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A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography
Sidonius Apollinaris, Saint
Sidonius (2) Apollinaris, St. His grandfather Apollinaris had been praefectus praetorio of Gaul under the rival emperor Constantine, a.d. 408 (Zos. vi. 4; Olympiodorus, ap. Phot. Bibl. p. 57, ed. Bekker), and was the first of the family to become a Christian. An epitaph written by his grandson for his tomb near Lyons speaks of him in the highest terms, especially on this account. His great-grandfather held a high official situation (Sid. Ep. iii. 12, i. 3); his father was a tribune and a notary or secretary under Honorius, and under Valentinian III. became praefectus praetorio of Aquitania I. a.d. 449 ( ib. iii. 1, v. 9, viii. 6).
First Period, 431â€“471.â€”Sidonius was born Nov. 5, 431 or 432, probably at Lyons (Carm. xx. 1). He was apparently educated at that then famous seat of education, in the same school as his cousin Avitus. Soon after he was 20 years old he married Papianilla, only daughter of Flavius Eparchius Avitus, a native of Auvergne, who was praefectus praetorio at Arles from 439 to 443. Avitus, a soldier, diplomatist and lover of nature and literature, retired after 451 to his own house and patrimonial estate at Avitacum, near the modern Clermont ( ib. vii. 230, 316, 339, 460, etc.). Avitus had two sons, Ecdicius and Agricola, with whom, after his marriage, Sidonius lived on most friendly and affectionate terms. He had a son Apollinaris and two daughters, Roscia and Severiana. A letter is extant, addressed to Apollinaris when almost 16 years old, commending his blameless behaviour, and warning him against the bad example and vicious society of some profligates at Lyons, where he was studying ( Ep. iii. 13). There is also a letter to Agricola, mingling tender feeling with quiet humour, excusing himself from joining a fishing excursion as his daughter Severiana was alarmingly ill, on whose behalf, as well as his own, he begs Agricola's prayers. He expresses his firm trust in Christ as his best support ( Ep. ii. 12). On the death of Maximus, Avitus was proclaimed emperor at Toulouse and at Beaucaire, a.d. 455, and was followed to Rome by his son-in-law, who pronounced on him a panegyric poem of 602 hexameter lines on Jan. 1, 456 ( Carm. vii. 369â€“404, 510â€“572), and as a reward received the honour of a brazen statue in the basilica of Trajan, in a space between the two libraries. The reign of Avitus ended in 456. Majorian, who became emperor, crossed the Alps, defeated the Burgundian invaders, captured Lyons, imposing hard conditions and heavy taxes on the citizens, which he was induced to remit (Mar 459) by a florid panegyric in 603 hexameters pronounced by Sidonius and some elegiac verses addressed to him and to his principal secretary Peter, a man ambitious of literary renown, whom Sidonius calls his Maecenas. Sidonius obtained also, perhaps somewhat later, the office of count of the Palace ( Ep. i. ii; Carm. iii. iv. v. xiii.). In 460, when the emperor was holding his court at Arles, and had gathered round him the most eminent literary men Of Gaul, Domnulus, Lampridius, and Severianus, Sidonius distinguished him. self by an improvised poem in praise of a book by secretary Peter. From 461 to 465 Sidonius appears to have lived in retirement from public business, but fulfilling his part as a great landed proprietor at Avitacum of a possession into which he came in right of his wife on the death of Avitus, and which he describes enthusiastically, in a letter written in the style of Pliny to his friend Domitius. His description of the house and grounds is very pleasing and picturesque, its trees and underwood, its lake, fountains, and cascade.
Several letters to friends belong to this period, especially one to Eriphius, a citizen of Lyons, perhaps a.d. 461, describing a church gathering in commemoration of St. Justus at Lyons on Sept. 2, the procession before daybreak, the large congregation of both sexes, the psalms sung antiphonally by monks and clerks, the Eucharistic celebration, the great heat caused by the crowd and the number of lights, cooled after a time by the autumnal morning.
