THE wild districts of Ireland were occupied with convents, after the example of Patrick, and cultivated by the hard labour of the monks. The Irish convents were distinguished by their strict Christian discipline, their diligence and their zeal in the study of the Scriptures, and of science in general, as far as they had the means of acquiring it. Irish monks brought learning from Britain and Gaul, they treasured up this learning and elaborated it in the solitude of the convent, and they are said to have brought back these germs of science, together with a living Christianity, to those regions from which they had first received them, but where they had been crushed by the spread of barbarism.
The most distinguished amongst the Irish convents was Bankor, founded by abbot Comgall, who had three thousand monks under his control; it was especially a training school for missionaries and teachers of the rude tribes around. From this school issued, in the latter part of the sixth century, an Irishman, named Columban. When he had reached the age of thirty years, he felt himself constrained to go forth to preach the Gospel, and introduce Christian education amongst the rude tribes. He himself says, in a letter written after the persecutions in France, |It was my wish to visit the heathen tribes, and to proclaim to them the Gospel.|
His scholar and biographer, Jonas, expresses this thus: |He began to long for a pilgrim life, mindful of that command of the Lord, Depart from thy country, and thy kindred, and thy father's house, and go into the land that I shall show thee.' God bestowed on father Columban that fervour of heart, that longing enkindled by the fire of the Lord, of which He saith, I am come to enkindle a fire upon earth.' Columban himself says of this holy fire of love, O that God, -- since, petty as I am, I am his servant, -- O that God would so arouse me out of the sleep of sloth, that he would deign so to enkindle in me the fire of Divine love, that this Divine flame may constantly burn in me! O that I had the fuel with which perpetually to feed that fire, that it might never more be extinguished, but might constantly increase in me! O Lord, give me, I beseech thee, in the name of Jesus Christ thy Son, my God, that love which can never cease; that my lamp may be kindled, and may not be extinguished; that it may burn in me, and shine to others. And thou, Christ, our dearest Saviour, do thou thyself kindle our lamps, that they may shine evermore in thy temple, that they may receive inextinguishable light from thee the inextinguishable light, that our darkness may be enlightened, whilst the darkness of the world flies from us. My Jesus, I beseech thee to give thy light to my lamp, that in its light may be manifested to me that Holy of Holies in which thou, the eternal Priest, dost dwell, that I may continually contemplate thee only, long for thee, gaze on thee, and yearn for thee in love. Let it be thy concern, O Saviour full of love, to show thyself to us who knock, that we may perceive thee, love thee alone, think only of thee day and night, that thy love may possess our whole souls, and this so great love may never more be extinguished by the many waters of this earth, as it is written that many waters cannot quench love.| (Canticles viii, 7.)
After having obtained permission from the abbot, Columban repaired, in the year 590, to France, with twelve youths, who were being trained under his direction for the clerical life. Barbarism was fast spreading at that time in France, in consequence of constant war, political disturbances, and the carelessness of certain worldly-minded bishops; and among the convents in particular, in consequence of many of them having been granted by the princes to laymen of rank, great corruption had crept in. So much the more respect must Columban have obtained amongst the uncivilized and ignorant crowd by his strict piety and his learning. He was entreated to settle in the kingdom of Burgundy, and might have obtained a convent, where he could have lived in comfortable repose and great esteem with his friends. But he declared that he sought not earthly wealth, but felt himself constrained to follow the words of Christ: |Whosoever will follow Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.| He therefore went to a wild and desolate place amongst the Vosges mountains, and there selected for his abode the ruins of an old castle called Anegray. As the monks were compelled themselves first to bring the land into cultivation, they often suffered want; but even in such circumstances, when no human aid appeared, Columban could never be made to waver in his reliance on God, and this could not be brought to shame. Once the monks had nothing left to eat but the bark of trees, and herbs; and their need pressed all the more sorely on them, because one of their number was sick, and they were thus prevented from doing anything for him. They had passed three days in prayer that their sick brother might be relieved, when they saw a man, whose sacks were laden with provisions, stop before the gate of the convent. He told them he had felt constrained by a sudden impulse to assist according to his means those who from love to Christ suffered such great need in the wilderness. At another time they had already suffered from a similar scarcity during nine days, when the heart of another abbot was moved to send them provisions. Once when a priest visited them, and seemed astonished that Columban could be so tranquil when he had so little corn in his granary, Columban answered: |If the people faithfully serve their Creator, they shall suffer no want, as it is written in the Psalm, I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread.' (Psa. xxxvii, 25.) He who could satisfy five thousand with five loaves, can also easily fill our granary with meal.|
Columban united great outward power and activity with a heart disposed to religious contemplation and rejoicing in inward quiet; and the fact that both these things could be so blended in him, as in many other pious men of that age, is a proof of their Christian simplicity, and of a mind firmly resting on God. He frequently went deep into the forest, with his Bible on his shoulder, read as he went, and meditated on what he read, or seated himself on a hollow trunk with the Bible in his hand. On Sundays and other feast days, he retired into caves or other lonely places, and gave himself up entirely to prayer and meditation on Divine things.
