Parish of Guardian Angel / St. Columba

St. Columba: Influence, and attitude towards Rome

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He was not only a great missionary saint who won a whole kingdom to Christ, but he was a statesman, a scholar, a poet, and the founder of numerous churches and monasteries. His name is dear to Scotsmen and Irishmen alike. And because of his great and noble work even non-Catholics hold his memory in veneration. For the purposes of controversy it has been maintained some that St. Columba ignored papal supremacy, because he entered upon his mission without the pope's authorization. Adamnan is silent on the subject; but his work is neither exhaustive as to Columba's life, nor does it pretend to catalogue the implicit and explicit belief of his patron. Indeed, in those days a mandate from the pope was not deemed essential for the work which St. Columba undertook.

This may be gathered from the words of St. Gregory the Great, relative to the neglect of the British clergy towards the pagan Saxons (Haddan and Stubbs, III, 10). Columba was a son of the Irish Church, which taught from the days of St. Patrick that matters of greater moment should be referred to the Holy See for settlement. St. Columbanus, Columba's fellow-countryman and fellow-churchman, asked for papal judgment (judicium) on the Easter question; so did the bishops and abbots of Ireland. There is not the slightest evidence to prove that St. Columba differed on this point from his fellow-countrymen. Moreover, the Stowe Missal, which, according to the best authority, represents the Mass of the Celtic Church during the early part of the seventh century, contains in its Canon prayers for the pope more emphatic than even those of the Roman Liturgy.

To the further objection as to the supposed absence of the cultus of Our Lady, it may be pointed out that the same Stowe Missal contains before its Canon the invocation "Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis", which epitomizes all Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin. As to the Easter difficulty Bede thus sums up the reasons for the discrepancy: "He [Columba] left successors distinguished for great charity, Divine love, and strict attention to the rules of discipline following indeed uncertain cycles in the computation of the great festival of Easter, because, far away as they were out of the world, no one had supplied them with the synodal decrees relating to the Paschal observance" (H.E., III, iv). As far as can be ascertained no proper symbolical representation of St. Columba exists. The few attempts that have been made are for the most part mistaken. A suitable pictorial representation would exhibit him, clothed in the habit and cowl usually worn by the Basilian or Benedictine monks, with Celtic tonsure and crosier. His identity could be best determined by showing him standing near the shell-strewn shore, with currach hard by, and the Celtic cross and ruins of Iona in the background.



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