Columban(us) was an important Gaelic missionary who worked on the continent of Europe. He was born in Leinster, c. 540. He died in Bobbio, Italy, 640; His feast day is 23 November. His life was written by the monk Jonas (c.600 – c.659) who arrived in Bobbio about three years after Columbanus’s death.
The following text was adapted by Michael Newton from Munro, Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History.
§ A. Columban […] was born on the island of Ireland. This is situated in the extreme ocean and, according to common report, is charming, productive of various nations, and free from the wars which trouble other nations. Here lives the race of the Scots [Gaels], who, although they lack the laws of the other nations, flourish in the doctrine of Christian strength, and exceed in faith all the neighboring peoples. Columban was born at the time that that people adopted the faith, in order that the religion, which that race cherished uncompromisingly, might be increased by his own fruitful toil and the protecting care of his associates. […]
§ B. When Columban’s childhood was over and he became older, he began to devote himself enthusiastically to the pursuit of grammar and the sciences, and studied with fruitful zeal all through his boyhood and youth, until he became a man. But, as his fine figure, his splendid color, and his noble manliness made him beloved by all, the old enemy began finally to turn his deadly weapons upon him, in order to catch in his nets this youth, whom he saw growing so rapidly in grace. And he aroused against him the lust of lascivious maidens, especially of those whose fine figure and superficial beauty are liable to arouse mad desires in the minds of wretched men.
But when that excellent soldier saw that he was surrounded on all sides by such deadly weapons, and perceived the cunning and shrewdness of the enemy who was fighting against him, and that by an act of human frailty, he might quickly fall over a precipice and be destroyed, – as Livy says, “No one is rendered so sacred by religion, no one is so guarded, that lust is unable to prevail against him,” – holding in his left hand the shield of the Gospel and bearing in his right hand the two-edged sword, he prepared to advance and attack the hostile lines threatening him. He feared that he could be ensnared by the lusts of the world after having spent so much labor in vain on grammar, rhetoric, geometry and the Holy Scriptures. […]
After he had been many years in the cloister he longed to go into strange lands, in obedience to the command which the Lord gave Abraham: “Get out of your native land, and away from your family, and from your father’s house, into a land that I will reveal to you.” Accordingly he confessed to the venerable father, Congall, the burning desire of his heart. […]
§ C. Having collected a band of brothers, St. Columban asked the prayers of all, that he might be assisted in his coming journey, and that he might have their pious aid. So he started out in the twentieth [or thirtieth] year of his life, and under the guidance of Christ went to the seashore with twelve companions. Here they waited to see if the mercy of the Almighty would allow their purpose to succeed, and learned that the spirit of the all-merciful Judge was with them. So they embarked, and began the dangerous journey across the channel and sailed quickly with a smooth sea and favorable wind to the coast of Brittany. Here they rested for a while to recover their strength and discussed their plans anxiously, until finally they decided to enter Gaul. They wanted zealously and shrewdly to inquire into the character of the inhabitants in order to remain longer if they found they could sow the seeds of salvation; or in case they found the hearts of the people in darkness, go on to the nearest nations. […]
§ D. Accordingly, they left Brittany and proceeded into Gaul. At that time, either because of the numerous external enemies, or on account of the carelessness of the bishops, the Christian faith had almost departed from that country. Although the creed remained, the saving grace of penance and the longing to root out the lusts of the flesh were to be found only in a few. Everywhere that he went the noble man preached the Gospel. And it pleased the people because his teaching was adorned by eloquence and enforced by examples of virtue.