Saint of the Day – 2 December – Saint Chromatius of Aquileia (Died c 407) Bishop of Aquileia, Theologian, Exegete, Writer and friend of St Ambrose and Jerome, defender of St John Chrysostom. Chromatius opposed Arianism with much zeal and rooted it out in his Diocese.
Chromatius was brought up in the city of Aquileia, at the head of the Adriatic Sea. In all likelihood, he was born here as well. His father died when he was young and he lived with his mother, older brother and unmarried sisters. His mother had the good opinion of St Jerome, which the Saint expressed in a letter to her, quoted below, in 374. His brother, Eusebius, also became a Bishop and he is also a Saint. Chromatius, had learned at home to know and love Christ. Jerome himself spoke of this in terms full of admiration and compared Chromatius’ mother to the Prophetess Anna, his two sisters to the Wise Virgins of the Gospel Parable and Chromatius himself and his brother Eusebius, to the young Samuel (cf. Ep. VII: PL XXII, 341). Jerome wrote further of Chromatius and Eusebius: “Blessed Chromatius and St Eusebius were brothers by blood, no less than by the identity of their ideals” (Ep. VIII: PL XXII, 342).
After his ordination, Chromatius took part in the synod against Arianism in 381. On the death of St Valerian in 388, he was elected Bishop of Aquileia and became one of the most distinguished prelates of his time. After receiving episcopal ordination from Bishop Ambrose, he dedicated himself courageously and energetically to an immense task because of the vast territory entrusted to his pastoral care – the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Aquileia, in fact, stretched from the present-day territories of Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria and Slovenia, as far as Hungary.
How well known and highly esteemed Chromatius was in the Church of his time, we can deduce from an episode in the life of St John Chrysostom. When the Bishop of Constantinople was exiled from his See, he wrote three letters to those he considered the most important Bishops of the Wes,t seeking to obtain their support with the Emperors – he wrote one letter to the Bishop of Rome, the second to the Bishop of Milan and the third to the Bishop of Aquileia. Those were difficult times also for Chromatius because of the precarious political situation.
Situated at one of the busiest crossroads of the Roman Empire, Aquileia was a major center of trade and commerce. Under Chromatius’ care, guidance and influence, it also became renowned as a centre of learning and orthodoxy. He baptised the monk, theologian and historian, Rufinus in his early manhood.
He kept up an extensive correspondence with both Sts Ambrose and Jerome and also with Rufinus. A scholarly theologian himself, Chromatius encouraged the Bishop of Milan to write exegetical works and also supported St Jerome in his own writings. He helped St Heliodorus of Altino to finance St Jerome’s translation of the Bible. It was also owing to Chromatius’ encouragement that Rufinus undertook the translation of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History and other works.
In the bitter quarrel between St Jerome and Rufinus concerning Origenism, Chromatius, while rejecting the false doctrines of Origen of Alexandria, attempted to make peace between the disputants.
“Chromatius was a wise teacher and a zealous shepherd. His first and main commitment was to listen to the Word, to be able to subsequently proclaim it – he always based his teaching on the Word of God and constantly returned to it. Certain subjects are particularly dear to him – first of all, the Trinitarian mystery, which he contemplated in its revelation throughout the history of salvation.
Then, the theme of the Holy Spirit – Chromatius constantly reminds the faithful of the presence and action, in the life of the Church, of the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity. But the holy Bishop returned with special insistence to the mystery of Christ. The Incarnate Word is true God and true man – He took on humanity in its totality to endow it with His own divinity. These truths, which he also reaffirmed explicitly in order to counter Arianism, were to end, up about 50 years later in the definition of the Council of Chalcedon. The heavy emphasis on Christ’s human nature led Chromatius to speak of the Virgin Mary. His Mariological doctrine is clear and precise. To him we owe evocative descriptions of the Virgin Most Holy – Mary is the “evangelical Virgin capable of accepting God”; she is the “immaculate and inviolate ewe lamb” who conceived the “Lamb clad in purple” (cf. Sermo XXIII, 3: Scrittori dell’area santambrosiana 3/1, p. 134). The Bishop of Aquileia often compares the Virgin with the Church – both, in fact, are “virgins” and “mothers.” Chromatius developed his ecclesiology above all in his commentary on Matthew. These are some of the recurring concept -: the Church is one, she is born from the Blood of Christ; she is a precious garment woven by the Holy Spirit; the Church is where the fact that Christ was born of a Virgin is proclaimed, where brotherhood and harmony flourish. One image of which Chromatius is especially fond is that of the ship in a storm – and his were stormy times, as we have heard: “There is no doubt,” the Holy Bishop says, “that this ship represents the Church” (cf. Tractatus XLII, 5: Scrittori dell’area santambrosiana 3/2, p. 260).
… Let us include an exhortation of Chromatius which is still perfectly applicable today: “Let us pray to the Lord with all our heart and with all our faith,” the Bishop of Aquileia recommends in one of his Sermons, “let us pray to Him to deliver us from all enemy incursions, from all fear of adversaries. Do not look at our merits but at His mercy, at Him ,who also in the past deigned to set the Children of Israel free, not for their own merits but through His mercy. May He protect us with His customary merciful love and bring about for us, what holy Moses said to the Children of Israel – The Lord will fight to defend you and you will be silent. It is He who fights, it is He who wins the victory…. And so that He may condescend to do so, we must pray as much as possible. He himself said, in fact, through the mouth of the prophet – Call on me on the day of tribulation; I will set you free and you will give me glory” (Sermo XVI, 4: Scrittori dell’area santambrosiana 3/2, pp. 100-102).
Thus, at the very beginning of the Advent Season, St Chromatius reminds us that Advent is a time of prayer in which it is essential to enter into contact with God. God knows us, He knows me, He knows each one of us, He loves me, He will not abandon me. Let us go forward with this trust in the liturgical season that has just begun.” (QUOTE – Pope Benedict XVI General Audience, 5 December 2007).
Chromatius was also an active exegete. Seventeen of his treatises on St Matthew’s Gospel survive, as well as a fine homily on the Eight Beatitudes. In all likelihood, Chromatius died in exile, in Grado, while he was attempting to escape the incursions of the Barbarians in 407, the same year in which St Chrysostom also died.