The nature and function of the marvellous in Adomnán's Life of Columba
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Approaches to studying the marvellous aspects of saints' lives have focused on political and ethical aims. Miracles proved sanctity, or flowed from it, and thereby authorised the cult and its modern practitioners. However, the nature and function of marvellous phenomena which provide this authority is little understood. This dissertation argues that the account of the marvellous in Adomnán's Life of Columba is fully integrated with a practical Christian tradition broader than the hagiographical genre within which it is normally confined. First, it undertakes a critical examination of approaches to the study of hagiographical marvels. Adomnán uniquely systematises his account of the marvellous into three distinct categories of prophesy, miracles of power, and visions. The account is compiled by a critical and theologically active mind, with a clear understanding both of historical precedent, and contemporary practical function of marvels. Chapter two critiques the identification of Christian marvels as deriving from pre-Christian pagan magic. Charles Plummer's foundational collection of early Irish literary parallels is analysed and found to be unreliable. Third, the theological concept of the eschatological kingdom, inaugurated by Christ in the first century, and becoming realised across the late antique world, is identified as a key to Adomnán's thought. It is traced in the accounts that he records of marvellous phenomena surrounding Columba. Following from this discovery, the empowering presence of the eschatological Holy Spirit, promised as sign and empowerer of the coming Kingdom, is explored. Adomnán is found to have a sophisticated understanding of the Spirit's operation pre-eminently in the gifts of prophesy. The study concludes with a reexamination of the missionary context of Adomnán's account. The Spirit bringing the Kingdom is the mission of the church. How this is present in the Life of Columba reviews the missionary identity of Columba from a new perspective.
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