« Georgius (43), patron saint of England Germanus, St., bp. of Auxerre Germanus, bp. of Paris »

Germanus, St., bp. of Auxerre

Germanus (8), St., bp. of Auxerre, born probably c. 378, at Auxerre, near the S. border of what was afterwards Champagne. The parents of German caused him to be baptized and well educated. He went to Rome, studied for the bar, practised as an advocate before the tribunal of the prefect, on his return married a lady named Eustachia, and rose to be one of the six dukes of Gaul, each of whom governed a number of provinces (Gibbon, ii. 320), Auxerre being included in German's district. German, having been ordained and nominated as his successor by Amator, bp. of Auxerre, was, on the latter's death, unanimously elected, and consecrated on Sun. July 7, 418. His wife became to him as a sister; he distributed his property to the poor; he became a severe ascetic, and, as his biographer Constantius says, a "persecutor of his body," abstaining from salt, oil, and even from vegetables, from wine, excepting a small quantity much diluted on Christmas Day or Easter Day, and from wheat bread, instead of which he ate barley bread with a preliminary taste of ashes (cinerem praelibavit). He wore the same hood and tunic in all seasons, and slept on ashes in a framework of boards. "Let any one speak his mind," says Constantius, to whom some details of German's life must have come down not free from exaggeration, "but I positively assert that the blessed German endured a long martyrdom." Withal he was hospitable, and gave his guests a good meal, though he would not share it. He founded a monastery outside Auxerre, on the opposite bank of the Yonne, often crossing in a boat to visit the abbat and brethren.

Pelagianism had been rife in its founder's native island of Britain; and the British clergy, unable to refute the heretics, requested help from the church, we may say from their mother church, of Gaul. Accordingly a numerous synod unanimously sent to Britain German and Lupus, bp. of Troyes, both going the more readily because of the labour involved. So says Constantius, who is followed closely by Bede (i. 17). But Prosper of Aquitaine, a contemporary, in his Chronicle for a.d. 429, says that pope Celestine, "at the suggestion of the deacon Palladius, sent German as his representative" (vice sua) into Britain; and in his contra Collatorem, written c. 432, speaks of Celestine as "taking pains to keep the Roman island" (Britain) "Catholic" (c. 21 or 24). The truth probably lies in a combination of the pope's action with the councils, at any rate as regards German. Lupus is not included by Prosper—of him evidently Celestine took no thought, but, we may reasonably believe, gave some special commission to German either before (so Tillemont, Mémoires, xiv. 154) or at the time of the Gallic synod: it is not probable that, as Lingard supposes, the synod's commission was only to Lupus and German "sent" by the pope alone (Angl. Sax. Ch. i. 8).

When the two prelates reached Nanterre near Paris, German saw in the crowd which met them the girl GENOVEFA, whom he bade live as one espoused to Christ, and who became "St. Geneviève of Paris." Arrived in Britain, the bishops preached the doctrines of grace in churches and on the country roads with great effect; till the Pelagian leaders challenged them to a discussion, apparently near Verulam. A great multitude assembled: the two bishops, appealing to Scripture in support of the Catholic position, silenced their opponents, and the shouts of the audience hailed their victory. German and Lupus then visited the reputed tomb of the British protomartyr Alban; and Constantius adds the famous tale of the Alleluia Victory. The Britons were menaced by Picts and Saxons: German and Lupus encouraged them to resist, catechized and baptized the still heathen majority in their army, and then, shortly after Easter 430, 391stationing them in a narrow glen, bade them at the invaders' approach repeat thrice the Paschal Alleluia. The Britons sent the shout ringing through the defile; the enemy was seized with panic, and "faith without the sword won a bloodless victory."

In 447 German was again entreated by British churchmen to aid them against Pelagianism. He took with him Severus, bp. of Treves, a disciple of Lupus, and having on his way vindicated Genovefa against calumniators, landed in Britain, triumphed again over the Pelagians, and procured their banishment from the island. Welsh traditions record his many activities on behalf of the British church. They lay the scene of the Alleluia victory at Maes-garmon near Mold; they speak of colleges founded by German, of national customs traced to his authority; and although much of this is legendary and the stories in Nennius about his relations with king Vortigern apocryphal, he probably did more for British Christianity than Constantius records. He had no sooner returned home than another occasion for his humane intervention arose. The Armoricans, whose country had not yet acquired (through British immigration) the name of Brittany, were in chronic revolt against the empire, hoping to obtain favourable terms for Armorica. German set forth at once for Italy, and on June 19, 448 reached Milan; proceeding to Ravenna, he obtained pardon for the Armoricans, but unfortunately news came that they had again revolted, and his mission proved in vain. German was soon afterwards taken ill. His lodging overflowed with visitors; a choir kept up ceaseless psalmody by his bedside. He died July 31, 448, having been bishop 30 years and 25 days. His body was embalmed, and a magnificent funeral journey to Gaul attested the reverence of the court. He was buried in a chapel near Auxerre on Oct. 1. Constantius's Life is in Surius, de Probatis Sanctorum Historiis, vol. iv. A metrical Life and a prose account of his "miracles," both by a monk named Hereric, are in Acta Sanctorum, July 31.

[W.B.]

« Georgius (43), patron saint of England Germanus, St., bp. of Auxerre Germanus, bp. of Paris »





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