Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Raymund of Peñafort. He is the Patron Saint of individuals who study and work in Canon Law. Raymund was born in a noble family that descended from Barcelona and Aragon royalty. He was born in 1175 at Peñafort in the region of Catalonia, Spain. As a child and adolescent, he was so gifted as a student that he was teaching Philosophy in Barcelona by the age of twenty. He taught for free and was known far and wide for it.
At the age of thirty, Raymund went to Bologna where he sought to deepen his understanding of both civil and canon law. After advancing with a doctorate degree, he taught with the same gratuitous disposition, as he once did in Spain. In 1219, the Bishop of Barcelona appointed him as his archdeacon and ‘official.’ While serving in this role, he was the perfect example of love, zeal, piety, and care for the poor to the clergy. In 1222, at the age of forty-seven, he joined the Order of Preachers, otherwise known as the Dominicans. It was only eight months after the death of St. Dominic.
After embracing the Dominican habit, Raymund asked for a penance that would help him engage his teaching, since he was at times complacent in that endeavor. What he received was not what he was expecting, but he took on the task assigned. He was asked to pen a “collection of cases of conscience” for moralists and confessors. This document led to a writing of a much larger compilation and the first to ever be written. The document was titled Summa de casibus poenitentialbus (“Concerning the Cases of Penance”).
In 1230, Pope Gregory IX called Raymund to Rome, where he served as his personal confessor and was appointed to other offices within the Curia. He also served as the point person for the poor who were able to bring their petitions to the Holy Father. During his time in Rome, St. Raymund was ordered by Gregory IX to collect the many dispersed decrees of previous popes and councils in order to combine them into one single collection. After the daunting task, which lasted three years, Raymund finally completed his order with five books known as the Decretals Gregorii noni. In 1234, Pope Gregory IX confirmed it.
St. Raymund’s five books were the first and newest collection of decretals (responses to questions written by a Pope) since the Decretum written by Gratian, the Father of Canon Law, in 1150. In his work, Gratian presented jurisprudence into canonical philosophy. It was a foundational work that set the bar for canon law. It also became known as the primary textbook for study in the field. Together, the Decretum and Decretals became known as the most comprehensive collation in the courts and schools throughout Europe. Raymund’s work also went by another name, Liber extra, the book outside of Gratian’s Decretum.
After his time in Rome, Raymund returned to his home country because of health reasons. He was received with much jubilation upon his arrival. He was appointed to the city he cherished, Barcelona, where he continued to study, preach, and hear the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the confessional. He was asked to sit on many commissions by both the king of Spain and the Holy See.
Although he found the appointment with great sadness, and at first wanted to desert the position, but eventually through obedience accepted, he was elevated to the Third Master General of the Dominican Order in 1238. When visiting his Dominicans, he would often walk to each destination, never ceasing to perform his own religious and pious activities. As the Master General, he promoted a constant desire to embrace solitude, study, and ministry. St. Raymund also subtracted constitutions that were unclear and rewrote the code for the order to follow. After only two years as the Master General of the Dominicans, he resigned on the point that he was sixty-five years old.
Although now sixty-five, God had more plans and years for St. Raymund. In the thirty-four more years of his life, he continued to do the work he loved the most. He also fought against the heresies that arose and sought the conversion of the Moors in Spain. He was a major influence on another Dominican, who he inspired to write the document, Summa Contra Gentiles (“Against the Gentiles”). The Dominican was Saint Thomas Aquinas.
Furthermore, he desired to have Hebrew and Arabic taught in the monasteries, he founded new friaries, particularly one within the territory of the Moors. He wrote his superior general in 1256 saying that ten thousand Saracens had been baptized Christian. He is also known for assisting in the establishment of the Inquisition in Catalonia.
At the end of his life, the Kings of Castile and Aragon, Alphonsus and James, paid him a visit. They received his final blessing. On January 6, 1275, the one-hundredth year of his life, St. Raymund of Peñafort entered heavenly glory. In 1601, Pope Clement VIII canonized him a Saint of the universal Church. Traditionally his feast was January 23, but is now January 7.
St. Raymund of Peñafort…Pray for Us.
This blog post is dedicated to the Tribunal of the Diocese of Phoenix. I know in my position at the parish there isn’t a month that passes when I don’t call the Tribunal for clarifications in Canon Law. Thank you for the demanding work you all do for the Diocese of Phoenix.
Introduction to Canon Law notes, Nullity Ministry Training, May 2014.
Walsh, Michael. Butler’s Lives of the Saints. HarperSanFrancisco, 1991