14 January 2009

St Eugendus of Condat

Wow, I actually meant for the St Basil post to be pretty short, as I was planning to throw all my resources today into a post on a much more obscure Saint: Eugendus of Gaul (listed as ‘St Eugendus, abbot of Condat in the Jura Mountains’ on my favourite online Orthodox calendar). I suppose I’ll simply have to carry on with this plan, though I begin to worry that I’m taxing my poor readers. Two posts in one day, especially when one must scroll down to read them in their entirety, seems a bit much to me. Well, even if no one reads it, at least it will be there. It is difficult to resist blogging on St Eugendus, if only because I possess an English translation of his Prima Vita, written by a disciple who knew the man personally (The Lives of the Jura Fathers, trans. Tim Vivian, Kim Vivian, and Jeffrey Burton Russell [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1999], pp. 157-84). Indeed, the infallible Adalbert de Vogüé has contributed a Foreword to this volume, wherein he comments on ‘the documentary richness of the Vita Patrum Jurensium and its importance to all research concerning western monasticism from the fifth and sixth centuries’ (Vivian, p. 17).

Born in 449 in what is now Izernore, France (near the Swiss border), St Eugendus was the son of a priest. When he was quite young (the Life seems to suggest he was about six [Vivian, pp. 160-1]), he had a vision wherein Ss Romanus and Lupicinus, two venerable Fathers of the Jura, took him to look at the stars as a sign of his coming spiritual progeny, until ‘something like a vast doorway’ opened in the heavens and choirs of angels began to descend, singing, ‘I am the way, the life, and the truth [sic]’, before ascending once again to the cœlestial heights (Vivian, p. 159, 160). The account concludes:

The huge multitude then withdrew; the starry spaces, after Eugendus contemplated them a long time, closed up too; and the child, seeing himself alone in that place, arose with a start from his sleep. Struck with fear by what he had seen, he immediately told his father what had happened. The holy priest knew right away to what, above all, his most holy offspring ought to be consecrated. (Vivian, p. 160)

So after teaching him to read and write, his father offered St Eugendus to the monastery of Ss Romanus and Lupicinus at the age of 7, after which, according to his biographer, he ‘never took a step outside . . . to the day he died, when he was over sixty’ (Vivian, p. 161). Fr Seraphim (Rose) calls this ‘a perfect example of monastic stability’ (so stressed by St Benedict), and writes:

If we are helpless to imitate such stability today, let us at least understand its importance: Christianity in practice, and monasticism above all, is a matter of staying in one place and struggling with all one’s heart for the Kingdom of Heaven. One may be called to do the work of God elsewhere, or may be moved about by unavoidable circumstances; but without the basic and profound desire to endure everything for God in one place without running away, one will scarcely be able to put down the roots required to bring forth spiritual fruits. Unfortunately, with the ease of modern communications [keep in mind this is pre-Internet!] one may even sit in one spot and still concern oneself with everything but the one thing needful—with everyone else’s business, with all the church gossip, and not with the concentrated labor needed to save one’s own soul in this evil world. (‘Introduction to Orthodox Gaul’, Vita Patrum: The Life of the Fathers, by St Gregory of Tours [Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1988], 123-4)

Now, as Fr Seraphim explains it, at the time of St Eugendus’s admission to the Condat monastery, it was a two-storey wooden structure organised on the lines of ‘the Eastern lavra ideal of monks in separate cells’, except that the cells were attached instead of ‘a certain distance apart’ (Fr Seraphim, p. 137). It was situated in an area very much a ‘desert’ like the forested Russian wilderness was to be roughly one thousand years later (see the section on ‘The Way of the Desert’ in the Introduction, Vivian, pp. 32-46). Here, St Eugendus was zealous at prayer in the oratory and only ate once a day (Vivian, p. 162). He lived in complete poverty, with one tunic and wooden shoes, sleeping on a straw bed with an animal covering, ‘spending all his time’ at lectio divina (on the significance of this in early monasticism, see Armand Veilleux’s article) ‘day and night’, so ‘that in addition to being learned in Latin works, he was also fluent in Greek’ (Vivian, p. 161). This last expression may mean St Eugendus and his disciple ‘were heirs of the classical learning apparently taught at Lérins’ or it may mean they read translations (Vivian, p. 51, n. 82). At any rate, Fr Seraphim observes that the monks later ‘had a well-equipped monastic library’: ‘the institutions of the holy and eminent Basil, bishop of the episcopal see of Cappadocia, or those of the holy fathers of Lérins and of St Pachomius, the ancient abbot of the Syrians [sic!], or those that the venerable Cassian formulated more recently’ (Vivian, p. 182).

After the death of Ss Romanus and Lupicinus, St Eugendus was eventually made superior of the monastery, although he refused ordination to the priesthood to the end of his life (Vivian, p. 163). He performed a number of miracles and experienced numerous visions, and according to the Life

if he learned with reason that certain brothers, partaking of the nature of human frailty, were being eaten up by a consuming sadness, he would come to them spiritually when they were not expecting him, amiable and joyous on purpose, and he would rekindle their hearts with speech so sweet and holy that, once the contagion of pernicious sadness had been wiped away, the unremitting irritant was healed as though by the anointing of a saving oil. (Vivian, p. 170)

During St Eugendus’s abbacy, the original monastery structure was destroyed by fire, and the Saint replaced it with a common dormitory, ‘so that a common building, with only the beds being private, might also encompass those whom a common room enclosed for the common meal’ (Vivian, p. 179). Although such a thing had a precedence in St Pachomius’s Koinonia, this development, as Fr Seraphim puts it,—

is a kind of watershed between the less organized, semi-hermitic, lavra-type monasticism of the 4th and 5th centuries, which was very dependent upon the personal qualities of the great monastic founders (St Martin, St Honoratus, Sts Romanus and Lupicinus), and the more strictly cœnobitic monaticism of the 6th and later centuries. (Fr Seraphim, pp. 136-7)

While Fr Seraphim regrets ‘the disappearance of the early monastic “informality” of the West’, he concludes that ‘the dominance of the cœnobitic Rule [best exemplified by St Benedict, whose own prescriptions in RB 22, are quite reminiscent of just this development at Condat] was actually unavoidable’ (Fr Seraphim, p. 137).

After suffering from an illness for six months, during which ‘he never missed the canonical offices, not even once, nor could he be forced to bestow anything more than once a day upon his poor, worn-out body’ (Vivian, p. 183), St Eugendus had a vision of Ss Romanus and Lupicinus carrying him into the oratory to die, and exhorting the monks to ‘carry on with the institutions and traditions of the fathers that you have received’, he fell asleep in the Lord five days later, in the year 510 (Vivian, pp. 183-4) (the dates are from here).

(The illustration above shows the town of St-Claude, France, which grew up around the site of the Condadisco monastery.)


Justin said...

Thank you, especially for that great quote by Fr. Seraphim.

aaronandbrighid said...

I'm glad you liked it, my friend! Fr Seraphim is chock full of great quotes, and the introductory material to 'Vita Patrum' is an apparently little-known gem! I only wish they'd got him to write the intro to the Cistercian edition of 'Lives of the Jura Fathers'!