Today is the feast day of Saint Avitus. Ora pro nobis.
Avitus (Avit) was born of a prominent Gallo-Roman family closely related to the Emperor Avitus and other illustrious persons, and in which episcopal honors were hereditary. From his youth he desired to consecrate himself to God, and he received the monastic habit at the abbey of Micy or Saint-Maximin in the diocese of Orleans, at that time still very small. Its first Superior, Saint Maximin, remarked the young monk’s virtue when he observed that he deprived himself of a great portion of his food each day in order to nourish the poor.
After serving as steward for the monastery, Saint Avitus decided to leave in secret to go and live in solitude in a deserted place. Saint Maximin recognized in this flight a secret design of God and made no attempt to have him return. But when the holy Abbot died, Saint Avitus was chosen to succeed him by the unanimous consent of the religious. He was brought back despite his protestations of unworthiness, and was obliged to receive the episcopal consecration and his investiture from the bishop of Orleans.
In difficult times for the Catholic faith and Roman culture in Southern Gaul, Avitus exercised a favourable influence. He pursued with earnestness and success the extinction of the Arian heresy in the barbarian Kingdom of Burgundy (443-532), won the confidence of King Gundobad, and converted his son, King Sigismund (516-523).
The literary fame of Avitus rests on a poem of 2,552 hexameters, in five books, dealing with the Scriptural narrative of Original Sin, Expulsion from Paradise, the Deluge, the Crossing of the Red Sea. The first three books offer a certain dramatic unity; in them are told the preliminaries of the great disaster, the catastrophe itself, and the consequences. The fourth and fifth books deal with the Deluge and the Crossing of the Red Sea as symbols of baptism. Avitus deals freely and familiarly with the Scriptural events, and exhibits well their beauty, sequence, and significance. He is one of the last masters of the art of rhetoric as taught in the schools of Gaul in the fourth and fifth centuries. Ebert says that none of the ancient Christian poets treated more successfully the poetic elements of the Bible. His poetic diction, though abounding in archaisms and rhythmic redundancy, is pure and select, and the laws of metre are well observed. It is said that Milton made use of his paraphase [sic] of Scripture in the preparation of “Paradise Lost”. He wrote also 666 hexameters “De virginitate” or “De consolatoriâ castitatis laude” for the comfort of his sister Fuscina, a nun. His prose works include “Contra Eutychianam Hæresim libri II”, written in 512 or 513, and also about eighty-seven letters that are of considerable importance for the ecclesiastical and political history of the years 499-518. Among them is the famous letter to Clovis on the occasion of his baptism. There was once extant a collection of his homilies, but they have perished with the exception of two and some fragments and excerpts. (2)
Saint Avitus one day resurrected one of his brethren who had died during his absence; all the monks saw the dead religious rise from his coffin and begin to sing with the others the infinite mercies of Our Lord. Saint Lubin or Leobin, bishop of Chartres, assured his people in a sermon that he had learned of this fact from the very monk who had been resurrected.
Three famous religious, one of them the same Saint Leobin, who at that time was a simple monk, attended our Saint at his blessed death, which happened about the year 530. His body was carried to the church of Saint George in Orleans and interred there with great pomp. Afterwards king Childebert built a magnificent temple over this tomb, out of gratitude for the prayers of Saint Avitus. (1)
A distinguished bishop of Vienne, in Gaul, from 490 to about 518, though his death is place by some as late as 525 or 526. The works of Avitus are found in Migne, P.L., LIX, 191-398. There are two recent editions: one by R. Peiper (in Mon. Germ. Hist.: Auct. Antiq., VI, Berlin, 1883), the other by U. Chevalier (Lyons, 1890). (2)
Image: sculpture située dans le village de Saint-Avit dans la Drôme représentant le Saint Patron du village (3)