Vigilantius a presbyter of the early part of the 5th century, belongs to the number of isolated testes veritatis who rose in opposition to the errors of the Church with respect to worship and morals, which were becoming increasingly notorious with the advancing years of the 4th century. He was a native of Calagurris, now Casere, in the county of Commenges (Convennae). His Gallic extraction is indisputably proven, despite the fact that some authorities have been misled into stating that he was of Spanish family. He was brought up to follow the business of inn-keeping; but in 395 (?) visited Paulinus of Nola (q.v.), and immediately afterwards was ordained presbyter. Recommended to Jerome by Paulinus, he traveled into the East and visited Jerusalem in 396, meeting with a friendly reception at the hands of Jerome, but making no favorable impression upon his heart. Jerome had two especially tender spots in his character-the one an inordinate vanity because of his learning, and the other an exalted opinion of his own orthodoxy; and Vigilantius managed to fret them both. He was not possessed of learned culture, though Gennadius credits him with being lingua politus; and yet he laid claim to the literary character; and, with the practical disposition of a Western mind, he objected to the speculative dogmatics of Origen, upon whose study Jerome was at that time employed, and even raised suspicions against the soundness of Jerome's personal views. Jerome at first attempted to prove the correctness of his creed; but Vigilantius, having refused to avail himself of the scholar's hospitality and departed from Jerusalem, felt himself bound by no restraints, and issued an epistle condemnatory of Jerome's Origenism (see Hieron. Ep. 109, 2, inter Adriae Fluctus Cottiique Regis Alpes), in response to which the irascible saint compared him to Judas and termed him an ass. Either just before, or immediately subsequent to, the sojourn at Jerusalem, Vigilantius went to Egypt, but the exact time is not determined; and a similar uncertainty surrounds the place of his residence on his return to the West. The letters of Jerome appear to compel the conclusion that his opponent was settled in Gaul, while Gennadius makes him to have charge of a parish in Barcelona. We incline to believe the former the only settlement of the question which can be successfully defended. Eight years after the departure of Vigilantius from Jerusalem, a presbyter named Riparius notified Jerome that his adversary was teaching very questionable doctrines and disturbing the entire (Gallic?) Church with the promulgation of his views. He thereupon renewed his attacks upon Vigilantius (Ep. Contra Vig. 18), but, much to the surprise of himself and other students of the situation, without giving wider dimensions to the quarrel; for Vigilantius was certainly supported by many of the lower clergy and of the laity, and was even protected by bishops. No answer was made to Jerome's abusive epistle, and Vigilantius thenceforward drops out of view, either because he soon afterwards died, or because the barbarian invasions of Gaul crowded the paper quarrels of incensed churchmen out of sight.
The views which stirred the soul of Jerome to wrath are not preserved to us in sufficient fullness to furnish a connected system. The primary object of attack by Vigilantius was the veneration of martyrs and of relics. He doubted the genuineness of the relics, and condemned the bearing about of dead men's bones enswathed in costly wrappings. He also considered the invocation of martyrs as a deifying of the creature and a step backward into heathenism, and insisted that it implies the doctrine of their omnipresence, and that their intercession cannot be safely relied upon, since their prayers in their own behalf were not always answered. He held that the miraculous power with which relics were supposed to be endowed had not extended further than to the close of the distinctively missionary period of the Church. The burning of daylight candles in the basilicas was rejected by him on the ground that the martyrs, in whose honor the basilicas were erected, were rejoicing in the light of the Lamb on the throne, and had no need of such illuminations. The celebration of vigils (q.v.) and martyrs feasts was denounced as involving danger to public morals; but he violated consistency in consenting that vigils might be kept in connection with the Easter festival.
In the field of morals, Vigilantius draws still nearest to the evangelical position, particularly upon the question of the celibacy of the priesthood, which he condemned, as he did monasticism, with its voluntary vows of poverty and solitude. He reasoned that it is better to contribute regularly to the relief of the poor than toe alienate possessions by a single act, and that to flee from the world is not to conquer it. He was especially outspoken in criticisms of the fanatical monks of the East, whose fantastic eccentricities he had himself observed. He furthermore opposed the donations of money, which it was customary to send to Jerusalem a measure, which Jerome might almost regard as a direct attack upon himself. In all these arguments, Vigilantius evidently holds that there is no distinction of morality into higher and lower classes, but that the demands of virtue are equally binding upon all men. He was not the equal of Jovinian (q.v.) in speculative ability, but merely a clear-headed exponent of the instinct of an earnest piety which lived in his soul. He was pious rather than philosophical; and he was, moreover, not deeply learned in the Scriptures. His work was not of lasting consequence, probably because he lacked the reformatory spirit which alone is competent to resist the perverse tendencies of a degenerating age. See Jerome, Epp. and De Viris Illustribus, with the continuation of Gennadius (q.v.); Paulinus of Nola, Ep. ad Severum, 5, 11 (Aug. Epp. 24. 4); Vogel, De Vigilantio Haretico Orthodoxo (Erfurt, 1756), in Walch, Ketzergesch 3, 673-704. The latter gives, in addition, citations from other and earlier writers. See also Baur, Die christl Kirche vom 4. bis un 6. Jahrhundert, p. 317 sq.; and Lindner, De Joviniano et Vigilantio, etc. (Lips. 1840); Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.