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

October 9

St. Dionysius, Bishop of Paris, and His Companions, Martyrs

        From St. Greg. of Tours, Hist. Fran. l. 1, c. 30. The acts of their martyrdom extant in Bosquet, Eccl. Gallic. Hist. t. 2, p. 68, 73, were compiled from oral relations about the seventh century, those which were written by Massus, bishop of Paris, under Constantius Chlorus, almost contemporary, not being then extant. See Rivet, Hist. Littér. t. 4, p. 38, t. 1, part 1, p. 305, part 2, p. 49. Tillemont, t. 4, p. 443. Dom. Felibien, Hist. de l’Abbaie de St. Denys, anno 1707, folio. Append. p. 162. Du Bois, Hist. Eccl. Paris, t. 1. Orsi, l. 7, n. 4, t. 3, p. 141.

A.D. 272.

THE FAITH is said by some to have been planted in part of Gaul by St. Luke, and especially by St. Crescens, a disciple of St. Paul. The churches of Marseilles, Lyons, and Vienne were indebted for the light of the gospel to Asiatic or Grecian preachers, though they had received their mission and orders from the apostolic see of Rome. For Pope Innocent I. positively affirms 1 that no one had established churches in the Gauls, or in Spain or Africa, but persons who had been ordained bishops by St. Peter and his successors. The history of the martyrs of Lyons and Vienne, in 177, 2 proves the nourishing state of those churches in the second century. St. Irenæus very much advanced the faith in Gaul, and left many eminent disciples behind him, though two of the most illustrious among them, Caius and St. Hippolytus, left Gaul, and displayed their abilities and zeal in Italy and other foreign countries. Nevertheless, the light of the gospel did not spread its beams so early upon the remoter parts of Gaul, as is expressly affirmed by St. Sulpicius Severus, 3 and in the Acts of St. Saturninus. St. Germanus of Paris and seven other French bishops, in a letter to St. Radegondes, 4 say, that the faith having been planted in Gaul, in the very birth of Christianity, made its progress slowly till the divine mercy sent thither St. Martin in 360. Numerous churches, however, were established before that time in most parts of that country, by seven bishops sent thither by the bishop of Rome to preach the gospel. 5
  Of all the Roman missionaries sent into Gaul, St. Dionysius carried the faith the furthest into the country, fixing his see at Paris, and by him and his disciples the sees of Chartres, Senlis, and Meaux were erected, 6 and shortly after, those of Cologne and others, which we find in a flourishing condition and governed by excellent pastors in the fourth century, witness St. Maternus of Cologne, &c. SS. Fuscian and Victoricus, Crispin and Crispinian, Rufinus and Valerius, Lucian of Beauvais, Quintin, Piaton, Regulus or Riticius of Senlis, and Marcellus are called disciples or fellow-labourers of St. Dionysius, and came from Rome to preach the name of Christ in Gaul. We are assured in the acts of the martyrdom of St. Dionysius that this zealous bishop built a church at Paris, and converted great numbers to the faith. A glorious martyrdom crowned his labours for the salvation of souls, and the exaltation of the name of Christ. He seems to have suffered in the persecution of Valerian in 272, though some moderns defer his death to the beginning of the reign of Maximian Herculeus, who resided chiefly in Gaul from the year 286 to 292. Ado calls the judge by whom he was condemned Fescenninus. The Acts of his Martyrdom, St. Gregory of Tours, Fortunatus, and the western Martyrologists inform us, that after a long and cruel imprisonment he was beheaded for the faith, together with Rusticus, a priest, and Eleutherius, a deacon. The Acts add, that the bodies of the martyrs were thrown into the river Seine, but taken up and honourably interred by a Christian lady named Catalla, not far from the place where they had been beheaded. The Christians soon after built a chapel over their tomb. In 469, through the pious exhortations of St. Geneviève, a church was raised upon the ruins of this chapel, which was a place of great devotion, much resorted to by pilgrims, as appears from the works of St. Gregory of Tours, in many places, by which it is clear that this church stood without the walls of the city, though very near them. By a donation of Clotaire II. it appears that here was then a religious community governed by an abbot. Dagobert, who died in 638, founded the great abbey in this place in which he was interred, and which has been for many ages the usual burial-place of the French kings. Pepin and his son Charlemagne were principal benefactors to this monastery, which was magnificently rebuilt by abbot Suger. The relics of SS. Dionysius, Rusticus, and Eleutherius are kept here in three silver shrines. 7 The miraculous cure of Pope Stephen II. in this church has been already related. 8 St. Dionysius of France is commonly called St. Denis, from the French Denys. A portion of his relics is said to be possessed by the abbey of St. Emmeran at Ratisbon. 9  2
  Those apostolic pastors who converted so many nations to Christ were men filled with his Spirit, who regarded nothing but his glory, and acted and lived for him alone. Christ on earth never entertained any regard but for the glory of his Father, to whom he offered himself and his kingdom. Whoever becomes his minister, must, in like manner, have no aim, no intention but to advance the divine honour: for this he must be dead to the world, and have bid adieu to it, that is, to all desires of honours, applause, pleasures, riches, or any earthly goods whatever. Such a one sees nothing in this world which he hopes or desires; nothing that he much fears; he seeks no composition with it while he is engaged in the cause of his master; no threats or apprehensions of terror from its persecution can damp his courage in defending the honour of God, or cool his zeal for the salvation of souls.  3
Note 1. Ep. ad Victr. Conc. t. 2. p. 1245. [back]
Note 2. See June 2. [back]
Note 3. Sulpic. Sev. l. 2, p. 381. [back]
Note 4. Ap. S. Greg. Turon. l. 9, c. 39. [back]
Note 5. Their names are St. Trophimus of Arles, St. Gatin of Tours, St. Paul of Narbonne, St. Saturninus of Toulouse, St. Dionysius of Paris, St. Austremonius of Clermont, and St. Martialis of Limoges. St. Gregory of Tours, (Hist. Fr. l. 1, c. 28, p. 22, ed. Ruin.) quoting the Acts of the Martyrdom of St. Saturninus, places the mission of all these preachers together in the consulate of Decius and Gratus, that is, in the year 250. Hence Tillemont, Baillet, and some other critics pretend the faith in Gaul was chiefly confined to the territory of Lyons and Vienne till the middle of the third century: in which they are certainly mistaken. For the Acts of St. Saturninus fix only the mission of St. Saturninus in the aforesaid year, and it is certain that several of the rest came into Gaul a considerable time before him. (See this demonstrated by F. Pagi, ad ann. 255, n. 6. Ruinart in Acta Sancti Saturnini. Dom Dionysius of Ste. Marthe, Gallia Christ. Nova, t. 1, p. 520, &c.) That Marcianus who favoured the error of Novatian was bishop of Arles in the reign of Decius, is evident from St. Cyprian, (ep. 67, Pam. 68, ed. Oxon.) who mentions his colleagues or fellow-bishops in Gaul, and that he had then sat many years at Arles. St. Regulus was bishop of Arles before him, as appears from the ancient list of the bishops of that see, and from the sixty-seventh letter of St. Cyprian to St. Stephen. St. Trophimus preceded them both in that see, and must have preached in Gaul before St. Pothinus was bishop of Lyons, seeing Pope Zosimus testifies of St. Trophimus, that “from the fountain of his preaching all the Gauls received the streams of faith.” (Zosimus. ep. ad episc. Gall. apud Baron. ad ann. 417. Coutan, in Epist. Pontif. Rom. De Marca, De Primat. p. 169.) Though some think the church of Lyons, founded by the Asiatics or Greeks, may perhaps be excepted from this number; but nothing proves that St. Pothinus received not his orders at Arles or Rome; which the positive testimonies of St. Innocent I. and Zosimus seem clearly to evince. Arles being the metropolis of the first Roman province in Gaul, and the seat of the prefect of all Gaul, and afterwards of the prefect of the prætorium, till Maximian Herculeus, Constantius Chlorus. Cæsar, and some others made Triers for some time the imperial seat in the West, it was natural to presume that the first bishop established in Gaul should fix his residence at Arles. That St. Paul made St. Crescens first bishop of Vienne is maintained by De Marca, (Ep. ad Henric. Vales. Eusebii ed. Vales. præfixa,) Natalis Alexander, (Hist. Sæc. 1, diss. 16,) and Michael Lequien, but denied by Du Bois, (Hist. Eccl. Paris, t. 1, p. 7,) and others; the testimony of St. Epiphanius, (Hær. 51,) upon which that assertion is built, being very ambiguous.
  The popular traditions of several churches in Gaul, which pretend they were founded by some of the apostles, or make their first bishops the immediate disciples of the apostles, are such that no stress can be laid on any of them, as Dionysius of Ste. Marthe, (Gallia Christian. Nova, t. 1, Præf. et p. 510,) Rivet, (Hist. Littér. t. 1, p. 304, &c.) and F. Longueval (Hist. de l’Eglise Gallic. t. 1, Diss. Prælim. Prop. 1 et 3,) confess. It cannot nevertheless be doubted but the faith had taken root in Gaul about the time of the apostles, seeing it was in a flourishing condition at Lyons in the second century, and had penetrated into Britain. and St. Irenæus urges against the heretics the tradition of the churches of Gaul. Germany, Egypt, and the East, all planted by the apostles. (l. 1, c. 10.) Tertullian says, that the faith flourished in the different nations of the Gauls, &c. (Tert. adv. Judæ, c. 7.) Dionysius of Ste. Marthe (Gallia Christian. Nova, t. 1,) demonstrates the same of that early period, though the churches there were not yet numerous, except about Arles, Marseilles, Lyons, and Vienne. Ado says St. Trophimus was made bishop of Arles by St. Paul. As St. Trophimus was bishop before the mission of St. Saturninus in 250, so it is not improbable that also some others of the five above-mentioned bishops came into Gaul before him, though the assertion of St. Gregory of Tours seems to show that several of them arrived together about that time. St. Gatian of Tours is expressly said to have been sent by St. Fabian, who sat from the year 236 to 250. That St. Dionysius of Paris, St. Saturninus, St. Austremonius, and St. Martialis were sent about the same time, and by the same pope, is what the testimony of St. Gregory of Tours confirms, and Tillemont and other judicious modern French historians look upon as certain. The peace which the church enjoyed under Philip was favourable to so numerous a mission. Some other missionaries were sent from Rome after these seven, as St. Peregrinus, first bishop of Auxerre, and St. Genulphus of Cahors, sent by St. Sixtus II. in 237, (ib. p. 108,) and probably several others, says Rivet. (Hist. Littér. t. 1, p. 309.) But the greatest part of the rest of the episcopal sees in Gaul were founded by the disciples of the first seven Roman missionaries. Thus Rivet doubts not but St. Julian of Mans and the first bishop of Angers were disciples of St. Gatian of Tours. [back]
Note 6. Gallia Christ. Nova, t. 1, p. 521. Rivet, t. 1, p. 308. [back]
Note 7. Montmartre or Mons Martyrum is a place anciently consecrated to the memory of these martyrs, who are said by some to have been there beheaded, and at first buried before their bodies were removed to the place where the abbey now stands; but it is the opinion of many judicious critics that the bodies of these martyrs were buried from the beginning upon the spot where the abbey was founded. (See Dom Felibien, Hist. de l’Abbaie de St. Denys, and Gallia Christ. Nova; Lebeuf, Diss. t. 2. p. 10.) Taillot, in his Recherches Critiques, Historiques, et Topographiques, an. 1772, 4to., on the first quarter, called The City, thinks this first chapel could not have stood where the abbey stands; for it cannot be imagined that St. Genevieve, a tender virgin, should so often frequent it by night had it been two leagues distant. He thinks this first chapel of St. Denis joined or was near the cathedral, according to the custom of those times. Whence the cathedral has always honoured him among its patrons. St. Genevieve persuaded the people to build a chapel under his invocation on the spot where the abbey was afterwards founded. This abbey being plundered by the Normans and destroyed, the citizens built a chapel under his name in the city, probably where the church of S. Denis de Chartre is situated. Some moderns pretend this to have been the place of his prison. But we are informed by St. Gregory of Tours, (l. 8, c. 33,) that the public prison of Paris was near the western gate; it was burnt down in 585, and transferred to the place near which this church stood: from which neighbourhood it was called S. Denis de Parisiaco Carcere, as was also the church of St. Symphorian’s in the same quarter, De Carcere. On this hill of Montmartre the idols of Mars and Mercury were worshipped before the conversion of the Gauls: whence it is called Mons Martis. [back]
Note 8. See Note on the life of St. Boniface, B. M. t. 6, p. 82. [back]
Note 9. The bull of Leo IX. produced at Ratisbon in favour of their pretended possession of the whole remains of St. Denis, of which Possinus disputes at large, is proved by Launoy and M. Valois to be counterfeit. [back]