Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Avitus of Vienne

Alcimus Ecdicius Avitus (c. 470 – February 5, 523) was a Latin poet and archbishop of Vienne in Gaul.
Avitus was born of a prominent Gallo-Roman senatorial family in the kinship of Emperor Avitus.

His father was Hesychius, bishop of Vienne, where episcopal honors were informally hereditary.
Avitus was probably born at Vienne, for he was baptized by bishop Mamertus. In difficult times for the Catholic faith and Roman culture in southern Gaul, Avitus pursued with earnestness and success the extinction of Arianism among the Burgundians. He won the confidence of King Gundobad, and converted his son, King Sigismund (516-523).
The literary fame of Avitus rests on his many surviving letters (his recent editors make them ninety-six in all) and on a long poem, De spiritualis historiae gestis, in classical hexameters, in five books, dealing with the Biblical themes 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 4th and 5th centuries. His poetic diction, though abounding in archaisms and rhythmic redundancy, is pure and select, and the laws of metre are well observed. The author of his article in the Catholic Encyclopedia claims "that Milton made use of his paraphrase of Scripture in writing Paradise Lost." Avitus also wrote a poem for his sister Fuscina, a nun, praising virginity.
The letters of Avitus are of considerable importance for the ecclesiastical and political history of the years between 499 and 518, as primary sources of early Merovingian political, ecclesiastical, and social history. Among them is a famous letter to Clovis on the occasion of his baptism. Avitus addresses Clovis not as if he was a pagan convert, but as if he was a recent Arian sympathiser, possibly even a catechumen. The letters document the close relations between the Catholic Bishop of Vienne and the Arian king of the Burgundians, the great Gundobad, and his son, the Catholic convert Sigismund.
There was once extant a collection of his homilies and sermons, but they have all perished except for two, and some fragments and excerpts from others.
The so-called Dialogues with King Gundobad, written to defend the Catholic faith against the Arians and purports to represent the famous Colloquy of Lyon in 449, was once believed to be his work. Julien Havet demonstrated in 1885, however, that it is a forgery of the Oratorian, Jérome Viguier, who also forged a letter purporting to be from Pope Symmachus to Avitus.

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