Saint Zénon de Vérone
Évêque de Vérone, martyr (✝ 380)
Évêque et confesseur.
Il naquit en Afrique du Nord. Sous le règne de Julien l'Apostat, il vint à Vérone en Italie où il baptisa de nombreux idolâtres et incita ses fidèles à quitter l'arianisme. Il montrait un grand exemple de pauvreté évangélique. Pour n'être à la charge de personne, il allait lui-même pêcher pour assurer sa subsistance.
À Vérone en Vénétie, vers 372, saint Zénon, évêque, dont les travaux et la prédication conduisirent la ville au baptême.
Entered in the Roman Martyrology on 12 April as a Bishop of Verona martyred under Gallienus. Probably, however, he was a confessor who governed the Church of Verona from 362-380. At Verona a basilica, San Zenone, is dedicated to his honour, and some thirty churches and chapels bear his name. In the basilica his statue, bearing the episcopal insignia, is prominent in the choir; coins with his likeness and an inscription were in use. On 21 May and 6 Dec. the translation of his body and his consecration were formerly commemorated. In "De viris illust." of St. Jerome and Gennadius, Zeno is not mentioned, but St. Ambrose (Ep. v) speaks of him as an episcopus sanctae memoriae, and St. Gregory (Dial., III, 19) relates a miracle wrought at the Church of St. Zeno at Verona. Mabillon ("Vetera analecta", Paris, 1675) published an anonymous poem, "De landibus Veronae", taken from the writing of Ratherius, Bishop of Verona (d. 974), found in the abbey at Lobbes in Belgium (P.L., XI, 154, 225), which gives a list of the bishops of Verona and makes Zeno eighth. In the Monastery di Classe at Ravenna was found an eighth-century chasuble (casula diptycha) with the names and pictures of thirty-five bishops of Verona on its front and back; among them was that of Zeno. This list was accepted by Gams in his "Series episcoporum" (Bigelmair, p. 27). Zeno had not been known as a writer before 1508, when two Dominicans, Albertus Castellanus and Jacobus de Leuco, edited at Venice 105 tractatus or sermons found in the episcopal library of Verona fifty years earlier. In 1739 the brothers Ballerini published "S. Zenonis episcopi Veronae sermones", with an elaborate prolegomena. From these it appears that Zeno was a native of Africa, eighth Bishop of Verona (362-80), an able speaker, and an untiring champion of Christianity against the heathens and of orthodoxy against the Arians. Much controversy arose as to the time at which St. Zeno lives, whether two bishops of Verona of this name were to be admitted or but one, and on the authorship of the sermons. Various opinions were held by Sixtus of Siena, Baronius, Ughelli, Dupin, Tillemont, Fabricius, and others. Of the 105 sermons 12 have been rejected as belonging to other authors. Of the rest 16 are larger sermons, the others merely sketches or perhaps fragments. They contain valuable material on Catholic doctrine, practice, and liturgy; they treat of God, creation, the Blessed Virgin, Holy Scripture, the Church, the sacraments, etc., and warn against the vices of the day.
DANIELL in Dict. Christ. Biog., s.v. Zeno (6); BARDENHEWER, Patrologie (Freiburg, 1910), 362; Zeitschrift fur kath. Theol. (Innsbruck, 1884), 233; Acta SS., II April, 68; HURTER, Nomenclator, I (1903), 362; BIGELMAIR, Zeno von Verona (Munster, 1904).
Mershman, Francis. "St. Zeno." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 11 Apr. 2015 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15754d.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. St. Zeno, pray for us.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
St. Zeno, Bishop of Verona, Confessor
From his life, compiled from his writings and other monuments, by Peter and Jerom Ballerini, two learned priests of Verona, and brothers, in their third dissertation in the excellent edition they gave of this father’s works, p. 109. See also the Marquis Scipio Maffei, Historiæ Diplomaticæ Monumenta, at the end, p. 329. Also the same author, Veronæ Illustratæ, par. II. The history of the translation of his relics by an anonymous monk; and Serie Chronologica del Vescovi di Verona, par Biancolini, a Verona, 1761, 4to.
