THIRD MILLENIUM LIBRARY
Introduction to the Creation of the Universe
 

THE LOMBARD KINGDOM

CHAPTER III.

SAINT COLUMBANUS.


In relating the history of the four great duchies, we have travelled far down through the seventh century. We must now retrace our steps to the very beginning of that century, and follow the fortunes of the Lombard kingdom established at Pavia, from the year 603 onwards. It will be remembered that this year witnessed the greatest of King Agilulf’s triumph. Cremona, Mantua, Brexillum, all surrendered to his generals; the whole valley of the Po became a Lombard possession; the Exarch Smaragdus was forced to conclude peace on terms humiliating to the Empire; the kidnapped daughter of Agilulf, with her husband Gottschalk, was restored to her father; and, most fortunate event, as it seemed, of all, the new dynasty was consolidated by the birth of Theudelinda’s son Adalwald, who was baptized according to the Catholic rite by Bishop Secundus of Trient.

Agilulf lived for twelve or thirteen years after this year of triumph, but, with one exception, that period seems to have been marked by no political events of great importance for the Lombard kingdom. The exception referred to—and it was a lamentable one—was that terrible invasion of the once friendly Avars which (as was told in the last chapter) blasted the reviving prosperity of the border duchy of Friuli.

Relations with the Empire consisted chiefly of a series of renewals of the peace of 603. It had been arranged that that peace should endure till the first of April, 605. In the summer of that year we must suppose the war to have been in some measure renewed, and the Lombards to have been successful, for two cities on the east of Lake Bolsena, Orvieto and Bagnorea, were lost by the Empire. In November of this year (605) Smaragdus was fain to conclude a year’s peace with Agilulf at a cost of 12,000 solidi. In 606 the peace was renewed for three years more. It was, perhaps, in 609, at the end of this interval that Agilulf sent a great officer of the household to the Emperor Phocas. He returned, accompanied by the Imperial ambassadors, who brought gifts from their master, and renewed the yearly peace. And so the diplomatic game went on, somewhat in the same fashion as between Spain and the United Provinces in the early part of the seventeenth century. The Roman Emperor could not recognize the Lombards as lawful possessors of any part of the soil of Italy, but he was willing to postpone from year to year the effort to expel them; and the Lombard king, sometimes by the inducement of a large payment of money, was made willing to allow the operation to be so postponed. Emperor succeeded Emperor at Constantinople—the revolution which placed Heraclius on the Imperial throne broke out in the autumn of 610—and Exarch succeeded Exarch at Ravenna, but the long-delayed war never came during that generation.

With his powerful neighbors on the west, the relations of Agilulf were also in the main peaceful. When in July, 604, the infant Adalwald was solemnly raised upon the shield in the Roman hippodrome at Milan, and declared king over the Lombards, the ambassadors of the Austrasian king, Theudebert II, were standing by, and in their master’s name they swore to a perpetual peace between the Lombards and the Franks, to be sealed by the marriage of the royal babe with their master’s daughter.

A few years later we hear of Agilulf as joining a quadruple alliance against Theodoric II of Burgundy. This young king, sensual and profligate like all the Merovingian brood, had repudiated with insult the daughter of the Visigothic king, Witterich. Some said that the divorce was suggested by Theodoric’s grandmother Brunichildis, who in her eager clutch of regal power would rather that her descendant wallowed in sinful lusts than that she herself should be confronted in the palace by the influence of a lawful queen. But however this may be—and Brunichildis, struggling against the increasing power of the great nobles of the Court, was bitterly assailed by the calumnies of her foes—the offence seemed likely not to go unpunished. A powerful combination was formed. The insulted Witterich obtained the alliance of the culprit’s brother, Theudebert of Austrasia, of his cousin Chlotochar of Neustria, and even, strange to say, of Agilulf of Italy, who perhaps considered himself bound to follow his ally Theudebert wheresoever he might lead him. However, this formidable combination led to no results, and the meager annals of the time do not even inform us whether Burgundy was ever invaded by the confederate kings. Evidently Theodoric II, the resources of whose kingdom were directed by the wary old politician Brunichildis, was the most powerful of all the Frankish monarchs. The long-smoldering feud between him and his brother broke out in 612 into open hostilities. Theodoric was twice victorious, took his brother prisoner, and put him, together with his infant son, to death. What became of the little princess, the affianced bride of Adalwald, we are not informed. Theodoric then turned against the only remaining Frankish king, Chlotochar of Neustria, whose neutrality in the previous struggle he had purchased by a promised cession of territory. It seemed as if the long rivalry between the offspring of Fredegundis and that of Brunichildis was about to end in the triumph of the latter, and as if the grandson of Sigibert was to reunite under his scepter all the wide dominions of Clovis and Chlotochar I. But just at this critical moment Theodoric II died, leaving four infant, but bastard, children behind him. In the name of her great-grandson Sigibert, eldest of the four, Brunichildis aspired to rule over Burgundy and Austrasia, and hoped to conquer Neustria. But the deadly enmity of the Austrasian nobles to the old queen prevented this consummation. Two great nobles, Arnulf, bishop of Metz, and Pippin, went over to the party of Chlotochar, and by their defection determined the result of the campaign. The battle, which was to have been fought near the banks of the Aisne, was only a sham fight. the armies of Austrasia and Burgundy turning their backs without striking a blow. Brunichildis and her great-grandchildren were captured. Two of the latter were put to death; one escaped, but vanished from the eyes of men; the life of the fourth was spared because he was the godson of the conqueror. Brunichildis herself, after being—so it is said—tormented for three days, and then paraded through the Frankish camp on a camel, was tied by her hair, her hands and her feet to a vicious horse, and so dragged and trampled to death. The long strife between the two houses was at an end, and while Fredegundis, unquestionably the most wicked of the two queens, had died quietly in her bed sixteen years before, the able, unscrupulous, and beautiful Brunichildis lived on into old age only to meet this shameful and terrible end.

With the unfortunate Frankish queen and her descendants is closely connected the name of one who exercised a mighty influence on the spiritual history of Theudelinda, and, through her, on the religious history of Italy—the Irish saint Columbanus.