The respect felt for Columban caused men of all classes to repair to him and entrust themselves to his guidance, or commit their sons to his training. The number of the monks became so large that one convent would no longer suffice, and two others were founded, both in solitary places, -- one at Luxen, and one at Fontaines.
Columban regarded self-denial, and the entire yielding up of the will to God, as the highest object, and to effect this in those who were committed to his guidance was the aim of all his conventual arrangements. In his instructions to his monks, he says many excellent things about this highest aim of self-ennobling, this main point in Christian sanctification, this |one thing needful.| |He tramples on the world who overcomes himself; no one who spares himself can hate the world. In our own souls alone do we hate or love the world,| And in another instruction: |We must willingly resign for Christ's sake, all that we love besides Christ. Firstly, if it is necessary, our natural life must be yielded up to the martyr's death for Christ. Or, if the opportunity of such blessedness fails, the crucifixion of the will must not be lacking, so that those who thus live, may no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them. Let us therefore live unto Him, who although He died for us is our life; let us die to ourselves, in order to live unto Christ. For we cannot live unto Him, if we do not first die to ourselves, that is, to our own will. Let us be Christ's, and not our own; we are dearly bought, -- dearly bought indeed, -- for the Master gave himself for the servant, the King for the subject, God for man. What shall we return for this, that the Creator of the universe has died for us sinners, for us His creatures? Dost thou not think that thou shouldst also die to sin? Surely thou shouldst. Let us therefore die, let us die for Him who is the Life, since the Life has died for us, that we may be able to say with Paul, I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,' who hath died for me; this is the voice of God's people. No man can die to himself, if Christ does not first live in him. Live in Christ, that Christ may live in. thee. With violence must we now take the kingdom of heaven, for we are not only opposed by our adversaries, but yet more fiercely by ourselves. It is a great misery when a man injures himself and does not feel it. If thou halt overcome thyself, thou hast overcome all.|
Although the genuine spirit of Christian self-denial -- that self-denial which is linked with love -- is here evidenced, nevertheless this spirit did not display itself unmixedly in the conventual rules which Columban instituted. Even though love ruled in his heart, and he sought to train his monks to a free love of the children of God, they were subjected to a strict legal discipline. They were to exercise self-denial in the entire annihilation of their own will, and in the servile dependence on the will of another human being, who was represented to them as the absolute instrument of the Lord for their guidance. They were, as passive (will-less) instruments, to serve their superiors, in whom they were to see the Lord, who guided them through them. This was the externalizing spirit which prevailed in every century, until, by means of the Reformation, the sign was given for the restoration of that freedom which Christ has purchased for his own. True humility conducts itself with regard to our relation with God in a way which is applicable to no relation with any creature whatsoever. He who abases himself before God, for that very reason can abase himself to no human being, although ready to serve every man according to his degree in free love. He who bows his knee to God, on that very account bows it to no man. The spirit of true freedom is grounded in true humility, -- as the Apostle says, |Ye are bought with a price, be not ye the servants of men.| But according to the false interpretation of the materializing spirit, instead of subjecting our own will with true inward self-denial to God, and suffering ourselves in voluntary submission to be guided by his Spirit, we are to subject our will to that of another man, by whom we are to be guided in all things -- the very opposite of that which the Apostle indicated in these words.
