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

October 31

St. Wolfgang, Bishop of Ratisbon

RADERUS derives this saint’s pedigree from the most illustrious families of Suabia; but the ancient author of his life published by Mabillon assures us, that his parents were of a middle condition in the world. He was a native of Suabia, and at seven years of age was put into the hands of a neighbouring virtuous ecclesiastic; but some time after removed to the abbey of Richenaw (in Latin Augia), founded by Charles Martel in 724, near Constance, united in 1536 to the bishopric of Constance. This monastery was at that time a most flourishing school of learning or piety, which furnished many churches with eminent pastors. In this house our saint contracted an intimacy with a young nobleman called Henry, brother to Poppo, bishop of Wurtzburg, who had set up a great school in that city, and engaged an Italian professor, called Stephen, to leave his own country to give lectures there. It was Wolfgang’s earnest desire never to know any other employment but that of Mary, and to spend his life in the contemplation and praises of his Creator; but Henry, who was charmed with his virtue and other great qualifications, could not bear to be separated from him, and prevailed upon him to bear him company to this new school at Wurtzburg. Once when a difficult passage in an author raised a contest among the scholars about the sense, Wolfgang explained it with so much perspicuity and evidence, that in all perplexing difficulties the rest had recourse to him, rather than to the master. This raised in him a jealousy against the saint, and made him many ways persecute him. Wolfgang, by silence, patience, and meekness, made his advantage of all the contradictions and humiliations he met with, thinking no happiness greater than the means and opportunities of subduing his passions, and gaining a complete victory over himself; but observing how easily petty jealousies, envy, resentments, vanity, and other dangerous passions prevailed among both masters and scholars, he lamented to see those who professed themselves lovers of wisdom, so much strangers to it, and more addicted to the meanest and most ungenerous passions of the human mind than the most ignorant and boorish among the common people; so that, perverting their very studies and science, they made them the means, not of virtue, but of sin, and the nourishment of their most dangerous passions, for want of studying to know and perfectly vanquish themselves, without which even the best food of the mind is converted into the worst poison. What can poor scholars do in such a school, but contract from their tender years the contagious spirit of the masters by their example and conversation? The misfortune of others (which was the more grievous by the usual blindness that attended it), and the sight of his danger of falling insensibly into the same, served the more to alarm the saint; who was therefore more watchful, and kept the stricter guard over all the motions of his own heart; and whilst, by tender charity, he studied to be blind to the faults of others, he judged and condemned himself the more severely. In the apprehension of his own weakness, he was desirous of finding a holy monastery of mortified religious men, sincerely dead to the world and themselves, whose example might be a spur to him in the necessary duty of dying to himself without dangerous temptations or trials. But such a society is not to be found in this life; it is even necessary that our patience, meekness, and humility be exercised by others here, that they may be made perfect. Nor is there any company of saints in which trials fail. This is the very condition of our hire in the divine service, and of our apprenticeship to heaven. We can never be like the angels and saints; we can never bear the image of God, unless by humility, patience, and meekness, we learn perfectly to die to ourselves; nor are these virtues to be learned, or the spirit of Christ to be put on, but by bearing well contradictions. Henry perceived this inclination of Wolfgang for a monastic life, and engaged him to serve his neighbour; and being himself chosen archbishop of Triers in 956, he pressed the saint to accompany him thither.  1
  Wolfgang could not be prevailed upon to take upon him any other charge than that of a school for children; and afterwards that of a community of ecclesiastics, with the title of dean; in both which posts he succeeded to a miracle, and to the edification of the whole country, in planting the spirit of Christ in those that were committed to his care. Upon the death of the Archbishop of Triers he made some stay with Bruno, archbishop of Cologne, but could not be prevailed on to accept of any bishopric, and retired soon after to the monastery of Enfilden, governed at that time by George, an Englishman, who had left his own country to serve God in silence and mortification. The abbot soon found the reputation of Wolfgang to be inferior to his merit, and appointed him director of the school of the monastery, which, under his care, became the most flourishing in the whole country. St. Ulric, bishop of Ausburg, in whose diocess this abbey stood, ordained St. Wolfgang priest, in spite of all the opposition his humility could form. With his ordination the holy man received an apostolical spirit, and having obtained his abbot’s leave, in 972, went with a select number of monks to preach the faith to the Hungarians. The success of this undertaking seemed not sufficiently to correspond to his zeal; but the Bishop of Passaw detained him some time, and, by a private message recommended him to the Emperor Otho II., as a person of all others the best qualified to fill the see of Ratisbon, which was then vacant. To put a cheat upon the saint’s humility, the emperor ordered him to repair to Ratisbon, as if it had been for some other affairs. When he arrived there, the Archbishop of Saltzburg, and several bishops of the province were ready to receive him, and to see the election duly performed by the clergy and people. He was then put into safe hands, and conducted to the emperor at Frankfort, who gave him the investiture of the temporalities, though the saint entreated him on his knees to allow him to return to his monastery. Being sent back to Ratisbon he was consecrated and enthroned. He never quitted the monastic habit, and practised all the austerities of a religious life when in possession of the episcopal dignity. The first thing he did in it, after an excellent regulation of his own conduct and household, was to settle a thorough reformation among all his clergy, and in all the monasteries of his diocess, especially the nunneries of Obets Munster and Nider Munster; disorders in the sanctuary being of all others the most pernicious, and of the most fatal influence. He was indefatigable in preaching, and, being a man of prayer, possessed powerfully the art of touching the hearts of his hearers. Every other duty of his station he discharged with extraordinary vigilance and fidelity during twenty-two years’ administration. The poor had always the greatest share in his table and revenues, though in his profuse charities, he seemed to conceal from his own left hand what his right hand gave. The time which was not taken up in business, he consecrated entirely to the strictest silence and retirement; and he employed a considerable part of the nights in devout prayer. Not content with this, he sometimes retired into some remote cell for a time, and once lay a long time concealed in a wilderness, that by heavenly contemplation he might repair and nourish his own soul. Good part of Bohemia being part of his diocess, he found it too extensive, gave up a great part of his revenue to settle a bishopric in that country, and procured St. Adelbert to be placed in it. Henry, duke of Bavaria, held this good prelate in the highest veneration, and intrusted to him the education of his four children: these were, St. Henry, afterwards Emperor of Germany, Bruno, who died bishop of Ausburg, Gisela, queen of Hungary, and Brigit, who, renouncing the world, died abbess at Ratisbon. The virtue and eminent qualifications of all these princes and princesses made many say: “Find saints for masters, and you will have holy emperors.” We ought to pray that Christ send us such holy prelates, and we shall see the primitive splendour of the church restored. He was taken ill in a journey of charity, and died at Pupping, in Austria, on the 31st of October, 994. 1 His body was brought to Ratisbon, and deposited in St. Emmeran’s church. His name was enrolled among the saints by Leo IX. in 1052, upon the testimony of many miracles, and his relics enshrined by order of the same pope. See his life written by a disciple in Mabillon, Sæc. v. Ben. p. 812; Hundius, Hist. Eccl. Metrop. Salzburgens. Aventin. Ann. Boior; Raderus in Bavaria Sancta, t. 1, p. 94.  2
Note 1. We have of St. Wolfgang, a paraphrase on the Miserere, published by D. Pez in his Thesaur. Anecdot. Aug. Vindel. 1721, t. 2, p. 13, ad p. 20. In it the saint most pathetically deplores his sins: every word breathes compunction. [back]