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CÆSARIUS OF ARLES.
He was born in the district of Chalons-sur-Saone, A. D. 470. He seems to have been early awakened, by a pious education, to vital Christianity. When he was between seven and eight years old, it would often happen that he would give a portion of his clothes to the poor whom he met, and would say, when he came home, that he had been, constrained to do so. When yet a youth, he entered the celebrated convent on the island of Lerins, (Lerina,) in Provence, from which a spirit of deep and practical piety was then diffused. France had already received many distinguished doctors from this monastery. The weak and delicate body of the young Cæsarius was so much exhausted by the severities and abstinences which he there imposed on himself, that the abbot himself desired him to repair to the city of Arles for the restoration of his health.
There were at this time in that neighbourhood many pious women, who employed their property in relieving the distress of those times of desolation, and helped the good bishops in their works of love. Such was Synagria, who, because she assisted the Church in the accomplishment of every good design, more than mere wealth could, was called “the treasury of the church.” When Epiphanius, 57 bishop of Pavia, a contemporary of Cæsarius, came to France, with a sum given him by Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, for the purpose of redeeming some thousands of captives who had been dragged from desolated Italy, and the money proved insufficient for the great multitude, this pious lady added what was lacking from her own purse.
Another such pious lady was Gregoria, who, with Firminius, a near relation of hers, had devoted herself at Arles to works of love. She received the young Cæsarius, to take care of him. She introduced him to the bishop of the city, who, soon perceiving what was in him, appointed him to the superintendence of a convent on a neighbouring island. How far he was, with all his esteem for monasticism, from confounding the means with the end, or from setting any value on asceticism apart from the essence of the true Christian character—true inward holiness, is evident from an admonitory epistle of his to monks. “What avails it,” he says, “if our body only dwells in the place of rest, and unrest continues to rule in our hearts; if the appearance of rest is diffused over our exterior deportment, whilst storms rage within? For we are not come into this place in order to permit ourselves to be ministered to by the world, in order to enjoy plenty and repose. You ought to know, my brethren, that it avails us nothing if we distress our bodies with fasting and watching, and do not amend our hearts or care for our souls. In vain 58 do we flatter ourselves that we are crucifying the flesh, if our outward man is tamed down by austerities, whilst our inward man is not healed of its passions. It is as if one made a column gilt on the outside; or as if a house were built with magnificence and art, and painted with the finest colours, and within were full of snakes and scorpions. What avails it that thou tormentest thy body, if thy heart is not amended?” In another exhortation he says: “Let us renounce the sweets of this earthly life, and think daily on eternal life; and endeavour, with hearts purified from the bitterness of worldly lusts, to attain a foretaste of that bliss. Let us now serve our Lord and God with the joyfulness with which he invites us, by his aid, to come and partake of his gifts.”
In the year 500, he became bishop of Arles. Whilst he entrusted to others the outward affairs of his Church, he devoted himself entirely to the care of souls, and to providing religious instruction. This, certainly, appears to be the most sacred duty of a bishop, and Cæsarius was quite penetrated with the sense of the responsibility of his office. He would frequently urge this duty on the foreign clergymen who visited him, who did not seem sufficiently anxious about the religious instruction of their flocks. “Brother,” he said to many, “consider, as a wise shepherd, the hundred sheep committed to thee, that thou mayst restore them twofold. Hear what the prophet says: ‘Woe to me that I have been silent!’ Hear what the 59Apostle says with fear: ‘Woe to me if I preach not the Gospel!’ Be careful, lest, by taking the chair of the teacher, thou shouldst exclude another, and suffer it to be said of thee as of others, ‘They have taken to themselves the keys of knowledge, they enter not in themselves, and exclude those who would enter;’ who could, perhaps, better advance the things of the Lord.”
He frequently invited his young clergy to bring him questions about the interpretation of Scripture. “I know well,” he often said to them, “that you do not understand everything;—why do you not ask, that you may learn to understand? You should spur us on by your questions, that we may be compelled to search in order to impart to you sweet spiritual nourishment.” His zeal and earnestness in the proclamation of the Divine Word, is shown by these words of a sermon:—”I ask you, my brethren or sisters, which seems to you of the most value, the Word of God or the body of Christ (the Sacrament—the bread and wine)? If ye will reply truly ye must say, that the Word of God is no wise inferior to the body of Christ. Therefore, the same care that we take in distributing the body of Christ, lest any portion of it should fall from our hands to the ground, we should take when the Word of God is distributed amongst us, lest, whilst we think or speak of other things, any of it should fall from our hearts. I would ask if, at the hour when the Word of God begins to be preached, precious stones or golden rings were always distributed, 60would not our daughters stay to receive them? Unquestionably they would be very eager to receive the proffered gifts. But, because we neither can nor will offer you any bodily ornaments, we are not gladly listened to. Yet it is not just that we, who impart to you spiritual things, should be looked on as superfluous. For he who gladly hears the Word of God, may know of a surety that he is receiving golden ornaments for his soul from the father-land of Paradise. If a mother wished to decorate her daughter with her own hands, and the child despised those decorations, and ran hither and thither so that the mother could not adorn her, would she not justly be punished? Regard me, then, as the mother of your souls; think that I would adorn you that ye may appear without spot or wrinkle before the judgment-seat of the Eternal. We gather pearls from Paradise for you, and we desire no other reward from you in this world, than that we may see you joyfully receiving what we offer you, and, with God’s help, perfect in good works.” And in another sermon he says: “It is no trifle with which the Holy Spirit threatens the priests of the Lord by the prophet. ‘If thou dost not warn the wicked from his wicked way, his blood will I require at thy hand. (Ezek. iii, 18; and Isaiah lviii, 1). Be of good courage; lift up thy voice; lift it up like a trumpet, and tell my people of their transgressions.’ And those fearful words for the careless priest:—‘Thou shouldst have given my money to the usurers, that 61at my coming I might have received mine own with usury.’ And afterwards:—‘Cast forth the unprofitable servant into outer darkness.’ This is the sentence which awaits the negligent priest, who does not diligently proclaim the Word of God.”
In that age, when the old civilization was declining amidst the convulsions of the nations, preaching became all the more important, as a means of culture for the people. On the rude men who valued sermons the less, the more they needed them, it was often necessary to exercise a kind of violence to constrain them to listen,—thus at the council held at Agde, where Bishop Cæsarius presided, it was decreed, that at Divine service, on Sunday, the people should remain till the benediction at the close. Once, when Cæsarius saw several people hastening out of the church, after the reading of the Gospel, he ran to them, and said:—”What are you doing, my children? Whither are you suffering yourselves to be led by evil counsel? For your soul’s sake, hearken diligently to the word of exhortation, At the day of judgment ye will not be able to act thus. I exhort, I conjure you, hasten not hence, and be not deaf. I shall not, at any rate, have been guilty of silence.”
It is clear, that in such an age as we have described, in order to obtain much and general blessing, it was especially necessary that the preacher should condescend to the position of the uneducated, and use language which they could understand. 62Julianus Pomerius, formerly a rhetorician of Mauritania, the contemporary and teacher of Cæsarius, calls attention to this, when he says:—”The preacher must not seek to display the eloquence of the schools, lest it should seem that his chief object is to make a show of his learning. He should rejoice, not in the acclamations of the Christian people, but in their tears; he should expect not their applause, but their sighs from a contrite heart. The endeavour of the minister should be to improve his hearers by his sound doctrine, not to gain their empty applause. The tears which his hearers should shed let him shed first, and thus enkindle them by the penitence of his own heart. As simple and clear, well arranged and dignified, should be the charge of the bishop, that he .may be understood even by the ignorant, and make a favourable impression on the hearts of all. It is, in short, one thing to be a rhetorician, and another to be a preacher. The one seeks with all the force of his eloquence the fame of a skilfully-elaborated. speech; the other seeks in sober and every-day language to promote the glory of Christ.”
By such maxims as these was Cæsarius guided, as he says in one of his sermons; “If I were to interpret the Holy Scriptures to you after the manner of the fathers, the spiritual food would only be adapted for a few educated men; the multitude of the uneducated would be compelled to hunger; therefore, I humbly entreat you, that it may please every one to hearken patiently to my simple words, 63 that so the whole Church of the Lord may derive spiritual nourishment from them. Since the uneducated cannot raise themselves to the level of the educated, the educated must be content to abase themselves to the level of the rest. For what is spoken to the simple can be easily comprehended by the educated; but what is preached for these, the simple cannot understand.” His biographer says of him: “God had given him such a gift of speaking concerning Divine things, that he was able frequently to apply whatever was passing before his eyes to the edification of his hearers.” One example, already quoted, shows this method and faculty of his.
We will here adduce another instance, from a Visitation Sermon in the country, in which he combats the excuse of ignorance in religious matters: “Tell me who has shown thee how thou shouldst dress thy vineyards, and at what time thou shouldst plant the new vines? Who has taught thee that? Thou hast seen it or heard it, or thou hast inquired of the best vine-dressers, how thou shouldst till thy vineyard. Why, then, art thou not as careful about thy soul as about thy vineyard? Give heed, my brethren, I beseech you,—there are two kinds of fields: the field of God, and the field of men! Thy field is thy farm—God’s field is thy soul. Is it just that thou shouldst till thine own field and let God’s lie fallow? Does God deserve this of us, that we should neglect our souls, which are to him so dear? By our husbandry, we shall only live a 64few days in this world; surely, then, we should expend more pains on our souls. God has intrusted our souls to us, as his husbandry, that we should cultivate them with all diligence. Let us, therefore, work with all our might, by God’s help, that when God shall require an account of his field—that is, our own souls—he may find the field well tilled and cultivated, the harvest ready, and no weeds amongst the corn. It is nothing great, nothing hard, that God requires of us. Eternal justice speaks to thee in thy soul, saying: As thou carest for thy field, care for thy soul; as thou cut-test off the superfluous shoots from thy vine, so remove evil inclinations from thy soul. As he who leaves his vine for a year without pruning, may indeed in that year obtain more abundant fruit, but afterwards remains without fruit; so he who does not prune away evil thoughts and inclinations from his soul, may, indeed, seem, by robbery and deceit, to receive fruit in this one year of earthly life; but, afterwards, he will remain barren throughout eternity.”
The sermons which Cæsarius preached during his visitations of
his diocese, both in the cities and in the country, express vividly his fatherly
love to every portion of his large diocese, and his grief that the numerous occupations
occasioned by the difficult circumstances of which we shall hereafter speak, prevented
him from visiting them more frequently. Thus, in one of these discourses, he says:
“If the necessity of the times permitted it, I would 65visit you not
only once, but twice or thrice every year, in order thereby to satisfy as much my
own desire as yours, of seeing one another. But, whilst my will desires it, the
necessity of the times permits it not. Yet it injures neither you nor me, that we
see one another so seldom, since we are ever with each other in love. In the pilgrimage
of this world, we might be in the same city, and not together. There is another
city, where good Christians are never separated from each other.” And, in another
sermon:—”I thank God, that he hath led me hither to witness your love, although
hindered by so much business. God knows that if I could come to you twice or even
thrice in the year, it would not satisfy my desire; for is there any father who
does not long to see his sons frequently, especially good and dutiful sons?” Cæsarius
endeavoured also to provide that throughout the country the people should not lack
preachers. To this end he employed his great influence in the guidance of the ecclesiastical
affairs of his fatherland, in the French ecclesiastical councils. We perceive this
influence from the fact, that at the second council of Vaison, A. D. 529, it was
decreed, that there should always be preaching in the village churches —that the
country clergymen should early instruct the young ecclesiastical lectors (readers)
in the Scriptures, and train them up to be their successors.33 As the rights of the clergy seem to have been very limited in
those districts, until they were extended by the influence of Cæsarius, it is probable
that in many districts the village churches received no religious instruction except
at the visitations of the bishop. It was now provided, that even when the parish
priest (parson) was ill, the congregation should not be entirely deprived of preaching;
a deacon being authorized to read something from ancient sermons. Wisely, too, was
the clerical idea combatted, that to deliver sermons was something too high for
a deacon, although it was the deacon’s office to read the Gospels in the church.
“If the deacons are worthy to read what Christ has said in the Gospel, why should
they be deemed unworthy to read the comments of the fathers.” It is narrated in
the biography of Cæsarius, that he instructed his presbyters and deacons, in order
that the Church might lose nothing if he were hindered by sickness; saying, “What?
