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understand each other. They had however great diffi-
culties to struggle against, in the antipathy which the
free Celts entertained for those who had been under
the Roman sway — an antipathy stronger than is felt
towards people of quite a different race ; and again,
from the circumstance that they were themselves the
aggressors, who had seized on the territories of the
Southern tribes. Still there was something calculated
to melt their savage hearts in the presence of one
among them so diflferent from any they had known
before, preaching the doctrines of purity, humility,
and forgiveness ; whose graces, notwithstanding, would
be recognized and loved by all in whom there was
a principle of good. He was one of tlie people they
had attacked, cruelly treated, and displaced, and he
was amongst them, not with the tone of complaint
upbraiding, or revenge, but meek and gentle, pos-
sessing a sweetness of temper, and a calm and cheer-
ful mind, which he pointed out to them the means of


Their religion was the same as that of the other
tribes of the island had formerly been, though one would
suppose, in a more rude state of superstition than the
richer portion of the people, among whom the Druids
were so superior a caste. St. Ninian called them to
forsake their idolatry and superstition, and to turn to
that Almighty in Whom, though unknown, they yet
believed ; to Him, Who gave them rain from heaven,
filling their hearts with food and gladness. He called
them from the conscious misery of their present state —
from the bondage of vices which galled their very soul,
to an obedience and submission, which at once brought
relief. He told them of permanent existence, and a
future responsibility, of which a voice within testified
the truth ; and he professed himself the minister of a
gracious dispensation, which would secure those who
embraced it in a future dreadful day. This preaching
would carry conviction with it to those prepared souls
which are found amongst the uncivilized barbarians,
as well as among simple rustics or refined philosophers.
Wherever man is, there are hearts and consciences
which will correspond to the simple doctrines of re-
ligion, and be conscious on hearing it of the truth that
one thing is needful. But his words, it is said, were not
unaccompanied by convincing signs that he was indeed
what he professed, a messenger from that great unseen
Being in whom they believed. He performed mira-
cles among them. " The blind see," St. Aelred says,
" the lame Avalk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear,
the dead are raised up, the possessed are set free from
the demons that afilict them." Thus does he apply
the description of our Saviour's works to those of His
servant. " He that believeth on me the works that I


do, shall lie do also, and greater things than these shall
he do, because I go to the Father,"

Perhaps had the evidence for these miracles been
asked, the conversion of the people would have been
appealed to as a sufficient proof — the effect most dis-
tinctly establishing the cause. And had the converts
been asked the grounds on which they believed, an
appeal to the miracles would probably have been their
answer. Indeed, those who profess themselves ready
to admit the probability of miracles, where there is an
apparently adequate cause for them, must allow it in
the case of the Gospel being preached to a barbarous
people ; since the tangible and obvious evidence of
a miracle is best calculated to affect them strongly,
and to gain an attention for the preacher, which it
would require a long life amongst them, and a long
manifestation of the living miracle of a saintly cha-
racter to obtain.

St. Ninian, it is said, first converted the king of the
tribe, Avhose influence was exerted to further the
general acceptance of the Gospel among his people.
Such was at this period the usual course of con-
version. In the earlier ages, individuals were gained
over here and there, unknown to the world, and
generally of humble rank, and from them the holy in-
fluence spread to relations and neighbours, and those
who had the opportunity of seeing what the Gospel
had wrought in them ; and so the leaven was diffused
through the whole mass, and at last affected the
rulers of the world. Afterwards the course was gen-
erally the reverse. Kings were converted, and brought
their subjects over to the profession of Christianity.
The early ages gained men by their own individual
persuasion, and the work was slow. In the latter


period it was more rapid ; and if the converts were
now more influenced by earthly motives, tlieir pos-
terity at any rate reaped abundant blessings from being
brought into the fold of Christ. Perhaps this change
is indicated, when after the lame and blind had not
filled the feast, it is said that the last messengers
were to compel men to come in.

