LIFE OF COLUMBA.
The Nativity of Columba. An Angel appears to his Mother bearing a Mantle Adorned with Flowers.
THE nativity of Columba, sprung from a nations of saints for the salvation of many, is known to have had its beginning on this wise! One night between his conception and his birth, an angel of the Lord appeared to his mother in dreams, and standing beside her gave her a mantle of marvellous beauty, on which, sooth to say, the lovely colours of every flower seems to be depicted. After a little, however, he demanded it back, took it from her hands, and raising it, spread it out, and sent it away through the empty air. But she, terrified at the mantle being taken from her, then addressed the man of venerable mien: "Why takest thou away from me the delightful mantle so soon!" He immediately replied: "Because this cloak is of such exceeding honour that it can no longer be kept with thee." At these words, the woman saw the aforesaid mantle recede further and further from her in its flight, and as it grew in size she beheld it exceed in breadth the plains, and surpass in extent the mountains and wooded valleys. At the same time she heard the following words: "O woman, be not grieved, for to the man to whom thou art bound in the bonds of wedlock, thou art about to bear a son of like beauty, who will be numbered among the prophets of the Lord as one of them! he is predestinated by God to be the leader of innumerable souls to the heavenly land." On hearing this the woman awoke.
A Globe of Fire appears over the Face of Columba.
AFTER the birth of the child, a priest, a man of blameless life, to whose care the blessed youth had been confided, on returning home from church, after Mass, found his whole house lit up with a bright light, and saw a globe of fire resting over the face of the sleeping child. As soon as he beheld it he shook with fear, and lay prostrate on the ground in amazement, perceiving that the grace of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the child from above.
An Angel His Companion.
ON a certain occasion the Saint, while a young man, went to visit the holy Bishop Finnian, his master, who was then an old man. S. Finnian, when he saw him approaching, beheld likewise an angel of the Lord acting as his companion on the journey, and made known the fact to certain brethren who were standing by, saying: "Behold, see now S. Columba coming! he has been deemed worthy to have an angel of the Lord as the companion of his journey."
He Turns Water into Wine.
IN those days the Saint crossed over into Britain with twelve disciples and fellow soldiers. He arrived on a certain holy day, as his holy teacher and bishop Finnian was celebrating Mass, when it chanced that no wine could be found for the sacrificial mystery. On hearing the ministers at the altar complaining of this among themselves, he took a pitcher, and went to the fountain, in order that as a deacon he might draw spring water for the holy ministries of the Eucharist. The water being drawn, he said to the ministers: "You have now wine, which the Lord has sent for the celebration of his mysteries." On this being known, the holy Bishop with the ministers gave exceeding thanks to God. But the holy youth was wont to ascribe this miracle not to himself but to Bishop S. Finnian.
He Consecrates Aidan King, and foretells future things concerning his Son.
AT another time the holy man, while staying in the Island of Hynba (Eilean-na-Naoimh), one night, when in an ecstacy of mind, saw an angel of the Lord sent unto him, who held in his hand the glass book of the ordination of kings. This book he received from the hand of the angel, and began to read. Refusing to ordain Aidan king as he was directed (for he loved his brother more), the angel suddenly stretched forth his hand and smote the Saint with a whip, the mark of the bruise whereof remained on his side all the days of his life. He also addressed to him this word: "Know for certain that I am sent by God, in order that thou mayest ordain Aidan king, which if thou wilt not do, I will smite thee again." The angel of the Lord giving him the same things in charge concerning the ordination of Aidan on three consecutive nights, the Saint sailed over to the Island of Iona, and Aidan coming thither, he ordained him king. Moreover, during the words of ordination, he foretold the future of his sons, and grandsons, and great-grandsons, and laying his hand upon his head, ordained and blessed him, and spake forth these words: "Believe unhesitatingly, O Aidan; none of thine adversaries shall be able to resist thee, until thou first act unjustly towards me and my posterity. Tell these words to thy sons, lest they lose their kingdom. Because if they hearken not, the scourge which, because of thee I have endured from the angel of God, will be turned against them." And so it came to pass, for transgressing the commands of the man of God, they lost the kingdom.
He sees the soul of a monk received into Heaven.
ON another occasion, when staying in the Island of Iona, the holy man saw a monk, who was fruitful in good works, reduced to the last extremity. When he visited him in the hour of departure, the man of God, after standing for a little beside his couch, blessed him, and then quickly left the house, being unwilling to witness the death of him who at that moment was passing from among them. Then, indeed, the holy man, while walking in the court of his monastery, with his eyes fixed on heaven, was astonished and greatly amazed. One of the brethren, who at the same time was alone with him, ventured to ask the cause of his amazement, when the Saint replied: "Just now I saw the holy angels warring against the opposing powers, and I give thanks to Christ, our Judge, because the victorious angels have received the soul of this pilgrim. But I beseech thee, that while I live, thou wilt reveal this secret to no one."
The Death of Saint Brendan revealed to him.
LIKEWISE on a certain day at the first dawn, the Saint called to him his servant, Diormit, and addressed him on this wise: "Let the services of the Holy Eucharist be at once prepared; for to-day is the natal day of the blessed Brendan." "Wherefore," said the servant, "orderest thou such things; for no messenger from Ireland has announced his death." "Go," replied the Saint, "obey my order; for during the night I saw the heavens suddenly open and choirs of angels, by whose bright and surpassing glory the whole world was in that moment illuminated, descend to meet the soul of S. Brendan."
The Death of S. Columban, Bishop in Leinster, revealed.
ON another day, again, when the brethren were about to set out to their manual labour, the Saint, on the contrary, ordered the day to be spent in rest, the rites of the Holy Oblation to be prepared, and some addition to be made to their dinner. "I must needs celebrate," he said, "the mysteries of the Holy Eucharist for the holy soul which was last night carried among the angels." The brethren obeyed, spent the day in rest, and went with the holy Abbot to the Church as on a holy day. During the sacred mysteries of the Holy Sacrifice, the Saint said, "Today prayer must be made for the holy Bishop Columban." Then understood the brethren who were standing by, that Columban, Bishop of the people in Leinster, the dear friend of Columba, had departed to the Lord. A short time after, some persons coming from the province of Leinster brought tidings that the Bishop died on the night the Saint said.
Columba fights with demons.
NOW the Saint sought a place among the woods more remote from men and suitable for prayer. And there, when on a certain day he was praying, he suddenly saw before him an exceedingly black host of demons fighting with iron spits, who, as had been revealed to the holy man by the Spirit, were desirous of assailing his monastery and slaying many of the brethren with darts. But he fought against them, and so on both sides the battle was waged during the greater part of the day. But though innumerable, and he one, they were unable to overcome him, till at last the angels of God came to his aid, and through fear of them the demons fled from the place, as the Saint himself afterwards told the brethren.
While staying in Iona he comes by the help of an Angel to the relief of a brother who is falling from the top of a house in Ireland.
AT another time, when the man of God was sitting in his hut writing, his countenance was suddenly changed, and he cried out from a pure heart, saying, "Help! help!" Two brethren, who were standing at the door, asked the reason for this sudden cry; and the man of God gave them the following answer: "I commanded the angel of the Lord, who was just now standing in our midst, to go quickly to the help of one of the brethren who was falling from the roof of a house which is being built." And the Saint immediately added: "Wonderful, indeed, and almost indescribable is the swiftness of the angelic flight; equal, I should think, to the speed of lightning. For that heavenly being who but now flew hence from us to that man as he was beginning to fall, came up, as if in the twinkling of an eye, and supported him before he touched the earth; nor did he feel any shock. How amazing, I say, and how timely the aid, which swifter than a word could be rendered so quickly over so many intervening lands and seas."
He converses with Angels.
