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A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography
Gregorius (32) Turonensis, Bishop of Tours
Gregorius (32) Turonensis , bp. of Tours (c. 573â€“594). His life we know chiefly from his own writings. The Vita per Odonem Abbatem , generally pub. with his works, is almost entirely based upon what he says of himself.
Gregory himself gives a list of his works. At the end of his History he says, "Decem libros historiarum, septem miraculorum, unum de vitis Patrum scripsi: in Psalterii tractatum librum unum commentatus sum: de cursibus etiam ecclesiasticis unum librum condidi" (bk. x. 31, sub fin. ). Of these all are extant except the commentary on the Psalms, of which only fragments exist, collected in vol. iii. of Bordier's ed. pp. 401 sqq. His History is in vol. ii. of Bouquet, and in the collections of La Bigne, Duchesne, and Migne. There are valuable edd. by the SociÃ©tÃ© de lá¾¿Histoire de France, with French trans. and notes, viz. the Hist. eccl. des Francs , edited by MM. Guadet et Taranne (4 vols. 1836â€“1838), and Les Livres des miracles et autres opuscules , including the Vita , extracts from Fortunatus, etc., by M. H. L. Bordier (4 vols. 1857â€“1864). But the best and most recent ed. is that of W. Arndt and Br. Krusch in Mon. Germ. Hist. Script. Rex. Merov. i. This contains an Index, Orthographica, Lexica et Grammatica . Of the commentaries and works bearing on his life and writings, the most important and thorough are LÃ¶bell's Gregor von Tours and seine Zeit (2nd ed. 1869), and Gabriel Monod's Etudes critiques sur lá¾¿Ã©poque mÃ©rovingienne , pt. i. 1872, being fasc. No. 9 of the BibliothÃ¨que de lá¾¿Ã©cole des hautes Ã©tudes .
Georgius Florentius (subsequently called Gregorius, after his great-grandfather) was born Nov. 30, 538. Previous authorities have generally given the year 543, from the passage in the Vita which states that he was 30 years old at the time of his consecration, i.e. in 573.
Members of both parents' families had held high office in church and state. His paternal grandfather Georgius and his maternal great-grandfather Florentius (V. P. 8, 1) had been senators at Clermont. Gallus, son of Georgius and uncle of Gregory, was bp. of Auvergne; another uncle, Nicetius or Nizier, bp. of Lyons ( H. v. 5; V. P. 8); another, Gundulf, had risen to ducal rank ( H. vi. 11). Gregory, bp. of Langres, and originally count of Autun, was his great-grandfather, and all the previous bishops of Tours, except five, had been of his family (v. 50). It is with justifiable pride, therefore, that he asserts ( V. P. 6) that none in Gaul could boast of purer and nobler blood than himself. His father appears to have died early, and Gregory received most of his education from his uncle Gallus, bp. of Auvergne. Being sick of a fever in his youth, he found relief by visiting the shrine of St. Illidius, the patron saint of Clermont. The fever returned, and Gregory's life was despaired of. Being again carried to St. Illidius's shrine, he vowed to dedicate himself to the ministry if he recovered, nor would he quit the shrine till his prayer was granted ( V. P. 2, 2).
Armentaria, Gregory's mother, returned to Burgundy, her native country, and Gregory apparently lived with Avitus, at first archdeacon, afterwards bp. of Auvergne, who carried on his education, directing his pupil rather to the study of ecclesiastical than of secular works. Gregory looked upon Avitus as in the fullest sense his spiritual father. "It was his teaching and preaching that, next to the Psalms of David, led me to recognize that Jesus Christ the Son of God had come into the world to save sinners, and caused me to reverence and honour those as the friends and disciples of Christ who take up His cross and follow in His steps " (V. P. 2, Intro.). By Avitus he was ordained deacon, probably c. 563 (Monod. 29).
Of Gregory's life before he became bp. of Tours few details are known. He appears to have been well known at Tours (Mir. Mart. i. 32, Vita , c. ii.), for it was in consequence of the expressed wish of the whole people of Tours, clergy and laity, that Sigebert appointed him, in 573, to the see. He was consecrated by Egidius of Rheims. He was known to and favoured by Radegund the widow of Clotaire I., foundress of St. Cross at Poictiers, who, according to Fortunatus, helped to procure his election (Carm. v. 3).