Columbanus or Columba (the second) was born in West Leinster probably in 543, the same year which saw the death of the greatest of monks, St. Benedict. He was well born, and was educated in those arts and sciences a knowledge of which still lingered in Ireland while Gaul and Italy were almost submerged under the flood of barbarian invasion. When the fair and noble youth was growing up into his comely manhood, visions of beautiful women began to haunt his imagination. Marriage was hopeless, for he had been in some sort vowed by his mother to the service of the Church. Renewed earnestness in his studies, devotion to grammar, rhetoric, geometry, the reading of the Scriptures, failed to banish the alluring dream. At length, by the advice of a pious nun, though against the earnest entreaties of his mother, he resolved to leave his paternal home in Leinster; and, after spending some time in the school (which was probably also a monastery) taught by St. Sinell on an island in Lough Erne, he entered the great monastery which had then been recently founded by St. Comgall at Benchor or Bangor in the county of Down. Here, too, he was doubtless still engaged in intellectual labor, for this was one of the most learned monasteries of the time. Ovid and Virgil were studied within its walls; music was held in high honor; some, probably, of those beautiful Irish MSS. which are among the most precious possessions of our great libraries were illuminated by the monks of Bangor.

Columbanus, however, though no foe to liberal culture, was possessed by the missionary spirit, and, after spending many years at Bangor, he set forth with twelve companions, bent on preaching the Gospel, but not knowing whether they should go. They reached the shores of Brittany; and after they had pursued their missionary career in this country for some time, the fame of St. Columbanus reached the ears of Sigibert, king of Austrasia, the husband of Brunichildis. He sent for the Irish saint, begged him to remain in his kingdom, and at length overcame his reluctance to do so by the gift of a ruined village named Anagratis, in a wild and rocky region of the Vosges.

Here Columbanus established his monastery, and here he dwelt in peace during the stormy years that followed the death of Sigibert. There was nothing in his possessions to tempt the cupidity of the fierce dukes and simoniacal bishops of the Frankish kingdoms. The diet of Columbanus and his monks was for some time the bark of trees, wild herbs, and little crab apples, but, as we afterwards hear of the monks ploughing and reaping, we may infer that, at any rate from their second season onwards, they were not destitute of bread. For the saint himself, even the austerities of the coenobitic life were not sufficient. Leaving his monastery to govern itself for a time, he retired to a cave in the rocks, which was already the abode of a bear. On hearing the word of command from the saint, “Depart hence, and never again travel along these paths”, the wild beast meekly obeyed. The fame of the preaching of the saint, and, still more, the fame of his miracles and exorcisms, drew so large a number of postulants to Anagratis that Columbanus found it necessary to establish another monastery, larger and more famous, at Luxovium (now Luxeuil), which was situated within the dominion of Guntram of Burgundy, and was eight miles south of Anagratis. This place, though a ruin like the other, was the ruin of a larger and less sequestered settlement. It still shows the remains of a Roman aqueduct, and when Columbanus and his companions settled within its walls, the hot springs which had supplied its baths were still flowing, and the marble limbs of the once-worshipped gods of the heathen gleamed through the thickets which bad been growing there probably since the days of Attila. Eventually, even Luxovium was found to be insufficient to hold all the monks who flocked to its holy shelter, and a third monastery was reared on the neighboring site of Ad Fontanas.

But all this fame and popularity brought its inevitable Nemesis of jealousy and dislike. Columbanus was revered by the common people, but with the high ecclesiastics of Gaul his relations were probably unfriendly from the first. We can see that there was not, and could not be, sympathy between the high-wrought, mystical Irish saint, and the coarse and greedy prelates of Merovingian Gaul. He was, intensely, that which they only pretended to be. To him the kingdom of God was the only joy, the awful judgment of Christ the only terror. They were thinking the while of the sensual delights to be derived from the revenues of the bishoprics which they had obtained by simony. If they trembled, it was at the thought of the probable vengeance of the heirs of some blood-feud, the next of kin of some Frankish warrior whom they had lawlessly put to death. Intellectually, too, the gulf between the Gaulish bishops and Columbanus was almost as wide as the moral divergence. He retained to the end of his days that considerable tincture of classical learning which he had imbibed under Sinell and Comgall. He and his Irish companions were steeped in Virgil and Horace. When they sat down to write even on religious subjects, quotations from the Aeneid flowed with only too great copiousness from their pens; and the Latin prose of Columbanus himself, though often stilted and somewhat obscure, is almost always strictly grammatical. Comparing him with one of the most learned of his Gaulish contemporaries, Gregory of Tours, whose countless grammatical blunders would be terribly avenged on an English schoolboy, we see that the Irish saint moved in an altogether different intellectual plane from his Gaulish episcopal neighbors, and we can easily believe that he did not conceal his contempt for their ignorance and barbarism.

Another cause of difference between Columbanus and his Frankish neighbors, and one which could be decorously put forward by the latter as the reason for their dislike, was the divergence between him and them as to the correct time for keeping Easter. In this matter the Irish ecclesiastics, with true Celtic conservatism, adhered to the form of cycle which had been universal in the West for almost two centuries, while the Frankish bishops reckoned their Easter-day according to the table which was published by Victorius in the year 457, and which, though advocating the old Roman usage, noted also that of Alexandria, and in cases of divergent Easters left the ultimate decision to the Pope. The difference, much and earnestly insisted upon in the letters of Columbanus, turned chiefly on two points: (1) The Irish churchmen insisted that in no case could it be right to celebrate Easter before the 25th of March, on which they placed the vernal equinox, while the rest of Christendom had adopted the 21st; (2) they maintained that since the Passover had been ordained to fall on the 14th day of the lunar month, it was right to celebrate Easter upon it, and they consequently allowed the great festival to range between that and the 20th day. The Alexandrian Church restricted the celebration to the interval between the 15th and 21st days : Victorius, in conformity with the old Latin rule, to that between the 16th and 22nd. In theory it would probably be admitted that the Irishmen were nearer to the primitive idea of a Christian festival based on the Jewish Passover; but in practice—to say nothing of the unreasonableness of perpetuating discord on a point of such infinitely small importance—by harping as they did continually on the words the “14th day” they gave their opponents the opportunity of fastening upon them the name of Quartodeciman, and thereby bringing them under the anathema pronounced by the Nicene Council on an entirely different form of dissent.

