St. John Baptist Vianney

John Baptist Vianney (1786-1859) — The Curé of Ars, patron saint of parish priests.

Born at Dardilly, France, on May 8, 1786, Jean-Batiste Marie Vianney was a shepherd’s son. At the age of twenty, he began to study for the priesthood but was drafted into the army to fight in the Napoleonic Wars. Deserting, he returned home in 1810 and went to Lyons seminary in 1813.

John was ordained because of his goodness, despite the fact that he had great difficulties with his studies, especially Latin. Abbé Bailey, of Ecully, personally intervened on his behalf, and John was assigned to Ecully.

In 1818, he became the curé, as pastor of Ars. His mission there was conducted in the confessional, and toward the end of his life he spent sixteen to eighteen hours a day administering the sacrament of penance, or reconciliation, to the thousands who flocked to Ars.

He helped to found La Providence, a home for orphaned and abandoned children. John was gifted with discernment of spirits and read souls with ease, reclaiming thousands of lapsed Catholics. He also built a shrine to St. Philomena, a site that became a popular pilgrim destination.

For thirty years, he suffered diabolical attacks, and his fellow priests charged that he was too ignorant to be a curé. Refusing all honors offered to him, John died at Ars. He was canonized in 1925 and made patron of parish priests.

Feast day: August 4

Transfiguration of the Lord

The August 6 feast commemorating the revelation of His Divinity by Christ to Peter, James, and John on Mount Tabor (see Matthew 17:1-9).

The feast may have originally commemorated the dedication of the original basilica there. The Transfiguration has been observed in the East since the fifth century, but it did not enter the West until the middle of the ninth.

Pope Callistus III formally included it in the Roman Calendar in 1457 as a thank-offering for the victory of Christian troops over the Turks near Belgrade in 1456. In the Eastern Churches, it is still observed as one of the most important feasts of the year.

St. Dominic

(d. 1221) — Founder of the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans. The son of Felix de Guzman, a noble, and Blessed Joan of Aza, he was born in Calaruega, Spain, in 1170. In 1184, Dominic began studying at the University of Palencia, becoming a Franciscan canon regular at the cathedral of Osma in 1199. In 1203, Dominic accompanied Blessed Diego de Azevedo to southern France to preach against the Albigensian heretics and to reform the local monasteries. Dominic opened a convent at Prouille for women converts from Albigensianism. The priests he placed in charge of the convent were the core of his new order.

In 1208, Peter of Castelnau, the papal legate, was murdered by the Albigensians. Pope Innocent III (r. 1198-1216) subsequently started a crusade to put an end to the heresy. Simon IV de Monfort headed this seven-year campaign. Dominic accompanied the army to preach to the ­Albigensians, without success. In 1214, Simon IV de Montfort gave him a castle at Casseneuil. There Dominic and six companions founded the Order of Preachers. At the Twelfth General Council (Fourth Council of the Lateran, 1215) the order was denied approval, but the next year Pope Honorius III (r. 1216-1227) granted Dominic his approval and blessings.

Dominic spent the last years of his life organizing the order. He traveled throughout Italy, Spain, and France. The Dominicans relied upon the usual religious customs and traditions but provided intellectual pursuits that attracted great scholars. The Dominicans also observed the ascetical spirit of the era, as well as genuine zeal in reaching the common people. With the Franciscans, founded by St. Francis of Assisi, the Dominicans formed the “Mendicants,” a daring venture that broadened the Church’s appeal.

Dominic convened the first general council of the Order of Preachers in Bologna, Italy, in 1220. He died there on August 8, the following year. He was canonized in 1234. Dominic is depicted in liturgical art in the black and white of his order. He sometimes holds a lily and is accompanied by a dog or a globe with fire. His halo is made distinctive by the addition of a star.

Feast day: August 8

Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

Edith Stein (1891-1942) — A brilliant philosopher, spiritual writer, and convert to the Church from Judaism, known in the religious life as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross; she perished in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Born at Breslau to a Jewish family, she abandoned the Jewish faith in 1904 and became a self-proclaimed atheist. Entering the University of Göttingen, she became a protégé of the philosopher Edmund Husserl and a proponent of the philosophical school of phenomenology both at Göttingen and Freiburg in Breisgau.

She earned a doctorate in 1916 and emerged as one of Europe’s brightest philosophers. One of her primary endeavors was to examine phenomenology from the perspective of Thomistic thought, part of her growing interest in Catholic teachings.

Propelled by her reading of the autobiography of St. Teresa of Ávila, she was baptized on January 1, 1922. She gave up her university post and became a teacher in the Dominican school in Speyer, receiving as well in 1932 the post of lecturer at the Educational Institute of Munich. She resigned under pressure from the Nazis who were now in control of Germany.

In 1934, Edith entered the Carmelite Order. Smuggled out of Germany into the Netherlands in 1938 to escape the mounting Nazi oppression, she fell into the hands of the Third Reich with the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in 1940.

Arrested in 1942 with her sister Rosa (also a convert) as part of Hitler’s order to liquidate all non-Aryan Catholics, she was taken to Auschwitz and, on August 9 or 10, 1942, she died in the gas chamber.

In the years after the war, her extensive spiritual and philosophical writings were collected and published, receiving promotion by the Archivum Carmelitanum Edith Stein at Louvain, Belgium.

Pope John Paul II beatified her in 1987, then canonized her on October 11, 1998. He also named her co-patroness of Europe, with St. Brigid of Sweden and St. Catherine of Siena on October 1, 1999.

Feast day: August 9

St. Clare of Assisi

Clare of Assisi (d. 1253) — Foundress of the Franciscan Poor Clares, mystic, friend of St. Francis of Assisi, and patroness of modern television. She was born in Assisi, Italy, on July 11, 1194, the daughter of the noble Faverone Offreducio Ortolanadi Fiumi. Impressed by a sermon preached by St. Francis during the Lenten season of 1212, Clare received the habit from him on Palm Sunday. She then went to the Benedictine convent near Bastia, where she was joined by her sister, Agnes.

In 1215, Clare moved into a house adjoining the church of St. Damiano, becoming superior of the growing community and remaining so for forty years. There she founded the Poor Clares and was joined by her mother, by another sister, Beatrice, and by three members of the noble Ubaldini family of Florence. Pope Innocent III (r. 1198-1216) granted them a rule of absolute poverty, a rule maintained firmly by Clare in later years. Other convents were founded, and the order flourished. Clare was visited by high-ranking clergy and secular officials because of her wisdom. Before she died, there were Poor Clares throughout Italy, and in France and Germany. Clare performed many miracles, including saving the city of Assisi from the army of Emperor Frederick II (r. 1220-1250). She also defended her convent by carrying the ciborium against an attack by Saracen raiders.

As she was nearing the end of her life, Clare had a vision of the Mass from her bed. Because of this mystical gift she was made patroness of modern television. She died on August 11 and was canonized two years later in 1255. Clare is patroness of Assisi, the blind, laundry women, embroiderers, gilders, glaziers, and glass painters. Her relics are in the St. Chiara Church in Assisi, placed there in 1260. In liturgical art, she is shown as a Poor Clare, sometimes carrying a ciborium or monstrance.

Feast day: August 11

Bernard of Clairvaux

(1090-1153) — Abbot and Doctor of the Church. He was born in the castle of Fontaines des Dijon, in France, the son of Tescelin Sorrel and Aleth de Montbard; he was the third son in a family of seven children. Aleth’s death influenced him deeply so that about age seventeen he left the school of Châtillon-sur-Seine and in 1113 entered the monastery of Cîteaux, which had been founded in 1098 and was under the brilliant leadership of the abbot St. Stephen Harding. He persuaded his four brothers and twenty-seven other relatives and friends also to enter the Cistercian monastery.

Bernard threw himself into the rigorous austerity of the community, declaring that he was “conscious of the need of my weak nature for strong medicine.” His devotion to mortification, however, caused severe problems of health, especially as he had a weak constitution. Illness, aggravated by stern ascetic practices, would plague him for the rest if his life.

