He was born about 887/890 into a noble family which lived in the territory of Liège. While still a boy he was sent as an oblate to Lobbes Abbey belonging to the Order of Saint Benedict in the County of Hainaut, where he was a diligent student, acquired much learning, and became a monk of the abbey. At an early age he displayed a restless nature, a disposition difficult to get along with, great ambition and harsh zeal. Consequently, notwithstanding his strict orthodoxy, wide learning and sobriety of conduct, he met with great difficulties in every position he assumed, and nowhere attained permanent success. His entire life was a wandering one and not in reality fruitful. As presiding bishop he once commented that if he attempted to enforce the canons against unchaste persons who administered ecclesiastical rites, the Church would be without anyone except boys. And if he put into effect canons against bastards, they would also be excluded.
When Abbot Hilduin of Lobbes went in 926 to Italy, where his cousin, Hugh of Italy, was king, he took Ratherius with him as companion. After many difficulties, Ratherius received from the king the Diocese of Verona in 931. Yet he only ruled his see for two years, soon falling into a quarrel with both the members of his diocese and with the king, so that the latter sent him to prison and had him brought to Como. In 939 he escaped from Como into Provence, where he was tutor in a noble family until he returned to the Abbey of Lobbes in 944.
In 946 he went again to Italy and, after he had been held for some time as a prisoner by Berengar II of Italy, the opponent of King Hugo, he obtained once more the Diocese of Verona. The difficulties that arose were again so great that after two years he fled to Germany and for some time wandered restlessly about the country. He took part in the Italian expedition of Liudolf, Duke of Swabia, the son of Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor, but was not able to regain his diocese, and in 952 returned to Lobbes.
From Lobbes he was called to the cathedral school of Cologne by Archbishop Bruno of Cologne; who soon afterwards, in 953, gave Ratherius the Diocese of Liège. However, as early as 955, a revolt of the nobility against him obliged Ratherius to leave this see, and he now retired to Aulne Abbey. In 962 the Emperor Otto restored to him the Diocese of Verona, but after seven years of constant quarrels and difficulties he was obliged once more to withdraw. In 968 he went to Lobbes, where he incited such opposition against the Abbot Folcwin that Bishop Notker of Liège restored order by force, and in 972 sent Ratherius back to the Abbey of Aulne, where he remained until his death at Namur on 25 April 974.
Ratherius was also a fine preacher: one of his strengths was his skill in reviving old ideas and making them new once again
His writings are as unsystematic as his life was changeable and tumultuous. While his style is confused and lacks clearness, his writings generally had reference to particular occasions and were pamphlets and invectives against his contemporaries. He also wrote complaints against himself in his own affairs.
While imprisoned in Pavia Ratherius wrote Praeloquia, a treatise about holy living and the profane condition of the Italian bishops in six books, criticing all the social ranks of the period.
- "Conclusio deliberativa", and Phrensis (twelve books composed during a later time of strife, when Ratherius had been forced to relinquish the episcopal see of Verona), both in defence of his right to the Diocese of Liège
- "Dialogus confessionum" and "Qualitatis conjunctura", a self-accusation
- "De contemptu canonum", "Synodica", "Discordia inter ipsum et clericos", and "Liber apologeticus", against the ecclesiastics of his era and in defence of himself
Some of his sermons and letters have also been preserved. The writings throw much light upon his era. His works were edited by the brothers Ballerini (Verona, 1765); also in Patrologia Latina, CXXXVI. Unedited letters are to be found in "Studie documenti di storia e diritto" (1903) 51-72.
- Paton, Ker William (May 1958). The Dark Ages. Mentor Books. p. 117.
- "Catholic Celibacy". The Saturday Review.