Columban, in his monastic rules, encourages his monks by the assurance that by this blind obedience they would attain all the more repose and security, since they would thus be freed from all responsibility about the things which they did at the command of another, and since the guilt would fall on the head of him from whom, according to his calling, they had received the command which they, according to their calling, had only to obey. This, indeed, flatters the indolence of men, who would gladly avoid the personal conflict and the personal trial to which they are called. But this is contrary to the Divine scheme of education for men since man, having arrived at a mature age, is to be enabled by Christianity to walk in the light of his God, freely to test everything by the word of God with the aid of an enlightened reason, and to regulate his actions without any outward restraint, by the law written in his regenerate heart by the Spirit. That which Columban sets before his monks as their object, -- |that man should ever be dependent on the mouth of another,| -- is contrary to the spirit and essence of Christianity, which teaches, that men should learn to depend only on that which proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
It was always a perilous thing to seek to break the will of man by the stern discipline which monasticism employed for this will can only be truly subjected and remoulded by the inward power of Divine love, through which, renouncing itself in its own personality, it regains itself in a higher sphere as the illuminated organ of the Divine will. In monastic education, that yearning for free individual development innate in a reasonable being created in God's image, that mighty consciousness which stirs in the breast of youth, of being created. in God's image and to His glory, is frequently confounded with the sinful and selfish efforts which do indeed too easily attach themselves to it. The despotic restraint, which did not know how to discriminate between the one and the other, whilst it repressed all free individual development, could only produce a stunted existence. That self-will, which is not to be quelled by human power, would either, incited by outward pressure to a more obstinate resistance, produce a scornful pride; or, if self-will was broken, all fresh individual life perished with it, and nothing remained but a dull, slavish character, incapable of all loftier things; or otherwise the result was such a distortion, that with the slavish character was united pride, disguising itself in the likeness of humility, that |voluntary humility| of which Paul speaks, Colossians ii, 23.
What Anselm of Canterbury said towards the close of the eleventh century, against this severe monastic discipline, is excellent. An abbot complained to him, in the course of conversation, of the incorrigible youths under his charge, who were not to be improved by any amount of beating. Anselm replied, |You never cease beating these boys, -- what sort of men then do they make when they grow up?| |Stupid, brutish men,| answered the abbot. |A good token of your skill in education,| observed Anselm, |that you educate men to be brutes.| The abbot replied, |Is that our fault? We seek by all possible means to compel them to be better, and we get nothing out of it.|
|You compel them?| answered Anselm, |tell me, my dear abbot, if you were to plant a tree in your garden, and inclose it tightly on all sides, so that it could not shoot forth a branch on any side, and after some years were to set it free, what kind of a plant would it have become? Doubtless, a useless tree, with crooked, intertwisted branches. And whose fault would it be but yours, for having unduly restrained its growth?|
In order, however, to judge Columban justly, we must not forget in what circumstances he lived, what men he had to mould, and what difficulties to contend with. Bands of rude men had to be governed, rescued from the prevailing barbarism and lawlessness, and trained to industry, endurance of difficulties, and privations of all sorts, and as the highest aim, to be led to a truly spiritual life, a life of self-renunciation and consecration to God. He himself says in a letter, |We must attain to the city of God in the right way, by mortification of the flesh, contrition of heart, bodily labour, and humiliation of spirit, by our own efforts, (doing in this only what it is our duty to do, not as if we could merit anything,) and what is above all, by the grace of Christ, by faith, and hope, and love.|