When Anthemius became emperor, a.d. 467, he sent for Sidonius to Rome, on business which the people of Auvergne deputed him to manage on their behalf. Under the favour of Christ, as he says, he undertook the mission, his expenses being provided by the imperial treasury. At Rome he stayed at the house of Paulus, a man of prefectorian rank, possessing literary and scientific ability, who persuaded him, as likely to promote his own interests, to celebrate the inauguration of Anthemius the new consul by a poem. The result was a panegyric in 548 hexameters. This was rewarded by the high office of prefect of the senate and of the city of Rome, of which he writes in a tone of gratified ambition to Philimatius. He remained at Rome until 469, and then retired to Gaul, residing partly at Lyons and partly at Avitacum. Towards the end of that year or the beginning of 470, the province of Lugdunensis I. was surrendered by Anthemius to the Burgundians as the price of their assistance against the Visigoths (Tillem. Emp. vi. p. 357) These barbarians Sidonius describes as less ferocious than other German races, but complains of their perverse ways, revolting and odious to those over whom they domineered. Of their ruler (tetrarches) Chilperic II., and his wife Agrippina, he speaks more favourably ( Ep. v. 7; Carm. xii. ). About this time a new church was erected at Lyons through the exertions of bp. Patiens, for whom Sidonius had the most affectionate reverence. He was present at the dedication, which he describes in hendecasyllables ( Ep. ii. 10). At the request of bp. Perpetuus he wrote an elegiac inscription for the church of St. Martin at Tours, which Perpetuus had enlarged ( Ep. iv. 18).
Second Period, 471â€“475.â€”Threatened by invasion and surrounded by enemies political and religious (for Euric, the Visigothic king, whose capital was Toulouse, was a zealous supporter of Arian doctrine and persecuted the Catholics with great severity), the people of Clermont, when their bishop, Eparchius, died, a.d. 471, united in a clamorous demand that Sidonius should succeed him. He was not in holy orders, but had shewn himself without ostentation a devout Christian, though a somewhat flexible and elastic politician. His ability was beyond question; as a man of letters he stood in the foremost rank; he held a high place, probably the highest, among the landed proprietors of his province, whose interests he was firm and patriotic in upholding, and had taken an active part more than once on behalf of its inhabitants, in which also he had been ably and zealously supported by his friends, of whom, both in military and civil affairs, Ecdicius, his wife's brother, held the chief place in the district (Greg. Tur. ii. 21). Fully aware of his own deficiencies, he accepted the office unwillingly, begging his friends, among them Fonteius bp. of Vaison, Euphronius bp. of Autun, Leontius bp. of Arles, and Lupus bp. of Troyes, who wrote to congratulate him on his appointment, to pray for him ( Epp. v. 3; vi. 1, 3, 7; vii. 8, 9; ix. 2). From this time he gave up writing verses of a light kind, as ill-suited to his time of life and the gravity of his office ( Ep. ix. 12). But at his friends' requests he criticized compositions and wrote hymns in honour of martyrs. With his wife Papianilla, though there is no doubt of his undiminished affection for her, he probably, as is assumed by Sirmond, Tillemont, and others, lived on terms not of connubial but of fraternal intimacy; no evidence of this appears from his own writings. That they continued to live together is plain from the story told by Gregory of Tours, that she found fault with him for parting with his plate to give to the poor (Greg. Tur. ii. 22). He became a diligent student of Scripture, though disclaiming earnestly any ability as a commentator, and also of ecclesiastical writers, as Augustine, Jerome, Origen, etc. ( Epp. viii. 4; ix. 2).
From 471 until 474, when Auvergne was first attacked formally by the Visigoth, it is not easy to fix accurately all the dates of events or of letters.
