November 12 is the commemoration of a 7th-century Irish saint who played an important role in the Paschal Dating Controversy - Cummain the Tall. Below is a paper written by Archbishop John Healy on his life, taken from an occasional series on Irish theologians in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record. In it, the author quotes extensively from the writings of Saint Cummain on the question of dating Pascha and of the other writings which gave him a reputation as one of the early Irish church's foremost theologians.
IRISH THEOLOGIANS. No. IX.
ST. CUMMAIN THE TALL, BISHOP OF CLONFERT.
ST.CUMMAIN, surnamed the Tall (fada), to distinguish him from Cummain the Fair (firm), Abbot of Hy, was the most learned Irish scholar of the seventh century. He took a leading part in the famous Paschal controversy, and his Letter on that question, which is fortunately extant, proves him to be perfectly familiar with church history, and deeply versed in Sacred Scripture. He was well skilled, too, in the moral theology of the times, as the "Liber de Mensura Poenitentiarum" clearly shows. He tried his hand at poetry also, but we cannot say so much for his verses as for his theology: it is rarely, indeed, that theologians are good poets they have too much sobriety of mind. His contemporaries likened Cummain in morals and life to St. Gregory the Great, and one of his admirers, in an old rann preserved by the Four Masters, says he was the only Irishman of his time fit to succeed that illustrious Pontiff in the chair of St. Peter.
Yet, the birth of this holy and learned man was the fruit of an unspeakable crime, to which it is unnecessary to make special reference in this paper. His father was Fiachna, son of Fiachra Gairine, king of West Minister. The clan were known as the Eoghanach of Lough Lein, because they were sprung from the great Eoghan More, son of Oilioll Oluim, and dwelt in the woods and mountains around the far-famed lakes of Killarney. His unhappy mother was, it seems, in early youth called Flann, but she was also called Mughain or Mugania, and was sometimes known as Rim, or, as Colgan latinises it, Rima. Her identity, however, under these various names is sufficiently established by the great misfortune of her life, for which, perhaps, she may not have been responsible.
The child was born in 589, or 590, for he died in, 661, at the age of seventy-two. Drumdaliter - Marianus O'Gorman tells us was "the name of his town," and Aodh or Hugh was his "proper name" at first. Shortly after his birth the infant was exposed by his parents, and left at the head of the cross in a small Cummain or basket near St. Ita's Convent of Killeedy, and the holy sisterhood finding the child thus abandoned took charge of the foundling, and called him Cummain, because he was found in the basket.
The history of the lady Flann, the mother of Cummain, is very singular. The great misfortune of her life seems to have happened when she was very young, and it may have been greatly, if not entirely, against her own will. It seems, too, that she was very beautiful in a stanza composed by Cummain himself, she is called Flann the Fair it is said too that she was four times married, and became the mother of no less than six kings and six bishops. After the death of her fourth husband, Flann, whether tired of the cares of a married life, or anxious to do penance for the sin of her youth, consulted her son Cummain as to her future; and he advised her to retire from the world, and spend the rest of her days in prayer and penance. She did so, and died a holy nun at an advanced age.
From Killeedy, or perhaps from Killarney, young Cummain was sent to the great school of Cork, founded by St. Finnbarr about the beginning of the seventh century, when Cummain would be twelve or fifteen years of age. Finnbarr the white-haired was himself a native of Connaught, whence he went to visit St. David of Wales, and, as some say, even to Rome to see St. Gregory. Having made himself master of all the learning of the time, and enriched his mind with foreign travel, he returned home and founded his school and monastery in the low marshy ground to the south of the river Lee (Corcagh), which has since given its name to the City of Cork. The fame of the new school was very great ; so that it attracted students from many lands, and a city of Huts, filled with scholars, grew up around the humble oratory of Finnbarr.
Among the teachers in Cork, either then, or a little later on, was Colman Mac O'Cluasaigh, who is called the " tutor " of young Cummain, to whom he became greatly attached. Colman O'Cluasaigh was, it seems, a most accomplished scholar, and had, moreover, an Irishman's love for poetry and song. Dr. Todd has published, in the first volume of the “Liber Hymnorum," a very beautiful Irish hymn composed by Colman to invoke for himself and his pupils the protection of God and His Saints against the yellow plague, which devastated Ireland between the years 660-664. He is described in the preface to that hymn as a reader of Cork (fer-legind), and is said to have composed it when he was flying, with his pupils, from the plague, to take refuge in some island of the sea, because it was thought the contagion could not extend beyond nine waves from the land, which, even from a sanitary point of view, was likely enough. He also composed, about the same time, an elegy on the death of Cummain.
Colman inspired his pupil with his own love for poetry ; and fortunately we have, in the same Book of Hymns, a Latin poem written by Cummain, which we should reprint if the space at our disposal were not so limited.
From St. Finnbarr's school Cummain seems to have gone to visit his half brother Guaire, who was King of South Connaught at this period, or a little later on. As Cummain was already famous for sanctity and learning, and belonged to an influential family, who would now be ready enough to acknowledge the relationship, we can easily conceive how his own merits and Guaire's influence would have procured his selection for the bishopric of Clonfert. "All the Martyrologies and Annals," says Cardinal Moran, "agree in styling St. Cummain Fada, Bishop and Abbot of Clonfert.
But it is not easy to fix the exact date of his appointment. We find the death of Senach Garbh, Abbot of Clonfert, marked by the Four Masters under date of 620, and his successor Colman died, according to Archdall, in the same year which he gives as 621. As there is no other obituary of a Bishop or Abbot of Clonfert noticed in our Annals until the death of Cummain himself in 661, we may perhaps fairly assume that he succeeded the Abbot Colman and governed the See for forty years. Colman, King of Connaught, the uncle of Cummain and father of Guaire, was slain in 617, and Guaire, if not actually king at this date, was an influential chief, and his defeat with others at the battle of Cam Fearadhaigh in Limerick is noted by the annalists in 622, and his death in 662, so that the two brothers, the Bishop and chieftain, were contemporaries, ruling in South Connaught during a long and chequered career. This fact will help to explain the great influence which Cummain possessed, and the leading position which he occupied in the Irish Church at that period.
His fame as a saint and scholar spread throughout all Ireland, and attracted crowds of students to his great school at Clonfert. He appears, as we shall see further on, to have taken a leading part in the Synod of Magh Lene, held about 630, and no doubt it was at the request of the Fathers of that Synod, that he wrote his famous epistle on the Paschal Question to the Abbot Segienus of Hy, about the year 634.There is every reason to believe that Segienus and Cummain were, if not personal friends, at least well known to each other, for the Columbian Abbey of Durrow in King's County, was not far from Clonfert, and the uncle of Segienus had been Abbot of that house until he was transferred to Hy in the year 600. Segienus himself was very likely educated there under his uncle's care, and perhaps succeeded him later on in the government of the Abbey. It is at all events certain that frequent intercourse existed between Hy and Durrow, and that Cummain must have been well known at Durrow is manifest.
About a mile and a-half from Shinrone, to the west of Roscrea, there is an old ruin, perhaps originally built by St. Cummain, which gives its name Kilcommin to the parish. This was Disert Chuimin in regione Roscreensi, to which Cummain probably retired before the Synod of Magh Lene, to devote himself to a year's study of the Paschal question. It is about twenty-five miles from Burrow, and fifteen from Clonfert. The old church was built under the shadow of Knockshegowna, where the Tipperary fairies hold their revels.
The knowledge of these facts will help to explain Cummain's relations with King Domhnall a few years later.
When Domhnall, King of Ireland from 628 to 642, was a mere boy, he accompanied his father to the great Synod of Drumceat. On that occasion his relative Columcille put his hands on the boy's head, and blessed him, foretelling at the same time that he would survive his brothers, and become a great king, and, moreover, that he would expire peaceably -and happily on his bed surrounded by his family quite an unusual occurrence for an Irish king in those days. King Domhnall reigned and sinned, like most other kings; but towards the end of his life he did not feel himself well disposed to die, because, says the scholiast, he had not the gift of penance to bewail his sins. However, he had confidence in Columcille's prediction, so he sent a message to the Abbot of Hy to ask whether he should go there in person to do penance, or, if not, what soul's-friend the Abbot- would recommend him. Segienus, then Abbot of Hy, sent back word to the king, that his confessor would come to him from the south, and he very likely asked, at the same time, Cummain to visit the monarch. This message was attributed, in accordance with the custom of the times, to Columcille himself. It is preserved by the scholiast in Cummain's hymn, and is to the following effect:
" A Doctor who shall come from the south,
It is with him (Domhnall) shall find what he wants;
He will bring Communion to his house,
To the excellent grandson of Ainrnire."
