The following is an excerpt from a 1914 book entitled, “The Life and Writings of St. Columbanus,” by George Metlake. It recites portions of the aforementioned letter of St. Columbanus to Pope St. Boniface IV. One can hear in the words of St. Columbanus, a respect for the Office of the Pope, but most importantly, a holy zeal and anger that the Faith is not being vigorously defended and that heretics and schismatics are not being rightly condemned. St. Columbanus’ letter could practically be given word for word to Pope Francis today. In an age where the Neo-Catholics tell us that nothing but fawning adulation or else silence can be given to the sacrilege-allowing Francis and his Exhortation, we here have the counter-example of a brave Irish monk, who firmly rebuked a sitting Pope, Boniface IV, who himself would go on to become a saint.
St. Columbanus, intercede for us!
In the dedication Columban calls Boniface “ the most beautiful Head of the Churches of all Europe, the most sweet Pope,the Supreme Pontiff, the Pastor of pastors, the venerable Sentinel ", and himself a “pilgrim, an uncultured rustic, the humblest and most insignificant of men ", not deserving to be called Columba, a dove, but Palumba, a wild pigeon. The letter itself begins with characteristic abruptness :
“Who can bear to listen to this bald-head? Who is this garrulous and presumptuous person who dares to write such things without being asked? Perhaps someone, eager to retaliate, will say to me, as the Hebrew, who struck his brother, said to Moses: “Who hath appointed thee prince and judge over us? "To him I answer, that it is not presumption to speak when the edification of the Church requires it; and if my person gives him offence, let him consider, not who it is that speaks, but what is said. Why should a Christian stranger conceal what your Arian neighbor has long since talked abroad? “Better are the wounds of a friend than the deceitful kisses of an enemy.” Others, with malicious pleasure, speak ill of you behind your back; I for my part shall, though with sorrow and pain, openly expose the dire effects of the existing schism. Believe me, it is not vanity or impertinence that prompts me, the vilest of men, to write to men of such exalted station: grief, not pride, urges me to tell you, in all humility, as is befitting, that through your dissensions “the name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles." …I speak as your friend, as your disciple, as your faithful retainer, not as a stranger ; therefore I call out boldly to you, our masters, the helms- men and mystic oarsmen of our spiritual ship: Watch, for the sea is in uproar, vexed with death-bringing storm- winds; watch, for the water has already entered the ship of the Church, and she is in danger of sinking! …
We are the disciples of St. Peter and St. Paul, and of the other holy men of God who, inspired by the Holy Ghost, wrote the sacred canon of the Scriptures. Dwelling in the ultimate places of the earth, the Hibernians receive no other doctrine but that of the Gospel and of the Apostles. In our island there are no heretics, no Jews, no schismatics. Here the Catholic faith is preserved as intact as it was delivered to us by you, the successors of the Apostles. This fact has emboldened me to stir you up against those who calumniate you and decry you as patronizers of heretics and schismatics. In your name I answered these defamers, as a disciple should in the name of his master, that the Roman Church never defends a heretic. Let not my boasting come to nought: let them, not us, be confounded. Wherefore, I entreat you, bear with my presumption, and turn a kindly-disposed heart and a loyal ear to my proposals. Whatever I shall say that is orthodox and useful will redound to your honor: for is not the pure doctrine of the disciples the glory of the master? and when the son speaks wisely, does not the father rejoice? The river owes the purity of its water, not to itself, but to the source from which it springs. But if, in this letter to you, or in the one to Agrippinus, which I enclose , words have escaped me which transgress the bounds of moderation, do not ascribe them to pride, but to my lack of discretion.
Watch over the peace of the Church; come to the aid of your sheep, terrified by the wolves; speak to them with the voice of the true Pastor; stand between them and the wolves, so that, laying aside all fear, they may recognize you as their true shepherd. . . .Be vigilant at your post day and night. If you do not wish to lose the honor due to your apostolic office, preserve the apostolic faith; confirm it by your testimony; fortify it by a written instrument; cover it with the authority of a synod, and no one will have the right to resist you. Do not, I entreat you, scorn this advice because it comes from a foreigner.
The world is on the wane; the Chief Pastor is drawing near. . . . We are standing on the verge of time; our days are full of perils. Behold, nations are troubled and kingdoms are bowed down: “ The Almighty shall quickly utter His voice, and the earth shall tremble. Take care, when He comes, He find you not neglectful of your duty, and striking your fellow -servants with the blows of bad example, and eating and drinking; lest you suffer the consequences of your false security. It is not enough to be solicitous for yourself, for you have taken upon yourself the care of many ; and to whom much is given, from him much is also required.
Watch, therefore, Holy Father; again I say: Watch; because Vigilius was not perhaps vigilant enough. Your vigilance will be the salvation of many, just as blind security on your part would be the undoing of many. . . . Though a timid warrior myself, I shall nevertheless strive to rouse you, our commander-in-chief; for we are beset on all sides by our enemies. It is your duty to ward off danger from the whole army of the Lord. All look to you, for to you power has been given to declare war, to encourage the other leaders, to order the troops, to give the signal for battle, to take your place in the fore-front of the battle-line. Woe to us, if, in a land where the enemies of the true faith are armed for the fight, we give ourselves up to indolence and a false optimism. Coming from the confines of the world, where I saw the spiritual leaders fight the battles of God, I thought I should find even braver and abler captains here; but with pain and disappointment, not unmixed with fear, I view the battlefield, and turn my eyes to you, our sole hope, and bewail the rout of so great an army. . . .
