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Ratherius' long life was an eventful one. He was deposed by King Hugh in 935. As presiding bishop he once commented that if he attempted to enforce the canons against unchaste persons who administered ecclesiastical rites, the Church would be without anyone except boys. And if he put into effect canons against bastards, they would also be excluded.
He was born about 887 into a noble family which lived in the territory of Liège. While still a boy he was sent as an oblate to the Benedictine Abbey of Lobbes in Hainaut, where he was a diligent student, acquired much learning, and became a monk of the abbey. At an early age he displayed a restless nature, a disposition difficult to get along with, great ambition and harsh zeal. Consequently, notwithstanding his strict orthodoxy, wide learning and sobriety of conduct, he met with great difficulties in every position he assumed, and nowhere attained permanent success. His entire life was a wandering one and not in reality fruitful.
When Abbot Hilduin of Lobbes went in 926 to Italy, where his cousin, Hugo of Provence, was king, he took Ratherius with him as companion. After many difficulties Ratherius received from the king the Diocese of Verona in 931. Yet he only ruled his see for two years, soon falling into a quarrel with both the members of his diocese and with the king, so that the latter sent him to prison and had him brought to Como. In 939 he escaped from Como into Provence, where he was tutor in a noble family until he returned to the Abbey of Lobbes in 944.
In 946 he went again to Italy and, after he had been held for some time as a prisoner by Berengar, the opponent of King Hugo, he obtained once more the Diocese of Verona. The difficulties that arose were again so great that after two years he fled to Germany and for some time wandered restlessly about the country. He took part in the Italian expedition of Ludolph of Swabia, the son of Otto I, but was not able to regain his diocese, and in 952 returned to Lobbes.
From Lobbes he was called to the cathedral school of Cologne by Archbishop Bruno of Cologne; who soon afterwards, in 953, gave Ratherius the Diocese of Liège. However, as early as 955, a revolt of the nobility against him obliged Ratherius to leave this see, and he now retired to the Abbey of Aulne. In 962 the Emperor Otto restored to him the Diocese of Verona, but after seven years of constant quarrels and difficulties he was obliged once more to withdraw. In 968 he went to Lobbes, where he incited such opposition against the Abbot Folcwin that Bishop Notker of Liège restored order by force, and in 972 sent Ratherius back to the Abbey of Aulne, where he remained until his death at Namur on 25 April 974.
He was also a fine preacher. One of his strengths was his skill in reviving old ideas and making them new once again. O quam hic abyssus Veteris Testamenti abyssum invocat Novi! O quam antiquiora recentioribus concinunt.
His writings are as unsystematic as his life was changeable and tumultuous. While his style is confused and lacks clearness, his writings generally had reference to particular occasions and were pamphlets and invectives against his contemporaries. He also wrote complaints against himself in his own affairs.
While imprisoned in Pavia Ratherius wrote Praeloquia, a treatise about holy living and the profane condition of the Italian bishops in six books, criticing all the social ranks of the period.
Among his other writings should be mentioned: ; "Conclusio deliberativa", and Phrensis (twelve books composed during a later time of strife, when Ratherius had been forced to relinquish the See of Verona), both in defence of his right to the Diocese of Liège; "Dialogus confessionum" and "Qualitatis conjunctura", reckless self-accusation; "De contemptu canonum", "Synodica", "Discordia inter ipsum et clericos", and "Liber apologeticus", against the ecclesiastics of his era and in defence of himself. Some of his sermons and letters have also been preserved. The writings throw much light upon his era. His works were edited by the brothers Ballerini (Verona, 1765); also in "P. L.", CXXXVI. Unedited letters are to be found in "Studie documenti di storia e diritto" (1903) 51-72.
Sources and references
- "Ratherius of Verona". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- Ker William Paton, The Dark Ages, Mentor Books, 1st Printing, May 1958, page 117.
- The Saturday Review, Catholic Celibacy, reprinted by the New York Times, August 11, 1878, page 4.