Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume VIII: August. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Lewis, Bishop of Toulouse, Confessor
THIS saint was little nephew to St. Lewis, king of France, and nephew by his mother to St. Elizabeth of Hungary. He was born at Brignoles, in Provence, in 1274, and was second son to Charles II., surnamed the Lame, king of Naples and Sicily, and to Mary, daughter of Stephen V., king of Hungary. He was a saint from the cradle, and from his childhood made it his earnest study to do nothing which was not directed to the divine service, and with a view only to eternity. Even his recreations he referred to this end, and chose only such as were serious, and seemed barely necessary for the exercise of the body, and preserving the vigour of the mind. His walks usually led him to some church, or religious house. It was his chief delight to hear the servants of God discourse of mortification, or the most perfect practices of piety. His modesty and recollection in the church inspired with devotion all who saw him. His mother assured the author of his life, that when he was only seven years old she found him often lying in the night on a mat which was spread on the floor near his bed, which he did out of an early spirit of penance. He inured himself to the practice of self-denial, sobriety, and mortification from his tender years. His mother herself taught him this lesson, judging it no severity for him to practise that for the sake of virtue which the Lacedemonians, and other warlike nations, obliged their children to do for the sake of corporal strength, and that they might be trained up to a martial life. The government and restraint of the senses, and of all the affections of the soul, especially against gluttony, lust, and other importunate passions, according to the prescript of reason, is called the virtue of temperance; and is that cardinal virtue which chiefly enables us and prepares us for all moral good; it is the sure basis upon which the whole building of a good life is erected, and was called by the ancient Greek philosophers the storehouse of all virtues. Under this are comprised chastity, sobriety, meekness, poverty of spirit, contempt of the world, humility, modesty, or the government of a mans exterior, especially of the tongue; compunction, cleanness of heart, peace of mind, the mastery of the senses and passions, and the triumph over our own most dangerous and domestic enemies; all which make up the noble train of her attendants. These are the delightful streams which flow from her fountain; the beautiful flowers which grow in her garden, and are cultivated by her care. It is not therefore to be wondered at that all these virtues took early root in the soul of a young prince who laid their foundation so deep. God, by an unforeseen affliction, furnished him with a powerful means of spiritual improvement, and Lewis was inspired by his mercy with docility to the grave.
In 1284, two years after the general revolt of the two Sicilies, our saints father, Charles II., then prince of Salerno, was taken prisoner in a sea-fight by the king of Arragon. His father Charles died within a few months, and he was saluted by his friends, king of Sicily, but he remained four years prisoner, and was only released on hard conditions; being moreover obliged to send into Arragon, for hostages, fifty gentlemen, and three of his sons, one of whom was our saint, who was then fourteen years old; and remained seven years at Barcelona in rigorous captivity, where the inhuman usage he met with afforded him occasions for the exercise of patience and all other virtues. He was always cheerful, and encouraged his companions under their sufferings, often saying to them: Adversity is most advantageous to those who make profession of serving God. We learn by it patience, humility, and resignation to the divine will, and are at no other time better disposed for the exercise of all virtue. Prosperity blinds the soul, makes it giddy and drunk, so as to make her forget both God and herself; it emboldens and strengthens exceedingly all the passions, and flatters pride, and the inordinate love of ourselves. Not content with what he suffered from the severity of his condition, he practised extraordinary voluntary austerities, fasted rigorously several days every week, rejected the least vain or dangerous amusements, and would never see or speak to any woman but in public company, fearing the most remote danger of any snare that could be laid to his purity. He knew that this holy and amiable virtue is only to be kept untainted by a life of assiduous devout prayer, frequent pious meditation on the precepts of religion, the strictest rules of temperance, and the diligent shunning of all dangers: for, the least occasion, or the smallest spark of temptation, when not watched against, may sometimes suffice to put the contrary passion into a flame. He every day recited the church office, the office of our Lady, that of the passion of Christ, and several other devotions: went every day to confession before he heard mass, that he might assist at that tremendous sacrifice with greater purity of soul; and, as the whole city of Barcelona was his prison, he often waited on the sick in the hospitals. He obtained leave that two Franciscan friars, who were appointed to attend him, might live with him in his own apartments; he rose to pray with them in the night, and under them he applied himself diligently to the studies of philosophy and theology. In a dangerous fit of illness he made a vow to embrace that austere order, if he recovered his health and his liberty. In his releasement, he seemed to have no other joy than in the power of fulfilling this engagement.
He was set at liberty in 1294, by a treaty concluded between the king of Naples, his father, and James II., king of Arragon; one condition of which was the marriage of his sister Blanche with the king of Arragon. Both courts had, at the same time, extremely at heart the project of a double marriage, and that the princess of Majorca, sister to King James of Arragon, should be married to Lewis, on whom his father promised to settle the kingdom of Naples, (which he had in part recovered,) his eldest brother, Charles Martel, prince of Salerno, having been already crowned king of Hungary, in the right of his mother Mary, sister to the late King Ladislas IV., but the saints resolution of dedicating himself to God was inflexible, and he resigned his right to the crown of Naples, which he begged his father to confer on his next brother, Robert, which was done accordingly. Thus it was his ambition to follow Jesus Christ, poor and humble, rather than to be raised to honour in the world, which has no other recompenses to bestow on those who serve it but temporal goods. Jesus Christ, said he, is my kingdom. If I possess him alone, I shall have all things: if I have not him, I lose all. The opposition of his family obliged the superiors of the Friar Minors to refuse for some time to admit him into their body; wherefore he took holy orders at Naples. The pious Pope St. Celestine had nominated him archbishop of Lyons in 1294; but, as he had not then taken the tonsure, he found means to defeat that project. Boniface VIII. gave him a dispensation to receive priestly orders in the twenty-third year of his age; and afterwards sent him a like dispensation for the episcopal character, together with his nomination to the archbishopric of Toulouse, and a severe injunction in virtue of holy obedience to accept the same. However, he took a journey first to Rome, and to fulfil his vow, made his religious profession among the Friar Minors, in their great convent of Ara Cli, on Christmas Eve, 1296, and received the episcopal consecration in the beginning of the February following.
He travelled to his bishopric as a poor religious, but was received at Toulouse with the veneration due to a saint, and the magnificence that became a prince. His modesty, mildness, and devotion, inspired a love of piety into all who beheld him. It was his first care to provide for the relief of the indigent, and his first visits were made to the hospitals and poor. Having taken an account of his revenues, he reserved to his own use a very small part, allotting the rest entirely to the poor; of whom he entertained twenty-five every day at his own table, serving them himself, and sometimes bending one knee when he presented them necessaries. He extended his charities over all his fathers kingdom, and made the visitation of his whole diocess, leaving every where monuments of his zeal, charity, and sanctity. In his apostolical labours, he abated nothing of his austerities, said mass every day, and preached frequently. He was very severe in the examination of the abilities and piety of all those whom he admitted and employed among his clergy. Sighing under the weight of the charge which was committed to him, he earnestly desired leave to resign it, but could not be heard. He answered to some that opposed his inclination: Let the world call me mad, provided I may be discharged from a burden which is too heavy for my shoulders I am satisfied. Is it not better for me to endeavour to throw it off than to sink under it? God was pleased to grant him what he desired by calling him to himself. Being obliged to go into Provence for certain very urgent ecclesiastical affairs, he fell sick at the castle of Brignoles. Finding his end draw near, he said to those about him: After a dangerous voyage, I am arrived within sight of the port, which I have long earnestly desired. I shall now enjoy my God whom the world would rob me of; and I shall be freed from the heavy charge which I am not able to bear. He received the viaticum on his knees, melting in tears, and in his last moments ceased not to repeat the Hail Mary. He died on the 19th of August, 1297, being only twenty-three years and a half old. He was buried in the convent of Franciscan friars at Marseilles, as he had ordered. Pope John XXII., the successor of Boniface VIII., canonized him at Avignon, in 1317, and addressed a brief thereupon to his mother, who was still living. The saints relics were enshrined in a rich silver case, in the same year, in presence of his mother, his brother Robert, king of Sicily, and the queen of France. In 1423, Alphonsus, surnamed the Magnanimous, king of Arragon and Naples, having taken and plundered Marseilles, carried away these relics and deposited them at Valentia in Spain, where they remain to this day. See the life of St. Lewis, carefully written by one who had been intimately acquainted with him, and the bull of his canonization; also Fleury, t. 18, and Pinius the Bollandist, &c.