THE life of this pious bishop is so much the more worthy our consideration, on account of his having passed many years in the position of an ordinary citizen, before he entered on the clerical office; because his life may thus afford us a picture of the pious citizens of his time. Eligius was born at Chatelàt, a mile from Limoges, A. D.588. His family had been Christian for many generations, and he received a pious education, the result of which extended throughout his life. In his youth, his father, Eucherius, apprenticed him to a celebrated goldsmith, who inspected the public mint at Limoges. By the skill which he obtained in this trade, by his other talents, and by his judicious Christian conduct, he soon became known throughout the neighbourhood. Religion gave him strength and interest in his work; and as his work constrained him to attend to earthly things, he felt all the more the necessity of refreshing his spirit with spiritual things. He regularly and zealously attended Divine service; and what he heard read from the Holy Scriptures made a deep impression on his mind, and frequently occupied his thoughts. When, subsequently, he obtained a Bible of his own, he used constantly to lay it open before him at his work. He afterwards left his native land, and repaired to the royal residence of the Frankish king, Clotaire the second. Clotaire's treasurer, Bobbo, made his acquaintance, and took him into his house. It happened that the king wished to have a chair adorned with gold and precious stones, made after a design of his own. None of his court workmen being able to make it as he wished, the treasurer invited Eligius to accept the order, and he declared himself ready. Much gold was given him for this work, and he used it with such economy and fidelity, that he was able to make the king two chairs, instead of one. He sent one chair to the king, and kept the other himself. The king admired the skill of the workman, and testified his gratitude. But he was still more astonished when Eligius brought him the other chair, and said: |In order not to be guilty of negligence, I have employed the remainder of the gold in this work.| The king remarked: |He who is so faithful in little things, will be faithful also in greater things;| and Eligius was highly respected after this incident, both on account of his skill, and his character. So great was the confidence reposed in him, that when any work was to be done for the court, gold, silver, and precious stones were sent him without measure or weight; because it was well known, that he would never use more than was necessary. He once begged the king to give him a piece of land, which was the property of the state, to build an abbey on. The king granted his request; but Eligius afterwards found that he had described the land as about a foot less than its real circumference. This grieved him sorely, and he went at once to the king and told him of it. The king said to his attendants: |See what a glorious thing Christian fidelity is! -- my dukes and finance-ministers seize large estates for themselves, and this servant of Christ, because of his faithfulness in the Lord, could not bring his heart to be silent about a handful of earth.| The king once desired him, in some, affair, to take an oath, and, in order to give it greater solemnity, to lay his hand, after the custom of the times, on a box of relics. But this was a heavy requirement from the tender conscience of Eligius. He did all in his power to avoid it. The king at length ceased to press him, and took a cordial leave of him, saying: |He believed him more than if he had taken many oaths.| Although Eligius lived at court, in the midst of the world, his heart was always turned away from the world, and set on God and Divine things. His going out and coming in, the commencement of all his undertakings, were accompanied with prayer; and he prayed not for earthly riches for the body, but for heavenly gifts for the soul. At first, he conformed outwardly to the world; for he knew that the Christian calling consists only in renouncing the world in heart. He appeared therefore in the most splendid clothing, which courtiers were then accustomed to wear, in order to avoid singularity. But when he had gained respect enough by his conduct to be able to depart from the common custom without giving offence, he laid aside all ornaments, and went about in a plain dress, in order to be able to give whatever he could save to the poor. When a stranger asked for his house, the usual direction was, |Go wherever you see a crowd of poor people gathered together, there dwells Eligius.| Once, when he heard that ship-loads of slaves were arrived for sale, captives of Roman, Gaulish, British, and Moorish descent, especially Saxons, who were driven forth in herds, like cattle, he hastened to the spot, and immediately redeemed a hundred of them. When money failed him, he gave not only his jewels, but even necessary articles of clothing, and stinted himself even in his daily food. He went at once with them to the king, and obtained letters of manumission for them, giving them the choice either of returning free to their country, in which case he would supply them with money for their travelling expenses, or of remaining with him, not as bondmen, but as free brethren; or of becoming monks, in which case he would secure them good lodging in a convent. It sometimes happened that Eligius, in this way, gave away all that he had, and then he seated himself at the table with the poor, who were his ordinary guests. His servants either ridiculed him, or expressed their compassion but he said: |O ye of little faith, will He who fed Elias and John in the desert, withdraw his blessing from us to-day, in the midst of such a company? I trust in my Creator, that although we ourselves deserve it not, these poor people shall not leave this room unrefreshed by his gifts.| And scarcely had he spoken these words, when some people knocked at the door of the house, bringing him bread and other provisions from the king, or some rich man or other person of piety, who knew his boundless beneficence. It was painful to his gentle heart to see the corpses of condemned criminals hung in chains; and he obtained permission from the king, to take them down and bury them. He went himself to provide for their interment. But he first touched them carefully on every side, to see if any signs of life yet remained; and when once he actually did see such signs in one of them, he said, not dreaming of any miracle, although his admirers gave it out as such: |How grievously we might have sinned, if the Lord had not prevented, in thus burying a living man!| He provided carefully for the recovery of the wretched man; the prosecutors indeed urged that he should be again delivered up to justice, but Eligius obtained his pardon.
Eligius took great interest in the propagation of religious knowledge. On his journeys he preached edifying sermons to the people. He founded convents, which formed a strong contrast by their severe discipline to the degenerate Frankish monasteries, and provided them with Bibles. The universal reverence which he inspired by his pious life, and the confidence which was placed in his Christian zeal, occasioned his election to a vacant bishopric, which needed a laborious and devoted man to fill it, (A. D.841.) It was the extensive diocese of Vermondes, Tourney, and Noyon, in which, and on the borders of which, dwelt many still heathen tribes, to whom no preacher of the Gospel had yet been sent, who as yet knew nothing of vital Christianity, and rather looked on it as a mere outward appearance, a ceremonial service, with which many heathen superstitions were mingled. At the peril of his life, and amidst many contumelies, which were heaped upon him, did he labour amongst the wild heathen, and the nominal Christians, who would not renounce their heathen superstitions and pleasures. Sometimes he gained the victory over the rage and hatred of the heathen by his Christian love and gentleness, sometimes he was constrained to use vigorous measures against the mighty of the land, who would continue to mingle heathen lusts and superstitions with their nominal Christianity, promoting both amongst the people by the power of their example. Once, when the festival of the apostle Peter was celebrated with heathen rejoicings, in a diocese beyond that of Noyon, Eligius, attended only by three of his clergy, went into the midst of the wild tribes, enraged as they were against him on account of his preaching. He ascended an elevated place in front of the church, and spoke severely against these heathen customs; whilst the crowd -- consisting of people of German descent, looking on him as a foreigner, on account his Romano-Gallic origin, called out to him in a threatening way: |Preach, Roman, as much as thou wilt, thou wilt not succeed in destroying our old customs: no man shall deprive us of our old games, which afford us so much amusement.|
Fragments of the sermons of Eligius have been preserved, from which it may be seen how anxious he was to combat the delusion, that a mere outward historical faith, and an outward ceremonial were enough homage to render to religion; and to impress on men the necessity of true sanctification. |It is not enough,| he said, |my beloved friends, to have adopted the Christian name, if you do not bring forth Christian works; for to be called a Christian only profits him who constantly keeps Christ's doctrines in his heart, and manifests them in his life; who commits no theft, bears no false witness, lies not, does not commit adultery, hates no man, but loves all as himself; who does not render his enemies evil for evil, but rather prays for them; who excites no strife, but rather reconciles those who strive; for this commandment we have from the Lord himself -- (He quotes Matt. xix, 18, and vii, 12, and still greater commandments than these). -- (v, 44:) Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you.' See! it is a strict commandment: it seems a hard thing to men, -- but it has a great reward; hear what -- That ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven.' O what grace! In ourselves we are never worthy to be servants of God, -- and by love to our enemies we become children of God. Therefore, my brethren, love your friends in God, and your enemies for God's sake. For he who loveth his neighbour hath fulfilled the law, as the apostle says: whosoever will be a true Christian, must keep this commandment; whosoever keeps it not deceives himself. He, therefore, is a good Christian who relies on no amulets, or inventions of Satan, but sets all his hopes on Christ alone; who entertains strangers as joyfully as if they were Christ himself, -- because He has said: I was a stranger, and ye took me in. In that ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me.' He is a Christian who believes no slander, who himself lives soberly, and teaches his sons and neighbours to do the same; who knows the Lord's Prayer and the Creed by heart, and instructs his whole household in them. In such an one Christ dwelleth, for He hath said: My Father and I will come unto him and make our abode with him.'|
