And Agrippa said to Paul, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?"
- Acts 26.28
Finally, the reports about Columban spread to the court of king Sigibert, who at this time ruled over the two Frankish kingdoms of Austrasia and Burgundy. The name of the Franks was held in honour above that of any other inhabitants of Gaul. When the holy man with his companions appeared before the king, the greatness of his learning caused him to stand high in the favour of the king and court.
- The Monk Jonas, Life of St. Columban (Italian, 7th century)
"Learning" here refers to much more than just intellectual acumen. The word gets to the whole of Columbanus' discipleship - his disciplined life, holiness, strength of character, sense of vision, convictions, and, of course, "learning."
The Frankish court in Columbanus' day was notoriously corrupt. They had long before his coming made peace with the Church, so that the kings could live in moral compromise and the churches would not be bothered or harrassed. The priests and bishops of Gaul went along with the arrangement, agreeing not to dabble in the affairs of the court as long as they could be free to assemble their own spiritual fiefdoms within the boundaries overseen by the Frankish kings.
Corruption, complacency, and compromise were everwhere the norm. But the arrival of Columbanus and his troop signalled a new day for the Gauls. By his example, teaching, and unflagging hard work, Columbanus re-evangelized the churches in Gaul and denounced the immorality both of the court and the Roman Catholic priests.
The immediate result was twofold. More young men sought him out to be trained and prepared for the work of the Kingdom of God. And the priests and royal court contrived and schemed to silence his impressive and influential voice. After one failed attempt to exile him, then another failed attempt to bring him under the oversight and jurisdiction of local bishops, Columbanus was finally driven from Gaul at the point of a sword.
But within a generation after his death, conditions he had put in place led to the flourishing of the churches and the reform of the government in Gaul, so that the kingdom established by Charlemagne became a great center of Christian piety and learning, carrying the work begun by Columbanus into new places and times.
It is easy to despair of our ever being able to reform our own corrupt culture and society, or to bring new life and vitality to the comfortable yet ineffectual churches of our day.
It is easy to despair; it is also sinful to do so: "I would have despaired unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Ps. 27.13, my translation). Like Columbanus we need to understand that the way to bring about real and lasting change in culture, society, and church is to take the long view, focus on Christ, take up a disciplined life of serving Him, and work for revival, renewal, and awakening one person, one situation, one opportunity at a time.
Christians can change the world. We can change the world.
But we must live as if that is exactly what we intend to do.
How will you live this way today?
T. M. Moore, Principal