Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Malachy, Bishop

Pictorial Lives of the Saints: Saint Malachi, BishopArticle

Saint Malachy, whose life was written by the great Saint Bernard, was born of noble and rich parents, in Ireland. From his youth he loved silence, solitude and prayer. His mind was far beyond his years, and he surpassed all his fellow-students in learning and wisdom. Not less did he excel them in virtue and piety. While yet a youth, he went to a very devout hermit and learned from him the way to serve God and secure the salvation of his soul. Celsus, the Archbishop of Armagh, soon after ordained him priest, and charged him to preach, to visit the sick, and to instruct the ignorant. All this was done by the holy priest, with great zeal and to the great benefit of souls. His sister frequently found fault with him when she saw how unweariedly he visited the poor, assisted the sick and buried them after their death. But after her death, she appeared to him and told him that she had much to suffer for it in purgatory, and implored him to intercede for her. The holy priest said Mass for her and thus released her from her pains. Some time later, he rebuilt the Abbey of Benchor, and made his residence there, in company with several religious whom he had himself instructed. The life these monks led was an example to the whole country, and their labors in preaching and other religious duties conduced to the salvation of numberless souls.

Meanwhile, the See of Connor became vacant, and as the people desired Malachy to be their bishop, Celsus commanded him to accept the dignity. The zeal and solicitude of the holy man in his new office, and the labors and sufferings he underwent in the discharge of his duties cannot be related in few words. He travelled from town to town, from village to village, visited his flock, instructed them, and then returned to his Abbey. After some years, the city of Connor was taken and destroyed in war, and Malachy was forced to take refuge with Cormac, King of Munster, who received him and his religious brethren most kindly and assisted him to build a new abbey. The Saint had spent but a few years in this new home, when Celsus, the Primate of Ireland, died, after having, – on his death-bed, expressed the wish that Malachy should be his successor. The Clergy and all the people elected the Saint with great joy; but it was not until after a long time and great trouble that he could freely exercise his functions, on account of the opposition made by some of the nobility, who desired to make the see of Armagh hereditary in their own family. Two of them successively took forcible possession of it. At last, however, the holy man was established in the See, but he had much to suffer from those of the nobles and great men of the country, who had opposed his promotion, and who now calumniated him and endeavored to make him hateful to the people. One day, there were some hired assassins lying in wait for him in a wood through which he had to pass. Suddenly, however, a fearful thunderstorm arose and four of them were killed by the lightning. A man, who had most shamefully insulted the Saint at a public meeting, was immediately afflicted by a horrible swelling in his mouth, which soon swarmed with worms. His tongue corrupted and fell from his mouth and he died most miserably. A woman had the insolence to apply to the holy man, among other epithets, that of hypocrite, and to call him a thief who had stolen the crosier. The bishop replied not a word, but the wicked woman was cast to the ground by an invisible power, and violently tossed hither and thither, until she expired, crying out: “Malachy strangles me; Malachy strangles me!” Thus did the Almighty punish the enemies and calumniators of His faithful servant.

At another time, he was most miraculously protected. The most powerful of the nobles opposed to the Saint had conspired with several others to kill him. Under the pretext of a conference to agree upon the terms of a reconciliation, the bishop was invited to the nobleman’s house. The friends of Malachy strongly urged him to decline the invitation, as they had every reason to suspect an evil design. The holy man replied: “My brethren, allow me to follow my Master. How can I call myself a Christian, if I do not imitate Christ. Perhaps I may soften the heart of my enemy by my humility.” He then went to the appointed place, where he was met by a number of armed men, who, however, became so frightened when he appeared, that none of them had the heart to move. The leader of the conspiracy repented and asked the Saint’s pardon, and ever after treated him with due reverence. This and other marks of the divine protection encouraged the bishop so that neither menaces nor persecutions could ever deter him from the performance of his duty. After the lapse of some years, he went to Rome and requested the Pope to release him from his episcopal dignity, as he desired to spend the remainder of his life in the monastery of Saint Bernard, with whom he had become acquainted during his travels. But the Pope, instead of consenting to his request, placed his own mitre on the bishop’s head, presented him with his own priestly robes, declared him papal Nuncio, and thus sent him back to Ireland. On his return, he redoubled his labors for the salvation of souls, and God favored him with many and great miracles. Saint Bernard relates many of them, but adds:

“The greatest miracle was the holy man himself, on account of his virtues and truly apostolic life.” From the day of his ordination to the priesthood, he practised the strictest poverty. Never was an idle, much less a sinful word heard to pass his lips. He always travelled on foot, and was satisfied with the poorest fare, nor would he ever be served better than his religious brethren. He begged alms for the poor and assisted them most tenderly. No one left him without being comforted. His exhortations to sinners were full of kindness; he represented to them the great mercy of the Almighty, and encouraged them to hope. Not until he was convinced that such motives would make no impression, did he endeavor to awaken in them a wholesome fear, by menacing them with the vengeance of the Lord, and thus induce them to do penance. To more than one, who still refused to reform, he, with prophetic spirit, denounced the vengeance of heaven, and the event showed that his words were not idle. We have an example of this in a man, whom the Saint had several times most earnestly exhorted to remove an occasion of sin, but who swore that he would never obey. The Saint, indignant at this perversity, said: “May God then tear you, against your will, from your wicked companion!” In the same hour, the wretch was taken away in his sin by being murdered.

Many other details, which Saint Bernard relates, we must omit, to add only a few words of our Saints happy end. During a second journey to Rome, whither he was called by some important affairs, he stopped at Clairvaux to visit Saint Bernard. Here he became sick, and having devoutly received the holy Sacraments, he blessed all those around him, and died so calmly, that they who stood by did not perceive that he had passed away. Long before his end, when, one day, some of his religious said where and how they would like to die, he expressed his wish that he might die at Clairvaux, the monastery of Saint Bernard, and on the Feast of Ail Saints, because on that, day so many masses and good works were offered for the souls of the departed. God granted the wishes of His faithful servant, by taking him to heaven from Clairvaux, in the night following the Feast of All Saints, in his 54th year, A.D. 1148.

Practical Considerations

• Saint Malachy represents to sinners the mercy of God, to animate them with hope, and also His justice to awaken within them a wholesome fear and thus stimulate them to do penance. Many Christians think only of the divine mercy, and hence become more and more free in sinning and slow to repentance. Their standing phrase is: “God is so immeasurably merciful; He will forgive my sins, and will not condemn me. He receives a sinner even in his last hour, and thus I can continue to live after my own fancy; I have time enough to repent.” Others, on the contrary, think only of the divine justice, and become despondent pr perhaps even despair. The former hope too much and fear too little; the latter fear too much and hope too little. Both are wrong . Saint Basil says: “Holy Writ most generally unites the mercy and the justice of the Almighty. God is merciful and just (Psalm 24) Hence we ought not to separate these attributes of the Most High in our meditations.” By meditating on the mercy of God, we should animate ourselves with hope, and by meditating on His justice, we ought to be filled with wholesome fear. “Love God,” says Saint Augustine, “because He is full of mercy; fear Him, because He is just.” Fear and hope, hope and fear, must be united. How this may be done, Saint Caesarius teaches, in the following words: “A sinner should fear justice while seeking mercy: and hope for mercy while fearing justice.” Saint Gregory gives most excellent advice, which you ought to impress deeply on your heart: “Before committing sin, man ought to fear divine justice; but after having sinned, he ought to hope for mercy;” that is, when we are tempted to sin, we should think of the justice of God, that fear may prevent us from becoming guilty; but when we have committed sin, let us think of God s mercy, that the hope of pardon may lead us to repentance. If man, before he sins, considers only God’s mercy, he may easily yield to evil, saying to himself: “I will confess it; and God, who is all-merciful, will pardon me.” And if, after having become guilty of sin, he thinks only of the justice of God, he may fall into despair. The chaste Susanna thought of the justice of God when she was tempted to sin. “For if I do this thing,” said she. “it is death to me, (Daniel 13) meaning, “if I commit this sin, I shall be damned: God will punish me.” This inspired her with a wholesome fear, and kept her from evil. Cain, after having become guilty, thought only of the justice of God, and despaired. “My iniquity is greater, than that I may deserve pardon” (Genesis 4). Judas, according to the opinion of Saint Chrysostom, thought, before his crime, only of his Masters goodness, and hence he became guilty. Afterwards, considering the great- ness of his sin, and the justice of the Most High, he despaired. May you be wise, and follow the advice of Saint Gregory. Before you become guilty of any wrong, think of the justice of heaven. Hope and fear; but each at the right time.

• The threat of Saint Malachy to the lewd man, who paid no heed to exhortations and admonitions, was fulfilled. Learn from it that the menaces of God’s ministers are not to be despised, and be careful that you do not learn this by your own experience and perhaps to your eternal grief. Your confessor, the preacher in the pulpit, as well as your own conscience, have frequently admonished you to avoid some occasion of sin; to shun’ the companionship of a certain person not to enter a certain house where you have often offended God; to correct this or that bad habit; and these admonitions told you, at the same time, to fear lest God would punish you, if you heeded them not, by striking you with a sudden and unhappy death. And you perhaps laugh at such menaces, relate them to others, and scoff at them. Oh, beware! The same God, that fulfilled the menaces of Saint Malachy, is still living, and He can do to you also what His ministers say in His name. You despise God when you despise the threats and admonitions of your confessor; and this will not remain unpunished. If punishment has not yet reached you, it will come, sooner or later, either in this world or in the next; for, Saint Bernard says with reason: “The longer God waits for our conversion, the more terribly will He punish us if we neglect it.” Saint Augustine says, on the same subject: “As merciful and long-suffering as the Almighty shows Himself in this life, so terrible will be His judgment in the life to come.” One point more I wish you to consider well. You have heard what happened to the persecutors and defamers of Saint Malachy, and how terribly God punished them. If the same fate befell all persecutors and calumniators of the clergy, I am convinced that there would not be so many to slander them so wickedly, and to accuse them of so many vices. But we must not imagine, that, because they do not immediately experience God’s wrath, they will escape unpunished; indeed, they may well fear the judgment of the Almighty in the next world. Guard yourself, then, against the grievous crime of slander against the clergy. Even if some of them are not all that they should be, it is a sin for you to make known their faults to those who cannot correct them; and you are unreasonable if, on that account, you despise and calumniate the whole clergy. God has not made you a judge of their actions; He has kept this to Himself. What are their faults to you? Heed your own; for, of these you will have to render an account. Remember the words of Saint Chrysostom: “Priests are the representatives of Christ. Whoever honors them, honors the Lord; and whoever wrongs them, wrongs Him whom they replace upon earth.” Can you think that the just God will allow a wrong done to Him to go unpunished?

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Malachy, Bishop”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 May 2018. Web. 22 September 2018. <>