At this Season, in which the Office of the Time is leading us to consider the early developments of Holy Church, Eternal Wisdom so arranges, now as ever, that the Feasts of the Saints should complete the teachings of the movable Cycle. The Paraclete, who has but just down upon us, is to fill the whole earth; (Wisdom 1:7) the Man-God has sent Him expressly to win over the whole Earth and to secure all time to His Church. Now, it is by subjecting kingdoms to the faith that He is to form Christ’s Empire. It is by working so that the Church may assimilate all nations to herself that He gives growth and continuance to the Bride. See, therefore, how at this season in which He has but just taken possession of the world anew. His co-operators in this His work of conquest shine out on every side in the heavens of the holy Liturgy. But the West, more than all the rest, concurs in forming the magnificent constellation that is mingling its radiant splendor with the Pentecostal fires. Indeed, what could better show the Omnipotence of the Spirit of Christ than the establishment of this Latin Christendom in these distant lands of the West? Let us then fix our delighted gaze on those two incomparable luminaries, the Princes of the Apostles, directing their rapid course from the East, speeding on our horizon up to the glorious zenith which, in a month’s time, they will attain. Yesterday, John the Beloved Disciple shed on Gaul his last and long enduring rays. Some few days previously, it was a Pope Eleutherius or a Monk Augustine who with joint action, though parted by centuries, bore the light of salvation to the far West — to the home of the Britons and of the Anglo-Saxons. The day after tomorrow Boniface will shed his luminous beams on Germany.
But today what star is this rising in such silvery beauty on the land of the Franks? The city of Lyons, prepared by the blood of martyrs for this her second glory, saw this new light make growth in her midst. Across a distance of three centuries these rays are blended with those of Blandina. Like Blandina too, Clotilde is a mother; and the maternity of a slave, giving birth in her spotless virginity to Gaulish Martyrs, has already prepared the birth of the Franks to Christ. Clotilde had not, like Blandina, to shed her blood; but other pangs cruelly wrung her breast while she was yet so young, and served to mature her soul for the grand destinies reserved by God, for the privileged children of sorrow. The violent death of her father, Chilperic, dethroned by a fratricide usurper, the sight of her brothers massacred, and of her mother drowned in the Rhone, her long captivity in the Arian court of the murderer who brought heresy with him, to the throne of the Burgundians, developed in her the same heroism that had upheld Blandina in the amphitheater, amidst the anguish of her spiritual childbirth—a heroism that would make this niece of Gondebaud become likewise the mother of a whole nation, to Christ. Let us then unite these two names in one common homage and, prostrate at the Feet of the Eternal Father from Whom descendeth all paternity on earth and in heaven, (Ephesians 3:15) let us adore these Ways of His, all filled with tenderness and love, in our regard.
God drew the visible universe out of nothingness, solely to manifest his goodness. So, in like manner, has He willed that man, coming out of His hands, without power as yet to recognize his Creator, should recognize, at least, a Mother’s tender love, the first sensible ray, as it were, of Infinite Love. Irresistible in this ray, sublime in its gentleness, exquisite in its purity, giving to the Mother a facility, belonging only to her, to complete in the soul of her child, the entire reproduction of the Divine Ideal that is to be impressed upon him. Now this she does by education. Today’s feast reveals how yet more sublime, more potent, more extensive, is maternity in the order of grace, than it is in that of nature. For when God, coming down amongst us, was pleased to take Flesh of a Daughter of Adam, maternity was raised in Her to the extreme limit that separates the endowments of a simple creature from the divine attributes. Thus rising above the heavens, maternity at the same time embraced the world, bringing all mankind together into close union, without distinction of nation or family, in the one filiation of that Virgin-Mother. The New Adam, the perfect model of our race and our first-born, (Matthew 1:25; Hebrews 1:6), willed to have us for His brethren in all fullness, brethren in Mary as in God. (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:11-12) The Mother of God was then proclaimed Mother of men on Calvary. From the summit of the Cross the Man-God replaced on the brow of Mary that diadem of Eve broken by the fall beside the fatal tree. Constituted sole Mother of the living by this noble investiture, (Genesis 3; John 19:26-27) our Lady entered once again into communication with the privileges of the Father, our Father who is in Heaven. Not only was she by nature like Him, Mother of His Son; but just as all paternity flows down here below from the Eternal Father, and borrows thence supereminent dignity; so too, all maternity was naught, from that moment, but an outflow of Mary’s, and that in the truest sense;—yea, a delegation of her love, and a communication of her august privilege whereby she brings forth men unto God, whose sons they are to be.
