Columbanus proved to be the great avant-courier of the rebirth of civilization in Europe. During the five hundred years that followed there was hardly a generation that did not see the vineyards crowded with Irish laborers, that did not hear the voice of some authoritative personality of the Gael ringing in the ears of princes and peoples.See footnote 1
AS THE tide of Celtic missionary work rolled on, it brought forth a leader who did more for the reconversion of Europe than anyone who followed him. Columbanus (some write his name Columban) was the apostle to Europe submerged by the influence of Clovis and the northern pagans. Patrick took the ancient pagan civilization of Ireland and forged it into a crusading Christianity; Columba through his college at Iona lifted Scotland from darkness to
Columbanus spent several years in study in the halls of learning at Bangor. Here he devotedly studied the Scriptures. The music of sacred song charmed his soul, and he perfected his gift of writing poetry. From
MISSIONARY ENDEAVORS IN FRANCE
The arrival of Columbanus in Gaul brought the dawn of a new day for Europe. In the many centers of civilization which he and his followers created, he implanted the spirit of Christianity in the hearts of the people.3The power of the gospel continued for centuries in spite of papal supremacy.4 In fact, the Church of Rome, in order to save its prestige, was compelled to assail the Columban order and
“The creed alone remained. But the remedy of repentance and the love of mortifying the lusts of the flesh were to be found only in a few.”See footnote 7
So King Guntram
“If you wish to take the cross of Christ and follow Him, seek the quiet of a retreat. Only be careful, for the increase of your own reward and our spiritual good, to remain in our kingdom and not to go to neighboring peoples.”
The missionaries accepted the offer of an old, half-mined fort at Anagrates (the present Anegray), which dated from Roman days, as the site for their first mission.
THE FIRST THREE CENTERS IN FRANCE
The beginnings at Anagrates in the wilderness of the Vosges were difficult. While the buildings were being erected and before the first fruits of the ground could appear, the Irish missionaries knew what suffering meant
Modesty and sobriety, gentleness and mildness shone forth in them all. The evils of sloth and of unruly tempers were expelled. Pride and haughtiness were expiated by severe punishments. Scorn and envy were driven out by faithful diligence. So great was the strength of their patience, love, and mildness that no one could doubt that the God of mercy dwelt among them.See footnote 8
At times Columbanus would retire apart and live for days by himself. He had no companion but the Bible which he no doubt had transcribed by his own hand at Bangor. He trusted God for food and for care against the
elements. He was looked upon as a prince over the wild beasts. From these
Wide-spreading influence quickly came to the new mission. The youth of the land, many of whom were from noble families, flocked to the young training center. It was not now necessary to travel abroad to attend the colleges of the Emerald Isle.
Again there were rapid growth and crowded conditions at Luxeuil as there had been at Anagrates. Columbanus founded a third training center at Fontaines, so named by him because of the warm medicinal springs issuing from the ground. Located within a radius of about twenty miles, these three settlements formed the evangelical center of the work of the Church of the Wilderness in France. Everywhere the people rallied around them. Fresh ideas of truth triumphant spread as if on the wings of the wind. There developed other leaders who trained recruits who would repeat their exploits. Also from Ireland came a continual stream of trained leaders and teachers to augment the first evangelists.12 Thus the word of God grew mightily. Soon, however,
THE STRUGGLE WITH THE BISHOPS OF ROME
In Scotland and
heathenism. On the
The church among the Franks and Germans was in a wretched condition. Many of the church lands were in the hands of laymen. There was little or no discipline, and no control exercised over the clergy. Each priest did what was right in his own eyes. There were, at this time, many vagabond priests and monks wandering about over the country, obtaining a precarious living by imposing upon the people.See notefication 13
Concerning the church in the era of Justinian, the same historians of the
medieval period declare: “The Christianity of that day was utterly degraded, and the Christians differed very little from the other peoples about them. Mohammedanism was in part a revolt against this degradation.”14The priests were jealous of the influence and growth of the Celtic missions. Back of it all, however, lay their resentment at the rebuke given by Columbanus to their questionable lives. Therefore, they summoned the Irish leader in 602 to answer before a synod of Gaulish bishops. He refused to appear, but for his
Remonstrance was useless; they adhered tenaciously to their country’s usages. Nothing could convince them that what St.Patrick and the saints of Ireland had handed down to them couldby any possibility be wrong. They only wanted to be let alone. They did not desire to impose their usages on others. Why should others impose their usages on them? They had a right to be allowed to live in peace in their wilderness, for they injured no man, and they prayed for all. Thus it was that Columbanus reasoned, or rather remonstrated with a synod of French bishops that objected to his practices. His letters to them and to Pope Gregory theSee footnote 15
Greatonthe subject of this paschal question are still extant, but he cannot be justified in some of the expressions which he uses. He tells the bishops in effect in one place that they would be better employed in enforcing canonical discipline amongst their own clergy, than in discussing the paschal question with him and his monks. Yet here and there he speaks not only with force and freedom,but also with true humility and genuine eloquence. He implores the prelates in the most solemn language to let him and his brethren live in peace and charity in the heart of their silent woods, beside the bones of their seventeen brothers who were dead.
Here is an incident by which one may contrast the spirit of the two churches. One needs only to compare the letter of Columbanus with
Columban’s answer is in splendid contrast to Augustine’s unfortunate utterance, through which he has been prophetically responsible for certain deeds of blood. In conclusion, we must recognize that the Bangor Rule of Life, though most severe, produced a meekness of character in the fiery Keltic nature that is amazing, and is in wonderful contrast to the more moderateBenedictine Rule which produced the arrogance of St. Augustine.See footnote 16
COLUMBANUS AND QUEEN BRUNHILDA
If there ever was another Jezebel, it was Brunhilda, wife of King Sigebert of Austrasia, brother of Guntram and persecutor of Columbanus. After murdering her husband in 575, she charmed the son of his brother, Chilperic, king of Neustria. Through
“Brunhilda seems to have been, according to the ideas of her time, areligious woman. She built churches, monasteries, and hospitals, and was a friend of some of the leading churchmen of her day.”See footnote 18
Since the queen-dowager and the Roman Catholic bishops were hostile to Columbanus, she urged them to attack the Celtic faith and to abolish his system of education.
COLUMBANUS IN EXILE
By this time the fame of Columbanus had greatly increased in all the cities and provinces of France and Germany, so much so that he was highly venerated and celebrated. Even the soldiers of the king on various occasions either hesitated to execute the royal order for his
“The Irish were the first missionaries in Germany, and Germany had in the main been made a Christian land by them when Boniface, who has been called the Apostle of Germany, first arrived there.”20See footnote 20
It might be well at this point to protest against crediting the Benedictine monks with the work that was done by the Irish missionaries. Fitzpatrick says,
“The general belief that the Benedictines, who were the only ‘rivals’ of the Irish monks in the period under review, were learned men is totally erroneous. No branch of the Benedictines making learned studies their aim existed till the establishment of the Maurists in the seventeenth century.”See footnote 21
For several years Columbanus labored in Germany and Switzerland, leaving a string of missions to carry on the work he had started. However, a pagan conspiracy against him forced him to again remove to other lands. Leaving the center of Bregenz, in what is now Austria, in charge of one of his historical associates, Gallus (generally known as St. Gall),22 Columbanus, although past seventy years of age, made his way over the towering Alps to the court of Agilulf, king of the Lombards. In this
mighty Lombard king was glad to have this powerful spiritual leader from Ireland in his realm. In the medieval centuries these valleys were extremely populous. Refusing to stay at the court, however, Columbanus
writes that Bobbio “was near the Trebbia, almost at the very spot where Hannibal first felt the rigors of that fierce winter in the snows of the Apennines.”25 One is astonished at the marvelous work in clearing the forests, in arranging the buildings, in tilling the lands and producing the crops, performed anew at Bobbio. Columbanus seems to have had unusual
ability in directing farm operations, in acting as physician for his associates, and in using the hides of bears to make sandals. He was specially skilled in domesticating wild animals. While he excelled
“The Irish foundations of Germany and north Italy became the chief book-producing center on the Continent.”See footnotes 26
When later scholars began their search for Irish written manuscripts, St. Gall and Bobbio were found to be valuable storehouses. Of
“Here the nucleus of what was to be the most celebrated library in Italy was formed by the manuscripts which Columban had brought from Ireland and the treatises of which he himself was the author.” “The fame of Bobbio reached the shores of Ireland, and the memory of Columban was dear to the hearts of his countrymen.” “See footnote 27
Atenth-century catalogue, published by Muratori, shows that at that period every branch of knowledge, divine andhuman, was represented in this library.”
Bobbio became such an evangelical training center that later theRoman Catholic Church followed the same procedure with Columbanus as she did with Patrick and Columba; she finally claimed him as one of her own.
DEATH OF COLUMBANUS
Columbanus did not live much more than a year after he had finished his work at Bobbio. Though there was widespread grief at his impending death, there were no regrets in his own heart. He could look back on his more than thirty years of arduous labors and recognize that he had made an indelible impress upon the Franks, Germans, Suevi, Swabians, Swiss, and Lombards. He willingly laid down the work for which God had appointed him. He finished his work in 615, being at that time some seventy-two years of age. His body was buried beneath the altar of the church, and to this day his remains are kept in the crypt of the church at Bobbio. About twenty-five extant manuscripts are purported to be his writings.