THIS holy prelate is styled a martyr by St. Gregory the Great, 1 and in several martyrologies. But was honoured only with the title of confessor, in the ancient missal of Verona, before the time of Lewis Lippoman, bishop of that city, in 1548: 2 and it appears, from the manner in which St. Ambrose, who was his contemporary, writing to Syagrius, our saint’s successor, speaks of his happy death, and extols his eminent sanctity, that he did not die by the sword. 3 Living in the days of Constantius, Julian, and Valens, he might deserve the title of martyr, by sharing in the persecutions carried on by those princes. Hence, in some calendars, he is styled martyr, in others confessor.
The marquis Scipio Maffei, and some others, pretend from his name, that he was a Grecian: but the Ballerini show, from the natural easiness, and the sharpness and conciseness of his style, that he was by birth, or at least by education, a Latin, and an African; which is confirmed from his panegyric on St. Arcadius, a martyr of Mauritania. From the African martyr, called Zeno, it is clear this name was there in use. Our saint seems to have been made bishop of Verona in the year 362, in the reign of Julian the Apostate. We learn from several of his sermons, that he baptized every year a great number of idolaters, and that he exerted himself with great zeal and success against the Arians, whose party had been exceedingly strengthened in those parts by the favour of the emperor Constantius, and the artifices of the ringleaders of that sect, Ursacius and Valens, and particularly of Auxentius, who held the see of Milan, into which the heretics had intruded him, for twenty years, till 374. He also opposed himself, as a strong bulwark, against the errors of the Pelagians. The church of Verona was purged by his zealous labours and holy prayers, in a great measure, both of heresy and of idols. His flock being grown exceeding numerous, he found it necessary to build a great church, in which he was liberally assisted by the voluntary contributions of the rich citizens. 4 In this church he mentions a cross of wood erected, as it were, to defend the doors. 5 By the precepts and example of this good pastor, the people were so liberal in their alms, that their houses were always open to poor strangers, and none of their own country had occasion even to ask for relief, so plentifully were the necessities of all supplied. 6 And he congratulates them upon the interest which they accumulate in heaven by money bestowed on the poor, by which they not only subdue avarice, but convert its treasures to the highest advantage, and without exciting envy. “For what can be richer than a man to whom God is pleased to acknowledge himself debtor?” After the battle of Adrianople, in 378, in which the Goths defeated Valens, with a greater slaughter of the Romans than had ever been known since the battle of Cannæ, the barbarians made in the neighbouring provinces of Illyricum and Thrace an incredible number of captives. 7 It seems to have been, on this occasion, that the charities of the inhabitants of Verona were dispersed like fruitful seeds through the remotest provinces, and by them many were ransomed from slavery, many rescued from cruel deaths, many freed from hard labour. 8 St. Zeno himself lived in great poverty. 9 He makes frequent mention of the clergy which he trained up to the service of the altar, and the priests his fellow-labourers, to whom a retribution was allotted at Easter, according to every one’s necessities and functions. 10—He speaks of the ordinations 11 which he performed at Easter: 12 also the solemn reconciliation of penitents, which was another function of that holy time. 13 St. Ambrose mentions, 14 at Verona, virgins consecrated to God by St. Zeno, who wore the sacred veil, and lived in their own houses in the city; and others who lived in a monastery, of which he seems to have been both the founder and director, before any were established by St. Ambrose at Milan. Love-feasts, or agapes, were originally established on the festivals of martyrs in their cemeteries, which, by the degeneracy of manners, were at length converted into occasions of intemperance and vanity. St. Zeno inveighed warmly against this abuse. 15 Nor can we doubt but he was one of the principal amongst the bishops of Italy, who, by their zeal and eloquence, entirely banished out of their diocesses a custom which gave occasion to such an abuse, for which St. Austin gave them due praise. 16 St. Zeno extended his charity to the faithful departed, and condemned severely the intemperate grief of those who interrupted by their lamentations the divine sacrifices and public office of the church for their deceased friends, 17 which the priests performed by apostolic tradition at the death and funerals of those who slept in Christ.—St. Zeno received the crown of his labours by a happy death, in 380, on the 12th of April, on which day he is commemorated in the Roman Martyrology. He is honoured at Verona with two other festivals, that of the translation of his relics on the 21st of May, and that of his episcopal consecration, and also of the dedication of his new church in the reign of Pepin, king of Italy, on the 6th of December. The first church which bore his name was built over his tomb, on the banks of the river Adige, without the walls of the city. St. Gregory the Great relates the following miracle, which happened two centuries after the death of the saint, and which he learned from John the Patrician, who was an eye-witness, with king Autharis and count Pronulphus. 18 In the year 589, at the same time that the Tiber overflowed a considerable quarter of Rome, and the flood overtopped the walls, the waters of the Adige, which fall from the mountains with excessive rapidity, threatened to drown great part of the city of Verona. The people flocked in crowds to the church of their holy patron Zeno: the waters seemed to respect its doors, they gradually swelled as high as the windows, yet the flood never broke into the church, but stood like a firm wall, as when the Israelites passed the Jordan: and the people remained there twenty-four hours in prayer, till the waters subsided within the banks of the channel. This prodigy had as many witnesses as there were inhabitants of Verona. The devotion of the people to St. Zeno was much increased by this and other miracles; and, in the reign of Pepin, king of Italy, son of Charlemagne, and brother of Lewis Debonnaire, Rotaldus, bishop of Verona, translated his relics into a new spacious church, built under his invocation in 865, where they are kept with singular veneration in a subterraneous chapel. 19
St. Zeno is chiefly known to us by his sufferings for the faith. Persecutions and humiliations for Christ are not a chastisement, but a recompense, and the portion of his most faithful servants. Happy are they who know their value, and bear them at least with patience and resignation; but more happy they who, with the martyrs and all the saints, suffer them with a holy joy and exultation. From his own feeling sentiments, and perfect practice of patience, St. Zeno composed his excellent sermon on that virtue, which he closes with this pathetic prayer and eulogium. “How earnestly do I desire, if I were able, to celebrate thee, O Patience, queen of all things! but by my life and manners more than by my words. For thou restest in thy own action and council more than in discourses, and in perfecting rather than in multiplying virtues. Thou art the support of virginity, the secure harbour of widowhood, the guide and directress of the married state, the unanimity of friendship, the comfort and joy of slavery, to which thou art often liberty.—By thee, poverty enjoys all, because, content with itself, it bears all. By thee, the prophets were advanced in virtue, and the apostles united to Christ. Thou art the daily crown and mother of the martyrs. Thou art the bulwark of faith, the fruit of hope, and the friend of charity. Thou conductest all the people and all divine virtues, as dishevelled hairs bound up into one knot, for ornament and honour. Happy, eternally happy, is he who shall always possess thee in his soul.” 20 In the following discourse, he speaks no less pathetically on humility: but surpasses himself in his sermon on charity, or divine love, “O Charity! how tender, how rich, how powerful art thou! He who possesseth not thee, hath nothing. Thou couldst change God into man. Thou hast overcome death, by teaching a God to die,” 21 &c
Note 2. Hence some have distinguished two St. Zenos, bishops of Verona, the first a martyr, about the reign of Gallien: the other an illustrious father of the fourth century. But Onuphrius, in his exact history of the bishops of Verona, mentions but one of that name, the predecessor of Syagrius, in the fourth century: in which the Ballerini, and all judicious critics, now agree. [back]
Note 12. From the omission of Easter, in the enumeration of the times for conferring holy orders, by Gelasius, ep. 9, ad Episc. per Bruttios et Lucanium, c. 11, by Pope Zachary, in the Roman council, in 743, &c. some have pretended, with Quesnel (in Op. S. Leonis, diss. 3, n. 5, et non. in ep. 11,) and Mabillon, (Musæ Ital. t. 2, p. 104,) that anciently Easter was not one of the times for conferring holy orders. But that it was so at Verona, and, doubtless, in many other churches, is clear from St. Zeno, l. 2, Tr. 49, de Pascha 5, p. 261. The reconciliation of penitents was performed on Maunday Thursday, according to the Sacramentaries of Gelasius, &c. but on Good-Friday, at Milan, as appears from St. Ambrose, ep. 20, ad Marcellin, n. 26, imitated afterwards in Spain, and in some churches in France. See Martenne, t. 2, de Antiquis. Eccles. Ritibus, l. 1, c. 6, art. 5. [back]
Note 15. S. Zeno, l. 1, Tr. 15, p. 115; Vide Annot. 18, ib. and S. Ambr. 1, de Elia et Jejunio. c. 17, n. 62. [back]
Note 17. Solemnia ipsa divina quibus a Sacerdotibus Dei quiescentes commendari consueverunt, profanis aliquoties ululatibus rumpit. S. Zeno, l. 1, Tr. 16, p. 126. [back]
Note 19. The fire and spirit of the good African writers are so remarkable in the sermons of St. Zeno, that Gaspar Barthius calls him the Christian Apuleius. One hundred and twenty-seven sermons were printed under his name at Venice, in 1508, at Verona, in 1586, and in the Libraries of the Fathers. In the MS. copies, as in that which Hincmar gave to the monastery of St. Remigius, at Rheims, the title of St. Zeno’s works belonged only to the first part, and others of different authors were added without their names or a different title. Hence Dupin, Tillemont, Ceillier, t. 8, p. 362, and others, have been led into several mistakes about the writings of St. Zeno, which are corrected, and all the difficulties cleared up, by the two learned editors of the new excellent edition, published at Verona, in folio, in 1739, and dedicated to Cardinal Passionei. Here, according to the ancient MSS. these sermons are called Tractatus, which title was given in that age to familiar short discourses made to the people. They are divided into two books; the first of which contains sixteen Tractatus, or sermons, the second seventy-seven, much shorter. Many points of morality and discipline, as well as articles of our faith, are illustrated in these discourses. It appears, from l. 2, tr. 35, p. 234, that it was the custom at that time to plunge the whole body in the water in baptism, and that the water was warmed; for which purpose the editors observe, that the Popes Innocent I. and Sixtus III. had adorned the great baptistery at Rome with two silver stags with cocks. St. Zeno is the only author who mentions the custom of giving a medal to every one that was baptized. See the Ballerini, Annot. ib. p. 233, et in l. 1, Tractat. 14, p. 108. The spurious discourses are thrown into an appendix, and consist of two sermons of Potamius, a Greek bishop, mentioned in a letter written to St. Athanasius, published by Luke D’Acheri in his Spicilegium, t. 3, p. 299. Five others are St. Hilary’s, who was contemporary with St. Zeno, and four are a free translation from St. Basil’s, probably made by Rufin of Aquileia. [back]
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume IV: April. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
Zeno of Verona B (RM)
(also known as Zenone)
Born in North Africa; died at Verona, Italy, April 12, 371 (or 380); additional feasts in Verona are celebrated on May 21 (translation) and December 6 (episcopal consecration). Because Saint Zeno's sermon on the martyrdom of Saint Arcadius appears to be an eyewitness description, Zeno was probably born in Mauretania near Algiers before 302.
On December 8, 362, during the reign of Julian the Apostate, Saint Zeno was consecrated bishop of Verona, Italy, possibly by Bishop Aussenzius of Milan. Soon after his arrival in Verona, he fought against the idolatry that had spread throughout the city; he even managed to reduce it in the surrounding country where paganism was more entrenched. He also strongly opposed the Arian heresy, and defended the eternal generation of the Word, the intimate union of the Holy Spirit and the Son with the Father.
His success, in part, was due to his training as an orator. Zeno drew large crowds for his sermons, 93 of which still exist--the earliest collection of Latin homilies we possess. In fact, the crowds were so massive whenever Zeno preached that he was obliged to build a bigger cathedral. Each Easter many whose hearts were converted were baptized into the faith. He preached often to a group of nuns who lived in a convent he himself had founded. Long before Saint Ambrose did the same in Milan, Zeno encouraged virgins living at home to be consecrated.
While Zeno had a reputation as a hard-working pastor, who was zealous in building churches, in almsgiving, and in purging Arianism, he is remembered primarily as an ecclesiastical writer, especially on the topic of the virgin birth of our Lord. His sermons are of interest for the information they provide about Christian teaching, worship, organization, and life in the fourth century. He emphasizes the importance of the Sacraments for the Christian life. To him, Baptism is "the sacrament that truly calls men from death to life." Even though his sermons never mention the Eucharist, he indirectly stresses its importance by speaking of the "precious bread and wine that comes from our Father's table" and admonishing his flock that "none of you should ever take the Sacrifice unworthily, because offering unworthily is sacrilege, and taking unworthily is deadly." Saint Zeno offers practical advice for the Christian life. He notes that faith in God's revealed truth is necessary, but more important for eternal salvation is charity.
Most of the extant details about Saint Zeno's life derive from medieval documents that mix facts and legend. According to these stories, Zeno loved fishing in the River Adige (the second longest in Italy) that flows through Verona and may have been a fisherman before his consecration. For this reason, his symbol today is a fish. He also chose to live in great poverty and seclusion. By the precepts and example of this good pastor, the people were so liberal in their alms, that their houses were always open to poor strangers, and none of their own country had the need even to ask for relief. He congratulates them upon the interest they accumulate in heaven by money bestowed on the poor, by which they not only subdue avarice, but convert its treasures to the highest advantage, and without exciting envy. "For what can be richer than a man to whom God is to acknowledge himself debtor?" This inspiration to charity proved vital when the Goths overran the neighborhood and took many captives. The people of Verona were foremost in offering all they possessed to ransom these prisoners.
Zeno is said to have saved the city of Pistoia, Italy, from flood by creating an exit for the waters of the Rivers Arno and Ombrone through what is now known as the Gonfolina Pass.
Saint Gregory the Great mistakenly calls Zeno a martyr, but the ancient missals of Verona and Saint Ambrose call him a confessor. This same Gregory relates a miracle that took place two centuries after Zeno's death based on an eyewitness account. In 589, when the River Adige threatened to drown most of Verona, the people flocked to the church of their holy patron Zeno. The waters seemed to respect its doors, they gradually swelled as high as the windows, yet the flood never broke into the church, but stood like a firm wall, as when the Israelites passed the Jordan; and the people remained there 24 hours in prayer until the waters subsided. The devotion of the people to Saint Zeno increased because of this and other miracles; and, in the reign of Pepin, son of Blessed Charlemagne and brother of Louis Debonnaire, Bishop Rotaldus of Verona, translated Zeno's relics into a spacious, new church.
The body of the saint lies today in one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches of Italy, San Zeno Maggiore in Verona. In the tympanum over the great west doorway is sculpted the dark-skinned saint, who holds a fishing rod as he tramples down the devil. Zeno's tomb is in the huge, 12th-century crypt, where they were placed in 807 after having rested in various churches (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Bentley, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Husenbeth).
In art, Saint Zeno is a bishop with a fish (a symbol for baptism or of an angler?) tied to his crozier, or holding a fishing rod (Ferguson, Roeder). He is invoked for children learning to speak and walk (Roeder) and as the patron of Verona (Ferguson).
Particular thanks for supplementary information goes to the Veronese fan of Saint Zeno, Francesco Foti.