Anybody who visits the European sites of the monasteries founded by St Columban cannot but be struck by the beauty of their natural setting. Like other early Irish saints, finding God in creation came naturally to St Columban.
Many legends grew up around him in at the monastery he founded in Luxeuil in north east France. Squirrels and doves were pictured playing in the folds of his cowl. Birds also approached him and nestled in the palms of his hands. Even wild beasts obeyed his commands.
His biographer the monk, Jonas, relates how St Columban once withdrew to the forest in order to fast and pray. The food ran out and all he and the youngmonk Chagnoald had to eat were crab apples. However, when Chagnoald went to collect the apples he found a hungry bear eating them. He returned to StColumban for directions. St Columban ordered him to go back to the orchard and to divide it in two halves, one for the bear and one for the monks.
Jonas recalls another occasion when St Columban was walking and praying in the forest near Luxeuil. He was confronted by a pack of wolves. He remainedcompletely still and prayed Deus in adjutorium meum intende; Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina (God come to my aid; O Lord make haste to help me). The wolves approached and touched his habit, but instead of harming him they wandered off.
On another occasion when St Columban was looking for a quiet place in which to pray near the nearby monastery at Annegray, France, he came on what heconsidered to be an ideal place. Unfortunately it was a bear’s den, but, far from being frightened by the experience, St Columban ordered the bear to leave the place and never to return. The bear duly did so and found another den further away from Annegray.
St Columban and his monks clearly found God in the created world around them. In his sermon on grace we find, “Seek no further concerning God; for those who wish to know the great depth (of God) must first learn about creation.” Further on in the same sermon there is a sentence which could become the mantra for Creation Theology, Intellige, si vis scire Creatorem, creaturam (If you wish to know the Creator, learn about creatures).
For more than 40 years, Columban missionaries have been at the forefront of protecting the environment from destructive practices and promoting sustainablealternatives. Our experience of living with the natural world and with marginalized and exploited communities has inspired us to seek ways to restore right relationships with all of God’s creation.
We are fortunate to have Columban eco theologian Fr Sean McDonagh living in Ireland. His publications include:
- On Care for Our Common Home Laudato Si’: The Encyclical of Pope Francis on the Environment with Commentary by Sean McDonagh (Ecology & Justice)
- Laudato Si: An Irish Response: Essays on the Pope’s Letter on the Environment
- Robots, Ethics and the Future of Jobs
- Why are We Deaf to the Cry of the Earth?
- Fukushima: The Death Knell for Nuclear Energy?
- Climate Change: The Challenge to All of Us
- The Greening of the Church
- Greening the Christian Millennium
- To Care for the Earth: A Call to a New Theology
- The Death of Life: Extinction is Forever
- Patenting Life? Stop!: Is Corporate Greed Forcing Us to Eat Genetically Engineered Food?