Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume IX: September. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Aicard, or Achart, Abbot and Confessor
AUSCHAIR, the father of this saint, an eminent officer in the court and armies of King Clotaire II. and Ermina his mother were distinguished for their birth and riches among the prime nobility of Poitou. Erminas particular character was a tender devotion and extraordinary piety, and this treasure she desired above all things to see her son inherit in that perfection in which it is possessed by the saints. There flourished at Poitiers at that time two renowned seminaries of piety and learning; one was the episcopal palace, the other the monastery of St. Hilary in the suburbs of the city (now a collegiate church, whereof the kings of France are abbots.) In this latter Aicard had his education till he was sixteen years of age, when his father called him home in order to introduce him to court, and teach him to aspire to the highest military honours. The devout mother trembled at the thought of the dangers of forgetting God, to which she apprehended he would be exposed in that state, and earnestly desired, that, as their ambition for their sons advancement ought to have no other view than that he should become a saint; whatever choice was made, this end alone should be considered in it. To terminate the debate between the parents, the youth was called upon to declare his inclinations. These he expressed to his father with so much earnestness, and in so dutiful and respectful a manner, as drew tears from the aged parents eyes, and extorted his consent upon the spot, that seeing his son chose God alone for his portion, he should be at liberty to consecrate himself to the divine service in whatever manner he desired to consummate his sacrifice.
Aicard, without further delay, repaired to the abbey of St. Jouin in Poitou, near the borders of that province, a house then renowned for the severity of its discipline, and sanctity of its monks. From the first day that he entered this monastery, to the end of his life, he exerted all his endeavours and strength to become every day more resigned, more patient, more humble, more exact in every observance of his rule, and more fervent in the practices of devotion and penance, and in the divine love: thus he never suffered anything to abate his ardour, or to deaden the strong desires of his soul in the pursuit of virtue, studying always to discover whatever defects impaired the perfection of his affections or actions, severely condemning himself, and daily saying with fresh vigour: I have said behold now I have begun. One day being in the garden he seemed to hear a voice which repeated the seventh verse of the eighty-third psalm, that the just shall always go forward from virtue to virtue, growing continually in wisdom, till they arrive at the vision of God; and was wonderfully delighted with this motto and characteristic of true virtue. The saints parents, after his retreat, founded the abbey of St. Bennet at Quinzay, about three miles from Poitiers, and committed the same to the direction of St. Philibert,1 who, for fear of the tyranny of Ebroin, had been obliged to leave his monastery of Jumieges, which he had founded in Neuistria, or what is now called Normandy. This holy abbot peopled Quinzay with a colony from Jumieges, as he had done a little before another monastery which he founded in the isle of Hero, on the coasts of Poitou. St. Philibert constituted St. Aicard first abbot of Quinzay, but finding it impossible to return himself to Jumieges, which he looked upon as the principal among all the religious foundations he had ever established, he resigned that abbacy to St. Aicard, and remained himself at Quinzay. There were then at Jumieges nine hundred monks, among whom St. Aicard exceedingly promoted all the exercises of monastic perfection, and sacred studies among those whom he judged best qualified for them.2 He at first exhorted his religious brethren only by his example; and this manner of exhorting, dumb as it was, proved most effectual.
His assiduity in prayer, his modesty, his meekness, the austerity of his penance, and his scrupulous observance of every part of the rule, made every one extremely desirous to hear him speak whom they saw do so well. He soon satisfied their impatience, by giving them admirable lessons on all the duties of Christian perfection, especially on self-denial and the entire disengagement of the heart from the world and all creatures. His instructions were delivered in so tender and pathetic a manner, that every word made a deep impression on the hearts of all who heard him. It was the custom of his community for every monk to shave his crown on all Saturdays. St. Aicard having once been hindered on the Saturday, began to shave himself very early on the Sunday morning, before the divine office; but was touched with remorse in that action, and is said to have seen in a vision a devil picking up every hair which he had cut off at so undue a time, to produce against him at the divine tribunal.3 The holy man desisted, and passed the day with his head half shaved; and in that condition grievously accused and condemned himself in full chapter with abundance of tears. Those who truly consider the infinite sanctity of God, and the great purity of affections and fidelity in all duties which we owe to him, watch, like Job, with holy fear over their hearts in all they do, being well assured that no failures will escape the vigilance of their accusers, or the all-piercing eye and rigorous justice of their judge. St. Aicard, in his last moments, being laid on ashes and covered with sackcloth, said to the monks: My dear children, never forget the last advice, and, as it were, the testament of your most tender father. I conjure you in the name of our divine Saviour always to love one another, and never to suffer the least coldness towards any brother to take place for a moment in your breasts, by which perfect charity, which is the mark of the elect, may suffer any prejudice in your souls. In vain have you borne the yoke of penance, and are grown old in the exercise of religious duties, if you do not sincerely love one another. Without this, martyrdom itself cannot render you acceptable to God. Fraternal charity is the soul of a religious house. Having spoken these words, lifting up his hands and eyes towards heaven, he happily surrendered his soul into the hands of his Creator on the 15th of September, about the year of our Lord 687, in the sixty-third year of his age. A church was built at Jumieges in his honour. During the incursions of the Normans and Danes his relics were conveyed to Hapres, a priory between Cambray and Valenciennes, dependant on the great abbey of St. Vaast, and have since remained at the disposal of this monastery. See the life of St. Aicard in Surius and Baillet, 15 Sept. and another, older and more accurate, in Mabillon, Act. Bened. Sæc. 2, p. 954, &c. Also the commentaries and notes of Perier the Bollandist, t. 5, Sept. p. 80, and, on his translation, Baldericus, in his Chronicon Cameracense.