There is a play on the word Communion which in Irish is the same, or almost the same, as Cummain, the man's name. Thus, it came to pass, whether by accident or design, that Cummain, the great Saoi or Doctor of the south, came all the way to Derry to visit the king, and administer spiritual consolation to him. But it seems the heart of the king still continued dry and impenitent. Then Cummain had recourse to prayer, and in order to obtain the gift of tears for his royal penitent, he composed, in honour of the Apostles, the very striking hymn in the " Liber Hymnorum." It seems that this poetic prayer was efficacious, Domhnall became a sincere penitent, bewailing his sins with floods of tears. The prediction of Columcille was completely verified, and the Four Masters tell us that Domhnall died at Ard-folhadh, near Ballymacgrorty, in the Barony of Tirhugh, " after the victory of penance, for he was a year in mortal-sickness, and he used to receive the body of Christ every Sunday." As King Domhnall died in 642, we may fix this visit of Cummain in 640 or 641 ; the scholiast in the poem that caused the conversion of the king, tells us expressly, that it was " written in Derry," nigh to the ancient Aileach, the royal residence of the northern kings, though perhaps not then used as such.
By far the most important and interesting event in the life of Cummain was the part he played in the great Paschal controversy. We can at present only give the merest sketch of the history of this great discussion, so as to enable our readers to understand Cummain's share in the controversy. Of course the system of computing the date of Easter in use both in Ireland and England at the beginning of the seventh century was that which was introduced by St. Patrick himself, and which he acquired in the schools of France and Italy. From the very beginning, however, much diversity of practice existed between the churches of the East and West, and even between some churches in the West itself, in reference to the date of Easter Day. With a view to secure uniformity as far as possible, the Synod of Arles, to which Cummain refers, held in 314, prescribes in its first canon that the whole world should celebrate the Easter festival on one and the same day, and that the Pope, according to custom, should notify that day to all the churches. There were three British bishops present at that Synod. But the diversity of practice still continued, to the joy of the pagans and to the scandal of the faithful.
Then the Nicene Synod intervened in 325, and commanded all the Eastern churches " which heretofore used to celebrate the Pasch with the Jews," to celebrate it in future at the same time with the Romans and with us so say the prelates of the Synod in their circular letter to the Egyptian churches. Constantine, the Emperor, in his own circular says, that the Synod agrees that all should celebrate the Pasch on the same day, but that it should never be on the same day with the Jews; and Cyril of Alexandria says, and Leo the Great confirms the statement, that the Alexandrian church was to calculate the dates, and then notify them to the Roman Church, which was to convey the information to the other churches. This was virtually adopting the Alexandrian cycle of nineteen years which was very different from the Roman cycle. Then at Alexandria the equinox was rightly fixed on the 21st March, at Rome it was the 18th; at Alexandria they celebrated Easter on the 15th day of the moon, when the fourteenth was a Saturday ; at Rome they did not celebrate Easter in any circumstances before the 16th day of the moon assuming that as the 14th day represented Good Friday, the Pasch of the Passion, Easter Sunday, the Pasch of the Resurrection, could not rightly take place before the 16th. It is curious that Cummain in his Epistle supports this opinion, although Bede makes the 15th of the moon a possible Easter Sunday, and such is still the usage. A diversity of practice, therefore, between Rome and Alexandria still continued for many years. However, the Alexandrian usage ultimately prevailed, but was finally accepted in the Western World only about 530, when explained and developed by Dionysius Exignus.
This, the correct system, therefore, lays down three principles. First, Easter Day must be always a Sunday,never on, but next after the 14th day of the moon. Secondly, that 14th day, or the full moon, should be that on or next after the vernal equinox ; and thirdly, the equinox itself was invariably assigned to the 21st of March.
Whilst, however, the Continental churches aimed at uniformity after a troublesome experience of their own errors, the Irish and British churches, practically isolated from their neighbours, tenaciously clung to the system introduced by St. Patrick. It was the system of their sainted fathers, and that was enough for them. So when Augustine and his companions, having partially converted the Saxons, came into contact with the Christians of the north of England, they were much scandalized at their celebrating Easter at a different time from the rest of the world. They remonstrated, but in vain ; the Scots of England and Ireland would not change their ways ; some of them would not even eat with the newcomers; the Britons of Wales refused to aid them in converting the Saxons. Colman, after his discussion with Wilfred at Whitby, refuted but not convinced, left England with his monks and sailed away to a lonely island in his native Mayo, rather than give up his Irish tonsure and his Irish Easter. Columbanus was equally obdurate in France, and the Abbots of Hy for a hundred years more tenaciously adhered to the traditions of their own great founder. But all Ireland was not equally stubborn, and the Southerns yielded first.
The English Prelates, Laurence of Canterbury, Millitus of London, and Justus of Rochester, shortly after the death of Augustine, addressed a letter to " their most dear brothers the Lords, Bishops, and Abbots throughout all Ireland (Scotia)," admonishing them to give up their "errors" in reference to Easter, and celebrate it in conformity with the Universal Church. But the Irishmen appear to have taken no notice of this document, for it looked like an attempt to assert a spiritual supremacy over the " Scots " which they always vigorously repudiated.
Millitus afterwards went to Rome, and others, too, coming there after him spoke of the errors and contumacy of the Scots in this matter of Easter as well as in some other things also. So Pope Honorius about the year 629, addressed an admonition to the pastors of the Irish Church, sharply rebuking them for their pertinacity in their erroneous practices, especially in reference to Easter, and calling upon them to act thenceforward in conformity with the Universal Church. The main charge brought against the Irish, so far as we can gather from Bede and Cummain, was that they celebrated Easter from the 14th to the 20th day of the moon, thus celebrating it on the same day with the Jews, viz., the 14th, if that should happen to be Sunday, which was contrary to the express prohibition of the Council of Nice. Most certainly they did not celebrate it with the heretical Quartodecimans on the 14th day of the moon, no matter what day of the week it might "happen to be they never celebrated Easter on any day but a Sunday, as both Bede and Cummain expressly admit. Cummain says that St. Patrick assigned the equinox to the 21st of March, but their cycle was the older Roman cycle of eighty-four years, not the new and more correct cycle of nineteen years adopted first at Alexandria and afterwards at Rome.
The main charge, however, was opposition to the Universal Church in celebrating Easter from the 14th to the 20th of the moon, because the 14th of Nisan being the Jewish festival was, by the Council of Nice, declared unlawful for the 'Christian festival.
How,then, could St. Patrick have come to admit the 14th of the moon in any circumstances as a lawful date for Easter Day? This is a difficult point, not yet clearly determined.
We rather think that this usage of celebrating Easter on the 14th of Nisan, if it fell on Sunday, was retained in several of the Gallican Churches even after the Council of Nice. The Council itself expressly tells us that it- was retained up to its own time in the Eastern Churches. Now, Eastern influence and Eastern customs prevailed to a considerable extent in Southern Gaul during the fifth century. The great monastery of Lerins was founded about 410, and from its cloisters issued the greatest prelates of Southern France. John Cassian came from the East, and, as we know, was imbued with Eastern ideas Cassian, the greatest man of his time, so holy, so learned, and so amiable, was a monk of Lerins, and in 415 founded the great monastery of St. Victor, where Eastern ideas were also prevalent. It is not unlikely that St. Patrick derived his Paschal computation from these monasteries, or from some of the great scholars who issued from their cloisters.
