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

December 16

St. Ado, Archbishop of Vienne, Confessor

        From his life collected by Mabillon, t. 6. Act. Ben. p. 281. See Ceillier, t. 19, p. 247.

A.D. 875.

ADO was born in the diocess of Sens, towards Gatinois, about the year 800, and was of one of the richest and most noble families of that country. It was the principal care of his religious parents to seek tutors, masters, and companions who should concur together by their maxims, example, interior spirit, and prudent and earnest instructions to form the morals of their son, and inspire into his soul the most tender and perfect sentiments of Christian piety. All this they happily found in the monastery of Ferrieres in Gatinois, at that time famous for learning and discipline. The pregnancy of his wit, the solidity of his judgment, his assiduity at his studies, and, above all, his humble obedience and docility, and his sincere piety, gained him the esteem and affections of the abbot Sigulph, and all his masters; and engaged them to redouble their care and attention in lending him every assistance to adorn his mind with all useful science, and to form the most perfect Christian spirit in his heart. Their pains were abundantly recompensed by the great progress which he made. Many great and powerful friends sought, by soothing flatteries, and by setting before him the lure of worldly honours and pleasures, to engage him in the career which his birth and abilities opened to him. But the pious young nobleman was not to be imposed upon by specious words or glosses. He saw clearly the dangers which attended such a course, and the cheat of that false blaze of shadowy greatness which seemed to surround it; and, dreading lest in such a state any thing could cause a division in his heart, or slacken his ardour in the entire consecration of himself to the divine service, he took the religious habit in that house, resolving never to serve any other master but God alone.
  The saint was yet young when Marcvard, abbot of Prom, who had formerly been himself a monk of Ferrieres, begged of the abbot of Ferrieres as the greatest of favours that Ado might teach the sacred sciences in his monastery. The request could not be refused. Ado so taught as to endeavour to make his hearers truly sensible that if studies, even of morality and religion, entirely terminate in a barren knowledge of those truths, without acquiring the interior habits, sentiments, and dispositions which they inculcate, though they may sometimes be serviceable to others, they are not only useless, but pernicious to those who are possessed of them. Science, without advancing at the same time in humility and virtue, serves only to heighten vanity, and to swell and puff up the mind. For men who study only to furnish themselves with materials to shine in conversation, and to fill their heads with a set of notions which never sink deep into or influence the heart, fall into an overweening conceit of themselves, and are as much under the bias of pride as worldly libertines are enslaved to an inordinate love of riches, honour, or pleasures. Our saint, therefore, instructed his scholars how to form rules for the conduct of their lives, to examine into themselves, to subdue their passions, and, by conversing continually in heaven, to put on a heavenly spirit. Thus he laboured to make all that were under his care truly servants of God; and it pleased God to suffer him to fall under grievous trials, that by them he might complete the work of his own sanctification, and the entire sacrifice of his heart. After the death of Marcvard, he was, through envy and jealousy, expelled the house, treated with great contempt, and oppressed by outrageous slanders. Ado took this opportunity to visit the tombs of the apostles at Rome, and stayed five years in that city. From thence he removed to Ravenna, where he found an old Martyrology, of which he took a copy, which he improved by many additions and corrections, and published about the year 858. 1 He also compiled a chronicle, and wrote the lives of St. Desiderius and St. Chef. When he returned out of Italy, he made a halt at Lyons, and St. Remigius, archbishop of that see, detained him there, and, having obtained leave of the abbot of Ferrieres, gave him charge of the parish church of St. Romanus, near Vienne. The celebrated Lupus, who had been chosen abbot of Ferrieres, and who is well known by his hundred and thirty letters, and several little treatises, became his zealous advocate, and, the see of Vienne falling vacant, he was chosen archbishop, and consecrated in September, 860. The year following he received the pall from Pope Nicholas, with the decrees of a Roman council, the purport of which was to check certain disorders which had crept into several churches in France.  2
  Ado’s promotion made no change in his behaviour: he was still the same humble, modest, mortified man as when in a cloister, and endeavoured to inspire his flock with the like sentiments and dispositions. He was indefatigable in pressing the great truths of salvation. He usually began his sermons and exhortations with these or the like words: “Hear the eternal truth which speaks to you in the gospel;” or, “Hear Jesus Christ, who saith to you,” &c. It was a principal part of his care that all candidates for holy orders should be rigorously examined, and he would be present at these examinations. He regulated the public service of the church with much zeal and wisdom, and made strict inquiry into the conduct of all those who were called to serve in the ministry of the altar, not only with regard to their progress in sacred learning and the regularity of their manners, but also with regard to their spirit of devotion and assiduity in constant prayer. The saint laboured without intermission for the reformation of manners, and establishing good discipline among the people. He took great care that all that were ignorant of the principles of Christianity should be forbid to be sponsors at baptism, or to be joined in matrimony, or admitted to any of the sacraments till they were better instructed. By his vigilance no quarter was given to all those who indulged themselves in any vicious practice, in pleasures that enervate the soul, or in amusements and diversions which are dangerous to innocence. What enforced his instructions, and gave them weight and efficacy, was his example. His life was most austere; he was in everything severe to himself, and all the clergymen that were about him were enjoined to apprize him of the least slip in his behaviour. Though he was inflexible towards obstinate sinners, and employed every means to bring them to repentance, when he found them sincerely desirous to return to God, he received them with the greatest tenderness and indulgence, imitating the Good Shepherd, who came down from heaven to seek the lost sheep, and carried them back to the fold on his shoulders. By his care the poor were every where tenderly assisted with every corporal and spiritual comfort and succour they could stand in need of, and many hospitals were raised for their reception and entertainment at his expense. It was his earnest desire to see all Christians seriously engaged in the noble contest, which of them should best fulfil his obligations in their full extent, which are all reduced to those which tie him to his Creator; for on a man’s concern for them depends his regard for all others. Religion alone can make mankind good and happy; and those who act under its influence are steady in the disinterested pursuit of every virtue, and in the discharge of every duty, even towards the world, their families, and themselves. To sum up the whole character of this good prelate in two words, Ado knew all the obligations of his post, and discharged them with the utmost exactness and fidelity. He distinguished himself in many councils abroad, and held himself several councils at Vienne to maintain the purity of faith and manners; though only a fragment of that which he celebrated in 870 is extant. When King Lothaire sought pretexts to divorce his queen, Thietburge, our holy prelate obliged him to desist from that unjust project; and he had a great share in many public transactions, in which the interest of religion was concerned. For Pope Nicholas I., King Charles the Bald, and Lewis of Germany had the greatest regard for him, on account of his prudence and sanctity, and paid a great deference to his advice. In the hurry of employments his mind was as recollected as if his whole business lay within the compass of his own private concerns. The multiplicity of affairs never made him the less constant in prayer, or less rigorous in his mortifications. To read the lives of the saints, and to consider their edifying actions, in order to imbibe their spirit, and quicken his own soul in the practice of piety, was an exercise in which he always found singular comfort and delight, and a great help to devotion; and, like the industrious bee, which sucks honey from every flower, he endeavoured to learn from the life of every saint some new practice of virtue, and to treasure up in his mind some new maxim of an interior life. From thus employing his thoughts on the saints, studying to copy their virtues, and affectionately and devoutly honouring them in God, he happily passed to their glorious society, eternally to enjoy God with them, on the 16th of December, 875, having been bishop fifteen years, three months. He is honoured in the church of Vienne, and named in the Roman Martyrology on this day.  3
  This mortal life is a pilgrimage, full of labours, hardships, and perils, through an inhospitable desert, amidst numberless by-paths, and abounding with howling wild beasts. And the greatest danger frequently is the multitude of those who go astray before us. We follow their steps without giving ourselves leisure to think, and are thus led into some or other of these devious broad roads, which unawares draw all that are engaged in them headlong down the dreadful precipice into eternal flames. Amidst these, one only narrow path, which seems beset with briers and thorns, and is trodden by a small number of courageous souls, leads to happiness; and amongst those who enter upon it, many in every part fall out of it into some or other of the devious tracts and windings which terminate in destruction. Amidst these alarming dangers we have a sure guide: the light of divine revelation safely points out to us the strait way, and Christ bids us follow him, walk by his spirit, carefully tread in his steps, and keep always close to his direction. If ever we forsake his divine guidance, we lose and bewilder ourselves. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Many saints have followed this rule, and escaped all dangers, who seem to cry out to us: “this is the right way: walk you in it.” Can we have a greater comfort, encouragement, or assistance than to have them always before our eyes? The example of a God made man for us is the greatest model which we are bound continually to study in his divine life and precepts. Those who in all stations of the world have copied his holy maxims and conduct, sweetly invite us to this imitation of our divine original: every one of them cries out to us, with St. Paul: 2 Be ye followers of me as I also am of Christ. Their example, if always placed before our eyes, will withhold us from being hurried away by the torrent of the world, and its pernicious maxims, and the remembrance of their heroic conflicts, and the sight of the crowns they now enjoy, will be our comfort and support. What can give us greater joy in this valley of tears than to think often on the bliss which these glorious conquerors already possess, and on the means by which they attained to it? We ourselves press close after them, and even now are not far from the same glory; for we live on the borders of it. The longest life is very short: and every moment in it may, by the least unexpected incident, ingulf us suddenly in the abyss of eternity, and remove us into the society of these glorious saints. Can we desire this bliss, and not love, honour, and always bear them in mind?  4
Note 1. The best edition of Ado’s Martyrology was that of Rosweidus, before Monsignor Georgi, secretary to Benedict XIV. favoured us with a new one far more correct, and enriched with notes and useful dissertations. [back]
Note 2. Cor. xi. 1. [back]