St. Raymond of Pennafort (1175-1275)

St. Raymond of Pennafort is one of the Order’s best examples of the quiet humility of sanctity and of the eternal youth of the Dominican ideal. Holy Church remembers him forever as a model of confessors and as a champion of law and order. But to his brothers and sisters in religion he is also patron of these faithful religious who work quietly on and on and on, years after they might have claimed the right to retire from active service, giving to God, if not their first labors, at least their last.

The life of Raymond of Pennafort spanned a century, the last half of which he spent in the Order. Elected master general of the Order, he was forced by ill health to resign in two years’ time. For the remaining thirty years of his life he lived in prayerful obscurity, giving to others the fruits of his contemplation and his labors.

Of Raymond’s childhood we know little. The talented son of the count of Pennafort, in Catalonia, he was at an early age sent to the cathedral school at Barcelona. Completing his education at Bologna, he soon became celebrated as a professor of canon law at the university. Here he met the Dominicans, who were beginning to attract to their ranks so many talented young men, among whom were some of Raymond’s students and fellow professors. On a journey to Barcelona, he met St. Dominic. The year after the death of the founder, he was himself enrolled as one of the preachers. So greatly was Raymond revered in his university world that his entry into the Order caused a new tidal wave of vocations to the preaching friars; among the aspirants were two bishops and several noted professors. Claro, Moneta, and Roland of Cremona had caused astonishment by their renunciation of worldly honors on entering the Order, but Raymond’s profession caused even greater excitement in an already inflamed city.

Master Raymond, son of the count of Pennafort and renowned doctor of canon law, was forty seven years of age when he donned the white habit and started as a novice to live according to a new mode of life. With the simplicity of the truly great, he fell into step with his companions and took up the work of the friars. With St. Peter Nolasco, he was cofounder of the Order of Our Lady of Ransôm (for the redemption of Christian captives), a project which was carried out within a year after his profession.

Given the huge task of compiling the Decretals, Raymond did his work so thoroughly that it remains, after a period of nearly seven centuries of rapid change, a monumental tribute to his learning. He also put in permanent form the Dominican Constitutions, a document from which many democratic codes have borrowed copiously.

Elected master general on the death of Blessed Jordan of Saxony, Raymond did much for both the prestige and the striking force of the Order. He envisioned the conquest of the East by learning, as kings dreamed of conquering it by arms. To this end, he established schools in which Dominicans were trained in the languages of the East. Later, with his encouragement, St. Thomas wrote his Summa Contra Gentiles. Raymond had himself preached a crusade against the Moors, and his experience with the Order of Ransom gave him deep insight into the problem of converting the Eastern peoples. Begging to be released from his office because of age and infirmity, Raymond resigned after two years of intensive activity. The Fathers who accepted his resignation were severely penanced for having given up their saintly master.

It is as a wise and holy confessor that Raymond is best remembered in the Church. He was appointed, at different times, as confessor to the pope and king, and as papal penitentiary he pronounced on difficult cases of conscience. He wrote various works for the guidance of confessors and canonists, and in art he is pictured holding a key, the symbol of confession.

(Source : Dorcy, Marie Jean. St. Dominic’s Family. Tan Books and Publishers, 1983)