Saturday, 12 July 2014
The Life Of Saint Columba Apostle Of Scotland By F.A. Forbes CHAPTER I CHILD OF THE MOUNTAIN AND THE LAKE.
FOURTEEN hundred years ago, in the sweet days of autumn, when the woods of Gartan are clothed in crimson and gold, and the still waters of Lough Veagh reflect the deep blue of the skies above, Eithne, the wife of Fedhlimidh, Prince of Tir-Connell, had a strange dream. It seemed to her that an angel of God stood beside her, bearing in his hands a veil scattered all over with the Bowers of Paradise, and that, spreading it out, he bade her admire its beauty. Eithne was a daughter of kings, but never before had she seen so marvellously fair a web; she stretched out her hands to grasp it, but even as she touched it, it rose and fluttered lightly into the air. Over hill, mountain, and lough floated its shadowy loveliness, till it rested at last on the moors and mountains of a land that lay far away in the moaning seas. Then Eithne wept for the loss of the beautiful veil, but the angel comforted her.
"It is but a symbol," he said, "of the son that shall be born to thee in the days to come. He shall be a prince and a prophet; the world shall be perfumed by his holiness; and he shall bear the flower of the faith among the heathen far over land and sea."
When morning came Eithne told her husband of the dream, and the two took counsel together. That his son should be a great prince in no way surprised Fedhlimidh. Was not he himself a grandson of the great king Niall of the Nine Hostages, so called because he had subdued nine Kings of Ireland to his will and made them his vassals, and was not the reigning king of all Ireland his near kinsman? No strange thing would it have been in those turbulent days, when the lives of kings were short and uncertain, were the son of Fedhlimidh himself to be set on the throne as High King of Ireland.
But Eithne's dream seemed to point more to a heavenly supremacy than an earthly; was it an indication of God's will that they should dedicate their child to Him? They thought it was, and a few months later, when heaven sent them a fair and beautiful little son, they earnestly prayed to the Giver of all good gifts that He would take the child, if it seemed well to Him, for His service.
At Teampall-Douglas, a few miles from Gartan, there lived a holy old priest called Cruithnechan; to him they took the babe that it might receive at his hands the holy rites of Baptism. He was given the name of Columba, a not uncommon name in Ireland at the time, and while yet a little child was sent back to the saintly Cruithnechan that the old man might train him in the ways of wisdom and holiness.
In this Columba's parents but followed the custom of the time, for it was usual for the sons of chiefs to be brought up from their earliest youth by some great bard, soldier, or priest, according to their destination in life; and it was the duty of these foster parents to train their charges in all that had to do with their future profession.
The little Columba was an apt pupil. It was his delight to accompany his master to the Church, there to listen to the chanting of the Divine Office; and so keen of ear and quick of memory was the boy that he had learnt some of the psalms by heart before he could spell them out in the Psalter—the lesson-book of every young reader of his time. Cruithnechan himself was unaware of this until one day when he took the child with him on a visit to a brother priest near Derry. The two clerics went together to the Church to chant the Divine Office, and Columba, as was his wont, knelt to pray before the altar.
Now it came to pass that Cruithnechan lost his place, and was in great distress because he could not find it again. The office came to a standstill, and the pause would have been a long one had not the boy's clear treble voice taken up the psalm Where the old man had halted, and chanted sweetly the alternate verses until the missing place was found. It was Columba's love of the Church that won for him among his companions the name by which he became famous in after-days— "Columb-cille" or "the dove of the Church." He would slip away from their games whenever he could, but they always knew where to find him. "He nestles beside the altar like a dove in its nest," they would say.
To Cruithnechan it was evident that the blessing of God rested in no small degree on the child of his fostering. Returning home one night he saw his house lit up as it were with a great fire, and fearing for the safety of his little charge he entered in haste. All was in darkness within, save over the head of the sleeping child, where there hung a globe of fire. The old man fell on his knees, not knowing what the portent might mean; but God reassured him, showing that the light of His Holy Spirit had been poured out abundantly upon Columba, who was to labour fruitfully in His service.
It has always been acknowledged by the Celtic races that among the children of men there are a chosen few who are gifted with the second sight. Strange instances are given of mortal eyes that have seen the invisible, and of men and women who have known things that are not to be discerned by the senses. A little corner of the veil that hides the spiritual world from the world of sense has been lifted. From the earliest ages, to those who are exceptionally pure of heart and holy, this contact with the spiritual world has been given in a supernatural degree. The materialist may scoff, but the voice of the Ages is louder and clearer in our ears than his.
From his childhood Columba seems to have possessed this gift in a very marked manner. His guardian angel, we are told by his biographers, appeared to him frequently, and the child would talk to him familiarly, and ask him if all the spirits in heaven were as radiant and beautiful as he. One day the angel bade the boy tell him what he would choose if any virtue might be his for the asking.
"Well hast thou chosen, Columba," said the angel, "they shall be thine, and God will add to them yet another gift."
So it came to pass in the course of time that there appeared one day before Columba three beautiful maidens, who would have embraced him, but he pushed them roughly away.
"Dost thou not know us, Columba?" asked one of them, and a celestial radiance shone from her face and garments as she spoke. "We are three sisters sent to thee from our Father, that we may abide with thee for ever."
"I know you not," said Columba. "Who is your father?"
"Our Father is God, the Lord and Saviour of the world," answered the maiden, and her voice was like the music of heaven.
"Truly a noble parentage," said the boy. "By what names do men call you?"
"Our names are Purity, Prophecy, and Wisdom," she answered, "and we have come never to leave thee more, and to love thee with an incorruptible love."
So among the peaceful hills and lakes of Donegal the boy Columba grew into manhood. Tall and fair and straight of limb was the son of Eithne and Fedhlimidh, with a voice clear and sweet as a trumpet-call, and a heart that was fearless, pure, and true. Cruithnechan had done his work well; he had taught Columba all that he knew of earthly lore and of heavenly; but the time of his fostering was over. He must go forth now into the great world that lay beyond the quiet mountains, the world of strife and of tragedy, of joy and of sorrow.
A strange world and one of many contrasts, that of Ireland in the sixth century. To the unanimous voice of Christianity she owed her name of the "Island of the Saints." From the days of St. Patrick the monastic schools, veritable cities of God in the midst of the strife and barbarism of those early days, exerted their influence on the life around them in favour of piety, learning and civilization. Here were being formed a whole population of writers, theologians, architects, sculptors, poets, historians, and above all of missioners and preachers, who were to carry the light of the Gospel far and wide into other lands. The founders of these schools were mostly of the noblest blood in Ireland, and kings and princes did not disdain to come to them for advice and help, or even to listen to their reproofs. Most powerful for good was the influence of the Church in Ireland, and well for her that it was so, for the times were wild and lawless.
To the Hy-Nialls, the kinsmen of Columba, belonged the whole north-west of Ireland. The sovereign rule over the entire country was theirs, in the Irish colony of Dalriada in Caledonia over the seas, as well as in the mother-country of Erin.
They exercised authority over the provincial kings, but an authority that was often hotly contested, and stormily maintained at the cost of much bloodshed. The king was elected from either branch of the great Niall family or clan, the Hy-Nialls of the North, to which Columba belonged, or the Hy-Nialls of the South, and the two branches were continually at war. Into the midst of these discordant elements the law of Christ brought peace and justice, and the Saints of Ireland were the pillars of the law of Christ.
FRANCISCUS CANONICUS WYNDHAM
+ EDM. CAN. SURMONT
WESTMONASTERII, die 7 Octobris, 1913.