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E03009: Paulinus of Nola writes to *Victricius of Rouen (confessor and bishop of Rouen, ob. c. 405, S01365), narrating Victricius' conversion in the style of hagiography, and describing him as a living martyr. Letter written in Latin at Nola (southern Italy), c. 397/8.

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posted on 19.06.2017, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Paulinus of Nola, Letter 18

Paulinus writes from Nola to introduce himself to Bishop Victricius of Rouen (he notes in the letter that they had met some years previously, before Paulinus' conversion, but this was their first epistolary contact). After praising Victricius' success in bringing Christianity to the inhabitants of remote parts of Gaul, Paulinus describes Victricius' conversion from his secular career as a soldier:

(7.) ... Quod diuinae prouidentiae circa te fuisse consilium ingens postea exitus tuus a militia et ingressus ad fidem docuit. Cum primo Christi amore suscensus ordinante ipso domino quandam operis sui pompam per insignem concilio militari diem progressus in campum es, toto illo quem iam mente respueras muniminum bellicorum praecinctus ornatu cunctis que mirantibus adcuratissimos in te habitus ac terribiles apparatus repente obstupefacto conuersus exercitu ante pedes sacrilegi tribuni militiae sacramenta permutans arma sanguinis abiecisti, ut arma pacis indueres, contemnens armari ferro, qui armabaris Christo.

Et ilico antiqui serpentis inuidia concitato in furias tribuno districtus in uerbera et uastis fustibus fractus nec tamen uictus es, quia crucis ligno innitebaris. Geminata que mox corpori poena acuto testarum fragmine laniata inmanibus plagis membra substratus es, tunc mollius fulciente Christo, cuius tibi gremium lectulus erat et dextra puluinar. Vnde ad maiorem hostem necdum uulneribus obductis accensa potius eorum dolore quam fracta uirtute reparatus fortior prosiluisti oblatusque comiti de potentiore inimico gloriosius triumphasti. Nec ausis ultra diaboli satellitibus superata ingerere tormenta capitalem que sententiam meditantibus, ut uel fine carnalis tuae uitae uinci desinerent, dominus noster fortis et potens et inuictus in proelio conspicuis mirabilibus pectora quamlibet obdurata confudit. Nam carnifex, qui in itinere, quo percussorem tuum sacra uictima sequebaris, ceruicem tuam insultans minaciter adtingendi temeritate uiolauerat, quasi ictus sui locum praecurrente gladium manu palpans, excussis ilico oculis caecitate percussus est. O Christi ineffabilis bonitas quantum in suos ostendit affectum! Iniuriam confessoris sui non tulit inpunitam qui suis crucifixoribus rogauit ignosci, contumeliam martyris statim ultus est qui passionem noluit uindicari. Sed ea ipsa ira pietatis est. Idcirco enim unus caecatus est, ut plures inluminarentur et ipse forsitan, qui oculos carnis amiserat, lumina mentis acciperet.

Statim denique maiore documento qui feralis custodiae ministerium triste curabant, quas ipsi artius innodatas et ad ossa depressas uel exiguo rogantibus uobis beneficio relaxare noluerant catenas, conuersa in conspectu ipsorum prece uestra ad deum Christum sponte de manibus absolutis fluere uiderunt nec ausi renectere quod deus soluerat ad comitem pauidi cucurrerunt, ueritatem dei pro confessoribus confitentes. Quod auditum religiose et creditum comes principi suo cum testimonio militum retulit, et, ut ipsius quoque repentina ad clementiam de furore conuersio inter mirabilia dei numeraretur, factus est in te praedicator Christi, in quo esse deuouerat persecutor. Puto et ipsum tamquam Saulem aliquando spiritu sancto dominus inpleuerat, quia et te sicut Dauid suum diligebat, ut sicut ille rex quondam, dum ad prophetas persequendos proficiscitur, affectus est, ita et comes ille respersus gratia domini, quae de fidei tuae abundantia redundabat, qui ad puniendum confessorem uenerat, et ipse confessus abscederet. Credidit enim et quos saeuiens praedamnarat ut reos laudans emisit ut sanctos et testimonium perhibuit ueritati qui testes fidei punire cupiebat.