ON a certain occasion, on one of the days when the brethren were assembled together, the Saint of God, Columba, said to them: "Today I wish to go alone to the western plain of our island; but none of you follow me." They complied with his request, and he went out alone as he wished; but a certain brother, a crafty spy, following another path, hid himself on the top of a hill, anxious to spy out what he might and did see, but not without the permission of God, who was magnifying his Saint. For he saw him standing on a hill and praying with his hands opened out to heaven, and lifting up his eyes on high. Wonderful to say: lo! a marvellous sight suddenly appeared. Straightway holy angels, clothed in white raiment, flew towards the holy man with wondrous speed, and began to stand around him as he prayed, and joined in intercourse with the blessed Saint; but as if conscious of him who was spying them, they flew back on high. The blessed man, after the angelic meeting, betook himself to the monastery, and, the brethren being assembled, sought for him who was guilty of the transgression with a stern reproof. He, then, who knew within himself that he was the inexcusable transgressor, confessed his guilt and on bended knees prayed for pardon; and the Saint leading him aside, charged him, as he knelt, with a heavy threat to tell no man during his life-time what he had seen. For a time the brother obeyed, but after the Saint's death, he related with many protestations to the brethren what he had seen. Moreover the scene of this angelic assembly is called to this day the Mount of the Angels.
A ball of fire rises from his head.
MOREOVER, on another occasion, four brethren came from Ireland for the sake of visiting S. Columba, who was then residing in the Island of Hinba (Eilan-na-naoimh). With one consent they besought the Saint with prayers to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries; which also he did one Lord's Day. But after the reading of the Gospel they saw a certain ball fiery and very bright, blaze from the crown of the holy Columba's head, while he stood before the altar consecrating the Sacred Oblation, and beheld it rise upwards, in the form of a column, until the same Sacred Mysteries were ended.
He enjoys celestial visions during three days.
LIKEWISE, on another occasion, when staying in the same island, the grace of the Holy Spirit was abundantly and incomparably poured out upon the holy man, and dwelt with him in a marvellous manner for the space of three days, so that for three days and three nights he neither ate nor drank, nor permitted any one to approach him, but remained in his house, which was shut up and filled with celestial brightness. At night rays of surpassing brilliancy were seen to burst from the house through the chinks in the doors and through the key-holes, and spiritual songs were heard being chanted by him, and songs before unheard. And as he afterwards openly confessed, he was deemed worthy to learn in that place many things, both obscure things of the Scriptures and mysteries unknown to men.
He relieves the want of a poor man by a spit he blessed.
ON one occasion there came to the Saint a certain peasant who was very poor, complaining bitterly that he had not anything wherewith to feed his wife and little ones. Sympathising with him, the merciful servant of God said: "Poor man! Take a stake from the neighbouring wood and bring it to me quickly." He obeyed, and went and brought one. And the Saint taking it, sharpened it into a spit, and with his own hand blessed it and gave it to him, saying: "Watch carefully over it, it will hurt neither man nor cattle, but only beasts and game and fish, and so long as thou keepest it, there will be no want whatever of venison in thy house." On hearing this the poor man returned to his home rejoicing; he also fixed the spit in remote parts of the country which the beasts of the forest were in the habit of frequenting, and when the night was passed, went with the first dawn of day to visit it, and found a stag impaled upon it. But why say more? Not a day passed but the stake caught a buck, a doe, or some other animal. His whole house, as it were, was overflowing with the flesh of wild animals. But not many days after, his foolish wife, overcome by the persuasion of the devil, spake thus to him: "Take the stake from the ground; for if any of the men or domestic cattle should be killed upon it, thou and I with our children will be led captive or reduced to slavery." "It will not be so," replied the husband; "for the Saint of God has interdicted it from hurting man or beast." Nevertheless, yielding to his wife, he took the stake out of the field, and placed it beside the wall of his house, when immediately his house dog, running against it, died. On this his wife again said: "One of thy sons will fall upon the stake and die." At this the husband removed it from beside the wall, and carrying it into the wood, placed it among thick bushes, so that it might hurt no one. But when he returned on the following day, he found a huge salmon, which he was hardly able to carry alone, impaled upon it. Then he placed the stake upon the roof, when a crow flying by chance against it, was killed. Whereupon the poor man, who was now prosperous, led astray by the counsel of his wife, took the stake from the roof, seized his axe, cut it into many pieces, and threw it into the fire, and immediately became poor.
