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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

This is the proper place for giving a sketch of the career of that truly illustrious man who so greatly helped to plant the faith in Ireland, and preserve it in England.

In the case of Germanus, as well as of the two other masters of St. Patrick, Martin and Honoratus, we have an authentic biography, published by a learned priest of Marseilles, some forty years after his death. Later on in the eighth century this Life was versified and supplemented by Heric of Auxerre, who, although much later still, had very special sources of information at his disposal in the episcopal city of Germanus himself. We must accept, therefore, as perfectly authentic the main facts of the life of Germanus, who was, if not the first, certainly amongst the greatest, of the Gallic prelates of the fifth century.

Germanus was born about the same time as Patrick himself, or perhaps a little later, at Auxerre, in the modern department of Yonne. It was an old and noble city, not inferior to many of the great cities of Gaul in respect to its fertile soil, its fruitful vineyards, and its navigable river. His parents were noble, and sent their son to the best schools in Gaul—which would be at Arles—and thence he went to Rome to study eloquence and law. Returning to Gaul, he practised before the tribunal of the Prefect, which was certainly in Arles, and so successfully that he was appointed one of the six Dukes of Gaul, with very extensive jurisdiction. About the same time he married, and gave himself up with passionate eagerness to the chase, in which it seems he was pre-eminently successful, for he brought home his trophies, and used to hang them on an ancient pear tree in the very centre of his city of Auxerre. This tree was it appears, at an earlier period the object of pagan or druidical worship; and once more, by bearing the spoils of the hunting Duke, it became an object, if not of religious worship, at least of great interest to the people.

The Bishop, St. Amator, was much displeased at this, and, finding the Duke had gone one day to his country house, he caused the pear tree to be cut down, and scattered all its ‘spolia opima’—‘oscilla’ Constantius calls them. When Germanus returned to the city he swore vengeance against the Bishop, and even went so far as to threaten to take his life.

But the Bishop took another way of meeting the danger. Fearing for himself, he went south to Autun, where the Prefect Julius was then staying, and asked his permission to have the Duke of Auxerre ordained as Bishop of that city in succession to himself, for he assured the Prefect that he had only a short time to live.

The Prefect consented; and Bishop Amator, returning with the safe guard and promise of the Prefect, convoked the people to the church; and finding Germanus therein he caused him to be brought before the altar, and then and there tonsured the mighty hunter with the tonsure of a cleric, thus giving him the first grade in preparation for the succession to himself.

It seems to us a strange proceeding; but the history of St. Ambrose shows that it was not an isolated case, for Ambrose was not even baptised when he was chosen to be bishop of Milan. Germanus likewise received the episcopate under protest; but it wrought in him a sudden and total change, as the holy Amator had doubtless anticipated.

His wife thenceforward became to him a sister; he gave up his hunting; his property he bestowed on the poor; and his whole life he devoted to the service of Christ. The story of his self-denying asceticism is amazing. His body was his only enemy. He slept on a bed of cinders, covered with a rug without a pillow, strewn on a framework of boards; he abstained from salt in his food, from oil, vegetables, and even wine, except on the chief festivals, when he partook of a little mixed with water. His clothing was the monk’s cowl and hood, which he wore unchanged until they fell to pieces, and he always carried a purse of relics near his heart. Yet he was hospitable, and gave to his guests food and wine in plenty, barely tasting the rich viands himself. “I can assure you,” says Constantius, “that his life was one long martyrdom, voluntarily undertaken in penance for his sins.” Such was the man who, as all our Annals tell, was the chief teacher and patron of St. Patrick.

The river Yonne flows through the city of Auxerre, whose population at present is about 17,000. In the time of Germanus, Autissiodurum, as it was then called, was a busy and flourishing city, in the midst of which he was ill at ease. So he built himself a monastery beyond the river at a point where it bounds the town, and there with his monks he gave himself, as far as possible, to the prayerful, contemplative life which he loved. When duty called him to his cathedral he crossed the river in a small skiff, thus as far as he could avoiding the crowded streets of the city. There can be no doubt that St. Patrick spent several years in that monastery under the immediate direction of the greatest prelate of Gaul, who was also the highest model both of that active and contemplative life which Patrick afterwards led in Ireland.

