Columbanus (?543-615)

Commentary


Life
[Columbanus Hibernus]; b. Leinster; educated Bangor under Congall; travelled to Gaul with 12 companions, 590; founded monastic communities at Annegray, Luxeuil (the greatest), and Fontaine[s], in the Vosges district of France; quarrelled with continental bishops over the Christian calendar; expelled in 610 from Frankish territory (Gaul) by Theodoric II of Burgundy, whose court’s immorality Columbanus had decried; established monastery at Bobbio in 613, on lands granted by the King of Lombardy, Agilulf, where Benedict was educated;
 
missionary journeys in Europe took him twice across France, up to the Rhine to Switzerland, across Lake Constance to Bregenz in Austria, southwards throgh the Alps and Northern Italy to Bobbio; literary relics include six prose letters (the authorship of the fifth of which is now doubted); to Gregory and Boniface III & IV disputing the dating of Easter; four verse letters; sermons; a monastic rule ratified by Council of Maçon, 627; and poss. a commentary on the Psalms, all ed. in Collectanea Sacra by Patrick Fleming (Augsburg 1621; rep. Louvain 1667);
 
the Vita by John of Susa was translated into English by D. C. Munro (1896); and later replaced by the Benedictine Rule, deriving from it; a life was written at Bobbio by Jonas of Susa, c.640; the Latin writngd were edited by Wilhelm Gundlach and by G. S. M. Walker. DIB ODNB DIW OCIL FDA

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Works
Letters of Columbanus, ed. & trans. by G. S. M. Walker [viz., Sancti Columbani Opera, 1957). An electronic edition of Letters of Columbanus, ed. & trans. by G. S. M. Walker [viz., Sancti Columbani Opera, 1957), is held in CELT: The Corpus of Electronic Texts [CELT - online].

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Criticism
Mary Rogers, ‘Faremoutiers: A Legacy from St. Columbanus’, in Éire-Ireland, 3, 4 (Winter 1968), pp.35-45; Michael Lapidge, ed., Columbanus: Studies on the Latin Writings (Woodbridge: Boydell Press 1997), 480pp.; Michael Richter, Bobbio in the Early Middle Ages: The Abiding Legacy of Columbanus (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2008), 200pp., ill.

See Primary and Secondary Bibliography associated with the digital edition of Letters of Columbanus, ed. G. S. M. Walker [1957], held at the Corpus of Electronic Texts [CELT] (UCC) [online], compiled by Ruth Murphy [attached]. Copyright is asserted by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies [DIAS].
 
Note: Murphy notes introductorily that the authorship of Letter VI is now doubted, citing Michael Lepidge, Studies on the Latin Writings (1997).

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Commentary
Barbara H. Rosenwein, Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages (Cornell UP 2006), [Chap. 5:] “Courtly Discipline”, p.257: ‘While Columbanus’ affective palate was large, he used only five emotion words (and their grammatical variants) thirty or forty times in his works: amor (love), diligo (love); laetitia (joy), and timor (fear). [...; 157]’ The related footnote indicates that her computation is based on a search of the Patrologia Latina Database (Pro-Quest Information & Learning Co.), which holds G. M. S. Walker’s edition of the Opera (Dublin 1957), rendering the following results: amor: 60; diligo: 63; laetitia (38); timor (31). Also cites Michael Lapidge, Columbanus: Studied on the Latin Writings, ed., with an epilogue by Lapidge, ‘Epilogue: Did Columbanus Compose Metrical Verse?’, pp.274-85. Further remarks in the same note (p.257) refer to “Oratio S. Columbanis” (Opera, p.214, which Walker considered dubious but which Lapidge sees as likely to have been by Columbanus (Lapidge, “Oratio S. Columbanis”, in op. cit., p.214); note also “Precamur patrem” which Lapidge authenticates also (‘“Precamur patrem”: An Easter Hymn by Columbanus?’, p.255-63) which Lapidge authenticates too. The text of that hymn is given in The Antiphonary of Bangor: An Early Irish Manuscript in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, ed. F. E. Warren (1893).’ [Accessed online at Google Books; 09.10.2009.]