It is but reasonable to suppose that St. Ninian's
preaching was extended to those of the Southern Picts,
who still continued in their earlier settlement north of
the Frith of Forth. Indeed as has been said, many
writers confine the settlement of this race to the
northern districts, and do not suppose them to have
had any permanent settlement south of the Roman
"Wall. The question however, is not of any importance
in its bearing on a history of St. Ninian. Some again
have confounded the southern Picts with the Bri-
tish inhabitants of Valentia. Others, with the race
called Picts, who came from Ireland, and occupied
Galloway in the ninth century, and who alone bore
the name in the later period, when the proper Picts
were lost among the other nations who occupied Scot-
land. St. Ninian was ever known as the Apostle of
the Southern Picts, and as his proper mission was to
the inhabitants of Galloway and Valentia generally,
it was not unnatural to imagine these tribes to be
those who are meant by the Southern Picts. They
were however clearly a distinct tribe ; and it is a con-
firmation of the truth of St. Aelred's history that he
does so distinguish them, as Bede had also done, and as
the CoUect for St. Ninian's day, in the Aberdeen Bre-
viary, " Deus, qui populos Pictorum et Britonum per
doctrinam Sancti Niniani Episcopi et Confessoris do-


It was not however enough to gain the people to a
profession of the Gospel ; St. Ninian also provided
for the permanent maintenance of the Church, by the
consecration of Bisliops, and regular establishment of
Clergy. His biographer says, " he ordained Priests,
consecrated Bishops, arranged the ecclesiastical Orders,
and divided the whole country into parishes." The
last is noticed as an anachronism, as the system of
parochial division did not generally arise till a much
later period. It may however very probably mean
nothing more than the division of the country, so that
the Priests might each have his own definite sphere
of labour ; which Avas very necessary in so wide and
thinly peopled a district. In the consecration of Bish-
ops we do not know whether St. Ninian acted alone,
as was allowed in eases of necessity ; and would be
the more so here, as he was not apparently included
in any province, of which the other Bishops might
assist in the consecration ; or whether some of the
British Bishops joined in the sacred rite. They might
still be remaining in their Sees, but were far removed
from this country, and the hostilities and dangers which
prevailed might hinder them from coming.

We are equally in ignorance as to the succession
of the Bishopricks ; of which we know no more than of
those of the ancient Britons. It was very possible
that they might have been numerous, as those of Ire-
land were. Of the portion North of the Forth, Aber-
nethy was the Bishoprick, and so continued till later
times, the Bishop, or as he was sometimes styled,
Archbishop of that See, being called the Bishop of
the Picts. In all probability St. Ninian would leave
some of his own clergy, as the Priests and Bishops
of his new converts. They could not themselves so


soon have persons who could be entrusted with the
sacred office of preserving the deposit of the truth,
and St. Ninian, from his own experience, would be
conscious of the value of a long and careful prepara-
tion for the sacred ministry. Nor is there any reason
why we should not suppose that he revisited the Picts,
and from time to time supplied what was wanting for
the completeness of their ecclesiastical system. St.
Aelred, indeed, speaks as if all had been done in
one visit, but he might naturally adopt such a sum-
mary mode of narration when he was without any
distinct information of the particulars of the visits.
He passes on at the conclusion to the tranquillity
which characterized the latter days of the Saint.
" When he had confirmed the sons whom he had be-
gotten in Christ in faith and good works, and arranged
all which seemed necessary for the honour of God
and the salvation of souls, the Saint bade farewell to
his brethren, and returned to his own Church, where
he spent the rest of his life, perfect in holiness, and
glorious by his miracles, in great peace and tranquil-
lity of mind."

By the Picts his name was remembered, and the
Church he formed among them preserved. It was
above a century after when St. Columba came amongst
them, and they then professed Christianity, and men-
tioned St. Ninian as the Bishop by whom they had
been converted.

130 ST. ninian's latter da vs.


St. J^/^inian's latter Days.

AxD now that we have followed the Saint through the
broken incidents of a holy and laborious life, there are
few remaining points on which to dwell, but such as
they are, they will be interesting to recount.

