Imagens da página

discusses the question whether the Byzantine Emperors borrowed the rite of coronation from the petty princes of Britain and Ireland, and concludes that, on the contrary, the British chiefs, after their separation from the Empire, caused themselves to be crowned with the same ceremonies which they knew to have been adopted by their former masters. The fact is, Columba and Aidan are more likely to have remembered the example of Saul and Samuel than any Roman or Eastern precedent; if, indeed, it is not more probable that the ceremony was simply an acknowledgment of the king's right by an ecclesiastic who had obtained a wholly abnormal and an extraordinary amount of popular influence.

I have already referred to Columba's occasional visits to Ireland, after he had conquered the first bitterness of exile. His last, and most remarkable, took place in 590, when he attended the Great Council of Drumceatt,1 in Deny. He was accompanied by King Aidan, and one of his objects was to compose a difference which had arisen between that sovereign and Aidh, or Aidus, king of Ireland. The assembly sat for fourteen weeks, and included the two sovereigns, the nobles and great men, and the bishops and abbots of the country. The first question before them was the preservation of the privileges of a community scarcely less influential than the clerical order, namely, the Irish Bards, those men to whom the nation owed so much both as poets and historians, who did so much for the national genius, who kept alive in the hearts of the people the flame of patriotism. In the old days the poet exercised a power that none could afford to despise. He made history. His songs were the only channels through which the deeds of the warrior or statesman could be transmitted to posterity. Only through his songs could the prince secure the good repute of his contemporaries. Only through his songs could valour be dignified and endurance consecrated, could cowardice be shamed, and folly chastised. Such a position was necessarily attended by many evils, the chief of which was, a tendency to the abuse of the immunities it conferred. And so the Bards had provoked against them that force of "public opinion" which exists in every community, and in 1 Said to be derived from Dorsum ceta, "the Whale's back."

every community, sooner or later, proves strong enough to check the tyrant and the oppressor. Relying upon this force, King Aidh proposed that the order should be abolished, and, doubtless, would have carried his proposal but for the poetical sympathies of Columba. Coloniser, ruler, evangelist, priest! he was all these, but he was something more. By right of genius he belonged to the great Bardic order, and he stood forward to plead the cause of those whom he took to his heart as brethren.

The measure of his personal influence is shown by the fact that he succeeded. He represented that wise men should not pull up the wheat with the tares; that the exile and destruction of the poets would be the death of History, the extinction of antiquity, the crushing out of national life. His arguments so far prevailed that the council agreed to confirm the traditional privileges of the order; but on condition that the number of its members was limited, and that they were placed under certain regulations to be drawn up by Columba himself.

The Bards knew that they had been saved by the apostle, and they manifested their gratitude by exalting him in their strains. It is fair to conclude, perhaps, that they fully repaid the service he had rendered them, and that not a little of his fame is due to the pious particularity with which they chronicled his virtues and his achievements. According to a strange legend, the good saint was temporarily led astray by the intoxication of this delightful incense. Dallan Forgaill, the third chief of the Bards, having composed a song in honour of their preserver, proceeded to sing it in his presence. A flush of gratified pride passed over the saint's countenance. It was observed, however, by Baithen, one of the twelve disciples, who boldly reproved him, and told him that he could see a cloud of demons hovering around his head. Columba wisely profited by the rebuke so sharply administered; and reminding Dallan that only after men are dead do we engrave their names upon brass, he forbade a repetition of the eulogium. It was not therefore until after his decease that the celebrated Ambhra, or " Praise of S. Columb," became generally known. Then it was taken up into the memory of the people both in Ireland and Scotland, and acquired in time such a sanctity that men came to regard it as a spell or talisman, and to believe that whoever knew it by heart and sang it devoutly would die a happy death. Nay, more, if one sang it daily, one would certainly be saved,—an evil superstition which, according to the legend, was miraculously exposed. For a priest of Armagh, who lived an evil life, and desired, as many do, to obtain salvation without the exercise of self-sacrifice, hastened to learn the wonder-working Ambhra. Alas, as fast as he learned he forgot one half. He made a pilgrimage to Columba's tomb, and quoted, and prayed, and repeated his lesson over and over again, with no other result than always to forget the first portion while he committed to memory the second.

