Reflecting on Saint Joseph – First Day

altarpiece sculpture of the Holy Family, date and artist unknown; Holy Family chapel, Fischen im Allgäu, Oberallgäu, Bavaria, Germany; photographed on 1 September 2018 by K.Bass; swiped from Wikimedia Commons“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Fidelity to Grace

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ stated, as the A first of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Although we do not know whether Saint Joseph lived long enough to hear Christ’s preaching, it is clear that the Holy Spirit filled his heart with an understanding of the blessedness that results from being poor in spirit. To find contentment in his lot as the village carpenter of Nazareth, to accept the humiliations of Bethlehem and see in them God’s holy will, to accept the rich gifts of the Magi and to use them solely for the interests of his foster Son – such were the lessons that Saint Joseph learned well.

Grace enlightened Joseph’s mind and he came to know that, in itself, poverty is indifferent; that is, it is neither good nor bad. It can lead to sin when a wrongful desire for the goods one does not have impels one to cheat, to lie, to steal, or even to kill. Saint Joseph, on the other hand, came to realize that wealth, luxury, and preoccupation with the comforts of this life can weigh down the spirit of man, keep him engrossed in the affairs of earth, and prevent his growth in grace and union with God. Saint Joseph recognized poverty as a potential spiritual good, a condition which can speed man on his way to his final end. By his fidelity to grace he acquired a steadily increasing conviction of the value of such poverty, which Christ made one of the counsels of perfection in His Church.


Dear Saint Joseph, ever faithful to the inspirations of grace, obtain for me a proper appreciation of the spirit of poverty. Guide me in my efforts to acquire this spirit and teach me to invoke the Holy Spirit for enlightenment regarding the practice of that poverty which is so directly opposed to the spirit of the world. Help me in all things to surrender myself to all that your Divine foster Son desires of me.

Concluding Prayer

Almighty Father, from whom all graces come: I praise and bless and thank Thee for Saint Joseph’s fidelity to grace. Grant that, through his loving intercession, I, too, may be faithful to grace. O my powerful patron Saint Joseph, obtain for me the favor I now ask.

Fidelity to the Interior Life

“The kingdom of God is within you!” It follows, then, that if you are faithful to this kingdom of the interior life, you are truly rich.

In this sense, Saint Joseph was a rich man. Yet his lot in life left him free from the possessions which add an element of distraction to those who would advance in perfection. Saint Joseph’s skill as a carpenter probably netted him but a meager income. By his fidelity to the interior life, Saint Joseph gained increasing awareness of the treasures of grace with which God was adorning his soul. God revealed to him the hierarchy of values wherein each thing, a good in itself, serves as a steppingstone to a higher good as one mounts the path of sanctity to the Summum Bonum, God. Within his own heart reigned peace with God and all his fellow men. There he enjoyed a foretaste of that beatitude of which Saint Paul was speaking when he said: “Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9; cf. Isaiah 64:4)


Dear Saint Joseph, help me to search my heart that I may detect my secret attachment to creature comforts. Pray for me that I may have the clear spiritual vision necessary to distinguish between true supernatural riches and the world’s tinsel. May I learn to put first things first; to follow the admonition of our Lord and “seek first the kingdom of God and His justice.” (Matthew 6:33)

Concluding Prayer

Almighty Father, from whom all graces come: I praise and bless and thank Thee for Saint Joseph’s fidelity to the interior life. Grant that, through his loving intercession, I, too, may be faithful to the interior life. O my powerful patron Saint Joseph, obtain for me the favor I now ask.

Devotion to Our Lady

Certain non-material possessions – for example, love and companionship – are often more precious to us than worldly goods. Somewhere along the road of life, God graciously provides us with a friend whose understanding heart, kindred interests, ready sympathy, and encouraging advice prove beyond question the truth of the Scriptural proverb: “A brother is a better defense than a strong city.” (Proverbs 18:19)

Imagine the joy of Saint Joseph during the days following his espousals with the beautiful daughter of Joachim and Anne! With what tenderness he pledged to her his undying loyalty; with what earnestness he offered her his support and protection. It was Saint Joseph’s privilege to be chosen by God to enjoy the intimacy of home life with Mary, the Immaculate Mother of Christ, whom we honor as “Cause of our joy.”

But, to be poor in spirit one must be ready to relinquish, when God’s will demands it, not only worldly goods but also non-material possessions. In this, Saint Joseph quietly sets the example. Before the day on which he was to take Mary to his home as his wife, Joseph discovered that she was bearing a child. The Gospel tells us, quite clearly and simply, of his decision: “But Joseph, being a just man, and not wishing to expose her to reproach, was minded to put her away privately.” (Matthew 1:19)

Sickness, death, or merely the vicissitudes of everyday life may impose upon us separation from one whose friendship constitutes a very dear possession. To recognize in this deprivation the holy will of God and to accept it generously is the mark of one who is truly poor in spirit. Even as God immediately reassured Saint Joseph after this trial of his virtue, so will He, according to His own most adorable designs, reward us with peace of soul in this life and the possession hereafter of the kingdom of heaven, where “death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Apocalypse 21:4)


Dear Saint Joseph, let no particular attachment hold captive part of the love I owe to Christ. Let not my affection for any person or for any position in life interfere with my observance of God’s law. When circumstances upset my plans concerning my friends or my projects, enable me to adjust myself, without interior disturbance, to this manifestation of the holy will of God.

Concluding Prayer

Almighty Father, from whom all graces come: I praise and bless and thank Thee for Saint Joseph’s devotion to Our Lady. Grant that, through his loving intercession, I, too, may be truly devoted to Our Lady. O my powerful patron Saint Joseph, obtain for me the favor I now ask.

Devotion to the Divine Child

As one meditates on the first Beatitude, there comes to mind another forceful statement which Christ made: “Amen I say to you, with difficulty will a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:23). Yet it is noteworthy that the heavenly Father sent a luminous star to summon wise and wealthy Gentiles to be among the first worshipers of His Divine Son.

The visit of these colorful foreigners, which caused such excitement and consternation in the household of Herod, must have attracted even greater attention in Bethlehem. What an accumulation of celebrated personages in a single spot! In the arms of Heaven’s Queen lay the Prince of Peace. Close by stood Joseph, whom we salute in his litany as the renowned offspring of King David. Crowding into the tiny quarters of the Holy Family came Kings from the East (sages and members of a sacred caste). “They found the child with Mary His mother, and falling down they worshiped Him. And opening their treasures they offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)

These were men possessing great material riches. They had been called in a special manner to the kingdom of heaven. By their response they proved their poverty of spirit. Without stint they gave of their wealth to the King of heaven, and thus secured for themselves the happiness which Christ so lavishly bestows on those who are generous with Him.

Saint Joseph, accepting the Magi’s gifts, presents a charming picture of the man of tact. At first sight, it might appear that the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were extremely inappropriate and impractical. But, as the poet Hilaire Belloc has said, “The grace of God is in courtesy”; and Saint Joseph sensed instinctively that these Wise Men with their luxurious trappings were really needy: their noble hearts were filled with a human need – to give. From Saint Joseph we can learn that poverty of spirit consists in gracious humility, in order to accept without offense material gifts, or service, or anything which others wish to bestow – gifts which our independence and self-sufficiency find unwelcome.

With gracious dignity Joseph accepted these royal offerings from the Magi. In a spirit of poverty and in poverty of spirit, he consulted Mary as to how they might best use such gifts for the good of the Divine Child.


Dear Saint Joseph, lover of poverty, help me to acquire a spirit of indifference with regard to food, clothing, house furnishings and other necessities of life. Following your example, I will strive to develop a correct outlook on creatures and the comforts they provide. In this way I will heed the prayer of the liturgy which asks that we may so pass through the good things of time as not to lose those which are eternal.

Concluding Prayer

Almighty Father, from whom all graces come: I praise and bless and thank Thee for Saint Joseph’s devotion to the Divine Child. Grant that, through his loving intercession, I, too, may be truly devoted to Jesus. O my powerful patron Saint Joseph, obtain for me the favor I now ask.

Go to Joseph, The Foster Father of Jesus, the Virginal Spouse of Mary

Saint Joseph, foster father of our Lord Jesus Christ and true spouse of Mary ever Virgin, pray for us.

The Dignity, Sanctity and Glory of Saint Joseph

Prophetic Words of the 16th Century

Isidore of Isolanis, a pious Dominican of the 16th century who cherished great devotion to Saint Joseph, wrote a learned book in his honor, entitled “Summary of Saint Joseph.” In it he distinctly prophesied the magnitude of devotion to Saint Joseph in our days. Referring to the scriptural passage: “The Lord his God is with him, and the sound of the victory of the king in him” (Numbers 23:21), the author says: “These words signify the rejoicing which will once thrill the Church Militant, and the sound of victory which will be heard therein when the faithful recognize the sanctity of Saint Joseph. The Holy Ghost will not cease to incite the hearts of Christian people until the whole kingdom of the Church Militant, full of joy, will impart a new lustre to the veneration of Saint Joseph who is so near to God. The Lord will let his light shine, He will lift the veil, and great men will search out the interior gifts of God that are hidden in Saint Joseph; they will find in him a priceless treasure, the like of which they had never found in other saints of the Old Testament. We are inclined to believe that towards the end of time God will overwhelm Saint Joseph with glorious honors. If in the past ages, during the storms of persecution these honors could not be shown to Saint Joseph, we must conclude that they have been reserved for later times. At some future time the feast of Saint Joseph will be celebrated as one of the greatest of feasts. The Vicar of Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit, will order this feast to be celebrated in the Universal Church.”

These prophetic words were literally fulfilled during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Pope Pius IX, the great Pope of Mary, also placed a new gem in the brilliant crown of Saint Joseph, to whom he was singularly devoted. One of the first acts of his pontificate was to extend to the whole Church the feast of the Patronage of Saint Joseph (1847). On December 8, 1870, he solemnly declared the holy patriarch Saint Joseph the Patron of the Universal Church and enjoined that his feast, March 19, should henceforth be celebrated as a double of the first class. Following in the footsteps of their saintly predecessor, Popes Leo XIII and Pius X showed an equal desire to add their own jewel to the crown of Saint Joseph. Leo XIII granted permission for the recitation of the votive office of Saint Joseph on certain days, and Pius X, on March 18, 1909, approved the Litany of Saint Joseph. Later the same pontiff raised the feast of the Patronage of Saint Joseph to a solemnity with an octave. This feast is celebrated yearly on the Wednesday following the second Sunday after Easter.

May we not be very thankful that the flower of this devotion to Saint Joseph has come into fullest bloom in our own time? Let us then zealously venerate Saint Joseph, as Holy Church desires us to do. He is a powerful protector, a patron in every state of life.

Saint Joseph’s Position in the Plan of Redemption

From all eternity God had decreed that His only-begotten Son should become man; that He should be born of the Virgin Mary, and that Saint Joseph should be the virginal spouse of the Mother of God and the foster father of her Divine Son. Saint Joseph was thereby entrusted with a mission surpassing that of all other saints, yes, even that of the angels. The mission of Saint Joseph was directly connected with the mystery of the incarnation, while the mission of Saint John the Baptist, of the Apostles and the other saints was concerned only with the salvation of souls, the fruits of the incarnation. Saint Joseph, therefore, occupies the first place after Mary in the plan of Redemption. The veneration we render him is called “Protodulia,” the highest after the veneration of Mary; whilst the veneration of Mary is called “Hyperdulia,” a veneration far surpassing that given to any saint or angel. Consequently, the devotion to Saint Joseph ranks higher than the devotion to all the angels and saints, and is more pleasing to God.

Saint Joseph’s Position in the Church

Christ is the life of the Church and of the individual members which form His Mystical Body, as Saint Paul says, in his epistle to the Colossians. (3:4) From eternity God has chosen Mary, not only to be the natural Mother of the natural Body of the Son of God, but also to be the Mother of His Mystical Body, the Church, and of each of its members.

Now as Saint Joseph filled his special, active mission in the mystery of the incarnation as the protector and foster father of Jesus Christ, so God appointed him also for the same office in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, and for every individual member thereof. As Saint Joseph was the foster father of Our Lord and supported Him by the works of his hands, so by his powerful intercession in heaven before the throne of God, he is the foster father of the Church and of every Christian. As Saint Joseph rescued the Infant Savior from the hands of Herod, and protected Him in Egypt, so is he, even now, the powerful patron of the Church and of the faithful, rescuing and protecting his charges in dangers, in time of need and persecution.

After Mary, Saint Joseph holds the first place in protecting the Church and its members, and in this regard also, the highest veneration, the “Protodulia,” is due to him.

This is the dogmatic foundation of devotion to Saint Joseph. God Himself has thus ordained. Should we then hesitate? No! Let us practice devotion to Saint Joseph with firm faith and unshaken confidence in his power and goodness, as well as in the office with which God entrusted him for the welfare of Christianity and for our salvation. “Ite ad Joseph – Go to Joseph!”

The Dignity of Saint Joseph

With regard to the exalted dignity of Saint Joseph, let us consider the following points –

1. Saint Joseph was truly the spouse of the Blessed Virgin. There existed a true, virginal marriage between Joseph and Mary; this, according to the teaching of theologians, is an article of faith. This marriage took place previous to the incarnation of the Son of God, and was ordained by God for the purpose of protecting the good name of the Blessed Virgin.

In truth, Joseph was the husband of Mary and possessed all the rights of a virginal spouse. Saint John Damascene says that God thereby bestowed so great a dignity on Saint Joseph that human tongue cannot express it. The words “Spouse of Mary,” comprise everything that can be said to the glory of Saint Joseph. No other person ever possessed so lofty a dignity.

In his encyclical, “Quamquam pluries,” Pope Leo XIII declares: “Certain it is that the dignity of the Mother of God is so great, that after God, there can be nothing more exalted. As Saint Joseph was united to the Blessed Virgin by the bond of matrimony, there is no doubt that he approached the exalted dignity of Mary more nearly than any other creature.”

Saint Bernard cries out: “How great must not that man be whom the Only-begotten of the Most High chose as the lord and protector of His virginal Mother, as His own foster father, and as His assistant in the fulfillment of His greatest work, the Redemption of mankind!”

2. To Saint Joseph was likewise given the name “Father of Jesus” and he was looked upon as such by his contemporaries. “Jesus . . . being, as was supposed, the Son of Joseph” (Luke 3:23); “Is this not Jesus, the Son of Joseph?” (John 6:42) However, Saint Joseph was styled thus not only by the Jews who did not know the mystery of the Incarnation, but the Blessed Mother herself said to Jesus, “Behold, Thy father and I have been seeking Thee sorrowing” (Luke 2:48). Therefore the name “Father of Christ” was bestowed upon Saint Joseph by Divine ordinance.

In the above mentioned encyclical, Pope Leo XIII says further: “Saint Joseph, in his all-surpassing dignity, is above all the saints because he was, according to the will of the Most High, the guardian of the Son of God and in the eyes of men. His father.”

3. Having received the name “Father of Christ,” Saint Joseph at the same time assumed the rights and duties connected with this name. With regard to our Divine Savior, Saint Joseph possessed all the sentiments of a father, the solicitude of a father, the authority of a father. Saint John Damascene says, “God appointed Saint Joseph to take His place as father of Jesus. Saint Joseph willingly took upon himself the duties of a father towards our Savior, and our Divine Lord surrendered Himself entirely and with filial confidence to his paternal care.”

Another reason for Saint Joseph’s participation in the rights of a parent towards Our Lord is that in every family there is a common possession of goods, and as Saint Joseph was the rightful husband of Mary, who was the true Mother of Jesus, he also shared with her the right of possessing and disposing of her Divine Son.

4. Saint Joseph, as head of the family, was the superior of Mary, and of Jesus in His human nature. Saint Paul says “A husband is head of the wife” (Ephesians 5:23). Mary recognized Saint Joseph as her superior in all things that did not pertain to the knowledge of God’s mysteries and the special graces with which she had been privileged, and she, therefore, showed him due respect and submission.

Mary was subject to Saint Joseph in all exterior and domestic affairs, for to him belonged the duty of caring for the family. Our Divine Savior, too, exercised a filial obedience towards Saint Joseph, whereby the great dignity of His foster father was likewise made manifest.

5. By his association with Jesus and Mary in the mystery of the incarnation, Saint Joseph became a member of the order of the Hypostatic Union, which rises supreme above all orders of angels and of men because it includes the Eternal Son of God made man. Only three persons compose this sovereign order: Jesus, the God-man, Mary, His virginal mother, and Joseph, the true spouse of Mary and the reputed father of Jesus. By virtue of this privilege, Saint Joseph transcends in dignity all other saints, both of the Old and the New Testament; yes, he is superior – not in nature but in dignity – to the angels themselves, for all the orders of the angels are’ subject to that of the Hypostatic Union.

The Sanctity of Saint Joseph

God assigns to every person a degree of sanctity fitting the position in life to which he has been called. The dignity and the position of Saint Joseph was of so sublime a nature that the highest degree of sanctity and virtue was required to be worthy of it.

Even before his espousal to Mary, the Holy Ghost called Saint Joseph a “just man” (Matthew 1:19), and in consideration of his virtues, the priests of the temple, by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, entrusted the Blessed Virgin to his care. Moreover, according to a pious tradition in the Church he made a vow of virginity in his early youth and ever preserved it intact.

After his chaste espousal, a mighty impetus was given to his sanctity, so that thenceforth he led a truly heavenly life on earth. After the birth of Christ his perfection rose still higher. He was vouchsafed a deep, interior knowledge of the Divine mysteries. The continuous presence and companionship of our Savior excited in Saint Joseph frequent and ardent acts of love; the words and example of Jesus exercised a powerful influence over him, so that he increased constantly in grace. And during all that time Our Lord inundated him with His Divine favors; for, if He rewards even a cup of cold water given to a thirsty person in His Name, how much more would He reward the constant services of Saint Joseph bestowed upon Himself!

Mary, likewise, obtained for her virginal spouse an abundance of graces for his sanctification. It is an acknowledged truth that the most effectual means for obtaining graces from God is devotion to Mary, because of the power of her intercession. To what degree of sanctity did not Saint Joseph then attain, who was so deeply devoted to Mary and whom the Blessed Virgin loved so tenderly!

The great faith and the obedience of Saint Joseph were, moreover, made manifest by his conduct on the several occasions when difficult commands were communicated to him by the angels. From the Gospels it is apparent that he willingly did as directed; he obeyed at the least sign and Joyfully underwent all trials which the command entailed. He sacrificed his own will, overcame the repugnances of nature and fulfilled every detail as commanded.

Many learned theologians hold the same opinion as that expressed by an angelic lover of the Holy Eucharist, Blessed Margaret of the Blessed Sacrament. “I believe,” she said, “that the Holy Trinity prepared Saint Joseph from his very birth for the sublime office for which he had been destined; that he was sanctified in his mother’s womb as were the Prophet Jeremias and Saint John Baptist; that he always led a just life and was guided by the Holy Spirit; and that he never held intercourse with the world or fostered a merely natural friendship. The Holy Trinity protected him against the corruption of the world. By an infused light, he was versed in every art, but his humility prevented him from engaging in any work other than the lowly trade of a carpenter.

“With the exception of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph was better instructed and more enlightened in Divine things than any other person on earth. His prerogatives as far surpassed those of the other saints as his dignity of foster father of Jesus and spouse of the Blessed Virgin surpassed in holiness and sublimity that of all other men. Next to Jesus and Mary, he was the most perfect in soul and body.”

Saint Joseph’s Supreme Glory in Heaven

On earth Saint Joseph surpassed all the saints in dignity and sanctity, and lived in intimate union with Jesus and Mary. May we not confidently believe then that in heaven he enjoys the highest glory after Mary and is enthroned above the Apostles and the choirs of angels, in the same order as Jesus and Mary?

Once on the feast of the Annunciation Saint Gertrude had a vision during which the Heavenly Mother revealed to her the glory of her spouse Saint Joseph, in order to awaken in the saint a greater love for him and to encourage her to have confidence in his intercession. Of this vision Saint Gertrude wrote: “I saw heaven opened and Saint Joseph sitting upon a magnificent throne. I felt myself wonderfully affected, when, each time his name was mentioned, all the saints made a profound inclination toward him, showing by the serenity and sweetness of their looks that they rejoiced with him on account of his exalted dignity.”

Such, then, in brief, is the dignity, sanctity and glory of Saint Joseph. Inexpressibly great, therefore, is his intercession in heaven; inexpressibly great is also his love for us, his charges here on earth. For this reason let us place boundless confidence in him in all the affairs of life.

Go to Joseph! we are admonished by Holy Church, by the Vicar of Christ. Saint Joseph aids in every necessity those who invoke him with fervor and confidence.

Devotion to Saint Joseph

Among all the stars which shine with brilliant splendor in the galaxy of the saints in heaven, assuredly there is none more beautiful nor more resplendent than the virginal spouse of the holy Mother of God – the great Saint Joseph. As foster father of Jesus and spouse of the Virgin Mother, he enjoys a unique splendor, and a power of intercession far above every other saint. Excepting the Blessed Virgin, who can plead with Jesus more effectually than Saint Joseph? For if Jesus was obedient to him during His earthly life, will He not now delight to hearken with a special readiness to the pleadings which Saint Joseph offers in behalf of those who have recourse to his intercession? To this great saint we may, then, with a hrm confidence address our petitions, for his noble, fatherly heart is aware of every form of human need and is eager to procure relief in every sorrow.

The chaste Joseph of the Old Testament was a prototype of Saint Joseph, the foster father of Our Lord. Pharaoh raised him from his humble position in life to the highest dignity in the land, and directed all his subjects to apply to Joseph in their needs, saying, “Ite ad Joseph! – Go to Joseph!” (Genesis 41:55)

In the same words. Holy Church directs the faithful to have recourse to Saint Joseph in all their spiritual and temporal necessities. And as Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, continually remains with His Church and directs it through the Holy Spirit, we may truly say that Christ, that the Holy Ghost, that the Most Blessed Trinity, desires and requests the faithful to venerate Saint Joseph devoutly.

Indeed, there is scarcely another saint to whom we feel more powerfully drawn than to Saint Joseph. To him we may go with the same confidence and trust as to a tender, loving father.

The Blessed Virgin Urges Veneration of Saint Joseph

The Blessed Virgin desires most earnestly that the faithful cherish great devotion towards her holy spouse. Father Alvarez, of the Society of Jesus, was admonished by the Heavenly Mother to choose Saint Joseph as his special patron, and for this reason the members of the Jesuit Order dedicate themselves to Saint Joseph every year on the feast of his solemnity. Saint Teresa was particularly rewarded by the Blessed Virgin for spreading devotion to Saint Joseph.

A remarkable revelation was made bv the Mother of God to Venerable Mary of Agreda, to whom she said: “The children of the world are ignorant regarding the privileges and rights which the Most High has conferred on my holy spouse, and the power of his intercession with the Divine Majesty and with me. But I assure you, my daughter, that in heaven he is most intimate with the Lord, and has great power to avert the, punishment of Divine justice from sinners. In all trials seek his intercession because the Heavenly Father will grant whatever my spouse asks.”

Testimonies of Various Saints

Saint Alphonsus Liguori

In order to encourage the faithful to honor Saint Joseph, Saint Alphonsus Liguori cites these words of Saint Teresa: “The holy example of Jesus Christ who, while upon earth, honored Saint Joseph so highly and was obedient to him during His life should be sufficient to inflame the hearts of all with devotion to this saint.”

The holy Doctor says further: “Since we all must die, we should cherish a special devotion to Saint Joseph that he may obtain for us a happy death. All Christians regard him as the advocate of the dying who honored him during their life, and that for three reasons –

“First, because Jesus Christ loved him not only as a friend, but as a father, and on this account his mediation is far more efficacious than that of any other saint.

“Second, because Saint Joseph has obtained special power against the evil spirits, who tempt us with redoubled vigor at the hour of death.

“Third, the assistance given Saint Joseph at his death by Jesus and Mary obtained, for him the right to secure a holy and peaceful death for his servants. Hence, if they invoke him at the hour of death he will not only help them, but he will also obtain for them the assistance of Jesus and Mary.”

Saint Thomas of Aquin

The Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas of Aquin, declares: “Some saints are privileged to extend to us their patronage with particular efficacy in certain needs, but not in others; but our holy patron, Saint Joseph, has the power to assist us in all cases, in every necessity, in every undertaking.”

Saint Bernardine of Siena

“If you compare Saint Joseph to the whole Church of Christ,” says Saint Bernardine, “is he not the special and chosen being by whom and under whom the Lord was introduced into the world with becoming dignity? If all the faithful are debtors to the Virgin Mother for being made worthy through her to receive the Redeemer, there can be no doubt that next to the Mother of God we owe to Saint Joseph our special homage and veneration.”