And first, of the personal habits of St. Ninian. Holy
and spotless as he had been through life, it would seem
as if he might have been free from penitential auster-
ities, and have spared the hardnesses which others
must use with themselves. But such views proceed
on erroneous notions, since they contradict the practice
of the most eminent saints. The most pure and holy
have ever been tlie most severe in their mortifications.
Holy men, such as he was, become, as it would seem,
not only indifferent to worldly comforts, but lovers of
suffering endured for Christ's sake, and that princi-
pally from the love of Him. It seems to them, so
to say, unnatural to live at ease, when He endured
so much on their account. And they may suffer in a
way which corresponds to His sufferings, by suffer-
ing for their people, by accompanying their earnest
intercessions with those acts of mortification which
are natural in deep sorrow. There is ever before
them the sight of some, lost to their true interests,
passing day by day from a life of folly and tbrgetful-
ness into an unchanging state ; and yearning for their
recovery and salvation, yet unable to effect it, when
their words seem to them as idle tales, to weep, to fast,
to pray, to endeavour to prevail with God for them is

ST. nenian's latter days. 131

their natural resource. Then again, in a deep humble
sense of not having corresponded to the influence
of Divine Grace ; the consciousness that though they
have not wilfully and obstinately continued in sin,
yet they have not improved duly the spiritual privi-
leges afforded to them ; the knowledge of imperfection
and tendencies to sin — all these are so clearly seen, and
acutely felt by those who really love God, tliat the
sorrows and afflictions of saints are ever penitential.
Let us not then be surprised, if, when we draw near
St. Ninian, and learn his secret ways, we do not find
contrivances for comfort, or the enjoyment of life.

They show on the coast of Galloway, on the face of
a lofty and precipitous line of rocks, against which one
of the stormiest of our seas incessantly beats, a damp
chilly cave, lying one third of the way, it may be,
from the bottom of the cliff, and accessible only by
climbing and springing from rock to rock. It is a
deep recess, running back some twenty feet, and grad-
ually narrowing from the mouth, where it may be
twelve feet high, and as many wide. There is nothing
to screen it from the winds and spray which beat
against the rock, no bottom of earth to rest upon,
but only bare uneven stone. Here, the tradition of
the country says, St. Ninian used to come for peni-
tential and devotional retirement ; and it is not im-
probable. For a religious person in those days, to
retire to a cave, nay, to live in one all his life, was no
strange thing ; it was but to follow in the steps of
the confessors of the earlier dispensation, who lived
in dens and caves of the earth. It was the ordinary
practice of good people thus to deprive themselves of
every earthly comfort, and to realize the time when
they should be completely stripped of all which this

132 ST. ninian's latter days.

world can afford, in the cold and silent tomb. To
practise as it were beforehand, what every one at some
time must actually undergo, silence, and loneliness,
and reflection ; without any thing of this world to
occupy the thoughts, or to afford outward comfort.
St. Ciaran, the Apostle of the Scoto Irish, had a
cave in Kintire ; and near St. Andi'evv's, the place of
of St. Rule's retirement, there are many caves which
were the retreats of religious men ; and he whom St.
Ninian specially reverenced, the Saint of Tours, as we
we have seen, lived with his associates in caves. It
has been thought that they w^ere places of conceal-
ment, to w^hich a holy man might retreat from the
persecution his preaching would excite ; and there
was need St. Ninian should have such a protection,
for he w^as not unfrequently in danger fi'om the attacks
of the obstinate and the unbelieving. One would
rathei', however, view them as places for religious
retirement, and imagine the holy Ninian going aside
to rest awhile, from the many who Avere coming and
going, to withdraw at seasons from the hurry and
distraction of his office, to consider his own state, to
examine his spiritual progress, to mourn over what
was evil, to deprecate the Divine displeasure, and to
intercede for his people ; and surely it seems more
fitting to do so in a lone and cheerless spot, out of
the reach of men, in hunger and thirst, in cold and
nakedness, with the wild winds howling around, and
the sea and the waves roaring, and sea-birds screaming,
than surrounded%by comforts, and the appliances of
luxiu-y. And if it is rather probable antecedently,
that St. Ninian should have a place of retreat, and
the practice of the times would lead him to choose a

ST. NINIAN's latter DATS. 133

cave ; we should most naturally believe it to be tliat,
which popular tradition has pointed out.

Another instance of his mortified life, not it is pre-
sumed uncommon in the histories of saints, is the
practice, as it has been reported, of abstaining from all
food during the awful season of our blessed Redeemer's
sufferings, in sympathy, penitence, and love. It is
said he tasted nothing from the evening of Maundy
Thursday, till he had partaken of the Holy Sacrament
on Easter Day.

