August Neander.

Memorials of Christian life in the early and middle ages. Including his Light in dark places. online

. (page 34 of 54)
Online LibraryAugust NeanderMemorials of Christian life in the early and middle ages. Including his Light in dark places. → online text (page 34 of 54)
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'• Pray earnestly with words, but always with holy thoughts
and a holy walk. Thus you will fulfil the apostle's injunction
to ' pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. v. 17) ; for in Gods sight
every good work is a prayer with which the all-sufficient God
is well pleased." To the same individual he writes : "Let
love to the (heavenly) bridegroom ever live in thee, who him-
self lives for ever, as after the resurrection was testified by
the word of the angel : ' Why seek ye the living among the
dead ? ' The living one is He who is the word of the Father,


and is himself the life of believers." In another epistle he
says : " Christ came to pour forth the fire of divine love upon
the earth, to burn up all the seeds of pride, and to communi-
cate to humbled hearts the glow of holy contrition. Thus it
comes to pass that we accuse ourselves for our sins with sin-
cere hearts, and praise God with sincere humility for our good
works ; so that we thank him for what his love has given us,
and confess ourselves guilty wherein our weakness has sinned
against him. Contrition of heart awakens sensibilitv for
prayer. Humbleness of mind craves divine aid. Contrition
of heart feels its wounds ; but prayer seeks healing to obtain
soundness. And who is capable of that ? Who can pray in
a right manner unless the Physician himself infuse the begin-
ning of spiritual desire .'' Or who can persist in prayer, unless
God, who begins it in us, increases it, and carries on to per-
fection what he has implanted ?" Against an ascetic pride
he thus writes : '* In vain thou despisest thy earthly goods, if
thou carriest in thy heart punishable pride. For not only do
those sin whose hearts are lifted up on account of their riches ;
those persons are still more criminal whose hearts are lifted
up on account of their contempt of riches." In his third
epistle he writes : " The souls of all who are justified and live
in the faith are severely tried while here. Yes, only those
souls know what severe pressure they suffer, into whom the
true light pours itself which enlightens every man that comes
into the world." He warns equally against despair and over-
confidence. " Who prevents the hand of the Almighty Phy-
sician by his culpable despair, from effecting the salvation of
man ? Truly the Physician says : ' The whole have no need
of a physician, but they that are sick.' If our Physician is
rightly qualified, he can cure all sickness. If our God is mer-
ciful, he can forgive all sins. That is not perfect goodness,
by which all evil is not overcome. That is not a perfect art
of healing for which there is one incurable disease. There-
fore let no one remain in his sickness through despair of the
physician. Let no one perish in the consumption of his
sins, because he undeiTates God's mercy. The apostle says
(Rom. V. b), that ' Christ died for the ungodly,' and (1 Tim.
i. 15), that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sin-
ners.' Sound conversion consists in two things ; repentance
is not forsaken by hope, nor hope forsaken by repentance, if


a man with his whole heart renounces his sins, and with his
whole heart places his hope of forgiveness in God."

He was soon recalled from his second banishment under
the mild government of King Hilderic. The return of the
persecuted confessors was a festival for the Carthaginian
people. Multitudes flocked to meet them at the port; but
Fulgentius was received with the greatest love and veneration.
When he returned from Carthage to his church, great crowds
met him all the v/ay with torches and garlands. Yet he who
had remained steadfast in his faith amidst his sufferings,
remained also steadfast in humility, in this return of pros-
perity, when he was threatened by refined (and so much the
more dangerous) temptations to pride. The reverence which
was paid him only made him feel more deeply his own unwor-
thiness, his internal sinfulness, v.'hich the Christian still suffers
in the life of grace here below. He did not desire to work
miracles ; for the performance of wonderful things, he said,
does not give righteousness, but only fame among men. But
he who is famed among men, unless he is also a righteous
man, will not escape eternal punishment. But he who by
God's mercy is justified, and lives as a righteous man in God's
sight, however little he may be known to men, will have a
part in the salvation of the saints." AVhen he was required
to pray for the sick or for any one in affliction, he prayed with
this addition, " Lord, thou knowest what is serviceable for the
welfare of our souls. If, therefore, we ask thee for what the
present necessity admonishes us to ask of thee, may thy mercy
grant what will not hinder our spiritual advantage. May our
humble prayer therefore be so heard by thee, that before all
things thy will maybe done." When those persons who had
asked him for his intercession, returned him thanks for its
being heard, he answered : " It happened not on account of
my merit, but of your faith. The Lord has granted it not ta
me, but to you." His biographer and pupil says of him, in his
own spirit : " This admirable man would not have the repu-
tation of a worker of miracles, although he performed daily
great wonders, since by his holy exhortations he led many
unbelievers to the faith, many teachers of error to a knowledge
of the truth ; many who had led abandoned lives were brought
under the laws of temperance ; drunkards learned sobriety,
and adulterers chastity ; the grasping and covetous imparted


: their all to the poor ; humility became pleasant to the proud,
peace to the quarrelsome, obedience to the disobedient. Such
were the wonders that Fulgentius strove always to per-



As the Lord sends his angels where their help is most
needed, so amidst the ravages and desolation which followed
that immigration of the nations by which the Roman empire
was shattered in pieces, he sent assistance, after the deatli of
the world-waster Attila, in the person of a distinguished man
inflamed with holy love to the various tribes in the vicinity of
the Danube. He was exactly the man they required. His
name was Severinus. His whole appearance had something
mysterious. As he was not accustomed to speak of himself,
nothing determinate is known respecting his native country.
Though many persons of all classes, who had gathered round
liim from the vicinity or a distance, wished to know his
country, yet they did not venture to ask him ; till at last a
priest who had fled to him from Italy, summoned up corn-age
to put the question to him. Severinus at first replied in his
peculiar manner with good-natured playfulness : " What ! do
you take me for some runaway slave ? then provide a ransom,
which you can pay for me if I am inquired for." Then he
added in a serious tone : " What pleasure can it be to a ser-
vant of God to specify his home or his descent, since by silence
he can so much better avoid all boasting. I would that the
left hand knew nothing of the good work which Christ grants
the right hand to accomplish, in order that I may be a citizen
of the heavenly country. Why need you know my earthly
country, if you know that I am truly longing after the hca-
vcnlv one ? But know this, that the God who has granted
you to be a priest, has commissioned me to live among this
lieavily-oppressed people." After that, no one ventured to
propose such a question to him. But probably he Mas a
native of the West, and had withdrawn into one of the deserts


of the East in order to devote himself to a quiet life of holy
contemplation. Here he received the divine c:ill to sacrifice
his rest for the benefit of the suffering people in the West, as
at a later period when he would gladly have retired again into
solitude, a divine voice often admonished him not to deprive
the oppressed people of his presence.

The regions in which he placed himself, known at this
dav as Austria and Bavaria, were just then the scene of the
greatest desolation and confusion. No place was secure ; one
savage tribe followed another ; all social order was broken up.
The country was laid waste ; the natives were carried away
as captives. Universal destitution and famine followed the
incessant wars. As Severiuus had lived long among these
people, and laboured much among them, his fame was
widely spread, and the episcopal dignity was oflPered him; but
he rejected it, declaring " that it was enough for him to be
deprived of his beloved solitude, and to be brought by the
divine providence into these parts where he was obliged to
live among men who gave him no rest."

It must indeed have made a great impression on persons
rendered effeminate by luxury, as well as on the savage
tribes, when they saw Severinus voluntarily renouncing all the
conveniences of life, and contenting himself with the most
meagre fare ; and in the midst of winter, when the Danube
was frozen so hard that waggons could pass over it, going
about barefooted in the ice and snow. Effeminate men might
learn from him what was so necessary, in their altered condi-
tion, to make themselves independent of outward things, to
rise above present sufferings by living in the spirit, to mollify
and sweeten want and destitution by spiritual joy. Men
belonging to the barbarous tribes who saw before them only
weaklings whom they had crushed by the superiority of phy-
sical force, and who knew no other superiority, must have
been struck wdth wonder and awe when they witnessed mth
their own eyes, how such a man with a body reduced by absti-
nence could accomplish the greatest things, simply by a
spiritual power, the power of a soul animated by faith and
love. What a contrast between him and worldly-minded
ecclesiastics ! as one of them once said to him, " Contrive,
thou holy man, to leave our city, that during thy absence we
may have some rest from fasting and watching!" Glowing


as his heart was with love, Severinus could not refrain from
tears that a person belon2:in<r to so sacred a vocation could
dis^i^race himself and his order by such a frivolous speech.