On this subject, the celebration of Easter, which absorbed an absurdly large amount of his time and thoughts, Columbanus addressed a letter to Pope Gregory the Great. The dedication is too characteristic not to be given in full:

“To the holy lord and father in Christ, the most comely ornament of the Roman Church, the most august flower, so to speak, of all this languishing Europe, the illustrious overseer, to him who is skilled to enquire into the theory of the Divine causality, I Bar-Jonah (a mean dove) send greeting in Christ”.

It will be seen that Columbanus, here, as in several other places, indulges in a kind of bilingual pun on his own name. The Hebrew equivalent of Columba, a dove, is Jonah. So here he makes Columbanus equivalent to Bar-Jonah, which in his modesty he translates “vilis Columba”; and elsewhere he recognizes that it is his fate to be thrown overboard like his namesake Jonah, for the peace and safety of the Church.

The letter itself argues with much boldness and some skill against the practice of celebrating Easter at a time when the moon does not rise till after two watches of the night are past, and when darkness is thus triumphing over light. He warns the Pope not to set himself in opposition to the great Jerome by condemning the Paschal calculations of Anatolius, whom Jerome had praised as a man of marvelous learning. He asks for advice on two points, (1) whether he ought to communicate with simoniacal and adulterous bishops, and (2) what is to be done with monks who, through desire of greater holiness, leave the monasteries in which they have taken the vows, and retire to desert places, without the leave of their abbot. He expresses his deep regret at not being able to visit Rome for the sake of seeing Gregory, and asks to have some of the Pope’s commentary on Ezekiel sent to him, having already perused with extreme pleasure his book, sweeter than honey, on the Regula Pastoralis.

It would be interesting to know what reply the great Roman Pope made to the great Irish abbot, but Gregory’s letter  to Columbanus, if written, has not come down to us. Some years later, about 603 or 604, a synod was held (probably at Chalons-sur-Saone) at which the question of the schismatical observance of Easter in Luxovium and the sister monasteries was the chief subject of discussion. To the Gaulish bishops “his holy fathers and brethren in Christ, Columba the sinner” addressed a remarkable letter. He praised them for at last assembling in council, even though it was in order to judge him;   and this praise recalls Gregory’s oft-repeated censure of the Gaulish bishops for their neglect of synodal action. After exhorting them to the practice of humility, he discusses at some length the great Paschal question, and begs them not to celebrate the Resurrection before the Passion by allowing Easter to fall before the equinox, and not to overpass the 20th day of the lunar month, “lest they should perform the sacrament of the New Testament without the authority of the Old”. Then he turns to more personal affairs, and utters a pathetic prayer for peace. “In the name of Him who said, ‘Depart from Me : I never knew you’, suffer me, while keeping your peace and friendship, to be silent in these woods, and to live near  the bones of my seventeen departed brethren. Suffer me still to live among you as I have done for these past twelve years, and to continue praying for you as I have ever done and ought to do. Let Gaul, I pray you, contain both you and me, since the kingdom of heaven will contain us if we are of good desert, and fulfill the hope of our one calling in Christ Jesus. Far be it from me to contend with you and to give our enemies, the Pagans and the Jews, occasion to triumph in our dissensions. For if it be in God’s ordering that ye should expel me from this desert place, whither I came from across the seas for the love of my Lord Jesus Christ, I can only say with the prophet [Jonah] : ‘If for my sake this tempest come upon you, take me and cast me into the sea, that this turmoil may cease’.”

Thus not only amid the increasing cares of his three great monasteries, but amid increasing conflicts with the hostile bishops of Gaul, passed the middle years of the life of Columbanus. If men hated him, the brute creation loved him. Many of the stories told of him reveal that mysterious sympathy with the lower animals which he shared with an even greater religious revivalist, St. Francis of Assisi. One of his disciples long after told his biographer that often when he had been walking lonely in the desert, his lips moving in prayer, he had been seen to call birds or wild creatures to him, who never disobeyed the call. Then would the saint stroke or pat them, and the shy, wild things rejoiced like a little dog in his caresses. Thus, too, would he call down the little squirrels from the tops of the trees, and they would nestle close to his neck, or play hide and seek in the folds of his great white scapular.

We have already heard how the bear at the summons of Columbanus quietly yielded up to him its dwelling in the cave. One day when he was walking through the forest, with his Bible hung by a strap to his shoulder, he pondered the question whether it were worse to fall into the hands of wild beasts or of evil men. Suddenly, as if to solve the problem, twelve wolves rushed forth, and surrounded him on the rip-lit hand and on the left. He remained immovable, but cried aloud, “Oh! Lord, make haste to help me”. The savage creatures came near, and gathered round him, smelling at his garments; but, finding him unmoved, left him unharmed, and disappeared in the forest. When he came forth from the wood, he thought that he heard the voices of Suevic robbers roaming: through the desolate region, but he saw not their forms, and whether the sounds were real, or an illusion of the Evil One to try his constancy, he never knew.

One day, when he came into the monastery at Luxovium to take some food, he laid aside the gloves which had shielded his hands while working in the field. A mischievous raven carried off the gloves from the stone before the monastery doors on which the saint had laid them. When the meal was ended, and the monks came forth, the gloves were nowhere to be found. Questions at once arose who had done this thing. Said the saint, “The thief is none other than that bird which Noah sent forth out of the ark, and which wandered to and fro over the earth, nor ever returned. And that bird shall not rear its young unless it speedily bring back that which it has stolen”. Suddenly the raven appeared in the midst of the crowd, bearing the gloves in its beak, and, having laid them down, stood there meekly awaiting the chastisement which it was conscious of having deserved. But the saint ordered it to fly away unharmed. Once upon a time a bear lusted after the apples which formed the sole fruit of the saint and his companions. But when Columbanus directed his servant, Magnoald, to divide the apples into two portions, assigning one to the bear, and reserving the other for the use of the saint, the beast, with wonderful docility, obeyed, and, contenting itself with its own portion, never dared to touch the apples which were reserved for the man of God. Another bear, howling round the dead body of a stag, obeyed his bidding, and left the hide untouched, that out of it might be made shoes for the use of the brotherhood; and the wolves, which gathered at the scent of the savoury morsel, stood afar off with their noses in the air, not daring to approach the carcass on which the mysterious spell had been laid.

