Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Severin, Bishop of Cologne

Saint Severinus of CologneArticle

Saint Severin, whom the city of Cologne venerates as its patron Saint, was born at Bordeaux, in France, of very pious parents. After having successfully concluded his studies, he made the acquaintance of Saint Martin, bishop of Tours, whose virtues he greatly admired and endeavored to imitate. Having been ordained priest, he was unwearied in his zeal to save souls. He tried to strengthen the Catholics in the true faith, and to bring the heretics to the knowledge of their error, and to convert them. The Arian heresy was, at that period, gaining much ground, and even counted some followers in Cologne, a city which had been renowned for its fidelity to the truth, from the earliest date. Euphrates, the bishop, having too much intercourse with the Arians, allowed himself to be seduced, and adopted their doctrines. In 346, the Pope convoked several bishops to examine the accused, and as they found Euphrates guilty, they deposed him and appointed Severin as bishop. Although raised to the episcopal dignity against his will, the holy man opposed the Arians with apostolic zeal, refuted their godless doctrines, and put them to shame in public disputations and in his sermons. This caused many to leave the city, converted others to the true faith, and brought to repentance those Catholics, who had been seduced by the heretics. In this manner, the purity of the Catholic faith was restored, and the church indemnified for all that she had suffered. Severin, to preserve the work he had begun, continued unweariedly in his zeal as long as he lived, never ceasing to exhort his flock to virtue and piety, both by precept and example. One day, when visiting the tombs of the holy Martyrs before the city, he saw the soul of Saint Martin, brilliant with divine light, carried by Angels into heaven. This happened at the hour in which the holy Bishop died, as was afterwards known frcm those who were present at the death of Saint Martin. This occurrence was a still stronger incentive to Saint Severin to follow in the steps of the holy man, whose virtues he, for so many years, had endeavored to imitate.

How great a holiness our Saint attained, a hermit experienced to his confusion. This hermit was of royal lineage, and had left all the prerogatives of wealth and birth to go into a desert, where he led so austere and holy a life, that he was often visited by Angels, who exhorted him to perseverance. One day, probably instigated by the evil spirit, the thought took possession of him, whether there was any one on earth who lived more piously than he, or who could expect so great a reward as he. His Guardian Angel appeared to him, and said: “Yes there is such a one; it is Severin, bishop of Cologne.” The hermit immediately went to Cologne, in order to learn what sort of life this holy bishop was leading. He found him at table, entertaining, several persons of the nobility. Seeing the costly meats, the many servants waiting at the tables, and the magnificence of the hall, the hermit could not comprehend that one who, like himself, had left everything and lived so severe a life, should not be more holy and have a right to expect a greater reward than the bishop. The Angel, however, took ever)’ doubt from him by saying: “Thou must know that this bishop, to say nothing of his other virtues, has his heart less fixed on all that he possesses, than you on your water-pitcher.” This was enough to make the hermit understand that poverty does not so much consist in possessing nothing, as in not fastening our heart on what we possess. Further, that we can be just as holy in high stations and surrounded by honor, if we make use of it to the glory of God and to the salvation of souls, as in the contempt of all temporal goods. Hence the pious hermit esteemed the holy bishop still more, and humbled himself more before God than ever before.

Meanwhile, Severin not satisfied with the peace and prosperity of his own see, extended the efforts of his zeal to other dioceses. Being informed that the Bishop of Bordeaux had much to suffer from the heretics, he went to him and assisted him so effectually, that the heretics had no longer courage to disturb the pious bishop. The miracles which Saint Severin performed in confirmation of the Catholic truths, filled the heretics with shame and disgrace, and the Catholics with joy and comfort. At last, it pleased the Lord of life and death to call His faithful servant to receive his eternal reward. Severin fell sick at Bordeaux, and as he knew by divine revelation that the hour of his death was approaching, he prepared himself for it by devoutly receiving the holy Sacraments. Having given his last admonitions to those around him, he gave his soul to the Almighty, in the year of our Lord 408. His holy body was at first buried at Bordeaux, but was afterwards removed to Cologne, and deposited, with great solemnity, in the Church which he had built in honor of the holy Martyrs Saint Cornelius and Saint Cyprian, which thenceforward took his own name and bears it to this day. Some relate that this removal took place when the Huns were destroying Bordeaux; while others maintain that a long-continued drought, with which Cologne was visited, had given occasion to it; for, it had been revealed to a pious priest that neither the city nor the surrounding places could expect rain until the relics of Saint Severin had been brought to the city with all due honor. Hence the inhabitants sent a splendid embassy to Bordeaux to bring the holy body. The clergy and laity went forth from Cologne, in solemn procession, to meet it, and accompanied it devoutly into the Church prepared for its reception. No sooner was this done, than a long and fruitful rain rejoiced the city and the whole land. After this, many other miracles followed, which God performed, through the intercession of this Saint, at his shrine, on the blind, the lame and the infirm.

Practical Considerations

• Saint Severin, in his episcopal dignity, was surrounded by honors and riches, but also more dear to God than the hermit in his abject poverty. Virtue does not depend on the station in which we live. We can spend our days in wealth and honor, and yet save our souls* by not employing our riches to offend the Almighty, but to honor Him, and to benefit mankind; by not being proud of our station and despising others, but by remembering, with due gratitude, that all we possess comes from God, and was bestowed upon us by His hand. If, therefore, God has placed you in a higher station; if He has given to you, more liberally than to others, of temporal riches and honors, take this lesson to heart. Never fix your heart with immoderate love on temporal things, but employ them well, and serve God more faithfully than those to whom He has not given so much. “I exhort you, ye rich,” says Saint Basil, “not to love inordinately what you possess; think of your end, and moderate your desire to gather still more.” “Honor the Lord with thy substance,” admonishes the Wise Man, “and give Him the first of all thy fruits.” (Proverbs 3) “Give alms out of thy substance,” said Tobias to his son, “and turn not away thy face from any poor person; for so it shall come to pass that the face of the Lord shall not be turned from thee.” (Tobias 4) “Charge the rich of this world,” writes Saint Paul to his disciple Timothy, “not to be high-minded, not to trust in the uncertainty of riches, but in the living God, who gives us abundantly all things to enjoy. To do good; to be rich in good works; to give easily; to communicate to others; to lay up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on the true life.” (1st Timothy 6) All these are exhortations which you should follow, if God has placed you above others, or has given you more temporal goods than to your neighbors; otherwise, you are in great danger of losing eternal possessions; for, Saint Lawrence Justinian has rightly said: “They who have a superfluity of temporal goods lose very easily the heavenly and eternal possessions:” for, they either love their riches immoderately, or set themselves above others on account of them, or do not employ them as they ought.

• Saint Severin endeavored to regulate his life after the example given him by Saint Martin, especially after he had seen the soul of this Saint gloriously received into heaven. There are persons in this world who, in the same station in which you are, serve God most faithfully, and lead a truly Christian life, although their number is not large. Cast your eyes upon these, and follow them; not on those who live in such a manner that you would not like to die with them. Consider the life of those Saints, who lived in your station; and saved their souls. See how they conducted themselves, how they worked out their salvation, and think for yourself: “Have these lived piously in such a station? have they observed the laws of God and of the Church? have they guarded themselves against sin, and practiced good works? Why then should not I be able to do the same!” “We ought to regard the life of the pious, in order to regulate ours accordingly,” writes Saint Gregory. Saint Basil says: “The written histories of the Saints, which have been left us, are pictures of good works, which we ought to imitate. And as an artist who would copy a picture frequently rests his eyes upon the model, in order to copy it truly, so ought we, who would live virtuously, turn often to the lives of the Saints, and thus impress their virtues into our hearts, and follow them.”

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Severin, Bishop of Cologne”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 20 May 2018. Web. 20 November 2018. <>