Saint Teresa of Avila

The words of Saint Teresa with reference to devotion to Saint Joseph are so eminently worthy of consideration that we insert a lengthy passage from her life. During an illness in which no earthly physician could give her relief, the saint determined to implore the blessed in heaven to restore her health. She writes: “I chose for my patron and lord the glorious Saint Joseph, and I recommended myself earnestly to him. I saw that, both from this my present trouble, and from those of greater consequence relating to my honor and the loss of my soul, this my father and lord delivered me and rendered me greater services than I knew how to ask for. I do not remember that I ever asked him at any time for anything which he did not obtain for me. It fills me with amazement when I consider the numberless graces which God has granted me through the intercession of this blessed saint and the perils, both of body and soul, from which he has delivered me.

“To other saints the Most High seems to have given grace to succor men in some special necessity, but this glorious saint. I know by experience, has power to help us in all. Our Lord wishes us to understand by this that as He Himself was subject to Saint Joseph while on earth, recognizing in him the authority of foster father and guardian, so now in heaven He is pleased to grant all his requests. Knowing by experience Saint Joseph’s astonishing influence with God, I would wish to persuade everyone to^ honor him with particular devotion. I have always seen those who honored him in a special manner make progress in virtue, for this heavenly protector favors in a striking manner the spiritual advancement of souls who commend themselves to him. For several years I have been accustomed to ask some favor on his feast, and I have always received it. If the petition be in any way amiss, he directs it aright for my greater welfare. If anyone does not believe it, I beg of him, for the love of God, to make the trial. He will see by experience how advantageous it is to commend himself to this glorious saint and to honor him with particular devotion.

“Those who are devoted to prayer should, in a special manner, cherish devotion to Saint Joseph. I know not how anyone can ponder on the sufferings, trials and tribulations the Queen of angels endured whilst caring for Jesus in His childhood, without at the same time thanking Saint Joseph for the services he rendered the Divine Child and His Blessed Mother. Let him who cannot find anyone to teach him to pray, choose this glorious saint for his master, and he will not stray from the right path.”

The Month of Saint Joseph

It has long been the praiseworthy custom of pious Christians to dedicate the month of March to Saint Joseph. Since the time Pope Pius IX named Saint Joseph Patron of the Universal Church, and Popes Leo XIII and Pius X by special encyclicals so urgently recommended devotion to him, in particular for the month of March, the veneration of this great saint has been practiced with ever-increasing fervor.

An indulgence of 5 years for each day may be gained by all the faithful who offer private prayers or perform other acts of piety in honor of Saint Joseph during the month of March, or in any other month. If the devotions are public, an indulgence of 7 years may be gained each day, with a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions, if ten days are completed. To gain a plenary indulgence for private devotions, the entire month must be completed and the usual conditions of confession. Communion, visit to a church and prayers for the Pope must be fulfilled. (“Manual of Indulgences,” 466)

The same indulgences may be gained by the faithful for a novena made before the feasts of Saint Joseph as for devotions in his honor throughout any month, though a visit is not required in case of the plenary indulgence. (467)

For the devout recitation of a Pater, Ave and Gloria, before an image of Saint Joseph, together with the invocation, “Saint Joseph, pray for me,” an indulgence of 300 days is granted; plenary, if recited each day for a month and the usual conditions are fulfilled. (469)

Pious custom also dedicates Wednesday of each week to the honor of Saint Joseph, and the Sacred Penitentiary has also granted an indulgence of 5 years for any pious exercises performed on the first Wednesday of the month, with a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions. (468)

Feasts of Saint Joseph

Besides dedicating the month of March to Saint Joseph, Holy Church shows her supreme love and veneration for her heavenly patron by the annual celebration of two feasts in his honor.

On March 19th she solemnly commemorates the death of Saint Joseph, which according to tradition occurred on that day, and exhorts her children to invoke him in particular as the patron of a happy death. On the feast of the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, celebrated each year on the Wednesday following the second Sunday after Easter, she venerates Saint Joseph particularly as the Spouse of the Virgin Mary and the Patron of the Universal Church. The dignity of this feast is enhanced by an octave, which means that during the week following, the Mass and Office of Saint Joseph are repeated daily unless a feast intervenes, in which case a commemoration is made of Saint Joseph in the Mass and Office.

The Patronage of Saint Joseph

The patronage of Saint Joseph extends to all walks and conditions of life, for, as witnessed by Saint Teresa, God has given him power to lend his assistance in every necessity. Besides being the glorious patron of the Universal Church, he is, as we have already said, the fatherly guardian and protector of every Christian.

In order the better to understand in what degree Saint Joseph may justly be called our patron and protector, and to strengthen our confidence in his aid, let us consider the following questions:

1. What is meant by being a patron?

2. What must the client do?

3. How does Saint Joseph fulfill his office as patron and protector?

What Is Meant by Being a Patron?

Generally speaking, three things are required of a patron: First, he should realize the needs, the dangers and the sufferings of those who are placed under his protection. How could he give his aid in trouble if he had no knowledge of it? How could he avert a danger of which he was ignorant? If we apply this to Saint Joseph, and cast a glance at his life on earth, we see at once that he knows from his own experience the sufferings and trials, the miseries and difficulties, the sorrows and fears of the children of earth.

The second requisite of a patron is power. He must have at his disposal the means to supply the needs of those who are under his protection, to assuage their grief by consolations. Who could have any doubt as to Saint Joseph’s great power? To put it briefly: he rejoices in the name of father with regard to Him who is almighty in His nature; he rejoices in the name of spouse with regard to her who is all-powerful in her intercession. Greater and more exalted claims for having his petitions granted can be presented by no other saint in heaven.

The third requisite of a protector is kindness and willingness to use his power in favor of the one who seeks his aid. Need we ask whether Saint Joseph has a kind heart? After the Mother of God, he has the most compassionate of hearts, a heart formed after the Heart of Jesus Itself. Saint Joseph derived the fullness of his kind-heartedness from the years of intimate intercourse with Jesus and Mary. It were sinful to doubt his goodness or his sympathy with our needs. This would grieve not only him, but Jesus and Mary as well. Oh, then, let us abandon all distrust and anxiety and confide entirely in Saint Joseph.

What Must the Client Do?

What is required of him who venerates Saint Joseph as his patron? First, that he present to his heavenly protector his troubles, his needs and sorrows. This rule must be observed even in regard to God. “Everyone who asks receives” (Luke 11:10); “Ask and you shall receive” (John 16:24). These utterances of Jesus Christ are familiar to everyone. God desires that we petition Him, and the saints require it also. Go, therefore, to the image, to the altar, to the church of Saint Joseph, and in prayer lay before him your troubles and fears.

Secondly, it is required that he who seeks aid should have confidence in his heavenly protector. Can this be a difficult matter with regard to Saint Joseph? Has he not aided thousands of others? Has he not given his assistance in affairs more hopeless than ours?

Thirdly, it is required that the client show himself grateful towards his patron and protector for the benefits received. The returning of thanks gives one a right to new favors and blessings. Could we be so ungrateful as to neglect to thank Saint Joseph from the depths of our heart for the favors we have received from him in the past? Let us offer him in thanksgiving the proofs of gratitude which Jesus and Mary ever manifested toward him on earth and now manifest perpetually in heaven.

How Does Saint Joseph Fulfill His Office of Patron and Protector?

Never has any saint more faithfully or perfectly fulfilled the office of patron and protector than Saint Joseph. Always and everywhere he is a watchful guardian, a powerful defender and a loving father.

Before all, Saint Joseph was the protector of the holy Mother of God and of the Child Jesus. God the Father, in committing to Saint Joseph these. His most precious treasures, gave him preference over all the blessed spirits in heaven. And Saint Joseph received these two sacred persons into his care, to be their faithful protector, their guardian and defender. In the litany of Saint Joseph we therefore pray: Chaste protector of the Virgin, Christ’s valiant defender, pray for us. Through him Jesus and Mary were spared many hardships and dangers; by Saint Joseph they were provided with the necessaries of life. And with what charity, wisdom and perseverance did he not respond to his twofold mission of patron and protector! Let us briefly review also some of the other important charges committed to the patronage of Saint Joseph.

Patron of the Universal Church

Although it was not until the 19th century that Saint Joseph was given the title of Patron of the Universal Church by the Vicar of Christ, Pope Pius IX, in reality he exercised this sublime office from the very beginning. He became patron of the whole Mystical Body of Christ from the moment that he was made patron and protector of Jesus and Mary. As the Church took its beginning from Jesus Christ, who was its Divine Founder, and Mary and Joseph were the first members of the Church, Saint Joseph, being the head of the Holy Family, was likewise the protector, the head of the Church. And if he filled this office toward the Church at its birth, he did not cease to exercise it as the Church grew and was spread throughout the world.

God alone knows how much distress and how many dangers have been and are constantly averted from the Church through the intercession of Saint Joseph. In our days the Church is being attacked and threatened on all sides. Let us invoke with confidence her mighty guardian and protector. Assuredly, Saint Joseph will watch over her as he watched over the Holy Family, and as he aided Jesus and Mary in all their needs and rescued them from danger, so also he will aid the Church in her trials.

The Guardian and Protector of All Classes of Christians

The Venerable Mother Magdalen of Saint Joseph, one of the first of the Carmelites of Saint Teresa’s Reform, said: “As it pleased God that Saint Joseph should take the place of father to His only Son, He gave him in consequence a grace of paternity toward all men, made him incline all his thoughts and all his affections toward them, and moves him to procure for them as much good as could the tenderest of fathers for his children.” Saint Joseph, then, is our patron, and more than our patron; he is our father, for Jesus, in assuming our nature, made us His brethren, and in adopting Saint Joseph as His father, He made him necessarily our father also and He desires with all the love of His Sacred Heart that we should consider him as such.

Saint Joseph is the patron of all classes of human society. He is the patron of families, since he was the head of the Holy Family. He is the patron of the poor, since he voluntarily embraced and followed a life of poverty. He is the patron of laborers, as the workshop of Nazareth testified for so many years. He is the patron of the rich who seek a better inheritance, since he held in his possession for nearly thirty years the true riches, and now in heaven possesses the key of God’s treasury. He is the patron of the suffering, of travelers, of exiles, of the afflicted, of the dying. He is the patron of the married, and he is the patron of virgins. But above all, we might say, he is the patron of priests. The whole office of the priest repeats and reflects that of Saint Joseph, not in figure only, but in many ways literally. To the priest, as to Saint Joseph, the Son of God becomes obedient. The priest is privileged to touch and to bear in his hands the same Word-made-flesh whom Saint Joseph so reverently bore in his arms.

Numberless confraternities are dedicated to this benign protector; societies of laborers and tradesmen flourish under his patronage; sodalities of youths and maidens have enrolled themselves under his banner. Everywhere churches and altars are erected to his honor; everywhere his feasts are celebrated with solemnity and splendor. From all parts of the world, fervent petitions daily ascend to Saint Joseph, and he who is all-powerful over the Heart of Jesus, pours down graces and blessings on struggling mankind. Whenever the names of Jesus and Mary are pronounced by the faithful, the name of Joseph is also heard. With these three holy names, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, on their lips or in their hearts, thousands of Christians daily yield up their souls into the hands of their Creator.

Model and Patron of Laborers

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Genesis 3:19). Thus God spoke to Adam, and as long as the world exists no one will be able to evade this law. To labor is man’s lot upon earth. Yet man, in his pride, is wont to regard labor as being beneath his dignity and to evade it as much as possible. Indeed, at various times of the world’s history, labor was looked upon as the sole portion of slaves and menials and this view gains predominance whenever men lose sight of the sublime example of the Son of God and their eternal destiny.

In the humble home of a laborer, Jesus, the Son of God, passed His days until He attained His thirtieth year. There at the side of His foster father, He spent the days of His youth and early manhood in humble, laborious toil. Only three years were devoted to His public life of teaching, before accomplishing His great work of Redemption on the Cross.

Saint Joseph, working hand in hand with his Divine Foster Son, is truly the most perfect model and the most fitting patron of those who are compelled to earn their living by the labor of their hands.

Saint Joseph well knew who it was that worked at his side. He knew that Jesus was the Son of God, the Word by whom all things were made, the Word that preserved, sustained and ruled all things, the Word of the Eternal Father. But did he on that account lay aside his plane and say to Jesus: “Son of the living God, why should I labor and earn Thy bread and mine by weariness and toil? Thou art Almighty, Thou dost nourish, clothe and preserve all things that exist: transform this cottage into a palace and let poverty give way to wealth and grandeur.” To entertain such a thought would be blasphemous. No, Saint Joseph had no desire for the riches and honors of this world. He desired no other honor than that of serving God by a hidden, laborious life.

The humble Saint Joseph worked on silently, in patience and resignation, for Jesus and with Jesus. He was aware of God’s decree that the Savior of mankind should be like unto man in all things, sin excepted, and that He must in consequence endure sufferings and hardships which are the punishment of sin. Among such hardships we must reckon labor. Our Savior subjected Himself to labor. He desired to take from it the ignominy which clung to it. He desired to ennoble, to sanctify and to elevate it.

Saint Joseph toiled because his duties required it, because God willed it, because Jesus and Mary were dependent upon him, because Jesus Himself labored with him. One glance at his Divine Foster Son made all his work sweet and gave him new strength and courage. Never were his labors marred by ill-humor, dissatisfaction, murmuring or complaint against Divine Providence, for he did not wish to become rich or lead a life of ease or laziness.

Saint Joseph Desired No other State of Life

Saint Joseph did not envy those who were rich or of a superior rank. Perfectly content that God had destined him to labor, he desired no other kind oj life. Regardless of the fact that in his veins flowed the royal blood of David, the holy carpenter was perfectly resigned to his lowly condition. At his labors he practiced the most sublime virtues of humility and meekness, of patience, obedience and self-denial.

No doubt it would have pleased him to see His Divine Foster Son and his beloved Spouse in better circumstances, to offer them a more comfortable home, and many a time it must have pained him to see Jesus perform such hard work, to see the Savior of the world and His Blessed Mother eat the bread which they had to earn by the sweat of their brow. However, Saint Joseph was resigned; he knew it was the will of God that it should be thus; he knew that Jesus and Mary desired nothing better.

Satisfied with his vocation, he strove like Jesus to sanctify his work. As Jesus wished to glorify His Heavenly Father by the menial work of a carpenter, so also did Saint Joseph. Every movement of his hand, every time he used a tool, all was accomplished with the intention to honor God, to fulfill His holy will. He commenced his work with prayer, he accompanied it with prayer, yea his work itself, because sanctified by a good intention, was a prayer. Thus his every action was God-pleasing, and from day to day, from hour to hour, he became richer in merit, richer in grace.

When the week was ended, when the Sabbath, the day of rest, was at hand, Joseph’s little cottage was verily transformed into a paradise. Then he could satisfy his heart’s desire to hold sweet intercourse with God in holy contemplation; then he could refresh his spirit by the reading of Holy Scripture; then he could hear from the lips of Jesus the most sublime instructions; then he could converse with Jesus and Mary of heavenly things. Oil, how he then returned thanks to God for the grace of his vocation!

Imitate Saint Joseph, all you who are born to a life of labor; choose him for your model and protector. If you follow him, you will find true peace and happiness on earth, and when days of misfortune come upon you, you will find aid through his intercession. Finally, guided by his fatherly care, you will reach that place where there is no more labor, but where you may enjoy the fruits of work done in God and for God, and where you may rest from toil in the bosom of God with Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

A Rescuer of Sinners

Like the father of the prodigal son mentioned in the Gospel, Saint Joseph loves not only those of his children who hear his voice and lead an innocent life; he is also concerned about his lost and erring sons. If with his strong hand he leads the just up the mountain of perfection, he is also solicitous for poor sinners for whom his dearly beloved Foster Son gave His life.

The Blessed Virgin once said to Venerable Mary of Agreda: “On the day of judgment, the condemned will weep bitterly for not having realized how powerful and efficacious a means of salvation they might have had in the intercession of Saint Joseph, and for not having done their utmost to gain the friendship of the Eternal Judge.” Truly, Saint Joseph stretches out his hand to all who have fallen, if they but take refuge to him and invoke him. Father Isolanis cites a notable example of Saint Joseph’s solicitude for sinners.

A Venetian nobleman had the pious custom of praying daily before a picture of Saint Joseph, but he was not particular about keeping the commandments of God. It happened that he fell ill. Day by day he grew worse. Great fears were entertained for his recovery, but still more for his soul, which was in a lamentable condition. When all hope of saving his life had been abandoned, a heavenly physician appeared. The sick nobleman suddenly saw an aged man in his room who perfectly resembled the picture before which he daily prayed. The appearance of this heavenly visitor immediately dispelled all blindness from his soul, as a ray of sunlight disperses darkness. Deep compunction and sorrow for his sins filled his heart, and he made a sincere and contrite confession. The most remarkable grace that Saint Joseph obtained for him was that at the moment the priest finished pronouncing the words . of absolution, he yielded his soul, all cleansed from sin, into the hands of his Creator.

Numberless other examples might be mentioned to show that persons who for years had led sinful lives, were truly converted because they had persevered in venerating Saint Joseph. May this give sinners confidence in Saint Joseph and may they, by his hands, arise from their fallen state. It ought especially to inspire with confidence those who wish to bring a father, a brother, a husband, or any dear one, back again to the Faith or to a virtuous life.

Patron of the Sick

Who can count the numerous cures that have been obtained through the intercession of Saint Joseph in individual cases as well as in times of epidemics! Towards the middle of the last century there lived in the diocese of Paderborn, Prussia, a very pious priest who cherished a tender devotion to Saint Joseph. Through the prayers of this priest and the confidence of those who invoked Saint Joseph, thousands were restored to health, and from all directions the sick were brought to him. Another priest, desiring to write a book about Saint Joseph, asked him for facts regarding the cures that had been wrought through the intercession of Saint Joseph. On February 26, 1872, the priest author received the following lines –

“There is not a single so-called incurable disease, which God has not healed tlmough the intercession of Saint Joseph. Not hundreds, but thousands have been cured through his intercession. More than fifty who were blind received their eyesight again. Many, a great many, who were suffering from cancer were healed. Persons who had been deaf were able to hear again, the dumb had their speech restored, paralytics who for years had been confined to their beds, recovered the use of their limbs. Among thousands who were afflicted with epilepsy, the number that were not cured was certainly less than ten. In fact, I could tell you of thousands of cures that have taken place here through the intercession of Saint Joseph, in cases which had been pronounced incurable. I could write volumes on the wonderful cures God has effected these forty years through Saint Joseph’s intercession.

“I place my sole confidence in the merits of Jesus Christ and the intercession of Saint Joseph. Many sick persons who did not come here were cured at home. I tell the Jews to pray the Psalms; the Protestants to pray seven Our Fathers; Catholics, seven Our Fathers and Hail Marys in honor of Saint Joseph, and these prayers they must offer for the souls in purgatory. Every one must commend himself to my prayers. Usually, they are not cured immediately, but in a few days or weeks. The concourse of people was extraordinarily great in 1867, 1868, 1869 and 1870, until the beginning of the war, frequently not less than 10,000 in a week – Ah, if I could speak to you personally, how many wonderful things I could relate that have occurred to me personally through Saint Joseph’s intercession!”

The pious priest requested that his name be withheld, for he made this known only for the honor and glory of God.

A Father to the Poor

Again and again the Church compares Saint Joseph’s position with that of Joseph of Egypt in the house of Pharaoh. We know that Joseph of Egypt was the generous benefactor of whole nations. How many people would have perished during the seven years of famine, had not Joseph through his wisdom and foresight provided that the superabundance of seven good years be stored away. Thus the king could satisfy all petitioners for food; for he had merely to say: “Go to Joseph.”

But to the glorious Saint Joseph, God has given still greater power to help the poor. How good and powerful Saint Joseph is in this regard can be shown especially by the experiences of numerous convents and religious orders. Many who were poor themselves accomplished wonderful things by placing their trust in Saint Joseph. With his aid they built churches, schools, convents and charitable institutions of every description. How many instances could here he mentioned in which Saint Joseph miraculously came to the aid of convents and religious communities in cases of dire poverty. With his assistance. Saint Teresa founded more than twenty convents.

One day this saint was in great perplexity because she had no money wherewith to pay the laborers, and she saw no way out of her embarrassment. Thereupon Saint Joseph appeared to her and offered to go security for her and also to be her treasurer. He promised her that money should he at hand, induced her to make an agreement with the laborers regarding their wages and to continue the work with more energy than ever. Although Saint Teresa had not a farthing, she nevertheless did as Saint Joseph told her, and in so extraordinary a manner did she receive aid, that all who knew of it were greatly astonished.

Saint Joseph, however, aids not only the religious but all the poor who take refuge to him with confidence. Many examples are recorded in which he has come to the assistance of the poor and needy in a most wonderful manner. The poor should especially venerate and invoke Saint Joseph when in trouble; he will not let their trust in him be confounded. While on earth, Saint Joseph himself experienced the hardships of poverty, and therefore he is now so good and powerful a patron of the poor.

Patron of a Happy Death

It is an undeniable fact that Saint Joseph is a special protector of the dying, and that he is most solicitous for his clients in their last agony. Numberless persons who practiced special devotion to Saint Joseph during life have experienced this. At the hour of death, man is subject to untold suffering and anguish. At that supreme moment, every Christian must undergo a terrible trial, on the final decision of which depends eternal joy or endless woe. The fury of hell, the remembrance of past sins, the uncertainty of the future, the pains of death, the terror of the judgment, – all these things flood the soul with sufferings. What saint could defend it better than Saint Joseph whom the whole Christian world acknowledges as the protector and patron of the dying!

There are three reasons for Saint Joseph’s being a special patron of the dying.

1. He is the foster father of the Eternal Judge, who can refuse him nothing.

2. He is terrible to the demons; the Church calls him the conqueror of hell.

3. His own death was truly glorious; he died in the arms of Jesus and Mary, and this is the principal reason for his being the patron of a happy death.

It was revealed to a favored soul that for days before Saint Joseph died, hosts of angels came down from heaven to console him, and to sing heavenly canticles; and that at the moment of his departure, the holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel, together with a host of other angels, came to receive his soul and to bear it to limbo, where he was to announce to his forefathers the glad tidings of the approaching Redemption. We can well imagine that Jesus poured out streams of interior bliss and heavenly consolations upon His foster father in return for all he had done for Him. What love and solicitude the Blessed Virgin must have shown him! Both Jesus and Mary closed his eyes in death, both shed tears at his departure. If Jesus wept over Lazarus, how must He have wept over Saint Joseph!

In the lives of the saints we read many examples of Saint Joseph appearing to them at the hour of death. To many of them he appeared with the Blessed Virgin; he obtained for them the grace to die on his feast. A priest of the Order of the Sacred Heart always asked Saint Joseph for the grace to die at the foot of the altar, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. This petition was granted. He passed away kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament.

Wonderful examples could be mentioned also from the lives of many ordinary Christians, of how Saint Joseph obtained for them a happy hour of death because during life they had prayed to him for this grace. Let us daily ask him to assist us at the hour of death and remind him of his own glorious death in the arms of Jesus and Mary.

An Inspiration from Saint Joseph

A Jesuit missionary of Chile gives the following account of a deathbed conversion which he himself witnessed in 1881.

“On Holy Thursday while I was spending some time before the Blessed Sacrament, I was summoned to a sick man who for years had not been to confession, but had asked that a Capuchin or Jesuit Father be sent for. Scarcely had I arrived, when I was told that the man no longer wished to go to confession, and, moreover, he felt very weak and unable to make a confession.

“I perceived a sickening, pestilential odor coming from the adjoining room where he lay. I did not despair of saving his poor soul but waited and prayed that the Lord might show His infinite mercy to the dying man. From time to time I asked the persons who attended him to remind him that the priest was waiting outside, and begged them to entreat him to go to confession before his death. But the unfortunate man’s only reply was, ‘I will not go to confession.’

“An hour had passed, and the patient sent me word that he thanked me for my visit, but I might just as well return home. When first I was sent for I had prayed fervently to Saint Joseph, imploring him not to permit this soul to be lost. I therefore placed full confidence in him as the patron of the dying, and resolved to wait not only one, but two hours if necessary.

“The second hour had nearly passed. With renewed fervor I implored Saint Joseph for the salvation of the unfortunate man, and the nearer he approached death the more fervent became my supplications. While I was praying, a thought suddenly flashed through my mind. It seemed to me that good Saint Joseph was showing me the reason for the sick man’s long and obstinate refusal to go to confession. I called for holy water, approached the sick-chamber, and in the Name of the Blessed Trinity three times sprinkled the entrance and threshold with the blessed water, repeating each time the words: ‘Depart from here, Satan, in the Name of Jesus Christ!’

“Scarcely had I pronounced these words the third time when the patient inquired of his daughter whether the priest had already gone. Upon hearing that I was still there, he requested that I come to his bed-side. As soon as he caught sight of me he exclaimed, ‘My God, I thank Thee! O good God, I thank Thee!’ At the same time he wept like a child.

“The pestilential odor had in the mean-time disappeared. It was this odor and a few other striking circumstances which proved to me that the evil spirit had here exercised his influence.

“Soon afterwards I heard the dying man’s confession. When I asked him if he would like to receive the Holy Viaticum and Extreme Unction the next day, he replied, ‘No, not tomorrow, but today; otherwise it might be too late.’ That evening at half past five he received the Last Sacraments. He died at midnight. During the few hours preceding his death, the man continually made acts of love and resignation to the will of God. Those who surrounded his bed were greatly edified.”

The missionary concluded his report by saying, “I have always believed in the goodness of Saint Joseph and the efficacy of holy water, but never did I experience Saint Joseph’s goodness and the supernatural power of holy water so obviously as at this conversion.”

Consoler and Liberator of the Poor Souls

Having been made Patron of the Universal Church, Saint Joseph is the father and protector not only of the faithful upon earth, but also of the souls in purgatory, who are members of the Church Suffering. Assuredly his fatherly solicitude toward the poor souls is even more tender than that which he exercises toward the members of the Church upon earth. Saint Joseph, having experienced the heart-rending sorrow of the three days’ loss of the Child Jesus, as well as the exile of limbo, can well compassionate the pain and longing which the holy souls experience in their privation of the Beatific Vision of God. Can we believe that in the goodness and generosity of his devoted love he will remain indifferent to their sufferings? Ah, if Mary is the Mother of the poor souls, surely Joseph, her devoted and inseparable spouse, is also in a special way their kind and solicitous father. Like Mary, he will not fail to intercede for them, that they may soon be delivered from their torments and be admitted to the joys of heaven.

But if Saint Joseph is the comforter of all the souls in purgatory, without doubt he exercises even greater solicitude toward those souls who during life practiced special devotion to him. Even as Joseph of Egypt showed special favor to his own brothers, by giving back the money they had brought to pay for the corn with which he supplied them, so also we may be certain that Saint Joseph will employ the power of his intercession more particularly in behalf of those souls who, as his dear children, honored and invoked him during their earthly exile.

A Conqueror of Hell

One of the greatest evils among Christians is their indifference to the snares of the evil one. The Blessed Virgin told Venerable Mary of Agreda to weep on account of the carelessness and indifference of Christians in this regard. Holy Scripture warns us saying: “Be sober, be watchful! For your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion goes about, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) – “Woe to the earth . . . because the devil has gone down to you in great wrath.” (Apocalypse 12:12)

All the saints of God compassionate us on account of these battles in which we must engage. Holy Church considers Saint Joseph an especially powerful conqueror of hell because he rescued the Infant Savior from the murderous hands of Herod. Herod was an image and tool of the devil in his persecution and ruination of souls. The glorious victory which Saint Joseph gained over Satan, in the person of Herod, gives him great power over demons.

Origin remarks: The command which the angel gave Saint Joseph to flee to Egypt conferred the power to banish all the evil spirits from that unfortunate country in which they had, so to speak, established the center of their glory. And truly, the moment Saint Joseph entered Egypt with Jesus and Mary, the idols fell, the oracles were silent, the father of lies was fettered, and the infernal shadows vanished. These victories, it is true, must be attributed to the Divine Child, but to gain them. Our Lord wished to avail Himself of the instrumentality of His foster father, who as head of the family, as guide on the journey, as rescuer of the Savior of the world, occupied so important a position in this mystery. Already this defeat inspired Satan with great fear of the name, Joseph, but a great deal more must he fear him now since he recognizes his merits, sanctity and power of intercession in heaven. In temptations of any kind, special grace will be obtained if one calls on Saint Joseph.

Patron of Priests and of Youths Aspiring to the Priesthood

Saint Joseph is a very special patron of the sacred priesthood. In his relation to the Blessed Sacrament, how much the priest resembles Saint Joseph in his association with the Child Jesus! As Saint Joseph treated the Divine Child, just so the priest ought to treat the Holy Eucharist. As Saint Joseph nurtured and reared the first High Priest, Jesus, so does he grant his special aid and protection to those whom God has chosen for the priesthood, as also to those who are preparing for this sublime vocation, provided they have recourse to him. As Patron of the Universal Church, he will lend his powerful assistance to priests and students of theology. What is of greater importance for the Universal Church than zealous and pious priests!

Numerous instances might be mentioned of the marvelous manner in which Saint Joseph aided aspirants to the priesthood: in their studies, at their examinations, or in times of illness. For poor students, Saint Joseph has often sought out benefactors; others he has delivered from doubts regarding their vocation. Many students possessing but little talent, and whose success was despaired of, made satisfactory progress in their studies after placing themselves under the special protection of Saint Joseph. Later they became excellent priests, for through the intercession of their glorious protector, the blessing of God rested upon their labors. Consequently, many seminaries and institutes for the education of youth have been placed under the protection of Saint Joseph. In an especial manner, Saint Joseph assists youths to preserve intact the delicate lily of chastity, and to conquer temptations against holy purity. Saint Joseph has obtained great favors of this nature for his clients. A youth who, at the beginning of his course of studies, places himself under Saint Joseph’s protection and daily implores his aid to preserve holy chastity, will not easily fall into the mire of sin as do so many young men in our days. Not until the dawn of eternity will they realize the deplorable consequences of the sins of their youth. Ah, that in their temptations, youths would take refuge to Saint Joseph! Then they would not fall so deep, nor remain so long in this sad condition. How anxious Saint Joseph is to be invoked and to lend his assistance in temptations is shown by the following incident.

One night, a young Carmelite brother who from his youth had preserved the angelic virtue of chastity was, by God’s permission, violently tormented with temptations against this delicate virtue. By the grace of God he finally emerged victorious from the combat. The next day he was sent on an errand to the city by his superior. On the way, he met a venerable old man who addressed him: “Brother, why did you not have recourse to Saint Joseph last night in your fierce struggle with that temptation?” Filled with confusion by the consciousness that the innermost secrets of his heart were known to this venerable man, the religious tried to reply – but the stranger had vanished. The brother realized that it had been none other than Saint Joseph himself who had appeared to him.

Ah, that all students and aspirants to the holy priesthood would have recourse to Saint Joseph when tempted against the angelic virtue. For this purpose they should resolve to perform daily some definite devotion in his honor.

Saint Joseph Obtains Fidelity to a Vocation

A young cleric, before receiving Minor Orders, was troubled with violent temptations. He considered himself unworthy to be ordained to the priesthood, because he feared he might not persevere in it. He therefore resolved to leave the seminary immediately.

Presently his gaze fell on a picture of Saint Joseph hanging on the wall of his room. At once he felt encouraged to pray to Saint Joseph in his trouble. As soon as he had finished his prayer, he felt relieved. Henceforth as often as these annoying thoughts returned, he cast them away and was soon delivered therefrom. He received Holy Orders, and has now for many years been active and zealous in the sacred ministry. He still frequently speaks of his great trial and says, “Had not Saint Joseph come to my assistance, I should never have become a priest. Thanks and praise to my heavenly benefactor.”

Go to Joseph

Frequently those who love us and would like to confer benefits upon us are unable to do so. Not so with Saint Joseph. The omnipotent Son of God, who on earth called him “Father,” and in His heavenly kingdom ranks him next to Mary, gave to Saint Joseph more power than to any other saint in heaven. The power of Saint Joseph, like that of the Mother of God, is ill a certain sense, an omnipotent power, the power of a pleading omnipotence, for Our Lord refuses him nothing that he asks. Jesus is happy to receive his petitions, and to grant them. It seems as though in heaven He still wishes to be subject to His foster father, as during His earthly life.

He permits Saint Joseph to take from His Divine treasury with full hands in order to give to souls the treasures of Divine grace and mercy, like Joseph, the son of Jacob, who took corn from the granaries of the king of Egypt to feed his brethren and all who had recourse to him. From the heights of heaven, the King of glory speaks to us the same words as Pharaoh to the starving people of Egypt: “Go to Joseph!”

Go to Joseph, you who are poor and distressed, who struggle in want and misery. Like you, and even more than you, he experienced poverty, humiliation and want. He will sympathize with you in your suffering and will comfort you by obtaining for you the aid of Christian charity and the grace to be resigned to God’s will.

Go to Joseph you who labor and till the soil, who bear the heat and burden of the day. He will teach you how to sanctify your labor and lo make it profitable not only for this life, but above all for life eternal. He will teach you how to make everything you do meritorious by offering it to God, by sanctifying Sundays and holy days, by uniting your hardships with those of the Divine Laborer of Nazareth.

Go to Joseph, Christian husband and wife. Confide to him your grief, your sorrow, your anguish of soul. Choose him for your protector and that of your children. He will obtain for you the grace to live holily in the state of life which Divine Providence has assigned to you. He will teach you how to bring up your children not only for this world but above all for heaven, and to instill into their young hearts the love of God and of all virtues.

Go to Joseph, you who are consecrated to God, virgins and spouses of Jesus Christ. He will produce in you a glowing love for your Heavenly Bridegroom, the spirit of interior and vocal prayer, love for silence, for a secluded life, a greater contempt for the things of this world which you have renounced. He will obtain for you all those virtues which can beautify your soul and endear you to Him whose delight is to walk among the lilies.

Go to Joseph, just and sinners, rich and poor. For the just, he will obtain the grace of perseverance and an increase of justice. For sinners, he will be a powerful intercessor. His arms and his heart have been the throne of the Eternal Mercy that became man in order to seek and to save sinners. Through his intercession you will find grace with God and become reconciled with Him who will not despise a humble and contrite heart.

And you who mourn and are distressed, go to Joseph. He will allay your grief and anguish, yes, even change it into joy. He experienced the trials and sufferings of this land of exile, and now, having entered the glories of heaven he still has a truly compassionate heart for all.

Go to Joseph, you especially, who are prostrate on a bed of sickness; you, upon whom death is about to lay its icy hand; you, who even now feel death’s chilling shadow with its sorrowful train of sufferings slowly approaching. He will alleviate your pain, calm your fears and lead you safely through the portals of eternity.


A Short Novena

O glorious Saint Joseph, faithful follower of Jesus Christ, to thee do we raise our hearts and hands to implore from the benign Heart of Jesus all the helps and graces necessary for our spiritual and temporal welfare, particularly the grace of a happy death, and the special grace we now implore. (Name it. . .)

O Guardian of the Word Incarnate, we feel animated with confidence that thy prayers in our behalf will be graciously heard before the throne of God.

Then the following versicle is to be said seven times in honor of the seven joys and seven sorrows of Saint Joseph.

V. O glorious Saint Joseph, through the love thou bearest to Jesus Christ, and for the glory of His Name,

R. Hear our prayers and obtain our petitions.

Petitions for Saint Joseph’s Blessing

Bless me, O dearly beloved father, Saint Joseph; bless my body and my soul, bless my resolutions, my words and deeds, all my actions and omissions, my every step; bless all that I possess, all my interior and exterior goods, that all may redound to the greater honor of God. Bless me for time and eternity and preserve me from every sin.

Obtain for me the grace to make atonement for all my sins by love and contrition here on earth, so that, after my last breath, I may without delay, prostrate at thy feet, return thee thanks in heaven for all the love and goodness thou, O dearest father, didst show me here below. Amen.

Upon God’s Holy Hills – Saint John of the Cross, by Father Cyril Charles Martindale, S.J.

statue of Saint John of the Cross in the Museo Diocesano y Catedralicio, Valladolid, Castile and Leon, Spain; 18th century by Pedro de Sierra; photographed on 24 November 2010 by Mattana24 June 1542 – 14 December 1591

There are a few Saints whose name carries with it a mysterious atmosphere, an enchanted air, a kind of mirage, a sense almost of unreality, or else at least of magic. Such is not the courtly Francis of Sales; the hard fighter, Thomas a Becket; the theologian-patriarchs, like Athanasius or Chrysostom; nor even a hero of romance, like Saint Louis. Even Saint Francis of Assisi is too linked with simple nature; Saint Bernard and Saint Catherine of Siena, for all their ecstasy and penance, with the business of their Europe; the Curé d’Ars, with his pulpit, confessional, and catechism, is still too near our generation; Saint Teresa herself has stubborn features which, for all her mystic halo, cannot melt within its glory. But her fellow-worker, John of the Cross, seems almost a pure spirit, best to be compared to the fierce radiation of his own Castilian rocks; a flame in the sky; a panting, quivering eddy in the air; a piercing hymn, whose notes are lost for their utmost intensity of vibration. Brown-robed, white-mantled, he melts into the Spanish desert and the sunlight, till at times he seems no more than a name of power for the symbolizing of some terrible doctrine of Annihilation, and, again, of the soul’s Wedlock with its God.

Yet John, like all those others, was a man; and his poetry the unequalled heritage of a literature; and his destiny our own.


“My companion spoke but rarely, and when he spoke at all it was rather of the desert or of nature or of God than of anything particular to himself. . . . After all, they were his companions, and in the immense loneliness of Castile he had come to know them as a man of two-score and ten should know his friends. ‘And so,’ he said to me . . . ‘and so we must never forget that God has given us the hour after sunset. . . .’ Night fell . . . and then suddenly I saw my companion a little way off on his knees, between the immense horizon, praying…. I thought it was Spain that I had seen, alone, talking with God in the desert.” – Edward Hutton

Saint John of the Cross was born in Old Castile on June 24, 1542, of very poor parents. In that land of proud austerity little, however, mattered more than pure descent, and little less than poverty. Therefore it was not mere money-lack which seemed, at the outset, to indicate for John a humbled future, but the mean estate of the beautiful orphan girl his father married. Gonzalo de Yepes, from Toledo, was assuredly of ancient pedigree, but, being poor, he helped his uncle, who educated him, in his business, and thus was often travelling to Medina del Campo, then a trading centre of importance. On his way he would halt at the desolate village of Ontiveros, lodging with a widow who had for adopted daughter Catherine Alvarez. With Catherine Gonzalo fell in love, and he married her out of hand. For this his family, deeming itself disgraced, renounced him. He learnt silk-weaving from his wife, but remained inefficient, and when the widow, who helped them, died, their poverty became destitution. At his own death, Catherine was left with three small boys and no resources. She journeyed with great difficulty to Torrijos, and implored help from a brother-in-law, an archdeacon and a member of the chapter of Toledo. But the priest made his excuses, passed by, and turned the obscure woman and her sons adrift. Another brother-in-law, a doctor at Galves, received her better, took over,the care and education of her eldest-born, Francis, and was for making him his heir. She left him there, but his aunt ill-treated him, and after a year she fetched him back, unbroken, even as she was, in spirit, but perhaps somewhat cowed and made half helpless for practical life. Her second son, Luis, had died in childhood. Grimly she toiled at her weaving till the boys should be old enough to help her; but Francis married very young, and could do no more than provide his mother and Juan with a roof. He was unsuccessful in his trade, and afterwards did odd jobs, like gardening, for his brother. He died in 1607, aged seventy-seven, and his personal piety had grown so great that it was recognized, by popular instinct, as sanctity, and the Canons of the Collegiate Church of Medina and members of four religious Orders came to the mean hovel, and Canons and Carmelites carried him, as they would have done for no grandee, to his poor grave. Possibly the glory of his younger brother, dead sixteen years before, enhaloed him, and Francis may have been honoured partly for Juan’s sake; yet was his sanctity substantial, and if indeed it is John, not Francis, who has been set above our altars, we are but left wondering the more to what heights of holiness God’s spirit was to carry John.

Ordinary men, who seek in Saints’ lives for what may help them, are easily discouraged to find that these holy personages seem to have been canonizable from cradle up. Often they refuse to believe this, or at least lose all interest in them, not without some grounds, I dare say, of good reason. Yet, after all, what kind of cause is there to doubt that the children of a woman like Catherine Alvarez, in a country like sixteenth-century Castile, may have developed without relapse that life which, at their baptism, was given them? The Spanish air they breathed was icy, or was furnace-hot, but was always clean. No malaria of doubt, suspicion, or self-delusion tainted it; wills were not weak. There was sin about then, but not indifference; instinct was not perverted; they had Catholic souls, strong with an almost terrible health for response to, or rejection of, God’s grace. It is certain that John began, as he continued, spontaneously attentive to his prayers, quiet and collected, austere yet ardent, in tone with the sunburnt rock-land all around him. At the poor school which he attended till he was thirteen, he showed intelligence; but he could be taught no trade, and at last a gentleman who had charge of the hospital at Medina invented a post which the awkward boy might fill, and not be merely one more burden on his mother. Simultaneously, he could go to the Jesuits’ school at Medina, opened in 1551. There he remained for a few years, revealing himself something of a metaphysician and a psychologist in the scholastic sense. His unsophisticated brain dealt vigorously with the current theory of the soul and its faculties, and he obediently practised the various “methods of prayer” which instantly put these to their most practical and lofty use. You will here find all the skeleton, so to say, and the soul of his mystical writings; they imply the ordinary scholastic training, and postulate a continuous and tremendous experience; they show no trace of any study, or adaptation, of historical schools of mysticism. He “invents nothing,” but utilizes a simple intellectual scheme, and is “given” an overwhelming and enduring revelation. His human experience he enriched by patient service done to the sick, in whom, after the most realist manner possible, he contemplated Christ. He resolutely rejected the repeated suggestion that he should become a priest, though the fancy came to him, as to an Aloysius Gonzaga, – and in John’s case it was no mere ardent dream – that he should reform some decadent religious Order. This at least remained with him, that he would become a religious. The sacerdotal call came to him, therefore, involved in the wider vocation to serve God as monk or friar, under religious rule. A chance visit to the Carmelite convent of Medina focussed his gaze upon that Order. He found his mind abruptly settled for him. He received the habit on February 24, 1563, and took the additional name of Saint Matthias, whose feast it was.

It is a modern practice, difficult, but fascinating and well justified, minutely to study a boyhood and adolescence in the hope of better understanding the developed man. Yet it is John’s manhood that best helps us to fix values upon his youthful tendencies. His destined power of spiritual intuition, and his passionate and almost terrifying preoccupation with all that was profoundest in the Christian soul and most universal in its spiritual possibilities, prove that the interest in psychology which we hear that he displayed was a genuine, first response to instinct. The theological-scientific learning of his day was rigid, not to say harsh, in its elements and their organization. To him this did no harm. As I said, into his reliable Spanish brain our Northern vaguenesses, and our modern ambiguities, ill-veiled contradictions, and confusions chosen almost by preference, were in any case not likely to sink and settle; nor, with his ever deepening spiritual experience, was he fated to grow, like too many professors of any system, over-satisfied with the map, merely, of spiritual life, too ready to treat the plan as the “thing itself,” as exhaustive, to disregard new living details, the concrete instance, and that actual mystery, Life, which circulates in every individual, and has no outlines, weight, or measures. As a matter of fact, John was to declare roundly that no two souls are quite alike; he would not deal in types; he was to be wise, not “clever.” Can we go further, and say that he was all the while a poet and an artist? Save that he did indeed reveal himself as these, we have no evidence, in his youth, for such surmise. Mere inability to learn a trade does not prove that a man is victim of high visions. And, indeed, inspiration may lay hold of a man quite late in life, and elicit, abruptly, without earlier hint, the secrets of his soul. But in any case the secrets were there, fermenting, so to say, and wearing the crust thin: one outside shock is usually not so violent as, by itself, to break through plate-armour of materialist use and wont; the imagination needs some previous disturbances, even though half subconscious; and, anyhow, no such overwhelming shock is discernible in John’s history. Therefore we may safely say that in John’s aloofness from practical push and obvious efficiency is a true suggestion of interior imaginative life, active and constructive. Yet were his dreams no mere daydreaming. The Spaniard was never a sentimentalist. His fancy might run riot; passion was always there, and might flame suddenly high; but the morbid exhalations of emotionalism were not more likely to be his than the futile volatilizations of the intellect.

In John’s “remoter preparation” of his developed manhood, then, we are to see an intelligence sane and well balanced, educated by firm methods, and within very definite limits, and an imagination which solicited him to recognize that those horizons were no absolute, final cloister to reality; the capacity for passion was to humanize that intellect and enrich that imagination to a degree unparalleled, perhaps, even by Saint Augustine and, assuredly, by Aquinas; and over all this manifold, in tendency tumultuous, yet in fact obedient nature, brooded the Spirit, reaching from end to end, and ordering all things in sweetness and in strength.


The convent which John entered belonged, of course, to the Mitigated Carmelite rule. It is unnecessary here to describe the restoration by Saint Teresa of the ancient way of life. The earlier austerity of the Order had been progressively modified by a series of Papal sanctions, until the “mitigated” rule, to which Saint Teresa was for thirty years obedient, was, presumably, universal. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that this “mitigated” rule implied no laxness or disorder, or infidelity on the part of those who, quite legitimately, chose it, and conscientiously obeyed it. Saint Teresa, in founding houses where the original rule should be accurately followed, was supplying the needs of a different sort of person, and was passing no censure upon those who should not follow her. The foundation, however, of “reformed” houses for nuns created a need for the restoration of the old rule among the friars too, in order that sympathy in ideal and experience of their special kind of austerity and the practice of contemplation might not be lacking in those whom she would call upon to “direct” the Sisters. Teresa obtained leave to found houses for such friars, but the difficulty of collecting recruits remained. Fra Antonio de Heredia, Prior of the Medina Carmelites, offered himself; she did not consider him wholly satisfactory, but accepted him provisionally.

Meanwhile, in the same convent, John of Saint Matthias was endeavouring, on his own account, to live out the unmitigated rule. He did this, especially after his profession in 1564, and even during a period spent at the University of Salamanca, without allowing his method of life to clash in any way with the special kind of rules and regulations which surrounded him. After a while, ordination was more or less forced on him, and in 1567 he decided that this observance of a rule within a rule, almost, indeed, despite a rule, kept him spiritually on the rack, and he proposed to transfer himself to the lonelier life of the Carthusians. He spoke of this to Fra Pedro de Orozco, who informed Saint Teresa. She asked John to call on her; instantly she discerned his worth, and laughed to find that, with him, she had collected “a friar and a half,” for the portly Prior, Fra Antonio, made the small Saint John look even tinier. Still, it was he, not Antonio, who was to fulfill her incredible ideal. At this time he was twenty-five, she fifty-three. Months passed. The men were found, but she had no house. At last, in June, 1568, a friend offered her a cottage at Duruelo, near Avila. It was unspeakably filthy, and consisted of a porch, a kitchen, one living-room, and a garret. “No one,” declared Sister Antonia of the Holy Ghost, who visited it with her – “no one, however spiritual, could possibly live in it.” But she and John saw further, and remembered Bethlehem. “Our Lord,” she said of John, “seems to hold him by the hand.” She, assuredly, held the inexperienced little Saint by the other; and, though she “was angry with him now and then,” mothered him effectively, made him a habit, and sent him off, with one workman, in the autumn of 1568. He exulted in his hovel; his hopes ran riot; the porch should be the church; the garret, the choir; the parlour, dormitory; and they would eat in the kitchen. But the first day, at least, there was nothing to cook, and John and his plasterer broke the day’s long fast with scraps of bread begged from the villagers.

On November 28, 1568, John, now “John of the Cross,” Antonio of Jesus, and Joseph of Christ, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, took at Duruelo their vows as friars of the Primitive rule.

They lived there for a while in great poverty and penance, and the magnetism of the Spirit who dwelt with them drew the crowds. The friars moved to Manzera; another convent was opened; novices multiplied; a house of studies was created. John was torn from his solitude; he moved from place to place, forming the raw recruits, and checking the two-fold tendency – to exaggerated and unsanctioned penances, and to an external apostolate – which, in different ways, was from the very outset remodifying the reform. But besides sheer business and these internal distractions, honest outside persecution was soon to harass him. For John had become important: he reformed monasteries; he exorcised the possessed; miracles flowered beside his footsteps. The friars of the Mitigation felt the counter-shock of his independent progress. They honestly considered his enterprise to be a defiance, and himself a rebel; they perceived him to be compromising the sober and godly repute of the Carmelite regime, and leading the peoples into all the dangers of fanaticism, that fatal defect of the splendid Spanish quality of intensity. Under an undoubtedly good motive, how many ill instincts nearly always lurk, half deliberately unattended to. Beneath this admirable disguise of careful zeal, what jealousies, envies, rancours, personal pique, and other vices of good men, were smouldering! The attack was engineered entirely by means of the opposition of one authority to another. The General of the Order, the Papal Nuncio, the subordinate departmental authorities, were found, some favouring the reform, others against it. It seemed to be shown, alternately, that John and Teresa were within their rights in acting as they did; and that they were rebels, founding houses in spite of prohibitions, creating a schism within the Carmelite ranks, and ruining an existing institution for the sake of a Utopian ideal. Six or seven of the new-founded houses were closed down. The year 1577 marked a crisis. The Papal Nuncio, who had hitherto championed the reform, died, and his successor was hostile to it. The war became more open, and, despite the indignation of the populace of Avila, Saint John of the Cross was arrested and carried off by men in whom no longer misguided zeal, nor even jealously, held sway, but sheer unbridled anger. He had many opportunities of escaping; indeed, on one occasion, he profited by a chance-opened door, coolly marched out of his prison, went to his cottage, locked it, burnt some important papers, and then allowed himself to be recaptured. For a while he totally disappeared. Saint Teresa was in despair. What would be done to him? Where was he? “I would rather,” she wrote to Philip II, “he were in the hands of the Moors.”

