Manifestations of heavenly light and fire and the construction of a saint: sanctity, mission and salvation in Adomnán's Vita Columbae

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O'Sullivan, Rúairí Micheál
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University College Cork
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This thesis examines the late seventh-century Latin Life of Columba (Vita Columbae) in a context sympathetic to the spiritual aims and formative intellectual background of its author, Adomnán of Iona. It argues that the Vita Columbae is a sophisticated work, shaped by Adomnán’s spiritual and theological concerns. This sophistication is revealed by a forensic examination of Adomnán’s representation of Columba’s sanctity through a series of miracles, in particular, miracle stories depicting divine manifestations of fire and light. This thesis considers the form and function of these miracle stories in the context of biblical, patristic and medieval interpretations of their archetypes, towards revealing the underlying influence of scriptural, hagiographical and monastic models of sanctity. Chapter one evaluates the function of the Vita Columbae, and outlines the core themes of sanctity which pervade the work, by considering the technical terminology and literary devices found in the opening prefaces in the context of the wider monastic tradition. Chapter two examines Adomnán’s use of biblical models of sanctity to establish Columba’s sanctity, and their relationship between these models and certain miraculous episodes in the Vita Columbae. Chapter three investigates Adomnán’s description of the Holy Spirit as an illuminating fire, and its significance for his portrayal of the saint, by means of a forensic examination of biblical, exegetical and hagiographical treatments of the image. Chapter four examines the missiological, soteriological and providential elements contributing to Adomnán’s portrayal of Columba’s sanctity, as conveyed through the presence of biblical models, particularly the image of the column of fire. Chapter five establishes the influence of monastic examinations of the contemplative life on Adomnán’s portrayal of Columba’s sanctity, and shows how that sanctity is confirmed in terms of his ability to contemplate divine light.
Vita Columbae , Life of Columba , Hagiography , Hiberno-Latin , Early Medieval , Insular , Adomnan , Iona , Exegesis
O'Sullivan, R. M. 2015. Manifestations of heavenly light and fire and the construction of a saint: sanctity, mission and salvation in Adomnán's Vita Columbae. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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