Sunday, January 18, 2009

Miracles of Saint Columba

I recently finished reading Life of St. Columba (Richard Sharpe trans., Penguin Classics ed.) by St. Adomnan of Iona.  Iona, as I have previously described, is an unmistakably "thin place" where one can go to reflect upon, and hopefully hear, the Lord.  It is a tiny isle (1 mile wide by three miles long) ruggedly lying exposed to the high seas off the west coast of Scotland.  It is here that St. Columba brought Christianity to the Pictish people from Ireland.  St. Adomnan, his biographer, was a later successor to the Abbacy of Iona.

The Iona Abbey, from the Iona Community Website

St. Adomnan's biography of St. Columba (d. 597), by far the most complete offered by antiquity, was written a century after the holy missionary's death.  It is particularly noteworthy for its descriptions of the prophetic and miraculous powers that he possessed.

When I picked up the book, I did not know whether to believe the nearly 100 miracles described. St. Columba is said to have walked on water, raised the dead, and described future (as well as contemporary but distant) events with great accuracy. So many and profound were the miracle accounts that I came to think they had to be embellishments. But still, there were simply far too many of them for me to think they were wholly baseless.

Two accounts from the book seemed worth highlighting here.  The first caused the speculation that St. Columba himself encountered the Loch Ness Monster:
On another occasion also, when the blessed man was living for some days in the province of the Picts, he was obliged to cross the river Nesa (the Ness); and when he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man, who, according to the account of those who were burying him, was a short time before seized, as he was swimming, and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water; his wretched body was, though too late, taken out with a hook, by those who came to his assistance in a boat. The blessed man, on hearing this, was so far from being dismayed, that he directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the coble that was moored at the farther bank. And Lugne Mocumin hearing the command of the excellent man, obeyed without the least delay, taking off all his clothes, except his tunic, and leaping into the water. But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream. Then the blessed man observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, "Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed." Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes, though it had just got so near to Lugne, as he swam, that there was not more than the length of a spear-staff between the man and the beast. Then the brethren seeing that the monster had gone back, and that their comrade Lugne returned to them in the boat safe and sound, were struck with admiration, and gave glory to God in the blessed man. And even the barbarous heathens, who were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle, which they themselves had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians.
(Medieval Sourcebook: Adamnan: Life of St. Columba; Penguin, at II 27, p. 175).

The second tells of his raising a boy from the dead:

At the time when St. Columba was tarrying for some days in the province of the Picts, a certain peasant who, with his whole family, had listened to and learned through an interpreter the word of life preached by the holy man, believed and was baptized the husband, together with his wife, children, and domestics.

A very few days after his conversion, one of the sons of this householder was attacked with a dangerous illness and brought to the very borders of life and death. When the Druids saw him in a dying state they began with great bitterness to upbraid his parents, and to extol their own gods as more powerful than the God of the Christians, and thus to despise God as though He were weaker than their gods. When all this was told to the blessed man, he burned with zeal for God, and proceeded with some of his companions to the house of the friendly peasant, where he found the afflicted parents celebrating the obsequies of their child, who was newly dead. The saint, on seeing their bitter grief, strove to console them with words of comfort, and exhorted them not to doubt in any way the omnipotence of God. He then inquired, saying, "In what chamber is the dead body of your son lying?" And being conducted by the bereaved father under the sad roof, he left the whole crowd of persons who accompanied him outside, and immediately entered by himself into the house of mourning, where, falling on his knees, he prayed to Christ our Lord, having his face bedewed with copious tears. Then rising from his kneeling posture, he turned his eyes towards the deceased and said, "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, arise, and stand upon thy feet." At the sound of this glorious word from the saint, the soul returned to the body, and the person that was dead opened his eyes and revived. The apostolic man then taking him by the hand raised him up, and placing him in a standing position, d him forth with him from the house, and restored him to his parents. Upon this the cries of the applauding multitude broke forth, sorrow was turned into joy, and the God of the Christians glorified.

We must thus believe that our saint had the gift of miracles like the prophets Elias and Eliseus, and like the apostles Peter, Paul, and John, he had the honour bestowed on him of raising the dead to life, and now in heaven, placed amid the prophets and apostles, this prophetic and apostolic man enjoys a glorious and eternal throne in the heavenly fatherland with Christ, who reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost forever.

(Medieval Sourcebook: Adamnan: Life of St. Columba; Penguin, at II 32, p.179).

Maybe we don't see such miracles today because our modernist minds lack the broad faith that these ancient, new converts possessed. Also, perhaps the missionary nature of St. Columba's work was an element of God's providentially willing to make miracles happen through this man. It was interesting for me to finish this book around the same time that I read Fr. Amorth's book on exorcism, as it helped to remind me of spiritual realities that lie beyond the perception of my own senses. 

Why start from the premise that Adomnan was a liar? I give him the opposite presumption. St. Columba, ora pro nobis.


Anonymous said...

My heart is ever drawn towards the Saints of the British Isles. That is a beautiful picture and this a nice bit on St. Columba. Thanks. I appreciate the perspective in the last paragraph.

Anonymous said...

"Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." (John 14:10-14)

Thos said...

Dear Andrew,

Thank you. Celtic Christianity is quite appealing, but probably that is largely due to my ancestry and time living over there as a child. At the very least, it makes me sympathetic to the Orthodox inclination to strong cultural infusions.

Peace in Christ,

Thos said...

Dear samurfer,

Very apt use of Scripture, so thank you. I had not reflected upon "and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father" in this context. I don't think there are "greater" works by the Apostles recorded in the Bible than what Christ achieved, so what else could Christ be referring to?

Peace in Christ,

Rene'e said...


“And greater than these shall he do, because I go to the Father.”

Christ is speaking of the greatness of visible miracles, and tells them that after his ascension , that they shall be enabled to do even greater miracles then he has yet shown the world. He would give this power to his disciples who were to convert the world; and perhaps the greatest miracle of all, was........ the conversion of the whole world .

Anonymous said...

THESE MIRACLES STILL HAPPEN in many places - more so in poor countries where they MUST rely on God to touch them as they do not have the means to go to a doctor - but also here -- check out the book called FREEDOM TALES ... it's has stories of many miracles

Laura said...

Thanks for a nice article on St. Columba. I've been researching him on and off for some time now, along with St. Fillan, another Scottish saint.