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From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

Scarcely had two centuries elapsed since the triumph of the cross over Roman idolatry, when satan began to cry victory once more. While Eutychianism was crowned at Byzantium in the person of Anastasius the silent, Arianism was rife in the west. Throughout the whole ancient territory of the empire, heresy was supreme, and almost everywhere was persecuting the Church, who had now none but the vanquished for her sons.

‘But fear not; rather rejoice,’ says Baronius at this point of his Annals; ‘it is divine Wisdom still delighting to play in the world. The thoughts of men count for little before Him who holds the light in His hands, to hide it when He pleases, and, when He wills, to bring it forth again. The darkness, that now covers the earth, marks the hour when the dawn is about to break in the hearts of the Franks, and the Catholic faith is to shine there in all its glory.’[1]

Little known in our days is such a manner of writing history; yet this was the view taken by the first historian of the Church, and the greatest. On such a feast as this we could not do better than repeat summarily his account of the Franks. ‘How,’ says he, ‘can we help admiring the Providence which is never wanting to the Church? From the midst of tribes still pagan, on the morrow of the irremediable fall of the empire, God forms to Himself a new people, raises unto Himself a prince: against these must break the rising tide of heretics and barbarians. Such, in truth, appeared in the course of ages the divine mission of the Frankish kings.

What energy has faith to uphold kingdoms; and what fatal power has heresy to uproot every plant that is not set by our heavenly Father! In proof hereof, see how the principalities of the Goths, Vandals, Heruli, Alani, Suevi, and Gepidi have utterly disappeared; while the Franks behold their little spot of earth blessedly fertilized, and encroaching far upon the surrounding territories.’[2]

Henceforth appeared the might of the Franks, when preceded to battle by the cross. Hitherto obscure and struggling for existence, they were now everywhere victorious. They had only had to acknowledge Christ, in order to reach the highest summit of glory, honour, and renown. In so speaking I say nothing but what is known to the whole world. If they have been more favoured than other nations, it is because they were supereminent in faith, and incomparable in piety, so that they were more eager to defend the Church than to protect their own frontiers.[3]

Moreover, a privilege unique and truly admirable was theirs: never did the sins of kings bring upon this people, as upon so many others, subjection to a foreign yoke. The promise of the Psalm[4] would seem to have been renewed in favour of this nation: If his children forsake My law . . . and keep not My commandments, I will visit their iniquities with a rod . . . but My mercy I will not take away from him.’[5]

All honour, then, to the saintly pontiff, who merited to be the instrument of such heavenly benefits! According to the expression of the holy Pope Hormisdas, ‘Remigius converted the nation, and baptized Clovis, in the midst of prodigies similar to those of the apostolic age.’[6] The prayers of Clotilde, the labours of Genevieve, the penances of the monks who peopled the forests of Gaul, had doubtless a great share in a conversion which brought such joy to the angels. Did space allow, we might relate how it was also prepared by the great bishops of the fifth century, Germanus of Auxerre, Lupus of Troyes, Anian of Orleans, Hilary of Arles, Mamertus and Avitus of Vienne, Sidonius Apollinaris, and so many others who, in that age of darkness, held up the Church to the light of day, and commanded the respect of the barbarians. Remigius, contemporary and survivor of most of them, and their rival in eloquence, nobility, and holiness, seemed to personify them all on that Christmas night forestalled by so many desires, and prayers, and sufferings. In the baptistery of Saint Mary’s at Rheims, the Frankish nation was born to God; as heretofore on the banks of Jordan, the dove was again seen over the waters, honouring this time, not the Baptism of Jesus, but that of the Church's eldest daughter; it brought a gift from heaven, the holy vial containing the chrism which was to anoint the French kings in future ages into ‘the most worthy of all the kings of the earth.’[7]

Two churches in the city of Rheims claim the honour of these glorious souvenirs: the grand Church of our Lady, and the venerable basilica where Remigius lay, with the vial of chrism at his feet, and guarded by the twelve peers surrounding his splendid mausoleum. This church of St. Remigius bore the name of caput Franciæ,[8] head of all France, until those days of October 1793, when, from its desecrated pulpit was proclaimed the word that the days of darkness were at an end; when the holy ampulla was broken, and the relics of the apostle of France were thrown into a common grave.[9]

After an episcopate of seventy-four years, the longest ever recorded in history, Remigius took his flight to heaven on January 13, the anniversary of his episcopal consecration and also of his birth. Yet in the same century, the first of October was chosen for his feast; this being the day whereon his relics were first translated to a more honourable place, in the midst of miracles such as those which had graced his life. The translation of St. Remigius is the name still given to this day by the church of Rheims, which, by a special privilege, celebrates on the Octave day of the Epiphany the principal festival of its glorious patron. We borrow the following lessons from the Office of that day.

Remigius, qui et Remedius, Lauduni natus est, parentibus nobilibus, Æmilio et sancta Cilinia ætate jam provectis, et gratia apud suos nominatissimis. Ortum ejus prædixerat solitarius quid, m cæcus, nomine Montanus, qui et visum postea recepit, admoto ad oculos lacte quo infans Remigius alebatur. Studiis et orationibus primos impendebat annos futurus Francorum apostolus, secessum colens; quo magis hominum frequentiam fugere conabatur, eo notior toti provinciæ fiebat. Annos natus duos et vigniti, post transitum Bennadii archiepiscopi Remensis, ob seniles in adolescentia mores, ad sedem Remensem omnium votis raptus, potius quam electus fuit. Onus episcopale effugere cupiens, divinis monitis suscipere cogitur. Ab episcopis provinciæ consecratus, se tamquam veteranum gessit ili regimine Ecclesiæ suæ. Vir eloquens, potens in Seripturis, exemplum erat fidelium. Quod ore docebat, implebat opere. Grege suo summo labore ac vigilantia mysteriis fidei imbuto, et disciplina in clero constituta, regnum Christi in Belgio promovendum suscepit; populis ad fidem conversis, novos episcopatus iustituit: Teruanæ, ubi sanctum Antiruundum; Atrebatis, ubi sanctum Vedastum; Lauduni, ubi sanctum Genebaldum præfecit.

Remigius, also called Remedius, was born at Laon, of noble parents by name Æmilius and St. Celinia. They were far advanced in age, and renowned among their own people for their virtue, when the birth of this child was foretold to them by a blind hermit named Montanus; who afterwards recovered his sight, by applying to his eyes some of the milk wherewith the infant Remigius was nourished. The future apostle of the Franks devoted his youth to prayer and study in retirement; but the more he shrank from the company of men, the more his fame spread throughout the province. On the death of Bennadius, archbishop of Rheims, Remigius, who though but twenty-two years of age had the mature character of an old man, was unanimously elected, or rather forcibly installed as archbishop. He endeavoured to escape the burden of the episcopate, but was obliged by the command of God to submit. Having been consecrated by the bishops of the province, he governed his church with the wisdom of an experienced veteran. He was eloquent, learned in the Scriptures; and a pattern to his people, fulfilling in deed what he taught by word. He carefully and laboriously instructed his own flock in the mysteries of faith, and established discipline among his clergy. Then he undertook to spread the kingdom of Christ in Belgium; and having converted the people to the faith, he founded several new bishoprics and appointed them pastors: at Terouanne St. Antimund or Aumont, at Arras St. Vedast, and at Laon St. Genebald.

Clodovei et Francorum animi cultui pagano adhuc dediti movebantur stupendis Remigii operibus, quæ ubique vulgabantur. Cura autem Clodoveus, Gallorum victor, Alemannos Tolbiaci, invocato Christi nomine, debellasset, Remigium ad se evocatum, de religione Christiana disserentem libenter audiit. Et instanti Remigio ut fidem profiteretur, cum respondisset, vereri se ne per populum sibi non liceret: id ubi rescivit populus, statim acclamavit: Mortales deos abigimus, pie rex: et Deum quem Remigius prædicat immortalem, sequi parati sumus. Tum Remigius jejunia secundum Ecclesiæ morem illis indixit, et regem quem fidei documentis coram sancta Clotilde regina imbuerat, baptizavit ipso die Natalis Domini, his eum verbis allocutus: Mitis, depone colla, Sicamber: adora quod incendisti; incende quod adorasti. Baptizatum sacro inunxit chrismate, cum signaculo crucis Christi. De exercitu autem ejus ter mille et amplius baptismo initiati sunt: simul et Albofledis Clodovei soror, quæ cum paulo post de vivis decessisset, regem per litteras consolatus est Remigius. Lanthildis quoque altera soror regis, ab Ariana hæresi revocata, sacro chrismate inuncta est, et Ecclesiæ reconciliata.

The wonderful works of Remigius, being divulged far and wide, filled with astonishment the minds of Clovis and his still pagan Franks. When Clovis, who had already conquered the Gauls, triumphed over the Alemanni also at the battle of Tolbiac by the invocation of the name of Christ; he sent for Remigius, and willingly listened to his explanation of the Christian doctrine. Remigius urged the king to embrace the faith, but he replied that he feared the opposition of his people. When this was reported to the Franks, they cried out with one voice: ‘We renounce mortal gods, O pious king, and are ready to follow the immortal God whom Remigius preaches.’ Then the bishop imposed a fast upon them, according to the custom of the Church, and having in the presence of the queen St. Clotilde, completed the king’s religious instruction, he baptized him on the day of our Lord’s Nativity, addressing him in these words: 'Bow down thy head in meekness, O Sicambrian; adore what thou hast hitherto burnt, burn what thou hast adored.’ After the Baptism, he anointed him with holy chrism with the sign of the cross of Christ. More than three thousand of the army were baptized, as also Albofleda Clovis’s sister, who died soon after; upon which occasion Remigius wrote to console the king. His other sister, Lanthilda, was reclaimed from the Arian heresy, anointed with sacred chrism, and reconciled to the Church.

Eximia fuit ipsius erga pauperes liberalitas, et clementia in pœnitentes singularis: neque enim, inquiebat, nos posuit Dominus ad iracundiam, sed ad hominum curam. Arianum episcopum in synodo, divina virtute mutum reddidit; eique per nutus veniam poscenti, vocem his verbis restituit: In nomine Domini nostri Jesu Christi, si sic de eo recte sentis, loquere; et de illo sicut catholica credit Ecclesia, confitere. Recepto ille vocis usu, credere se et in eadem fide moriturum pollicitus est. Sub finern vitæ oculorum usu orbatus est Remigius, quem tamen paulo ante mortem recuporavit. Transitus diem non ignorans, finitis Missarum solemniis, plebe sacro Christi corpore confirmata; valefaciens clero et populo, dans singulis pacem in osculo oris Domini, plenus dierum et operum ex hac vita decessit idibus Januarii, armo ætatis nonagesimo sexto, post Christum quingentesimo trigesimo tertio. Sepultus est in ædicula sancti Christophori; et mortuus sicut et vivus claruit miraculis.

Remigius was exceedingly liberal to the poor and merciful towards sinners. 'God has not placed us here,’ he would say, 'to exercise wrath, but to take care of men` During a council, he once by divine power struck an Arian bishop with dumbness, until he begged forgiveness by signs, when he restored him his speech with these words: 'In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, if thou holdest the right belief concerning him, speak, and confess the faith of the Catholic Church.’ The bishop recovering his voice, protested that he believed, and would die in that faith. Towards the end of his life Remigius lost his sight, but recovered it shortly before his death. Knowing the day of his departure, he celebrated Mass, and fortified his flock with the sacred Body of Christ. Then he bade his clergy and people farewell, giving to each one the kiss of our Lord’s peace; and full of days and good works, he departed this life on the Ides of January, in the year of our Lord five hundred and thirty-three, being ninety-six years old. He was buried in the oratory of St. Christopher; and as in life, so also after death, he was famous for miracles.

This is a fitting occasion to bring forward the beautiful formula rightly called the Prayer of the Franks, which dates from the first ages of the monarchy.[10]

Prayer

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui ad instrumentum divinissimæ tuæ voluntatis per orbem, et ad gladium et propugnaculum Ecclesiæ sanctæ tuæ, Francorum imperium constituisti: cœlesti lumine, quæsumus, filios Francorum supplicantes semper et ubique præveni: ut ea quæ agenda sunt ad regnum tuum in hoc mando efficiendum videant, et ad implenda quæ viderint charitate et fortitudine perseveranter convalescant.
Almighty, eternal God, who didst establish the empire of the Franks to be, throughout the world, the instrument of thy divine will, and the sword and bulwark of thy holy Church: ever and in all places prevent, we beseech thee, with thy heavenly light, the suppliant sons of the Franks; so that they may both see what they ought to do to promote thy kingdom in this world, and, in order to fulfil what they have seen, may continually increase in charity and in valour.

St. Leo IX said to his contemporaries, and we echo his words, concerning the land of France: ‘Be it known to your charity that you must solemnly celebrate the feast of the blessed Remigius; for if to others he is not an apostle, he is such with regard to you at least. Pay such honour, then, to your apostle and father, that you may merit, according to the divine promise, to live long upon the earth, and, by his prayers, may obtain possession of eternal beatitude.’[11] When he thus spoke, the sovereign Pontiff had just consecrated thy church, then for the third time rebuilt with the magnificence required by the growing devotion of the people. The nine centuries since elapsed have augmented thy claims to the gratitude of a nation, into which thou didst infuse such vigorous life, that no other has equalled it in duration. Accept our thanks, O thou who wast as a new Sylvester to a new Constantine.

Glory be to our Lord, who showed forth His wonders in thee! Remembering those gestes of God accomplished in all climes by her sons the Franks, the Church recognizes the legitimacy of applying to thee[12] the beautiful words which announced the Messias: ‘Give ear, ye islands, and hearken, ye people from afar. The Lord hath called me from the womb. . . And He said: . . . Behold I have given thee to be the light of the Gentiles, that thou mayest be My salvation even to the farthest part of the earth.’ Truly it was a day of salvation, that Christmas day, whereon our Lord was pleased to bless thy labours and grant the desires of thy long episcopate. By the holy faith thou taughtest, thou wast then the ‘covenant of the people,' the new people composed of the conquerors and the conquered in that land of France, which, when once itself raised up, soon restored to God the inheritance that had been destroyed. O true Church, the one only bride, captive and destitute, behold Remigius rises to say to thy sons that are bound: ‘Come forth, and to them that are in darkness: ‘Show yourselves’! From north and south, from beyond the sea, behold they come in multitudes: all these are come to thee. Therefore, give praise, O ye heavens, and rejoice O earth, because the Lord hath comforted His people; after a whole century of heresy and barbarity, God has once more demonstrated that they shall not be confounded that wait for Him.[13]

Our confidence in God will again be rewarded if thou, O Remigius, deign to present to our Lord the prayer of the Franks who have remained faithful in honouring thy memory. The renegades sold over to satan may tyrannize for a time over the deluded crowd; but they are not the nation. A day will come when Christ, who is ever King, will say to the angels of His guard those words of His lieutenant Clovis: ‘It displeases me that these Goths possess the good land of France; expel them, for it belongs to us.’[14]


[1] Baron. Annal. eccl. ad ann. 499, xv; the year 496 is now universally recognized as the date of the Baptism of Clovis.
[2] Ibid, ad ann. 484, cxxxv.
[3] Baron. Annal. eccl, ad ann. 514, xxiii.
[4] Ps. lxxxviii. 31-34.
[5] Baron. Annal. eccl. ad ann. 514, xxvii.
[6] Hormisd. Epist. 1, ad Remigium.
[7] Matth. Paris. ad ann. 1257: Archiepiscopus Remensis qui regem Francorum cælestt consecrat chrismats (quapropter rex Francorum regum censetur dignissimus) est omnium Franciæ parium primus et excellentissimus.
[8] Mabillon. Annal. benedict. xlvii. 30: Diploma Gerbergæ reginæ.
[9] They were, however, afterwards discovered and authentically recognized; and are, to this day, an object of the greatest veneration to pilgrims.
[10] Titra. Hist. de S. Léger, Introduct. p. xxii, xxiii.
[11] Leonix. Epist. xvii.
[12] Lect. 1 Noct. in proprio Remensi et aliis.
[13] Isaias xlix.
[14] Greg. Turon. Histor. Franc, ii. 37; Hincmar. Vita S. Remigii, li.