Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Alain de Lille: Universal Doctor at Paris, Shepherd at Citeaux

One of yesterday’s entries in the Cistercian Menology is a good parable on the dangers of making assumptions:

At Citeaux, Blessed Alanus, Lay Brother. An amusing legend reveals to us what impression the knowledge and humility of our Blessed left. “You are the devil or you are Alanus—I am not the devil: I am Alanus.” The words were addressed to him in a plenary Coucil by a heretic, whose every argument was refuted by a little Lay Brother emerging as if miraculously from the aegis of his Abbot. This Brother was in reality Master Alanus, surnamed the Universal Doctor. And who as the result of a divine revelation [had] left the chair which he held at Paris with so much applause, in order to take the humble habit of a Lay Brother at Citeaux. He was appointed to tend the sheep. When he was recognized at the Council, he was offered important dignities; but he refused them and remained in his modest employment. He lived to a very advanced age, 116 years according to some writers. Then, in the year 1294, he went to contemplate in Heaven the eternal Truth. When the definition of the Immaculate Conception was being discussed, a notable passage of his Elucidation of the Canticles, secured for the Bessed Alanus the honor of being cited as a witness thereunto of the belief of the 12th Century.

Alain de Lille, also known as Alain ab Insulis and Alain de l’Isle, was born in or before 1128 and most likely died in 1202 or 1203. The breadth of his learning earned him the titles of Alain the Great and Universal Doctor. Many of the details of his life are hard to piece together because his career is easily confused with a number of literary Medieval Alains. The anecdote about his being either Master Alain or the devil probably stems from his participation in the Third Lateran Council in 1179 at the height of Cistercian influence in the Church. The Catholic Encyclopedia speaks of his theology as, “characterized by that peculiar variety of rationalism tinged with mysticism which is found in the writings of John Scotus Erigena, and which afterwards reappeared in the works of Raymond Lully.” While many of his contemporaries looked primarily to Aristotle, Alain found greater inspiration in Plato and Pythagoras. He was a noted poet and Latinist who influenced Dante and is quoted by Chaucer.

We are often presented with an image of the lay brother as the fount of earthy good sense undiluted by too much formal learning and the choir monk as the bookish literary type who might not have much common sense. The life of Alain de Lille leaving Paris to tend sheep, at least as recorded in the Menology, reminds us that calling often transcends the dictates of temperament. For all his knowledge, which he used to good effect, he says in the hymn below that our salvation lies in simple faith and the love of God and man.

In his highest glow and glory
Man's estate is transitory;
Speeds the hour and comes decay;
Dead the flower, the bloom is blighted,
Day is done, and man, benighted,
Falls and changes into clay.

Life is all a road of danger,
Man, therein, a passing stranger
Hastening onward to the grave;
Like the grass upon the meadow,
Like the day that dies in shadow,
Or the stream in ocean's wave.

Death is with us at the starting
Of our journey; at the parting
We behold his sullen face;
Still we bow beneath his burden;
Grief and labor are the guerdon
He awards us in the race.

See thy state, O Man, and wonder!
Learn the law thou livest under;
But be also swift to scan
These great ends of thy creation,
Simple faith, thy own salvation,
And the love of God and man.
A portion of a hymn by Alain de Lille
Translated by Daniel Joseph Donahue
HT to The Lion and the Cardinal
Image: Les Paraboles Maîstre Alain, 1492.

Friday, January 25, 2013

St. Paul: The First Blogger

His connection speed was limited to that of a ship in a gale and his posts had to be copied by hand to be forwarded, but, technological limitations aside, St. Paul above all others should be remembered as pattern and patron of bloggers.

An opinionated graduate student at Jerusalem, he never lost his love of a good war of words. His credentials as an apostle came from outside the beltway of the recognized hierarchy, but the size and reach of his following bolstered his claim as an authority to be heard. He tackled all the hot button issues of the day and sent shout-outs to friends like Priscilla and Aquila. He supported himself at another job, but he regularly flogged the donation button for the poor at Jerusalem.

In his letters, we find highly polished essays, flames, riffs, travelogues, and poetry, though he seems to have fewer recipes and restaurant reviews than are expected of contemporary Catholic bloggers. He blended the abstract with the personal. He knew that his verve as the medium gave legs to the message. A post from Paul changed debates across the Mediterranean.

He argued with Peter and fell out with Barnabas, but everyone read him. He inspired followers and copycats. Presbyters from Spain to Arabia no doubt occasionally dreamed of the glory of being Paul, forgetting the hours of dictation, the overflowing in-box, endless coach and steerage travel to sleep on someone’s couch, and finding the time to make tents to pay the bills.

A divine mandate and ongoing inspiration certainly helped in his chosen path, but the temperament seems to have been formed in his mother’s womb, as were the dedication and zeal that kept him cranking out work for a career that lasted longer than there’s been a Web.

Doctor of the Gentiles, on your feast day, we salute you.
Pray for we poor hacks.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

St. Raymond of Penafort

St. Raymond of Penafort gives the Mercedarian habit to St. Peter Nolasco.
Detail from the Mercedarian Altar in the
Cathedral of Barcelona.

