December XVI St. Ado, Archbishop of Vienne, C.

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December XVI


St. Ado, Archbishop of Vienne, C.


From his life collected by Mabillon, t. 6, Act. Ben. p. 281. See Ceillier, t. 19, p. 247.


a. d. 875.


Ado was born in the diocese of Sens, towards Gatinois, about the year 800, and was of one of the richest and most noble families of that country. It was the principal care of his religious parents to seek tutors, masters, and companions who should concur together by their maxims, example, interior spirit, and prudent and earnest instructions to form the morals of their son, and inspire into his soul the most tender and perfect sentiments of Christian piety. All this they happily found in the monastery of Ferrieres in Gatinois, at that time famous for learning and discipline. The pregnancy of his wit, the solidity of his judgment, his assiduity at his studies, and, above all, his humble obedience and docility, and his sincere piety, gained him the esteem and affections of the abbot Sigulph, and all his masters; and engaged them to redouble their care and attention in lending him every assistance to adorn his mind with all useful science, and to form the most perfect Christian spirit in his heart. Their pains were abundantly recompensed by the great progress which he made. Many great and powerful friends sought, by soothing flatteries, and by setting before him the lure of worldly honors and pleasures, to engage him in the career which his birth and abilities opened to him. But the pious young nobleman was not to be imposed upon by specious words or glosses. He saw clearly the dangers which attended such a course, and the cheat of that false blaze of shadowy greatness which seemed to surround it, and, dreading lest in such a state any thing could cause a division in his heart, or slacken his ardor in the entire consecration of himself to the divine service, he took the religious habit in that house, resolving never to serve any other master but God alone.


The saint was yet young when Marcvard, abbot of Prom, who had formerly been himself a monk of Ferrieres, begged of the abbot of Ferrieres as the greatest of favors that Ado might teach the sacred sciences in his monastery. The request could not be refused. Ado so taught as to endeavor to make his hearers truly sensible that if studies, even of morality and religion, entirely terminate in a barren knowledge of those truths, without acquiring the interior habits, sentiments, and dispositions which they inculcate, though they may sometimes be serviceable to others, they are not only useless, but pernicious to those who are possessed of them. Science, without advancing at the same time in humility and virtue, serves only to heighten vanity, and to swell and puff up the mind. For men who study only to furnish themselves with materials to shine in conversation, and to fill their heads with a set of notions which never sink deep into or influence the heart, fall into an overweening conceit of themselves, and are as much under the bias of pride as worldly libertines are enslaved to an inordinate love of riches, honor, or pleasures. Our saint, therefore, instructed his scholars how to form rules for the conduct of their lives, to examine into themselves, to subdue their passions, and, by conversing continually in heaven, to put on a heavenly spirit. Thus he labored to make all that were under his care truly servants of God; and it pleased God to suffer him to fall under grievous trials, that by them he might complete the work of his own sanctification, and the entire sacrifice of his heart. After the death of Marcvard, he was, through envy and jealousy, expelled the house, treated with great contempt, and oppressed by outrageous slanders. Ado took this opportunity to visit the tombs of the apostles at Rome, and stayed five years in that city. From thence he removed to Ravenna, where he found an old Martyrology, of which he took a copy, which he improved by many additions and corrections, and published about the year 858.* He also compiled a chronicle, and wrote the lives of St. Desiderius and St. Chef. When he returned out of Italy, he made a halt at Lyons, and St. Remigius, archbishop of that see, detained him there, and, having obtained leave of the abbot of Ferrieres, gave him charge of the parish church of St. Romanus, near Vienne. The celebrated Lupus, who had been chosen abbot of Ferrieres, and who is well known by his hundred and thirty letters, and several little treatises, became his zealous advocate, and, the see of Vienne falling vacant, he was chosen archbishop, and consecrated in September, 860. The year following he received the pall from pope Nicholas, with the decrees of a Roman council, the purport of which was to check certain disorders which had crept into several churches in France.


