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with it, and consequently inserts it, as it was, into his
own work. Now it is certainly remarkable that the
subject himself of so wonderful an occurrence, should
hesitate whether he ought to call it a reaUty or a
vision, sometimes adapting his pliraseology to the one
aspect of the matter, sometimes to the other. Yet
what is this but what had four hundi-ed years before
been exemplified and sanctioned by Inspiration itself ?
In the history of Cornelius's conversion, himself a
Gentile, the same ambiguity is apparent. In the very
beginning, how singular, if we may so speak, the words,
" He saw a vision evidejitly." Here, however, the
apparition of the angel is clearly called a vision. Yet,
when the messengers of Cornelius came to St. Peter,
they said nothing about a vision, but " Cornelius, the
centurion, was warned from God by an holy angel."
Nay, Cornelius himself, when Peter came to him, spoke
as if it had been no vision. " Four days ago, I was
fasting until this hour ; and at the nintli'hour I prayed
in my house, and behold a man stood before me a7id
said" Was this not, at once, both a vision and a real-
ity ? Could God's purposes be more distinctly re-
vealed ? In like manner, the whole of what happened
to Mamertinus had but one end, one object, the im-
parting of Almighty God's gracious mercies to a lost
and sinful creature. Life itself is as much a vision as
any thing in sleep ; it is the moving to and fro of ever
flitting images ; there is one, and one only, substantial
fact in life, the existence of created beings in the
presence of their Omnipotent INIaker. And such,
apparently, was the ultimate aspect in which St. Mam-
ertinus came to view his conversion, ever less complex,


more simple, more one, as he advanced in holiness,
" without which no man will see the Lord." He most
probably lived till 468, about fifteen years before
Constantius began to w^rite his Life, and would there-
fore be at that time an old man, one who had fought
the good fight. For he Avas a young man when St.
German was above forty, and apparently outlived him
as long as twenty years, having become Abbot of the
Monastery only at a late period. But so it is ; Al-
mighty God has never been seen, and yet is always
seen. Every thing around us is a symbol of His
presence. Does not the sublime author of the City
of God speak after this wise ? " Be not surprised,"
he says, " if God, though He be invisible, is said to
have appeared visibly to the Fathers. For as the
sound which conveys the thought that dwells in the
silence of the mind, is not one and the same thing
with it, so that form in which God is seen, who yet
dwells in the invisible, was not one with Him. Nev-
ertheless, He was visible in this same bodily form, just
as thought is audible in the sound of the voice ; and
the Fathers knew that they saw an invisible God in
that bodily form, which yet was not He. For Moses
spake unto Him who also spake, and yet he said unto
Him, ' K I have found grace in Thy sight, show me
now Thyself, that I may see Thee with knowledge.' "^
To conform, however, to the ordinary modes of
speech, (and we cannot but do so as long as things
appear multiple, instead of simple) it is conceived that
what occurred while St. Mamertinus was in the cell of
St. Corcodemus, was what we call a vision. St. Flo-
rentinus in white and shining garments, at the entrance

> Exod. xxxiii. 13. Lib. x. ch. 13. Civ. Dei.


of the cell ; St. Corcodemus issuing from the tomb
and joining his ancient companions ; the beautiful dia-
logue concerning the penitent Pagan ; the five holy
Bishops celebrating their Votive IMass in the Church ;
the discourse between the Apostle St. Peregrine and
Mamertinus ; and the subsequent antiphonal strains issu-
ing from the Church, — all was part of the vision. But
the vision was so clear ; its effects and fulfilment were
so complete, that it had nothing, as it were, to distin-
guish it from a real event, except that it occurred in
sleep. Dreams and visions have ever held a prominent
part in God's marvellous dispensations. The form is a
dream, the substance a reality. We cannot bear the
reality without the form. " Now we see through a
glass darkly ; but then face to face ; now I know in
part ; but then shall I know even as I am known." ^
A notion attaches to dreams and visions which we
think we can cast off ; they do not hang by us with
the vividness of real events. They have a meaning ;
yet they admit of being otherwise viewed. This is
our infirmity, but it is wisely ordained, for we are men.
St. Mamertinus affords a striking fulfilment of the
prophecy ; " In the last days, saith God, I wiU pour
out my Spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your
daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall
see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams"^
In projjortion then, as the clearness with which God
communicates with His creatures diminishes, may we
not infer that there is on their part a corresponding
withdrawing from His presence ? When the pheno-
mena of the external world usurp more and mote of
the faith and confidence of men, and are no longer

' I Cor. xiii. 12. ^ Acts ii. 17.


viewed as mere instruments and media, but rather as
self-existing substances, is this not a sign that men
are daily retiring further from the influence of that
Blessed Spirit which was poured upon all flesh ? On the
other hand, what an unearthly character must have been
stamped upon the life of St. Mamertinus ! To have been
brought into the presence of the unseen world, what
a range of heavenly recollections, what a sacramental
glow over his whole future life ! But let us proceed.

II. No one will say that St. German was not a holy
man of the highest order. It demands no proof but
the mere narrative of facts. There is not a circum-
stance of his life, since his conversion, which requires
explanation or apology (unless it be the Deposition of
Chelidonius, his connexion with which is extremely
obscure and uncertain). The question is rather, how
did he become thus holy, thus great, and in so short a
time ? How is it that the sanctity of so many ancient
Saints was so easy, natural, even, uniform, marked,
unflinching, unmingled, resolute ? We think we are
reading of angels ; where is the man ? In the case of
St. German, we have before had occasion to remark,
that a progression at least, in gifts, powers, and confi-
dence, is apparent ; that a change, by no means indefi-
nite, seems to have taken place after the lapse of
twelve years, and the completion of his Apostolic
work. But the mystery remains nearly the same.
How, from the beginning, did he live, as we read he
did ? Men of old had like passions with ourselves, we
cannot doubt it ; how then did they become suddenly
Saints ? We hear, indeed, of groans of penitence, and
fasts and vigils and prayers ; but how do these also
come all at once ? To those who would be Saints now,
not only everything without is opposed, but their very


selves are at war with them ; and not the least feature
of this opposition, is the ignorance and confusion which
they have concerning the whole matter of saintliness
and the righteousness required of the Gospel. But in
ancient times, the old man seems to have been put off
Like a garment, altogether, and without remnant ; the
new man, like a bright robe without a patch, witliout a
stain, taken up in its place. Surely history must be
false here, if anywhere ; or rather, partial and incom-
plete. It may be good for us that it should be so, as
an exercise of our faith. But it is also right that
meditation should try to recover the lost side of the
pictm'e ; and its recoveries may be brought out to the
view of others, not as superseding the same exercise
of faith in them, (for no subsequent labours, bestowed
upon a distant period, can supply the evidence which
contemporary testimony has denied,) but as affording
materials for their reflections, and testing tlie spirit-
uality of their discernment. History then, the biogra-
phies of Saints included, is a structure that has been
built up according to rules of its own, and these rules
have ever been imperfect. Effect, so to say, and ap-
pearance, have been its leading principles, principles
not necessarily erroneous ; nay, in the common run,
the guide of life and the foundation of society. But
principles which are guides for men may be indefinitely
imperfect, because men are imperfect ; and in the
training for the life of angels, we require something
more than their defective canon, an ever nearer ap-
proach to those laws which are to be our guide in that
heavenly society which we hope to join. Now history
has had tlie same yearnings, the same ideal ; but his-
tory has applied it to this world, which can never be
what heaven is. Repose is the ideal of beauty. Ac-


corclingly, history has invested the Saints on earth
with all the attributes of repose ; and as qualities in
themselves are one thing and not another, white is
white, black is black, the Church militant has been
represented in the same uniform character of repose
with the Church triumphant, from beginning to end.
It has been thought that the pure white could not
come out itself from the antecedent admixture of dis-
cordant colours, it could be no abstraction, no extract
from opposite natures, it must have been ever there
whole and perfect, or nowhere at all. In this manner,
many, very many, of the old Saints, stand out like
beautiful statues, serene, unruffled, sublime, ethereal,
unearthly ; and such they were in truth, but not this
alone. The character of St. German subsequent to
his conversion, is an example of these historical types,
one of those radiant faultless pictures which line the
long galleries of the vestibule of heaven, the Church
on earth.