Cut off without delay, I beseech you, the root of this schism with the sword of St. Peter; make a public profession of the true faith before a synod; excommunicate all heretics, and thus purge the Chair of Peter from every stain of error, should any, as is alleged, have crept into it. It were indeed a subject of grief and dismay, if the Apostolic See, the chief seat of orthodoxy , did not maintain the rule of faith, and were on this account to be pointed at with the finger of scorn. For the love of Christ, I beg of you, defend your good name, which is being torn to shreds among the nations, and do not draw down upon yourself the charge of treason by persisting any longer in silence.
Take away the confusion that covers the face of your sons and disciples, who are reviled on your account; take away, above all, the suspicion that envelopes the Chair of St. Peter. For it is not a small matter that is laid to your charge. You are accused of holding communion with heretics — but God forbid I should believe that. It is asserted that Eutyches, Nestorius and Dioscorus, those heretics of old, were received into the Church by Vigilius in some fifth synod or other. This, it is claimed, is the cause of the whole scandal, a scandal perpetuated by you, if it is true that you have also received them. Your actions seem to give some color to this accusation ; for, if you know that Vigilius died infected with this error, why is his name still commemorated ?
It is your fault if you have turned aside from the true faith, if “you have made void your first faith ”. With good reason your inferiors resist you; with good reason they refuse to communicate with you as long as the memory of the impious has not been branded with infamy and given up to oblivion. If there is more truth than falsehood in the reports spread about you, the roles are reversed; your sons are — it grieves me sorely to say so — “ as the head and you are as the tail ”. Those who have always remained true to the orthodox faith, even though they be your inferiors, will be your judges…
Forgive me, if my harsh words have offended your pious ears. The freedom of discussion which is a characteristic of my native land is in part to blame for my boldness. Amongst us, not persons, but reasons, are weighed. My great solicitude that peace and harmony should reign among you, urges me to speak out frankly, and to hide nothing. We, as I said before, are sincerely attached to the Chair of St. Peter; for, great and renowned as Rome is, it is through this Chair alone that she is illustrious in our country. Though the fame of the ancient city, the glory of Ausonia, was spread abroad over the whole earth, and she was held in the highest honor by almost every nation as something sovereignly august, — yet in our eyes you are great and sublime only since God deigned to appear on earth, and the Spirit of God was poured out upon the nations, and the Chariot of the Son of God, drawn by those fiery steeds of the Holy Ghost, the Apostles Peter and Paul, in the possession of whose bodies, those dear pledges of their love, you are so blest, traversed the great ocean and came to our shores. And if, in the language of the Scripture, we call those “ heavens ” who proclaim the glory of God, whose “ words have gone forth unto the ends of the world ”, then through the great Apostles you are all but heavenly beings, and Rome, the capital of the world, is also the head of all the Churches, the place of Christ’s resurrection being alone holier and more privileged . Such being the dignity of your See, you ought to take care not to prejudice it by any act of yours. For only so long as right reason is on your side, will your authority remain undisputed: the true keeper of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven is he who opens the gates to the worthy and closes them against the unworthy. If he did the contrary of this, he could neither open nor close. All the world knows that the Saviour gave the keys of Heaven to St. Peter; but if you are puffed up on this account, and claim above others some unheard of power in divine things , remember that such presumption will lessen your authority in the sight of God. ..
Dearly beloved, be of one mind; consign the old quarrels to eternal silence and oblivion. What is doubtful, leave to the judgment of God; but what is clear, what men can pass judgment upon, “judge without respect of persons ”: “ judge ye truth and judgment of peace in your gates ”; and forgive one another that there may be joy in Heaven upon your peace and unity. Being true Christians, for what else should you be solicitous than to defend the Catholic faith? I cannot understand how Christian can quarrel with Christian about the faith. Whatever one orthodox Christian, who gives true glory to God, says, the other will answer : Amen; because what the one believes and loves, the other also believes and loves…
Pardon me for my freedom of speech: I could not write otherwise, though I knew I should be blamed on this account. In the cause of God, however, I do not fear the tongues of men, which are more prone to lying than to speaking the truth. Once more I entreat you, because many doubt the purity of your faith, to remove this stain from the beauty of the Holy See. For surely the charge of inconsistency raised against her, as if she could be turned from the firmness of the true faith by every show of violence, must not be allowed to rest on the Roman Church, the Church for which so many martyrs shed their blood, preferring to die rather than to prove traitors. King Agilulf beseeches you, Queen Theodolinda beseeches you, all beseech you, to put an end to this schism as soon as possible, that all may be one, that there may be but one fold of Christ, that peace may be restored to Italy, and to the whole Church. What is sweeter than peace after war? What is more delicious than the reunion of brothers after a long separation? The peace of the sons will be an everlasting joy to the Father in Heaven and to our Mother the Church on earth !
Pray for me, Holy Father, and you my brothers, for me, a vile sinner, and for my fellow-pilgrims, at the Holy Places where the ashes of the Saints repose, and above all at the tomb of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, the great captains of the Great King, the peerless champions of Christ crucified, whom they followed even to the shedding of their blood, that we may have grace to cleave to Christ, that we may find favor in His eyes, that we may never be lacking in thankfulness to Him, and that we may join with you and all the saints in praising and glorifying Him together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
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