Chapter XXVI.


COLUMBA had gone to the grave, but there came no pause in his work. The mourners around his bier doubtless thought, as they bore him to the sepulchre, that along with his ashes they were consigning to the urn the work he had inaugurated, and that the sun of Iona had set. They were mistaken. There is only one Life with which the perpetuity of the Gospel is bound up, but that Life is not on earth, nor is it subject to the laws of mortality. In truth, it was not till the tomb had closed over the Great Presbyter that it was seen how enduring his work was destined to prove, and how vast the dimensions into which it was to open out. The evangelisation of the northern Picts was but the dawn of that glorious day which the Lamp of Iona was to diffuse around it. Its rays were to cross the sea, and illuminate far-off realms which the descent of the northern nations had plunged into the darkness of a second night.

We must trace rapidly the flight of the "doves of Iona," from country to country, bearing the olive branch of the Gospel. Their first field of missionary labour out of their own country was Northumbria, and the north-eastern counties of England generally. England needed to be evangelized the second time. The Anglo-Saxons had brought with them the paganism of the North. They had mercilessly slaughtered the British population, and swept away the early Christianity of England, setting up the worship of Thor and Woden on the ruins of the British churches.[1] It required no ordinary courage to venture into the midst of these fierce warriors, and to proclaim that Thor was not a god but a demon. At the one extremity of Britain we see Augustine and his monks newly arrived from Rome; at the other extremity we behold Columba and his disciples encamped on Iona. We wait to see which of the two shall venture into this mission field, and brave the wrath of the cruel blood-thirsty idolatrous northmen, who have conquered and possessed the land, razing the churches and slaying the pastors. Augustine and his monks abide under the shadow of the towers of Canterbury, chanting prayers, and singing canticles.They leave it to the men of Iona to seek out and convert the worshippers of Thor. Donning their gown of undyed wool, thrusting their feet into sandals of cow-hide, swinging their leather water bottle on their shoulder, and grasping their pilgrim staff, the missionaries of Columba set forth on this hazardous enterprise. They cross the Tweed, and enter Northumbria, still wet with the blood of the British Christians, and mayhap to be watered over again with their own. These adventurous men pursue the methods they had practiced in their own northern land. They retire to the island of Lindisfarne on the coast, and make it the base from which to operate on the field they have come to cultivate. It is a second Iona. Its theological teachings were equally evangelical as those of the great school of the north, being drawn from the same fountain, the Bible. In the arts of calligraphy and ornamentation it attained to even higher excellence.The illuminations of the Gospels of Lindisfarne are said to be the finest in Great Britain, and contain all the most elaborate forms of Celtic decoration.[2]

Between thirty and forty years after the death of Columba, Aidan was ordained by the "Elders," and sent to superintend the work of combating the new paganism of England. Bede has described the man and his manner of working; a truly beautiful picture it is, and, we may be sure, not overdrawn, for the monk of Jarrow was, to say the least, not prejudiced in favour of a class of men who opposed his church in the matter of the tonsure, and, as he tells us, on many points besides. Aidan's character came nobly out in contrast with the teachers of Bede's own day. "In his constant journeys," says the historian, "everywhere, through the towns and country places, he traveled not on horseback, unless when necessity compelled him, but on foot, to the end, that as he went along he might preach to all he met, whether rich or poor; that if pagans, he might invite them to the Christian faith; or if already Christians, he might confirm their faith and encourage them, by words and deeds, to the performance of good works. And so widely did his way of living differ from the laziness of our times that he made it a rule that all who went with him, whether of the clergy or the laity, should give themselves to meditation—that is, either to the reading of the Scriptures or the learning of the psalms. This was his own daily occupation, and that of all who accompanied him, wherever they happened to be or to lodge.[3]

