St Germanus of Auxerre (August 3) (with a postscript on Office history)


St Patrick being taugt by St Germanus,
Gloucester Cathedral

Today is the feast of St Germanus, a fourth century (378-448) bishop of Auxerre.

His feast is also celebrated by some English monasteries because he made at least one, and possibly two trips to that country to counter the Pelagian heresy.

One of his claims to fame is that St Patrick may have been part of his entourage on that occasion.  There is another possible English connection though, that has some relevance to the history of the Office in the seventh century that I've set out below for those interested.

First though, the saint himself - and he's a saint with a great story.

Life of St Germanus

Originally trained as a lawyer, Germanus rose to become a governor in Gaul, but was far from saintly in his behaviour, antagonising his bishop by hanging the products of his hunting expeditions from a tree with pagan associations.  The bishop had the tree chopped down and the trophies burnt; to prevent retribution he had him forcibly tonsured and ordained a deacon.

Overnight Germanus became a changed man, distributing his goods among the poor, practising great austerities.  When he became a bishop, he built a large monastery to which he often retired.

On his English trip (or trips) he was instrumental in promoting the cult of St Alban, the first recorded British martyr.  He was most famous though, for personally leading a battle against the invading Picts and Saxons.

The story goes that the pagans were lured to attack, thinking that the Christians would be busy celebrating Easter.  St Germanus, though, started the service, and at the end of it ordered his small band of fighters to spread themselves out on the hills to surround the invaders. He told each group to build some huge fires, but wait until the signal to light them. At some point after midnight, Germanus ordered the men of his group to strike their shields with their weapons, light their signal fire, and begin to shout, "Alleluia! Alleluia!"  The enemy were taken by surprise and panicked, ran, some of them drowning while attempting to cross a nearby river, the only casualties of the "Alleluia Battle."

Here is the description of what happened from the life of the saint by Constantius of Lyon, written around 480:
Meanwhile, the Saxons and the Picts had joined forces to make war upon the Britons. The latter had been compelled to withdraw their forces within their camp and, judging their resources to be utterly unequal to the contest, asked the help of the holy prelates. The latter sent back a promise to come, and hastened to follow it. Their coming brought such a sense of security that you might have thought that a great army had arrived; to have such apostles for leaders was to have Christ Himself fighting in the camp.
It was the season of Lent and the presence of the bishops made the sacred forty days still more sacred; so much so that the soldiers, who received instruction in daily sermons, flew eagerly to the grace of baptism; indeed, great numbers of this pious army sought the waters of salvation. A church was built of leafy branches in readiness for Easter Day, on the plan of a city church, though set in a camp on active service. The soldiers paraded still wet from baptism, faith was fervid, the aid of weapons was thought little of, and all looked for help from heaven.
Meanwhile the enemy had learned of the practices and appearance of the camp. They promised themselves an easy victory over practically disarmed troops and pressed on in haste. But their approach was discovered by scouts and, when the Easter solemnities had been celebrated, the army--the greater part of it fresh from the font--began to take up their weapons and prepare for battle and Germanus announced that he would be their general [dux proelii, "leader for this battle"]. He chose some light-armed troops and made a tour of the outworks. In the direction from which the enemy were expected he saw a valley enclosed by steep mountains. Here he stationed an army on a new model, under his own command.
By now the savage host of the enemy was close at hand and Germanus rapidly circulated an order that all should repeat in unison the call he would give as a battle-cry. Then, while the enemy were still secure in the belief that their approach was unexpected, the bishops three times chanted the Alleluia. All, as one man, repeated it and the shout they raised rang through the air and was repeated many times in the confined space between the mountains.
The enemy were panic-stricken, thinking that the surrounding rocks and the very sky itself were falling on them. Such was their terror that no effort of their feet seemed enough to save them. They fled in every direction, throwing away their weapons and thankful if they could save at least their skins. Many threw themselves into the river which they had just crossed at their ease, and were drowned in it.
Thus the British army looked on at its revenge without striking a blow, idle spectators of the victory achieved. The booty strewn everywhere was collected; the pious soldiery obtained the spoils of a victory from heaven. The bishops were elated at the rout of the enemy without bloodshed and a victory gained by faith and not by force.(trans Robert Vermaat
On his return to Gaul, he proceeded to Armorica (Brittany) to intercede for the Armoricans who had been in rebellion. Their punishment was deferred at his entreaty, till he should have laid their case before the emperor. He set out for Italy, and reached Milan on 17 June, 448. Then he journeyed to Ravenna, where he interviewed the empress-mother, Galla Placidia, on their behalf. The empress and the bishop of the city, St. Peter Chrysologus, gave him a royal welcome, and the pardon he sought was granted

Postscript: Which St Germanus?

There is another possible English connection to St Germanus though, and this is one for Office history tragics, as it is rather obscure!

The possible connection is a reference to a St Germanus in Ordo Romani XIX.

The Office in the seventh century and the Ordines Romani

The Ordines Romani are kind of a combination between a customary and a rituale, describing how the liturgy should be performed, but also covering aspects of daily life in the monastery (such as the table blessings included in Ordo XIX).

Most of them date from the seventh to the ninth centuries, and were probably written by monks and others from Gaul and elsewhere, but purport to describe Roman practice, typically as the exemplar all should follow.

A small sub-set of them, though, have been argued to be the work of an actual Roman monk of the seventh century, Abbot John of St Martin's, one of the four monasteries attached to St Peter's at the Vatican, aka St Bede the Venerable's John the Archcantor. [1]

One of this group, Ordo XIX, contains an intriguing section naming various popes and others who contributed to the development of the Roman liturgy, exhorting obedience and conformity, and talking about the dark clouds of heresy that were swirling around.  And in this discussion it names four bishops as exemplars, namely SS Hilary, Martin, Germanus and Ambrose.

Both the editor of the Ordines Romani, Andrieu (who rejected the claim that it was written by John the Archcantor)[2], and the most recent commentator on it, Constant Mews (who argues for John's authorship) [3] identified the Germanus in question as the sixth century bishop of Paris, presumably because of his liturgical interests.

I wonder though, if Germanus of Auxerre isn't a much better fit, and indeed helps make the case that the document is indeed the work of  'John the Archcantor', abbot of the monastery of St Martin's, attached to St Peter's in the Vatican, who visited England around 680.

The date and authorship of the document is important, because it potentially provides some hard evidence for the use of the Benedictine Office in Rome (contrary to the claims of Guy Hallinger back in 1957)[4], and even more importantly, perhaps, its use and transmission to England, countering the claims most recently by Jesse Billett, in his The Divine Office in the Middle Ages, [5] for example.

Ordo Romani XIX

I'm not going to go into all of the arguments for and against its identification, I just want to focus on the four bishops mentioned in the text.

Andrieu, the editor of the Ordines, dated it to the late eighth century because of its references to a swirling seventh heresy, which he saw as iconoclasm, addressed in the eighth ecumenical council in 787.

But a century earlier, heresy was just as much a focus, and indeed while St Bede focuses primarily on John the Archcantor's role in running chant classes for monks from Wearmouth-Jarrow for monks from all over the province, he also discusses what was in reality, probably John's main mission, namely to consult the foremost theological expert on the heresy in question, Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury [6], and to drum up support for the Pope's plan to take on the Eastern Church - and more importantly Emperor - on the heresy of Monethelitism.

In the run up to the Third Council of Constantinople in 680-1, a series of regional synods were held, and John was the Pope's representative at the one held in Hatfield in England.

This was delicate ground for the Western Church - the last Pope who had confronted the Emperor on this subject, Martin I - who is probably not coincidentally the last Pope named in Ordo Romani XIX - was martyred for his efforts.

Standing up to Emperors - and winning

Andrieu saw the list of four bishops - all from Gaul or Northern Italy - as evidence of its non-Roman origin.

But in fact all four of these bishops, at least if we count Germanus of Auxerre rather than Paris, have other claims to fame, that might have made them appropriate models for John the Archcantor's cause, namely associations with countering key heresies that afflicted Rome at various points, and of having stood up to Emperors, and won.

St Hilary of Poitiers (310-367), apart from being known as a writer of hymns, was famous as the 'hammer of the Arians' and had confrontations with two Emperors on the subject.

St Martin of Tours (316-397) was initially a disciple of Hilary's, and affected by his various Arian-related exiles.  But he also famously told Julian the Apostate that he could no longer serve him as a soldier; he also later interceded for some Priscillian heretics with the Emperor, seeking for them to be dealt with by the Church rather than State.  And of course his inclusion on the list perhaps fits neatly with the fact that John was abbot of a monastery dedicated to him, and had stopped over at Tours on the trip to England, and promised to visit on the way back (he died before he could make it, but St Bede relates that because of his devotion to St Martin, his friends carried his body to Tours and he was buried there).

St Ambrose (340-397) is famous on several grounds for his liturgical contributions, but also for converting St Augustine from Manichaeanism, refusing demands from two Emperors to turn over churches to the Arians, and actually outright excommunicating the Emperor Theodosius, and making him do penance.

Germanus of Auxerre (378-448) also has some claim to liturgical fame in the form of the cult of St Alban and the Alleluia Battle, was associated with countering another key heresy that made it to Rome, in the form of Pelagianism, and also successfully interceded with the Emperor of his day, and of course his English associations would make him particularly appropriate to call upon in the context of John the Archcantor's visit to that country.

So we have four, more or less contemporary bishops, all with liturgical associations but also all famous for combatting heresy, and all famous for surviving encounters with emperors (and though I haven't gone into these, all also with some monastic associations).  And Germanus of Auxerre, particularly appropriate for a work written for the English monks...

Just speculation though!

For those interested, the paragraph in question is:

39. Nescio qua fronte vel termitate presumptuoso spiritu ausi sunt beatum Hilarium atque Martinum sive Germano vel Ambrosio, seu plures sanctos Dei, quos scrimus de sancta sede romana a beato Petro apostolum [et] soccessoribus suis directus in terra ista occidentale et virtutis atque miracolis curuscare...


Footnotes

[1] The original identication of the group of Ordines was made by C Silva-Tarouca, Giovanni 'archicantor' di S Piero a Roma e 'l's Ordo' romanus da lui composto (anno 680), Alli della Pontificio Academia rom. di archeologica, Memorie, vol 1, Parte 1, Rome, 1923, pp150-219.  St Bede's description of the visit of John the Archcantor can be found in his History of the English Church and People, Book 4, chapter 18.

[2] Michel Andrieu (ed), Les Ordines Romani du haut moyen age (ed) Louvain : Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense Administration, 1956-1974.  Ordines XIX is in volume 3, pp 217-227, but the discussion on its date and authorship is spread between the overall introduction to volume 3 (pp 3-21) and that for the particular Ordo (pp 211-13).

[3] Constant J. Mews,  Gregory the Great, the Rule of Benedict and Roman liturgy: the evolution of a legend, Journal of Medieval History, 2011, 37:2, 125-144.

[4] Guy Hallinger, Early Roman Monasteries Notes for the history of the monasteries and convents at Rome from the v through the X century, Pontificio Istuto di Archeologia Cristiana, Rome, 1957.  Hallinger's claims have come under increasing fire in recent times; apart from Mews above, see for example Marios Costambeys and Conrad Leyser, To be the neighbour of St Stephen: patronage, martyr cult, and Roman monasteries c, 600-900 in Kate Cooper and Julia Hillner ed, Religion, Dynasty, and Patronage in Early Christian Rome, 300-900, CUP 2007, pp 262-287.

[5] Jesse D. Billett, The Divine Office in Anglo-Saxon England 597-c. 1000, Henry Bradshaw Society: London, 2014

[6] Archbishop Theodore was originally an Eastern refugee monk who ended up at Rome.  He almost certainly attended the Lateran Synod of 649 (mentioned by Bede in his account) on the monthelite heresy as a periti: see Michael Lapidge, The Career of Archbishop Theodore in Lapidge (ed) Archbishop Theodore: Commemorative Studies on his life and influence, CUP, 1995.


No comments: