Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Britius, Bishop of Tours

detail of a painting of Saint Brice, 1773, artist unknown; church of Saint-Médard, Boersch, Bas-Rhine, Alsace, France; photographed in 2014 by Ralph Hammann; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Saint Britius was, in his childhood, placed under the charge of the holy bishop Martin. Guided by so great a master, he made such rapid progress in virtue and learning, that Saint Martin hesitated not to ordain him priest. Britius at first displayed an eminent zeal in his sacred calling; but in the course of time he became neglectful of his duties and unrestrained in his conduct and conversation. Saint Martin omitted not to admonish him with fatherly kindness; but Britius heeded not the admonitions, and went at last so far, that he not only publicly blamed the actions of the bishop, but shamelessly derided and ridiculed him as an imbecile, and incited others against him. Saint Martin treated him, nevertheless, with great gentleness, and offered many prayers to the Almighty for his conversion. One day, when Britius was standing in the street, a sick stranger came to him, and asked where he could find Saint Martin. Britius, pointing to the holy man at some distance, said: “Are you looking for that fool? There he stands! See how he keeps his eyes fixed on heaven, as if he had lost his senses.” Saint Martin, who had heard him, said: “So, dear Britius, you speak of me as a fool to other people?” Britius was about to deny his own words, but Saint Martin added: “I heard all you said. And yet I assure you, that God has heard my prayers. You will be my successor. Prepare yourself, however, in time; for the crosses you will have to bear will be very heavy.” Britius, laughing immoderately at this, said: “Have I not spoken the truth in saying that you are a fool? What ridiculous ideas! I will now believe more than ever that your brain is disordered, and that you are filled with delusions.” But notwithstanding the derision of Britius, the prophecy of the holy bishop was fulfilled. No sooner had Saint Martin expired, than Britius, by especial Providence, was unanimously elected to succeed him. It was then that his eyes were suddenly opened; and weeping bitterly over his faults, and particularly over the wrong he had done to Saint Martin, he tore himself away from all vanity and worldly pleasures, which until now had enchained him, chastised his body with penances, and occupied a great part of his time in prayer and devout reading; in one word, changed his entire life not only into that of a real Christian, but into that of a Saint.

For thirty-three years, he was left in peace; but then, the second part of Saint Martin’s prophecy was fulfilled. Trials and persecutions began to assail Britius. He was suspected and accused of the most wicked immorality, and his own subjects so far forgot themselves, as not only to insult him to his face, but even threatened to stone him to death. Britius, amazed at their accusations, testified to his innocence with an oath, and then left his justification in the hands of God. His confidence in the divine protection was rewarded by a miracle: a child, not one month old, publicly declared, in plain words, that the Bishop was innocent. The people were struck with awe at this miracle, and began to think better of their bishop. Being urged to discover the guilty, he said: “In so far as I am concerned, I am satisfied with what you have heard from the child’s mouth; if you desire to know more, you must seek it yourself.” The restless and embittered minds of the people were not yet satisfied, and ascribing the miracle to witchcraft, they intended to drive the bishop out of the city. Britius endeavored to prove his innocence by another miracle. He gathered live coals in his cloak, and carried them to the tomb of Saint Martin. There depositing them, he said: “As truly as this garment has remained uninjured by the fire, so truly is my soul unstained by the crime of which I am accused.” But neither could this miracle calm the rage of the people; the innocent bishop was banished and another elected in his place.

In this emergency, Britius, not knowing what to do, went to Rome. He related to the Pope the injustice done to him, but confessed, at the same time, that he regarded it as a just punishment for the wrong he had done to the holy bishop, Saint Martin. The Pope ordered the Bishops of France to assemble in council and investigate the matter thoroughly. If they found Britius innocent, they were to restore him to his See. The holy Father’s command was obeyed, and Britius was sent back to his flock, which he governed for seven years more. During this period, not one word of complaint for the wrong he had suffered ever passed his lips. He showed not the slightest hatred or dislike toward those who had so shamefully ill-treated him, as he looked upon what had occurred as a just retribution for his former sins. This conduct caused his flock to love and revere him again as in former times: nay, they even received his instructions with great- er willingness, followed his directions more obediently than ever, and thus gave great consolation to the holy man. On his part, he became more and more deeply interested in the welfare and salvation of his flock, and continued to have a father’s care for them until his death, which took place in the 47th year of his episcopate. He repented continually of the faults which he had committed in his younger years, and endeavored to atone for them by penances and by patience in trials and persecutions. He often begged pardon of Saint Martin for the dishonor with which he had treated him, invoked his intercession with great confidence, and always ascribed his conversion to the prayers of his holy teacher. Saint Britius ended his penitent and holy life calmly, after having received the holy Sacraments.