As a matter of fact, John and his companion were taken to Toledo, where the friars promised him great honours if he would return to the Mitigation. He exposed the credentials of the Reform, and said he would be loyal to it. They scourged him sharply, condemned him to bread and water, and imprisoned him in a cell less than six feet by ten. It was, in fact, a sort of cupboard opening into a larger room, and lit only through an opening, high up, less than three inches wide, and giving upon a corridor. By standing on a chair beneath it, when the sun shone on the corridor, John could see ±o read his Office. The door was padlocked and sentinelled, and so, after the escape of another friar, was the door of the main room. Here John, only too glad to be made a hermit of, spent his solitary days; in the evening he was led to the refectory, and took his meal of bread and water and fish, or salt fish without any water, from the floor. After it he was sermonized and violently flogged. At last the flogging, which, after all, was no worse than his own penances, was omitted; but the imprisonment lasted for over eight months, and not once was his heavy, blood-stained woollen tunic changed. Mentally, too, he was tortured. Friars of the Mitigation sat outside his cell, relating the collapse of the Reform, and that Teresa herself, with his other friends, had abandoned search for him. In the furnace heat of summer the Saint’s body wasted away to a skeleton, and for many weeks no spiritual refreshment, even, reached his soul.

At last, however, into this desert place Christ entered, and turned it into Paradise. The goaler-friar, going to make sure of John for the night, found the cell one glory. He rushed for the Prior, who hurried forward with two religious. He burst in, but, in his poor lantern’s light, the splendour flickered and out. He cried to John, asking where that light had come from. John showed him there was neither candle there nor lamp. The Prior left, but the radiance returned, and lasted the night through, abbreviating it to a moment’s space, and in the light Christ spoke to John and promised him deliverance. Later, on the Eve of the ‘Assumption, the Prior with two others entered suddenly; John was too weak to rise, for he was kneeling, and the Prior rebuked him for his disrespect. John’s gentle answer disarmed him for a moment, and the Prior asked him what his thoughts were. “That I would like to say Mass tomorrow, the Assumption.” “Not in my time,” said the Prior, and turned his back. The feast passed in desolation, but on its morrow Mary came, and renewed her Son’s assurance. And again Christ came and promised; and again Mary, who showed John in a vision a window, whence the Tagus could be seen. Thence he was to climb. But the convent was unknown to John; where the window was he could not guess, and anyhow the door stayed locked. He waited patiently on God’s word.

At last the gaoler was changed; the new custodian’s heart was kindlier; he allowed John, when the friars were at dinner or siesta, to walk in the big room, and even in the corridor. And lo, in the corridor, the window, recognized at once. Thence should his going be. To the gaoler John showed a farewell gentleness, and offered him a Crucifix which he still wore. The gaoler went to fetch some water, and John wrenched the staple of the padlock loose; and, the same night, the gaoler forgot to take away the lantern. But at once a new test to faith. Travellers came to the convent, and two friars were told to sleep in the room outside John’s cell. True, they left the room door open, for the heat was appalling, but they drew their beds close to where his own door was, and their conversation, that night, seemed fated never to finish. At last they went to sleep. John had, meanwhile, been tearing his cloak into strips, and had made a rope. He took this and the lamp, and shook at the loosened padlock. It fell off. The friars awoke, and asked who was there. John made no answer, and soon they slept again. Stepping almost over them, he tiptoed to the corridor and reached the window. He tied his rope to the lamp, and inserted its rod as a hook between the wooden sill and the stone. The rotten woodwork should have broken, but held firm; the lamp-rod should have bent, but stayed rigid; the rope was much too short, and when John let go and fell upon a pile of stones heaped against the wall he should have killed himself, but he was not bruised. He fell into a courtyard; it was two in the morning; he had no idea of his whereabouts. At last he saw a dog, gnawing some bones near to the heap where he had fallen. He went up and scared him, meaning to follow where he fled. The dog scrambled up the stones, leapt the wall, and vanished. The Saint was too weak to climb. He prayed. Somehow – by what spiritual or psychic agency who knows? – he found himself on the top of the wall, and then down beyond it. And now, assuredly, even the angels smiled, for he had been deposited in the courtyard of some Franciscan nuns, surrounded by four walls; the one he had come down from; two, which were city walls, with the Tagus running deep below them; and a fourth, not to be scaled, but looking towards the city. The predicament was appalling. Lights flashed and flamed in his eyes. Voices told him to follow them. He staggered forward, still praying, and saw himself seated on the coping, and fell thence into an unknown street of unknown Toledo. He sheltered in a porch; and when day broke at five asked a market woman the way to the nunnery of the discalced Carmelites. He reached it, tattered, dishevelled, like any madman. The scared Sister admitted him at last, as Rhoda did Saint Peter. The humorous ingenuity of Providence still befriended him; in the infirmary lay a Sister, dying, it was thought. No sooner had food been given to the fainting man than he was hurried up there to help her. At that moment the door thundered beneath the blows of the pursuing friars, led by right surmise to that convent. They ransacked the house; but respected Death’s angel, who guarded the sick-room’s doors. There John lay hid for a while, till, in a closed carriage, he was spirited away to Almodavar.

After his deliverance from “that whale,” as John emphatically described his prison, he resumed a life monotonous to read about, but filled, assuredly, with incident for himself. Struggles between rival authorities and, worse, rival ideals seemed endless, though the Reformed and Mitigated friars were separated by Papal decree in 1580.

Himself he continued in a practice of poverty irritating to his confreres, whose trust in God was less, and in his habit of escaping, whenever he could, into some cave or lonely garden for his prayers. Ecstasy with him became in some sort habitual; none can forget the incident when he and Teresa, on either side of the convent grille, were speaking of the Holy Trinity, and fell alike into trance, and remained raised from the ground, in adoration. He moved among miracles: storm, fire, flood, obeyed him. Wounds which had mortified, and the linen which bound them, exhaled that fragrance which is no rare phenomenon in Saints’ lives. Teresa died in 1582; and he burnt her letters, to which he felt still attached. Lonely enough now, in all conscience, he was continually snubbed and put into the background, till at last he became thoroughly ill and was sent to Ubeda, where the Prior wholly disliked and distrusted him. His very illnesses were disbelieved in, and, like Peter Claver, he was left to look after himself, or, when tendance was clearly necessary, still mishandled.

Through the obscurity of these clouds “death dawned”; on Saturday, December 7, 1591, John was told he had but a few days more before its sunrise. His pain vanished, and his face glowed with that gathering glory. “I exulted,” he murmured, “in what was said to me – that I am to go into the House of the Lord.” They offered him the Last Sacraments, but he told them to wait. Fra Antonio, then Provincial, was sent for, that he who had been with John at the beginning should not fail him at what was, after all, no end. But it was almost too late before the old Prior could come. Early in the next week John asked how long it was till Saturday. Our Lady had promised an especial help to her friars on that day. Nor, indeed, was she to play him false. On the Thursday he asked his infirmarian to burn the letters from his friends which he kept in a parcel under his pillows, lest their intimacy with him, the suspect, should compromise them. He then, in the evening, received Viaticum, and sent to beg the Prior, for the love of God, to come to him. He came; John asked his pardon for the trouble he had given him, for the expense he had caused, for the bad example given. Face to face with the reality of death and sanctity, the Prior felt the illusions of the eyes to melt; he wept, begged John’s forgiveness, and the night became starlit and serene. On the Friday he asked once more what day of the week it was, and thereafter the hour only, but often. “I have,” he said at last, “to sing Matins in Heaven.” During the latter part of Friday he entered into a Gethsemane of the soul, and though Fra Antonio arrived,” and was fain to alleviate his agony, John remained in a deep distress, augmented by the mistaken consolations of those friends who urged him to remember how much he had done for God and the Reform. At that hour all he had ever done seemed to him shame only, sin, and failure, and he lifted his whole heart higher still towards the Crucifix. At five he asked for the Last Sacraments, and made all the responses clearly; and at nine, when he asked the time, deplored that he had still three hours to wait. “My exile is prolonged,” he repeated. At ten a neighbouring convent rang for Matins; he repeated he was to sing them next in Heaven, and thanked Mary that she suffered him to pass thither on her own day. He grew faint; the friar was for summoning the community. Still John refused. There was yet time. At eleven he sat up in bed. “Blessed be God,” he cried. “How well I feel!” He exulted, and asked those present, for the room had filled, to sing God’s praises with him. He began the Miserere, and the others answered, as a choir. They continued with other psalms, and John kept kissing his Crucifix. At 11.30 he caused the friars to be summoned. They all came, and, on their knees, extorted from his humility a final benediction. They began to recite the Recommendation of the Soul; after a minute he told them to continue without him, for he had to rest. He clasped the Crucifix closer, and reposed in prayer. A little before twelve he handed the Crucifix to a secular, arranged his habit and bed, and took the Crucifix back. The secular kissed his hand, and John reproved him gently. Close on midnight, he sent Francis, whose office it was, to ring for Matins. He went, and the Saint’s bed became orbed with glory. In its heart John lay for a few moments in an ecstasy, and then, returning, asked why the bell was ringing. “For Matins,” they said. He smiled, having reached the midnight, and replied, “I am going to sing them in Paradise.” He kissed the Crucifix once more, and, with closed eyes, said, “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit,” and, like a child, without shock or effort, died.

He was forty-nine years old.


I blinded my eyes,
And I closed my ears,
1 hardened my heart,
And I smothered my desire
I turned my back
On the vision I had shaped,
And to this road before me
I turned my face.
– P. H. Pearce: Renunciation

In writing anything at all about Saint John’s mystical works, I am all the while anxious to recall or convey certain postulates. First, I do not in any sort of way propose to analyze adequately, or theologically, his peculiar doctrine, but to fasten on three or four only of its organic elements, though these I believe to be essential, and to contain, indeed, or to issue into, the rest. Next, that it was Saint John’s aim to write only for those whom God called to a particular and transcendent union with Himself, probably within the special frontiers of the Carmelite Order. Others might indeed draw profit, when and where they could, from his writings, but his work was not intended for them directly. Again, that he wrote his comments on his poetry by request, reluctantly and, he felt, inefficiently. Next, that I am very far from hoping to explain him, still further from criticizing him; at most I would hope to clear away certain difficulties, or causes of misapprehension, which surround him. Again, that he not only does not attempt fully to explain himself, and bases his doctrine wholly on that of the Church, which is that God infuses a supernatural life into all baptized Christians, and that its proper outcome, in all, is a supernatural contemplation of and union with God, after a purification which takes place, normally, when the soul is already separated from the body; but he teaches, again with the general belief of Catholics to support him, that even in this life, in exceptional cases, and intermittently, a substantial union and contemplation of this sort is granted by God to chosen souls, who experience, therefore, perhaps, all their Purgatory, and some foretaste of their Heaven, upon this earth. Finally, that Saint John was rigidly orthodox and intended no sort of Monism, Pantheism, Quietism, or other philosophic or theological heresy, and must be interpreted, in obscure passages, by the Church’s ordinary doctrine.

The soul which would ascend towards God must pass, Saint John teaches, through a night which consists, first and foremost, in the “mortification” of desire, the putting to death, that is, in a certain and definite way, not only of such apprehensions as reach the will through the senses, but of the desire for them. The “self” is to be left, in regard to outward things, “in darkness,” without “occupation.” It returns to that “blank” which, scholastic philosophy teaches, it was when first infused into the body, before the senses had time to supply it with material for reaction. Saint John piles up the disasters which distress the soul when it is obedient to “desires.” They exhaust, torment, darken, pollute, and enfeeble it; and this not only if the desires be for what is connected in any way with sin, nor only if they be habitual. All stirring of desire, even innocent, even automatic, he would wish to have “mortified,” and his primary method is the contemplation and imitation of the Suffering Dying Christ, and the consequent direct contradiction of the senses. This issues into those maxims which have earned for him the nickname, Professor of Nothingness. You must seek not for the easy, the pleasant, consoling, reposeful, great or precious, but, first, for their opposite, then for nothing.

“Strive not to desire anything, but, rather, nothing. That thou mayest have pleasure, or know, or possess, or be, seek pleasure in, knowledge of, and to be, Nothing. That thou mayest attain to that in which thou hast no pleasure, or to that which thou knowest not, and possessest not, and art not, thou must walk there where thou hast no pleasure, go through that which thou knowest not, and possessest not, and art not.

“When thou dwellest upon anything, thou hast ceased to cast thyself upon the All.

“Because, in order to arrive from all to the All, thou hast to deny thyself wholly in all.

“And when thou comest to attain the All, thou must keep it without desiring anything.

“Because, if thou wilt keep anything with the All, thou hast not thy treasure simply in God.”

Delivered thus from the prisoning senses, the soul steals forth from the house of its captivity, now put to sleep and silent.

In a dark night,
With anxious love inflamed
(O happy lot!),
Forth unobserved went I,
My house being now asleep.

For many, John’s doctrine is herein vitiated at the roots. His promise of life starts from suicide. Nothing can grow from a fundamental negative. For what, after all, is a man who neither likes nor dislikes anything? Perhaps none such exist. Yet some, indeed, approach to that deplorable condition. A few are temperamentally so stupid that they cannot see that this is preferable to that, even as, departmentally, some men may lack an ear for music, be colour-blind, derive no exhilaration, no solemnizing awe, from the secrets of the evening or the caress of morning air. They “see nothing” in a masterpiece; “have no use for” ambitions or ideas; they drive to distraction those who seek to please them by a total lack of response – not unselfishness. Sometimes, too, an apathy is induced by over-strain, a hopeless uncoiling of all life’s main-spring. Prolonged self-worship may similarly overshoot itself, and a man may truly reach the pitiful state to which the young, forgivably, pretend, of being blasé. He has chewed his world, to extract from it the latest drop of sweetness, till it is left insipid; he may have lost even his morbid craving for the rotten. Short of this, and composed, again, of the young, or of those who regret and envy youth, is the tedious herd of cynics, who “have no more illusions,” who find all things, however high their promise, “much of a muchness” in result. This attitude may become permanent, vulgar, and irritating; usually its victims are curable, by the tender action of years, or, again, by the burly box on the ears which even middle age receives, at times, from events. In the meantime, these are the dullest of all folks to meet; for how can a man who is thoroughly uninterested be interesting? There are, finally, those who get into this highly artificial state by a misapplication of some doctrine of “Indifference” which they believe themselves to have got, perhaps, from Saint Ignatius. By a kind of mathematical comparison of created things with the Uncreated, the finite with the Infinite, they reduce all of the former to an equality in littleness, and, because lesser things are not that Highest, they treat them with contempt. Such a view implies, I confess, a complete forgetfulness of the Presence and Activity of God: it is alien to the Creator’s, who exulted in the world He saw to be so good; to Our Lord’s, whose kindness was not calculated; for whom men and women were not just symbols, arbitrary and equivalent; in whom no human instinct, no homely or heroic love, was lacking; no sense dulled; no vital fire extinguished; from Saint John’s himself, not least among the Saints, whose poems thrill with a right sensuous response to the exquisite challenge of created loveliness.

In any desire is a double element: my delight in the thing itself, and my expected joy of possessing it. There is implied also the belief, or hope, that it will be found satisfying; and in exact proportion as I find or make it so, I strike an equivalence between myself and it, and raise or lower myself to its value. There are, therefore, these three propositions: I want it; I want it; it and I make one. Now, if we take it as admitted that a man is meant to “live,” and that Christ definitely said He came “that men might have life, and have it more abundantly,” it follows that a desire goes not only against the proper completing of my human nature, but against the Christian ideal, if its object contains a germ of any death – such is all which is tainted with sin, and this does not concern us here – but also if I desire it, absolutely, for my lonely self, or, absolutely, for its own merit. For, on the natural plane, that is to argue that it exists for me; that I am “cosmo-centric”; or, that I exist for it, and am ordered to, and therefore limited by, it. This cripples my humanity, which should be wider in scope and ideal than my Self, and certainly should not be reduced to the bulk and value of that limited thing which any soul, by nature, can transcend. Supernaturally, such a desire either makes me my own God, or makes its object mine, and I have fallen into idolatry. For, supernaturally, the soul is capable, in a true sense, of God, and so, whether I make my Self my idol, or subject myself in worship to the object of my desire, either way I reject God. The whole of Saint John’s doctrine of Desire is directed to pursuing, in its very roots, its invisible ultimate fibres, this double Idolatry: the self-exaltation which seeks this or that, absolutely, for my sake, and the self-degradation which sets me beneath this or that, absolutely, for its sake.

That selfishness vitiates desire is certain even in experience. Love rises in purity precisely as it becomes unselfish. The moment I “grab” a thing, I soil and bruise it. The moment I say; “She is for me,” I sacrifice her, a victim to the Idol in my heart. Even in the most spiritual transactions this holds good, even the conversion, which I may desire, of a sinner to God.

Thus alone is ensured a perfect spiritual chastity. Part at least of the law of bodily chastity is that I have no absolute property in my fellow-man, nor he in me. I have no final and unlimited right, indeed, over any property, least of all over the body – the soul-indwelt body – of another. There is, too, a spiritual seduction and a spiritual adultery, committed by the horrible sacrilege of bringing to pass, for selfish reasons, even the handing over to me of another’s mind; worse still, by the capitulation to me of his self, his soul.

By far the best – indeed, the only – way, then, of being morally sure that my desire is untainted, is to dissociate explicitly my innermost will from my desire, and to hold what is deepest in it aloof from me. I, with my Desire beside me, must be presented direct to God: I am not “to” it, nor it “to” me, but both “to” God. Hereby petition passes into affirmation. “Lord, he whom Thou lovest is sick.” “Lord, lo me! Lord, lo him!” Often enough, perchance, when the desire is extreme yet utterly pure, we shall find ourselves, two souls, standing side by side before the Ultimate, incapable of uttering more than the lonely Name of God, and, at most, the exclamation of the Mass, Offerimus Tibi calicem salutaris. We offer Him a Mingled Cup, containing myself, my desire, and the manifold mystery of life; and we can but trust His consecration to turn the whole into the life-giving Blood.

This hurling of ourselves direct upon the Ultimate may produce, at times, and even after a soul has grown “experienced” in this, downright laughable effects. We may neglect to attend to what is being said; we may forget to answer; we might fail, even, to recognize a passer-by with whom we have been, earlier, in communion so intimate that we had disregarded all concerning him save his transmitted thought. Instinctive this may be; yet, at other times, deliberate: a calculated coldness, almost, a chosen aloofness, may prove necessary to safeguard ourselves from the uprushes of the inquisitive, the sentimental, the selfish will. Yet never fear! Thereby is nothing lost, or even endangered. The inward passion makes itself well felt across the barrier, and penetrates, by a true telepathy, to the subconscious and most real of that other soul. Thus, certainly, though wordlessly, are the most deep, loyal, rapid, even, and most numerous, of friendships made. Such is today’s experience; such was the secret of Saint John’s enormous influence; such the magnetism of the Name of Christ, which alone today wins utter personal love, and the test, food, and sweetness of it, which is joy in sacrifice and communion.

But there is another renunciation which John requires. This is so subtle as to elude anything like an adequate explanation. Yet it is founded on the simple truth that the Infinite and Eternal God bears no proportion to what we imagine, think, or taste of Him. No image of God – not even that sweetness which represents Him to the will – is, after the soul has climbed a certain way. any more of value, but must be discarded. Here is the second “night,” a midnight compared to gloaming; an emptying no more of the “senses” only, even in their most spiritual value, but of the memory, intellect and will. To the activity of the soul in this midnight John gives (legitimately, since he warns us) the name of faith. Doubtless the senses, even the imagination, even the intellect and will, continue (normally) to operate, but they are unattended to. They may be inhibited by ecstasies, which he rather contemptuously mentions along with “dislocations of the bones”; and are assuredly left behind by the soul when it has achieved a direct union. But, meanwhile, they must be either unattended to or rejected. “Vision,” even if supernaturally induced, must be acknowledged, and put behind one; not as false, but as inadequate to that kind of contemplation I am called to: exterior or interior, all these apprehensions must be said “No” to. So for the memory: even in prayer I must not seek to remember this or that person or “intention,” but go direct to God, in whom the object of my petition, if it is to be granted, will be found. I go, not to my friend, and take him up to God; but to God, and there, if He wills it, find my friend. Even what is good, in memory, must be rejected, because of the tendency to rest upon it; just as a similar tendency is felt, to rest upon the vision – imaginative or intellectual – which, at the moment, fills me with divine delight. In this way even the will has to be “mortified,” and reduced (John says it seems) to silence. Whatever grace, whatever help or spiritual success or communication God gives to me, is but new material for renunciation, until assuredly, since sense, memory, intelligence, and will, are one after the other transcended by the soul as it climbs its Carmel in the night, we well may ask, What, after all, is left?

If I say, “God and the soul in substantial communion,” does that seem no answer? Yet what answer would you have, if the essence of the communion is that its reality transcends ideas, and ideas already transcend words? At best we can say what it is not; and, again, we can but hymn it, not define it. What wonder, then, if Saint John breaks into songs, and what wonder if he chafes at analyzing all his stanzas? In a true sense, the poet must not know what he means, and always he resents “explaining” himself. John tries to comment on and annotate his stanzas, but he often fails to finish doing so in the case of his “Dark Night” lyrics; and at best not alone his comment, as far as it gets, seems often enough jejune, academic, fanciful, and unequal, but the poems themselves, finishing because inspiration flags, end in a manner almost commonplace, as with a reference to that overworked “property” of the mystical poetaster, “lilies,” or with a chilly reference to some old Testament “Aminadab,” whom John introduces, awkwardly, to symbolize the Devil.

Scarcely need we say that this Doctor of Annihilation never means that the soul, nor any of its faculties, issue into some sort of positive nothingness and are stultified. In the Ascent, c. xiv., he insists that the senses, imagination, intellect, and will, cease to do what they have done because they attain to a totality of peaceful energy in which all that ever was survives, cumulative, simultaneous, and conscious, though not, as it were, fractionally attended to. The intellect does not acquire new ideas, discurvisely, by additions, by argument, but it has knowledge; it “seems to be doing nothing,” yet never was so active. Similarly, the memory (ibid. iii. i), and again the will (c. xv.), have served as the separate stairs of a ladder leading to the mystical Garden which is other than they. Yet all that ever they led to, and implied, is there.

In humble search, therefore, of the Divine Lover, the Soul, “disguised,” unlike her natural self, not resting upon sense, nor knowledge, nor delight in anything that she does or is, steals step by step of the ladder known to so few, into the Garden where He awaits her.

In darkness and in safety,
By the secret ladder, disguised,
O, happy lot!
In darkness and concealment,
My house being now at rest.

In that happy night
In secret, seen of none,
Seeing nought myself,
Without other light or guide
Save that which in my heart was burning.

That light guided me
More surely than the noonday sun
To the place where He was waiting for me;
Whom I knew well,
And where none appeared.

O guiding night;
O night more lovely than the dawn;
O night that hast united
The Lover with His beloved,
And changed her into her Love.


