Friday, July 31, 2015

A Drinking Song in Honor of St Germanus, by Hilaire Belloc

Most places which use the Roman Rite keep today as the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, who died on July 31, 1556. But in the Middle Ages, July 31st was kept in France, England and some other places (although not at Rome) as the feast of St Germanus of Auxerre; Ignatius himself would have celebrated this feast during his years as a student in Paris, along with the earliest members of the Company. A 7th-century church dedicated to St Germanus sits directly in front of the Louvre; his feast is also on the calendars of liturgical books of the medieval French and English Uses.

A state of St Germanus in the Parisian church of St Germain l’Auxerrois (image from wikipedia by Mbzt)
Although devotion to him is not as widespread now, St Germanus may well be described as the St Ambrose of the fifth century. Like the great archbishop of Milan, he came from a family of high rank, and after studying law in Rome, served as the civil governor of a Roman province. Like St Ambrose, when the bishop of his provincial capital died, he was chosen to succeed him by popular acclamation, and embraced his new state of life completely; and in that role, he revealed himself as fierce an opponent of the 5th century’s dominant heresy, Pelagianism, as St Ambrose had been to Arianism in the 4th.

Pelagius himself was a Briton, and in the early 5th century his heresy was flourishing in his native place. In 429 Pope St Celestine I and the bishops of Gaul sent Germanus, accompanied by St Lupus of Troyes, to Britain, to combat the heresy; they reduced Pelagius’ followers to silence not only by their overwhelming success in a public debate, but also by their example of holiness and various miracles. St Germanus’ triumph would be capped by a second visit to Britain in 440 to stop a new outbreak of the heresy, after which, (as St Bede will note with pride in the 8th century), Britain remained true to the Catholic Faith until the Reformation.

During his first visit to Britain, the Romanized Britons, whose province had been abandoned by the Roman Empire in 410, were threatened with invasion by the Picts and Saxons. After Easter, as the weather grew milder and an enemy attack seemed imminent, Germanus led the forces of the Britons’ to a place between two mountains with a strong echo. As the Saxons drew near, he had them all shout “Alleluia” as loudly as they could; the resulting noise terrified the Saxons into thinking the Britons’ army was much larger than it really was, and they threw down their arms and fled. In the neo-Gallican Missal of Paris, the Alleluia verse for his feast is chosen based on this story. “Alleluia, I heard the voice of many people, saying: Alleluia. Salvation, and glory, and power is to our God. And again they said: Alleluia.”

The great Catholic writer and apologist Hilaire Belloc, who was French on his father’s side and English on his mother’s, wrote a very funny drinking song in honor of St Germanus and his defeat of the Pelagian heresy; it is included in his novel “The Four Men – A Farrago”, first published in 1911.

Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or to hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

No, he didn’t believe in Adam and Eve
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began with the Fall of Man
And he laughed at Original Sin.
With my row-ti-tow
He laughed at original sin.

Then came the bishop of old Auxerre
Germanus was his name
He tore great handfuls out of his hair
And he called Pelagius shame.
And with his stout Episcopal staff
So thoroughly whacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall,
They rather had been hanged.

Oh he whacked them hard,
and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions,
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
Their orthodox persuasions.
With my row-ti-tow
Their orthodox persuasions.

Now the faith is old and the Devil bold
Exceedingly bold indeed;
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth
And still can drink strong ale
Let us put it away to infallible truth
That always shall prevail,

And thank the Lord for the temporal sword
And howling heretics too,
And all good things our Christendom brings
But especially barley brew!
With my row-ti-tow
Especially barley brew!

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