At Cîteaux, Bernard came under the instruction of the remarkable Abbot Stephen Harding, who in 1115 chose him with twelve monks to found a monastery at Langres. He chose Clairvaux, which was granted a charter by Pope Callistus II (r. 1119-1124) in 1119 and became the motherhouse of sixty-eight Cistercian abbeys. As his reputation for scholarship and holiness spread, Bernard was consulted by popes and monarchs. His influence was only heightened over the next years, as in 1128 he was secretary to the Synod of Troyes; in 1130, he assisted Pope Innocent II (r. 1130-1143) in overcoming the threat of antipope Anicletus; and he preached tirelessly against heresies and to gather support for the Second Crusade. In defending Church orthodoxy, he spoke out against the onetime monk Henry of Lausanne and, most notably, against Peter Abelard, whose condemnation he secured in 1140 at the Council of Sens. In that same year, Bernard convinced the people of Lombardy to accept Lothair III (r. 1125-1137) as emperor. In 1148, he condemned the writings of the theologian Gilbert de la Porrée.

In 1142, Bernard witnessed the coronation of one of his postulants, Bernardo Pignatelli, as Pope Eugene III (r. 1145-1153), authoring for his former student the treatise De Consideratione, on the proper attitude and duties of a pontiff and some of the difficulties he could anticipate. This pope sent Bernard to Languedoc, in southern France, to convert the local members of the Albigensian heresy. In 1146, he preached against Rhineland-area pogroms and also supported the Second Crusade and King Louis VII of France (r. 1137-1180). The crusade ended in disaster and was a deep disappointment to Bernard. In 1153, he settled another political dispute but was taken ill shortly after. He died at Clairvaux on August 20. Considered by many to be the second founder of the Cistercians, he dominated religious and political affairs in Western Europe.

His mystical writings include De Diligendo Dei, which laid the foundation for medieval mysticism. His commentary on the Song of Songs, his Treatise on the Love of God, and his De Consideratione are considered treasures of the faith. More then three hundred sermons were recorded, as well as five hundred letters, all demonstrating his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. For his brilliance and contributions to theology he was called “the Mellifluous Doctor.”

Bernard was canonized in 1174 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1830. In liturgical art, his symbol is the white dog, or he is depicted in Cistercian habit, usually with a vision of Our Lady. His relics were moved from Clairvaux in 1790 to the church of Ville-sous-la-Ferte, while his head was enshrined in the cathedral of Troyes. He is a patron of the Cistercians, Burgundy, Gibraltar, and Liguria, Italy, as well as Speyer Cathedral in Germany, bees, candles, and climbers. Bernard is invoked against children’s diseases, animal epidemics, demonic possession, storms, and approaching death.

Feast day: August 20

Rose of Lima

(1586-1617) — Patron of South America, Dominican tertiary, and the first saint of the Americas. Isabel de Flores y de Oliva was born to Spanish colonial parents in Lima, Peru. Taking the name Rose in 1597 at confirmation (because as an infant, her face had been transformed by a mystical rose), she grew flowers and made lace and embroidery to help support her poverty-stricken family, although her main focus was on her profound spiritual life. Becoming a Dominican tertiary (1606), she endured severe persecutions by her family and friends for her refusal to marry and her oath of perpetual virginity. At the same time, she performed acts of stern penance and mortification, giving herself to absolute devotion to the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and the Blessed Sacrament. Fasting, rigorous asceticism, daily Communion, and long hours of prayer characterized her daily routine, accompanied by terrible desolation and temptation. Exhausted by her penances, she died on August 30, offering all to Our Lord for souls in purgatory and the forgiveness of sins against him. Pope Clement IX (r. 1667-1669) beatified her in 1668 and Pope Clement X (r. 1670-1676) canonized her in 1671. She was the first American to be declared a saint; her concern for the difficult conditions endured by the Native Americans of Peru and the slaves of the New World led to her being made the foundress for care of the Indians and the poor of Peru.

Feast day: August 23

St. Monica

Monica (332-387) — Widowed mother of St. Augustine of Hippo.

She was born in Tagaste, North Africa, and married Patricius, who was a dissolute and violent pagan, bearing his children Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua. Patricius and his mother became Christians in 371, and he died a year later.

She prayed earnestly for Augustine’s conversion, remembering the declaration of a clergyman to whom she had told her troubles, “It is impossible that the son of so many tears will be lost.”

Monica followed Augustine to Rome in 383. In Milan, in 386, she saw him baptized and then lived with her son and her grandson Adeodatus at Cassiciacum while Augustine prepared for his famed conversion.

Monica died at Ostia, Italy, while preparing to return to Africa. Her son’s conversion was the source of great joy to Monica, after which she retired to Cassiciacum. Deciding to return to Africa, she made it only to Ostia, where she died. Augustine recorded a long series of dialogues with her in De Ordine and De Beata Vita. She is the patroness of married women and a model for Christian mothers. Her relics are enshrined at the church of St. Augustine in Rome.

Feast day: August 27.

St. Augustine

(d. 430) — Doctor of the Church, a Western Father of the Church, whose conversion to Christianity is called one of the most important events in the history of the Church.

Augustine was born in Tagaste, in northern Africa, the son of Patricius, a pagan Roman official. His mother, St. Monica, was a Christian, and she raised Augustine in the faith. In 370, he went to Carthage (in modern Tunisia) to study law, turning instead to literary interests. He also took a mistress, who bore him a son, Adeodatus. In 373, Augustine and his friend Honoratus became members of the Manichaean heretical sect.

At the same time his brilliance was manifesting itself, as he won poetic tournaments and became known in the philosophical world. It took nine years for Augustine to free himself from his former life and Manichaeism. In 383, he went to Italy, having to depart in secret because of St. Monica’s opposition to such plans.

Augustine planned to teach in Rome but instead went to Milan, where he met St. Ambrose. With Ambrose’s influence, Augustine set about trying to discover a life of celibacy, study, and prayer. St. Monica joined her son in Milan, where St. Alipius, Augustine’s lifelong friend, also resided. With his mother, son, and friends, Augustine retired to a villa to begin his study of the Scriptures and ancient philosophers.

On Easter Sunday of 387, Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose. Planning to return to Tagaste, the company went to Ostia (modern Italy), to board a ship. St. Monica died in Ostia, and Augustine, filled with grief, stayed in Italy for a time, writing and praying.

In Tagaste, in 388, he sold his goods, distributed money to the poor, and began a life of penance. His notoriety soon spread to surrounding towns, and in 391, while visiting Hippo Regius (a city in North Africa), he was seized by a crowd, carried to the aged bishop, Valerius, and ordained a priest. Four years later, he was appointed coadjutor to the diocese of Hippo. Augustine was forty-two at the time, succeeding to the see around 395.

He occupied the see of Hippo for thirty-four years. The years were filled with constant writing and the need to confront numerous crises caused by the heresies of the time: the Donatists, Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians, and the Manichaeans. For his defense of Church doctrine concerning grace against the Pelagians, he is known also as the Doctor of Grace. He made his episcopal residence a monastery, sending out priests to make new foundations and providing well-trained bishops for dioceses. His major apostolate was in preaching and writing.
He attended councils in 398, 401, 407, 416, 418, and 419.

In 426, Augustine, age seventy-two, named Heraclius his auxiliary and successor. He sought rest but faced political and military turmoil and the Arian heresy. Bishops and political leaders flocked to Hippo for refuge from the Arian heretics and the Vandal invasion of the region. Hippo was itself put under an eighteen-month siege by the forces of the Vandals. Augustine spent three months in prayerful decline during the siege, dying on August 30, 430.

Augustine was a voluminous writer, authoring one hundred thirteen books, two hundred eighteen letters, and some five hundred sermons. His literary output covers the entire sphere of human thought and ranges from the psychological complexity of the Confessions, to the political insights of the City of God, to the stridently polemical.

