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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume V: May. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

May 20

B. Yvo, Bishop of Chartres, Confessor

THE ORDER of Regular Canons of St. Austin gave to the church a bright light in the person of this holy and learned prelate, one of the greatest ornaments of the eleventh age. Yvo was of an illustrious family, and born in the territory of Beauvais. His first studies of grammar and philosophy he performed in his own country, in which, by carefully cultivating a rich genius, he made great progress. Holy meditation and prayer were at the same time his favourite daily exercises, and accompanied with the love of silence, recollection, humility, and great abstemiousness. A constant attention to the divine presence was a practice which he had always much at heart, this being the method by which he happily consecrated all his time, studies, and even necessary recreation to God. For it was his constant endeavour to make all his employments and actions serve this end, to promote the sanctification of his soul and advance the glory of God. In all he did he had this only aim. This manner of life he continued in the monastery of Bec, in which he studied theology under the celebrated Lanfranc. Guy, bishop of Beauvais, having founded a monastery of Regular Canons of St. Austin’s Order near that city under the patronage of St. Quintin in 1078, Yvo took there the clerical habit, bestowed on that house a part of his estates, and was employed in teaching theology and expounding the canons and holy scriptures. Some time after he was chosen superior under the title of provost or abbot, and governed that community about fourteen years. He was careful in the first place to give his scholars a great ardour for the practice of devout prayer, frequently repeating this great maxim which students who desire to become truly disciples of Christ ought always to have deeply imprinted in their minds, that “A spirit of prayer and interior compunction give more of that divine science which contributes to the sanctification of souls than studies,” to use the words of the devout Richard of St. Victor. 1 The discipline of this Order was at that time very austere. The pious F. Simon Gourdan has demonstrated 2 that these canons never ate either flesh or fish, and observed almost perpetual silence unless duties of charity obliged them to speak. Compunction and prayer were their first and principal employment, though they also applied themselves to the instruction of the people and the study of sacred sciences. So perfect was their obedience to their diocesans or bishops 3 that it may be justly proposed as a model for imitation. The monastery of St. Quintin’s was raised to such a pitch of reputation for discipline, piety, and learning, under the government of St. Yvo, that to satisfy the demands of bishops and princes from all sides, he was obliged to send many of his canons to other places, either to reform ancient chapters or to found new ones.  1
  Geoffrey, bishop of Chartres, being accused of simony and other crimes, and deposed by Pope Urban II. in 1091, the clergy and people demanded Yvo for their bishop. This election was confirmed by the pope, and King Philip gave him the investiture by putting a crosier into his hand. Yvo set out immediately for Rome, and was consecrated by the pope, who checked the endeavours of Richer, archbishop of Sens, then metropolitan of Chartres, to re-establish Geoffrey. King Philip falling in love with Bertrarde, third wife of Fulk count of Anjou, resolved to marry her, and to divorce his Queen Berta, though he had by her two children. Yvo was invited by the king with other prelates to a conference on that subject. He strenuously endeavoured to divert the prince from so scandalous a project; and when he found all he could say or do to prevent it was to no purpose, he refused to be present at the marriage. Philip caused him to be imprisoned, and sent his officers to plunder his lands. He was, however, released some time after upon the remonstrances made to the king by the pope and several prelates of the kingdom. During his custody he prevented a sedition being raised against the king by the principal noblemen of his diocess, 4 and he concealed for a long time the letters of the pope against that prince’s adulterous marriage, 5 lest the malecontents should make them a pretence for taking up arms against him. For the same reason, he for a considerable time did not publish the sentence of excommunication which the pope had fulminated against the king. But he assisted with joy at the council which Richard the legate of the holy see held at Baugenci in 1104, for that prince’s absolution. 