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E05621: Exchange of letters between Bishop Aunacharius/Aunarius of Auxerre and the presbyter Stephanus in which Aunacharius commissions Stephanus to write a prose life of *Amator (bishop and confessor of Auxerre, ob. c. 418, S01980), and a verse life *Germanus (bishop of Auxerre, ob. c. 448, S00455). Written in Latin at Auxerre (central Gaul), c. 570-590.

online resource
posted on 2018-06-01, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Letters of Bishop Aunarius of Auxerre and Stephanus the presbyter

Tuę, nobis doctrine multis iam experimentis adprobata prudentia compulit nos quandam tuis humeris imperiosam superponere sarcinulam, sed eam quę, tibi non sit oneris, sed honoris, nec que deorsum iniquo pondere premat, sed quę potius cęlum usque sustollat. Cognitum tibi est, karissimę frater, quę sit humanarum mentium diversitas, et quemadmodum studia in contraria non solum inane vulgus, verum etiam universa scindatur nobilitas; et quidam quidem prosaico oblectantur stilo, quidam autem numeris se rithmisve ac cantibus versuum delectari fatentur : ergo ut omnium votis occurrerem, et nullus suo desiderio fraudaretur, placuit michi, ut vitas beatissimorum confessorum quasdam pede libero describerem, quasdam vero lege metrica impeditas digererem; ob quam rem obsecro unitam michi tuę dilectionis amicitiam, ut beatissimi Germani episcopi vitam in versuum qualitatem commutare non desistas, sancti vero Amatoris prosaica modulatione describas, ut sectatores apostolice, praedicationis effecti, omnibus omnia efficiamur et nulli quicquam debeamus, nisi ut invicem diligamus.
Individuam michi caritatem vestram divina custodiat pietas, venerabilis frater.

Decursis litteris apostolatus vestri, quo sancti desiderii ardor summa alacritate pertendat, luce clarius approbavi : est igitur devotionis vestrae propositum, virorum opinatissimorum Germani et Amatoris floride vitę nobiles actus describere; sed ad eos lepidissimi callis vestri dirigatur intentio, qui possunt virtutum lumina aequiperis affatibus inspicare. Verum ego, cuius iners ingenium genuino rigore torpescit et lingua balbutiens faucium inter raucidulos cursus squalido situ impedita non loquitur, potius sed stridet, quomodo potero divinitus inspirata virorum sanctissimorum munera polito expedire sermone, qui nec privata possum humano casu congesta negotia explicare? Ridiculo, ni fallor, inexplicabili ac ludibrio semet impendit, quisquis ultra virium suarum possibilitatem onus assumit. Nonne ferarum sectatores, si minus captiosa industria formaverit, audax temeritas pessumdabit? Numquam tyro victorię monumenta parma depicta gestabit, si eum docta veterani exempla non instruxerint. Numquam etiam aeris sibi concessum patulum iter ales tutus resecabit, cui praevia dux penniger mater non fuerit : iacebit profecto fluctuum elisione truncatus, quisquis suae procacitatis fisus auctoramento indocilem ratis dexteram ingerit clavo; sic unusquisque in diversum imperitię hamo inscinditur, si doctorum favoribus minime adiuvetur. Ego, beatissime vir, quęso, ut illa michi culmen apicis tui imponat, quę facile me posse perficere non dubitat; si tamen et in hoc opere quicquid inlępidae aut infacete rustica garrulitas digesserit, aequanimiter feras : adgrediar, ut faciam, quę paterna imperat ac iubet auctoritas.
Vale longum in tempus, domine semper meus et apostolicae papa.