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Quotations

‘[...] we Irish, inhabitants of the world’s edge, are disciples of Saints Peter and Paul and of all the disciples who wrote the sacred canon by the Holy Ghost, and we accept nothing outside the evangelical and apostolic teaching; none has been a heretic, none a Judaizer, none a schismatic; but the Catholic Faith, as it was delivered by you first, who are the successors of the holy apostles, is maintained unbroken.’ (See Letter V on Easter.)
 
Note the the phrase ‘We Irish’ - infra - and cf. George Berkeley’s celebrated use of the same phrase [Berkeley, Quotations - supra], which was , duly echoed by W. B. Yeats.

On Easter [Celtic v. Roman] - Letter I: ‘It is my desire, Holy Father, (let it not be extravagant in your sight) to ask about Easter, in accordance with that canticle, Ask thy father and he will show thee, thy elders and they will tell thee.’ (Deut. 32.7) For although, considering my insignificance, when my poverty writes to your distinction, I might be branded with that unusual remark of a certain philosopher, which he is said once to have made at the sight of a painted harlot, I do not admire the art, but I admire the cheek (cf. Eccles. 9.8.); yet trusting in the faith of your evangelical humility I dare to write to you, and subjoin the matter of my grief. For there is no pride in writing when necessity demands a letter, though it be addressed to one’s superiors.’ [Cont.]

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On Easter (Letter I) - cont. [new para.]: ‘What then do you say about an Easter on the twenty-first or twenty-second moon, which already (yet let it be said without offence to you) is proved to be no Easter, considering its darkness, by many laborious scholars? For as I believe, it does not escape your diligence, how scathingly Anatolius, a man of curious learning (Hieron. De Viris Illustr. 73) as St. Jerome says, excerpts from whose writings Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, inserted in his ecclesiastical history, and St. Jerome praised this same work on Easter in his catalogue - how scathingly Anatolius reasons about this period of the moon; who recorded a terrible judgement against the Gallican authorities in their error, as he maintains, concerning Easter, saying “Certainly if the moon’s rising shall have delayed until the end of two watches, which marks the middle of the night, light does not prevail over darkness, but darkness over light; which is certain to be impossible at Easter, so that some part of darkness should rule over the light, since the festival of the Lord’s resurrection is light, and there is no communication of light with darkness’ (cf. 2. Cor. 6. 14). And if the moon has begun to shine in the third watch, there is no doubt that the twenty-first or twenty-second moon has arisen, on which it is impossible for the true Easter to be offered. For those who determine that Easter can be celebrated at this period of the moon, not only cannot maintain this on the authority of holy scripture, but also incur the charge of sacrilege and contumacy, together with the peril of their souls, when they maintain that the true light, which rules over all darkness, can be offered under conditions where darkness rules to some extent.’ [Cont.]

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On Easter (Letter I) - cont.: ‘And we also read in the book of sacred dogma: Easter, that is the festival of the Lord’s resurrection, cannot be celebrated before the passing of the Spring equinox, the beginning of the fourteenth moon (Gennad. De Dogm. Eccl. 87), namely to avoid its preceding the equinox. Victorius has certainly broken this rule in his cycle, and thus has long since introduced error into Gaul, or to speak more humbly, has strengthened its growth. For on what principle can either practice stand, namely that the Lord’s resurrection should be celebrated prior to His passion, which is ridiculous even to be thought of, or that the seven days’ (cf. Exod. 12.15) ordained by the Lord’s bidding in the law, on which alone the Lord’s Passover is commanded to be eaten legally, which are to be reckoned from the fourteenth moon up to the twentieth, should be exceeded contrary to law and right? For the twenty-first or twenty-second moon is outwith the jurisdiction of light, since at that point of time it has arisen after the middle of the night, and with darkness prevailing over light it is illegal, as they say, for the festival of light to be held. 3] Why then, with all your learning, when indeed the streams of your holy wisdom are, as of old, shed abroad over the earth with great brightness, do you favour a dark Easter? [...]’ (Extract from digital edition of Letters of Columbanus, ed. & trans. G. M. S. Walker, DIAS 1957; online.)

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On Easter (Letter V): ‘[I]t is not for vainglory or for impudence that I, a creature of the meanest station, dare to write to such exalted men; for grief rather than pride drives me to suggest to you with the humblest indication, as befits me, that the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through your mutual contest. / Indeed I grieve, I confess, for the disgrace of St. Peter’s chair; yet I know that the affair is beyond me, and that at the first blush I am, as the saying goes, thrusting my face into the fire. But what care I for saving face before mankind, when zeal for the faith must needs be shown? Before God and the angels(1 Tim. 5.21). / I shall not be dismayed; it is praiseworthy to be dismayed for God’s sake before men. If I am heard, all shall share the profit; if I am set at naught, mine shall be the reward. For I shall speak as a friend, disciple, and close follower of yours, not as a stranger; therefore I shall speak out freely, saying to those that are our masters and helmsmen of the spiritual ship and mystic sentinels, Watch, for the sea is stormy and whipped up by fatal blasts, for it is not a solitary threatening wave such as, even across a silent ocean, is raised to overweening heights from the ever-foaming eddies of a hollow rock, though it swells from afar, and drives the sails before it while Death walks the waves, but it is a tempest of the entire element, surging indeed and swollen upon every side, that threatens shipwreck of the mystic vessel; thus do I, a fearful sailor, dare to cry, Watch, for water has now entered the vessel of the Church, and the vessel is in perilous straits. For all we Irish, inhabitants of the world’s edge, are disciples of Saints Peter and Paul and of all the disciples who wrote the sacred canon by the Holy Ghost, and we accept nothing outside the evangelical and apostolic teaching; none has been a heretic, none a Judaizer, none a schismatic; but the Catholic Faith, as it was delivered by you first, who are the successors of the holy apostles, is maintained unbroken. Strengthened and almost goaded by this confidence, I have dared to arouse you against those who revile you and call you the partisans of heretics and describe you as schismatics, so that my boasting’ (cf. 1. Cor. 9.15) in which I trusted when I spoke for you in answer to them, should not be in vain (cf. 1. Cor. 9.15), , and so that they, not us, might be dismayed. [&c.]’ (Letters of Columbanus, ed. & trans. G. M. S. Walker, DIAS 1957; online.)

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On Easter (Letter V): ‘[W]hen the future elect, in those days more perilous even than the rest before and utterly unlike the past, shall by the Lord’s strength bear greater trials, why will not we by the Lord’s help bear lesser ones in these still safer and more settled times, even for the sake of our faith by which we are distinguished from Gentiles, Jews, and heretics? [Walker, p.15] But while I urge such considerations, like a man sluggish in action and speaking rather than doing (I am called Jonah in Hebrew, Peristera in Greek, Columba in Latin, yet so much is my birth-right in the idiom of your language, though I use the ancient Hebrew name of Jonah, whose shipwreck I have also almost undergone) I beg you, as I have often asked, to pardon me, since necessity rather than vainglory compels me to write, while a certain character in his letters, with which he greeted me almost on my arrival at the frontiers of this province, pointed you out to me as an object of suspicion, as if you were slipping into the sect of Nestorius. To this man in my astonishment I replied briefly, as I was able, not believing his charge; but lest I should in any way be an opponent of the truth, considering his letter and my own good opinion of you (for I believe that there is always a strong pillar of the Church at Rome) I have changed the tenor of my answer, and sent it you to read and controvert, if in any part it has attacked the truth; for I dare not claim to be amongst the faultless. (Letters of Columbanus, ed. & trans. G. M. S. Walker, DIAS 1957; online.)

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References
Dictionary of National Biography lists [err.], Columba, otherwise Columcille or Columbanus, St., 521-597, &c [see Colum Cille, supra]

W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (IAP 1976; 1984), cites Ludwig Bieler, ‘The Humanism of St Columbanus’, in Mélanges Colunbaniens (1950), pp.95-102; G. S. Walker, Sancti Columbani Opera (Dublin 1957) and the review by M. Esposito in Classica et Mediaevalia, 21 (1960), pp.184-203. [note that author possibly confuses Columba, i.e., Colum Cille, and Columbanus.]

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