Eligius also exhorts them to bring up their children, for whom they had stood sureties to God at their baptism, in the fear of God, and to visit those who were sick and in prison; he warns them against many kinds of heathen superstition: not to hang amulets about the neck of man or beast, even if they were made by a priest -- even if they were said to be holy things, or to contain passages of the Scriptures; for such things were no medicines of Christ, but poisons of the devil. |Let no woman hang amber about her neck, or, in weaving or dyeing, invoke Minerva or any other demon; but let every one desire, that in every work the grace of Christ may be present with her, and rely with her whole heart on the power of His name. Let no one cry aloud when the moon is eclipsed, for it is eclipsed at certain times by God's command; and let no one fear to begin any undertaking at the new moon, for God created the moon to divide time, and to soften the darkness of the night, not to hinder any business, or to make any one mad, as fools believe. Let no one believe in destiny, or in any influence of the stars, as some say; as the birth of a man is, so will it be with him;' for God wills that all men should be saved, and come to a knowledge of the truth; and He guides everything with wisdom, as He decreed before the foundation of the world. High, indeed, are the heavens, wide is the earth, immeasurable is the sea, beautiful are the stars, but yet more inconceivable and glorious must He be who made them all; for if these visible things are so incomprehensible, the manifold fruits of the earth, the beauty of flowers, the various kinds of beasts, -- if visible things are of such a nature, that we cannot comprehend them, -- what idea can we form of those heavenly things which we cannot yet see? Or what must the Creator of all these things be, at whose bidding all are created, by whose will all are ruled? Fear Him, then, my brethren, above all; pray to Him at all times; love Him above all; cling to His mercy; despair not of His grace.| |Let no one care when he goes out, or comes in, what comes to him, what he hears the birds cry or sing, what he sees any one carrying; for he who minds such things is still partly a heathen, whilst he who despises them may rejoice that he can apply to himself the words of the Psalm, (Psa. xl, 4:) Blessed is the man who maketh the Lord his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.' The apostle also exhorts us to the same thing, (Coloss. iii, 17;) And whatsoever ye do, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.'|
He especially counsels them to despise dreams, because, as the Holy Scriptures say, they are vain; and he appeals to Leviticus xix, 26: |Have Christ in your heart, and His sign on your brow. The sign of Christ is a great thing -- the cross of Christ; but it only avails those who keep the commandments of Christ. Let no man deceive you; he who doeth righteousness is righteous, he who committeth sin is of the devil; and no sin, whether adultery, theft, or lying, is committed without' the co-operation of the devil. Let no man deceive himself; he who hateth one man in this world, loses all that he offers to God in good works; for the apostle does not lie, when he addresses to us those fearful words, (1 John iii, 15:) He who hateth his brother is a murderer, and walketh in darkness.' By brethren we must here understand every man, for in Christ we are all brethren. Despise not, therefore, the poor, or the bondman; perhaps he is better before God than thou art. Strive that ye may be separated from the devil, and united to God who has redeemed you. Let the heathen wonder at your conduct; and even if they ridicule your Christian life, let not that disquiet you; they will have to render an account to God. Wherever ye may be, be mindful of Christ in your intercourse; for he says: Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.'|
He uses this as a motive to beneficence, that all are redeemed by one ransom, and serve one Master. He introduces the Saviour as speaking thus at the last judgment to the sinner: |I made thee from a clod of clay into a man, with My hand; I placed thee, without any merit of thine, amidst the joys of Paradise; but, despising My commandments, thou chosest rather to follow the tempter, -- thus hest thou justly merited condemnation. Afterwards, I had compassion on thee; I appeared in the flesh, -- dwelt among sinners. I bore stripes and shame for thee: I took thy sufferings on me, that thou mightest be healed. I took thy punishment on Me, that I might give thee glory.|
|Let us,| he says, in another place, |love God above all; for it is, indeed, a crime not to love Him, to whom we can repay nothing, even if we love Him: for what can we poor sinners render unto the Lord for all He has given us? To Him who, without any merit of ours, has done such great things for us unworthy creatures? Who, to deliver us from the dreadful condemnation, came down from the throne of His Father's majesty to us, and bore all our shame on earth.|
The affectionate disposition of Eligius, and the constant bent of his mind towards the things of another life, are expressed in this letter of his to his old friend Desiderius, bishop of Cahors. |Before all, I entreat thee, as often as thou art able to lift up thy soul amidst the cares of the world to the life of eternal rest, to bind up the remembrance of my insignificant person with your prayers. For it is certain, that nothing in this world penetrates the heart with such a strength of longing, as the thought sympathy for the grief of his beloved. At length of eternal life, and the blessed country of the just. What the heart is full of, the mouth will overflow with. Therefore, my Desiderius, whom I have in my heart, remember thine Eligius when thou spreadest forth thy prayer before the Lord. And although distance separates us one from another, let us, nevertheless, be constantly together in Christ; and let us strive so to live, that, ere long, we may be reunited in soul and body, and dwell together thus united forever. I trust our most gracious Lord Jesus Christ will grant this to our persevering and believing prayers.|
