The ultimate tragedy of mood disorders is suicide. Suicide is a double disaster. Not only does it prematurely end a life, it wreaks havoc on the lives of those left behind. Devastated survivors can be traumatized by feelings of grief, guilt, anger, resentment, and confusion. "There was no time to say good-bye," and "Perhaps I could have done more," are examples of comments that are made by shell-shocked friends and relatives. Moreover, the stigma surrounding suicide makes it very difficult for family members to talk about what has happened.
By far the major cause of suicide is untreated depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 15 percent of those afflicted with a major depressive disorder and who are not treated (or who fail to respond to treatment) will end their lives by suicide. (This is 35 times the normal suicide rate.) People with serious illnesses such as cancer and heart disease do not kill themselves in large numbers; depressed people do.
Many theories exist that attempt to explain the motivation for suicide. Freud postulated a death instinct. Others have suggested that humans are endowed with "a drive to destruction." But to anyone who has experienced the suicidal pain of depression, the explanation is so simple, so self-evident, that it requires neither psychiatric nor psychological jargon. Death is chosen because suffering is so acute, so agonizing, so intolerable, that there comes a time-depending on the individual's tolerance for pain and the available support-that ceasing to suffer becomes the most important thing. This "aggregate pain model" of suicide is supported by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the official diagnostic resource of the mental health profession. In it's section on major depression, the manual says:
"The most serious consequence of a major depressive disorder is attempted or completed suicide. Motivations for suicide may include a desire to give up in the face of perceived insurmountable obstacles or an intense wish to end an excruciatingly painful emotional state that is perceived by the person to be without end."
Suicide has been defined as a "permanent solution to a temporary problem." For the person caught in the black hole of depression, however, there is nothing temporary about the hell he or she is experiencing. The resulting sense of hopelessness is the major trigger for suicidal thoughts, feelings and attempts. This hopelessness includes:
Part of the anxiety and dread of depression is that "storm in the brain" that blocks out all possibility of sunlight. In the depths of despair that by definition murders faith, courage may have to suffice. Keep slogging. Even if you don't believe it at the moment, remind yourself of the existence of good. Reassure yourself: "Once I enjoyed 'X,' I will again." The disease may have turned off the spigot of love, but it will come back.
When Someone You Know is Suicidal Many Americans have mistaken ideas about the suicidal feelings that result from major depression. Depressed people who say they are suicidal are often not taken seriously by their friends and family. (For example, a day before a 14-year-old boy went on a shooting spree in a Georgia school, he told his friend that he wanted to kill himself. "You're crazy," came the reply.) What follows are some do's and don'ts on what to say to a suicidal individual.
DO ask people with suicidal symptoms if they are considering killing themselves. Contrary to popular opinion, it will not reinforce the idea. "In fact, it can prevent suicide," says Dr. Joseph Richman, professor of psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Since the suicidal person feels isolated and alienated, the fact that someone is concerned can have a healing effect.
DON'T act shocked or disapproving if the answer to the question "Are you suicidal?" is "Yes." Don't say that suicide is dumb or that the person should "snap out of it." Suicidal feelings are part of being clinically depressed, just as a high white blood cell count is a symptom of an infection.
DON'T lecture a suicidal individual about the morality or immorality of suicide, or about responsibility to the family. A person in a state of despair needs support, not an argument.
DO remove from easy reach any guns or razors, scissors, drugs or other means of self-harm.
DO assure the person that although it may not feel like it, suicidal feelings are temporary.
DO ask the person if he or she has a specific plan. If the answer is yes, ask him to describe it in detail. If the description seems convincing, urge the person to call a mental-health professional right away. If he or she is not seeing a therapist or psychiatrist, offer a ride to the emergency room for evaluation, or call the local crisis line-or (888) SUICIDE - (888) 784-2433.
DO make a "no-suicide" contract. This means that the person agrees (in words or in writing) that if he feels on the verge of hurting himself, he will not do anything until he first calls you or another support person. You in turn promise that you will be available to help in any way you can. Ideally, it is best if the suicidal person has prepared a list of people (three or more is ideal) that he or she can contact in the midst of a crisis.
DON'T promise to keep the suicidal feelings a secret. Such a decision can block much-needed support and put the person at greater risk. If a person needs help from a medical professional or a crisis-intervention center, make sure that he or she gets it, even if you have to go along.
DO pay particular attention to the period after a depressive episode, when the person is beginning to feel better and has more energy. Ironically, this may be a time when he or she is more vulnerable to suicide.
DO assure the person that depression is a treatable illness and that help is available. If the individual is too depressed to find support, do what you can to help him or her find support systems-e.g., psychotherapy, medical treatment, and support groups that are described in this book.
DO call a suicide hotline or crisis hotline if you have any questions about how to deal with a person you think may be suicidal. Help is available for you, the caregiver.
Finally, there exist a number of telephone hot lines and Internet sites that can provide immediate support and relief for anyone who is struggling with feelings of suicide.
1. American Suicide Survival Line (888) SUICIDE - (888) 784-2433.
This nationwide suicide telephone hotline provides free 24-hour crisis counseling for people who are suicidal or who are suffering the pain of depression.
2. The Samaritans Suicide Hotline (212) 673-3000
or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. They will respond to your e-mail within 24 hours.
3. Covenant House Nineline (800) 999-9999 http://www.covenanthouse.org
This hotline provides crisis intervention, support and referrals for youth and adults in crisis, including those who are feeling depressed and suicidal.
4. Internet site: http://www.metanoia.org/suicide/ This is an excellent Web site which I visited when I was suicidal. I credit it with being one of the factors that prevented me from taking my life.
5. Internet site: http://www.save.org/ This is the Web site for SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), whose mission is to educate others about suicide and to speak for suicide survivors. I also frequented this Internet site when I was suicidal and found it to be extremely helpful.
6. Internet site: http://www.suicide.org/suicide-hotlines.html This site provides suicide crisis lines for all 50 states.
7. Internet site: http://www.afsp.org This is the site of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the leading suicide prevention organization in the United States.
In mid-July, 1794, in the closing days of Robespierre s Directoire, sixteen Carmelite nuns were guillotined at the Barrière de Vincennes in Paris, convicted of crimes against the state. They were buried in a common grave in a makeshift cemetery, where a single cross today marks the remains of 1,306 victims of the guillotine.1 They were a mere handful of the Revolution s victims; they should have earned at most a footnote in history books. Instead, they have commanded the attention of historians, hagiographers, authors, playwrights, composers, and librettists for two hundred years. In our century the Martyrs of Compiègne have been the subject of at least one massive scholarly history, a German novella, a French play, a film, and an opera. In 1902, Pope Leo XIII declared the nuns Venerable, the first step toward canonization. They were later beatified by Pius X in May, 1906: Carmelites celebrate the memory of the prioress, Blessed Teresa of St. Augustine (Lidoine), and her fifteen companions on July 17, and Catholics may adopt them as patrons. As the bicentenary of their death is observed, many are petitioning for their canonization.
Within the church, the influence of the Martyrs of Compiègne has been profound, beginning with their fellow prisoners, the English Benedictine community of Cambrai. Catholic religious orders were still forbidden in England, and these exiles had sought a haven in France. But the nuns were imprisoned by the Revolution in October of 1793, and they welcomed the Compiègnoises" when they, too, became inmates of the same house of detention in June, 1794. Learning that the Carmelites were daily offering themselves as victims to divine justice for the restoration of peace to France and the church, the Benedictines regarded them as saintly; when the Reign of Terror ended only days after their martyrdom, the English nuns credited the Carmelites with stopping the Revolution s bloodbath and with saving their own community from annihilation. The nuns of Cambrai preserved with devotion relics of the martyrs the secular clothes they were required to wear before their arrest, and which the jailer forced on the English nuns after the Carmelites had been killed.2 Indeed, the Benedictines were still wearing them when on May 2, 1795, they were at last allowed to return to England, where they became the community of Stanbrook Abbey.3 The Abbess of Stanbrook, on the centenary of the martyrdom, wrote to the Prioress at Compiègne:
We hold these things in high honor, as twofold relics; relics of the martyrs, and relics of our own Mothers, who were almost martyrs. How happy we are to have kept this sandal for so many years! It seems to invite us to follow in the footsteps of those who, in the person of our [Carmelite] Mothers, bade us farewell so tenderly, before getting into the cart to reach the throne of glory by way of Paris and the guillotine.4
Other religious communities have also drawn inspiration from Blessed Teresa of St. Augustine and her companions. As a young woman, Saint Julie Billiart, who would one day found the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, often visited the nuns of Compiègne, whose conversation fostered her desire for prayer and sacrifice. Later, in her instructions to her Sisters, the foundress held the martyrs up as models of fidelity and courage under persecution. Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, foundress of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was born five years after the executions and seems to have shared a devotion to the Carmelite martyrs; Father Lamarche, who, at the risk of his life, served the Martyrs as chaplain during the Reign of Terror, was the spiritual director of both Saint Julie and Saint Madeleine Sophie.5
One of the best-known devotees of the Compiègne Carmelites was Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. She kept at least three images of these martyrs in her books, and joined enthusiastically in the 1894 celebrations for the centenary of their martyrdom, the year before her own famous Act of Oblation to Merciful Love." 6 In turn, Thérèse s act has become one of the most renowned prayers in the modern church, serving as a model for countless prayers of self-offering. Among them is O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore" by Elizabeth of the Trinity, the Carmelite mystical writer who died in 1906, the year the Martyrs of Compiègne were beatified.7 That Elizabeth was also directly inspired by the martyrs is shown in her letters:
How beautiful the [beatification] ceremony of our Blesseds [of Compiègne] must have been, and how you must have given thanks to God, who has led me onto this mountain of Carmel, in this Order made famous by so many saints and martyrs. Oh! how happy I would be if my Master also wanted me to pour out my blood for Him! But what I ask of Him especially is that martyrdom of love which consumed my holy Mother Teresa, whom the Church proclaims a victim of charity." 8
One can understand the interest of religious people in the nuns; but why should enlightened moderns find these obscure French women so fascinating? Why has a version of their story, Poulenc s opera Dialogues des Carmélites, become perhaps the most widely loved modern opera, even among non-Christians and nonbelievers? How does the skeptic empathize with these stubbornly pious women, vowed to remain forever behind monastery walls, devoting themselves to mental prayer and corporal penance and who died rather than abandon their way of life? The opera s compelling image of the sixteen nuns, chanting the Salve Regina as one by one they mount the scaffold, challenges most of modernity s assumptions, after all.9 Juxtaposed with eighteenth-century philosophy, it forms an eloquent critique of the Enlightenment. It is an unspoken Yes, but " that haunts every claim of scientific advance, political emancipation, and intellectual triumph in the post- Cartesian era. The nuns Revolutionary contemporaries understood this. But for us to understand why the nuns of Compiègne were considered dangerous enemies of the new French republic, we must glance at the historical background of the Carmelites in France and into French religious history of preceding two centuries.
The Discalced Carmelites arrived in France at the beginning of the seventeenth century, having overcome formidable political and cultural obstacles to their immigration. Among the Spanish sisters who came to France were several who had been close companions of Saint Teresa of Jesus herself, including Anne of Jesus and Anne of Saint Bartholomew. They were also formed in the spiritual life by Saint John of the Cross. They thus transplanted the very flower of Spanish Golden Age culture, with all its Baroque and militantly Counter-Reformation conventions, to a France which was already a hotbed of pietism. It was a meeting of two drastically different cultures. The French novices are said to have been astonished when Mother Anne of Jesus danced in the choir. 10
The first foundation of nuns at Paris was the project of Barbe Acarie, a brilliant and beautiful mother of six who became one of the principal spiritual lights of her age. A mystic who worked tirelessly to relieve the spiritual and material poverty that surrounded her, Madame Acarie attracted to herself the leading religious figures of the day. Among those who frequented her Paris salon were Saint Francis de Sales, Saint Vincent de Paul, André Duval (Regius Professor of Theology at the Sorbonne and Barbe s first biographer), Jacques Gallement, and her young cousin Pierre (later Cardinal) Bérulle, founder of the French Oratory. 11 Of Barbe Acarie s wide contemporary influence, French historian Henri Brémond writes:
The activity of this woman, an invalid and ecstatic, who died at fifty-two, was miraculous. To her is due the introduction into France of the Carmelite Order founded by S. Teresa, which at her death already numbered seventeen houses on French soil; as much and even more than Mme de Sainte- Beuve, she laboured to develop the Ursulines; the reform of the Benedictine Abbeys owes her much, and countless other works also occupied her; lastly, she knew, grouped, stimulated and directed wellnigh all the leading religious spirits of her day. It is not too much to say that, of all the spiritual hearths kindled in the reign of Henri IV, none burned more brightly or equalled the intensity of that of the Hôtel Acarie.12
Madame Acarie was deeply influenced by Spanish mysticism (she later entered the Carmel at Pontoise); but, strange to say, the most profound impact on her spiritual life may have been made by an Englishman, a convert and Capuchin friar, Benet of Canfield (or Benoît de Canfeld). His small book, Règle de Perfection réduite au seul point de la volonté divine, served as a manual to two or three generations of mystics." 13 Brémond writes further:
Completely forgotten today, it is somewhat difficult to realize the importance of his influence; nevertheless, all that his panegyrists say of him falls short of the truth . Master of the masters themselves, of Bérulle, Madame Acarie, Marie de Beauvillier and many others, he, in my opinion, more than anyone else gave our [French] religious renaissance this clearly mystical character which we see already stamping it and which was to last for the next fifty years.14
Like all authentic Christian mystics, Canfield was neither anti-intellectual nor lacking in aesthetic sensibility. On the contrary, he was a subtle theologian," possessed of the imagination of a poet," whose writing style is marred precisely because he was constantly oscillating between English, French, and Latin." 15 According to Canfield, the mystic annihilates" images even while meditating on them, is detached from ascetical practices even while performing them . Though we have the representation of a crucifix the immensity of faith absorbs and annihilates it." 16 Nonetheless, Canfield, like all genuine contemplatives, aimed for balance and wholeness, avoiding extremes and distortions (such as the exaggerated passivity of some later Quietists). Though sometimes identified with the abstract school" of mysticism, his is an Incarnational spirituality, integrating body, mind, and spirit. On many points, one is struck by a surprising correspondence with St. John of the Cross, though Canfield cannot have known him." 17
The connection of English Counter-Reformation theology (such as Canfield s) to Spanish mysticism and Protestant poetics has been carefully drawn by Malcolm Mackenzie Ross in Poetry and Dogma:
If [the Anglican poet] George Herbert [1593 1633], dismayed by the secularizing tendencies of his day, is driven to an interior and otherworldly piety, how much greater must have been the pull of a pure and detached spirituality on the will of the hated and persecuted [English] Catholic! Certainly, Catholic poets from [St. Robert] Southwell [1561 1595] to [Richard] Crashaw [1613 1649] proclaim a contempt for the world which seems to be just as antihistorical as the note of the disenchanted spiritual Anglican .
[However,] Southwell s yearning for martyrdom, for an exodus from the historical, is preeminently a yearning, by way of the addition of the merit of his own sacrifice to the corporate treasury of merit, to strengthen the practical life of the visible church, the church which Southwell believes to be a leaven in the world and therefore fully involved in history. His own death, while a personal release from history, is an oblation intended to further the action of the church in history. Here, then, is contempt for the world in the interests of redemption of the world. This is the central paradox of a fully Catholic spirituality . In St. Teresa, withdrawal is an act of renewal; it is a moment in the rhythm of fulfillment, a coiling up of hidden powers which soon will spring into actualization, into history just as in St. John of the Cross detachment from the images of the created order is a high strategy to repossess them, as they really are.18
With the coming of the Discalced Carmelites into France, the movement Brémond calls the Mystical Invasion" culminated:
All that generation, great and small alike, resembled these two [Francis de Sales and Barbe Acarie] more or less. After them, and during the first half of the seventeenth century, the movement continued to extend and develop, but also to grow complicated until the time when we seem to see in the very complication symptoms or menaces of approaching dissolution .19
As with any great popular movement, there were inevitably abuses and excesses which provoked a reaction. By the end of the seventeenth century, mysticism had become an object of derision in France. By the time of the French Revolution, contemplative life had receded to its customary and, some would say, proper obscurity. The cloistered nuns of Compiègne maintained some ties with prominent persons: several noble families had been the benefactors of the sisters, who depended entirely upon alms for their sustenance. Since the days of Louis XIV, when one of his former mistresses entered another Carmel as a penitent, the monastery (not far from one of the royal residences) had enjoyed the crown s favor; indeed, the first historian of the martyrs, Mother Marie of the Incarnation, was apparently the natural daughter of the Prince de Conti.20 Mother Henriette of Jesus was the grand-niece of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, chief advisor to Louis XIV. But, for the most part, the nuns avoided political entanglements, asking only to be left unmolested to live their vocation to prayer. Far from being aristocrats themselves, their fathers were shoemakers, stockbrokers, cabinetmakers, laborers little blue blood, a great deal of red." 21
It was, however, the nuns supposed sympathy for anti-revolutionists that led to their arrest. Within the monastery, authorities found a portrait of the king and images of the Sacred Heart similar to those used by reactionary groups. The religious were accused of halting the progress of public spirit." 22 In reality, however, political factors figured little in the nuns condemnation to the guillotine. Something more threatening, something less well defined, provoked that retribution by civil authorities.
Throughout the events of the Revolution, the nuns of Compiègne, like most religious communities, obeyed the civil law insofar as possible. Doubtless, they prayed for those in authority over them, as all Christians are counseled to do. It is likely that they kept the royal portrait as a memento of a family which had been kind to them. The Canticle to the Sacred Heart of Jesus" (see Appendix, pp. 37 40), written by a Parisian priest and used as incriminating evidence in the nuns trial because a copy was found in their monastery, bespeaks a longing for peace and order brought about by divine love as any reasonable person shocked by the escalating butchery might have felt. It looks forward to a time when the King will be free," but makes no special mention of his restoration to power. Indeed, in the context this could refer as easily to a heavenly as an earthly king. Yet the state found that grounds existed for executing the sixteen nuns. Why?
In the Assemblée Nationale on February 13, 1790, M. Garat- l Aine expressed the sentiments of many revolutionaries against religious orders:
The rights of man will they thus be won? This is the real question. Religious orders are the most scandalous violation of them. In a moment of fleeting fervor, a young adolescent pronounces an oath to recognize henceforth neither father nor family, never to be a spouse, never a citizen; he submits his will to the will of another, his soul to the soul of another; he renounces all liberty at an age when he could not relinquish the most modest possessions; his oath is a civil suicide.23
Religious life, especially religious obedience, simply makes no sense to the enlightened." Active orders might be tolerated because they provide education or medical care; contemplative orders are, to the rationalist, a mere absurdity. Perceptively, Georges Bernanos places these words in the mouth of the former prioress of the Compiègne Carmelites, Mother Henriette of Jesus:
We are not an enterprise for mortification or the preservation of the virtues, we are houses of prayer; whoever does not believe in prayer cannot but take us for impostors or parasites.24
If not impostors or parasites, the poor sisters must, at least, be deluded or intimidated, the revolutionaries believed. When monastic vows were suppressed by order of the Assemblée, city authorities came to the monastery to interrogate each sister as to the motives of her vocation and to offer freedom to any who wished it. When none chose to leave, the officials returned with armed guards that they posted as sentinels within the cloister: they believed that the sisters were afraid to speak for fear of being overheard. One by one the nuns were brought to be examined. When Mother Henriette s turn came, she handed them a written response and asked them to read it aloud to her:
How false are the judgments
that the world makes of us!
Its profound ignorance
disapproves of our promises,
all that it adorns itself with
is but pure vanity.
Its only reality
is the sorrow that devours it.
I despise its pride,
I consider its hatred an honor;
and I prefer my chains
to its spurious freedom.
O day of eternal celebration,
O day forever holy,
when, vowing myself to Carmel
I won the heart of God.
O beloved and precious bonds
I strengthen you each day;
all that the earth can offer me
is worthless in my eyes;
your sarcasm, worldlings,
compared to my joy
is a dead giveaway:
that joy outweighs all the cares
to which your soul is prey.25
It is crucially significant not only that the former prioress elected to reply in verse, but that her answer, while perhaps not a great poem, is both competent poetry and a well- constructed argument. An even more striking example of reasoned rhetoric turned against the nuns would-be liberators occurred when, in 1790, Mother Nathalie of Jesus (Grenelle) addressed the Assemblée Nationale on behalf of French Discalced Carmelites:
The most complete liberty governs our vows; the most perfect equality reigns in our houses; here we know neither the rich nor the noble and we depend only on the Law . In the world they like to broadcast that monasteries contain only victims slowly consumed by regrets; but we proclaim before God that if there is on earth a true happiness, we possess it in the dimness of the sanctuary and that, if we had to choose again between the world and the cloister, there is not one of us who would not ratify with greater joy her first decision. After having solemnly declared that man is free, would you oblige us to think that we no longer are?26
Such pleas availed little; religious houses were ordered dispersed, and it was even forbidden to meet for common prayer and to wear the habit. The nuns of Compiègne were forced to leave their Carmel on September 14, 1792 the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the day on which the long penitential season in Carmel began.27 Sometime shortly before, the women had pledged themselves to a course of action their persecutors would have found even more incomprehensible than monastic life: through a communal act of consecration, they offered their lives for the sake of peace.
