Cumine Ailbhe (DNB00)

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CUMINE AILBHE or FINN (657?–669?), seventh abbot of Hy, was son of Ernan, son of Fiachna, of the race of Conall Gulban. The term ‘ailbhe’ is explained as albus, or fair, in the ‘Annals of Ulster,’ and more fully in an ancient poem quoted in Reeves's ‘Adamnan,’ where he is referred to as ‘Cumine of fair hair.’ Cathal Maguir, cited by Colgan, notices him as ‘Cumineus, abbot of Hy, son of Dunertach. It is he who brought the relics of St. Peter and St. Paul to Disert Cumini in the district of Roscrea.’ But this is an error into which Cathal seems to have been led by the scholiast on the ‘Calendar of Œngus.’ Cumine Ailbhe was the author of a life of St. Columba, which was discovered at Compiègne and published by Mabillon in his ‘Acta Sanctorum,’ in 1733, under the author's name. When this work appeared it was seen to be identical with the first life in Colgan, which he took from a manuscript at Antwerp, and printed without knowing the author. It forms the groundwork of the third book of Adamnan's ‘Life of St. Columba.’ In the preface to Dr. Reeves's edition (p. vi) will be found a table of references to the passages thus incorporated by St. Adamnan. A composition of still greater interest is the letter on the Paschal controversy addressed to ‘Segienus, abbot of Hy, and Beccan the Solitary with his wise men,’ and written by a Cumean who, according to Colgan, the Bollandists, and Dr. O'Donovan, was Cumine Ailbhe. Dr. Lanigan, on the contrary, believes the writer to have been another of the name known as Cumine fota. This, however, is inconsistent with the fact that Cumine fota was a bishop, as is proved by his being so termed in the ‘Calendar of Œngus,’ the ‘Annals of the Four Masters,’ and the ‘Martyrology of Donegal.’ Dr. Lanigan objects again that it is improbable that the monks of Hy would [afterwards] choose for their abbot ‘so great a stickler for the Roman cycle.’ But ‘in the Irish monastic system the free election of an abbot by monks was unknown, and the law of succession involved numerous and complicated rules to determine the respective rights of the church and the lay tribe’ (Anc. Laws of Ireland, pref.) The latter, in fact, seem to have had rights resembling the right of nomination to a church or parish enjoyed by the original benefactor and his representatives. Any argument founded on the supposed action of the monks of Hy in this case must therefore be precarious. Dr. Lanigan also thinks the style of the ‘Letter’ different from that of the ‘Life,’ observing in the former ‘an affectation of rare words and Hellenisms,’ but he does not appear to have noticed in the ‘Life’ such Hellenisms as ‘agonothetæ, famen, exedra, trigonos,’ &c. The ‘Letter’ was occasioned by the introduction of the cycle of 532 years, and the rules for calculating Easter connected with it, in lieu of the cycle of eighty-four years previously in use in Ireland. Cumine had adopted the new method, but before doing so says he studied the question anxiously for a whole year, first entering into ‘the sanctuary of God,’ as he terms the holy scriptures, and consulting the commentaries of Origen and Jerome, then applying himself to ecclesiastical history and the various cycles and Paschal systems of Jews, Greeks, Latins, and Egyptians. He believes this Paschal system to prevail all over the world except among the Britons and Irish, whose country, he is unpatriotic enough to say, is so insignificant as to be only like a ‘slight eruption on the world's skin.’ The position is that of Vincentius of the school of Lerins, which was so closely connected with the Irish church. In the course of his argument he quotes the councils of Nicea, Gangra, and Orleans; and, besides the fathers already alluded to, Cyprian, Gregory the Great, and Cyril of Alexandria, and uses language which curiously reminds us of the nineteenth article of the Anglican church. In treating of the various cycles, ten in number, ‘he is no stranger,’ as Dr. Ledwich observes, ‘to the solar, lunar, and bissextile years, to the epactal days and embolismal months, nor to the names of the Hebrew, Macedonian, and Egyptian months. To examine the various cyclical systems and to point out their construction and errors required no mean abilities.’ After this careful study he consulted the Coarbs of Emly, Clonmacnois, Birr, Mungret, and Clonfert-Mulloe, the leading authorities of the south. In this assembly, known as the Synod of Magh Lena, he advocated the change he had himself adopted. An unexpected opposition was raised by one of the members, supposed by some to be St. Fintan Munnu, and whom he terms ‘a whited wall.’ In the end it was arranged that a deputation should visit Rome in accordance with an ancient rule, ‘If there be any greater causes, let them be referred to the head of cities,’ i.e. the chief city of the world. These good people, as Ussher says, came home fully persuaded that the Easter observed at Rome was instituted by St. Peter, though it really dated only from the previous century. But however learned Cumine's arguments were, he did not succeed in convincing the community of Hy, who continued for many years after to follow the Irish computation. To the author of the ‘Letter’ is also ascribed a treatise ‘De pœnitentiarum mensura,’ which was found by Fleming in the monastery of St. Gall under the name of ‘Abbot Cumean of Scotia.’ It has been published by Sirinus, and in the ‘Bibliotheca Patrum,’ and ‘bears every mark,’ Dr. Lanigan says, ‘of that line of studies to which the writer of the Paschal Epistle addicted himself,’ and as the title of abbot is given to him we have a further reason for identifying him with Cumine Ailbhe. The treatise shows great knowledge of the discipline of both the Greek and Latin churches, and in reference to Easter lays special stress on the canons against ‘Quartodecimans,’ as if the author desired to guard the reader particularly against their errors. St. Cumine's day is 24 Feb.

[Ussher's Works, iv. 432–44; Colgan's Acta Sanct. pp. 408–11; Reeves's Adamnan, pp. vi, 175, 199, 288, 375; Calendar of Œngus, xliv, liv; Lanigan's Eccl. Hist. ii. 395–402; Ancient Laws of Ireland (Rolls ed.), iii. p. lxxii; Ledwich's Antiquities of Ireland, 107–9; Remains of Rev. A. Haddan, p. 289; Martyrology of Donegal at 24 Feb.]

T. O.