If the words of our Lord, of the prophets, or of the Apostles, are read by presbyters
and deacons, should it not be permitted them to read the words of Ambrose, of Augustine,
or of my insignificant self? The servant is not greater than his Lord. Those who
have the right to read the Gospels are, in my opinion, quite worthy to read in the
church the sermons of the servants of God, or their interpretations of the Holy
“I have done what I could. Those bishops who neglect to provide for these things, will have to render an account at the day of judgment. But surely no one can be so hardened in his mind, that when God calls to him, Be of good courage, cry aloud, spare not,’ he should not only not cry himself, but also hinder others from crying. Let him fear these words of the prophet Isaiah lvi, 10: ‘They are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark,’ (Lutheran Version, reprove.) For all the souls which err through the silence of the priest, he will be responsible.”
It was his earnest endeavour to make inquiry into Divine truths the personal concern of every 67Christian, that each should learn to draw from the Word of God for himself. He controverted the hollow reasons by which men sought to escape these requirements, and to excuse their levity and. worldliness. Thus, he said in a sermon,—”I beseech you, dearest brethren, to repeat, what by Divine grace you have gladly received in these sermons, to your neighbours and friends, to those who could not come to church with you, or, what is worse, did not wish to come. For, as I should accuse myself if I neglected to say it to you, so should you fear that you may also have to render an account, if you do not so remember what you hear, as to be able to communicate it to others. And therefore do ye seek, by the aid of Divine grace, to fulfil what the Apostle Paul says, (Gal. v, 1:) ‘If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one, in the spirit of meekness;’ which is applicable not only to the clergy, but to the laity.” And in another sermon:—”Let no man, my dearest brethren, seek to excuse himself by saying, I have no time for reading, and therefore I cannot learn nor fulfil God’s commandments. And let none of you say, I cannot read, and therefore it will not be reckoned against me, if I fail to observe the Divine commandments. This is an empty and unmeaning excuse. For, in the first place, if a man cannot read the Holy Scriptures himself, he can get them read to him. And he who can read, can he not find time to read the Holy Scriptures? Who can sleep so much in the long winter nights, as not 68to be able to find, at least, three hours, either for reading the Bible himself, or having it read to him? Consider it well; I am telling you what you yourselves well know. We know many merchants, who, because they cannot read and write themselves, hire clerks, and by having their accounts kept by others, make large profits. And if those who cannot read or write, hire clerks in order to make earthly gain, why dost thou not much rather pay some one to read the Scriptures, that thou mayest gain everlasting wealth? I pray and exhort you, my brethren, that those who can, should diligently read the Holy Scriptures; and those who cannot, listen attentively when they are read aloud. For the light and eternal nourishment of the soul is nothing else than the Holy Scriptures, without which the soul can neither see nor live. For, as our body perishes if it receives no food, so our soul grows faint if it does not feed on the Word of God. And let not any say, I am a peasant, always occupied with my daily work; I can neither read the Holy Scriptures, nor get them read to me; for how many men and women of the peasantry learn the devil’s songs by heart, and sing them! Thus they can retain and appropriate what the devil teaches, and they cannot remember what Christ teaches.” Often would he say to those who came to him: “Believe not that it is enough for you to seek to nourish the souls of your friends and relations only with the Word which we proclaim to you. I testify to you, before God and the holy angels, that you will be 69responsible for the souls of your meanest servants, if you do not communicate to them, as well as to your friends and relations, what we have preached to you. The servant is indeed subjected to you by the present relations of earth, but he is not dependent on you by an eternal bond.”
Throughout the sermons of Cæsarius, may be traced an evident effort to combat the externalizing religion of the age, to direct men’s attention to the true needs of the inward life, and to eradicate their trust in outward works. As a disciple of Augustine, of whose writings he had manifestly chiefly availed himself, he always pointed out love to God as the only true source of all goodness. “Whatever good works,” he said, “a man may do, they are all nothing, unless true love be in him; love, which extends not to friends alone, but to enemies.” He quotes 1 Cor. xiii, 3: “And since selfishness is the root of all evil, and love the root of all good, I ask, what avails it a man to have a thousand branches with the loveliest and pleasantest flowers or fruit, if the true and living root is not in him? For as, if the root of self-love is eradicated, all its branches immediately wither and die away, so, on the other hand, to him who has suffered the root of love to die in him, no other means remain of attaining eternal life.” And, in another sermon: “Wherein shall we follow the example of the Lord? Herein; that we awaken the dead? that we walk on the sea? Assuredly not. But in this, that we become meek and lowly in heart; that we love, not 70 only our friends, but our enemies. He that saith he abideth in Him, ought himself also so to walk even as he walked. How did Christ walk? On the cross He prayed for his enemies:—‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ They are deluded—possessed by the evil spirit; therefore We should pray rather that they may be delivered, than that they may be condemned. Fasting, watching, prayer, alms, a celibate life, faith,—all avail a man nothing without love. True love is patient in misfortunes, and moderate in good fortune; is steadfast amidst severe sufferings; joyful in well doing; secure in temptation; amongst true brethren, full of sweetness; amongst false brethren, full of might; innocent in calumny, sighing under its injustice; panting after truth; humbly hearkening in Peter, boldly rebuking in Paul, (Gal. ii;) manfully confessing in the Christian; divinely pardoning in Christ. True love is the soul of the whole Scriptures, the fruit of faith, the wealth of the poor, the life of the dying. Therefore, cherish love carefully; love the Highest Good with your whole heart, and with all the power of your soul; for the Lord is gracious, and sweeter than all sweetness. In communion with Him, all bitterness, in converse with Him, all delusions, are kept aloof.