He was especially concerned with the combating of the three great heresies of the time: Pelagianism, Donatism, and Manichaeism. His writings, however, are distinguished by their eloquence, superb use of the Latin language, and the degree, born out of the necessity of the crisis of the moment, to which he examined and elucidated vital points of Christianity.

His earliest writings were the Dialogues, composed before his baptism and representing the consideration of a convert to Christianity in the traditions of Platonic philosophy. This was followed by a vast corpus of controversial and non-controversial works. His controversial writings were centered in refuting the prevailing heresies. Against the Manichaeans he wrote: Acts of the Dispute with Fortunatus the Manichaean (392); Acts of the Conference with Felix (404); Against Faustus (c. 400); Against Secundinus (405). Against the Donatists: Psalmus contra partem Donati (c. 395); De Baptismo contra Donatistas (c. 400); Contra epistolam Parmeniani (400); De peccatorum meritis et remissione (On the Merit and Forgiveness of Sins; 412); De spiritu et littera (On the Spirit and Letter; 412); De Gestis Pelagii (reproducing the acts of the Council of Diospolis; 417); De Gratia Christi et de peccato originali (On the Grace of Christ and on Original Sin; 418). Against the Semi-Pelagians: De praedestinatione Sanctorum (On the Predestination of the Saints; 428); and De Dono perseverantiae (On the Gift of Perseverance; 429). Against the Arians: Contra sermonem Ariarnorum (Against the Sermons of the Arians; 418).

On theology, Augustine wrote: De Trinitate (On the Trinity), writing the work from 400-416, considered his most theologically deep treatise; Enchiridion (421), a handbook on faith, hope, and love, written at the request of a Roman named Laurentius; assorted treatises on marriage, widows, prayers for the dead, continence, and lying. In matters of exegesis can be included De doctrina Christiana (begun in 397 and finished in 426), considered the first formal treatise on exegesis, as the literary production of St. Jerome was often of a more controversial nature, and treatises on the Epistle of St. John, Epistle to the Galatians, the Sermon on the Mount, and De Consensus Evangelistarum (Harmony of the Gospels; 400).

Aside from the apologetics De vera religione (389-391), letters to Consentius, and De utilitate credindi, his chief apology and arguably his most famous book (with the exception of the Confessions) was De Civitate Dei (City of God), begun in 413 and written in response to the attacks made by pagans that the fall of Rome in 410 to the Visigoths was the fault of the Christians, who were wrecking the civilization of the Roman Empire. Augustine argues instead that all of the virtues of the past — of the Romans, Greeks, and Hebrews — find fulfillment in Christ and possess virtue only in direct relation to the degree that they offer prayer and worship to God. He expresses as well a philosophy of history, noting that only Christianity embraces a history to the beginning of time and a future until the end of time. For Augustine, the City of God is a city insofar as it can be considered a heavenly society, in sharp contrast to the City of the World.

Finally, in the Confessions, Augustine gives not a confession in the common understanding but an account in which the soul is praised that it admires the procession of God within itself. The Confessions provides a penetrating glimpse into the human soul. The first nine chapters recounted Augustine’s life up to the time of his conversion; the tenth covers the life until the time of the writing of the work (c. 397-400). Entirely revealing in its presentation of his sins and failings, it is more concerned with the operation of God’s grace and with trumpeting to all people the glory of God and his creation.

Augustine’s position in the history of the Church is unquestioned. His enormous contributions to Christian theology would be preeminent until the 1200s and surrendered their virtual monopoly on theological thought only to another towering figure, St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274). His extensive system, including such doctrines as grace, original sin, and the Fall, served as the impetus for a host of theologians and interpreters, the so-called Augustinians or adherents of Augustinianism.

In 700, the remains of St. Augustine were placed in the church of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, in Pavia, Italy, from Sardinia. He is the patron of the Augustinians, theologians, and the city of Carthage.

Feast day: August 28

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