St. Peter of Luxemburgh, Cardinal, Bishop of Metz, Confessor
THE MOST illustrious houses of the Dukes and Counts of Luxemburg and St. Pol, not only have held for several centuries the first rank among the nobility of the Low Countries, but vie with most royal families in Europe; the former having given five emperors to the Germans, several kings to Hungary and Bohemia, a queen to France, and innumerable renowned heroes, whose great actions are famous in the histories of Europe and the East. But none of their exploits have reflected so great a lustre on these families as the humility of our St. Peter. He was son to Guy of Luxemburgh, Count of Ligny, and to Maud, countess of St. Pol; and was born at Ligny, a small town in Lorrain, in the Diocess of Toul, in 1369. He was nearly related to the Emperor Wenceslas, Sigismund, king of Hungary, and Charles VI. king of France. He lost his pious father at three years of age, and his most virtuous mother a year after; but his devout aunt, the Countess of Orgieres and Countess Dowager of St. Pol, 1 took care of his education, and made a prudent choice of most virtuous persons whom she placed about him. By the excellent example and precepts of his masters, and the strong impressions of an early grace, he seemed formed by nature to perfect virtue. In his tender age the least sallies of the passions seemed rather prevented than subdued; and his ardour in the pursuit of virtue so far surpassed the ordinary capacity of children of his tender age, that it was a matter of astonishment to all who knew him. His assiduity and fervour in prayer, his secret self-denials, great abstemiousness, and, above all, his love of humility in an age when others are usually governed only by the senses, seemed a miracle of divine grace. He made a private vow of perpetual chastity before he was seven years of age, and he contrived by a hundred little artifices that no poor person should ever be dismissed wherever he was without an alms. At ten years of age he was sent to Paris, where he studied Latin, philosophy, and the canon law. In the mean time his eldest brother Valeran, Count of St. Pol, was taken prisoner by the English in a battle in which they defeated the French and Flemings in Flanders. Upon the news that his brother was made prisoner and sent to Calais, Peter, in 1381, interrupted his studies, went over to London, and delivered himself up a hostage for his brother till his ransom should be paid. The English were charmed with his extraordinary virtue, and after he had stayed a year in London, generously gave him his liberty, saying his word was a sufficient pledge and security for the ransom stipulated. King Richard II. invited him to his court; but Peter excused himself, and hastened back to Paris to his studies. His watchings and fasts were very austere, and he made no visits but such as were indispensable, or to persons of extraordinary virtue, from whose conversation and example he might draw great spiritual advantage for the benefit of his own soul. With this view he often resorted to Philip of Maisiers, a person eminently endowed with the double spirit of penance and prayer, who having been formerly chancellor of the kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus, led for twenty-five years a retired life in the convent of the Celestines in Paris, without taking any vows, or professing that Order. From this devout servant of God our saint received important instructions and advice, which gave him great light in the exercises of prayer, and in the paths of interior spiritual perfection. 1
In 1383 his brother, the Count of St. Pol, obtained for him a canonry in our Lady’s at Paris; which ecclesiastical preferment was to him a new motive to increase his fervour in the divine service. His devotion and assiduity in choir, his charity towards all, his innocence, his perfect spirit of mortification, and his meekness, edified exceedingly the whole city; and the modesty with which he endeavoured to conceal his virtues was like a fine transparent veil through which they shone with redoubled lustre. His humility was most conspicuous, of which the following instance, among others, is recorded: When a young clerk refused to carry the cross at a solemn procession, the new canon took it up and carried it with so much devotion, that the whole city was struck with admiration to see him. Peter strove only to advance in humility and Christian perfection: this was the sole point which he had in view in all his actions and undertakings; and he was very far from aspiring to the least ecclesiastical dignity. But the reputation of his extraordinary sanctity reaching Avignon, Clement VII. who, in the great schism, was acknowledged by France for true pope, nominated him archdeacon of Dreux, in the diocess of Chartres, and soon after, in 1384, bishop of Metz, his great sanctity and prudence seeming to many a sufficient reason for dispensing with his want of age. But Peter’s reluctance and remonstrances could only be overcome by a scruple which was much exaggerated to him, that by too obstinate a disobedience he would offend God. He made his public entry at Metz barefoot, and riding on an ass, to imitate the humility of our divine Redeemer. He would suffer no other magnificence on that occasion than the distribution of great alms and largesses among the poor; nor would he admit any attendants but what might inspire modesty and piety. 2
He had no sooner taken possession of his church than with the suffragan, Bertrand, a Dominican, who was given him for his assistant, and consecrated bishop of Thessaly, he performed the visitation of his diocess, in which he every where corrected abuses, and gave astonishing proofs of his zeal, activity, and prudence. He divided his revenues into three parts, allotting one to his church, a second to the poor, and reserving a third for himself and family, though the greater share of this he added to the portion of the poor. On fast-days commanded by the church he took no other sustenance than bread and water; and he fasted in the same austere manner all Advent, and all Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays throughout the year. When several towns had revolted from him and created for themselves new magistrates, his brother, the Count of St. Pol, reduced them to their duty by force of arms. The holy bishop was exceedingly mortified at this accident, and out of his own patrimony made amends to every one even among the rebels for all losses they had sustained, which unparalleled charity gained him all their hearts. Though he was judged, by those who were best acquainted with his interior, during his whole life never to have stained his baptismal innocence by any mortal sin, he had so high an idea of the purity in which a soul ought always to appear in the divine presence, especially when she approaches the holy mysteries, that he went every day to confession with extraordinary