Colum Cille (23)
At one time, when for some months the blessed man remained in the midland district of Ireland, while by God’s will founding the monastery that is called in Irish Dairmag [Durrow], it pleased him to visit the brothers who lived in the monastery of Cloin of Saint Céran [Clonmacnoise]. When they heard of his approach, all those that were in the fields near the monastery came from every side, and joined those that were within it, and with the utmost eagerness accompanying their abbot Alither they passed outside the boundary-wall of the monastery, and with one accord went to meet Saint Columba [Colum Cille], as if he had been an angel of the Lord. On seeing him they bowed their faces to the earth, and he was kissed by them with all reverence, and singing hymns and praises they led him with honour to the church.
- Adomnán, Life of Columba
And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.
- Acts 20.36-38
Colum Cille understood the importance of reaching, enlisting, and training men for the work of the Gospel. Besides the community at Iona, Colum also founded monasteries in Ireland, at Durrow, Derry, Kells, and Swords. We can assume that each of these was established on the model of Iona, so each would have been a vibrant community of saints, a school for scribes and scholars, and a sending-place for missionaries.
Many of those missionaries replicated their experience at one or another of Colum’s monasteries and founded monasteries of their own, as Bede reported. He also said of these men, “But whatever type of man he [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.”
Prior to the seventh century, monasteries were the focal point of Celtic Christianity. Churches existed, and they played important roles locally. But the monasteries carried the burden of teaching, training, scholarship, evangelism, and missions. They were both the foundation and the framework for the Celtic Revival. Many of them reached a prominence that attracted visitors from all over the Christian world.
This was certainly true of Clonmacnoise, on the Shannon River in central Ireland. This ancient foundation was established by Ciarán in the generation prior to Colum Cille, and it quickly became an important center for Irish Christian life and the spread of the Gospel. Thus, it is a measure of the reputation that built up around Colum to see the way he was received during a visit to Clonmacnoise.
It’s hard to imagine there being much more excitement about a visitor than what Adomnán reports in the excerpt above. We do not know how Colum’s reputation had managed to reach Clonmacnoise. Undoubtedly, all knew the story of his earlier banishment, and they must have heard reports from time to time about the work he was doing on Iona and elsewhere. Perhaps the monks at Clonmacnoise had entertained peregrini from one of Colum’s monasteries. If so, they certainly would have heard many thrilling stories about the saint’s ministry. Some of Colum’s writings might also have been collected in the library at Clonmacnoise.
However the monks became aware of him, Colum was most revered and most loved by his contemporaries. Just as Paul had been feared and probably loathed by early believers, only to be so greatly loved that they wept at the thought of not seeing him again, so Colum’s regrettable past was a forgotten matter. He was universally honored and loved.
The most interesting aspect of this report of Colum’s visit is that, upon his arrival, the brethren of Clonmacnoise burst into hymns and praises, rejoicing in the Lord and extolling His Name because of Colum Cille. When has anything like that ever happened to you or me? Exactly. This is the kind of man Colum was. He was most revered and most loved because he brought the very Presence of God with him wherever he went. His reputation gave glory and honor to God. He was not like superstar evangelicals we see today. He did not seek to draw attention to himself and God, but to God only. And he did so by his life, teaching, works, presence, and legacy.
If Colum had a “life verse”, it was surely something like Psalm 45.17: “I will cause Your Name to be remembered in all generations; therefore, the people will praise You forever and ever, O God” (my rendering).
May it be known of us, as we move among the people in our Personal Mission Field, that the fragrance of Christ issues from us, that He is our singular focus in life. And may the people we serve be provoked to praise and seek Him.
1. How does Jesus make Himself known through you to the people in your Personal Mission Field?
2. How can you prepare each day to help make sure others are pointed to Jesus when you are with them?
Psalm 45.7, 8, 16, 17 (Manoah: When All Your Mercies, O My God)
Your God has thus anointed You with oil of gladness great.
Your robes are rich with sweet perfume; sweet music gilds Your gate.
When we at last Your palace gain, and others take our place,
then let our children with You reign, a legacy of grace!
Lord, make me a fragrance of Jesus today as I…
T. M. Moore
Bring some joy to your world
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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, p. 25.
 Bede, p. 149.