Dominican breviary: “In accordance with his wishes, St Dominic was buried ‘beneath the feet of his brethren’ in the church of St Nicholas of the Vineyards, Bologna. (Keeping with this, Dominicans have been traditionally been buried under main, ground floor hallways of Dominican priories, and those living lined the hallways of their priories after Evening Prayer to sing the DeProfundis.). Many of the sick avowed that they had been healed of their infirmities at his tomb; the brethren however were loath to recognise these miracles and accept votive offerings.”
On May 24, the Dominican Order celebrates the translation of the relics of St. Dominic. That is, we remember the day in 1233 when, during a General Chapter of the Order in Bologna, the interred body of St. Dominic was moved in order to allow the faithful to honor him more easily. More than 300 friars were present to celebrate this important day. In one of his letters, Bl. Jordan of Saxony, describes the event:
“But then the wonderful day came for the translation of the relics of one who was an illustrious doctor in his lifetime. Present were the venerable Archbishop of Ravenna, surrounded by bishops and a large number of prelates, as well as by a vast multitude of people of different languages who gave remarkable witness to their devotion. Present also was the Bolognese militia, which would not let this holy body, that they considered to be in their safekeeping, be snatched from them. As for the brethren, they were anxious: although they had nothing to fear, they were seized with misgivings lest the body of Saint Dominic, which had lain in a mean tomb exposed to water and heat for such a long period of time, should be found eaten with worms and giving off a foul odor in the same way that might be expected with other corpses, thus destroying the devotion of the people for so great a man. Nonetheless the bishops approached devoutly. The stone that was firmly cemented to the sepulcher was removed with instruments of iron. Within the tomb was a wooden coffin, just as it had been placed there by the venerable Pope Gregory when he was bishop of Ostia. The body had been buried there, and a small hole remained in the top of the coffin.
The upper part of the coffin was moved a little bit. As soon as the stone was taken away, the body gave forth a wonderful odor through the opening; its sweetness astonished those present, and they were filled with wonder at this strange occurrence. Everyone shed tears of joy, and fear and hope rose in all hearts. We ourselves also smelled the sweetness of this perfume, and we bear witness to what we have seen and smelt. Eager with love, we remained devotedly near the body of Dominic for a long time, and we were unable to sate ourselves with this great sweetness. If one touched the body with a hand or a belt or some other object, the odor immediately attached itself to it for a long period of time.
The body was carried to the marble sepulcher where it would rest—it and the perfume that it poured forth. This marvelous aroma which the holy body emitted was evidence to all how much the saint had truly been the good odor of Christ”.
It’s a natural instinct to keep meaningful tokens. Anyone who has lost loved ones knows the impact of an old photo, a handwritten letter, or a crackling recorded message. In a way, the ones we have lost become present. Emotion rises along with memories and love’s affection. An old book, jewelry, an article of clothing … we keep these things as mementos. With the saints, however, we not only keep things of the person, but we also keep the body of the person.
The 25th session of Trent’s second decree teaches us why the bodies of saints are different. Relics of bone, hair, and even blood once belonged to bodies possessing a two-fold dignity: (1) being living members of the Body of Christ and (2) being temples of the Holy Spirit. The council states that, through venerating these relics, God bestows gifts on men. Additionally, those who oppose this teaching, “the Church has already long since condemned.”
This condemnation is not found among Dominicans. Today the Order of Preachers celebrates the Translation of Holy Father Dominic. ‘Translation’ is an unfortunate translation. The Latin, elevatio corporis, brings forth the transcendent quality of this feast. We don’t celebrate a horizontal change of word for word moving from tongue to tongue. Rather, we celebrate the vertical change of the profane to the holy. On this day in 1233, St. Dominic’s remains were elevated, celebrated, and laid to rest in the Arca di San Domenico—the exquisite sarcophagus complete in 1267.
Though the brethren lifted St. Dominic from the tomb, it was God who elevated the body of St. Dominic. Our Father in heaven honored our Holy Father Dominic by a miracle (ST III.6). The moment the stone slab covering the coffin was split, the broken seal emitted an indescribable, sweet fragrance. So potent was the smell that those who touched its source, St. Dominic’s bones, themselves began to emit the aroma. Martha feared the stench of Lazarus’ four days in the tomb (Jn 11:38–44), but the friars rejoiced in the sweet-smelling oblation of St. Dominic’s 11 years in the tomb.
The relics of St. Dominic, like all other relics, remind us of not only the saint but the One the saint served. By this miracle, through his lowly servant St. Dominic, God makes real the words of St. Paul:
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. (2 Cor 2:15–16)
Smells, like a mother’s perfume, conjure the deepest memories we have of a person. The smell of St. Dominic works in an analogous way, but with an important difference. The brothers would not have been reminded of the old smell of the perspiring friar. They would have been reminded of the Resurrection. Christ by dying and rising has transformed the decay of death into the fragrance of eternal life. Relics do not just remind us of a life lived, but a life living.“
“Thou didst breath fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and now do I sigh for Thee.” -St Augustine
-The Charity of St. Anthony, Lorenzo Lotto, 1542; Italy – High Renaissance, oil on panel, 235 x 332 cm, Basilica dei San Giovanni e Paolo, Venice, Italy, please click on the image for greater detail
My sister, although we did not know it then, only the symptoms of several car accidents in short succession, was suffering the effects of PSP in 2005, the year Kelly and I happened to want to be married.
Since my parents had passed eight weeks apart towards the end of 2001, my eldest sibling, my sister, my second mother, was very important to me to have in attendance. She could not travel, and so, at the risk of my soul and marriage, I asked Kelly if we could delay until Spring of 2006 to see if my sister’s condition would improve. It never did. She passed in 2008.
Tearfully and most generously, Kelly agreed to wait. In so doing, we had to give up the HOTTEST ticket for a wedding ceremony in Chicago, Old St Patrick’s Church. There is a waiting list of years. So, desperate for a church building, and Chicago Catholic churches scarce (understatement) on short notice for wedding Saturdays, and the Catholic Church insisting on weddings in Catholic Church churches, you have to get a dispensation otherwise, and who wants to do that, and, it may not be granted, we went begging. The gloriously beautiful Holy Family Church, now in a depressed part of the near west side of Chicago, and so with few congregants and fewer weddings, welcomed us and we became parishioners at the invitation of the pastor, who also witnessed our wedding.
He was the lone priest in this big, sadly underused, gem of a church where Mrs O’Leary, of infamy, used to be a parishioner. This pastor later quipped to us when we blurted out later, as Catholics are wont to do upon some small sacrifice, “But, our reward will be great in Heaven!!” And, he said, to this day we’re not sure if he was serious or not, “Don’t kid yourself.” This pastor, regrettably, turned out to be not one of the better priests either of us have ever met. It happens.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” -Lk 6:32-36
– St Antoninus, from Saint Dominic’s Church in Washington, D.C., please click on the image for greater detail
-bust outside the family home of St. Antoninus Torre dei Pierozzi, Florence, Italy, please click on the image for greater detail
To mitigate the wide-spread misery caused by the taxes of the Medici, St Antoninus established a lay society, known as the ‘Good Men of St Martin’, who systematically sought out the poor and gave assistance to them.
The plague hit Florence in 1448 and 1449. Then an earthquake shook it in 1453, followed by a cyclone in 1456, and then a famine! St Antoninus was frequently seen with his mule loaded with emergency supplies, going through the streets of the city to help those in both material and spiritual need, bringing relief supplies and the succour of the sacraments.
St Antoninus is “…a model in this thankless charity. Saint Antoninus, a Dominican friar who lived in the early 15th century, was well known both for his contributions to moral theology and for his love of the poor. As Archbishop of Florence, he focused his attention and resources on the poor. He instructed those who established homes for the care of the suffering, whether it be from malady, poverty, or abandonment, to persevere in their care, even if those they served were ungrateful.
A prime example of the types of organizations that St. Antoninus founded was the association known as the Good Men of St. Martin. This group of laymen dispersed funds entrusted to it wherever the need was found. The primary purpose of this association, however, may seem strange to us. The first recipients of its charity were to be the shamefaced poor, a title given in 15th century Florence to those who, because of having fallen from a higher stratum of society, were too ashamed to beg and so starved in silence. Such poor only accepted charity reluctantly, and scant gratitude could be expected from them for it. Saint Antoninus’ charity, however, was too broad to be limited to only those who came seeking it.
Saint Antoninus chose to trade in, by means of charity toward the grateful and ungrateful alike, the riches he had on earth to receive a reward in heaven. In imitation of him, may we also show ourselves to be children of God through unselfish mercy and kindness to all of our neighbors.”
“Eternal God, you wonderfully blessed Saint Antoninus with the gift of wisdom. Pour out upon us, Your servants, the same spirit of understanding, truth, and peace. May we know in our hearts what pleases You and pursue it with all our strength. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen”. – Collect for the feast of St Antoninus (10th May).
His body remains incorrupt.
Looks good for 560, not a day over 100. San Marco, Florence, Italy.
“For many generations, especially throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, several popes had negative reputations on account of their sinful lifestyles or corrupt governance. While still possessing the authority of the Vicar of Christ on earth, these popes were not living up to the life of holiness that Christ expected of Peter and his successors.
One exception in the midst of this chaos was St. Pius V, whose feast we celebrate today. A Dominican friar who reigned from 1566 to 1572, Pius made his mark in a relatively short papacy. He promulgated the catechism and missal that were formulated by the Council of Trent. He called for the praying of the Rosary when Christian naval forces were threatened by the Turks during the Battle of Lepanto. He excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I when she steered England back toward Protestantism. A legend also attributes to Pius the origin of why the pope wears white—he would not remove his white Dominican habit once elected pope!
For all that he accomplished as pope, the Church venerates him as a saint because of his virtue and holiness. Alongside his accomplishments, Pius was known to live a very austere life, rejecting many of the luxuries to which popes had been accustomed in his time. While he may have been elected the Successor of St. Peter, he never stopped being a humble Dominican friar. Prayer and penance preceded any work that he did in governing the universal Church. G.K. Chesterton, in his famous poem, Lepanto, described St. Pius V in this way:
“The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke.”
It can be very tempting to view our relationship with God, or our service to the Church, from a functional angle. “What am I doing? Can I make this better?” are some questions we may ask. Despite our best efforts, it is God who begins every good work in us, and it is he who brings it to completion. According to Lumen gentium, “it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity” through a life of holiness (40). By our union with Christ through the regular reception of the sacraments, we come to share in his holiness. Only then are we properly disposed to carry out through action what the Holy Spirit places upon our hearts.
We recognize Pius V as a saint for his life of profound holiness. He was a shining star who turned to God in charity and humility in the midst of a world of darkness. His life of holiness, prompted by the movement of the Holy Spirit, led him to do great things for the Church, the impact of which remains with us to this day. His example directs us to a life in Christ. Through lives rooted in prayer and the sacraments, we too are made ready to face whatever struggles, difficulties, or tasks that lie ahead. May St. Pius V be our model, helping us to navigate through the voyage of life.”
-remains of Pius V in his tomb in Santa Maria Maggiore, please click on the image for greater detail
“You should also learn to understand and—dare I say it—to love canon law, appreciating how necessary it is and valuing its practical applications: a society without law would be a society without rights. Law is the condition of love.” -Benedict XVI, Letter to Seminarians on October 18, 2010
You don’t often hear an exhortation to “love canon law.” Like civil law, it can seem to matter only when something has gone wrong, or when it’s preventing us from doing what we want when we want. But today is the feast of St. Raymond of Peñafort, patron saint of canon lawyers, and a good day to ask: “Why canon law?”
Law is necessary to govern societies, and the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, is truly a society. She is not merely a community organization, nor is she merely a collection of individuals who share the same personal commitments, nor is she an invisible and purely spiritual reality. The Church is the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, the ecclesial presence of that Kingdom. It’s an imperfect presence, insofar as it’s composed of imperfect members and awaiting fulfillment in the Second Coming, but it is truly a kingdom, a society. Thus, the Church needs law, she needs legislation and judges and lawyers—and their presence reminds us of the concrete social and governmental character of Christ’s Church.
We could also recall that those in communion with the Church are unified in faith, sacraments, and governance (see Lumen Gentium 14). Moreover, “communion … is not understood as some kind of vague disposition, but as an organic reality which requires a juridical form and is animated by charity” (Nota Praevia to LG). Communion in the Church is found under the headship of the Holy Father and is given structure and order by the Church’s law. The Church has, in a real sense, a government.
Of course, the governance of the Church is unlike any other. Her essential structures, like the role of the Pope and bishops, were created not by man but by God. The ends of the Church’s governance are supernatural, and thus the concrete effects of Christian faith are often beautifully expressed in Canon Law. Take a look at a few random examples:
Can. 208: From their rebirth in Christ, there exists among all the Christian faithful a true equality regarding dignity and action by which they all cooperate in the building up of the Body of Christ according to each one’s own condition and function. Can. 663: The first and foremost duty of all religious is to be the contemplation of divine things and assiduous union with God in prayer. Can. 1752: The salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes. [This is the last sentence of the Code of Canon Law.]
We might not often think about canon law, or about the means of governing the concrete reality of the Church’s life here on earth. But today, say a prayer for canon lawyers, and give thanks to God that He has deigned to welcome us into a society as true as the Catholic Church. Saint Raymond of Peñafort, pray for us.”
“St. Thomas Aquinas writes that hope is the virtue that grounds us in eternity, especially as we are tossed about by the storms of this world. “Thus a man,” he writes, “should be held fast to that hope as an anchor,” for God “wills that the anchor of our hope be fixed in that which is now veiled from our eyes” (Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews). Infused by the Holy Spirit, the gift of hope reminds us of the words and promises of the Lord Jesus Christ and allows us to believe that they will happen. It is easy to think of the moments of trial in the past year, making one rather pessimistic, or at best only slightly optimistic about the year to come. However, by realizing that each one of us is united to Jesus Christ and relives the mysteries of His life, we are prepared to face whatever comes as an opportunity to grow closer to God and be conformed even more into His image. This is where happiness is found: in the union with God and the enjoyment of the eternal life of the Son. The way is arduous and difficult, (Christianity is NOT for WIMPS!!!) but we hope in the promises of the Savior.
The Lord calls us to boldness and courage; He calls us from being lukewarm and sets us on fire with His charity. “I look everywhere for Your divinity,” writes Bl. Henry Suso, “but You show me Your humanity; I desire Your sweetness, but You offer me bitterness; I want to suckle, but You teach me to fight.”
Our Lord responded to Bl. Henry Suso, “away with faintheartedness and enter with Me the lists of knightly steadfastness. Indulgence is not fitting for the servant when the lord is practicing warlike boldness. I shall clothe you with My armor because all My suffering has to be endured by you as far as you are able.”
The Lord is with us as a warrior and His very life flows through our veins. Therefore, no matter the trials and challenges we face in the new year, we are prepared to endure and overcome them by renewing our hope in Him, allowing Him to stir our hearts to boldness and zeal for the kingdom of God.”
“…we will come under the final judgment of God and are subject to the constraints and possibilities of that judgment. We’re invited to avoid hell and find heaven, a view that isn’t typically welcome among our secular contemporaries, but which has implications for them as well as us. The “gentlemen’s agreement” of secular liberalism is that we ought not attempt to find public consensus upon questions of life after death or the dogmatic truth content of revealed religion. In some ways dogma is considered impolite in a secular context because it could be seen as politically or socially divisive. Although the opposite is true in some real sense because dogma tends to outlive many passing cultures and is a force of unity, vitality, and the renewal of intellectual life. Thinking through traditional dogmas invites us as modern people to think about the longstanding vitality of those doctrines—why they’re pertinent to persons throughout time and history and a stimulus for the intellectual life. Knowledge of what was profound wisdom in a forgone era is typically the best source of illumination for anyone who wishes to re-articulate the conditions of meaning for the future. The temptation in our own age is to think the opposite, as if we need to be in some kind of radical rupture with the past in order to articulate the conditions of meaning for the future. This is a pattern you find in Descartes or in the opening pages of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason or in Nietzsche in a more radical way. But you have people who tend to be both novel and preserve the past; I think this is true of Plato. Plato was very radical, but he also wanted to preserve the heritage of the past Greek religious traditions that came before him. Aristotle, too, is typically very careful in the first book of most of his works to show the insights that come before him and then he introduces a new order of learning and thinking. In general the great medievals like Bonaventure and Aquinas show how the past has contributed to the ongoing project of what they’re undertaking. In our own era Alasdair MacIntyre has been exemplary in showing how this kind of recovery and articulation of principles allows renewed engagement with the contemporary world around oneself.