He M-as very far from regarding the privations to which he
submitted as peculiarly meritorious, or entitling him to be
esteemed a saint. If any one commended him on this account,
he said : " Do not imagine that what you see is a merit on
my part ; it ought rather to serve you as a wholesome example.
Let it humble human pride. We are chosen for this purpose
that we may effect some good ; as the apostle says, the Lord
has chosen us ' before the foundation of the world, that we
should be holy and without blame before him in love,' Only
pray for me, that the gifts of my Saviour may not issue in the
increase of my condemnation, but in the advancement of my

However strict and severe he was against himself, he was
full of tender sympathy for the wants and sufferings of others.
" He felt hunger," his pupils said of him, "only when others
suffered hunger ; he felt cold, only when others were destitute
of clothing." He made use of everything in order to assist
the necessitous in these parts. His prayers, his exhortations,
the example of his self-sacrificing love, rendered possible
what was apparently impossible in a desolated, impoverished
country that was always liable to famine. From many places
the tithes of the produce were sent to him, for collecting
which he employed the resident clergy, besides clothing for
the destitute. On one occasion, in the middle of winter,
people came through the ice and snow over mountainous and
pathless districts, laden with clothing, which the inhabitants
of Noricum had sent to him for the poor. He gave readily
to the poor more than was sufficient for their mere necessities.
In consequence of his advice, many persons from the sur-
rounding places and towns took refuge in the considerable
town of Lauriacum (the modern Lorch), on the Danube, in
order to find protection from the wandering hordes of the
barbarians. It so happened that he had received, through
the merchants, a quantity of olive oil, a commodity very
scarce in these parts. He regarded it as a most agreeable
opportunity for gratifying his beloved poor, of whom a great
number were residing in that place of refuge. He assembled


them all in a cliiirch, and, to the great joy of the poor people,
divided to each one a due proportion of the oil.

"While he thus cared for the earthly wants of men, and
divided earthly gifts among them, he never omitted to com-
bine with all a blessing for their hearts, and to direct their
attention to the som'ce of all spiritual and temporal blessings.
He opened the assembly with prayer, and before he pro-
ceeded to the distribution of the gifts, took care to conclude
with the vrords, " Blessed be the name of the Lord!" He
■admonished the poor that they should receive these gifts as
from the hands of the Lord, and offer praise to him. His
love M'as wide and comprehensive, as is the nature of genuine
Christian love, not narrowed by any partial considerations.
In the barbarians, as well as in the Romans, in Arians not
less than in the orthodox, he beheld brethi-en Avho required
his aid. When he met with the princes or generals of th.e
wild barbarians who were attached to the Arian doctrine, he
did not begin, with disputing on their favourite dogma — he
did not repel them by pronouncing sentence of condemnation
on the doctrine they professed ; but attracted them first of all
by the power of love, and then imj)arted to them such exhor-
tations or instructions as were best adapted to the circum-
stances of each individual. The Arian chief of the Rugii,
who dreaded the power of the Goths, asked advice of Seve-
rinus, whom he regarded as an oracle, respecting his affairs.
Severinus answered : " If we were connected by a common
faith with one another, you must have preferred questioning
me respecting the concerns of eternal life. But since you
only ask me respecting the well-being of that temporal life
which we share in common, receive my advice. You need
not fear the poM'cr of the Goths, if you do not slight the
warnings of humility. Do not neglect seeking peace, even
with the most insignificant, and never trust to your ovm
strength. ' Cursed/ says Holy Writ, ' is the man who
trusteth in man and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart
departeth from the Lord.' (Jer. x^-ii. 5.)"'