The result was just what might have been expected to follow the labours of such an evangelist. The Northumbrians, forsaking Thor, whom their fathers had worshiped, turned to Christ, and the light of the Gospel spread over the eastern and midland counties of England as far as the Thames. We mention the following as among the more illustrious of these evangelists—Aidan, Finian, Colman, Tuda, Ceadda, Caedd, Diuma, Cellagh, Fursey. Under their labours the whole region of the Heptarchy—that is, all England from the Thames to the Forth and Clyde, was enlightened with the knowledge of the Saviour. But the northern missionaries found that the worshippers of Thor were not their only opponents. The monks from Rome, who had established their headquarters at Canterbury, offered them a more determined though insidious opposition than the Anglo-Saxon pagans. Of the two religions which had entered England from the north, that of Thor and that of Iona, the monks seemed to believe that the latter was the more heterodox. They gained over Oswy, the King of Northumbria, to their cause, and the first use they made of their triumph was to stop the evangelization and drive out the preachers who had come from Iona. The second result was the bloody battle at Nectan's Mere, which in its turn stopped the march of the monkish host which was advancing northwards on purpose to attack Iona, and root out the nest of heretics which in such numbers were taking their flight southwards. Of the Columban missionaries whom we see the monks of Augustine chasing out of Northumbria (684), Bede has given us a fine picture, which we here quote. He says: "How parsimonious, and how disinterested and strict in their manner of life, he (Colman) and his predecessors were, even the very place which they governed testified, by its simplicity and plainness; for, upon their departure, very few houses, the church excepted, were found there, and those only such, that, without them, there could be no civil existence. They had no money, possessing only some cattle. For whatever money they received from the rich, they immediately gave to the poor. Nor, indeed, had they need to collect monies, or provide houses for the reception of the great men of the world, who, then, never came to the church, but only to pray or hear the Word of God. This was the case, then, with the king himself and his retinue, who, if it ever so happened that they did take any refreshment, were content with the simple and daily food of the brethren. For, then, the whole solicitude of those teachers was to serve God, not the world; their whole care was to cultivate the heart, not the belly. Consequently, the religious habit was, at that time, in great veneration; so that, wherever a clergyman or monk appeared, he was welcomed by all with joy as God's servant, and they listened earnestly to his preaching. And on the Lord's days they flocked with eagerness to the church or to the monasteries, not for the sake of refreshing their bodies, but of hearing the Word of God; and, if a priest happened to come to a village, the villagers immediately gathered around him, and asked him for the Word of God. Nor had the clergy themselves any other motive for going to the villages than to preach, to baptize, to visit the sick—in one word, the cure of souls, etc., and so far were they from the pest of avarice, that it was even with reluctance they accepted territories and possessions from the secular powers, for the building of churches and monasteries. All which customs prevailed for some time after in the churches of the Northumbrians." [4]

But the seas that bounded Britain could not set limits to the enterprise of the Culdee missionaries. They crossed the Channel and boldly advanced with the evangelical torch into the darkness with which the Gothic irruption had covered France and Switzerland, and generally the nations of western Europe. It would not be easy to find in the whole history of the church a greater outburst of missionary zeal. Iona and its numerous branch colleges in Scotland, and the rich and famous schools of Ireland opened their gates and sent forth army after army for the prosecution of this great campaign. These were not coarse, fiery declaimers, who could discharge volleys of words, but nothing more. They were trained and scholarly men, who could wield "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." It was a second northern irruption, not this time to sack, and slay, and plunge realms into darkness, but to restore and build up, and say, "let the morning again visit the earth." Without doubt we should have known nothing of the Dark Ages, and we should have had instead a thoroughly evangelized and Scripturally reformed Europe all down the centuries, if it had not been that Rome, whose power was now great, and whose ambition was even greater, organised numerous orders, and sent them forth to cope with and turn back this army of light-bearers, and efface their traces in all countries by sowing broadcast dogmas and rites not very dissimilar from those which the new inhabitants of Europe had brought with them from their native north, and which she persuaded then to accept as Christianity.

