Venantius Fortunatus writes the Life of *Marcellus (bishop of Paris, late 4th/5th c., S01301), presenting him as a great miracle-worker and protector of Paris from a dragon. Written in Latin, probably in Paris (northern Gaul), 568/576. Full text, and full English translation.
Literary - Hagiographical - Lives
Venantius Fortunatus, Life of Marcellus (Vita Marcelli, BHL 5248)
Dedication and prologue
I (1) DOMINO SANCTO ET MERITIS OBTINENTIBVS APOSTOLICO VIRO IN CHRISTI CARITATE FVNDATO, MEO LVMINI PRAEPONENDO, DOMINO ET DVLCI PATRI GERMANO PAPAE FORTVNATVS.
(2) Facundissima inlustrium oratorum ingenia sermonum flore variante distincta et eloquii vernantibus pampinis obumbrata solent sibi viles causas sterilemque materiam quaerere, ut magna dicendo de minimis videantur ostendere sui fluminis ubertatem, quia habentes intra se fontes eloquentiae de ipso sicco themate didicerunt undas haurire. Vnde quidquid illis iniungitur carmine inriguo copiosius explicatur.
(3) Verum econtra quicumque angustae intellegentiae ariditate torrentur nec habent affluentiam inundantis eloquii, per quam vel alios reficere vel suae siccitatis possint inopiam temperare, tales non solum aliqua non per se dicere appetunt, verum etiam si quid eis iniunctum fuerit perhorrescunt, quoniam quantum doctis proloqui tantum indoctis utile fit tacere. Nam illi de parvis magna disserere, isti de magnis nesciunt vel parva proferre, et ideo quod ab aliis quaeritur ab aliis formidatur.
(4) Sic belligerator expertus in armis damni esse reputat, si non possit iugiter invenire quod vincat. Sed sicut fortis requirit unde ducat spolia, sic debilis metuit, ne ducatur in praedam: et quod acer invenire desiderat iners vel audire formidat.
II (5) Cuius exempli gratia cum ipse sterilis scientiae convenienter accuser nec sit in me aliquid quod venusti sermonis ornamenta commendent, quid tibi visum fuerit, pater beatissime atque amantissime, cunctanter admiror, ut de sanctissimi viri Marcelli antestitis vita nullo fine claudenda et de illa caelesti lampade meae aliquid dignum committeres scintillae, cum ego pauper ingenio et ille dives sit merito, ego sim humilis in sermone et ille sit egregius in mercede, praesertim cum vobis multorum prudentium famosae abundantiae sufficiat eloquentia Gallicana et quadratis iuncturis verba trutinata procedant.
(6) Qui si velint sermone possunt depingere quidquid animus figuravit, apud quos ipsum loqui dictare fit et quae vix corde concipitur mox in pagina res formatur.
(7) Cur itaque ut dictum est inter Gallicanos cothurnos Itala Patavinitas plano pede ire praesumat, ad quorum conparationem velut inter rosas et lilia nostrae linguae vilis saliunca respirat?
(8) Accedit etiam ad difficultatem ingenii inpediti res altera, quod de actibus beatissimi Marcelli plurima sunt invisenda, temporum vetustate subrepta, nec facile memoria recolit quod annositas numerosa fraudavit, quoniam quidquid in libris non figitur vento oblivionis aufertur.
(9) Pauca quidem de eius gestis felicibus sunt ad nostra tempora relatione vivente perducta, ne in totum quod sui amatores in posterum quaererent deperiret, quia etsi sancta membra iam dudum sepulchro sunt condita, non tamen miracula sunt sepulta, quae tanto clariora sunt quanto plus memoria vivere meruere non scripta, quoniam licet non tenerentur in pagina, fixa sunt in cordis membrana.
III (10) Vnde inter haec difficilia dubito quo convertar, utrum vel digitos ad scribendum praeparem, cum dictare lingua formidet. Sed differre non licet quod pater iniungit, cum se magis ipse gravi pugno feriat qui tibi repugnat, praesertim qui ut oboedire me doceas et quod sustinere non valeo libenter inponis, maior enim devotio in re difficili conprobatur.
(11) Denique ibi plenus affectus est, ubi etsi virtus non tolerat, tamen animus non recusat, et ego magis hoc venerer quod caritas non leviter exigit sed audacter extorquet. Denique ex hac parte mihi ipsi conveniat proficere, quia qui magna vituperat ducere ad maiora festinat.
(12) Quibus suggestis vellem hoc opus aliorum lingua nitescere potius quam nostra sordere. Sed quod primi differunt vel ultimi prosequantur: quae cum displicere videatur eloquio, placere incipiat vel ex voto.