The power which Severinus exerted over the minds of these
men is evident from many examples. The son of that chief
of the Rugii who regarded Severinus as his most faithful and
trusty counsellor, wished to take by surprise Lauriacum, in


which, by Severinus's advice, so great a multitude of mcu
belonging to the surrounding districts had taken refuge from
the swords of the barbarians, and to disperse those who had
settled there in various parts of his territory. When this
alarming news had reached Lauriacum, they all besought
Scverinus to meet the Rugiau chief, and to mollify him.
Severinus immediately set out, and travelled all night, so that
early in the morning he met the chief several miles from the
town. When the chief expressed his concern that Severinus
had so wearied himself, and inquired the reason of his making
such haste, he answered: '• Peace be with you, excellent king.
I come as an ambassador of Christ, to implore favour for
your subjects. Think of the blessings which the Lord has
often imparted to your father by me as his instrument.
During the whole of his reign, he did not venture to do
anything without taking my advice. And following my
wholesome exhortations, he learned, from his own experience,
the advantages that accrue to conquerors from not being
rendered haughty by their victories." The lluglan chief
pretended that he was actuated only by anxiety for the wel-
fare of the inhabitants of that town; he wished them not to
be a prey to the rapacity or to the sword of the Alemanni
or Thuringii, since they might find protection in his own
towns and fortresses. Severinus replied : " Have those people
been snatched from the frequent incursions of the barbarians
by your darts and swords, or have they not rather been
redeemed by the grace of God, in order to be able to serve
5'ou still longer r Do not, therefore, excellent king, disdain
my advice. Take my security for these your subjects, and do
not expose them to ill-usage from so great a host ; for I
depend upon my Lord, that he who permitted me to dwell
among them during their distresses, will grant me power to
keep my pledge in reference to their guidance." On hearing
this, the king was induced to retire with his army.

So much dependence was placed on the protective power
of this single individual, that the inhabitants of the Roman
fortresses in this district requested him to reside in succession
among them, since they believed his presence would be a
greater security than their walls. As long as he was with
them, they thought that no disaster could befall them. Thus,
in the town of Passau, he had a small cell assigned him,



where he reposed when the inhabitants called him thence, in
order to be protected by his intercession from being pillaged
by the Alemanni, whose king. Gewald, honoured and loved
him greatlv, and had wished formerly to come to this town to
see Severinus once more. Severinus went to meet him, to
avoid the admission of so troublesome a guest into the town.
His exhortation made such an impression on the king, that
he was seized with a violent tremor, and afterwards declared
to his soldiers, that in none of the perils of war had he felt
such trepidation. When in this state he desired Severinus to
acquaint him with his wishes; the latter prayed that he would
do what would be also for his own advantage — keep his
people back from laying waste the Roman territory, and set
at liberty the persons who had been dragged into captivity by
his subjects. The consequence was that a multitude of these
unfortunate persons actually regained theii' freedom.

His magnanimous trust in God gave courage and strength
to the weak in their calling;. When he was stavin«; in the
city of Faviana, the adjacent country, even to the walls, was
disturbed by a horde of barbarians, who seized both men and
cattle. Several of the citizens bewailed their misfortunes to
Severinus. He asked the commander of the garrison whether
he had no soldiers to pursue the marauders. The tribune
answered: " I cannot venture, with my small force, to attack
the greater force of the enemy. Yet if you tell me to do it,
I will venture ; for 1 hope to conquer, if not by force of arms,
yet by your prayers." Severinus encouraged him to trust in
God. " Go forth," he said, " confiding in God's name. If
God be with you, the power and strength of men matter not.
If your soldiers are unarmed, they must take weapons from
the enemy. Since the merciful God goes before you, the
weak will become the strongest. God will fight for you.
Therefore only make haste ; but above all things observe this,
to biing me all the barbarians whom you capture, unhurt."
The tribune accordingly marched forth. Half a mile from
the city he met with the enemy; he put them to flight, armed
his men with the weapons he took from them, and brought
the prisoners unhurt, as he had promised, to Severinus.
Having refreshed them with meat and drink, Severinus dis-
missed them with these words: "Go and warn your fellow-
countrymen not to venture here again for the purposes of


])lundGr, for they Nvill not escape punishment from God, who
tights for his people."