'(7.) ... Your subsequent abandonment of military service and your entry into the faith showed that divine providence had attached to you an important design. As soon as you were fired with love for Christ, the Lord Himself arranged a display of His activity. You marched onto the parade ground on the day designated for military assembly. You were clad in all the adornment of the armour of war which by then you had mentally rejected. All were admiring your most punctilious appearance and your awe-inspiring equipment, when suddenly the army gaped with surprise. You changed direction, altered your military oath of allegiance, and before the feet of your impious commanding officer you threw down the arms of blood to take up the arms of peace. Now that you were armed with Christ, you despised weapons of steel.

Straightaway the commander was roused to fury by the venom of the serpent of old. You were stretched out for scourging and beaten with huge sticks; but you were not conquered because you leaned on the wood of the Cross. Next your physical pain was redoubled. Your limbs, lacerated by great blows, were stretched out over sharp fragments of earthenware. But Christ gave you softer support, for His bosom was your bed and His right hand your pillow. So before your wounds were healed, you advanced eagerly and more bravely on a greater enemy, for you were restored by courage which was fired rather than broken by the pain of your wounds. You were handed over to the commanding general, but your triumph over this more powerful enemy was more glorious still. The clients of the devil did not dare to pile on further the torture which you had overcome, but they mooted the death penalty so that their defeats might end at any rate with the termination of your bodily life. But our Lord who is strong and mighty and unconquered in battle shattered their hearts, however obstinate, with notable miracles. For on that journey on which you followed your assassin as a sacred victim, the executioner with menacing taunts laid a rash hand on your neck, stroking with a hand which sought to foreshadow the sword the spot where his blow would strike. But there and then his eyes were torn from him, and he was struck with blindness. What love Christ’s indescribable goodness proffers to His own! He who begged pardon for those who crucified Him did not let the slight to His confessor go unpunished; He who refused to have His Passion avenged requited at once the insult to His witness. Yet this very anger is a mark of fatherly love, for one was blinded that many might be given light, and perhaps so that he who had lost physical sight should obtain mental insight.

Finally, there immediately followed a still greater sign. Those who performed the grim duty of guarding the condemned had refused your plea for the trifling kindness of loosening your bonds which were knotted too tightly and bit into your bones. But when before their eyes you addressed your prayers to Christ who is God, they saw the bonds without human agency drop away from your freed hands. They did not dare to fasten again what God had loosed, and so they fearfully rushed to the general, proclaiming the truth of God as if they were themselves confessors. He listened carefully, and believing the story he recounted it to his emperor with the soldiers’ testimony. His action then showed that his sudden change from anger to mercy should be counted among God’s miracles. Though he had vowed to persecute Christ in your person, Instead he praised Him in you. I believe that the Lord had at last filled him, as He had filled Saul, with the Holy Spirit, for he loved you as if you were his David. He was sprinkled with the Lord’s grace overflowing from the abundance of your faith, just as King Saul was affected after he set out to persecute the prophets. The official had come to punish the confessor, but retired himself confessing Christ. For he believed. Those whom he had previously savagely condemned as guilty, he praised as holy men and released. He who was eager to punish witnesses to the faith himself bore witness to the truth.'


Paulinus goes on to mention that he had met Victricius some years earlier, at Vienne in Gaul, which Paulinus had visited to see Martin of Tours. This was before Paulinus' conversion to asceticism, and Paulinus says that as a result he failed to recognise Victricius' holiness:

(9.) ... contenebrantibus me illo tempore non solum peccatis, quibus etiam nunc premor, sed et curis huius saeculi, quibus nunc propitio deo liber sum, sacerdotem te tantum, quod in medio erat, uiderim et, quod inerat insignius, martyrem uiuum uidere nescierim.

'(9.) ... At that time I was shrouded not only in the sins which still afflict me, but also in worldly cares, from which God’s kindness has now freed me; so in my ignorance I saw you only as the bishop you were on the surface, and I had not the knowledge to recognise you in your more splendid capacity as living martyr.'


