To the holy and venerable Deacon Paschasius, Eugippius sends his salutation in Christ.
About two years ago, in the consulship of Importunus,1 a letter of a noble layman, directed to a priest, was offered me to read. It contained the life of Bassus a monk, who formerly dwelt in the monastery of the mountain called Titas, above Ariminum, and later died in the district of Lucania: a man very well known to me and to many others. When I learned that some were making copies of this letter, I began to reflect, and also to declare to the clergy, that the great miracles which the divine power had wrought through Saint Severinus ought not to be hidden.
When the author of the letter knew of this, he eagerly requested me to send him some memoranda in regard to Saint Severinus, that he might write a short account of the saint's life for the benefit of later generations. In response to this offer, I prepared a memoir, filled full with testimonies from the daily narrations of the elder brethren, with which I was perfectly familiar. Yet I did this with great regret; for I deemed it unreasonable, that, while thou wert alive, I should ask a layman to write a life of Severinus. It |16 seemed rash to impose upon a lay writer the arrangement and composition of the work. Cultivated in profane literature alone, he would be likely to compose the biography in a style difficult for many to understand; so that the remarkable events, which had too long remained hidden in silence and night, might fail through the obscurity of his eloquence to shine brightly forth for us, untrained as we are in polite letters.
But I shall search no more for the feeble light of that lamp now that thy sun-like radiance is here. Only veil not the rays of thy knowledge by a cloud of excuse, accusing thine own ignorance. Lash me not, I beseech thee, with harsh terms; say not, Why expect water from the flint? Indeed I do not expect water from the flint of this world's highway, but from thee, who, comparing spiritual things with spiritual,2 shalt refresh us from the living rock by that honey of speech with which thou overflowest; and already from that honey thou sendest a nectar-taste of sweetest promise, while thou biddest me transmit a memoir or notes upon the life of Saint Severinus.
Until these memoranda win admission to a book of thy construction, let them not offend the mind of the critic. For he who seeks an architect to build a house, carefully prepares the necessary materials; but if the architect delays, and he puts together in the likeness of walls unfashioned heaps from the rough stones, ought one to speak of his work as a building, |17 when no master has constructed, and no proper foundation has been laid? So I, who have with difficulty prepared and most miserably put together the precious material for thy genius, ought I to be thought to have composed what I desire, when a liberal education has not fashioned the work, nor literary training lent it elevation and elegance? My work has, indeed, the sure foundation of faith alone; that foundation upon which, as thou knowest, rose the saint's admirable, resplendent virtues; and now I commit the materials to the architect, whose hands shall be thy eloquence; and when the capstone is placed upon thy work, I shall return due thanks to Christ.
I beg that thou have the goodness to mention also those miraculous cures, which, either on the journey or here, were wrought by divine virtue unto the memory of the blessed father Severinus. Since the trusty bearer, thy son Deogratias, best knows these, I have entrusted to him to communicate them to thee by word of mouth. And I hope that I may speedily be able yet again to call him bearer on the completion of thy work; that so this most faithful servant of God, rich in such great virtues, while he is carried to the glory of the saints by his merits vouchsafed through Christ's grace may by thy pen be immortalized to human memory.
It may perhaps be asked, and with justice, from what country Severinus sprang; since with this particular it is the custom to begin the story of any life. I |18 confess I have no clear evidence. For many priests and clerics, and lords temporal and spiritual, natives of the country or drawn together to him from afar, often debated the nationality of this man of such great and resplendent virtue. And they were at a loss, but no one ventured to question him directly. There was, however, a certain Primenius, a noble priest of Italy, and a man of the highest standing, who had fled to him for refuge at the time when the patrician Orestes 3 was unjustly slain. This man, it was said, had been like a father to Orestes, and therefore feared his murderers. He, then, having won the saint's friendship, and enjoyed it for many days, served as spokesman for the rest, and burst out with the question. "Reverend master," he said, "from what province hath the great light come,4 which God hath seen fit to bestow upon these lands? " The man of God first answered him with a cheerful jest, "If thou thinkest me a fugitive slave,5 prepare a ransom which thou canst offer for me when I am claimed." Presently he added, more seriously, "What profiteth it the servant of God to name his country or race, when by keeping |19 them silent he can more easily avoid vainglory? 6 For vainglory is like the left hand, without whose knowledge 7 he desireth through the gift of Christ to accomplish every good work; that so he may deserve to be among those on Christ's right hand,8 and to be enrolled as a citizen of the celestial country. And if thou knowest that I, though unworthy, truly desire that celestial country, what need that thou learn the earthly country of which thou askest? But know that the same God who called thee to the priesthood, commanded me also to minister unto these perilled folk." The answer silenced Primenius, nor did any one before or after presume to question the saint upon this matter.
Yet his speech revealed a man of purest Latin stock; and it is understood that he first departed into some desert place of the East because of his fervid desire for a more perfect life, and that thence, constrained by divine revelation, he later came to the towns of Riverside Noricum, near Upper Pannonia, which were harassed by frequent incursions of the barbarians. So he himself was wont to hint, in obscure language as if speaking of another, naming some cities of the East, and indicating that he had passed by miracle through the dangers of an immense journey.9 |20
Even in the lifetime of Saint Severinus, I never heard other particulars in regard to his native place than those I have related. The testimonies concerning his marvellous life accompany this letter, arranged as a memoir, with a table of chapters prefixed. Grant my request, and let them gain greater fame through thy editorial care.10 It remains to ask that thou cease not to associate thy prayers with his for the pardon of my sins. |21