All the Lives are emphatic in proclaiming that Germanus was the principal teacher of St. Patrick in the Sacred Sciences. Fiacc says—“he (Patrick) read the Canon with Germanus”—meaning thereby, in all probability, the books of the Old and the New Testament, with which he certainly shows himself familiar. The Second Life says that he remained “a long time with Germanus, the holiest and most orthodox bishop in all Gaul, like Paul at the feet of Gamaliel, in all subjection and obedience, devoting himself with eager zeal to the study of wisdom and the knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures.” The Third Life says—“Patrick remained with Germanus four years, reading and fulfilling the Scriptures, a virgin in body and spirit.” The Fourth Life uses the same language as the Second, adding that Patrick was received by Germanus ‘with the greatest reverence’—no doubt on account of his holiness—and that he remained thirty years under his guidance; but, if the numerals are exact, which is very doubtful, that must be understood of a kind of general superintendence during the whole period that Patrick was in Gaul. Probus adds that Patrick abode with Germanus not only ‘in all subjection,’ but ‘in patience, obedience, charity, chastity, with perfect purity of mind and heart, living a virgin in the fear of God, and walking in virtue and simplicity of heart all the years of his life.’ This, no doubt, is an accurate description of the monastic life which Patrick led during these years, under the guidance of the greatest and holiest prelate in Gaul, as all the Lives declare Germanus to have been. Similar language is also used in the Book of Armagh, as well as by Jocelyn and the Tripartite.

Yet, it is singular that Patrick in the Confession makes no reference to Germanus by name, nor to Pope Celestine, his great purpose being to vindicate the supernatural character of his own mission to Ireland against certain unworthy detractors of his own nation, who accused him of rashness and presumption in undertaking the conversion of the Irish tribes.

One of the most noteworthy events in the life of Germanus was his mission to Britain, in 429, in conjunction with St. Lupus of Troyes, to extirpate the Pelagian heresy. It is said by the Scholiast on Fiacc that on this occasion Germanus took Patrick along with him; and it was only natural that he should do so, for Patrick, being a Briton, must have known something of the language, and might, in many other respects, be very useful to Germanus during his sojourn in Britain.

What special connection Germanus had with Britain that he should be chosen to go on a mission to that country is now impossible to tell. We only know for certain that the British bishops sent an embassy to their Gallic brethren—perhaps to St. Germanus himself—to announce that the Pelagian depravity had infected the population far and wide in their country, and to beg them, as soon as possible, to bring succour to the cause of the Catholic faith. Thereupon a numerous Synod of the Gallic prelates was convened, who besought Germanus and Lupus to undertake the difficult task. That request was conveyed to Rome; and as Prosper, a contemporary chronicler, expressly tells us, the two bishops were commissioned to go in the name of the Pope to root the Pelagian heresy out of Britain, the soil of its origin. We know that their mission was completely successful, for through their efforts, inspired by Celestine, as Prosper says, the Roman Island (of Britain) was preserved Catholic, as the barbarous Island of Ireland was made Christian by the subsequent mission of Palladius, whose commission was, however, really carried out, not by him but by St. Patrick.

This brings us to an interesting point—what was the connection between Germanus and Palladius, with Ireland, as well as with Britain? Who was Palladius? Was he a deacon of the British Church, or of the Gallic Church of Germanus, or of the Roman Church? We find that it was on his representations—‘ad actionem Palladii diaconi’—that the Pope sent Germanus as his legate, vice sua, to Britain. This fact is undoubted. We know also that when Palladius failed in Ireland, he went to Britain and died there; and we know that the British bishops sent a mission to the Gallic prelates to tell them of the spread of heresy in Britain, and ask their succour. Is it not natural then to conclude that Palladius was the head of this legation, and that when Germanus was requested to bring help to the Catholics of Britain he sent Palladius to Pope Celestine to represent how things stood in Britain, and that the Pope, on his representations, commissioned Germanus to go to Britain?

When Germanus went to Britain he had many opportunities of learning the deplorable state of the ‘barbarians’ of Hibernia, who were still plunged in idolatry, and altogether beyond the influence of Roman civilization. We might naturally expect, therefore, that a man of his burning zeal would take a great interest in the conversion of Ireland, and strive to make the light of the Gospel shine in that unhappy country.

He returned home in 430; and, no doubt, at once reported to the Pope the success of his mission in Britain. But he must have done more. The close connection of events shows us that either he or Palladius, or both, brought the state of Ireland under the notice of the Pope; and the Pope at once resolved to consecrate Palladius and send him to convert the ‘barbarous island’ to the faith. The choice of Palladius for this weighty work is in itself a strong reason for supposing that Palladius was a Briton, for the Pope would hardly have selected a man wholly unacquainted with the language and customs of the Irish tribes, to undertake so arduous and perilous a task as the conversion of Ireland to the Catholic faith.






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