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HILARIUS OF ARLES' LIFE OF HONORATUS
The fifth century saw the gradual collapse of Roman authority in Gaul. As this collapse was taking place, the bishops, whose sees were the capital cities of the Gallic provinces, played an increasingly important role as patrons and leaders of the community. Among these cities, Arles (département Bouches-du-Rhône) was of peculiar importance (Loseby, Klingshirn). In the beginning of the fifth century, it was an imperial residence and a major administrative centre, the seat of the praetorian prefecture of Gaul, recently moved from Trier. The bishops of Arles took advantage of this exalted secular position to claim primacy over the whole Church of Gaul: had not their see - allegedly - been founded by Trophimus, a disciple of Peter? Among the sources of the Arlesian history for the early fifth century, we are lucky to possess the life of such a bishop, Honoratus. The Sermo de Vita Sancti Honorati was probably delivered to the Christians of Arles in 430 by Hilarius (401-449), his successor to the episcopal see and relative. About the family and origin of Honoratus (370?-429) we only know the little Hilarius has been willing to tell us: in the past, a member of his family had held the office of consul. The text does not allow us to say precisely from which part of Gaul Honoratus came (Patrie contra Woods). Between 400 and 410 he founded the monastery of Lérins and by the end of 426 was appointed bishop of Arles, a position he was to hold for only a couple of years (Mathisen 279-281). I shall first study the literary form, both of the text as a whole and in the depiction of the saint, then what the text can tell us about the beginnings of Lérins and the episcopate of Honoratus, and finally the theological controversy between the Provençal monks and Augustine and his disciples, known as the 'semi-Pelagian' strife.
M.-D. Valentin, and after her R. Nouailhat have produced evidence for a 'symmetric-concentric' structure in the Sermo (Valentin 31, Nouailhat 130). This structure is shown below (the numbers in brackets refer to the paragraphs of the text).
-Exordium (§1-3) --Youth (§4-9) (First speech: §7) ---Travels (§10-14) -Foundation (§15-17) Lérins -Honoratus abbot (§18-22) -Conversion of Hilarius (§23-24) ---Bishop of Arles (§25-28) --Last moments (§29-35) (Second speech : §32) -Peroration (§36-39)
For Nouailhat, this symmetry shows "a double movement in the relationship to power. First: rupture, flight from responsibilities. Second: progressive assumption of new functions by Honoratus. There is, in this movement, a displacement from one world to another, from a lost world to a reconquered world.'' This he schematises as below (Nouailhat 131).
The world of imperial power where Honoratus was born. - The young honoratus: received values, family, inherited wealth. - The conversion, the travels, quest for eremitical life. - Honoratus monk. - Retreat in Lérins, foundation of the monastery. - Honoratus abbot. - The promotion, new travel, election to the episcopal see of Arles. -The bishop honoratus: acquired values, religious community,redistributed wealth. The world of imperial power where Honoratus dies.
[. . .] were significant insofar as they revealed his character''. Thus, she concludes, far from aiming at a comprehensive survey, the "biographer task was to capture the gesture which laid bare the soul'' (Cox XI). This 'stylisation' of the person's life, however, takes a distinctive form in Christian hagiography. M. Van Uyftanghe as outlined two of its characteristics: an inclusion of the saint's life in the more global Judeo-Christian history of salvation; the depiction of the saint's life as an imitatio Christi, by the use of biblical patterns (Van Uyftanghe 147-149 and 170-179).
A further way to analyse the influence of literary antecedents and thus the culture of Hilarius is to look at the quotations and allusions he makes in his texts. Few of them are classical. Among these, perhaps the only striking feature is a close quotation of Seneca's De Prouidentia (Axelson). We know, however, that Christian writers used Seneca extensively. On the other hand, Hilarius uses several texts coming from Christian literature. We find among them without surprise the Lives of Anthony and Martin, the two major hagiographical works of late Antiquity. The Life of Anthony, the first hermit (written in 356), attributed to Athanasius, quickly gained the status of a model of the monks' Life. It seems to have been widely known in the West as early as 370 (see, for Trier Augustine, Confessions, VIII, 6). The second one, the Life of Martin of Tours, by Sulpicius Severus, was the Gallo-Roman rival of the Vita Antonii. Also, Hilarius used authors from the Lerinian milieu: Cassian, Salvian and Eucherius. Of course, Hilarius uses as well the book par excellence: the Bible, if in a rather unsurprising way. In the Old Testament, the Psalms are the most quoted: they play a considerable role in the devotional life of the monks. In the New Testament, Hilarius draws most on the Epistles of Paul. This reflects a trend common to the whole Christian literature. The only noteworthy feature is probably the rather limited mentions of the Gospels. We have seen that classical as much as Christian antecedents deeply influence the form of the Sermo. This attests the lasting prestige of classical culture and shows to which point Christian writers were impregnated with it. The continuing accceptance of the rules common to the 'hagiographical discourse', both pagan and Christian, may well have been a way for the author to ensure acceptance of his writing by a double audience, Christians and curious pagans, who shared the same literary culture. Let us now turn to the depiction of Honoratus made by Hilarius.
One of the most striking features of Honoratus in Hilarius' portrayal is his luminous quality. Hilarius uses many different words to describe it, according to the different situations in which his 'hero' was involved. This is clearly a reminiscence of the classical panegyrics and more specifically of the depictions of the imperial person. A collection of fourth-century Gallic texts known as the Latin Panegyrics provides matter to comparison. The analysis of the use of this light-related vocabulary, both in the Sermo and in the Panegyrics, shows us how the vocabulary of imperial praise is used in the context of a Christian writing. Let us take one example: the Panegyrici are using the verb illustrare twice, to express the fact that the imperial presence illuminates the universe (IV, IV, 3) and, on a lesser scale, Autun (VIII, VII, 4). The verb is found with this meaning in the Sermo (12, 1) along with illuminare, which has a very close meaning: to give light (VH 15, 1). Thus, Honoratus' arrival in some place is equated to an imperial aduentus. We find these verbs in the passive voice in the interesting passage where Hilarius describes the metamorphosis of Lérins after Honoratus' arrival (VH 16, 1): "locus [. . .] qui dudum homines a sua commoratione reppulerat, angelicis illustratur officiis. Illuminatur latibulum, dum ubi lumen occulitur.'' "The place [. . .] that up to then had repelled the men, preventing them from dwelling there, is now brightened by angel-like works. The hiding-place (latibulum) is illuminated, while the light is hiding there.'' Beyond the taste for rhetoric, word-play and opposition, I wonder whether there is not a theological intention in the use of these verbs. Both possess other meanings. Illuminare can also mean 'reveal', and illustrare has the additional meaning of 'make clear'. By his mere presence, does Honoratus not seem to reveal the true nature of the world that surrounds him? With the help of God, he seems to some extent to alleviate, if not to reverse, the consequences of Original Sin in this chosen place. Before Original Sin, the Creation was good, uncorrupted: thus no wild beasts (the serpents mentioned earlier (VH 15, 4) but also the other beasts dwelling in this latibulum, lair), no aridity: the water will flow again (VH 17, 1). Through this example, we can see how early hagiography stays close to the vocabulary of the imperial panegyrics. Still, we have seen also that these words receive a Christian meaning, or are transformed by the Christian allegory that is nutured by the Bible.
The bonds of the world and the bonds of the flesh are so many hindrances that keep man away from God. The life of Honoratus is clearly depicted as a life of struggle against these impedimenta, made of flights and of breakups in a context of "contempt of the world". As R. Nouailhat points out rightly, in Honoratus' life, "geographic movement corresponds to a mystical voyage where each step represents a new phase of distance-making, a new break up with the world" (Nouailhat 91- 92). His life is also a struggle against his body. Through the breaking of his earthly bonds, Honoratus slowly reaches the state of apatheia in which he will die (VH 29-35). Both R. Nouailhat and M. Labrousse have pointed out the stoic antecedents of this attitude. While doing so he also endures, through a life of mortification and renunciation, the sine cruore martyrium. The time of persecution is over, but, as Hilarius notes it "peace has also its martyrs" (VH 37, 3). Honoratus' struggle is largely the consequence of his own gratia, the charm he radiates on the people who surround him and of the subsequent gratia, favour, that these people feel for him (Weiss). In the world, he has first to deal with existing bonds, then with new ones, as the people seem always anxious to catch him, to secure him. This struggle happens in the beginning of his life, before he has found his anchorage in Lérins. Once settled in Lérins, this seems to cease. The only earthly bonds he will be obliged to accept are the clerical ones (VH 16, 2). However, the agon against the body does not stop. When describing the end of his life (VH 29, 1-2) and in the final praise of Honoratus, Hilarius recalls his life of mortification (VH 37, 2): ". . . .as long as you were dwelling in this body, you were always a witness of Christ. Indeed, the remarkable strength of your youth [. . .] was consumed by the weight of the cross you were bearing daily." Honoratus' departure from his mortal body seems to be the ultimate break up, the final liberation.
A more familiar part of the depiction of Honoratus is the description and praise of his virtues. But there again we shall find the same synthesis between classicism and Christianity: some of the qualities praised in Honoratus are the same as the ones which used to be sung in the imperial panegyrics. Among the 'classical' virtues of Honoratus, one is of peculiar interest: constantia. According to R. Nouailhat, "Constantia was the virtue of the leaders, one of the charismas the emperors brought to the world, according to official propaganda. By becoming a monastic virtue, constantia acts as a fixing point, in the cultural imagination, with the political structures: it is one of the relais which allows the change of model in the permanence of the ideological background" (Nouailhat 64, L'Huillier 356). This virtue is linked to another classical one: apatheia. As noted above, apatheia is especially shown by Honoratus when he is about to die, in an agony which is reminiscent of Socrates' death. This is the quality that helps the monk to achieve an 'angelic life'. Beyond these two stoic virtues, Honoratus possesses those praised by the Greek philosophers as 'cardinal virtues': prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance. First described in Plato's Republic (IV, 427e), they are reused from the third century onwards by Christian writers, and later by Ambrose and Augustine. However, these classical virtues are only second to the Christian ones. These are the theological virtues as defined in 1 Th. 1:3: Faith, Hope and Caritas. Caritas, the culmination of the Christian virtues (1 Co. 13:2-3) is exercised by Honoratus in the two forms of the love of God and love of one's neighbour; the latter is attested by his constant care for the needy and his warm hospitality both in Lérins and in Arles. As M. Labrousse rightly points out, there is a sense which the word uirtus never conveys in the Sermo: the one relating to the saint's almost magical ability to perform miracles. In fact, there are almost no miracles in the Sermo but the success of Honoratus in driving out the snakes from Lérins (VH 15, 4), a quite modest miracle indeed. Hilarius himself insists on this point (VH 37, 1-2): Honoratus' merits were indeed so outstanding that they did not need to be illustrated by any miracles. Moreover, he had requested and been granted by Christ not to perform miracles. Through his humility, Honoratus himself attributes all his merits to God, that is ultimately to Grace (VH 37, 5).
Besides depicting a saint for us, the text of the Sermo gives us some information about the beginnings of the monastic settlement of Lérins. The importance of the monastery founded by Honoratus c. 410 is indisputable and a considerable amount of scholarship has been devoted to it. As for Gaul, it is the third oldest monastery known, after the two Martinian creations of Ligugé (360) and Marmoutier (372). This is the beginning of a movement: within the next decades, monasteries will flourish in Gaul, especially on the Mediterranean coast, Rhône valley and Tours-Poitiers area. The text deals with three different pieces of information about Lérins:
- First, the text gives us information about the settlement. If we believe Hilarius' account, Honoratus'
arrival in Lérins was quickly followed by his presbyteral ordination (VH 16, 2), the construction of
a church and of some housing for the monks (VH 17, 1). This raises the first issue: what kind of
monastic life was led at Lérins? The text does not provide explicit information. As M. Labrousse points
out, however, it describes Honoratus arriving with a little group of followers (VH 15), and seems
to imply a communal life based on prayer and the Eucharist (Labrousse 30-32, Débuts 19-21). Of this, we
have a later testimony in Cassian's statement about the "large community" ("ingens coenobium",
Cassian 98) of Lérins. Coenobitism thus seems to be the first form of monasticism in Lérins (Labrousse
30-32, Débuts 19-21).
M.-D. Valentin and more recently H. Carrias analysed the text and concluded that the original rule of Lérins was the rule of Basil of Caesarea. This is not impossible, since the rule was indeed known in late antique Gaul, and carried great prestige, both by its antiquity and its eastern origin. In addition, a partial translation by Rufinus of Aquileia was available since 397. However, A. de Vogüé has clearly proved their error. He argues quite convincingly that most of the Basilian precepts they mention cannot be found in the Latin translation, the version of the text Honoratus was the most likely to have known. Furthermore, both authors, to support their theory about the Basilian influence, put forward three characteristics of the Lerinian life: love of one's neighbour, hospitality and generosity, and a hierarchical community. According to Vogüé, all three characteristics are inspired by the conception of ascetic life displayed in the New Testament (Origines 263). An alternative on Vogüé's part is that a short text known as the Rule of the Four Fathers, may be the initial Rule of Lérins (Règles 21-177). If one relates this text to what we know of the beginnings of Lerinian monasticism, several similarities are apparent, namely, reference to the Egyptian Fathers, the central role of the Father Superior, whose main virtue is discernment, and the importance of hospitality. The Rule details also the material organization of the monastery, on which the Sermo does not tell us anything. However, Vogüé has suggested that the nonnulli, who, according to Cassian (Institutes 2,2,1-2), recite eighteen psalms at each office of the night and six at each office of the day, could be the monks of Lérins (Origines 259).
Before Honoratus, the see of Arles had been held by Patroclus (412-426). Patroclus, thanks to the support of the Patricius Constantius, had risen to considerable preeminence in Gaul. In 417, Pope Zosimus had granted him, through the letter Placuit apostolicae sedi, exceptional privileges by stripping all the other metropolitan bishops of the area of their right to conduct episcopal ordination and reserving this right to Patroclus. In early 426, Patroclus was assassinated, on the order, of the new Patricius and Magister Militum, Felix (Prosper 471). Honoratus became bishop probably by the end of this year, succeeding to the ephemeral Euladius (Chadwick, corrected by Mathisen 279-281).
