Avitus of Vienne
|Saint Alcimus Ecdicius Avitus of Vienne|
Statue in Saint-Avit dans la Drôme, in France
|Honored in||Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church|
Avitus was probably born at Vienne, for he was baptized by bishop Mamertus. In difficult times for the Catholic faith and Roman culture in southern Gaul, Avitus pursued with earnestness and success the extinction of Arianism among the Burgundians. He won the confidence of King Gundobad, and converted his son, King Sigismund (516-523).
The literary fame of Avitus rests on his many surviving letters (his recent editors make them ninety-six in all) and on a long poem, De spiritualis historiae gestis, in classical hexameters, in five books, dealing with the Biblical themes of Original Sin, Expulsion from Paradise, the Deluge, the Crossing of the Red Sea. The first three books offer a certain dramatic unity; in them are told the preliminaries of the great disaster, the catastrophe itself, and the consequences. The fourth and fifth books deal with the Deluge and the Crossing of the Red Sea as symbols of baptism. Avitus deals freely and familiarly with the Scriptural events, and exhibits well their beauty, sequence, and significance. He is one of the last masters of the art of rhetoric as taught in the schools of Gaul in the 4th and 5th centuries. His poetic diction, though abounding in archaisms and rhythmic redundancy, is pure and select, and the laws of metre are well observed. The author of his article in the Catholic Encyclopedia claims "that Milton made use of his paraphrase of Scripture in writing Paradise Lost." Avitus also wrote a poem for his sister Fuscina, a nun, praising virginity.
The letters of Avitus are of considerable importance for the ecclesiastical and political history of the years between 499 and 518. Like his contemporary, Ennodius of Pavia, he was strenuous in his assertion of the authority of the Apostolic See as the chief bulwark of religious unity and the incipient Christian civilization. "If the pope," he says, "is rejected, it follows that not one bishop, the whole episcopate threatens to fall" (Si papa urbis vocatur in dubium, episcopatus videbitur, non episcopus, vaccilare. — Ep. xxxiv; ed. Peiper). His letters are also among the important primary sources of early Merovingian political, ecclesiastical, and social history. Among them is a famous letter to Clovis on the occasion of his baptism. Avitus addresses Clovis not as if he was a pagan convert, but as if he was a recent Arian sympathiser, possibly even a catechumen. The letters document the close relations between the Catholic Bishop of Vienne and the Arian king of the Burgundians, the great Gundobad, and his son, the Catholic convert Sigismund.
There was once extant a collection of his homilies and sermons, but they have all perished except for two, and some fragments and excerpts from others.
The so-called Dialogues with King Gundobad, written to defend the Catholic faith against the Arians and purports to represent the famous Colloquy of Lyon in 449, was once believed to be his work. Julien Havet demonstrated in 1885, however, that it is a forgery of the Oratorian, Jérome Viguier, who also forged a letter purporting to be from Pope Symmachus to Avitus.
- The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, s.v. "Avitus 4" notes that he was present at the Council of Epaon, 517, but absent at the Council of Lyon, 519.
- Ecdicius in the prefatio to his Carmina.
- "im Umfeld des Kaisers Avitus" (Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon); The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, s.v. "Avitus 4".
- The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, s.v. "Hesychius 11"; "Er wurde 494 Nachfolger seines Vaters auf dem Bischofsstuhl von Vienne" Cf. Friedrich Wilhelm Bautz (1975). "Avitus, Alcimus Ecdicius, Bischof von Vienne (Burgund)". In Bautz, Friedrich Wilhelm. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German) 1. Hamm: Bautz. col. 311. ISBN 3-88309-013-1.;
- "a prominent Gallo-Roman family closely related to the Emperor Avitus and other illustrious persons, and in which episcopal honors were hereditary. (Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Avitus of Vienne").
- Avitus, Homily 6.
- He was one of four fifth to sixth-century Gallo-Roman aristocrats whose letters survive in quantity: the others are Sidonius Apollinaris, prefect of Rome in 468 and bishop of Clermont (died 485), Ruricius, bishop of Limoges, (died 507) and Magnus Felix Ennodius of Arles, bishop of Ticinum (died 534). All of them were linked in the tightly-bound aristocratic Gallo-Roman network that provided the bishops of Catholic Gaul. See Ralph W. Mathisen, "Epistolography, Literary Circles and Family Ties in Late Roman Gaul" Transactions of the American Philological Association 111 (1981), pp. 95-109.
- Danuta Shanzer, Dating the baptism of Clovis: the bishop of Vienne vs the bishop of Tours. Early Medieval Europe, Volume 7, Issue 1, pages 29–57, March 1998
- Avitus, The Fall of Man: De spiritalis historiae gestis libri I-III. Edited by Daniel J. Nodes. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1985, 72 pp. (Toronto Medieval Latin Texts, 16).
- Avitus of Vienne, Selected Letters and Prose. Tr. by Danuta Shanzer and Ian Wood. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2002, 464 pp. (Translated Texts for Historians).
- Avit de Vienne, Histoire spirituelle, Tome II: (Chants IV-V). Edited by Nicole Hecquet-Noti. Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 2005, Pp. 254. (Sources Chretiennes, 492).
- Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Avitus
- Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Brief biography of Avitus
- Opera Omnia by Migne Patrologia Latina with analytical indexes