Eligius had, in the exercise of steadfast and unwearied activity, reached his seventieth year, when he became calmly conscious of the approach of death. One day, as he was walking about with the young clergymen who were educated under his eye at Noyon, he remarked something out of repair in a church which they were passing, and immediately sent for workmen to restore it. When his scholars said to him, that it would be better to wait for a more convenient time, that the work might be more durable, he replied: |Let it be done now, my children; if it is not repaired now, I shall never see the restoration.| Deeply grieved by these words, his scholars answered: |Far be that from thee; may the Lord preserve you yet many years, for the glory of his Church and the good of the poor!| But Eligius exhorted them to resign themselves to the will of the Lord, and said: |Be not troubled at this, my children, but rather rejoice, and wish me joy; for long have I desired my release from the long sorrow of this life.|
A slight fever was to him a sure sign of the approach of death. He had his whole household called together, announced to them his approaching end, and exhorted them all to live in peace and love one with another. His illness lasted five or six days, and as he was still able to go about, leaning on a staff, he continued active as ever. On the last day of his life, -- the last day of November, 659, -- he again assembled all his household and all his young clergy, and spoke to them thus: |If you love me, as I love you, listen to my last words. Strive continually to keep God's commandments; sigh continually for Jesus; let His lessons be deeply graven on your hearts. If ye love me, love the name of Christ, as I love Him. Think always of the uncertainty of this life; keep the judgment of God continually before your eyes, for I go now the way of all flesh. Ye will live henceforth without me in this world, for it pleaseth the Lord now to call me away; and I, too, long for my dissolution, and for rest, if it please the Lord.| He then called to him, one by one, the young men whom he had educated and trained for the clerical life, and told each of them in what abbey he wished to be buried. It was long ere their tears or complaints would allow him to speak; for, much as he yearned for everlasting life, and rejoiced in the nearness of the goal, yet was he deeply moved by he spoke again: |Mourn not so bitterly, and afflict me not still more by your tears. If ye were wise, ye should rather rejoice than mourn; for, although I shall be far from you in bodily presence, yet I shall be present with you in a far better way -- in spirit; and even if that were not so, God is ever with you: to Him I commend you, to Him I commit my cares for you. Whenever it was in my power to do any good, I have laboured in all things for your welfare; that ye will acknowledge on that day when the Lord shall judge the hidden thoughts of men. I know, indeed, well, that I, as an unprofitable servant, have not done what I ought; yet the Lord knows what my will has been.| After he had again solemnly conjured them to be faithful to his instructions, and to look after his religious institutions in the convents, after he had said farewell to those so dear to his heart, he fell on his knees, and commended the sheep which had been committed to him to the Eternal Shepherd. When he was near his last moments, he once more caused his disciples to be gathered around his bed, and whilst they embraced one another, weeping, he said yet again: |I cannot now speak to you any more, and ye will see me no more amongst you; therefore live in peace, and let me now go to my rest.| It was remarked, that he prayed long in silence, looking towards heaven. Then he prayed aloud,|Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word.' O remember that Thou hast formed me from clay. Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified.' Remember me, Thou who only art without sin, Christ the Saviour of the world, take me out of the body of this death, and save me in Thy heavenly kingdom. Thou hast ever been my guardian, into Thy hands I commend my spirit. I know that I deserve not to see Thy face. But Thou knowest that my hope has always bees in Thy mercy, and that I have clung firmly to Thee in faith, and in the confession of Thy name I spend my last breath. Receive me, then, according to Thy great mercy, and let me not be ashamed of my expectation. Let Thy gracious hand protect me, and lead me into the place of refreshment; be it but the meanest dwelling which Thou hast prepared for Thy servants and those that fear Thee.| And, whilst praying, he departed.