Now that there is another side of the picture, and
that it is not witliout its profit to beholders, seems
to be shown by those instances where Saints have
been the relaters of their own lives. Doubtless, Pos-
sidius' Life of St. Augustine does not read like St.
Augustine's own Confessions. The value then of this
last work is this, that it discloses the probation of the
Saint. We have in the case of St. German all that
was external, all that was intended to carry on the type
of sanctity from generation to generation, but we must
look beyond testimony for the history of his probation,
or his struggle with " the rulers of the darkness of this
world." On the other hand, in the Confessions, we
seem to discover all the wonderful threads which go to
make up the tissue of the Saints' white robe, we find


some going one way, some another, some again crossing
each other, and yet all kept together by the broad hem
which encircles them, and in the end making up in
discordant ways the one spotless garment. Some liglit
may perhaps be thrown upon St. German's inward life
by comparing it with this marvellous book. But first
let us ascertain somewhat more clearly the ground on
which we are to stand.

It is fully admitted that there is something evidently
extraordinary and miraculous in St. German's conver-
sion and subsequent life. But this alone does not seem
a sufficient account of the matter. All grace is extra-
ordinary and miraculous, and yet we may still enquire
about the how or the way on the part of man, Man is
a free agent, though the measures of God's grace may
vary ever so much. Tlxrough grace, doubtless, St. Ger-
man reached those heights of holiness which we view
with awe and wonder ; but grace is given to perform a
work, and where is this work ? grace is given to con-
quer nature, where is the conquest ? This is all that is
asked. Effects require predisposing causes. Allow for
argument sake that one and all follow by unavoidable
necessity, yet the history of them remains the same ; if
we read of the one, we may enquire about the other.
Nor is tliere any thing to show that the notion of mir-
acles implies the exclusion of other causes and means ;
for though as regards tlie irrational world, it might not
appear absurd to suppose an eflect produced without
any other cause but the miracle itself ; yet in the case
of rational and responsible beings to suppose the end
for which their reason and responsibility were given,
to be attained without the means of these, involves an
obvious inconsistency. And here Butler has a far-
searching saying which seems to suit the present pur-


pose. " Nor do we know," he says, " how far it is pos-
sible in the nature of things, that eifects should be
wrought in us at once, equivalent to habits, i. e. what
is wrought by use and exercise."^ The possession of
moral habits, under which denomination Christian vir-
tues and holiness are to be placed, however connected
with and dependent upon the miracle of God's grace,
is yet not like the possession of those miraculous gifts
which were bestowed in the beginning of Christianity,
of which men had the power of making a bad or a good
use, as they chose. Holiness is a habit and an act. A
habit or an act is not a faculty or a power. It is in the
nature of the latter to be applied to contraries, but the
other is one energy definite and exclusive. For indeed
holiness is in energy, not in virtue ; or if in some sense
it may be said to be virtual, it is so in one way, not in
contrary ways ; that is, in leading on to further holi-
ness, or, as the Psalmist says, going on from strength
to strength. Holiness cannot therefore be a gift of
God independent of man's exertions and consent ; if it
be an energy of man, it must work through him and
with him, for it is an effect, not an instrument ; and
the very essence of it is that it is an effect of human
agency. And here again we may compare another
passage of the same writer, though applied by him to
another subject. " It appears from Scripture," he says,
" that as it was not unusual for persons, upon their
conversion to Christianity, to be endued with miracu-
lous gifts ; so some of those persons exercised these
gifts in a strangely irregular and disorderly manner
(which could not be said with regard to holiness or
other habits) Consider a person endued with any of

' Anal. p. 87.


