Sunday, January 6, 2013

The repose of Severinus

Fragment of a broadside on six Austrian patron saints; right half of the woodcut with three standing saints, named underneath within a tablet, from left to right, St Severinus holding the Bible open to John 1:1, St Coloman, and St Leopold.
Woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, 1515.

On the fifth of January he began to be slightly disquieted by a pain in the side. When this persisted for three days, at midnight he commanded the brethren to be with him. He gave them instructions as to the disposal of his body, strengthened them with fatherly counsel, and bestowed upon them the following earnest and admirable discourse.

‘Most beloved sons in Christ,’ he said, ‘ye know that blessed Jacob, when he was about to leave the world, and the time drew nigh that he must die, called unto his sons, and said, “Gather yourselves together”; that he might tell them that which should befall them in the last days, and bless them every one according to his blessing.

‘But I am lowly and of lukewarm faith. I am inferior to such piety. I dare not assume the burden of this privilege. Yet there is one thing which is accordant with my humility, and which  I will say. I will refer you to the examples of the elders, whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. For Abraham, when called of the Lord, obeyed in faith. He went forth into a place which he was to receive into his possession; and he went forth not knowing whither he was to go. Therefore imitate the faith of this blessed patriarch, copy after his holiness, despise the things of earth, seek ever the heavenly home.

‘Moreover I trust in the Lord, that eternal gain shall come to me from you. For I perceive that ye have enlarged my joy by the fervor of your spirit, that ye love justice, that ye cherish the bonds of brotherly love, that ye neglect not chastity, that ye guard the rule of humility. These things, so far as the eye of man hath power to see, I confidently praise and approve.

‘But pray that those things which to human view are worthy, may be confirmed by the test of the eternal judgment; for God seeth not as man seeth. Indeed, as the divine word declareth, he searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts. Therefore constantly hope and pray for this, that God may enlighten the eyes of your understanding, and open them, as blessed Elisha prayed, that ye may see what hosts of saints surround and support you, what mighty aids are prepared for the faithful. For our God draws nigh to them that are without guile.

‘Let the soldiers of God fail not to pray without ceasing. Let him not be reluctant to repent, who was not ashamed to sin. Sinners, hesitate not to lament, if but by the overflowing of your tears the wrath of God may be appeased; for he hath seen fit to call a contrite spirit his sacrifice. Therefore let us be humble in heart, tranquil in mind; guarding against all sins and ever mindful of the divine commands; knowing that meanness of garb, the name monk, the word religion, the outward form of piety, profiteth us not, if touching the observance of God's commands we be found degenerate and false.

‘Therefore let your characters, my most beloved sons, accord with the vow which ye have assumed. It is a great crime to lead a sinful life, even for a man of this world; how much more then for monks, who have fled from the enticements of the world as from a hideous wild beast, and have preferred Christ to all desires; whose gait and garb are held to be evidence of virtue?

‘But why, dearest sons, delay you further with a long address? It remains to bestow upon you the last prayer of the blessed apostle, who saith, “And now I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, who is able to preserve you, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” To him be the glory for ever and ever.’

After this edifying address, he bade all in succession approach for his kiss. He received the sacrament of the communion; and altogether forbade that they should weep for him. Having stretched out his hand, and made the sign of the cross over his whole body, he commanded that they should sing a psalm. When the grief that overspread them kept them silent, he himself started the psalm, ‘Praise ye the Lord in his sanctuary; let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.’

And so, on the eighth of January, repeating this verse, while we could hardly make the responses, he fell asleep in the Lord. When he was buried, our elders, implicitly believing that, like his many other prophecies, what he had foretold in regard to our removal could not fail to come to pass, prepared a wooden casket; that when the predicted migration of the people should take place, the commands of the prophet might be fulfilled.

No comments: