Thursday, 22 August 2013

Medieval Sourcebook: Rule of St. Columba 6th Century

'Even if it did not quite "save civilization", Ireland was one of the monastic centres of Europe in the early middle ages. In fact the Church in Ireland was dominated by monasteries and by monastic leaders. Other Irish monks became missionaries and converted much of Northern Europe St. Columba (521 -597) and his followers converted Scotland and much of northern England. Columba did not leave a written rule. But the following rule, attributed to him, was set down much later. I does reflects the spirit of early Irish Monasticism'.
Columba is a great hero and inspiration of mine. Some of these may be authentic others may not. Which of these rules do you think may be of benefit to modern Christians who want to make a difference in the world.AK

•Be alone in a separate place near a chief city, if thy conscience is not prepared to be in common with the crowd.

•Be always naked in imitation of Christ and the Evangelists.

•Whatsoever little or much thou possessest of anything, whether clothing, or food, or drink, let it be at the command of the senior and at his disposal, for it is not befitting a religious to have any distinction of property with his own free brother.

•Let a fast place, with one door, enclose thee.

•A few religious men to converse with thee of God and his Testament; to visit thee on days of solemnity; to strengthen thee in the Testaments of God, and the narratives of the Scriptures.

•A person too who would talk with thee in idle words, or of the world; or who murmurs at what he cannot remedy or prevent, but who would distress thee more should he be a tattler between friends and foes, thou shalt not admit him to thee, but at once give him thy benediction should he deserve it.

•Let thy servant be a discreet, religious, not tale-telling man, who is to attend continually on thee, with moderate labour of course, but always ready.

•Yield submission to every rule that is of devotion.

•A mind prepared for red martyrdom [that is death for the faith].

•A mind fortified and steadfast for white martyrdom. [that is ascetic practices] Forgiveness from the heart of every one.

•Constant prayers for those who trouble thee.

•Fervour in singing the office for the dead, as if every faithful dead was a particular friend of thine.

•Hymns for souls to be sung standing.

•Let thy vigils be constant from eve to eve, under the direction of another person.

•Three labours in the day, viz., prayers, work, and reading.

•The work to be divided into three parts, viz., thine own work, and the work of thy place, as regards its real wants; secondly, thy share of the brethen's [work]; lastly, to help the neighbours, viz., by instruction or writing, or sewing garments, or whatever labour they may be in want of, ut Dominus ait, "Non apparebis ante Me vacuus [as the Lord says, "You shall not appear before me empty."].

•Everything in its proper order; Nemo enim coronabitur nisi qui legitime certaverit. [For no one is crowned except he who has striven lawfully.]

•Follow alms-giving before all things.

•Take not of food till thou art hungry.

•Sleep not till thou feelest desire.

•Speak not except on business.

•Every increase which comes to thee in lawful meals, or in wearing apparel, give it for pity to the brethren that want it, or to the poor in like manner.

•The love of God with all thy heart and all thy strength;

•The love of thy neighbour as thyself

•Abide in the Testament of God throughout all times.

•Thy measure of prayer shall be until thy tears come;

•Or thy measure of work of labour till thy tears come;

•Or thy measure of thy work of labour, or of thy genuflexions, until thy perspiration often comes, if thy tears are not free.

From A. W. Haddan and W. Stubbs, Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland II, i (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1873), pp. 119-121.



Unknown said...

The Rule of Columba – Rule 2 – Be naked in your imitation of Christ.

Posted on June 13, 2010 | 1 Comment

In this series of short reflections on the Rule of Columba my aim is to explore the wisdom of Columba’s life in Christ and creation and to seek to apply this ancient rule, this daily walk to my own personal exploration of the life of the Spirit. In doing so I hope that in some way the principles of the Columban rule can find a newer expression and vitality in the modern era.

Rule 2.

Quite a number of years ago I came to an obvious realisation that it is was not enough to believe in Jesus, but I needed to believe in the things that Jesus believed in. I am sure for many people this is a rather obvious statement, but for me it was an important moment. It altered the course of my journey from becoming a word based person, where my relationship with God was defined by the levels of information I took in and what I could regurgitate through intellectual discourse, to a person who was intentionally seeking to understand what Jesus believed in and then trying to outwork that in my life. To be honest I am not convinced I have done a particularly good job of this, but the shift in my way of viewing the life of the Spirit was subtle yet profound for me. It led me to a series of changes that although turbulent at the time, I am now glad I took.

The first was moving away from evangelicalism, not an outright rejection of it. Evangelicalism became for me an interesting form of understanding The Trinity that seemed to be more about Father Son and Holy Bible than a honest encounter with the Triune God. In my simplistic world I could not reconcile the Scriptures claims that Jesus is the Word of God, as John so eloquently writes in the first chapter of his Gospel and the preachers claims that the Bible is the word of God. Are there two words? Is the bible Jesus? Is Jesus a book? Have we reduced Jesus down to a book? The questions however naive were very real to me and I plumped for Jesus being the eternal word and the Scriptures helping me to understand this.

Secondly it caused me to engage the plight of the poor and the Spirits’ cry for justice in the earth as a vocational calling. Justice stopped being the outworking of a law prescribed by God for all people to follow and to be punished if disobeyed, rather it became a doorway through which I could draw close to God and be embraced by the Spirit of Justice. Justice does of course transcend law as God is just and to pursue justice is to pursue God as Gods’ moral characteristic is justice. God can be nothing other than morally consistent and as the creator this moral consistency is what I have come to understand as justice.

Thirdly it caused me to reflect and to try to act upon this idea of Imitating Christ. Not easy and perhaps why Columba links the naked imitation of Christ with the evangelists as well, but more of that in a later post. Once again I found the inner journey more telling than the external one. Yet as with all things in the Divine the internal always has an external outworking. Nakedness is not a theological idea, it is a word that captures heart, spirit and compunction. It is a state of being. Naturally the practice of literal nakedness in the British climate would be an act of ridiculous stupidity and would mean death by exposure and certainly not a pleasant sight in the eye of the beholder. It became for me and what I believe to be the true intent of the rule, an idea of spiritual intent.

Unknown said...


Nakedness is raw intimacy - the sense of the immediate, the truly close, beyond the individual. Nakedness in relationship to Christ is a place of total vulnerability and exposure to the power of the Trinity. As I reflected on it, it became not only that child like state of natural innocence and uninhibited freedom, it also became that mature condition in adulthood of passion, climax and connectedness. So many of the relationships recorded in Scripture and mystical history have attempted to capture this full exposure to the immanent and invasive presence of God. Perhaps the pinnacle of this is the Song of Songs; a rich erotic love poem exposing the disarming power of love, the passionate sexual desire it calls out, the physically disabling nature of this when lost and the prudent reminder to everyone to beware arousing this condition if it cannot be fully satisfied.

I began to understand why Columba would order his rule for living in such a way as to ensure the follower of Jesus had secured their location and space to be ‘alone and separate’ first, before engaging in the pursuit of naked imitation of Christ. Once you open your soul to the surging motion of Gods’ creative passion and love, you must be in the place to fully immerse yourself in the relationship without distraction, as there is nothing that can compare to this exposure to the Divine fire and love. The naked imitation of Christ starts with the naked exposure that mirrors the Son with the Father. Alone and withdrawn on the mountain of prayer. Not the liturgical prayer of religious obedience, rather the open, vulnerable, relational union that filled the core of Jesus and created within the Son of Man the humanity the world finds so divinely attractive

Unknown said...

The Rule of Columba – Rule 10 / 11 – Forgiveness from the heart for everyone and Constant prayers for those who trouble you.

