When most people think of St. Louis, they think of an idyllic town nestled in a glorious tetrad of magnificent rivers and blessed by God Himself with some of the best people, food and sporting teams in this great nation (no media bias—this is all fact. Also, I’m from STL). However, there was also a man named St. Louis, and as today is his feast day, perhaps we should all take a few minutes to learn some interesting facts about him.
- He provides succor and a good example to seminarians on “National Kiss and Make Up Day.”
- He was the king of France. His mother was the queen of Catholic guilt.
St. Louis was born in 1226, and is officially St. Louis IX in the long King Louis of France lineup. His mother ruled for him after he became king at age 12. She loved her son, but it appears that her love language was setting the golden standard by which all future Catholic mothers would guilt their children into holiness. Some of the advice he heard growing up include:
–The sins of his people were actually a reflection on him as their monarch.
–She would rather see him die than commit a mortal sin.
One can only assume she rounded out the stereotype by informing the young monarch he was making Our Lord cry by not finishing his escargot.
- He really, really loved God
This might seem like a given for a canonized saint, but look back at what he grew up hearing. By all accounts, he should have been scrupulous and filled with that awful loveless faith that can be so enticing to public figures. But he wasn’t. He was really in love with Jesus.
In addition to running his country, he prayed the Divine Office and heard two Masses every day. Best of all, his faith wasn’t something that he kept locked away in the palace chapel.
He instituted a law that would allow serfs to be freed. He personally fed the poor from his table, and would wash their feet. He even mediated disputes between other European rulers, including Pope Innocent IV and Emperor Frederick II, also known as the “Chump City of Emperors” (starting now). Frederick was actually excommunicated multiple times; probably because he would do things like drive the Pope out of Rome and capture a hundred bishops on their way to meet with the Pope.
Pope Innocent fled to Lyons, France (ie, Louis’ turf) where Innocent was able to hold a council and declare Frederick deposed. He also declared a crusade against Frederick. This was good news for St. Louis, because…
- He was all about crusading.
I know. That sounds horrible. But I think we’ve lost sight of what the crusades actually were.
In St. Louis’ time, religion wasn’t something you shopped for after you had already decided what all of your political and cultural ideations were going to be. Religion was your culture and identity. It was the foundation by which you related to God and fellow man, and people were keenly aware of it. The way a people worshiped defined them. Also, once a people had the Truth revealed to them, they needed to share it. Think about it–if you had just realized that your faith held the answers to all of life’s questions, wouldn’t you be kind of a jerk for keeping that to yourself?
It wasn’t just Christians who felt this way. Muslim armies had spread from the Middle East to Northern Africa, and were starting to make inroads into Europe. The united Christian monarchs (ie, Christendom) did not like this, so they pushed back. In fact, they decided they were going to take back the holy cities and reopen pilgrimages. These conquests were called Crusades, and much of our information about St. Louis comes from his actions in them.
- He wasn’t afraid of would-be assassins, and he proved it multiple times
At one point during his crusading adventures, St. Louis was captured. While he was being held in Egypt, an Emir rushed into his tent and demanded St. Louis knight him or be stabbed. St. Louis calmly informed him that only a follower of Jesus Christ could perform the duties of a Christian knight.
Later, his captors offered him his freedom if he would swear an oath that implied a blasphemy. They held their swords to his throat and threatened to massacre Christians, but St. Louis still refused to blaspheme. I would like to propose that this action is worth making him the patron saint of stone cold bruisers everywhere.
After he was ransomed, he started another crusade, because he gave exactly zero cares. He won a battle in Tunis, but died of a fever there. He received Viaticum kneeling next to his camp-bed, the very picture of a humble and pious ruler.
Sidebar: a fun way to judge political candidates is to imagine them dying like he did. If you burst out laughing, they may not be the one for you.
- He helped end some really weird movements and heresies back home.
Crusades were a really popular idea, but sometimes they got a little weird. For example, in 1251 tons of poor people called “pastoraux” (shepherds) crusaded around France demanding the release of Holy Places and killing clergy. They were led by an elusive figure named the Master of Hungary. St. Louis shut that weirdness down.
France also hosted one of my personal favorite heresies in Church history: Catharism (also known as Albigensianism, just to confuse us). Catharism was more of a church than a heresy, with its own clergy, dioceses, etc. They believed that two opposing deities ruled the world. They thought the biblical God was the God of evil and the Church was the invention of Satan, because they also apparently believed that heretics should go big or go home.
They also hilariously taught that sex was inherently evil, and that having children was a sin because it trapped a soul in a body. St. Louis fought them, and they eventually learned the hard way that a movement that condemns having children is doomed to destroy itself.
- He has an awesome legacy, including one of the great American cities
It’s true. The guy had eleven children, and remains the only canonized French monarch. He even introduced the “innocent until proven guilty” concept to law, which is a pretty big deal.
Most importantly, in my unbiased opinion as a native St. Louisan, is the magnificent city named for him. St. Louis is the proud owner of the first Cathedral west of the Mississippi, although the diocese built a new and even more beautiful one in the 1900s. Missionary sisters, priests, and bishops came to help educate the people, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne among them. In 1891, the first archbishop of the city was greeted by a torchlight parade of 20,000 people. In short, this city is Catholic. And what’s more, St. Louis the city has provided the world with the best entrée and dessert known to man, and created sports teams that have clearly been blessed with divine favor. Even more amazingly, they did it without pyromaniacal cows or dumping raw sewage on their neighbors, unlike some Midwestern cities I could name (looking at you, Chicago). What a legacy.
St. Louis de Poissy, roi de France, priez pour nous!
PS: Go Cardinals.