A distinguished bishop of Vienne, in Gaul, from 490 to about 518, though his
death is place by some as late as 525 or 526. He was born of a prominent
Gallo-Roman family closely related to the Emperor Avitus and other illustrious
persons, and in which episcopal honors were hereditary. In difficult times for
the Catholic faith and Roman culture in Southern Gaul, Avitus exercised a
favourable influence. He pursued with earnestness and success the extinction of
the Arian heresy in the barbarian Kingdom of Burgundy (443-532), won the
confidence of King Gundobad, and converted his son, King Sigismund (516-523). He
was also a zealous opponent of Semipelagianism, and of the Acacian Schism at
Constantinople. Like his contemporary, Ennodius of Pavia, he was strenuous in
his assertion of the authority of the Apostolic See as the chief bulwark of
religious unity and the incipient Christian civilization.
If the pope, he says,
is rejected, it follows that not one bishop, the whole episcopate threatens to
fall (Si papa urbis vocatur in dubium, episcopatus videbitur, non episcopus,
vaccilare. - Ep. xxxiv; ed. Peiper). The literary fame of Avitus rests on a poem
of 2,552 hexameters, in five books, dealing with the Scriptural narrative of
Original Sin, Expulsion from Paradise, the Deluge, the Crossing of the Red Sea.
The first three books offer a certain dramatic unity; in them are told the
preliminaries of the great disaster, the catastrophe itself, and the
consequences. The fourth and fifth books deal with the Deluge and the Crossing
of the Red Sea as symbols of baptism. Avitus deals freely and familiarly with
the Scriptural events, and exhibits well their beauty, sequence, and
significance. He is one of the last masters of the art of rhetoric as taught in
the schools of Gaul in the fourth and fifth centuries. Ebert says that none of
the ancient Christian poets treated more successfully the poetic elements of the
Bible. His poetic diction, though abounding in archaisms and rhythmic redundancy,
is pure and select, and the laws of metre are well observed. It is said that
Milton made use of his paraphase [sic] of Scripture in the preparation of
Paradise Lost. He wrote also 666 hexameters
De virginitate or
consolatoriâ castitatis laude for the comfort of his sister Fuscina, a nun. His
prose works include
Contra Eutychianam Hæresim libri II, written in 512 or 513,
and also about eighty-seven letters that are of considerable importance for the
ecclesiastical and political history of the years 499-518. Among them is the
famous letter to Clovis on the occasion of his baptism. There was once extant a
collection of his HomilieEine Homilie (von griech.„ὁμιλεῖν”, „vertraut miteinander reden”) ist eine Art von Predigt. Während eine Predigt die Großtaten Gottes preist (lat. „praedicare”, „preisen”) und Menschen für den Glauben begeistern will, hat die Homilie lehrhaften Charakter. s, but they have perished with the exception of two and
some fragments and excerpts. In recent times Julien Havet has demonstrated
(Questions mérovingiennes, Paris, 1885), that Avitus is not the author of the
Dialogi cum Gundobado Rege, a defence of the Catholic Faith against the Arians,
purporting to represent the famous Colloquy of Lyons in 449, and first published
by d'Achéry (1661) in his
Spicilegium (V, 110-116). It is a forgery of the
Oratorian, Jérome Viguier, who also forged the letter of Pope Symmachus (13 Oct.,
501) to Avitus. The works of Avitus are found in Migne, P.L., LIX, 191-398.
There are two recent editions: one by R. Peiper (in Mon. Germ. Hist.: Auct.
Antiq., VI, Berlin, 1883), the other by U. Chevalier (Lyons, 1890).
Acta SS., 1 February; Avite, sa vie, ses uvres (Paris, 1870); DENKINGER, St. Avite et la déstruction de l'Arianisme en Gaule (Geneva, 1890); GUIZOT, Hist. De la civilisation en France (1829), II, 198-216; GORINI, Défense de l'Eglise (Paris, 1866), II, 1-86; KURTH, Hist. poétique des mérovingiens (1893), 243 sqq.; YOUNG in Dict. Christ. Biogr., I, 233; BARDENHEWER, Patrologie (Freiburg, 1901), 538, 539.
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