Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Wolfgang, Bishop of Ratisbon

Saint Wolfgang, Bishop of RatisbonArticle

Among the bishops celebrated in the tenth century of the Christian era, on account of their virtues and the miracles God wrought by them, the church justly ranks Saint Wolfgang, bishop of Ratisbon. He was a native of Suabia, and was born of noble parents. It seemed to his mother, more than once, before he was born, that she had brought forth a bright star; which, without doubt, indicated that she should give life to a son, who, by the brightness of his virtues and learning would illuminate the whole world. Wolfgang received his first lesson in the abbey of Reichenau, where he made the acquaintance of Henry, a noble youth of Wurzburg, who, when returning to his home, took Wolfgang along on account of his piety. At Wurzburg, Wolfgang made so much progress in all the higher branches of study, that he was greatly esteemed by every one. Henry was chosen some years later, bishop of Treves, and as he knew the virtue and learning of Wolfgang, he prevailed upon him to come to the same city. Wolfgang consented, on condition that Henry would not raise him to any dignity, but trust him with the education of the young; as he was greatly interested in this, knowing how much, in after life, depends on the first instructions received in childhood. Henry promised all that Wolfgang asked, and the latter applied himself zealously to teaching. He bestowed special care upon the poor, whom he not only instructed without charge but also provided with food and clothing. He endeavored to impress upon his pupils the lesson given by Tobias to his son: to have God constantly before their eyes, to fear Him, and to avoid all sin.

Besides the laborious task of instructing the young, Wolfgang also undertook much other work for the benefit of the whole diocese; as Henry employed him as his assistant in all the duties of his episcopal office. When the pious bishop was taken away by death, Wolfgang returned to his home, and, desiring to serve God, he went into the Benedictine monastery of Saint Meinrad, in Switzerland, where he led a most holy life. After his novitiate was ended, he was charged to instruct his younger brethren as well as the pupils in the monastery, in the liberal arts. Saint Ulric, bishop of Augsburg, ordained Wolfgang priest, and God inspired him, at the same time, with the earnest desire to convert the heathen to the true faith. He had heard that the Christians in Hungary had greatly suffered from the invasions of the heathen; hence he determined to go thither and preach the gospel. Having received the permission of his superiors, he began his journey with great trust in God. At Passau, he visited bishop Peregrinus, who informed him to his great joy that he had resolved to make the same journey with the same object. Hence, they travelled together. Arrived at their destination, they left nothing undone to save souls; but seeing, after a time, that they could not be as useful as they had expected, they returned to Passau.

At that time, the episcopal See of Ratisbon had become vacant, and Peregrinus. acquainted with the great virtues and other distinguished qualities of Wolfgang, proposed him to the emperor and the clergy as a worthy successor of the late bishop. Wolfgang endeavored, by all means in his power, to prevent his being burdened with this dignity; but the abbot of the monastery, to whom he had vowed obedience, commanded him to submit to the decree of the Almighty, telling him he could manifest his zeal to save souls much better, and could work much more good, when invested with the authority of bishop, than when occupying an inferior position. Hence, Frederick, Archbishop of Salzburg, consecrated Wolfgang bishop, to the great joy of the whole city.

His first care was to prepare himself worthily to administer his episcopal functions; and to this end, he prayed and mortified himself. It was observed that he frequently passed the entire night in prayer at Church. He was extremely severe towards himself, and allowed himself not even the most innocent recreation. He aspired not after temporal goods; all his thoughts, his whole mind strove only to gain heaven. He personally visited every parish in his diocese, and everywhere made such regulations as he deemed necessary to promote the honor of God and the welfare of his flock. By preaching almost daily and by incessant admonitions, he reformed the manners of the laity and clergy, being himself an example of every virtue. His revenues were not used for luxurious garments, nor to supply his table with superfluities, but to adorn the churches, as dwellings of the Most High, and to support the poor and assist the sick. He daily fed a great many poor in his own residence, and sent to the houses of others who were indigent, corn, money and clothes, without letting them know from whom the benefit came. Having heard, when he first became bishop, that one of his predecessors had withdrawn a considerable portion of the revenues of the monastery of Saint Emmeram, he voluntarily returned the same. This and many other noble actions of the holy bishop procured him the highest esteem of his flock. Every one regarded him as a saint and showed him the highest honor. The Almighty Himself made him renowned by bestowing on him the gifts of prophecy, of healing the sick, and freeing the possessed. But his fame, which thus daily grew, and the honors which were showered upon him, distressed the humble bishop to such a degree, that he secretly left the city and went into a desert not far from Salzburg, where, for five years, he lived in abject poverty, leading rather an angelic than a human life. A hunter, who was chasing a deer in those parts, found him, at the end of that time, in a cavern, and made known his retreat to the inhabitants of Ratisbon, who had searched for him everywhere in vain. They immediately sent him a deputation of the chief men, who so long entreated him with words and tears, that at last they persuaded him to return to his See. He was received with great rejoicings, and brought into the church of Saint Peter, where he was again placed upon the episcopal throne. The saint resumed the administration of his See, and continued most faithfully in it until his happy death.

Henry, at that time duke of Bavaria, would entrust the education of his sons and daughters to no one but to our holy bishop; and the result showed with how much wisdom and ability the holy man discharged so important an office. Henry, the first-born son, became a holy Emperor; Bruno, the second son, became a pious Bishop; Gisela, the eldest daughter, afterwards Queen of Hungary, was renowned for her virtue and piety, and Brigit died a most exemplary Abbess of a convent at Ratisbon. Saint Wolfgang foretold to these princes and princesses their future stations; for while they were under his care, he called the eldest prince, King or Emperor; the second, Bishop; the third, princess Gisela, Queen; and Brigit, Abbess.

Having for more than twenty years administered his See, he was taken ill at Pupping, when on his way to Upper Bavaria. He requested to be carried to the church of Saint Othmar, a Saint whom he honored as his special patron. Having received the holy Sacraments with great devotion, he admonished all around him to lead a Christian life, ordered that all he had with him should be given to the poor, raised his eyes to heaven, prayed most devoutly, and, with every manifestation of joy, in the presence of a great crowd of people, gave his soul to his Creator, in 994. His holy body was brought to Ratisbon, and at first interred in the Cathedral, but afterwards removed to the Church of Saint Emmeram, where it still rests, greatly honored by all the faithful. The many miracles which have taken place at his tomb, are fully described in several volumes.

Practical Considerations

Saint Wolfgang restores voluntarily to a monastery what had been unjustly taken from it by his predecessor. This was a praiseworthy action, and one which all those should follow, who knowingly possess anything that belongs not rightfully to them, even if they have not taken it themselves but have inherited it; for, it is certain, that we must return to the rightful owner what we have either taken unlawfully, or what we know belongs to him, though we did not take it. If this is not done, we cannot hope for forgiveness from God. If we do not return property not belonging to us, when it is in our power to do so, the penance we do is not a true but a false penance. “If we do not return what we have unjustly taken, our sin will not be forgiven,” says Saint Augustine. If the sin is not forgiven, there is no hope of salvation. How blindly, then, do they act, who, by injustice, deceit, theft, usury, or other sinful ways, appropriate to themselves the property of others, and thus seek either to enrich themselves or their children! For, firstly, they offend God by the sinful means which they use; secondly, they cannot retain, with a clean conscience, what they have wrongfully obtained, but must return it if they will save their souls. Of what use, therefore, is what they have thus obtained? Thirdly, they generally make themselves and their heirs unhappy on this earth; because what is wrongfully gained does not last, but vanishes and often even drags that which was justly obtained with it. And lastly, such men cast themselves wantonly into eternal ruin; because they do not repair the damage they have caused. They may also cause their heirs to go to destruction; and this will be the case, when the latter come to the knowledge that what they have inherited is not rightly theirs, and will not return it to those who have been wronged. Take heed that you be not of the number of such blind and foolish persons. Think of the words of Saint Ambrose: “It is better to possess no temporal goods and to gain salvation, than to possess great temporal goods and go to destruction. It is better that our temporal possessions decrease (by the return of what we possess wrongfully), than that we go, body and soul, to eternal ruin.” If you refuse to return voluntarily, and to your own benefit, what you wrongfully possess, you will be forced to do so without deriving any good from it. According to the prophecy of Job: “The riches which he has swallowed, he shall vomit up, and God shall draw them out of his belly.” (Job 20)

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Wolfgang, Bishop of Ratisbon”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 May 2018. Web. 18 November 2018. <>