Saturday, 3 January 2015

St. Bernard of Clairvaux's Life of St. Malachy of Armagh, by H. J. Lawlor. Part 7.


Malachy's pity for his deceased sister. He restores the Monastery of Bangor. His first Miracles.

11. (6). Meanwhile Malachy's sister, whom we mentioned before,271 died: and we must not pass over the visions which he saw about her. For the saint indeed abhorred her carnal life, and with such intensity that he vowed he would never see her alive in the flesh. But now that her flesh was destroyed his vow was also destroyed, and he began to see in spirit her whom in the body he would not see. One night he heard in a dream the voice of one saying to him that his sister was standing outside in the court, and that for thirty entire days she had tasted nothing; and when he awoke he soon understood the sort of food for want of which she was pining away. And when he had diligently considered the number of days which he had heard, he discovered that it went back to the time when he had ceased to offer the living bread from heaven272 for her. Then, since he hated not the soul of his sister but her sin, he began again the good practice which he had abandoned. And not in vain. Not long after she was seen by him to have come to the threshold of the church, but to be not yet able to enter; she appeared also in dark raiment. And when he persevered, taking care that on no single day she should be disappointed of the accustomed gift, he saw her a second time in whitish raiment, admitted indeed within the church, but not allowed to approach the altar. At last she was seen, a third time, gathered in the company of the white-robed, and in bright clothing.273 You see, reader, how much the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth.274 Truly the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force.275 Does not the prayer of Malachy seem to you to have played the part as it were of a housebreaker to the heavenly gates, when a sinful woman obtained by the weapons of a brother what was denied to her own merits? This violence, good Jesus, Thou who sufferest dost exercise, strong and merciful to save,276 showing mercy and strength with thine arm,277 and preserving it in thy sacrament for the saints which are in the earth,278 unto the end of the world.279 Truly this sacrament is strong to consume sins,280 to defeat opposing powers, to bring into heaven those who are returning from the earth.

12. (7). The Lord, indeed, was so preparing His beloved Malachy in the district of Lismore for the glory of His name. But those who had sent him,281 tolerating his absence no longer, recalled him by letters. When he was restored to his people,282 now better instructed in all that was necessary, behold a work prepared and kept by God283 for Malachy. A rich and powerful man, who held the place of Bangor and its possessions, by inspiration of God immediately placed in his hand all that he had and himself as well.284 And he was his mother's brother.285 But kinship of spirit was of more value to Malachy than kinship of the flesh. The actual place also of Bangor, from which he received his name,286 the prince287 made over to him, that there he might build, or rather rebuild, a monastery. For indeed there had been formerly a very celebrated one under the first father, Comgall,288 which produced many thousands of monks, and was the head of many monasteries. A truly holy place it was and prolific of saints, bringing forth most abundant fruit to God,289 so that one of the sons of that holy community, Lugaid290 by name, is said to have been the founder—himself alone—of a hundred monasteries. I mention this in order that the reader may infer from this one instance what an immense number of others there were. In fine, to such an extent did its shoots fill Ireland and Scotland291 that those verses of David seem to have sung beforehand especially of these times, Thou visitest the earth and blessest it; thou makest it very plenteous. The river of God is full of water: thou preparest their corn, for so thou providest for the earth, blessing its rivers, multiplying its shoots. With its drops of rain shall it rejoice while it germinates;292 and in like manner the verses that follow. Nor was it only into the regions just mentioned, but also into foreign lands that those swarms of saints poured forth as though a flood had risen;293 of whom one, St. Columbanus, came up to our Gallican parts, and built the monastery of Luxovium, and was made there a great people.294 So great a people was it, they say, that the choirs succeeding one another in turn, the solemnities of the divine offices went on continuously, so that not a moment day or night was empty of praises.295

13. (8) Enough has been said about the ancient glory of the monastery of Bangor. This, long ago destroyed by pirates,296 Malachy eagerly cherished on account of its remarkable and long-standing prestige, as though he were about to replant a paradise,297 and because many bodies of the saints slept there.298 For, not to speak of those which were buried in peace,299 it is said that nine hundred persons were slain together in one day by pirates.300 Vast, indeed, were the possessions of that place;301 but Malachy, content with the holy place alone, resigned all the possessions and lands to another. For indeed from the time when the monastery was destroyed there was always someone to hold it with its possessions. For they were both appointed by election and were even called abbots, preserving in name but not in fact what had once been.302 And though many urged him not to alienate the possessions, but to retain the whole together for himself, this lover of poverty did not consent, but caused one to be elected, according to custom, to hold them; the place, as we have said, being retained for Malachy and his followers. And perhaps, as afterwards appeared,303 he would have been wiser to have kept it all; only he looked more to humility than to peace.

