Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume VII: July. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Philastrius, Bishop of Brescia, Confessor
WE know nothing of this saints country, only that he quitted it and the house and inheritance of his ancestors, like Abraham, the more perfectly to disengage himself from the ties of the world. He lived in perfect continency, and often passed whole nights in meditating on the holy scriptures. Being ordained priest he travelled through many provinces to oppose the infidels and heretics, especially the Arians, whose fury was at that time formidable over the whole church. His zeal and lively faith gave him courage to rejoice with the apostles in suffering for the truth, and to bear in his body the marks of the stripes which he received by a severe scourging which he underwent for Jesus Christ. At Milan he vigorously opposed the endeavours of Auxentius, the impious Arian wolf, who laboured to destroy the flock of Christ there; and our saint was its strenuous guardian before St. Ambrose was made bishop of that city. He afterwards went to Brescia, and finding the inhabitants of that place savage and barbarous, almost entirely ignorant in spiritual things, yet desirous to learn, he took much pains to instruct them, and had the comfort to see his labours crowned with incredible success. He rooted out the tares of many errors, and cultivated this wild soil with such assiduity that it became fruitful in good works. Being chosen the seventh bishop of this see, he exerted himself in the discharge of all his pastoral functions with such vigour as even to outdo himself; and the authority of his high dignity added the greater weight to his endeavours. He was not equal in learning to the Ambroses and Austins of that age; but what was wanting in that respect was abundantly made up by the example of his life, his spirit of perfect humility and piety, and his unwearied application to every pastoral duty; and he is an instance of what eminent service and moderate abilities may be capable of in the church, when they are joined with an heroic degree of virtue.
To caution his flock against the danger of errors in faith, he wrote his Catalogue of Heresies, in which he does not take that word in its strict sense and according to the theological definition; but sometimes puts in the number of heresies certain opinions which he rejects only as less probable, and which are problematically disputed; as that the witch of Endor evoked the very soul of Samuel.1 He every where breathes an ardent zeal for the Catholic faith. St. Gaudentius extols his profound humility, his meekness, and sweetness towards all men, which was such that it seemed natural to him to repay injuries only with kindness and favours, and he never discovered the least emotions of anger. By his charity and patience he gained the hearts of all men. In all he did he sought no interest but that of Jesus Christ; and sovereignly contemning all earthly things he pursued and valued only those that are eternal. Being most mortified and sparing in his diet and apparel, he seemed to know no other use of money than to employ it in relieving the poor; and he extended his liberality, not only to all that were reduced to beggary, but also to tradesmen and all others, whom he often generously enabled to carry on, or when expedient to enlarge their business. Though he communicated himself with surprising charity and goodness to all sorts of persons of every age, sex, and condition, he seemed always to receive the poor with particular affection. He trained up many pious and eminent disciples, among whom are named St. Gaudentius, and one Benevolus, who in his life was a true imitator of the apostles; and being afterwards preferred to an honourable post in the Emperor Valentinians court, chose rather to lay it down than to promulgate a rescript of the Empress Justina in favour of the Arians. St. Austin saw St. Philastrius at Milan with St. Ambrose in the year 384.2 He died soon after, and before St. Ambrose, his metropolitan, who after his death placed St. Gaudentius in the see of Brescia. This saint solemnized every year with his people the day on which his master, St. Philastrius, passed to glory, and always honoured it with a panegyric; but of these discourses only the fourteenth is extant. See the life or encomium of St. Philastrius by St. Gaudentius, published by Surius. Also the accurate history of the church of Brescia, entitled Pontificum Brixianorum series commentario historico illustrata, opera J. H. Gradonici. C. R. Brixie, 1755, t. 1.
Note 1. The best editions of St. Philastriuss book De Hæresibus, are those printed at Hamburg in 1721, by the care of Fabricius, who has illustrated it with notes; and that procured by Cardinal Quirini at Brescia in 1738, together with the works of St. Gaudentius. [back]