The first Culdee to set foot on the great European mission field was Fridolt. He arrived in France in the first year of the sixth century (AD. 501). He was of the school of Patrick, and came from Ireland, for Columba had not yet kindled his lamp on Iona. He is said to have been of noble birth, for none were so eager to serve in the missionary ranks as the Scottish princes of Hibernia. Accompanied by twelve companions, Fridlolt made his way to Poitiers, and there, on the banks of the Clain, where Hilary had flourished a century before, but where he was now forgotten, and where, ten centuries afterwards, Calvin planted the first of the Reformed churches of France, did he establish a monastery or school of evangelical theology. This was just four years after Clovis and his soldiers had assembled in the Cathedral of Rheims to have the baptismal waters sprinkled upon them, and retire from the church as pagan in heart as when they had entered it. At Poitiers was the beginning of the Celtic evangelization on the Continent, and its first fruits were the conversion of numbers of the western Goths from Arianism.[5]

After a period of most successful labour, Fridolt, leaving his monastery at Poitiers in the care of two of his companions, repaired to the court of Clovis, to solicit permission to open a mission among the pagan populations of the eastern and south-eastern parts of France. The monarch gave his consent, and the Culdee missionary proceeded first to Lorraine and next to Alsace, establishing centers of evangelization in both of these fruitful and well populated provinces. His next move was to Strasburg. Here the great roads of France and Germany intersect, drawing hither at all times a vast concourse of people; and here Fridolt established another center of the "good news," judging that the gospel would travel quickly along the highways that radiated in all directions from this point. Turning southward and ascending the Rhine towards its sources, he planted a monastery in the high-lying canton of Glarus, another in Choire, which shelters so sweetly at the foot of the Splugen, and a third at Sackingen, an island in the Rhine, a little way above Basle. Before resting from his labours Fridolt had kindled along this great valley, then as now the highroad of nations, a line of beacon-lights, which extended from the Grisson Alps to well nigh the shores of the German Sea.

Forty years afterwards (about A.D. 540), we see another little band of Culdees arriving in the valley of the Rhine and throwing themselves into this great effort of the Celtic Church to Christianise the Continent. In that year Disibod, with twelve companions, arrived from Ireland. He struck the Rhine at the confluence of the Glan and the Nahe, near Bingen, and there he erected a monastery or college on a neighboring hill, which in memory of the event still bears the name of Disibodenberg. Beginning his evangelisation at the point where Fridolt had ended his, and operating down the stream towards its efflux into the ocean, Disibod completed the Christianisation of the Rhine valley so far as regarded the planting of mission posts and the preparation of a staff of workers. Thus, in fifty years from the commencement of this great movement, we see a line of evangelical beacons kindled along the valley of the Clain in France, and throughout the valley of the Rhine, from its rise in the Alps of the Grisson onward to the sands of the German Sea. Native assistants came to the help of the original Irish and Scotch evangelists. French and German youth were received into the Culdlee colleges, trained and sent forth to evangelize among their countrymen. Many of the names that meet us in the records of the movement are German and French; nor from anything that appears were these recruits from without lacking in genuine Culdee ardour and zeal. This work was done in times no ways peaceful or happy. The storm of the northern invasion was not yet spent. The skies of Europe were still black with gathering and bursting clouds. The tempests of war were sweeping to and fro in the valley of the Rhine region that was seldom exempt from battle when the sword happened to be unsheathed. When the Culdee went forth on his missionary tour he knew not if he should ever return, for every step was amid perils. If he visited the city, famine or plague met him. If he traversed those parts of the country which the sword had desolated, he was exposed to the wild beast or the robber; and if he found himself amid camps, he might encounter at the hands of a lawless soldiery the loss of life or the loss of liberty. Nevertheless, amid the tumults and miseries of which the times were full, the Culdees went onward proclaiming the tidings of salvation. They remembered the heroism of the early Christians, and how they had faced the lions, and the burning pile, and other and more horrible forms of death, to spread Christianity in the Roman empire. They saw the soldiers of an Alaric and a Clovis braving death every day to win a victory, or plant a throne which the sword of the next conqueror would sweep away; and should they be sparing of their blood when the victories to be won were deathless, and the seat to be set up was a throne for the world's Saviour and King?

