St. Brice of Tours, Bishop
(Brictio, Britius, Brixius)
Died 444. God loves variety. He doesn't mass-produce his saints. Every
saint is unique, for each is the result of a new idea. As the liturgy
says: "Non est inventus similis illis"--there are no two exactly alike.
It is we with our lack of imagination, who
paint the same haloes on all the saints.
God loves variety. Sometimes He seemingly takes pleasure in placing
side by side two saints whose characters should make it impossible for
them to get along together. No doubt God wants to teach them
humility,by showing them that each represents only a small part of the
mystery of saintliness; and perhaps God also wants to reassure us, by
telling us that if there are many mansions in heaven, there are also
many roads leading there.
And so it was in the 4th century in Touraine, France. God set the
Saint Martin of Tours (f.d. November 11)
the difficult Saint Brice. Unlike his master, Brice was a proud,
When still very young, Brice entered the monastery that Martin had
founded at Marmoutier, just outside Tours. At first he was just an
ordinary, boisterous young monk, but soon he grew up. By the time he
was 18, he had become a deacon and had his own stables and slaves.
Martin, whose enemies reproached him for his excessive poverty and for
what Gaston Boissier has called his 'rather democratic' outlook, was
worried about the way the young deacon was behaving and remonstrated
with him like a father.
Brice bristled and answered the bishop with biting sarcasm. How could a
barbarian from the wilds of Hungary tell him, who had been born on the
banks of the Loire, how to behave? Was he, who had been educated
properly, to take instruction from an improperly educated old legionary?
Anyone who has ever dealt with teenagers can imagine the encounter.
Unlike most adults, however, Martin listened calmly and replied gently.
He even predicted that Brice would one day become bishop, but that his
episcopate would not be a peaceful one. The vicars-general and the
canons of Tours, who didn't relish the idea of one day being ruled by
this spitfire, urged Martin to send him packing.
But Martin replied, "If Christ put up with Judas, then surely I can put
up with Brice."
Brice continued to hold Martin in contempt, but despite Brice's attitude
Martin dealt patiently with him, and eventually Brice repented with
great remorse and begged Martin's forgiveness.
When Martin died, Brice succeeded him in 397 as bishop of Tours-- not by
tricks or intrigue but by the regular open vote of the people. For 30
years Brice taught, baptized, confirmed, administered, and fulfilled all
his duties as bishop. Several times Brice was accused of laxness but
nothing really extraordinary happened, none of those miracles or
scandals that were as dear to the hearts of the chroniclers then as they
are to journalists today.
Nevertheless, Brice slept badly; he couldn't forget that Martin had
predicted that he would be put to the test, and with a man like Martin
there wasn't the slightest hope that the prediction would prove false.
It might be late coming, but come it would. And every day for 30 years
Brice waited for the fulfilment of the prophecy. It was uncomfortable
but God had chosen it as a way of deflating the excessive conceit of
Then it happened. One morning the rumour ran through the streets of
Tours that a seamstress belonging to the bishop's palace had borne him a
son. What a windfall for the town's gossips!
The accusation was false, but how to prove it? Since blood tests for
paternity hadn't been discovered, Brice had to find another way. He had
the infant brought to him, and, in his most episcopal voice, said, "I
admonish you in the name of Jesus Christ to say, in the presence of
everybody, if I am the man who fathered you." To which the baby
replied, "You are not my father."
Such precociousness seemed suspicious to those present, and they thought
that there must be some trick (all of this is recorded by
Saint Gregory of Tours (f.d. November 17)).
At any rate Brice's people were so far
from being convinced that they expelled their bishop by physical force.
Brice didn't resist, for he realised that Martin's prophecy was now
being fulfilled. About 430, he used his free time to make a journey to
Rome which took him seven years. During his 'exile' Brice had an
opportunity to repent of his ways and completely changed his lifestyle.
On his way back home he founded several new Christian centres.
When the seven years had passed, Brice returned to Tours. Just as he
was coming into sight of the town, a fever killed the bishop who had
been elected his successor. Not wanting to be lacking in politeness,
Brice quickened his step and arrived in time to perform the funeral
rites for this most tactful of bishops. He then resumed the episcopate
himself for the remaining years of his life and ruled with humility,
holiness, and ability.
At his death he was held to be a saint, and rightly so, such was the
change of his manners and way of life. He was buried in the same church
as Saint Martin, for now that they were both saints there was no reason
why they shouldn't sleep side-by-
side. God had destined them to be together and to serve as foundations
for the church of Tours. By joining the serenity of Martin to the
vigour of Brice, harmony was ensured for a town where the Loire and
In art Saint Brice carries hot coals in his vestments. Sometimes he is
pictured as (1) carrying fire in his hand; (2) with a child in his arms
or near him; or (3) with Saint Martin of Tours
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Page last updated: 3 November 2008
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