Rule of St Columba

A great deal of sentimental and fictional storytelling has gone on with regard to “Celtic Christianity.”

But history does tell us Ireland was one of the monastic centers of Europe in the early middle ages. The Church in early Ireland was organized by monasteries and by monastic leaders. Many Irish monks became missionaries, and converted much of Northern Europe, spreading literacy and knowledge of the classics into the pagan territory of the Germans and Franks.

Saint Columba (521-597) and his followers converted Scotland and much of northern England. The following rule, attributed to him, reflects the spirit of early Irish monasticism.

  • Be alone in a separate place near a chief city, if your conscience is not prepared to be in common with the crowd.
  • Be always unadorned in imitation of Christ and the Evangelists.
  • Whatsoever little or much you possess 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 monastic to have any distinction of property with his own free brother.
  • Let a secret place, with one door, enclose you.
  • A few religious men to converse with you of God and his Testament; to visit you on days of solemnity; to strengthen you in the Testaments of God, and the narratives of the Scriptures;
  • However a person who would talk with you in idle words, or of the world; or who murmurs at what he cannot remedy or prevent, but who would distress you more as a tattler between friends and foes, you shalt not admit him to you, but at once give him your blessing should he deserve it.
  • Let your servant be a discreet, religious, not tale-telling man, who is to attend continually on you, with moderate labor 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 for every one.
  • Constant prayers for those who trouble you.
  • Fervor in singing the office for the dead, as if every faithful dead was a particular friend of yours.
  • Hymns for souls to be sung standing.
  • Let your vigils be constant from eve to eve, under the direction of another person.
  • Three labors in the day: prayers, work, and reading.
  • The work to be divided into three parts: your own work, and the work of your place, as regards its real wants; secondly, your share of the brethen’s work; lastly, to help the neighbors, by instruction or writing, or sewing garments, or whatever labour they may be in want of as the Lord says, “You shall not appear before me empty.”
  • Everything in its proper order; “For no one is crowned except he who has striven lawfully.”
  • Follow alms-giving before all things.
  • Take not of food till you are hungry.
  • Sleep not till you feel drowsy.
  • Speak not except on business.
  • Every increase which comes to you in lawful meals, or in wearing apparel, in compassion give it to the brethren that need it, or to the poor in like manner.
  • The love of God with all your heart and all your strength;
  • The love of your neighbor as yourself
  • Abide in the Testament of God throughout all times.
  • Your measure of prayer shall be until your tears come;
  • Or your measure of work of labor till your tears come;
  • Or your measure of your work of labor, or of your bowing, until your perspiration often comes, if your tears are not free.

Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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