Tuesday 10 May 2016

The Rule of Saint Comgall

Saint Comgall, founder of the monastery of Bangor, had a reputation for upholding a strict monastic rule. In 1904 scholar John Strachan published the text of an Old Irish Metrical Rule associated with the saint but argued that the text dated from the late eighth century, two centuries after the time of Saint Comgall. Saint Adamnan's writings mention a Rule of Comgall, but it is not possible to determine if this is the text  to which he refers. A more recent translation appears in the 1996 anthology by Uinseann Ó Maidín OCR, The Celtic Monk - Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks. As the Internet Archive have placed Strachan's translation in the public domain I reproduce it below, but for access to the footnotes and the Old Irish text please consult the original volume. As with all monastic texts there is much for Christians in all states of life to profitably reflect on:


1 Preserve the Rule of the Lord; therein thou runnest no risk. It is better that thou transgress it not, as long as thy life lasts.

2 This is the essence [lit. what is best] of the Rule: love Christ, hate wealth; piety to thee towards the King of the sun and smoothness towards men.

3 Continuance in penitence — wonderful the road — keenness, persistence therein; heed of death everyday; good will to every man.

3a. A hundred prostrations to Him at the Beati morning and evening, if it be accomplished, the reward which he will have therefor in the Kingdom of Heaven will not be paltry.

3b. Every morning at the time let him bow down promptly thrice. Over his breast, over his face, let him put the sign of Christ's cross.

4 Aim not at a ... . devotion. Eat thy due portion of food. The short gross devotion, it is the Devil who has devised(?)it.

5 Make not a fire of fern ; then its extinction is nigh. Be not a sedge against a stream, that thy devotion may be lasting.

6 If the battles overtake thee, it is better for thee that thou shouldst not be slack : a battle against many vices, a battle against the body, a battle against the Devil.

7 These are thy three rules — have thou naught else dearer — patience, humility, and the love of the Lord in thy heart.

8 Through fear is the love of the King who healeth every misery. It is from love of Him that His will and His commandment are cared for.

9 Love of God .... the earth, fetters thoughts speedily. Fear hath power over repentance. Love determines piety.

10 Whether in fear or in hurt let us pray to Christ that we may escape (?). The manner of the penance our patron shall determine.

11 The eight chiefs of the vices which slay the soul of every man, I know virtues which extinguish them all.

12 This is the virtue which works long consolation, that in every desire which thou desirest thou shouldst exercise patience.

12a. My own soul said to my .... body (?) if it might be moved upon this earth after being for a time in blasphemy.

13 To sing the three fifties from tierce to tierce, if it be possible, by the ordinances of the ancients, there will be a day that it will be a help.

13a. Three hundred prostrations every day, and three at every canonical hour, thy soul will not be at the judgment of the King on the Day of Doom.

13b.Two hundred prostrations every day to the Lord with a diligent booklet, they shall be performed without any defect always save on the Lord's day.

13c. Two hundred blows on the hands in every Lent, it will be a help. From every pride that they shall be guilty of they sain (?) every guilt upon them.]

14 Light, wonderful, and mild is the yoke of the Lord. To go to a devout sage is good to direct one's path.

15 A devout sage to guide thee, 'tis good to avoid punishment. Though great thou deem thy firmness, be not under thine own guidance.

16 It is better for thee to avoid those whom thou mayest expect to slay thee, a fool pious but ignorant, a sage impenitent and ....

16a. Practise the liberty (?) of the elders. Be not foolish like .... Before afterwards (?) in every place [to be] in obedience to Jesus will be better (?),

16b. Practise deliverance from captivity for God's folk — 'tis no shame — that thou mayest not unawares play I alone, you alone, before the Devil.

17 Though great injuries come to thee, lament not thereat ; because they are not more abundant than those of the King who sends them.

18 Though thou deem the guests many, if thou renderest [them] their service due, beg of the king with whom thou art, buy not aught for them.

19 Go not thyself to solicit; let no one go from thee to beg. Remain at home in prayer ; ever endure thy poverty.

20 Be not hard and niggardly. Be not deaf to prayer to thee. Refuse not, solicit not. Love not a man's wealth.

21 Thou shalt not sell, thou shalt not buy God's mercy, thou shalt not hide it. What thou earnest off over and above thy sufficiency, thou shalt give to the poor.

22 Be not given to buying and trafficking. Let thy piety to Christ be great. Beg not of a king in Ireland, if thou be a vassal of Mary's Son.

23 Repentance with sluggishness (?) after being in great sin, small is its reward in heaven, its trial in fire will be great.

24 If there should be anyone who should take the path of repentance, advance a step every day, practise not the ways of a charioteer.

25 If thou shouldst part from the world, thou hast taken the path of sufferings. Flee from it, look not, as [though it were] a pursuit wherewith thou wert pursued.

26 If thou shouldst have a son or householdry that thou hast determined to part from, thou shalt not seek them, thou shalt not think of them, as though thou wert in the earth.

27 If thou practise repentance, if thy heart is meek, this way is straight to the King of the Kingdom of Heaven.

27a. A hundred blows on thy hands, in every Lent it will be a help. For every pride that they [the hands] have practised, miss not a single time [lit without want upon them] (?).

28 If it be thy desire that thy soul be as white as the swan, no other can strive after aught for thy soul in thy stead.

28a. If thou art a shepherd to church-tenants, it is fitting that thou compassionate them and love them ....

28b. If tenant service come to thee, if thy frequent trial be pleasant (?), preserve thou three words till thou art carried to thy graveyard.

28c. These are thy three words — it is neither shorter nor longer — Arco fuin imandairi thou shalt say every day.

29 This is the Rule of the Lord. Thou mayest prove it. No imperfect one understands how to be under the rule of my.....

J. Strachan, An Old Irish Metrical Rule,  Eriu Vol 1, (1904), 191-208

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