'Eternal salvation in the Lord to my brother Stephanus the presbyter, dearest and most beloved and bound to me by the chain of inner love, from Aunarius, bishop by the grace of God.
Prudence, justified to us by many experiences of your learning, compels us to impose a certain imperious load on your shoulders; but one that should not be a burden to you but an honour. Not one that presses downwards with unpleasant weight, but one that raises you up towards heaven. It is known to you, dearest brother, what diversity there is among human minds and how not only the foolish herd but even all of the nobility are divided by contrary interests. Some enjoy the prose style, while others are said to enjoy the metres or rhythms and poetry of verses. Therefore, so that I meet the wishes of all and no one is deprived of what they long for, it has pleased me that I should represent some lives of the most blessed confessors with a free foot [in prose] and send out others restricted by the law of metre. Because of which I beseech the friendship, united with me, of your kindness, that you do not refuse to transform the Life of the most blessed bishop Germanus into the quality of verse, while you describe that of the holy Amator in the rhythm of prose, so that, made followers of apostolic preaching, we may be all things to all men [1 Cor. 9:22] and owe no one anything but to love one another [Rom. 13:8].
May divine care guard your particular love for me, venerable brother.

Stephanus, servant of all the servants of Christ, to his most blessed lord and spiritual father, Aunarius, decorated with the insignia of the apostles.
After skimming through the letter of Your Apostleship, in which the ardour of holy desire pushed forward with the greatest keenness, I approved more clearly than daylight. It is therefore the decision of Your Devotion to describe the noble acts of the ornamented life of the most memorable men Germanus and Amator. But your intention is directed to those most charming paths, which can sharpen the lights of virtue with appropriate utterances. But I, whose inert talent grows torpid with real stiffness and whose tongue, stammering among the hoarse movements of its jaws, impeded by the roughness of its site, does not speak, but rasps: how will I be able to put forward the divinely inspired gifts of those most holy men in polished speech, who cannot, through human weakness, explain my own private business? He threatens to be, if I am not deceived, an incomprehensible joke and a laughing-stock, whoever assumes a burden beyond the capacity of his strength. Will not bold temerity destroy hunters of wild beasts if diligence in catching has not sufficiently shaped them? Never will a painted shield bring the monuments of victory to a raw recruit, if the teaching and examples of a veteran have not instructed him. Never will a bird safely cut an open way through the air if its wing-bearing mother has not gone before as a leader. He will lie completely cut down by the violence of the waves, whoever, relying on the authority of his own rashness, lays an untaught right hand on the rudder of a ship. So each is caught on a different hook of inexperience, if he is not helped by the favour of the learned. I, most blessed man, ask that the summit of your loftiness imposes on me things which it has no doubt I can easily achieve. If however, even in this work, whatever rustic garrulity ineptly and boorishly brings forth, you may bear with equanimity, I will start out, so that I do what paternal authority requires and orders.
Farewell for a long time, my perpetual lord and apostolic bishop.'

Text: Gundlach 1892, 447-448. Translation: David Lambert.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Amator (bishop and confessor in Auxerre, France, ob. 418) : S01980 Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, ob. c. 448 : S00455

Saint Name in Source

Amator Germanus

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)

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

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy


The letters exchanged by Aunarius and Stephanus are transmitted in two works produced at Auxerre in the 9th century: the preface by Heiric of Auxerre to his verse Life of Germanus of Auxerre, and the historical compilation, The Deeds of the Bishops of Auxerre (Gesta episcoporum Autissiodorensium). The text of the letters is identical in the two works. The Deeds of the Bishops of Auxerre was compiled at Auxerre around 872, the year of the death of the last bishop included in the original version (Sot et al. 2002, viii). Like its presumed model, the Liber pontificalis, it consists of entries for each bishop from the founder of the see down to the time of composition. The two letters appear in the entry for Aunarius (Sot et al. 2002, 62-85). The other source in which the letters appear is the preface, addressed to the emperor Charles the Bald, of Heiric's verse Life of Germanus. Heiric's work was completed in 873, according to a statement in the poem itself (Egmond 2006, 15). In the preface (Traube 1896, 430), Heiric claims that Charles's son Lothar (Hlotharius), who until his death in 865 had been abbot of the monastery of St Germanus at Auxerre, discovered the letters written in a book in the monastery. Lothar had then searched for the verse life of Germanus written by Stephanus, but was unable to find any trace of it. He therefore commissioned Heiric to write a life of Germanus in verse. It is possible that Heiric's account is a fiction intended to elicit the good will of Lothar's father, and that the letters had been discovered in a more mundane fashion, most obviously that they may have been found in the archives of the monastery or of the see of Auxerre by the compilers of the Gesta. In any case, there is no reason to doubt their authenticity. Letters such as these were often used as prefaces to literary works (see e.g. the letters to the bishops of Lyon and Auxerre transmitted at the beginning of the Life of Germanus of Auxerre by Constantius of Lyon: E05841). An obvious way in which these letters could have survived until the 9th century is by being transmitted in a manuscript of the Life of Amator, which was certainly known to the compilers of the Gesta. In the Acta Sanctorum edition of the Life of Amator, which remains the most recent, they are printed in this way, and this has evidently prompted the authors of some modern scholarly works (including the BHL entry on Amator) to assume that the letters were transmitted in manuscripts of the Life. It is therefore important to note that none of the extant manuscripts of the Life of Amator include the letters: in all of them it is anonymous and is not preceded by any prefatory material (see E05672); the letters are transmitted only in manuscripts of Heiric and the Deeds of the Bishops of Auxerre.