He is suffused with Heavenly Light in the Church.
ONE winter night S. Fernaus entered the Church alone to pray, and was devoutly praying at a certain seat. S. Columba, ignorant of this, entered the church a little after for the same purpose, and along with him there entered a golden light, which descended from heaven and filled the whole church. Moreover, the heavenly light filled also the chapel, though it was shut off, where Fernaus was lying hid in great alarm; and as no man can look at the summer sun at noontide with steady unblinking eyes, so also Fernaus could not endure that heavenly splendour. At length having seen the lightning brilliancy no strength remained in him. After a short prayer, however, S. Columba left the church, and on the morrow he called Fernaus to him and addressed him in these consoling words: "O my child, last night thou didst that which was pleasing in the sight of God in bending thine eyes down to the earth for fear of the light. For if thou hadst not so done, thine eyes would have been blinded; but while I live, take care to keep this vision secret."
The Life of Columba is prolonged in answer to the Prayers of the Church.
ON another occasion, also, when the man of God was staying in the Island of Iona, his face glowed with a sudden joyfulness, and lifting his eyes to heaven he rejoiced greatly; but after a little he became sad. Two brethren, however, who were standing at the door inquired the reason of this sudden joy and the following grief. To whom the Saint replied: "Go in peace. I may not tell you." But when they were too troublesome to him concerning this occurrence, he said: "If you will keep it secret, I will tell you, for I love you." And when they gave their word, he spoke thus to them: "Up to the present day thrice ten years of my pilgrimage in Britain have been fulfilled. Moreover, I have asked from the Lord that in the end of this thirtieth year I might pass away and be with Him. And this was the cause of the joy concerning which ye trouble me. I also saw the angels coming to meet my soul as it was about to leave the body. But lo! they stand afar off, being suddenly held back and not suffered to approach nearer, because He who granted that what I besought should happen on this day, hearkening to the prayers of many churches concerning me, has changed more quickly than I could tell; for in answer to the prayers of the churches, it has been granted by the Lord that four years from this day shall be added to my continuance in the flesh. Now this delay was the cause of my grief. But when these four years are ended, I shall joyfully pass to the Lord by a sudden death."
He predicts the Hour of his Death; and blesses Iona.
ACCORDING therefore to these words the man of God lived in the flesh for four years more, which being ended, one day in the month of May, infirm with age and conveyed in a waggon, he went to visit the brethren who were labouring in the fields and began to address them as follows: "During the Easter festival, in the month of April just past, I earnestly desired to pass away to Christ, but that the festival of joy might not be changed for you into sorrow, I preferred to delay the day of my departure longer." At these words the brethren were exceeding sorrowful. But the man of the Lord, as he sat in the vehicle, turned his face towards the East, and blessed the island with the islanders who dwelt therein, and from that day there was no viper in it hurtful to man or beast. At length after the words of benediction, the Saint was borne back to his monastery.
He sees an Angel.
BUT when a few days were passed, while the solemnities of the Mass were being celebrated according to the custom on the Lord's Day, suddenly, his eyes being lifted up, the face of the blessed Columba was seen to be overspread with a bright glow. At the same moment he alone beheld an angel of the Lord hovering above within the walls of the oratory. For this was the cause of that sudden joy, concerning which when those present inquired, the Saint made to them this reply: "Wonderful and incomparable is the subtilty of the angelic nature! For lo! an angel of the Lord sent for the safe-keeping of some one dear to God, looking down upon us within the church and giving his benediction, has returned again through the roof of the church, and left no trace of such exit." These things the Saint said signifying them concerning himself; nevertheless at the time the brethren knew it not; but afterwards they understood.
