29 December 2023

St Evroul, Abbot & Confessor

From Fr Alban Butler's Lives of the Saints

EVROUL, called in Latin Ebrulfus, was born at Bayeux, in 517, and was of the most illustrious family of that country. But he learned from his cradle to esteem nothing great but what is so in the eyes of God. The same sentiments he made the rule of his holy and disinterested conduct in the court of King Childebert I., who, being charmed with his accomplishments both of mind and body, raised him to several posts of honour and authority, which he never sought: for all his ambition aimed at goods infinitely surpassing those of the earth, for which he testified a total indifference, even whilst they flowed in upon him unasked. He showed by his example how possible it is for a Christian to live in the world without being of it in spirit, and to possess riches without being possessed by them. But then he made continual use of the antidotes which heaven has afforded us to fence our hearts against that contagious air, which are assiduous prayer, pious reading, meditation, and the mortification of the senses. His friends importuned him to marry, and he chose a virtuous wife, whose inclinations were perfectly suitable to his own. By reading the lives of the saints they mutually inflamed each other with a desire of forsaking the world. In this view they agreed to a separation, and she took the veil in a holy nunnery, whilst he distributed his whole fortune among the poor. It was, however, a considerable time before he was able to obtain the leave of King Clothaire I. (who, after the death of his brother Childebert, was become master of all France) to retire from court. At length, he procured it by reiterated importunities, and without delay took refuge in a monastery in the diocess of Bayeux. By his profound humility, fervour, and all heroic virtues, he gained the esteem and veneration of his fellow monks. But the respect which he met with was to him a true affliction: he regarded it as a snare, and a temptation to vanity. To shun it, he, with three others, privately withdrew, and hid himself in the most remote part of the forest of Ouche, in the diocess of Lisieux, which was only inhabited by wild beasts and robbers. These new hermits had taken no measures for provisions. They settled near a spring of clear water, made an inclosure with a hedge of boughs, and built themselves little huts of branches and mud. A country peasant discovered them in this place, to his great astonishment, and advertised them, that the wood was a retreat of cruel thieves: “We are come hither,” said Evroul, “to bewail our sins; we place our confidence in the mercy of God, who by his providence feeds the birds of the air, and we fear no one.” The countryman brought them the next morning three loaves and some honey, and was so edified by their conversation, that he soon after joined them. One of the thieves happening to light upon them, saw there was no booty to be expected, and, out of humanity and compassion, endeavoured to persuade them that their lives would be in danger from others of his profession. Evroul represented to him, that having God for their protector, they stood in fear of no danger from men who could have no inducement to murder those who sought to hurt no man, and had no other occupation than to lead penitential lives, and to please God. He then powerfully exhorted him to change his life. The robber was converted upon the spot, and going to his companions, brought many of them, in the same dispositions with himself, to the saint, by whose advice they betook themselves to till the land, and labour in the country for an honest maintenance. Several of them chose to remain with these anchorets, in the practice of penance. They cultivated the land, but it was too barren to yield them sufficient nourishment, even in their most abstemious way of living. But the inhabitants of the country brought them in a little provision. Evroul accepted their alms, but whatever remained he gave immediately to other poor, reserving nothing for the next day. 1

The advantages and sweets of holy solitude, in uninterrupted contemplation, made him desire to live always an anchoret, without being burdened with the care of others. But fraternal charity overruled this inclination, for he could not remain indifferent to the salvation of his neighbours. He therefore received those who desired to live in penance under his direction, for whom he was obliged to build a monastery at Ouche in Normandy, which to this day bears his name. His community daily increasing, and many offering him lands, he built fifteen other monasteries of men or women, of which his own always remained the chief, and this he always governed himself. His affability charmed every one: he seemed to know no pleasure equal to that of serving his neighbour. He used to exhort all to labour, telling them, that they would gain their bread by their work, and heaven by serving God in it. His example sufficed to encourage others: by his indefatigable constancy in labour, his patience in adversity, his perfect resignation to the will of God in all things with equal joy, and his cheerfulness in the most severe practices of perpetual penance. He arrived at a great old age, though always sighing after the joys of eternity. His patience in his last sickness made him seem never sensible to pain. He lived forty-seven days without being able to take any thing, except a little water, and the sacred body of Jesus Christ. He never ceased to exhort his disciples till he bid them adieu with joy, shutting his eyes to this world on the 29th of December, 596. His body was buried in the church of St. Peter, which he had built. His name occurs in Usuard, and in the Roman Martyrology on this day. See his exact life in. Mabillon, sæc. 1. Ben. p. 354. William of Gemblours, &c. also Bulteau, l. 2. c. 31. 2

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