Friday, November 26, 2010

The Rule of Columba

This is a follow up to yesterday's blog article. As I was thumbing through Celtic Christianity Ecology and Holiness, I noted one of the entries included the Rule of Columba. The Rule of Columba is a famous rule, especially in Celtic studies. That got me to thinking today, and I realized how important it would be in a blog like this, to include it, and provide some commentary. After all, the Rule represents one of the great Celtic contributions to monastic Christianity, which we have seen was a major force in helping to transform a pagan Europe. So here then is the Rule (drumroll):

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.

Just a few observations. First, the Rule is short enough that the monks could easily have memorized it. This would have been "easy" when one considers monks were urged to memorize all 150 of the Psalms! There's a mental challange for you.

Second, note how the rule stresses simplicity of life. No wonder that St. Francis would find inspiration for the Celtic monks who helped shape his outlook on life.

Third, note the emphasis on pilgrimage, the stress on journey in one's faith. As I have remarked in previous blog articles, this is one of the distinctive feature of Celtic Christianity.

I also love the phrase "Everything in its proper order."  It's almost as if the Rule is allowing for all the crazy curves, and ups and downs, which comes ones way. This is the "everything else" file, or "other duties as indicated". The Celts were no dummies, nor were they fundamentalists. They understood that life was full of gray areas, ambiguities, and that these "spaces", were as important as the rest. This is a Rule which is both strict and flexible.

1 comment:

  1. The Celts were no fundamentalists. Indeed. I'm glad you drew that lesson from the Rule. It is, perhaps, one of their most attractive features. Lord knows, they took the Bible and the dogmas of the Christian Faith at least as seriously as anybody else: the surviving record demonstrates that amply. But fundamentalists are poor creatures who feel threatened by reality and therefore make a small box, a carefully predetermined matrix, to force all of reality to conform to. Our Celtic spiritual ancestors were free enough to trust the Faith, to believe it to be true even when contact with reality confused them. Their stories show us, over and over, that the real world always fit their Faith, even though they didn't have to squeeze reality to make the fit.

    I am reminded of the dictionary for bards published in Ireland. (My source for information about it is John Minahane's book _The Christian Druids_, but it has, inexplicably, no index, so it will not be an easy matter for me to find the references I want to quote them.) This dictionary provides definitions and etymologies for Irish words to be used in constructing poems. The fun and liberating thing about it is that it will give, for example, one definition of a word based on its Hebrew origin, another based on its old Irish root, and something quite different if one wants to derive it from Latin. (He tells of poems which can be read in several different ways, depending on which definitions and derivations are assumed. One poem he mentioned could be heard as praise of a patron or as a withering satire of his cheapness.) Quite unscientific etymology, of course, guaranteed to give any modern lexicographer heartburn, if not a heart attack. But the underlying attitude is so refreshing. The world is bigger than your boxes! Truth does not fit out matrices. It is not reality's job to conform to us, it is our job to describe it adequately.

    None of this is your vocabulary, or Bamford's, or St. Columba's, but I think the ideas are compatible.