Colum Cille (19)
Who is most prudent?
He who praises before death what he fears after death?
You do well in correcting.
You do not do well in rebuking.
The mind rises up against rebuke.
It is lowly toward correction.
Wisdom without learning is better than learning without wisdom.
Who is closest to God?
The one who meditates concerning Him.
Whom does Christ help?
The one who does good.
In whom does the Spirit abide?
In the one who is pure, without sin.
One is a vessel of the Holy Spirit when the virtues come in place of the vices.
Desire of God grows in one
when world desire decays.
- Colmán mac Beógnai, “The Alphabet of Devotion”
One thing I have desired of the LORD,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD,
And to inquire in His temple…
When You said, “Seek My face,”
My heart said to You, “Your face, LORD, I will seek.”
- Psalm 27.4, 8
Throughout his “Alphabet”—a sort of common rule for the brothers who lived under Colum Cille on Iona—Colmán emphasized the importance of a right relationship with God. The need to fear God as a way of honoring His majesty, power, and holiness occurs at the beginning and end of his “Alphabet”, bookending everything in between. The more that brethren focused on having their relationship right with the Lord, the better their relationships would be with one another and the more fruitful they would be in all their work.
Colmán also notes the need brethren had of helping one another stay on track with the Lord. Correction rather than rebuke was the better way of helping a brother overcome a sin. Wisdom was always to be freely offered and gladly received, whether from a learned and seasoned brother or a novice who was just beginning his studies.
Above all, monks were to strive to stay close to God the Father, to abide in Jesus Christ, and to be filled with the Spirit of God. Only God could help them fulfill the high standards and lofty ideals of the “Alphabet of Devotion.” The men of Iona learned to seek the face of the Lord and meditate on His beauty. This motivated and empowered them to carry out His will in loving obedience. The more brethren set aside the desires of this world, the more they would be able to devote themselves to desiring God and His Kingdom.
This is what Colmán and his colleagues saw in Colum Cille. He had given up worldly wealth and prestige to seek the Lord as a monk. He had learned obedience the hard way and was the wiser for it. Colum was the most learned man of his day, and wisdom accompanied his learning. Colum desired God above all other things, and his desire allowed him always to live close to God.
Closeness to God comes through prayer, meditation, contemplating the face of Jesus, offering oneself as a living sacrifice for His glory, and walking in wisdom and obedience in all we do. The men of Iona saw this in Colum, and they embraced such a life for themselves as well. Thus we are not surprised to read, as Bede pointed out, that men from Iona went on to found monasteries and communities of the faithful both in Ireland and elsewhere: “But whatever type of man [Colum] may have been, we know for certain that he left successors distinguished for their purity of life, their love of God, and their loyalty to the monastic rule…they diligently followed whatever pure and devout customs they learned in the prophets, the Gospels, and the writings of the Apostles.”
Perhaps we need to consider our own lives. Are we as disciplined at staying close to the Lord as we should be? As determined to learn wisdom? To practice obedience? To increase in purity? Such attainments don’t just happen. We must work hard to realize progress in these and all areas of the life of faith.
Looking to men like Colum and Colmán can encourage us to join their company as seekers of the Lord’s face and ambassadors in His Kingdom.
1. What is the state of the disciplines by which you live?
2. What do you do to draw close to God each day?
Psalm 27.1-6 (St. Denio: Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise)
LORD, You are our Light and our Savior most dear!
You guard us with might; therefore, whom shall we fear?
Though evil surround us, our enemies fall;
no harm shall confound us when on You we call.
One thing we request but to dwell with You, LORD.
Your beauty to test and to think on Your Word.
In trouble You hide us secure in Your grace;
no foe may o’erride us: We sing of Your praise.
Show me how to live closer to You, O Lord, so that I may…
T. M. Moore
How are your disciplines?
Bring some joy to your world
We are appointed, like Colum, to bring the joy of the Gospel to our world. Our book, Joy to Your World!, can help you understand how to fulfill this calling day by day. Order your free copy 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.
 Carey, pp. 244, 245..
 Bede, p. 149.