January 1 : Fulgentius, bishop of Ruspe (533)

Fulgentius, bishop of Ruspe (533) 

Born at Thelepte, c. 467; died at Ruspe, January 1, 533; feast day was January 3.

Fabius Claudius Gordianus Fulgentius was born into a family of senatorial rank in Carthage in North Africa and received an excellent education. He helped his widowed mother manage the family estate after his father's death and became well-known for his ability. Because of this he was appointed procurator of his native town and tax receiver of Byzacena.

At age 22 he gave up this post to enter a monastery there governed by an orthodox bishop, Faustus, who had been driven from his see by Arian King Huneric. Fulgentius's mother caused such an uproar with her vociferous objections to Faustus' accepting her son into the monastery that Faustus was obliged to leave, and Fulgentius also left, to enter a nearby monastery where the abbot, Felix, insisted that he rule equally with him. Thereafter his life was one of extreme austerity and simplicity.

The two ruled together for six years until in 499 they were forced to flee invading Numidians and went to Sicca Veneria. There they were arrested on the demand of an Arian priest, scourged, and tortured, but refused to apostatize from their orthodoxy and were then released.

Fulgentius set out to visit the monks in the Egyptian desert but instead went to Rome in 500 to visit the tombs of the Apostles. He returned to Byzacena soon after, built a monastery of which he was abbot and lived as a hermit in a cell nearby.

In 507, he was elected bishop of Ruspe (Kudiat Rosfa, Tunisia) against his will, but he used his influence to begin a monastery there in which to continue his austere lifestyle. The Arian Vandals occupied North Africa at this time, and Fulgentius had hardly taken over his see when, with scores of other orthodox bishops, he was banished to Sardinia. Encouraged by supplies and money from Pope Saint Symmachus, they persisted in their faith. Fulgentius founded a monastery at Cagliari and became spokesman for the exiled bishops.

During his exile at Cagliari, Fulgentius devoted himself to study and writing several treatises, including his Answer to Ten Objections, a reply to questions raised against orthodoxy by the Vandal king, Thrasimund. This attracted the king's attention and, in 515, he had Fulgentius brought to Carthage for discussions with the Arian clergy. Fulgentius also wrote Three Books to King Thrasimund, a refutation of Arianism. Fulgentius' influence over the Arian clergy was so powerful that, in 518 or 520, he was sent back to Sardinia, where he built another monastery near Cagliari.

Thrasimund's successor, Hilderic, finally let all the bishops return to their respective sees in 523. Thus nearly half of Saint Fulgentius' episcopate was passed in exile. Upon his return he set about reforming the abuses that had crept into his see during his absence. About 532 he attempted to retire to a monastery on the island of Circinia, but he was so beloved by his flock that they prevented him from passing his last years in seclusion. Later that same year he returned to Ruspe, where he died.

Fulgentius used his splendid gifts of oratory and administration on behalf of the Church to such an extent that his fellow citizens buried him within his church, contrary to the law and custom of his age.

Fulgentius was a theological writer, especially against Arianism, of some importance for the history of the Arian persecutions but of little originality; some of his opinions (e.g., concerning the destiny of unbaptized children) would seem shocking today, but were not uncommon in his time and place (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia).