The Letter of Amolo Archbishop of Lyon to Theobald bishop of Langres, concerning suspect relics (c.841x844)
Source: MGH Ep. III, pp. 363-8.

 

Translation by Charles West
I have made some use of Thomas Head’s translation of part of this text, available online at www.urban.hunter.cuny.edu/~thead/amulo.htm.

 
 

Amolo humble Bishop of the Church of Lyon, to the most revered and lovingly honoured Theobald Bishop of the Church of Langres, greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1. Through your assistant bishop1 and beloved brother, you have informed us that certain things have recently begun to take place at Dijon in the church of the blessed martyr Bénigne to those who have gathered there from different places for the sake of prayer and veneration, and above all indeed, as many claim, only to women. As a result, your soul is troubled by uncertainty, and you consider it necessary to seek our fraternal counsel.

For he [the assistant-bishop] said that last year, two men who said that they were monks brought certain relics, allegedly from some saint or other, to the already-mentioned church of the holy martyr. They claimed that they had brought them from the city of Rome, or from some other part of Italy; and with astonishing shamelessness, they said they had forgotten the saint’s name. As if they could have been able to love and honour him (if indeed they knew he was a saint) so much that they would carry him so carefully over such a distance, unless his name was well-known and widely-spread in the place where he is said to have been taken from, and passed onto and recognised by these men so that they should desire and demand him, or even steal him away and move him to the borders of their own region, for commemoration by the veneration of the faithful! Or certainly they would not have been able to forget for even one hour the name of the saint they knew worthy of such devotion, whom they yearned with such love to translate, whom they carefully carried on such a long journey: in case they could not beg him, whom they loved and venerated so greatly, with continual desire and prayer for the preservation of their safety and the propitiation of divine clemency, that he should be present to them in holy and enduring remembrance. Or else indeed they were so idle and stupid that they did not even take the effort to commit his name to writing for commemoration.

2. Therefore, as our brother [the assistant-bishop] told us, you acted wisely and religiously, in judging that such relics, supported by no authority, and whose very name is unknown, should neither be accepted, nor wholly rejected: if however those men who brought them were able under careful examination to provide clear proof of this matter brought from those parts, as they promised they would. And he [the assistant-bishop] said to us that the monk who had remained at Dijon was now dead, and the other, who had set out to find out and report back, had never returned.

[And he said that] while those bones, brought by such unrespectable persons, supported by no truthful assertion, and brought to the church in such a ridiculous manner, were stored reverently next to the tomb of the glorious martyr [Bénigne] as if to honour them, certain things like miracles have begun to take place in that church. These are not miracles of healing or curing, by which indications of divine mercy and propitiation are revealed, but of blows and strikings, in which wretched little women in that house of prayer seem suddenly to fall over, to be convulsed and, as it were, shaken around: yet there are no bruises in any part of their bodies, nor can any sign of any of these blows be discerned. On account of such events, a crowd of amazed and astonished people has gathered together there so that, as we learned not only from that brother of ours whom you sent, but also from several others, now three, or even four hundred women, or even more, are reported to be there, who in the way described above fall to the ground and are beaten, and a little while later, as if cured and with their senses restored, are unable to be convinced into moving from that place. For if they should try to return to their homes, at once they are struck by fresh blows of whatever sort, and are compelled to return to the church they left. These women include not just girls but even married women, both young and old, respectable and unrespectable.

3. And you indicated that similar things had now begun to take place not only in that church of Saint Bénigne, but also in another church in the compound,2 and in several other churches in your diocese. For we have heard by certain report that similar things have happened or rather have been mimicked in the territory of Autun, at the place called Saulieu, in the church in which the holy martyrs Andochius, Tyrsus and Felix are buried.3 We waited for several days for you to explain in more detail the form and order of these things to us by letter, as we asked through your already mentioned assistant-bishop, so that more subtly and clearly informed, we might be found all the better prepared to respond, God willing. But since you wrote nothing at all back to us, it seemed to us best that we should not put off the duty of replying to Your Grace, based on what we have been able to understand and weigh up from his account.

So as far as the Lord deigns to grant, we will reply in brief to all these things, and together with Your Grace cut through the ambiguity of the matter. First of all, it seems to us that those bones, which are said without any reason or authority to be of some saint, and whence the itch of this curiosity grew, should be totally removed from the holy buildings and from this special place. Let them be buried not inside the church, but outside in the courtyard, or under a wall, or in some secret place, appropriate and clean, known only to a few, near the church, or better still, near a different church. In this way some reverence may be shown to them, since they are said to be holy, yet also, since they are entirely unknown, the uneducated populace should not have any opportunity for error and superstition. Nor do we have to worry about whether we might provoke some displeasure through such attentiveness. For the almighty Lord wants us to be cautious and careful in His affairs, according to the command of the Apostle, who said ‘But prove all things: hold fast that which is good. From all appearance of evil refrain yourselves’, and ‘for Satan himself transformeth himself into an angel of light’. And the Lord warned us, saying ‘Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves’.

And we have in this matter a great and reverend example of piety in the deeds of the holy Martin, that in no way should we rashly believe in the uncertain.4 For this blessed and holy bishop and confessor of Christ kept himself away from a certain place which had been consecrated by his predecessors and given an altar, and which was very popular with crowds of people, because he could find out neither the name of the martyr said to be buried there, nor the date of his passion. Nor did he wish to lend his authority to the opinion of the crowd, until, once the truth of the matter was divinely revealed to him, he absolved the populace from the error of their superstition.

4. And we also find in the decrees of the blessed pope Gelasius [d.496] that bishops who boldly dare to establish with sacred processions churches which had been built in the name of some dead people, who had perhaps not even been believers, are to be seriously reprimanded and designated as virtually alien to Christian feeling.5 And we know that the bodies of certain most holy saints lay buried in the fields or in the corner of a church for many years, until they revealed themselves by means of appropriate revelations. Therefore, according to the apostolic and Gospel authority, and the venerable examples and traditions of the holy fathers, let these bones, from which such opportunities for superstition proliferated, and which are not proven to be of any health-giving usefulness, be removed from the centre of things, and kept more suitably.

For even if one, and still more so if two or three signs of healings or cures had been truthfully and provably performed during the time when these things were happening in the church of the holy martyr Bénigne, then they should at once, and with every joy and with respectful and due thanks, be attributed to the glory of God, and to the merits of the proven and most glorious martyr [Bénigne]. Nor however on account of this should the other things which are said to have taken place in the martyr’s church or elsewhere receive approval.

For, as far the order of these things shows, it is possible that the opportunity could have arisen for this body, holy according to popular opinion although only recently arrived, perhaps to be shown to the crowds which gather together during Lent for the sake of prayer as is often the custom, and to be commended to them, and that he who was previously wholly unknown should be championed as worthy of veneration. And from this origin, as Easter is approaching and since such things are said to have occurred, unrespectable and wicked little people, whether men or women, seized their chance, compelled by necessity of hunger or driven on by greed for money, to begin to simulate and show off blows and strikings and insanities, and then once again recoveries.6

5. And when the people, deluded by such a worthless belief, had begun to be astonished or terrified, they began, as if from the compassion of mercy, to bring so much there for distribution to those suffering, that those who are seen to suffer in this way were not only unwilling to leave the place, but pretended, as if struck with fresh blows and debility, that they were unable to leave. When have such signs ever become frequent in the churches of God, established in the memory of the holy martyrs, through which the sick are in no way cured, but the healthy are struck and driven mad? When has prayer to God ever obtained healings of the saints of this sort, in which honest and innocent girls are rendered healthy in the sanctuary of God, but if they which to share the joy of the healing with their relatives, they are at once struck again and forbidden to return to the houses of those relatives? When have the holy martyrs ever thus restored married and faithful women to health in their sanctuaries, only in order to separate them from their husbands, and suddenly struck them with hostile blows so that they are unable to return to the houses of their menfolk?

Who does not see that this is devised either by the tricks of wicked men, or by the deceptions and mockery of demons, who easily conquer those who are slow of mind, empty of faith, full of curiosity and astonished by vanities, and even invade them, so that, God justly permitting it, they are allowed to perform these things from their own wickedness? And thus this pestilence of illusion and deception spreads, by the cunning of men and the wickedness of the worst demons, who gleefully toy with human salvation, from one place to others, then to still more. Meanwhile, in the holy places and churches of the holy martyrs, there are even some [priests] who for the sake of greed not only refrain from prohibiting this, and do not guide the errant populace towards sincere and pure religious observance, but even stir up the pursuit of such things, and preach that these people are devout, and add their own praise. All this, so that they can fill their own pockets from the donations and offerings, or waste their time in feasting and drinking, about which it was rightly said through the prophet, ‘They shall eat the sins of my people, and shall lift up their souls to their iniquity.’

We would not have written about the fiction of such illusions and the insane greed of certain people in this our response, had we not, in the time of our holy father and predecessor [Agobard], certainly experienced such things within our own diocese amongst certain little people, both men and women, so that not the slightest doubt can be entertained about it.

6. For sometimes in his [Agobard’s] presence, we saw people who pretended to be vexed by demons, but, once disciplined with heavy beating and blows, immediately confessed their pitiful make-believe, and publicly set out their need and their poverty for the sake of which they had shown these things, and had appeared unharmed from every demonic attack, as indeed they were. And we know a certain city not at all far from our borders, called Uzès, in the province of Narbonne, where in the time of our predecessor of pious memory, such strikings and blows supposedly began to take place at the tomb of the holy Bishop Fermin, so that in the limbs of those who trembled, stigmata of burns might be found, as if sulphur had burned there. And on account of this, the terrified and astonished mob flocked to that church with many gifts and donations. But Barthelemy, then and still today bishop of Narbonne, took advice from that father of ours, and preached and commanded them no longer to gather at that place where they had superstitiously convened; and that whatever they had developed the habit of taking to that place, they should rather spend on the poor and in works of mercy. When this was done, then at once that whole deception ceased, both there and in other places in which similar things were beginning to happen. And the devout populace again breathed easily in their longed-for safety and tranquillity.

7. And it seemed to us, insofar as reason itself says and the good example of good men teaches, that you should grasp pious zeal, priestly sincerity and severity. And so that the house of the Lord, which ought to be a house of prayer, should not become a house of business and the lair of thieves, you should drive from it devilish fabrication and illusion of this kind, by which such a multitude of men, and, especially, women, is grievously and shamefully held, bound as if enslaved in their minds. You should announce and request to all that vain and pernicious gatherings like this must stop, from which no health of soul, no wellness of body, no use for life at all is seen to derive, and that each parish community should remain quietly in the parishes and churches to which it is allocated. And let them take their offerings and gifts to the churches where they take holy baptism, where they receive the body and blood of Christ, where they are accustomed to hear the solemnity of Mass, where penance for guilt, visitation of the sick, and burial of the dead is arranged by the priest, where they are commanded to bring their tithes and first-fruits, where they rejoice in having their sons baptised, and where they listen attentively to the word of the Lord, and recognise what is and what is not to be done. There, I repeat, let them bring with alacrity their offerings and gifts, there let them pour out with alacrity their prayers and supplications to the Lord, there let them seek the assistance of all the saints, the saints who, as it is written, follow the Lamb wherever it goes, and who are therefore at hand no matter where to all those who invoke them faithfully, as too, through them and in them, is God who promised His people, saying ‘In every place where the memory of my name shall be, I will come to thee, and will bless thee’.

There let every parish community demonstrate their generosity from the wealth which God has given them, in alms to widows and orphans, to the poor and to pilgrims, and there let it fulfil the duties of hospitality. And whatever it was accustomed to consume in feasting and drinking, to the profit of vain men, let it spend in this way to the more useful advantage of itself and its neighbours. For this is the legitimate and ecclesiastical form of religion, this is the ancient custom of the faithful, through which the vanity of novelty is cut off, and the ancient and correct path of Gospel and apostolic teaching is guarded. If indeed some become sick and disabled, then, according to the Gospel and apostolic precept, let them call upon priests of the church, who may pray for them, and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick.

8. When, God granting this to you, these things have been faithfully and persistently preached and implemented, we trust in His piety that once the inane and unnecessary generosity of gifts and donations has dried up, the multitude of deceptions and the faking of blows and madnesses will also cease. Each of them will be obliged not to proffer vain and false things, but to seek the necessities for the sustenance of the body, or even to beg. And if some wish to seem more obstinate in this matter, we think that they should be coerced with heavy blows to the confession of truth. For even if it were true that those trying to leave this place were at once struck by a fresh type of disease, then as much as this is clearly a demonic attack, so they should move on more confidently, God pitying and protecting them. And, faithfully spurning the threats of the Enemy, they should pray for God’s mercy in legitimate places, in churchly fashion. For we should not suppose that there is any jealousy amongst the holy martyrs and the spirits and souls of the just who reign with God, for there is the full unity of charity and society of piety. And so it is to be believed that they are not offended but rather approve, sharing in the rejoicing and congratulating, if sick people who were brought first to them are then led to the thresholds of other saints for the sake of avoiding temptation. For one in particular amongst them, the great apostle Paul, said to the other saints on account of this unity of spirit, ‘And to whom you have given any thing, I also. For, what I have given, if I have pardoned any thing, for your sakes have I done it in the person of Christ’. And if it is the will and desire of the faithful populace beseechingly to throng the thresholds of diverse saints and martyrs, there are known and legitimate days on which it is appropriate devoutly to do this, according to the ancient observance of the church: that is, in the time of general rogations, and of the declared litanies for various tribulations and necessities and Lenten feasts, and on the vigils and feast days of the martyrs.

9. All these things come down from the law of the universal Church, they are commended by the preaching and instruction of priests, and they should be carefully observed with obedience and piety by all the faithful. Although it is commendable to visit holy places on other days in silence and with a purity of devotion, it should not be done ostentatiously or noisily. For it is a great absurdity for the numerous populace in negligence to omit all this, so legitimate and assiduously preached and commanded, or scarcely or hardly to take note of it, yet to be most ready for those things which are neither preached nor taught, which are rather opposed, and which derive only from the emptiness of the soul. Let them be frequently admonished in the words of Saint Paul, “Brethren, do not become children in sense. But in malice be children: and in sense be perfect”. And as Saint James said, “Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation and to keep one's self unspotted from this world”. And so let both priests and people pay attention to these and other apostolic injunctions, and let them strive devoutly and insistently to worship God in their own places, in sincerity of mind and with the fruits of mercy, rather than with vanity and ostentation. For even if some of these deceived and deceiving people should truly be seized or possessed, they must in churchly fashion be dealt with either in their local churches by their priests, or be calmly taken by relatives and friends to the sanctuaries of martyrs, to be purged by the grace of God, and not foolishly pursued by shouting crowds of the people.

I have carefully taken the effort, insofar as the Lord has permitted, to give this reply to your question, according to divine authority and paternal institution. Take it freely: and if God inspires you with any better, carry it out with prompt intent and wakeful attention, so that the Lord’s flock entrusted to your guidance may with the help of that Lord escape the stumbling block of error, and may find the increase of religion and sincerity. We have also sent you a copy of the letter our above-mentioned holy father and guardian sent to the bishop of Narbonne, so that if anyone wishes to know about these things more subtly and fully, let him be fruitfully and profoundly informed by reading it.

May the almighty Lord deign always to protect and guard your reverend Grace for the building up of His church.

 


1 Latin chorepiscopus, a cleric who assisted the bishop and to whom certain episcopal powers had been delegated. Various ninth-century church councils and related texts inveighed against the office, on the grounds that it diminished the authority of the bishop, and it disappeared over the course of the tenth century, to the benefit of the new office of archdeacon. We know of one chorbishop of Langres from this time, Ingelran, who was made acting abbot of St-Bénigne, but there could have been others too.
2 Latin: castellum. The castellum in question could be St-Bénigne, since the monastic ensemble included more than one church, or it could be Dijon itself. In the context of the letter, the former seems more likely.
3 As Amolo knew, Saulieu was not in Theobald’s diocese, but in Autun’s. This now obscure monastery is thought to have been founded in the early eighth century, and was, like St-Bénigne, dependent upon the local bishop, who received royal confirmation of this dependence at just the same time that this letter was sent. Its patron saints were thought to have been martyr-colleagues of Bénigne himself.
4 Amolo here makes a reference to a miracle in the well-known Life of Saint Martin of Tours.
5 Amolo here makes reference to a papal letter widely distributed in contemporary collections of canon law.
6 Amolo’s thoughts in this paragraph are based on Agobard’s letter which he enclosed alongside his, though he makes no specific citation.