Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict – Saint Rembert, Archbishop

illustration of Saint Rembert, Archbishop, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberIt is appropriate that we celebrate the Feast of Saint Rembert next after that of Saint Anschar, as he had shared in all the labours of that great Prelate, and was his immediate successor in the See of Bremen. As the revenues of the See of Hamburg, to which – as we have seen – Saint Anschar was transferred from Upsala, were greatly diminished by the necessity of maintaining an armed force to repel the inroads of the barbarians, the Emperor Louis le Debonnaire added to them the Cell or Monastery of Turholtus. Here the Monks, few in number, for their resources were slender, regularly carried out the rule of Saint Benedict, devoting themselves, when free from their religious duties, to carefully training the youth of the neighbourhood in learning and piety. They were visited by Saint Anschar as often as he got leisure from his many cares. On one occasion, the Archbishop chanced to be present when the bell summoned the young disciples to church. All the others were rushing thither in irreverent haste. Rembert alone, rosary in hand, approached the sacred building with due respect. The dignity of his faith, and the piety which his countenance seemed to breathe, immediately struck Saint Anschar. Having called the boy’s parents, he made inquiries of them touching their son’s age, his natural disposition, and his birth, and with their consent he admitted him to the Community of the Monastery. There the youth’s progress in learning and sanctity kept pace with his years. Saint Anschar, as if foreseeing that Rembert was destined by Heaven to be his successor, removed him from Turholtus, and chose him to be his companion on his journeys, to share his life, and to assist him in his work. The pure holiness of Saint Anschar made a deep impression on the gifted mind of Rembert. Together they prayed, read, meditated, endured hunger and fatigue: their souls were as one. When Rembert was ordained, the Archbishop enrolled him as his fellow-soldier in preaching the Faith to the barbarians. How deserving the Saint was of this high honour is shown by the story of Arnulph, a Priest. This Priest, who had not committed any heinous sin, but had been remiss in many points, seldom doing penance, had been dead for some years, and yet his guilt had not been cleansed away by the fires of Purgatory. The mercy of Almighty God permitted him to appear to Rembert, and to beg of him the favour of shortening the period of his terrible sufferings. Heaven, said Arnulph, gave this privilege to Rembert on condition that the Saint would punish himself for the gluttony of which the miserable sinner had been guilty while alive. Two periods of twenty days each must he fast, his only food to be bread, water, and salt. Hard as the conditions were, the Saint agreed. Nothing passed his lips all that time but bread, water, and salt; and when his teeth were unable to masticate the bread, he had it steeped in water so as to enable him to swallow it. At the end of the fast Arnulph appeared to a woman in her sleep, bade her give his thanks to Rembert, and added the prophecy: That Rembert was hereafter to be numbered among those who, as just, were to shine like the sun in the heavens.

Meanwhile Rembert had been the staunch comrade of Saint Anschar in his various campaigns in the cause of Christ. When the affairs of the Church in Denmark, Sweden, Hamburg, and Bremen were now fairly settled, and the Archbishop’s end was drawing nigh, his faithful flock were anxious to know whom he willed to succeed him. The Saint’s natural modesty shrank from such a selection; he said the choice ought to be left to the votes of the clergy and the people. However, when they pressed him, and suggested, among other names, that of Rembert, wishing to find out his opinion of the partner of his labours, Saint Anschar’s answer was, “If you ask me about Rembert, this is my reply: He is more worthy of the archiepiscopal throne than I to be a Deacon.” This recommendation was not spoken to deaf ears. Not a day elapsed after the death of Saint Anschar before Rembert was saluted Archbishop of Bremen by the clergy and the laity. The retiring disposition of Rembert would have declined the dignity, only that Saint Anschar, a little before his death, had bound him by oath to submit to the choice of Heaven. After his consecration Rembert’s first care was to model his life in all respects on that of his predecessor. So closely did he act up to his ideal, that he became a Monk, taking the vows at the Monastery of Corby in Saxony – a younger foundation than the Monastery of the same name in France, to which Saint Anschar had belonged. From there the newly-professed Monk took with him to Bremen Adelgarius, one of the strictest disciples of Saint Benedict, to instruct him in the Rule of the Order. Whenever his public duties permitted, the Archbishop relaxed none of the monastic regulations as regards mortification, fasting, and silence. He faithfully discharged all his duties, whether as a Monk in private, or as an Archbishop in public. His fare consisted of bread and milk, with a little fish on feast-days. Always on going out of doors, he caused his attendants to carry with them purses, so that no beggar should ask in vain. A common saying of his was, “We should refuse alms to no supplicant, lest we refuse Christ, Who is among the poor.” Often, when money and provisions failed, he melted down even the sacred vessels to distribute charity.

It once happened that Saint Rembert, being in the country of the Sclavs, perceived a Nun in chains among a multitude of captives exposed for sale. By signs, by genuflexion, and by repeating the Psalms, she managed to convey to the Pontiff who she was. With tears in his eyes, the Saint sought help from Heaven. Lo! the iron chains with which the virgin’s neck was weighed down, bursting asunder, freed her from her bonds. As there was no chance of escape amid such a throng, Rembert offered for the Nun any sum of gold her captors wished to name. Nothing, they cried, would satisfy them but the Prelate’s horse. Without a moment’s delay Rembert dismounted, and handing over to the barbarians the horse with the saddle and the rest of its trappings, he purchased permission for the Nun to go wheresoever she pleased. As Legate of the North, which office he also held, he frequently had to travel by sea to Sweden and elsewhere. On one of these voyages a terrible storm overtook his vessel, and threatened instant destruction. The Saint made the sign of the Cross to the winds, and the raging waters were immediately calmed. Numerous other miracles were performed by Saint Rembert – the restoration of sight to a blind man by anointing him with the holy oil, the casting out of a devil that possessed Charles, son of the Emperor Louis, etc.; but the most wonderful of all was the victory gained in the Nordensian territory over the Danes and Normans, who had invaded Germany. The Archbishop and his few Christians had little chance of withstanding the overwhelming numbers of the invaders, unless he could obtain aid from Above. Bidding his followers not to lose courage against such fearful odds, the Saint climbed up to a neighbouring hill, and there, on his knees, stretching his arms aloft, he earnestly prayed for deliverance. Such was the efficacy of his prayers, that more than 10,000 of the barbarians were slain, and the flight of the remainder gave victory to the Christians. The turf on which the Pontiff knelt never, they say, loses its greenness, and the impression of his elbows can to this day be seen in the stone on which his arms rested.

In every matter of importance which Rembert was either to undertake or refrain from undertaking, he was guided by the counsel of Saint Anschar, with whom Heaven permitted him to communicate. With such an adviser, how could Rembert’s undertakings prove other than prosperous? Nor did Saint Anschar fail him at the last; he warned him of the approach of death, and bade him make certain of the crowning reward. After having had himself anointed with the holy oils, and having received the Blessed Sacrament every day for seven days, this glorious Pontiff passed into eternity, A.D. 888.

– text and illustration taken from Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict by Father Aegedius Ranbeck, O.S.B.