Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Caesarius, Bishop of Arles

Saint Caesarius of ArlesArticle

Saint Caesarius, one of the most famous bishops ot France, was born in the territory of Chalons on the Saone. His parents were very distinguished not only on account of their nobility, but also for their blameless lives. When only seven years old, Caesarius already evinced great love towards the poor, whom he sought to assist by every means in his power. One day, meeting a half naked beggar, he took off his own clothes and gave them to him. He despised all that is temporal, from the moment he became acquainted with the world and its vanities. Hence he went, without the knowledge of his parents, to the bishop, desiring to serve God in the Church. After some time, he retired, with the permission of the bishop, into the monastery at Lerins, as he desired to lead a more perfect life. His piety and his severity towards himself, caused him to be greatly admired by all the monks. The Abbot soon perceived that the health of his fervent young disciple was considerably impaired, and as no remedies had the desired effect, he sent him to his native place for his recovery. The bishop of Arles called him immediately, and with the Abbot’s permission, ordained him priest He then made him Abbot of another monastery, in the suburbs of the city, the functions of which office he administered during several years, to the great satisfaction of all in his charge. When, later, the bishop of Arles became sick and felt that his last hour was approaching, he expressed the wish that Caesarius might be his successor. This wish was fulfilled; for, no sooner had the bishop expired, than Caesarius was chosen to fill the vacant see. Although the holy Abbot, in his deep humility, endeavored to evade this honor, and concealed himself for a time in a vault among the tombs, he was soon found and forcibly placed upon the Episcopal throne. When installed in his new dignity, the Saint endeavored to administer the functions which heaven had entrusted to him, with the utmost perfection.” He preached daily, sometimes twice in one day, and admonished all, with great energy, to amend their lives, and to walk in the path of the righteous. Every year, he visited all the cities and villages in his diocese, as he desired to instruct the ignorant, comfort the afflicted, and convert the sinners. A true father to the poor, he dismissed none without giving them aims. He used to say that the income of a bishop was a charitable foundation of the Church for the maintenance of the poor. In the Churches he allowed not the slightest irreverence, either in indecent clothes or in behavior. He defended the Catholic faith most valiantly against the Arians and Pelagians. He also wrote several sermons and instructions, in order that those who could not hear him might be provided by him with means to learn the path leading to heaven. He was present at several Councils, presiding at some, and at all of them he manifested his apostolic zeal fer the welfare of the true faith. He insisted also, that all under him should strictly keep the ordinances which these Councils had decreed. This zeal provoked the enmity of some, who were ill-disposed, and who, therefore, conspired against him and sent Licinian, a notary, to the Gothic king, Alaric, to accuse the holy bishop of being in league with the Duke of Burgundy. Alaric, without investigating the case, banished the innocent prelate to Bordeaux. Soon after his arrival there a conflagration broke out in the city, which threatened to destroy it; but when Saint Caesarius, at the request of the inhabitants, prayed to God to spare the people, the flames lost their fury and the fire was extinguished. The holiness of Caesarius soon made his innocence known, and Alaric, recalling him to his see, intended to punish his false accusers with death, but Caesarius himself obtained pardon for them. On another occasion, he was accused, almost at the same time, by the Jews and by the Arians. that he had plotted to betray the city of Arles to the French, who were besieging it. The innocent bishop was taken prisoner and sentenced to die. He was about to be cast into the Rhone, when the letter of a Jew was produced, who had promised the besiegers to open one of the gates of the city, on condition that all the Jews should be exempt from pillage. In this manner, the innocence of the bishop was known, and he was released from imprisonment. After the raising of the siege, all the sick, the poor, and the captives flocked around him for help, and he gave all he had to assist them. As, however, this was not sufficient, he spared not the vessels of the Church, but sold them for the maintenance of the needy. This gave the enemies of the holy prelate a new cause of complaint, and they accused him to King Theodoric of having used the treasures of the Church to enrich the enemy. The King called the bishop to Ravenna to justify himself. The holy man, in the consciousness of his innocence, appeared fearless and cheerful, and the King trembled when he looked into his venerable face, and his heart was moved with reverence towards him. Repressing every sign of anger or suspicion, he met him most kindly, and dismissed him with every expression of the highest regard. Soon after, the holy bishop received, as a mark of the King’s esteem, a costly present in silver. The Saint received it gratefully, but sold it and ransomed many captives with the money, which made him rise higher in the King’s estimation. To some persons, who said that he spent too much for the prisoners, he answered: “What would you wish, if you had to sigh in captivity? Is it not right that we should do to others, as we would wish others to do to us?”

After the virtue of Saint Caesarius had been sufficiently tried by adversity and suffering, God called him to receive his recompense. A revelation made his approaching end known to him. About the middle of August he fell ill; his pains were great, but his patience was still greater. God granted him, before his death, a foretaste of heavenly joys, by an inner comfort and by divine visions. Having devoutly received the holy sacraments, he ended his holy life amid most pious exercises, in the 74th year of his age.

Practical Considerations

• What would you wish yourself, if you had to sigh in such captivity?” asked Saint Caesarius of those who blamed him for his mercy towards the prisoners. This is surely a most important question, and it ought to animate every Christian to show himself charitable towards the sick, the poor and those in prison. The sign of a Christian is love towards his neighbor, which Christ announces with the words: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for the other.” (John 13) This love obliges us to do towards our neighbor as we would desire that he should do to us. If you were poor, sick, forsaken by all, or imprisoned, how would you desire that we should act towards you? Answer this yourself, and consider well, that you ought to act in the same manner towards those who are poor, sick, or imprisoned. If you will not do this, say not that you love your neighbor as a Christian is bound to love him. But if you do, rest assured, that such practical exercise of charity will be very pleasing to the Lord and of great merit to you. The first you may know from the fact, that Christ receives all such works of charity as if they had been done to Himself, as I have told you elsewhere, and He also regards it as refused to Himself, if you deny your assistance to your neighbor. “I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me. As long as you did it unto one of these, my least Brethren, you did it to me … I was sick and in prison, and you did not visit me. As long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.” Thus speaks Our Lord, in His description of the last judgment. The second is made clear by the very fact, that these works of charity will be recompensed with an eternal reward, according to the words which Christ will pronounce on the last day; “Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess ye the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me to eat, etc.”

• Saint Caesarius permitted no disrespect in the Churches, no frivolity either in dress or manners, but punished all such offences. He acted rightly; for, we ought to avoid, especially while at Church, every thing that may in the least displease God. What benefit can we otherwise expect from going to Church? Have we not, in such case, reason to fear that we shall return from Church with more sins than we were guilty of before, or that the words of Saint Ambrose will be true of us: “They go with small sins into Church, and return from it with greater.” It is truly inexcusable to offend God in the very place where we ought to reconcile Him to us; to augment the number of sins, where we seek pardon for those already committed and to deserve new punishment, where we come to be forgiven. Search your conscience, and if you have erred in this, try to reform. Do not laugh, talk, jest, or look curiously about at those sacred moments when all ought to bow their knees before the Almighty. Be not one of those godless persons who make a playhouse, or a market-place of the temple of God, and who discuss their affairs there, give and receive commissions, and who not only do not pray themselves, but disturb others in their devotion. How offensive this must be in the sight of God! The walls of the Church, dedicated so solemnly to the Most High, the altar, upon which the most Holy Sacrifice is offered to heaven, all these should inspire you with piety. But the children of the world, blind to all that is holy, have eyes only for that which they should least of all seek in a Church. Dare any one say that these are trifles? If our Lord, in holy wrath, punished those who desecrated the vestibule of the temple by traffic and usury, how will He punish those who dare to desecrate the much more holy and sacred temples of Christianity, by conduct so contrary to all true devotion to the holy Founder of the true faith? Take care that you yourself do not experience it to your own great damage. “Fear Him,” says the holy pope Stephen, “who with a whip made of cords, drove the buyers and sellers out of the Temple.”

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Caesarius, Bishop of Arles”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 28 April 2018. Web. 19 September 2018. <>