After he came to the throne of Toulouse in 466 Euric lost no opportunity of increasing his dominions by aggression upon the Roman. During 473, or early in 474, the province of Berry fell to him, and he took advantage of the weakness of the Roman empire after the death of Anthemius to extend his dominion towards the Rhone and the Loire; Auvergne being now the only province remaining to the Romans W. of the Rhone and in constant danger of invasion. No formal attack, however, took place until the autumn of 474. At some time in 474, as it seems, Avitus, brother-in-law of Sidonius, endowed the see of Clermont with a farm called Cuticiacum (Cunhiae), not far from the city, and in the letter mentioning this Sidonius speaks also of the threatened invasion and of his confidence in Avitus in case of negotiation (Ep. iii. 1). Meanwhile, as the autumn advanced, the Visigoths entered the territory of Auvergne, and communication with distant places became more difficult. In preparations to resist the enemy Sidonius acted as a leader of the people, and was greatly assisted by his brother-in-law Ecdicius, who with a handful of cavalry attacked and defeated a large force of the enemy. They retired at the end of 474 or beginning of 475, but not so completely as to remove the apprehension of future attack or the necessity for watch to be kept on the walls during the snowy days and dark nights of winter ( Ep. iii. 7). A brief truce with the Visigothic king appears to have been arranged early in 475, perhaps through the agency of Epiphanius, bp. of Pavia. During this temporary cessation of hostilities a report became current that Euric had invaded the Roman territory of Auvergne, and Sidonius summoned his people to join in acts of fasting and prayer conducted like the Rogations instituted, or rather revived and reorganized, some years previously by Mamertus, bp. of Vienne, and of which, in a letter to him, he recounts the history. He also begs the prayers of the bishop and his flock for the people of Auvergne, and as a claim upon their attention mentions the transfer to Vienne at some previous time of the remains of Ferreolus and the head of Julian, both of them martyrs and natives of Auvergne. He also wrote to his friend Aper, entreating him as a citizen of Clermont to leave his warm baths at Aquae Calidae and come to Clermont to take part in the solemn service ( Epp. v. 14; vii. 1; Greg. Tur. Hist. Fr. ii. 11, de Mirac. ii. 1, 2; "Rogation Days," D. C. A. vol. ii. p. 1809; Baron. ann. 475, xii.â€“xxi.; Tillem. vol. xvi. pp. 247, 248). No actual invasion of Auvergne appears to have occurred, and negotiations, in which bps. Basilius of Aix, Faustus of Riez, Graecus of Marseilles, and Leontius of Arles, were among the acting counsellors, ultimately resulted in the surrender of Auvergne to the Visigoths. It was probably during these negotiations that Euric, a zealous partisan of the Arian heresy, whose hostility in this direction, Sidonius says, he feared more than his attacks on Roman fortifications, deprived of their sees and in many cases put to death or banished many bishops in the regions subject to him, allowing no successors to be appointed. Churches were overthrown, their sites overrun by animals, Christian discipline destroyed; and writing to Basilius, Sidonius implores him, as in touch with the political negotiators, to obtain permission for the exercise of episcopal ordination ( Ep. vii. 6).
The surrender of Auvergne, marking as it did the utter prostration of Roman influence, was a heavy blow to Sidonius, and he wrote to Graecus, bp. of Marseilles, recounting the unswerving loyalty of the Auvergnians and their sufferings during the siege, and inveighing bitterly against the selfish policy which, to secure for a time only the districts in which the negotiators were interested, had handed over the faithful province of Auvergne for punishment to the enemy. The remonstrance was fruitless, and Auvergne passed to the Visigoth. It was placed under a governor named Victorius, with the title of Count, who appears at first to have behaved with real or affected moderation (Greg. Tur. Hist. Fr. ii. 20; Sid. Ep. vii. 17; Chaix, ii. 290).
Third Period, a.d. 475â€“489.â€”Sidonius was soon banished for a time to a fort named Livia, probably Capendu, about ten miles from Carcassonne on the road to Narbonne ( Epp. viii. 3; ix. 3; Vaissette, Hist. de Languedoc , V. vol. i. p. 501). Some of the inconveniences he suffered there are described in his letters to Faustus, bp. of Riez, and to a friend, Leo, a native of Narbonne and of Roman origin, but filling a high office under Euric. They consisted chiefly in the annoyance caused by his neighbours, two quarrelsome drunken old Gothic women (Ep. viii. 3). Through Leo's influence he soon obtained release from confinement, but his return to Clermont was delayed by an enforced sojourn at Bordeaux, whither he went to seek from Euric authority for recovering the inheritance belonging to him in right of his mother-in-law. Two months passed before Euric would grant him an interview, nor do we know its result.