Posted on September 15, 2010 | Leave a comment

In this series of short reflections on the Rule of Columba my aim is to explore the wisdom of Columba’s life in Christ and creation and to seek to apply this ancient rule, this daily walk to my own personal exploration of the life of the Spirit. In doing so I hope that in some way the principles of the Columban rule can find a newer expression and vitality in the modern era.

It has been awhile since my last posting. Perhaps the reasons for this are a timely indicator of how the intentional practice of spiritual disciplines can carry you through the cycles of disenchantment we all face in our lives. The busyness of working on fairtrade gold, family life, kids holidays and one of my intermittent waves of general apathy towards the point of existence has led to a slumbering in my soul. It is in these phases of life that the wisdom of the daily routine in prayer and meditation that has developed in my recent years of Chasing Columba have come into their own.

I climb out of bed in the morning and move to one of the places I find I can rest in to prayer. The location has become important, reflective of what I wish to say, of how I am. The vast grey clouds that rush through my gaze speak more of my general malaise that a stream of words from my mouth ever could. These times of prayer are often an open assault on myself, by myself. It is strange to think that we fool ourselves into thinking that pray is always a conversation with God. For me over the last few months prayer has been more about conversation with myself in front of God than any form of meaningful dialogue with my maker.

The vacumm that God’s silence creates in these moments of my life suck the negative residue of my life and false loves to the surface. The express train of useless thoughts, random arguments with fictional(?) persons, emotions of deep seated resentment, explosion of appetites, fantasies masquerading as prophecy, the dance of the ego on my choices and the idle inane chatter of the heart and mind create tangible turbulence in my soul. How am I to over come these disturbances? It feels like I am staring into the sun, the sun so bright and close that I am blinded by a light I cannot draw my gaze away from, as its warmth is pure pleasure, yet this pure light is as utter darkness to the human soul as I am revealed for who I truly am. The toxins of my life flood out of my history spewing on to the beach in which I must now bathe.

This turbulence then becomes the keen challenge of Christ centred spirituality.

It is in these moments when I discover my disquiet. As I travel these thoughts and turbulence’s to their origins and sources I invariable find that they all begin in my inability to forgive someone for an injustice that has been done to me. I begin to pray as Columba did, ‘forgiveness from the heart for everyone and prayer for those that trouble m’. This way I am learning the root work of the Holy Spirit as the negative narrative in my mind is captured in Christ’s forgiveness and the purifying work of the Holy Spirit exposes my true nature and makes it as it should be.

Forgiveness is an act. An act that primarily benefits me as it releases me from the potential prison of my own self indulgent madness, draws me back to the purpose of real life and readjusts the trajectory that I am on.

Columba I believe understood that the shortest rules have the most powerful impact. It is the echo of Christs prayer, ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’. Forgiveness is the doorway to true freedom and as I dwell in my greyness and state of being generally pissed off with life as a whole package (which I might add I have no earthly right to do, I confess I am addicted to hypocrisy) I discover that the power of the gospel of freedom is built upon the foundation stone of forgiveness.

Unknown said...

The Rule of Columba – Rule 1 – ‘Be alone in a separate place’.

Posted on May 1, 2010 | Leave a comment

In this series of short reflections on the Rule of Columba my aim is to explore the wisdom of Columba’s life in Christ and creation and to seek to apply this ancient rule, to my own personal exploration of the life of the Spirit. In doing so I hope that in some way the wisdom of Columba’s rule can find a newer expression and vitality in the modern era.

Rule 1.


There can be no doubt that the Celtic Saints knew how to choose a location. Aidan’s Lindisfarne, Cuthbert’s Inner Farne, Kevin’s Glendalough, the disciples of Dicuil’s Bosham or Columba’s Iona are places that are inhabited by a true sense of the wild, the wonderful, the dramatic and the intensely beautiful. They were on the very edge of where humanity at the time could exist. The sensory overload you experience when standing in such locations is truly majestic. A view through history captured in the landscape of the Divine. I have always been struck by what overwhelming instinct would drive ordinary men or women to abandon the shelter of their homes and warmth of their partners beds to journey to the ends of the known world and live out a sparse and meagre existence, as in the case of Fionan, who on the wild and exposed rock of Skellig Michael fell into the arms of the wild Atlantic and its Creator.