Life and miracles
IV (13) Beatissimus igitur Marcellus antestis natus Parisii sed civis paradisi, in terris humilis, erectus in caelis, mediocris parentibus sed meritis celsus, cui hoc fuit nobilitatis lumen insigne Christo sine culpa servire, non de generis intumescens superbia sed habens de moribus ornamenta nec sumens de parentali laude iactantiam sed gratiam possidens in virtutis exemplis, intra se suos thesauros retinens, deum mundo corde conplectens.
(14) Sed cum Christo pauper iste regnavit, qui in humilitatis conversatione, in caritatis ubertate, in castitatis lumine, in ieiuniorum pinguedine ita se totum caelesti tradidit disciplinae, ut ab ipsa infantia maturus ascenderet et positus in corpore quasi nihil de carne portaret.
(15) Hic itaque beatissima institutione succinctus et venerandis operibus pene prius sacerdos quam clericus, iam dudum dignus qui susciperet dignitatem, antea praeparatus ad id quod erat sine mora futurus, calcata mundi pompa vel crimina, cum divinis armis initiatus accingeretur ad spem felicem palmam de hoste publico relaturus, in militia Christi exercitando lector effectus est ac se ipsum templo Christi pro primitiis offerens velut Abelis sacrificium hostia victae carnis et purae mentis exceptus est.
V (16) Qui clarior mercede quam nomine et merito maior quam gradu sine offendiculo suum gerens officium, coepit in milite crescere quod accepit a rege. Cuius occultae diutius velut vitis palmites coeperunt fructificare virtutes nec pertulit in eo sua dona Christus abscondi, quoniam quod de sursum venerat ab eo humiliter videbatur amplecti.
(17) Denique eum adhuc clericali tyrocinio celaretur, miraculis proditur et signis caelestibus inlustratur. Contigit quadam vice accessit ad officinam fabricalem, qui dispectus ab artifice cogitur, ut, extracta de ardente camino ferri massa candente, manu sua ferrum accensum attolleret et quanti esset ponderis enarraret.
(18) Tunc vir beatissimus non ignarus totum de Christo praesumere et quanta virtutis causa sit in rebus non turpibus oboedire, mox subposita manu ferrum altius elevavit dicens: De calore calet sed novem pondera habet. Quod postea tantum ad stateram inventum est quantum eius vox librata praedixerat.
(19) Sic in una specie duplex miraculum propagavit, ut eum nec foci calor exureret nec ferri pondera fefellissent, nam defecatis vitiis in se libidinis vaporem non habuit qui tam libere dum portavit incendia se non ussit. Nam ut elementi ignem vinceret, ante flammas carnis extinxit, et ut in ipsa pensa non falleret, probavit ferrum pondere seu virtute.
VI (20) In religionis ordine subdiaconus est effectus. Itaque eum subdiaconali ministerio fungeretur, in die epiphaniorum hauriens aquam de fluvio Sequanae, dum beato Prudentio episcopo manibus abluendis offerret, mutatis elementis vini sapor inventus est.
(21) Quo viso obstupescens pontifex iussit ex ipso urceo in calicem sacrum defundi, unde universus populus missa celebrata ad communionem accepit, et ipsum vas eum ad plebis multitudinem suffecisset, ac si non tactum et integrum sic plenum permansit. Cuius vini mystico beneficio postea multi sanati sunt.
(22) Ecce virum sanctissimum, qui undam sumens a flumine vina fudit in calicem! Sed unde tam nova miracula, ut dum portaret aquam, quodam modo quasi uvas exprimeret, nasceretur illi palmes in palma? Vere beatum Marcellum summa veneratione colendum, in cuius manibus uno eodemque momento floruit vindemia et torculata sunt vina.
(23) Videmus non uno in loco beneficia divina concludi, dum quod praecessit in Galilaea successit in Gallia. Ibi ad nuptialem mensam Christus aquas vertit in vina, hic quae ad mensam Christi sufficerent nova vina sumpsit altare. Illud praecessit tempore hoc honore, nam quod tunc dederunt sex hydriae hic unum et modicum vas explevit, sed tunc effecit ut se dominus proderet, nunc ut famulum non celaret.
VII (24) Veniamus ad illud miraculum secundum ordine non honore. Itaque cum vir sanctissimus quadam vice ex sui officii servitute aquam manibus venerabili episcopo porrexisset, mox inde balsama coeperunt flagrare, et dum unda curreret, visa sunt crismata respirare, ut pene pontifex crederet se manus magis unguere quam lavare et alteras aquas quaereret, ut priores undas ablueret.
(25) Quo viso sacerdos venerabiliter obstupescens deo gratias de conperto munere retulit et beato Marcello reverentiam de religione servavit, dum eum non talem qui serviret sed potius cui serviretur agnovit.
(26) Vnde quis tantum subdiaconem admiretur condigne, in cuius dextera ex aqua fiebant vina vel balsama et undarum pallor aut in rubore conversus est aut odore? Iam tunc illis praefigurabatur indiciis futurus pontifex qui dignus esset crisma tractare, et cum adhuc subdiaconus hausisset crisma de flumine, merito dignus erat, ut factus sacerdos hoc sacrificaret in fonte.