Aunarius (Aunacharius) was bishop of Auxerre in the late 6th century, his dates as bishop probably being 561-605 (Duchesne 1899, 435-7; PCBE 4, 'Aunacharius') No information about the presbyter Stephanus is contained in the letters themselves. However, both Heiric and the Deeds of the Bishops of Auxerre state that he was African (Traube 1896, 430; Sot et al. 2002, 79): presbiterum provintiae Africae, in Heiric's words. There is no indication in either work as to the provenance of this information. The letter of Aunarius requests Stephanus to compose a Life of Amator (S01980) in prose, and one of Germanus (S00455) in verse, supposedly in order to cater for the differing tastes of readers. A more solid reason is that there appears to have been no Life of Amator before the late 6th century, while there was an already existing and widely circulated prose Life of Germanus, written by Constantius of Lyon in the 5th century (E05841). Aunarius probably intended Stephanus to versify the Life by Constantius, rather than produce an entirely original composition. This is suggested by the language he uses, requesting Stephanus that the life (or Life) of Germanus should be changed or transformed into the character of verse (vitam in versuum qualitatem commutare). In his reply, Stephanus agrees to write the Lives requested, while strenuously declaring his incapacity to do so. In his letter he uses an extremely elevated style, making substantial use of poetic imagery and including some rare and highly literary items of vocabulary. In effect, while engaging in tropes of recusatio, Stephanus is actually advertising his literary skill. If the verse Life of Germanus was ever written by Stephanus it has been completely lost, and the evidence of Heiric shows that this was already the case in the 9th century. Among the small number of modern scholars who have discussed the issue it seems to have been accepted more or less without question that the extant prose Life of Amator (E05672) is the work which Aunarius commissioned from Stephanus. It should be noted, however, that this work is anonymous and contains no indications as to the identity of its author: the assumption that it is the work of Stephanus is essentially based simply on the fact that it exists and seems to date from roughly the right period. There appears never to have been any attempt to put the attribution of authorship on a firmer basis, for example by examining whether the very idiosyncratic style of Stephanus' letter to Aunarius is paralleled in the Life.


Editions and translations: Gundlach, W., Epistolae Merowingici et Karolini aevi (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Epistolae 3; Berlin 1892), 447-448 (Latin text of the letters in isolation). Traube, L., Poetae Latini aevi Carolini III (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Poetae Latini medii aevi 3; Berlin 1896), 428-432 (Latin text of Heiric's preface, including the letters). Sot, M., Lobrichon, G., and Goullet, M., Les gestes des évêques d'Auxerre, vol. 1 (Paris, 2002), 78-83 (Latin text and French translation of the letters in the Gesta episcoporum Autissiodorensium). Further reading: Bouchard, C.B. "'Episcopal Gesta and the Creation of a Useful Past in Ninth-Century Auxerre," Speculum, 84:1 (2009), 1-35. Duchesne, L., Fastes épiscopaux de l'ancienne Gaule, vol. 2 (Paris, 1899). Egmond, W. van, Conversing with the Saints: Communication in Pre-Carolingian Hagiography from Auxerre (Turnhout, 2006).

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