Colum Cille (20)
There was a man of venerable life and blessed memory, the father and founder of monasteries, who received the same name as the prophet Jonah. For although sounding differently in three different languages, yet what is pronounce iona in Hebrew, and Greek calls peristrera, and what in the Latin language is named columba, means one and the same thing. So good and great a name is believed not to have been put upon the man of God without divine dispensation. According to the truth of the gospels, moreover, the Holy Spirit is shown to have descended upon the only-begotten son of the eternal father in the form of that little bird that is called a dove. Hence often in sacred books a dove is understood to signify mystically the Holy Spirit…For the dove is a simple and innocent bird. Therefore a simple and innocent person also was rightly called by this name, since he with dovelike disposition offered to the Holy Spirit a dwelling in himself. This name aptly fits what is written in the Book of Proverbs, “Better is a good name than many riches.”
- Adomnán, Life of Columba
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
- Romans 12.1
Even the sparrow has found a home,
And the swallow a nest for herself,
Where she may lay her young—
Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
My King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in Your house;
They will still be praising You.
- Psalm 84.3, 4
The name, Colum Cille, we recall, means “dove of the church.” Precisely when Colum received this epithet is not clear, although one account has it that adoring children dubbed him with it. Adomnán argued that it was appropriate in every way. He believed Colum “was rightly called” the “dove of the church.”
Colum was the founder of the monastic community on Iona, and Adomnán was abbot there two generations after Colum’s death. He wrote down his account of Colum’s work “to respond to the importunity of the brothers”, that is, his contemporaries on Iona. The memory of Colum had lasted into the end of the seventh century, and those who heard the stories of his life and work were eager for more.
So Adomnán went to work collecting accounts from various sources. We will be looking at his Life of Columba for the remainder of our study. Adomnán will insist throughout his report that everything he relates is true and can be documented, as we shall see.
Adomnán noted the simplicity and innocence of Colum. He was not a complicated man. He focused on Jesus and on being an agent or channel of His love to others. He did so faithfully and well. Colum was filled with the Spirit, evidenced by the fruit that came out in his life, the gifts he employed in his ministry, and the power that accompanied his witness for the Lord. His many students and disciples uniformly admired him, and it was through them, primarily, that the stories Adomnán collected have come down to us today.
Colum lived a spare life. He owned no possessions. He gave himself entirely to the work of his monastery and of reaching lost people with the Gospel. His grace, wisdom, forthrightness, and spiritual stature attracted many visitors to Iona, and he somehow managed to find time for all who wanted to see him.
He spent his days as a living sacrifice to the Lord. He knew that God had created all things for His glory and to serve His purposes (Ps. 119.89-91), and Colum resolved to put Himself on the altar as a daily offering for the Lord. He shows us what God can do with “doves” who offers themselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, as instruments of His grace.
No matter our calling or station in life, if we give ourselves entirely to God, trusting in Jesus, hewing to His Word, and leaning on His Spirit, God can use us to bring His grace to people day by day. And many of them will know the touch of His love, the piercing Sword of His truth, the converting grace of His Spirit, and the unmistakable fragrance of His Presence as we faithfully present ourselves as living sacrifices to the Lord in all we do.
The world today needs more “doves” like Colum Cille. Not that we expect to achieve the kind of renown or reputation he did, but that, seeing what God can do through those who live their “reasonable service” to Him, we may be moved to join him on the altar of God’s love to reach the people in our lives the way Colum reached those in his.
1. What would it mean for you to be a “dove”—a living sacrifice—for the Lord?
2. How will you offer yourself to Him today?
Psalm 84.1-4 (Holy Manna: Brethren, We Have Met to Worship)
LORD of hosts, how sweet Your dwelling; how my soul longs for Your courts!
Let my soul with joy keep telling of Your grace forevermore.
Like a bird upon the altar, let my life to You belong.
Blessed are they who never falter as they praise Your grace with song!
Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Use me today, O Lord, so that…
T. M. Moore
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.
 Adomnán’s Life of Columba, Alan Orr Anderson and Marjorie Ogilvie Anders, ed. and tr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 3, 5.