Who was Columbanus?

Born in 543 AD in Ireland, Columbanus was an Irish missionary who brought Bible truth to Europe at a time when it was inundated by Roman Catholic dogma. Fully surrendered to the will of God, Columbanus was a man who was exceptionally gifted and these gifts he utilized in the advancement of the work of God.

He was a ministerial student at Bangor in Wales and was probably a student there when Dinooth was director of the school. He was a gifted poet, a lover of music, and transcribed several copies of the Bible by hand during his time at Bangor, which he later used in his work all over Europe. Columbanus came to hear about the miserable condition of France, both spiritually and morally, under the influence of the Papacy and he determined to go there as a missionary.

Early Ministry in Gaul

Gaul under the Franks has been savaged by fratricidal warfare between the descendants of Clovis. Added to this the adopted religion of the Franks, Roman Catholicism offered very little scope for a transformation of heart and life leading to a decaying social fabric. The most important thing Columbanus brought to Gaul was the purity of true Bible religion, not just as an intellectually stimulating ideal but as a power that was able to transform the lives of its adherents. The papacy had maneuvered itself into the heart of the social fiber of Gaul through political prowess but Columbanus and his associates brought themselves into the same position by presenting the beauty of God’s character and truth, through the Bible and through the example of their own lives.

Their lives were a testimony to the power of their message and as people saw the fruits of Christian love and kindness manifested in their lives they longed to have the same spiritual experience that these missionaries had. Because Columbanus was a scholar he won the confidence of the descendants of Clovis who 

were ruling at that time giving him the kind of support and influence that assisted him in his work. Up to this point, these missionaries had battled against Paganism but in Europe, they faced a completely different challenge, that of uplifting the spiritual lives of those who had been fed a watered down emaciated version of Christianity.

King Guntram offered Columbanus the partially ruined fortress of Anagrates to establish a training school but the work that was before Columbanus and his associates was challenging at best. Before the buildings were erected and the first harvest came in they suffered from cold and hunger, often having to forage for berries and whatever they could find on the ground to make up a meager supply of food. They suffered to such an extent that, on one occasion, King Guntram, hearing of their plight sent them a supply of food to sustain them. Yet in the face of all these challenges, they soldiered on and successfully built up a missionary training school in Europe which was a breath of fresh air to the youth in the surrounding nations.

Establishing Training Centers

Under Gregory I, Rome had largely excised much of its avenues of learning, driving the mathematicians from Rome, forbidding the teaching of Greek and proscribing learning in general. People were starving not just for biblical truth but for learning in general and the school at Anagrates was a welcome opportunity to immerse the youth of the land in both classical and spiritual education. The school had such an influx of young people that it soon grew too small to keep up with the demand and a second school was set up in Luxeuil and then a third in Fontaines. During this time a steady stream of teachers and leaders came across from Ireland as reinforcements to help the original missionaries and the work flourished.

Rome Reaches Out

In 602 AD the Roman church, surveying the popular spread of Celtic Christianity and perceiving it as a threat to their influence over the masses, summoned Columbanus to appear before a Synod of Bishops from Gaul. He refused to acquiesce to the request, sending instead a letter begging them not to interrupt 

the work that he and his associates were doing. Arguing that they were not obstructing the work of Catholicism and plainly stating that all they wished was to be left in peace to carry on their work. The church, however, would not be won over and joining forces with Queen Brunhilda, wife of Siegbert of Austrasia, they set about to destroy Columbanus’s work.

Last Endeavours in Italy

In the face of this persecution, Columbanus decided to leave, for he feared for the lives of his associates. He spent periods of time in the courts of various rulers throughout the fragmented Germanic tribes of Europe, leaving behind him a trail of missionary training centers throughout Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.  He finally arrived in the Lombard stronghold of Italy and was bequeathed the ruined monastery of Bobbio by the Lombard king Agilulf as a center to establish his work in Italy. Here, the aged teacher, well past 70, proceeded to build a new training school from the ground up, passing away about a year after he had finished his work at Bobbio.

The life and work of Columbanus is a testament to the power of a life completely consecrated to Jesus and wholly consumed by a clear Christ focused mission. Columbanus knew, clearly, unmistakably, the work that God had called him to do and not only did he respond to that calling, he poured out his entire life for it. Having a clear sense of mission is one of the greatest galvanizing forces known to man, stirring even the most lifeless communities into focused, intentional, energetic action. It is a clear sense of mission that led Columbanus to persevere in the face of difficulty, to give himself wholeheartedly to his work and to make such a profound impact on the lives of so many people. Mission defines life direction. Where are you headed? What mission focus is taking you there?