There is an old Life of St. Ninian in Ireland, re-
ferred to by Archbishop Usher, which reports fur-
ther acts of self-denial, and withdrawal from all that
winds itself around the heart, even the deai'est ties
of blood. It says that the mother and relations of the
Saint were used to visit him, and that to separate him-
self from all intercourse with them, he went over to
Ii-eland, accompanied by some of his disciples, and
there, on a piece of ground given him by the king,
founded the monastery of Cluayn Coner, Avhere he
spent the rest of his life and died. The account of
his retreat is one of those stories which may illus-
trate character, and show what it was thought he
would do ; but as a matter of fact, it has no authority,
and as regards his death, is contrary to the best tes-
timony, which represents him as having died, and
been buried in his own Church, at Whithern.

We have one more point in which to view St. Nin-
ian, and then we will take leave of him — that is, as an
author ; in which character he appears in the ancient
collections of our national writers, by Leland, Bale
and Pits. It is by no means improbable, indeed most
likely, that he should commit to writing what would
be for the good of his clergy and scholars. He had

134 ST. ninian's latter days.

stored up at Rome the lessons of the great teachers
of the Church ; he had doubtless studied the writings
of others, and himself tlirough life meditated on the
Holy Scriptures. He was now but perpetuating for the
benefit of others, the spontaneous outpourings of his
mind, or the solutions of those difficulties which were
proposed to him. Such is the character of the writings
which are attributed to him — Commentaries on the
Holy Scriptures, and in particular, Meditations on
the Psalms. These were the Meditations which had
been the solace of his travels on the wilds of Gallo-
way, the fruits of a deeply contemplative spirit exer-
cised on those sacred words, wluch, by their continual
repetition, and adaptation to the varying circumstances
of the Christian life, are associated with our holiest
thouo-hts. The other work of which the title is handed
down, was one composed, doubtless, as a Theological
Manual for the Clergy and Students of Whithern. '
It was a collection of Sentences from the Fathers, of
passages expressing their sentiments on points of doc-
trine and morals ; most probably arranged under heads,
and so forming a body of divinity, and giving the
most important portions — the very essence of their
writings. The value of such a work to St. Ninian's
clergy can scarcely be over-rated. They could not
afford a large library, and might have read much with-
out obtaining the advantages which such a selection
would afford. It might, we may imagine, have been
St. Ninian's work at Rome, where he had leisure and

' " Ex iis autem quae post se reliquit, aliqua saltern nomine
tcnus tenemus teste sixto senensi,

Meditationum in Psalmos Davidis librum unum ;
De Sanctorum Sententiis librum unum."

Pitseus de lllustribus Britanniae Scriptoribus, p. 87.

ST. nenian's latter days. 135

free access to libraries, and where such a common-
place book would have proved a useful aid in his own
studies, to enter the passages which he would most
wish to preserve. For though the most voluminous
of the Fathers, as we have them, were only sending
out their works during his stay at Rome, there were
many remains of older ones which we have lost. And
he Avas now only making that which had been intended
for his own reference and perusal, a benefit to others ;
and very great was the use of such a selection, in
instilling and preserving sound doctrine in the minds
of those who were to teach others.

Such was St. Ninian, the young and noble Briton,
who, for the love of Christ, and the true knowledge of
Him, went forth from his country and his father's
house. Such Avas he ; a laborious apostle, enduring
toil, difficulty, and reproach, in bringing men to
Christ ; a mortified ascetic, and meditative student ; a
kind teacher of babes, a humble, gentle, and circum-
spect govei'nor of a religious society. And great was
the fruit of his labours, in the recovery and salvation
of souls, great in the glory of which he himself was
made a partaker.