The Vita deals only very briefly with Honoratus' episcopate (VH 25-28), which lasted for only slightly more than two years (VHil 9). The text clearly depicts Honoratus as a stranger to the diocese (VH 25, 2) and his election may have been somehow contested. Hilarius tells us that "as soon as he was elected, his first concern was to restore concord and his main task to reconcile [. . .] the brothers disunited by the passions that the episcopal election had so far aroused" (VH 28, 2). His action seems to have taken two forms: the exercise of a moral magisterium, probably through preaching, though the text does not explicitly link both things (VH 26, 2-27, 2); the charitable use of money, coming from older gifts or bequests, which had been improperly kept instead of being distributed (VH 28, 3). This may be a reference to the money gathered during Patroclus' episcopate through the sale of ecclesiastical offices, if we are to believe the accusations of simony made by the Chronicler of 452 against him (Chronica Gallica a. 452 654). The phrase: "to expel the iniquitous Mammon" (Lk. 16:9) may therefore mean to get rid of this money.
A last aspect of the text deserves special attention, namely, Hilarius' conception of Grace. In his Letter to Augustine, Prosper of Aquitaine cites Hilarius as one of the men who disagreed with the great doctor's conception of Grace's role in the salvation of the man. Thus, Hilarius could be one of the Provençal clerics involved in what was eventually known as the 'semi-Pelagian controversy'. However, following O. Chadwick, modern scholars have doubted the accurateness of the manuscripts which the reading "Hilarius" in this part of the letter. The lectio difficilior, "Euladius", has been preferred. Though this reading is now widely accepted, it is still interesting to try to know Hilarius' position on the problem, by analysing the role played by Grace in the Sermo. Before doing so, however, I shall sum up briefly the arguments of both opponents in the controversy, in order to be able later to discuss Hilarius' position in relation to them. Pelagius believed that man could obtain his salvation by himself, by his own attempts. His doctrine, which was condemned by the Council of Carthage (418), was violently fought by Augustine. Augustine stated that humanity was doomed because of Original Sin and, consequently, that salvation could only derive from Grace, a gift that God makes to those He has predestined to receive the faith. Pelagius' doctrine received some support in the West and, while fighting against one of its supporters, Julian of Eclanum, Augustine adopted a more radical position on predestination, thus attracting the disagreement of the Provençal ascetic milieu. Both Cassian, in his thirteenth Conference and Vincent of Lérins, in his Commonitorium, opposed him. This opposition was dubbed 'semi-Pelagianism' in the seventeenth century, when the Jansenist strife broke out. This label is inappropriate because, rather than supporting Pelagius, the Provençals were in fact criticizing some extremes in Augustine's theological thought. It is thus more appropriately called anti-Augustinianism (Marrou 407). Augustine, informed of this opposition, wrote two treatises that he addressed to the monks of Hadrumetum and of Provence. The focal point they discuss is the beginning of the faith (initium fidei): for Augustine man can only start to believe after a gratuitous gift of God, while his opponents believe man can start believing by himself. The second Council of Orange, led by Caesarius of Arles, censured their belief (529): the measured theses on Grace adopted there ended the quarrel. In his analysis of the use of the word gratia in the Sermo, J.-P. Weiss remarks that this word is used with a theological meaning thrice. He has identified two other senses in which gratia is used, 'charm' and 'favour'. He rightly points out that these two kinds of gratia are in no way a gift of God, and that divine Providence acts only as a 'metteur en scène' of the gratia, so as to publicize it. If we consider the text as a whole, we find several significant passages dealing with Grace:
- At the beginning of the text (VH 3, 2), Hilarius says that
praising a deceased person is positive because, as the praised person
is no more, the laud is entirely addressed to the dispenser of Grace,
that is God: "necesse est, ut largitorem gratiae Deum laus tota referetur". As noted by J.-P Weiss,
this expression is slightly ambiguous: would the laud still be addressed to God, if the praised person were
This is a well-written text, both in the quality of the language and in its mastery of rhetoric. It is in direct continuity with the imperial panegyrics, whose structures and vocabulary it reuses. Nevertheless, this is also a Christian text: the classical vocabulary used takes Christian meaning, the antique hero dons the tunic of Christ. Except for the account of the beginnings of the monastic life in Lérins, however, the text does not give us concrete information on many things. Rather, as a product of the ecclesiastical aristocracy, it offers us a privileged view of the use of literacy and of the culture of the elite in early Christian Gaul. For its audience, about whose nature we shall never know precisely , it sets the ideal portrait of the uir Dei, the Christian holy man, as part of a series of mental images and categories that late antique writers bequeathed to the subsequent development of early medieval European culture.
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