What do we do when we face the evil of our past? Not what we have done, but rather the evils done to us in our innocence. How should we respond to evil done against us?
The lives of two men with similar origins might give us some idea of, on the one hand, what to avoid when facing evil and, on the other hand, what to strive for. The two men are Julian the Apostate and Clodoald, more commonly known as St. Cloud.
Apostating into Darkness
Emperor Constantine’s death in 331 led to his son Constantine II becoming Roman emperor. The fearful Constantine II purged his family of potential political rivals, having his uncles and most of his male cousins executed. One of the survivors was the six-year-old Julian. The shock of this familial slaughter scarred Julian; though baptized, he grew to reject the Christian Faith, to which his family’s murderers belonged.
Julian himself became emperor in 361. At first, he hid his apostasy, though before long it became the driving force behind his imperial decisions. He hated Christianity, yet in his vengeance he ironically helped strengthen Christian orthodoxy. Arianism, though condemned as a heresy at the Council of Nicaea in 325, remained influential thanks to official political support by Julian’s “Christian” relatives. Julian removed that political protection and brought orthodox bishops back from exile. His hope was that the warring Christian factions would annihilate each other; instead, orthodox Christians were able to reestablish the Church in the Empire.
Julian also attempted to attack Christianity by undermining Christ Himself. The emperor sought to prove Christ a fraud by rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. Since Christians saw Christ as the fulfillment of the Jerusalem Temple and the sacrifices therein (see, for example, the Letter to the Hebrews), rebuilding the Temple would show, at least in Julian’s mind, that the whole Christian affair was not worth the wood of the cross.
From the start the venture was fraught with disaster. Earthquakes stalled the work, yet Julian’s workers continued; fireballs which erupted from the base of the Temple, however, were more than they could endure. Julian soon abandoned the project. Christ remained the Victor, and His flock drew strength from this spiritual victory. This strength came out clearly during the short persecution Julian launched against Christians just before his death in 363.
So we see the way of vengeance. Julian let his anger ferment over the decades until it burst forth, raging against Christ and his Church. In as much as he embraced this rage, he and his mission failed.
Handing on the Light
France owes its title of “Eldest Daughter of the Church” to Clovis and St. Clotilda, the first Frankish king to convert to Christ and his saintly wife. Upon Clovis’ death in 511, rule of his kingdom passed to his three sons, the eldest of which, Clodomir, was soon slain in battle.
Clodomir’s widow married her brother-in-law, Clotair, and Clodomir’s three sons went to live with their grandmother, St. Clotilda.
Fearful of the boys’ potential to revolt against his authority, their uncle Clotair tricked Clotilda into handing over the boys to him, whereupon he and his other brother murdered two of the three boys (none yet old enough to rule).
The surviving brother, Clodoald, was a mere eight years old. Exactly how Clodoald escaped his murderous uncles is unknown; some faithful Christians, it seems, hid him and smuggled him out of the Frankish court. He grew up in the care of the Church, and when he came of age he shaved his head (his hair being a symbol of his status as royal heir), publicly renounced his claim to the Frankish throne, and entered the religious life. He began his religious life as a hermit under the tutelage of St. Severinus. Receiving a religious habit from the holy monk, Clodoald left the relative bustle of the hermitage outside of Paris for the quiet life in Provence. His hope was to serve Christ through prayer and quiet study.
Seeking Out Clodoald
Yet the holy man is rarely allowed to live his reclusivity. People learned of Clodoald’s hermitage and began to flock to him. He had already given away all of his possessions, save his monk’s habit. He performed miraculous healings and counseled those who came to him. One day, a poor man came begging; Clodoald gave him his only remaining possession: his religious habit. The next night, however, the beggar returned with the habit, which was glowing in the night. Locals witnessed the glowing garment, and word spread, inspiring more people to come and visit the saint.
In 551, Clodoald became a priest at the request of the people of Paris. He worked among them tirelessly; he even reconciled with his murderous uncles, who repented and returned to the Faith. Still desiring peace, Clodoald, or Cloud, as he became commonly called, withdrew from Paris to the town of Nogent with a small community of men who sought to, like him, withdraw from the corruptions of the Frankish court. They established a monastery on land donated by Cloud’s uncles; there St. Cloud live out the rest of his short life. He died in the monastery he founded in 560, only 38 years old. His community did not die with him, however. It grew so that the town and monastery became interchangeable; Nogent became the modern-day town of Saint-Cloud in France.
And What of us?
What are we to do when faced with evil done against us? We may either exact revenge or work with Our Lord to bring good out of evil. In both of the stories examined here, we can see the beauty of God’s Providence.
In the murder of his family, Julian saw only darkness, and it was that darkness that he embraced. Yet from this evil, Christ’s Church emerged from the shadows of oppression and Christ’s Divinity was once again glorified.
In the murder of his brothers, Clodoald, St. Cloud, saw God’s mercy in his survival. He followed God’s call for him to bring human love and divine charity to a barbarian world which knew Him not. In his short, humble life, St. Cloud gave Christ to those who hungered for Him, not only in word and sacrament, but also in the sacrifice of his own life. We can see this in the story of his habit. He gave his whole life to his flock, sparing not the clothes he wore, and Christ used what he gave to illuminate the darkness of his age.
We, then, should take the path of St. Cloud, which was the path of Him who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6) and who declared He is the “light of the world” (John 8:12). Christ, in his love, shared that role of light with us (Matthew 5:14-16), so that His light might pierce even the darkest corner of the world: the shadows in our own hearts.
Like St. Cloud, we turn to Christ. Even in these dark days for our world and for the Church, it is in Him that we find our way, our light, and our peace.