St Raymund Penyafort, a miraculous voyage, and the pitfalls of wokeness in Collects

The feast of St Raymund of Penyafort (1175-1275) is celebrated today in the traditional calendar, (7 January in the modern calendar.) Here is the collect in the Roman Missal used before 1962:

Deus, qui beátum Raymúndum pœniténtiæ sacraménti insígnem minístrum elegísti, et per maris undas mirabíliter traduxísti: concéde; ut ejus intercessióne dignos pœniténtiæ fructus fácere, et ad ætérnæ salútis portum perveníre valeámus.

O God, Who chose blessed Raymund to be a renowned minister of the sacrament of Penance, and miraculously brought him through the waves of the sea, grant that by his intercession we may produce worthy fruits from our penitence and be capable of reaching the haven of eternal salvation.

and here is the collect from the modern Roman Missal:

Deus, qui beátum Raimúndum presbýterum insígnis in peccatóres et in captívos misericórdiæ virtúte decorásti, eius nobis intercessióne concéde, ut, a peccáti servitúte solúti, quæ tibi sunt plácita líberis méntibus exsequámur.

O God, who adorned the Priest Saint Raymond with the virtue of outstanding mercy and compassion for sinners and for captives, grant us, through his intercession, that, released from slavery to sin, we may carry out in freedom of spirit what is pleasing to you.

The older Collect speaks of the sacrament of penance and prays for worthy fruits for our penance. St Raymund was indeed not only a renowned minister but a sure guide to the theology and canon law related to the sacrament. The modern Collect speaks of the mercy of St Raymund for sinners and of our freedom from slavery to sin, which seems a little more vague. Interestingly it adds captives to the objects of St Raymund’s mercy but first let us look at the most important difference between the two Collects.

The first Collect speaks of St Raymund being brought miraculously through the waves of the sea. This would have been understood by those who read the office of Mattins before the reforms of 1960. There were nine readings as was customary for all saints of semi-double rank or above. As usual, the readings 4-6 were about the Saint. The account of St Raymund tells how he visited Majorca in order to convert the Muslims there. (This was a more common pursuit among holy men of that time than it is now.) While on the island, he also reprimanded King James I of Aragon for bringing his concubine with him. (Reprimanding heads of state for having concubines was also a more common pursuit among holy men of that time than it is now.) Since the King refused to dismiss his concubine, St Raymund decided to leave, but he King forbade him to do so, and threatened any ship captain who dared to take him. The Lectio 6 of Mattins summarises the next part of the story:

Multa patrávit miracula, inter quæ illud claríssimum, quod ex insula Baleari Majori Barcinónem reversurus, strato super aquas pallio centum sexagínta milliaria sex horis confécerit et suum cœnobium januis clausis fúerit ingréssus.

He performed many miracles, of which the most famous is that returning from Majorca to Barcelona, having spread his cloak on the waters, he covered a hundred and sixty leagues (milliaria) in six hours and entered his monastery while the doors were closed.

The cloak (pallium) was the black outer cappa of the Dominican habit. St Raymund spread one end of this over the water and fastened the other end to his walking staff to create a rudimentary sail. In the course of departure from Majorca, St Raymund was seen by sailors in the boats that had been forbidden to carry him; they waved and cheered him on. Reaching Barcelona, his arrival was greeted by crowds of amazed onlookers. 

The story has further happiness in its ending: the King, properly and suitably awed by the Saint’s thaumaturgical response to his obstinacy, mended his ways, did penance, and lived a virtuous life thereafter.

The 2nd edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints (Complete Edition) edited by Herbert Thurston and Donald Attwater dutifully preserves the story of the miraculous journey, but adds in the notes that,

"The evidence upon many points is so unsatisfactory that it becomes extremely difficult to give unreserved credence to such incidents in St Raymund's life as his miraculous voyage from Majorca."

I followed up the two references given to the 1921 and 1922 volumes of the Analecta Bollandiana but did not find any information there about the miracle, so perhaps I will find something another day. What the two articles do address is the doubt also referred to by the modern editors of Butler’s Lives, regarding the link between St Raymond and St Peter Nolasco, and the foundation of the Order of Our Lady of Ransom.

In the case of both, it would not be wholly unfair to recall that Thurston was a notable skeptic (one might say insignis) and therefore one could be forgiven for finding it extremely difficult, always of course with the deepest respect, to give uncritical support to every one of his doubts.

Going back to the modern Collect for St Raymund, it is amusing to think that the insertion of captives as well as sinners into the praise of his mercy might have been a gesture towards what is nowadays considered a “woke” concern. This would allow the reported ransoming activity of St Raymund to escape the sentence of cancellation given to his miraculous voyage. If my speculation is well-founded, it would be fun to raise with the compilers the question of why they added a reference (not found in the traditional Collect) to those held captive by the Muslims, especially in the light of St Raymund’s tireless efforts to convert them, and not only encouraging St Thomas Aquinas to write the Summa Contra Gentiles for this purpose, but also arranging for it to be translated into Arabic.


PICTURE CREDIT: Wikimedia: St Raymond of Penyafort by Tommaso Dolabella (1627). Dominican Church. Kraków.

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