Be that as it may, when the Irish clergy received the admonition of Pope Honorius, they convened a National Synod, which met at a place called Magh Lene, or Campus Lene, in the ancient Feara-Ceall, close to Rahan, in the King's County. Cummain, in. his epistle, incidentally tells us almost all we know of this important Synod. The successors of Ailby, of Ciaran. of Clonmacnoise, of Brendan, of Nessan, of Molua, were there assembled about the year 630. The result of their deliberations was " to receive humbly and without hesitation " the doctrines and practices brought to them from the Holy See as their forefathers had commanded them, and therefore they resolved to celebrate Easter next year, and thenceforward with the Universal Church. But shortly after a " whitened wall " rising up amongst them caused disunion, under pretext of urging them to preserve the traditions of the elders. At last a compromise was adopted, and it was resolved to send messengers to Rome to see with their own eyes what was the custom of the Holy City in reference to the celebration of Easter. The messengers returned on the third year, and told them how they saw strangers from the whole world keeping the Roman Easter in the Church of Peter. Many wondrous cures were also wrought by the relics of the martyrs which they had brought with them from Rome, so it was resolved thenceforward to celebrate Easter on the same day with " their mother the Church of Rome; " and that resolution was faithfully carried out in the southern and midland parts of the kingdom, which where principally represented at the Synod. The north still held out, mainly through the influence and example of the great monastery of Iona and its dependent houses in Ireland. It was to try and induce Segienus, Abbot of Hy, to give up the ancient usage, and like the rest of the world, adopt the Roman practice, that Cummain, probably at the request of the Synod, wrote this Paschal Epistle. He was favourably known in Iona, as we have already seen, his learning and sanctity were greatly respected there, and Cummain, who had given special study to the question, not unnaturally thought he might be able to persuade the Abbot to give up the old Columbian usage. Though he failed in the attempt, his letter was carefully preserved, and either the original, or a copy, was carried by refugees from Iona to St. Gall, where it was fortunately preserved for posterity.
The epistle begins with the motto or inscription, "I confide in the Divine Name of the Supreme God" and is addressed by its author, who calls himself a suppliant sinner, to the Abbot Segienus, successor of St. Columba, and of other saints, and to the Solitary Beccan, " my brother in the flesh and in the spirit." The following is a brief analysis of this most interesting monument of our early Irish Church.
First of all the writer humbly apologises for presuming to address these holy men, and he calls God to witness that in celebrating the Paschal solemnity with the learned generally,he does so in no spirit of pride or contempt for others. For when the new (Dionysian) cycle of 532 years was first introduced into Ireland, he did not at once accept it, but held his peace, not presuming to praise or censure either party.
For he did not think himself wiser than the Hebrews, Greeks, and Latins, nor did he venture to disdain the food he had not yet tasted ; he rather retired for a whole year into the sanctuary of sacred study, to examine as best he could the testimonies of Scripture, the facts of history, and the nature of the various cycles in use. The results of this year's study he sums up in this epistle. He first proceeds to explain from Scripture the proper date of the Jewish Pasch, which, including the days of unleavened bread, began on the 14th day of the moon, and ended on the 21st; and he quotes St. Jerome, who declares that as Christ is our Pasch, we must celebrate that festival from the 14th to the 21st day of the moon (the date with us necessarily varying with the day of the week). But that Pasch, he says, means the day on which the lamb was slain for our Saviour himself said, " With longing I have longed to eat this Pasch with you before I suffer." Hence, the day of Passion in the- Christian Festival can never begin before the 14th day of the moon ; then the day of burial will be the l0th of the moon, and therefore the day of the Resurrection can never be earlier than the 16th day of the moon ; and being always a Sunday, must be on some day between the 16th and 22nd day of the moon, inclusive. " For if he says, as you do, the Resurrection were celebrated on the 14th of the moon, then the day of burial will be the 13th, and the. day of Passion the 12th, which is preposterous and opposed to the clear testimony of Scripture."