VIII (27) Illud quoque mysterium reticeri non debet, quod proficit auditori, quia de paucis quae memoria recoluntur quidquid dictum non fuerit aut invideri creditur aut contemni.
(28) Igitur quidam clericus Nonnicius nomine annorum circiter decem propter suavissimae vocis tinnibulum et dulcedinis organum de fauce prolatum, qua contingebat animos populi delectari, cum repercussa in auribus solita esset aura blandire, iussus est ab archidiacone mellita teneritudine decantare.
(29) Quo facto praecepit ipsum puerum episcopus flagellari ob hoc, quia alterum iusserat ipse cantare. Itaque dum clericus caeditur, episcopus lingua damnatur. Mox enim ut clamor vapulantis in aure sonuit, vox ab ore discessit et novo praedone sonum captivavit pontificis vox infantis.
(30) Sed si causa facti requiritur, cur contigerit, invenitur. Denique qui puerum cantare prohibuit, pertulit vocis dispendia, quia vocibus invidebat. Cui ergo non nocet invidia, si episcopo non pepercit vindicta?
(31) Vnde quisquis quod in alterum videre non cupit non habebit, immo hoc sibi denegat quod alios habere non optat. Omnis enim qui alteri lapsum parat iam cecidit, et antequam inducat in laqueum, tenetur ipse captivante peccato ligatus, cum magis si proficere volumus aliorum profectus nostros esse credamus.
(32) Itaque idem sacerdos per triduum etsi deambulabat per compita, tamen iacebat lingua sepulta. Non enim sonus poterat repercussa palati camera resultare nec intra sepem dentium vox lingua rotante disponi, sed totum quod perdiderat ore muto prodebat.
(33) Tunc beatus Marcellus his verbis appellat pontificem: Licet intellegam, pastor bone, tibi talem casum de culpa venisse, tamen quidquid vis in nomine domini sermone prorumpe. His dictis adhuc beati Marcelli sermo volvebatur in ore et iam quod imperaverat oboediebat.
(34) Deinde antequam iste explicaret, ille respondit dicens: Vos mihi hoc fecistis quorum iussio fuit, ut alter cantaret quam ego praeceperam. Et dum ista loquitur, amissae vocis gratia reformatur.
(35) O meritum subdiaconi, qui vocem restituit sacerdoti et versa vice quod accipere debuit hoc indulsit, qui debiles fauces armavit eloquio et in ore alterius fudit verba per verbum! Quid diutius protraham? . Semper tacuisset episcopus, si numquam requisisset Marcellus. Vere dignus beati Marcelli sermo, ut gregem domini regeret qui dedit pastori salutem.
IX (36) Operae pretium credimus etiam in paginis haec texere quae multis sunt infixa sub corde, quia etsi de re terribili in relatione metus est, in aedificatione fit fructus.
(37) Porro autem eum beatus Marcellus, quod semper possedit moribus, esset pontifex ordinatus, quam dignitatem sibi reputabat magis oneris quam honoris, tunc quidam de populo, dum vellet ad communionem accedere, manibus retro ligatis non poterat ad altare pertingere, sed eum omnes transirent, quasi meta coepit stare, ut videretur non ad communicandum sed ad numerandum populum advenisse.
(38) Quem conspiciens pontifex interrogavit quid fecerit: respondit peccasse se. Cuius confessionem agnoscens dicit ei: Veni, accede et ultra non pecces. Qua iussione absolutus ad communionem accessit duplici beneficio muneratus, de praeterita culpa veniam consecutus, de futura vita correctus.
(39) Quanta huic erat in sanctae trinitatis aequalitate fiducia, cuius mens sic libera per singula verba proferebat miracula? Sed licet satis fuerit religati catenas sermone dissolvere, tamen plus est laudabile quod in Christi amore visus est peccata donasse.
X (40) Exsequamur et illud triumphale mysterium, quod eum sit ultimum ordine, anteponitur in virtute.
(41) Matrona quaedam prosapia nobilis opinione vilis, malo maculans crimine quod fulgebat ex genere, postquam dies fugitivae vitae rapta luce conclusit, ad tumulum pompa comitante sed non profutura processit. Quo condita, horresco referens hoc contigisse post funera, quia duplex nascitur lamentatio de defuncta.
(42) Ergo ad consumendum eius cadaver coepit serpens inmanissimus frequentare et ut dicam clarius mulieri cuius membra bestia devorabat ipse draco factus est sepultura. Sic infelices exsequias serpentinus baiulus inpendebat, ut post mortem quiescere cadaveri non liceret, et cui vitae finis uno loco iacere concesserat, semper mutabatur in poena.
(43) O casum exsecrabilem et valde timendum! Mulier quae coniugii integritatem non servavit in mundo integra iacere non meruit in sepulchro, nam serpens qui viventem in crimine traxerat adhuc in cadavere desaeviebat.