Between June and September 1792, Mme Lidoine [Teresa of St. Augustine] avowed to her daughters that having made her meditation on the subject, the thought had come to her to make an act of consecration by which the Community would offer itself as a holocaust to appease the wrath of God, and in order that the divine peace which his dear Son had come to bring into the world would be bestowed on the church and the state.28
Like generations of Carmelites, the sisters had made dramatic representations of martyrdom part of their recreation; these were imaginative rehearsals for the real thing, always regarded as a possibility. Yet they knew that seeking martyrdom too actively could be sinful, a temptation of pride. For almost two years after first making their act of consecration, the nuns, in quiet defiance of the law, lived apart in small groups, dressing as laywomen but meeting for common prayer. Eventually, in mid-June, 1794, they were arrested and tried before the Assemblée Nationale, without attorney or witnesses.29 In the following dialogue the irrational" mystic, Teresa of St. Augustine (Lidoine), answers the charges of the enlightened" president of the tribunal:
If then you require a victim, here I am; it is I alone whom you should strike, my Sisters are innocent." The President: They are your accomplices." If you judge," said Mother, that they are my accomplices, of what can you accuse our two extern sisters?" Of what? Have they not been messengers for carrying your letters to the post?" But they were ignorant of the content of the letters and did not know the address where I sent them; besides, their position as women in service obliges them to do what they are told." Shut up," answered the President, their duty was to inform the Nation of it." 30
Testimony was halted there; the nuns were sentenced to the guillotine. An ironic sidelight: the one nun of royal blood, Marie of the Incarnation, happened to be away at the time of the arrest and thus escaped execution; one of only three survivors of her community, she became the martyrs first historian, collecting eyewitness accounts of the nuns deaths.30 Reverend Mother Émilienne, Superior General of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, wrote in a letter:
I learned from a person who was a witness to their martyrdom that the youngest of these good Carmelites was called first and that she went to kneel before her venerable Superior, asked her blessing and permission to die. She then mounted the scaffold singing Laudate Dominum omnes gentes. She then went to place herself beneath the blade allowing the executioner to touch her. All the others did the same. The Venerable Mother was the last sacrificed. During the whole time, there was not a single drum-roll; but there reigned a profound silence.32
Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection, seventy-eight and an invalid, having been thrown roughly to the pavement from the tumbrel, was heard to speak words of forgiveness and encouragement to her tormentor.33 Sister Julie had an extreme horror of the guillotine; yet she refused to leave her sisters even when her family sent for her, saying, We are victims of the age, and we must sacrifice ourselves for its reconciliation with God." 34 Another witness said of the nuns, They looked like they were going to their weddings." 35
Throughout France a vaunted new age of spiritual maturity, free from the bonds of sectarian religion, was underway. On June 20, 1794, a Feast of the Supreme Being" was celebrated in Compiègne. 36 In November of the previous year, the worship of Reason was officially proclaimed: the church of Saint-Jacques in Compiégne became the Temple of Reason. The church of Saint- Antoine became a public meeting hall and fodder storehouse. In December, the Mayor of Paris had announced in the Temple of Reason that the Declaration of the Rights of Man would henceforth be the catechism of the French, and that the Constitution would be their Gospel.37 The prevailing mood of the times is reflected in a letter of July 17, 1794, from municipal officials of Compiègne to the Comité du Sureté Nationale:
The citizens of the Commune of Compiègne and of the District celebrated a civic festival on the 26 of this month (Messidor) in memory of the taking of the Bastille and in rejoicing for the recent victories of our armies. The minutes of the Municipalites attest that everywhere people were animated by the same spirit. The festival was concluded with dances and patriotic banquets.38
Yet there must have been a growing public unease not evident in this letter. Something in the sight of the nuns being executed seems to have affected even the hardened Parisian crowd, accustomed to cheering loudly each fall of the guillotine blade. Within ten days, by July 27, 1794, Robespierre and the provisional revolutionary government were finished.39
The double dimension, mystical and prophetic" is the essence of the Carmelite charism: according to ancient tradition, the order traces its origins to a community of hermits gathered near the fount of Elijah on the slopes of Mount Carmel, forever linked in Scripture with the memory of the great prophet. It was only natural, then, that from the beginning Carmelites should see themselves as the spiritual heirs of Elijah, living in his power and spirit; the feastday of Saint Elijah is still celebrated with solemnity in Carmelite monasteries throughout the world. It is certain that since Elijah, carried off like a flaming whirlwind in a chariot with fiery horses, a prophetic spirit has not ceased to breathe on the family of Carmel." 40
But in what sense are the Martyrs of Compiègne prophets? It may help to recall that the role of the Old Testament prophet was not to predict the future, except incidentally, but to summon the people of Israel to return to their former fidelity: their function was a radically conservative one, in the best sense of both words. The martyrs point backward to something lost; as well as forward to the inevitable consequences of that loss. In the brutal execution of these cloistered religious by a democratic" state founded ostensibly on human reason, we find a metaphor, perhaps, for our own condition, for T.S. Eliot s famous dissociation of sensibility" that has violently subjugated our intuitive, reflective, contemplative selves to rationalism, materialism, and pragmatism.
In his influential 1954 study, The Poetry of Meditation, Louis L. Martz argues persuasively for the direct connection between religious meditation, especially the Ignatian kind, and the form and content of Metaphysical poetry.41 Approaching the subject from another direction, Father William McNamara, OCD, has speculated on the relationship between what he terms the secular contemplative" and the religious contemplative," asserting that the cognitive and psychological processes for the artist and the mystic are essentially the same.42 Similar conclusions have been reached by researchers Claudio Naranjo and Robert E. Ornstein, among others.43 Still others, such as Carl Jung and Evelyn Underhill, have posited some connection between art and religion, or, more properly, between artistic creation and mystical consciousness. The linkage of poetry with madness and religious ecstasy, indeed, is ancient and common to all cultures. The parallel apparently goes back to the time when the poet, the prophet, and the priest were one and the same and when madmen were considered the special children of the gods, invested with prophetic and magical powers." 44 This relationship may help to explain the perennial fascination with the Martyrs of Compiègne why, for example, a guest fundraiser on public radio recently described hearing Poulenc s opera based on their story, Dialogues des Carmélites, as the most profoundly moving experience of my life."
Ultimately, however, studies that limit themselves to exploring phenomena common to mysticism and art provoke more questions than they answer. Of course, the connection exists and is well documented. Among the Carmelites of Compiègne alone, for example, the prioress, Teresa of St. Augustine, was a poet and artist two of her pastels have been preserved. 45 Mother Henriette, as we have seen, was a talented poet; Marie of the Incarnation was brilliantly educated" and a gifted scholar.46 But none pursued art for art s sake. Historically, the origin of art, especially of poetry, was in religion; for the mystic, it still is.
Needless to say, with few exceptions, religion is at best wholly irrelevant to modern artists; at worst, it is a subject for derision or desecration. Even many artists who profess themselves Christian are horrified at the thought of mixing aesthetics with theology; didactic" has become a dirty word.
When did this radical separation occur? Why have literature, the fine arts, music to some extent, culture itself been abandoned to the secular realm? Louis Martz, like other critics, locates the divorce in the seventeenth century and explains that:
the fundamental reason [for the earlier harmonious integration of art and religion] surely lies in sacramental doctrine, in the emphasis on Incarnation which Catholic doctrine involves, and in the consequent sanctification of the sensory which flows from this. It was the doctrine of the real presence" that made possible that delicate sense of presence" which characterizes Catholic meditation on the life of Christ. The reverse, we may suppose, would tend to happen in the mind of one who denied the real presence." 47
The Anglican critic Malcolm Mackenzie Ross extended this argument in his still-provocative study, Poetry and Dogma. It was, he says, the Reformation theologians tampering with dogma, particularly eucharistic doctrines, that led to imprecision in language and the abdication of the Christian artist what he calls the unfleshing of the Word."
The fixed star at the centre of the Christian firmament of symbol is the dogma of the Incarnation . The Christian artist, when he knows what he is about, respects his medium, respects his material fact and the historical event, respects the practical, objective limits of forms. He cannot be, as Shelley was, the poet of an unbodied joy." 48
The analogical sense of Christian symbol is perpetuated by the Eucharistic insistence on the validity of the material and temporal order.
It is precisely this analogical esteem for things which falters in the seventeenth century.49
The loss of the sense of the presence of God in his creation through the sacraments, Ross claims, underlies the slow dissociation of spirit and matter that occurs over the next four centuries. Matter, unsanctified by the ongoing sacrifice of Christ, becomes an obstacle to, not a means of, reconciliation with God.
...The decline of the medieval order of faith may be traced in a growing disharmony between the dogmatic, conceptual, and rhetorical levels of Eucharistic symbol and act. In other words, one can observe in the dissolution of the Christian culture a process of dissociation between faith, thought, and art . [T]he firmament within which Christian poetry had moved during the Ages of Faith was compounded of nature and grace, action and contemplation, matter and spirit. The tension between opposing principles, the structural stress of this firmament, issued from the Eucharistic mystery itself, and is most fully articulated in the Thomist doctrine of analogy.
The disintegration of this firmament is characterized by a loss of tension, by a springing apart of grace and nature, action and contemplation, matter and spirit.50
Ross observes that in the poetry of Milton and the Anglicans:
time is never understood to be in any way contained by the Presence of Christ. In the [Anglican] prayer book, as well as in Presbyterian and sectarian theology, the sacrifice of Christ is understood as pinned to a receding point in time. Now if the sacrifice is confined to a moment within history, it cannot be conceived of as encompassing history, nor can history, in any degree, fulfill an event from which history must ever move farther away.51
Puritan iconoclasts, while trying to save Christians from idolatry, end by surrendering the world to it, according to Ross:
Paradoxically enough, Calvin aids and abets the antireligious impulse of the hated Renaissance. He abandons to the world what the world is willing and able to have and to hold. In this way the Reformation connives with the Renaissance in the secularization of the arts. To the severe Calvinist cast of mind, art is at best a distraction, not only from formal worship, but also from the serious duties of every day. At worst, art is the occasion of sin. In any case, the artist is invited to go his own way. It should not be surprising that this invitation is extended by a theology which confines the Incarnation to a pinpoint in time and separates the spiritual and ethical values of the Eucharist from the species of the temporal and physical. 52
Is it simplistic to draw a parallel between the iconoclasm of some figures of the Reformation and that of French revolutionaries? The most radical reformers suppressed monastic life, desecrated sacred places, destroyed religious art, and rejected ornament and nuance in language. So did the revolutionaries. Can it be that contemplation, and the meditative arts it produces, are the enemies of any absolutist movement, political, religious, or literary? If so, what could be more dangerous than a community of women dedicated to prayer centered on the Eucharist, to study, to religious art?
In its fullest intention the Eucharist is clearly eschatological, lifting the whole body of the faithful out of history and into that ultimate relation with God for which man was created . In discovering and experiencing the end for which he was created (an end beyond history), man also discovers that he must fulfill himself within history. He is called eternally to redeem the time . In this fruitful tension which dogma proclaims between eternity and time there is no support either for an idealistic otherworldliness or for a materialistic immersion in the natural and historical processes. There is room neither for an easy utopianism nor for a stoic despair.53
It is no wonder that the sixteen Carmelite nuns of Compiègne were killed. Like the Hebrew prophets, they were living witnesses to the former integration of faith, thought, and art." 54 And they pointed to the inevitable consequences of its loss. In living lives wholly focused on the one thing necessary" the contemplation of the Incarnation of God mystics of all ages call into question any less compelling vocation. By their very existence, they force us to reflect on our own lives, our own values a scrutiny that extremists of any kind can scarcely stand.
Is it only coincidence that Song at the Scaffold, Gertrud von Le Fort s novella about the Martyrs of Compiègne, was first published in Germany in 1931 as Adolph Hitler s National Socialist party was gaining phenomenal power? Or again that the Carmelites Blessed Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein, who herself wrote admiringly of the Compiègne nuns55) and Blessed Titus Brandsma were among the martyrs of Nazi inhumanity? Like the Martyrs of Compiègne, they embodied timeless spiritual ideals and held to them in the face of torture and death. In Song at the Scaffold, which formed the basis for Georges Bernanos s Dialogues des Carmélites and Poulenc s opera of the same name, von Le Fort s protagonist is a Blanche de la Force (Sister Blanche of the Agony of Christ). Unlike other characters in the novella, Blanche is entirely fictional. Throughout her life, she is plagued by overwhelming fear of the
Revolution, of change, of death, even fear of her own cowardice. Faced with arrest and certain execution, she flees while the rest of her community is imprisoned. Ultimately, through the prayers and example of the other nuns, Blanche gains courage and, at the last moment, joins her sisters in martyrdom. Blanche, I think, stands for all of us who hesitate to confront evil out of fear not only great evils, when speaking the truth can mean pain or death; but the everyday evils, when truthfulness brings only unpleasantness or embarrassment. Like Blanche, we too are the beneficiaries of the prayer and witness of all contemplatives.
Reformers, reactionaries, or revolutionists any who attempt to separate spirit from matter, faith from works, words from their meanings are right to fear such people. Robespierre s avowed purpose was to implement concretely the romantic philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in France s public life; HitlerÕs diabolical vision apparently derived in part from Friedrich Nietzsche s doctrine of the superman," together with a literal reading of theosophical and other occult texts. Such theories, promulgated without regard for objective truth, cannot withstand the light either of reason or of faith. Contemplatives bring both to bear.
The twentieth century has seen the death of more martyrs for the Christian faith than all preceding centuries combined. In the final scene of Poulenc s opera, the Martyrs of Compiègne file serenely to their deaths, as if they were processing from choir to the refectory, singing the Salve Regina to the horrifying cadence of the guillotine s fall. One by one, their voices cease, until the last voice that of Blanche is abruptly silenced by the crash of the blade. It is a stunning moment. One feels suddenly the profound absence of these prayerful spirits.
As I write these last paragraphs, I am listening to an audio tape of songs sung throughout the year in the Carmel of the Trinity, San Diego. Since the tape was recorded, three nuns of that community have been called home to the Lord. As we mark the two-hundredth anniversary of the Martyrs, let us pray that the contemplative voices in the world will not die out, one by one. Through their prayers, may we all have the courage, like Blanche, to join our voices with theirs, to deepen the life of prayer in the church. Now, more than ever, we need the example and intercession of Blessed Teresa of St. Augustine and her fifteen companions.
The main article from the pamphlet by the same name, copyright 1995 by ICS Publications. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, if this copyright notice is included.
The Carmelites had long claimed that their order extended back to ancient times—indeed, that it was founded on Mount Carmel in Palestine by the prophets Elijah and Elisha. While others disputed this idea, Pope Honorius III, in approving the order in 1226, seemed to accept its antiquity. The celebration of the feast became wrapped up with this controversy, and, in 1609, after Robert Cardinal Bellarmine examined the origins of the feast, it was declared the patronal feast of the Carmelite order.
From then on, the celebration of the feast began to spread, with various popes approving the celebration in southern Italy, then Spain and her colonies, then Austria, Portugal and her colonies, and finally in the Papal States, before Benedict XIII placed the feast on the universal calendar of the Latin Church in 1726. It has since been adopted by some Eastern Rite Catholics as well.
Doctor of the Church, Cardinal-Bishop of Albano, Minister General of the Friars Minor, born at Bagnorea in the vicinity of Viterbo in 1221; died at Lyons, 16 July, 1274.
Nothing is known of Bonaventure's parents save their names: Giovanni di Fidanza and Maria Ritella. How his baptismal name of John came to be changed to that of Bonaventure is not clear. An attempt has been made to trace the latter name to the exclamation of St. Francis, O buona ventura, when Bonaventure was brought as an infant to him to be cured of a dangerous illness. This derivation is highly improbable; it seems based on a late fifteenth-centurylegend. Bonaventure himself tells us (Legenda S. Francisci Prolog.) that while yet a child he was preserved from death through the intercession of St. Francis, but there is no evidence that this cure took place during the lifetime of St. Francis or that the name Bonaventure originated in any prophetical words of St. Francis. It was certainly borne by others before the Seraphic Doctor. No details of Bonaventure's youth have been preserved. He entered the Order of Friars Minor in 1238 or 1243; the exact year is uncertain. Wadding and the Bollandists bold for the later date, but the earlier one is supported by Sbaradea, Bonelli, Panfilo da Magliano, and Jeiler, and appears more probable. It is certain that Bonaventure was sent from the Roman Province, to which he belonged, to complete his studies at the University of Paris under Alexander of Hales, the great founder of the Franciscan School. The latter died in 1246, according to the opinion generally received, though not yet definitely established, and Bonaventure seems to have become his pupil about 1242. Be this as it may, Bonaventure received in 1248 the "licentiate" which gave him the right to teach publicly as Magister regens, and he continued to lecture at the university with great success until 1256, when he was compelled to discontinue, owing to the then violent outburst of opposition to the Mendicant orders on the part of the secular professors at the university. The latter, jealous, as it seems, of the academic successes of the Dominicans and Franciscans, sought to exclude them from teaching publicly. The smouldering elements of discord had been fanned into a flame in 1256, when Guillaume de Saint-Amour published a work entitled "The Perils of the Last Times", in which he attacked the Friars with great bitterness. It was in connexion with this dispute that Bonaventure wrote his treatise, "De paupertate Christi". It was not, however, Bonaventure, as some have erroneously stated, but Blessed John of Parma, who appeared before Alexander IV at Anagni to defend the Franciscans against their adversary. The Holy See having, as is well known, re-established the Mendicants in all their privileges, and Saint-Amour's book having been formally condemned, the degree of Doctor was solemnly bestowed on St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas at the university, 23 October, 1257.
In the meantime Bonaventure, though not yet thirty-six years old, had on 2 February, 1257, been elected Minister General of the Friars Minor — an office of peculiar difficulty, owing to the fact that the order was distracted by internal dissensions between the two factions among the Friars designated respectively the Spirituales and the Relaxati. The former insisted upon the literal observance of the original Rule, especially in regard to poverty, while the latter wished to introduce innovations and mitigations. This lamentable controversy had moreover been aggravated by the enthusiasm with which many of the "Spiritual" Friars had adopted the doctrines connected with the name of Abbot Joachim of Floris and set forth in the so-called "Evangelium aeternum". The introduction to this pernicious book, which proclaimed the approaching dispensation of the Spirit that was to replace the Law of Christ, was falsely attributed to Bl. John of Parma, who in 1267 had retired from the government of the order in favour of Bonaventure. The new general lost no time in striking vigorously at both extremes within the order. On the one hand, he proceeded against several of the Joachimite "Spirituals" as heretics before an ecclesiastical tribunal at Città della Pieve; two of their leaders were condemned to perpetual imprisonment, and John of Parma was only saved from a like fate through the personal intervention of Cardinal Ottoboni, afterwards Adrian V. On the other hand, Bonaventure had, in an encyclical letter issued immediately after his election, outlined a programme for the reformation of the Relaxati. These reforms he sought to enforce three years later at the General Chapter of Narbonne when the constitutions of the order which he had revised were promulgated anew. These so-called "Constitutiones Narbonenses" are distributed under twelve heads, corresponding to the twelve chapters of the Rule, of which they form an enlightened and prudent exposition, and are of capital importance in the history of Franciscan legislation. The chapter which issued this code of laws requested Bonaventure to write a "legend" or life of St. Francis which should supersede those then in circulation. This was in 1260. Three years later Bonaventure, having in the meantime visited a great part of the order, and having assisted at the dedication of the chapel on La Verna and at the translation of the remains of St. Clare and of St. Anthony, convoked a general chapter of the order of Pisa at which his newly composed life of St. Francis was officially approved as the standard biography of the saint to the exclusion of all others. At this chapter of 1263, Bonaventure fixed the limits of the different provinces of the order and, among other ordinances, prescribed that at nightfall a bell should be rung in honour of the Annunciation, a pious practice from which the Angelus seems to have originated. There are no grounds, however, for the assertion that Bonaventure in this chapter prescribed the celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the order. In 1264, at the earnest request of Cardinal Cajetan, Bonaventure consented to resume the direction of the Poor Clares which the Chapter of Pisa had entirely renounced the year before. He required the Clares, however, to acknowledge occasionally in writing that the favours tendered them by the Friars were voluntary acts of charity not arising from any obligation whatsoever. It is said that Pope Urban IV acted at Bonaventure's suggestion in attempting to establish uniformity of observance throughout all the monasteries of Clares. About this time (1264) Bonaventure founded at Rome the Society of the Gonfalone in honour of the Blessed Virgin which, if not the first confraternity instituted in the Church, as some have claimed, was certainly one of the earliest. In 1265 Clement IV, by a Bull dated 23 November, nominated Bonaventure to the vacant Archbishopric of York, but the saint, in keeping with his singular humility, steadfastly refused this honour and the pope yielded.
In 1266 Bonaventure convened a general chapter in Paris at which, besides other enactments, it was decreed that all the "legends" of St. Francis written before that of Bonaventure should be forthwith destroyed, just as the Chapter of Narbonne had in 1260 ordered the destruction of all constitutions before those then enacted. This decree has excited much hostile criticism. Some would fain see in it a deliberate attempt on Bonaventure's part to close the primitive sources of Franciscan history, to suppress the real Francis, and substitute a counterfeit in his stead. Others, however, regard the decree in question as a purely liturgical ordinance intended to secure uniformity in the choir "legends". Between these two conflicting opinions the truth seems to be that this edict was nothing more than another heroic attempt to wipe out the old quarrels and start afresh. One cannot but regret the circumstances of this decree, but when it is recalled that the appeal of the contending parties was ever to the words and actions of St. Francis as recorded in the earlier "legends", it would be unjust to accuse the chapter of "literary vandalism" in seeking to proscribe the latter. We have no details of Bonaventure's life between 1266 and 1269. In the latter year he convoked his fourth general chapter at Assisi, in which it was enacted that a Mass be sung every Saturday throughout the order in honour of the Blessed Virgin, not, however, in honour of her Immaculate Conception as Wadding among others has erroneously stated. It was probably soon after this chapter that Bonaventure composed his "Apologia pauperum", in which he silences Gerard of Abbeville who by means of an anonymous libel had revived the old university feud against the Friars. Two years later, Bonaventure was mainly instrumental in reconciling the differences among the cardinals assembled at Viterbo to elect a successor to Clement IV, who had died nearly three years before; it was on Bonaventure's advice that, 1 September, 1271, they unanimously chose Theobald Visconti of Piacenza who took the title of Gregory X. That the cardinals seriously authorized Bonaventure to nominate himself, as some writers aver, is most improbable. Nor is there any truth in the popular story that Bonaventure on arriving at Viterbo advised the citizens to lock up the cardinals with a view to hastening the election. In 1272 Bonaventure for the second time convened a general chapter at Pisa in which, apart from general enactments to further regular observances new decrees were issued respecting the direction of the Poor Clares, and a solemn anniversary was instituted on 25 August in memory of St. Louis. This was the first step towards the canonization of the holy king, who had been a special friend of Bonaventure, and at whose request Bonaventure composed his "Office of the Passion". On 23 June, 1273, Bonaventure, much against his will, was created Cardinal-Bishop of Albano, by Gregory X. It is said that the pope's envoys who brought him the cardinal's hat found the saint washing dishes outside a convent near Florence and were requested by him to hang it on a tree nearby until his hands were free to take it. Bonaventure continued to govern the Order of Friars Minor until 20 May, 1274, when at the General Chapter of Lyons, Jerome of Ascoli, afterwards Nicholas IV, was elected to succeed him. Meanwhile Bonaventure had been charged by Gregory X to prepare the questions to be discussed at the Fourteenth Oecumenical Council, which opened at Lyons 7 May, 1274.
The pope himself presided at the council, but he confided the direction of its deliberations to Bonaventure, especially charging him to confer with the Greeks on the points relating to the abjuration of their schism. It was largely due to Bonaventure's efforts and to those of the Friars whom he had sent to Constantinople, that the Greeks accepted the union effected 6 July, 1274. Bonaventure twice addressed the assembled Fathers, on 18 May, during a session of the Council, when he preached on Baruch 5:5, and on 29 June, during pontifical Mass celebrated by the pope. While the council was still in session, Bonaventure died, Sunday, 15 July, 1274. The exact cause of his death is unknown, but if we may credit the chronicle of Peregrinus of Bologna, Bonaventure's secretary, which has recently (1905) been recovered and edited, the saint was poisoned. He was buried on the evening following his death in the church of the Friars Minor at Lyons, being honoured with a splendid funeral which was attended by the pope, the King of Aragon, the cardinals, and the other members of the council. The funeral oration was delivered by Pietro di Tarantasia, O.P., Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia, afterwards Innocent V, and on the following day during the fifth session of the council, Gregory X spoke of the irreparable loss the Church had sustained by the death of Bonaventure, and commanded all prelates and priests throughout the whole world to celebrate Mass for the repose of his soul.
Bonaventure enjoyed especial veneration even during his lifetime because of his stainless character and of the miracles attributed to him. It was Alexander of Hales who said that Bonaventure seemed to have escaped the curse of Adam's sin. And the story of St. Thomas visiting Bonaventure's cell while the latter was writing the life of St. Francis and finding him in an ecstasy is well known. "Let us leave a saint to work for a saint", said the Angelic Doctor as he withdrew. When, in 1434, Bonaventure's remains were translated to the new church erected at Lyons in honour of St. Francis, his head was found in a perfect state of preservation, the tongue being as red as in life. This miracle not only moved the people of Lyons to choose Bonaventure as their special patron, but also gave a great impetus to the process of his canonization. Dante, writing long before, had given expression to the popular mind by placing Bonaventure among the saints in his "Paradiso", and no canonization was ever more ardently or universally desired than that of Bonaventure. That its inception was so long delayed was mainly due to the deplorable dissensions within the order after Bonaventure's death. Finally on 14 April, 1482, Bonaventure was enrolled in the catalogue of the saints by Sixtus IV. In 1562 Bonaventure's shrine was plundered by the Huguenots and the urn containing his body was burned in the public square. His head was preserved through the heroism of the superior, who hid it at the cost of his life but it disappeared during the French Revolution and every effort to discover it has been in vain. Bonaventure was inscribed among the principal Doctors of the Church by Sixtus V, 14 March, 1557. His feast is celebrated 14 July.
Bonaventure, as Hefele remarks, united in himself the two elements whence proceed whatever was noble and sublime, great and beautiful, in the Middle Ages, viz., tender piety and profound learning. These two qualities shine forth conspicuously in his writings. Bonaventure wrote on almost every subject treated by the Schoolmen, and his writings are very numerous. The greater number of them deal with philosophy and theology. No work of Bonaventure's is exclusively philosophical, but in his "Commentary on the Sentences", his "Breviloquium", his "Itinerarium Mentis in Deum" and his "De reductione Artium ad Theologiam", he deals with the most important and difficult questions of philosophy in such a way that these four works taken together contain the elements of a complete system of philosophy, and at the same time bear striking witness to the mutual interpenetration of philosophy and theology which is a distinguishing mark of the Scholastic period. The Commentary on the "Sentences" remains without doubt Bonaventure's greatest work; all his other writings are in some way subservient to it. It was written, superiorum praecepto (at the command of his superiors) when he was only twenty-seven and is a theological achievement of the first rank. It comprises more than four thousand pages in folio and treats extensively and profoundly of God and the Trinity, the Creation and Fall of Man, the Incarnation and Redemption, Grace, the Sacraments, and the Last Judgment, that is to say, traverses the entire field of Scholastic theology. Like the other medieval Summas, Bonaventure's "Commentary" is divided into four books. In the first, second, and fourth Bonaventure can compete favourably with the best commentaries on the Sentences, but it is admitted that in the third book he surpasses all others. The "Breviloquium", written before 1257, is, as its name implies, a shorter work. It is to some extent a summary of the "Commentary" containing as Scheeben says, the quintessence of the theology of the time, and is the most sublime compendium of dogma in our possession. It is perhaps the work which will best give a popular notion of Bonaventure's theology; in it his powers are seen at their best. Whilst the "Breviloquium" derives all things from God, the "Itinerarium Mentis in Deum" proceeds in the opposite direction, bringing all things back to their Supreme End. The latter work, which formed the delight of Gerson for more than thirty years, and from which Bl. Henry Suso drew so largely, was written on Mount la Verna in 1259. The relation of the finite and infinite, the natural and supernatural, is again dealt with by Bonaventure, in his "De reductione Artium ad Theologiam", a little work written to demonstrate the relation which philosophy and the arts bear to theology, and to prove that they are all absorbed in it as into a natural centre. It must not be inferred, however, that philosophy in Bonaventure's view does not possess an existence of its own. The passages in Bonaventure's works on which such an opinion might be founded only go to prove that he did not regard philosophy as the chief or last end of scientific research and speculation. Moreover, it is only when compared with theology that he considers philosophy of an inferior order. Considered in itself, philosophy is, according to Bonaventure, a true science, prior in point of time to theology. Again, Bonaventure's pre-eminence as a mystic must not he suffered to overshadow his labours in the domain of philosophy, for he was undoubtedly one of the greatest philosophers of the Middle Ages.
Bonaventure's philosophy, no less than his theology, manifests his profound respect for tradition. He regarded new opinions with disfavour and ever strove to follow those generally received in his time. Thus, between the two great influences which determined the trend of Scholasticism about the middle of the thirteenth century, there can he no doubt that Bonaventure ever remained a faithful disciple of Augustine and always defended the teaching of that Doctor; yet he by no means repudiated the teaching of Aristotle. While basing his doctrine on that of the old school, Bonaventure borrowed not a little from the new. Though he severely criticized the defects of Aristotle, he is said to have quoted more frequently from the latter than any former Scholastic had done. Perhaps he inclined more, on the whole, to some general views of Plato than to those of Aristotle, but he cannot therefore be called a Platonist. Although he adopted the hylomorphic theory of matter and form, Bonaventure, following Alexander of Hales, whose Summa he appears to have had before him in composing his own works, does not limit matter to corporeal beings, but holds that one and the same kind of matter is the substratum of spiritual and corporeal beings alike. According to Bonaventure, materia prima is not a mere indeterminatum quid, but contains the rationes seminales infused by the Creator at the beginning, and tends towards the acquisition of those special forms which it ultimately assumes. The substantial form is not in Bonaventure's opinion, essentially, one, as St. Thomas taught. Another point in which Bonaventure, as representing the Franciscan school, is at variance with St. Thomas is that which concerns the possibility of creation from eternity. He declares that reason can demonstrate that the world was not created ab aeterno. In his system of ideology Bonaventure does not favour either the doctrine of Plato or that of the Ontologists. It is only by completely misunderstanding Bonaventure's teaching that any ontologistic interpretation can he read into it. For he is most emphatic in rejecting any direct or immediate vision of God or of His Divine attributes in this life. For the rest, the psychology of Bonaventure differs in no essential point from the common teaching of the Schoolmen. The same is true, as a whole, of his theology.
