Raymond de Peñaforte was born in Villafrance del Penades in Northern Spain between 1175-1180. He trained at the University of Bologna (1210). On graduation in 1216 he received his doctorate and teaching licence, and returned to Barcelona where he became instructor in the Seminary. He entered the Benedictine Order of Preachers (Ordo Praedicatorum) in 1222.
In 1230 he was chosen by Pope Gregory IX to be his personal confessor, and remained in Rome where he influenced Papal policy towards Jews and Moslems, and the fortunes of the Dominican Order. Whilst in Rome he edited Gratian’s Decretum and compiled the Decretales, a comprehensive summary of previous ecclesiastic legislation on social interaction and missionary expansion amongst Jews and Moslems. This led to increased missionary activity and standardised new methods of approach.
Peñaforte chose Raymond Martini to study at the Studium Arabicum founded in 1250 for the study of Arabic and Hebrew. Those who passed through the school received the licentia disputandi giving them the privileges, resources and protection necessary to itinerant friars wishing to engage Jews and Moslems in dispute on matters of faith. The first s t u d i u m was in Murcia, with others in Jativa, Valencia, Barcelona and Tunis.
Raymond de Peñaforte regulated procedures against heresy, and petitioned James I of Aragon to support such activities. Peñaforte encouraged Thomas Aquinas to write the Summa Contra Gentiles as a means of attracting converts to Christianity.
Whilst at Rome he edited and revised the constitution of the Dominican Order. In 1238 he was appointed Master General, but relinquished the post two years later, and returned to the convent at Barcelona. In 1263 he was present at the Debate between Astruc Ben Porta (Nachmanides) and Paulo Christiani, and is referred to in the proceedings7.
Raymond de Peñaforte was responsible, with Paulo Christiani, for the organising and structuring of the debate as a test case for the new argumentation developed by the Dominicans. He presided over subsequent measures taken against the Jewish community of Barcelona and the marshalling of Christian missionary forces throughout Europe8. After the debate four decrees were issued by James I in compliance with the friars’ aspirations. Jews were compelled to attend Christian sermons; blasphemies were to be expurgated from the Talmud and other Jewish writings; a censorship commission was established; and Paulo Christiani was empowered to continue and expand his missionising activities.
According to Nachmanides’ report of events Raymond de Peñaforte was to be found in the Synagogue of Barcelona eight days after the
debate of 1262 preaching on the Trinity. He died in in Barcelona on the sixth of January 1275, having combined services to the Dominican Order and Catholic Church with a wealth of scholastic work and legal reform. Not only had he set the scene for Martini’s activities, but had through his own endeavours laid down the overall strategy, if not the specific tactics, of the apologetic approach Martini would develope.
Prayer and Reflection. Despite the scholarship and personal engagement with Jews, Jewish Christians and Muslim’s, Penaforte’s motives, method and message were primarily hostile and polemical. Whilst the arguments he compiled were the most up-to-date, the schools he formed the most effective in equipping preachers, and the men he influenced such as Thomas Aquninas, Paulo Christiani and Raymundus Martini the most significant contributors to Jewish-Christian debate in the Middle Ages, his legacy is one of forced sermons, conversions under duress and the exacerbation of Jewish mistrust and fear of Christians. Whilst he is honoured and remembered as a saint today, his memory is bad news for Jews and shows the church how much it needs to repent of, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation for its anti-judaism. Lord have mercy!
Collect for 7th January
O God, who adorned the Priest Saint Raymond with the virtue of outstanding mercy and compassion for sinners and for captives, grant us, through his intercession, that, released from slavery to sin, we may carry out in freedom of spirit what is pleasing to you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Saint Raymond of Penafort, a Dominican priest who worked to aid Christian captives during the era of the Crusades and also helped organize the Church’s legal code, will be celebrated liturgically on Jan. 7.
A contemporary of Saint Thomas Aquinas, he inspired the theologian to write the “Summa Contra Gentiles” for the conversion of non-Catholics. At least 10,000 Muslims reportedly converted as a result of St. Raymond’s evangelistic labors.
Descended from a noble family with ties to the royal house of Aragon, Raymond of Penafort was born during 1175 in the Catalonian region of modern-day Spain near Barcelona.
He advanced quickly in his studies, showing such a gift for philosophy that he was appointed to teach the subject in Barcelona by age 20. As a teacher, the young man worked to harmonize reason with the profession and practice of Catholic faith and morals. This included a notable concern for the poor and suffering.
Around age 30 the Spanish scholar went to study secular and Church law at Bologna in Italy. He earned his doctorate and taught there until 1219, when the Bishop of Barcelona gave him an official position in the diocese. During 1222, the 47-year-old Raymond joined the Dominican order, in which he would spend the next 53 years of his remarkably long life.
As a penance for the intellectual pride he had once demonstrated, the former professor was asked to write a manual of moral theology for use by confessors. The resulting “Summa Casuum” was the first of his pioneering contributions to the Church. Meanwhile, in keeping with his order’s dedication to preaching, the Dominican priest strove to spread the faith and bring back lapsed and lost members of the Church.
During his time in Barcelona, Raymond helped Saint Peter Nolasco and King James of Aragon to establish the Order of Our Lady of Mercy, whose members sought to ransom those taken captive in Muslim territory. During this same period Raymond promoted the Crusades through preaching, encouraging the faithful to defend their civilization from foreign threats.
Pope Gregory IX called the Dominican priest to Rome in 1230, asking him to compile the Church’s various decisions and decrees into one systematic and uniform collection. The resulting five books served for centuries as a basis of the Church’s internal legal system. Raymond was the Pope’s personal confessor and close adviser during this time, and nearly became the Archbishop of Tarragona in 1235. But the Dominican did not want to lead the archdiocese, and is said to have turned down the appointment.
Later in the decade, Raymond was chosen to lead the Dominicans, though he did so for only two years due to his advancing age. Ironically, however, he would live on for more than three decades after resigning from this post. During this time he was able to focus on the fundamentals of his vocation: praising God in prayer, making him known through preaching, and making his blessings manifest in the world. Raymond’s later achievements included the establishment of language schools to aid in the evangelization of non-Christians.
St. Raymond of Penafort’s long pilgrimage of faith ended on Jan. 6, 1275, approximately 100 years after his birth. Pope Clement VIII canonized him in 1601. His patronage extends toward lawyers in general, and canon lawyers in particular.