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E00747: Bishop Nicetius of Trier (eastern Gaul) claims that relics and churches dedicated to the saints are ineffective for Arians; he mentions Gothic veneration for the *Apostles (S00084), and alludes to churches or shrines of *Peter (the Apostle, S00036), *Paul (the Apostle, S00008), and *John (either the Baptist, S00020, or the Apostle and Evangelist, S00042), all probably at Rome. Letter to Chlodosinda, Queen of the Lombards, written in Latin between 561 and 569, presumably at Trier.

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posted on 2015-09-28, 00:00 authored by Bryan, dlambert
Nicetius of Trier, letter to Queen Cholodosinda (Epistolae Austrasicae 8)

The purpose of Nicetius' letter is to call upon Chlodosinda, a Frankish princess who had married Alboin, King of the Lombards, to persuade her husband to become a Nicene rather than an Arian. After denouncing the presence of Arian clerics at Alboin's court and putting forward biblical and theological arguments against Arianism, Nicetius discusses veneration of the saints:

Ad duodecim discipulos, quos habuit et habet, veniamus, quia ipsi Gothi hodie ipsis venerationem inpendent et reliquiis eorum, sed furtive tollent, sed nihil ibi habent, quia fidem eorum ad nulla re praesumunt. Quid est, quod in basilicas eorum, ubi corpora ipsorum hodie venerantur, non ingrediuntur? Quid est, quod nihil ibidem praesumere audent, nisi furtive, ut canes a foris, animas decipent, cum illos suos fideles rex Alboenus ibidem mittat, et ad domni Petri, Pauli, Iohannis vel reliquorum sanctorum limina perducat? Ibidem missas facere, si audent, deliberent; sed non audent, quia domni Petri discipuli non apparent et contrarii Christi esse probantur: quia, quod per crucem ipse redemit, distruere infelices inveniuntur. Qua causa venena eorum talis rex et talis aetas percipit.

'Let us come to the twelve disciples of Christ, whom he had and has, for the Goths themselves today venerate them and their relics, but they receive them furtively, they possess nothing there, because their faith achieves nothing. Why is it that they do not enter the basilicas where the bodies are venerated? Why is it that when King Alboin sends his faithful men there and leads them to the shrines of the lords Peter, Paul, John or of other saints, that they do not dare to undertake anything there, except furtively, like dogs from outside, so that they may deceive souls? They think about celebrating masses there, if they dare; but they do not dare, because they are clearly not disciples of the lord Peter and are proved to be opponents of Christ, because these unhappy men are found to destroy what he redeemed by the cross. And so such a king and such an age perceives their poison.'

Nicetius then goes on to describe the miracles of several individual Gallic saints and contrast them with the alleged absence of such miracles among Arians (E00674), and to call upon Chlodosinda to imitate the role of her grandmother Clotilde in the conversion of Clovis, referencing the cult of Martin in his account of Clovis's conversion (E00760).

Text: Gundlach 1892, 121, lines 14-23. Translation: Hillgarth 1986, 79-80, adapted.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Peter the Apostle : S00036 Paul, the Apostle : S00008 John the Baptist : S00020 Apostles (unspecified) : S00084 John, Apostle and Evangelist : S00042

Saint Name in Source

Petrus Paulus Iohannes Duodecim discipuli Iohnnes

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters


  • 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)

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

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Considerations about the veneration of saints

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives


Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Bodily relic - unspecified


Letter from Bishop Nicetius of Trier to Chlodosinda (Hlodosuinda/Chlodosuinth/Clotsind), a Frankish princess (daughter of Chlothar I) who had married the Lombard king Alboin. The letter was written after the marriage of Chlodosinda and Alboin in 561; its terminus ante quem is provided by the deaths of both Chlodosinda and Nicetius himself in the late 560s (though in neither case at a date which is known precisely). The letter survives as part of the collection of letters from early Frankish Gaul known as the Epistolae Austrasicae (Austrasian Letters). The letter seeks to inspire Chlodosinda to persuade Alboin to become a Catholic rather than an Arian. Alboin's religious position is not entirely clear, and it has often been assumed that he was already an Arian, but it seems more probable that he was a pagan considering converting to Arianism, or wavering between Arianism and Catholicism (see Fanning 1981, 245-246, and for a recent survey of scholarship, Majocchi 2014, 231-234). Nicetius begins by denouncing Alboin's willingness to receive and tolerate those who 'preach two Gods' (duos deos praedicant). He then puts forward various arguments against Arianism, which he suggests Chlodosinda should use to persuade her husband. Some of these are theological, based on biblical passages which Nicetius alleges are incompatible with Arianism, or on the alleged logical incoherence of Arian soteriology. He also calls on Chlodesinda to imitate the role of her grandmother Hrodehildis (Clotild) in persuading her husband Clovis to convert to Catholic Christianity. There are two passages in the letter (this one and $E00674), in which Nicetius puts forward arguments based on the power of saints and relics, as well as a reference to the role of Martin's miracles in the conversion of Clovis ($E00760).


In this passage, Nicetius argues that venerating the burial places and relics of the saints provides no benefit for heretics. He claims that 'Goths' (used by Nicetius as if it was a synonym for 'heretics') venerate the twelve disciples and their relics, but do so only furtively, and that they do not dare to enter their churches or hold masses there; or if they do so, only dare to sneak in 'like dogs from outside' (ut canes a foris). Nicetius' letter was written between the defeat of the Ostrogoths by Justinian's forces in 552 and the invasion of Italy by the Lombards in 568. The Lombards were at this point settled in Pannonia, but the events at churches which the letter alludes to can be assumed to have taken place in Italy. The place where a mission sent by Alboin visited 'the shrines of the lords Peter, Paul, John, and the other saints' (domni Petri, Pauli, Iohannis vel reliquorum sanctorum limina) was probably Rome. Although Italy was part of the Roman empire at this point, Nicetius implies that Goths were still a visible presence around Roman or Italian churches. It has been plausibly suggested (Pohl 2000, 54) that these were Arian clergy dispossessed of their churches following the Roman reconquest, which would suggest a more mundane reason for their reluctance to enter churches openly than Nicetius' imputation that they were ashamed or aware of their own religious incapacity. At a general level, Nicetius' argument acknowledges that there is no difference between the veneration offered to the saints and to their relics by Catholics and Arians, while insisting that such veneration provides no benefit to the latter. Having made this point, Nicetius moves on to a related argument about the miraculous powers of Catholic saints, and the absence of such powers among the Arians (E00674).


Editions: Gundlach, W., Epistolae Austrasicae, in: Epistolae Merowingici et Karolini Aevi (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Epistolae 3; Berlin: Apud Weidmannos, 1892), 119-122. Malaspina, E., Il "Liber epistolarum" della cancellaria austrasica (sec. V-VI) (Biblioteca di cultura romanobarbarica 4; Rome: Herder, 2001), 87-97, with Italian translation and commentary. Partial English translation: Hillgarth, J.N., Christianity and Paganism, 350-750: The Conversion of Western Europe (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986), 79-80. Further reading: Fanning, S.C., "Lombard Arianism Reconsidered," Speculum 56:2 (1981), 241-258. Majocchi, P., "Arrianorum abolevit heresem: The Lombards and the Ghost of Arianism," in G.M. Berndt and R. Steinacher (eds.), Arianism: Roman Heresy and Barbarian Creed (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), 231-238. Pohl, W., "Deliberate Ambiguity: The Lombards and Christianity," in G. Armstrong and I. Wood (eds.), Christianizing Peoples and Converting Individuals (Turnhout: Brepols, 2000), 47-58.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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