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E00175: Gregory of Tours, in the Preface to his Life of *Friardus (recluse near Nantes, ob. 573, S00078), describes various routes to holiness. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594.

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posted on 2014-11-14, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 10 preface

Multi enim sunt gradus, per quos ad caelorum regna conscenditur, de quibus, ut opinor, et David dicit, quia: Ascensus in corde disposuit. Accipientur ergo hi gradus diversorum operum ad cultum divinum profectus, et nullus in his gressum figere potest, nisi fuerit, sicut saepe testati sumus, Dei adiutorio provocatus. Sic enim psalmographus in illo mediae profectionis gradu loquitur, dicens: Nisi Dominus aedificaverit domum, in vanum laborant qui aedificant eam. Quod adiutorium non modo martyres, verum etiam et illi quos sacrae vitae roboravit auctoritas iugiter inquerentes, ad hoc quod sitis desiderii spiritalis promebat alacres pervenerunt. Nam si ad martyrium mens accensa est, huius adiutorii opem poposcit martyr, ut vinceret; si ieiunii observantiam adhibere studuit, ut ab eo confortaretur, adflictus est; si castitati artus reservare voluit inpollutos, ut ab illo muniretur, oravit; si post ignorantiam paenitendo converti desideravit, ut ab eo nihilominus sublevaretur, cum lacrimis flagitavit, et si quid operis boni exercere eorum quispiam meditatus est, ut ab hoc adiutorio iuvaretur, expetiit. Per hos ergo scalae huius ascensus tam difficiles tamque excelsos, tam arduos, cum sint diversi, ad unum tamen Dominum per huius adiutorii ope conscenditur. Idcirco semper ille poscendus, ille quaerendus, ille invocandus erit, ut quod de bono mens concipit adiutorio suo ipse perficiat, de quo et nobis sine fine oportet dicere: Adiutorium nostrum in nomine Domini, qui fecit caelum et terram (...).

'There are many steps by which one can reach heaven, and it is of them, I think, that David speaks when he says "In whose heart are the steps of them" [Psalm 84:5]. These steps of various works are a progression in the worship of God, and no-one can walk this path, as we have seen many times, without being spurred on by the help of God. It is this that the Psalmist means when he says "Except the Lord built the house, they labour in vain that build it" [Psalm 127:1]. And this assistance has been promptly obtained, not only by the martyrs but also by all those whom discipline has strengthened in the life of holiness, earnestly seeking what was promised by their thirst of spiritual desire. And indeed, if a desire for martyrdom was kindled in a mind, the martyr sought this assistance in order to conquer; if someone wished to fast he asked it in order to obtain the necessary strength; if someone wished to preserve his body from all attacks against its chastity, he begged for it as a defence; if someone, leaving error, repented and burned with a desire to convert, he implored with tears that he might somehow be supported; and if someone wished to accomplish some good deed, he likewise asked for this help. Thus the steps of this ladder, which is so difficult, high and arduous, are very varied, but by means of this assistance one climbs to a sole God. This is why it is always necessary to ask Him, to invoke Him, so that what the spirit conceives to be good may be accomplished with His help. Thus we ought to say ceaselessly "Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth".'

Text: Krusch 1969, 255-256. Translation: James 1991, 71.


Evidence ID


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 - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Considerations about the hierarchy of saints


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 Friardus, see E0174. Here Gregory asserts that all ways leading to sanctity equally need God's protection in order to be accomplished. He however names martyrdom in the first place and compares all other ways of achieving sanctity with it; he also uses the metaphor of a ladder: the entire argument seems to contain expressions and notions characteristic for a hierarchic idea of sainthood. It is possibly not without reason that such an argument precedes the Life of Friardus, a very particular saint whose path to sanctity was indeed quite peculiar and did not fit the hagiographic patterns Gregory was familiar with (see Discussion in E00174).


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