Another half century passes, and now the stream of Celtic evangelization sets in full flood. The great Culdee figure at this epoch is Columbanus, or as he is sometimes styled, Columba the younger. He towers above all who had been before him, and he has no successor of equal stature in the work of the evangelization. About the time that the first Columba was being borne to his grave in Iona, the second Columba was stepping upon the mission field of the Continent. He was a man signally cut out for his age and his work. His education had been carefully attended to in the schools of his native land. He had studied in the Monastery of Bangor, under the best masters, among whom were Abbots Silenes and Comgal, who had taught him grammar, rhetoric, mathematics, and all the sciences of the age. A Scot of Ireland he left his native land (A.D. 590), being now forty-seven years of age, and crossed to France with twelve companions. He was gifted with a natural eloquence, carefully cultivated. He was a ripe theologian. He was of noble and courageous spirit, and like Columba the elder, he was a person that would have graced a court and delighted the eyes of a monarch. He relinquished without a sigh all the openings his own country offered him of rising to distinction, to dignity, and to emolument. His devotion to the work of the mission was entire and perfect. To dispel the heathenism which had settled down with the new nations on Europe, and to withstand the ceremonialism which was supplanting Christianity at Rome, was the grand passion of his soul. Compared with the supreme aim of giving a free gospel to Europe, all things were held by Columbanus to be loss. His career was chequered but brilliant. His life was full of painful vicissitude, but full also of true grandeur. He never turned aside from his grand object whether monarch smiled or frowned upon him, whether princes courted or persecuted him, whether barbarous tribes listened to or hooted at him. Amid alternate favours and neglects, amid journeyings, watchings, perils, incessant toil and frequent disappointment and defeat, Columbanus held on his way with steadfast faith to final victory. At last after many evangelical battles he crowned his career by unfurling the banner of a Scriptural faith in the north of Italy, and in the very face of Rome. He died leaving a name the glory of which has come down to our day.

We do not propose to give in detail the many great services which Columbanus rendered to his age and to the Christian church. His life is an inviting theme, and would form an exciting as well as most instructive story: we can here chronicle actions only so far as they assert their claim to a place in the general stream of history. We must concentrate our observations on one special topic, even the testimony borne by Columbanus to the evangelical faith, and the condemnation he pronounced on the rising superstition of the churchmen and churches of his day. This will enable us to judge how near the Celtic evangelization came to the breadth and completeness of a Reformation; a reformation having Iona instead of Wittenberg for its cradle, and to be dated in ages to come, from the sixth instead of the sixteenth century. Had the times been more auspicious, and the instrumentalities for the diffusion of knowledge more numerous, it might have been unnecessary for Luther to emit his grand protest at Worms, or for the hundreds of thousands of martyrs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to die.

Columbanus stood up at an epoch of marked historic impress. It was big with a most portentous future. His appearance was the signal of far reaching changes in both north and south Europe. It was the year 596. For two years more, and only two years, was Columba to occupy his seat at the head of Iona, and then he should descend into the grave. While this light was seen to set in the north, a star of lurid portent was beheld mounting into the skies of the south. Eleven years were to run their course, and Phocas (A.D. 606) was to place Boniface on the Episcopal throne of Christendom. How wonderful the forethought and precision with which the cycles of history have been arranged, and their revolutions measured. No event comes before its time, or lingers a moment behind its appointed hour. There is no miscalculation, no surprise; for unlike the reckoning of mortals, in this high sphere it is never the unexpected that happens. The shadow of a deep darkness was gathering upon the earth, but before it shall close round the nations and shut them in, they are to be given yet another warning to forsake the gods of wood and stone to which they were beginning to bow the knee. It was at this hour that this man, endowed with the gift of a powerful eloquence, learned in all the wisdom of the schools and "full of the Holy Ghost," was sent as a prophet to the European nations. He exhorts kings, he withstands popes, and lifting up his voice, he cries aloud to peoples, "Make haste, and press into the evangelical kingdom while yet the door stands open. There cometh a night, in which you shall not be able to find the way of life, and your feet shall stumble upon the dark mountains."

