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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

The Power of the Pen

Colum understood it.

Colum Cille (29)

At another time a book of hymns for the week, written in the hand of Saint Columba [Colum Cille], fell from the shoulders of a boy who had slipped from a bridge, and with the skin satchel that contained it, was submerged in a certain river of the region of the Lagin. This book remained in the water from the Lord’s nativity until the days of Easter were concluded, and after that, found on the river bank by some women who were walking there, it was carried to a certain Iógenán, a Pict by race, to whom it formerly belonged; in the same satchel, which was not only sodden, but even rotten. When Iógenán opened the satchel, he found his book undamaged and as clean and dry as if it had remained all that time in a coffer, and had never fallen to the water.

  - Adomnán, Life of Columba[1]

Then the LORD answered me and said:
“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.”

 - Habakkuk 2.2

I will make Your name to be remembered in all generations;
Therefore the people shall praise You forever and ever.

 - Psalm 45.17

The story sounds a bit far-fetched, I know. But Adomnán insists on the truth of it. He continued his account: “Other similar things too, that occurred in different places, we have heard without question, from those who knew of them, concerning books written by the hand of Saint Columba; which (that is to say, the books), lying in water, have been able to remain entirely unharmed. But in the case of the above-named Iógenán’s book, we have received an account of the facts, without any possible doubt, from certain truthful and blameless men of good testimony, who found the same book to be, after so many days of immersion, extraordinarily white and clear.”

Possible? Certainly. Books were scarce and precious in Irish monasteries, and God understood the value of the written word for use in teaching, training, evangelism, and worship. Could He have preserved these books from water-damage? I have no doubt, and I think we do well to accept Adomnán’s account as the word of a reliable biographer.

But the preserved book is not my primary interest. Adomnán mentions “books written by the hand of Saint Columba”, just as Iógenán’s collection of hymns was. Undoubtedly, the monks at Iona spent much time copying the manuscripts which Colum prepared. But the ones mentioned in Adomnán’s account were autographs, and thus especially important for the use of copyists.

It should not surprise us that God would preserve these, at least for a while.

As we have seen, Colum was a man of considerable erudition, both in classical literature and the Scriptures. He wrote poetry, hymns, liturgical and devotional texts, and probably much else besides. Not much of Colum’s writing has survived, but what we have demonstrates both a deep love for God and a desire to instruct readers in the ways and will of the Lord.

Colum believed in the written word as a way of preserving, clarifying, summarizing, and explaining the Word of God in Scripture. He knew that such writing could play an important part in his own ministry and that it might endure beyond his lifetime to continue the work God gave him to do.

One of my favorite quotes about the writing life is from Francesco Petrarch, the 14th-century Italian poet and humanist: “Other pleasures fail us, or wound us while they charm; but the pen we take up with rejoicing and lay down with satisfaction, for it has the power to advantage not only its lord and master, but many others as well, even though they be far away—sometimes, indeed, though they be not born for thousands of years to come.”[2] Colum must have thought this way about writing as well, for he devoted a significant portion of his waking hours to writing and the making of books.

This demonstrates two aspects of Colum’s character that are worth noting: His love of truth and his concern for future generations. What Colum learned from God, he sought to transfer to others, both by demonstration and teaching as well as in writing. Because monks spent a portion of their time copying manuscripts, and then using those books in their ministries, it would have been important to have fresh and relevant insights such as those we have seen from the hand of Colum in this study. The written word gives us visions and truths to meditate and act upon. It also provides a resource to be passed on so that the generations to come may learn, know, love, and serve the Lord in their own time.

We wish we had more of what Colum had written, just as we wish we had more written work from the period of the Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800) in general. But this was before printing presses and even literacy in most places. It is a gift of God that anything of Colum’s has survived. We should cherish and learn from him all that we can, and pass along our learning to the generations to come.

For Reflection
1. Besides Scripture, what role do books play in your own walk with and work for the Lord?

2. What are some books that especially have helped you in your life and ministry?

Psalm 119.49-51 (Wycliff: All for Jesus)
LORD, remember all the good Word You have spoken unto me!
For I ever hope in You, LORD as I serve You joyfully.

This my comfort in affliction, this my comfort in all strife:
that Your Word is my redemption, giving me eternal life!

Though the proud deride and taunt me, I will trust Your faithful Word.
Let Your judgments from of old be all my comfort, holy LORD.

Lord, how can I use good books and literature in my ministry, so that others…

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 copy 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.

And please prayerfully consider supporting The Fellowship of Ailbe with your prayers and gifts. You can contribute online, via PayPal or Anedot, or by sending a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 103 Reynolds Lane, West Grove, PA 19390.

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] Adomnán, p. 107.

[2] James Harvey Robinson with Henry Winchester Rolfe, Petrarch (New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1898, 1970), p. 426.

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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