But the time came when the saint had to solve his own riddle, by proof that men, and still more women, could be harder and more unpitying even than the wolves. The young king of Burgundy, Theodoric, already, at the age of fourteen, had a bastard son born to him, and by the year 610 he had several children, none of them the issue of his lawful wife. These little ones their great-grandmother, Brunichildis, brought one day into the holy man’s presence, when he visited her at the royal villa of Brocoriacum. Said Columbanus,” What do you mean by bringing these children here?”. “They are the sons of a king”, answered Brunichildis, “fortify them with your blessing”. “Never”, said he, “shall these children, the offspring of the brothel, inherit the royal scepter”. In a rage, the old queen ordered the little ones to depart. As the saint crossed the threshold of the palace, a thunderstorm or an earthquake shook the fabric, striking terror into the souls of all, but not even so was the fierce heart of Brunichildis turned from her purpose of revenge.

There were negotiations and conversations between the saint and the sovereign. Theodoric, who throughout seems to have been less embittered against the saint than his grandmother, said one day, in answer to a torrent of angry rebuke for his profligacy, “Do you hope to win from me the crown of martyrdom? I am not so mad as to perpetrate such a crime”. But the austere, unsocial habits of the saint had made him many enemies. There was a long unsettled debt of hatred from the bishops of Gaul for the schismatical Easter and many other causes of offence; and the courtiers with one voice declared that they would not tolerate the continued presence among them of one who did not deem them worthy of his companionship. Thus, though the harsh words concerning the royal bastards may have been the torch which finally kindled the flame, it is clear that there was much smoldering indignation against the saint in the hearts of nobles and churchmen before ever these words were spoken. By the common people, on the other hand, Columbanus seems to have been generally beloved.

The resultant of all these conflicting forces was an order from the Court that Columbanus should leave his monastery of Luxovium, and take up his residence in a sort of libera custodia at Vesontio (Besançon). Finding himself laxly guarded, he went up one Sunday to the top of the mountain which overlooks the city of Besançon and the winding Doubs. He remained till noon, half expecting that his keepers would come to fetch him; but, as none appeared, he descended the mountain on the other side, and took the road to Luxovium. By this daring defiance of the royal orders he filled up the measure of his offences, and Brunichildis at once sent a cohort of soldiers to arrest the holy man and expel him from the kingdom. They found him in the church of the monastery, singing psalms with the congregation of the brethren. It seemed as if force would have to be used in order to tear him from his beloved Luxovium, but at length, yielding to the earnest entreaties of his monks, and of the soldiers, who prayed for forgiveness even while laying hold of the saint’s garments, he consented to go with them quietly. The monks all wished to follow him, but only his Irish fellow-countrymen and their Breton comrades were allowed to do so, while those of Gaulish birth were ordered to remain behind. He was taken by way of Besançon and Autun to Nevers, and there was put on shipboard and conveyed down the Loire to Nantes. Many miracles, especially the cure of those afflicted with evil spirits, marked his progress. At Auxerre he said to a certain Ragamund, who came to act as his escort, “Remember, oh! Ragamund, that this Chlotochar, whom you now despise, will within three years be your lord and master”. The prophecy was the more remarkable because the king of Neustria was at that time much the weakest member of the Frankish partnership, and quite overshadowed by his cousins of Austrasia and Burgundy. Theodoric, especially, was then at the zenith of his power; and the route traversed by Columbanus and his guards shows that something like three-quarters of that which is now France must have owned his dominion. When, in their voyage down the stream, they came opposite the shrine of the blessed Martin of Tours, Columbanus earnestly besought his keepers to let him land and pay his devotions at the holy sepulcher. The inexorable guards refused, and Columbanus stood upon the deck, raising sad eyes to heaven in mute protest against their cruelty. But suddenly the vessel stopped in her course, as though she had let down her anchor, and then began mysteriously to turn her head towards the watergate of Tours. Awed by this portent, the guards made no further resistance to his will; and Columbanus, landing, spent the night in vigils at the tomb of St. Martin. It was a memorable scene, and one worthy to be celebrated by an artist’s or a poet’s genius; for there the greatest Gaulish saint of the sixth century knelt by the tomb of his greatest predecessor of the fourth century, the upbraider of Brunichildis communed with the spirit of the vanquisher of Maximus.

When day dawned Columbanus was invited by Leuparius, bishop of Tours, to share his hospitality. For the sake of his weary brethren he accepted the invitation, though it came from a Gaulish bishop, and spent the day at the Episcopal palace. At the evening meal, when many guests were present, Leuparius, either through ignorance or want of tact, asked him why he was returning to his native country. “Because that dog, Theodoric, has forced me away from my brethren”, said the hot-tempered saint. At the table was a guest named Chrodoald, a kinsman by marriage of Theudebert, but loyal to Theodoric. He, with demure face, said to the man of God, “Methinks it is better to drink milk than wormwood”, thus gently hinting that such bitter words ill became saintly lips. Columbanus said, “I suppose you are a liege man of Theodoric?”. “I am”, he answered, “and will keep my plighted faith so long as I live”. “Then you will doubtless be glad to take a message from me to your master and friend. Go, tell him that within three years he and all his race shall be utterly rooted up by the Lord of Hosts”. “Oh! servant of God”, said Chrodoald, “why dost thou utter such terrible words?”. “Because I cannot keep silence when the Lord God would have me speak”. Like another Jeremiah denouncing woe on the impious Jehoiakim was this Irish saint, as he hurled his fierce predictions among the trembling courtiers of Theodoric.

After all, the dauntless  Irishman was  not carried back to his native land. When he arrived at Nantes, the bishop and count of that city, in obedience to the king’s orders, set him on board a merchant vessel carrying cargo to “the Scots”, that is to the inhabitants of Ireland. But though the ship, impelled by the rowers and by favoring gales, was carried out some way from the land, great rolling waves soon forced her back to the shore. The ship-master perceived that his saintly cargo was the reason of his disappointment. He put Columbanus and his friends ashore, and the ship proceeded on her voyage without difficulty.

Settlement in Switzerland.

