Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Paschasius Radbert, Abbot and Confessor

Saint Paschasius RadbertusArticle

Radbert, pronounced Rabert, was born in the territory of Soissons. The death of his mother having left him an orphan in his infancy, the nuns of our Lady’s at Soissons, took care of his education, which they committed to the monks of Saint Peter’s, in the same town. Having made some progress in his studies and in piety, he received the clerical tonsure; but soon after returned into the world, and led some years a secular life, till, powerfully touched by divine grace, he retired to the monastery of Corbie, and made his monastic profession under Saint Adalhard, the founder and first abbot of that house. This state he looked upon as the school of perfect virtue, and all its exercises as the means by which he was to attain to it: he therefore dreaded the least sloth or remissness in any of the regular observances of his vocation. By the fervour and exactitude with which he acquitted himself of them, he made his whole life in every action and every moment a continued holocaust to the divine glory and love. Having in his youth made a considerable progress in his studies, particularly by reading Terence and Cicero, in the monastery he applied himself, with wonderful success, to sacred studies. Saint Adalhard and Wala, his brother and successor in the abbacy, made him their companion in their journeys, and their counsellor in all affairs of importance. In 822, they took him with them into Saxony, when they finished the establishment of Corwei, or New Corbie, there. The Emperor, Lewis Debonnaire, employed him in several public affairs; and he discharged all these commissions with honour. In his own monastery he preached to the monks on Sundays and holidays, and gave every day public lectures on the sacred sciences. Under his direction the schools of Corbie became very famous. Amongst his scholars were Adalhard the Younger, (who governed the abbey in quality of vicar during the absence of Saint Adalhard the Elder,) Saint Anscharius, Hildeman, and Odo, successively bishops of Beauvais, and Warn, abbot of New Corbie, in Saxony. These occupations and studies never seemed to him a sufficient reason to exempt him from assisting at the public office in the choir, and all other general observances of the rule. In subscribing the council of Paris, in 846, he took only his own name, Radbert; but in the works which he composed after that time, he always prefixed to it that of Paschasius. This he took according to the custom which then prevailed among men of letters in France, for every one to adopt some Roman or scriptural name. Thus in his epitaph or panegyric on his abbot, Wala, he styles him Arsenius.

Saint Adalhard died in 826, and Wala, the second abbot, in 836. Isaac succeeded him, and upon his demise, in 844, Radbert was chosen the fourth abbot. The distractions of this station made him earnestly endeavour to resign his dignity: which however he could not effect till seven years after, in 851. Being restored to his liberty, he retired to the abbey of Saint Riquier to finish some of his works; but after some time he returned to Corbie. In all his writings he takes those of the fathers, in which he was extremely well versed, for his guide. His long commentary on Saint Matthew’s gospel, a learned and useful work, he began before he was chosen abbot, as appears from his dedication of the four first books to Gontland, a monk of Saint Riquier’s; but in the latter he speaks of himself as very old, so that Mabillon thinks he only finished his twelfth or last book about the year 858. The errors of Felix of Urgel and Claudius of Turin, those of Gothescalc, whom he had condemned with the prelates assembled at Quiercy, in 849, and especially those of John Scotus Erigena, against the mystery of the real presence of the body of Christ in the eucharist, are solidly confuted in this commentary. Radbert dedicated to Emma, abbess of our Lady’s at Soissons, about the year 856, his prolix commentary on the forty-fourth psalm. To stir himself up to compunction, he wrote an exposition of the Lamentations of Jeremy, which he applies both to the two destructions of Jerusalem, by Nabuchodonosor and Titus, and to the fall of a soul into sin. The mention he here makes of the sacking of Paris, shows that he wrote this book after the plunder of that city by the Normans, in 857. The most famous work of Radbert was his book, On the Sacrament of the Altar, or On the Body and Blood of Christ, which he dedicated to Warin, abbot of New Corbie; to which dignity he was only raised in 826. He mentions in it the banishment of Arsenius, that is, of the abbot Wala, which happened in 831, not of Saint Adalhard, as some mistake, who thence imagine that he first published this book in 818. Fifteen or twenty years after this first edition, the author, when he was abbot, consequently after the year 844, gave a second more ample than the former, and dedicated it to King Charles the Bald, who had desired to see it. During this interval, no one had raised any clamours about it. But some afterwards took offence at certain expressions, chiefly taken from Saint Ambrose, in which the author affirmed the body of Christ present in the eucharist to be the same flesh which was born of the Virgin Mary, and nailed to the cross, in terms so strong, that these writers imagined he taught it to be in the eucharist in the same mortal state in which he suffered, and that he understood this sacred mystery in the carnal sense of the Capharnaits. Radbert defends the manner in which he had expressed himself, in a letter to Frudegard, a monk of New Corbie. He wrote the life of Saint Adalhard soon after his death: also that of the abbot Wala, under the title of his epitaph, and the acts of the martyrs Rufinus and Valerius, who suffered in the territory of Soissons. The foregoing works of Saint Radbert were published in one volume by F. Sirmond, in 1618, and in the Library of the Fathers. His treatise to defend the perpetual virginity of Mary, in bringing forth the Son of God, was printed by the care of D’Achery. His book On Faith, Hope, and Charity, was first published by Dom. Bernard Pez, and soon after much more correctly by Dom. Martenne, who in the same place has favoured us with a much more correct and complete edition of Radbert’s book, On the Body and Blood of the Lord, than that of F. Sirmond, with a collection of various readings compiled by Dom. Sabbatier.

Saint Paschasius Radbert has given us several remarkable instances of his modesty and humility, styling himself frequently in his writings, The Outcast of the Monastic Order. He died at Corbie on the 26th of April, about the year 865. He was buried in Saint John’s chapel, but his body was translated into the great church, in 1073, by the authority of the holy see, under the pontificate of Gregory VII, the ceremony being performed by Wido, bishop of Amiens; from which time he is honoured at Corbie, and in the Gallican and Benedictin Martyrologies among the saints. In his last sickness, he laid so strict an injunction on all his disciples and brethren, forbidding any one to write his life, that his humility has robbed us of the edification which such a history would have afforded us. See his short life compiled by F. Sirmond, and prefixed to his edition of this holy man’s works.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Paschasius Radbert, Abbot and Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 7 August 2016. Web. 25 March 2018. <>