Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Ennodius, Bishop of Pavia, Confessor

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Magnus Felix Ennodius was descended of an illustrious family, settled in Gaul, and was a kinsman to the greatest lords of his time; as, to Faustus, Boëtius, Avienus, Olybrius, etc. He seemed to call Arles the place of his birth; but he passed his first years in Italy, and had his education at Milan under the care of an aunt, after whose death he took to wife a rich and noble lady. Eloquence and poetry were the favourite studies of his youth, and he had the misfortune to be drawn astray into the wide path of the world. But he was struck with remorse, and listening to the voice of divine grace, changed his life and wept bitterly for his past disorders. Out of gratitude to the divine mercy for his call, he entered into orders with the consent of his wife, who at the same time devoted herself to God in a state of perpetual continency. Having a particular confidence in the powerful intercession of Saint Victor, the martyr at Milan, he earnestly implored through it the grace to lead a holy life as he informs us.

Being ordained deacon, yet young, by Saint Epiphanius of Pavia, he from that time despised profane studies to give himself up entirely to those that are sacred. He wrote an apology for Pope Symmachus and his council against the schism formed in favour of Laurence. He was pitched upon to make a panegyric upon Theodoric, king of Italy, whom he commends only for his victories and temporal success. He wrote the life of Saint Epiphanius of Pavia, who died in 497, and was succeeded by Maximus; likewise that of Saint Antony of Lerins, who is mentioned in the Roman Martyrology on the 26th of December, besides several letters and other works both in prose and verse. He assures us, that under a violent fever, in which he was given over by the physicians, he had recourse to the heavenly physician through the intercession of his patron Saint Victor, and that in a moment he found himself restored to perfect health. 3 To perpetuate his gratitude for this benefit, he wrote a work which he called Eucharisticon; or, Thanksgiving, in which he gives a short account of his life, especially of his conversion from the world, and how, through the intercession of Saint Victor, he obtained the grace for his wife that she freely entered into his views in their making, by joint consent, mutual vows of perpetual continency. After the death of Maximus he was advanced to the episcopal see of Pavia about the year 510, not in 490, as Labbe mistakes; for, in his Eucharisticon, he says he was only sixteen years old when Theodoric came into Italy in 489. He governed his church with a zeal and authority worthy a true disciple of Saint Epiphanius.

Ennodius was made choice of by Pope Hormisdas to endeavour the reunion of the Eastern to the Western church. The emperor Anastasius fomented the division by favouring the Eutychian heresy, by banishing many orthodox prelates, and by protecting schismatical bishops of Constantinople; and in dissembling (the basest character of a prince) he was a second Herod or Tiberius, whose artifices could not leave them even in things where their interest was not concerned. Upon this errand Ennodius made two journeys to Constantinople, the first in the year 515, with Fortunatus bishop of Catana, and the second in 517, with Peregrinus, bishop of Misenum. The points upon which he was ordered to insist were, that the faith of the council of Chalcedon and the letters of Pope Leo against Nestorius, Eutyches, Dioscorus, and their followers, Timothy Elurus and Peter the Fuller, should be received; the anathema, pronounced against Acacius of Constantinople, and Peter of Antioch, subscribed; and that the emperor should recal the bishops whom he had banished for adhering to the orthodox faith and communion. The emperor, whose conduct in all he did was equivocal, sent back the legates with a letter wherein he declared, that he condemned Nestorius and Eutyches, and received the council of Chalcedon. Other things he promised to conclude by ambassadors whom he would send to Rome; but his only aim was to gain time, and even whilst Ennodius was at Constantinople he condemned to banishment four bishops of Illyricum for the Catholic cause, namely, Laurence of Lignida, Alcyson of Nicopolis, Gaianus of Naïssum, and Evangelus of Paulitala. He deferred sending his ambassadors till the middle of the next year, and then, instead of bishops as he had promised, sent only two laymen, Theopompus, Comes Domesticorum or captain of his guards, and Severianus, Comes Consistorii or counsellor of state, and their instructions were confined to general protestations of labouring for the peace of the church. The pope answered, that far from having any need of being entreated on that head he threw himself at the emperor’s feet to implore his protection for the peace and welfare of God’s church.

Ennodius’s second legation into the East proved as unsuccessful as the former; for Anastasius rejected the formulary which the pope had drawn up for the union, and endeavoured to bribe the legates with money. But finding them proof against all temptations, he caused them to be sent out of his palace through a back door, and put on board a ship with two prefects and several Magisterians, who had orders not to suffer them to enter into any city. Notwithstanding this, the legates found an opportunity of dispersing their protestations in all cities; but the bishops who received them from the dread they were under of being accused, sent them all to Constantinople. Upon this, Anastasius being very much exasperated, dismissed about two hundred bishops who were already come to a council which was to have been held at Heraclea to compose the distracted state of the Oriental church. Such was the conclusion of the promise this emperor had given of concurring to restore union between the churches. The people and senate reproached him with the breach of the oath he had made to that purpose; but he impiously said that there was a law which commanded an emperor to forswear himself and to tell a lie in cases of necessity. This confirmed the people in their general suspicion, that he had imbibed the opinions of the Manichees.

Saint Ennodius was obliged to put to sea in an old rotten vessel, and all persons were forbidden to suffer him to land in any port of the eastern empire, whereby he was exposed to manifest danger. Nevertheless, he arrived safe in Italy and returned to Pavia. The glory of suffering for the faith, which his zeal and constancy had procured him, far from serving to make him slothful or remiss in the discharge of his pastoral duties, was on the contrary a spur to him in the more earnest pursuit of virtue, lest by sluggishness he should deprive himself of the advantages which he might seem to have begun to attain. He exerted his zeal in the conversion of souls, his liberality in relieving the poor, and in building and adorning churches, and his piety and devotion in composing sacred poems on the Blessed Virgin, Saint Cyprian, Saint Stephen, Saint Dionysius of Milan, Saint Ambrose, Saint Euphemia, Saint Nazarius, Saint Martin, etc.; on the mysteries of Pentecost and on the Ascension; and on a baptistery adorned with the pictures of several martyrs whose relics were deposited in it. He wrote two new forms of blessing the paschal candle, in which the divine protection on the faithful is implored against winds, storms, and all dangers through the malice of our invisible enemies. Saint Ennodius died on the 1st of August, 521, being only forty-eight years old. He is styled a great and glorious confessor by the Popes Nicholas I, and John VIII, and is honoured in the Roman Martyrology on the 17th of July. His works were published by two Jesuits, F. Andrew Scot at Tournay in 1610, and by F. James Sirmond, with notes, at Paris in 1611, and most completely among the works of F. Sirmond, at Paris in 1696. See his works, the letters of Pope Hormisdas, the Pontifical and F. Sirmond’s collections. Also Solier the Bollandist.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Ennodius, Bishop of Pavia, Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 13 July 2013. Web. 19 April 2014. <>