Columbanus, who seems to have been left at liberty to go whither he would, so long as he did not return to   Burgundy, visited Chlotochar in his Neustrian capital, gently chided him for his Merovingian immoralities, and advised him to remain neutral in the war which had now broken out between Theodoric and Theudebert. Under the protection of an escort given him by Chlotochar he reached the dominions of Theudebert, who gave him a hearty welcome, and invited him to choose some place in the Austrasian territory suitable for the erection of a monastery, which might serve as a base of operations for the missionary work planned by him among the pagans on the border. (In the course of this journey he arrived at the villa of Vulciacum on the banks of the Marne, where he was welcomed by its lord, Autharius, and his wife Aiga. He gave his blessing to their children Ado and Dado, who afterwards rose high in the service of the kings Chlotochar and Dagobert, but retired from the world, and founded monasteries in the Jura according to the rule of Columbanus. Note here the names of this Austrasian nobleman and his wife, so similar to those of two successive Lombard kings, Authari and Ago = Agilulf). Such a retreat, after two abortive attempts by the lake of Zurich and at Arbon, he found finally at Bregenz, by the Lake of Constance. whither he travelled up the Rhine, doubtless with much toil of oar to the rowers assigned him by the king. The barbarous Alamanni who dwelt by the banks of the Upper Rhine were still worshippers of Wodan, and filled a large barrel, holding ten gallons, with the beer which they brewed and drunk in his honor. When the saint heard from the idolaters what  hateful  work  they were  engaged  in,  he drew near and breathed upon the barrel, which suddenly burst asunder with a loud crash, spilling all the liquor on the ground.

In the ‘temple’ of Bregenz (a ruined Christian oratory once dedicated to St. Aurelia) the stranger found three brazen images fixed to the wall. These images received the idolatrous worship of the people, who said, “These are our ancient gods, by whose help and comfort we have been preserved alive to this day”. His friend and follower, Gallus, who was able to preach not only in Latin, but in the “barbaric tongue”, exhorted the multitude who had assembled in the temple to turn from these vain idols and worship the Father and the Son. Then, in the sight of all, Columbanus seized the images, hammered them into fragments, and threw the pieces into the lake. Some of the bystanders were enraged at this insult to their gods, but the more part were converted by the preaching of Gallus. Columbanus sprinkled the temple with holy water, and, moving through it in procession with his monks chanting a psalm, dedicated it afresh to God and St. Aurelia.

Spirits of the Mountain and the Lake.   

This Gallus, whose knowledge of the Suevic tongue proved so helpful on this occasion, was the same St. Gall who, by the monastery which he founded, has given his name to one of the cantons of Switzerland. He was an Irishman of noble birth who came with Columbanus to the country of the Franks, and accompanied him in all his journeys but the last. From his life we learn some comparatively unimportant particulars about the life of the saint and his followers in Switzerland which need not be repeated here. But it would be wrong to omit one narrative which has in it a touch of poetry, and which   shows how the grandeurs of the Swiss landscape blended themselves with those thoughts of the spirit world which were ever uppermost in the souls of these denizens of the convent. St. Gallus, who was the chief fisherman of the party, and who in fact provided all their food except the wild fowl and the fruits of the wilderness, was once, in the silence of the night, casting his nets into the waters of Lake Constance, when he heard the Demon of the mountain calling from the cliffs with a loud voice to the Demon of the lake. “Arise”, said he, for my help, and let us cast forth these strangers from their haunts; for, coming from afar, they have expelled me from my temple, have ground my images to powder, and drawn away all my people after them”. Then the Demon of the Lake answered, “All that thou complainest of I know too well. There is one of them who ever harasses me here in the water, and lays waste my realm. His nets I can never break, nor himself can I deceive, because the divine name which he invokes is ever on his lips; and by this continual watchfulness he frustrates all our snares”. Hearing these words, the man of God fortified himself with the sign of the cross, and said, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I command you that ye depart from this place, and do not presume to injure any one here”. Then he returned and told the abbot what he had heard. The brethren were assembled at once in the church, though it was the dead of night, and their voices filled the air with psalmody. But even before they began the holy song, there were heard dread voices of the Demons floating about from summit to summit of the mountains, cries and wails as of those who departed in sadness from their home, and confused shrieks as of those who were pursued by the avenger.

About this time visions of missionary service among the Slavonic tribes on the border or Venetia began to float before the mind of Columbanus, but an angel appeared to him in a dream, and, holding forth a map of the world, indicated to him Italy as the scene of his future labors. Not yet, however, he was told, was the time come for this enterprise : meanwhile he was to wait in patience till the way should open for his leaving Austrasia. It was by the bloody sword of fratricidal war that the way to the saint’s last harvest-field was laid open. It has been told how the long grudge between the two grandsons of Brunichildis burst at last into a flame, and hostilities began. Columbanus, with prophetic foresight of the result, perhaps also with statesmanlike insight into the comparative strength of the two kingdoms, left his solitude, sought the Court of Theudebert, and exhorted him to decline the contest and at once enter the ranks of the clergy. The king and all his courtiers raised a shout of indignant derision. “Never was it heard that a Merovingian, once raised to the throne, of his own will became a priest”. “He who will not voluntarily accept the clerical honor”, said Columbanus, “will soon find himself a clergyman in his own despite”; and therewith he departed to his hermitage. The prophecy was soon fulfilled. The two armies met on the field of Toul. Theudebert was defeated, fled, gathered a fresh army, and was again defeated on the field of Tolbiac, where a terrible slaughter was made in the ranks of both armies. Betrayed by his friends, he was captured by his brother and carried into the presence of their grandmother, who had never forgiven him or his for her exile from Austrasia. She at once shore his long Merovingian locks, and turned him into a tonsured cleric; and not many days after, she or Theodoric ordered him to be put to death. Close upon these events followed, as has been already re­lated, the sudden death of Theodoric II, the murder of his children, and the reunion of the whole Frankish monarchy under the scepter of the lately despised and flouted Chlotochar.

The bloody day of Tolbiac was seen in a dream by Columbanus, overtaken by sudden slumber as he was sitting reading on the rotten trunk of a fallen oak tree in his beloved wilderness. The disciple who listened to his story of the battle said, “Oh, my father, pray for Theudebert, that he may conquer his and our enemy, Theodoric”. “Unwise and irreligious is thy advice”, said Columbanus. “Not thus hath the Lord commanded us, who told us to pray even for our enemies”. Afterwards, when the tidings came of the great encounter, the disciple learned that it had been fought at the very day and hour when the saint beheld it in his vision.

