Colum Cille (21)
Let not anyone suppose that I will write concerning this so memorable man either falsehood or things that might be doubtful or unsure; but let him understand that I shall relate what has come to my knowledge through the tradition passed on by our predecessors, and by trustworthy men who knew the facts; and that I shall set it down unequivocally, and either from among those things that we have been able to find put into writing before our time, or else from among those that we have learned, after diligent inquiry, by hearing them from the lips of certain informed and trustworthy aged men who related them without any hesitation.
- Adomnán, Life of Columba
Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
- Luke 1.1-4
Adomnán was preparing to tell a story which, to the minds of many, would seem exaggerated, if not far-fetched or unlikely. His account of the life of Colum Cille includes many events and anecdotes which challenge our experience and understanding. He will relate of Colum many amazing prophecies, visions, and visitations, as well as healings, insights to events shortly coming to pass, and a way with creatures and the creation that few of us will ever know. Adomnán wanted only to tell the truth about his predecessor, so he offered this rather Lucan apology at the outset of his account, the substance of which he will repeat in several other places, insisting on the complete truthfulness of his report.
We should point out that Adomnán was a giant in his day (late 7th-early 8th century), a saint known for his sagacity, truthfulness, desire for unity among all believers, and concern for the oppressed. He was a counselor to lay people, priests, bishops, and kings, and he wrote a law, adopted by many tribes, defending the rights of women and priests. He was diligent and dutiful at his work as abbot of Iona, widely respected and admired in Ireland and beyond.
Not the sort of person to spin yarns or unduly puff a forebear.
Luke must have suspected that some—if not much—of what he would report in his gospel would also stretch credulity. But he insisted that he’d done the research and that what Theophilus was about to read was the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Adomnán was simply taking the same tack in preparing to tell the story of Colum Cille. He relied on “tradition passed on by our predecessors, and by trustworthy men who knew the facts”. He also consulted previous writings, such as some we have considered thus far in our study. He relied on “certain informed and trustworthy aged men” who shared what they knew. He promised to record what he learned without equivocation. He, too, would tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
So we may need to adjust our dial a bit as we read on, because Colum’s life looks extraordinary for many reasons. In our day, we emphasize the revelation of God that comes through Scripture, and we minimize—if not deny—gifts of visions, prophecies, healings, or visitations of angels. Colum lived in a different time and place. Even in our day, in “frontier” lands of the Kingdom as well as places where it has been long established, it is not uncommon to hear reports such as Adomnán will relate in his account of the life of Colum Cille. We are unwise to think we might say to God concerning such things, “You can’t do that anymore.” God can do what He wants and what He requires for His Kingdom to take root and spread.
My inclination is to take Adomnán at his word, to believe he has reported truthfully all that he learned about this great saint. At the same time, I am not unaware that human memory is not always reliable, and our tendency to embellish truth, especially when it comes to a dearly loved or admired one, was as true in Adomnán’s day as it is in ours.
The remainder of our devotional history will consider works of Colum from which we can learn the most and which it might please God to do in and through us as well. Adomnán wanted to “bring before the eyes of the reader [Colum’s] holy way of life” together with “some instances of his miracles.” His purpose was to give a true account of Colum so that God may be praised by all who read.
Our desire is to bring forward Adomnán’s hope in the brief excerpts and accounts that follow.
1. Why do you think believers today tend to be skeptical about such things as visions, healings, miracles, and visitations from angels?
2. Scripture is always our norm and standard. We won’t look for any “last word” concerning God’s will any place else. Why does this make reading and studying God’s Word so very important?
Psalm 19.7-11 (St. Christopher: Beneath the Cross of Jesus)
The Law of God is perfect, His testimony sure;
the simple man God’s wisdom learns, the soul receives its cure.
God’s Word is right, and His command is pure, and truth imparts;
He makes our eyes to understand; with joy He fills our hearts.
The fear of God is cleansing, forever shall it last.
His judgments all are true and just, by righteousness held fast.
O seek them more than gold most fine, than honey find them sweet;
be warned by every word and line; be blessed with joy complete.
Lord, I trust in You and in Your Word, and today especially I need You to…
T. M. Moore
Bring some joy to your world
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 Adomnán, p. 5.