14. So, then, by the command of Father Imar, taking with him about ten brethren, he came to the place and began to build. And there, one day, when he himself was cutting with an axe, by chance one of the workmen, while he was brandishing the axe in the air, carelessly got into the place at which the blow was aimed, and it fell on his spine with as much force as Malachy could strike. He fell, and all ran to him supposing that he had received a death-wound or was dead. And indeed his tunic was rent from the top to the bottom,304 but the man himself was found unhurt, the skin so very slightly grazed that scarcely a trace appeared on the surface. The man whom the axe had laid low, stood unharmed while the bystanders beheld him with amazement. Hence they became more eager, and were found readier for the work. And this was the beginning of the miracles305 of Malachy. Moreover the oratory was finished in a few days, made of smoothed planks indeed, but closely and strongly fastened together—a Scotic work,306 not devoid of beauty.307 And thenceforward God was served in it as in the ancient days; that is, with similar devotion, though not with like numbers. Malachy presided over that place for some time,308 by the ordinance of Father Imar,309 being at once the ruler and the rule of the brethren. They read in his life how they should behave themselves, and he was their leader in righteousness and holiness before God;310 save that besides the things appointed for the whole community he did many things of an exceptional kind, in which he still more was the leader of all, and none of the others was able to follow him to such difficult practices.

At that time and place a certain man was sick, and the devil stood by him and suggested in plain speech that he should never heed the admonitions of Malachy, but if he should enter his house, he should attack and kill him with a knife. And when this became known, those who ministered to him, the sick man himself informing them, brought word to Malachy and warned him. But he, seizing his accustomed weapons of prayer, boldly attacked his enemy, and put to flight both disease and demon. But the man's name was Malchus.311 He is brother according to the flesh of our Christian, abbot of Mellifont.312 For both are still alive, now brothers yet more, in spirit.313 For when he was delivered, immediately he was not ungrateful, but in the same place, having turned314 to the Lord,315 he changed both his habit and his mind. And the brethren knew that the evil one was envious of their prosperity; and they were edified and made more careful henceforth.

15. (9). At the same place he healed a cleric, named Michael, who was suffering from dysentery and despaired of, by sending him something from his table. A second time, when the same person was smitten with a very grave disorder, he cured him both in body and mind. And from that moment he clave to God316 and to Malachy His servant, fearing lest a worse thing should come unto him,317 if once more he should be found ungrateful for so great a benefit and miracle. And at present, as we have heard, he presides over a monastery in the parts of Scotland; and this was the latest of all Malachy's foundations.318 Through such deeds of Malachy both his reputation and his community increased daily, and his name became great both within and without the monastery, though not greater than the fact. For indeed he dwelt319 there even after he was made bishop, for the place was near the city.320

[271] See § 6. Malachy's sister is here said to have died while he was at Lismore; but whether during his earlier or later visit to that place cannot be determined.

[272] John vi. 51.

[273] Acts x. 30.

[274] Jas. v. 16.

[275] Matt. xi. 12.

[276] Cp. Isa. lxiii. 1.

[277] Luke i. 51.

[278] Ps. xvi. 3.

[279] Matt. xxviii. 20.

[280] Ps vii. 9 (vg.).

[281] Cellach and Imar (§ 8).

[282] That is to Armagh. But see p. 36, n. 5.

[283] Eph. ii. 10 (vg.).

[284] This person was apparently the coarb of Comgall, the founder of Bangor. It would seem that he had been but a short time in office, for Oengus O'Gorman, coarb of Comgall, died at Lismore in 1123 (A.U.), probably during Malachy's sojourn there. It is not impossible that the unnamed coarb, mentioned in the text, was Murtough O'Hanratty, who died at Armagh in 1131 (A.F.M.). The statement that he gave "himself" to Malachy seems to mean that he placed himself under his rule in the new community.

