Saint of the Day – 7 January – St Raymond of Peñafort OP (1175-1275) known as the “Father of Canon Law” – Master of the Order of Preachers, Archbishop, Dominican Priest, Confessor, Evangelist, Missionary, Theologian,Teacher, Philosopher, Lawyer of both Canon and Civil Law, Writer, Spiritual Director and Adviser, Preacher, miracle worker. Born as Raimundo de Peñafort in 1175 at Peñafort, Catalonia, Spain and died on 6 January 1275, aged 100 years old, at Barcelona, Spain of natural causes . Patronages – attorneys, barristers, lawyers, canon lawyers, medical record librarians, Barcelona, Spain, Navarre, Spain.
As a lawyer, priest and preacher, St Raymond of Penyafort made a significant mark on the history of Spain and the church. His preaching helped re-Christianise Spain after the Moors were overthrown. And his compilation of papal and conciliar decrees, it was the main source of canon law for seven centuries.
Raymond of Peñafort was born in Vilafranca del Penedès, a small town near Barcelona, Catalonia, around 1175 . Descended from a noble family with ties to the royal house of Aragon, he was educated in Barcelona and at the University of Bologna, where he received doctorates in both civil and canon law.
An accomplished lawyer and scholar, Raymond joined the Dominicans at Barcelona in 1222. The 47-year-old novice was assigned to develop a book of case studies for confessors that helped to shape the medieval church’s penitential system. Also a gifted preacher, Raymond had remarkable success evangelising Moors and Jews. And he travelled throughout Spain rejuvenating the spiritual life of Christians that the Moors had enslaved. Among his main themes were spiritual combat and standing firm in trials. Listen to his voice in this letter:
“The preacher of God’s truth has told us that all who want to live righteously in Christ will suffer persecution. . . . the only exception to this general statement is, I think, the person who either neglects, or does not know how, to live temperately, justly and righteously in this world.
May you never be numbered among those whose house is peaceful, quiet and free from care, those on whom the Lord’s chastisement does not descend, those who live out their days in prosperity and in the twinkling of an eye will go down to hell.
Your purity of life, your devotion, deserve and call for a reward, because you are acceptable and pleasing to God, your purity of life must be made purer still, by frequent buffetings, until you attain perfect sincerity of heart. If from time to time you feel the sword falling on you with double or treble force, this also should be seen as sheer joy and the mark of love. The two-edged sword consists in conflict without, fears within. It falls with double or treble force within, when the cunning spirit troubles the depths of your heart with guile and enticements. . . . The sword falls with double and treble force externally when, without cause, persecution breaks out from within the church, where wounds are more serious, especially when inflicted by friends.
This is that enviable and blessed cross of Christ . . . the cross in which alone we must make our boast, as Paul, God’s chosen instrument, has told us.”
In 1230, Pope Gregory IX brought Raymond to Rome as his confessor. The reputation of the saint for juridical science decided the pope to employ Raymond of Peñafort’s talents in re-arranging and codifying the canons of the Church. He had to rewrite and condense decrees that had been multiplying for centuries and which were contained in some twelve or fourteen collections already existing. We learn from a Bull of Gregory IX to the Universities of Paris and Bologna, that many of the decrees in the collections were but repetitions of ones issued before, many contradicted what had been determined in previous decrees and many, on account of their great length, led to endless confusion, while others had never been embodied in any collection and were of uncertain authority.
The pope announced the new publication in a Bull directed to the doctors and students of Paris and Bologna in 1231 and commanded that the work of St Raymond alone, should be considered authoritative and should alone, be used in the schools. Because they were so well arranged, canonists relied on Raymond’s Decretals until the new codification of 1917.
When Raymond completed his work, the pope appointed him Archbishop of Tarragona but the saint declined the honour. After declining the appointment of Archbishop, he could not avoid his election as the third general of the Dominicans in 1238. But when he reformed the Dominican rule, he slipped in a clause allowing early retirement of office holders. And he used it to retire in 1240.
But he continued to work 35 more years, focusing on bringing Jews and Moors to Christ. To equip Catholics for this work, he introduced the study of Hebrew and Arabic among Dominicans and persuaded Thomas Aquinas to write his Summa Contra Gentes as an evangelistic tool. Raymond told his general that ten thousand Moors had been baptised through the efforts of the Dominicans. He died at 100 years of age in 1275.
St Raymond was Canonised by Pope Clement VIII in 1601. He was buried in the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia in Barcelona.
Most Famous Miracle
Raymond of Penyafort served as the confessor for King James I of Aragon, who was a loyal son of the Church but allowed his lustful desires to shackle him. While on the island of Majorca to initiate a campaign to help convert the Moors living there, the king brought his mistress with him. Raymond reproved the king and asked him repeatedly to dismiss his concubine. This the king refused to do. Finally, the saint told the king that he could remain with him no longer and made plans to leave for Barcelona. But the king forbade Raymond to leave the island and threatened punishment to any ship captain who dared to take him.
Saint Raymond then said to his Dominican companion, “Soon you will see how the King of heaven will confound the wicked deeds of this earthly king and provide me with a ship!” They then went down to the seashore where Raymond took off his cappa (the long black cloak the Dominicans wear over the white tunic and scapular) and spread one end of it on the water while rigging the other end to his walking staff. Having thus formed a miniature mast, Raymond bid the other Dominican to hop on but his companion, lacking the saint’s faith, refused to do so. Then Raymond bid him farewell and with the Sign of the Cross he pushed away from the shore and miraculously sailed away on his cloak. Skirting around the very boats that had forbidden him passage, the saint was seen by scores of sailors who shouted in astonishment and urged him on.
Raymond sailed the ~160 miles to Barcelona in the space of 6 hours, where his landing was witnessed by a crowd of amazed spectators.
Touched by this miracle, King James I renounced his evil ways and thereafter, led a good life.