Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume XI: November. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Gregory of Tours, Bishop and Confessor
THE SECOND ornament of the church of Tours after the great St. Martin, was George Florentius Gregory. He was born at Auvergne, of one of the most illustrious families of that country, both for riches and nobility; and, what was far more valuable, piety seemed hereditary in it. Leocadia, his grandmother, descended from Vettius Epagatus, the illustrious martyr of Lyons. His father was brother to St. Gallus, bishop of Clermont, under whom, and his successor St. Avitus, Gregory had his education. He received the clerical tonsure from the former, and was ordained deacon by the latter. Having contracted a dangerous distemper, for the recovery of his health he made a visit of devotion to the tomb of St. Martin at Tours, and had scarcely left that city when, upon the death of St. Euphronius, the clergy and people, who had been charmed with his piety, learning, and humility, chose him bishop. Their deputies overtook him at the court of Sigebert, king of Austrasia, and the saint being compelled to acquiesce, though much against his will, he was consecrated by Giles, bishop of Rheims, on the 22d day of August in 573, being thirty-four years old.1 Faith and piety, in the diocess of Tours, received a new increase under his conduct. He rebuilt his cathedral (which was founded by St. Martin) and several other churches; he assisted at the council of Paris in 577, and there defended St. Prætextatus, bishop of Rouen, with so much zeal and prudence as to gain the applause of king Chilperic himself, the persecutor of that injured prelate. The Arians and Sabellians in France were often confounded by him, and the greatest part of them were brought over to the unity of faith by his mildness and erudition. St. Odo extols his meekness, profound humility, ardent zeal for religion, and charity towards all, especially his enemies. The admirable purity of his life and manners could not shelter him from slanders and persecutions, and he was accused of a design of surrendering the city of Tours to King Childebert; but cleared in a council held at Braine a royal palace, three leagues from Soissons, in 580. Chilperic condemned at Braine a nobleman named Dacco, accused by treachery, to be put to death. Dacco besought a priest, without the kings privity, to admit him to penance; which being done, he was executed. This is an instance of secret penance and confession at the point of death,2 and of the impious maxim which anciently prevailed, sometimes in the civil courts in France, of refusing the sacraments to dying criminals that were guilty of grievous crimes. The stupidity and vanity of King Chilperic appear in his rash disputations with St. Gregory about the fundamental articles of our faith, in which the Saint vigorously opposed his extravagances.3 In 594 our saint went to Rome out of devotion, and was received with distinction by St. Gregory the great, who made him a present of a gold chain. That Pope admired the great graces and virtues of his soul, and the lowness of his stature. To whom the bishop of Tours replied: We are such as God has framed us: but he is the same in the little and in the great; meaning, that God is the author of all the good that is in us, and to him alone all praise is due. Several miracles are ascribed to St. Gregory of Tours, which he attributed to St. Martin and other saints, whose relics he always carried about him. When certain thieves who had robbed the church of St. Martin were taken, St. Gregory was afraid lest King Chilperic should put them to death, and wrote to him to save their lives; and as no one appeared to carry on the prosecution against them, they were pardoned.4 This saint was bishop twenty-three years, and died on the 17th of November in 596. Before his death he ordered his body to be buried in a place where all who came to the church should walk over his grave, and where no memorial could be erected. But the clergy afterwards raised a monument to his honour on the left hand of St. Martins tomb. See his works most correctly published by Ruinart, in folio, 1699, and the life of the Saint compiled by St. Odo, abbot of Cluni, prefixed to that edition. See also Rivet, Hist. Littér. t. 3. p. 372. Ceillier, t. 17. p. 1. Maun, Hist. de lEgl. de Tours.
Note 4. The works of St. Gregory or Tours consists of two books on the Glory of Martyrs, though the second regards only the miracles of St. Julian of Brioude. 2ndly, One book on the Glory of Confessors, or miracles wrought in several parts of France through their intercession, and by their relics. 3rdly, Four books on the Miracles of St. Martin. 4thly, A book of Lives of the Fathers, namely, of St. Gallus, and other French saints. In his ample collection of miracles he seems often to have given credit to popular reports. But his principal work is the History of the French, in sixteen books, in which, besides the History of the French church, many civil transactions, and many traces of the Gaulish and French laws and customs occur; of which this history is almost the only repertory, how much soever method and style be neglected in it. See the remarks of Ruinart, Houtesserre, (printed at Toulouse in 1679, in 4to.) the judicious Adrian Valois, (Rerum Francicarum, three vols. folio, in 1658.) Le Cointe, (Annales Ecclesiastici Francor.) &c. [back]