St. Columbanus lived in the seventh century and was a powerful missionary and abbot. Thirteen of his sermons have been handed down to us and are available in print. The deeply sacramental world view of Columbanus finds its expression in the concrete simplicity of his approach to faith. Consider the following from his sermon Concerning the Faith:
"Since, just as the depth of the sea is invisible to human sight, even so the Godhead of the Trinity is found to be unknowable by human senses. And thus if, I say, a man wishes to know what he ought to believe, let him not think that he understands [better] by speech than by believing;’’ ( cf. Aug. Serm. xliii. 6, 7) for knowledge of the Godhead will recede farther when he seeks it than it was. Therefore seek the supreme wisdom, not by verbal debate, but by the perfection of a good life, not with the tongue but with the faith which issues from singleness of heart, not with that which is gathered from the guess of a learned irreligion. If then you seek the unutterable by discussion, He will fly farther from you’’ (Eccles. 7. 24) than He was;if you seek by faith, wisdom shall stand in her accustomed station at the gate"
Creation is a window through which we can come closer to God. Put simply, Columbanus is telling us to have faith, believe, seek holiness and be attentive to the gift of creation that speaks to us of God's greatness and beauty. God is close at hand and we may know him by purity of heart. Columbanus continues:
"and where she dwells she shall at least in part be seen. But then is she also truly in some measure attained, when the invisible is believed in a manner that passes understanding; for God must be believed invisible as He is, though He be partly seen by the pure heart. Wherefore, my dearest brethren, let us pray to our God Himself, everywhere present and invisible, that either faith's fear of Him, or charity which knows no fall,’’ (I Cor. 13. 8) may endure in us; and may this fear joined to charity make us wise in all things, and may piety persuade us to be silent on what is too great for speech, since it is a thing unsearchable and ineffable to know God as He is.
Who He is and how great He is, He only knows. But since He is our God, though invisible to us, He must yet be besought by us, often besought; ever must we cling to God, to the deep, vast, hidden, lofty, and almighty God; and we must pray by the merits and intercession of His saints, that He would bestow even some ray of His light upon our darkness, which may shine on us in our dullness and ignorance on the dark roadway of this world, and that He would lead us to Himself, by the favour of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit is the glory unto ages of ages."
On several occassions Columbanus refers to God as being invisible and he speaaks of the human will as rotten. This would appear to suggest that he sees God as distant and not present to us due to our corrupted nature. However, this is far from the truth and would be quite opposed to the point of the sermon. Some suggest that he is criticizing the speculative theologians of his time who had tried to understand the Trinity through discourse. Columbanus is quite critical of the failings of those who rely on their intellect and will to know God but the sermon is quite clear about God's promise to us:
"For of Him we have said only that He is one in three and three in one. Yet of His being who shall be able to speak? Of how He is everywhere present and invisible, or of how He fills heaven and earth and every creature, according to that saying, (Ierem. 23. 24) Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord,’’ and elsewhere, (Sap. 1. 7) The Spirit of God, [according to the prophet,] has filled the round earth,’’ and again, (Isa. 66. 1) Heaven is my throne, but earth is the footstool of my feet?’’ Therefore God is everywhere, utterly vast, and everywhere nigh at hand, according to His own witness of Himself; (Ierem. 23. 24) I am, [He says,] a God at hand and not a God afar off.’’ Therefore it is no God dwelling far off from us that we seek, Whom if we merit it we have within us. For He resides in us like soul in body, if only we are sound members of Him, if we are not dead in sins, if we are uninfected by the taint of a corrupt will; then truly does He reside in us Who said, And I will reside in them and walk in their midst."
CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork
College Road, Cork, Ireland — (2004), The Sermons of Columbanus