Germanus of Auxerre

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Our father among the saints Germanus of Auxerre, also Germain, was the Bishop of Auxerre, in Gaul. He successfully stemmed the spread of Pelagianism in the British Isles. St. Germanus is commemorated on July 31.


Germanus was born of prominent Romano-Gaulish parents, Rusticus and Germanilla, in Autissiodurum (Auxerre), Gaul, during the later part of the fourth century, c. 380. He received his early education in the schools of Arles and Lyons. Germanus continued his education in Rome, studying rhetoric and civil law. He practiced law in Rome before the tribunal of the prefect for some years with great success and came into contact with the court. He married Eustachia.

The emperor, Honorius, appointed him as one of the six dukes responsible for the governance of Gaul, residing in Auxerre. He led a worldly life that brought him under the displeasure of Bishop Amator of Auxerre. Angered, Germanus attempted to kill Amator, resulting in the bishop forcing him to tonsure. After ordaining him a deacon, Bp. Amator told Germanus to live as one destined to succeed him as bishop. Taking the whole incident as an action of the Holy Spirit, Germanus changed his life completely and as an ascetic he devoted himself to prayer, study, and charity.

After the reposed of Bp. Amator on May 1, 418, Germanus was unanimously elected and consecrated bishop of Auxerre on July 7, 418. With his new dignity, Germanus became another man. He lived with his wife as if she were his sister. He gave his property to the Church and poor and lived as a pauper, eating only in the evenings coarse barley bread. He dressed only in simple monastic clothes. His administrative skills, however, served him well in his position as bishop. He established the Ss. Cosmos and Damian Monastery across the River Yone from Auxerre where he would at times retire for solitude.

The dispute concerning the need for divine grace, that was started by Pelagius in Rome in 405, was taken up by his disciples in the British Isles. The son, Agricola, of the British Bishop Severinus, took up the heresy and began spreading it throughout the island. To fight the heresy, Pope Celestine I commissioned Bp. Germanus in 429 to go to Britain with a party of clergy, including Bp. Lupus of Troyes, to defend the faith and oppose the false doctrine of the heretics. In Britain they preached often to the people, confirmed the faithful, and converted the heretics. Initially, the Pelagians shunned them but soon they accepted a conference. After the heretics spoke first before the multitude, Bps. Germanus and Lupus answered them with great eloquence, supporting their arguments with quotations from the scripture, such that their adversaries were reduced to silence.

While the two bishops were on the island, the Britons were being harassed by Picts and Saxons. The Britons invited the two bishops to their camp, hoping that their prayers and presence would help them. While agreeing, Germanus and Lupus spent their time bringing the pagans to Christ and the Christians to reforming their lives. At Pascha, many catechumens were received into the Church. After the Pascha, Germanus, not forgetting his old profession as a general, made recourse to a strategy to save his faithful from the advancing Saxons. He led his small army to a valley between two mountains, and there, directed his men to shout forth with the same call they had made during the Paschal feast. As the Saxons approached them, Bp. Germanus cried out three times "Alleluiah" which was repeated by the whole Briton force. The sound reverberated from hills with a dreaded sound of falling rocks, causing the barbarians, in fright, to flee leaving all their arms and baggage behind.

In 446, Bp. Germanus once again was called to Britain to assist the Church against a resurgence of pelagianism, seeking out the heretics and converting them back to the faith. He also encouraged the establishment of schools for the clergy.

On his way back to Gaul, a delegation of people from Armorica (present day Brittany) sought the help of Bp. Germanus. The people were threatened by Eocarich, the king of the Alemanni, who had been sent by Aëtius, the Roman general in Gaul, to punish them for a revolt. Bp. Germanus met Eocarich, seized his horse's bridle, and got him to agree to stop ravaging Armorica on the condition that he obtain a pardon from the emperor for Armorica. Having defusing the threat, Bp. Germanus traveled to Ravenna seeking the pardon for the rebels from the emperor Valentian III.

Bp. Germanus was received by the emperor in Ravenna with honor. A few days later after asking for prayers for his passage, Bp. Germanus fell sick. He died in Ravenna on July 31, 448. His body was returned to Auxerre for burial in the oratory of Monastery of St. Maurice.