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ST. CÆSARIUS ARCHBISHOP OF ARLES, CONFESSOR
From his life, extant in two books; the first compiled by his disciple Cyprian, afterward bishop of London, and Firminus and Viventius, two other bishops who assisted him in this work; the second, written, in part, by the priest Messianus and the deacon Stephen. All these authors were disciples of St. Cæsarius, and witnesses of what they report concerning his virtues and miracles. See this work in Mabillon, Sæc. Ben.1. t. 1. p. 659. See also this learned compiler, Annal. Bened t. 1. Ceillier, t. 16, p. 226. Rivet, Hist. Littér. de la France, t. 3, p. 170. Gall. Chr. Nov. t. 1. p. 535.
A. D. 542.
ST. CÆSARIUS was born in 470, in the territory of Challons on the Saone, and descended from a family of distinguished piety. When but seven years old he often gave his clothes to poor people whom he met begging. In his youth he laid a good foundation of literature, and comparing the unquiet scenes of vice, vanity, and folly, in which he saw men too easily engage themselves amidst the hurry of a secular life, with the calmness and security of an amiable retreat, he resolved to renounce the world. Wherefore, at eighteen years of age, he entreated Sylvester, bishop of Challons, to cut off his hair, and give him the ecclesiastical habit, that he might enter himself in the service of the Church. This was done accordingly; but two years after, Cæsarius, out of a desire of attaining still greater perfection, privately withdrew to the monastery of Lerins, which had produced many learned and pious men under the direction of the abbot Porcarius. In this house he was a perfect model of regularity, meekness, humility, and obedience. The abbot appointed him cellerer; but as human passions creep into recesses the furthest removed from the incentives of vice, some of the monks were offended at his scrupulous severity: and so loud were their complaints, that the abbot, though with regret, was forced to discharge him from his office. The saint rejoiced to see himself at liberty to give himself up entirely to the exercises of contemplation and penance; but his great austerities having thrown him into a fit of illness, his abbot sent him to Arles for advice, where he was known by Eonius, the archbishop, who was his countryman and relation. He demanded him of the abbot Porcarius, and immediately ordained him deacon, and afterward priest; soon after he made him abbot of a monastery built in an island in the Rhone, within the suburbs of the city. Three years after, lying on his death-bed, he recommended him for his successor. The saint fled, and hid himself among the Roman sumptuous tombs, a great number of which are remaining to this day near the city; but being discovered, he was obliged to acquiesce in the unanimous election of the clergy and the whole city, in 501. He was then thirty years old, and he presided over that church above forty years.
The first thing he did in this station was to regulate the singing of all the canonical hours of the divine office, which he caused to be performed publicly, not only on Sundays, Saturdays, and solemn festivals, as had been the custom at Arles, but every day, as was done in other neighboring churches. He induced the laity, that were not hindered, to attend constantly the canonical hours. The office was sung in the Latin tongue; but some sung it in the Greek,1 who were doubtless the foreigners that came from the East to Marseilles, and likewise many inhabitants on that coast, who retained that language; for Marseilles was originally a Greek colony. He strenuously exhorted all persons never to fail, except in cases of the greatest necessity, to assist at all the hours of the divine office, that are sung in the day, and in Lent also, at those of the night.2 He was very careful to instruct his flock in all the conditions of devout prayer, and to teach them to cry to God with the earnest desires of the heart, not with their lips only, which can be no prayer, but only mockery, and an insult offered to God; prayer being defined the raising of the heart to God. “A man,” said he, “worships that object on which his mind is most intent during prayer. Whoever, in his prayers, thinks of the public place of resort, or of the house he is building, adores that rather than God.”3 In order to devote himself the more assiduously to prayer, reading, and preaching, he left to stewards and deacons the care of his temporalities. Knowing that the church puts the poor under the special protection of the bishops, he consecrated to them almost his whole revenue, and built many hospitals. He preached on all Sundays and holidays, and often on other days, both morning and evening. If he was hindered, he ordered the priests or deacons to read to the people some homilies of the fathers; and he would have some such homily always read after matins and vespers, that the people might never depart from the church without the benefit of some instruction.4 He taught the faithful to dread, above all other terrible judgments that God ever inflicts on souls in his anger, a spiritual famine of his divine word. He was an enemy to studied discourses. His style is plain, natural, and pleasing. Many of his sermons have sometimes been ascribed to St. Ambrose, and especially to St. Austin. The Benedictin editors of the works of this latter, in an appendix to his sermons, have published one hundred and two sermons of St. Cæsarius.* By these it appears that he used to descend very much to particulars, which is most useful in preaching; and he spoke chiefly against those vices which prevailed most, especially against a delay of repentance, the most ordinary stratagem by which the devil betrays souls into eternal perdition. He strongly inculcated the fear of the pains of purgatory for venial sins, and the necessity of effacing them by daily penance.5 His ordinary exhortations regard prayer, fasting, alms, the pardon of injuries, chastity, and the practice of all manner of good works, especially in Lent, on the Rogation-days, and in other such times of devotion.
St. Cæsarius built a nunnery at Arles, and assisted in working with his own hands. The church was very large, and divided into three parts: that in the middle he dedicated in honor of the Blessed Virgin; the other two of St. John Evangelist and St. Martin. This monastery was at first called St. John’s, but afterward took the name of St. Cæsarius, who committed the government of it to his sister Cæsaria, she having been educated, and having taken the veil in a nunnery at Marseilles, probably that founded by Cassian. St. Cæsarius drew up an excellent rule for these religious women, which is still extant. They made their own clothes, and were generally employed in working wool. They had a daily task set them; and were allowed to embroider, and to wash and mend clothes for persons that lived out of the convent. The ornaments of their church were only of woollen or linen cloth, and plain, without embroidery or flowers. Some of these nuns employed themselves in transcribing holy books in a beautiful character.6 They all read two hours every day; and one of them read to the rest during part of the time they were at work. The monastery, for the sake of uniformity, afterward exchanged this rule for that of St. Bennet. We have likewise a shorter rule for monks, which St. Cæsarius gave to Teredus, whom he appointed abbot of a monastery near Arles. Some of his letters relating to monastic duties have reached us, with his testament, in which he leaves his patrimony to his sister’s monastery. St. Cæsarius presided in the council of Agde in 506, where several decrees were framed for the reformation of manners; also in the second council of Orange, in 529, the canons of which he drew up.7 In them was condemned the heresy of the Semipelagians, who affirmed, that the first desire or beginning of faith and good works is from the creature. This council pronounces an anathema against those who blasphemously affirm that God predestinates any man to damnation; on the other side, it declares that, according to the Catholic faith, God inspires into our souls, by his grace, the beginning of his faith and love, or the first desire or good disposition of the soul towards it, and that he is the author of our conversion. This, and other like points, are confirmed by passages of the holy scriptures and fathers, chiefly St. Austin, which establish the necessity of grace to all our good thoughts and actions which conduce to eternal life. St. Cæsarius sent the decrees of this council to Rome, to be confirmed by pope Felix IV., which was executed in the most ample manner by his successor Boniface II., and from that time the Semipelagians were ranked by the whole Church among heretics. The Semipelagians indeed made some noise after the council of Orange; and dared to maintain their errors in the council of Valence soon after the former. St. Cæsarius, detained by his infirmities, was not able to go thither in person, but sent Cyprian, bishop of Toulon, who wrote his life, to defend the truth; of which commission he acquitted himself with great zeal. The answer of the apostolic see, by which the decrees of the council of Orange were confirmed, entirely silenced the advocates of that subtle heresy. St. Cæsarius had begun his attack upon it by his book On Grace and Free-Will, which he wrote as an antidote against the poisonous work of Faustus of Riez; but so complete was the victory which he gained over it by the council of Orange, that this formidable monster was entirely crushed, and the confirmation of this council closes the history of that heresy.
St. Cæsarius had his share in the public calamities of the age in which he lived. The city of Arles was at that time subject to Alaric, king of the Visigoths, who was master of the greatest part of Spain, all Languedoc, and great part of Provence. It was suggested to this prince, that the archbishop being born a subject to the king of Burgundy he did all that lay in his power to bring the territory of Arles under his dominion, than which nothing could be a more notorious calumny; for he prayed night and day on his bended knees, that all nations might enjoy peace, and the cities be free from tumults and insurrections. However, Alaric, without the least examination, banished him to Bordeaux. During his residence in that city, a fire happening one night to break out, the people ran in crowds to him, and besought him to put up his prayers for the extinction of the flames. The blessed man prostrated himself in prayer before the fire, which immediately subsided: hereupon he was regarded as the saver of the city. Alaric, having discovered his innocence, recalled him from his exile, and condemned his accuser to be stoned; but pardoned him at the earnest intercession of the saint.
At his return to Arles, all the people went to meet him, singing psalms, and holding wax tapers in their hands; and they thought they were indebted to his prayers for plentiful showers of rain that fell at that time, after a long drought. Clovis, king of the Franks, in conjunction with the Burgundians, defeated and slew Athalaric in Poitou, in the year 507, the twenty-third of his reign. His young son Alaric fled into Spain, was proclaimed king of the Visigoths, and was powerfully protected by Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths in Italy, whose grandson that prince was by a daughter. The French and Burgundians laid siege to Aries in 508; during which the Goths threw St. Cæsarius into prison, upon suspicion that he had attempted to deliver up the city to the besiegers; but was cleared, and set at liberty. The siege was raised, and a great number of prisoners were brought into the city, and the churches were filled with them. St. Cæsarius was moved exceedingly at their condition; for they were in want both of clothes and victuals. He furnished them with both, and employed in relieving them the whole treasury of his church. He stripped the pillars and rails of the silver with which they were adorned, and melted down and gave away the very censors, chalices, and patens, saying, “Our Lord celebrated his last supper in mean earthen dishes, not in plate; and we need not scruple to part with his vessels for the ransom of those whom he has redeemed with his own life. I would fain know if those who censure what we do, would not be glad to be ransomed themselves in the like manner, were the same misfortune to befall them.” St. Cæsarius took the utmost care of the sick, whom he provided with a very spacious house, where they might hear, at their ease, the divine office performed, and where they were carefully attended. The poor had ever a very easy access to him, and he gave a strict charge to the servant who waited on him, always to see whether there was not some poor person at the door, who was afraid of coming in.