In the monastic rules of Columban it is written: |Let the monk live in the convent under the control of a father, and in fellowship with many, that from the one he may learn humility, from the others patience, -- from the one silent obedience, from the others gentleness; let him not do his own will -- let him eat what is commanded him, let him take as much as he is given, let him accomplish his daily task. Let him retire weary to his bed, let him sleep slightly, and before he has slept out his sleep, let him be compelled to arise. Let him fear the superior of the convent as a master, and love him as a father.|
In spite of all this stern discipline, there was a spirit of fatherly love about the abbot, which, as we see from his life, knit many hearts to him. But he always kept it in view, so to train the monks, that this precise order should not be to them anything dead and mechanical, or become an intolerable burden, but that it should grow natural to them, that everything should be made easy by the spirit of love and self-sacrifice. |If the monks learn the lowliness of Christ, the yoke will become easy to them, and the burden light. Lowliness of heart is the rest of a soul wearied out by conflict with its corrupt inclinations, and by its inward sufferings; this is its only refuge from such manifold evils, and the more it withdraws to this contemplation from restless distraction amongst vain and external things, the more it rests, and is inwardly refreshed, so that the bitter becomes sweet, and what was formerly too hard and difficult to be borne, becomes smooth and easy.|
Columban's instructions to the monks show an endeavour to bring Divine things home to their hearts , and when we see how easily those who have to extract their food from the soil by hard daily labour, forget, beneath the weight of daily heavy toil and earthly cares, the higher concerns of the spirit and the heart, -- cleaving to the dust, so much the more praiseworthy does that man appear, who, in the very midst of the conflict with savage nature, endeavoured by the power of Christianity to train men to make the highest interests of the inner man the chief concerns for themselves and others; nay, who even sought to use this daily conflict as an exercise of self-denial, of devotion to God, and unconditional trust in Him. Columban once saw, after the foundation of the abbey of Fontaines, sixty men laboriously loosening the soil with their mattocks, to prepare it for the future crop, whilst a very small stock of provisions remained in the magazine of the convent to satisfy their hunger and thirst during such hard labour. How much does this imply! Here we see the power of that faith which could remove mountains. Others would have lost all heart and strength amidst such great difficulties and with such dark prospects, but Columban's faith inspired courage and strength in those under his control. The monks were to prove that faith multiplies what we have, and can create means when they fail, because it fills men's hearts with courage, strength, and gladness; just as a distrustful despondency diminishes the gifts of God, by enfeebling our strength, and makes earthly want doubly felt, because it abandons the soul altogether to its sufferings, crushes it to the earth, and adds anxiety for the future to the privations of the moment.
Some passages from the instructions of Columban to his monks may exhibit to us his profoundly Christian spirit, and his endeavour to awaken the like in them. Whilst he condemns idle subtilties about the Trinity, he says: |Who can speak of the essence of God -- how He is everywhere present and invisible, or how He fills heaven and earth and all creatures, according to those words, Am I not He who filleth heaven and earth,' Jer. xxii, 24. The universe is full of tha Spirit of the Lord; |heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool.| Thus God is everywhere present in all His infinity, everywhere He is quite near us, according to His own testimony concerning himself. |Am I a God that is near, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off?| We do not therefore seek God as one who is far off from us, since we can draw nigh to Him in our own souls; for He dwells in us as the soul in the body, if we are not dead in the service of sin. If we are fit to receive Him, then we are made truly living by Him, as His living members. |In Him,| says the Apostle, |we live, and move, and have our being.