Passion of St Saturninus of Toulouse – now online in English

In the early 5th century an unknown writer edited an account from ca. 300 of the death of Bishop Saturninus of Toulouse.  He added a preface, and a conclusion recording the moving of the saint’s remains; but the main core of the account remained the same.  It is an interesting, and historical, insight into how Christians might still be lynched at this period.

Andrew Eastbourne has kindly translated this text for us.  The result is public domain; use it for any purpose, personal, educational or commercial.

HTML version:

PDF and Word format:

I need to write an intro, giving details of why the text is mainly authentic and historical, as too few of the hagiographical texts are.  But that will probably be later!


10 thoughts on “Passion of St Saturninus of Toulouse – now online in English

  1. Fascinating stuff. Thanks for drawing that one to our attention. I get the impression from reading Gregory of Tours that most of the Gallic countryside was still pagan as late as the sixth century, and that Christianity was largely confined to the big cities. All the same, it is interesting that pagans thought that they could get away with lynching as important a personage as a bishop, even at this relatively early period. Garrotting the occasional Christian missionary and hiding the body is one thing, but killing a bishop risked bringing down imperial retribution on your district. I would have thought the last thing any Gallic peasant, Christian or pagan, would have wanted to do was to give imperial troops a pretext for quartering themselves in the vicinity.

    Or perhaps the Gauls were just temperamentally lawless. Gaul was, after all, the cradle of the Bacaudae uprisings against Roman authority.

  2. Ah, but remember this was before Christianity was legalised, and during the Decian persecution of 250 AD. What makes it different to other martyr acts is that it doesn’t involve official action.

    I’ve added a preface to the HTML version, btw.

  3. Well, there are plenty of other martyr stories that aren’t about official oppression, but they usually don’t get full “Acts”, it’s true.

    St. Tarcisius was a boy given the task of carrying the Eucharist to the sick, in the disorganized times after Pope St. Sixtus, St. Lawrence et al got executed. He got mobbed in Rome by boy bullies who beat, stoned, and kicked him to death for not showing them what he was carrying. But all we have about him is Pope St. Damasus’ poem and some tomb/remains info, and the martyrologies.

    Then again, there’s not much in the way of records for mob martyrdoms, and if mobs felt like they could kill Christians with impunity, Christians were probably having trouble keeping full records also.

  4. Interesting. There must have been other outbreaks of mob violence, I agree. I know so little about martyrologies. Am looking at Musurillo’s Acts of the Christian Martyrs at the moment, tho.

  5. Ouch! I beg your pardon. For some reason I was under the impression that Saturninus was martyred shortly after Constantine’s conversion. If he was a victim of Decius, as you say, that makes all the difference. No problem in murdering ‘atheists’ before 312.

    I have been reading Ramsay MacMullen’s ‘Christianizing the Roman Empire’ recently; an excellent book which I thoroughly recommend to you if you have not come across it. He is fascinating on the way zealous bishops provoked violent pagan responses (we are now talking about the fifth and sixth centuries) in order to elicit the despatch of an imperial punitive expedition against the pagans. MacMullen makes the point that Christian extremists destroyed more of the built fabric of the Roman Empire than the barbarian invaders ever did. I hate to say this, and it is a topic that deserves to be considered more fully elsewhere, but the intolerance of the Church Triumphant of this period has quite a few parallels with modern Islamic extremism.

    Beam me up, Scotty, I think I’m in trouble down here …

  6. I think that MacMullen is a Christian-hater; at least, that is the reputation that has reached me. So his book is liable to be somewhat misleading.

    I believe that the church went badly wrong after being legalised by Constantine. The latter loaded it with privileges. The key to all this, perhaps, is a point made by A.H.M. Jones. The late Roman state laid very heavy burdens on its people. To escape then, there were only two choices; to join the aristocracy, which was hard; or to join the clergy, which was easy. Within a generation we find “clergymen” doing things that most of us would find unacceptable (e.g. the synod of the oak). We find “congregations” deliberately electing rich men, regardless of their piety, because of the custom that the rich in that situation had to give all their possessions to ‘the poor’; and we find a case where one rich man fought against the election, and then the matter was silently abandoned … when he had lost his money. We have Cyril of Alexandria’s letter 91, a list of bribes handed out in Constantinople to get himself released and Nestorius condemned.