The battle of Tolbiac broke the last thread that connected Columbanus with the kingdom of the Franks, and accordingly, leaving Gaul and Germany behind him, he pressed forward into Italy. One only of his faithful hand of followers did not accompany him. Gallus, who had sickened with fever, and who perhaps felt that his special gifts as a missionary to the Suevi would be wasted when he had crossed the Alps, remained behind on the shores of Lake Constance, which he had learned to love. As St. Paul with Mark when he departed from him and Barnabas at Perga, so was Columbanus deeply grieved with the slackness of spirit of his disciple, upon whom he laid a solemn injunction never to presume to celebrate mass during the lifetime of his master.

Retires to Bobbio.

Columbanus was received with every mark of honor and esteem by Agilulf and Theudelinda. He remained apparently for some months at Milan, arguing with the Arian ecclesiastics who still haunted the Lombard Court. “By the cautery of the Scriptures”, as his biographer quaintly says, “he dissected and destroyed the deceits of the Arian infidelity, and he moreover published against them a book of marvelous Science”. But all men who knew Columbanus knew that he would not be content to dwell long in palaces or cities, but that he must be sighing for the solitude of the wilderness and the silence of the convent. It was doubtless from a knowledge of this desire that a certain man named Jocundus came one day to King Agilulf, and began to expatiate on the advantages for a monastic life afforded by the little village of Bobium (Bobbio), about twenty-five miles from Placentia. This place, situated on the banks of the little river Trebia (which witnessed the first of Hannibal’s great victories over the Romans), lies away from the great high-roads of the Lombard plain, its cities and its broad river, and nestles in a fertile valley shut in by the peaks of the central Apennine chain. It has its own little stream, the Bobbio, confluent with the Trebia and abounding in fish. Everything marked it out as being, according to the description of Jocundus, a place well suited for the cultivation of monastic excellence; and thither Columbanus joyfully retired. He found there a half-ruined basilica of St. Peter, which he at once began to restore with the help of his followers. The tall firs of the Apennines were felled, and their trunks were transported over rough and devious ways down into the fertile valley. The alacrity of the aged saint, who personally helped in the pious toil, became in the next generation the subject of a miracle. There was a beam which, if placed on level ground, thirty or forty men would have drawn with difficulty. The man of God, coming up to it, placed the immense weight on the shoulders of himself and two or three of his friends; and where before, on account of the roughness of the road, they had, though unencumbered, walked with difficulty, they now, laden with the beam’s weight, moved rapidly forward. The parts seemed reversed, and they who were bearing the burden walked with triumphant ease, as if they were being borne along by others.

Such were the beginnings of the great monastic house of Bobbio. It has for us a special interest (and this is our justification for spending so long a time over the life of its founder), for there can be little doubt that the monastery of Bobbio, even more than the holiness and popularity of Queen Theudelinda, was the means of accomplishing that conversion of the Lombards to the Catholic form of Christianity, which at last, though not in the first or second generation, ended the religious duality of Italy. True to his early literary and philosophical instincts, Columbanus seems, with all his austerities, ever to have preserved the character of an educated Churchman. Learned as the Order of Benedict became in after years, we shall probably not err in supposing that at this time it was surpassed in learning by the Order of Columbanus. The library of Bobbio was for many centuries one of the richest, probably the richest, in Italy, and many of the most precious treasures now deposited in the Ambrosian library at Milan have been taken thither from the monastery of Columbanus.

Classical Recreations.

It is noteworthy that among these treasures are to be found some considerable fragments of the Gothic Bible of Ulfilas, and of his Commentary on the Gospel of John. Apparently Columbanus, in his controversies with the Arians at Milan, did not neglect the wholesome practice of studying his opponents’ arguments in their own books, and to this wise liberality of thought may have been due some portion of his success. Nor was the secular, Pagan side of literature unrepresented in the library of Bobbio. The great palimpsest now in the Vatican, in which Cardinal Mai discovered, under St. Augustine's   Commentary on the Psalms (119-140), Cicero’s lost treatise, De Republica, bears yet this inscription on one of its pages, “Liber Sancti Columbani de Boboi”.

A quaint exemplification of the saint’s unextinguished love for classical literature is furnished by the verses which, at the age of seventy-two, and probably within a few months of his death, he addressed to a certain friend of his named Fedolius. They are written in a metre which he calls Sapphic, but which a modern scholar would rather call Adonic, being entirely composed of those short lines (dactyl and trochee) with which the Sapphic verse terminates :—

Take, I beseech you,

Now from my hands this

Trumpery gift of

Two-footed verses;

And for your own part

Frequently send us

Verses of yours by

Way of repayment.

For as the sun-baked

Fields when the winds change

Joy in the soft shower,

So has your page oft

Gladdened my spirit.

Columbanus then proceeds through about eighty lines to warn his friend against avarice. The examples of the curse of riches are all drawn from classical mythology. The Golden Fleece, the Golden Apple, the Golden Shower, Pygmalion, Polydorus, Amphiaraus, Achilles, are all pressed into the poet’s service: and as the easy and, on the whole, creditable lines flow on, the idea is suggested to the reader’s mind that probably Fedolius was no more inclined to avarice than his adviser, but that the commonplaces about avarice expressed themselves so easily in the Adonic metre that the saint had not the heart to deny himself the pleasant exercise. He ends at last thus :—

“Be it enough, then,

Thus to have spun my

Garrulous verses.

For when you read them,

Haply the metre

May to you seem strange.

Yet 'tis the same which

She, the renowned bard

Sappho, the Greek, once

Used for her verses.

You, too (the fancy

Haply may seize you

Thus to compose verse).

Note my instructions :

Always a dactyl

Stands in the first place;

After it comes next

Strictly a trochee,

But you may always

End with a spondee.

Now then,  my loved one,

Brother Fedolis,

Who when you choose are

Sweeter than nectar,

Leave the more pompous

Songs of the sages,

And with a meek mind

Bear with my trifling.

