Prophecy and kingship in Adomnán's 'Life of Saint Columba'
Michael J. Enright
This book offers a new interpretation of Adomnán’s 'Life of Saint Columba', a crucial source for the study of early Irish and north British history. Whereas previous scholars have assumed that this vita was that of a fairly typical Irish saint, MiIchael J. Enright shows that Adomnán intended to portray Columba as an authentic Old Testament-style prophet, one superior to any other leader because he had been divinely chosen and commissioned to impose God’s will on the British Isles. His purposes were not refutable by any other power since, like Moses, Samuel and Elijah, he had been made into God’s own singular herald. His commission was to reform kingship by selecting, anointing and guiding rulers according to Old Testament precedent. Like a scriptural prophet, moreover, he taught his followers to be prophets so as to ensure the continuity of his mission. In order to advance this regime of the prophet-guided ruler, God also endowed Columba with the special privilege of giving victory in battle to those who supported him. Adomnán intended to show that no other leader or institution could ever legitimately defy Columba, whose spirit actively lived on in his community.
Michael Enright is Professor of Medieval History at East Carolina University. He is the author of the acclaimed Lady with a mead cup: ritual, prophecy and lordship in the European warband from La Tène to the Viking Age (1997, repr. 2007) and The Sutton Hoo Sceptre and the roots of Celtic kingship theory (2006).