    We must also remember that the late Roman state permitted no political activity or dissent. But it DID permit ecclesiastical dissent, up to a point. In consequence everyone sought to be a bishop, to anathematise their enemies, and so forth. A situation develops not unlike modern political correctness, where ideas are manufactured and exploited for political advantage, pushed as far as they can in the teeth of opposition, simply in order to gain prestige.

    One of the Syriac chronicles describes how a Melkite patriarch was appointed to Alexandria. These were expected to use the soldiers to harass the Monophysites, and the state power to reward the Melkite faction. Instead he did neither. He tried to bring about reconciliation. His reward? Both sides scoffed at him as “soft”.

    We’re not dealing with anything that I recognise as the church of God any more. Doubtless it contained a great many people who knew God. But it contained, without doubt, people who did not. The salt had lost its savour, and in so doing doomed the Byzantine state.

    I hope that helps.

  7. Dear Roger,

    Thanks for that long and interesting response.

    You may well be right in saying that MacMullen hates Christians, but I must say that I have found little evidence in the book that he lets his personal feelings distort his scholarly judgements. His statements are rigorously sourced, and as far as I can judge he interprets the evidence fairly.

    Indeed, one of the fascinating aspects of the book is that he adduces evidence that is not commonly cited. I was not aware, for example, that the use of the chi-ro symbol on military shields was tolerated by pagan emperors like Julian the Apostate, despite its Christian significance; or that Julian’s four most trusted military commanders were all Christians (these were the people who elected the Christian Jovian emperor after Julian was killed in his Persian campaign).

    I would prefer to say that MacMullen hates fundamentalism, and has little time for the corrupt bishops who hung around the courts of the Christian emperors like bees round a honeypot. Indeed, I think he would endorse much of what you have just said yourself. In one sentence (yes, just the one, alas), he shows human sympathy for the Christian martyrs, referring to ‘that dreadful amphitheatre’ at Carthage. This was the occasion on which Christians about to be executed gestured to the pagans baying for their blood: ‘You, us; God, you!’

    My own interest in the Nestorian and Jacobite Churches has taught me to distinguish firmly between the ambitious place-seekers (Mar Aba excepted, of course!) who ran their Churches as profit-making enterprises, and the many humbler Christians who knew God. I fear it has always been thus. But that’s part of the fascination of the history of the Christian Church. Sensitivity to the many different, and often contradictory, patterns of behaviour that coexisted at any period is one of the things which makes the study of ecclesiastical history so rewarding, at least for myself.

  8. I have not seen MacMullen, but I have played before. The problem is the old “selection, omission, misrepresentation” problem. To evaluate an author one needs to know the entire database first hand, and then see how he deals with it.

    Those are certainly some interesting points; may I ask what the reference is for the Chi-Rho in Julian’s time? Mind you … it’s worth remembering that Julian only ruled for 18 months in its entirety; almost a blink of an eye. The soldiers could not have been reissued with new equipment, and the symbol was perhaps strongly associated with Constantine and his victories and dynasty. The empire was largely Christianised (I do not say Christian) by this point, and his power depended on the goodwill of the army. I doubt that it was in Julian’s power to purge it. What he did to the civilian population, of course, did not matter to the troops. To some extent, I understand, Constantine had the same problem in reverse: his power rested on the western soldiery, and his policies towards the pagans were much more tentative in the west than in the east, which he had conquered.

    We fundamentalists tend to be familiar with such hatred (for I am quite sure that MacMullen would mean me with such a term). Agree entirely about worthless ‘bishops’. We have enough of them in the Church of England, being appointed at the moment by the state as fast as it can.

    I agree entirely with your last remarks. We look for those following Christ in every era. We do not find them all that often in charge of the institution.

  9. I have lent MacMullen’s book out to a Christian friend of mine who is interested in Constantine and all his works, so I can’t immediately give you a reference for Julian.

    I remember that MacMullen mentions that the coins of the pagan pretender Flavius Magnus Magnentius (c.350) show the chi-rho symbol, and there is indeed an illustration of one such coin in the Wikipedia article on Magnentius. MacMullen suggested that the original Christian significance of the symbol became diluted over time, so that by Maxentius’s time could be used indifferently by both pagans and Christians. As you yourself suggest, many Romans may have associated the chi-rho motif with the martial victories of Constantine, not with Christ.

    The Wikipedia article claims that Magnentius tolerated both pagans and Christians. I have not checked up on its sources, so I cannot say whether this is true or not.

  10. Many thanks for these details. The policy of Magnentius would perhaps indicate how strong the “Christian” presence was in the army after nearly half a century.

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