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E00023: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Illidius (bishop of Clermont, ob. 384/5, S00022), explains that miracles from the grave are more reliable than miracles in life for demonstrating sanctity. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594.

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posted on 2014-08-31, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 2.2

Having recounted the one miracle of Illidius that he knows - how he exorcised the emperor's daughter (see $E00024) - Gregory continues:

§2: Et forsitan, ut plerumque murmurare homines soliti sunt, quispiam garrulatur, dicens: "Non potest hic habere inter sanctos pro unius tantum operatione miraculi". Nam, si perpenditur illud quod Dominus ait in euangelio: Multi, [inquit], dicunt mihi in illa die: "Domine, Domine, nonne in nomine tuo daemonia eiecimus virtutesque multas fecimus?" Et respondebo eis, dicens, quia non novi vos, profecto intellegit, quia magis proficit ad laudem virtus egressa de tumulo, quam ea quae quisquam vivens gessit in mundo; quia illa labem habere potuerunt per assidua mundanae occupationis impedimenta, haec vero omnem labem ad liquidum caruerunt. Ergo quia illa, ut credimus, quae sanctus Illidius ante hoc tempus operatus est, oblivioni data sunt nec ad nostram notitiam pervenerunt, ea quae propriis inspeximus oculis expertique sumus, vel quae a fidelibus agnita cognovimus, declaramus.

'§2: Since people are very accustomed to criticise, someone will perhaps foolishly say, "It is not possible for a man to be ranked among the saints just for this one miracle." But one should weigh well what the Lord says in the Gospel, "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not cast out demons in thy name, and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you" [Matthew 7:22-3]. Assuredly He means that the virtue which comes from the tomb is much more worthy of praise than those things which a living person has worked in this world, because the latter could be blemished by the continual difficulties of worldly occupations, while the former were certainly free from all blemish. And since, as we believe, the deeds done by the holy Illidius before his death have been forgotten and have not come to our knowledge, we will tell what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have experienced, or what we have learnt from trustworthy people.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 219-220. Translation: James 1991, 12-14, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Illidius, bishop of Clermont (Gaul), ob. 384/5 : S00022

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Tours Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Tours

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Scepticism/rejection of miracles

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Exorcism Observed scarcity/absence of miracles

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Monarchs and their family


Gregory, bishop of Tours from 573 until his death (probably in 594), was the most prolific hagiographer of all Late Antiquity. He wrote four books on the miracles of Martin of Tours, one on those of Julian of Brioude, and two on the miracles of other saints (the Glory of the Martyrs and Glory of the Confessors), as well as a collection of twenty short Lives of sixth-century Gallic saints (the Life of the Fathers). He also included a mass of material on saints in his long and detailed Histories, and produced two independent short works: a Latin version of the Acts of Andrew and a Latin translation of the story of The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. The Life of the Fathers by Gregory of Tours is different from his other hagiographical works (Miracles of Julian, Miracles of Martin, Glory of the Confessors and Glory of the Martyrs), which all concentrate on posthumous miracles of the saints. The Life of the Fathers, by contrast, describes the exemplary behaviour in life of twenty Gallic saints (for a list of the Lives, see $E05870). Gregory himself draws this contrast in the opening words of his preface: 'I had decided to write only about what has been achieved with divine help at the tombs of the blessed martyrs and confessors; but I have recently discovered information about those who have been raised to heaven by the merit of their blessed conduct here below, and I thought that their way of life, which is known to us through reliable sources, could strengthen the Church' (trans. James 1991, 1). In this preface Gregory also explains why he chose to call the book Life of the Fathers, not Lives of the Fathers: because they all lived the same bodily life. The nineteen Lives of men, and the single Life of a woman (Life 19), all relate to holy people of Gaul, the majority living in the mid to later sixth century. Although this agenda is unspoken, there can be little doubt that Gregory wrote these Lives partly to show that holiness, and the miraculous, were not just things of the past, but very much present within the Gaul of his day (a message that he expressed explicitly in his Histories). Almost all the saints he describes were active within one or other of the two dioceses with which Gregory was most familiar (his native Clermont, and Tours, the city of his episcopate), or indeed were his relatives (all bishops - Life 6 is of an uncle, Life 7 of a great-grandfather, and Life 8 of a great-uncle). Although Gregory says in his preface that they all shared one bodily life, in reality his saints fall into one of two distinct categories: holy bishops who are effective leaders of their flocks but only moderately ascetic (Lives 2, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 17), and holy ascetics who have withdrawn from the world and sometimes engage in extreme mortification of the body (Lives 1, 3, 5, 9-16, and 18-20). Gregory's work was unquestionably didactic in purpose - teaching the correct way to lead a good Christian life, and it is notable, for instance, how, in this work written by a bishop, his ascetics accept episcopal correction when necessary (Lives 15.2 and 20.3, in both cases from Gregory himself), and might even delay their death to suit the timetable of a bishop (Life 10.4). Because the focus is on the lives of these holy people, there is much less emphasis on their cult after death than in Gregory's other hagiographical works; however, all the Lives close with an account of the burial of the saint, and in almost all cases with reference to posthumous miracles recorded there (the exceptions are Lives 10, 11 and 20, which have no reference to miracles at the tomb). Gregory probably collected material for the Life of the Fathers (and perhaps wrote individual Lives) over a long period of time. However, from the words of his preface (quoted above) and from other references within the text, it is evident that he assembled his material into the polished work we have today only towards the very end of his life, after he had already written much of his extensive hagiography recording the miracles of saints lying in their graves. Because Gregory's views on saints do not seem to have changed during his writing life, we have not here expended energy in exploring the possible dating of individual lives, merely recording them all as written some time between 573 and 594. For more on the text, and on its dating: James 1991, xiii-xix; Shaw 2015, particularly 117-120.


For an overview of the Life of Illidius, see E00024. Gregory's interest in Illidius was certainly elicited by the cult he observed in his own times at the saint's grave in Clermont, and by the fact that he himself experienced a healing miracle there (E00024). The miracle on Gregory is the earliest attestation of the cult of Illidius and must have occurred in the 540s or 550s. When bishop Avitus raised Illidius' body and rebuilt the apse around it in the 570s or 580s (E00022), the cult was presumably flourishing. Gregory also owned relics of Illidius (E00027). All this prompted him to include Illidius in his Life of the Fathers, even though he had almost no information about the saint's origin and deeds, a decision he explains in the preface and in ch. 2. Noteworthy in this passage is the way in which Gregory confronts the popular perception that a saint should perform miracles in life, by expressing his view that miracles performed after death are a surer sign of sanctity. He quotes the Gospel of Matthew to support his conviction that some wondrous deeds done in life could be false miracles; miracles after death are conclusive proof of sanctity. Though he also notes that some of Illidius' deeds might have been forgotten. Gregory in his Histories I.45 also mentions that Illidius cast out a demon from the emperor's daughter in Trier.


Edition: Krusch, B., Gregorii Turonensis Opera. 2: Miracula et opera minora (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum I.2; 2nd ed.; Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1969). Translation: James, E., Gregory of Tours. Life of the Fathers (Translated Texts for Historians 1; 2nd ed.; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1991). de Nie, G., Gregory of Tours, Lives and Miracles (Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 39; Cambridge MA, 2015). Further reading: Shaw, R., "Chronology, Composition, and Authorial Conception in the Miracula", in: A.C. Murray (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden-Boston 2015), 102-140.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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