6 Philip dying the year following, his son Lewis, to prevent seditions, was consecrated at Orleans by Daimbert, archbishop of Sens. Yvo by a circular letter 7 answered the complaints made by the archbishop of Rheims. 8 St. Yvo died on the 23rd of December, in 1115, having governed his see twenty-three years. Pope Pius V. in 1570 granted an office in his honour to the whole Order of Regular Canons on the 20th of May; and his name is commemorated on this day in the Martyrology of that Order confirmed by Benedict XIV. His festival is kept in the diocess of Chartres; and the large shrine in which his sacred remains are exposed to public veneration is shown in the rich treasury belonging to the stately cathedral. See St. Yvo’s letters and his life, compiled by F. Fronteau, the learned Genevevan Regular Canon, and prefixed to his works. The Bollandists have inserted the same in their great work with remarks. Fabricius also published it among the Opuscula of F. Fronteau at Hamburgh in 1720, reprinted at Verona in 1733. See also Ceillier, t. 21, p. 423, and Hist. Littér. de la France, t. 10 and 11.  2
Note 1. Rich. a S. Victore, in Benjamin Major, l. 4, c. 6. [back]
Note 2. Gourdan, Vies et Maximes des Hommes Illustres, qui ont fleurii dans l’Abbaye de S. Victor a Paris. MSS. in 7 vols. folio, t. 1, p. 156 to 480. [back]
Note 3. Gourdan, &c. p. 818. [back]
Note 4. Yvo Carnot. ep. 20. [back]
Note 5. Ep. 23. [back]
Note 6. Ep. 144. [back]
Note 7. The most famous work of St. Yvo is his Decree, drawn from decretal letters of popes, canons of councils, and rules and maxims laid down by the fathers, divided into seventeen parts. Several in the beginning of that century had begun to make such compilations. One made at that time by Godon, abbot of Bonneval in the diocess of Chartres, and another soon after by the monks of Tron, which was the model of Gratian’s famous Decree, are found in MSS. in the king’s library at Paris. (Hist. Littér, t. 7, p. 150.) The Collection of Decrees compiled in the eighth century by an unknown Isidorus, surnamed Mercator, the source of the false Decretals, was made without order or method. That of Burchard, the pious bishop of Worms, who died in 1026, is very ample and methodical. St. Yvo’s is no more than this work with some few additions. It became immediately of great authority in the schools, and in ecclesiastical courts. The Decree of Gratian, compiled by a Benedictin monk of that name at Bologna in Italy in the twelfth century, is more ample, and is placed in the body of the Canon Law, though the passages have no authority from this collection, but only that of the popes or councils by which they were framed. The best edition of St. Yvo’s Decree is that given us by Fronteau.
  St. Yvo’s Panormia Juris, is an abridgment of these decrees, which the author seems to have compiled before the aforesaid larger work. It is divided into eight parts.
  His Letters, two hundred and eighty-eight in number, illustrate several points of history and discipline. His twenty-four sermons which have reached us, show him to have been an excellent director in the paths of an interior life: of which the two in which he gives us a solid and pious exposition of the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed, are alone a sufficient proof. These compose the accurate edition of his works given at Paris in 1647, by F. Fronteau, to whom the royal abbey of St. Genevieve is indebted for the first foundation of an excellent library of which it is possessed, and who died in 1662.
  Henry Wharton (in Auctario ad Usserium de Scripturis sacrisque vernaculis, p. 359,) proves from the testimony of a MS. copy of the Micrologus, written in or near his own time, that Yvo of Chartres was the author of this famous work. In the printed copies we have only sixty-two chapters on the ceremonies of the Mass and the festivals of the year. In this MS. are found seventy-one chapters, in the eight first of which the canonical hours of the Breviary are explained. See the book, t. 18, Bibl. Patr. p. 471. Alcuin, who died at St. Martin’s at Tours, in 804; Walafridus Strabo, monk of Fulde, afterwards dean of St. Gall’s, and lastly abbot of Richenow, near Constance, where he died in 849; and Amalarius, deacon of Metz, afterwards abbot, who died about the year 850, had treated the same subject; but no one seems to have given more solidly, in general, the mystical explications of the sacred ceremonies than the author of the Micrologus. To steer between the opposite extremes of those who seek a mystical meaning in every circumstance in all sacred rites, and those who with Claude de Vert have too little regard to it, our best guides are Gourdan on the Mysteries and Festivals, Le Brun on the Liturgies, Benedict XIV. on the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Catechism of Montpellier, and Lewis Assemani. [back]
Note 8. Ep. 183. [back]