[285] If the identification suggested in the preceding note is correct, Malachy's mother belonged to the family of O'Hanratty, which in the eleventh and twelfth centuries held the chieftaincy of Ui Méith Macha or Ui Méith Tíre, now the barony of Monaghan, in the county of the same name.

[286] Cognominabatur. This verb occurs seventeen times in the Vulgate, and almost always indicates a new or alternative name. In the present passage it certainly applies, not to Malachy's baptismal name, but to its Latin equivalent, Malachias, which he probably assumed when he became abbot of Bangor, or bishop of Down. The remark that he received it from Bangor is to be explained thus. A legend, which has a place in Jocelin's Life of St. Patrick (§ 98) and is therefore at least as old as the twelfth century, relates that Patrick, viewing the valley in which the monastery of Comgall was afterwards constructed, perceived that it was "filled with a multitude of the heavenly host." From this story, no doubt, came the name "Valley of Angels (Vallis Angelorum)," by which it was known in the early seventeenth century, and probably long before (Reeves, p. 199). If this name, or the legend on which it was based, was known to Malachy it is quite conceivable that on account of his connexion with Bangor, he adopted, as the Latin alternative of Máel Máedóc, a name which is only the Hebrew for my angel with a Latin termination. That St. Bernard was aware of the significance of the name, and liked to dwell upon it, is clear from Sermon ii. § 5. It may be added that the legend just mentioned is connected with a folk-etymology of the word Bangor (Bennchor) which explained it as "white choir." For the true etymology see Kuno Meyer, "Zur Keltischen Wortkunde," § 66 (Preuss. Akad. Sitz., 1913).

[287] Princeps. This word does not necessarily imply that the donor of Bangor was a secular chieftain. St. Bernard is somewhat arbitrary in his use of such titles; and princeps occurs very frequently in A.U. up to the tenth century as an equivalent of abbot.

[288] Comgall, who was a Pict of Dál Araide (Adamnan, i. 49), was born at Magheramorne, near Larne, co. Antrim (Reeves, p. 269), between 516 and 520. He founded the monastery of Bangor when he was about forty years old, probably in 559, and presided over it till his death in 602 (A.U.). According to his Latin Life (§ 13, Plummer, ii. 7), so great a number of monks came to him there that there was not room for them; "he therefore founded very many cells and many monasteries, not only in the district of Ulaid, but throughout the other provinces of Ireland." There were as many as 3000 monks under his rule. On the last leaf of an ancient service book of the monastery, known as the Antiphonary of Bangor (Facsimile edition by F. E. Warren, 1893, vol. ii. p. 33), there is a hymn which gives a complete list of the abbots—fifteen in number—from Comgall to Cronan († 691), in whose period of office it was written. The site of St. Comgall's monastery is beside the Rectory of the parish of Bangor, co. Down, about half-a-mile from Bangor Bay, near the entrance to Belfast Lough.

[289] Rom. vii. 4.

[290] Luanus. This is probably Lugaid, or Molua, the founder of Lismore in Scotland, who died in 592 (A.U.) and is commemorated on June 25 (Oengus, Gorman). He was a Pict and of the same tribe as St. Comgall, both being descended from Fiacha Araide (L.B. 15 c, e); and in later times was the patron saint of the diocese of Argyll (Adamnan, p. 371). He may be the Bishop Lugidus who ordained St. Comgall, and afterwards restrained him from leaving Ireland (Plummer, i. p. lix.; ii. pp. 6, 7). But there is no evidence, apart from the statement of St. Bernard, that either this bishop or Lugaid of Lismore was a member of the community at Bangor. There is a Life of Lugaid of Lismore in the Breviary of Aberdeen (Prop. Sanct. pro temp, aest. ff. 5 v. 7; summarized in Forbes, Kalendars of Scottish Saints, p. 410). His principal foundation after Lismore was Rosemarkie in Ross. Mr. A. B. Scott (Pictish Nation, 1918, p. 347 f.) mentions also Mortlach (Banffshire) and Clova (Aberdeenshire); and Bishop Forbes (l.c.) adds other sites with which his name is connected.

