Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume VIII: August. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Apollinaris Sidonius, Bishop of Clermont, Confessor
CAIUS SOLLIUS APOLLINARIS SIDONIUS was born at Lyons about the year 431, and was of one of the most noble families in Gaul, where his father and grandfather, both named Apollinaris, had commanded successively in quality of prefects of the prætorium. He was educated in arts and learning under the best masters, and was one of the most celebrated orators and poets of the age in which he lived. From his epistles, it is manifest that he was always religious, pious, humble, affable, extremely affectionate, beneficent, and compassionate, and no lover of the world, even whilst he lived in it; for some time he had a command in the imperial army; and he married Papianilla, by whom he had a son called Apollinaris, and two daughters. Papianilla was daughter of Avitus, who after having been thrice prefect of the prætorium in Gaul, was raised to the imperial throne at Rome in 455; but being obliged to quit the purple after a reign of ten months, died on the road to Auvergne. Majorian, his successor, prosecuted his relations, and coming to Lyons, caused Sidonius to be apprehended; but admiring the constancy with which he bore his disgrace, and becoming acquainted with his extraordinary qualifications and virtue, restored his estates to him, and created him count. Majorian was a good soldier, and began to curb the barbarians who laid waste the fairest provinces of the empire, but was slain in 461, by Ricimer the Goth, his own general, who placed the diadem upon the head of Severus. Upon this revolution Sidonius left the court, and led a retired life in Auvergne, where he protected his province from the Goths, and divided his time between studies and the exercises of piety. Severus was poisoned by Ricimer after a reign of four years, and Anthemius chosen emperor in 467, who immediately called Sidonius again to Rome, and created him prince of the senate, patrician, and prefect of the city. His piety and devotion suffered no prejudice in his elevation, and amidst the distraction of his secular employments, in which he made use of his authority only to promote the divine honour, and to render himself the servant of others in studying to advance every ones happiness and comfort.
God soon called him from these secular dignities to the government of his church. The bishopric of Arvernum, since called Clermont, in Auvergne, falling vacant in 471, the people of that extensive diocess, and the bishops of the whole country, who had long regretted his absence whilst he was detained in the capital of the world, unanimously demanded that he should be restored to them in order to fill the episcopal chair. Sidonius was then a layman, and his wife was yet living; he therefore urged the authority of canons against such an election, and opposed it with all his might, till, fearing at length to resist the will of heaven, he acquiesced; it having been customary on extraordinary occasions to dispense with the canons which forbid laymen to be chosen bishops. He therefore and his wife agreed to a perpetual separation; and from that moment he renounced poesy, which till then had been his delight, to apply himself only to those studies which were most agreeable to his ministry. He was no stranger to them whilst a layman, and he soon became an oracle whom other bishops consulted in their difficulties; though he was always reserved and unwilling to decide them, and usually referred them to others, alleging that he was not capable of acting the part of a doctor among his brethren, whose direction and science he stood himself infinitely in need of. St. Lupus, bishop of Troyes, who had loved and honoured him whilst he was yet wandering in the dry deserts of the world, found his affection for him redoubled when he beheld him become a guide of souls in the paths of religion and virtue. Upon his promotion to the episcopal dignity he wrote him an excellent letter of congratulation and advice, in which, among other things, he told him:1 It is no longer by pomp and an equipage that you are to keep up your rank, but by the most profound humility of heart. You are placed above others, but must consider yourself as below the meanest and last in your flock. Be ready to kiss the feet of those whom formerly you would not have thought worthy to sit under your feet. You must render yourself the servant of all. This Sidonius made the rule of his conduct. He kept always a very frugal table, fasted every second day, watched much, and though of a tender constitution, often seemed to carry his penitential austerities to excess. He was frequently in want of necessaries, because he had given all away to the poor. His love and compassion for them, even whilst he lived in the world, was such, that he sometimes had sold all his plate for their relief; which having been done without the knowledge of his wife, she afterwards redeemed it.
After he was bishop, he looked upon it as his principal duty to provide for the instruction, comfort, and assistance of the poor. In the time of a great famine he maintained, at his own charge, with the charitable succours which Ecdicius, his wifes brother, put into his hands, more than four thousand Burgundians and other strangers, who had been driven from their own country by misery and necessity; and when the scarcity was over he furnished them with carriages, and sent them to their respective homes. St. Sidonius made frequent visitations of his diocess, and performed every office of his ministry with all the care and prudence possible. The reputation of his wisdom was so great, that being summoned to Bourges, when that see, which was his metropolitan church, was vacant in 472, all the prelates there assembled, with one consent, referred the election of a bishop to him, and he nominated Simplicius, a holy pastor.2 He says that a bishop ought to do by humility what a monk and a penitent are obliged to do by their profession. He gives us the following account of Maximus, archbishop of Toulouse, whom he had before known a very rich man in the world; that he found him in his new spiritual dignity wholly changed; his clothing, countenance, and discourse savoured of nothing but modesty and piety; he had short hair, and a long beard; his household-stuff was plain; he had nothing but wooden benches, stuff curtains, a bed without feathers, and a table, without a carpet; and the food of his family consisted of pulse more than flesh.3 He testifies that the annual festivals of saints were kept with great solemnity; that on them the people flocked to the church in throngs before day; that they lighted up a great many tapers; that the monks and clergy sung the vigils or matins in two choirs, and that they celebrated mass about noon.4
The city of Clermont being besieged, in 475, by Alaric, king of the Visigoths, who then reigned in the southern provinces of France, the zealous bishop encouraged the people to stand upon their defence, by which he exposed himself to the rage of the conquerers after they were masters of the place. He entreated the Arian king to grant several articles in favour of the Catholics, which the barbarian was so far from allowing, that he sent the holy prelate prisoner to Liviane, a castle near Carcassone, where he suffered much. However, Alaric some time after restored him to his see, and he continued to be the comfort and support of the distressed Catholics in that country. He was again expelled by two factious wicked priests, but some time after recovered the government of his church, and died in peace in the year 482, on the 21st of August. His festival was kept soon after his death with solemnity at Clermont, where his memory is in great veneration. His body lay first in the old church of St. Saturninus, but was afterwards translated into that of St. Genesius. See his works;5 St. Gregory of Tours, Hist. Fr., l. 11, c. 22, 24, and the life of the saint by Savaron and F. Sirmond; also Fleury, l. 29, n. 36. Ceillier, t. 15. Rivet, Hist. Lit. t. 2, p. 550. Gall. Chr. Nov., t. 2, p. 231.
Note 5. Sidoniuss works consist of nine books of letters, and of a collection of short poems upon particular subjects, directed to his friends. His principal poems are three panegyrics on the Emperors Avitus, Majorian, and Anthemius. He discovers a rich poetical genius, and wrote verses readily, but his promotion to the episcopal dignity hindered him from polishing them. His thoughts are ingenious, witty, and curious; and his style is concise, pleasant, and lively, but sometimes too lofty and subtle. He uses some words which show the Latin language had then degenerated from its purity. He had a flowery imagination, and excels in his descriptions and draughts. The learned Savaron published the works of Apollinaris Sidonius with useful notes, in quarto, at Paris and Hanover; but the edition of F. Sirmondus, in the year 1652, which is more ample, is enriched with new notes so well chosen, so curious, and judicious, as to give an ample proof of the excellency of the editors understanding, and the depth of his learning. The correctness of all the works of this learned Jesuit, justify the advice which he gave Huet; Be not in haste, said he, to make your appearance in print; revise your works at distant intervals; keep them by you, according to the maxim of Horace and Vida, for ten years; and declare not yourself an author before you are fifty years old. [back]