Friday, October 1, 2010

The Teenager Who Became A Saint & The Teenager Who Became King

Back when I was ordained 46 years ago, you had to have attained the canonical age of 27 to become a priest. St. Remigius (or Remi) (c. 438-533) was ordained the first and greatest bishop of the Franks in the diocese of Rheims at the ripe old age of 22! He then set out to evangelize among the pagan population with a zeal which some compared to that of St. Paul.

When Remi was approaching his mid-40's, a Teutonic warrior, Chlodovech or Clovis, who was only 15, somehow managed to assert his leadership over and unite a number of Germanic tribes in northwestern Europe, calling them The Fierce Ones or Franks. As remarkable as Remigius was as a bishop and church leader, so remarkable was Clovis, too, as a warrior and leader of the Franks. He led his army against old Roman Gaul and swept across the area which we now call France. The coming together of these two men changed the religious history of Europe.

Clovis married Clotilde, a Christian, who relentlessly prodded him to become a Christian. She insisted that their first child be baptized, but the baby boy died a week afterwards. That didn't go down well with Clovis, who taunted Clotilde that, had she dedicated the baby to his gods, it would have survived. Clotilde's second son was also baptized, then grew ill, but fortunately, he recovered, and Clotilde skirted another "I told you so!" from Clovis.

It wasn't until they'd been married for three years that Clovis finally came to his "Aha!" moment of faith. It was in the thick of battle, as the fierce Alemanni tribe was wreaking havoc on Clovis' troops. Desperately, he cried out to God for help, as Clotilde had urged him to do before the battle, and Clovis promised that if God delivered him, he would be baptized. The rest, as they say, is history. Upon returning to his wife, Clovis said: "Clovis has vanquished the Alemanni, and you have triumphed over Clovis." If this were a play, the cue would read: ["Clotilde smiles knowingly while batting her eyelashes."]  

Clotilde immediately sent for Bishop Remigius, who then quietly instructed Clovis in the faith. Clovis, who was only about 30 years old, wasn't at all sure if his pagan troops and people would be as keen on accepting conversion to the Christian faith as readily as he did. In the end, they did renounce their pagan gods and accepted "the immortal God whom Remigius preaches." Christmas Day, 496, must surely have been a joyous day of celebration as many bishops joined Remigius in baptizing Clovis, his whole family, including two of his sisters, and some 3000 chieftains and warriors. Legend has it that, at the font, Remigius charged Clovis: "Worship what you have burned, and burn what you have worshipped." Apparently, Remigius left only four letters for posterity, one of which, addressed to Clovis, counselled him: "Choose wise counselors, who will be an honor to your reign. Respect the clergy. Be the father and protector of your people; do all you can to lighten the burdens which the necessities of the state oblige them to bear; comfort and relieve the poor; feed the orphans; protect widows; tolerate no extortion. Let the gate of your palace be open to all, that everyone may have recourse to you for justice; employ your revenues in redeeming captives..." A wise and wholesome message, indeed, for modern political leaders everywhere!

Clovis continued leading the army, driving back the Visigoths in 505, while Remigius continued to lead the Church in Gaul, particularly defending it against the Arian heresy. The Eastern Emperor, in Constantinople, Anastasius, sent Clovis the imperial "bling" and titles of "Patrician", "Consul" and "Augustus", and, of course, the right to wear the Roman purple. One wonders if he and Remigius might ever have gotten together to compare and admire one another's purple outfits!

Clovis died quite young, at age 45. Remi outlived him by 22 years, expiring in 533, around the age of 95. He was first buried in the Church of St. Christopher in Rheims, then transferred in 1049, at the behest of Pope Leo IX, to St. Remi's Benedictine Abbey there.

O God, by the teaching of your faithful servant and bishop Remigius 
you turned the nation of the Franks from vainidolatry to the worship of you, 
the true and living God, inthe fullness of the catholic faith: 
Grant that we who glory in the name of Christian may show forth our faith 
in worthy deeds; through Jesus Christ our Lord,

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