The elevation of Gregory was contemporary with the renewed outbreak of civil war between Sigebert and Chilperic, the former of whom had inherited the Austrasian, the latter the Neustrian, possessions of their father Clotaire I. (d. 561). The possession of Touraine and Poitou was in some sort the occasion of the war, and these countries suffered from the ravages of both parties. Gregory's sympathies were naturally with Sigebert (Vita S. Greg. Â§ 11), and the people of Tours were generally ( H. iv. 50), though not unanimously (iv. 46), on the same side. Chilperic, according to Gregory, was even more cruel and regardless of human life than the other Merovingian princes; he was the "Nero and Herod of his age" (vi. 46); he not only plundered and burned throughout the country, but specially destroyed churches and monasteries, slew priests and monks, and paid no regard to the possessions of St. Martin (iv. 48). Tours remained under Chilperic till his death in 584, and some of the best traits in Gregory's character appear in his resistance to the murderous violence of the king and the truculent treachery of Fredegund. Thus he braved their wrath, and refused to surrender their rebellious son Meroveus (v. 14), and their enemy Guntram Boso who had defeated and killed Theodebert (v. 4), both of whom had taken sanctuary at the shrine of St. Martin; and Gregory alone of the bishops dared to rebuke Chilperic for his unjust conduct towards Praetextatus, and to protect Praetextatus from the vengeance of Fredegund (v. 19); and when Chilperic wanted to force on his people his views of the doctrine of the Trinity, Gregory withstood him. Chilperic recited to Gregory what he had written on the subject, saying, "I will that such shall be your belief and that of all the other doctors of the church." "Do not deceive yourself, my lord king," Gregory replied; "you must follow in this matter the teaching of the apostles and doctors of the church, the teaching of Hilary and Eusebius, the confession that you made at baptism." "It appears then," angrily exclaimed the king, " that Hilary and Eusebius are my declared enemies in this matter." "No," said Gregory; "neither God nor His saints are your enemies," and he proceeded to expound the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. Chilperic was very angry. "I shall set forth my ideas to those who are wiser than you, and they will approve of them." "Never," was the answer, "it would be no wise man, but a lunatic, that would adopt such views as yours" (v. 45).
Gregory had a persistent enemy in Leudastes, count of Tours (v. 49). When removed from office because of his misdeeds, he endeavoured to take revenge on Gregory by maligning him to the king, that he was going to deliver over the city to Childebert, Sigebert's son, and finally that Gregory had spread a report of Fredegund's adultery. Chilperic summoned a council of the bishops of the kingdom at Braine, near Soissons, to investigate the charge, and it was found that the accusation rested solely on the evidence of Leudastes and Riculfus. All agreed that the witness of an inferior was not to be believed against a priest and his superior, and Gregory was acquitted on condition of solemnly disclaiming on oath all cognizance of the charge. Leudastes fled; Riculfus was condemned to death: at Gregory's intercession he was spared death, but not horrible torture (v. 48â€“50; GrÃ©goire de Tours au concile de Braine , par S. Prioux, Paris 1847, is a mere rÃ©chauffÃ© of Gregory's own account of these proceedings, and of no independent critical value). The subsequent fate of Leudastes illustrates the best side of Gregory's character. After being a fugitive in different parts of Gaul, Leudastes presented himself at Tours to have his excommunication removed with a view to marrying and settling there. He brought letters from several bishops, but none from queen Fredegund, his principal enemy, and when Gregory wrote to her, she asked Gregory to postpone receiving back Leudastes into communion till further inquiry had been made. Gregory, suspicious of Fredegund's design, warned Leudastes's father-in-law, and besought him to induce Leudastes to keep quiet till Fredegund's anger was appeased. "This advice," says Gregory, "I gave sincerely, and for the love of God, but Leudastes suspected treachery, and refused to take it: so the proverb was fulfilled which I once heard an old man tell, 'Always give good counsel to friend and foe; the friend will take it, the foe will despise it.'" Leudastes went to the king to get his pardon; Chilperic was willing, but warned him to be careful till the queen's wrath was appeased. Leudastes rashly tried to force forgiveness from the queen. Fredegund was implacable and furious, and Leudastes was put to death with great cruelty. "He deserved his death," says Gregory, "for he had ever led a wicked life " (H. vi. 32).
During the wars that followed the death of Chilperic in 584, Touraine and Poitou desired to be subject to Childebert, Sigebert's son, i.e. to resume their allegiance to the Austrasian king, but were compelled to submit to Guntram, king of Orleans and Burgundy (vii. 12, 13), and under his power they remained till restored to Childebert by the treaty of Andelot in 587, in concluding which Gregory was one of Childebert's commissioners (iv. 20). Guntram died in 593. Childebert succeeded him as the treaty had provided, and the latest notice in Gregory's writings is the visit of Childebert to Orleans after Guntram's death ( Mir. S. Martin , iv. 37). Gregory himself died Nov. 17, 594.
His activity was not confined to the general affairs of the kingdom. He was even more zealous for the welfare of his own and neighbouring dioceses. His later years were much occupied with the disturbances caused by Chrodieldis in the nunnery at Poictiers which had been founded by Gregory's friend St. Radegund. His first interference was ineffectual (ix. 39 sqq.), but the disturbance having increased, Guntram and Childebert appointed a joint commission of bishops to inquire into the matter. Gregory was one of Childebert's commissioners, but refused to enter upon the work until the civil disturbance had been actually repressed (x. 15, 16). He had a great deal of trouble also with another rebellious nun, Berthegunda (ix. 33, x. 12).
Gregory magnifies the sanctity and power of Tours's great patron St. Martin. He maintained the rights of sanctuary of the shrine in favour of the most powerful offenders, and in spite of the wrath of Chilperic and Fredegund (e.g. Meroveus, Guntram Boso, Ebrulfus, vii. 22, 29). He was a builder of churches in the city and see, and especially a rebuilder of the great church of St. Martin (x. 31). He did his best to arbitrate in and appease the bloody feuds of private or political partisanship (vii. 47) and was a rigorous and effectual defender of the exemption of the city from increased taxation (ix. 20). Evidently a man of unselfish earnestness and energy, he was popular with all in the city.