In 595, as we have said, Columbanus, with twelve companions, crossed to France, taking Britain on his way. The same motive that made Columba to visit Brude at his royal palace at Inverness, led Columbanus and his companions to present themselves at the French court soon after their arrival in the country. Their errand was to obtain the royal sanction for their contemplated evangelistic tours. Clovis, who had restored by his triumphant arms the church, with dogma and ritual as taught at Rome, after its temporary suppression by the Goths of Alaric, was now in his grave, and his throne was filled by Childebert II. The fame of the missionary had preceded him, his preaching having made a deep impression as he passed along, and he was already known to the monarch when he presented himself in his presence. Struck with the noble bearing and intellectual power of Columbanus, Childebert would have attached him permanently to his court. He saw before him a man who would be the light of his kingdom and the glory of his reign, and he offered him a high position in the French national church, provided he would domicile himself in France. But Columbanus had not come to Gaul to serve in courts, or wear these honours which kings have it in their power to bestow. He declined the royal invitation, saying that so far from coveting the wealth of others, he and his associates had, for the sake of the Gospel, renounced their own. Turning his back on the court, he set out, staff in hand, to the Vosges.

The Bishop of Rome had not yet been heard of among these mountains Thor was still the reigning deity of their inhabitants. Recently arrived from their northern forests, they were still pagan. But the rudeness and superstition which might have deterred another from entering this mountainous region, drew Columbanus towards it. He believed that the Gospel, which he should be the first to preach to the new settlers, would enlighten their deep darkness and tame their savage passions. Nor was he disappointed. After twelve years of labour, passed amid the greatest privations and perils, triumph came to Columbanus, or rather to the Gospel. Thor fell and Christ was invocated. Springs of water opened in this wilderness; and the woody heights and pleasant valleys resound with psalms and prayers to the true God. Columbanus planted in the Vosges three rnonasteries or colleges, Anegray, Luxovium (Luxeuil), and Fontaines. These schools rose into great fame. Many of the youth, converted by the preaching of Columbanus and his brethren, were trained in them as preachers, and were sent forth throughout the region on the service of the mission. Nobles and men of rank sent their sons to be educated in the schools of Columbanus; and princes, following his example, founded similar institutions in their dominions, and the light of Christian learning spread on all sides. Waidelenus, a Duke of Burgundy, became patron of the three monasteries which Columbanus had established, and had himself enrolled as a corresponding member of the Culdean brotherhood.

The monasteries which were the first to be founded became the parents of a numerous progeny. Like a strong and flourishing tree they sent their shoots wide around, and clusters of Culdee schools sprang into existence. The region adjoining the Vosges, and the plains of north-eastern France, then styled Austrasia, began to be dotted with these establishments. They were, equally with the greater houses, schools of the prophets, though on a smaller scale. Each had its complement of scholars, some of whom were in training as preachers of the Gospel, and others, without any special destination, were being initiated into the various learning of which the schools of Ireland and Scotland were the fountain-heads. About this time, too, that is, in the first decades of the seventh century, the missionary bands from Iona began to cross the Channel and enter France. Phalanx after phalanx, from the school of Columba, poured in upon the Continent, flung themselves with a sanctified courage, and an exalted enthusiasm into the midst of the rude warlike pagans of Europe, scenting the battle from afar, and panting like the war horse to join the noble strife. They mightily reinforced the great evangelical movement which their Culdee brethren from Ireland had inaugurated. They were in every point thoroughly trained and equipped for such a warfare. They were hardy. They did not mind the winter's blast. They could bear hunger. Were they thirsty they had recourse to their leather water-bottle. They did not fear the Goth. They could weave and fabricate their own clothes. They could extemporize a currach when they found no bridge on the river they must needs cross. A few twigs and a little clay was all they needed to build a dwelling, and wherever they were masters of a piece of soil they would not want bread, for they were skilful cultivators. Nor did the practice of these various and homely arts in the least dull their ardour or lessen their influence as missionaries. In cities, at the court of princes, in the schools of the age, the Culdee took no second place as a scholar and a theologian. He was a many sided man, and his mastery of the arts of life gave him enhanced prestige in the eyes of the natives. When the barbarians saw his wilderness converted into a garden, and cities rising in places which had been the habitation of the beast of prey, he was inclined to believe there was some mysterious power in these men, and some beneficent virtue in the Christianity which they preached. In the fifth century Patrick had crossed the Irish Channel, a solitary missionary, and now, though it is only the opening of the seventh century, we see into how mighty a host his disciples have grown. Armed with weapons, forged in the schools of Ireland and the Columban institutes of Scotland, these warriors rush across the sea, they cover France, and now—sight terrible to Rome—the gleam of their evangelical banners is seen upon the summit of the Alps.

