Life of St. Columb
July 24, 2011
In the days before the printing press, the only way to get a book was to make a copy – by hand or to have another person make a copy for you. So, living in the 500’s, the only way for St. Columbkille to have a book was to do the slow and meticulous work of copying the text. No Amazon or local bookstore handy. In Adomnan’s life of Colum Cille, he says that Columb placed the copying of texts as important as reading and praying. I am thankful that I live in the age of computers. It was bad enough living in the age of typewriters and before copy machines, but I cannot imagine what it must have been like to create each book by hand. There are several stories from the life of Columb that are worth retelling and parents can probably relate to them as well:
One day Columb was sitting by the fire in the monastery when he saw a monk named Luigbe reading a book. “Take care, my son,” he said, “take care. For I think that the book you are studying is going to fall into a vessel of water (sound familiar parents).” Columb’s concern was well-founded for when the young man got up from reading, “he casually tucked the book under his arm and let it slip and fall into a bucket of water.” Adomnan thinks this is evidence of the saint’s ability to see the future, but I think it was evidence of how well he understood the monks in his community, just like parents can predict when milk will spill at the table! Of course, all the parents who can predict the spilling of milk may be saints too.
Another day, Columb was sitting in his writing hut when he heard a man shouting from the other side of the Sound of Iona, as was commonly done, to announce his arrival on the island. Columb says, “The man who is shouting across the sound is too careless to watch what he is doing. Today he will tip over my little horn and spill the ink.” Columb’s helper heard what he said and so stationed himself at the door to guard the ink and keep the man at a distance, but he happened to be doing something else when the visitor arrived. “As he went forward to kiss the saint, he upset the horn with the edge of his garment and spilt the ink.” Adomnan does not say if Columb got angry or yelled at the guy. Maybe Columb realized that it was the guy’s excitement at meeting Columb that caused him to spill the ink. Parents, ever have your children’s friends shouting outside the house and know that when that child gets inside they are sure to tip over something? Holiness or spiritual insight? Perhaps, a bit of both?
“One day Baithene came to Columb and said, “I need one of the brethren to help me go through the text of the psalter I have copied and correct any mistakes.” The saint said to him, “Why do you bring this trouble on us when there is no need? For in your copy of the psalter there is no mistake – neither one letter too many nor one too few – except that in one place the letter “I” is missing.” So it was. Having gone though the whole psalter, it was found to be exactly as the saint predicted.” Apparently one of the gifts of St. Columb was the grace of an internal spell check. Of course parents may know that certain of their children rarely make a mistake and they could harbor a guess that all is well…
There are lots of other stories about his commitment to copying texts so that others could read them. Such was his commitment that even as an old man and on the night of his death he was copying texts. The last thing he copied was from Psalm 34, “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Then he laid down his pen and said, “Here at the end of the page I must stop. Let Baithene write what follows…”
Of course, St. Columbkille is the patron saint of…bookbinders.
Life of St. Columb
A series of writings from his biography by Fr Damian Zuerlein:
Saint Columbkille Parish Home
200 East 6th Street
Papillion, Nebraska 68046
Wednesday, August 10, 2011 01:15 PM