Text: Hartel/Kamptner 1999. Translation: Walsh 1967. Summary: David Lambert.

History

Evidence ID

E03009

Saint Name

Victricius, bishop of Rouen, ob. c. 405 : S01365

Saint Name in Source

Victricius

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters Documentary texts

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

397

Evidence not after

405

Activity not before

350

Activity not after

405

Place of Evidence - Region

Italy south of Rome and Sicily

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Nola

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

Nola Adriatic Sea Adriatic Sea Adriaticum Mare

Major author/Major anonymous work

Paulinus of Nola

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Transmission, copying and reading saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracles experienced by the saint Miracles causing conversion Punishing miracle

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Soldiers

Source

Letter 27 in the letter collection of Paulinus of Nola (ob. 431). It is one of many letters which Paulinus addressed to aristocratic and ascetic Roman circles in the later fourth and early fifth centuries. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Paulinus did not curate any collection of his letters: instead collections were compiled by friends and admirers. The letter was written after the death of Martin of Tours in 397, probably in 397 or 398 (Trout 1999, 291).

Discussion

This letter was written by Paulinus of Nola sometime after 397 to introduce himself and initiate a correspondence with Victricius, bishop of Rouen in northern Gaul. Paulinus mentions in the letter (§ 9) that he had once met Victricius in person, at Vienne in southern Gaul, where Paulinus had gone to meet Martin of Tours. At the time Victricius was already a bishop, but Paulinus had not yet abandoned his secular career (Trout 1999, 230, dates the meeting to sometime between 383 and 389). He evidently did not find Victricius as significant a figure as he did by the time he wrote this letter. Victricius is well-attested as a missionary bishop and an advocate of the cult of relics, and was the author of the extant Praising the Saints (De laude sanctorum): E00717; E00723; E00725; E00726. Paulinus was familiar with Praising the Saints, since in the earlier part of the letter (§§ 4-5), in which he refers to Victricius' activities as bishop, he echoes its language (Hunter 1999, 422). Much of the second half of Paulinus' letter is devoted to a narrative of Victricius' conversion. This is presented by Paulinus as a conversion to Christianity, but he does not explicitly state that Victricius had been a pagan. It is possible that Victricius was already a Christian, and his conversion was to a more determined form of Christianity, comparable to the conversions to asceticism of Paulinus himself and many others in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, who had been brought up in a Christianity that they came to regard as lukewarm. According to Paulinus (§ 7), Victricius, then a soldier, had thrown down his arms and repudiated his military oath during a parade. The officer (tribunus) in charge of the parade ordered him to be beaten and tortured, and then handed him over to a more senior commander (comes) who sentenced him to death. However, when the executioner laid hold of Victricius his eyes miraculously fell out, and Victricius' bonds were miraculously loosened. Victricius' guards were immediately converted and rushed to inform the comes, proclaiming the truth of God 'like confessors' (pro confessoribus). The comes in turn was converted by their testimony. Paulinus' account is notable for using the conventions of martyrdom narratives, especially pre-Constantinian military martyrdoms. In this context it is notable that Victricius' conversion must have occurred long after the conversion of Constantine, at a time when (unless it is assumed to have taken place under Julian, 361-363) the empire and the army were officially Christian. After narrating Victricius' conversion, Paulinus goes on (§ 9) to recall his earlier meeting with Victricius at Vienne, commenting that because he was still full of worldly cares at the time, he did not realise that he was meeting a 'living martyr' (martyrem uiuum).

Bibliography

Edition: Hartel, W., Sancti Pontii Meropii Paulini Epistulae, 2nd ed., revised M. Kamptner (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 29; Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna, 1999). Translation: Walsh, P.G., Letters of St. Paulinus of Nola, vol. 1 (Ancient Christian Writers 35; Westminster MD: Newman Press, 1967). Further reading: Hunter, D.G., 'Vigilantius of Calagurris and Victricius of Rouen: Ascetics, Relics, and Clerics in Late Roman Gaul', Journal of Early Christian Studies 7/3 (1999), 401-430. Trout, D.E., Paulinus of Nola: Life, Letters, and Poems (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1999).

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