Bonaventure's theological writings may be classed under four heads: dogmatic, mystic, exegetical, and homiletic. His dogmatic teaching is found chiefly in his "Commentary on the Sentences" and in his "Breviloquium". Treating of the Incarnation, Bonaventure does not differ substantially from St. Thomas. In answer to the question: "Would the Incarnation have taken place if Adam had not sinned?", he answers in the negative. Again, notwithstanding his deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin, he favours the opinion which does not exempt her from original sin, quia magis consonat fidei pietati et sanctorum auctoritati. But Bonaventure's treatment of this question marked a distinct advance, and he did more perhaps than anyone before Scotus to clear the ground for its correct presentation. His treatise on the sacraments is largely practical and is characterized by a distinctly devotional element. This appears especially in is treatment of the Holy Eucharist. He rejects the doctrine of physical, and admits only a moral, efficacy in the sacraments. It is much to be regretted that Bonaventure's views on this and other controverted questions should be so often misrepresented, even by recent writers. For example, at, least three of the latest and best known manuals of dogma in treating of such questions as "De angelorum natura", "De scientia Christi", "De natura distinctionis inter caritatem et gratiam sanctificantem", "De causalitate sacramentorum", "De statu parvulorum sine baptismomorientium", gratuitously attribute opinions to Bonaventure which are entirely at variance with his real teaching. To be sure Bonaventure, like all the Scholastics, occasionally put forward opinions not strictly correct in regard to questions not yet defined or clearly settled, but even here his teaching represents the most profound and acceptable ideas of his age and marks a notable stage in the evolution of knowledge. Bonaventure's authority has always been very great in the Church. Apart from his personal influence at Lyons (1274), his writings carried great weight at the subsequent councils at Vienna (1311), Constance (1417), Basle (1435), and Florence (1438). At Trent (1546) his writings, as Newman remarks (Apologia, ch. v) had a critical effect on some of the definitions of dogma, and at the Vatican Council (1870), sentences from them were embodied in the decrees concerning papal supremacy and infallibility.
Only a small part of Bonaventure's writings is properly mystical. These are characterized by brevity and by a faithful adherence to the teaching of the Gospel. The perfecting of the soul by the uprooting of vice and the implanting of virtue is his chief concern. There is a degree of prayer in which ecstasy occurs. When it is attained, God is sincerely to be thanked. It must, however, be regarded only as incidental. It is by no means essential to the possession of perfection in the highest degree. Such is the general outline of Bonaventure's mysticism which is largely a continuation and development of what the St. Victors had already laid down. The shortest and most complete summary of it is found in his "De Triplici Via", often erroneously entitled the "Incendium Amoris", in which he distinguishes the different stages or degrees of perfect charity. What the "Breviloquium" is to Scholasticism, the "De Triplici Via" is to mysticism: a perfect compendium of all that is best in it. Savonarola made a pious and learned commentary upon it. Perhaps the best known of Bonaventure's other mystical and ascetical writings are the "Soliloquium", a sort of dialogue containing a rich collection of passages from the Fathers on spiritual questions; the "Lignum vitae", a series of forty-eight devout meditations on the life of Christ, the "De sex alis seraphim", a precious opuscule on the virtues of superiors, which Father Claudius Acquaviva caused to be printed separately and circulated throughout the Society of Jesus; the "Vitis mystica", a work on the Passion, which was for a long time erroneously ascribed to St. Bernard, and "De Perfectione vitae", a treatise which depicts the virtues that make for religious perfection, and which appears to have been written for the use of Blessed Isabella of France, who had founded a monastery of Poor Clares at Longchamps.
Bonaventure's exegetical works were highly esteemed in the Middle Ages and still remain a treasure house of thoughts and treatises. They include commentaries on the Books of Ecclesiastes and Wisdom and on the Gospels of St. Luke and St. John. In addition to his commentary on the Fourth Gospel, Bonaventure composed "Collationes in Joannem", ninety-one conferences on subjects relating to it. His "Collationes in Hexameron" is a work of the same kind, but its title, which did not originate withBonaventure, is somewhat misleading. It consists of an unfinished course of instructions delivered at Paris in 1273. Bonaventure did not intend in these twenty-one discourses to explain the work of the six days, but rather to draw some analogous instructions from the firstchapter of Genesis, as a warning to his auditors against some errors of the day. It is an exaggeration to say that Bonaventure had regard only to the mystical sense of Scripture. In such of his writings as are properly exegetical he follows the text, though he also develops the practical conclusions deduced from it, for in the composition of these works he had the advantage of the preacher mainly in view. Bonaventure had conceived the most sublime idea of the ministry of preaching, and notwithstanding his manifold labours in other fields, this ministry ever held an especial place among his labours. He neglected no opportunity of preaching, whether to the clergy, the people, or his own Friars, and Bl. Francis of Fabriano (d. 1322), his contemporary and auditor, bears witness that Bonaventure's renown as a preacher almost surpassed his fame as a teacher. He preached before popes and kings, in Spain and Germany, as well as in France and Italy. Nearly five hundred authentic sermons of Bonaventure have come down to us; the greater part of them were delivered in Paris before the university while Bonaventure was professor there, or after he had become minister general. Most of them were taken down by some of his auditors and thus preserved to posterity. In his sermons he follows the Scholastic method of putting forth the divisions of his subject and then expounding each division according to the different senses.
Besides his philosophical and theological writings, Bonaventure left a number of works referring to the religious life, but more especially to the Franciscan Order. Among the latter is his well-known explanation of the Rule of the Friars Minor; in this work, written at a time when the dissensions within the order as to the observance of the Rule were so painfully marked, he adopted a conciliatory attitude, approving neither the interpretation of the Zelanti nor that of the Relaxati. His aim was to promote harmony in essentials. With this end in view, he had chosen a middle course at the outset and firmly adhered to it during the seventeen years of his generalship. If anyone could have succeeded in uniting the order, it would have beenBonaventure; but the via media proved impracticable, and Bonaventure's personality only served to hold in check the elements of discord, subsequently represented by the Conventuals and the Fraticelli. Following upon his explanation of the Rule comes Bonaventure's important treatise embodying the Constitutions of Narbonne already referred to. There is also an answer by Bonaventure to some questions concerning the Rule, a treatise on the guidance of novices, and an opuscule in which Bonaventure states why the Friars Minor preach and hear confessions, besides a number of letters which give us a special insight into the saint's character. These include official letters written by Bonaventure as general to the superiors of the order, as well as personal letters addressed like that "Ad innominatum magistrum" to private individuals. Bonaventure's beautiful "Legend" or life of St. Francis completes the writings in which he strove to promote the spiritual welfare of his brethren. This well-known work is composed of two parts of very unequal value. In the first Bonaventure publishes the unedited facts that he had been able to gather at Assisi and elsewhere; in the other he merely abridges and repeats what others, and especially Celano, had already recorded. As a whole, it is essentially a legenda pacis, compiled mainly with a view to pacifying the unhappy discord still ravaging the order. St. Bonaventure's aim was to present a general portrait of the holy founder which, by the omission of certain points that had given rise to controversy, should be acceptable to all parties. This aim was surely legitimate even though from a critical standpoint the work may not be a perfect biography. Of this "Legenda Major", as it came to be called, Bonaventure made an abridgment arranged for use in choir and known as the "Legenda Minor".
Bonaventure was the true heir and follower of Alexander of Hales and the continuator of the old Franciscan school founded by the Doctor Irrefragabilis, but he surpassed the latter in acumen, fertility of imagination, and originality of expression. His proper place is beside his friend St. Thomas, as they are the two greatest theologians of Scholasticism. If it be true that the system of St. Thomas is more finished than that of Bonaventure, it should be borne in mind that, whereas Thomas was free to give himself to study to the end of his days, Bonaventure had not yet received the Doctor's degree when he was called to govern his order and overwhelmed with multifarious cares in consequence. The heavy responsibilities which he bore till within a few weeks of his death were almost incompatible with further study and even precluded his completing what he had begun before his thirty-sixth year. Again, in attempting to make a comparison betweenBonaventure and St. Thomas, we should remember that the two saints were of a different bent of mind; each had qualities in which he excelled; one was in a sense the complement of the other; one supplied what the other lacked. Thus Thomas was analytical, Bonaventure synthetical; Thomas was the Christian Aristotle, Bonaventure the true disciple of Augustine; Thomas was the teacher of the schools, Bonaventure of practical life; Thomas enlightened the mind, Bonaventure inflamed the heart; Thomas extended the Kingdom of God by the love of theology, Bonaventure by the theology of love. Even those who hold that Bonaventure does not reach the level of St. Thomas in the sphere of Scholastic speculation concede that as a mystic he far surpasses the Angelic Doctor. In this particular realm of theology, Bonaventure equals, if he does not excel, St. Bernard himself. Leo XIII rightly calls Bonaventure the Prince of Mystics: "Having scaled the difficult heights of speculation in a most notable manner, he treated of mystical theology with such perfection that in the common opinion of the learned he is facile princeps in that field." (Allocutio of 11 October, 1890.) It must not be concluded, however, that Bonaventure's mystical writings constitute his chief title to fame. This conclusion, in so far as it seems to imply a deprecation of his labours in the field of Scholasticism, is opposed to the explicit utterances of several pontiffs and eminent scholars, is incompatible with Bonaventure's acknowledged reputation in the Schools, and is excluded by an intelligent perusal of his works. As a matter of fact, the half of one volume of the ten comprising the Quaracchi edition suffices to containBonaventure's ascetic and mystic writings. Although Bonaventure's mystical works alone would suffice to place him in the foremost rank, yet he may justly be called a mystic rather than a Scholastic only in so far as every subject he treats of is made ultimately to converge upon God. This abiding sense of God's presence which pervades all the writings of Bonaventure is perhaps their fundamental attribute. To it we may trace that all-pervading unction which is their peculiar characteristic. As Sixtus V aptly expresses it: "In writing he united to the highest erudition an equal amount of the most ardent piety; so that whilst enlightening his readers he also touched their hearts penetrating to the inmost recesses of their souls" (Bull, Triumphantis Jerusalem). St. Antoninus, Denis the Carthusian, Louis of Granada, and Father Claude de la Colombière, among others, have also noted this feature of Bonaventure's writings. Invariably he aims at arousing devotion as well as imparting knowledge. He never divorces the one from the other, but treats learned subjects devoutly and devout subjects learnedly. Bonaventure, however, never sacrifices truth to devotion, but his tendency to prefer an opinion which arouses devotion to a dry and uncertain speculation may go far towards explaining not a little of the widespread popularity his writings enjoyed among his contemporaries and all succeeding ages. AgainBonaventure is distinguished from the other Scholastics not only by the greater warmth of his religious teaching, but also by its practical tendency as Trithemius notes (Scriptores Eccles.). Many purely speculative questions are passed over by Bonaventure; there is a directness about all he has written. No useful purpose, he declares, is achieved by mere controversy. He is ever tolerant and modest. Thus while he himself accepts the literal interpretations of the first chapter of Genesis, Bonaventure acknowledges the admissibility of a different one and refers with admiration to the figurative explanation propounded by St. Augustine. He never condemns the opinions of others and emphatically disclaims anything like finality for his own views. Indeed he asserts the littleness of his authority, renounces all claims to originality and calls himself a "poor compiler". No doubt Bonaventure's works betray some of the defects of the learning of his day, but there is nothing in them that savours of useless subtlety. "One does not find in hispages", notes Gerson (De Examin. Doctrin.) "vain trifles or useless cavils, nor does he mix as do so many others, worldly digressions with serious theological discussions. "This", he adds, "is the reason why St. Bonaventure has been abandoned by those Scholastics who are devoid of piety, of whom the number is alas! but too large". It has been said that Bonaventure's mystical spirit unfitted him for subtle analysis. Be this as it may, one of the greatest charms of Bonaventure's writings is their simple clearness. Though he had necessarily to make use of the Scholastic method, he rose above dialectics, and though his argumentation may at times seem too cumbersome to find approval in our time, yet he writes with an ease and grace of style which one seeks in vain among the other Schoolmen. To the minds of his contemporaries impregnated with the mysticism of the Middle Ages, the spirit that breathed in Bonaventure's writings seemed to find its parallel only in the lives of those that stand nearest to the Throne, and the title of "Seraphic Doctor" bestowed upon Bonaventure is an undeniable tribute to his all-absorbing love for God. This title seems to have been first given to him in 1333 in the Prologue of the "Pantheologia" by Raynor of Pisa, O.P. He had already received while teaching in Paris the name of Doctor Devotus.
