St. Columba

Saint Columba (521-595) A cautionary tale

Saint Columba was born in Garton, into the royal family of that region, and was brought up as a Christian. As soon as he was old enough he went to study under Finnian of Moville, who had trained in the monastery at Whithorn. Here Columba learned the strict rule of life that characterised all the celtic saints of that era. It was here that Columba gained the nickname "Columcille", "The Dove of the Church". From Moville, Columba spent some time studying alongside Gemman, a travelling bard, and from there he went to Clonard to study under another monk named Finnian. Finnian of Clonard had studied all over Europe and here Columba gained the education which, alongside his growing faith, enabled him to plant over 300 monasteries and Christian communities over the next 15 years, including the famous monastery at Kells.

Columba was about 40 when his old teacher Finnian of Moville came to visit him. Columba welcomed his old tutor who showed him a copy of the Psalms he had recently obtained from Rome. Columba asked if he may study it but, instead of just reading it, he used his calligraphy skills to make a copy for himself. Working in secret, Columba almost finished his task before Finnian found out. He was furious at the deception and, when Columba refused to hand over the copy he had made, Finnian took his case to the king. After much deliberation, King Diarmait decided in favour of Finnian: "The calf," he said, "belongs to the cow!"

Columba was furious. It was normal practise to copy books and in his opinion Finnian had overreacted. Unfortunately Columba didn't deal with his anger. A short time later, he offered sanctuary in his monastery to a young man who was fleeing King Diarmait. The king sent some men to arrest him but, as they did so, the young man was killed. This was the final straw. Columba contacted his family, the Ui Neills who massacred over 3,000 of Diarmait's men.

Although he was victorious, in the cold light of day Columba was devastated that his temper could have caused such a tragic loss of life. After spending some time in prayer with his "soul friend", Columba decided on what was called "white martyrdom": he would go into a self imposed exile, to a place where he could no longer see his beloved Ireland, and there he would set out to win as many souls as his temper had caused to die. Thus began Columba's ministry on the Island of Iona.

Although Columba's time was very rich, with many people coming to faith in Jesus, he always seemed to be driven, driven by his past and the pain he had caused to so many.

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