So may the World-King,

Christ, the alone

Son Of the Eternal,

Crown you with Life's joys.

He in his Sire's name

Reigneth o'er all things

Now and for ever.

Such is the verse I have framed, though tortured by cruel diseases,

Born of this feeble frame, born too of the sadness of old age.

For while the years of my life have hurried me downward and onward,

Lo! I have passed e'en now the eighteenth Olympian mile­stone.

All things are passing away : Time flies and the traitor returns not.

Live : farewell.  In joy or in grief remember that Age comes”.

 

These dallyings with  the classic Muse surprise us, not unpleasantly, in the life of so great a saint, who was the founder of a rule more austere than that of St. Benedict. Still greater becomes our surprise when we learn that, according to a tradition which, though late, seems to be not wholly unworthy of belief, even monastic austerity was not sufficient for the saint in these years of his failing strength, and that he must needs resume the life of a hermit. To this day a cave is pointed out in a mountain gorge a few miles from Bobbio, to which Columbanus is said to have retired—for the last few months, perhaps years, of his life, only returning to the monastery on Sundays and saints’ days to spend those seasons of gladness with his brethren.

We hear more of Columbanus in the monastery and in the cave than in the palace, but there can be no doubt that his interviews with Agilulf and Theudelinda were frequent and important, he helped the Bavarian queen with all the energy of his Celtic nature in fighting against Arianism, but he also (unfortunately for his reputation with the ultraorthodox) threw himself with some vehemence into her party in the dismal controversy of the Three Chapters. For Theudelinda, it is evident, notwithstanding the pious exhortations of popes and archbishops, still remained unconvinced of the damnation of the three Syrian ecclesiastics; and now, finding that the new light which had risen upon Italy was in the same quarter of the theological heaven with herself, she determined to use his influence on behalf of the cause which she held dear. At her request and Agilulf’s, Columbanus addressed a long letter to Pope Boniface IV, the third successor of Gregory the Great in St. Pete’s chair.

Letter to the Pope.

The address of his letter is peculiar. Columbanus often alludes to the garrulity which has been for centuries the characteristic of his race, and as we seem to hear the words of this fulsome dedication, uttered in the rich, soft Irish brogue, an epithet unknown to the dignity of history seems the only one which will describe the saintly communication :—

“To the most beautiful Head of all the Churches of Europe, to the sweetest Pope, to the lofty Chief, to the Shepherd of Shepherds, to the most reverend Sentinel, the humblest to the highest, the least to the greatest, the rustic to the citizen, the mean speaker to the very eloquent, the last to the first, the foreigner to the native, the beggar to the very powerful : Oh, the new and strange marvel! a rare bird, even a Dove, dares to write to his father Bonifacius”.

However, when Columbanus has fairly commenced the letter thus strangely preluded, no one can accuse him of indulging in “blarney”. He speaks to the Pope with noble independence, recognizing fully the importance of his position as representative of St. Peter and St. Paul, but telling him plainly that he, the Pope, has incurred suspicion of heresy, and exhorting him not to slumber, as his predecessor Vigilius did, who by his lack of vigilance has brought all this confusion upon the Church.

It is not very clear what Columbanus desired the Pope to do, for the letter, which is inordinately long and shows traces of the garrulity of age as well as of the eloquence of the Irishman, is singularly destitute of practical suggestions, and evinces no grasp at all of the theological problem. It appears, however, that he recommends the Pope to summon a council, and that he does not recognise “a certain so-called fifth council in which Vigilius was said to have received those ancient heretics, Eutyches, Nestorius, and Dioscorus”. What we are concerned with, however, is the information afforded us by this letter as to the sentiments of the Lombard king and queen; and this is so important that it will be well to extract the sentences containing it in full. “If I am accused of presumption, and asked as Moses was : Who made thee a judge and a ruler over us?, I answer that it is not presumption to speak when the edification of the Church requires it; and if the person of the speaker be caviled at, consider not who I, the speaker, am, but what it is that I say. For why should the Christian foreigner hold his peace when his Arian neighbor has long said in a loud voice that which he wishes to say, “For better are the wounds of a friend than the deceitful kisses of an enemy?” ... I, who have come from the end of the world, am struck with terror at what I behold, and turn in my perplexity to thee, who are the only hope of princes through the honor of the holy Apostle Peter. But when the frail bark of my intellect could not, in the language of the Scriptures, “launch out into the deep”, but rather remained fixed in one place (for the paper cannot hold all that my mind from various causes desires to include in the narrow limits of a letter), I found myself in addition entreated by the king to suggest in detail to your pious ears the whole story of his grief; for he mourns for the schism of his people, for his queen, for his son, perchance also for himself: since he is reported to have said that he, too, would believe if he could know the certainty of the matter... Pardon me, I pray, who may seem to you an obscure prater, too free and rough with his tongue, but who cannot write otherwise than he has done in such a cause. I have proved my loyalty, and the zeal of my faith, when I have chosen to give opportunity to my rebukers rather than to close my mouth, how­ever unlearned it be, in such a cause. These rebukers are the men of whom Jeremiah has said, “They bend their tongues like their bow for lies”. . . . But when a "Gentile king begs a foreigner, when a Lombard begs a dull Scot to write, when the wave of an ancient torrent thus flows backward to its source, who would not feel his wonder overcome his fear of calumny? I at any rate will not tremble, nor fear the tongues of men when I am engaged in the cause of God. . . 

“Such, then, are my suggestions. They come, I admit, from one who is torpid in action, from one who says rather than does; from one who is called Jonah in Hebrew, Peristera in Greek, Columba in Latin; and though I am generally known only by the name which I bear in your language, let me now use my old Hebrew name, since I have almost suffered Jonah’s shipwreck. But grant me the pardon which I have often craved, since I have been forced to write by necessity, not from self-conceit. For almost at my first entrance into this land I was met by the letters of a certain person, who said that I must beware of you, for you had fallen away into the error of Nestorius. Whom I answered briefly and with astonishment that I did not believe his allegation; but lest by any chance I should be opposing the truth, I afterwards varied my reply, and sent it along with his letter to you for perusal.