REASONS FOR THE OPPOSITION OF THE PAPAL BISHOPS
There are certain writers who seek to minimize the differences between the Celtic Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Probably this is wishful thinking on their
consideration of the differences
“In the lands, formerly included in the Western Roman Empire, where Latin was the medium of Christianity and education, there hardly existed a school in the full meaning of the term, save such as had already been established, directly or indirectly, by Irish hands.”See footnote 29
This Roman Catholic author further says
“Pope Eugenius II for the first time in history issued in A.D. 826 bulls enjoining throughout Gaul and the rest of Christendom schools of the kind that had then been in existence in Ireland for centuries.”See footnote 30
Columbanus and Dinooth of Wales had expressed Christian courtesy to the Catholic leaders, but they had refused to be brought into subjection
observance, Rome charged it with Judaizing. Thus, Epistle 45 of Pope Gregory III to the bishops of German Bavaria exhorts them to cling to
Rome’s doctrines and beware of Britons coming among them with false and heretical priests.33 Those missionaries who labored without papal authority were denounced by Boniface, the pope’s legate, as seducers of the people, idolaters, and (because they were married) adulterers. In all of this theRoman Catholic Church took good care that only vague and indefinite accounts of all the points at issue remain to the present day. As to the charge that certain churches were Judaizing, the minutes of the synod at Liftinae (the modem Estinnes), Belgium, 743, give more particular information. Dr. Karl J. von Hefele writes:
“The third allocution of this council warns against the observance of the sabbath, referring to the decree of the Council of Laodicea.”See footnote 34
As early as the council of
LUXEUIL, ST. GAUL, AND BOBBIO
Among the multiplied centers which were created by Columbanus and his associates, it has been observed that Luxeuil was the leading center in France, St. Gaul the leading center in Germany and Switzerland, while Bobbio held the position for Italy. There were, however, a
“Luxeuil proved to be the greatest and most influential of the monasteries and schools established by Columbanus. It became the recognized spiritual capital of all the countries underSee footnote 35
Frankishgovernment ….In the seventh century Luxeuil was the most celebrated school in Christendom outside of Ireland.”
Of St. Gaul and Bobbio, he writes:
“St. Gaul itself became known as ‘the intellectual center of the German world,’ as Bobbio, founded by Columbanus, was long ‘the light of northern Italy.’See footnote 36
Any attempt to evaluate the work of Columbanus must be feeble indeed. It is not within the power of man to give adequate praise to that which God hath wrought in making His truth triumphant. This pioneer built his spiritual foundations upon the ruins of the Roman Empire. His missionary centers became the nursery of civilization, the campus
1.Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the Foundations of Europe, p. 15.
2 Jonas, Vita Columbani, found in Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 87, p.1015.
3 Bispham, Columban — Saint, Monk, Missionary, p. 44.
4 Newman, A Manual of Church History, vol. 1, p. 414.
5 Smith and Wace, A Dictionary of Christian Biography, art.“Columbanus.”
6 Bispham, Columban — Saint, Monk, Missionary, p. 19.
7 Jonas, Vita Columbani, found in Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 87, pp.1017, 1018.
8 Ibid., vol. 87, p. 1018.
9 M’Clintock and Strong, Cyclopedia, art. “Gregory.”
10 Draper, History of the Intellectual Development of Europe, p. 264.
11 Smith and Wace, A Dictionary of Christian Biography, art.“Columbanus.”
12 Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the Making of Britain, pp. 7-14.
13 Thatcher and Schwill, Europe in the Middle Ages, p. 242.
14 Ibid., p. 338.
15 Healy, Insula Sanctorum et Doctorum, pp. 374, 375.
16 Bispham, Columban — Saint, Monk, Missionary, p. 57.
17 Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the Making of Britain, p. 196.
18 Thatcher and Schwill, Europe in the Middle Ages, p. 93.
19 Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the Making of Britain, p. 12.
20 Ibid., p. 10.
21 Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the Making of Britain, p. 47.
22 The writer took particular pains to visit the celebrated library at St.Gall, named in honor of Gallus, in order to inspect the Irish manuscripts still remaining there. The life and literary labors of St. Gallare worthy of the study of any student.
23 Beuzart, Les Heresies, pp. 6, 470. See the author’s discussion in Chapters 6 and 15, entitled, “Vigilantius, Leader of the Waldenses,
24 Robinson, Ecclesiastical Researches, pp. 157, 158, 164, 165, 167. 26.
25 Healy, Insula Sanctorum et Doctorum, p. 377.
26 Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the Foundations of Europe, p. 24.
27.The Catholic Encyclopedia, art., “Bobbio.”
28 Stokes, Celtic Church in Ireland, p. 165.
29 Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the Making of Britain, p. 5.
30 Ibid., p. 80.
31 Edgar, The Variations of Popery, pp. 181, 182.
32.Epistles, of Pope Gregory I, coil. 13, ep. 1, found in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2d Series, vol. 13.
33 Neander, General History of the Christian Religion and Church, vol. 3,p. 49, note.
34 Hefele, Concilliengeschicte, vol. 3, p. 512, sec. 362.
35 Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the Foundations of Europe, p. 68.
36 Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the Making of Britain, p. 21.