Ado’s promotion made no change in his behavior; he was still the same humble, modest, mortified man as when in a cloister, and endeavored to inspire his flock with the like sentiments and dispositions. He was indefatigable in pressing the great truths of salvation. He usually began his sermons and exhortations with these or the like words: “Hear the eternal truth which speaks to you in the gospel;” or, “Hear Jesus Christ, who saith to you,” &c. It was a principal part of his care that all candidates for holy orders should be rigorously examined, and he would be present at these examinations. He regulated the public service of the church with much zeal and wisdom, and made strict inquiry into the conduct of all those who were called to serve in the ministry of the altar, not only with regard to their progress in sacred learning and the regularity of their manners, but also with regard to their spirit of devotion and assiduity in constant prayer. The saint labored without intermission for the reformation of manners, and establishing good discipline among the people. He took great care that all that were ignorant of the principles of Christianity should be forbid to be sponsors at baptism, or to be joined in matrimony, or admitted to any of the sacraments till they were better instructed. By his vigilance no quarter was given to all those who indulged themselves in any vicious practice, in pleasures that enervate the soul, or in amusements and diversions which are dangerous to innocence. What enforced his instructions, and gave them weight and efficacy, was his example. His life was most austere; he was in every thing severe to himself, and all the clergymen that were about him were enjoined to apprize him of the least slip in his behavior. Though he was inflexible towards obstinate sinners, and employed every means to bring them to repentance, when he found them sincerely desirous to return to God, he received them with the greatest tenderness and indulgence, imitating the good Shepherd, who came down from heaven to seek the lost sheep, and carried them back to the fold on his shoulders. By his care the poor were everywhere tenderly assisted with every corporal and spiritual comfort and succor they could stand in need of, and many hospitals were raised for their reception and entertainment at his expense. It was his earnest desire to see all Christians seriously engaged in the noble contest, which of them should best fulfil his obligations in their full extent, which are all reduced to those which tie him to his Creator; for on a man’s concern for them depends his regard for all others. Religion alone can make mankind good and happy; and those who act under its influence are steady in the disinterested pursuit of every virtue, and in the discharge of every duty, even towards the world, their families, and themselves. To sum up the whole character of this good prelate in two words, Ado knew all the obligations of his post, and discharged them with the utmost exactness and fidelity. He distinguished himself in many councils abroad, and held himself several councils at Vienne to maintain the purity of faith and manners, though only a fragment of that which he celebrated in 870 is extant. When king Lothaire sought pretexts to divorce his queen Thietburge, our holy prelate obliged him to desist from that unjust project; and he had a great share in many public transactions, in which the interest of religion was concerned. For pope Nicholas I., king Charles the Bald, and Lewis of Germany had the greatest regard for him, on account of his prudence and sanctity, and paid a great deference to his advice. In the hurry of employments his mind was as recollected as if his whole business lay within the compass of his own private concerns. The multiplicity of affairs never made him the less constant in prayer, or less rigorous in his mortifications. To read the lives of the saints, and to consider their edifying actions, in order to imbibe their spirit, and quicken his own soul in the practice of piety, was an exercise in which he always found singular comfort and delight, and a great help to devotion; and, like the industrious bee, which sucks honey from every flower, he endeavored to learn from the life of every saint some new practice of virtue, and to treasure up in his mind some new maxim of an interior life. From thus employing his thoughts on the saints, studying to copy their virtues, and affectionately and devoutly honoring them in God, he happily passed to their glorious society eternally to enjoy God with them, on the 16th of December, 875, having been bishop fifteen years, three months. He is honored in the church of Vienne, and named in the Roman Martyrology on this day.


This mortal life is a pilgrimage, full of labors, hardships, and perils through an inhospitable desert, amidst numberless by-paths, and abounding with howling wild beasts. And the greatest danger frequently is the multitude of those who go astray before us. We follow their steps without giving ourselves leisure to think, and are thus led into some or other of these devious broad roads, which unawares draw all that are engaged in them headlong down the dreadful precipice into eternal flames. Amidst these, one only narrow path, which seems beset with briers and thorns, and is trodden by a small number of courageous souls, leads to happiness; and amongst those who enter upon it, many in every part fall out of it into some or other of the devious tracts and windings which terminate in destruction. Amidst these alarming dangers we have a sure guide; the light of divine revelation safely points out to us the strait way, and Christ bids us follow him, walk by his spirit, carefully tread in his steps, and keep always close to his direction. If ever we forsake his divine guidance, we lose and bewilder ourselves. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Many saints have followed this rule, and escaped all dangers, who seem to cry out to us.


This is the right way: walk you in it.” Can we have a greater comfort, encouragement, or assistance than to have them always before our eyes? The example of a God made man for us is the greatest model which we are bound continually to study in his divine life and precepts. Those who in all stations in the world have copied his holy maxims and conduct, sweetly invite us to this imitation of our divine original: every one of them cries out to us, with St. Paul,1 Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ. Their example, if always placed before our eyes, will withhold us from being hurried away by the torrent of the world, and its pernicious maxims, and the remembrance of their heroic conflicts, and the sight of the crowns they now enjoy, will be our comfort and support. What can give us greater joy in this valley of tears than to think often on the bliss which these glorious conquerors already possess, and on the means by which they attained to it? We ourselves press close after them, and even now are not far from the same glory; for we live on the borders of it. The longest life is very short; and every moment in it may, by the least unexpected incident, ingulf us suddenly in the abyss of eternity, and remove us into the society of these glorious saints. Can we desire this bliss, and not love honor, and always bear them in mind?


St. Alice, or Adelaide, Empress


The second kingdom of Burgundy, called also of Arles, was erected by Charles the Bald, emperor and king of France, who, in 879, bestowed Burgundy, Provence, Bresse, and Dauphin, with his title on his brother-in-law Bose, descended by the mother from Louis Dbonnaire.* Rudolph, or Ralph II., king of Burgundy, was father to St. Alice, whom he left at his death, in 937, only six years old. At sixteen she was married to Lothaire, king of Italy, by whom she had a daughter named Emma, who was afterwards married to Lothaire, king of France. The death of our saint’s husband, which happened about the year 949, left her a young widow, and the afflictions with which she was visited contributed perfectly to disengage her heart from the world, and make her devote herself to the practice of piety, which had been from her infancy the ruling inclination of her heart. Berengarius III., margrave of Yvrea, possessed himself of all Lombardy, and succeeded in the title of king of Italy. This prince, who had always been the declared enemy of his predecessor’s family, cast Alice into prison at Pavia, where she suffered the greatest hardships and indignities. She at length found means to make her escape, and fled towards Germany; but was met by the emperor Otho I., who, at the solicitation of pope Agapetus II., was marching at the head of an army of fifty thousand men to do her justice. He made himself master of Pavia and other places, and married Alice,* but restored the kingdom to Berengarius, upon condition he should hold it of the empire. Berengarius soon forgot his engagements; whereupon Otho, at the earnest request of pope John XII., sent his son Luitolph against him, and Luitolph, after gaining many victories, dying, the emperor went in person into Italy, made Berengarius prisoner, and banished him into Germany, where he died at Bamberg. After this victory, Otho was crowned emperor at Rome by the pope in 963.


The good empress was not puffed up with prosperity, and made use both of her riches and power only to do good to all men, especially to protect comfort, and relieve all that were in distress. Otho I., surnamed the Great died in 973, having reigned as king of Germany thirty-six years, as emperor almost eleven. Alice educated her son Otho II., with great care, and his reign was happy so long as he governed by her directions. But not standing upon his guard against flatterers, he suffered his heart to be debauched by evil counsellors. After the death of his first wife, who was daughter to the marquis of Austria, he married Theophania, a Grecian princess, and so far forgot his duty to his good mother as to banish her from court. Her tears for his irregularities were not shed in vain. Misfortune opened his eyes; he recalled her, and, with the most dutiful deference, reformed the abuses of the government by her counsels. The young emperor having been defeated by the Greeks in Calabria, died of a dysentery at Rome in 983, after he had reigned nine years. His imperious widow, Theophania, who became regent for her son Otho III., made it a point of honor to insult her pious mother-in-law; but Alice made no other return for all the ill treatment she received at her hands but that of meekness and patience. The young empress being snatched away by a sudden death, she was obliged to take upon her the regency. On this occasion it appeared how perfectly she was dead to herself. Power she looked upon merely as a burden and most difficult stewardship: but she applied herself to public affairs with indefatigable care. She showed herself so much a stranger to all resentment, as to load with benefactions those courtiers who had formerly given her most to suffer. Her attention to the public concerns never made her neglect the exercises of mortification and devotion. At set hours she retired to her oratory, there to seek by humble prayer the direction and light of heaven in her counsels, and to weep before God for those sins of the people which it was not in her power to remedy. In correcting others she felt in her own breast the confusion and trouble which her correction must give them; hence she forgot nothing which could soften it. Thus, by gaining their confidence and affection, she easily conducted them to virtue. Her own household appeared as regular as the most edifying monastery. She filled all the provinces which had the happiness to share in her protection, but especially the city of Magdeburg, with religious houses, and other monuments of charity and piety, and she zealously promoted the conversion of the Rugi and other infidels. In the last year of her life she took a journey into the kingdom of Burgundy to reconcile the subjects of that realm to king Ralph, her nephew, and died on the road, at Salces, in Alsace, in the year 999. Her name is honored in the calendars of several churches in Germany, though not in the Roman. A portion of her relics is kept in a costly shrine in the Treasury of Relics at Hanover, and is mentioned in the Lipsanographia of the electoral palace of Brunswick-Lunenburg, printed in 1713. See the life of St. Alice, written by St. Odilo with histories of her miracles published by Leibnitz, Collectio Scriptorum Brunswicensium, t. 2, p. 262.