Practical Considerations

• Britius did very wrong in putting evil constructions upon the manners of Saint Martin, and in despising and deriding him as a fool and a hypocrite. This fault he afterwards regretted; and therefore suffered patiently the calumny and persecution with which God visited him, as a just retribution for his sins. You do very wrong in putting evil constructions on your neighbor’s actions, and perhaps despising him in consequence; for, I ask you firstly, in the words of the Apostle: “Who art thou that judges another man’s servant?” (Romans 14) Do you not know that such judgment belongs to the Almighty? “But thou, why judgest thou thy brother? or thou, why dost thou despise thy brother?” (Romans 14) Secondly: Are you quite sure that you know your neighbor’s intention, or the motive that prompted him to act as he did? “The heart is unsearchable,” says God the Lord; “who can know it?” “I am the Lord,” adds He, “that search the heart and prove the reins.” (Jeremiah 17) You may easily be misled, by interpreting the actions of others after your own ideas. “But,” you say, “what is to be done, if the actions are evidently evil?” Saint Bernard says: “Excuse the motives, if you cannot excuse the deed; think that it is done out of ignorance, haste or inadvertence.” All these give you no reason to despise your fallen brother; he may rise again tomorrow: while you, standing today so high in your own estimation, may then be down as low as he. “If you saw your brother commit a wrong yesterday, you cannot be sure that today he is still a sinner, as you do not know whether he has not already reconciled the Lord by true penance,” writes Saint Ephrem. Saint Bernardin says: “He whose wickedness made us almost despair of his salvation, suddenly becomes converted, while another, whom we believe pious and good, becomes wicked.” Take this lesson to heart, and never interpret your neighbor’s actions in an evil manner; do not judge him rashly; do not despise him on account of his faults. Repent after the example of Saint Britius, if you have sinned in this respect. Learn also of this Saint, that you must regard everything that you have to suffer on earth as a punishment for sin; and hence, bear it patiently. Some persons imagine that when they have confessed their sins, they need trouble themselves no further: and when God visits them with suffering, they think that they are unjustly treated, or have too much to bear. They ought rather to think of their sins, and regard their trials as a punishment. The true faith teaches that although by confession, our sins are forgiven so far as their guilt and eternal punishment are concerned, yet there generally re mains a temporal punishment which we have to undergo. Therefore those who have formerly sinned and who now suffer, should humbly think that this suffering is a part of their punishment; and they ought to bear it patiently, in the spirit of penance, and offer it to the Almighty.

• After Saint Britius had been restored to his See, he never complained of the wrong that had been done him; he showed no hatred or dislike towards those who had treated him so unkindly, but rather evinced, by his indefatigable zeal for the salvation of their souls, a spirit of true Christian charity and forgiveness. How far are you from this manner of acting! It is true that you say: “I pardon my enemy; I will not revenge myself on him; I will neither hurt nor hate him?” But do you show that you bear no hatred or dislike towards him? Do you not frequently relate, without sufficient reason, what you have suffered from him? Are you not frequently unkind towards him and give him to understand that you do not forget the injury he has done you? Ah, that cannot be called pardoning from your heart; that is not loving your enemies as Christ has commanded. You desire that God should not remember your sins and misdeeds, and that He should be as merciful as if you had never committed any; why, then, do you not act in the same manner towards your enemies? “If you only abstain from hurting him who has hurt you, but turn from him and do not like to look at him; the wound without doubt remains in your heart. And this being the case, the command of Christ is not fulfilled. Do you desire that the Almighty should do the same? that He should not hurt you, but only turn from you?” Thus speaks Saint Chrysostom.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Britius, Bishop of Tours”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 25 May 2018. Web. 24 September 2018. <>