Tuesday, February 05, 2019

"Divine Providence has found an arbiter of our age." ~ Avitus of Vienne on the Baptism of Clovis, King of the Franks, AD 496

Ivory carving of the Baptism of Clovis, ca. AD 870.
On February 5 is commemorated the life of Alcimus Ecdicius Avitus, known more commonly to posterity as Saint Avitus of Vienne. Avitus was bishop of Vienne in southeastern France during the late 5th and early 6th centuries AD, a time of tremendous upheaval and transition as formerly Roman provinces became incorporated into the newly constituted barbarian kingdoms of the Franks and the Burgundians.

Saint Avitus left considerable writings which have come down to us from antiquity, including letters, poetry and a few homilies. Many of these may be found in the book Avitus of Vienne by Danuta Shanzer and Ian Wood. In this book, we find correspondence between Avitus and bishops and popes, senators and kings. His most compelling surviving literary work, however, is a letter he sent to the Frankish king Clovis celebrating the latter’s epochal baptism into the Catholic Church. Following is an excerpt:
Bishop Avitus to King Clovis (ca. AD 496)
The followers of error have in vain, by a cloud of contradictory and untrue opinions, sought to conceal from your extreme subtlety the glory of the Christian name. While we committed these questions to eternity and trusted that the truth of each man’s belief would appear at the Future Judgement, the ray of truth had shown forth even among the present shadows. Divine Providence has found an arbiter of our age. Your choice is a general sentence. Your faith is our victory….

What should be said of the glorious solemnity of your regeneration? If I could not assist in person among the ministers (of the rite), I shared in its joy. Thanks to God, our land took part in the thanksgiving for, before your baptism, a messenger of Your Most Subtle Humility informed us that you were “competens”. Therefore the sacred night (of Christmas) found us sure of what you would do. We saw (with the eyes of the spirit) that great site, when a crowd of bishops around you, in the ardor of their holy ministry, poured over your Royal limbs the water of life; when that head, feared by the masses, bowed down before the servants of God; when your royal locks, hidden under a helmet, were steeped in holy oil; when your breast relieved of its cuirass, shone with the same whiteness as your baptismal robes. Do not doubt, most flourishing of kings, that this soft clothing will give more force to your arms; whatever Fortune has given up to now, this sanctity will bestow.
These excerpts are taken from Clovis, King of the Franks – Toward a new Chronology, by Dane R. Pestano. Check out this article to read the entire letter and for a very interesting discussion on the dating of the baptism of Clovis.

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