| Who can search out the Highest in this His unutterable and incomprehensible essence? Who can fathom the depths of the Godhead? Who can boast that he comprehends the infinite God, who fills and embraces all things, who penetrates all things, and is sublime above all? For no man has seen how He exists. Let no one then venture to search into the unsearchable essence of God; let us only believe simply, yet firmly, that God is and will be that which He has been, because He is the unchangeable God. God is apprehended by the pious faith of a pure heart, but not by an impure heart and vain discourse. If thou wilt dare to search out the Unutterable with thy prying subtilties, wisdom will remain further from thee than she was, (Eccles. vii, 24;) but if, on the other hand, thou clingest to Him by faith, wisdom will stand at thy door. Therefore should we beseech the omnipresent, invisible God himself, that the fear which is linked with faith and love may abide in us; for this fear of God, blended with love, makes us wise on all occasions: and piety teaches us to be silent about the Unutterable.| Of the happiness of him who has vital Christianity, he says, |Who indeed can be happier than the man whose death is life, whose life is Christ, whose reward is the Saviour, to whom the heavens bow down, to whom paradise is open, for whom hell is closed, whose Father is God, whose servants are the angels?| In his eighth instruction: |It behoves pilgrims to hasten to their home. They have cares as long as they are on their pilgrimage, but in their fatherland they have rest. Let us, therefore, who are on our pilgrimage, hasten towards our fatherland, for our whole life is as a day's journey. The first thing for us is, not to set our affections on things below, but on things above: to desire only, to meditate only on the things which are above; to seek our fatherland there only where our Father is. Here on earth, then, we have no fatherland, because our Father is in heaven.|
Of love as the soul of the Christian life he says: |What has the law of God prescribed more carefully, more frequently, than love? And yet you seldom find any one who really loves. What have we to say in excuse? Can we say, it is something painful and hard? Love is no labour; it is, on the contrary, a sweet, and wholesome, and healing thing to the heart. Unless the soul is diseased within, its health is love. He who fulfilleth the law with the zeal of love hath eternal life. As John says, We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren. He who loveth not his brother abideth in death. He who hateth his brother is a murderer, and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.' We must, therefore, do nothing but love, or we have nothing to expect but punishment. May our gracious Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, our God, the Creator of peace and love, inspire us with this love, which is the fulfilling of the law!|
In his little poems, also containing exhortations and lessons to his disciples and friends, Columban expresses his deep love to Christ. |Let no one,| he says in them, |live unto himself, but everywhere let each of us live unto Christ. If thou truly lowest Christ, seek not thine own, but Christ's glory. Love not thyself nor the world, but Christ alone.| Columban requires from the true monk that he should unite lowliness and long-suffering with steadfastness and strength in the conflict for truth and justice, against the high and mighty of this world; that he should be ready to contend for essential things; that he should, indeed, be lowly with those of low degree, but that he should resist the proud; that he should be brave for the truth; that he should be yielding and obliging to the good, but invincible in conflict with the wicked. It was in this spirit that Columban himself acted in contending for Christian freedom and Christian morality. By his zeal for strict morality, and against the barbarism which had crept into the Frankish churches, and by his frankness, he necessarily made enemies of many powerful men both amongst the clergy and laity, and these gladly availed themselves of an opportunity to rid themselves of so obnoxious a man. Columban had brought with him from the Irish Church many peculiar arrangements as to Divine service, which differed from the customs of the Roman Church, then universally introduced into those districts. As his convents formed a little complete whole in themselves, in the midst of the wild forests, he chose to follow the customs of his fathers, and would not submit himself to the prevalent ecclesiastical customs. He might, indeed, have been more yielding in trivial outward things, in order to win the more in things essential; but it was his purpose to oppose himself to an usurping ecclesiastical authority, which did not recognise the rights of Christian freedom, and which sought by its ordinances to compel uniformity in external things. His enemies gladly availed themselves of this departure of his from the dominant ecclesiastical customs, to annoy him. Columban by no means wished to enforce the ritual observances which he had brought with him from Ireland on all men, although he himself gave them the preference; he merely desired that liberty might be allowed him to act in his own way in his convents.
