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Light In The Dark Places by Augustus Neander


SUCH was Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, who held this office in 418, from the narratives of whose life and labours we will here give some extracts. It happened, about ten years after his entering on his office, that he was summoned by Lupus, bishop of Troyes, into Britain, in order to oppose the spread of the Pelagian doctrine, as a system which taught men to rely rather on their own strength than on the grace of the Redeemer, and by the illusions of self-righteousness alienated them from the essence of true inward holiness. They preached not only in the churches, but in the streets, and in the fields; whithersoever they went, these zealous men gathered crowds around them, to whom they proclaimed the grace of God. The Britons, who could obtain no assistance from the falling Roman empire, were then driven to great distress by a war with the wild Saxons and Picts. Both bishops were called into the British camp, and their presence infused into the desponding Britons as much courage and confidence as if an army had come to their help. As it was a season of fasting, the bishops preached daily amid the perils of war, and many were induced by their sermons to be baptized. At Easter the church was splendidly decorated and garlanded with green boughs for the festival of their baptism. The Britons enjoyed their Easter festivities in quiet. The Picts had, indeed, formed a project to take advantage of their negligence, in order to surprise them unarmed; but their design was discovered, and Germanus showed the Britons a valley enclosed by mountains, where they could wait the coming of the foe. He himself went thither with them, and told them, when he should cry Hallelujah, all to join him with one accord. This was done, and the loud accordant cry of the vast multitude resounding amongst the hills, made so powerful an impression on the Picts, that they fled precipitately.

At another time, when he was just returned from a second journey to Britain, his aid was besought by the inhabitants of the province of Bretagne, to avert a great danger which threatened that region; Aëtius, then a distinguished and influential general of the Western Empire, having called in the king of a wild tribe of Alani to chastise them for a revolt. As the biographer of Germanus relates, he, a gray-headed man, yet through the protection of Christ stronger than all, went alone to encounter the warlike people and the heathen king. He passed calmly through the midst of the army to the king, and when the monarch would not hearken to him, but persisted in riding on, he seized his bridle-rein. His daring so astounded the rude warrior, that he yielded, promising to spare the province until the bishop should have endeavoured to procure a pardon for it from the imperial government. In order to effect this, Germanus immediately set out for Italy. On his way he joined a company of poor mechanics, who were returning to their homes after having completed a bargain in a foreign country. Amongst them was a lame old man, whose strength failed him when he had to follow the rest in wading through a brawling torrent with his heavy burden. Germanus relieved him of his burden, and carried first the burden, and then the old man, through the stream.

As he was coming out of the rich city of Milan, where he had been preaching a great deal, some poor people met him, begging alms. He asked his attendant deacon how large their store of money was. The deacon replied that he had not more than three gold pieces left. Thereupon the bishop desired him to distribute it all among the poor. |But then, what shall we live on to-day?| asked the deacon. Germanus replied: |God will feed His poor. Only do thou give away what thou hast.| But the deacon thought he would be more prudent; so he gave two pieces away, and kept back one. When they had travelled a little further, two horsemen came after them, to entreat a visit in the name of a rich landed proprietor, who, with his family, was afflicted with many diseases. The place lay off the road, and his attendants therefore entreated Germanus not to accept the invitation, but he answered: |It is the first thing of all to me to do the will of my God.|

When the horsemen heard that he had resolved to come, they presented him with the sum of two hundred solidi, (a gold coin of the time,) which had been given them for Bishop Germanus. Germanus gave it to his deacon, and said: |Take this, and acknowledge that thou hast robbed the poor of one hundred of these pieces; for if thou hadst given all to the poor, He who repayeth a hundredfold would have restored to us three hundred pieces to-day.| His arrival diffused universal joy at the estate; he visited master and servant, with equal sympathy, on their sick beds; he went even into the poorest huts, and strengthened all by prayer.

At the imperial court of Ravenna, Germanus received universal honour; and he could easily have obtained whatever he wished. The empress sent to his dwelling a large silver vessel full of costly provisions. Germanus divided the victuals amongst his servants, and kept the silver for himself, in order to lay it out to the best advantage for the poor. As an acknowledgment, he sent the empress a wooden dish with black bread upon it, such as he was accustomed to eat. But in the eyes of the empress it was a precious remembrance, and she afterwards had the dish enchased in gold.

Once when, during his residence at Ravenna, he was conversing with the bishops on religious topics, he said to them: |My brethren, I wish you farewell in this world. The Lord appeared to me tonight in a dream, and gave me some travelling-money. And when I asked the object of the journey, He answered me: |Fear not, I do not send .thee into a strange land, but into thy fatherland, where thou wilt find everlasting rest.| The bishops sought to apply the dream to his return to his earthly country; but he would not suffer the mistake, saying: |I know well what fatherland the Lord hath promised His servant.|

Into this heavenly country he soon after passed.

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