Eloquent bishop

Daily Reading for October 1 • Remigius, Bishop of Rheims, c. 530

Remigius came of a family distinguished for its sanctity. Not merely his mother and his brother, but his nurse and his foster-brother, are numbered among the saints. Holy influences surrounded him from his infancy, and the boy grew up grave and pure-minded and earnest. When he was but two and twenty the diocese became vacant. Remigius was amongst those who were assembled in the church at Rheims to elect a new bishop; suddenly a ray of light from an upper window fell upon the earnest face of the young layman. His extraordinary height and his majestic bearing must have made him conspicuous at all times, and in the sudden light that now illumined him, the bystanders read a manifest sign of God’s favour towards him, and with one voice they claimed him for their future bishop. In spite of his own reluctance he was duly consecrated, and it is probable that there are few examples in ecclesiastical history of either so youthful a bishop or of so long an episcopate, for he ruled over his diocese of Rheims for more than seventy years.

The young bishop was of a scholarly disposition and endowed with a great gift of eloquence. This we learn not only from the sober notices of the historian, Gregory of Tours, but from a highly patronizing letter from Sidonius Apollinaris, the courtly and accomplished Bishop of Clermont, and ex-prefect of Rome. Some acquaintance of his had been to Rheims, and there had procured—so Sidonius writes to Remigius—“whether by purchase or present, with or without your consent, from your secretary or librarian, a voluminous manuscript of your sermons.” In no measured terms he proceeds to praise the style, weighing each point with the skill of a practised rhetorician. Of the matter of the sermons he says nothing, but he declares that all who had read them, “myself included, have taken pains to learn the greater part of them by heart, and to copy them out”; and he ends with a gay threat as to the consequences if Remigius still insists on withholding his writings from circulation: “We know how to set men on the watch, and suborn them to rob your portfolio; then finding yourself plundered, you will perhaps be sensible of the robbery, if you will not now pay attention to our prayers, and the pleasure of being of use to others!”

Remigius’s sermons have long ago been forgotten, but his name can never lose its place in church history, for it is bound up with the story of that great onward movement in the spread of Christianity—the baptism of Clovis and the general conversion of the Franks.

From Studies in Church Dedications, or, England’s Patron Saints by Frances Arnold-Forster, volume 1 (London: Skeffington & Son, 1899).

Past Posts