A distinguished bishop of Vienne, in Gaul, from 490 to about 518, though his death is place by some as late as 525 or 526. He was born of a prominent Gallo-Roman family closely related to the Emperor Avitus and other illustrious persons, and in which episcopal honors were hereditary. In difficult times for the Catholic faith and Roman culture in Southern Gaul, Avitus exercised a favourable influence. He pursued with earnestness and success the extinction of the Arian heresy in the barbarian Kingdom of Burgundy (443-532), won the confidence of King Gundobad, and converted his son, King Sigismund (516-523). He was also a zealous opponent of Semipelagianism, and of the Acacian Schism at Constantinople. Like his contemporary, Ennodius of Pavia, he was strenuous in his assertion of the authority of the Apostolic See as the chief bulwark of religious unity and the incipient Christian civilization. "If the pope," he says, "is rejected, it follows that not one bishop, the whole episcopate threatens to fall" ( Si papa urbis vocatur in dubium, episcopatus videbitur, non episcopus, vaccilare . -- Ep. xxxiv; ed. Peiper). The literary fame of Avitus rests on a poem of 2,552 hexameters, in five books, dealing with the Scriptural narrative of Original Sin, Expulsion from Paradise, the Deluge, the Crossing of the Red Sea. The first three books offer a certain dramatic unity; in them are told the preliminaries of the great disaster, the catastrophe itself, and the consequences. The fourth and fifth books deal with the Deluge and the Crossing of the Red Sea as symbols of baptism. Avitus deals freely and familiarly with the Scriptural events, and exhibits well their beauty, sequence, and significance. He is one of the last masters of the art of rhetoric as taught in the schools of Gaul in the fourth and fifth centuries. Ebert says that none of the ancient Christian poets treated more successfully the poetic elements of the Bible . His poetic diction, though abounding in archaisms and rhythmic redundancy, is pure and select, and the laws of metre are well observed. It is said that Milton made use of his paraphase [sic] of Scripture in the preparation of "Paradise Lost". He wrote also 666 hexameters "De virginitate" or "De consolatoriâ castitatis laude" for the comfort of his sister Fuscina, a nun. His prose works include "Contra Eutychianam Hæresim libri II", written in 512 or 513, and also about eighty-seven letters that are of considerable importance for the ecclesiastical and political history of the years 499-518. Among them is the famous letter to Clovis on the occasion of his baptism. There was once extant a collection of his homilies, but they have perished with the exception of two and some fragments and excerpts. In recent times Julien Havet has demonstrated (Questions mérovingiennes, Paris, 1885), that Avitus is not the author of the "Dialogi cum Gundobado Rege", a defence of the Catholic Faith against the Arians, purporting to represent the famous Colloquy of Lyons in 449, and first published by d'Achéry (1661) in his "Spicilegium" (V, 110-116). It is a forgery of the Oratorian, Jérome Viguier, who also forged the letter of Pope Symmachus (13 Oct., 501) to Avitus. The works of Avitus are found in Migne, P.L., LIX, 191-398. There are two recent editions: one by R. Peiper (in Mon. Germ. Hist.: Auct. Antiq., VI, Berlin, 1883), the other by U. Chevalier (Lyons, 1890).
The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.
Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.
No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.
Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912
Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online