After the death of the king of the Visigoths, Theodoric the Ostrogoth, king of Italy, seized upon those dominions in Languedoc and Spain, though they soon after chose again a prince of their own. The excessive charity of St. Cæsarius towards the prisoners displeased king Theodoric, who ordered him to be apprehended, and brought under a strong guard to Ravenna. When the saint came into the king’s presence, and saluted him, Theodoric seeing his venerable aspect and intrepid air, rose up, took from his head the ornament with which it was covered, and returned his salute in a very obliging manner. After many kind speeches, when St. Cæsarius vas gone out, Theodoric said to those about him, “May God punish those who have been the occasion of so holy a man’s undertaking so long a journey without cause. I trembled when he came in; he has the countenance of an angel. I can harbor no thoughts to the prejudice of such a person.” He sent him to his house a silver basin of sixty pounds weight, with three hundred pieces of gold, and ordered the bearer to say to him. “The king, your son, holy bishop, entreats you to accept this present, and to make use of the basin for his sake.” St. Cæsarius, who never used plate at his table, except a few silver spoons, sold the basin publicly, and ransomed several captives with the money. When the king was told this, and also that the bishop’s door was so much crowded with poor people, that it was impossible to get near it, he expatiated so much upon this charity, that the senators and the rest of the quality strove who should bestow the most bountiful alms, to be distributed by the hands of St. Cæsarius. They even said publicly, that God had been very gracious to them in giving them the sight of so apostolical a man. By these liberalities the man of God was enabled to deliver all those that had been taken prisoners on the other side of the Durance. He also furnished them with carriages and money to carry them back to their respective homes. At Ravenna he restored to health, by his prayers, the son of a certain widow, who with many tears, more expressive of her gratitude than words could be, besought him to take her son into his service, and carry him along with him into Gaul.
From Ravenna St. Cæsarius went to Rome, where pope Symmachus, the clergy, nobility, and people, very much desired to see him. The pope gave him the pallium, and confirmed in his favor the privileges of the church of Arles, appointed him vicar of the apostolic see, and ordained that he should superintend all ecclesiastical affairs in Gaul and Spain. These things were transacted in the year 513. In the same year this pope published certain decretals to remove several abuses in Gaul. By one of these he forbade the alienation of Church lands, unless they were given to clergymen for their services, or to supply their wants, only for the term of their lives.8 This is thought to be the origin of ecclesiastical benefices. For anciently, the bishops had the administration of the whole revenue of their churches, allowing a part for the maintenance of their clergy. St. Cæsarius returned to Arles in 514, and continued to edify and instruct his flock many years longer. In the seventy-second year of his age, being broken with infirmities, and finding himself near death, he asked how long it was to the festival of St. Austin, saying, “I hope I shall die about that time; you know how much I always loved his truly Catholic doctrine.” He caused himself to be carried in a chair to the monastery of his nuns, whom he endeavored to prepare and comfort for the affliction which he knew his death would give them; but whatever he could say, rather seemed to augment their affliction. He made them a moving exhortation. They were above two hundred in number, and their superior was called Cæsaria, and had succeeded his sister of the same name. Having given them his blessing, he returned to the metropolitan church, and died in the presence of several holy bishops and priests, on the eve of the feast of St. Austin, in 542. His relics healed a great number of sick people, and he wrought several like miracles whilst he was living, as the authors of his life testify.
St. Cæsarius teaches us, that a mortified penitential life, and the utmost purity and sanctity of manners, are dispositions which very much fit our souls for prayer. We ought to present our hearts before God, crucified to themselves and the world; purified from all vicious and earthly affections, glowing only with those of divine love, praise, humility, confidence, and all other virtues, that we ourselves, and our homages, may be such sacrifices as may worthily glorify his holy name, and be accepted by him, being offered with and through the infinite merits of Christ’s sacred passion. St. Cæsarius was a great lover of public prayer. Both to supply our own imperfections in this great duty of praising God and out of zeal that He be more perfectly glorified by the chorus of His whole creation, we must invite all the heavenly spirits to join us with their whole strength, and the utmost ardor of their love; and must present to God with our hearts all their pure and burning affections of adoration, praise, and charity; the hearts likewise of all his faithful servants on earth, begging that by his grace he would perfectly purify them all, and make them worthy to offer him a pure homage. We must present him also with our own the hearts of all mankind, earnestly entreating him, that for the sake of his infinite goodness and mercy, he would enlighten and sanctify them all; bring all infidels to know him their great Beginning and last End, and make all blind sinners experience the joy, delight, peace, and happiness of the reign of his holy love.