these gifts ; for instance that of tongues : it is to be
supposed that he had tlie same power over this miracu-
lous gift, as he woukl have liad over it, had it been the
effect of habit, of study and use, as it ordinarily is (and
here the elfect of habit will not be confounded with the
habit itself, the effect of habit being viewed as an in-
strument merely ;) or the same power over it, as he
had over any other natural endowment. Consequently
he would use it in the same manner he did any other,
either regularly and upon proper occasions only, or
irregularly and upon improper ones ; according to his
sense of decency and his character of prudence."^ It
may be added that holiness in the beginning was in-
deed, thougli not properly a faculty or instrument, an
endowment like any other ; but man having fallen, a
distinction naturally arose between what came from
God alone, and what man contributed, for man was no
longer the creature of God as it came out of His hands ;
something foreign to God, if one may so speak, a neg-
ative nature had attached itself to his original nature ;
there was henceforth a self, a will, a spontaneity ; holi-
ness was now to be a recovery and an act, not a mere
gift or a necessary condition.

If the case stand thus, let us endeavour to apply it to
St. German. The fii-st thing that astonishes us in his
conversion, is that he was taken by surprise. He has
been irritated by the bold conduct of Bishop Amator,
he proceeds to Auxerre to take vengeance upon him,
he learns that he has set off to Autun, he awaits his
return, he hears him resign his Episcopal Office, he is
perhaps not over-sorry, he goes to see the end of the
matter in Church, and join in the general election of a

' Anal. p. 182.


successor. Suddenly lie is surrounded with priests,
stripped of his secular robes, clad in a clerical dress,
deprived of his hair, and nominated to the Bishopric of
Auxerre. Now we will not stop to enquire whether
this violent behaviour of St. German involved a habi-
tual contempt of religion, though we may rather infer
the contrary ; we will not make conjectures about the
influence, which the vicinity of holiness, a virtuous edu-
cation, the high outward estimation in which rehgion
was held, a character naturally aspiring and elevated,
and the effects of a diffused literature pregnant with
Christian verities and solemn warnings, may have had
upon the mind of the Duke and Governor of the Ar-
morican and Nervican Provinces ; although we might
make many inductions from the habits of thoughtful-
ness and the sense of responsibility which an office so
full of high and accountable functions was calculated to
produce, the enforcement of duty and discipline on
others, the necessity of example in self, the probability
that an exalted statesman is on the whole upright and
religious when no impeachment against his character
in these respects is on record ; — all this we must leave
as we find it. Certain it is, that the immediate pre-
liminaries of his ordination and nomination were any
thing but adequate to the character we afterwards find
him sustaining, and that there was an evident abrupt-
ness and harshness in this remarkable transition of
his life. But two months elapsed before he was con-
secrated Bishop of Auxerre ; and it is expressly de-
clared, that during that time he used every endeavour
and means in his power to escape from the new charge
that was imposed upon him. Is there not here some
clue to that inward struggle which forms the secret
history of Saints ? Is there not here a shadow of that


side of the picture of the Saint which we were seek-
ing ? Let us dwell on these two months. The internal
struggle must have lasted through life (for it did so in
St. Anthony), but it is something gained, to get an in-
sight into these two months.

WTiat are two months ? Fifty-six or sixty days.
But sixteen or twenty days may well have been filled
up with the business and tumult of Election, the resig-
nation of a civil appointment (a letter to Autun or
Aries might well have been answered in a week or ten
days), the preparations for Consecration, and the recep-
tion of the three Bishops who were to consecrate him.
Forty days remain, and forty days previous to a min-
istry ! This seems to open a new view of the subject.
Time is a mysterious thing, concerning which we have
but very dim conceptions. Some have thought it to be
the mere indispensable mode in which all our thoughts
are conceived. At least, that it is measured by the
succession of our ideas, seems clear enough. And if
80, there is nothing to prevent a year being compressed
into an hour. The year of one rational being, may be
the hour of another ; nay, a year may, to tlie same
individual, be less than an hour under different cir-
cumstances. It is almost proverbial, that every year
the years seem to roll round faster ; which so hap-
pens, not perhaps because the younger we are the more
ideas we have, whereby the year seems to be more fuU
of incidents ; but rather the contrary, because the rela-
tions of ideas which are presented to the mind as it
grows older, become so numerous, that they succes-
sively di'ive each other away, and a less definite impres-
sion, on the whole, is left, than when we were young,
and ideas, from being few, were more indelible. How
much may pass in the mind during forty days ! "What