With Christian candour, submitting to no human authority in matters of religion, he wrote to Gregory the Great, bishop of Rome. He entreated him not to suffer himself to be fettered by the opinions of former bishops of Rome, but freely to test both sides, and to adopt whichever he approved. |In such matters,| he wrote, |you must not abandon yourself to your humility, or consult the dignity of persons, which often deceives. A living dog is perhaps better in such inquiries than a dead lion. (Eccles. ix, 4.) The living saint can amend what was not amended by a greater saint who is dead.| He meant that, in this case, where free inquiry into the truth was concerned, Gregory ought not to suffer humility to deter him from subjecting to further tests what had been ordained by his predecessors. Later he wrote to Boniface IV., bishop of Rome, that |as they were knit together in the unity of the faith, as they both believed with the heart, and confessed with the mouth, one Father in heaven, of whom are all things, and one Saviour, the Son of God, by whom are all things, and one Holy Spirit in whom are all things, he trusted it would be permitted him and his people, without disturbing the peace of the Church, to retain their customs, as once Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and Anicetus, bishop of Rome, had parted without any scandal to the faith, and in undisturbed love, though each adhering to the customs of his ancestors.| When in the year 602, a French synod was held to deliberate on this subject, Columban addressed to this episcopal assembly a letter full of zeal for the welfare of the Church. As, partly in consequence of the political disturbances in the Frankish empire, and partly of the carelessness of the bishops who bad entangled themselves too much with the affairs of this life, the wholesome institution of Provincial Synods had long been neglected, Columban thanked God that these divisions bad called forth such a synod, and he prayed God to grant that they might occupy themselves on this occasion with more important things -- with things touching on faith and life. He represented to them, with all respect, the great truth, that if they did not show by their lives that they had heard the words of the True Shepherd, and follow Him, they could not expect that His words, which they announced as mere hirelings, would obtain obedience.
He said justly, (a word well to be remembered in all divisions,) that if all the children of God were only first united by the fellowship of love and the unity of evangelical convictions, all strife would easily be adjusted. |Difference of manners and customs has, indeed, been very injurious to the peace of the Church; but if we only hasten to extract the poison of pride, envy, and the pursuit of vain glory, by the exercise of true humility, according to the teaching and example of our Lord, who says, Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart,' as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, we shall mutually love one another with our whole heart; for the lowly cannot strive, since the truth will soon be recognised by those who, with the same purpose and the same desire to know the truth, seek what is best -- where only error is vanquished, and no man glories in himself, but in the Lord.| He concludes the letter with these words: |Since we should love one another with love unfeigned, let us diligently consider the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ., and if we understand them, strive to fulfil them, in order that, through His teaching, the whole Church, in a glow of holy zeal, may set her affections on things above. May His unmerited grace grant us this -- to fly the world and love Him alone, to seek Him with the Father and the Holy Ghost! For the rest, O fathers! pray ye for us, as we, insignificant as we are, pray for you, and regard us not as strangers; for we are members of one body, be we Gauls, Britons, Irishmen, or of any nation whatsoever. Thus may we all from all nations rejoice in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and hasten to become a perfect man, after the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; in which effort may we mutually help one another, care for one another, pray for one another, and triumph and rejoice together!|
An attack from another quarter had important results for Columban. He was held in high honour by Theodoric II., king of Burgundy, in which country his abbeys lay. He availed himself of this to reprove the king for his voluptuous life, and to exhort him to amendment of conduct. But his influence on this side interfered with the policy of Brunehild, the powerful grandmother of the prince, and she, in concert with the nobles and prelates, to whom Columban's presence had long been burdensome, plotted to banish him. It was Columban's way not to avoid the machinations which were directed against him. True to his axiom, |to be bold in the cause of truth, invincible by the wicked,| he opposed an unyielding firmness to all these plots. At length, after twenty-five years of activity, he was driven out of the country, A. D.610. It was at first decreed that he should be conveyed to Ireland, but circumstances hindered the execution of this decree. On his journey through France, he experienced many consolatory proofs that God was with him. When he had arrived with his escort at the city of Nantes, and was lingering in contemplation in his cell, a beggar came to the window. Columban caused the last measure of meal in his stock to be given to the hungry man. He knew that he and his people would in consequence be compelled to endure want during the two following days, yet he remained joyful in faith and hope about it, when suddenly some one knocked at the door. It was the servant of a pious lady in the city, who brought from her an abundant stock of corn and wine. From Nantes he wrote a letter full of fatherly love to the monks whom he had left behind in France, exhorting them to concord and humility. |It were better,| he wrote to them, |that ye should not dwell together than that ye should not desire and avoid the same things.| He supposes God to say to the proud self-righteous soul: |As thou hast suffered thyself to be misled by thy pride and imagined holiness, now come down and be reckoned amongst sinners for what is done with pride is of no value in My sight.| Of a monk to whom he was peculiarly attached, called Waldolin, he writes, on the other hand: |May God bless him, may he be lowly! and embrace him for me, as I, in my haste, could not.|
He then went to Switzerland, to Zug and Brienz, where he laboured many years for the conversion of the Suevi and Alemanni. Then he repaired to Italy, and founded in the neighbourhood of the Apennines the celebrated abbey of Bobio, where he found rest in the last years of his life.
