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Fr. David M. Friel studied Theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, and currently serves as Parochial Vicar of Saint Anselm Parish (Philadelphia, PA). He was ordained to the Catholic Priesthood in May of 2011.
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"Bishops have a duty towards both wise and foolish. They have to rouse the devotion of the carnal people with material ornament, since they are incapable of spiritual things."
— St. Bernard of Clairvaux (†1153)
Saints Who Were Artists
published 30 March 2014 by Fr. David Friel

ANY FAITHFUL CATHOLICS, including both laity and clergy, subscribe to the monthly publication, Magnificat. While its printed form may not be as noble as the bound volumes produced by the Benziger Brothers of old or the Midwest Theological Forum and Corpus Christi Watershed of today, my purpose in this post is not to comment on the disposability of some missal companions. In my estimation, Magnificat is a quality publication that serves an eager market. Among its many strengths, the publishers do a phenomenal job in the opening pages of introducing their readership to a new traditional chant every month—not an enterprise to be ignored in the larger project of sacred music renewal.

[Perhaps readers will be aware that there is a publication very similar to Magnificat, only designed as a companion to the celebration of the Extraordinary Form. The name of this venture is Laudamus Te, and you can find more information about their work here.]

The March 2014 edition of Magnificat includes a terrific series of short biographies, entitled, “Saints Who Were Artists.” Among those included are poets, painters, and musicians, ranging from well known to rather obscure. Following is a summary of each saint presented.

St. Robert Southwell
Priest, Martyr, & Poet (1561-1595)
As one of the Forty Martyrs of England & Wales, he is a favorite of Watershed’s. See a poem of his here.

St. Peter Damian
Bishop, Doctor, & Poet (1007-1072)
In the Paradiso, Dante place Peter Damian in the seventh heaven, home to those who contemplate the Word of God.

St. Romanus the Melodist
Poet & Hymnographer († mid-6th century)
A Jewish convert, Romanus is the writer of roughly one-thousand Kontakia, which are Byzantine liturgical hymns.

St. Hildegard of Bingen
Abbess & Composer (1098-1179)
A German Benedictine mystic, Hildegard wrote scholarly works, numerous musical compositions, and even a morality play. She was recently canonized and named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI.

St. Paulinus of Nola
Bishop & Poet (C. 354-431)
Paulinus was a married man and a father, who sought out a life of austerity with his wife, Therasia. The couple took St. Felix as their special patron, and Paulinus maintained written correspondence with Augustine, Jerome, and Martin of Tours. Elected bishop by the people of Nola, he said this: “To my mind, the only art is the faith, and Christ is my poetry.”

St. Catherine of Bologna
Abbess & Painter (1413-1463)
Catherine dabbled in writing, poetry, dancing, and Latin studies, but her forte was painting. She is a patron saint of painters and those who suffer from doubt.

St. Luke
Evangelist, Painter, & Iconographer († 1st century)
Presumably the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, Luke used words as well as colors to paint. A tradition from the sixth century holds that he painted portraits of the Blessed Mother, Peter, and Paul.

St. Theodore the Studite
Abbot, Poet, & Calligrapher (759-826)
Theodore founded a renowned monastic school of calligraphy. Perhaps even more significantly, though, he was the leading opponent of the “iconoclasts,” who sought to destroy images of Jesus, His Mother, and the saints. He was sent into exile for his defense of the use of holy images.

St. Sidonius Apollinaris
Bishop & Poet (c. 430-480)
After a career in the Roman Empire that culminated with his appointment as a Prefect, Sidonius became bishop of Auvergne in Gaul. He is the author of several panegyrics (poems of praise).

St. John of the Cross
Founder, Doctor, and Poet (1542-1591)
John is the greatest of Spanish poets and the author of some of the finest Christian poetry ever written. It is said that Bl. John Paul II first studied Spanish specifically so that he could read John’s poetry in its original language. Declared in 1926 the “Mystical Doctor,” he is venerated as the national poet of Spain.