Severinus was re<2:ardcd as a prophet. It miglit be, that
among the gifts M'ith whicli God honoured this extraordinary
man, that of a seer might be included. It might be, that by
the superiority of his spirit, filled with the divine life, he
appeared as a ])rophet to the men among whom he lived, who
were so far inferior to liim, when he spoke with such confi-
dence in the inspiration of his rock-firm faith in God, M'hen
he announced impending judgments to men who had not yet
been brought to reflection, or roused to repentance by the
horrors of desolation ; or when he promised to the faithful
the aid of heaven, as if he saw it already before his eyes ; or
again, when he looked with a mental vision, sharpened by
religion, into a future that was veiled to the obtuse minds
around him, and hence educed warnings and counsels which
were verified by the event.

He appeared also as a worker of miracles. He himself did
not hanker after such, a reputation. He often enjoined the
persons who were eye-witnesses of the things he performed,
to be silent respecting them. When, on one occasion, a
dying person was brought in her bed before the cell of Seve-
rinus, that she might obtain her recovery by his prayers, he said,
with tears : " What great thing do you desire of one who is
so little ? I acknowledge myself to be altogether unworthy.
If I could only obtain the forgiveness of my own sins ! "
But when they still persisted: " We believe if thou prayest,
she will revive," he threw himself, weeping, on his knees.
And when his prayer was heard, he said: "'Ascribe nothing
of all this to my influence. For this grace has required fer-
vent faith, and this ha])pens in many places, and among
many nations, that it may be known that there is a God who
does wonders in heaven and on earth, who revives the lost to
salvation, and calls back the dead to life." We perceive how
Severinus contemplated these facts as adapted to the peculiar
character of these times, as means of education for these
I nations.

! A monk, Bonosus, who laboured under a disease of the
i eyes, longed to obtain a cure through the prayers of Severi-
nus. But he advised the monk rather to pray that his inward
eve might be enlightened; and from the instructions often



imparted by the venerable man, he at last learned to strive
rather to see with the eye of the mind than with that of the
body, and to forget his sufferings in intercourse with God.

Two examples may serve to show how Severinus, in pecu-
liar circumstances, was supported by Providence in his
ministry, and how he exercised it. A great swarm of locusts-
settled on the country. When Severinus was asked for his
prayers for deliverance from this plague, he said: " Have you
not heard, what God commanded his sinful people by the
prophet (Joel ii.) : ' Turn ye to me with all your heart .
rend your heart and not your garment .... sanctify a
fast, call a solemn assembly :' Do all this, in order by
works of repentance to escape the evils of the present time.
Let no one of 3^ou now go to his fields, as if by human care you
thought yourselves able to ward off the locusts." His words
affected their hearts ; the feelings of repentance were called
forth universallv. They all assembled in the church, acknow-
ledged with tears their penitence for their sins, and distri-
buted alms. Only one poor man, from anxiety about his land,
while the rest were at church, was absent all day, in order
to keep off the locusts, and only in the evening went with the
rest to the church. But the next morning he found his field
devoured by the locusts, while the other fields had escaped.
This occurrence made a great impression, and Severinus
availed himself of it, in order to exhort men to trust in God,
and to impress upon them that care for the things of the
kingdom should take precedence of everything else. But he
also said to the rest : '* It is reasonable that by your bounty
this man should be supported during the present year, who
by the punishment he has suffered has given you a lesson of
humility." Accordingly, thc}^ contributed jointly to support
the poor man for a year. When Gisa, the queen of the
Rugii, had condemned some Roman subjects, who had been
taken prisoners, to hard slave-labour, Severinus petitioned for
their release. She made him a very angry answer, to the effect
that he might stay shut up in his cell and pray, but she should
act towards her slaves as she pleased. When Severinus heard
this, he said : " I trust in my Lord Jesus Christ, that she will
be forced by necessity to do that which, in her perverted
state of mind, she wül not do voluntarily." Not long after-

Online LibraryAugust NeanderMemorials of Christian life in the early and middle ages. Including his Light in dark places. → online text (page 34 of 54)