To the last he was active in endeavouring to heal a schism which had endured many years in Italy. The emperor Justinian, who by his unwise and despotic interference with ecclesiastical affairs, and by his darling project of uniting the emperor with the theologian, instead of occupying himself only with the faithful accomplishment of his duties as a ruler, had produced such serious divisions in the Greek Church, had also suffered himself to be moved by the rancour of a theological party at the court, publicly to anathematize the memory of three great Syrian doctors, (Theodorus, Theodoret, and Ibas;) and the weak and indecisive Roman bishop Vigilius had at length consented to join in this foolish undertaking of the emperor. As the later Roman bishops followed the decision of their predecessor, the consequence was a schism in Italy, many important Churches (in Istria and the Venetian territory) refusing to yield to this decision. Many accusations were thereby occasioned against the orthodoxy of the Roman Church. Columban therefore wrote a bold though respectful letter to Pope Boniface IV., in which he requested him to institute an unprejudiced inquiry into this matter, and entreated him to seek the restoration of the peace of the Church. |Watch,| he wrote to the Pope, |first over the faith, then to encourage the works of faith, and to eradicate vice; for your watchfulness will be the salvation, as your neglect will be the destruction of many. We do not regard persons, but truth. Since you, in consequence of the dignity of your Church, have great honour, you should use great diligence in order not to lose your dignity by any error; for power will remain with you as long as you remain on the right side. He is a true bearer of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, who by true knowledge opens it to the worthy and closes it against the unworthy. If he does the contrary, he can neither open nor shut. Since, therefore, you, perhaps with a degree of pride, claim for yourself a higher dignity and power with regard to Divine things, you should know that your power will be so much the less with the Lord, the more you think of it in your own heart; for unity of faith throughout the world has also brought forth unity of spiritual power, so that everywhere truth must be allowed a free access to all men, whilst error must be equally denied it. The confession of the truth obtained his privileges for our common father Peter.| Then follows the beautiful exhortation, applicable to so many divisions, which arise from the estimation of minor differences higher than unity in the essentials of the faith, and thus rend the bond of love. |Therefore, beloved, return quickly to concord, and do not recur to old strifes, but rather be silent, and consign them to eternal oblivion. If anything is doubtful, leave it to the decision of God. But about what is evident -- what is open to the judgment of men, judge ye without respect of persons. Receive ye one another, that there may be joy in heaven over your peace and union. I know not how a Christian can strive with Christians about the faith. What the orthodox Christian, who praises the Lord in the right way, says, another will confirm with his Amen, since both believe and love the same thing.|
Columban died in his seventy-second year, or perhaps older, after having, in an active life, full of manifold labours, scattered the seeds of Christian knowledge in France, Switzerland, and Italy; and by the disciples whom he left behind his labours were continued in the subsequent ages.