Lives of the Saints

Our Models and Protectors

January 2
  January 1

Saint Fulgentius

Doctor of the Church, Bishop
(468-533)

Saint Fulgentius
Saint Fulgentius

Born in Africa of illustrious and Catholic parents, Fulgentius was an excellent student of languages and of various other practical disciplines. His father had died while still young, and Fulgentius soon became the support of his mother and younger brother. He was appointed at an early age procurator of his province at Carthage; but this elevation in the world's esteem was distasteful to him, and he was enlightened by the Spirit of God to see the vanity of the world.

At the age of twenty-two, having read Saint Augustine's treatise on the Psalms, he resolved to embrace monastic life, and began to prepare for it by mental prayer, fasting, and other penances practiced in secret. When he was accepted into a monastery by a holy bishop named Faustus, his mother hoped to change his mind; but when she arrived he remained firm and did not accept to see her. Such are the austerities of the Saints, called to accomplish much for God. He later renounced all his goods on behalf of his mother and younger brother.

After six years of peace, his monastery was attacked by Arian heretics, and Faustus, Fulgentius and the other monks were driven out, destitute, into the desert. Fulgentius entered another monastery on his Superior's advice, and there he shared the duties of the Superior, to the latter's great consolation, until that house was attacked by barbarians. In the refuge to which he then repaired he was persecuted, held captive, and tortured by an Arian priest, but sought no vengeance when authorities offered him support if he would enter a complaint. Fulgentius and his Superior, who was with him, decided to build another monastery in the province they had abandoned.

For a time Fulgentius remained there, but he desired solitude and set out on a journey to the holy places of Rome. There the imperial splendors he beheld spoke to him of the greater glory of the heavenly Jerusalem, his final goal. And at the first lull in the persecution, he returned to his African cell in the year 500.

Elected bishop of Ruspe in 508, he was summoned to face new dangers, and was shortly afterwards banished by the Arian king, with some sixty other Catholic prelates, to Sardinia. Though the youngest of the exiles, he became the spokesman of his brethren and the support of their orphaned flocks. By his books and letters, which are still extant, he confounded both Pelagian and Arian heresiarchs, and strengthened the Catholics in Africa and Gaul. He prayed for all his compatriots in exile: You know, Lord, what is most expedient for the salvation of our souls; assist us in our corporal necessities, that we may not lose the spiritual goods. On the death of the Arian king, the bishops returned to their flocks. Saint Fulgentius was welcomed amid the greatest joy, after eighteen years of exile. He labored with his fellow bishops in the synods as their chosen leader, and re-established discipline. When he felt his end was near, he retired to an island monastery, where after a year's preparation he called for his clergy and religious, and with their aid distributed all his goods to the poor. He died in peace in the year 533.

Reflection. Each year may bring us new changes and trials; let us learn from Saint Fulgentius to receive all that happens as appointed for our salvation, and from the hand of God.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 1; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler's Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894)