Then he appeals to the authority of the Ecclesiastical Synods against the Irish usage. There was, he admits, in the beginning a diversity of practice even in the Apostolic churches founded by Peter the Key-bearer, and John the Eagle-pinioned, for the Apostles themselves, driven hither and thither by persecution, had no time to fix a uniform cycle for all the churches. But afterwards " I find it was ordered that all those were to be excommunicated who dared to act against the statutes of the four Apostolic Sees of Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria." The Nicene Synod, he adds, composed of three hundred and eighteen bishops, ordained that the same rule should be followed in all the churches of the East and West. The Synod of Arles also, where six hundred bishops were present, insisted on uniformity throughout the whole world in the observance of the Pasch, lest, as St. Jerome observes, we should run the risk of eating the Pasch contrary to the law, extra unam domum, that is, outside the communion of the Universal Church. Consider you well, therefore, whether it is the Hebrews, Greeks, Latins, and Egyptians, united together, that are the extra domum, or a fragment of the Scots and Britains, living at the end of the world, that form a conventicle separated from the communion of the Church. You are the leaders of the people ; beware how you act, leading others into error by your obstinacy. Not so our Fathers, whom you pretend to follow, for they were blameless in their own days, seeing that they faithfully followed what they thought in their simplicity to be best; but you can scarcely excuse yourselves for knowingly rejecting the observances of the Universal Church. The writer then proceeds to insist at great length on this argument from the practice and authority of the Church ; and recites various passages from St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Cyprian, and St. Gregory, on the unity of the Church, and the guilt and danger of schismatical practices. " Non alia Romanae urbis ecclesia, alia totius orbis aestimanda est," he says, quoting St. Augustine ; and then he adds from St. Jerome, " Si quis Cathedrae S. Petri jungatur meus est ille," communion with Rome was in Cummain's estimation, -as in Jerome's, - the test of orthodoxy both in doctrine and discipline. " Can anything," he says, "be more absurd than to say of our mother the church Rome errs, Jerusalem errs, Antioch errs, and the whole world errs, the Irish (Scoti) and Britons alone are in the right?" In this part of his letter Cummain certainly displays not only great learning, but also great vigour and eloquence of style.
Lastly, he discusses the various cycles in use at different periods, and although he found much diversity with various nations, you, he says, have one of your own quite different from them all. First, there is the Paschal cycle introduced by St. Patrick, our spiritual Father (Papa nostra), according to which the Equinox was assigned to the 21st of March, and Easter Day ranged from the 14th to the 21st day of the moon. He then refers to the cycles of Anatolius, Theophilus, Dionysius, Cyril, Morinus, Augustine, Victorius, and lastly he mentions the cycle of Pachomius to whom an angel revealed the proper way to calculate Easter cycle meaning, it would seem, the special manner of calculating Easter peculiar to each. He then refers to the cycle of nineteen years adopted by the Nicene Fathers, calling it by its Greek name which he adds might enable you to ascertain the date of Easter with sufficient accuracy. " It is, as I find, quite different from yours in its kalends, its bissextile, in its epact, in its fourteenth moon, in its first month, and in its equinox." This is an important passage, because it shows that the Irish cycle was in every respect different from the cycle of nineteen years as adopted by the church of Alexandria. He then, refers to St. Cyril, and the cycle of Victoricius, clearly showing that he was familiar with the entire subject, and probably had in his hands some works which we no longer possess.
After referring to the Synod of the Campus Lene, as explained above, and the appeal to Rome in accordance with the ancient statute (mandatum) of the Irish Church, he goes on to say that according to the synodical decree all such " causae majores ad caput urbium sunt referenda." This refers to the decree of the Synod of Patrick, Auxilius, and Iserninus, bidding the Irish prelates if any cause of disunion arose, to go to the place which the Lord had chosen, (to Rome, the caput urbium) for the decision of these more important causes, " so we sent there certain wise and humble men whom we knew as children to their mother." And they returned on the third year, and told us what they had seen and heard, and how in the Church of St. Peter, the common hospice of all the faithful, Greeks and Hebrews, Scythians and Egyptians all celebrated Easter on the same day, which differed an entire month from our own, and we saw with our own eyes many miracles wrought by the relics of the saints and martyrs which, they had carried home with them from the holy city.
In conclusion he adds that he had not written to attack them but to defend the truth, he apologizes for any wrong or harsh words that might have fallen from him, and in the last sentence implores on them all the strong blessing of the Holy Trinity to guard them from all evil.