St. Raymond was born in 1175, the son of the Count of Penafort and a relative of the Kings of Aragon. A brilliant young man, he obtained doctorates in both civil and ecclesiastical law at the University of Bologna, where he taught until 1222. Returning to Barcelona in that year, he assisted St. Peter Nolasco in founding the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, by helping to obtain the consent of King James I. That same year, St. Raymond entered the Dominicans, where he continued his work as a canonist.

In 1230, he was summoned to Rome by Pope Gregory IX, appointed Chaplain and Grand Penitentiary, and given the task of codifying the existing collections of canon law and papal bulls. The resulting collection, known as the Liber extra or Gregorian Decretals, would be the definitive document on canon law until the codification of 1917. It was also during this period that he produced his Summa Casuum, which became a standard work for confessors.

After declining the Archbishopric of Tarragona, he returned to Barcelona in 1236 only to find himself elected General of the Dominican Order in 1238. He served only two years before resigning, but in that brief time issued a new constitution for the Order and commissioned St. Thomas to write his Summa Contra Gentiles, marking his growing interest in the conversion of Jews and Muslims. St. Raymond’s tactics in this area were unusual for the period in that he encouraged Dominicans to study Hebrew and Arabic, favored the use of free public debate, and even attended a synagogue with other theologians and courtiers.

The tomb of St. Raymond of Penafort in the Cathedral of Barcelona.

In 1240, he returned to Barcelona in retirement, but lived on for another 34 years, dying in 1275 at the age of 99. Though he lived a less public life in these years, his influence continued, though he remained an outspoken critic the morals of the king and his courtiers. One legend says that earlier in his life, when visiting the court on the Island of Mallorca, he was so disgusted by the King’s refusal to keep his promises to reform his morals that he sailed all the way back to Barcelona on his cloak. He is often portrayed sailing on his cloak or holding a key as a symbol of his work as a confessor.

St. Raymond was only canonized in 1601. Perhaps it takes a bit of time for the sting of some of their words to fade for the merits of moralists and lawyers to become apparent. Today St. Raymond is counted as the patron of canonists and is honored as one of the patrons of Barcelona, in whose cathedral he is buried.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Some Texts for St. Agnes

St. Agnes by José de Ribera.
Today's texts for the feast of St. Agnes, perhaps the virgin martyr of virgin martyrs, are some of my favorites because of the beautiful way they tell the saint's story, catching both her innocence and the fortitude that was beyond her years.

* * *

Son of a Virgin, fashioning, Thy Mother,
Virgin, she bore Thee, Virgin still remaineth;
Now, as a Virgin’s triumph we are chanting,
Hear our devotion.

This holy Virgin gained a double blessing
Striving to master frailty of her nature,
With her weak body strongly overcoming
All this world’s fierceness.

Death , and the friends of death, the rending tortures,
With their fierce raging, in no wise dismayed her.
She by the shedding of her life-blood entered
* Holiest heaven.

By her protection, gracious God, O spare Thou
All our offences, all our faults remitting,
So that with hearts made pure to sing Thy praises,
We too may hymn Thee.

Thou the all Father, Thou the One-Begotten,
Thou, Holy Spirit, Three in One co-equal,
Glory be henceforth Thine through all the ages,
Wolrd without ending. Amen.
Virginis Proles (Son of a Virgin)
Hymn of St. Agnes for Vigils

LET US CELEBRATE the festival of this most saintly maiden, let us call to mind the passion of Blessed Agnes: in her thirteenth year she conquered, losing death and finding life:

* Because she loved the Author of life and him alone.

V. Reckoned but a child in this world, she was wiser than the aged.

* Because she loved the Author of life and him alone.

-First Responsory for the Feast of St. Agnes

Today is the birthday of a virgin; let us imitate her purity. It is the birthday of a martyr; let us offer ourselves in sacrifice. It is the birthday of Saint Agnes, who is said to have suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve. The cruelty that did not spare her youth shows all the more clearly the power of faith in finding one so young to bear witness. There was little or no room in that small body for a wound. Though she could scarcely receive the blow, she could rise superior to it. Girls of her age cannot bear even their parents' frowns and, pricked by a needle, weep as for a 'serious wound. Yet she shows no fear of the blood-stained hands of her executioners.

She stands undaunted by heavy, clanking chains. She offers her whole body to be put to the sword by fierce soldiers. She is too young to know of death, yet is ready to face it. Dragged against her will to the altars, she stretches out her hands to the Lord in the midst of the flames, making the triumphant sign of Christ the victor on the altars of sacrilege. She puts her neck and hands in iron chains, but no chain can hold fast her tiny limbs.

A new kind of martyrdom! Too young to be punished, yet old enough for a martyr's crown; unfitted for the contest yet effortless in victory, she shows herself a master in valor despite the handicap of youth. As a bride she would not be hastening to join her husband with the same joy she shows as a virgin on her way to punishment, crowned not with flowers but with holiness of life, adorned not with braided hair but with Christ himself. In the midst of tears, she sheds no tears herself. The crowds marvel at her recklessness in throwing away her life untasted, as if she had already lived life to the full. All are amazed that one not yet of legal age can give her testimony to God. So she succeeds in convincing others of her testimony about God, though her testimony in human affairs could not yet be accepted. What is beyond the power of nature, they' argue, must come from its creator.

What menaces there were from the executioner, to frighten her; what promises made, to win her over; what influential people desired her in marriage! She answered: “To hope that any other will please me does wrong to my Spouse. I will be his who first chose me for himself. Executioner, why do you delay? If eyes that I do not want can desire this body, then let it perish." She stood still, she prayed, she offered her neck.

You could see fear in the eyes of the executioner, as if he were the one condemned; his right hand trembled, his face grew pale as he saw the girl's peril, while she had no fear for herself. One victim, but a twin martyrdom, to modesty and to religion; Agnes preserved her virginity, and gained a martyr's crown.

-From a treatise On Virgins by St. Ambrose

I LOVE CHRIST to him alone do I commit myself, whose Mother is a Virgin and whose Father knows not a woman. The instruments of his music sound sweetly in my ears.

* When I love him I am chaste: when I touch him I am pure: when I possess him I am a virgin.

V. Blessed Agnese said: he has betrothed me with his ring of faith, and adorned me with precious jewels.

* When I love him I am chaste: when I touch him I am pure: when I possess him I am a virgin.

V. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

* When I love him I am chaste: when I touch him I am pure: when I possess him I am a virgin.

-Second Responsory for the Feast of St. Agnes

Surrounded by flames, * Saint Agnes stretched out her hands and prayed: * I call upon You Father, worthy of our fear. * Your Son has brought me safe and innocent through all the sacrilegious tyrant threatened. * And now I come to You- * You Whom I have loved, Whom I have sought, * Whom I have ever chosen.

-Antiphon for Lauds of St. Agnes

Thursday, January 17, 2013

St. Anthony, Patron Saint of Bacon

Today is the feast of St. Anthony the Abbot, one of the greats among the Desert Fathers, whose life by Athanasius has remained a classic for almost 1700 years.

St. Anthony is most commonly portrayed with a boar or pig, symbolizing his victory over gluttony but, in the way these things often go, he came to be regarded as the patron of pigs and swineherds. The measles, known as St. Anthony's Fire, were often treated by rubbing the eruptions with pork fat or bacon.

A few years ago, the Archie McPhee Company took this connection to its logical conclusion and began selling a statuette of St. Anthony as Patron Saint of Bacon. For some, I suppose, this might be pushing even the vague boundaries of folk religion a bit far, but I'm afraid that merely underestimates the passion of a true bacon aficionado like myself. Bacon is my kryptonite. It is the archemeat and epitome of carnivore goodness. The Korean deli across from my old office had a breakfast buffet every morning with a glorious mound of bacon rising out of the steam trays. It wasn't the greatest bacon, but if it wasn't a day of abstinence, I usually dropped by on my way in to work to pay my respects.

The little statuette even came with this Prayer to Assist with the Enjoyment of Quality Bacon:

O wonderous St. Anthony, please bless me with an abundance of quality bacon and grant me the patience and timing to properly fry each glorious strip. Amen.

I'm sure that it wasn't meant to be taken seriously, but I could say it in good faith. Just as St. Anthony's being portrayed with a pig led him being appropriated as the patron of swineherds, I seen no reason why this little prayer can't be appropriated as well and St. Anthony's legendary self-control makes it doubly appropriate. More than once in the past I have allowed my bacon lust, doubly aroused by the smell coming from the pan, to convince me to take my bacon off the heat before it was nice and crisp because I couldn't bear the agony of waiting any longer. If you can invoke the other St. Anthony of Padua to find your lost keys, I see no problem with invoking this one in a far more important matter.

Blessed Anthony, watch over your swineherds, your pigs, and their bacon.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ss. Maurus and Placidus

Today is the feast of Ss. Maurus and Placidus, St. Benedict’s young disciples famed for their exploits and their devotion to their master. 

In childhood Placidus was by his father given;
Thus offered, he himself did freely yield to God.
Since first he came, he ever shone with wondrous grace,
A pattern to all zealous souls.

His Abbot sent him forth to fill an earthen crock,
He dips it in the lake, unwary, slips and falls,
A wave then carries him a bowshot from the shore,
Out in the deep drowning is nigh.

But Maurus, what is this, that hastening to the lake,
Thou runnest o’er the waves as though thou wast on land?
Wont to obey, ‘tis thus thy holy father’s voice.
Doth lead thee to a miracle.

Straightway the lake restores Placidus safe again,
But whose the merit? Did his Nursian father draw,
Him from the swirling depth, or was it Maurus’ act?
The child resolves their questioning.

O Holy Trinity, through prayers of Placidus,
Grant to thy monks that by the narrow path of Rule
They may at length attain unto the courts of heaven,
And mingle with celestial choirs. Amen.

Puellus Placicidus (In childhood Placicidus was by his father given)
Hymn of Vigils for the Feast of Ss. Maurus and Placidus

O Antiphons Concluded