Gregory began to write first as bishop, his subject being the Miracles of St. Martin . Venantius Fortunatus in 576 alludes to the work, probably to the first two books, which, however, were not completed till 583, the third book not before 587, and the fourth was still incomplete at Gregory's death. The Gloria Martyrum was composed c. 585. Gregory wrote also the Gloria Confessorum (completed 588) and the Vitae Patrum , the latter being continued till the time of his death.
The History appears to have been written contemporaneously with the Miracles of the Saints , most probably in several divisions and at different times. Giesebrecht, who has carefully investigated the internal evidence, comes to the following conclusions. The History was originally written at three separate periods, and falls into three separate divisions. Bks. i.â€“iv. and the first half of bk. v. were probably composed c. 577; from the middle of bk. v. to the end of the 37th chapter of bk. viii, in 584 and 585; the remainder in 590 and 591. The last chapter of the last book is an epilogue, separately composed; for the history as a history is unfinished. Gregory would probably have carried it on at least to the death of Guntram in Mar 593. As in the case of the books of the Miracles, Gregory appears to have revised his History, and we find m the earlier books insertions and references to Gregory's other works and to events of later date. This revision does not appear to have reached further than the end of bk. vi.; hence several MSS., and these the most ancient, contain only the first six books, and the authors of the Hist. Epit. and of the Gesta Reg. Franc. appear to have known only these. Monod substantially agrees with Giesebrecht as to the dates.
Gregory begins his History with the Creation, and his first book consists largely of extracts from Eusebius, Jerome, and Orosius (Hist. i. Prol. sub fin. cc. 34, 37). In bk. ii., which treats of the Frankish conquests, he still owes much to Orosius and to the Lives of the Saints, and quotes from Renatus Frigiderius and Sulpicius Alexander (ii. 9), two 5th-cent. writers, whose works are not extant. Thereafter he writes directly from oral tradition and authorities. Bks. iii. and iv., dealing with events down to 575, are, compared with those which follow, meagre and unchronologically arranged, giving prominence to events in Auvergne and Burgundy (Monod, p. 102). From 575 the narrative becomes fuller and more systematic, the intervals of time being regularly marked. (Giesebrecht, pp. 32â€“34. Monod, in his 4th chap., investigates the comparative value in different parts of the work of the documentary and oral sources of the History.)
Gregory apologizes more than once for the rudeness of his style. But rough though this might be, he was far from lacking learning or culture such as his age could afford. Though ignorant of Greek, he had a fair acquaintance with Latin authors, quoting or referring to Livy, Pliny, Cicero, Aulus Gellius, etc. (Monod, 112). He does not attempt to make his History a consistent and well-balanced whole, nor to subordinate local to general interests. The fullness of his recital of particular events depends not upon intrinsic importance but upon the amount of information he has at command. So too he follows the dramatic method, putting speeches into the mouths of individuals which are the composition of the author. Even where he depends upon written authorities he is, in detail, untrustworthy. Where he can be compared with writers now extant, as in the first two books of the History, his inaccuracy is seen to be considerable. He transcribes carelessly, and often cites from memory, giving the substance of that which he has read, and that not correctly (see instances ap. Monod, pp. 80 sqq.). Little confidence can be placed in his narrative of events outside of Gaul, and the less the farther the scene of action is removed from Gaul. His sincerity and impartiality have been attacked on various grounds: that he unduly favours the church, or that he traduces the church in his accounts of the wickedness of the bishops of the time, or that he traduces the character of the Franks (Kries, de Gregorii Turonensis episcopi vita et scriptis , Breslau, 1859), whether from motives of race-jealousy or any other. Gregory looks upon history as a struggle of the church against unbelief in heathen and heretics and worldly-mindedness in professing Christians. Hence he begins his History with a confession of the orthodox faith. The epithet ecclesiastica applied to the History from Ruinart's time is a misnomer in the modern sense, for Gregory specially defends his method of mixing things secular and religious. With a man so passionate and impressionable as Gregory, the fact of his being a priest and the bishop of the see of St. Martin, the ecclesiastical and religious centre of Gaul, does influence his feelings and actions towards individuals. But ecclesiastical prejudices did not prevent him recording events as related to him. He shews no rancour in treating of the Frankish conquerors, such as would be natural in the victim of an oppressed nationality. After the first days of the conquest there was no political subjection of Roman to Teuton as such; Romans were not excluded from offices and dignities because of their birth (pp. 101â€“118).
Gregory's work remains, despite all, as the great and in many respects the only authority for the history of the 6th cent., and his fresh and simple, though not unbiassed, narrative is of the greatest value. He tells us exactly what the Franks were like, and what life in Gaul was like; and he gives us the evidence upon which his judgment is founded.
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Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Gregorius (32) Turonensis, Bishop of Tours'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hwd/g/gregorius-32-turonensis-bishop-of-tours.html. 1911.
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