Sunday, December 25, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 52 ~ St. Wenceslaus

Good King Wenceslas, a song with which we are all familiar was written in 1853 by an Anglican priest, John Mason Neale. He wrote quite a few hymns, and his translation of medieval hymns from Latin are also familiar to us today. These include O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Of the Father's Love Begotten, and All Glory, Laud and Honor.

The source of the story that is told in the carol is one of four biographies written fairly soon after the death of Wenceslas in 935 A.D. The Wikipedia article cited above quotes a 12th century source as saying;
But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.
All my life when I have heard Good King Wenceslas, I have pictured the king as old and hoary, so when I began to look for information for this post, I was surprised to learn that he was only 32 when he died. It's likely that he looked more like the king portrayed in many of the illustrations from the video above which were taken from this book illustrated by Tim Ladwig.

Wenceslaus was the grandson of Boriwoi, the first Christian duke of Bohemia, and his wife Ludmilla. They are believed to have been converted and baptized by St. Methodius. I love this part of Wenceslaus's biography because in the United States, we don't think much about Methodius. He is just one of those saints whose feast day comes around every year, and since it happens to fall on Valentine's Day, it really gets lost in the shuffle. And then we think of Wenceslaus in a kind of mythical way, so I love seeing the real histories of these two real men--these saints--converge. It brings them to life for me. Ludmilla is also a saint, whose feast is commemorated on September 16. 

The son of Boriwoi and Ludmilla, Wratislaw was Christian, but he married a pagan, Drahomira. She may have been baptized when the married, but later events in her life show that she did not really convert. Wratislaw and Drahomira had twins sons, Wenceslaus and Boleslaus, later know as Boleslaus the Cruel. When Wratislaw died, Ludmilla became regent for Wencesalus who was then eight, and took over his education. Boleslaus, however, was raised by his mother, who tried to wrest power from Wenceslaus, and return Bohemia to paganism but failed.

Wenceslaus was known as the epitome of a good ruler; pious, just, generous and chaste. There was a lot of territorial warfare in Bohemia during his reign and one legend (at least Wikipedia deems it a legend was about his encounter with Count Radislas, Duke of Kourim.
According to one legend one Count Radislas rose in rebellion and marched against Wenceslas. The latter, sending him a deputation, made offers of peace, but Radislas viewed the king's message as a sign of cowardice. The two armies were drawn up opposite each other in battle array, when Wenceslas, to avoid shedding so much innocent blood, challenged Radislas to single combat. As Radislas advanced toward the duke, he saw, by the side of Wenceslas, two angels who cried to him: "Stand off!" This cry acted like a thunderbolt upon Radislas, and changed his intentions. Throwing himself from his horse, he fell at the Saint's feet, and asked for pardon. Wenceslas raised him and kindly received him again into favor.
Another story that mentions the two angels is found here. This takes place a meeting of the princes of the Holy Roman German Empire.
There was a beautiful custom already established at that time. When a sovereign would enter, even if he had a lower standing than the Emperor, all the sovereigns present - including the Emperor - would rise. In this particular case, since Wenceslas was late, the other sovereigns decided to not pay him this tribute. He was late because he was praying in the church. But there is an infallible rule: those who do not pray much take a stern attitude toward those who do: whenever they can, they take their revenge. So, those nobles, who probably knew that the Bohemian King had lost track of time in prayer, resolved to punish him. To teach him a lesson, they would remain seated when he entered. 
How did Divine Providence respond to this decision? God sent two Angels to accompany him so that, when he entered the hall, all the nobles gathered there saw them flanking St. Wenceslas. Thus, instead of meeting disgrace, the Saint was covered with glory and honor. The Emperor gave him two precious relics, one of a Warrrior King who, like St. Wenceslas, had defended the Faith. How many beautiful things there are in this episode!
In 935 A.D., Wenceslaus was murdered by Boleslaus who hacked his body to pieces and buried them, but then, "three years later Boleslaw, having repented of his deed, ordered its translation to the Church of St. Vitus in Prague." So there must be hope for even Boleslaus the Cruel. Duke Wenceslaus.

So, was Wenceslaus a king? Well, yes and no. He was posthumously raised to kingship by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto.

I want to get this online soon, and as my family will be here at any minute, I'm going to post now and proofread later. Sorry if I've said anything stupid or rude!

Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this series, especially Paul, Maclin, and Grumpy without whom I could not possibly have filled every week.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 51 ~ St. Nicholas of Myra

Although we are now past his Feast day, I wanted to write about this December Saint, because of his association with Christmas, and because my husband, Nick, was born on his Feast day.

There is very little that is really known about St Nicholas, but he has obviously captured the imagination of many Christians, since there are devotions to him in a large number of places.

It is a matter of some sadness that there is no historical record of him being present at the Council of Nicaea, because the legend that he punched, or slapped, the heretic Arius is a great favourite of mine. Not that I'm passive-aggressive or anything. All the same, I can't resist sharing some memes.

I think that second meme is funny, but it may be the case that almost none of those things is true, or at least, not able to be verified. The Catholic Encyclopedia entry is suitably short.

It begins: “Bishop of Myra in Lycia; died 6 December, 345 or 352. Though he is one of the most popular saints in the Greek as well as the Latin Church, there is scarcely anything historically certain about him except that he was Bishop of Myra in the fourth century.

...He is patron of mariners, merchants, bakers, travellers, children...”

Because we have so little to go on, I'm just going to have to go with the tradition of making stuff up. :)

That is, it's a fact that Benjamin Britten wrote a very interesting cantata about St Nicholas, but the lyrics are, at times, hilariously over the top, and were written by Eric Crozier, based on the many legends which sprang up about him. My choir sang this over 20 years ago, and the piece itself is modern and too atonal for me to normally like, but familiarity brought me around, and even after all these years I find it quite moving in many places. I could understand if you didn't want to listen to it much, but I'd like to recommend the second section from (6:00 min) which is sung by the high voices, and a boy soprano soloist. The lyrics to this section are:

The Birth of Nicolas

Nicolas was born in answer to prayer
and leaping from his mother’s womb he cried:

God be glorified!

Swaddling-bands and crib awaited him there
but Nicolas clapped both his hands and cried:

God be glorified!

Innocent and joyful, naked and fair
he came in pride on earth to abide

God be glorified!

Water rippled Welcome in the bath-tub by his side
he dived in open-eyed, he swam, he cried:

God be glorified!

When he went to church at Christmastide
he climbed up to the font to be baptised

God be glorified!

Pilgrims came to kneel and pray by his side
he grew in grace, his name was sanctified

God be glorified!

Nicolas grew in innocence and pride
His glory spread in rainbow round the countryside
“Nicolas will be a Saint!” the neighbours cried

God be glorified!

We'll gloss over the problem of a saint being said to grow up in pride! If you decide to listen to the whole thing, you might want to read the lyrics at the same time.

I really loved singing this piece and there is more information at Wikipedia. The final section begins at about 41:40 and features the tenor, St Nicholas, singing about his impending death, while the choir sings the Nunc Dimittus. I still find this very moving.

Also, I can't help sharing this picture of Father Christmas from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, which is probably my favourite.

I wish everyone a blessed Advent and hope you all have a Merry Christmas.

St Nicholas, pray for us.

Louise LaMotte is a friend from Light on Dark Water. Since she lived in Australia at the time we met online, I never thought we would meet in person. I was wrong. She has written here about St. Mary of the CrossPope St. Pius XFr. Jacques HamelOur Lady Undoer of Knots, St. Louise de Marillac, and St. Damien of Molokai.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 50 ~ Albertus Magnus

There’s no quicker way to turn me grouchy than to start going on about “the conflict between science and religion.” There have certainly been instances of conflict between scientists and religious believers, but to say that there is “a conflict,” period, is untenable.

People who ride that particular hobby horse can point to fundamentalist Christians who deny various aspects of evolutionary and geological science, but fundamentalist Christians are not the whole of “religion” and Darwinism is not the whole of “science.” Since the Catholic Church is at worst (from the science-as-religion point of view) something of a fence-sitter about evolution, the one argument they rely on is “Galileo!” In my experience the attempt to respond to that by citing the long history of the involvement of Catholics, lay and clerical, in science, and the absence of any institutional opposition to it, provokes the rejoinder “But—Galileo!”

One in fifty would probably be a generous estimate of the number of these folks who would even recognize the name Albertus Magnus, or Alfred the Great, a medieval Dominican who made very significant contributions to the development of the scientific method. This isn’t Catholic propaganda--let’s look at what a couple of secular sources say.

In the first section of his Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics Albertus Magnus discusses the possibility of the study of natural science. If science could only study particulars, Albert argues, then there would be no science in the sense of the demonstration of necessary causes because there would be as many sciences as there are particulars. But particulars, Albert goes on to point out, belong to definite kinds (species) and these can be studied because their causes can be demonstrated. Species have common attributes and a determined subject of which the attributes can be determined with necessity. Thus science is possible.

And this conviction about science being possible, as opposed to the Platonic and Neoplatonic tendency to discount the world of particular reality, and its presumed unaccountable changeableness, was not just a theoretical position on Albert’s part. He devotes a great deal of his time and attention to the actual empirical study of the relationships between attributes and natural subjects. Furthermore, he orders such study into what today would be called the “natural sciences”. Besides the study of the heavens and the earth and generation and corruption that he found in Aristotle, he adds the study of meteors, the mineral, animal, and vegetable kingdoms.

Albertus’ works represent the entire body of European knowledge of his time not only in theology but also in philosophy and the natural sciences. His importance for medieval science essentially consists in his bringing Aristotelianism to the fore against reactionary tendencies in contemporary theology. On the other hand, without feeling any discrepancy in it, he also gave the widest latitude to Neoplatonic speculation, which was continued by Ulrich of Strasbourg and by the German mystics of the 14th century. It was by his writings on the natural sciences, however, that he exercised the greatest influence. Albertus must be regarded as unique in his time for having made accessible and available the Aristotelian knowledge of nature and for having enriched it by his own observations in all branches of the natural sciences. A preeminent place in the history of science is accorded to him because of this achievement [My emphasis.]

Both the above links will take you to biographies of the saint, so I will give only the basics here: he was born around the beginning of the 13th century and died toward the end of it, approximately eighty years later. He was primarily an academic, holding among other positions the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Paris. Thomas Aquinas was his student, and the two were friends, not surprisingly since they are obviously kindred spirits, at least in the intellectual realm. He served as Provincial of the Dominicans in Germany for three years, from 1254 to 1257. He was made bishop of Regensburg in 1260 but apparently felt that this was not the role for him, and resigned it after three years. He was obliged to outlive his student and friend when St. Thomas died In 1274. Albert declared that “the light of the Church had been extinguished.”

He wrote a truly prodigious amount, having set himself the task of writing down more or less everything that was known at the time, and apparently making a pretty good job of it. He carried out physical investigations that were truly experimental science in the sense that we know it. And his abilities and achievement were honored during his life. But as I noted when discussing Newman here a few weeks ago, to be a great man and to be a saint are hardly the same thing. In the hour or two that I’ve spent looking around for information about him on the internet, I haven’t turned up much that discussed his personal qualities. I am intrigued by the description of his last years in the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Something of his old vigour and spirit returned in 1277 when it was announced that Stephen Tempier and others wished to condemn the writings of St. Thomas, on the plea that they were too favourable to the unbelieving philosophers, and he journeyed to Paris to defend the memory of his disciple. Some time after 1278 (in which year he drew up his testament) he suffered a lapse of memory; his strong mind gradually became clouded; his body, weakened by vigils, austerities, and manifold labours, sank under the weight of years.

And he died in Cologne in 1280. What sort of purgation might he have undergone in those two years? To have lived so long by his intellect, and then to lose it, must have been a greater trial even than the decline of his body. “Vigils, austerities, and manifold labours” certainly indicate a life of severe discipline. When he was bishop of Regensburg he declined the use of a horse, and got about his diocese on foot.

He was beatified in 1622 but not canonized until 1931. Considering that Aquinas was canonized within roughly fifty years of his death, why the long delay for Albert even to be beatified, and then another three hundred years before canonization, a total span of roughly six and a half centuries between death and canonization? Well, a book which I found on Google Books, A Companion to St. Albert the Great, suggests it was

...perhaps because [his] name had been associated with false accusations of sorcery, necromancy, and magic, rooted in suspect or spurious works attributed to him in the later Middle Ages. That Peter of Prussia, Albert’s 15th century biographer, devotes a great deal of energy to defend him against these charges indicates their gravity.

At any rate, he was finally canonized, and declared a Doctor of the Church, and named as the patron saint of scientists. And that job must surely involve listening to the prayers of non-scientists engaged in the war against the war between science and religion.

Maclin couldn't find many good pictures of Albertus Magnus,
  but thankfully my daughter and husband had their picture taken with him.

Maclin Horton is the proprietor of his own blog Light on Dark Water from which sprang this series. You might want to check out the current series there, 52 Movies or last year's 52 AuthorsIn this series he has written about St HenrikSt. John FisherSt AnsgarSt. Mary of Egypt, Bl. John Henry Newman, and St. John Kemble.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 49 ~ Blessed Lucy of Narnia

The reason I chose to write about Bl. Lucia of Narnia is because of my great-granddaughter Evelynn Lucille, whose mother calls her "my little Pevensie."

I first heard of Bl. Lucy (Lucia) of Narnia on a C. S. Lewis website called Into the Wardrobe. At the time it was the C. S. Lewis website, and in a way, it still is even though the forum is closed and nothing new is being posted. At the time, I got the impression that not much was known about Bl. Lucia, and that she was one of those saints that was acclaimed locally, but never formally recognized. I see now that I was very much mistaken. There seems to be a great deal of information about her, most of it in Italian, and she was beatified by Pope Clement XI on March 1, 1710. Most of the information that one can find on the internet about Bl. Lucia can be found on the website, Narnia, which promotes the city of Narni (formerly Narnia)  in Italy, and about which Lewis more than likely knew nothing except maybe the name. The city of Narni, however, definitely knows Lewis. Everything that I am about to write here, except my own opinions, comes from that website, and you might do better just to go look around here.

Lucia Brocadelli was born into a noble family on December 13, 1476. Beginning at the age of 5 and throughout her life, she received visits from Mary, Jesus, and various saints. Many of these visits were witnessed by others. In fact, there were even stories that when she was an infant, St. Catherine of Siena came to visit her daily, picked her up, and blessed her. When she was 7, Jesus and Our Lady came to her with St. Catherine and St.Dominic. Jesus put a ring on her finger and St. Dominic gave her a scapular. I don't know if these things were visibile to others. I expect not. St. Catherine was also given a ring by Our Lord, invisible, I believe by her request.

There are many stories from her childhood that demonstrate Lucia's love of and devotion to God. When an uncle visited her home with many toys for the children (Lucia was the oldest of 11 children.), instead of toys, she chose a rosary which she called her Christerello, which became her prized possession. One of the most prodigious stories concerns a marble statue of Mary holding the Baby Jesus in a nearby church. One day Lucia was praying before the statue and was longing to hold the baby in her arms. Mary handed her the baby, which became a real infant, and Lucia ran home with him and took care of him in her room for three days, during which time the statue of the infant disappeared.

At the age of twelve, Lucia made a private consecration to the Lord. Her intention was to join the Dominicans. However, when her father died, her uncle decided that the best plan for the 15 year old Lucia was to find her a husband. She rejected the first suitor, and wanted to reject the second, Count Pietro of Milan, a family friend. After receiving a visit from Mary, Jesus, and Sts. Catherine and Dominic, however, she consented to marry Pietro if he would agree to live as brother and sister.

To me Pietro is the most interesting person in Lucia's life. I wonder why he agreed to this arrangement. Was it financially beneficial for him to marry Lucia? Did he think that she would eventually change her mind. Or, perhaps, did he recognize that she was truly following God's call?

Whatever the reason, he allowed her to live as she chose. Although she was mistress of a noble house, she worked alongside her servants, treating them as members of the family. She was generous to the poor. She lived a very penitential life, and she continued to receive heavenly visitors, and this was what finally became too much for Pietro. It was fine when St. Catherine and two other female saints came to help her make the altar bread, but when she was out all night with two men, who she said were St. Dominic and John the Baptist, Pietro locked her up and kept her imprisoned throughout Lent.

After going to Mass on Easter, Lucia never returned to Pietro's house, she moved home, and became a Dominican tertiary. In his anger, and really who can blame him, Pietro burned down the Dominican priory. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to convince Lucia to return, Pietro perhaps realized that Lucia was doing the right thing, because he became a Francisan and famous preacher. In a way, Pietro reminds me of Felix Leseuer, the French atheist who belittled his wife Elizabeth's faith during her life, but who on reading her diaries after her death, converted and and became a priest.

After this, Lucia was asked to found a monastery. It was here that she received the stigmata, which brought her a good deal of fame, but also garnered some opposition from those who thought it unauthentic, Later, she was asked by the Duke of Ferrara to be prioress of another monastery that he was building. She went, hoping to found a monastery of strict observance. These were lay monasteries, Third Order, but Lucia apparently did not see this as an excuse for a tepid religious life.

Lucia lived during the time of Borgias. Alexander VI was pope during the time I have been writing about, and the Duke of Ferrara was to become Lucretia Borgia's father-in-law. At one time, he sent eleven candidates for the monastery to Lucia under Lucretia's care. It seems that many of them were not successful in religious life.

As I said earlier, not everyone was pleased with Lucia's spirituality, and when the Pope (This would have been Pope Julius II, I believe.) sent ten second order nuns to reform the monastery, Lucia was put under penance. She was not allowed to speak to anyone (although she purportedly had heavenly visitors) for the last 39 years of her life.

At her death, however, many people came to her funeral which lasted for three days. Her body was later displayed incorrupt.

I have some paintings of Bl. Lucia that I collectd several months ago when I wrote the beginning of this piece, and unfortunately, I cannot remember where they reside (the paintings themselves). Some are in her chapel in Narnia.

Pretty sure this is in the chapel.

I'm really not sure if this is supposed to be St. Catherine holding baby Lucia (which seems likely to me)
or Bl. Lucia holding the Christ Child.

I believe that the first  kneeling Dominican saint to the left of Mary is Bl. Lucia, but again, I'm not sure.

Above the altar in the chapel.

The best, longest, and most interesting biography of Bl. Lucia is here.