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September 10, 2019

Saint Salvius, Bishop of Albi in Gaul (+ 584)

St. Salvius of Albi (Feast Day - September 10);
St. Gregory and Salvius in front of King Chilperic I,
from the Grandes Chroniques de France de Charles V
(14th-century illumination)

Saint Salvius came from a powerful family within the Church, which contributed many bishops in the south of France. He was a distant relation of Gregory of Tours who wrote his life, and was also a relative of Saint Didier of Cahors. He was educated in law and humanities, before becoming a lawyer in Albi. Later he became a monk and a hermit and was made bishop in 574.

As bishop he intervened with the powerful Chilperic I and stayed in Albi to take care of his flock during a famine and a plague epidemic to which he succumbed in 584.

He was buried in his monastery but his remains were later moved to the Church of Saint-Salvi in Albi. Their exact location is now lost because of renovation in the 18th century. After this he was venerated in the city and was later declared to be a saint.

Below is the Life of Saint Salvius as extracted from portions of the History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours:

Book 5, Chapter 44

At the same time King Chilperic wrote a little treatise to the effect that the Holy Trinity should not be so called with reference to distinct persons but should merely have the meaning of God, saying that it was unseemly that God should be called a person like a man of flesh; affirming also that the Father is the same as the Son and that the Holy Spirit also is the same as the Father and the Son. "Such," said he, "was the view of the prophets and patriarchs and such is the teaching the law itself has given." When he had had this read to me he said: "I want you and the other teachers of the Church to hold this view." But I answered him: "Good king, abandon this belief; it is your duty to follow the doctrine which the other teachers of the Church left to us after the time of the apostles, the teachings of Hilarius and Eusebius which you professed at baptism." Then the king was angry and said: "It is plain that in this case Hilarius and Eusebius are my bitter enemies." And I answered him: "It is better for you to be careful and not make enemies either of God or his saints. Now let me tell you that as persons the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct. It was not the Father who took on flesh, nor the Holy Spirit, but the Son, so that he who was the Son of God became the son of a virgin also for the redemption of man. It was not the Father who suffered, nor the Holy Spirit, but the Son, so that he who had taken on flesh in the world, was himself offered for the world. And what you say about persons must be understood not in a material but in a spiritual sense. In these three persons, then, there is one glory, one eternity, one power." But he became excited and said: "I will explain these matters to wiser men than you and they will agree with me." I replied: "No wise man will he be but a fool, who will consent to follow your proposals." At this he ground his teeth and said no more. A few days later Bishop Salvius of Albi visited him and he had this treatise read to him, begging him to accept his views. But upon hearing them Salvius was so revolted that if he could have laid hands on the paper containing the writing he would have torn it into bits. And so the king gave up the project. The king wrote also other books in verse following Sedulius as a model. But those poor verses have no relation of any sort with meter. He also added letters to our alphabet, namely [omega] as the Greeks have it, ae, the, [upsilon, upsilon iota], which are written by the following characters: [omega] as [theta], a/e as [ psi], the as [Zeta], [upsilon, upsilon iota] as [delta]. And he wrote to all the cities of his kingdom that boys should be taught these letters and that books written in previous times should be erased with pumice and rewritten.

Book 5, Chapter 50

Although I should have spoken before of my conversation with the blessed bishop Salvius, it slipped my mind, and I suppose is not wicked if it is written later. When I had said good­bye to the king after the synod I mentioned, and was anxious to return home, I decided not to go before kissing this man and taking leave of him. And I found him in the entrance of the house of Braine. And I said to him that I was about to return home. Then we withdrew a little and speaking of this and that he said to me: "Do you see upon this roof what I see?" I replied: "Why, I see the roof-covering which the king lately gave orders to place there." But he asked: "Don't you see anything else?" And I said: "Nothing else." For I suspected that he was making a joke. And I added: "Tell me what more you see." But he drew a deep sigh and said: "I see the sword of divine wrath unsheathed and threatening this house." The bishop's words were not wrong; for twenty days later there died the two sons of the king whose deaths I have described before.

Book 7, Chapter 1

Though it is my desire to continue the history which the previous books have left untold, still affection requires me first to tell somewhat concerning the blessed Salvius, who, as is well known, died in this year. [note: Salvius died Sept 10, 584. Chilperic's death which closes Book VI occurred in 584.] As he himself was wont to relate he continued for a long time in the secular garb and with secular judges devoted himself to worldly cases, but yet he never entangled himself in the passions in which the mind of the young is usually involved. And finally when the odor of the divine breath had touched his inward parts, he left the warfare of the world and sought a monastery, and being even then devoted to godliness he understood that it was better to be poor with the fear of God than to pursue the gains of the perishing world.

In this monastery he continued a long time under the rule established by the fathers. And when he had reached a more mature strength both of understanding and of life, the abbot who was over this monastery died and he took up the task of feeding the flock; and whereas he should have shown himself more commonly among his brethren for their correction, after he had attained this honor he was more retiring; and so he sought for himself a more secluded cell. Now in the former, as he himself told, he had changed the skin of his body more than nine times, from scourging himself with too great determination. Then after receiving the office, while he devoted himself to prayer and reading, contented with this abstinence, he kept considering whether it was better for him to be hidden among the monks or to take the name of abbot among the people. Why say more? He said farewell to his brethren and they to him, and was immured. While thus immured he continued in all abstinence more than before; and in his love of charity he sought when any strangers came to bestow his prayers on them and administer the grace of the blessed bread abundantly, which brought sound health to many who were infirm.