Good reason, therefore, have Christian Mothers to glory in their maternity, for in that does their greatness consist; their dignity has increased to a degree, through Mary, that nature could never have dreamed of. But at the same time, under the ægis of Mary, not less real is the Maternity of holy Virgins, not only God’s eyes, but often manifested to their own: the wife too, prepared by a special call from God, and by suffering, is sometimes like Clotilde, endowed with a fecundity of a spiritual order, a thousand times more prolific than that of earth. Happy the fruits of this supernatural Maternity, which under the favor of Mary is fraught with so much greatness! happy the nations on whom by divine munificence a Mother has been bestowed!
History tells how the founders of Empires have ever had the terrible prerogative of impressing upon nations the distinctive character, disastrous or beneficial, which, through length of ages, continues to be theirs. How often does not that want of counterpoise to the preponderance of power, make itself only too evident, in the impetus given rather to destroy than to build up! And wherefore? Because ancient Empires never had a Mother; for this noble title cannot be applied to those women who, under the name of heroines, have transmitted their names to posterity, merely inasmuch as they rivaled the ambition and pomp of conquerors. To Christian times was it reserved, to behold introduced into a people’s life, this element of Maternity, more salutary, more efficacious in its humble gentleness, than that which springs from the talents or vices, from the power or genius of their first princes.
Time was needed to subdue the savage instincts of the warriors of Clovis, and to fit his sword to the noble destiny that awaited it, in the hand of a Charlemagne, or of a St Louis. With good reason has it been said that the honor of this labor is due to the Bishop and the monks. But to be more accurate and to prove a deeper insight of the ways used by Divine Providence, it were well, perhaps, to pass less lightly over, the woman’s part, for such indeed there was, in the work of conversion and of education, which made the Frankish nation become the eldest son of the Church. Clotilde it was, who led the Franks to the Baptistery of Rheims, and presented to Remigius, the proud Sicambrian transformed, far less by the exhortations of the holy bishop, than by the force of prayer, the prayer of that strong woman elected by God to bear away this rich spoil, from the camp of hell. What manly energy, what devotedness to God, are displayed in every measure taken by this noble daughter of the Burgundians’ dethroned king. While held beneath the suspicious eye of the usurper, the murderer of her family, she awaits in the silence of prayer and in the exercise of charity, Heaven’s appointed hour. When, at last, the moment comes, taking counsel of none save the Holy Ghost and her own heart, how nobly does she dart forward to conquer unto Christ her betrothed, though yet a stranger to her, outdoing in valor, in this instance, all the warriors of her escort! Strength and beauty, were indeed her covering, (Proverbs 31) her adornment on her bridal day; and the heart of Clovis soon learned that the conquests reserved to his bride, far outstripped in importance, the booty he had hitherto seized by force of arms. Clotilde, on the other hand, found her work already prepared on the banks of the Seine. During fifty years Genevieve had been busy, defending Paris against the pagan hordes, and only awaiting the baptism of the king of the Franks, in order to open to him the city gates.
Still, when on that Christmas night, Clotilde gave birth to the eldest son of Holy Church in Mary’s name, the great work was far from being completed; this newborn people had yet, by the slow process of a laborious education to be fashioned into the most Christian nation. This chosen one of God and of Our Lady does not fall short of the maternal task. But still what anguish of heart to be endured, what tears yet to be shed over these sons of hers, whose violence, peculiar to the race, seems simply indomitable, and the very exuberance of whose rich nature yields them up to the fury of passions, urging them blindly on, to crimes the most atrocious! Her grandchildren inveigled from her side and caught in the perfidious trap laid for them by their faithless uncles, are massacred. Fratricidal wars carry devastation over the whole of that territory of ancient Gaul, purged by her from paganism and heresy. Finally, another pang, but one of a more glorious kind, seems given as a compensation for the bitterness of intestine strife. Her cherished daughter Clotilde the younger, dies worn out by ill usage endured for her faith, at the hand of her Arian husband. Surely all this must have shown clearly enough to the queen of the Franks, that if she was chosen by Heaven to be their mother, she was to have all the pangs, as well as the honor that title involves. Thus does Christ ever deal with his own, when they have earned his confidence. Clotilde well understood this: already a widow and deprived by death of the aid of Genevieve likewise, she had long ago retired to Tours, near to the sepulcher of the Thaumaturgus of the Gauls. There, in the secret of prayer and in the heroism of her childhood’s faith, did she continue, aided by St. Martin, the preparation of this new people for its mighty destinies.
