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The Sources
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The text of the Vita sancti Germani
(exerpts)
Robert Vermaat

Chapter One

Germanus, then, was a native of the town of Auxerre, born of parents of the highest rank, and was from the earliest childhood given a liberal education. In this, the instruction he received was matched by the abundance of his talent and together these gave him learning doubly assured, by nature and by industry. Moreover, that nothing should be lacking to complete his education, when he had done with the lecture rooms of Gaul he added in Rome a knowledge of law to the completeness he had already attained.

Next, practicing as a barrister he became the ornament of the law courts. While he was thus engaged and dazzling all by the praises he drew upon himself, he took a wife, whose birth, wealth, and character were all of the highest. Then, when he was at the height of his reputation in the legal profession, the state promoted him to official rank by conferring on him the supreme office of dux and the rule over more than one province. Assuredly his training was being directed by the hidden wisdom of God so that nothing should be lacking to the completeness of the apostolic pontiff-to-be. Eloquence was provided to equip the preacher, legal learning as an aid to justice, and the society of a wife to witness to his chastity.

Chapter Twelve

About this time a deputation from Britain came to tell the bishops of Gaul that the heresy of Pelagius had taken hold of the people over a great part of the country and help ought to be brought to the Catholic faith as soon as possible. A large number of bishops gathered in synod to consider the matter and all turned for help to the two who in everybody's judgment were the leading lights of religion, namely Germanus and Lupus, apostolic priests who through their merits were citizens of heaven, though their bodies were on earth. And because the task seemed laborious, these heroes of piety were all the more ready to undertake it; and the stimulus of their faith brought the business of the synod to a speedy end.

Chapter Thirteen

Thus they embarked upon the ocean under the leadership and inspiration of Christ, who, in the midst of danger, kept His servants safe and proved their worth. At first, when the ship put out to sea, she ran before light breezes blowing from the Bay of Gaul until she was in midchannel where, gaze as you might, you could see nothing but sky and water. Then it was not long before the ocean was assaulted by the violence of demons, haters of religion, who were livid with malice at the sight of such great men hastening to bring salvation to the nations. They heaped up dangers, roused the gales, hid the heavens and the day under a night of clouds, and filled the thick darkness with the terrors of the sea and air. The sails could not resist the fury of the winds and the fragile craft scarcely sustained the weight of the waters. The sailors were powerless and abandoned their efforts; the vessel was navigated by prayer and not by muscles. And at that point the leader himself, the bishop, his body worn out, in his weariness went to sleep.

Then indeed did the storm put forth its strength; it was as if a restraining hand had gone. Before long the vessel was actually being swamped by the waves that swept over it. At last the blessed Lupus and all the excited throng aroused their chief, to match him against the raging elements. He, all the more steadfast for the very immensity of the danger, in the name of Christ chided the ocean, pleading the cause of religion against the savagery of the gales. Then, taking some oil, he lightly sprinkled the waves in the name of the Trinity and this diminished their fury. Consulting his colleague, he now called upon everybody; and prayer was poured out by their united voice.

And there was God! The enemies of souls were put to flight, the air became clear and calm, the contrary winds were turned to aid the voyage, the currents flowed in the service of the ship. Thus the great distances were covered and soon all were enjoying repose on the desired shore.

There great crowds had gathered from many regions to receive the bishops, whose coming had been foretold by the enemies of souls, for the spirits of evil were heralds of what they feared. And, as they were being cast out of the bodies of the possessed by the prelates, they acknowledged that they had contrived the storm and its dangers, and could not deny that the holiness and the authority of the prelates had vanquished them.

Chapter Fourteen

And now it was not long before these apostolic priests had filled all Britain, the first and largest of the islands, with their fame, their preaching, and their miracles; and, since it was a daily occurrence for them to be hemmed in by crowds, the word of God was preached, not only in the churches, but at the crossroads, in the fields, and in the lanes. Everywhere faithful Catholics were strengthened in their faith and the lapsed learned the way back to the truth. Their achievements, indeed, were after the pattern of the apostles themselves; they ruled through consciences, taught through letters and worked miracles through their holiness. Preached by such men, the truth had full course, so that whole regions passed quickly over to their side.

