Saint of the Day – 2 August – Saint Serenus of Marseilles (Died c 606) the 10th Bishop of Marseilles. Died in c 606 near Biandrate, Piedmont, Italy of natural causes. Also known as – Sereno, Clear (translation of his name). Patronages – for good weather, for good harvests, of Biandrate, Italy.
Serenus is known through an exchange of letters with Pope Gregory the Great (540-604). The correspondence between the Pope and the Bishop of Marseilles concerned the position of the Church in regard to the images in the Churches and the journey undertaken by Saint Augustine, the future Archbishop of Canterbury and the Monks who accompanied him to the England.
He would have died near Biandrate in the Diocese of Vercelli on his return from Rome where he had been to discuss his iconoclastic positions regarding the veneration of images. We know little else but this Saint except that he was a zealous and holy Bishop sincerely aiming to foster the faith of his flock and adherence to Holy Mother Church.
He was buried in a field near the Benedictine Abbey of San Nazzaro. His body,was found in the Middle Ages, by a farmer working the field, and his relics were then reenshrined in the St Columba of Biandrate.
The Bishop had destroyed the holy images by strictly applying the commandment given by God to Moses.
In 599, the Pope sent Father Cyriaque to Gaul. Having to go through Marseilles, he had given Cyriaque a letter he had written to the Bishop :
“I learned a long time ago that seeing a few people worshiping the pictures of the Church you broke them and threw them out. I praise your zeal to prevent man-made things from being worshiped but I believe you should not shatter these images. Because we put paintings in Churches so that those who cannot read can see, on the walls, what they cannot learn from books. So you had to keep them and divert the people from sinning by worshiping paintings .
Serenus replied to the Pope, doubting that this letter was from him. The Pope replied to him the following year:
You must have had no suspicion of Father Cyriaque, who was the bearer of my letters .
Then talking about pictures:
Tell me, my brother, what Bishop have you ever heard of who did the same? Should not this consideration only hold you back so as not to appear alone pious and wise, in contempt of your brothers? … It is said that by shattering these images you scandalised your people so much, that most of them broke away from your community. We must remind them of them and show them, that through the Holy Scriptures, that it is not allowed to worship what is made by hand. Then add, that seeing the legitimate use of the images, turned into worship, you were outraged and made them break. You will add – if you want to have images in the Church, for your instruction, for which they were made in the past, I will gladly allow you. So you will soften them and bring them back to union. If someone wants to make images, do not prevent him: only forbid worshiping them. The sight of the stories must excite in them compunction but they must prostrate themselves only to adore the Holy Trinity. I tell you all this only out of my love for the Church, not to weaken your zeal but to encourage you in your duty.“
Saint Gregory the Great, after Basil the Great (329-379), Gregory of Nazianze (330-390), Gregory of Nyssa (335-394) and PaulinE of Nola (353-431), resumes in his letters that the images are useful for those who cannot read books.
Gregory the Great sets three roles for images in his two letters to Serenus
1. educate the illiterate,
2. to fix the memory of holy history,
3. arouse a feeling of compunction among the faithful.“
But the Bishop must teach, that pictures cannot be worshiped.