I think Thomism functions best as an identification of principles and an engagement with contemporary intellectual questions.
I may be optimistic, but I think there are many modern questions Thomism addresses and answers. Thomism helps provide a realistic philosophy of nature, what it means that there are changing substances around us that have identifiable properties by which we can provide taxonomies for the natures of things and understand the ways in which they act upon each other. Aquinas is a phenomenal student of human nature, so he takes very seriously man’s physicality and animality, but also shows his emergent rational properties and freedom in their distinctiveness. He shows there are immaterial features to human knowledge and freedom that denote the presence of an immaterial form or spiritual soul. There’s also the whole architecture of virtue ethics Aquinas provides that is increasingly having an influence in the circles of analytical ethics. His study of the cardinal virtues—justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude—provides terrific insight into the nature of a person. We’re longing for that in a culture in which there’s a great deal of intellectual instability and nostalgia for consensus. Often people want to impose consensus artificially through politics, which is a very superficial way to gain unity. That politics pervades the university, which is in crisis because there is deep absence of consensus about reality. Aquinas’s general anthropology and moral theory can give us the basis for a much deeper agreement about what human beings are and the structure of moral life than can any identity politics.
Religion doesn’t go away when you banish it from the university. It comes back in other forms, some of which are perfectly innocuous, but others of which are very dangerous. Aquinas is very realistic about the possibilities of pathological religious behavior; he calls it superstitio, the vice of disordered religion. The human being can become, very easily, irrationally religious, as, for example, in the cases of a banal religious emotivism or religiously motivated terrorism. The great conflicts we have between religionists and secularists, it seems to me, are very helpfully addressed by the harmony of reason and revelation in Aquinas, which allows the soul to flourish because the soul is meant for transcendence. Modern secular culture is asphyxiating. The soul needs to be open to the transcendent mystery of God to really experience the full freedom of its own intellectual life, its own voluntary life, its aspiration to the good, and its deepest desires for transcendence and meaning. A culture without an intellectual religious horizon is a truncated culture, but a culture that’s religious at the expense of the intellectual life is also a very unhealthy culture—so how do you get that right? I think Aquinas really helps us understand our natural religious aspirations in a balanced way.
-George, Robert P.. “Mind, Heart, and Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome” (Kindle Location 1115-1153). TAN Books. Kindle Edition.
-Filippo Dolciati (1443 – 1519), “Execution of Girolamo Savonarola”. 1498, Florence, Museo di San Marco, please click on the image for greater detail.
He called the Church of his day a “harlot” and a “monster of abomination”. Protestants see him as a forerunner of the Reformation. St Ignatius of Loyola had his works burned and called him an enemy of the papacy. He is mentioned in Chapter 6 of Machiavelli’s The Prince. He is immortalized in the computer game “Assasin’s Creed II” (2009).
-Savonarola character in “Assassin’s Creed 2”.
His execution is memorialized in the Showtime TV series “The Borgias” (2011-2013). Caution: The show took some HUGE dramatic liberties particularly in regards to the Bonfire of the Vanities, the trial by fire and Savonarola’s execution. You can see in the below photo Savonarola’s character has not been hanged, is still alive, and Pope Alexander VI was in Rome at the time of the execution.
Savonarola captured hearts as a preacher. His powerful apocalyptic visions warned that God would soon scour the world and that Florence, God’s chosen city, had better be ready. Contemporaries speak of the spellbinding power of these sermons; Savonarola’s followers were called piagnoni, or weepers, because he so often moved them to tears. As evidence of his powerful charisma, Savonarola managed to convince the highly humanistic Florentines to surrender their mirrors, dice, cards, cosmetics and nude paintings and burn them all in the Piazza di Signoria in a towering bonfire of the vanities. He also demanded repression of homosexuals. He created a temporary republic in Florence.
He was also a friend to the poor. Under Savonarola, the city created a building society that offered loans at rates well below what was demanded by Florence’s private bankers — 5 to 7 percent, as opposed to the 32.5 percent that had been standard practice under the de Medicis. One of the charges that led to Savonarola’s downfall was that he impoverished the city by refusing to ever turn away a beggar.
He also patronized the famous painters of his day. Michelangelo would later say that when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it was the sermons of Savonarola he heard in his mind.
-a plaque commemorates the site of Savonarola’s execution in the Piazza della Signoria, Florence. Please click on the image for greater detail.
-painting (1650) of Savonarola’s execution in the Piazza della Signoria
Savonarola was hanged and burned in Florence on 23 May 1498 for heresy and schism. Simone Filipepi, the brother of Botticelli, has left a detailed description of the execution of Savonarola. On 12 May 1497, Pope Alexander VI excommunicated Savonarola and threatened the Florentines with an interdict if they persisted in harboring him.
Interdict is still an existing censure under Canon, or Church, law, and a most serious one in the Catholic Church. It means the prohibition of all sacraments and the invalidity of any attempted to be performed by the persons so placed under ecclesiastical interdict. Sacraments to the Catholic are the primary channels of grace. No grace, no heaven. Children cannot be baptized, and are therefore excluded from the Church, and hope of salvation. Mass cannot be celebrated validly and so no real center of communal liturgical life. No Mass, no point to being Catholic; the loss thereof, bringing one so condemned a step closer to Hell. No marriage, only fornication, and bastard/illegitimate children. No holy orders, no priesthood, another defining/central aspect of Catholic life. No last rites, no viaticum, or last Eucharist, before death. You can see, to a Catholic community, even in early 21st century America, this is most serious. It literally dissolves the fabric of the community. It is meant to be corrective. Even today, in Church disputes with hierarchs, interdict is frequently threatened.
-Iain Glenn, of Game of Thrones, Resident Evil, & Downton Abbey fame, as Savonarola, in “Borgia: Faith & Fear”
On 18 March 1498, after much debate and steady pressure from a worried government, he withdrew from public preaching. Under the stress of excommunication, Savonarola composed his spiritual masterpiece, the Triumph of the Cross, a celebration of the victory of the Cross over sin and death and an exploration of what it means to be a Christian. This he summed up in the theological virtue of caritas, or love. In loving their neighbour, Christians return the love which they have received from their Creator and Savior.
Savonarola hinted at performing miracles to prove his divine mission, but when a rival Franciscan preacher proposed to test that mission by walking through fire, he lost control of the public discourse. Without consulting him, his confidant Fra Domenico da Pescia offered himself as his surrogate and Savonarola felt he could not afford to refuse. The first trial by fire in Florence for over four hundred years was set for April 7. A crowd filled the central square, eager to see if God would intervene and if so, on which side. The nervous contestants and their delegations delayed the start of the contest for hours. A sudden rain drenched the spectators and government officials cancelled the proceedings. The crowd disbanded angrily; the burden of proof had been on Savonarola and he was blamed for the fiasco. A mob assaulted the convent of San Marco.
Fra Girolamo, Fra Domenico, and Fra Silvestro Maruffi were arrested and imprisoned. Under torture Savonarola confessed to having invented his prophecies and visions, then recanted, then confessed again. In his prison cell in the tower of the government palace he composed meditations on Psalms 51 and 31. On the morning of 23 May 1498, the three friars were led out into the main square where, before a tribunal of high clerics and government officials, they were condemned as heretics and schismatics, and sentenced to die forthwith. Stripped of their Dominican garments in ritual degradation, they mounted the scaffold in their thin white shirts. Each on a separate gallows, they were hanged, while fires were ignited below them to consume their bodies. To prevent devotees from searching for relics, their ashes were carted away and scattered in the Arno
Savanarola was a fierce critic of ecclesiastical corruption, and this is perhaps the most contested aspect of his legacy for those proposing to canonize him. He referred to Pope Alexander VI as a “broken tool,” accusing the pope of practicing simony and of dubious personal morality. He defied the pope by aligning Florence with the French king, Charles, rather than the “Holy Alliance” of Italian city-states championed by Alexander. Toward the end, Savonarola called for a church council that would depose Alexander.
There was never serious question about Savonarola’s doctrine — his chief theological work, The Triumph of the Cross, is widely viewed as orthodox. In 1558, Pope Paul IV — who had served in the court of Alexander VI — said that Savonarola was not a heretic. The question for examiners today is not doctrinal but disciplinary: whether Savonarola defied the authority of the pope in impermissible fashion. Dominicans and Jesuits still feud within the last twenty years as to the sanctity of the man. Although, the Jesuit view has largely been attributed to contemporary hearsay, and not a critical study of his works.
In English the name of Savonarola may be synonymous with religious fanaticism, but many Italians, and Florentines in particular, have a different image. In an age of corruption, Savonarola represented honest government, making him something of a patron for the current Italian drive to break the grip of cronyism and political patronage that has long dominated their politics.
As an ecclesial dissenter, Savonarola is popular among today’s Catholics who believe the church could stand some reform.
There are even those who argue that had the Renaissance papacy been a bit more open to Savonarola’s critique, the church might have been spared the agony of the Protestant Reformation.
Whatever the case, Savonarola’s most ardent supporters seem unlikely to be discouraged by anything historical research might uncover. He was a “man of faith who loved Jesus Christ,” according to Dominican Fr. Armando Verde in the International Herald Tribune. Savonarola may have made compromises in the rough-and-tumble of Florentine politics, Verde said, “but on the ethical and spiritual level, absolutely never.”
The Piagnoni kept his cause of republican freedom and religious reform alive well into the following century, although the Medici—restored to power in 1512 with the help of the papacy—eventually broke the movement.
“Girolamo Savonarola was born in Northern Italy in 1452 to a well-to-do merchant family. Growing up, he was taught a love for the moral life and a hatred for decadence by his fervently religious grandfather. At the age of twenty-three, he abandoned all the vanities of the world to give himself to God alone, leaving home to become a Dominican friar. He was known to be fervently observant in his religious life, and from this personal holiness flowed a preaching that captivated all hearers.
He was soon brought to the great city of Florence at the request of the ruling Medicis. All were amazed by his gift of prophecy. In particular, he prophesied disaster in the republic of Florence. Though Florence was one of the more prominent cities of Europe at the time, when Charles VIII of France was making his way toward the republic, the citizens began to take Savonarola’s prophecy seriously. One might attempt to credit his prophecies (and there were many) to political savvy, but there was always something too vivid and concrete about them; at the very least, his contemporaries learned to trust him.
Savonarola was sent as an ambassador to make an agreement with Charles VIII to prevent the otherwise almost certain sack of Florence. After this success, trust in Savonarola was so great that he was able more or less at his will to write up the new constitution for a democratic republic. He even was able to go so far as to plea, successfully, for peace toward the friends of the old Medici government. The few years of his influence are something of an eloquent testimony to the power of the word of God to create and sustain peace in a troubled world.
Unfortunately, he had powerful enemies. The allegiance of Florence with Charles VIII was disadvantageous for much of Italy, but this was not Savonarola’s greatest obstacle. He preached against moral depravity in an emerging decadent renaissance society. He feared no man in his call for the pursuit of the Christian ideal. This made him enemies, both at home and abroad. Because of his popular appeal, it was difficult to have him removed. At the same time, for every moral reform he successfully enacted in society, his enemies became increasingly infuriated. But the friar feared no man, giving himself entirely to preaching the Truth.
As the threat of invasion subsided, Savonarola’s influence waned and politics became increasingly turbulent. Elections occurred every few months, and power passed rapidly between his friends and enemies. All the while, his Florentine enemies plotted against him in secret, detesting his moral reforms, which made difficult the life to which they once were accustomed. When his authority to preach publicly was finally revoked and he was unable to defend himself, it was only a matter of time.
On Palm Sunday in 1498, Savonarola’s enemies went to work. They stirred up the mob and readied to besiege the convent of San Marco. In his last homily, he proclaimed, “Lord, I thank thee for desiring now to make me in Thy own image.” The convent was attacked and he was captured. There followed weeks of imprisonment, torture, and forged confessions. He was condemned to die on May 23, 1498.
Savonarola’s last act before his death was to bow his head in acceptance of the plenary indulgence granted to him by the pope. His last words were those of the creed. After he and his two closest companions were hanged and burned, his ashes were thrown in the river to prevent anyone from collecting his relics. Since then, history has long attempted to bury his legacy, just as his executioners did; he was long regarded as a backwards hack who scared Florence away from renaissance progress. But recent scholarship has brought him into the light. Two of his foremost biographers, Josef Schnitzer (Savonarola) and Roberto Ridolfi (The Life of Girolamo Savonarola), have even predicted his eventual canonization as a saint, although this has not yet come to be. He died a faithful son of the Church, giving his life for the Bride of Christ, and never giving up on the word of God, even when it cost him his life. Though his ashes were scattered, his legacy lived on.”
“O Lumen”, said at Compline each night in Dominican houses…
“O Light of the Church, Doctor of Truth, Rose of Patience, Ivory of Chastity…”
“…Sadly, however, many in the Church have failed spectacularly in this regard. The Church is currently reeling in the aftermath of revelations that a now former cardinal had for years sexually abused a child and many seminarians. It is even sadder that this is just one of many examples of those in Holy Orders who have abandoned their resolve to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom. And then there’s the question of who knew about these double lives and failed to take any actions. How many Catholics have become disillusioned with their faith because of such betrayals? How many vocations to the priesthood and religious life have been lost? Sexual infidelity is definitely not compatible with Christian fruitfulness.”
– Fr Robert Verrill, OP, English Province
May 24 is the Solemnity of the Translation of St. Dominic. This unusual feast day commemorates the day St. Dominic’s remains were moved, or “translated,” from their original burial spot behind an altar of the church of San Nicolo della Vigne in Bologna, Italy to a more prominent place in the church in 1233…
The move of St. Dominic’s body was carried out at the request of Pope Gregory IX, about one year before the saint’s canonization on July 13, 1234, only 13 years after his death.
As recorded in a letter by Bl. Jordan of Saxony, one of the first leaders of the Dominicans, the brothers were very anxious before the move of the body, because they were worried that when the wooden coffin was uninterred from the stone sepulcher, the body would give off a foul odor, since it had been buried in a poorly constructed tomb, exposed to water and heat.
But they received a great surprise, because when the tomb was opened, a wonderful and sweet perfume emanated from the coffin instead.
“Its sweetness astonished those present, and they were filled with wonder at this strange occurrence. Everyone shed tears of joy, and fear and hope rose in all hearts,” Bl. Jordan wrote.
He reported that the odor remained and if anyone touched a hand or some object to the body, the odor immediately attached itself and lingered for a long time.
“The body was carried to the marble sepulcher where it would rest – it and the perfume that it poured forth. This marvelous aroma which the holy body emitted was evidence to all how much the saint had truly been the good odor of Christ,” he wrote.
“Chaste is waste.”
“Virtue can hurt you.” -popular sayings
“We live in a culture of entitlement. Movies, TV shows, and magazines exhort us to get the love that we “deserve.”
But love defies the culture’s rules. (Ed. is it REALLY love if sought or obtained immorally, selfishly? If the “other” is not a person, but an object or subject to objectification as a resource to be used, abused, and disposed of, is it REALLY love? I don’t recall selfishness, being part of the definition of love? Selflessness, agape, yes. Willing the good of the other, is the definition of love I understand, and am challenged through my own sinfulness to constantly pursue.) It is not something one can “get” in the sense of taking it for selfish reasons. When love is treated as an object to be consumed, it vanishes. “If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned” (Song of Songs 8:7).”
Are you only your anatomy? Is anyone? Is that all you are? A thing? A piece of something? To be consumed, a resource, at the will and how and whim of another more powerful or deceptive? Perhaps an unwanted vermin to be exterminated? Does “reason” play any role in our decisions? Is it possible our “reason” can steer us more towards happiness? Like in every other aspect of life? Are we held to account by reason? For reason? Are we permitted to only be held to account by reason when it is convenient? What kind of a silly, ephemeral, meaningless thing this “reason” you say would be then?
“Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self.” (CCC 2346) The “Gift of Self” IS the definition of love. “You cannot give what you do not have.” -common proverb
“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools…” -Rm 1:22
Novena to St. Joseph – The Blessed Virgin Mary’s Most Chaste Spouse
O glorious descendant of the kings of Judah, Inheritor of the virtues of all the patriarchs. Just and happy St. Joseph, listen to my prayer. Thou art my glorious protector, and shall ever be, after Jesus and Mary the object of my most profound veneration and confidence. Thou art the most hidden, though the greatest Saint, and art particularly the patron of those who serve God with the greatest purity and fervor. In union with all those who have ever been most devoted to thee I now dedicate myself to thy service; beseeching thee, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Who vouchsafed to love and obey thee as a son, to become a father to me; and to obtain for me the filial respect, confidence and love of a child towards thee.
O powerful advocate of all Christians, whose intercession has never been found to fail, deign to intercede for me now, and to implore for me the particular intention of this Novena.
Present me O great Saint to the adorable Trinity, with Whom thou hadst so glorious and so intimate a correspondence. Obtain that I may never efface by sin the Sacred Image according to the likeness of which, I was created. Beg for me that my divine Redeemer would enkindle in my heart and in all hearts, the fire of His Love, and infuse therein the virtues of His adorable infancy, His purity, simplicity, obedience, and humility.
Obtain for me likewise a lively devotion to thy virgin spouse, and protect me so powerfully in life and death, that I may have the happiness of dying as thou didst, in the friendship of my Creator, and under the immediate protection of the Mother of God. Amen.
“…Saint Dominic would spend whole nights weeping and groaning in prayer before the altar. Over and over again he would say, “What will become of sinners? What will become of sinners?” Saint Dominic’s great passion was to reconcile sinners by preaching the mercy of God.
The Power of Preaching
Dominic understood that the power of preaching comes from ceaseless prayer. His prayer had three characteristics:
-heartfelt pity for sinners,
-and exultation in the Divine Mercy.
Saint Dominic prayed constantly; he prayed at home and on the road, in church and in his cell. For Saint Dominic there was no place or time foreign to prayer. He loved to pray at night. He engaged his whole body in prayer by standing with outstretched arms, by bowing, prostrating, genuflecting, and kissing the sacred page. If you are not familiar with the extraordinary little booklet entitled The Nine Ways of Prayer of Saint Dominic, today would be a good day to find it and read it.
The Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Saint Dominic had a tenth way of prayer too: the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary that today we call the rosary. The use of beads was widespread and the repetition of the Hail Mary were both widespread before the time of Saint Dominic. The Hail Mary prayed 150 times in reference to the 150 psalms was practiced in Carthusian and Cistercian cloisters before the time of Saint Dominic.
Irrigated by Grace
Saint Dominic understood that preaching alone was not enough. Preaching has to be irrigated by grace, and grace is obtained by prayer. Inspired by the Mother of God, Saint Dominic interspersed his sermons with the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He exhorted his hearers to continue praying the Psalter of 150 Aves as a way of prolonging the benefits of holy preaching. The rosary allows the seed of the Word sown by holy preaching to germinate in the soul and bear fruit.
Divine Wisdom has so ordered things that the simplest material means — humble and adapted to our weakness — produce the greatest spiritual effects. Father Raphael Simon, the saintly Trappist psychiatrist, said that, “five decades of the rosary or even three Hail Marys daily may mean the difference between eternal life and death.” The effect of the rosary is entirely disproportionate to its simplicity. The fruits of the rosary are well known: among them are detachment from sin and from the occasions of sin, peace of heart, humility, chastity, and joy. The rosary, and all authentic prayer, is always realistic — that is to say, honest about human weakness and sin — and, at the same, full of hope — that is to say, open to the glorious plan of God’s mercy.
The Supplication of the Rosary
If Saint Dominic preached the rosary and prayed it, it was because he knew it to be a prayer capable of winning every grace. The rosary is a prayer of repetition. It is a prayer of confidence. It helps one to persevere in supplication, bead by bead, and decade by decade. Our Lord finds the rosary irresistible because His own Mother “subsidizes” it. She stands behind it. The rosary is the voice of the poor, the needy, the downtrodden, and the weak. Persevere in praying the rosary and one day you will hear Our Lord say to you what He said to the woman of the Gospel: “Great is thy faith! Be it done for thee as thou wilt” (Mt 15:28). Saint Dominic shows us that, with the rosary in hand, we will experience the triumph of grace.”
“While he thus labored to make his own soul pleasing to God, the fire of divine love was daily more and more enkindled in his breast, and he was consumed with an ardent zeal for the salvation of infidels and sinners. To move the divine mercy to regard them with pity, he spent often whole nights in the church at prayer, watering the steps of the altar with abundance of tears, in which he was heard to sigh and groan before the Father of mercy, in the earnestness and deep affliction of his heart; never ceasing to beg with the greatest ardor, the grace to gain some of those unhappy souls to Christ.” – From the Chronicle of the Origin of this Order, compiled by Bl. Jordan of Saxony
The tears of our Holy Father Dominic never fail to move and challenge me. There is something haunting and mysterious at the thought of a man weeping in the solitude and silence of a sleepless night on the altar steps. Entering a church at night to find someone in such a state of fervent and distressing prayer is a moving and troubling experience. The state of crisis shatters the thin veil of our quotidian expectations to reveal the startling reality that we are still poor, banished children of Eve, living in the status viatoris, awaiting the glorious coming of Our Lord and the eternal beatitude of Heaven. The encounter with the soul in crisis reminds us of the reality of the cross that we are called to bear with Christ and with one another. Seeing another bearing such a burden awakens our Christian sympathy and draws us out of our private concerns to beseech the Lord of all consolation for his mercy and compassion.
But what is the crisis that confronted Saint Dominic as he wept in fervent petition at the altar steps? Our holy father was not suffering from the betrayal of a spouse, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. His tears were not shed over a personal crisis, but rather the crisis of the “infidels and sinners” who reject the obedience of faith and do not enjoy the salvation offered by Christ. When we encounter the tears of our father Dominic, we are confronted with the reality that those who are closed to faith are lacking the possibility of true and lasting friendship with God, a friendship which requires filial trust and a loyal heart. Saint Dominic was brought to tears at the thought of a soul rejecting such a gift. In Dominic we see the beauty of a soul transfigured by faith, hope, and love in a state of fervent petition; more, we see a participation in the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ.
These three features of Saint Dominic’s tears in some way characterize the mission of the Friar Preacher. To preach for the salvation of souls, the soul of the preacher must be elevated by grace through the infused virtues of faith, hope, and love. The preacher must be sympathetically aware of the true deprivation suffered by the poor souls who lack saving faith. And the preacher must see his preaching for the salvation of souls as a participation in the saving action of Christ Our Lord. May the same fire of divine love that burned within Saint Dominic be enkindled within us, that we may never cease “to beg with the greatest ardor, the grace to gain some of those unhappy souls to Christ.”
Love, rely on His grace alone, pray for me, please, please, please,
“The Fourteenth Century Dominican, Henry Suso, is one of a trinity of famous Dominican “Founding Fathers” of German Mysticism, a form of spirituality prevalent in German speaking lands 1250-1470. The other two “Founding Fathers” were his teacher, Meister Eckhart, and his contemporary John Tauler. Of the three, Suso is the only one to have been Beatified: Pope Gregory XVI confirmed his veneration in 1831 on account of sustained popular devotion. Who was this German mystic? What makes him different to Meister Eckhart? Is he anything more than the acceptable face of German mystical theology?
Suso was born in Constance, we think, but he might have been born on the other side of the lake at Ueberlingen in Swabia. His father was Count von Berg but he took his Mother’s name instead and seemingly eschewed the more obvious worldly path as a courtier before him. One is tempted to think of him as something of a “mummy’s boy”. Yet what “mummy’s boy” would leave the comfort of his home and enter a fairly austere life with the Dominicans at the young age of 13, some two years earlier than the stipulated age? Suso, it seems, had was made of strong mettle. Indeed, in his early life, he would subject himself to eye-watering practices such as lying of a bed of thirty nails in cruciform shape.
At the age of about 18 he experienced a deeper form of spiritual conversion. From 1324 to 1327, he studied at the studium generale in Cologne. It was at Cologne that Suso fatefully came into contact with Eckhart, shortly before the latter’s death in c.1328. After Cologne, Suso returned to his home Priory at Constance. He became a lector but found himself in hot water over his defence of Eckhart, such as can be found in his “Little Book of Truth”, a short defence of Eckhart’s teching. He defended himself at a General Chapter of the Order at Maastricht in 1330. Luckily for Suso, the General Chapter seemed more concerned about the problems within the Franciscans and the schismatic acts of fr. Michael of Cesena than suspect theology from within their own ranks.
The Dominicans left Constance in 1348 in order to avoid swearing allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor, Louis of Bavaria, in the midst of a feud between the Empire and Pope John XXII. After nearly being murdered in a Rhineland village in a bizarre affair in which he was accused of poisoning the village well, he finally settled at Ulm, where after serving as Prior, he later died on 25th January 1365.
In his writings, Suso bequeathed us with a rich and intensely personal spirituality in which he stresses a self-emptying of oneself in order to allow the pouring in of God. Acts of self-surrender make us more like Christ, who made the ultimate sacrifice for our redemption. I couldn’t help think in reading Suso that there is much in his thinking that could be considered a precursor to St. John of the Cross; they explore similar themes of spiritual darkness in poetic form. Frank Tobin has described Suso, as having the ultimate aim of putting spiritual truths in literary form. His Vita, which despite its Latin title was written in German and is known in English as “The Life of the Servant”, can be seen as a continuation of an autobiographical tradition in spiritual writing that has strong echoes of St. Augustine’s Confessions. It should be said, however, that the work is said to be a joint-enterprise with Elisabeth Stagel, Dominican Nun and friend to Suso, who was sometime Prioress at Toss. Some doubt whether Suso had any hand in the work at all.
Suso was altogether more qualified and guarded than Eckhart. After an early scare with suspicion, he seems to have taken greater care not to be misconstrued or misunderstood, whilst retaining a focus on the interior life, and themes of detachment, discernment, freedom and mystical union. He was, we might say, less speculative than Eckhart, and more careful. In striving to combine mystical devotion with sound doctrine, Suso is much more than simply the acceptable face of German mysticism; his writings are a treasury for us to mine and his life. And if like me, you find the Swabian dialect of High Medieval German rather taxing, there are some excellent translations.”
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP