St. Remigius

October 1

ST. REMIGIUS, the great apostle of the Franks, was illustrious for his learning, sanctity and miracles, which in his episcopacy of seventy and more years rendered his name famous in the Church. His father and his mother were both descended from Gaulish families, and lived at Laon. The boy made great progress in learning, and in the opinion of St. Sidonius Apollinaris, he became the most eloquent person in that age. When only twenty-two, too young to be a priest, much less a bishop, he was chosen in 459 to fill the vacant see of Rheims. But he was ordained and consecrated in spite of his youth, and amply made up for lack of experience by his fervor and energy. Sidonius had a manuscript of his sermons from a man at Clermont, and wrote to tell Remigius how much he admired them: the delicacy and beauty of thought and expression were so smooth that it might be compared to ice or crystal upon which a nail runs without meeting the least unevenness. With this equipment of eloquence (of which unfortunately there is no specimen extant for us to judge its quality for ourselves) allied to the yet more valuable quality of personal holiness, St. Remigius set out to spread Christianity among the Franks.

Clovis, king of all northern Gaul, was himself yet a pagan, though not unfriendly to the Church. He had married St. Clotildis, daughter of the Christian king of Burgundians, Chilperic, and she made repeated attempts to convert her husband. In 496, the Alemanni crossed the Rhine and the Franks marched out to drive them back. One account says that St. Clotildis had said to Clovis in taking leave, "My lord, to be victorious invoke the God of the Christians. If you call on Him with confidence, nothing can resist you"; and that the wary Clovis had promised that he would be a Christian if he were victorious. The battle was going badly against him when the king, either reminded of these words or moved by desperation, shouted to the heavens, "O Christ, Whom Clotildis invokes as son of the living God, I implore Thy help! I have called upon my gods, and they have no power. I therefore call on Thee. I believe in Thee! Deliver me from my enemies and I will be Baptized in Thy name!" The Franks rallied and turned the tide of battle; the Alemanni were overcome.

Queen St. Clotildis was not trusting to any enthusiasm of victory, and sent for St. Remigius, telling him to touch the heart of the king while he was well disposed. When Clovis saw her he cried out, "Clovis has vanquished the Alemanni and you have triumphed over Clovis. What you have so much at heart is done." The queen answered, "To the God of hosts is the glory of both these triumphs due." Clovis suggested that perhaps the people would not be willing to forsake their gods, but said he would speak to them according to the bishop's instructions. He assembled the chiefs and warriors, but they prevented his speaking, and cried out, "We abjure mortal gods, and are ready to follow the immortal God whom Remigius preaches." St. Remigius and St. Vedast therefore instructed and prepared them for Baptism. To strike the senses of barbarous people and impress their minds, Queen Clotildis took care that the streets from the palace to the church should be adorned with hangings, and that the church and baptistery should be lighted with a great number of candles and scented with incense. The catechumens marched in procession, carrying crosses, and singing the litany; St. Remigius conducted the king by the hand, followed by the queen and the people. At the font the bishop is said to have addressed Clovis in words that are memorable, if not actually pronounced: "Humble yourself, Sicambrian! Worship what you have burned, and burn what you have worshipped!" Words which may be emphatically addressed to every penitent, to express the change of heart and conduct that is required of him.

St. Remigius afterwards Baptized the king's two sisters and three thousand men of his army, as well as women and children, with the help of the other bishops and priests present. Hincmar of Rheims, who wrote a Life of St. Remigius in the ninth century, is the first to mention a legend that at the baptism of Clovis the chrism for the anointing was found to be missing, whereupon St. Remigius prayed and a dove appeared from the heavens, bearing in its beak an ampulla of chrism. A phial of oil, fabled to be the same, was preserved at the abbey of Saint-Remi and used in the consecration of the kings of France until Charles X in 1825. It was broken up at the Revolution, but a piece of la Sainte Ampoule and its contents were saved and are kept in Rheims Cathedral.

Under the protection of Clovis, St. Remigius spread the gospel of Christ among the Franks, in which work God endowed him with an extraordinary gift of miracle. The bishops who were assembled in a conference that was held at Lyons against the Arians in his time declared they were stirred to exert their zeal in defense of the Catholic faith by the example of Remigius. He did best to promote orthodoxy in Arian Burgundy, and at a synod in 517 converted an Arian bishop who came to it to argue with him. But the actions of St. Remigius did not always meet with the approval of his brother bishops. Sometime after the death of Clovis the bishops of Paris, Sens and Auxerre wrote to him concerning a priest called Claudius, whom he had ordained at the request of the king. They blamed Remigius for ordaining a man whom they thought to be fit only for degradation, hinted that he had been bribed to do it, and accused him of condoning the financial malpractices of Claudius. St. Remigius thought these bishops were full of spite and told them so, but his reply was a model of patience and charity. Very different was his tone towards a bishop who had exercised jurisdiction outside his diocese. "If your Holiness was ignorant of the canons it was ill done of you to transgress the diocesan limits without learning them.  . . . Be carefullest in meddling with the rights of others you lose your own."

St. Remigius, whom St. Gregory of Tours refers to as "a man of great learning, fond of rhetorical studies, and equal in his holiness to St. Silvester," died about the year 530.



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