St Arbogast

Bishop of Strasborg (northeastern France) (entered heaven in 678)

Dear Stacy,

Ah, you have touched on one of the great mysteries of the spiritual life.  What to your mind (and my mind as well) appears to be a contradiction is in fact nothing of the sort.  It’s just that our limited intelligence, so dependent on our even more limited imagination, can’t see how these apparent contradictions actually fit together.  On the one hand you do indeed need to remember that ultimately, through your own efforts, you can achieve nothing for the Kingdom of Christ; He is the one at work in and through you to produce “fruit that will last”, as he said during the Last Supper.  But on the other hand, none of those fruits will be produced without your sincere, persistent, and energetic effort.  Accepting these two truths (which the Church firmly holds) requires a good dose of intellectual humility, for which a glance at today’s saint may be in order.

Arbogast was probably a native of Ireland, or maybe Scotland, but he traveled to the Continent and made his way to the rolling, fertile hills of Alsace (northeastern France, right on the border with Germany and Switzerland) where he lived as a hermit.  His reputation for holiness and wisdom made his hermitage quite a busy place – a constant stream of visitors coming in and out of his hut in the so-called Sacred Forest.

His fame grew sufficiently so that he was frequently called to the royal court of King Dagobert II, ruler of the Franks, for advice and for prayers.  It is said that when Dagobert’s son Sigiebert was killed when he fell from his horse during a hunting trip, St Arbogast raised him from the dead.  That might explain the high regard Dagobert kept for this holy hermit, and the reason he arranged for him to be appointed bishop of Strasbourg.  It would also explain why Dagobert supported so generously the many projects Arbogast took on for the benefit of the Church in his diocese: constructing monasteries and churches, caring for the poor and the sick, providing for everything the region needed in order to grow in Christian civilization.  To this day he is considered the patron saint of the city.

Though Arbogast frequented such exalted company and attained such remarkable achievements, he remained truly humble.  He realized that any good done through him had its origin and sustenance in God, and only the bad he did came purely from him.  This is the truth of things for all of us, in fact, as hard as may be to accept.  St Paul probably put it best, when he wrote to the Christians in Corinth: “Who made you so important? What have you got that was not given to you? And if it was given to you, why are you boasting as though it were your own?” (1Cor 4:7).

Arbogast was so convinced of this rather uncomfortable truth that in his will he explicitly ordered that his body be interred on the mountain reserved exclusively for the burial of criminals.  This was done.  But soon a chapel was built above his grave and a town rose up around the chapel… Just goes to show you how much God can do through us when we admit that by ourselves we can do nothing; with God our efforts can have eternal repercussions.

Your loving uncle,


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