various and countless thoughts may have arisen in the
seclusion of one Lent ! How the memory has at times
been so vividly awakened as to partake of the nature
of actual representation ! How the future has been
measured out by anticipation, with almost prophetic
reality ! How the multiplicity of things has wonder-
fully been conjured up before the sight of the mind by
a glimpse of the one, the primary form of all things,
the Law of the Divine Wisdom and Knowledge,
Unity ! But forty days have a still more sacred asso-
ciation. It was the period of our Divine Master's
Temptation — shall we say Probation ? Yes, for though
He could not sin, yet He took upon Him our flesh, to
endure tlie like trials with us, though ever without
guilt. 1 And, if the thought may be expressed with
the deepest awe and reverence, what a range of things
were within that short space presented to Him in the
form of Temptations ! The world itself came before
His eyes, all its glories, its proud kings, its opulent
cities, its conquering armies, its ambitious fleets, its
philosophers and their systems ! And behold here the
three great trials to which human nature is subject at
once brought together, the desires of the flesh, the
ambition of the mind, the pride of the heart ; the
first, when bread was the occasion ; the second, when
the world was the end ; the last, when self was the
centre : " If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself
down." It might be profane to introduce such a sub-
ject as this, were He not the example of all Saints,
and were it possible to speak of holiness and super-
natural gifts without instancing Him. Nay, the more

' " Ut esset in similitudine carnis peccati jicena sine culpa."
— Aug. De Peccatorum Mentis. Lib. i. 60 §.


holy men have been, (and no doubt St. German
yielded to none in this respect) the more reason we
have for presuming that they were brought within
the like vicinity of Satan's devices. The more grace
abounded in St, German, the more sure we may be
that he began not his ministry without contending
with the powers of darkness. It was immediately
after the descent of the Holy Ghost on the baptized
Son of man, that He was led away into the wilderness,
to be tempted of the devil. Now we are expressly
told, that after St. German's wonderful ordination, it
was with great difficulty he coidd bring liimself to
accept the charge of Bishop, to which he was elected.*
Nothing, as it appears, but absolute force made him
consent at last to be consecrated ; the people, the clergy,
the nobility, all were against him. What then must
have passed in his mind during the suspense ! Let us
consider what it requires to make up oui" minds to be
faithful servants of God. Some, indeed, take a rapid
glance of the capabilities of the future ; others are
slow in imagining the difficulties they will have to
encomiter. Some, by a marvellous penetration (and
this was one of St. German's gifts) see at once the
course they will have to pursue ; others have enough
to do to prepare for immediate struggles. But for all
there are countless things in prospect to meet, there
are as many in the retrospect to forego and to undo ;
and men will sleep rather for sorrow, before they come
fully to realize the scene before them. We are not,
however, quite at a loss for historical information, to
conceive what might be the struggles of Saints even
after conversion. St. Augustine's Confessions, as was

' See ch. v.


before observed, will ever be a record to show how
much may be renounced, how much may be attained,
through God's grace. He had said in another work,
when charged with his previous life by enemies, "I do
toil much in my thoughts, struggling against my evil
suggestions, and having lasting and almost continual
conflict with the temptations of the enemy, who Avould
subvert me. I groan to God in my infirmity ; and He
knoweth what my heart laboureth with."^ And, in-
deed, never can it be said that a previous life goes for
nothing, though it be ever so changed afterwards.
The evil effects of bad customs still remain ; and
worldliness of mind, which it seems may be imputed to
St. German's former state, is not the least permanent.
About the very time at which St. German became
Bishop of Auxerre, St. Augustine was using the fol-
lowing language concerning himself ; " In tliis so vast
wilderness, full of snares and dangers, behold many of
them I have cut off, and thi'ust out of my heait, as
Thou hast given me, O God of my salvation. And
yet when dare I say, since so many things of this kind
buzz on all sides about our daily life, — when dare I say
that nothing of this sort engages my attention, or
causes in me an idle interest ? True, the theatres do
not now carry me away, nor care I to know the courses
of the stars, nor did my soul ever consult ghosts de-

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanLives of the English saints (Volume 2) → online text (page 32 of 33)