We return to Columbanus. He had kindled the Vosges. The pagan night had given place amid these mountains to the Christian day. The three evangelical beacons—Anegray, Luxeuil, and Fontaines—were radiating their light over the eastern kingdom of the Franks. The tide of success is at the full, when lo! the career of Columbanus is suddenly arrested. Brunhilde, the queen-mother, was a woman of flagitious and scandalous life. She was the Catherine de Medicé of her age, equally greedy of power, and equally abandoned to pleasure. Of Visigothic descent, she acted as regent for her grandson Thierry, and threw in the path of the young prince numerous seductions to sensual indulgences, that she might enfeeble him in body and in mind, and so prolong her own powers. Columbanus, like another John the Baptist, reproved her, though he could not but know that he was rousing a tigress. He had to pay the penalty of his fidelity and bravery. The enraged queen dispatched a strong detachment of soldiers to his monastery of Luxueil to apprehend him. The troops found him chanting the psalter with his companions. They arrested him, and carrying him across France to Nantes, they put him on board a ship that was about to sail for Ireland. The vessel, with Columbanus on board, proceeded on its way, but a storm setting in, it was driven back, and stranded at the mouth of the Loire. The captain, who saw in Columbanus the Jonah who had raised the storm, commanded him, and the companions who had been sent into exile with him, to leave the ship, and go wherever it might please him. Columbanus was again at liberty, and after a while, pursuing a circuitous route, for he did not pass through Burgundy, he reached the frontier of Helvetia.

In every age the fugitive from oppression and persecution has sought asylum in this grand mountain citadel of central Europe, whose walls of rock would seem to have been piled high in air that the bondsmen on the plains below might see them and flee thither. Doubtless, the sublimities amid which he now found himself had a soothing effect upon the chafed spirit of Columbanus, even as the majestic stillness of the desert had on Elijah when he fled from the rage of Jezebel. The mountain piercing with needle-like peak the ebon firmament; the snows kindling into living flame at sunrise; the dark and solemn pine forests; the lake, placid and clear as crystal mirror, presented a spectacle that contrasted refreshingly with the turbulence of the passions that had driven him forth, and stilled the rising fret in his own breast. Peace breathed upon him from the mountain tops. His trust in God, helped by the stupendous scene of calm on which he gazed, returned. His despondency departed. The buoyant and courageous spirit of the great Culdee recovered its usual tone. He saw that he had not been dismissed from labour as an unprofitable servant, but, on the contrary, was being called to new triumphs. He girds himself, and straightway sets to work in this new field.

Columbanus was accompanied in his journey by several of those who had come with him from Britain. In especial, his exile was shared by his faithful coadjutor Gallus. They go on together to the south. They made their first halt at Tuggen, in the valley of the Linth. Tokens soon made themselves visible to the natives that the Culdees of the north had paid the region a visit. There arose a cluster of huts, schools were opened, the fathers, in long woollen mantle, with pastoral staff in hand, were seen itinerating the district, and drawing the inhabitants into conversation. The night of northern superstition was being broken up, and light was beginning to fill the valley of the Linth. So quietly did the evangelical day dawn in a land which, nine centuries afterwards, was to enjoy for a little space the full splendour of the Reformation.