The Franciscan Order has ever regarded Bonaventure as one of the greatest Doctors and from the beginning his teaching found many distinguished expositors within the order, among the earliest being his own pupils,John Peckham later Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew of Aquasparta, and Alexander of Alexandria (d. 1314), both of whom became ministers general of the order. The last named wrote a "Summa quaestionum S. Bonaventura. Other well-knowncommentaries are by John of Erfurt (d. 1317), Verilongus (d. 1464), Brulifer (d. c. 1497), de Combes (d. 1570), Trigosus (d. 1616), Coriolano (d. 1625), Zamora (d. 1649), Bontemps (d. 1672), Hauzeur (d. 1676), Bonelli (d. 1773), etc. From the fourteenth to the sixteenth century the influence of Bonaventure was undoubtedly somewhat overshadowed by that of Duns Scotus, owing largely to the prominence of the latter as champion of the Immaculate Conception in the disputes between the Franciscans and Dominicans. Sixtus V, however, founded a special chair at Rome for the study of St. Bonaventure; such chairs also existed in several universities, notably at Ingolstadt, Salzburg, Valencia, and Osuna. It is worthy of note that the Capuchins forbade their Friars to follow Scotus and ordered them to return to the study of Bonaventure. The centenary celebrations of 1874 appear to have revived interest in the life and work of St. Bonaventure. Certain it is that since then the study of his writings has steadily increased.
Unfortunately not all of Bonaventure's writings have come down to us. Some were lost before the invention of printing. On the other hand, several works have in the course of time been attributed to him which are not his. Such are the "Centiloquium", the "Speculum Disciplinæ", which is probably the work of Bernard of Besse, Bonaventure's secretary; the rhythmical "Philomela", which seems to be from the pen of John Peckham; the "Stimulus Amoris" and the "Speculum B.V.M.", written respectively by James of Milan and Conrad of Saxony; "The Legend of St. Clare", which is by Thomas of Celano; the "Meditationes vitae Christi" composed by a Friar Minor for a Poor Clare, and the "Biblia pauperum" of the Dominican Nicholas of Hanapis. Those familiar with the catalogues of European libraries are aware that no writer since the Middle Ages had been more widely read or copied than Bonaventure. The earliest catalogues of his works are those given by Salimbene (1282), Henry of Ghent (d. 1293), Ubertino of Casale (1305), Ptolemy of Lucca (1327) and the "Chronicle of the XXIV Generals" (1368). The fifteenth century saw no less than fifty editions of Bonaventure's works. More celebrated than any preceding edition was that published at Rome (1588-96) by order of Sixtus V (7 vols. in fol.). It was reprinted with but slight emendations at Metz in 1609 and at Lyons in 1678. A fourth edition appeared at Venice (13 vols. in 4to) 1751, and was reprinted at Paris in 1864. All these editions were very imperfect in so far as they include spurious works and omit genuine ones. They have been completely superseded by the celebrated critical edition published by the Friars Minor at Quaracchi, near Florence. Any scientific study of Bonaventure must be based upon this edition, upon which not only Leo XIII (13 December, 1885) and Pius X (11 April, 1904), but scholars of all creeds have lavished the highest encomiums. Nothing seems to have been omitted which could make this edition perfect and complete. In its preparation the editors visited over 400 libraries and examined nearly 52,000 manuscripts, while the first volume alone contains 20,000 variant readings. It was commenced by Father Fidelis a Fanna (d. 1881) and completed by Father Ignatius Jeiler (d. 1904): "Doctoris Seraphici S. Bonaventuræ S. H. B. Episcopi Cardinalis Opera Omnia, — edita studio et cura P. P. Collegii S. Bonaventura in fol. ad Claras Aquas [Quaracchi] 1882-1902". In this edition the works of the saint are distributed through the ten volumes as follows: the first four contain his great "Commentaries on the Book of Sentences"; the fifth comprises eight smaller scholastic works such as the "Breviloquium" and "Itinerarium"; the sixth and seventh are devoted to his commentaries on Scripture; the eighth contains his mystical and ascetic writings and works having special reference to the order; the ninth his sermons; whilst the tenth is taken up with the index and a short sketch of the saint's life and writings by Father Ignatius Jeiler.
We do not possess any formal, contemporary biography of St. Bonaventure. That written by the Spanish Franciscan, Zamorra, who flourished before 1300, has not been preserved. The references to Bonaventure's life contained in the works of Salimbene (1282), Bernard of Besse (c. 1380), Bl. Francis of Fabriano (d. 1322), Angelo Clareno (d. 1337), Ubertino of Casale (d. 1338), Bartholomew of Pisa (d. 1399) and the "Chronicle of the XXIV Generals" (c. 1368), are in vol. X of the Quaracchi Edition (pp. 39-72).
Kateri Tekakwitha was a young Mohawk woman who lived in the 17th century. The story of her conversion to Christianity, her courage in the face of suffering and her extraordinary holiness is an inspiration to all Christians. Follow us as we share with you the life of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American Saint in the United States of America and Canada. Her Shrine is located in Fonda, New York. This National Shrine was created to honor Kateri and the Native peoples north and south of the border, for it was here that she was baptized on Easter Sunday April 5, 1676, and lived her teenage years.
Kateri was born in 1656 of an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk Chief in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon (modern day Auriesville) in upstate New York. When she was only 4 years old her parents and brother died of smallpox. Kateri survived the disease, but it left her face badly scarred and her eyesight impaired. Because of her poor vision, Kateri was named "Tekakwitha", which means "she who bumps into things". Kateri was taken in by her uncle who was bitterly opposed to Christianity. When she was 8 years old, Kateri's foster family, in accordance with Iroquois custom, paired her with a young boy who they expected she would marry. However, Kateri wanted to dedicate her life to God by remaining single and offering her life to Jesus.
When Kateri was ten, in 1666, a war party composed of French soldiers and hostile Natives from Canada destroyed the Mohawk strongholds on the south bank of the Mohawk, including Ossernenon. The surviving Mohawks moved to the north side of the river and built their fortified village about half a mile west of the present village of Fonda. Kateri lived in Caughnawaga, site of the present Shrine, for her next ten years.
When Kateri was 18 years of age, she began instructions in the Catholic Faith in secret. Her uncle finally relented and gave his consent for Kateri to become a Christian, provided that she did not try to leave the Indian village. For joining the Catholic Church, Kateri was ridiculed and scorned by villagers. She was subjected to unfair accusations and her life was threatened. Nearly two years after her baptism, in St. Peter’s Chapel at the present Kateri Shrine in Fonda, she escaped to the Mission of St. Francis Xavier, a settlement of Christian Natives in Canada. The village in Canada was also named Caughnawaga (Kahnawake). Here she was known for her gentleness, kindness, and good humor. On Christmas Day 1677 Kateri made her first holy communion and on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1679 made a vow of perpetual virginity. She also offered herself to the Blessed Mother Mary to accept her as a daughter.
During her time in Canada, Kateri taught prayers to children and worked with the elderly and sick. She would often go to Mass both at dawn and sunset. She was known for her great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Cross of Jesus.
During the last years of her life, Kateri endured great suffering from a serious illness. She died on April 17th, 1680, shortly before her 24th birthday, and was buried in present day Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada.
Tradition holds that Kateri's final words were. . ."Jesus, I love you", after which she embraced her creator for all eternity.
Witnesses reported that within a few minutes of her death, the pock marks from smallpox completely vanished and her face shone with raqdiant loveliness.
Before her death, Kateri promised her friends that she would continue to love and pray for them in heaven. Both Native Americans and settlers immediately began praying for her heavenly intercession. Several people, including a priest who attended Kateri during her last illness, reported that Kateri had appeared to them and many healing miracles were attributed to her.
Fifty years after Kateri's death the first convent for Indian nuns was established in Mexico and they pray daily for Sainthood for Blessed Kateri. Their prayers were answered on October 21, 2012 when Kateri was canonized as the first native american woman to be honored with sainthood.
On July 13, the Catholic Church celebrates the memory of St. Henry II, a German king who led and defended Europe's Holy Roman Empire at the beginning of the first millennium.
St. Henry was born in 972 to Duke Henry of Bavaria and Princess Gisela of Burgundy. During his youth, Henry received both an education and spiritual guidance from a bishop who was himself canonized, St. Wolfgang of Regensberg. Henry was an intelligent and devout student, and for a period of time he was considered for the priesthood.
St. Wolfgang's lessons in piety and charity left a lasting mark on Henry's soul. But it was ultimately in the political realm, not the Church, that he would seek to exercise these virtues. He took on his father's position as Duke of Bavaria in 995, one year after St. Wolfgang's death. The Church supported his accession to the throne as King of Germany in 1002.
As king, Henry encouraged the German bishops to reform the practices of the Church in accordance with canon law. During the same period he is said to have brought a peaceful end to a revolt in his territory, which ended with the king mercifully pardoning the rebels. Henry also acted decisively, but not harshly, against an Italian nobleman who set himself up as a rival king.
In 1014, the German king journeyed to Rome where Pope Benedict VIII formally crowned him as head of the Holy Roman Empire. The emperor demonstrated his loyalty to the Pope by confirming Benedict VIII's authority over the city of Rome. Henry made his journey from Rome back to Germany into a pilgrimage of sorts, stopping at various monasteries along the way.
Henry became a great patron of churches and monasteries, donating so much of his wealth to them that his relatives complained that he was behaving irresponsibly. But Henry was far from irresponsible, as his leadership of the Western Empire in both war and peace demonstrated. The emperor was also a great patron of the poor, making enormous contributions for their relief.
The emperor's extraordinary generosity was made possible in part by his lack of an heir. He was married to a woman who was later canonized in her own right, St. Cunigunde of Luxembourg, but the two had no children. Some accounts say that the couple took vows of virginity and never consummated their marriage, though this explanation of their childlessness is not universally accepted.
For the last several years of his life, Henry had to deal with serious illness, and an additional ailment that crippled his left leg, along with his imperial responsibilities. He found support in prayer during these trials, and seriously considered resigning his imperial leadership in order to become a monk.
After several years of illness, St. Henry II died in July of 1024. The public mourned sincerely for the monarch who had managed to lead his earthly kingdom so responsibly without losing sight of the Kingdom of God. Pope Eugene III canonized him in 1146.
St. Benedict was born at Nursia in Umbria in about 480 and was sent to Rome to be educated, but soon left the world to live a solitary life at Subiaco. After living in a cave in the mountains for two years as a hermit, he had acquired such a reputation that disciples came in numbers to join him and important Roman families entrusted him with the education of their children. He organized a form of monastic life in twelve small monasteries. Under his guidance, as abbot, the monks vowed to seek God and devoted themselves to work and prayer. A few years later St. Benedict left the district of Subiaco to found the great abbey of Monte Cassino on the heights of Campania. There he wrote his Rule in which are wonderfully combined the Roman genius and the monastic wisdom of the Christian East. St. Benedict died in 547.
Before the reform of the General Roman Calendar St. Benedict's feast was celebrated on March 21. Today was the feast of St. Pius I who was pope from 140 to 155. He was possibly the brother of Hermas, the author of the book known as the Shepherd of Hermas, one of the earliest books extant on penance. During his pontificate Pius experienced the difficulties caused by the heretic Marcion who came to Rome and broke away from the Church; he is also the contemporary of the Roman apologist St. Justin. He was buried at the Vatican.
Born in Nursia, Italy, he was educated in Rome, was repelled by the vices of the city and in about 500 fled to Enfide, thirty miles away. He decided to live the life of a hermit and settled at mountainous Subiaco, where he lived in a cave for three years, fed by a monk named Romanus.
Despite Benedict's desire for solitude, his holiness and austerities became known and he was asked to be their abbot by a community of monks at Vicovaro. He accepted, but when the monks resisted his strict rule and tried to poison him, he returned to Subiaco and soon attracted great numbers of disciples. He organized them into twelve monasteries under individual priors he appointed, made manual work part of the program, and soon Subiaco became a center of spirituality and learning. He left suddenly, reportedly because of the efforts of a neighboring priest, Florentius, to undermine his work, and in about 525 settled at Monte Cassino.
He destroyed a pagan temple to Apollo on its crest, brought the people of the neighboring area back to Christianity, and in about 530 began to build the monastery that was to be the birthplace of Western monasticism. Soon disciples again flocked to him as his reputation for holiness, wisdom, and miracles spread far and wide. He organized the monks into a single monastic community and wrote his famous rule prescribing common sense, a life of moderate asceticism, prayer, study, and work, and community life under one superior. It stressed obedience, stability, zeal, and had the Divine Office as the center of monastic life; it was to affect spiritual and monastic life in the West for centuries to come.
While ruling his monks (most of whom, including Benedict, were not ordained), he counseled rulers and Popes, ministered to the poor and destitute about him, and tried to repair the ravages of the Lombard Totila's invasion. He died at Monte Cassino on March 21.
Excerpted from the Dictionary of Saints, John J. Delaney
Born in Norcia about 480, Benedict's first studies were in Rome but, disappointed with city life, he retired to Subiaco, where he stayed for about three years in a cave—the famous sacro speco—dedicating himself wholly to God. In Subiaco, making use of the ruins of a cyclopean villa of the emperor Nero, he built some monasteries, together with his first disciples, giving life to a fraternal community founded on the primacy of the love of Christ, in which prayer and work were alternated harmoniously in praise of God.
Years later, he completed this project in Monte Cassino, and put it in writing in his Rule, the only work of his that has come down to us. Amid the ashes of the Roman Empire, Benedict, seeking first of all the kingdom of God, sowed, perhaps even without realizing it, the seed of a new civilization which would develop, integrating Christian values with classical heritage, on one hand, and the Germanic and Slav cultures on the other.
There is a particular aspect of his spirituality, which today I would particularly like to underline. Benedict did not found a monastic institution oriented primarily to the evangelization of barbarian peoples, as other great missionary monks of the time, but indicated to his followers that the fundamental, and even more, the sole objective of existence is the search for God: "Quaerere Deum."
He knew, however, that when the believer enters into a profound relationship with God he cannot be content with living in a mediocre way, with a minimalist ethic and superficial religiosity. In this light, one understands better the expression that Benedict took from St. Cyprian and that is summarized in his Rule (IV, 21)—the monks' program of life: Nihil amori Christi praeponere. Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
Holiness consists in this valid proposal for every Christian that has become a true pastoral imperative in our time, in which one perceives the need to anchor life and history in solid spiritual references.
Excerpted from Benedict XVI's Angelus address of July 10, 2005
Patron: Against nettle rash; against poison; against witchcraft; agricultural workers; cavers; coppersmiths; dying people; erysipelas; Europe; farm workers; farmers; fever; gall stones; Heerdt, Germany; inflammatory diseases; Italian architects; kidney disease; monks; nettle rash; Norcia, Italy; people in religious orders; schoolchildren; servants who have broken their master's belongings; speliologists; spelunkers; temptations.
Saint Augustine Zhao Rong was a Chinese diocesan priest who was martyred with his 119 companions in 1815. Among their number was an eighteen year old boy, Chi Zhuzi, who cried out to those who had just cut off his right arm and were preparing to flay him alive: "Every piece of my flesh, every drop of my blood will tell you that I am Christian." This optional memorial is new to the USA liturgical calendar and will be inscribed on July 9.
Augustine Zhao Rong and companions
Christianity arrived in China by way of Syria in the 600s. Depending on China's relations with the outside world, Christianity over the centuries was free to grow or was forced to operate secretly.
The 120 martyrs in this group died between 1648 and 1930. Most of them (eighty-seven) were born in China and were children, parents, catechists or laborers, ranging from nine years of age to seventy-two. This group includes four Chinese diocesan priests.
The thirty-three foreign-born martyrs were mostly priests or women religious, especially from the Order of Preachers, the Paris Foreign Mission Society, the Friars Minor, Jesuits, Salesians and Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.
Augustine Zhao Rong was a Chinese soldier who accompanied Bishop John Gabriel Taurin Dufresse (Paris Foreign Mission Society) to his martyrdom in Beijing. Augustine was baptized and not long after was ordained as a diocesan priest. He was martyred in 1815.
Beatified in groups at various times, these 120 martyrs were canonized in Rome on October 1, 2000.
Not much is known of the early life of Emmanuel Ruiz, but details of his heroic death in defense of the faith have come down to us. Born of humble parents in Santander, Spain, he became a Franciscan priest and served as a missionary in Damascus. This was at a time when anti-Christian riots shook Syria and thousands lost their lives in just a short time.
Among these were Emmanuel, superior of the Franciscan convent, seven other friars and three laymen. When a menacing crowd came looking for the men, they refused to renounce their faith and become Muslims. The men were subjected to horrible tortures before their martyrdom.
Emmanuel, his brother Franciscans and the three Maronite laymen were beatified in 1926 by Pope Pius XI.
One of the largest crowds ever assembled for a canonization—250,000—symbolized the reaction of millions touched by the simple story of Maria Goretti. She was the daughter of a poor Italian tenant farmer, had no chance to go to school, never learned to read or write. When she made her First Communion not long before her death at age 12, she was one of the larger and somewhat backward members of the class.
On a hot afternoon in July, Maria was sitting at the top of the stairs of her house, mending a shirt. She was not quite 12 years old, but physically mature. A cart stopped outside, and a neighbor, Alessandro, 18 years old, ran up the stairs. He seized her and pulled her into a bedroom. She struggled and tried to call for help. “No, God does not wish it," she cried out. "It is a sin. You would go to hell for it.” Alessandro began striking at her blindly with a long dagger.
She was taken to a hospital. Her last hours were marked by the usual simple compassion of the good—concern about where her mother would sleep, forgiveness of her murderer (she had been in fear of him, but did not say anything lest she cause trouble to his family) and her devout welcoming of Viaticum, her last Holy Communion. She died about 24 hours after the attack.
Her murderer was sentenced to 30 years in prison. For a long time he was unrepentant and surly. One night he had a dream or vision of Maria, gathering flowers and offering them to him. His life changed. When he was released after 27 years, his first act was to go to beg the forgiveness of Maria’s mother.
Devotion to the young martyr grew, miracles were worked, and in less than half a century she was canonized. At her beatification in 1947, her mother (then 82), two sisters and a brother appeared with Pope Pius XII on the balcony of St. Peter’s. Three years later, at her canonization, a 66-year-old Alessandro Serenelli knelt among the quarter-million people and cried tears of joy.