Life of Caprasius (BHL 1559, CPL 2092)
The Life of Caprasius is a short text which narrates the life of one of the founding monks at the monastery of Lérins in the early 5th century.
1. Let us recall the merits of Caprasius on today his feast day (1 June).
2-3. Caprasius' early life.
4. Caprasius meets *Honoratus (S00438
) and his brother Venantius and becomes their mentor.
5. He travels with them to the East and on their return to Gaul helps Honoratus to found the community at Lérins.
6. Caprasius' holiness.
7. Praise of Caprasius from the works of Hilary of Arles and Eucherius of Lyon.
8. Caprasius' death. He has a vision of the Archangel Michael on his deathbed.
9. Let us imitate Caprasius and seek his intercession.
Text: AASS, Iun. I, 75-77. Summary: David Lambert.
Saint NameCaprasius, monk at Lérins (ob. c. 434) : S00582
Honoratus, founder of Lérins and bishop of Arles, ob. 429/30 : S00438
Michael, the Archangel : S00181
Saint Name in SourceCaprasius
Type of EvidenceLiterary - Hagiographical - Lives
Literary - Sermons/Homilies
Evidence not before600
Evidence not after1000
Activity not before400
Activity not after1000
Place of Evidence - RegionGaul and Frankish kingdoms
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Tours
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsComposing and translating saint-related texts
Cult Activities - MiraclesMiracle during lifetime
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits
SourceCaprasius is well-attested in 5th century texts as a leading figure among the first generation of Lerinian ascetics. However, with the exception of the Life, whose date is uncertain, there is no evidence that he received cult as a saint before the 9th century.
The Life of Caprasius (its opening and closing suggest it was actually a sermon preached on his feast day) was manifestly written long after the lifetime of its subject, who died in the early 430s. It contains no independent information, and its content is mostly based on literary sources. After a formulaic account of Caprasius' youth, which must have been the invention of the author since there is no way he could have had any source of information about it, the Life depends entirely on four texts: the Sermon on the Life of Honoratus by Hilary of Arles (see E06026), the Life of Hilary of Arles (see E06072), Praise of the Desert (De laude eremi) by Eucherius of Lyon, and a fourth text, not extant, which described Caprasius' deathbed vision of the Archangel Michael.
We have included an entry on the Life of Caprasius in the Cult of Saints database because in works of reference and repertories of sources it is almost invariably dated to the 7th century (with occasional expressions of uncertainty): see Clavis Patrum Latinorum, 3rd ed., no. 2092; Van Uytfanghe 1987, 11 ('VIIe s.'); Heinzelmann 1990, 115 ('réd. au VIIe s.'); Godding 2000, xxvi ('VIIe s.'); Réal 2001 50 ('vie écrite au VIIe siècle'); Heinzelmann 2010, 58, expressing more uncertainty: 'pas avant le VIIe, voire le VIIIe siècle'.
However, this dating is almost certainly too early, and the Life is unlikely to date from earlier than the 9th century. This conclusion is based on the fact that at the close of the Life (§ 9) the author gives the date of Caprasius' death according to the anno domini dating system, stating that he died 'around four hundred and thirty years [from the time] of human redemption' (circa annos humanae redemptionis triginta super quadringentos). The use of A.D. dating in the Life was the reason (the only reason) given by the Bollandist editor for dating it to the 7th century (AASS, Iun. I, 77): [Caprasius] circa annum CCCCXXX ex hac vita ad optata gaudia supernorum transiisse traditur in ipsis Actis, quae vel ex hac annorum Christi supputatione colligimus, non nisi septimo Christi seculo fuisse conscripta ('[Caprasius] is said to have passed from this life to the longed-for joys of the heavens around the year 430 in these Acts themselves, which we conclude, from their computation by years of Christ, were not written except in the seventh century of Christ'). However, it is now known that AD dating, although it was devised in the early 6th century by Dionysius Exiguus, was not used to date historical events before c. AD 700, and did not come into common use in Gaul/Francia until after 800 (Declercq 2000, 169-188, esp. 184).
It is also relevant to note that, excluding the Life, there is no evidence before the 9th century of Caprasius receiving cult, or of 1 June as his feast day. The earliest datable reference to both appears in the Martyrology of Florus of Lyon (compiled c. 830). Caprasius does not appear in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, which provides a record of saints venerated in Gaul in the late 6th century.
No medieval manuscript of the Life of Caprasius is known to survive; the two 17th c. manuscripts listed in the Bollandist BHLms database (http://bhlms.fltr.ucl.ac.be) post-date the first printed editions. These editions, by Laurentius Surius (1579) and Vincentius Barralis (1613), are the earliest witnesses to the text. Both claim to be based on 'an ancient manuscript of Lérins', but this was already lost by the time the Bollandist edition was produced in the later 17th century.
Acta Sanctorum, Iun. I, 75-77.
Narbey, C., Supplément aux Acta SS pour des Vies de Saints de l’époque mérovingienne II (Paris, 1910-1912), 193-194.
Barralis, V., Chronologia Lerinensis (Lyon, 1613), vol. 1, 191-3.
Surius, L., De probatis sanctorum historiis, Tomus tertius (Cologne, 1579), 506-8.
Declercq, G., Anno Domini: The Origins of the Christian Era (Turnhout 2000).
Dekkers, E., and Gaar, E., Clavis Patrum Latinorum, 3rd ed. (Turnhout, 1995).
Godding, R., Prêtres en Gaule mérovingienne (Brussels, 2001).
Heinzelmann, M., "Studia sanctorum. Éducation, milieu d'instruction et valeurs éducatives dans l'hagiographie en Gaule jusqu'à la fin de l'époque mérovingienne," in: M. Sot (ed.), Haut Moyen-Âge: Culture, éducation et société. Études offertes à Pierre Riché (La Garenne-Colombes, 1990), 105-138.
Heinzelmann, M., "L'hagiographie mérovingienne. Panorama des documents potentiels," in: M. Goullet, M. Heinzelmann, and C. Veyrard-Cosme (eds.), L'hagiographie mérovingienne à travers ses réécritures (Beihefte der Francia 71; Ostfildern, 2010), 27-82.
Réal, I., Vies de saints, vie de famille. Représentation et système de la parente dans le Royaume mérovingien (481-751) d’après les sources hagiographiques (Turnhout, 2001).
Van Uytfanghe, M., Stylisation biblique et condition humaine dans l'hagiographie mérovingienne (600-750) (Brussels, 1987).