Columbanus : biography
Rule of Saint Columbanus
The Rule of Saint Columbanus embodied the customs of Bangor Abbey and other Celtic monasteries. Much shorter than Rule of Saint Benedict, the Rule of Saint Columbanus consists of ten chapters:
- Of obedience
- Of silence
- Of food
- Of poverty
- Of humility
- Of chastity
- Of choir offices
- Of discretion
- Of mortification
- Of perfection
Fresco of Saint Columbanus in [[Brugnato Cathedral]] In the first chapter, Columbanus introduces the great principle of his Rule: obedience, absolute and unreserved. The words of seniors should aways be obeyed, just as "Christ obeyed the Father up to death for us." One manifestation of this obedience was constant hard labour designed to subdue the flesh, exercise the will in daily self-denial, and set an example of industry in cultivation of the soil. The least deviation from the Rule entailed corporal punishment, or a severe form of fasting. In the second chapter, Columbanus instructs that the rule of silence be "carefully observed", since it is written: "But the nurture of righteousness is silence and peace". He also warns, "Justly will they be damned who would not say just things when they could, but preferred to say with garrulous loquacity what is evil …" In the third chapter, Columbanus instructs, "Let the monks’ food be poor and taken in the evening, such as to avoid repletion, and their drink such as to avoid intoxication, so that it may both maintain life and not harm …" Columbanus continues:
In the fourth chapter, Columbanus presents the virtue of poverty and of overcoming greed, and that monks should be satisfied with "small possessions of utter need, knowing that greed is a leprosy for monks". Columbanus also instructs that "nakedness and disdain of riches are the first perfection of monks, but the second is the purging of vices, the third the most perfect and perpetual love of God and unceasing affection for things divine, which follows on the forgetfulness of earthly things. Since this is so, we have need of few things, according to the word of the Lord, or even of one." In the fifth chapter, Columbanus warns against vanity, reminding the monks of Jesus’ warning in Luke 16:15: "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight." In the sixth chapter, Columbanus instructs that "a monk’s chastity is indeed judged in his thoughts" and warns, "What profit is it if he be virgin in body, if he be not virgin in mind? For God, being Spirit."
In the seventh chapter, Columbanus instituted a service of perpetual prayer, known as laus perennis, by which choir succeeded choir, both day and night.Montalembert 1898, II p. 405. In the eighth chapter, Columbanus stresses the importance of discretion in the lives of monks in order to avoid "the downfall of some, who beginning without discretion and passing their time without a sobering knowledge, have been unable to complete a praiseworthy life." Monks are instructed to pray to God for to "illumine this way, surrounded on every side by the world’s thickest darkness". Columbanus cntinues:
In the ninth chapter, Columbanus presents mortification as an essential element in the lives of monks, who are instructed, "Do nothing without counsel." Monks are warned to "beware of a proud independence, and learn true lowliness as they obey without murmuring and hesitation." According to the Rule, there are three components to mortification: "not to disagree in mind, not to speak as one pleases with the tongue, not to go anywhere with complete freedom." This mirrors the words of Jesus, "For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me." (John 6:38) In the tenth and final chapter, Columbanus regulates forms of penance (often corporal) for offences, and it is here that the Rule of St. Columbanus differs significantly from that of Saint Benedict.
The habit of the monks consisted of a tunic of undyed wool, over which was worn the cuculla, or cowl, of the same material. A great deal of time was devoted to various kinds of manual labour, not unlike the life in monasteries of other rules. The Rule of Saint Columbanus was approved of by the Synod of Mâcon in 627, but it was superseded at the close of the century by the Rule of Saint Benedict. For several centuries in some of the greater monasteries the two rules were observed conjointly.