This remarkable epistle affords a striking proof, not only of Cummain's own learning, but of the high efficiency of the schools of his native land, in which he studied. He gives the Hebrew, Greek, and Egyptian names of the first lunar month. He refers to almost every cycle, and emendation of a cycle, of which we have any account, briefly, indeed, but sufficiently to show that he was acquainted with them, and with the decrees of Synods, and with the passages of the Fathers that make reference to them. Above all things, he insists upon the unity of the Church, and incontestably establishes the Irish tradition in his own time, that the Irish Church was founded from Rome, that Rome is the Source of Unity, the final Court of Appeal, and the Mother of the Irish, as of all other Churches. The text is unfortunately somewhat corrupt, and the style wants polish; but, though in this respect Cummain is inferior to several Irish writers of the seventeenth century, his Latin is much superior to that of several ecclesiastical documents that we have seen in our own nineteenth century.
The "Liber de Mensura Poenitentiarum " cannot with certainty be ascribed to Cummain Fada ; but it is highly probable that he was the author. It was preserved, like so many other invaluable Irish MSS., in the Monastery of St. Gall, and has been published in the " Bibliotheca Patrum," and, together with the Paschal Epistle, has been republished by Migne (Tome 87, Patr. Latina). We have seen that Cummain was regarded by the Abbot of Hy as a great moralist, and it may be that the same Segiemis was the " faithful friend," whom the author addresses mi fidelissime in the prologue. The treatise consists of fourteen chapters, giving the canonical penances assigned to sins of various kinds. It treats of these sins in the most minute detail, but contains little original matter ; for the penances are, in most cases, taken from the works of the Fathers and the penitential canons of various early Councils. But it shows how carefully these matters were attended to in our early Irish Church, and is another striking monument of ecclesiastical learning.
Cummain Fada has not unfrequently been confounded with Cummain Finn, the nephew of Segienus, Abbot of Hy. The latter wrote a life of St. Columba, to which Adamnan refers, and most of which he, Adamnan, inserted in the third Book of his own Life of St. Columba. The Paschal Epistle has also been attributed to him, but without any grounds. The intrinsic evidence of the letter itself shows that it was written by a prelate of the southern half of Ireland ; he speaks of Alby, Brendan, and the rest as " our fathers and predecessors," he had accepted the Roman usage which Hy and its family refused to accept for many years after, and he uses in reference to St. Peter the very peculiar expression "clavicularis," which is also used by the author of the Poem in honour of the Apostles, which was undoubtedly the work of Cummain Fada, the Bishop of Clonfert.
The Four Masters tell that " St. Cummain Fada, son of Fiachna, Bishop of Cluainfearta Brennain, died on the 12th of November, 661," which is his festival day. The entry of the death of his beloved tutor,- St. Colman O'Cluasaigh, is marked a little later on as happening in the same year, and therefore towards its close. Colman, however, lived long enough after Cummain to compose an elegy on his death.
The Four Masters have preserved these few lines :
" No bark o'er Luimneach's bosom bore,
From Minister to the Northern shore,
A prize so rich in battle won,
As Cummain's corpse, great Fiachna's son.
Of Erin's priests, it were not meet
That one should sit in Gregory's Seat,
Except that Cummain crossed the sea,
For he Rome's ruler well might be.
Ah! woe is me, at Cummain's bier
My eyelids drop the ceaseless tear ;
The pain, of hopeless anguish bred,
Will burst my heart since Cummain's dead."
The poet's verse was true Colman died within a month of his pupil to whom he was so deeply and tenderly attached. We may infer, too, from these verses that Cummain died at home in his native Kerry, but that his remains were carried up the Shannon in a boat to his own Cathedral of Clonfert,where he was interred. The Four Masters tell us that in 1162 the "relics of Maeinenu and of Cummain Fada were removed from the earth by the clergy of Brenainn (that is, of Clonfert), and they were enclosed in a protecting shrine." So far as I know there is no account to be had now of the existence of this shrine.
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- Notes on Homonymous Saints
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Wednesday, 12 November 2014
Saint Cummain of Clonfert, November 12
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