“After this, another occasion for writing was laid upon me by the command of Agilulf, whose request threw me into a strangely blended state of wonder and anxiety, for what had occurred seemed to me hardly possible without a miracle.    For these kings have long strengthened the Arian pestilence in this land by trampling on the Catholic faith; but now they ask that our faith shall be strengthened. Haply Christ, from whose favor every good gift comes, has looked upon us with pitying eye. We certainly are most miserable, if the scandal is continued any longer by our means. Therefore the king asks you, and the queen asks you, and all men ask you, that as speedily as possible all may become one; that there may be peace in the country, peace among the faithful; finally, that all may become one flock, of which Christ shall be the shepherd. Oh, king of kings! do thou follow Peter, and let all the Church follow thee. What is sweeter than peace after war? What more delightful than the union of brethren long separated? How pleasant to waiting parents the return of the long-absent son! Even so, to God the Father the peace of His sons will be a joy for countless ages, and the gladness of our mother the Church will be a sempiternal triumph”.

The letter ends with an entreaty for the prayers of the Pope on behalf of the writer, “the vilest of sinners”.

Discussion as to Agilulfs Conversion.

Now I must ask the reader to set over against this letter of Columbanus, written probably about 613 or 614, very shortly before Agilulf’s death, the following statement of Paulus, which occurs at an early point in the history of his reign :—“By means of this queen [Theudelinda] the Church of God obtained much advantage. For the Lombards, when they were still involved in the error of heathenism, plundered all the property of the Churches. But the king, being influenced by this queen’s healthful intercession, both held the Catholic faith, and bestowed many possessions on the Church of Christ, and restored the bishops, who were in a depressed and abject condition, to the honor of their wonted dignity”.

These words certainly seem to imply that Agilulf was persuaded by his wife to embrace her form of faith. We should indeed have expected some other word than “held”to describe the conversion of a heretic, and throughout the paragraph the historian is thinking more of the outward and visible effects of the king’s conversion than of the internal process. Still, the passage cannot, as it seems to me, be made to assert anything less than the catholicity of Agilulf, and it does not describe a deathbed conversion, but the whole character of his reign.

On the other hand, the letters of Gregory for the first fourteen years of that reign, and this letter of Columbanus within a couple of years of its close, bring before us an entirely different mental state. The Agilulf whom they disclose to us is tolerant, and more than tolerant, of the religion of the queen who has invited him to share her throne. He allows his son, the heir to the Lombard crown, to be baptized with Catholic rites. He is anxious that the Three Chapters Schism should be ended, and that there should be religious peace in his land. If the orthodox would but agree among themselves, and not worry him about the damnation of Theodore, Ibas, and Theodoret, he is almost ready himself to believe as they believe, but meanwhile he is still “vicinus Arius”; and in the Arian faith, for anything that the contemporary correspondence shows us, he died as well as lived. Different readers will perhaps come to different conclusions on such conflicting evidence, but upon the whole I am inclined to disbelieve the alleged conversion of Agilulf.

The whole discussion is to my mind another evidence of the loose, limp hold which the Lombards had on any form of Christian faith. The Vandals, in the bitterness of their Arianism, made the lives of their Catholic subjects in Africa miserable to them. Visigothic Alaric, Arian though he was, would rather lose a campaign than fight on Easter Day;  and his successors, when they at length embraced the orthodox form of faith, became such ardent Catholics that they virtually handed over the government of the state to the councils of bishops. But the Lombards, though heterodox or heathen enough to plunder and harry the Church, had no interest in the theological battle, and whether their greatest king was Arian or orthodox was probably more than many of his counselors knew, perhaps more than he could himself have told them.

The last event recorded in the life of Columbanus was the visit of Eustasius, his dear friend, disciple, and successor  in the Abbotship of Luxovium. He came on an embassy from Chlotochar, now, after the death of Theodoric, unquestioned lord of all the Frankish kingdoms. Chlotochar knew well how the saint had been harassed by their common foe, Brunichildis, and how in the days of his own humiliation Columbanus had predicted his coming triumph. Gladly, therefore, would the king have had him return to Luxovium, that all things might go on as aforetime in the Burgundian monastery. But Columbanus probably felt himself too old and weary to undertake a second transplantation. He kept Eustasius with him for some time, giving him divers counsels as to the government of the monastery, and then dismissed him with a grateful message to Chlotochar, commending Luxovium to his special protection.

After a year’s residence at Bobbio Columbanus died, on the 21st of November, 615, having on his death-bed handed his staff to a deacon, with orders to carry it to Gallus as a sign that he was forgiven for his old offence, and was now at liberty to resume his ministrations at the altar. The rule of Columbanus, somewhat harsher than that of Benedict, both in respect of abstinence from food and of corporal chastisement tor trivial offences, spread far and wide over Gaul. Luxovium (or Luxeuil) became the mother of many vast monasteries, the schools of which were especially renowned for the admirable education which the sons of Frankish nobles there received from the disciples of Columbanus. In Italy, already preoccupied by the followers of Benedict, the spread of the Columbanian rule was probably less universal, as Bobbio does not seem to have vied with Luxeuil in the number of her daughter convents. But in all, whether Gaulish or Italian, the rule of Columbanus early gave way to that of Benedict, in whose monastic code there was perhaps less of the wild Celtic genius, more Roman common sense, less attempt to wind men up to an unattainable ideal of holiness, more consideration for human weakness than in that of the Irish saint. Above all—and this was perhaps the chief reason for the speedy triumph of the Benedictine rule—Gregory the Great had given the full, final, and emphatic sanction of Papal authority to the code of his master, Benedict; while in Columbanus, with all his holiness of life and undoubted loyalty to the chair of St. Peter, there had been a touch of independence and originality, a slight evidence of a disposition to set the Pope right (in reference both to the keeping of Easter and the controversy about the Three Chapters), which perhaps prevented the name of the Irish saint from being held in grateful remembrance at the Lateran. Whatever the cause, in Burgundy at any rate, at the Council of Autun in 670, the rule of Benedict was spoken of as that which all persons who had entered into religion were bound to obey. Thus little more than fifty years after his death the white scapular of Columbanus was disappearing before the black robe of Benedict.

We have seen that Columbanus died in the year 615. In the  same or possibly the following year, Agilulf king of the Lombards, died also, and Theudelinda was a second time left a widow.