The Irish commemorate on this day St. Beanus, a bishop in Leinster. Colgan, MSS.


* The best edition of Ado’s Martyrology was that of Rosweidus, before Monsignor Georgi, secretary to Benedict XIV., favored us with a new one far more correct, and enriched with notes and useful dissertations.


1 Cor. 11:1.


* After the death of King Ralph III., the Emperor Conrad II., annexed all Burgundy to the empire. But several provincial governors made themselves masters in their districts; namely, the counts of Savoy, Burgundy, and Provence; the dauphin of Viennois, and the lord of Bresse; the first confederation of the Switzers and Grisons is said also to have been then formed.


* Otho I., son of Henry, or the Fowler, succeeded his father in 936; had by Editha, his first wife, a son, named Luitolph; and by St. Alice, his second wife, Otho II., his successor.


St. Alice long made use of Adelbert, first archbishop of Magdeburg, for her spiritual director and counsellor. He is by many historians ranked among the saints, and Alice and her husband had so great a share in his apostolic missions, that a short account of his life serves to illustrate their actions. Henry the Fowler, king of Germany, having re-established the abbey of St. Maximin at Triers, that house became a nursery of great prelates and saints. Among these one of the most eminent was Adelbert. In his youth, dreading that learning which only swells the heart, he always began and ended his studies by prayer, and interrupted them by long devout meditations, and by continual sighs to God. At the same time he labored to purify his understanding, and disengage his affections from earthly things by sincere humility, and the mortification of his will and senses. Thus he became remarkably distinguished among his brethren for that sincere piety which edifies, and he appeared excellently fitted to communicate to others that spirit with which he was replenished, when he was called out of his retirement to preach the pure maxims of the gospel to others.


The Rugi or Rani, about the year 960, by deputies entreated the emperor Otho I. to procure them a bishop who might instruct them in the Christian faith. This fierce nation inhabited part of Pomerania between the rivers Oder and Wipper, (where the city Rugenwald in Brandenburg still bears their name,) and the isle of Rugen in the Baltic. Helmoldus, in his accurate chronicle of the Slavi, (l. 1, c. 2,) informs us that they were a savage people, and the only tribe of the Slavi or Slavonians which had a king; that they had also a high priest, whose sway was very great in the neighboring countries: they pretended to a familiar intercourse with the gods, or rather with the devils, in a famous temple in the isle of Rugen, in which the people lodged their treasures, and to which the neighboring nations sent frequently rich presents. Neither St. Anscharius nor St Rembertus had preached to this barbarous nation. But certain monks of New-Corbie, in the reign of Louis le Débonnaire, undertook a mission among them, and with the hazard of their lives converted many to the Christian faith in the various provinces of the Slavi, and the whole island of Rugen, in which they built an oratory in honor of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and in memory of St. Vitus the patron of New-Corbie. This island had been the seat of error, and the metropolis of idolatry in that part of the world; and the savage inhabitants, soon after their conversion, apostatized again from the faith; and added to former superstitions a new monstrous extravagance by honoring St. Vitus as the chief of all their gods, erecting to him a stately temple and an idol with sacrifices, glorying only in his name, and suffering no merchant to come among them, nor any one to buy or sell any thing who did not first give some offering for the sacrifices or temple of their god, whom corruptly for St. Vite, they called Swantewith. “Thus whom we confess a martyr and servant of Christ, they adore as God,” says Helmoldus, (l. 1, c. 6,) “a creature for the Creator: nor is there any nation under the sun that so much abhors Christians, especially Christian priests.” Out of hypocrisy, as appeared by the event, they petitioned for preachers. Otho I., emperor of Germany, received their messengers with joy, and chose first Libutius, a monk of St. Alban’s at Mentz for their bishop; but he dying before he set out, Adelbert was pitched upon, and ordained bishop of the Rugi. Otho munificently furnished him with all things necessary, and the new bishop entered the country with a select number of fellow-preachers. But the hearts of the people were hardened against the truth: and several of the missionaries being massacred by them, the rest, with the bishop, with great difficulty, escaped out of their hands, and, despairing of success, returned to their monasteries. This mission happened in the year 961.


Adelbert was made abbot of Wurtzburg in 966, and in 970 first archbishop of Magdeburg, which see was raised to the dignity of metropolitan of the Slavi, by pope John XIII. at the request of Otho I., who seeing many provinces of the Slavi converted to the faith, procured the establishment of this church with five suffragans under it, namely of Merseburg, Cicen, Misna, Posna or Brandenburg, and Havelberg, all situate in the territory of the Slavi. That great prince, the conqueror of Bohemia and of all the northern nations of Germany, built, or rather exceedingly enlarged and ennobled, the city of Magdeburg, at the desire of his first queen, Editha, daughter to king Edmund of England. She was buried in this city, as was afterwards the emperor himself, who died there in the year 973. His second wife, St. Alice, who survived him, passed here the greatest part of her time during her widowhood, under the direction of the good archbishop. By his prudent care were many churches erected in all those parts, and supplied with able pastors for the instruction and spiritual assistance of the converted nations. He settled in most excellent order the chapter of his metropolitical church, which the aforesaid emperor had munificently founded; and he converted to the faith great numbers of the Slavi, whom he found still bewildered in the shades of infidelity. He enriched the church of Magdeburg with the relics of St. Maurice, and many other martyrs, was endued with the spirit of prophecy, and discharged all the duties of an apostle during the twelve years which he governed his church. He was taken ill while he was performing the visitation of the dioceses of Merseburg, and having said mass at Merseburg, he found himself so weak that he laid himself down on a carpet, received there the last rites of the church, and amidst the prayers of the clergy happily departed to our Lord, on the 20th day of June, 982. He is usually styled saint by agiographers, who give his life on the 20th of June; but his name is not found in any known calendars of the church. Papebroke and Baillet think he was honored among the saints at Magdeburg before the change of religion, by which all former monuments of saints there were abolished; insomuch that none had been preserved of the veneration of St. Norbert, had it not been for the care which was taken by his order. Nevertheless, Joseph Assemani thinks positive proofs ought to be produced, before his name be placed in the calendars. On his life see Lambert of Shafnaburg, l. De rebus gestis Germanorum, an. 960. Ditmarus, Helmoldus, two chronicles of Magdeburg, quoted by Mabillon, sæc. 5, Ben. p. 575, and Jos. Assemani, in Calend. De Origin. Sclavorum, t. 1, c. 3, p. 264, et seq.


N. B. Baronius, ad an. 959; Pagi, ib.; Mabillon, sæc. 5; Ben. p. 573; and the Bollandists by mistake confound the Rugi with the Russi, and falsely imagine that St. Adelbert preached to the Russians and Muscovites, on whom see St. Bruno or Boniface, June 19, and SS. Romanus and David, July 24.


The Rugi continued in their apostacy till, in 1168, Waldemar, king of Denmark, with the assistance of the princes of Pomerania, and especially the Obotritæ, subdued this whole nation, destroyed their famous temple, and caused their great idol Swantewith to be hewn to pieces and burnt. Absolon bishop of Roschilde, and Berno, bishop of Meckelburg, who accompanied him, erected twelve churches in the country of these Slavi, which remained a long time tributary to Denmark. See Helmold, l. 2, c. 12, and Jos Asemani, in Calend. Univ. t. 1, p. 258.


Butler, A., The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints (New York 1903) IV, 724-730.