In The Dark Night of the Soul Saint John describes, on the whole, the purification inflicted by God upon the soul by means of pain, rather than the soul’s self-discipline. But this pain searches out the roots of selfishness in the same departments of complex humanity; always it is the “I want . . .,” what is built on the “I know,” “I approve,” which he reduces to that “blackness” which is in the charred stick before it reaches a white heat. And it must be owned he does this, at first, like any spiritualized Aristotle who should describe the virtues and vices of the supernatural “gentleman,” with all the sagacity, if not precisely the humour, of his pagan predecessor. He takes the “capital sins,” in that form in which they may survive even in the Contemplative in search of perfection – avarice, which persists in the soul’s clinging to its preferred forms of spiritual knowledge, joy or worship; luxury, in which he recognizes so fully the condition of religious hypersensitiveness; again, he sees how fear of temptation is a source of temptation; how high religious emotion breeds downright fractiousness and irascibility; his clear distinction between aridity of soul and lukewarmness; his recognition of the role of physical good health; in all this is shown again and again the irresistible common sense of this ecstatic, in whom sentences like this are frequent: “All this that she says: God spoke to me: I spoke to God: seems nonsense.” He was not a man of delusions. He read a penitent’s thoughts one day, and said abruptly “I am a sinner, my child: that is true. But I am not ignorant.” “Why do you tell me that?” she said. “Because you need it,” John replied. A woman met him one day in the streets of Granada, carrying a child, and claiming for him sustenance, on the grounds that it was his. She argued; a crowd collected. “Well,” said John, “who is its mother?” She mentioned a great lady. “And how long has she been in Granada?” “She was born here, and has never been within half a league of it.” “And how old is the baby?” “About a year.” “Ah,” said John respectfully. “This is a great miracle. Myself I have not yet been a year in Granada, and never else in my life within a score of leagues of it.” The crowd laughed, and John proceeded imperturbable.

Let it be said here, simply, that pain is perhaps the surest and quickest road to reach Truth. A man shuts his eyes that he may think the clearer; he must, often, drive roughly away the thronging thoughts, dam the crosscurrents of ideas, push down the balance which motives, in either scale, hold quivering, if he is to act forcefully according to some instinct he knows to be right. John boldly tells us to face the downright suffocation of the self we first must feel before we emerge into full freedom. The caterpillar crawled along, and looked gay enough, even; the chrysalis has to lie colourless and inert; but only so the butterfly emerges. What is there like pain for the test of friendship? What like pain for the fierce shrivelling up of those myriad, myriad moths with which the candle-light of our imagination shuts us in, as by a moving, intangible, yet most bewildering mist, whereon our own image shadows itself forth grotesquely? What like pain for reducing into ash-dust those spider-webs which loved illusions weave round our very hearts? When a man really suffers, at last we may have hopes for him. Not before. That is, if he be strong enough. Here is an element in John irrefutably revealed: his terrible strength. He could endure the frightful insinuations of God’s fire into the ultimate roots of the love of self; districts in the soul barely known of to most men’s consciousness were naked to his piercing eye, and were terribly made clean, rinsed, cauterized, carded, what you will, by the welcomed pain. “What would you have from Me?” asked the Cross-bearer of him, as of many another Saint. “To suffer and be despised for Thee,” John answered, and the words have become his motto. This man – with human instincts all alert: why, he was fond of music; he could not stand the Andalusians – Saint Teresa (Castillian too!) had to ask for his removal from among them; and a precious anecdote reminds us that he liked asparagus – was so master of himself in all things that he could actually succeed, not only in renouncing the self-willed element in all that he was and felt, but in not slaying the selfless part in it all; so “mortified” was the separate, auto-centric “I” in him that he became a cosmic man, all-inclusive; exultant in all, safe in all, alone free and masterful. How shall we appreciate this miracle? How ever capture (save in lightning-swift glimpses) the mystery of this annihilation of everything which meant the uttermost realization of the All?

At least we can watch, even in these poems of the Dark, the Saint, holding in one hand the supreme substantial vision, and in the other created loveliness, and friends with both, since neither was held by him for his own worship:

On the flowers of my bosom
Kept whole for Him alone,
There He reposed and slept;
And I caressed Him, and the waving
Of the cedars fanned Him.

As His hair floated in the breeze
That blew from the turret;
He struck me on the neck
With His gentle hand,
And all my senses left me.

I continued in oblivion lost –
My head was resting on my Love –
Lost to all things and myself,
And, amid the lilies forgotten,
Threw all my cares away.

Thus rises and, at the end, thus droops the inspiration of the world’s all but greatest love-song.


The climax of Saint John’s vision is found in his Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and its Bridegroom. Here, more than even in the Dark Night, he speaks of what God does for the soul, rather than what it does for God, or, if you will, of the insistent summoning by the Lover of His Beloved, rather than of her endeavour to attain Him. Yet even here he must start with what she leaves, to recover it in Him. The Lover has wounded her, and fled, and hidden Himself – the strange inversion of this Hunt, where it is the Quarry who has dealt the blow to the heart of the pursuer. “I ran after Thee, crying; but Thou wast gone.” She sends the shepherds, they “who go through the sheep-cotes up the hill”; she sends her soaring desires, her yearning aspirations, after Him, and herself, meantime, will go over mountains and lowlands in her search: “I will gather no flowers; I will fear no wild beasts.” She will “pass by the Mighty and the frontiers, and disregard the barriers of her very nature. Yet she goes, not without asking of groves and thickets and meadows, planted by His hand, if He has passed through them. Indeed He has, and, as of old to Saint Augustine, Creation answers:

A thousand graces diffusing,
He passed through the groves in haste,
And, merely regarding them
As He passed,
Clothed them with His beauty.

Ah [She wearily replies] – Ah, who can heal me?
Give me at once Thyself;
Send me no more a messenger
Who cannot tell me what I wish.

All they who serve are telling me
Cf Thine unnumbered graces;
And all wound me more and more;
And something leaves me dying,
I know not what, of which they are darkly speaking.

After an amazing prayer for His merciful return, she takes sad refuge in the vision which, not the world, nor her thought, but her faith supplies to her.

O crystal well!
O that on thy silvered surface
Thou wouldst mirror forth at once
Those eyes desired
Which are traced dimly upon my heart.

Yet suddenly, “Turn them away, O my Beloved,” she prays. “I am on the wing.” Not even this inner vision of faith can she bear. Not even that most spiritual of replicas is Himself, and she resolves to die. But He forbids her, adding the strange words:

The wounded Hart
Looms on the hill
In the air of thy flight and is refreshed.

It is Christ, this time, who is wounded, and cannot fly, and draws breath from the very shrinking of His Bride, and allows His nebulous outline to grow clearer and clearer through the magical atmosphere into which her contemplation carries her. Amazing picture! the dim, gigantic Stag, still half spectral, in the mists and glory of the dawn.

Forthwith, all but having Him, she knows well enough she is not to “have naught beside,” and she can turn to all that she was leaving, and thank it, love it for its guidance towards Himself – mountains and valleys, “the strange islands,” whispers of amorous gales, night, and “the approaches of the dawn,” the “silent music,” and the Holy Supper of Communion as the journey ends. Even now, the Bridegroom no more than enters her chamber, fortressed with flowers; and by yet one mysterious renunciation more, “pretending to be asleep,” she can make sure that she is pure enough for the consummation of their betrothal. The killing north wind ceases; love wakens all its fragrances; they are fenced about by a solitude more fierce as sentinel than any den of lions or any shields of gold they weave a garland of emeralds and of flowers gathered at dawn, “flowering in Thy love” and twined with her dazzling hair; they sing to one another, and, better, they keep silence; she bids Him, again and again, hide Himself in her.

And in that night, “serene” at last, the painless flame consumes her.

Such is the love poetry of Saint John. And I would at once ask, How best are we to judge it? First, if I may venture a purely personal opinion, inspiration is at a higher power in his On a Dark Night than in the Spiritual Canticle – at least, than in those parts which are not dealing with the Pursuit, but with the Marriage of the Soul. And, naturally, no inspiration in the world could cope with that. When John was there himself, he could neither think nor speak, nor did that experience offer anything for memory to lay hold of. Like Saint Teresa, he might remember having had the transcendent union, yet feel, as it were, unable to believe it, so utterly would it escape all normal modes of “registration” and assessment and recapture. Therefore he fell back upon conscious use of symbols and traditional formulae, as from Solomon’s song. But while he was still half aware of an actual process of renunciation, shall we say, something short of the Consummation, or even those brief moments when the one was merging into the other, when the Stag loomed upon the hill, then, indeed, was the moment for no mere symbol-talk, nor utterly speechless vision, but for highest and vocal inspiration. Hence I find this chiefly in the poem of the Dark Night, which, except (and naturally) the very end, I feel to be perfect.

Can we, perhaps, best of all detect the special quality of a baffling thing by looking at it in relation to something different, which yet it first of all evokes, by association, in the memory? Thus Saint Bruno’s ideal and life recall the Stoics; the Hermits, the Cynics; John’s theory of desire, the Buddhists; and then at once differentiate and define themselves as, standing alone, they might never have done. Let us, then, say that to pass straight from Saint John’s midnight garden to the second act of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is most natural, and to identify the spirit of the two most easy and most unforgivable. In each, then, are the midnight garden, the waving trees, the whispering waters, the intoxicating fragrance of flowers, the deserted castle, the stairway, the extinguished lamp, the thrilling night, the overwhelming flooding down of Love, the forgetfulness of all the world, the two lives living each only in the other.

O sink’ hernieder, Nacht der Liebe,
Gib Vergessen, dass ich lebe . . .

The sun is hidden in their hearts, and their hearts become the world.

Now, sentiment, romance, and passion, are three different things, though each may survive, to an ever less degree, while the others triumph. Of sentimentality, indeed, there is little enough in any of the music of Tristan; none in the greater passages. Yet this second act is sick indeed with sentiment, of so high an emotional order, I confess, kept so heated by fierce passion, as quickly to become a scalding steam, pitiless, and unperceived, for the most part, as still moist. But “moist” is sentiment, and “moistening”; it weakens and liquefies; as the eyes swim, so the soul melts under its onset and the faculties flow loose and resolve is spilt; the stream goes trickling through the creepers and sops through the moss, and all is lost for nothing. But romance, as here I understand it, has something in it of stimulating; its clear yet fragile morning-light, or its keen starlight, pushes the soul to enterprise and sets it towards an Eldorado, a Jerusalem, a Grail, unlike the fainting violet light of evening or the illusory phantoms of a clouded moon. Illusory are the lights of romance and sentiment, indeed; yet romance does bring with it something of self-conquest, implied by enterprise and adventure, ideal and difficulty. There is romance in Tristan, but most in the first act, and most of all where Tristan rejects Isolde; it thrives on active self-renunciation, not when the soul pours itself into acquiescence, however rapturous.

Now, we may say briefly and at once, in Saint John’s character and poetry is no element of sentimentality, nor even of that kind of emotion which is moist and weakening and which I here understand by “sentiment.” The “atmosphere,” therefore, differs wholly. To read his poetry for the sake of its sensuous delight is an outrage upon him, and, in a Catholic who knows what he is about, perhaps not far from sin.

Next, Wagner’s chaotic mixture of philosophy with magical symbolism causes the whole of his drama to be governed by the irresistible Philtre and the spell of Fate. Nothing happened to those two which could help happening. But could anything be more fatal to true romance than this mechanistic motive? It is as bad when the average talker substitutes Temperament for Fate. A man, they say, is victim of his Temperament. Hope and choice go, here, overboard; for, strangely enough, Temperament is rarely called on save to condone aberration or to justify abandonment of effort. Assuredly Temperament exists, and artists and poets have their own most difficult and restive one; yet neither actor, artist, nor poet got anywhere by just letting loose the reins. Between a governed temperament and an ungoverned is the difference between a broad and a lax mind. Broad-mindedness! What a word to cover every kind of complaisance! Tolerance! wide views! how often they are made to mean just indifference and shallow thought! And to give “scope” to temperament, to refuse to coerce or even guide one’s genius, is not that mostly just to give free play to all the anarchic enemies within one, to end in an interior reciprocal massacre of all one’s faculties, a complicated suicide? Yet who ever had a fiercer temperament than John? A more devouring appreciation of the sensuously beautiful, as of the spiritual and transcendent? Yet, as we saw, has there been anywhere ever a more vehement reduction of all this to order, a complete focussing of energy and direction? More granite? Not on the quicksands of life did this Saint walk, but on good adamant of will. Therefore does Tristan pass from an inexplicable night of nothingness, through a tumultuous period when his world was still “without form and void, and darkness upon the face of the Abyss,” into yet another night of Ur-Vergessen, worse than chaos, annihilation. At its lightest, his soul was brooded over by the wings of that Unholy Ghost which Passion is, when from it Freedom is cast out. Fate, therefore, his lonely, helpless, choiceless Self, explains a Tristan; vocation, John. A vocation coming from a Will, and responded to by will; every step in the Ascent, every new depth of Dark, is inspired by the twofold choice of God and Conscience; and the climax is the eternal, substantial wedlock of Heaven and Earth, the Infinite and the created soul.

In mood, therefore, origin, method, and goal, Saint John’s progress differs radically from Tristan’s, a fact hard, perhaps, to appreciate save by some such comparison. The Carmelite goes from strength to strength, choice to choice; development, realization, the substantial, the permanent, the cosmic are his; disaster, despair, and death, the other’s. Tristan is a parody, a caricature, of the Reality; and if it be so beautiful, that well may be because the Real itself is so divine that no image, how little soever it resembles it, can yet be wholly hideous.

Is it possible to speak further? Is any love definable? The moment we analyze union, we annul it. And the most real is ever the most spiritual, therefore the most simple, therefore the least definable. A sort of chemistry of love’s psychic preparation, and even consequences, may be made, though successfully just in proportion as love fails from its perfection. But its essence remains timeless and imponderable. It may be known by personal experience, and, at second best, be recognized intuitionally (yet, even so, best by experience’s aid) in another, and so registered as present. And it may, if you will, be hymned by poet or seer. As for divine love, who shall cope with that? It is true that throughout Nature each several species, at its best, is so extraordinarily close to, though separate from, its immediate successor that the actual transition-line can barely be detected, and we can but say, This is on this side, this on that. And it is true that the natural, at its highest, is so exquisitely prepared for its elevation, with the minimum of shock, into the supernatural that again the moment of conversion escapes us, and while we say, This or that is “natural,” and Here is the supernatural, yet what that supernatural is, and how it transfuses without destroying all the rest, can never be adequately, even approximately, stated, either in thought or word. It is easy, then, to mark down in Saint John his unshaken base of common sense, Spanish, realist, robust; his trained logical faculty, of avail equally for rinsing out the sickly sweet of sentiment and for coercing the hasty, confused affirmations of generalizing intellect; his sensitiveness of emotional imagination; his audacity and enterprise; his white-hot human passion. But the moment when sense, imagination, thought, and will, are all of them caught up, harmonized, and re-souled, is what we never at all shall capture; and what, after all this was done, he was, that in no way can we define. It is time no more to discuss, but to adore.

For, after speaking of Saint John of the Cross in this particular way, may we hope at least this, that those even of us who are least able to follow him in any similar path to his may yet feel that they have been in contact with something vast, quite piercing through the limits of average life, and, while assuredly not ignorant of earth, at its most true home in Heaven? With a soul grown cosmic in the fullest sense, not commensurate, that is, with lands and seas, suns only, and stars, and operative as from some centre of a system; but become brother, yes, and father, in a full sense, of the sons of God, and energizing from that divine Heart of Life with which its self is wedded! True experience, nor revelation only, teaches us that indeed there is nothing common or unclean throughout. At times, doubtless, we feel a shock – we mix with the crowds . . . what meaning is there in talking of these people in connection with any Sacrifice or any Union with God? Our own soul at its hours has the awful flash of knowledge which shows it its own ramifying, poisoning selfishness, its colossal self-idolatry, or, again, its atrophy, paralysis, and poverty. Then the compensating shock shall come; in the intricate living web of some schoolboy’s soul, among the simple sins and strong honesties of, say, some Colonial soldier’s life, we suddenly see that which puts us on our knees; through our own skies we catch the flickering radiance of the veiled Face of God; and amid the chaotic mutterings of our thoughts we hear the whisper of wings, and in our heart the Spirit faintly singing. Saint John of the Cross surely was a man who knew to the full all human pain and loneliness; the futility of desire; the bitterness of success; the cruelty of beauty; the insatiable hunger for love returned, yet the agony of that return when life becomes too kind, and gives it. The limited! the transient! the illusion of that twilight wherein we hold to it, and the dark, dark empty night when we have let it go! Yet here, too, was a man who did indeed re-find it all, nor lose anything at all of its reality, but, better still, who could – for it is indestructible – lay hold of all that “good” which the Creator puts and sees within it, and appropriate it, and make it better still, and move in no new Heaven only, but a new earth.

Within his soul the Living Flame had become “no longer grievous”; its burn was sweet, its wound delicious: “by slaying Thou hast changed death into life.” The very senses live:

O Lamps of Fire,
In the splendour of which
The deep caverns of sense,
Dim and dark,
With unwonted brightness
Give light and warmth together to their beloved.

In the soul God “awakens,” and in the heart He “lies awake,” moving and yet not moving, and uniting the divinized soul to His totality of Life. Their consciousness is complete now and reciprocal, and in all the vitality of the human self God breathes.

Towards this mystery, done violence to by words, the Catholic’s soul, in which grace is, moves humbly, by obedience, and infallibly.

Upon God’s Holy Hills – Saint Bruno of Cologne, by Father Cyril Charles Martindale, S.J.

detail of the painting 'St Bruno' by Gaspar de Crayer, c.1655; York Art Gallery, York, North Yorkshire, EnglandCirca 1030-1101

In writing of the first Egyptian hermits, the conceit that they “ground” at the Christian “grammar” proved of service. To a modern ear at least theirs was not yet that song which the world aches to hear, however much their scattered outcry may have been unified and sweetened by heavenlier hearing into that “one clear chord” which strikes “the ear of God.” Nor, perhaps, are we quite alert to catch the music of that austere chant which rises from Carthusian cloisters. Their own inhabitants have confessed that it is hard enough to achieve its perfect harmony and rhythm.

“Thou hast been clinging,” wrote Guigo, the fifth Carthusian Prior, about 1130, “to one syllable of a great song, and art troubled when that wisest Singer proceeds in His singing. For the syllable which alone thou wast loving is withdrawn from thee, and others succeed in order. He does not sing to thee alone, nor to thy will, but to His. These syllables which succeed are distasteful to thee, because thou clingest to that one with which thou wast ill in love.”

Something of Saint Bruno’s hymn is to be listened for, not alone by his disciples, but by all whose ears are not too deafened by those noises from which he fled into the forests and the snows; and possibly the harsh outcry of the Egyptian deserts, and the grave music from the Alps, and, afterwards, the splendour of a Spaniard’s love-songs, winged in all but perfect poetry for God, may combine to express for us something which our hearts, too, may echo.


“There is something else here, and there always will be something else – something that the atheists will for ever slur over; they will always be talking of something else.” – Dostoevsky

When the hermit and monastic spirit poured from East into West, receptacles were best fashioned for it by Saint Benedict; and the Benedictine monasteries, gradually reinforced by the great cathedral schools, safeguarded and handed on the treasures of Greece and Rome, mingling with them the Christian belief and law, so that a triple culture made its way through what was to become a united Europe, and. in fact, created it. But culture has been proved again and again, to be useless if a spirit within it be lacking; and in the chaotic eighth and ninth centuries the monasteries themselves and the Episcopate degenerated, and came so low as to make hope for any future seem chimerical. But the immortal spirit within the Church leaps always forth into creative action, and reform and initiative witness to its working. It is no part of my intention to relate these, nor to describe that renaissance of monasticism, in particular, which is supremely associated with the names of Cluny, nor, again, with Citeaux and the development of the Cistercian Order in the hands of a Saint Stephen Harding or Saint Bernard. In any case Cluny and Citeaux were alike, and never pretended to be other than, Benedictine. But the spirit of the hermits, more strictly so called, had never quite died out. Its great renewal in Italy, at any rate, came through Saint Romuald of Ravenna, who founded the Camaldolese and other hermit communities.

He was born about 950, of noble blood, but in a terrible period, when even the good had to be of a half-savage virtue. His father had killed a rival, and Romuald entered a monastery for forty days’ expiatory penance. His endeavours to reform the monks whom he joined ended in a plot to murder him. After a few years he fled, and joined a Venetian hermit, Marinus, as a disciple. Together they would go for walks, singing psalms by twenties and thirties under the trees. Romuald could not read, and Marinus used to hit him over the head with a stick when he went wrong. Romuald ended by becoming deaf in his left ear, which Marinus hit, and asked to be struck henceforward on the right. With an Abbot from a monastery near Chalons-sur-Marne, and a Duke who had decided to escape retribution for his crimes by becoming a monk, the two hermits crossed into France, and there for a while lived in true Egyptian style. But hearing that his father had also become a monk, and was regretting it, Romuald was for returning to Italy. The neighbours, who prized their hermit, determined to kill him, so as to have his corpse, at least, for territorial protection. He pretended to be mad, shaved, and ate: they let him go. He walked to Ravenna, seized his father, tied his feet to a beam, and flogged him into a new conversion. The old man died soon afterwards; and Romuald now established himself in a Ferrara swamp, whence he emerged half poisoned, swollen, and perfectly bald, and “as green as a newt.” After this he travelled from place to place, trying to found communities of hermits, and finally established himself on Mount Sytrio in Umbria, where he created a group of solitaries, which all but proved permanent. When he knew he was to die, he had himself carried to a cell he had prepared, and, having turned out the two brothers who had assisted him, let himself die, “alone with the Alone.”

I have outlined the history of this Saint, which was written by the even fiercer-souled Saint Peter Damian, and is well eclipsed by that of the Mail-clad Dominic, Peter’s disciple, in order that the tremendous chasm between two interpretations of an ideal, bridged by Saint Bruno, may be the better gauged. His work, however, was less influential than Saint Bruno’s. Saint Bruno was born about 1030 in Cologne, possibly of that noble family of Hartefaust whose descendants profited, till not unrecently, by certain Carthusian privileges granted to them as, so to say, “Founder’s Kin.” He was quite young when he left for France, already the source of those mingled influences, intellectual and also moral – that is, “knightly” – which were for forming the European “Middle Age.” To Paris he never went, though possibly he listened to Berengar at Tours, and anyhow established himself at Rheims, where the cathedral school, already some two centuries in being, had risen to earlier and more splendid fame than Paris, and was then flourishing under the rule of Heriman. Bruno reached that level of success which the age could understand and praise; he on his side took on its colour so completely that there is little enough in his writings to distinguish them from anybody else’s. He returned to Cologne about 1055, and was, I think undoubtedly, ordained priest. He was appointed a Canon at Saint Cunibert’s, where most probably he had had his early schooling, and in 1056 was summoned back to Rheims to teach what he had learnt where he had learnt it. This gives, I suppose, the surest indication of his intellectual standing, for Rheims was by no means likely to put up with a second-best. He was Heriman’s right hand, till that scholar became a monk in 1057. Bruno succeeded him, and for twenty years ruled not only Rheims, but all the educational institutes of the diocese. His success was remarkable, and so were his pupils. It will be seen they did not forget him; and Rome itself was to summon to its councils the professor whom Urban II had learnt to value when, as Odo of Castiglione, he had sat under him at Rheims.

In 1075 he was transferred to a totally new sphere of action. He was made Chancellor of the Church of Rheims. The task was doubly distasteful. To uproot oneself from a professor’s chair and to enter upon practical and financial businesses must anyhow be difficult enough. Besides, he was under an Archbishop, Manasses I, who was a man of simony, violence, and barbaric pomps, and had openly rejoiced to become Archbishop, “since now he need no longer sing Mass.” Hildebrand himself had striven energetically with him. At the Council of Clermont, 1076, Bruno already brought up evidence against him; he reappeared at that of Autun, 1077, and Manasses was suspended. Manasses took a ferocious revenge, and then appealed to Rome. The records here are confessedly confused. At least, it is probable that Bruno did not return to Rheims, while in 1080 Manasses was finally driven out by a combined revolt of laity and clergy. Bruno meanwhile had revisited Cologne, and in 1080 or 1081 took now once more at Rheims the steps which so reset his life’s direction as to make him the Saint we know of.

There was enough, doubtless, in this broken and harassed career of professorate and chancellorship to incline a man to pessimism and despair of the world he lived in. Had he been a cynic, he might have half rejoiced when the clergy of Rheims who were for electing him for their new Bishop found themselves overruled by Henry IV, from whom Helinand of Laon bought the archbishopric for a heavy sum. Or again, an ambitious man, seeing a prize thus snatched from him, might have retired in disgust and petulance from the world’s huge cheat. But Bruno was to have plenty of chances later on, in Urban’s Court, to win a glittering and influential place. In reality, well before the climax of this quarrel, he had used the scandal of Manasses as an occasion for beginning to realize that ideal of solitude and contemplation he had long ago conceived. Already in 1077 he and his friends Raoul le Vert and Fulco the One-Eyed, Canons of Rheims, had vowed to renounce the world. Here, too, it had been a garden which was the place of their ecstasy, and, rising from the beauty of that green loveliness amid the huddled houses, like Augustine and his mother once at Ostia, they beheld the immortal glories which lie behind earth’s shadow-play. Not until this year, however, 1080, could the dream, never dissipated, be fulfilled.