compunction, and bewailed the least imperfections with many tears. The very shadow of the least sloth or failing in any action affrighted him. In the year 1384, Clement VII. soon after he had nominated him bishop, created him cardinal, under the title of St. George, and in 1386 called him to Avignon, and obliged him to reside there near his person. Peter continued all his former austerities in the midst of a court, till Clement commanded him to mitigate them for the sake of his health, which seemed to be in a declining condition. His answer was: “Holy Father, I shall always be an unprofitable servant, but I can at least obey.” He desired to compensate for what he lost in the practices of penance by redoubling his alms-deeds. By his excessive charities his purse was always empty; his table was most frugal, his family very small, his furniture mean, and his clothes poor, and these he never changed till they were worn out. It seemed that he could not increase his alms, yet he found means to do it by distributing his little furniture and his equipage among the indigent, and selling for them the episcopal ring which he wore on his finger. Everything about him breathed an extraordinary spirit of poverty, and published his affection for the poor. At his death his whole treasure amounted only to twenty pence. In all his actions he seemed attentive only to God; and he fell into raptures sometimes in the street, or whilst he waited on the pope at court. An ancient picture of the saint is kept in the collegiate church of our Lady at Autun, in which he is painted in an ecstacy, and in which are written these words which he was accustomed frequently to repeat: “Contempt of the world, contempt of thyself: rejoice in thy own contempt, but despise no other person.” 3
Ten months after his promotion to the dignity of cardinal, the saint was seized with a sharp fever, which so much undermined his constitution that his imperfect recovery was succeeded by a dangerous slow fever. For his health he was advised to retire to Villeneuve, an agreeable town situate opposite to Avignon, on the other side of the Rhone. He was glad by this opportunity to see himself removed from the noise and hurry of the court. During his last illness he went to confession twice every day, never passed a day without receiving the holy communion; and the constant union of his soul with God, and the tenderness of his devotion seemed continually to increase as he drew near his end. His brother Andrew coming to see him, the saint spoke to him with such energy on the vanity of the world, and on the advantages of piety, that his words left a deep impression on his heart during his whole life. This brother afterwards taking holy orders was made bishop of Cambray, and became one of the most holy prelates of that age. Our saint recommended to him in particular his sister Jane of Luxemburg, whom he had induced to make a vow of perpetual chastity, and whose whole life was a perfect pattern of Christian perfection. St. Peter sent her by this brother a small treatise containing certain rules of perfection, which he had drawn up for her. Finding his strength quite exhausted, he desired and received the last sacraments; after which he called all his servants, and as they stood weeping round his bed, he begged their pardon for not having edified them by his example as he ought to have done. He then conjured them all to promise to do for his sake one thing which he was going to ask of them. To this they most readily engaged themselves. But they were much surprised when he ordered them to take a discipline which lay under his pillow, and every one to give him many stripes on his back, in punishment for the faults he had committed in regard to them, who were, as he said, his brethren in Christ and his masters. Notwithstanding their extreme unwillingness, they were obliged to comply with his request in order to satisfy him. After this act of penance and humiliation, he conversed with God in silent prayer till he gave up his innocent soul into his hands, on the 2nd of July, 1387, being eighteen years old, wanting eighteen days. Though he had the administration of a diocess, he had not received priestly orders, but seems to have been deacon, and his dalmatic is shown at Avignon. He was buried without pomp, according to his orders, in the church-yard of St. Michael. 4
On account of many miracles that were wrought both before and after his interment, the citizens of Avignon built a rich chapel over his grave. The convent and church of the Celestines have been since built over that very spot, and in this church is the saint’s body, at present enshrined under a stately mausoleum. The history of the miracles which have been wrought at his tomb fills whole volumes. A famous one in 1432, moved the city of Avignon to choose him for its patron. It is related as follows: A child about twelve years old fell from a high tower in the palace of Avignon upon a sharp rock, by which fall his skull was split, his brains dashed out, and his body terribly bruised. The father of the child, almost distracted at this accident, ran to the place, and falling on his knees, with many tears implored the intercession of St. Peter. Then gathering up the scattered bloody pieces of the child’s skull, he carried them with the body in a sack, and laid them on the saint’s tomb. The people and the Celestine monks joined their earnest prayers: and after some time the child returned to life, and was placed upon the altar that all might see him thus wonderfully raised from the dead. This miracle happened on the 5th of July, on which day the festival of the saint has ever since been celebrated at Avignon. After juridical informations on his life and miracles, the bull of his beatification was published by the true pope Clement VII., of the family of Medicis, in 1527. 5
St. Peter was a saint from the cradle, because he always strove to live only for God, and his divine honour. If one spark of that ardent love of God which inflamed the saints in their actions animated our breasts, it would give wings to our souls in all we do. We should devote ourselves every moment to God with our whole strength; and by our fidelity, and by the purity and fervour of our intention, we should with the saints make all our actions perfect sacrifices of our hearts to him. “God considers not how much, but with how ardent an affection the thing is given,” says St. Cyprian. 2 And, as St. Ambrose writes, 3 “Thy affection stamps the name and value on thy action. It is just rated at so much as is the ardour from which it proceeds. See how just is this judge—He asks thy own soul what value he is to set on thy work.” 6
Note 1. She was widow of Guy of Chatillon, count of St. Pol, brother to Maud.
Note 2. St. Cypr. l. de Oper. et Eleem.
Note 3. L. 1, de Offic. c. 30.
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VII: July.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.