Nicetius of Trier, letter to Queen Chlodosinda (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 discussing the theological weaknesses of Arianism and the inability of Arians to benefit from the veneration of saints and relics (E00747
), and the superior miraculous powers of several Gallic saints, most prominently *Martin of Tours (E00674
), Nicetius calls on Chlodosinda to follow the example of her grandmother Queen Hrodehildis (Clotild), who led her husband Clovis towards Catholic Christianity.
Audisti ava tua, domna bone memoriae Hrodehildis, qualiter in Francia venerit, quomodo domnum Hlodoveum ad legem catholicam adduxerit; et, cum esset homo astutissimus, noluit adquiescere, antequam vera agnosceret. Cum ista, quae supra dixi, probata cognovit, humilis ad domni Martini limina cecidit et baptizare se sine mora promisit, qui baptizatus quanta in hereticos Alaricum vel Gundobadum regum fecerit, audisti; qualia dona ipse vel filii sui in saeculo possiderunt, non ignoratis.
'You have heard how your grandmother, Lady Hrodehildis [Clotild] of good memory, came into Francia, how she led the lord Hlodoveus [Clovis] towards the Catholic law, and how, since he was a most astute man, he was unwilling to acquiesce before he understood the truth. When he witnessed that the things I said above were proven, he humbly prostrated himself at the shrine of lord Martin and promised to be baptised without delay. You have heard how great were the things he did when he was baptised against the heretic kings Alaric and Gundobad. You are not ignorant of the kind of gifts he and sons possessed in the world.'
Text: Gundlach 1892, 122, lines 1-7. Translation: Hillgarth 1986, 80, adapted.
Saint NameMartin, bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050
Saint Name in SourceMartinus
Type of EvidenceLiterary - Letters
Evidence not before561
Evidence not after570
Activity not before496
Activity not after508
Place of Evidence - RegionGaul and Frankish kingdoms
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcTrier
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Trier
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult Activities - MiraclesMiracle after death
Healing diseases and disabilities
Miracles causing conversion
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesMonarchs and their family
SourceLetter 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 ($E00747 and $E00674), in which Nicetius puts forward arguments based on the power of saints and relics, as well as the reference to Martin discussed here.
DiscussionIn this part of the letter, Nicetius alludes to the role of the Frankish queen Clotild (Hrodehildis), Chlodosinda's grandmother, in the conversion of her husband Clovis to Catholic Christianity. Although Clotild later came to be regarded as a saint, there is no evidence in the present text that Nicetius regarded her as a saint, merely as a role model for Chlodosinda.
On the importance of Clotild's influence, Nicetius is in agreement with the much longer narrative of Clovis's conversion provided by Gregory of Tours, Histories 2.28-31. However, Nicetius and Gregory differ on other points. Gregory claims that the decisive moment in Clovis's conversion was his victory in a battle against the Alamanni, during which he appealed to the Christian God (Histories 2.30). There is no mention of this in Nicetius' letter. Instead it is stated that, while Clotild 'led' (adduxerit) Clovis towards Catholic Christianity, he was 'unwilling to acquiesce before he recognised the truth' (noluit adquiescere, antequam vera agnosceret). Then, 'when he witnessed that the things I said above were proven, he humbly prostrated himself at the shrine of lord Martin and promised to be baptised without delay' (cum ista, quae supra dixi, probata cognovit, humilis ad domni Martini limina cecidit et baptizare se sine mora promisit). The implication is that when Clovis saw that arguments about the inferiority of Arianism, such as those put forward by Nicetius, were proved by the visible evidence of miracles around Martin's shrine at Tours (described by Nicetius earlier in the letter: E00674), he promised to be baptised. Nicetius does not discuss the circumstances of Clovis's actual baptism, which Gregory implies took place at Reims (Histories 2.31).
By 'the shrine of lord Martin' (ad domni Martini limina), Nicetius means Martin's burial place at Tours (limina literally means 'thresholds', but had become a common word for a saint's shrine). In Clovis's time this was a church built by Bishop Perpetuus in the 460s, which replaced the one built immediately after Martin's death by his successor Brictius (Sidonius Apollinaris, Letters 4.18, E06625; Gregory of Tours, Histories 2.14, 10.31, E02023, E02391; Miracles of Martin 1.6, E02805; Pietri 1987, 32-34).
There is no trace of the event described by Nicetius in Gregory's narrative of Clovis's conversion. Given Gregory's veneration for Martin and general interest in magnifying the importance of his cult, such an omission is striking. It is possible that Gregory was unaware of Nicetius' letter, but (assuming that Nicetius is relaying an accepted story about Clovis, and has not simply invented it) it would still be surprising if he were unaware of the incident itself. The precise explanation for Gregory's silence is likely to remain a matter for conjecture, but one possibility is that Nicetius' account did not fit his agenda of presenting Clovis as converting directly from paganism to Catholicism, untouched by any alternative form of Christianity. Nicetius cites Clovis's decision to be baptised as a Catholic in the context of a choice between Catholicism and Arianism: the miracles which he says prompted Clovis's baptism are those which he claims would persuade Alboin to become a Catholic rather than an Arian, and his parallel between Chlodosinda and Clotild also suggests that he saw both as trying to win over a husband who, if not actually an Arian, was at least willing to contemplate becoming one.
While Nicetius' reference to Clovis's conversion is earlier than Gregory's account, Nicetius was still writing long after the event: between 53 and 72 years, depending on the dates of his letter and of the baptism of Clovis (the date of the latter is placed variously between 496 and 508 by scholars, with the Nicetius passage being one of the pieces of evidence discussed: for differing views see Spencer 1994 and Shanzer 1998). Nicetius has an agenda of his own, which may lead to distortions as great as any by Gregory. Indeed, his account raises an immediate problem in that he states that Clovis's baptism took place before his wars against the Burgundians under Gundobad (in 500) and the Visigoths under Alaric II (in 507), while it was only after the latter victory that Tours came under Frankish rule. There is therefore an obvious suggestion of chronological distortion in his account, whether this is deliberate or simply the result of dependence on anecdotes passed down by oral tradition. His account does show, however, that at least one strand in the traditions about Clovis's conversion attributed a major role to the cult of Martin.
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.
Pietri, L., "Tours," in: N. Gauthier and J.-Ch. Picard (eds.), Topographie chrétienne des cités de la Gaule des origines au milieu du VIIIe siècle, vol. 5: Province ecclésiastique de Tours (Lugdunensis Tertia) (Paris: Boccard, 1987), 19-39.
Shanzer, D., “Dating the baptism of Clovis: the bishop of Vienne vs the bishop of Tours,” Early Medieval Europe 7:1 (1998), 29-57.
Spencer, M., “Dating the baptism of Clovis, 1886-1993,” Early Medieval Europe 3:2 (1994), 97-116.