“My brethren, what is there sweeter than love? Let him who knows it not, taste and see. Hear what the Apostle says: God is love.’ What can be sweeter than that? Let him who knows it not, hear what the Psalmist says, (Psalm xxxiv, 9:) 71“Taste and see how gracious the Lord is.’ Thus God is love. He who hath love, God dwells in him, and he in God. If thou hast love, thou hast God; and if thou hast God, what canst thou lack? Dost thou indeed believe that he is rich whose chest is full of gold, and he not rich whose soul is full of God? But it is not so, my brethren; he alone is rich in whom God has graciously vouchsafed to dwell. How can the meaning of the Holy Scriptures remain hidden from thee, if Love, that is, God himself, inspires thee? What good works wilt thou not be able to accomplish, if thou carriest in thy heart the spring of all good works? What adversaries wilt thou fear, if thou art honoured to have God the Lord within thee. As long as the root in thy soul is not changed, thou canst not bring forth good fruit: in vain dost thou promise good things with thy mouth; thou canst not accomplish them, as long as thou hast not the root of all good in thy heart. One root is planted by Christ in the hearts of believers, the other by the evil spirit in the hearts of the haughty; and thus the one is planted in heaven; the other in hell. But many will say, ‘If this root is planted in the hearts of believers, and believers still seem to be on earth, how then can this root be planted in heaven?’ Wouldst thou know? Because the hearts of believers are in heaven, in that they are daily lifted up to heaven; for when the priest says, ‘Lift up your hearts,’ the Church calmly responds,—‘Our hearts are above 72with the Lord;’44 Eng. Lit.—We lift them up unto the Lord. because the Apostle says, ‘Our conversation is in heaven.’ God does not send us wearisome journeys to the east or west to obtain our salvation; He leads us back to ourselves: what he has bestowed on us by his grace, that he requires of us; for he says this is the Gospel: ‘The kingdom of God is within you.’ Again; the Lord has not said: ‘Go to the east, and seek righteousness. Sail to the west to obtain the forgiveness of your sins.’ But what saith He? ‘Forgive thine enemies, and thou shalt be forgiven. Give, and it shall be given unto thee.’ God requires nothing from thee which lieth outside thee. God leads thee to thyself and thine own conscience. In thyself has he placed that which he requires of thee. Thou hast no need to seek remedies for thy wounds afar. Thou mayest, if thou wilt, find the forgiveness of thy sins in the recesses of thy heart.”
Life and preaching, with this man of God, flowed from one fountain: that which was the soul of his sermons was also the soul of his life. It is related of him, that he never prayed only for himself; that when he suffered wrong from his enemies, he used simply to say, “May God blot out thy sins; may God take away thy sins; may God chastise thy sins, that thou mayest not retain them; may God amend thy soul here below.” He prayed also with fervour for his enemies. His inward life expressed itself in his outward life. A heavenly repose dwelt ever on his countenance; so that, according to the 73Scriptures, (Proverbs xvii, 22,)55 “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” as his biographer observes, a joyful heart shed gladness over his whole life.
Although Cæsarius, in those times of dearth, often earnestly urged beneficence and almsgiving, yet he also frequently spoke with great emphasis against the delusion of those who converted almsgiving into an external justification by works, and imagined thus to make up for all their sins. Thus, in a sermon on the Festival of the Three Kings, (Epiphany,) he says: “Those wise men from the East brought worthy gifts to the Lord Christ: do ye bring Him your souls; bring Him spiritual gifts, that is, yourselves; for God loves you more than yours. There are many who give alms, and yet do not renounce sin. These give their goods to God, and themselves to the devil. But God has no fellowship with the devil; and, therefore, you must banish from you robbery, rioting, pride, hatred, and all evil things, that your Creator may possess you wholly.”
He spoke thus against the delusion of those, who, attributing a magical power to the sign of the cross, were only confirmed in their sins by it: “I beseech you, dearest brethren,” he said, “let us very carefully consider why we are Christians, and bear the cross of Christ upon our brows. For, we must know, that it is not enough to receive the Christian name, if we do not bring forth Christ-like works. As the Lord himself says in the Gospel: ‘Of what 74profit is it that ye call me Lord, Lord, and do not the thing that I say?’ If thou callest thyself a soldier of Christ, and constantly signest thyself with the cross of Christ, and yet dost not give alms according to thy power, and knowest nothing of love, well-doing, and chastity, the Christian name can avail thee nothing. The sign of Christ—the cross of Christ—is a great thing, and it should serve, therefore, as the sign of a great and precious thing. For what avails it if thou sealest with a golden ring, and under that seal preservest nothing but foul straw? What avails it if we bear the sign of Christ on our brows and in our mouths, and yet hide sins in our hearts. He who thinketh evil, speaketh evil, doeth evil, and will not amend himself, increases rather than diminishes his sins, by making the sign of the cross. For many, when they go forth to commit theft or adultery, will cross themselves if they strike their foot against anything, and yet will not desist from the evil deed; and these wretched people know not that thus they rather invite than repel the evil spirits. But he, who, with God’s help, repels sin and endeavours to think and do what is right—he makes the true sign of the cross on his lips, in that he strives to accomplish works which deserve to receive the seal of Christ.”
So, also, at the consecration of churches, he sought to turn the thoughts of the assembly from the outward sanctuary to the inward sanctuary in the heart; e.g.—”Whenever we celebrate the festival 75of the consecration of an altar or a church, and at the same time lead a holy life, all that is typified in the temples made with hands, is fulfilled in the spiritual building within us. For He did not lie who said: ‘The temple of God is holy, which temple ye are;’ and, ‘Know ye not that your bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost?’ Since, therefore, without any merit of your own, by the grace of God, we have been made temples of God, let us strive as much as we can, that the Lord may find nothing in His temples, that is, in us, that may offend the eye of the Divine Majesty; that the dwellings of our hearts may be cleansed from sin and filled with virtues, shut against the devil and open to Christ.” In a Christmas sermon, he says: “Consider, my brethren, when a man of power or rank intends to celebrate his own or his son’s birthday, how eager he is many days before to cleanse his house from all filthiness; the house is whitewashed, the floors swept, and strewn with various flowers. All that can minister to the joy of the soul and the gratification of the body is carefully procured. If, then, thou makest such mighty preparations for thine own or thy son’s birthday, what preparations shouldst thou not make for the birthday of thy Lord! Strive, then, with all thy might, that God may not find in thy heart what thou wouldst not find in thy house. If Christ sees thee so prepared for the celebration of His birthday, He himself will come to thee, and not only visit thy soul, but rest and dwell in it forever. How happy 76is the soul of him who seeks, with God’s help, so to order his life, that be may be fit to receive Christ into himself as a guest and an inhabitant; and, on the contrary, how wretched is the soul of him, who has so defiled himself with sin that Christ cannot rest in him, but the devil already begins to reign.”
In prayer, also, he taught the distinction between the appearance and the essence. “Above all, must we pray to God in silence and quietness; He hears our very sighs, as it is said of Hannah, (1 Sam. i, 13:) ‘Only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard.’ Let us also pray with sighs according to this passage, (Psalm xxxviii, 8:) ‘I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart.’ Let us pray so that our voice may not sound, but our conscience cry to God. And let every one before he casts himself down to pray, by God’s assistance chase from his soul all strange thoughts, that, enkindled by the glow of the Holy Ghost, all sinful things may be consumed by the fire of contrition and of prayer. For whatever a man sets his heart on at the season of prayer, he sets in the place of God—he seems to make his God, and to invoke as his Lord. What a sore bondage, that our tongue should speak to God, whilst the whole bent of our soul is toward earth and earthly things!”
As it was a matter of so much importance to Cæsarius to make Christianity and Christian devotion a common concern of every member of the Church, he introduced, instead of the hymns sung only by the priest, choruses, in which all were to 77 take part; and in these, besides the Roman language, which prevailed in Gaul, he employed Greek, which had been generally introduced in southern France by the Oriental colonies. The devotional singing of his flock was a great delight to Cæsarius; yet even this was to him only a means; and in this also he warned against the overestimate of the outward means. He ever pointed to the end, the advancement of holy dispositions. “I cannot express to you,” he says in a sermon, “the joy your devotion has given me. For many years it has been the desire of my heart, that our gracious Lord might give you this habit of singing. But seek, above all, not only by prayer, but also by holy thoughts, that the Holy Ghost, who speaks by your lips, may also dwell in your hearts. It is, indeed, something good and acceptable to God, when the tongue sings truly; but then only is it really well, when the life harmonizes with the tongue. Above all, consider the spiritual meaning of the Psalms. When you sing Psalm cxix, 78, ‘Let the proud be ashamed;’ seek yourself to avoid pride. When we sing Psalm lxxiii, 27, ‘Lo, they that are far from thee shall perish!’ let us seek to avoid all evil desires. When we sing, ‘Blessed is he that meditateth day and night on the law of the Lord,’ let us abhor all useless and improper discourses as the devil’s poison, and frequently read. the Holy Scriptures; or, if we cannot read, frequently and gladly seek to listen to those who do read them.”78
He often warns against everything which tends to make men secure in their sins: as, when many gave themselves up to their lusts, in the hope that on the sick bed it would be early enough to repent and obtain absolution; or, when others thought to insure their salvation by receiving the tonsure and the monastic habit on their death-bed; or, when others excused themselves by saying, that they could not renounce the world in their youth, and imagined they were thereby saved the trouble of a true conversion: against such a delusion, Cæsarius says:—”We need have no hesitation in declaring what awaits the man who constantly lives in sin, and puts off his repentance to the end of his life, sinning on in the hope that a momentary repentance will obtain him the forgiveness of all his sins; the man, who, after having submitted himself to ecclesiastical penance, restores not his unjust gains, does not pardon his enemies with his whole heart, does not purpose in his heart, if he recovers, to repent all his life long with great contrition and humility; we need not say, for the Lord himself has said in the plainest way in the Gospel, what awaits such a man. ‘If ye forgive not others their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses.’ How shall the sinner, who will not forgive, be forgiven? ‘Or how shall it be given to those who have not given?’ for the Lord will surely say to those who have never given alms, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire: I was hungry, and ye fed me not.’ I may indeed 79receive such a man amongst the number of the penitents; but, that God who knoweth the consciences of all men, and who will judge every man according to his deserts, He knows with what faith and what intentions such a man has submitted to penance.66 The question, whether a death-bed repentance would avail a man, was frequently discussed at that time. The pious Faustus, bishop of Rhegium, (Reiz,) in Provence, had, in his warm zeal for practical Christianity, and in order to give no ground for security in a sinful life, denied it all significance. “Since God will not suffer himself to be mocked, that man deludes himself who begins, whilst scarcely half alive, to seek life, and then first resolves on the service of God, when all the faculties of soul and body fail him for the service. He seems but to mock God, who delays as long as possible to seek the physician; and begins to will, when he no longer can.” Justly, and wisely, especially for that age, did Faustus here deny the value of a dead faith, not manifesting itself by works. This letter of Faustus disquieted Hundebad, the Burgundian king, who (as may be seen from the letters of Avitus, to whom he addressed many theological questions) was thoughtfully disposed, and he asked Avitus, bishop of Vienne, his opinion. He declared with reason, that if a true conversion, proceeding from repentance and faith, took place even in the last moment, it could not be in vain. He referred to Matthew xx, 9; Luke xxiii, 40. Avitus also spoke against the efficacy of a hypocritical repentance. He combatted, however, unfairly what Faustus had said against the value of mere faith; for Faustus had not spoken of that faith which is the foundation of all spiritual good,—of living faith, but of the dead, apparent faith, which is no work of the Spirit, and can bring with it no kind of spiritual blessing. On the nothingness of such a faith, it was impossible to insist too strongly with new converts. Cæsarius of Arles, also, like Avitus, admitted the possibility of an efficacious repentance in the hour of death; only he brought more prominently forward the requirements and the difficulties of it. But if, perchance, whilst we are exhorting 80all to repentance, any should think, ‘I am a young married man, how can I submit to the tonsure or the monastic habit?’ let him know, this is not what we preach, this change rather of costume than of life. For true conversion is enough in itself, without a change of garb. Spiritual (clerical) clothing can avail nothing, without good works, but will itself incur the just judgment of God.” And, in another place: “But, perhaps, some one may think he has committed such grievous sins, that he can hope no more for God’s mercy. Far be such a thought from every sinner’s heart. Man, whosoever thou art, thou lookest on the multitude of thy sins, and dost not think of the omnipotence of the heavenly Physician. For, since God will have mercy, because he is gracious, and can have mercy, because he is almighty, the man who persisteth in believing that He either cannot or will not, closes against himself the door of Divine compassion; he either distrusts God’s grace or his power. Let none then despair of God’s compassion; only let none delay to seek reconciliation with God, lest sin should become habitual to him, and he be no longer able, even if he were willing, to deliver himself from the snares of the devil. 81But, perhaps, many an one will say, I hold a station in the world, have engagements; and how can I repent? As if, when we exhort you to repentance, we meant to say that you must have your hair cut off, and not rather renounce your sins—that you should rather lay aside your garb than your disposition. But let him remember, who seeks by such hypocritical excuses to deceive rather than to excuse himself, that neither the royal dignity nor the royal garb prevented king David from repenting.”
In combatting the delusion of those who imagined that they need only repent of the grosser and more palpable sins, and in seeking to show that every Christian, even those who were considered holy, had perpetual need of repentance, he numbers as among the minor sins, neglecting to visit the sick and imprisoned at the due time, neglecting to reconcile enemies, unnecessarily irritating neighbour, or wife, or son, or servant. If, amongst men who were inclined to place religion in a dead faith and ceremonial observances, he insisted on the necessity of good works as the fruits of faith, and set the requirements of the Holy Ghost before their eyes in all their strictness, he was, nevertheless, no preacher of the law, which killeth, and can never make alive. He did not direct men to their own strength; but sought rather to bring them to a true sense of their powerlessness, that they might learn to draw from that Eternal Fountain of all strength to which he directed them; He says, after representing what 82belongs to a holy life, “All this, my brethren, seems to be wearisome, until it becomes habitual; or, to speak more justly, it will be deemed impossible as long as men believe they must fulfil it with human strength. But when any one is convinced that it may be obtained and fulfilled by God’s power, it no longer appears anything hard and painful, but something mild and easy, according to the words of the Lord: ‘My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’” He told me to rely on the strength of the Redeemer in the contest with the Evil One; as when he says, “How can we fear the devil, if we are united to God? Thou hast such a leader in the strife, and yet fearest the devil? Thou fightest under such a king, and yet doubtest of victory? Daily, indeed, does Satan oppose thee, but Christ is present. The devil would crush thee to the earth, Christ will raise thee erect; the one would kill, the other will keep thee alive; but be of good cheer, brethren, Christ is better able to bear you up, than Satan to beat you down.” And in another sermon: “Because we were insignificant, He has made himself lowly. Because we lay dead, the tender Physician has bowed himself to death; for, truly, he who will not stoop, cannot raise the prostrate.”
In consequence of the convulsions from which France was then suffering, and the frequent marching and countermarchings of heathen, or recently Christianized tribes, many superstitious pagan customs were again diffused; such as, the observance 83 of omens, the custom of beginning nothing on unlucky days, etc. Against such things as these Cæsarius would often speak. “Let none of you care,” he said, “on what day he departs from his house, nor on what day he returns, for the Lord has made every day; as the Scripture says: and ‘it was the first, second, third, fourth, and also the fifth, and the sixth day, and the Sabbath;’ and then follow these words ‘God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.’” He also warned against the misunderstanding of such Scriptural passages as the people, for want of an acquaintance with the Scriptural language, and a right interpretation, might pervert to the support of their superstitious observances. For example: on 2 Kings iv, 29: “Be careful, my brethren, that none of you indulge a foolish thought about this; that none of you imagine that Elisha wished to observe an omen, and, therefore, desired his servant not to greet any who greeted him on the road. We frequently read of this in the Holy Scriptures; but it merely implies haste, and no justification of a foolish observance. It is as if he had said—‘Go so quickly that thou mayest not be hindered on thy way by any conversation with any one.’”77 Among the superstitious customs which Cæsarius, perhaps vainly, sought to repress, was the abuse then becoming prevalent in France, of seeking oracles about earthly things in that book which is the guide to eternal life—i. e. the Lot of the Holy Scriptures. Even in earlier times, it had often happened that pious men would, in an important crisis of their inward life, take an appropriate expression of the Scriptures as a word directly addressed to them from heaven: we find examples of this in the lives of St. Athanasius and Augustin. But it was somewhat different from this to seek for decisions about uncertain earthly events in the Scriptures, and to employ them in the service of a prying, worldly, and superstitious spirit. We find the first trace of this abuse in Augustin, who would have expressed himself yet more strongly, if the use of heathen auguries—a result of mere external conversions—had not then been so prevalent in. the Roman empire, especially in Northern Africa. “Although,” says St. Augustin, “it is to be wished that those who seek lots in the Gospel (qui de paginis evangelicis sortes legunt,) should rather do this than run hither and thither to inquire of the gods; yet this custom also displeases me, of seeking to apply the word of God which speaks of another life, to the vanities and events of this life.” But now this abuse was practised even by the clergy. So that in mere temporal perplexities, the priest would lay a Bible on the altar or on the grave of a saint, and with fasting and prayer invoke the saint that he would reveal the future by some text; and then, in the first passage which came to hand on opening the Bible, seek the decision, (sortes sanctorum.) Against this was directed the decree passed at the above-mentioned council of Agde, A. D. 508, that “inasmuch as many clergymen and laymen practised magic under the cloak of religion, or in some manner promised to throw light on the future by searching in the Scriptures, all who either advised or taught such things, should be excommunicated.” This was a repetition of the decree already enacted at the council of Viennes, A. D. 466.84
For a long time there had been two parties in France, which contended on the doctrines of grace and free-will. The one (the so-called Pelagians) sought to find a via media between the Divine and 85 the human, in the work of conversion; they wished to indicate God as the Fountain of all good, and the redemption as the source of true sanctification, without thereby destroying the free self-determination of man, and so making God the origin of sin and sorrow; they wished to guard from all limitations the free love of God to the whole human race. So far these men held pure Christianity; but they erred in this, that they attempted too sharply to define the boundary between the Divine and the human in conversion; that they ascribed too much to the will of the creature, which can never stand in any other relation to the Source of all good, but that of receiving or accepting. A genuine Christian spirit of seeking a mean between two opposite errors, induced many pious men in the south of France to join this party; as Faustus, bishop of Riez, in Provence. They wished to combat a spiritual sloth, which sustained itself in the idea. that God accomplishes all in man, without any cooperation on his part. To this party was opposed. another, (the so-called predestinarians), who regarded the whole development of Divine life in man as an unconditional work of Divine grace, with which the will of man had nothing to do; so that God was thus represented as blindly and arbitrarily awakening some to salvation, and casting others away into sin and eternal damnation: on which point they often expressed themselves with such harshness as to rouse every feeling of humanity. It is evident how one extreme called forth and 86strengthened the other. Cæsarius stepped between these two parties. He, with his pious soul thoroughly penetrated with the sense of the nothingness of human merits and human power, with the sense of complete dependence on God, and the idea of complete devotion to God, was especially anxious to bring forward the doctrine, that man can do nothing of himself; that even the first stirrings of desire for justification and holiness come to man from God; that he has only to yield himself up to the Redeemer to be sanctified by Him. His object was to cast down every meritorious claim of human pride. His whole mind was in this too much bent to one point, and he was too much impregnated with the doctrines of Augustin, to be able clearly to perceive and express that point, on which all that is practically important in this question hangs; through which alone the way can be found between the two opposite reefs with which faith, which is not sight, must satisfy itself; namely, that it depends on the free self-determination of man, either to yield himself up to the attraction and training power of grace, or to resist and exclude it. But a man, so glowing with love and tenderness, and so full of Christian moderation, could never fall into the harshness of this cold predestinarianism. He rather protested against everything that could wound the moral feeling, and be at variance with the holiness and love of God. He never expressed in precise terms the doctrine of an unconditional predetermination of God; he merely clung firmly 87 to the doctrine of all-efficacious grace, without indulging in further speculations. This sprit was manifested in the scheme of doctrine laid down by Cæsarius, as fixed by the council of Orange, (Arausium,) A. D. 529. There, amongst other things, it is said: “Even in its original state, human nature needed its Maker’s help in order to retain its innocence.” Which may with good reason be asserted; since God alone can be the fountain of good for any created being—the wish in any creature to be something in and for itself, is the source of all evil. Then it is added, “Since, then, human nature cannot preserve salvation once received, without the grace of God, how can it, without the grace of God, win back the lost? Let no man boast of what he has, as if he had not received it; and let no man believe that he has received it merely because the letter of the law has been revealed to him from without. (That is, let no man believe that the grace of God consists in the mere manifestation of the law, since the law, in and by itself—unless the soul, filled with Divine life, and animated by the Spirit of love, is in harmony with it—can only bring the consciousness of sinfulness, can never impart good, can never sanctify). For the apostle says (Gal. ii. 21): ‘If righteousness come by the law, then is Christ dead in vain.’ And (Eph. iv, 8): ‘He hath ascended up on high, and hath led captivity captive, and hath received gifts for men;’ (German, ‘given gifts to men.’) (Christ, after destroying the power of the evil 88 spirit, and liberating men from it, has triumphantly exalted himself to a participation of the Divine power in the heavens; and He, the victorious Redeemer, armed with Divine might, glorified above all that opposes itself to the kingdom of God, distributes Divine powers of life, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, amongst the men He has redeemed.) From. Him every one has what he has. But he who denies that he has received it from Christ, either, in fact, has nothing, or from him shall be taken away that which he seemeth to have. In proportion as pride and self-will, however subtle, self-reliance, or the assertion of personal merit, gain the mastery in a man, the good in him is crushed in the germ and adulterated. Heathen heroism is called forth by worldly desires; as fame, or love of earthly freedom: Christian heroism is produced by love to God, ‘which is shed abroad in our hearts,’ not by our own free will, but by the Holy Ghost which is given us. As the apostle said to those who had fallen from grace, in that they had sought to be justified by the law, ‘If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain:’ it may be justly said to those who confound nature with grace, righteousness come by nature, then Christ is dead in vain. For the law was already there, and it justified not: and nature was already there, and it justified not. Therefore Christ is not dead in vain, but that the law might be- fulfilled by Him who said, ‘I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil it;’ that the nature lost in Adam might 89be restored in Him who said He came to seek and to save the lost.”
“Man has nothing of himself but sin and lies. What man has of truth and righteousness, he has from that Fountain for which we thirst here in this wilderness; from which we are now and then refreshed with some drops, lest we should faint on the way. The branches are so joined to the vine, that they give nothing to it, but receive the sap of life from it. The vine, on the other hand, affords the sap to the branches, but receives nothing from them. It is, therefore, for the advantage of the disciples, not of Christ, that Christ should dwell in them and they in Him. For if the branches are cut off, another branch can easily shoot forth from the living root. But the branches thus cut off cannot live without the root.” But he also expressed horror against those who taught that God predestined men to evil. A beautiful testimony of a genuine Christian spirit, and clear Christian knowledge in the midst of uncivilized nations.
The faith of Cæsarius was proved by many severe trials in these stormy times. One of his secretaries accused him falsely and craftily to Alaric, second king of the Visigoths, of endeavouring, out of attachment to his Burgundian fatherland, to bring Arles under the dominion of Burgundy. In the year 505, he was torn away from his church and banished to Bordeaux. Here, also, he inspired great reverence. The people attributed the extinction of a great fire to his prayers. Instead of 90exciting insurrection, as he had been falsely accused of doing, he exerted himself to repress the fermentation of mind which arose from discontent with the Arian princes; and impressed on all the Christian duty of obedience to the authorities—of rendering to Cæsar the things that were Cæsar’s, and to God the things that were God’s. He exhorted them, according to the command of the Apostle Paul, to obey kings and magistrates, if they commanded nothing contrary to the Divine law; and in the prince, to see the prince, not the Arian. His conduct was the best answer to the accusations against him. Alaric himself acknowledged his innocence, and called him back. His slanderer would have been stoned, had not Cæsarius himself procured his pardon. After the death of Alaric II., in 507, in the unsuccessful war with the Franks, the district of Arles was occupied by an Ostrogothic army, which hastened to the aid of the Visigoths, and the city of Arles, being in the possession of the Goths, had to sustain a siege from the united forces of the Franks and Burgundians. It happened, during the siege, that a young priest, a relation of Cæsarius, in order to escape from confinement, was imprudent enough to let himself down from the wall by a rope. This excited a suspicion amongst the Goths against Cæsarius, that he wished to betray the city to the enemy. He was ill-treated and thrown into prison, until the untruth of the accusation against him was brought to light.
