On St. Salvius the Seer of Heavenly Mysteries

St. Gregory of Tours ca. 538-594

The feeling of reverence which I have for him compels me to say something about St. Salvius. He often used to tell how, during his years as a layman, while he was occupying himself with worldly affairs he never permitted himself to be ensnared by the carnal desires which so frequently fill the minds of young people. When the Holy Spirit finally found a place in his heart, he gave up the struggle of worldly existence and entered a monastery. As one now consecrated to Almighty God, he understood that it was better to serve the Lord in poverty and to humble oneself before Him, rather than to strive after the wealth of this transient world. He spent many years in his monastery and observed the rule instituted by the Fathers…

One day when Salvius lay in bed, gasping for breath and weakened by a fever, his cell was suddenly filld with a bright light and the walls seemed to shake. He stretched out his hands to heaven, and as he gave thanks he breathed forth his spirit. The monks, together with his own mother carried his dead body out of the cell with lamentation; then they washed it, vested it and placed it upon a bier. They passed the long night in weeping and singing psalms.

When morning came and all was ready for the funeral, the corpse began to move on the bier. Salvius’ cheeks became flushed, he stirred himself as if awakened from a deep sleep, opened his eyes, raised his hands and spoke: “Oh merciful Lord, why hast Thou done this to me? Why hast Thou decreed that I should return to this dark place where we dwell on earth? I would have been much happier in Thy compassion on high, rather than having to begin once again my profitless life here below.” Those around him were in perplexity. When they asked him the meaning of the miracle which had occurred, he gave no reply. He rose from the bier, feeling no ill effects from the illness which he had suffered, and for three days he remained without food or drink.

On the third day he called the monks, together with his mother. “My most dear friends,” he said, “hear what I am about to say. You must understand that all you see in this world is entirely without value. All is vanity, exactly as the prophet Solomon proclaimed. Blessed is he who behaves in such a way in this earthly existence that he is rewarded by beholding God in His glory in heaven.”

As he said this, he wondered whether he should say more or stop with this. He was silent for a while, but the monks begged him to tell them what he had seen. “When my cell shook four days ago,” he continued, “and you saw me lying dead, I was raised up by two angels and carried to the highest peak of heaven, until I seemed to have beneath my feet not only this miserable earth, but also the sun and moon, the clouds and the stars. Then I was conducted through a gate that shone more brightly than the light of the sun and entered a building where the whole floor shone with gold and silver. The light was impossible to describe. The place was filled with a multitude of people, neither male nor female, stretching so far in all directions that one could not see where it ended. The angels made a way for me through the crowd of people in front of me, and we came to the place towards which our gaze had been directed even when we had been far away. Over this place there hung a cloud more brilliant than any light, and yet no sun or moon or star could be seen; indeed, the cloud shone more brightly than any of these with its own brilliance. A voice came out of the cloud, as the voice of many waters. Sinner that I am, I was greeted with great respect by a number of beings, some dressed in priestly vestments and others in ordinary dress; my guides told me that these were the martyrs and other holy men whom we honor here on earth and to whom we pray with great devotion. As I stood here there was wafted over me a fragrance of such sweetness that, nourished by it, I have felt no need of food or drink until this very moment.”

“Then I heard a voice which said: ‘Let this man go back into the world, for our churches have need of him.’ I heard the voice, but I could not see who was speaking. Then I prostrated myself on the ground and wept. ‘Alas, alas, O Lord!’ I said. ‘Why hast Thou shown me these things only to take them away from me again? Thou dost cast me out today from before Thy face and send me back again to a worldly life without substance, since I am powerless to return on high. I entreat Thee, O Lord: turn not Thy mercy away from me. Let me remain here, I beseech Thee, lest falling once more to the earth, I perish. The voice which had spoken to me said: ‘Go in peace. I will watch over you until I bring you back once more to this place.’ Then my guides left me and I turned back through the gate by which I had entered, weeping as I went.”

As he said this, those who were with him were amazed. The holy man of God wept. Then he said: “Woe to me that I have dared to reveal such a mystery! The fragrance which I smelled in that holy place, and by which I have been nourished for three days without food or drink, has already left me. My tongue is covered with sores and has become so swollen that it fills my whole mouth. It is evident that it has not been pleasing in the eyes of my Lord God that these mysteries should be revealed. Thou knowest well, O Lord, that I have did this in the simplicity of my heart, and not in a spirit of vainglory. Have mercy on me, I beseech Thee, and do not forsake me, according to Thy promise.” When he had said this, Salvius became silent; then he began to eat and drink.

As I write these words, I fear that my account may seem quite incredible to some of my readers; and I am mindful of what the historian Sallust wrote: “When we record the virtue or glory of famous men, the reader will readily accept whatever he considers that he might have done himself; anything which exceeds these bounds of possibility he will regard as untrue.” I call Almighty God to witness that everything that I have related here I have heard from the lips of Salvius himself. (Vita Patrum: The Life of the Fathers by St. Gregory of Tours; trans. by Hieromonk Seraphim Rose. Chap. 21 pp. 295-298)