Scarcely had two centuries elapsed since the triumph of the Cross over Roman idolatry, when Satan began to cry victory once more. While Eutychianism was crowned at Byzantium in the person of Anastasius the Silent, Arianism was revived in the west. Throughout the whole ancient territory of the empire, heresy was supreme, and almost everywhere was persecuting the Church, who had now none but the vanquished for Her sons.
"But fear not; rather rejoice," says Baronius at this point in his Annals; "it is Divine Wisdom still delighting to play in the world. The thoughts of men count for little before Him Who holds the light in His hands, to hide it when He pleases, and, when He wills, to bring it forth again. The darkness that now covers the earth, marks the hour when the dawn is about to break in the hearts of the Franks, and the Catholic Faith is to shine there in all its glory."
Little known in our days is such a manner of writing history; yet this was the view taken by the first historian of the Church, and the greatest. On such a feast as this we could not do better than repeat his account of the Franks. "How," says he, "can we help admiring the Providence which is never wanting to the Church? From the midst of tribes still pagan, on the morrow of the irremidable fall of the empire, God forms to Himself a new people, raises unto Himself a prince: against these must break the rising tide of heretics and barbarians. Such, in truth, appeared in the course of ages the divine mission of the Frankish kings. What energy has faith to uphold kingdoms; and what fatal power has heresy to uproot every plant that is not set by our Heavenly Father! In proof thereof, see how the principalities of the Goths, Vandals, Heruli, Alani, Suevi and Gepidi have utterly disappeared; while the Franks behold their little spot of earth blessedly fertilized, and encroaching far upon the surrounding territories."
All honor, then, to the saintly pontiff, who merited to be the instrument of such heavenly benefits! According to the expression of the holy Pope Hormisdas, "Remigius converted the nation, and baptized Clovis, in the midst of prodigies similar to those of the apostolic age." The prayers of St. Clotilde, the labors of St. Genevieve, the penances of the monks who people the forests of Gaul, had doubtless a great share in a conversion which brought such joy to the angels. Did space allow, we might relate how it was also prepared by the great bishops of the 5th century, who, in that age of darkness, held up the Church to the light of day, and commanded the respect of the barbarians. Remigius, contemporary and survivor of most of them, and their rival in eloquence, nobility and holiness, seemed to personify them all on that Christmas night forestalled by so many desires, prayers and sufferings. In the baptistery of St. Mary's at Rheims, the Frankish nation was born to God; as heretofore on the banks of the Jordan, the dove was again seen over the waters, honoring this time, not the Baptism of Jesus, but that of the Church's eldest daughter; it brought a gift from Heaven, the holy vial containing the chrism which was to anoint the Frankish kings in future ages. King Clovis, as he entered the Church of Rheims on his first Chrimstas night, stood dazzled with the blaze of light, and trembling with emotion said to St. Remigius, who had just baptized him, "Father, is this the Kingdom thou didst promise me?" "No, my son," replied the Bishop, "it is but the way that will lead thee to it."
Two churches in the city of Rheims claim the honor of these glorious souvenirs: the grand church of Our Lady, and the venerable basilica where Remigius lay in his splendid mausoleum, with the vial of chrism at his feet. This church of St. Remigius bore the name of Caput Franciae, the head of all France, until those days of October 1793, when, from its desecrated pulpit the Freemasons proclaimed the word that the "days of darkness" were at an end; when the holy ampulla was broken, and the relics of the Apostle of the Franks were thrown into a common grave. (They were, however, afterwards discovered, authenticated and restored to the veneration of the faithful.)
After an episcopate of 74 years, the longest ever recorded in history, Remigius took his flight to Heaven on January 13, the anniversary of his episcopal consecration and also of his birth. Yet in the same century, the first of October was chosen for his feast; this being the day whereon his relics were first translated to a more honorable place, in the midst of miracles such as those which had graced his life. We borrow the following Lessons from the Office of the Saint celebrated in Rheims:
Remigius was born at Laon of noble parents, by name Aemilius and St. Celinia. They were far advanced in age, and renowned among their own people for their virtue, when the birth of this child was foretold to them by a blind hermit named Montanus, who afterwards recovered his sight. The future apostle of the Franks devoted his youth to prayer and study in retirement; but the more he shrank from the company of men, the more his fame spread throughout the province. On the death of Bennadius, Archbishop of Rheims, Remigius, who though but 22 years of age had the mature character of an old man, was unanimously elected, or rather forcibly installed as Archbishop. He endeavored to escape the burden of the episcopate, but was obliged by the command of God to submit. Having been consecrated by the bishops of the province, he governed his church with the wisdom of an experienced veteran. He was eloquent, learned in the Scriptures; and a pattern to his people, fulfilling in deed what he taught by word. He carefully and laboriously instructed his own flock in the mysteries of faith, and established discipline among his clergy. Then he undertook to spread the kingdom of Christ in Belgium, and having converted the people to the Faith, he founded several new bishoprics and appointed them pastors.
The wonderful works of Remigius, being divulged far and wide, filled with astonishment the minds of Clovis and his still pagan Franks. When Clovis, who had already conquered the Gauls, triumphed over the Alemanni also at the battle of Tolbiac by the invocation of the name of Christ; he sent for Remigius, and willingly listened to his explanation of the Christian doctrine. St. Remigius urged the king to embrace the Faith, but he replied that he feared the opposition of his people. When this was reported to the Franks, they cried out with one voice: "We renounce mortal gods, O pious king, and are ready to follow the immortal God Whom Remigius preaches." Then the Bishop imposed a fast upon them, according to the custom of the Church, and having in the presence of the queen, St. Clotilde, completed the king's religious instruction, he baptized him on the day of Our Lord's Nativity, addressing him in these words: "Bow down thy head in meekness; adore what thou hast hitherto burned; burn what thou hast adored." After the Baptism, he anointed him with holy Chrism with the sign of the Cross of Christ. More than three thousand of the army were baptized, as also Albofleda, Clovis' sister, who died soon after; upon which occasion Remigius wrote to console the king. His other sister, Lanthilda, was reclaimed from the Arian heresy, anointed with sacred Chrism and reconciled to the Church.
Remigius was exceedingly generous to the poor and merciful towards sinners. "God has not placed us here," he would say, "to exercise wrath, but to take care of men." During a council, he once by divine power struck an Arian bishop with dumbness, until he begged forgiveness by signs, when he restored him his speech with these words: "In the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, if thou holdest the right belief concerning Him, speak and confess the Faith of the Catholic Church." The bishop recovered his voice, protested that he believed, and would die in that Faith. Towards the end of his life Remigius lost his sight, but recovered it shortly before his death. Knowing the day of his departure, he celebrated Mass, and fortified his flock with the Sacred Body of Christ. Then he bade his clergy and people farewell, giving to each one the kiss of Our Lord's peace; and full of days and good works, he departed this life on the Ides of January, in the year of Our Lord 533, being 96 years old. He was buried in the oratory of St. Christopher; and as in life, so also after death, he was famous for miracles.
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