Sunset over the Farne Islands

What was striking to me as I began to read Columba’s rule was that he placed the location of the encounter with Christ before the ‘naked imitation of Christ’. The more I reflected upon the location of my encounter with The Trinity, the more I began to understand the simple logic in this, as well as the profound impact that such a step could have in my own life.

Alone and separate did not mean lonely and isolated. There can be no doubt that to embrace the idea of being alone, can be a terrifying experience for many people. Walking away from the noise and bustle of modern society and the sense of self-importance derived from eating at this table, is an intentional step that is extremely counter intuitive in society and conventional church culture.

Daily life and activity is intent on bombarding ones senses with images, noises and activities that in the final analysis are questionable regarding the value and legacy they impress upon ones eternal reality. To intentionally remove ones self from this narrative of society became a bold step away from feeding my ego. Given that our world seems to be about the communication of fear and/or desire over love and justice this may not be such an unwise move. It is fascinating to reflect upon the crude nature of advertising as an example. It would appear its three primary drivers are;

Unknown said...

◾Desire to possess what we do not have or need,
◾Fear of what may happen to us through what we cannot see or control,
◾Ownership of the product that will satisfy the desire or alleviate the fear.

All this gives us the illusion of being in control over the natural order and the domesticating of the world around us.

Being separate and alone moves me to a place where I have to live with my own inner turmoil, conversations, fears and desires without the ‘soma‘ of modern living to drown out the voice of my true self. Yet finding that place is not easy. For Columba and his many followers this was the first step. Find your space, find your location, find your stillness, find your place where you can be alone with the Trinity.

It then seems that location becomes more than just a place of personal stillness and prayer, it becomes an external manifestation of the relationship with Christ. A place that embodies the dynamism, drama and breadth of the encounter of the living Christ as this extract from Columcille Fecit beautifully illustrates,

‘Delightful would it be to me to be in Uchd Ailiun

On the pinnacle of a rock,

That I might often see

The face of the ocean;

That I might see its heaving waves

Over the wide ocean,

When they chant music to their Father

Upon the world’s course;’

Naturally this practice can take on many shapes and forms. It can be a location, it can be a meditative state that opens one up to the eternal presence, it can be a image that triggers humility. Yielding to the ‘aloneness’ of self, ushers in the face of Christ in whom we encounter our true identity. It is here we are discovered and discover that we are never alone.

The opening phrase of the Rule of Columba began to capture for me the true kernel of what the indigenous Christian spirituality of the British Isles was all about. The yearning for intimacy with Christ is the total abandonment of self to love and passion can only be experienced through naked intimacy (one cannot be intimate in public after all, as society and institutionalised religions, classes that as indecent).

Yet this aloneness and the richness that flows from it is set in an eternal location. The inner journey is captured in the outer landscape. That landscape needed to be discovered and needed to be remote, wild, exposed and inhabited by His and my presence alone. It seems to me that human beings are the only creatures on earth who intentionally build shelters for themselves to escape the power and rawness of creation, domesticate their surrounding landscape, call it normal and expect everything else to conform to this behaviour.

Yet in the world of God’s Spirit intimacy means naked exposure,

‘as deep calls to deep, in your rushing waters:

and all your torrents, all your waves have flowed over me’.

The psalmist could only capture the depth of God’s presence in the language and experience of being overpowered by the nature of water.

Columba understood that aloneness meant ‘togetherness without distraction’ and that the created order was the bed upon which we lay down with the Godhead. As I am enfolded in the dynamic personality of the Spirit, the immanence of Gods-self in the wonder and beauty of the created order allows me to be my natural self.