Columbanus makes another move. We find him next at Bregenz, on the shores of the lake of Constance. The welcome given him by the natives was not a kindly one. They took it ill to have the altars of their gods cast down, and their drink-offerings of beer poured on the earth. They thought to starve out the missionaries, but Columbanus, and his companions, went to the lake and fished, to the wood and gathered the wild berries, and made a shift to live. Meanwhile they returned good for evil by continuing to teach, preach, and evangelize, and not without success. They came on the traces of the churches and schools which Fridolt had planted a hundred years before, and raised them up from the partial ruin into which they had fallen, and set agoing a more rigorous evangelization on their foundations. Having kindled the light on a spot on which the stakes of Huss and Jerome were afterwards to shed a glory, Columbanus went on still farther towards the south, and arrived at Zurich. On the lovely shores on which we behold him and his fellow-labourer Gallus arriving, was to be passed the ministry of Zwingle. In the preaching of Columbanus the men of the Bodensee had a promise of the fuller light which was to break on this region in the sixteenth century. The great Culdee missionary, as he passes on through the cities, lakes, and mountains of Switzerland, seems sent as a pioneer to open a track for the light-bearers of the Reformation.

He had thought to find rest amid these schools of his own planting, and to spend what yet remained to him of life in nursing them into full maturity and vigour, and marking, as his own sun declined, the evangelical day-brightening apace, and filling with its glory this whole region. But his old persecutor still lived. Brunhilde had not yet forgiven the affront he had offered her by his reproof of her profligacy. She found means of making him feel her displeasure in these parts, though distant. He must place the Alps betwixt the queen-mother and himself. We now see Columbanus departing for Italy. It is a mitigation of his sorrow that if he shall see the faces of his converts and scholars no more, he leaves behind him the best beloved of his associates, Gallus, to superintend his monasteries. Faithfully does Gallus discharge the trust committed to him. He tends, as if they had been his own, the schools of his father, instructing the young flocks which had been gathered into them. He inquires into the condition of the monasteries of the Vosges. He finds Luxeuil half destroyed since the departure of Columbanus. He builds it up again, and it becomes the mother of a family of Culdee cloisters. He concludes his labours by founding the monastery of St. Gall, which afterwards became so famous, and which has transmitted the name and fame of this Culdee to our own day.

By what route Columbanus passed into Italy we do not know. Starting from Zurich he probably took the Rhine as his guide. Threading the rocky gorges by which its stream descends to the lake of Zurich, he would climb the Splugen, and passing under the snows of Monte Rosa, and skirting the shores of the blue Como, he would emerge on that great plain, which along with its new inhabitants had received a new name, and was now known as Lombardy. The path he was traversing led through scenery, grand beyond description, but savage. He had only one companion to share his journey. His spirit was weighed down, not by the length of the way, but by the mystery of the provinces through which he was as passing. No sooner is he about to reap what he has sowed, than he must rise up and leave the harvest to be gathered by others, while he goes elsewhere to break up new ground. What means this? Those who are selected for the highest service must pass life in solitariness. They are pioneers, and they can never receive the full sympathy of the men of their own age, nor even themselves comprehend the full bearing of the labours in which they are called to be occupied. Columbanus, as he plods onward with heavy heart, knows not that he is entering Italy to do a work of greater moment than any he had yet accomplished; a work that should profit not his own age only but the ages to come. He had kindled the Gospel lamp in the Vosges, and its light had streamed down on the plains of France. He had crossed the frontier of Helvetia, and preached the "good news" to the herdsman of its mountains. But he must come nearer that portentous combination of pagan ideas and Christian forms that was developing at Rome, that he may take its measure more accurately, and gauge the extent of the danger with which it was fraught to the world than he could do at a distance. Like Elijah, who was summoned from the mountains of Gilead to reprove Ahab and warn Israel, so Columbanus descends from the Alps to rebuke the Bishop of Rome, and sound a note of warning to the nations of Christendom. To the Pontiff he says, "Cleanse your chair," and the nations he exhorts to return to their obedience to the Chief Shepherd which is not he of the Tiber, but Jesus Christ. Divine judgments, we hear him tell them, are at the door, and will certainly enter unless speedy repentance and amendment shall intervene. Such was the commission borne by this prophet of the nations. He appeared on the eve of the great darkness, and he called on the nations of Europe to rouse themselves before the night had shut them in, to bewail their folly in the prison house of their oppressor. The testimony of Columbanus, as courageously as faithfully discharged, re-echoed from the Alps to the very gates of Rome, as we shall see in our next chapter.