In no letter does he speak of opposition or personal ill-treatment, and the tone of his later letters is cheerful, and he appears from the last of them to have met with no hindrance in his episcopal duties except from weather. Gregory of Tours relates that, in the later years of his life, he was much annoyed by two priests, probably of Arian opinions, whose names he does not mention, but said by Chaix, though without citing any authority, to have been Honorius and Hermanchius. These men, Gregory says, succeeded in preventing him exercising his episcopal functions and even in reducing him to extreme poverty; but after the death of Honorius he was restored to his office, and being attacked by fever, desired to be carried into the church of St. Mary, and there, after speaking words of love to his people, and pointing out Aprunculus, bp. of Langres, as fit to be his successor, he died, though not, apparently, in the church, Aug. 489. He was buried in the chapel of St. Saturninus, in the centre of Clermont, beside his predecessor Eparchius, and an epitaph in hendecasyllabic verse by an unknown author was placed near his tomb with the date, "XII. Kal. Sept. Zenone imperatore." This has disappeared, but a copy is preserved in a MS. of the abbey of Cluny.
A gentleman of easy fortune living in the country, Sidonius entered eagerly into its employments and active amusements, but was also keenly sensible of the more refined and tranquil pleasures derived from natural objects. He exerted without scruple a lordly influence over his own dependants in the province, sometimes in a high-handed and peremptory manner, but usually with kindness and consideration. Affectionate and constant to his friends, he loved to give and receive hospitality, and some of his most agreeable letters describe such social gatherings. His eulogies were poured forth without stint or discrimination, alike on Avitus, Majorian, and Anthemius, and even Nepos did not fail to obtain a small share. He has compliments at fitting seasons, direct or indirect, for Euric and his wife. A poet laureate by nature, he must be regarded as a pliant politician, but he never forgot his duty as a patriotic citizen. Faithful to his countrymen, whether by birth as of Lyons, or of adoption as in Auvergne, he never failed to plead their cause, uphold their interests, denounce their oppressors, and stand by them against injustice or hostile invasion, nor need we wonder that his memory should be revered by them as that of a saint. Invested against his will, and without previous preparation, with the episcopate, he laboured hard to repair the deficiencies of which he was conscious. He shrank from no duty, personal trouble, or responsibility, and in times of extreme difficulty shewed courage, prudence, and discretion. His character and abilities commanded the respect and cordial affection of the best men of his time, as Basilius, Felix, Graecus, Lupus, Patiens, Principius, Remigius, as well as Leo and Arbogastes, and many others; and though he did not shrink from remonstrating gravely and even bitterly with some of them, especially Graecus, he does not appear to have forfeited their esteem and affection. A man of kindly disposition, he treated his slaves with kindness and took pains to induce others to do likewise. He was friendly to Jews, employed them, and recommended them to the good offices of his friends.
Literary Character. â€”Though he shewed himself a sincere and devout Christian, both before and after he became bishop, it is as a man of letters that he will always be best known, for, as it has been observed, his writings are the best-furnished storehouse we possess of information as to the domestic life, the manners and habits of public men, and in some points the public events of his period. Gifted with a fatal facility of composition, his longer poems are remarkable more for adroit handling of unpoetical material than for poetry in its true sense, and deserve to a great extent the contemptuous judgment of Gibbon. Yet some of the shorter compositions, especially those in hendecasyllabic metre, are more successful, and touch scenes and characters with a light and discerning hand. His letters, though often turgid and pedantic, defaced by an artificial phraseology and abounding in passages of great obscurity, often describe persons, objects, and transactions in a very lively and picturesque manner.
The ed. of his works by M. EugÃ¨ne Baret (Paris, 1879) has an extremely valuable introduction, containing remarks on the times and state of society, and lists of grammatical forms, words, and phrases used by Sidonius, illustrating the transition state of the Latin language, and some peculiar to himself; also an attempt to settle the chronology of the letters, a task of great difficulty. The best ed. is by LÃ¼tjohann, in Monum. Germ. Hist. Auct. Antiquiss. (Berlin, 1887), viii., and a smaller ed. is by P. Mohr (Leipz. 1895).
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Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Sidonius Apollinaris, Saint'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hwd/s/sidonius-apollinaris-saint.html. 1911.
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