The teachers of perverse doctrines lay low for a time, lamenting as wicked spirits do, when nations escape from their clutches and are lost to them. In the end, after prolonged consideration they ventured upon a contest. They came forth flaunting their wealth, in dazzling robes, surrounded by a crowd of flatterers. They preferred the risk of exposure to a silence that would put them to shame in the eyes of the people they had deceived, who would regard them as having condemned themselves if they had nothing to say.

And indeed there was assembled at the meeting-place a crowd of vast proportions, wives and children among them, drawn by the occasion. The people were present both as spectators and as jurymen. The two parties faced each other, ill matched and on unequal terms. On the one side was divine authority, on the other human presumption; on this side, faith, on that side, bad faith; those owned allegiance to Pelagius, these to Christ.

The holy bishops gave the privilege of opening the debate to their opponents, who took up the time of their hearers with empty words drawn out to great length but to little purpose. Then the revered prelates themselves poured out the floods of their eloquence, mingling them with the thunders of the apostle and the Gospels, for their own words were interwoven with the inspired writings and their strongest assertions were supported by the testimony of Scripture. Empty arguments were refuted, the dishonest pleas were exposed, and their authors, as each point was made against them, confessed themselves in the wrong by their inability to reply. The jury of the people could hardly keep their hands off them and were not to be stopped from giving their verdict by their shouts.

Chapter Fifteen

Suddenly a man of high military [tribunician] rank, accompanied by his wife, stepped into the middle and put his ten-year-old daughter, who was blind, into the arms of the bishops. They told him to take her to their opponents. But the latter, stung by conscience and much alarmed, joined the parents in begging the bishops to cure the little girl. The bishops, seeing that the people were expectant and their opponents in a humbler frame of mind, offered a short prayer, after which Germanus, filled with the Holy Spirit and in the name of the Trinity, took from his neck the reliquary that always hung at his side and in full view of everybody put it to the eyes of the child.

Immediately it expelled their darkness and filled them with light and truth. The parents were filled with joy at the miracle and the onlookers with awe. From that day onward the false doctrine was so completely uprooted from men's minds that they looked to the bishops for teaching, with thirsty souls.

Chapter Sixteen

When this damnable heresy had been thus stamped out, its authors refuted, and the minds of all reestablished in the true faith, the bishops visited the shrine of the blessed martyr Alban, to give thanks to God through him. As they were returning, a demon, lying in wait, contrived an accident that caused Germanus to fall and injure his foot. Little did it realize that this bodily misfortune, like those of blessed Job, would advance him in holiness.

The bishop was detained by his injury in one place for a considerable period, in the course of which a fire accidentally broke out close to where he was staying. It had burned several houses, which in those parts are roofed with reeds, and it was being carried by the wind to the one in which he was himself lying. Everybody rushed to the prelate to carry him out of danger. But he rebuked them and, strong in his faith, refused to be moved. The crowd in desperation ran to meet the flames. But, the better to display the power of God, everything the crowd tried to save was burned and what the injured man on his bed guarded was preserved. Shrinking from the house where he was a guest, the flames leaped over it and, although they raged on either side of it, there glittered unharmed amid the furnaces a tabernacle intact, preserved by the occupant within.

The people were overjoyed at the miracle and thankful that their intentions had been defeated by God's power. Day and night a countless throng lay around the poor man's hut, some wanting healing for their souls, others for their bodies. It would be impossible to record all that Christ did through His servant, who exercised these powers when impotent himself. But, although he would allow no one to bring remedies for his own infirmity, one night he saw before him a shining figure in snow-white garments, which stretched out its hand to him as he lay there and raised him up, telling him to stand firmly on his feet. From that moment the pain left him and he so completely recovered his soundness of limb that, when day returned, he resumed the toil of his journeyings without a qualm.

Chapter Seventeen

Meanwhile, the Saxons and the Picts had joined forces to make war upon the Britons. The latter had been compelled to withdraw their forces within their camp and, judging their resources to be utterly unequal to the contest, asked the help of the holy prelates. The latter sent back a promise to come, and hastened to follow it. Their coming brought such a sense of security that you might have thought that a great army had arrived; to have such apostles for leaders was to have Christ Himself fighting in the camp.

It was the season of Lent and the presence of the bishops made the sacred forty days still more sacred; so much so that the soldiers, who received instruction in daily sermons, flew eagerly to the grace of baptism; indeed, great numbers of this pious army sought the waters of salvation. A church was built of leafy branches in readiness for Easter Day, on the plan of a city church, though set in a camp on active service. The soldiers paraded still wet from baptism, faith was fervid, the aid of weapons was thought little of, and all looked for help from heaven.