[291] St. Comgall himself is said to have been minded in his earlier days to go on pilgrimage to "Britain," and to have been dissuaded therefrom by Lugaid (Latin Life, § 13, Plummer, ii. 7). Seven years after the foundation of Bangor he went to Britain to visit "certain saints" (ibid. § 22, p. 11). It was probably on this occasion that he spent some time on the island of Hinba (Eilean-na-naomh?) in the company of SS. Columba, Canice and others (Adamnan, iii. 17). It was somewhat later, apparently, that St. Columba went with some companions on a mission to Brude, king of the Picts (ibid. ii. 35); and we need not question the statement that Comgall and Canice were among those who went with him, though there is reason to doubt that Comgall was the leader of the band, as his Life implies (§ 51, p. 18), and though the Life of St. Canice, which frequently refers to his visit, or visits, to Scotland (§§ 17, 19, 21, 23, Plummer, i. 158), never mentions the incident. It is probable, therefore, that the founder of Bangor took part in the evangelization of Scotland; but the memory of very few monasteries founded by him in that country, besides the community in the island of Tiree (Life, § 22, p. 11; see Scott, op. cit. p. 239), has been preserved to later ages. Mr. Scott credits members of the community of Bangor with the foundation of Paisley, Kingarth and Applecross (ibid. p. 337 ff.). See also previous note.

[292] Ps. lxv. 9, 10 (vg., inexact quotation).

[293] Luke vi. 48.

[294] Gen. xii. 2.—St. Columbanus was the greatest of the Irish missionaries on the Continent of Europe. Born in Leinster, according to Bruno Krusch (Ionae Vitae Sanctorum, p. 22) in 530, or as others hold in 543, he entered the community of Bangor not long after its foundation, and after spending "many cycles of years" there, he sailed for France about 590. His principal monasteries were Luxeuil (Luxovium) in the department of Haute Saône, and Bobbio in Lombardy. At the latter place he died, November 23, 615. His Life was written by Jonas, about 640. It was critically edited by Krusch in M.G.H. (Script. rerum Merovingic., vol. iv. 1-152) and subsequently as a separate volume (Ionae Vitae Sanctorum Columbani, Vedastis, Iohannis, 1905). The story of his labours has been told by G. T. Stokes in his Celtic Church in Ireland, Lect. vii., and by many other modern writers. See also the collection of documents in Patrick Fleming's Collectanea (Lovanii, 1667). Luxeuil is about eighty miles from Clairvaux, and less than seventy from St. Bernard's early home at Dijon. Fifty years after the death of St. Columbanus it adopted the rule of St. Benedict. It was a well-known establishment in St. Bernard's day, though by that time its glory had declined. It was suppressed in 1789 (M. Stokes, Three Months in the Forests of France, p. 67).

[295] The Acœmetae, founded about the middle of the fifth century, were the first to practise the laus perennis, from which they derived their name (Dict. of Christian Antiquities, s.v.). It was adopted in the early years of the following century at the monastery of St. Maurice in the Valois, from which it spread to many other religious establishments (AA.SS., Nov., i. 548 ff.).

[296] A.U. 823 (recte 824): "The plundering of Bangor in the Ards by Foreigners [i.e. Norsemen], and the spoiling of its oratory; and the relics of Comgall were shaken out of their shrine." A.I. add, "and its learned men and bishops were slain with the sword."

[297] Gen. ii. 8.

[298] Matt. xxvii. 52.

[299] Ecclus. xliv. 14.

[300] This obviously exaggerated statement may refer to the event mentioned in note 2, or to a later occasion (958), when "Tanaidhe, son of Odhar, coarb of Bangor, was killed by Foreigners" (A.U.).

[301] "Even at the Dissolution [1539] it was found to be possessed of the temporalities and spiritualities of thirty-four townlands, together with the tithes of nine rectories or chapels" (Reeves, p. 94). The lands included the entire parish of Bangor, together with part of the adjoining parish of Holywood, and eight outlying townlands (Archdall, ed. Moran, i. 235).

[302] This remark is interesting as showing that the title "abbot of Bangor" was in use in the twelfth century. The last person to whom it is given in the A.U. is Indrechtach, who died in 906. From that time onwards "coarb of Comgall" (or in one instance, "coarb of Bangor") is substituted for it. St. Bernard is supported by the Annals when he asserts that so-called abbots were elected down to Malachy's time. A.U. preserve the names of twenty abbots or coarbs between 824 and 1123. But St. Bernard leaves the impression that the religious community of Bangor ceased to exist on its destruction by the Norse pirates, and that subsequently the "abbots" merely held the lands that had belonged to it, and exercised no spiritual discipline. There are good reasons, however, for the contrary opinion. Thus Abbot Moengal, who died in 871, was a "pilgrim." Abbot Moenach (died 921) was "the head of the learning of the island of Ireland." Ceile, coarb of Comgall, went on pilgrimage to Rome in 928, and died there in 929: he was a scribe and anchoret, apostolic doctor of all Ireland, and (if C.S. can be trusted) a bishop. Dubhinnsi, bishop of Bangor, died in 953. Finally, Diarmait Ua Maeltelcha, coarb of Comgall, whom C.S. calls a bishop, died in 1016. It was probably not till after that date, as Reeves (p. 154) assures us, that the monastery began to decline.