Few personal traits have been left us of these Culdees; but the incidental glimpses we obtain of their private lives reveal to us a class of men of most patient, gentle, and loving spirit. Under their homely clothing they carry a sensitive and tender heart, and amid their toilsome and perilous journeys, and the rude and cruel treatment to which they are subjected, we see them preserving a wonderful equanimity and sweetness. They are full of sympathy with nature, and with all that is pure and beautiful. Wherever they raise their huts, there fertility and loveliness spring up. They know how to disarm the suspicion and win the confidence of the savage. Nay, the very beasts of the field come under the spell of their kindliness. We have already given an instance in the case of Columba. Who is not touched when he sees the old white horse of the monastery come up to the aged abbot as he rests by the wayside, and lay his head confidently on Columba's breast. Jonas, in his "Life" of Columbanus, relates a similar anecdote of that Culdean father, which shows that, despite the stormy scenes amid which he lived, and the wrongs meted out to him, he cherished a singular sweetness of disposition and a kindly sympathy with all living creatures.[6] The squirrels, says Jonas of Bobbio, would come down from the trees and sit on the shoulder of Columbanus, and creep into the breast of his mantle. The birds knew his voice, and when he called them they came to him. Jonas says that he had it from the mouth of Chagnold, a fellow Culdee. Other animals, usually less amenable to the control of man, owned the strange spell of Columbanus sympathetic nature, and yielded compliance with his wishes. He commanded a bear to leave the valley in which he was evangelising, and forthwith the animal quitted the district. The narrator does not claim the credit of miracle for this, inasmuch as the brown bear never attacks human beings unless anger enrages, or hunger impels it.


1. See British Nation, vol. i. pp. 310, 311.[Back]

2. Paper read by Mr. J. Romilly Allen before Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, May 11, 1885.[Back]

3. Bede, lit. iii. c. 5. Let us mark the distinction of Bede. The Culdees "read the Scriptures," and "learned the psalms." They got them by heart, and could sing them by night as well as by day. The man who has reached the age of fifty, and cannot sing the psalms without a printed psalter, has either a weak memory or a weak piety.[Back]

4. Eccles. Hist., lib. iii. c. 2.[Back]

5. The main source of information on the subject of the Celtic Evangelisation in the sixth and following centuries is the laborious and learned work of Dr. Ebrard of Erlangen, entitled, Zeitshrift fur die Historische Theologie—Die Irosschottish Missionskirche des sechsten, siebenten und auchten Jahrhunderts, und ihre Verbreitung und Bedentung auf dem Festland, Von Dr. J. H. A. Ebrard, Gutersloch, 1873. Dr. Ebrard's History of the Culdee Missions is compiled from the most authentic ancient authorities, among others, from Mabillon, "Acta Benedictinorum, " sæculum ii.; Mone, "Quellensammlung der Badischen Geishichte;" "Columbanus Epistles" in " Bibliotheca Patrum Maxima;" Vita Columbani;," by Jonas of Bobbio; Pertz, " Monumenta Germanica," Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands," and the most ancient lives of a few of the saints.[Back]

6. Dr. J. H. A. Ebrard Die Iroschottishe Missions Kirche des schesten, siebenten und auchten Jahrhundert und ihre Verbreitung und Bedentung, auf dem Festland, p. 268. [Back]

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