of various sorts are spiritual beings and therefore unseen, albeit not unknown to us. The grace and power of God flow from His goodness and majesty; thus, to partake of these is to know the divine essence and to enjoy fellowship with the eternal God. This, Colum understood, is God’s purpose for all His creatures.

Colum must have felt like David in Psalm 51, fully conscious of the heinous nature of his sins and eager to reconnect with God in His holiness, truth, and love. We only know our sin in the light of God and His Word; and we will only confess and repent of our sins as the Spirit reveals them to us and leads us anew in the ways of grace. The more clearly and continuously we see God, realizing His great beauty and power, the more we will hate our sins and seek the fellowship with Him He intends for us.

We can be sure Colum read and meditated on “Exalted First Sower” many times throughout his thirty-two-year ministry, and that he taught others to use his poem to enrich their relationship with the Lord. As we continue through this poem, we will note how careful Colum was to follow the Word of God and keep the focus on God Who gave His Word.

Each of us needs to begin our day reorienting to God. The world rushes in on us quickly, and the needs of the day can soon take up all the room in our soul. But we should follow the example of Colum and the apostle Paul and set our minds on the things that are above, where Christ is, seated in the heavenly places (Col. 3.1-3). By setting the Lord always before us (Ps. 16.8), we will not be moved from our commitment to serve and glorify Him in all aspects of our lives.

God is the “Exalted First Sower”, but we who believe in Him are sowers as well, of the good seed of the heavenly Kingdom. Look to God. Let Him sow His love and truth into you daily. Then go forth each day to sow the knowledge of God into your world.

For Reflection
1. Do you have particular passage of Scripture, a poem, hymn, or prayer that helps you to get reoriented to God each day?

2. Colum helps us “see” into the landscape of unseen things. Why is this important for our faith?

Psalm 51.4-9 (Passion Chorale: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded)
Against You only, Savior, have I become unclean;
thus just the condemnation which You pronounce on me.
LORD, I was born to sinning, while You seek truth within;
to wisdom my heart winning, release me from my sin!

In Jesus’ blood and mercy, LORD, cleanse my evil heart!
Let me washed, cleansed, renewed be and pure in whole and part.
Bring joy again and gladness; look not upon my sin.
Deliver me from sadness; renew me yet again!

Be Thou my vision, Lord, first thing every day, so that I…

T. M. Moore, Principal
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To see Jesus
The more clearly we see Jesus, the more boldly and joyously we will follow Him, and the more we will feed happily on His Word. 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. You might also benefit from our workbook, The Landscape of Unseen Things, available for free 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.

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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] This text is taken from the English translation of Colum’s original Hiberno-Latin in J.H. Bernard and R. Atkinson, eds., The Irish Liber Hymnorum, 2 vols., Vol. 2 (London: Henry Bradshaw Society, 1898), pp. 150ff.

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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