Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume XI: November. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Eucherius, Bishop of Lyons, Confessor
NEXT to St. Irenæus, no name has done so great honour to the church of Lyons, as that of the great Eucherius. By birth he was most illustrious in the world; and his cousin Valerian had a father and father-in-law possessed of the first dignities in the empire; but the saint, by despising the empty honours and riches of the world, became far more illustrious in the school of Christ. A lofty and penetrating genius, an uncommon stock of learning, and a commanding eloquence, which made him admired by all the orators of his time, were talents which gained him the esteem of all the great men in the empire. In the former part of his life he was married to a lady called Galla, by whom he had two sons, Salonius and Veranus, whom he placed very young in the monastery of Lerins, under the conduct of its holy founder, St. Honoratus, and the tutorship of Salvianus, the eloquent and zealous priest of Marseilles: St. Eucherius lived to see them both raised to the episcopal character. An extraordinary piety had been his distinguishing character from his childhood, from which he never departed. The more he conversed with the world, the more he was disgusted at its emptiness, and affrighted at its dangers; so that about the year 422, with the consent of his wife, who readily agreed also to forsake the world herself, he retired to the monastery of Lerins. Cassian, then abbot of St. Victors at Marseilles, addressed his eleventh, and the six following conferences to Eucherius and Honoratus, and calls them the two admirable models of that house of saints. Out of a desire of closer retirement, Eucherius left Lerins, to settle in the neighbouring small island of Lero, now called St. Margarets. There he wrote his book, On a Solitary Life, which is an elegant and finished commendation of that state, and in particular of the desert of Lerins, then inhabited by many saints. In the same place, about the year 427, he wrote to his cousin Valerian his incomparable exhortation, On the Contempt of the World. The purity of the Latin language in this piece, falls very little short of the Augustan age. The style is easy and smooth, the turns of thought and expression equally admirable, the method and order most beautiful, and the images lively and natural, so that Erasmus sticks not to say, that amongst all the productions of Christian writers, he knows nothing comparable to it: the author appears in every part a complete master. Du-Pin1 says, that in purity and elegance of style he equals the very best writers of the most polite ages. Godeau2 goes still higher, and tells us that all the beauties of eloquence, and strength of genius and reasoning are here united with an air of the most affecting piety,3 so that it seems impossible to read this little treatise without being inspired with a contempt of the world, and quickened to a strong resolution of making the service of God our great and only concern, as it is our only solid gain both in time and eternity. As for the world, he shows that most of the mirth which appears in it, is not mirth, but art; its honours, applause, and company, are an empty pageantry, and a slavery which only the activity of mens passions make to seem tolerable. Of the vanity, falsehood, and illusion of the world, and of the transitoriness, instability, and uncertainty of all its enjoyments, he paints so striking an image, that the world seems to pass as a phantom, and like a sudden flash of lightning before the eyes of the reader, making its appearance to sink away in a moment, never to return. I have seen, says he, men raised to the highest pitch of worldly honours and riches. Fortune seemed to be in their pay, throwing every thing upon them, without their having the trouble of asking or seeking its favours. Their prosperity in all things outwent their very desires and passions: but in a moment they disappeared. Their vast possessions were fled, and the masters themselves were no more, &c. This exhortation was addressed to Valerian, the saints near kinsman, who was deeply engaged in the world. He continued still in his secular employments, if he be the same person with Priscus Valerian, to whom St. Sidonius addressed his panegyric upon the Emperor Avitus, about the year 456, as Dom Rivet takes him to be,4 though Rosweide5 and Joffrede6 think him to be the same St. Valerian7 who became a monk of Lerins, was afterwards the last bishop of Cimella, before that see was united to Nice, assisted at the councils of Orange, Arles, and Ries, and died about the year 460.8
Our saint, who, as Cassian says,9 shone first as a bright star in the world, by the perfection of his virtue, was afterwards by the example of his life, a model to the monastic order. Being at length forced from his religious retirement, he was placed in the see of Lyons, probably about the year 434, in which station he approved himself a faithful pastor, sighing continually after heaven, humble in mind, rich in the merit of good works, powerful in eloquence, and accomplished in all science; he far surpassed all the great prelates of his time, as we are assured by the testimony of Mamertus Claudian. In 441 he assisted at the first council of Orange. The foundation of several churches and pious establishments at Lyons is ascribed to him. He ended an excellent life by a holy death, in 449, according to Prosper Tyro; or rather in 450.10 St. Paulinus of Nola,11 St. Honoratus, St. Hilary of Arles, Mamertus Claudian, St. Sidonius, and all the great men of that age sought his friendship, and are lavish in commendation of his virtue. He was a zealous defender of the doctrine of St. Austin and the Church against the Semipelagians. See Theophilus Raynaudus, in Indiculo Sanct. Lugdun. Tillemont, t. 15. Ceillier, t . 13. Fabricius, Bibl. Eccl. ad Genad. c. 63. Rivet, Hist. Littér. de la France, t. 2. p. 275293.
Note 3. Nevertheless, the remark of Tillemont (t. 4. p. 125,) seems very just, that in this piece certain superfluities might have been spared, and the full sense more closely expressed, with equal strength and perspicuity, in fewer words. [back]
Note 6. In Nicæa Illustrata, part 1, tit. 7, p. 99, tom. 9, part 6, ap. Grævium in Thesauro Antiqu. et Hist. Ital. [back]
Note 7. We have twenty homilies of this St. Valerian, published the first time by F. Sirmond, in 1612, together with his parænetic epistle to the monks. [back]
Note 8. The acts of St. Maurice and his companions are excellently written by the great St. Eucherius, as Rivet demonstrates. (p. 286.) They are published by F. Chifflet, in his Paulinus Illustratus, and most correctly by Ruinart. Those in Surius and Mombritius seem compiled from these with several additions and alterations, by a monk of Agaunum, in the seventh age, against which Dubourdieu and Burnet formed their objections. Mamertus Claudian quotes an excellent part of a homily of St. Eucherius on the Incarnation: and probably some of those which were published under the name of Eusebius Emisenus, but which certainly belonged to Gallican prelates about that age, are the production of that saint. His two works on the manner of expounding the scripture, the one entitled, On the Forms of Spiritual Understanding, the other, Of Instructions, are addressed to his two sons, Veranus, bishop of Venice, and Salonius, as it seems, of Vienne, on which see Rivet, t. 2, p. 282. Cave and some others have imagined there was a second bishop of Lyons, called Eucherius, in the following century: but ancient monuments show there was no such person, though we find a Eucherius who was bishop in the south of France, in the time of St. Cæsarius. See Raynaudus and Rivet. [back]