Fifteen Centuries Ago, the Saga of St. Sidonius Apollinaris

January 19, 2021

The year 2021 sees the 1,550th anniversary of the accession of St. Sidonius Apollinaris to the episcopal see of Clermont-Ferrand, at that time one of the most important in Gaul. FSSPX.News returns to this great episcopal figure, the ultimate witness of the Gallo-Roman world which was soon to disappear under the blows of barbarian invasions.

Caius Sollius Modestus Apollinarius Sidonius was born in Lyon, then capital of Gaul, in 431 or 432. He belonged to one of the most important families in the country: his grandfather had been prefect of the praetorium of Gaul under the reign of Theodosius, and it was through the conversion of this ancestor that Christianity entered the family. Under Emperor Valentinian III, his father was invested with the same dignity. The brightest future therefore seemed reserved for Sidonius.

After finishing his studies as completely as possible around 452, he then married a young girl from Auvergne, Papianilla, whose father - Flavius ​​Eparchius Avitus - was, a few years later, proclaimed emperor by the deputies of the Gallic nobility gathered in Beaucaire.

On January 1, 456, according to custom, Sidonius was commissioned to deliver the traditional panegyric for his father-in-law before the Roman Senate: which he successfully did. Alas! Shortly afterwards, the emperor was overthrown, but Sidonius entered into the graces of his successor, for whom he would also deliver the panegyric.

In 468, his eloquence earned him the appointment of Prefect of Rome, then, when he left office, the title of patricius. The future saint hoped to enjoy in peace the years that remained to him when, in little known conditions, he found himself propelled in 471 to the episcopal see of Clermont, then vacant.

Nothing prepared him for the exercise of these high functions, but as soon as he was elected, Sidonius Apollinaris took care to make himself worthy of the confidence of his people and his colleagues, and to rise to the challenge of the particularly difficult circumstances in which his ministry was to be exercised.

In fact, beginning in 474, the clouds gathered over the city of Arvernes: the Visigoths led by the Arian heretic Euric invaded the region. Sidonius had to organize the resistance himself. But Clermont soon fell, and the bishop was imprisoned in the fortress of Livia, near Carcassonne.

Regaining his freedom, Sidonius Apollinaris recovered his episcopal see in which he would die in peace, around 487 or 489.

There were two sides to Sidonius Apollinaris: the Gallo-Roman patrician and the bishop. His life was divided into two very distinct phases. The first, totally worldly, was absorbed by the legitimate ambition that a man of his rank and birth would devise.

The second presented us with a bishop, in all the senses of the word: a vigilant pastor of his flock, devoted to the care of his moral and material interests, preoccupied with the multitude of matters which were imposed on a bishop of Gaul at the end of the 5th century in the midst of the general disarray of society.

But, beside the bishop, we also find the Gallo-Roman patriot, deeply attached to all that comprised the glory, the traditions, and the memories of this great name of Rome.

It was Sidonius who made the last efforts of Roman patriotism, remarkable proof of that profound unity with which Rome had imprinted the nations subject to her empire; the last eloquent words, inspired by this patriotism, were spoken by the Bishop of Clermont. And it is remarkable that the Gallic land which fought so energetically against the legions of Caesar was also the last to resist, in the name of Rome, the invasion and conquest of the barbarian Arians.