Monday, August 25th, 2008
The King of France from 1226 to 1270, St. Louis IX is another of the Church’s saints who demonstrates that personal holiness and public service can align in the Christian life. When the high concerns of both Church and State find a common home in human hearts, the two orders benefit within their own proper spheres.
The holiness and virtue of St. Louis are recorded in the Catholic Encyclopedia:
St. Louis led an exemplary life, bearing constantly in mind his mother’s words: “I would rather see you dead at my feet than guilty of a mortal sin.” His biographers have told us of the long hours he spent in prayer, fasting, and penance, without the knowledge of his subjects.
The French king was a great lover of justice. French fancy still pictures him delivering judgements under the oak of Vincennes. It was during his reign that the “court of the king” (curia regis) was organized into a regular court of justice, having competent experts, and judicial commissions acting at regular periods. These commissions were called parlements and the history of the “Dit d’Amiens” proves that entire Christendom willingly looked upon him as an international judiciary. It is an error, however, to represent him as a great legislator; the document known as “Etablissements de St. Louis” was not acode drawn up by order of the king, but merely a collection of customs, written out before 1273 by a jurist who set forth in this book the customs of Orléans, Anjou, and Maine, to which he added a few ordinances of St. Louis.
St. Louis was a patron of architecture. The Sainte Chappelle, an architectural gem, was constructed in his reign, and it was under his patronage that Robert of Sorbonne founded the “Collège de la Sorbonne,” which became the seat of the theological faculty of Paris.
He was renowned for his charity. The peace and blessings of the realm come to us through the poor he would say. Beggars were fed from his table, he ate their leavings, washed their feet, ministered to the wants of thelepers, and daily fed over one hundred poor. He founded many hospitals and houses: the House of the Felles-Dieufor reformed prostitutes; the Quinze-Vingt for 300 blind men (1254), hospitals at Pontoise, Vernon, Compiégne.
Among his counselors and companions St. Louis counted his relative, St. Thomas Aquinas. The image above depicts a famous meal they shared one evening. The event is recounted in the paragraph below, taken from the biography St. Thomas Aquinas by Placid Conway, OP:
St. Louis IX, King of France, held his relative Thomas Aquinas in the highest esteem, and made him a member of his Privy Council for State Affairs. It was his wont to inform the holy Doctor the evening before of all important business to be discussed on the morrow, so that he might come prepared to tender advice. One is not surprised to find these years synchronize with the monarch’s greatest temporal glory, opening an epoch of lasting benefit to France. He excused himself as often as he could with propriety from sitting at the royal table, but whether at Council board or supper, he was as recollected as in his cell. While sitting at table one evening with the King and Queen and guests, he was observed to be quite lost in thought. Vainly the Prior plucked his sleeve to arouse him, when suddenly the goblets and platters jumped from a blow of his fist on the trencher, and the sonorous voice rang out: “The argument is clinched against the Manichees!” All the while his train of thought had been of the heresy of the new Manichees, the Vaudois, and Cathari. The Prior rebuked him for such unseemly conduct, but the gentle Louis only smiled, and bade one of his secretaries write down the argument hastily, lest it might lose its force and clearness.
St. Louis died in 1270 in Tunis, North Africa, while on his second crusade to the Holy Land. His relics were taken to Bologna, then Lyon, and finally to the royal chapel at St. Denis, where today only a finger remains.
O God, you called your servant Louis of France to an earthly throne that he might advance your heavenly kingdom, and you gave him zeal for your Church and love for your people. Mercifully grant that we who commemorate him this day may be fruitful in good works, and attain to the glorious crown of your saints.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.