Sunday, July 7, 2013

July 7: Blessed Benedict XI, Pope, Confessor, O.P., Commemoration

Today, in the 1962 Dominican Rite Calendar, we celebrate the commemoration of Blessed Benedict XI, one of the four Dominican Popes.  From “Short Lives of the Dominican Saints” (London, Kegan Paul, Trench, and Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1901).

Nicholas Boccasino, who assumed the name of Benedict XI, when raised to the Pontifical dignity, was born of poor parents at Treviso in Italy, A.D. 1240.  He received his early education form an uncle, who held the office of parish priest, and at the age of fourteen was admitted into the Dominican Order at Venice.  The next fourteen years of his life were devoted to prayer and study, after which he was employed in teaching sacred science to his Brethren.  He never allowed his lessons to interfere with his exercises of piety or to prevent him from teaching the Word of God; and he also found time to write some learned commentaries on various parts of Scripture, and other valuable works.
After successively filling the offices of Sub-Prior and Prior and that of Provincial of Lombardy, he was unanimously elected General of the Order, A.D. 1296.  During the two years and a half that he held this charge, the holy General ceased not to visit the Convents of the Order, always traveling on foot and encouraging his companions to face danger and fatigue by exclaiming:  “Come, dearest Brethren, this is the glory of our Order.”  Rigid and austere to himself, he was the gentlest of religious Superiors towards his subjects.  Contemporary historians call him “the lover of the Community,” and are never weary of praising his virtues, and above all, his singular humility of heart.

In January A.D. 1299, Pope Boniface VIII, whose cause he had stoutly defended, created him Cardinal Priest of the title of Santa Sabina.  “Holy Father,” he exclaimed, throwing himself at the Pope’s feet, “why have you laid so heavy a burden upon me?”  “God has a yet heavier one in store for you,” was the prophetic reply.  Two years later, he was promoted to the bishopric of Ostia and Velletri, made Dean of the Sacred College, and sent as Legate to Hungary, which was at that time in a very disturbed condition.  On his return to Italy, he found the Pope surrounded by enemies, the creatures of Philip the Fair of France, and had the glory of standing by the Holy Father’s side at Anagni in company with only one other Cardinal, when he was brutally assaulted and dragged from his throne.  The Cardinal of Santa Sabina succeeded in stirring up the inhabitants of Anagni to expel the sacrilegious rebels from their town, but the Pope did not long survive the outrages he had received, dying almost immediately after his return to Rome.

File:C o a Benedetto XI.svg
Benedict XI Coat of Arms

The Cardinals assembled in conclave eleven days after the death of Boniface, and unanimously elected Cardinal Nicholas Boccasino as his successor, A.D. 1303.  He assumed the name of Benedict out of veneration for his predecessor, who had borne that name before his elevation to the Papacy, and took for his motto those words of the Psalmist: “Make Thy face to shine upon Thy servant” (Psalm 118, 135).  Europe was in a very troubled state at the commencement of the new Pontificate; but the admirable prudence and energy of the Pontiff did much for the restoration of peace and order.  In particular, he succeeded in reconciling France with the Holy See and in restoring the Papal authority of Sicily and Denmark; and he greatly exerted himself to induce the princes of Christendom to lay aside their mutual differences and engage in a crusade against the infidels.

Shortly after his elevation to the Pontifical throne, his mother came to pay him a visit.  The magistrates of Perugia, where he was then residing, on hearing of her arrival, received her with great pimp, arrayed her in costly apparel, and conducted her to the Papal presence.  But, when the Holy Pontiff saw his mother richly dressed an accompanied by a splendid retinue, he refused to recognize her, saying:  “My mother was only a poor washerwoman, and not a princess like this.”  Then she retired, laid aside her silk garments, and returned in the humble garb of a peasant woman.  When Benedict saw her thus, he came down from his throne to meet her, embraced her tenderly, and showed her every mark of respect and affection.

Benedict’s reign, marked with vigor, justice, and clemency, unhappily lasted only eight months.  His death, which took place at Perugia on the 7th of July, A.D. 1304, was believed to be the effect of poison, given him in some figs which had been presented to him by an unknown person.  He was buried in the church of his Order at Perugia, and many miracles were worked at his tomb.  He was beatified by Pope Clement XII.

From the "The Martyrology of the Sacred Order of Friars Preachers" (Tr. by Rev. W. R. Bonniwell, O. P., The Newman Press - Westminster, Maryland, 1955):

"At Perugia, Blessed Pope Benedict XI of Treviso, confessor, of the Order of Preachers. In the short space of his pontificate, he did much to promote peace for the Church, to restore discipline, and to increase religion to a wonderful degree."


 God, by the grace of your blessing, you raised to heaven the blessed pontiff Benedict; sanctify your people, we pray, with a further blessing of your grace, and, by his merits and prayers, defend us, in your strength, from all threatening evils.  Through Our Lord…