And once he lay panting on his bed worn out by a high fever, and behold his cell was suddenly brightened by a great light and quivered. And he lifted his hands to heaven and breathed out his spirit while giving thanks. With mingled cries of mourning the monks and his mother took the dead man's body out [of the cell], washed and clothed it and placed it on a bier and spent the night in weeping and singing psalms. In the morning while preparations for the funeral went on the body began to move on the bier. And behold his cheeks regained color and, as if roused from a deep sleep, he stirred and opened his eyes and lifted his hands and said: "Merciful God, why hast Thou allowed me to return to this gloomy place of life on earth, since Thy mercy in heaven would be better for me than vile life in this world." His people were wonderstruck and asked what such a prodigy could mean, but he made no answer to their questions. He rose from the bier, feeling no harm from the painful experience he had suffered, and continued for three days without the support of food or drink.

On the third day he called the monks and his mother and said: "Listen, dear ones, and understand that what you look upon in this world is nothing but it is like the Prophet Solomon's song, 'All is vanity.' Happy is he who can live in the world so as to deserve to see the glory of God in heaven." Having said this he began to doubt whether to say more or be silent. When he said no more he was beset by the entreaties of his brethren to tell what he had seen, and he went on: "Four days ago when my cell quivered and you saw me lifeless, I was seized by two angels and carried up to the high heavens, so that I thought I had under my feet not only this filthy world but the sun also, and the moon, the clouds and the stars. Then I was taken through a door brighter than this light into that dwelling in which all the pavement was like shining gold and silver, a brightness and spaciousness beyond description, and such a multitude of both sexes was there that the length and breadth of the throng could not be seen. A way was made for me through the press by the angels who guided me, and we came to a place which I had already seen from a distance; a cloud hung over it brighter than any light, in which no sun or moon or star could be seen, but excelling all these it gleamed more brightly than the light of nature, and a voice came out of the cloud like a voice of many waters. Then I, a sinner, was humbly greeted by men in it, priestly and worldly dress who, my guides told me, were martyrs and confessors whom we venerate here with the greatest reverence. I stood where I was bidden and a very sweet odor enveloped me so that I was refreshed by this sweetness and up to the present I have wanted no food or drink. And I heard a voice saying: 'Let him return to the world since he is necessary to our churches.' It was only the voice that was heard, for it could not be seen who spoke. And I threw myself on the pavement and said with loud weeping: 'Alas, alas, Lord, why didst Thou show me this if I was to be deprived of it. Behold today Thou wilt cast me out from Thy face to return to the sinful world and never be able to return here again. I beseech Thee, Lord, not to take Thy mercy from me but permit me to stay here and not fall thither and perish.' And the voice which spoke to me said: 'Go in peace, for I am your keeper until I bring you back to this place.' Then I was left alone by my companions and departed weeping by the gate by which I entered and returned here."

When he had said this and all present were wonderstruck, God's saint began to weep and say: "Woe is me who have dared to reveal such a mystery. For the pleasant odor which I brought from the holy place, by which I have been supported the last three days without eating or drinking, has gone. My tongue too is covered with grievous sores and swollen so that it seems to fill the whole of my mouth. And I know that it was not well-pleasing to my Lord God to make these secrets known. But Thou knowest, Lord, that I did this in simplicity of heart, not in boastfulness. I beg Thee, be kind and do not abandon me, according to Thy promise." After this he said no more and took food and drink.

Now as I write this I am afraid that some reader may not believe it, according to what Sallust the historian says: "When you speak of the virtue and fame of good men each calmly believes what he thinks it easy for himself to do; beyond that he considers it falsely invented." For I call all-powerful God to witness that I learned from his own lips all that I have told. A long time after, the blessed man was taken from his cell, chosen bishop, and ordained against his will. And when he was, I think, in his tenth year as bishop, the plague grew worse in Albi, and the greatest part of the people had now died and few of the citizens remained, but the blessed man, like a good shepherd, never consented to leave the place, but he continually urged those who were left to devote themselves to prayer and to keep watch continually and to be engaged always in good works and profitable thought, saying: "Do this so that if God wishes you to go from this world you can enter not into judgment but into rest." And when by God's revelation, as I suppose, he recognized the time of his calling, he made himself a tomb and washed his body and clothed it; and thus always intent upon heaven he breathed out his blessed spirit.

He was a man of great holiness and not greedy at all; he never wished to possess gold. If he took it under compulsion he at once paid it out to the poor. In his time when Mummolus the patrician took many captives from that city he followed him and ransomed them all. And the Lord gave him such favor with that people that the very men who took the captives made him concessions in the price and also gave him gifts. And so he restored the captives taken from his country to their former liberty. I have heard many good things about this man, but as I desire to return to the history I have undertaken I pass them over for the most part.