We return to Drumceatt. After the question of the Bards had been decided, the Council discussed the relations existing between the "King of Ireland" and the King of the Dalriadic Scots. Here, too, the personal influence of S. Columba secured a peaceful issue, and Aidh agreed to renounce all claims of superiority over the settlers in Alba. It would seem that Columba advised the assembly to refer the matter to the learned S. Colman, and that the latter decided in favour of British Dalriada.1

We see, then, that at this great Council, our Hero of the Cross, the Apostle of Caledonia, received from the princes and prelates of Ireland every token of reverence and affection; while he, on his part, was never weary of finding opportunities to inculcate the Gospel lessons of charity, peace, and concord. On its dissolution, he undertook a tour of inspection, visiting the clan-monasteries he had founded, or those in which he was interested by the associations of his early life. We can imagine with what joy he paced once again the leafy glades of the oak-forests of Durrow and Deny! He travelled also to Clonmacnoise, where the monks, with the Abbot Aritherus at their head, came forth to meet him in solemn procession, filling the air with the sweet grave sounds of litany and psalm. They prostrated themselves on the ground at his feet; then rose at his bidding, and lavished caresses upon him: after which they escorted him to the Abbot's hut, screening him from the

1 Reeves, "Adamnan," p. lxxvi. ; O'Donnel], bk. iii. c. 2—io. D

crowd that pressed upon his footsteps by a rampart of green boughs and branches, borne by four men.

On this journey a miracle occurred, which may here be narrated in illustration of the tendency of the old hagiographers to adapt the wonders wrought by our Lord to the circumstances of their respective heroes. At one of his own monasteries, where Columba halted, a poor scholar, mean of aspect and hesitating of speech, who was employed in the meanest labours of the community, wound through the throng, and stealthily drawing near the great Abbot, touched the hem of his robe unseen, as the Canaanitish woman touched her Redeemer's garment. Columba, perceiving that a virtue had gone out of him, turned round, and throwing his arm about the youth's neck, kissed him. "Away, little fool!" shouted the spectators. "Not so," exclaimed Columba; and addressing the pale-faced scholar, "My son," he said, "open thy mouth, and show thy tongue," (Ofili, aperi os, et porrige linguam.) Trembling, he obeyed. The Abbot made the sign of the cross upon his tongue, and added: "Let none henceforth despise this child, who appears to you so fit to be a mock. Daily shall he increase in wisdom and virtue; and he shall yet be numbered with the greatest among you; for to this tongue will God give the gift of eloquence and wholesome learning." The prediction was fulfilled, and S. Eman is still an honoured name in the ancient Kalendar.

After Columba's return to Iona, he continued to watch over the well-being of the monasteries he had founded, and to maintain with them a constant correspondence. Here, again, his biographer would have us believe he was miraculously assisted. One day, says Adamnan, he suddenly paused in his labours in his island-cell, and cried aloud, "Help, help!" (Anxiliare, auxiliare!) Two of the brethren, who chanced to be standing on the threshold, asked him wherefore he called, and to whom he addressed himself. He explained that he was speaking to the guardian angel of the community, bidding him hasten to the rescue of a man who had fallen from the summit of the round tower at Durrow. That he would arrive in time to save him he nothing doubted; such was his estimation of the indescribable swiftness of the angelic flight, which he compared to that of lightning.

On a misty and dreary day in Iona, when the sun hung heavy with clouds, the Abbot was observed to burst into tears. He was asked to explain the cause of his distress. "Ah, my son, I do not weep without reason; for at this very hour I see my beloved monks of Durrow condemned by their Abbot Laiorannus to fatigue themselves by building up the high tower of their monastery." Happily, charity is contagious, and at that very hour, as was afterwards ascertained, the Abbot of Durrow felt burning within him a new flame of compassion, and awakening to a sense of his unnecessary severity, he bade his monks desist from their toil, and seek refreshment and repose.

The reader will wonder, perhaps, why I repeat these illustrations of the childlike credulity of S. Columba's biographer; and whether I require of him to believe Adamnan as fully as Adamnan appears to have believed his informants, and the traditions which he received? I have already said that I see no reason for admitting in S. Columba the existence of any miraculous gifts; but then these stories, whatever may be their folly or improbability, are valuable so far as they show the breadth and depth of the impression which Columba produced upon his contemporaries. Had not Columba been "a king of men," strong to govern and apt to teach; had he not possessed a spirit of heroic devotion and irresistible ardour, these legends would never have been originated, or would never have passed current; their obvious falsehood would have caused their rejection. In our own time, for instance, we have seen an attempt made to impose upon the world a Napoleonic legend, which artist and historian strove their utmost to popularise; but facts have been too strong for them, criticism has been too searching, and the world refuses to see in the ambitious Consul and aggressive Emperor, that all-seeing, all-knowing, and magnificent hero who shines on the glittering page of Thiers and the canvas of Horace Vernet. But such was not the case with S. Columba. His life was so pre-eminently a life of holy work, his character was so pre-eminently that of a Christian teacher, that there was a natural readiness in the minds of men to accept any stories or traditions which seemed to bring out that life and character into bolder relief.

And here I may observe that one fact is established by the

« AnteriorContinuar »