Meanwhile the enemy had learned of the practices and appearance of the camp. They promised themselves an easy victory over practically disarmed troops and pressed on in haste. But their approach was discovered by scouts and, when the Easter solemnities had been celebrated, the army--the greater part of it fresh from the font--began to take up their weapons and prepare for battle and Germanus announced that he would be their general [dux proelii, "leader for this battle"]. He chose some light-armed troops and made a tour of the outworks. In the direction from which the enemy were expected he saw a valley enclosed by steep mountains. Here he stationed an army on a new model, under his own command.

Chapter Eighteen

By now the savage host of the enemy was close at hand and Germanus rapidly circulated an order that all should repeat in unison the call he would give as a battle-cry. Then, while the enemy were still secure in the belief that their approach was unexpected, the bishops three times chanted the Alleluia. All, as one man, repeated it and the shout they raised rang through the air and was repeated many times in the confined space between the mountains.

The enemy were panic-stricken, thinking that the surrounding rocks and the very sky itself were falling on them. Such was their terror that no effort of their feet seemed enough to save them. They fled in every direction, throwing away their weapons and thankful if they could save at least their skins. Many threw themselves into the river which they had just crossed at their ease, and were drowned in it.

Thus the British army looked on at its revenge without striking a blow, idle spectators of the victory achieved. The booty strewn everywhere was collected; the pious soldiery obtained the spoils of a victory from heaven. The bishops were elated at the rout of the enemy without bloodshed and a victory gained by faith and not by force.

Thus this most wealthy island, with the defeat of both its spiritual and its human foes, was rendered secure in every sense. And now, to the great grief of the whole country, those who had won the victories over both Pelagians and Saxons made preparations for their return. Their own merits and the intercession of Alban the Martyr secured them a calm voyage; and a good ship brought them back in peace to their expectant people.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Meanwhile news came from Britain that a few promoters of the Pelagian heresy were once more spreading it; and again all the bishops joined in urging the man of blessings to defend the cause of God for which he had previously won such a victory. He hastened to comply, since he delighted in toil and gladly spent himself for Christ. The malice of the demons, vanquished by the power of his holiness, had by this time ceased to trouble him; they dared not make an attempt against one they knew to be a friend of God. So, taking with him Severus a bishop of perfected sanctity, he embarked under Christ's leadership and the elements permitted a calm voyage; winds, waves and atmosphere all helped the ship along.

Chapter Twenty-Six

Meanwhile evil spirits, flying over the whole island, made known through the involuntary prophecies of their victims the coming of Germanus, with the result that one of the leading men in the country, Elafius by name, came hurrying to meet the holy men without having had any news of them through any regular messenger. He brought with him his son who had been crippled in early youth by a grievous malady. His sinews had withered and the tendons of the knee had contracted and his withered leg made it impossible for him to stand on his feet.

The whole province came along with Elafius. The bishops arrived and the crowds came upon them unexpectedly. At once blessings and the words of God were showered upon them. Germanus could see that the people as a whole had persevered in the faith in which he had left them and the bishops realized that the fallings-away had been the work only of a few. These were identified and formally condemned.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

At this point Elafius approached to make obeisance to the bishops and presented to them his son, whose youth and helplessness made his need clear without words. Everyone felt acutely for him, the bishops most of all, and in their pity they had recourse to the mercy of God. The blessed Germanus at once made the boy sit down, then felt the bent knee and ran his healing hand over all the diseased parts. Health speedily followed the life-giving touch. What was withered became supple, the sinews resumed their proper work, and, before the eyes of all, the son got back a sound body and the father got back a son.

The crowds were overwhelmed by the miracle and the Catholic faith implanted in them was strengthened in all of them. There followed sermons to the people to confute the heresy, the preachers of which were by common consent banished from the island. They were brought to the bishops to be conducted to the Continent, so that the country might be purged of them an they of their errors. The effect of all this was so salutary that even now the faith is persisting intact in those parts. And so, with everything settled, the blessed bishops made a prosperous journey back to their own country.

Bibliography

  • Constantius of Lyon: The Life of St. Germanus of Auxerre, eds. Thomas Noble and Thomas Head, translators, in: Soldiers of Christ: Saints' Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), pp. 75-106.*

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