When the Goths had gained the victory, they 91brought back a number of captives into the city. Cæsarius received them into his church and house, and provided them with clothes and food, until he was able to obtain their freedom, by paying the ransom. In order to bring this about, he not only —after emptying the church-treasury—sold all the gold and silver vessels of his church, but caused all the gold and silver which could be found on any part of the pillars and walls to be removed, that he might turn it all into money. He held this to be the duty of a bishop; and he used to say of those who would not act in a similar way, or found fault with his doing so: “When I see amongst our priests men who, from a strange love for superfluities, will not exchange the dead silver and gold for the servants of Christ, I would ask them, if they had met with such a misfortune, if they would not wish to be ransomed by these dead gifts; or if they would deem it sacrilege, if any one came to their help with these consecrated gifts. I can never believe that it is contrary to the will of God, to employ what is destined for His service for the liberation of men, when He gave Himself to redeem men.”
After this time of affliction, Cæsarius said, in a sermon: “The riches for which we hope, are not to be found in this world; ‘for hope that is seen, is not hope’ (Rom. viii, 24): for the hope of the world, which is seen, consists really in bitterness. The world presents a bitter draught to her wooers. O, the wretchedness of mankind! The world is 92 bitter, and yet is beloved. How would it, then, be loved if it were sweet? Truth speaks thus to you, ye lovers of the world: ‘Where is that which you loved, which you so prized? where is that with which ye would not part? where are so many countries, so many splendid cities?’ It would make a great impression only to hear of such desolation. But now our eyes have seen the dreadful misery of the siege, we have seen such numbers of the dead, that the living were scarcely enough to bury them! Consider this affliction, which has fallen on us by the just judgment of God: whole provinces dragged into captivity; mothers of families carried away, the mistress of many servants now herself the handmaid of the barbarians. On tender and delicate women, the barbarians have, without pity or humanity, imposed hard bond-service. But we, dearest brethren, whom the Lord has spared, not because we deserved it, but that we might have yet time left us for repentance; we should consider, not without trembling, that this should be a warning to us all. Let us, from the wounds of others, extract cures for ourselves; let us always fear what the Lord says in the Gospel (Luke xiii, 2): ‘Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I say unto you, nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’”
Cæsarius was again accused to Theodoric, the Arian king of the Ostrogoths, and in 513 he was, at his command, carried off to the royal residence 93 at Ravenna. But this generous prince was too susceptible of impressions from what was excellent and noble, not to be at once convinced, by intercourse with a man so penetrated with the spirit of the Gospel as Cæsarius, of the emptiness of these accusations. “I trembled,” he afterwards said, “when I saw him. I beheld before me an angelic countenance, an apostolic man; of so noble a man, I can believe nothing evil.” It grieved him much, that Cæsarius should have been compelled by bad men to make such a long and wearisome journey. At mid-day, he sent him a silver dish as a remembrance, weighing about sixty pounds; and, besides this, a sum of money (three hundred solidi). Three days afterwards, Cæsarius had the dish sold, and employed the money in ransoming whole bands of captives, whom the Goths had carried off.
The house in which he resided was so filled with the poor and the suffering, that room could hardly be found amidst the crowd for his visitors. Such respect was felt for his person, that all the people of rank sent him gold to distribute. He was enabled to send back a multitude of captives in carriages to their families in France; and also to bring back with him a considerable sum of money (eight thousand solidi) for the poor and the captives.
Even whilst this district was in its saddest condition, impoverished as his church was, Cæsarius never lacked means to alleviate the misery of the people; his love, and his inexhaustible trust in God, overcame all difficulties, and brought him through. 94There was once a great multitude of captives collected at Arles, amongst whom were many of high rank, for whom he had paid the ransom; but who, nevertheless, could not return in safety to their friends. As they were compelled to remain at Arles without any means of sustenance, the bishop provided daily for their maintenance. One day his steward told him there was no resource but that the captives must beg that day in the streets for themselves; for if they were nourished that day by the Church, he would have no bread on his own table to-morrow. When Cæsarius heard this, he went into his cell, and prayed that the Lord would provide for the poor. He then returned full of joyful trust, and said to his secretary. “Go into the granary, and empty it, until not one grain remains; then have the bread baked as usual, and we will all eat together; to-morrow, if there is nothing to be had, we sill all fast together,—so that to-day, people of high birth, and the rest of the captives, may not have to wander about the streets and beg, whilst we sit eating and drinking.” But he whispered to another of his confidential friends: “To-morrow, God will surely provide; for they who give to the poor shall never suffer want.” On the next day, which they all anxiously awaited, early in the morning, three ships appeared, full of grain, sent to Cæsarius by the Burgundian princes, Gundebad and Sigismund, to support his beneficence.
He would often send out his servant to see if 95there were any poor waiting at his gate, fearing to enter and disturb his quiet; sighing that it should be so hard for the poor to gain access to the hearts of their brethren; believing that in those who waited without—in the suppliants, and in the deaf and dumb—he saw Christ himself asking for help. He said: “Truly it is Christ who waits outside, who pleads so hard, who is deaf and dumb,—and still does He entreat, exhort, conjure all [to give].”
When once a poor man begged money of him, to ransom a captive, and he had nothing to give him, he said: “What shall I do for thee, my poor friend? What I have, give I thee.” He went into his cell, took up his episcopal state-robes, gave them to him, and said: “Go, sell that to any clergyman, and with the money set thy captive free.” His affectionate heart could never refuse to intercede for any sufferer; and people had great confidence in his prayers, so often were they granted; but he always rejected the fame of a worker of miracles.
When a mother once thanked him with tears for his prayers, to which she ascribed the recovery of her son, he told her rather to thank Him whose omnipotence and grace are always ready to help the afflicted who call on Him.
And often he would say: “He to whom the charge of souls is committed, must take good care, that people do not rather seek bodily than spiritual help from him [the cure of bodily sickness, rather than the cure of the maladies of the soul]. Divine 96grace has much more frequently bestowed such miraculous gifts on the simple than on the learned. May the merciful God grant us, to lead an acceptable life in His sight, with the talent he has lent us, with that moderation, which does not seek to go beyond its measure! To work miracles, must not be attributed to men unworthy as we are.”
Thus bad Cæsarius laboured as a bishop forty years, and reached his seventy-third year, when he was seized with a severe illness. In the midst of great pain, he asked if Augustin’s day was still far off. And when he heard that the day was near, he said: “I trust in the Lord, that he will not suffer the day of my death to be far from his; you know how I have loved him as a teacher of the truth, great as the distance is between him and me in worth.” And he died the day before, August 27th, 542.
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