M. Cecilia GOPOSCHKIN. Blessed Louis: The Most Glorious of Kings: Texts Relating to the Cult of Saint Louis of France. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012, xi + 307 pp., ISBN: 978-0-268-02984-5, $39.00, paperback. Reviewed by Patrick J. HAYES, Redemptorist Archives of the Baltimore Province, Brooklyn, NY
Ben Sira wrote: “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God” (Sirach 3:17-18). The path to holiness through renunciation is made all the more stark when it is made by those in power. As Cecilia Gaposchkin notes, King Louis IX (d. 1270) took this ideal into the royal character and became a saintly model for the realm in France. A crusader king, Louis’ charity included a simple dress, personal ministration to the poor and feeding lepers. His benevolence was perhaps only paralleled by his piety and he imposed a rigorous schooling in these virtues upon his children. So marvelous and astounding was the conduct of his life, he was known as a walking saint.
In order to understand the magnitude of the condescension that became so typical for Louis, two leading questions emerge: in what sense can we hope to understand the notion of “station” as that applies to a medieval king and how might we understand the concept once he de-mystifies it by becoming a servant to the lowliest members of society? The keys to these questions lie less in the man and more in his cult.
In Blessed Louis: The Most Glorious of Kings, Goposchkin produces expert translations of the hagiographic, liturgical, and homiletic texts that helped form the cult of Louis IX. Her selections include Gloriosissimi regis and Beatus Ludovicus—both of which drew from the canonization records approved by the pope. Here one can find some of the facts rehearsed from the various vitae submitted for Louis’ cause for sainthood, but more importantly, one can detect how, given the occasion and audience, his virtues were heralded in time and place. As Louis’ cult spread, so did the virtues he inspired. As the cult spread across the Atlantic to the new world, French Christians hoped to imbed them in places like St. Louis or New Orleans, both of which maintain cathedrals named in the king’s honor. But in the decades that followed his death, the legend of Saint Louis of France proved to be a measure for future kings and the baseline for what true nobility might look like.
In addition to the texts mentioned above, there are also Office and Mass texts in honor of the saint. These are less inclined to focus on the stories of the king’s life, but instead focus on the prayers and hymns constructed in his honor, serving more as lyrical monuments. Rounding out the volume are two sermons of Jacob of Lausanne (d. 1322), a prolific Dominican whose surviving homilies number over 1,400. The two that were selected for this volume are Rex Sapiens (The Wise King) and Videte regem Salomonem (Behold King Solomon!). In the latter selection, for instance, Jacob points to the winds that propel a ship toward the port of salvation, just as King Louis was propelled to make a sea voyage to reclaim the Holy Land. Though his mission failed, what matters is that he tried and successfully navigated through the gale.Each selection—none of which has been published ever before in a modern translation—is given a lucid introduction. Translations are sound and prudent, as is the scholarly apparatus that accompanies them. The editor has scoured European libraries for the best and most complete manuscripts and carefully notes any shortcomings by comparative analysis. This is a splendid volume that will give greater tone to any graduate library with interests in medieval France, and will surely supplement Goposchkin’s earlier and future work on Louis (viz., her 2010 study, The Making of Saint Louis: Kingship, Sanctity, and Crusade in the Later Middle Ages and, with Sean Field, The Sanctity of Louis IX: Early Lives of Saint Louis by Geoffrey of Beaulieu and William of Chartres, coming in December 2013, both from Cornell University Press). It also stands as an important work in the history of Christian historical theology and liturgical studies, too.