[303] See §§ 61, 62.

[304] Matt. xxvii. 51.

[305] John ii. 11.

[306] "Scotic" is obviously to be understood here in its earlier meaning as equivalent to "Irish." From this departure from his ordinary usage (see p. 20, note 1) we may infer that St. Bernard is quoting the words of his authority. The habit of constructing churches of wood prevailed in early times among the Celtic and Saxon tribes in the British Isles, the introduction of stone building for such purposes being due to Roman influence (Plummer, Bede, ii. 101). The older custom lingered longer in Ireland than elsewhere; and by the time of Bede it had come to be regarded as characteristically Irish, though wooden churches must still have been numerous in England (Bede, H.E., iii. 25). In a document of much later date, the Life of the Irish Saint Monenna (quoted in Adamnan, p. 177 f.), we read of "a church constructed of smoothed planks according to the custom of the Scottish races"; and the writer adds that "the Scots are not in the habit of building walls, or causing them to be built." Petrie (pp. 138-151) maintained that stone churches were not unusual in early Ireland; but he admits (pp. 341-344) that one type of church—the oratory (in Irish dairtheach, i.e. house of oak)—was very rarely constructed of stone. The only two passages which he cites (p. 345) as mentioning stone oratories (he says he might have produced others) are not to his purpose. The first is a notice in A.U. 788, of a man being killed at the door of a "stone oratory": but another, and apparently better, reading substitutes lapide for lapidei, thus altering the entry to a statement that the man was killed "by a stone at the door of the oratory." The second is Colgan's rendering (Trias, p. 162) of a sentence in Trip. iii. 74, p. 232, in which there is in reality no mention of any ecclesiastical edifice. So far as I am aware, there is no indisputable reference in Irish literature to a stone oratory earlier than the one mentioned below, § 61.

[307] Cp. the quatrain of Rummun on an oratory which was in course of construction at Rathen (Otia Merseiana, ii. 79):

"O my Lord! what shall I do
About these great materials?
When will these ten hundred planks
Be a structure of compact beauty?"
[308] Evidently until he became bishop. The next sentence implies that the time spent at Bangor was of considerable length, as does also the remark at the end of § 15. St. Bernard, however, seems to have been mistaken in supposing that Malachy resigned the abbacy on his consecration. See p. 36, note 5; p. 40, note 1; p. 80, note 1; p. 104, note 3; p. 112, note 5; p. 113, note 1.

[309] Cp. p. 11, note 1.

[310] Luke i. 75.

[311] John xviii. 10.

[312] For Christian and Mellifont Abbey, see § 39. This Malchus is mentioned again in § 52.

[313] This is not a mere conventional phrase. In a passionate outburst of grief St. Bernard says of his brother Gerard, who had recently died, "He was my brother by blood, yet more my brother in religion" (Cant. xxvi. 4).

[314] Conversus. Cp. p. 14, note 1. The meaning is that after his recovery Malchus entered the community of Bangor.

[315] Acts ix. 35.

[316] 2 Kings xviii. 6.

[317] John v. 14.

[318] The abbey founded by Malachy at Soulseat. See § 68.

[319] Demorabatur, literally, lingered, or tarried. The fact seems to be that Bangor was Malachy's headquarters for the rest of his life, except the ten years which intervened between his expulsion from it (§ 18), and his resignation of the see of Armagh (§ 31). See p. 33, note 1. St. Bernard was apparently puzzled by the fact that Malachy continued to live at Bangor after his consecration, instead of going to the see-city; and he makes a not very satisfactory apology for it.

[320] The city is evidently Connor; but it is not near Bangor. The two places are twenty-five miles apart, and Belfast Lough lies between them. In Malachy's day they were in different tribal territories.