Perhaps there can be nothing more impressive than the spectacle of that inner, personal life by which a man is living. All men have it. Beneath the plate-armour of bluff, behind which even the most frivolous-seeming hide from their own eyes and the world’s, what loneliness, what melancholies, what disgusts! And in the futile and degraded, the hopelessly unsuccessful in morals, in human intercourse, in lovableness, what secret efforts and hopes, what tentative affections! And in the hard and brilliant, what self-distrusts, what giddiness, as abysses yawn suddenly at their feet! Shall we say that in proportion as we get really close to the world’s non-descripts, its weaklings, we are approaching a vision of encouragement, even awe? And as we near the soul of the successful, the popular, and the four-square monarch of a man, we are preparing for ourselves an all but heartbreak of anxious pity?

But what puts us on our knees is the sight of a strong interior life within, and alien to, a strong outside activity; when, in a Bruno, successful as professor, and hard fighter in the world of men, affairs, and money, is revealed a soul aloof from all these things, wanting, all the while, something quite different – in tone, not with the crabbed dialectic of the classroom, nor with the fretful noises of courts and councils, but with the mountains, the woods, and the frozen stars of winter. This, not, as I said, through weakness, but through a width and depth of vision and a force of will, unable, quite, to submit to all these tyrannies. Is humility here? Is patience? That, for now, I do not ask. There is at least transcendence: there is something great, perhaps repellent. A gay book has been written with for hero a Don Juan of our days, and its title calls him, with evident relief, “One of Ourselves,” and delights to fancy that all men, after all, are pretty bad, and companions need never be hard to find, and we may all join kindred hands, be we but honest, in light loves and laughter. But it isn’t so. Some men are great, and don’t ask for that companionship; to none of that belongs, it well may be, the inner life of any man. It is that but few, like Bruno, not only do not shut their eyes to it, but liberate it, nurture it, and develop it to heroism.

Bruno did not easily find what he wanted. Like all these great initiators, he began by going deliberately to school, and put himself under Saint Robert at Molesme, and for a while was a monk there. But even Robert was to find it necessary to separate from that centre of diluted inspiration later on, and to found the Cistercians. Bruno went first, not unaccompanied, and remained for a while in the forests of Seche-Fontaine. He remained in affectionate union with Saint Robert; but, as ever, his paramount personality acted as magnet, and disciples not wholly to his liking began to gather round him, some from Molesme itself. Meanwhile the saintly Bishop of Grenoble, Hugh of Chateauneuf, had seen in a dream a church built to God’s glory in the Alps, and seven stars that lit the way to it; so, when Bruno with his six companions appeared before him, the Bishop found his dream to be a symbol, and welcomed him with awe, and offered them a dwelling at Chartreuse, an Alpine eyrie some four miles from Grenoble. There, among all but eternal snows, Bruno was by him established in 1084. In this terrible solitude Bruno achieved, for a while, his aim. He never meant to found an Order: he composed no rule. He had left city for town, town for forest, and forest for more inaccessible mountain, in search of solitude where he might “make his soul,” serve God, copy the Cross, and obtain that clear vision which the “multitude of business,” he had found, obscures. It is strange to see how slowly great Founders achieve their work, and after what modifications of ideal. Francis of Sales wanted to do a work almost like Vincent de Paul’s, yet his Visitation nuns are cloistered; Ignatius of Loyola but gradually, perhaps never, foresaw what his Jesuits were to be; Bruno assuredly had no notion of creating an Order which should be halfway between that of Camaldoli and the Benedictine, and should restore, almost accurately, the ideals of Saint Pachomius, and create a kind of new standard in Europe.

On this Alpine platform, more than three thousand feet above sea-level, the hermits built tiny cells, where at first they lived two by two. But that life of silence and solitude lends itself to no description of any startling interest. When you have said that the early Carthusians had no Rule, and but gradually formed “customs,” not formulated until Guigo, the fifth Prior; that they increased their isolation from each other by forming separate cells; that they met, not often, for singing Office, but prayed in solitude; that they ate but very little, went thinly clad in that most bitter cold, and studied much – the first Carthusians were all of them scholars, and their library became famous – you have said all that is substantial in their life.

This life Bruno and his friends pursued with much content and general goodwill for some six years. Then that call of obedience, to which all these idealists had schooled themselves to listen, broke in upon their silence. Urban II, who, as Odo of Castiglione, had been a disciple of Bruno’s at Rheims, regarded himself as heir of Gregory VII in all that related to reform. That this man of sagacity and determination resolved almost irnmediately after his elevation to the Papacy (1088) to summon Bruno to his assistance speaks more for Bruno’s personality, as revealed even during his professorial years, than even the call to the Chancellorship. Urban’s enemies were powerful enough; there was an anti-Pope, Guibert of Ravenna, and he had the Emperor for him. To this fiercer than any previous conflict Bruno went in 1090, followed at once by most, if not all, of his Community, panic-stricken at the idea of life without his visible example. The empty Chartreuse was entrusted to the Abbot of Chaise Dieu, though Bruno’s friend Landwin was made Prior of such monks as for a while stayed there. It was still protected by the affectionate care of Saint Hugh of Grenoble, who had become almost one of the Carthusians himself, so did he love their dwelling.

Even were there satisfactory records about the share which Bruno took in the Pope’s reforms, it would be undesirable to relate them here; for this is a sketch, not of the politics of his age, but of the hidden and contemplative ideal his life enshrines. Synods and councils crowded one upon another; disturbance, agitation, flights, would have driven a lesser man, in love with loneliness, to despair. Evicted from Rome, the Pope took Bruno with him to Calabria; at once the clergy of Reggio vote for him to succeed their dead Archbishop Arnulph. Urban and Duke Roger of Apulia favour the plan. Bruno escapes it by causing Rangier, another of his Rheims pupils, and now a Benedictine near Salerno, to be elected. The Saint implores the Pope to suffer him to return to solitude. The Pope grants half his prayer. He may re-establish his hermit life, but accessibly, near the Papal Court, ready for summons. Urban offered him the Church of Saint Cyriacus, in the Diocletian Baths at Rome, for refuge; Rome would not do: Roger, Great Count of Sicily and Calabria, and uncle of the Duke of Apulia, was for giving him his castle: castles would not serve. At last a place was found on the Duke’s estate, La Torre, in Calabria, a spot different in every way, save loneliness, from the Chartreuse of the Dauphine. In its radiant fields, round which the mountains put a crown of beauty, Bruno and his monks built themselves rough huts of wood, and in 1091 was inaugurated the Italian Carthusia. The role played by Hugh of Grenoble was repeated by Count Roger, and to both alike the title of “Founder” of the destined Order might well be given. Bruno was grateful to his benefactor, and visited him often; it was he who baptized, in 1097, his son Roger, afterwards King of Sicily. Count Roger himself, like Hugh, loved to spend leisure days with the monks, and built himself a lodge near their enclosure.

Undoubtedly Pope Urban, without realizing it, had been responsible for much by bringing Bruno to Italy. To start with, he had prevented the quite possible dying-out of the Carthusians in their cold Alps. Bruno never meant, as I said, to found an Order, nor expected to have survivors there. On the soil of Italy, however, not only did the little band of hermits survive, but it grew and had to divide into new groups. After La Torre, Our Lady’s hermitage, came the foundation of San Stefano, about a mile distant. In founding it, Bruno was perhaps directly influenced by the example of the Camaldolese hermits; for he meant it as a home for the weaker monks, the air of La Torre, though mild compared to that of the Alps, being still too sharp for some Italian constitutions. Herein, again, Urban had worked for wider than he knew. It was not nothing for Bruno to find in Italy a double current of eremitical ideal, that of Saint Romuald and his Camaldolese in the North, and the thinner yet sufficiently strong impetus given by the Greek hermit, Saint Nilus, in the South. In fact, another cloister, that of San Giacomo, given in 1099 by Count Roger to Saint Bruno, had actually been inhabited by Greek monks. Roger gave it to Bruno in thank-offering. He was, in 1098, besieging Capua, and a plot had actually been made to betray him into his enemies’ hands, when a dream about Saint Bruno warned him of his danger. He escaped, and, falling ill soon afterwards, was visited by Bruno, and made him this gift, as well as the lives of the traitors, for whom the Saint had interceded. It may be said, frankly, that the friendship of the two men is singularly beautiful, and Roger’s letters worthy of his character. He died on July 21, 1101. Urban had died in 1099, and Bruno’s world was emptying of his life’s associates. One joy, however, had been his. In the early autumn of 1100, Landwin, Prior of the reconstituted Chartreuse, visited him, and told him of the good estate of that house. Bruno sent back by him an admirable letter of encouragement and affection, which we would be glad to quote, if only to show his serenity of ideal, his firmness of thought, and his warmth of heart. Landwin was captured on his way home by Wybert, the anti-Pope, who imprisoned him, and so he died, praying for his enemy, who had himself died, however, one week earlier. The letter was carried back by Landwin’s companions to Grenoble.

Bruno himself was by now sick to death. The story of that death is the simplest. He gathered his brothers round him, thanked them, begged their pardon for his faults, and made a profession of faith, emphasizing in particular the Catholic doctrines of the Trinity and of the Real Eucharistic Presence, in regard, doubtless, of the heresies of Roscellin and Berengar which had vexed his period and his thoughts, and he affirmed the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. “I believe,” he concluded, “in the Resurrection of the Body, and in Eternal Life”; he received the Viaticum, and so died, October 6, 1101.

Whole districts flocked to the poor cloister where Bruno had dwelt lonely, and throughout Europe rolligers carried, and collected, the praise of him who had lived so silent.


The Carthusian Ideal

The Carthusian life, itself something of a hymn, half grand, half naive, like those old compositions of Saint Ambrose, recalls to mind two poems upon itself, by Matthew Arnold and Robert Louis Stevenson. Each poet seeks to rise superior to what he sees, even while it frankly awes him; yet each, when we probe to his innermost mood, is frankly melancholic, and this because each is in real truth pagan.

Of course, the melancholy is not merely within, but very much on the surface of the – after all – most respectable Matthew Arnold. In each (though very briefly, yet poignantly in Stevenson) is a keen appreciation of the natural beauties of the Grande Chartreuse and its environment: Arnold, despite himself, is still romantic. In Arnold, more culpably than it would have been in Stevenson, who always owned up most frankly when he didn’t understand what he saw, but did see straight, are careless lapses of observation. He imagines he can watch the monks “passing the Host from hand to hand.” And he certainly didn’t examine their library. He considers his faith, in opposition to theirs, “purged by vigorous teachers, who had seized his youth”; he had been taught to gaze on the high “white star of Truth,” as not Carthusians are; he contemplates them as some Greek might a runic stone, thinking the while of his own gods: “for both were faiths, and both are gone.” He is

Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest my head,
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.
Their faith, my tears, the world derides –
I come to shed them at their side.

To keep himself in countenance, he has to regard the Carthusians too as ghosts, unmanned men, half realities flitting between sheer nothingness and full-blooded life; they are, like himself, survivals – he, “last of the race of them who grieve”; they, last “of the people who believe.”

He has to set them beside himself, looking regretfully out at the life of action – he, spoilt for it by his corroding agnosticism, which yet is unable to find satisfaction in any hard and gay materialism; they, because they can’t help themselves either; they have grown into the shadows: their “bent was taken long ago”; Action and Pleasure call them “too late”; they beg not to be disturbed, but to be left in reverie, shade, and desert peace.

Well, we must allow that Matthew Arnold had to be melancholy, but really we can’t have him suggesting Carthusians are. It is perfectly true that ex-soldiers, ex-judges, excourtiers, ex-roués, are to be found in plenty within those cloisters; it is true, too, that they would say, looking back upon their old lives, that all that was, in a sense, “the vanity” which the ancient writer called it; but they wouldn’t allow that they had, by old experience or new self-oblation, lost anything. The gaiety of novitiates is proverbial, and the stricter the gayer; but that is emphatically not due to irresponsibility alone or even chiefly; a weight has indeed been removed, but that leaves a man freer and stronger to march, and gives him reasonable hopes of attaining. Really it is time that the old myth of cloisters filled with disillusioned men and jilted girls were given up. Postulants don’t go there out of pique, or to hide, or to pine, or to look backwards generally; but in the certainty of finding the positive, the substantial, and the stimulating. Nor are they packed with cheated boys, “cooked vocations,” anaemic and ignorant lads destined afterwards to look wistfully across grilles at banners and bugles, pomps and pleasures, too little appreciated to cause more than the mildest stirring of their atrophied instincts. Carthusians do not, 1 dare say, laugh much, but I know they can smile, and very humorously; and I fear they would be outright tempted to chaff the plaintive poet who came to beg permission to mingle his tears with theirs; the poet, lamenting that he had been forced to abandon much, and had got nothing in return; deploring even the high sacrifice and sorrows of others – a Byron’s, a Shelley’s, a Senancour’s, since no one was a bit the better for their effort and their pains. Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis. Sacrifice and sorrow are indeed, the Carthusians’ motto would confess, a world- abiding law; but they are quite sure that they possess a life, so expansive and transcendant and unitive that there is no room for repining. The Cross stretches arms wide to embrace the universe; the agnostic frets and dwindles within the circle of himself. Stevenson, temperamentally very different from Matthew Arnold, yet sees the monks from somewhat the same angle. Frankly they are skulkers. He, with all the spirit of life pulsating in his brain, passes too “out of the sun,” out of reach of lute and fife, rumour of world at large, and homelier realm of “confidences low and dear.” There, at “Our Lady of the Snows,” he finds the “unfraternal brothers,” “aloof, unhelpful and unkind, the prisoners of the iron mind” –

Poor passionate men, still clothed afresh
With agonizing folds of flesh;
Whom the clear eyes solicit still
To some bold output of the will.

Fancy and Memory conspire to call them, and him, “to heroic death,” or to “uncertain fresh delight.” To the “uproar and the press,” to “human business,” to laughter, honour, fight and failure and new fight, he summons them from their “prudent turret and redoubt.” God, spying from Heaven’s top “the noble wars” of mankind, shall like enough “pass their corner by” –

For still the Lord is Lord of might,
In deeds, in deeds, He takes delight.

The plough, spear, ship, city; the streets, the fields; the climber, the songster; the unfrowning “Caryatides” who by their “daily virtues,” weak enough, no doubt, yet “under-prop” high Heaven; trade, marriage, motherhood; the sowers of gladness – these He will approve.

But ye! O ye who linger still
Here in your fortress on the hill
With placid face, with tranquil breath,
The unsought volunteers of death,
Our cheerful General on high
With careless looks may pass you by.

I may be allowed to acknowledge my immense admiration for Stevenson. By experience I know how all of him stimulates, from his astonishing style to his inner breadth of mind; from his sheer story-telling power to his subtle penetration of motive and registration of emotion; his breeziness, his reverence, his tenderness, and his remorseless irony; his humanness and his triumph over weakness of body and of instinct; for whose pages are at once clearer-sighted and cleaner than are his? Not Dickens’s, often maudlin; not Scott’s, clumsy often; not, surely, Thackeray’s. Yet the author of Jekyll and Hyde, of the New Arabian Nights and of The Dynamiter, knew most certainly what fear meant, and what corruption, and was not ignorantly victor. How was it, then, that he missed, all through, that spiritual element which would have given a fourth dimension to the world he loved so? Which would have shattered his horizons, and put meaning alike into fight and future? Was his adoration of strength, of doing things, of sheer conflict almost for its own sake, at any rate without seeing its “why,” due in part to the superb vitality and appetite of his soul, housed in a body incapable of responding? The weak in body are constantly on their knees before any great strength; and when the body is relatively quelled by valiant soul, that psychic discipline, the relentless cult of that “chill virtue,” cheerfulness, again and again will but intensify the mirage, redouble the illusion, and add enormous power to the attraction of sheer material force. A singular consequence, but undoubtedly to be recognized, not rarely. The pagan may conquer weakness, but he can’t manage it. Only Christ knew what to do with the maimed and the halt; only Catholic priests, the war has proved anew, can cope with the sinner and the dying. Not but what this grimly smiling fighter had his moments of sick horror. He never expected quite to succeed at all; had he succeeded at all? Memory brought back, to the consumptive in Samoa, that “bonnie boat,” speeding, like a bird on wing, over the sea to Skye; he sailed it once: was it really he? “All that was good, all that was fair, all that was me, is gone.” And the present could be deadly, too. So much tenacity, despite the stark truth, to the “half of a broken hope,” has scarcely ever been seen as that which he reveals in his “Lord, if this were enough.” He sees human nature stripped and filthy; and has to be mauled even to the earth, and rise again to fight “for the shade of a word,” trusting that somehow the right must be right. The world isn’t by any manner of means a good fight, all of it! At the root of his mind, Stevenson is sad. Are we harsh in calling this great man a pagan? Not if we do not think contemptuously of pagans! Not if we honour and admire the “perfect pagan” as the flower of God’s natural creation. But what is lost if we believe in super-nature too? We reverence Stevenson’s immense self-discipline. Why should not he do homage to those who were his brothers in ascesis, fellow-athletes, happier than he, not because they experienced less of temptation, but because they had a vision of the reason of temptation, of the goal of effort, and a humble consciousness of help? Why, the very student has to cut himself off one sort of life in order to become an expert in mind-things: he makes a bad practical politician; and the professional athlete is rarely an artist. Perhaps departmentalism is a pity, but some specialists there needs must be; and medicine is careful not to confuse its role with surgery’s; and we pay astonished homage to science when it is modest enough to keep off ground that is philosophy’s. Were, then, the Carthusians no more on the spiritual plane than Stevenson on the psychic, we dare not quarrel with them, unless we indeed proclaim the dogma that there is no spiritual plane and no one must try to be an expert there: then indeed the Charterhouse must raise its cry for liberty. No; even setting aside the profoundest aspect of their life, the essential value of prayer, the supreme rights of contemplation, and the expiatory value of Christ-uniting penance, I would say that for sheer discipline of thought, for width and height of view, and for true serenity – after all, Stevenson’s was a torturing cheerfulness – the Carthusians move far loftier than the man who not alone respects the “daily virtues,” but, to justify his worship of them, declares there are no others.

But, briefly, on this critic’s chosen terrain, I would say that Saint Bruno’s monks proved downright more useful to our history than ever they could have been as professors, lawyers, barons, and Bishops. I believe that the truths they stood for, and that order of value among truths which their heroic life emphasized as nothing else could do, saved Europe better than did the careful and discreet librarian, the honest, tentative physician, the prudent churchman, and the domesticated knight, assuming that there were any. Suppose they had all been Bishops like Hugh of Grenoble, and Popes like Urban II? But they drew their spiritual energy, they felt, in preponderant measure, precisely from the example and the prayers of Bruno. Saint Louis, later, felt the stronger to do justice because he was a tertiary of Saint Francis; the wisest, now, of our most active workers rely wholeheartedly on the prayers of children and of nuns. Nor let it be said that nowadays, at least, Carthusians are out of place. Principle and order have fled from our unlucky land. We turned them out three centuries ago. Of squandered emotion we have plenty, though the years of the “decadents” have passed. Of tumultuous thinking we have a sufficiency, and of restless energy how very much! Even among Catholics the passion for external energy, to which they had so long been disaccustomed, is widely noticeable, and admirable, too, provided the multitude of the business does not eclipse the vision, but is chastened and made orderly and put into perspective thereby.

“How glad I am” – if I may venture to quote what was said by one to whom I had named the three Saints of whom I have here written – “that you are saying something about people who never did anything.” Well . . . there are deeds and deeds. At least this much is true; not in just any deeds God “takes delight,” but in motived deeds – in the deeds that an intention may be; in much that the sick writer scorned as mere inertia; and most certainly He will overlook half of that to which the exile peered wistfully back, and could not see to be but wasted output.

A strength goes forth, and has gone forth for nearly a thousand years, from those Alpine cells, which denies roundly the whole premises of our well-loved writer’s poem.

The Carthusians are not, then, what these two poets imagine them to be. Is there not, however, a real affinity of mood between them and the later Stoics of the Roman Empire, with whom at any rate their literary self-expression seems to mark close sympathy? Stoicism loved to see the world as a complete expression of that ultimate force which was justly to be called God; it was His uttered word, and all lesser forms were its syllables, or even its lonely letters. That tremendous Word spoke the full harmonious praise of that God whom it made visible, and he who would praise God properly must be in harmony with it, and not with its dislocated parts. Hence, not only obedience to its laws, but love of them, was a wise man’s privilege: love, too, not of the whole only, but of each tiny and tinier point of it – of slaves, of the rich, of the mean folk round about him. All were, or might be, citizens in God’s great city. Self-subordination; renouncement of all pride, all fighting for one’s own hand; serenity in pleasure and in pain; flight from distraction and temptation when you could not conquer it; discipline of the will, until it coincide wholly with the current of Divine Necessity which guides us; Will governed by thought, each in submission to the Universal Law, that is what issued into the best – and, at times, most joyful – in a Seneca, a Marcus Aurelius, or an Epictetus. Such, then, was the ideal.

Guigo, the fifth Prior of the Carthusians, left behind him, not his “Customs” only, but some Meditations. From these I take a few sentences, none of which you would be surprised to capture upon Stoic lips.

He begins by riveting your mind to the thought of sheer Truth. “Without form or comeliness, and fastened to a cross, Truth is to be worshipped.”

(Truth must be told, not to hurt or please, but for its own sake.)

You would not tell a man the truth unless you thought it unpalatable? Perversity! But you do worse when, to please a man, you speak a truth which delights as much as lies and flattery would. Through this stripped Truth lies Peace. Peace found in temporal things is as fragile as they are: seek angels’ peace, not brutes’. So, if you ask for peace, seek truth; and the beginning of that search is war on falsity. For this nothing is more serviceable than self-blame and self-contempt. “Whoever does this for thee is thy helper.” “When anything good is said of thee, it is but a rumour as concerning which thou knowest better.”

Yet this self-discipline is but the emancipation from self-torture. It is entanglement in perishable things which is the cause of all our tears and fears. “Easy is the way to God, since it goes by laying down burdens. Thou dost unburden thyself in proportion as thou dost deny thyself.” In this is no false hatred of creation. “All matters which are called adverse are so only to those who love the creature rather than the Creator.” Yet so rigorously universal must ordered love be that u whoever wishes another to show special love toward him (i.e., at the expense of his neighbour or of God) is a robber, and an offender against all. … So far as in thee lies, thou hast destroyed all men, for thou hast put thyself between them and God, so that, gazing on thee and ignoring God, they might admire and praise thee alone.” “In hope thou mayest cherish the unripened grain; thus, love those who are not yet good. Be such toward all as the Truth has shown itself to be toward thee. Just as it hath sustained and loved thee for thy betterment, so do thou sustain and love men in order to better them. Who loves all will be saved without doubt; but who is loved by men will not because of that be saved.”

“The poverty of thine inner vision of God, blind as thou art, for He is ever there, makes thee willing to go out of doors from thine own hearth, refusing to linger within thyself, as being in the dark. So thou hast nothing to do but go gaping after the external forms of bodies and the opinions of men. May God be merciful to thee, that the feet of thy mind may find no resting-place, so that somehow, O soul, thou mayest, like the dove, return unto the Ark.”

Nearly all of this, and its source, were it not for the strong infusion of Saint Augustine – and this affects it only here and there – reminds one almost disconcertingly of the “religionized” Stoicism of the Roman Empire. Now, first and foremost this bears witness to the extraordinary vitality of civilizing ideas, as “canalized” by the monasteries and schools. After all, that crowning phase of Stoicism came at the end of a civilization. It was scarcely astonishing, as a result of a philosophy including so much good from the outset, tested by centuries of experience, and “emotionalized” by recurrent imperial persecution. But that after chaotic centuries, after the degradation of so much that made the “body” of the Christian religion, at the head of a new era, unparalleled, perhaps, in creative impetus and spiritual triumph, these ideas should be found as strong, more pure, and so similarly stated, is a perfect revelation of the work of the Christian spirit, and is a tremendous encouragement. In particular, it designates a permanent debt civilization owes to France. She alone, in the early Middle Ages, disseminated ideas. What followed was largely the disciplining of Teuton emotions by French thought. We have been taught to think poorly, if at all, of what was going on between those old cathedral schools and in the cloisters. But a life was going on, capable of sudden self-manifestation as lofty and powerful as the best which had preceded it. (“The best”; I speak quite roughly: yet I believe that in a true human sense that Stoicism was at least as useful as, say, that far more mystical and dangerous phenomenon, Neo-Platonism; and as for Aristotle, Aquinas was very soon to reinstate by equalling and even transcending him).

