A king after God’s heart: Saint Louis IX of France

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“King Louis IX of France (1215-70) is acknowledged the ideal Christian monarch. Not only was his private life marked by a spirit of contemplation and asceticism overflowing in Christ-like charity toward all men, from fellow kings to the lowest of his subjects; he also gave his country a rule of unprecedented peace, justice, and material and spiritual prosperity. He fostered the flowering of Gothic architecture, developed the University of Paris. So great was his apostolic zeal that when he joined the Crusades he personally prepared Saracen converts for baptism and sent their children to France for a Catholic education. In a message to the Sultan of Tunis he wrote: “I desire so strongly the salvation of your soul that to secure it I would gladly spend the rest of my life in a Saracen prison. . . .” He died of plague at Tunis during his second campaign to save the Holy Land.” (Biography of St. Louis IX of France)

Saint Louis IX of France was indeed a king after God’s heart. Some historians have stated that he was indeed the best king or political leader that France has ever had. A socialist living in France around the 20th century himself admitted that “under no other administration old or present has there ever been anyone that has done as much for the dignity of the working class than St. Louis himself. Saint Louis was a truly dissintersted king whose chief concern was the matters of religion and of the salvation of souls, as well as the material well being of his State. Taken here are many excerpts from the life of Saint Louis IX that bring about the saintliness and holiness of perhaps the greatest king and political leader that has ever existed. St. Louis IX of France Ora pro Nobis! (All excerpts (unless stated otherwise) are taken from Rev. Alban Butler (1711-73) Volume VIII: August. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. August 25th: St. Louis King of France)

One of the greatest and most admirable detail of the life of Saint Louis IX of France was the great zeal for holiness that resided within St. Louis and of his abhorance for sin. This spirit of holiness and sanctity was nondoubtly instilled by the king’s holy mother Queen Blanche and this is recalled by St. Louis himself.

““I love you my dear son, with all the tenderness a mother is capable of; but I would infinitely rather see you fall down dead at my feet, than that you should ever commit a mortal sin!” The king frequently said to others, that the strong impression which this important lesson made on his mind, was never effaced during his whole life, and that no day passed in which it did not recur, and excite him vigorously to arm himself afresh against all snares and dangers of surprise, He was placed very young on the throne.”

Another striking detail regarding the life of Saint Louis was the great humility that he expressed throughout his life. This is remarkable give the status and power that came with being a king. Saint Louis could be said to truly have been a king after God’s heart just as the following was rightfully said of King David. Saint Louis himself always acknowledged that all authority came from God and that without God and his saviour Jesus Christ that the king was nothing but was rather helpless and unimportant. This striking humility could best be seen in the demeanor of the king regarding the event prior and during his coronation which he treated more than a mere event, but rather almost at a level resembling a Sacrament (even though it was a little lower than one):

Young-St.-Louis

St. Louis being crowned King of France at Reims, November 29, 1228.

“To prevent seditions, she (Queen Blanche) hastened the ceremony of his coronation, which was performed at Rheims, on the first Sunday of Advent, by the bishop of Soissons, the archbishopric of Rheims being then vacant. The young king did not look upon this action as a mere ceremony, but prepared himself by the most fervent exercises of devotion, in order to move God to accompany the exterior unction which he then received, with the invisible anointing of his grace, by which he might be made truly the anointed of the Lord. He considered the pomp of that day with fear and humility, saying to God in his heart with David: To thee, O Lord, have I raised my soul; and in thee do I place my confidence. He trembled on taking the coronation oath, begging of God resolution, light, and strength, to employ his authority, according to his obligations, only for the divine honour, the defence of the church, and the good of his people.”

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Saint Louis IX was a man of deep prayer. It is said that Saint Louis IX often heard 2-3 Masses a day. He often went to Confession about 2-3 days a week. Saint Louis was a man who truly orientated his life to perhaps the greatest pillar of the Christian Faith; the liturgy and the Eucharist. Saint Louis IX of France is said to have prayed the Divine Office in a most faithful manner:

“This good king never thought himself so happy as when he enjoyed the conversation of some priests or religious men of eminent sanctity; and he often invited such to his royal table. He appeared at the foot of the altars more humble and recollected than the most devout hermit, and he allotted several hours in the day to prayer. When some people said of him, that he spent too much time in his usual devotions, he only answered, that if he employed that time in hunting, tournaments, gaming, or plays, they would not take so exact an account of the time which he lost at them. He hardly allowed himself any time for diversion, and so great was his temperance and mortification, that he had the art of practising it with great austerity, amidst the dainties of a royal table. Amongst other rules which for this purpose he privately prescribed to himself, it was observed that he never touched any fruit when it was first served in season, and was extremely ingenious in abstaining often from dainties, and in practising self-denials, without being taken notice of; by such means shunning the dangers of offending by intemperance, making the exercise of penance familiar and easy, and keeping his senses always docile to reason, and under government.”

“He had every day regular hours for reciting the divine office, and for his other devotions, in which he was constant and exact. He wore a hair-cloth, often used disciplines, and went to confession two or three times a week.” (prayer and devotions)

And the holy king, when he resided at Paris, used to spend a considerable part of his time, and sometimes to pass whole nights in it in prayer, which he also frequently did in a favourite private chapel in the Chateau de Vincennes.”

Saint Louis was truly a benevolent king whose heart was filled with nothing but supernatural and perfect Charity. Saint Louis built hospitals, donated to the promotion of private and public Charity and made sure that his citizens were always taken care of. Most strikingly is the fact that Saint Louis himself often took care of the poor himself; visiting the poor, feeding them, washing them, and even inviting them to his own house. It was because of this that Saint Louis IX of France could by all accounts be considered a “popular king” namely a king who is loved by his people and who is of his people. This is indeed remarked by Saint Francis of Sales in a section entitled “How to exerise real poverty, although actually richin his book The Introduction to the Devout Life:

“O my daughter, such servitude is more glorious than royalty! How touchingly St. Louis, one of the greatest of kings, fulfilled this duty; serving the poor in their own houses, and daily causing three to eat at his own table, often himself eating the remains of their food in his loving humility. In his requent visits to the hospitals he would select those afflicted with teh most loathsome diseases, ulvers, cancer, and the like; and these he would tend, kneeling down and bare-headed, beholding the Saviour of the world in them, and cherishing them with all the tenderness of a mother’s love.”

Alban Butler furthermore comments:

“St. Lewis founded in Paris, for poor blind men, the hospital of Quinze Vingt, so called because he placed in it at the first foundation three hundred such patients. He likewise made provisions before his departure for the other poor, whom he maintained out of his private purse; for he had every day one hundred and twenty indigent persons at a table near his own palace, and in Lent and Advent all who presented themselves; and these he often served in person. He kept lists of decayed gentlemen, and distressed widows, and young women, whom he regularly relieved in every province of his dominions.

Saint Louis giving alms and food to a beggar

Saint Louis giving alms and food to a beggar

“Nothing was more edifying than his sweetness, his moderation in dress and equipage, and the Christian humility in which he exercised himself more than in any other virtue, and which he practised more particularly towards the poor, often serving them at table, washing their feet, and visiting them in the hospitals. Such actions, when blended with certain faults, and degraded by an inconsistency, or meanness of conduct, would bring contempt upon persons of high rank;but they were done by our saint with so perfect and sincere humility and charity, and supported with such admirable dignity, that they had an opposite effect upon the minds of his nobles and people; and it is the remark of William de Nangis, that there never was seen more submission paid to a sovereign than this great king met with from all ranks after his subjects had experienced his virtue, and the happiness of his government; and that it continued all the rest of his reign.”

In like matter relating to the Supernatural Charity of the saintly king, is the great justice which was part of his kingly reign. Saint Louis IX truly wanted what was best for his kingdom and he was not someone who could tolerate injustices of any sort. The king forbade individuals from being taken advantage of from any type of endeavor. This included his staunch policies which prevented creditors from taking advantage of people, as well as of the protection of vassals from the hands of their lords. Above all else was his reign of justice when it came to things divine. Saint Louis IX had hefty consequences for anyone who would utter blashemy or who would in any way disrespect the holy names of Jesus or Mary, or who would mock the Church. Saint Louis then was a man of true justice in a complete way:

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“Several ordinances of this good prince, still extant, are so many monuments which show us how much he applied himself to see justice well administered. It is his eulogium, in this respect, that in succeeding reigns, whenever complaints were raised among the people, the cry of those who were dissatisfied was only to demand that abuses should be reformed, and justice impartially administered, as was done in the reign of St. Lewis. In 1230, he, by severe laws, forbade all manner of usury, and restrained the Jews in particular from practising it, by many rigorous clauses. He afterwards compelled them to restore what they had exacted by that iniquitous oppression; and where the creditors could not be found, to give such gains towards the holy war, which Gregory IX. was endeavouring to set on foot. He published an ordinance, commanding all who should be guilty of blasphemy to be marked upon the lips, some say upon the forehead, with a red hot iron; and he caused this to be executed on a rich citizen of Paris, a person of great consideration; and to some of his courtiers who murmured at this severity, he said that he would rather undergo that punishment himself, than admit any thing that might put a stop to so horrible a crime, as William de Nangis tells us. 8 Some moderns say, he ordered the tongues of blasphemers to be bored through; but this is not mentioned by contemporary writers. This king set himself to protect vassals from the oppression of the lords, and took such effectual methods, that they were delivered from the hardest part of their servitude.”

Saint Louis was a man who was completely reliant on Divine Providence and who put his absolute and total trust in God. Saint Louis IX of France believed that as long as he did the will of God (Deus Vult) that all would be well. This complete trust in Divine Providence could best be seen in the great confidence that the Saintly King expressed even in the midst of what seemed like utter defeat and which consisted in the many battels against the Mahometans in teh many Crusades that he would partaken in for the defense of the Holy Land:

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Louis IX (Saint Louis), Roi de France (1215-1270) – Painting by Emile Signol, 1839, Château de Versailles

“After having waited eight months in Cyprus, the fleet put to sea on Trinity Sunday, and though a violent storm had dispersed several of the ships, they arrived in four days before Damiata, a strong fortress of Egypt, situated in an island formed by two of the mouths of the Nile, and built upon the eastern channel, on the shore opposite to the ruins of the ancient Pelusium. The sultan had filled the Nile with his fleet, and lined the shore with a numerous army, appearing himself at their head. At this sight of the Saracens St. Lewis cried out: “Who am I but a wretched man, whose life belongs to God! He hath a sovereign right to dispose of it as it pleaseth him. Whether we are conquerors or martyrs we shall glorify him either by the prosperity of our arms, or by the sacrifice of our lives.”

In addition to the king’s courage was also his great missionary zeal for the salvation of souls. Saint Louis in addition to being a great king and administrator and courage in the midst of battles, was also known for his great preaching. This zealous preaching was shown in many examples of the king’s life. This includes preaching to the Eastern Schismatics as to why they needed to return to Rome. But perhaps the best known example of his preaching was to the Saracen Mohametans which produced a great number of converts to the Faith:

“In Palestine the saint acted the part of a zealous missionary, strengthening many in their faith, and inspiring them with courage and resolution to suffer torments and death rather than to offend God. He often told them that as they lived on the ground on which Christ had so long conversed with men, and had wrought all the wonderful mysteries of our redemption, their lives ought in a particular manner to be as much as possible the living copies of his holy conversation and spirit. The very sight of his devotion and piety was a moving sermon; forty Saracens at Acre were by it converted to the faith all at once, and others in other places; and among these several emirs.”

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Death of Saint Louis: On 25 August 1270, Saint Louis dies under his fleurdelisé tent before the city of Tunis. Illuminated by Jean Fouquet, Grandes Chroniques de France (1455–1460)

Below is the king’s demeanor in the last moments and days of his life. It is remarkable that even his last breaths were a means by which to humble himself before God as well as to glorify Him:

“Having settled his affairs and acquitted himself of his duties to others, he desired that no more mention should be made to him of temporal concerns, and applied himself wholly to think only of that great affair which was to be decided between himself and God alone. He scarcely spoke any more to any one but his confessor. He praised and thanked God for having placed him in his present situation; he prayed, with many tears, that he would enlighten and show mercy to infidels and sinners, and that his army might be conducted back into their own country without falling into the hands of the enemy, that none of them might be tempted through weakness to deny Christ. His charity, zeal, compunction, humility, and perfect resignation increased in his last moments, and in the fervent exercise of these virtues he prepared his soul to go forth and meet his judge and Redeemer. On the 24th of August, which was Sunday, he received first extreme unction, according to the discipline of that age, and afterwards the viaticum. It was his custom whilst in health, and as long as he was able in his sickness, to creep on his knees from his place in the church up to the altar when he went to communion; he was then too weak to do this; but he would needs get up, and he received the blessed sacrament kneeling by his bed-side. He again that day called for the Greek ambassadors, and renewed, in the most pathetic manner, his exhortations to union with the Roman church. He continued the rest of his time in ardent prayer, especially in acts of the divine love and praise. He lost his speech the next day from nine till twelve o’clock! then, recovering it again, and lifting up his eyes towards heaven, he repeated aloud those words of the psalmist: Lord, I will enter into thine house; I will adore in thy holy temple, and will give glory to thy name. He spoke again at three in the afternoon, but only said, “Into thy hands I commend my soul.” Immediately after which he breathed his last in his camp, on the 25th of August, in the year of Christ 1270, being fifty-five years and four months old, and having reigned forty-three years, nine months, and eighteen days.”

Here is a very beautiful admonition and Divine Instructions that Saint Louis IX of France gave to his Son Phillip III of France.

(King St. Louis IX’s last instructions to his eldest son)

Let us then seek the intercession of Saint Louis IX of France who truly was a king after God’s hearth. A king whose chief interest rested on the well being of religion and of the unity of Christendom. As well as of the common good of his nation and of his people, which ca best be seen by his spirit and administration of supernatural Charity and reign of justice. How much more do we need his intercession and to emulate his example than in the midst of the modern world which seeks teu destruction of Christendom and in which the social reign of Christ the King and the rights of the Church are neglected and even done away with.

Sancti Ludovicus IX Ora Pro Nobis!

 

 

 

 

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