St. Andrew of Crete
Bishop & Hymnographer (c. 660-740)
Mute for the first seven years of his life, Andrew eventually became known for his strong preaching and beautiful hymns. He is the originator of the kanon, a new form of hymnody in the Greek liturgy.

St. Therese of Lisieux
Virgin, Doctor, Poet, and Playwright (1873-1897)
One of the world’s most widely beloved saints, the Little Flower was also a true artist. She wrote lovely poems and penned several plays, which the nuns called “pious recreations.” Therese was also an actress, producing and starring in all but one of her plays.

St. Columba of Iona
Abbot & Poet (c. 521-597)
Owner of a thundering voice and very able mind, Columba founded the monasteries of Derry, Durrow, & Kells, along with nearly 60 others. He spent much of his life copying the Psalter, and, especially in his old age, Columba wrote poems, including the famous Altus Prosator. [I am particularly a fan of this saint, and I took the Celtic form of his name, Columbkille, as my Confirmation name!]

St. Francis de Sales
Founder, Bishop, & Writer (1567-1622)
Francis was a most devoted letter writer. It is said that he wrote 20 to 30 letters a day in his later years. His famous Introduction to the Devout Life began as a compilation of correspondence with Madame de Chamoisy. He is, understandably, the patron saint of writers.

St. Dunstan of Canterbury
Abbot, Bishop, & Musician (909-988)
A very accomplished scholar, Dunstan was also a well trained artisan. He was a master of metal work, embroidery, and harp playing.

St. Philip Neri
Founder of the Oratory (1515-1595)
A man filled with infectious joy, Philip has been credited not only with founding the Oratory, but also with crafting the genre of the oratorio.

St. Cecilia
Virgin († mid-3rd Century)
The patron saint of musicians, Cecilia is a virgin martyr of the early Church. The Acts of her life tell of Cecilia’s song, which was the plaintive, sweet cry of a heart entirely devoted to the Lord.

St. Venantius Fortunatus
Bishop & Poet (535-605)
Venantius is the composer of two of the most august hymns of the Church: Vexilla Regis Prodeunt, originally a celebration of the reception of a relic of the True Cross, and Pange Lingua Gloriosi Proelium, which later inspired the great Corpus Christi hymn of St. Thomas Aquinas.

St. Gregory Nazianzen
Bishop, Doctor, & Poet (c. 329-390)
Surrounded by a family and circle of friends full of saints, the young Gregory preferred solitude. Chosen to be a bishop, the administration of his diocese and other priestly duties drew him away from the quiet he loved and into the heart of life in Constantinople. After resigning and returning to contemplative life, Gregory authored a series of poems, most notably De Vita Sua.

St. John Damascene
Doctor & Defender of Holy Images (657-749)
When, in 726, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III outlawed the veneration of icons, “iconoclasm” swept through the empire. In response, from his monastery, John wrote three “Discourses against those who calumniate the Holy Images.” John argued that the Old Testament prohibition against making an image of God had been fulfilled in the Incarnation. He insisted that God could be approached and venerated in material things, making a novel distinction between “worship” and “veneration.”

St. Nicetas of Remesiana
Bishop & Hymn Writer (c. 335-414)
We know through his contemporaries, St. Paulinus of Nola and St. Jerome, that Nicetas was an accomplished poet. In recent years, numerous scholars have proposed that Nicetas may be the author of the Te Deum. He shares a feast day, on June 22nd, with his friend, Paulinus.

St. Thomas Aquinas
Doctor & Poet (1225-1274)
Known primarily for his philosophical and theological works, Thomas is also a poet of great consequence. The rites of Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament are widely accompanied by his poems, O Salutaris Hostia and Tantum Ergo Sacramentum. His poems command not only correct doctrine, but also lyric beauty. In Ecclesia de Eucharistia , Bl. John Paul II described Thomas as both an “eminent theologian” and an “impassioned poet of Christ in the Eucharist.”

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