Yet, in spite of all similarities, a difference of principle leads to a gulf between the serenity of the Stoic and the Carthusian peace. Each was enabled to take a universal view: to be well above the tyranny and war of immediate circumstance; each caught a tremendous harmony in what to so many is but silence. But, for the Stoics, this did indeed issue directly into the Stoic pride; the self-sufficient man was their ideal; he was “cosmo-centric,” yet essentially “auto-centric”; his very toleration, his gentleness, his sympathy, was more than half contempt. In his journey towards this ideal, his self-knowledge tended inevitably to melancholy. “I see what I should be; I see what I fain would be; probably I can’t be that, any more than my fellowmen can be what they should be. At best I can submit to the world-force: willy-nilly I must, in the end, reach the goal to which it sweeps; meanwhile, this world is a sorry place, and I but a poor creature. Best that I should draw my skirts together, lest they be sullied and then soil that relatively wise and noble self I have so painfully emancipated.”

In the Carthusian monk is a humility of mind not found in those Emperors, statesmen, and professors. Christ took up human nature, “not despising it”; while human perfectibility was not, the monk well knew, in himself or in his fellows; his “sufficiency was of God”; on Him he concentrated, well certain that should he move towards that Centre, his brother, and this ungoverned, undirected society as a whole, must, involved by his strong tendency, move thither likewise. Not isolation, nor yet personal supremacy, was his ideal; but a gathering of himself and his world towards their God.

And we are carried back to what is almost a platitude, yet no more so, perhaps, than all essential truths. The Stoic idea of God was not that of the Christian. When those philosophers wrote most beautifully about God’s Fatherhood, of God as a Pilot, as Friend, as Lover of His world, they knew quite well that they were but “condescending,” using a language not only metaphorical, still less fully “analogical,” as we would say, but positively dangerous and apt to mislead. Of the ultimate force in things, that which is in – or is? – the world, which by absolute intrinsic necessity draws it to its end, they knew nothing save that it was inevitable. The human will, chained like a dog beneath a cart, might struggle and strain, but none the less must go whither the Driver drove. It can only lessen the pain of that journey; and who the Driver was, and what his goal, not the Stoic might tell you. In the Carthusian mind the Christian idea of God was total master: and for full personal revelation, he had Christ; and for method – well, once more, before his eyes he held the Cross, steady above the whirl of life, unshaken by crash of systems or by death.

The Stoic, because he thought more than the Cynic, reached a sweeter and more universal freedom; but than either did the Carthusian attain to a more positive, more active, more optimistic, more expansive and established peace. And active peace is, I dare say, some sort of description of true Heaven.

In singling out, thus, certain aspects of the Carthusian ideal, I have not, of course, for any moment imagined I was giving an adequate account of this mode of life, or its history, or of the monastic ideal in general. The Theology of the ascetic life is quite firm-knit, and rooted in the authentic revelation of Christ and in words of His hard to be, save willfully, misconstrued. I have hoped to disengage three elements, mainly: First, the personal function and even the strong lovable personality of Saint Bruno, and its importance as a down-right civilizing factor in European history. Second, the tremendous discipline of thought which he reinstated, which was assisted and led up to by his way of life – for nothing can be more perverse than to regard his, or allied, ways of life as primary, and claiming, as an end in themselves, subordination of thought and will. Finally, that all this current within Christianity sets, not towards annihilation, but construction; not renunciation, save temporary and of the less, but attainment of the more in every lasting way; is not pessimistic, but hopeful; not selfish, but social; not separatist, but knitting into one the soul, the world, and God.

Upon God’s Holy Hills – Saint Anthony of Egypt, by Father Cyril Charles Martindale, S.J.

detail of a fresco of Saint Antony, 17th century, artist unknown; in the church of Ayioi Apostoloi Solaki, Athens, Greece, and was photographed on 14 July 2015 by C messierCirca 250-356

Hermits, if they occur to the modern mind at all, do so, presumably, in the guise of mild old monks, living, no one quite knows how, in mossy caves, equipped with a knowledge of simples and the stars. A dog, an hour-glass, an enormous hat, lend sometimes a touch of quaint and blameless humour to the romantic scene. Such is the picture which Chateaubriand or Wordsworth paints. Far nearer to the truth are those still conventional prints of the seventeenth or of the eighteenth century, showing a fiercer generation, oak-men, gnarled and knotted, hard as the desert stones they live among, clothed only in skins or cactus-coats. And the fantastic note is there. You see them chained and loaded with huge weights; peeping from tombs; hanging in tubs; perched, like storks, on slender pillars; above all, haunted by goblins of the most attractive sort.

I would like to ask what this strange race of men once stood for, appearing, scores of thousands strong, in the middle of our fourth Christian century, swarming by Nile and by Euphrates, populating the caverns of Palestine and Syria, and at last invading Europe. Why did they appear? Into what did they vanish or develop? Were they, so to speak, but a passing paroxysm of the human spirit? or are we today in any sense their heirs? And is the world different now, for worse or better, because they, long ago, were in it?


And Moses said unto Joshua: Fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’s hands were heavy, and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side and the other on the other side: and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek. – Exodus 17:9-13

Christ said: Pray without ceasing. And the history of Christians shows that, whatever else they did, they have always prayed. An unpraying Church has never been seen or known. But there have always been men and women who have made explicit prayer a marked and special part of their life, and have deliberately tried to remove what hampered it. In the earliest days of Christianity such people did not separate themselves, however, from their homes. A bright air of happy holiness breathed through the first century – holiness was at least understood, even when not practiced. The early Church was in no sense all Saints, but no one was astonished at the triumphs of the Spirit. Worship was easy. But as Christianity spread, and absorbed the masses, the level of holiness naturally sank. There were mixed marriages; brothers might be pagan whose sisters were Catholics; there were Christians in high government or municipal positions, skilled in compromise and reticence, obliged to consider the feelings of others and their own careers; there were enough to say they must not be behind the fashion of the times; there were those proud to take the lead in worldliness; Christians fought, at times, for their own great offices, and the pagan Praetextatus used jestingly to say he would at once become a Christian if Saint Jerome would promise him he should be made Pope.

When, upon this gathering impetus to worldliness, a persecution like that of Decius, about 250, scattered the Egyptian Christians into the deserts, there were not a few who found this enforced emancipation from society grow so sweet that they prolonged their exile, or at least loved to live outside great towns, not in them; apart, too, from their families, when these once more were swept away in the bad old current. These men and women formed, however, no organized groups, and their exodus cannot be called a movement, nor a general force, acting on their period or the future.

This was when Saint Anthony was born. He was an Egyptian, and at eighteen or twenty inherited his parents’ not inconsiderable wealth. As for Saint Francis in a later age, Christ’s words, “Go, sell all that thou possessest,” struck home to him. He made over his three hundred acres of lucrative Egyptian soil to the poor of his own village; and again, thrilled by the injunction to take no heed for the morrow, gave away his moneys and retired to the outlying territory, where he might meet with like-minded men and study eternal things. So it was neither flight from cruel tyrants nor seductive world, precisely, which first drove him to the wilderness, but sentences from those Scriptures with which all these men were saturated. The impressionable boy, knowing his temperament to be all of moods, attached himself as disciple to an experienced old man, and thus weathered the reactions of melancholy and discouragement, and the feverish ambitions, and the rebellions, proper to his age.

For fifteen years he lived a life of study and austerity among the great Egyptian tombs, achieving, too, that intimate knowledge of the human soul given to those only whose own soul has revealed its infinite capacities of good and ill, and has in all alike been governed. At last he felt even this discipline insufficient. He found a dismantled fort on the banks of the Nile, destined to become the monastery of Pispir – today Der el Memun; and though the ruins were horrible with serpents, he remained unharmed, blocking his door, and receiving every six months a load of bread, which, with a few dates, was his food during some twenty years, a fact well vouched for and not hard to parallel. At the end of this time his friends, who periodically visited him, still found him hale and hearty.

He had, however, become a magnet for the solitaries, who trooped from near and far to consult him, and formed, at last, a colony around him. He finally left his seclusion and organized, to some extent, these crowds; and even, when persecution broke out afresh, went with several friends to help the Alexandrian Christians, visiting their prisons and the Sudan mines where they were kept at labour, defying the pagan authority with much aplomb; yet, such was the chaotic administration of that distracted province, he was never himself arrested. Perhaps his reputation already made it not worth the risk. After five or six years of relatively external and active life, he ascended the Nile in search of greater solitude, and crossed the desert to a mountain ridge confronting the Red Sea. Here his monastery, Der Mar Antonios, is still surviving.

He established himself upon this mountain, and softened, it would seem, his austerity somewhat, since he cultivated enough ground near his cell to supply him with his minimum of food. Moreover, his external activity was considerable and regular. Not only the monks pilgrimaged to him, carrying water for the way on camels, but he descended periodically to visit and preserve in due order the monks of the lower desert, who had assembled there in thousands. But the links which bound them to one another were of the loosest. There were no specific vows, and individual tendencies had the freest scope. It is true that in the inner Nitrian desert, called the Cells, where this type of monachism is seen in its perfection, the type of life was purely eremitical. Outside they lived by twos, threes, or even more. On Sundays they met for common worship in an enormous church. In the enclosure round this church were three palm trees, and on each hung a whip. The first was to chastise monks ‘who sinned through wantonness’; the second for brigands who might fall upon the place; the third for strangers who flocked there and transgressed in any way whatsoever. The strangers, however, continued to flock, and had a hostelry of their own, where they could stay as long as they liked, only, on week-days, they had to work in bakery, or refectory, or at weaving flax. In the evening they had to go to the prayers and psalms, which went up so loud “that a man might imagine, his soul being exalted, that he was in the Paradise of Eden.” Anthony’s influence radiated far, however, beyond the monastery of Pispir, and even beyond Egypt. At Tabennisi, near Denderah, Saint Pachomius inaugurated in 318 a new style of monachism, highly centralized, with Superior-General, visitations, chapters, and the like, and with organized work as an integral part of its system: gardening, carpentry, iron-work, basket-making, dyeing, tanning, cobbling, calligraphy, and the like, had each its special department and staff. He set a moderately high level of life, obligatory upon all, but which each might surpass if he so felt able. Thus, dinner was served at midday for those who could fast no more, and thenceforward, hour by hour, for those who could hold out longer!

This fully coenobitic life has less in common with Saint Anthony’s semi-eremitic system than, say, the Carthusian has, though it flowed from it, and became much more normal and was perfected in the Middle Ages. Meanwhile Saint Hilarion, who had visited Anthony about 310. inaugurated monachism in Palestine; and Mar Agwin, in 325, in Mesopotamia and Syria. This was where, owing to local tradition and instinct, the more fantastic forms of asceticism developed, such as violent bodily penances, rarely read of in Antonian literature; chained Saints, tub-Saints, pillar-Saints; Saints who never sat down, or never turned to this point or that of the compass.

Saint Simeon of the Pillar, a northern Syrian, is no myth. He first established himself on a sort of masonry platform, some six or nine feet high, and ascended successively higher pillars, till he finally spent thirty years, exposed to all weathers, on a building fifty or sixty feet high, to which access was had only by ladders. The top was fenced round, and two of his disciples found room there when he was dying. It is doubtful whether he was visible outside the walls of his enclosure. He found, perhaps, inspiration from the use to which the Asiatic pillar-tombs were put, squat buildings ten or twenty feet in height, with the tomb at the top, say six feet by four. The Harpy Tomb in the British Museum is such a tomb, and has probably been inhabited by a Christian hermit. However, Syria had seen pillar-ascetics even in pagan times, and Lucian describes, in his treatise on the “Syrian Goddess,” those tall columns on which her priests would stand, sleepless, for seven days, surrounded by devotees. They sent up to them by another priest, who climbed them “as men climb palm-trees,” offerings and requests for oracles. It remains that Saint Simeon’s reputation and influence were enormous. He, like Saint Anthony, lived in touch with Emperors, and was consulted by politicians, judges, and generals, and actively combated the philosophical heresies of his day. Both were men of shrewd judgment, and, from the tops of pillars and mountains, gained a fairly comprehensive view.

Saint Anthony died after forty-five years upon his Red Sea ridge, aged one hundred and five, his sight and hearing unimpaired, and all his teeth sound in his head. Saint Athanasius, who loved him, and perhaps felt himself something of a Joshua beside this Moses, wrote his life, an event of very far-reaching consequences.

For the moment, I would say that Anthony is a perfectly “alive” and strongly featured personality. It used to be the fashion to declare that no one really wrote the books everyone supposed they had, and a learned fad even to deny that persons of supreme importance had really lived. Scholars have pleasantly surmised not only that Athanasius never wrote the “Life of Anthony,” but that whoever did invented him tout d’une pièce; and that the “Great Man” was, as completely as King Arthur, Buddha, or Abraham, not to mention other more sacred names, a mere hero of romance. A witty Bishop proved, quite as conclusively, that Napoleon was a solar myth; and Dom E. C. Butler, O.S.B., has done more than any one man else to restore credit to the whole Antonian literature, and no one should do more, now, than draw amusement from these critics. We feel in touch with Anthony; we visualize him more easily than his contemporary Emperors, or than many a medieval King or all but modern statesman.

Had I to circumscribe, in a word, that characteristic of Anthony which seems the most impressive, I should say dignity. Dignity is theirs who are strong and gentle. It fails in the sturdy hustler; in the bully, the muscular lazy lout, or professional strong man; in those tornado folk who carry all before them, and do a day’s business so as to leave a six weeks’ task of clearing up to their subordinates. It fails, too, in the merely sympathetic, the cozener or cajoler, the “delightful creatures” who expect to get their way because you are to succumb to them. It fails, again, in the prim; the pattern of propriety; the correct person whose position in the world is certainly assured, because he has behind and around him the enormous mass of the expected, of comfortable custom, who does not shock nor challenge. Pomposity may be there, a smug sufficiency, but not dignity. You may have found a personage, but in none of these cases true personality. It was by force of personality, you feel, that Anthony was conqueror, which caused him instantly to be singled out, unknown before, among the flocking monks; which enthralled thousands, not into admiration only, nor homage, but positive, chosen, difficult thought and action; which caused his portrait to be everywhere in Rome, he yet alive; and altered lives throughout an Empire of different races and instincts, and throughout centuries still unfinished. And this man fled publicity, and yet sought no mystic halo; lurked within no cocoon of myth; denied himself complete invisibility, like the unseen Persian King’s, almighty in his solitude. Anthony, when he did appear, mixed with his monks in absolute simplicity. He gave himself no “airs.” A dignity which requires a prop is no dignity at all. A teacher who fears to recognize he was mistaken; a professor who pretends rather than acknowledge ignorance; a demonstrator who “fakes” experiments sooner than risk an unsuccess: these are the weaklings – unsure men, undignified in the process of their fraud, and heading for the supreme humiliation of being found out. For men’s eyes are sharp, and those not least of the uninstructed, the simple folk, the “layman.” Someone is bound to cry out that the Emperor has no clothes on; and the world laughs, and the great pretense collapses. Anthony, then, was strong, and had the simplicity of his strength. He has nothing to fear from his generation or our own.

With this, as I said, went gentleness – not softness. Giants are often soft, and many a stalwart lad has nothing of a constitution. True gentleness has to go with complete manliness, and you may play, if you like, with the word “gentleman.” The monks, in their chronicles, are habitually called athletes, and their doings described in terms taken from the wrestling-ring. Yet, just as Anthony’s gravity was not morose, nor his austerity gloom, so his robust training was never brutal, nonchalant, or clumsy. There is, indeed, a tolerance – better, a tenderness – in the anecdotes which cluster round him; a delicate understanding of human nature, which prove that his heart was great, not only to endure, but to embrace; his virility not rigidity; his other-worldly ardour not incompatible with an adaptable method well in place in any man of affairs; a graciousness, intolerable in the second-rate or snob, but to be looked for in a right splendid “gentleman,” as we still can say, who has no need, as no taste, to condescend, but respects those from whom he rightly claims respect; and a loyal affection – in fact, a warmth of love – justly to be sought in one who names himself Christ’s follower. There is a lovable story, restored to notice by Dom Cuthbert Butler, in which all these characteristics are hinted at, together with a crisp touch of humour, which, quite unexpectedly, perhaps, goes crackling through that better than the “Arabian Nights,” the “Lausiac History,” by Palladius.

Eulogios, struck by a passion for immortality, deserted the world’s hubbub. But he grew lonely, and seeing a man crippled of hand and foot, though glib enough of tongue, made pact with God that he would take and tend the beggar till he died, and through him be saved. The cripple throve for fifteen years, and then fell sick. Eulogios bathed, fed, and cured him. With convalescence came temper. The cripple railed at his benefactor, adding to a string of insults, and for climax, “You want to get yourself saved by means of me! Put me in the market-place. I want meat.”

Eulogios gave him meat. “No; put me in the market-place. I want the crowds. Oh, put me where you found me.”

Eulogios grew serious. “Am I to cast him forth? But God and I have given our right hands. Or keep him? But to me he gives bad days and nights.”

He consults his friends. “Both of you go to Anthony.”

Now, Anthony, when men called on him, had had them announced as from Egypt or Jerusalem, according as their quest was frivolous or sincere, and treated the former courteously but briefly, and the latter with long care. “Which,” said he, as the pair approached, “are these?” “A mixture,” said Macarius, his secretary. Eulogios entered first. To him, Anthony said, in grave and austere voice: “Thou wouldst cast him forth? But He who made him casts him not forth at all. Thou wouldst cast him forth? But God hath raised up the Fairer One than thou to gather him.” Then to the other: “O crooked soul and crippled! cease thy fight with God! Knewest thou not it was Christ who served thee? To Christ thou speakest thus? For Christ’s sake Eulogios has made himself thy slave.” He bade them affectionate farewell, and the two went home friends, and died within three days of one another.

Altogether, Saint Anthony recalls the colossal figures of the Patriarchs: the grave beauty of an Abraham, father of God’s folk; Moses, holding up hands of prayer above the battling Israel; eagle-eyed prophets, and psalmists strong to praise, proclaim, and worship. And all alike are utterly in tone with that grand East of theirs: fierce at its hours, grim with sand and rock in the ruthless noon-time, yet flaming or melting into unimagined loveliness of colour in the quick rising and setting of the day. There are moments of the dawn when no daffodil nor primrose is more splendid or more delicate than are those mountains, and their shadowed chasms are as subtle as the violet, and the sky more pure than any speedwell’s blue. And again no carnation and no cornflower can glow more gorgeous than those same ridges and that sky, and, at another moment, the whole world grows translucent, like the ruby, the amethyst, or “Oriental sapphire,” or John’s apocalyptic gold. So rich a grandeur is to be observed, by no mere fanciful enthusiasm, in these great men of South and East; so superb a figure, so firm, yet so various and so lovable, shows Saint Anthony upon his Red Sea mountain.

Note – Are we to look to this affinity with the Old Testament for a partial explanation of the love these early monks displayed fcr the concrete, the materialistic example, and the acted parable? Jeremiah, Isaiah, even Ezekiel, recur at once to mind. Monks come to ask Saint Anthony whether they must welcome pilgrims or rebuff them. Anthony retires, reappears in rags, sits down, and says no word. He again retires, comes back in feast-day gear, and sits silent. A third time he withdraws, and returns in his wonted dress. “Look! am I different because my clothes are? Even so, come one, come all, come none, be equable within yourselves; kind to all; at peace in a crowd, at peace alone.” By their real selves they must live. Thoughts, temptations, instantly visualize themselves. He journeys through a desert; he thinks of wealth. Forthwith a silver bowl appears by the roadside. He recognizes a temptation, and the bowl vanishes. In fine, he sees to right and left the demons who are tempting him, herein passing beyond the Gospel’s hint, which says, “Satan hath bound her,” “We are Legion,” but does not show the spirits. Allowing for the sheer element of romance, these stories from the desert are full of sound psychology and moral value. Nathaniel swears never to leave his cell. The Devil jeers at him, and off Nathaniel goes. After this the Devil, “dressed like a Roman huntsman,” slings stones round the runaway’s new cell. Nathaniel, annoyed, extracts the confession that this is he who cajoled him out of his old cell, and will get him out of this one too. Rather cleverly, he does indeed leave the new cell, only, however, to return to the old. The Devil changes tactics and will make vice of virtue. Certain Bishops visited Nathaniel – “now they were all holy men” – and on their departure the monk, grown obstinate, refused to escort them even for one step. “Dost thou possess the faculty of pride,” grumbled their servants, “that thou wilt not accompany the Bishops?” “I died once for all to my lords the Bishops and to all the world. I have a secret.” And he remained indoors. The Devil, not satisfied, took the shape of a young man, and knocked. “My ass has fallen. Come out to help me, lest the hyenas slay us.” “Now, there were many hyenas in the place.” Nathaniel could not be sure if this were God’s voice, or a sign that his will had reached its limit. He prayed and cried: “If thou needest help, God will send it; if thou art a temptation, be thy fraud discovered.” Herein charity mated with determination. The Devil was shamed, and took the shape of a whirlwind and the form of wild asses which dance about and skip. “This is the triumph of blessed Nathaniel, and this his labour and his ending!”

Sometimes the very romances are delightful, as when the holy man Makarios went to find the magic garden of the desert, and fixed, at every mile, a reed in the ground, sign-posts for return. And the Devil pulled them all up; and when Makarios was one mile from his destination he found them, on awaking, all in a bundle under his head. This was to teach him to trust the God of the Pillars of Fire and Smoke. Incidentally, when he did reach the garden, through a cloud of devils who came out in the shape of ravens, there was nothing there but a dried well with rusted bucket, and a few pomegranates shrivelled by the sun.


The author I have quoted, a man of remarkable intuition and much freedom from mere formula, writes of Ruysbröck what well maybe said of the early monastic life in the mass. Unfortunately, one’s vulgar sense is always flicked, earliest, by the startling and exaggerated; and it is difficult not to see first of all, in this curious page of history, precisely what is least substantial in it – namely, the pillars, the tubs, the tricks of demons: the abnormalities, in short. Even when we try hard to replace the torn-out page in its proper position at the head of the fourth or fifth chapter of a volume well in the middle of a series, it is not, alas! the immediate context which first comes to our help, that we may understand it. We think with difficulty through the brains of those third-century Egyptians, Catholic, heretic, or pagan; we have deliberately to recall the pre-Christian asceticism of that country, the priesthoods of the Nile-land, the mystics of Alexandria and neo-Platonism. We have to look up books to make sure of what the fanatics of Asia were about, and to revive our memories of the pillar-priests of Syria.

The easier thing is, I suppose, to allow the grotesque figures of Indian fakirs to engage one’s memory, though even these owe most of their familiarity to England’s chance association with the Indian East; and next, I cannot but recall, in the Greek world, the school of Cynic philosophers, with whom, as a matter of fact, contemporaries themselves were anxious that the Christian ascetics should not be identified.

In China and India, a respectable monastic system existed and exists, worthy of much sympathetic attention: but, despite the dreams of, say, Theosophists, and despite a certain tendency among the late Greeks to travel, and to idealize the life of the Brahmins, it did not influence in any substantial way our Western monasticism nor does it readily appeal to the Western mind. The degenerate vagabond race of fakirs (for this Mohammedan word has come to be popularly applied to Hindu devotees almost exclusively) has struck our imagination, strange and hateful aberrations of the ascetic instinct, men who would burn and wound themselves without feeling pain, or stand with arms upraised till muscles grew inflexible, or with hands clenched till nails pierced through the palms and projected through the flesh. Hindu religion has always leant to madness; cruelty, panic, and obscenity run riot in the brains it has corrupted; but not these, again, came into contact with the Christian monks; and comparisons drawn between them could only be based upon the supposition of a similar perverted instinct, common to humanity, in each of the two groups. Of all Greek figures I daresay the still most popular is Diogenes, who lived in a tub, and cheeked the almighty Alexander, and went about with a lantern in broad daylight, “looking for a Real Man.” He came second, however, in that school of “Cynics” which persevered for centuries, and got its repute chiefly for its total contempt of all conventions, extending from public insolence to Emperors to sermons in the slums; and from an extreme asceticism of the will at the expense – in theory at least, and often in practice – of the senses, to the most slack and filthy habits of dress and behaviour. They penetrated everywhere; they shouted their insults in the circus; they railed against adoring ladies in the most fashionable drawing-rooms; they tutored the rich, and consorted with the poor, who often loved them. They were famous for denying en bloc all popular beliefs, empire, wealth, love, law, science, and, in short, the validity of civilization itself. Austere philosophers were among them, who have left their mark on the history of asceticism; and a multitude of disgusting charlatans, whose tricks enliven the pages of ancient literature, and are cursed by a Juvenal and gaily sneered at by a Lucian.

This singular race of men was fathered by Antisthenes, a disciple – as who was not? for an antagonist is his disciple without whom he never would exist – of Socrates. He seized on the Socratic will to think, and applied ruthless reason to every existing human institution. This deeply embittered man deliberately attacked civilization as a corruption, and, going far behind the “mild and noble” savage of a Rousseau, beheld in animals the authoritative model for our race, and even wrote a book on them. Not Swift himself dared this. With the development of family, still more of city-life, all fraud, he held, all injustice and hatred, entered the world. Zeus was right in punishing Prometheus, who gave to men that fire which was the seed of arts and crafts. Well-being has bred effeminacy; unprotected man is the strongest; frogs are as delicate of structure as are humans, and need no coats nor any armour. . . . Nature is reasonable: leave her to work; man’s choice is arbitrary; his inventions are disastrous. We believe them to be good, and move in a world of illusion. Empire means misery: the beggar’s life alone is free. Only the pauper is “world-citizen.” But a beggar’s life is surely wretched? “Yes,” he answers, “if you believe in pleasure.” “Better madness than pleasure! If I met Aphrodite, I would kill her!” By the violence of his symbolic life, his fierce parables in action, Diogenes drove home these beliefs. He shrank from no paradox.


“Well, why not eat human flesh? it feeds.”


“Well, what does marriage exist for?”

Yet through the history of these hypocrites or madmen, as you may please, runs a “live wire” of ideal: ministry to the sorrow of the world. Mankind is one; mankind suffers, and it accepts and doubles its own suffering by believing in the illusions which alone enforce it. What vitiated this was their total aloofness from all concrete history: for a faith, the palest Deism, surviving from their ruin of popular religious systems; and an appalling spiritual pride (inevitable when a man differentiates himself from his fellow-men without an active belief in a transcendent God before whom all men are equal in created littleness, though called to an essential equality in dignity as His sons); and the adoption of a system of exterior life which lent itself more easily to the cultivation of a spirit of show and ostentation than of what it professed to symbolize. Almost anyone can, if it flatters him enough, qualify as an ascetic acrobat.

It will be seen, first, from this contrast, what the monks were not. They were not, on the one hand, men who so believed in the illusions of the senses that, like those whom the fakirs travesty, they seek, by negation of all will, to escape from the cycle of finite existence and so to remerge and lose their personality in the undifferentiated Absolute. They believed in God and their eternal selves, and their life was a long effort to make themselves what He would have them eternally to be. Nor yet were they Cynics, whose will-triumph was based wholly on the self-sufficiency intrinsically possible to individual man. Their strength, they held, flowed primarily from God, through Christ their Lord. He made their will strong, for and through Himself. India ruined the notion of humanity, body and soul. Greece exalted it, to replace the Godhead. The monks believed in man’s created littleness and possible high dignity, and wrestled, God helping them, to transcend the one and win the other.

The two contrasts just made were worth making, especially the second; but they look backwards, and it has just occurred to me that Charles Kingsley drew a picture of the second generation of monks which still, I suppose, may cloud the imagination of some. He shows them as fanatical to murder-point, and no doubt, by picking out this case or that, multiplying it, and making it representative, he can create an argument. It remains that his general picture is false; and that he shows himself, here as in “Westward Ho!” – to use Monsignor Benson’s words – incapable of seeing the truths for which he had not a temperamental sympathy.

Now let us directly consider the quality of the first great movement of Christian monasticism. Let us own at once that it contained a sufficiency of downright fanatics, perhaps dishonest. These gad-abouts, trading on sensation-lovers among the ignorant crowd, or the jaded aristocracy, brawling in the market-place, bursting into palaces, filthy of dress, fantastic in penances, excited the rage, not alone of the cultured enemies of all enthusiasm, but of ardently ascetic spirits like Saint Jerome, who both by example and writing testified to his supreme admiration for the pure monastic ideal. These men, out for money, and careless of popular contempt, or even of the physical discomforts they might choose merely through coarseness of soul-fibre, may be disregarded. They were made possible by the monks, but were never truly of them. These few are the fakirs of Christianity.

Again, there are the stupid. Men often see only the externals of a life, and fail utterly to grasp its inner spirit. To a greater or less degree, monks of this limited mentality mimicked the practices of those great men round whom they grouped themselves, and tried to excel what they saw done, and even to invent – forgive me if I use the word now necessary to our language – their special stunt. It was in the control and educating of these limited minds and headstrong impulses that the monastic ideal of obedience became so healthfully operative.

More dangerous by far was the infection of genuine fanaticism. Blood intoxicates always, whether it be another’s or one’s own. The Eastern degenerates I have alluded to certainly went mad of their self-inflicted wounds. Apart from blood, pain, too, can come to fascinate. The frantic insomnia of the Syrian priests, hot-eyed and with bursting temples as they stood upon their pillars, could feed upon itself, and become almost a habit, and sleep an agony. In this very horrible department of human perversion some of the baser crowd of Christian ascetics, even, will surely find their place. But whatever the nature of the method they adopted, or the greater or less intelligence with which they lived it out, these men had for very simple premises belief in God, in immortality, and in sin. They fled from a wicked world lest they should “lose their soul,” and in order – though this was a secondary motive – to convert the world they had left. They worked at the very grammar of the spiritual life, and, without guessing it, often achieved a most subtle knowledge of its minutiae. They began like men anxious to grasp, and then to instill, the necessary rudiments of a dead language. In some cases they became like schoolmasters, passionate over rules, and maddened by the sight of “howlers” in their pupils’ work. At times the whole spirit of learning seems to evaporate beneath the touch of these honest, limited pedagogues; they succeed in writing, and obtaining, correct exercises, and no more. They have nothing of the sense which thrives best, say, in some ancient home of culture, like Oxford, and which fastens on imagination, or spirit, or originality, or instinct for that thought which is behind and fashions language, and compensates for mere mistakes. Anyone can make mistakes! Probably Cicero and Demosthenes did themselves; certainly Vergil did; certainly Catullus. But the life was in them. In much that these old monks said and did is to be found an almost terribly strong faith in a few vast things, and an all-day-and-all-night grind at applying their principles to the stuff their souls provided. If in the doing it their “eyes grew dross of lead,” they cared little enough for that. If they were “dead from the waist down,” and paralyzed for half the occupations of human life – well, they never would have pretended that their life was a “full” human life, but rather a “rehearsal of death” better than was Plato’s, for, after all, life was short and eternity was long. Do what you will, in an unsophisticated brain, the thoughts of sin, salvation, the soul, eternity, once they take fire, burn up most other thoughts, and these overwhelming considerations draw to themselves all the vitality which else were deflected into a hundred channels. Fanaticism! A word easy to repeat and a word difficult to understand. Supposing these things are true, eternal loss or gain, is it not indeed enough to drive a man, to the world’s estimation, mad when he sees the possible best in men corrupted – and corruption comes, not alone through misuse, but disuse – the most promising boys duped, drugged, and made nothing of; the most delightful girls vulgarized and left selfish and bored; ideals unborn, action unfed by any stuff for enterprise, life annulled; the empty occupations of the provinces and the petty round of middle-class society; the gay glamour of town, and the enormous fraud of all that makes that “good time,” than which so many ask no more; the culture of Universities, refined, unenthusiastic, radically skeptical; the shibboleths of science; the insolent offence of journalism; the tyranny of a “season,” or of business: and the obliterating mass of drudgery which makes pulp of the workers’ existence, until the explosion comes which creates only a worse chaos? To many it seems quite hopeless ever to come to anything in such environments. The only possible chance is to get out of them. Convert them, remaining in and with them? “In the world, not of it?” And texts are easily enough quoted. But in practice that seems as naive as the young girl’s dream who fancies herself “called” to convert the charming rake. . . . And naiver; for of his vice she knows nothing save by hearsay, edited at that, and lurid only by the help of romantic imagination, untaught to supply details. But they have been fully in the spell of lamp-lit laughter, which transfigures the crude reality of lust, and have felt conscience strangled out by wealth, and watched ideals break their fine wings against the enormous inertia of custom. So they hate it; so they leave it; so they practice its direct opposite, furiously, exaggeratedly, clamorously. They do not profess to be leading, exactly, Christ’s own life. They are the Baptists who prepare His way, and even to be that is an honour and a crown.

Nor can we pretend they went unrewarded, even by the world they flouted.

The immediately valuable element in this strange movement which I would disengage – valuable, I mean, for the individual monk, and, it has been proved, for European civilization generally – is that it put order into mysticism. By mysticism I mean that human tending to seek the super-human, to identify (in some sense) the soul with the super-soul – that is, in the long run, God; and, by counter-effect, to disesteem the transient, limited, and visible, and in particular the body. The extreme of both tendencies is to be seen, as I said, in India. Nowhere else have been registered, in combination, so passionate a belief in the Ultimate One, in Brahma, in that Unnameable All in which all forms are to merge, and so furious a rage with the limitations of flesh and sense. Of course, there, too, the perfect philosophers will disdain ascetic aberrations, and the base fakir is incapable of the lofty vision; but nowhere else is the intervening territory so wide or so densely populated with men in whose brains the Idea undoubtedly exists, grown conscious, fixed, and imperative, and in whose bodies the delicious agony of self-immolation has become so absorbing. In Syrian asceticism, nearer home, the idea was far less cogent; the physical frenzy existed and was hideous enough; but, while it was more noticeable than the philosophy, it issued forth on a less wide scale and provided little enough art, if any. Art in some countries reveals (as among the Aztecs) such suggestions of insanity (which can quite well go with extreme cleverness of execution, and, indeed, with remarkable indications of scientific method and conception) that we are all but justified in arguing, from its evidence alone, to a similar loss of moral equilibrium. In Athens the sense for physical beauty, of the supreme value of limit, made any such loss of equilibrium disgusting even to the less sensitive and educated; in a Plato, although in some ways his philosophy was simply, as they say, asking for it, it made it unthinkable, though his Symposium is perilous. Dare I say that in the Greeks was innate a quality really not unlike our English “respectability,” our sense of “limit in behaviour,” of “good form” rather than of “form” generally, or of the right working value of ideas; for, as a race, we do not take kindly to ideas? Yet one is always hearing “ascetics” or “mystics” condemned as “exaggerated”; and even a distinguished professor has condemned the Fathers of the Desert for practices which he described, as climax of disparagement, as “not respectable.” Some of the Greeks – the Cynics, that is – certainly found their way out of that, and were disliked accordingly. The Egyptian neo-Platonists and their allies combined disparate cultures, the Greek, and their own immemorial tradition; and in no books belonging to the immediate background, or seed-plot, of our own world will you find such amazing upsoaring of the spirit and such sensual pruriency juxtaposed.

In our present-day England, and also in America, though the national characteristic holds good, there seems to be quite a remarkable recrudescence of ideas, or desire, at any rate, to cope with what lies behind and beyond the usual schemes of practical life. Hence the torrent of mystical literature in which speculation seethes and bubbles, each new formula exploding in quick succession. The fire is there, and the liquid mind-stuff is there; it remains a question of what gets precipitated, what made a scum of – what, in fine, emerges from all this turmoil. We certainly can’t cope with our ideas; we haven’t a notion from what to start; how to regulate, whither to guide our effervescent mysticism. The results are as insipid and far less salutary than morning salts. Quite different was the birth of philosophy, for instance, in Ionia. Totally different the unparalleled intellectual ferment of the thirteenth century. Best comparable is the Gnostic period, when into the melting pot were chucked the products of Greece, Palestine, Persia, Syria, India, Egypt, and Rome.

One of the very first things for which the movement inaugurated by Anthony and developed by Pachomius – and by Saint Basil in the East – was responsible, was the imposing of order upon the mystical will, which issues at once into asceticism. (For we may be allowed to regard this particular movement as concerned rather with the will than with intellect, and that is why it reminds us so directly of the Cynics. ) The great leaders had to cope, not alone with the extremists in enthusiasm, but with the opposite, yet not more elementary problem of petty passions. We read of a nunnery where the nuns would slap their particular bête noire, empty water over her, and put mustard in her nostrils. A chaplain had to sit all the day at his window to see what they were up to. . . . All alike, these great ones had to “grind at grammar.” Heavens! how one wishes, when one reads these books about souls “in Tune with the Infinite,” Secret Gardens, Curtained Shrines, and what not, that our generation could be set to grind at grammar! Which of us dares to say he is master even of simplest sentence-building? Hence the enormous value of that substratum of sound sense and that insistence on the supreme importance of obedience which is to be found in all “monastic” writings. The will was to be developed, but by control. It is these men with whom a Saint Ignatius is in truest continuity. It has been well said that Cassian, whose “Conferences” were written some seventy years after the “Life of Anthony” appeared, composed therein a sort of Summa of the ascetic life, and it is this which is taken up and developed – within the limits of his conventions – by a Jesuit, Alfonso Rodriguez, novice-master in Majorca. It is exasperating when modern critics enlarge upon the reckless enthusiasms or lopsided fanaticism of these men, or produce their weak reproofs, such as: “The monks created their temptations”; “Introspection breeds hypersensitiveness”; “Loneliness spoils perspective.” Do they really suppose these masters of human psychology did not know all that? Never has it been so clearly stated. Let them but read Pachomius’s advice to Palladius on purity. What adjective would they consider least applicable of all to Anthony? Probably our slang word clubbable: sociable, shall we translate it? Yet that is precisely how Anthony was described: pleasant, never worried by “dust of thought,” untroubled by turbulent or peevish or melancholy mood: a true man of the world. Did the monks underestimate human nature? Why, so far did these ascetics of the East (and I include the great Cappadocian Fathers, like Basil and the Gregorys, and a John Chrysostom) proceed in their praise of human possibility that they seemed, to some, to lean too far in that direction, and the word semi-Pelagianism has been pronounced, if only to deny that they rightly incurred the reproach of insufficiently distinguishing natural perfectibility from the unshared work of grace. Yes; for shrewd human knowledge and for simple downright humour the first ascetics deserve high place in our affection and esteem.

I have tried to indicate, without even beginning to elaborate it, an organic and active element, of perhaps primary importance for Christian history, in the early monastic movement. Observe the line along which it inevitably operated. Anthony’s “Life” was written by Athanasius, and caused a crisis in the process of Saint Augustine’s own conversion. Thus the whole current of Augustinianism, so different in many ways from Antonianism, yet so potent and so formative in European history, was, if not set going, yet accelerated by, and in a real measure due to, Anthony. This is far more important than, say, the fact that Constantine the Great and his sons corresponded with the famous solitary, and were, to some degree, influenced by his counsel. Other elements in Western monachism are directly due to its Eastern prototype. Not to dwell on the earlier systems of South Italy, the work of Saint Martin in Gaul and the movement in Ireland itself were in direct imitation of the Egyptian monks. More important still, Saint Benedict used, while he modified, the examples set by the Fathers of the Desert. He was a maker, as much as any great man can be; but none can work, like the Creator, out of nothing: he would never have done what he did without his materials, and these all came from Anthony and his successors. Now, when the Roman Empire went down in ruins, three permanent centres of cohesion remained, three channels through which the old civilization, its law, culture, and idealism flowed: the Pope, the Bishops, and the monasteries. Without these, what would have been formed out of the chaotic elements of barbarism, and when? Not, anyhow, the Europe of today. Not Paris, not Oxford. Not Aquinas, Dante, Shakespeare; not anything, you may say, save our Northern emotions and their dangers, which enters into us today. Granted that this, as it stands, is exaggeration. Yet within it is truth enough for it to express something of what the world directly owes to Anthony.

Saints of the Day – Nerses Lampronazi


(also known as Narses Lambronazzi or Lampronats)

Born at Lampron, Cilicia, Armenia, 1153; died at Tarsus, July 17, 1198. Nerses was the son of the prince of Lampron and the nephew of Saint Nerses Glaiëtsi (“the Gracious”). He was educated at Skeyra Monastery and became an outstanding scholar, theologian, and exegete, skilled in Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic.

When his father died, he was ordained in 1169, lived as a hermit for a time, and in 1176 was consecrated archbishop of Tarsus. He strongly supported the reunion of the Armenian Church with Rome at a council at Hromkla in 1179, but nothing came of it when the supporter of the move, Emperor Manuel Comnenus, died the next year.

Nerses actively engaged in the negotiations that led to the reunion of Lesser Armenia (west of the Euphrates) with Rome in 1198. “To me,” Nerses declared to critics of his endeavors, “Armenians, Latins, Greeks, Egyptians, and Syrians are all one. My conscience is clear.” He died six months after the reunion was confirmed by the crowning of Leo II as king of Lower Armenia (Little Armenia) by the papal legate with a crown sent by Pope Celestine III.

Nerses wrote on the liturgy, scriptural commentaries, hymns, and lives of the desert saints, and translated Saint Benedict’s Rule, Saint Gregory’s Dialogues into Armenian, and many Western works into Armenian (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 4 July 2020. Web. 10 July 2020. <>

Saints of the Day – Mary Magdalen Postel

statue of Saint Marie-Madeleine Postel, date and artist unknown; Church of Saint-Mathurin, Guilberville, France; photographed on 18 November 2011 by Xfigpower; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

(also known as Julia Frances Catherine Postel)

Born at Barfleur, Normandy, France, November 28, 1756; died at Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, July 16, 1846; canonized 1925; feast day formerly on July 16.

Julia Frances Catherine Postel was educated at the Benedictine convent at Valognes. At age 18, she opened a girls’ school at Barfleur in France. When the French Revolution broke out, the revolutionaries closed the school and she became a leader in the underground Church. Under the stairs of her home, she created a secret chapel where priests could say Mass for those who refused to recognize the ‘constitutional’ clergy imposed by the state. During that time she was (like other women elsewhere under abnormal conditions) given charge of the reserved Eucharist and allowed to minister it to the sick.

Only when the pope made a concordat with Napoleon in 1801 could Julie take up teaching again as her life’s work. Then, at the age of 51, she decided to set up a group of religious women to teach the young, inspire them to love God, and help the poor in their misery.

In 1807, Julie and three other teachers took religious vows before Abbé Cabart, who had encouraged her in her work. Julie also took a new name, Mary Magdalen Postel. Sister Mary Magdalen reopened her school at Cherbourg, which became the foundation of the Sisters of the Christian Schools of Mercy. She was named superior of the community.

Within three years 200 girls were being educated. For some time Sister Mary Magdalen Postel and her nine fellow teachers lived in great poverty in a barn next to their schoolroom. These earlier years were discouraging but Sister Mary Magdalen refused to give up. The community was forced to move several times before it settled at Tamersville in 1815.

Whatever work they could find – as farm-laborers, seamstresses, etc. – was eagerly seized so that they could carry on with their teaching. But their tenacity triumphed. In 1830, they moved into an abandoned, derelict abbey at Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte near Coutances. The congregation was formally recognized seven years later.

Mary Magdalen died at the age of 90, having seen the ruined abbey rebuilt and her community spreading the Christian Gospel ever farther afield. She is venerated for her holiness and miracles (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Encyclopedia).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 4 July 2020. Web. 10 July 2020. <>

Saints of the Day – Marcellina of Rome

detail of a Saint Marcellina holy card, date and artist unknown; swiped from Santi e BeatiArticle

Born in Rome, Italy; died c.398. Saint Marcellina was the elder sister of Saint Ambrose of Milan and Saint Satyrus. Their mother moved the family back to Rome after the death of their father, who was the prefect of Gaul. Once there Marcellina was entrusted by her pious mother with the education of her brothers, whom she inspired by word and example to thirst for Christian virtue.

She received the veil of a consecrated virgin from the hands of Pope Liberius on Christmas Day, 353, in Saint Peter’s Basilica. During his homily on that occasion he exhorted her to the evangelical virtues and to behave in church with the utmost respect. He reminded those present of the page of Alexander the Great, who, for fear of disturbing the solemnity of a pagan sacrifice by shaking off a piece of burning wax that had fallen on his hand, let it burn him to the bone. For the rest of her life, she lived in a private home, first with her mother and after her mother’s death with another virgin.

Although Marcellina practiced great austerity, she outlived both her brothers. She fasted daily until evening when she would partake only of simple fare and water. Sometimes she went for days without eating anything. Marcellina spent most of the day and night in prayer, pious reading, and tears of divine love and compunction. She slept only when it overcame her body.

In her later years, Saint Ambrose, who mentions Marcellina in De virgine (c. 1-4) and two of his epistles (20 and 22), advised her to moderate her austerities, but redouble her fervor in tears and holy prayer. He recommended especially that she often recite the Psalms, Lord’s Prayer, and Creed, which he calls the seal of a Christian and the guard our hearts. She survived Ambrose but after her death Marcellina’s body was enshrined at Milan (Benedictines, Encyclopedia, Husenbeth).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 4 July 2020. Web. 10 July 2020. <>

Saints of the Day – Leo IV, Pope

Pope Saint Leo IVArticle

Born in Rome, Italy; died in Rome on July 17, 855. Leo was probably of Lombard ancestry though born in Rome. He studied at Saint Martin’s Monastery in Rome, was made subdeacon of the Lateran Basilica by Pope Gregory IV, and soon after was named cardinal by Pope Sergius II. Leo was unanimously elected pope to succeed Sergius and was consecrated on April 10, 847.

He immediately began to repair the fortifications of Rome in anticipation of another Saracen attack on the city, built a wall around Saint Peter’s and Vatican Hill, giving the area its name of the Leonine City. Through his prayers and exhortations to the soldiers, the Saracens from Calabria were utterly routed at Ostia.

Leo also restored many churches in Rome. In fact, he benefactions to churches take up 28 pages in the Liber pontificalis. He tightened clerical discipline with a synod at Rome in 853 and was confronted with numerous problems during his pontificate.

A papal legate he sent to Archbishop John of Ravenna and his brother, the duke of Emilia, was murdered by the duke, and Leo went to Ravenna, tried him, and found him guilty. Duke Nomenoe deposed a number of bishops and erected a metropolitan see at Dol without papal permission, actions the pope was unable to do anything about.

Patriarch Ignatius of Constantinople had deposed Gregory Asbestas, the bishop of Syracuse, and Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims, and was forbidding clerics from appealing to Rome, actions that Leo refused to confirm. In 850, Leo crowned Louis, son of Lothair, emperor. In 853, King Ethelwulf of the West Saxons sent his son, Alfred, to Rome, where Pope Leo stood as god-father for him at his Confirmation.

Just before his death, Leo was accused by a military officer (a magister militum) named Daniel of plotting with the Greek emperor to overthrow Emperor Louis, a charge he easily disproved, though his death sentence on Daniel was remitted through the intercession of the emperor (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 4 July 2020. Web. 10 July 2020. <>

Saints of the Day – Blessed Ceslas Odrowatz of Poland

19th century holy card of Blessed Ceslas bringing the drowned child back to life, artist unknownArticle

Born in Kannen, Silesia, Poland, 1180; died 1242. Ceslaus Odrowatz was a near relative, probably a brother, of Saint Hyacinth, and shared with him the apostolate of Northern Europe. Little is known of his youth. He was born in the ancestral castle and educated with Saint Hyacinth, by his uncle, a priest of Cracow.

Both young men became priests and, being well-known for their holiness, were chosen to be canons in the cathedral chapter in Cracow. When their uncle received an appointment as bishop of Cracow, the two young priests accompanied him on his trip to Rome, where he would be consecrated.

It was in Rome that the two zealous young priests first heard of the work of Saint Dominic. The order was then only four years old, and its eager members had penetrated to almost all parts of Christendom and were pushing into the lands of the Tartars and the Mohammedans.

The new bishop strongly desired that some of the friars should come to Poland. Since Saint Dominic was then in Rome, they went to him for missionaries. Dominic was deeply regretful that he had no friars who were able to speak the languages of the North. However, he was much drawn to the bishop’s two young nephews, and promised to make them Dominican apostles if they would remain with him.

After their novitiate training, Hyacinth and Ceslaus went home. Ceslaus went to Prague, and other parts of Bohemia, where he founded convents of Friar Preachers and also established a group of nuns. Then he went to Silesia, where he founded the convent of Breslau that was to become his center of activities. He also acted as the spiritual director for duchess Saint Hedwig of Poland.

The life of Blessed Ceslaus, like that of Saint Hyacinth, is a record of almost countless miracles, of unbelievable distances travelled on foot through wild and warlike countries, and of miracles of grace. He cured the sick and the maimed, raised the dead to life, and accomplished wonders in building convents. His most remarkable miracle was the raising to life of a boy who had been dead for eight days.

In 1241 the Tartars swooped down upon the Christian kingdoms and laid waste the labor of centuries. Blessed Ceslaus was in Breslau at the time the Tartars laid siege to the city. He and his community fasted and prayed incessantly that the city would be saved, and when the cause looked darkest, Ceslaus mounted the ramparts with a crucifix in his hand. While the Tartars gazed in astonishment, a huge ball of fire descended from heaven and settled above him. Arrows of fire shot out from the heavenly weapon, and the Tartars fled in terror, leaving the city unmolested.

Our Lady came to receive the soul of Blessed Ceslaus, who had been tireless in preaching her glories (Benedictines, Dorcy).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 4 July 2020. Web. 10 July 2020. <>