St. Louis, King of France

August 25, 2010

Today, August 25th, is the feast day of King Louis IX of France (1214-1270).  He is the only French monarch to have been canonized by the Church.  The city of St. Louis in Missouri was named for him by French settlers in the 18th century.  He is a glorious example of a Christian king.  No ruler of any country today is likely to be seen washing the feet of the poor, serving them at table and visiting them in hospitals, or fighting valiantly at the head of his army in a just war, or responding to the attempted extortion of money through the threat of personal torture by coolly offering his body for torture, and the desired money in exchange for the liberation of his captured subjects.

The following quotations are from the memoirs written by one of his noblemen, the Lord of Joinville.

Sayings of St. Louis

“He asked me whether I wanted to be honored in this world and gain heaven at my death, and I told him yes.  And he said to me: ‘Then be sure that you never knowingly say anything that if the whole world knew it, you could not acknowledge: I did it, I said it.’

“Once he called me and said: ‘I do not dare to speak to you, since you are of such subtle perception in everything that pertains to God, and so I have called these friars who are here, because I want to ask you a question.’  The question was, ‘Seneschal, what sort of thing is God?’  And I said to him: ‘Sire, He is a thing so good that there can be nothing better.’  ‘Truly,’ he said, ‘it is well answered, for the response you have made is written in this book which I hold in my hand.  Next I ask you,’ he said, ‘which would you rather: that you were a leper, or that you had committed a mortal sin?’  And I, who never lied, answered that I would rather commit thirty mortal sins than be a leper.  And when the friars had left, he called me all alone, and made me sit at his feet, and said to me: ‘What did you say to me yesterday?’  And I told him again what I had said.  And he said to me: “You spoke like a hasty fool, for you ought to know that there is no leprosy so foul as being in mortal sin, because when the soul is in mortal sin it is the image of the devil: no sickness can be worse than this.  And when a man dies, he is healed of the leprosy of the body; but when a man who has committed a mortal sin dies, he does not know whether he has repented in his life sufficiently for God to pardon him, and so he ought to have a great fear that the leprosy of his sin will last as long as God remains in heaven.  I pray you, as far as I am able,’ he said, ‘for the love of God and of me, that you rather permit every suffering to attack your body than suffer a mortal sin to enter into your soul.’

“He asked me whether I washed the feet of the poor on Maundy Thursday: ‘Sire!’ I said in sorrow – ‘I will never wash the feet of those wretches.’ — ‘Truly,’ he said, ‘that was ill spoken; for you ought never to disdain to do what God did for our instruction.  I pray you, firstly for the love of God, and for love of me, that you will accustom yourself to wash them.’

The dispute at Cluny

“He told me that there was a great dispute between clergy and Jews at the monastery of Cluny.  There was a knight there, to whom the abbot had given bread out of love for God, and who asked the abbot to let him say the first word; and with difficulty he obtained it.  And then he rose and leaned on his crutch, and bade them bring the greatest scholar and master from among the Jews; and they did so; and he asked him this question: ‘Master,’ said the knight, ‘I ask you whether you believe that the Virgin Mary, who carried God in her womb and in her arms, gave birth as a virgin, and whether she was the mother of God.’  And the Jew replied that he did not believe a word of it.  And the knight answered that he was a great fool to stay in her monastery and her house when he neither believed in her nor loved her.  ‘And truly,’ said the knight, ‘you will pay for it.’  And then he lifted his staff and struck the Jew behind the ear and laid him to the ground.  And the Jews turned in flight and carried off their master, all wounded; and thus the dispute ended.

“Then the abbot came to the knight, and told him that he had done a great folly.  And the knight said that the abbot himself had done a still greater folly in assembling such a conference; for there were good Christians there who would have gone away infidels through not understanding what the Jews said.  ‘And so I say to you,’ said the king, ‘that no one, unless he is a very good scholar, ought to dispute with them; but when the layman hears someone defame the Christian law, he ought only to defend the Christian law with the sword, which he should take to run them straight through the body, as far in as it can go.’

St. Louis’s last testament to his son, Philip III

“My dear son, the first thing I command you is that you set your heart to love God: for without this, no man can be saved.  Preserve yourself from doing anything that displeases God, that is, mortal sin.  You ought to suffer all manners of torments rather than commit a mortal sin.  If God sends you adversity, receive it in patience and give thanks to Our Lord, and consider that you have deserved it, and that He will turn it all to good.  If He gives you prosperity, thank Him humbly, so that through pride or otherwise you will not be made worse by what ought to make you better; for one should not war against God with His own gifts.  Confess yourself often, and choose as confessor a worthy man who can teach you what you ought to do and what to avoid; and you ought to conduct yourself in such a way that your confessor and your friends may dare to reprove your faults.

“Hear the service of Holy Church devoutly and quietly, and pray to God with your heart and with your mouth, especially at Mass, when the consecration is made.  Let your heart be gentle and merciful to the poor, the wretched and unhappy, and comfort and help them as much as you are able …

“Give thanks to God often for all the good things He has done for you, so that you may be worthy of receiving more.  Be faithful and strict with regard to the law and justice, and true to your subjects, without turning to the left or the right, but assist the just, and uphold the complaint of the poor until the truth becomes clear.  And if any one bring a case against you, do not judge it before you know the truth; for thus your counselors will be encouraged to judge more truly, whether it be for or against you …

“Take care not to go to war, unless after great deliberation, against a Christian man; and if it is necessary for you to do so, defend Holy Church and those who have done no wrong.  If wars and quarrels arise among your subjects, make peace between them as quickly as you can …

“Labor to banish every foul sin from your land; especially remove wicked speech and heresy as far as you have power to do so.  Take care that the expenses of your house be reasonable.

“And finally, my dearest son, have Masses sung for my soul and prayers be said throughout your kingdom; and allot me a share in all the good that you shall do.  Fair and dear son, I give you all the blessings that a good father can give his son.  And may the Blessed Trinity and all the saints protect and defend you from all evils, and may God give you the grace to do his will always, so that He may be honored through you, and that after this mortal life, you and We may be together with Him, and praise Him without end.  Amen.’

See: Joinville, Histoire de Saint Louis; The Memoirs of the Lord of Joinville, tr. Ethel Wedgwood; The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and other principal Saints, vol. 8, August 25th, by Fr. Alban Butler.

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