St Vincent, Angel of the Apocalypse
And now become a citizen of high heaven,
Do thou guide our voices as we sing thy deeds..."
So begins the Office hymn Lumen in terris populi fidelis, assigned for Matins on the Memorial of St Vincent Ferrer, which the Order of Preachers marks today. A popular Dominican saint and possibly one of the most challenging, he was called the 'angel of the apocalypse' and was a great itinerant preacher of the 14th century. St Vincent was born to a family of English ancestry in Valencia, Spain in 1350. At the age of 18 he was clothed in the white habit of St Dominic at the priory in Valencia and lived a life of austerity and penance. As such, the Office hymn above continues:
Thou didst choose the examples of a pure life,
And didst imitate the great father of the Order of Preachers."
Enlightening the orbit of land and sea,
Always announcing the Sacred Word with ardent heart."
The Hebrews, together with the Moors,
After giving up their old law,
Are reborn in the divine waters by a believing mind."
And didst foretell the imminent fall of the world,
Rightly did every kind of miracle render thee glorious."
Finally in 1419 St Vincent died at Vannes in Brittany, France where he was buried. In 1455 he was canonized by Pope Callixtus II. As such, the Matins hymn sings:
Though buried in the remote land of the Bretons,
Thou didst ascend the heavens,
Rising more beautiful than the heavenly realms."
We should give a final word to this great Dominican saint whose famed treatise 'On the Spiritual Life' remains as striking as ever. The following extract on study is an important reminder to all religious and clergy who engage in theological and scientific study and has a particular resonance for an Order so closely linked to study and the pursuit of knowledge in the service of Truth:
"Do you desire to study to your advantage? Let devotion accompany all your studies, and study less to make yourself learned than to become a saint. Consult God more than your books, and ask him, with humility, to make you understand what you read. Study fatigues and drains the mind and heart. Go from time to time to refresh them at the feet of Jesus Christ under his cross. Some moments of repose in his sacred wounds give fresh vigor and new lights. Interrupt your application by short, but fervent and ejaculatory prayers: never begin or end your study but by prayer. Science is a gift of the Father of lights; do not therefore consider it as barely the work of your own mind or industry."
May we put St Vincent Ferrer's wisdom into practice in our lives, may we heed his call to daily conversion of heart and mind and may he ever intercede for us!
The images above are of St Vincent Ferrer as portrayed in the reredos of Hawkesyard Priory church and the church of St John the Baptist in Salamanca where St Vincent once preached. While in Salamanca, he lived at San Esteban.