(44) Tunc ex eius familia qui in vicinitate manebant audientes strepitum et pariter concurrentes, viderunt ingentem beluam de tumulo sinuosis anfractibus exeuntem et vasta mole cauda flagellante labentem. Quo viso perterriti homines de suis sedibus migraverunt.
(45) Hoc cognito beatus Marcellus intellegens se de cruento hoste triumphum adquirere, collecta plebe de civitate progreditur et relictis civibus in prospectu populi solus Christo duce ad locum pugnaturus accessit, et eum coluber de silva rediret ad tumulum, obviantes se in vicem, dante orationem beato Marcello, ille capite supplici coepit veniam blandiente cauda precari.
(46) Tunc beatus Marcellus caput eius baculo ter percutiens, misso in cervice serpentis orario, triumphum suum ante civium oculos extrahebat. Sic in spiritali theatro spectante populo solus eum dracone pugnavit. Hinc confortatus populus cucurrit ad episcopum cupiens hostem suum videre captivum.
(47) Tunc praecedente pontifice bestiam fere tribus milibus omnes prosecuti sunt reddentes gratias domino et solventes exsequias inimico. Deinde increpans eum beatus Marcellus dixit: Ab hac die aut deserta tene aut in mare demerge. Mox dimissa bestia, nulla eius ulterius indicia sunt inventa.
(48) Ecce propugnaculum patriae in uno consistere sacerdote, qui fragili baculo fortius hostem edomuit quam si balistae transissent, nam sagittatus repercutere poterat, nisi vinceret res divina! O virum sanctissimum , in cuius levi baculo virtutis est pondus ostensum, cuius molles digiti fuerunt catena serpentis! Sic inimicum publicum vicerunt arma privata et plaudit in unius praeda generalis victoria.
(49) Si sanctorum virorum ex factis merita conferantur, miretur Marcellum Gallia dum Roma Silvestrum, nisi hoc distat in opere, quod draconem sigillavit ille iste iactavit. Sed quis eius miracula valeat per singula sermone conprehendere vel voce proferre, quanta ille fecerit et celaverit, cum ea Scripta sunt, quae de ipso teste populo claruerunt?
(50) His namque operibus sanctissimus Marcellus semper intentus, conversatione clarus, consummatione praecipuus, beatitudine gloriosus, remuneratione ditatus, cum perpetuo domino regnaturus, vincens mundi contagium, mundus migravit ad Christum die Kalendarum Novembrium, regnante domino nostro Iesu Christo, cui est honor et gloria in saecula saeculorum.—Amen.
Dedication and prologue
(1) FORTUNATUS, TO A LORD, HOLY AND APOSTOLIC IN THE MERITS HE DISPLAYS, ROOTED IN THE LOVE OF CHRIST, AND GOING BEFORE MY LIGHT, TO HIS LORD AND SWEET FATHER, FATHER GERMANUS.
(2) The most fecund genius of illustrious orators, distinct by virtue of various flowers of speech and shadowed by the verdant vine leaf of eloquence, are accustomed to look for low causes, and sterile matter, that by saying great things of the least, they can be seen to display the fertility of their fluency, because, having in themselves founts of eloquence, have have learnt to draw water from these dry themes. Hence whatever is asked of them, is copiously unfolded in overflowing song.
(3) But, on the other hand, those who are parched by the aridity of a narrower intelligence, and lack a profusion of flowing eloquence by which they can either refresh others, or temper the poverty of their own dryness, such, not only do not attempt to say things of their own accord, but even when something is enjoined upon them, they are horrified, because in the same way that it is good for the learned to speak, so is it good for the ignorant to be silent. For the first expound great things from small matter, the second do not even know how to bring forth small things from the great. And so what by some is sought, by others is dreaded.
(4) Thus the warrior, skilled in arms, esteems himself injured if he cannot continually find things to conquer. But just as the strong man seeks whence he may take spoils, the weak fears lest he be taken as spoil; the one desires to find violence, the other, inert, dreads even to hear of it.
II (5) An example of this - since I myself am suitably accused of a lack of knowledge, with nothing in me which the canons of beautiful speech commend, as you will have noted, oh most blessed and beloved father, whom I wholly admire - is that you entrust something worthy to my little spark, concerning the life without end, and the celestial torch, of that most holy man, Bishop Marcellus, when I am poor of intellect and he is rich in merit, I humble in speech and he distinguished in merit. This is especially true, as Gaulish eloquence imbues you, of many skilled men, with famous abundance, weighed words emerging in perfect conjunctions.
(6) These Gauls, if they want, are able to paint in speech whatever their mind has imagined, and with them the same thing can be dictated, and what the heart has scarcely conceived, directly set on the page.
(7) And so, why, as I said, would a flat-footed Italian presume to come among grandly shod Gaulish writers, with his Paduan dialect; one might compare this to the common nard giving forth its perfume amongst roses and lilies?
(8) Something else, too, adds to the difficulties of my hampered intellect, that is that much should be noted concerning the deeds of the most blessed Marcellus, but with the creeping age of time, memory does not easily recall what the passing of many years has stolen away, because whatever is not fixed in books, is blown away by the wind of oblivion.
(9) Living memory has brought few indeed of his happy deeds down to our time, but neither has that which his later admirers sought completely disappeared, because, although his holy body now lies in his grave, his miracles are not buried, which were so wonderful that, although unwritten, they merited to live on in memory; although they are not written on the page, they are fixed on the parchment of the heart.
III (10) Whence, among these difficulties, I wonder which way to turn – whether I ought to prepare my hands for writing, when my tongue fears to dictate. But to dissent from that which a father enjoins is not possible, since he who fights against you strikes himself with a heavy fist; especially that you might teach me to obey, and freely impose that which I am unable to sustain. For it is through things that are difficult, that greater devotion is demonstrated.
(11) Finally, where there is total love, there, although strength may be lacking, nevertheless the mind does not refuse; and I revere the more what affection does not gently extract, but audaciously wrests out. Finally, in this matter it behoves me to go forward, because he who disparages the doing of great things hurries on to yet greater.
(12) Noting these matters, I would wish this work to shine rather with the tongue of others, than be soiled by my own; but, because what the first defer can be carried out by the last, that which may displease in eloquence, may begin to please when undertaken as a vow.
Life and miracles
IV (13) So, the most blessed bishop Marcellus – born in Paris, but a citizen of Paradise: on earth humble, but standing tall in heaven; from an undistinguished family, but high in merit. It was with this light of nobility that he shone – that of serving Christ without fault. Not swollen with pride by reason of his birth, but treating good morals as honours; nor boasting of the fame of his family, but possessing grace by imitating virtue: storing up treasures in himself and embracing God with a pure heart.
(14) It was with Christ that this pauper reigned, who in his humble behaviour, in the generosity of his charity, in the shining light of his chastity, in the richness of his fastings, so surrendered his whole self to celestial discipline, that from his very infancy he rose up, mature, and although set in a body, bore it as though it were not flesh.
(15) And so this man, girded with most blessed instruction and reverent works, almost a priest even before he entered the clergy, already worthy to accept this dignity, prepared in anticipation for that which was without delay about to be, earthly pomp and sin trodden underfoot and initiated with divine arms, girded by blessed hope, about to seize the palm of victory from the common enemy, soldiering in the militia of Christ, he was made lector, and, as if offering himself as a first fruit in the temple of Christ, like the offering of Abel, he was selected as a sacrificial victim, his flesh conquered and his mind pure.
(16) He, more excellent in his reward than in his name, and greater in merit than rank, bearing his office without giving the slightest offence, began in the militia to increase what he had received from the king. His long-hidden virtues began to flower just like vine sprouts, nor did Christ permit his gifts to be hidden in him, because that which had come from above, was seen to be humbly embraced by him.
(17) And then, though still only a budding cleric, he was revealed by miracles, and was illuminated by heavenly wonders. It happened once that he went into a smithy and, spotted by the craftsman, just as a glowing lump of iron had been taken from the blazing furnace, was urged by him to take the burning iron in his hand and tell how heavy it was.
(18) This most blessed man, knowing that everything is from Christ, and that obeying in matters that are not unfitting is a great source of virtue, immediately placed his hand under the iron, lifted it, and said: "It glows from the heat, but is of nine pounds." Afterwards, weighed on a balance, this was found to be exactly as much as his weighed sentence had predicted.
(19) Thus, he performed at once a twofold miracle, for neither the fire’s heat burnt him, nor the iron’s weight deceived him. For, having purged himself of vices, he had within him no burning libido, and so did not burn himself when he carried fire so freely. For, so that he might conquer fire, he had already extinguished the flesh’s flames, and that he might not fail in the weighing, he had tested the iron with both weight and virtue.
IV (20) He was made subdeacon in holy orders. Performing his subdiaconal duties on the day of Epiphany, he took water from the river Seine, and brought it to the blessed Bishop Prudentius for the washing of his hands; its elements had changed and it was found to taste of wine.
(21) When he saw this, the bishop was astonished and commanded it to be poured from the jug into the sacred chalice, and, when mass was celebrated, the whole populace received it at communion, and the vessel itself, though it had satisfied the multitude of the people, remained – as if it had not been touched – completely full. Many were those later healed by the miraculous benefit of this wine.
(22) Behold a most holy man, who took water from the river and poured wine into the chalice! But whence came so novel a miracle, that while he carried the water, as somehow pressing out grapes, vines were produced for him in his hands? Truly the blessed Marcellus is to be venerated, in whose hands at one and the same moment the vintage ripened and the wine was pressed.
(23) We see that divine beneficence is not contained in one place – what happened first in Galilee then happened in Gaul. There, Christ turned water into wine for the nuptial board, here the altar received a new vintage to serve the table of Christ. That had precedence in time, but this in honour; for on that occasion six pitchers produced, but here one vessel (and only a small one) poured forth; then it happened, so that the Lord might manifest himself, now, that his servant be not hidden.
(24) Let us come now to a similar miracle, second in the order of time, but not in eminence. When this most holy man in the duty of his office, on another occasion poured water on the hands of the venerable bishop, immediately they began to smell of balsam, and while the water poured, they seemed to smell of chrism, so that the pontiff almost believed that his hands had been anointed rather than washed, and he requested more water, that he might wash the former.
(25) Seeing this, the bishop, dumbfounded, returned veneration and thanks to God for His undoubted gift, and to blessed Marcellus he reserved a religious reverence – he acknowledged him not so much as one who served, but rather as one who ought to be served.
(26) Who, then, while only a subdeacon, is so worthy to be admired – one in whose right hand water turned into wine or balsam, the pale liquid turning to red or to perfume? Already, then, with these signs, he was prefigured as a future bishop, worthy to handle chrism; he, who while still a subdeacon had drawn chrism from the river, when made bishop, was truly worthy to sanctify with it at the font.
VIII (27) Marvels that profit the hearer ought not to be passed over, since whatever, of the few things which are still remembered, are not told will be believed to have been rejected or condemned.
(28) So, a certain clerk of around ten years of age, Nonnicius by name, was commanded by the archdeacon to sing with honeyed tenderness, on account of the tone of his quite delightful voice and the hymn of sweetness that came from his throat, with which he delighted the minds of the people, since the sound striking their ears charmed them.
(29) When this happened, the bishop commanded the boy to be flogged, because he had commanded another to sing. But when the young clerk was struck, the bishop was punished in his tongue. For, as soon as the noise of the beating sounded in his ear, his voice left his mouth, and, like a new robber, the voice of the child captured the bishop’s speech.
(30) But if we seek the cause of this event – why it happened - we can find it. For he who prohibited the boy from singing suffered the loss of his voice through envy of another's voice. Whom, then, does envy not harm, if it wrought vengeance on a bishop?
(31) The envious man will not receive, that which he does not wish to see in another; rather, he denies it to himself because he wishes others not to have it. For anyone who prepares the fall of another, has already fallen, and before he can lead the other into the trap, he himself is held bound, captured by sin; for, if we wish to progress ourselves, we would do better to believe that the progress of others is ours too.
(32) And so, although the bishop moved freely around for three days, yet his tongue remained buried. For sound did not issue when the arch of his palate was struck, nor within the enclosure of his teeth was noise made by his moving tongue. Rather, everything he had lost, came forth from a silent mouth.
(33) Then blessed Marcellus said these words to the bishop: "It is granted me to understand, good pastor, that such a fate has come upon you from sin; however, in the name of the Lord, break out with whatever words you wish." As he said these things, while blessed Marcellus still had the words in his mouth, already the other had obeyed what he had commanded.
(34) Then, before Marcellus could explain, the bishop answered: "You have done this to me, whose command it was that another should sing rather than the one I ordered." And while he said these things, the power of his lost voice returned.
(35) O great merit of the subdeacon, who restored his voice to a bishop, and what he ought to have accepted, rather, he granted, by arming a weak throat with speech and through his word poured words into the mouth of another. Why should I prolong this further? The bishop would have always been silent, if Marcellus had never sought him out. Right worthy words of blessed Marcellus, with which he guided the flock of the Lord, by giving health to its pastor.
IX (36) We believe the reward of labour includes putting onto the page those things which are fixed in the hearts of many, because, although the telling of a terrible thing is to be feared, there is fruit in the edification it brings.
(37) After the blessed Marcellus had been ordained bishop, because his way of life was ever good (though he thought this dignity to be more a burden than an honour), one amongst the people wishing to take communion was not able to come to the altar, because his hands were bound behind him. All passed him by, as if he were a turning post, so that it seemed that he had come not to take communion, but to count the people.
(38) The bishop, seeing him, asked him what he was doing; he responded that he had sinned. The bishop acknowledging his confession, said to him: "Come, approach, and sin no more." Absolved by this command, he went to communion, thereby gaining a twofold benefit – forgiveness of his previous sin, and the correction of his future life.
(39) How great was his faith in the equality of the Holy Trinity, whose mind, so liberated, proffered miracles with single words? Yes, granted that it was laudable enough to have loosened the chains of the captive with a word, it is even more so to have been seen to have forgiven sins in the love of Christ.
X (40) And so we arrive at that triumphal miracle, which although last in order, is first in its power.
(41) A certain matron, noble by birth but of ill repute, who stained the sheen of her stock with evil deeds, finished the days of this fleeting life, losing its light, and was taken to her grave accompanied with pomp, but not to any avail - I shudder when I retell what happened after the funeral, because a twofold lamentation arose from her who had died.
(42) A most monstrous serpent began to go there, in order to consume her corpse, and - to make myself clearer - the dragon itself became the sepulchre of the woman, whose limbs this beast devoured. Thus this snakish undertaker denied her happy obsequies, for after death her corpse was not permitted to rest; rather, she, whom life’s end had granted to lie in one place, was ever moved about in punishment.
(43) Oh execrable end and greatly to be feared! This woman, who had not preserved marital integrity in the world, did not merit to lie whole in her grave; for the serpent which had dragged her when alive into sin, still raged at her corpse.
(44) Then those of her household who were still nearby, hearing the clamour and rushing there together, saw the enormous beast coming out of her tomb in bending curves, slithering with its vast bulk and lashing its tail. Seeing this, the terrified people fled.
(45) Learning of this, the blessed Marcellus, knowing that he could triumph over this blood-thirsty enemy, assembled the people and went forth from the city, leaving the citizens behind, and, in their sight, alone, with Christ leading him, went to that place to fight. When the serpent returned from the woods to the tomb, they met; the blessed Marcellus offered a prayer, and it, with bowed head, began to ask for forgiveness, caressing him with its tail.
(46) Then blessed Marcellus, thrice striking its head with his staff and putting his stole (orarium) round the neck of the serpent, led it in triumph before the eyes of the citizens. Thus, alone, in the spiritual theatre, with the people watching, he fought with the dragon. The relieved people rushed to the bishop wishing to view his captured enemy.
(47) Then, led by the bishop, the people followed the beast for around three miles, giving thanks to the Lord, performing the funeral rites for the enemy. Then, rebuking it, blessed Marcellus said: "From this day, either stay in the wilderness or the swim in the sea." Having dismissed the beast, no more signs of it were ever found.
(48) Behold, the defence of the homeland consisting of one priest, who with his fragile staff tamed an enemy more powerful than if engines of war had arrived, for, though shot at, it was possible to strike back, unless conquered by God's will! O most holy man, in whose slender staff such a mass of power was displayed, whose soft fingers were the serpent’s chains. Thus, private arms conquered the common foe, and a general victory is celebrated in the booty of a single man.
(49) If rewards are conferred by the deeds of holy men, Gaul should wonder at Marcellus, Rome at *Silvester [bishop of Rome, ob. 336, S00397], their actions differing only in this – the latter sealed up a dragon, the former cast one out. But who is able to capture in words and express in speech through his individual miracles, how much he did and how much he kept hidden – when they are written, which will shine on the people from his witness?
(50) The most holy Marcellus, always exerting himself in these works, brilliant in conduct, excellent in achievements, glorious in beatitude, rich in remuneration, going to reign with the eternal Lord, conquering the world’s contagion, migrated, pure, to Christ on the kalends of November [= 1 November], in the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom is honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Text: Krusch 1885.
Translation: Joe Church.
Composing and translating saint-related textsMiracles
Miracle during lifetimeRelics
Healing diseases and disabilities
Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures
Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)
Power over objects
Miracle with animals and plants
Miraculous protection - of communities, towns, armies
Myrrh and other miraculous effluents of relicsProtagonists in Cult and Narratives
Ecclesiastics - bishops
SourceVenantius Fortunatus was born in northern Italy, near Treviso, and educated at Ravenna. In the early 560s he crossed the Alps into Merovingian Gaul, where he spent the rest of his life, making his living primarily through writing Latin poetry for the aristocracy of northern Gaul, both secular and ecclesiastical. His first datable commission in Gaul is a poem to celebrate the wedding in 566 of the Austrasian royal couple, Sigibert and Brunhild. His principal patrons were Radegund, the subject of this Life, and Agnes, the first abbess of Radegund's monastery of the Holy Cross at Poitiers, as well as Gregory, the historian and bishop of Tours, Leontius, bishop of Bordeaux, and Felix, bishop of Nantes, but he also wrote poems for several kings and for many other members of the aristocracy. In addition to occasional poems for his patrons, Fortunatus wrote a four-book epic poem about Martin of Tours, and several works of prose and verse hagiography. The latter part of his life was spent in Poitiers, and in the 590s he became bishop of the city; he is presumed to have died early in the 7th century. For Fortunatus' life, see Brennan 1985; George 1992, 18-34; Reydellet 1994-2004, vol. 1, vii-xxviii; Pietri and Heijmans 2013, 801-822, 'Fortunatus'.
Seven Lives attributed to Fortunatus are universally accepted in modern scholarship to be by him: those of Hilary/Hilarius, 4th c. bishop of Poitiers (E06713); this life, of Marcellus, late-4th/early-5th c. bishop of Paris; Severinus, early 5th c. bishop of Bordeaux (E07358); Albinus, 6th c. monk and bishop of Angers (E06715); Paternus, 6th c. bishop of Avranches (E06724); Germanus, 6th c. bishop of Paris (E06714); and Radegund, 6th c. former queen and monastic founder in Poitiers (E06486). A further Life attributed in the manuscripts to Fortunatus, that of Medard (6th c. bishop of Vermand buried at Soissons, E06474), used to be rejected as a later text, but more recently it has been argued that it is one of Fortunatus' authentic works. Many, but not all, of the Lives have prefaces addressing the person who commissioned the text.
These prefaces are written in a more complex style (flattering the cultural aspirations of Fortunatus' patrons) than the Lives themselves, in which the syntax is comparatively simple, suggesting that the main text was aimed at a wider audience. This is also suggested by the brevity of the Lives, by references to 'listeners' (audientes) in the text, and by Fortunatus repeatedly expressing a wish to make the virtues of his saints widely known. Although not conclusively demonstrable, it is very likely that the Lives were written to be read out in church on the feast days of the various saints. (On all this, see Collins 1981, 107-111; Pricoco 1993, 177-9 and 190, note 18).
As the dedication and preface tell us, the Life of Marcellus was written for Bishop Germanus of Paris, who died in 576 (and whose Life Fortunatus was later to write - see E06714). One of Fortunatus' epistolary poems to Radegund in Poitiers (Poems, appendix 23) accompanied a copy of the Life of Marcellus, which shows that he wrote this after he had become established in Poitiers in 567/568. Its date of composition must therefore have been in the period 567/576. It is likely to have been composed in Paris, very possibly on an occasion, mentioned in Fortunatus' Poem 8.2, when he travelled to the city at the request of Germanus (Pietri and Heijmans 2013, vol. 1, 890).
DiscussionMarcellus was bishop of Paris, at some point during the late 4th/early 5th century, but the only record of him that we have, beyond Fortunatus' composition, is his appearance in lists of the bishops of the city (Pietri and Heijmans 2013, vol. 2, 1244-45, 'Marcellus 6'). As Fortunatus tells us in §8 and §9, few of his deeds were known, a fact confirmed by the contents of the Life, which consists of little more than six accounts of somewhat bizarre and implausible miracles, including one when Marcellus took up the empty challenge of a blacksmith (§17-19). In the text, Fortunatus expounds at length on the deeper meaning of these wonders, particularly for how they demonstrated the innate sanctity of Marcellus, and draws parallels with other biblical and saintly miracles.
Why Germanus commissioned the Life of such a shadowy predecessor is unclear. Perhaps, if the miracles of Marcellus were present in the oral tradition of Parisians, as Fortunatus claims (§9), Germanus felt the need to commission a text that is less a Life than an exposition of Marcellus' miracles, providing a moral purpose to some curious stories.
The story of Pope Silvester and the dragon, mentioned in §49, is from a very popular text, the Acts of Sylvester (for which see E03229).
Krusch, B., Vita sancti Marcelli, in: Venanti Honori Clementiani Fortunati presbyteri Italici opera pedestria (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores antiquissimi 4.2; Berlin, 1885), 49-54.
Brennan, B., "The Career of Venantius Fortunatus," Traditio 41 (1985), 49-78.
Collins, R., "Observations on the Form, Language, and Public of the Prose Biographies of Venantius Fortunatus in the Hagiography of Merovingian Gaul", in: H.B. Clarke and M. Brennan (eds.), Columbanus and Merovingian Monasticism (British Archaeological Reports : Oxford, 1981), 105-131. (English translation of an article originally published in German in Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 92 (1981), 16-38.)
George, J., Venantius Fortunatus: A Latin Poet in Merovingian Gaul (Oxford, 1992).
Pietri, L. and Heijmans, M., Prosopographie chrétienne du Bas-Empire, 4 Prosopographie de la Gaule chrétienne (314-614), 2 vols. (Paris, 2013).
Pricoco, S.,"Gli scritti agiografici in prosa di Venanzio Fortunato", in Venanzio Fortunato tra Italia e Francia. Atti del convegno internazionale di studi (Valdobbiadene, 17 maggio 1990 - Treviso, 18-19 maggio 1990), (Treviso, 1993), 175-193.
Reydellet, M., Venance Fortunat, Poèmes, 3 vols. (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1994-2004).
On the Life of Marcellus specifically:
Picard, J.-Ch., "II était une fois un évêque de Paris appelé Marcel," in: M. Sot (ed.), Haut Moyen-Âge: Culture, éducation et société. Études offertes à Pierre Riché (La Garenne-Colombes, 1990), 79-91.
Kent Navalesi, Bryan Ward-Perkins; translation: Joe Church
02/07/2021; translation added 14/08/2023
|Name in Source
|Silvester, bishop of Rome, ob. 336
|Marcellus, bishop of Paris, late 4th/5th c.
Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Kent Navalesi, Bryan Ward-Perkins; translation: Joe Church, Cult of Saints, E06716 - http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E06716