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.