His life had been continued till the year 432, that is
above seventy years. During the last five-and-thirty,
nearly half of the whole, he had laboured in the wild,
barbarous, and unsettled country to which he had
been appointed as a Missionary Bishop. Worldly
honours, comforts, possessions, he had cast behind him.
He lived for God, and to do His will. His peaceful days
of study and meditation in the sacred city, he might
look back upon as sweet and holy days, full of spiritual
privileges, and the source of many a blessing ; but it

136 ST. ninian's latter days.

would be as one surrounded by the rich fruits of
iiutumn, would look back on spring ; as very fair, and
in its time seeming more pleasant, but chiefly valuable
as instrumental towards the true good which he is
now enjoying, though it may be, among many labours.
But such labours, it has been beautifully said, are
sweet — sweet as those of the husbandman, who re-
joices in the heavier load of corn by the increased
value of his possessions — sweet as to the gatherer of
frankincense, by the delights elicited in his toils.

Advanced in years, suiTounded by his spiritual chil-
dren and friends, beholding the effect of his labours,
the time is come for him to depart. — To adopt the
words of St. Aelred, " To the blessed Saint himself
that day was a day of joy and gladness ; to the people
over whom he presided, one of tribulation and distress.
He rejoiced, for heaven was opening to him. His
people grieved at being deprived of such a Father.
He rejoiced, for a crown of immortality was preparing
for him. They were in sorrow, because their salvation
seemed in danger. Nay, even the fulness of his joy
was impaired by his love for them ; to leave them was
a heavy trial, but to be longer separated from Christ,
ajipeared beyond endurance.

" But while his soul was thus delaying, Christ con-
soles him, ' Rise up,' He said, ' my beloved, my dove
(in the English Version,^ 'my love, my fair one'), make
haste, and come away.' ' Rise up, my beloved, rise up,
my Dove.' Rise up in thought, make haste by desire,
come by affection. Suitable, indeed, were these words
to this most blessed Saint, as one to whom, as the friend
of the Bridegroom, that heavenly Bridegroom had com-

« Cant. ii. 10.

ST. NINIAn's latter DATS. 137

mitted his Bride, to whom He had revealed His secrets,
and opened His treasures. Deservedly is that soul
called beloved, in whom all is made up of love, and
there is nothing of fear. 'My beloved,' He says,
' my dove.' My dove — a dove truly taught to mourn,
that knew nothing of the gall of bitterness, but wept
with those that wept, was weak with the weak, and
burned for those that were offended. ' Rise up, my
love, my fair one, and come away.'

" ' For lo ! the winter is past, the rain is over and
gone.' Then, O blessed Saint, the winter was indeed
past to thee, Avhen, with happy eye, thou didst gain
the sight of thy heavenly country — that country which
the Sun of righteousness illumines by the brightness
of His light, which love warms, and a wonderful
equality, like the attempering of the spring-time, regu-
lates by an ineffable unity. Then the unseasonable
winter which fills all on earth with discomfort, Avhich
hardens the frozen hearts of men by vices that fall
upon them, where neither truth shines, nor love burns
to the full — this was past and gone, and thy holy soul,
completely triumphant, escaped from the showers of
temptations, and the hail-storms of i^ersecutions, into
the beauty of perpetual verdure.

" ' The flowers,' he says, ' have appeared in our
land. For around thee, O blessed Ninian, breathed the
odours of the flowers of Paradise, when on thee, as on
one most familiar to them, the multitudes of those that
are clothed in crimson and white, smiled with placid
countenance, and bid thee to their company — they
whom chastity has clothed with white, and love with
blushing crimson. For though no occasion Avas af-
forded thee to give the sign of bodily martyi'dom,
still that without which martyrdom is nothing, denied

138 ST, ninian's latter days.

not the merit of martyrdom. For so often as he

offered himself to the swords of the perverse, so often
as in the cause of righteousness he opposed himself to
the arms of tyrants, he was prepared to fall in the
cause of truth, and to die for righteousness. De-
servedly then is he admitted among the flowers of the
roses, and tlie lilies of the valley — himself clothed in
crimson and white, going up from Lebanon to be
crowned among the hosts of heaven.

" ' For the time of the vintage is come.' For soon,
as a full ripe cluster, he must be cut from the stem of
the body, from the vineyard of the Church on earth,
to be pressed by love, and laid up in the storehouses of

" Thus the blessed Ninian, perfect in life, mature in
years happily departed from the world, and attended
by angelic spirits, was borne to heaven ; and there
associated with the company of the Apostles, mingling
with the ranks of Martyrs, and united to the bands of

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanLives of the English saints (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 33)