He indicates the Day of his Death to Diormit.
ACCORDINGLY the holy man at the end of the same week, that is on the Sabbath day (i.e., our Saturday), privately called his servant Diormit to him, and thus spake: "In the Sacred Writings this day is called Sabbath, which, being interpreted, is Rest. And truly to me this day is a Sabbath, because to me it is the last day of life, in which, after the afflictions of my labours, I take my rest, and on the coming Lord's day night, shall go the way of my fathers. For already Christ invites me, and so it is revealed to me by Him." At this the servant was much grieved, but was consoled by the father. Thence going out and ascending to the summit of a hill overlooking his monastery, the Saint of God stood a little, and with uplifted hands blessed his community, and prophesied many things concerning the present and the future which the event afterwards confirmed.
When the Hour of Death is near, he makes a division of a Psalm.
AFTER these things, descending from the hill and being returned to the monastery, he was sitting in his cell writing a psalter. Coming at length to that verse of the thirty-third Psalm, where it is written: "They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing," he said: "Here I think I must stop. Baitheneus must write the words which follow." Now the verse which the Saint had just written applied very fitly to him to whom verily the good things of eternity will never be lacking. But to his successor, that is to the father of his spiritual sons, the following suited not less fitly; "Come, my children, hearken unto me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord." For, as his predecessor enjoined, he continued, not only in writing but also in labouring in the rule of the monastery.
The Last Words of Columba.
ACCORDINGLY, after he had finished writing this verse, which completed the page, he went into the holy church to celebrate the Mass of the Lord's Day night. Returning to his dwelling as soon as it was ended, he sat all night on his bed, where for straw he was wont to have the bare floor, for a pillow a stone, which even to this day remains beside his sepulchre, as it were the inscription on his monument. So then sitting there he commended his last words to his children, saying: "Among yourselves have always mutual and unfeigned charity with peace; but the Lord, the Comforter of the good, will be your aid, and I, abiding with Him, will intercede for you, that the good things of time and eternity may arise to you." After these words were said, S. Columba was silent for a little.
Columba Dies in the Church.
THEN straightway at midnight, when the bell rang, rising hurriedly, he went to the church, and running more quickly than the rest, he entered alone, and fell down before the altar on bended knees in prayer. But Diormit, his servant, having followed more slowly, saw from afar at that moment the whole church filled from within with angelic light; as he drew near to the door the same light quickly vanished, but not before it had been seen by some of the brethren. But Diormit, entering the church, cried out repeatedly with tearful voice: "Where art thou, father?" And as lights had not yet been brought in by the brethren, he groped about in the darkness, and found the Saint lying upon his back before the altar. He raised him a little, and sitting beside him laid the holy head in his lap. But the other brethren running up and seeing that the father, whom they had loved while living, was dying, mourned exceedingly as he died. But the Saint, whose life had not yet passed away, raised his eyes to both sides, looked around with a joyful countenance, and saw the holy angels near. Diormit, having raised his right hand, signified that he should bless the brethren; but the holy father nodded to him and raised his hand himself as far as he could. And after his holy benediction thus signified, he straightway gave up the ghost. His face meanwhile remained ruddy, and in a wonderful degree enlivened by the angelic vision, so that it seemed to be the face not of the dead but of the sleeping.
His Burial .
MEANWHILE, after the departure of the holy soul, the hymns at Matins being finished, the sacred body was borne with the melodious singing of the brethren back from the church to his dwelling, where for three days and three nights his honourable obsequies were duly performed. When these were finished to the praise of God, the holy body, wrapped in clean linen cloths, was buried with due reverence, to be sometime raised in eternal glory.
A Storm occurs during the Days of his Obsequies as the Saint predicted.
FOR once one of the brethren said to the Saint: "All the people of the provinces will come after thy decease to thy obsequies." "No," said the Saint, "the event will not turn out as you say; for a mixed crowd will not be present at my obsequies; only my own monks with whom I have lived will fill my grave and honour my funeral with their attendance." And so it came to pass, for during those three days and nights of his obsequies, a great storm of wind without rain blew, so that no vessel was able to cross the sea to take part in the last rites of the man of God. At length, when the Saint was buried, the wind falling and the tempest being stilled, the waves of the sea became quiet. Glory to Thee O God. Amen.
Eulogy of Columba. He raises the Dead. A Wonderful Stone. He Slays a Boar with a Word. He Blesses the Cows. He beholds souls received into Heaven. He appears to King Oswald. He predicts concerning King Aidan.
LET the reader therefore consider what and how great were the merits before God in the highest of him whom God so magnified by the prerogative of signs and the privileges of merits, and on whom, next to the Apostles, he bestowed the gift of his grace. For in the flesh, as an angel living, he stilled tempests, calmed seas, a Church not opened to him, he very often unlocked without a key, the bolt being uninjured, imprinting upon it only the sign of the Lord's cross. After kneeling some time, when he had poured himself out in prayer, rising from the ground, in the name of the Lord he brings to life the dead son of some common man, and after his obsequies are celebrated, he presents him alive to his father and mother. Also a stone dipped by him in water, in a wonderful way, contrary to its nature, floated upon the surface of the water, nor could this which the holy man had blessed be ever afterwards sunk. A sick man drank of the water in which it was swimming and immediately returned from the brink of death, and recovered soundness and health of body. Accordingly the same stone, afterwards preserved in the treasury of the King, wrought many cures among the people by the finger of God, by whom it had been blessed by the hand of Columba, the man of God. Again, when he has entered a wood, a boar of marvellous size, which the hounds chanced to be pursuing, meets him. At the sight of the Saint it stopped, and having raised his holy hand, said: "Come no further; die where thou art;" and it died. He also blessed five cows belonging to a poor man and commanded their number to increase to a hundred and five; and this rich blessing was upon the man's sons and grandsons. This Saint, too, very often beheld the souls of just men carried by angels into heaven, and those of wicked men taken down by demons to hell. Moreover, he spake to King Oswald, who had marked out his camp, in preparation for battle, and was sleeping in his tent on a cushion, and commanded him to go forth to battle. He obeyed the command and obtained the victory. Moreover, returning afterwards he was ordained by God Emperor of all Britain, and all the nation, who before that were unbelieving, were baptized. He likewise examined the whole world, clearly perceiving it as if collected under a single ray of the sun, its bosom being wonderfully opened to his merits. One day, also, the Saint of God instructed his servant to suddenly toll the bell. Aroused by the sound, the brethren forthwith entered the Church. The Saint said to them: "Pour out your prayers to the Lord for Aidan and his people." After a time he went out, and looking to heaven, said: "Now the barbarous host is turned to flight, and the victory is yielded to Aidan." Also in the spirit of prophecy he told them of the number of three hundred and three men of the army slain.
A Miracle Wrought by his Tunic.
AFTER the death of the man of God, a great drought occurred in the spring time. And the brethren fearing an approaching plague raised in the air the white tunic in which the blessed man was clad in the hour of death, and shook it thrice. They also read the books written by his own hand. When all these things were duly performed, wonderful to relate, on the same day a violent rain falling watered the thirsting land, and in the same year it produced rich crops.
AGAIN, once when the Saint was annoyed by a press of the brethren, a boy, very mean in countenance and dress, secretly near behind, that he might touch the fringe of the coat with which the Saint was clad without him knowing. But this was not hidden from the Saint; for reaching his hand behind him, he held the boy's neck. To whom, trembling, the Saint said: "Open thy mouth and put out thy tongue;" which doing, the Saint blessed him with outstretched hand, and said to those standing by: "This boy, now despicable to you, will from this hour be famous in all Ireland, and excel in wisdom, eloquence, in good manners, and in fruitfulness of virtues." Which, indeed, God fulfilled according to the prophecy of His Saint, to the praise and glory of His name, to whom is honour and glory for ever. Amen.