An immense work was this, and one to which no single lifetime could suffice! But though Clotilde was not to witness the desired transformation accomplished, her life was not to close until she had pressed to her heart, at Tours, her illustrious daughter-in-law, Radegonde, and having by this last embrace invested her with her own sublime maternity, she sends her to Poitiers, there to continue, at the tomb of St. Hilary, this great work of intercession. Then when at length, Radegonde herself, having ended her task of suffering and love, must likewise quit this earth, Bathilde will presently come forward, consummating the work, in that remarkable seventh century, the period when “the Frank, at last ready for his mission, is betrothed to Holy Church, and dubbed a Knight of God.” (Hist. St. Léger, Introduction)
Clotilde, Radegonde, Bathilde, all three of them, Mothers of France, bear a striking resemblance to one another. All three are prepared, from the early dawn of life, to the devotedness their grand mission would require, by the like trials, captivity, slavery, and massacre or loss of their own relatives: all three, bring to the throne naught but a dauntless love of Christ, the King, and a desire of seeing Him rule the people; all three, set aside the queenly diadem as soon as may be, in order to be able, prostrate before God in retirement and penitence, to attain more surely the one object of their maternal and royal ambition. Heiresses of Abraham in very deed, they found in his faith (Romans 4:18; Hebrews 11:11) the fecundity which made them to be mothers of those countless multitudes which the soil, watered by their tears, produced for Heaven. Even in these weakened times of ours, there is still a goodly throng ever passing from the land of the Franks to their true home yonder, there to join the happy band of the combatants of better days. At the sight of this ever increasing group of sons joyously pressing round their thrones, the hearts of Clotilde, Radegonde, and Bathilde, overflowing with love, give utterance in one united cry, to this word of the Prophet: Who hath begotten thee? I was barren and brought not forth, led away, and captive: and who hath brought up these? I was destitute and alone: and these where were they? Then the Lord answering, saith: As I live, thou shalt be clothed with all these as with an ornament, and as a bride thou shalt put them about thee. For thy deserts, and thy desolate places, and the land of thy destruction shall now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants. The children of thy barrenness shall still say in thine ear: the place is too strait for me, make me more room to dwell in. And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and queens thy nurses. And thou shalt know that I am the Lord, for they shall not be confounded that wait for him. (Isaias 49:18-23)
But it is time to listen to the Liturgical account of Saint Clotilde’s life.
Clotilde, daughter of king Chilperic, after the murder of her parents was brought up by her uncle Gondebaud, king of Burgundy, who gave her in marriage to Clovis still a pagan. Having brought forth her first-born son, she had him baptized, a thing rather tolerated by Clovis than consented to. The child to whom was given the name of Ingomer, chancing to die while still wearing the white robe of baptism, Clovis bitterly complained to Clotilde, attributing the death of his son to the vengeance of the gods of his fathers, irritated at this contempt offered to their divinity. But Clotilde said: “I give thanks to the Almighty Creator of all things, that he hath not judged me unworthy to give birth to a son whom he hath deigned to admit to share his kingdom.”
Having brought forth a second son, she wished that he likewise should be baptized, and the name of Clodomir was given to him. The child having fallen ill, the king declared that the fate of the brother was to befall this son also; but he was contrariwise, cured by his mother’s prayers. The queen continued to exhort her husband to reject idolatry and to adore the One God in three Persons; Clovis, however, persisted in the superstitions of the Franks, until at length, being on an expedition against the Alamani, and one day seeing his army waver, he remembered the counsels of Clotilde, and implored the help of Christ, who thereupon granted him victory. Clotilde filled with joy came to meet him, as far as Rheims, having learned how all had happened. Saint Remigius, at her request, instructed Clovis in the faith, and baptized him, anointing him likewise with the sacred chrism.
After the death of Clovis, Clotilde settled herself at Tours, where she passed the rest of her life at the tomb of Saint Martin, giving herself up to watching, alms, and other works of piety, exercising her munificence upon churches and monasteries. Clodomir having been killed in the war of Burgundy, she brought up her grandchildren herself, namely Theobald, Gontaire, and Clodoald. At last, full of days, she gave up her soul to God, at Tours, and her body was transferred to Paris, escorted by choirs chanting Psalms. Her sons, the kings Childebert and Clotaire, buried her beside Clovis, in the sanctuary of the Basilica of St. Peter, since called by the name of St. Genevieve.
The glory of miracles illustrating the tomb of this holy queen, at an early date her body was taken up to be honored, and was placed in a shrine. Whenever the city of Paris suffered any calamity, was the custom in ancient times, to carry the body in procession, with every demonstration of piety. At the end of the eighteenth Century, the impious having seized upon the government, the relics of saints being likewise profaned all over France, by sacrilegious fury, the bones, nevertheless, of this blessed queen, thanks to the admirable providence of God, were secreted by some pious persons. Peace being, later on, restored to the Church, the holy relics were placed in a new shrine, and deposited in the Church of Saints Leu-Saint Gilles Church of Saints Leu-et-Gilles at Paris, where they are honored with fervent worship.
Great is thy glory on earth and in heaven, O Clotilde, Mother of nations! Not only hast thou given to Holy Church that people of France, surnamed the most Christian; but our own England and Spain also, claim their descent from thee (in the pedigree of Faith, that is) by Bertha and Ingonda, thy noble granddaughters. Ingonda, more fortunate than thy daughter Clotilde, succeeded, by the help of Saint Leander of Seville, in bringing back to the true faith, her husband Hermenegilde, and even leading him to the crown of martyrdom. Bertha, queen of our own fair Kent, welcomed Augustine to our Saxon shores and, through her influence, was our royal Ethelbert brought from the darkness of paganism, even unto baptism and the aureola of sanctity: realizing thus that word of the Apostle, that the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife. (1 Corinthians 7:14) Since those early days, in how many other parts of Europe, and on how many other more distant shores, have not the sons of thine own nation, that nation of which thou wast mother, propagated that light of faith which they received of thee: whether brandishing the sword in defense of the right which belongs to holy Church, the bride of the Man-God, to teach freely and everywhere, the Word of Truth; or whether, becoming themselves missioners and Apostles, carrying the same to infidel nations, far beyond reach of any possible protection, and at the expense of their sweat and of their blood? Happy thou, to be first in bringing forth unto Christ, the King, a nation pure from every stain of heresy and vowed to holy Church from the first moment of her new birth! Rightly indeed the Church of Sainte-Marie at Rheims, was the one selected on that Christmas Day of the year 496, for this birth unto God of the Frankish nation; wherein Our Lady in a proportionate manner, gave thee to share her own Motherhood of our race.
There especially lies our motive of confidence in recurring to thee, O Clotilde, in our intercessory prayer this day. Alas! how many of thy sons are far from being what they should be, having such a Mother as thou! But when Our Lady gave thee a share in her own maternal rights, she necessarily, at the same moment, communicated to thee also her own tender compassion, for beguiled children deaf to their Mother’s voice. Take pity on these unfortunate sons, led so very far astray, by strange doctrines. (Hebrews 8:9).
The Christian Monarchy founded by thee is no more. Thou didst build it upon the recognized rights of God in his Christ and in the Vicar of his Christ. Princes with short-sighted views of self-interest, traitors to the mission they had received to maintain thy work, imagined they were performing marvels, when they allowed maxims to be spread in thy France, proclaiming the independence of civil power in respect of that of Holy Church; and now by a just retribution, society has proclaimed its independence in respect of Princes! But at the same time, the infatuated populace has really no other idea but that of being its own sovereign, and intoxicated by this false liberty which it dreams to have acquired, it goes so far as to contemn even the supreme dominion of the Creator himself. The rights of man have usurped the rights of God, as the basis of social compact, a new-fangled gospel, that France, now in misled proselytism, is fain to carry over the whole world in place of the true Gospel so loved of yore!
In that unhappy country poisoned by a lying philosophy, such is the excess of delirium, that many who deplore the apostasy of the mass of the population, and wish to remain themselves Christians, imagine they can do so, while at the same time, maintaining the destructive principle of Liberalism, the very essence of revolution. Let Christ have Heaven and Souls, say they, but let man have earth, together with full right of governing it as he thinks best or as suits him best. While they fall on their adoring knees before the Divinity of our Lord Jesus, in the sanctuary of their own conscience, they search the Scriptures and are too blind to see there expressed, how the Man-God is and must be King of the whole earth. In learned theses, they inform us that they have probed the very depths of history, and find therein nothing that can contradict their arguments. If indeed they must admit that the government of a Clovis or a Charlemagne, or a Saint Louis, do not correspond in everything to their political axioms, we must, they say, make allowances for those primitive ages: a nation cannot be expected to come in a day, to the perfect age attained at last by the law of progress! Alas! have pity, O dear Mother of France, on the ravings of these poor sons of thine! Arouse once more, in that noble land, the faith of the Franks! Oh! may the god of Clotilde, the Lord of hosts, the King of nations, show himself once more, leading on thy sons to victory, in the name that won for Clovis the field of Tolbiac: JESUS CHRIST!
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)