Home  »  Volume IX: September  »  St. Guy, Confessor

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume IX: September. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

September 12

St. Guy, Confessor

        From his life in Surius: also Miræus, in his Fasti, and Annales, Gramaye in Bruxellâ, p. 10, and particularly in Sanderus, in Chron. Brabant, et Lacâ Partheniâ, sect. 41, 42. The Bollandists, t. 3, Sept. p. 36.

About 1012, or rather 1033.

ST. GUY, in Latin Guido, commonly called the Poor Man of Anderlecht, was born in the country near Brussels, of mean parents, but both very virtuous, consequently content and happy in their station. They were not able to give their son a school education, nor did they on that account repine, but redoubled their diligence in instructing him early in the rudiments of the Christian doctrine, and in all the maxims of our holy religion, often repeating to him the lesson which old Toby gave his son: “We shall be rich enough if we fear God.” But their own example was the most powerful constant instruction, and inspired him more strongly than words could do with the Christian spirit of humility, meekness, and piety, and with a fear of God, animated by charity, which is fruitful in all manner of good works. Guy was from his cradle serious, obedient, mild, patient, docile, and an enemy to the least sloth. He conceived the highest sense of all religious duties, and was inured, both by his parents’ care and by his own fervour, to the practice of them. The meanness of his condition much delighted him as soon as he was of an age to know its value. He rejoiced to see himself placed in a state which Christ had chosen for himself. This conformity to his divine Master, who lived and died in extreme poverty, and the humiliation inseparable from his condition, were very pleasing to him, and it was his chief care to make use of the advantages it afforded him for the exercise of all heroic virtues. He showed to the rich and the great ones of the world all possible respect, but never envied or coveted their fortunes, and sighed sincerely to see men in all states so eagerly wedded to the goods of the earth, which they so much over-rate. When he met with poor persons who grieved to see themselves such, he exhorted them not to lose by murmuring, impatience, and unprofitable inordinate desires the treasure which God put into their hands. The painful labour, hardships, inconveniences, and humiliations to which his condition exposed him, he looked upon as its most precious advantages, being sensible that the poverty which our Redeemer chose was not such a one as even worldlings would desire, abounding with all the necessaries and comforts of life, but a poverty which is accompanied with continual privations, sufferings, and denials of the gratifications of the senses. The great curse which Christ denounces against riches regards the inordinate pleasure that is sought in the abundance of earthly goods, and in the delights of sense.
  St. Austin says, that God ranks among the reprobate, not only those who shall have received their comfort on earth, but also those who shall have grieved to be deprived of it. This was the misfortune which Guy dreaded. In order to preserve himself from it, he never ceased to beg of God the grace to love the happy state of poverty, in which divine providence had placed him, and to bear all its hardships with joy and perfect resignation, in a spirit of penance, without which all the tribulations of this world are of no advantage for heaven. The charity which Guy had for his neighbour was not less active than his love of mortification and penance. He divided his morsel with the poor, and often fed them whilst he fasted himself. He stole from himself some hours every day to visit the sick, and carried to them all that he was able. At his labour he was faithful and diligent; and a spirit of prayer sanctified all his actions. Such was his life even in his youth. As virtue is infinitely the most precious inheritance that parents can leave to their children, his father and mother entertained, as much as was in their power, this rich stock of pious inclinations which grace had planted in their son, and daily begged of God to preserve and increase in that innocent heart the holy fire which he himself had kindled. Their prayers were heard. Guy’s early virtues, by diligent culture and exercise, grew up with him to greater strength and maturity, and advanced more and more towards perfection.  2
  As Guy was one day praying in the church of our Lady, at Laken, a mile from Brussels, the curate of the place was charmed to see his recollection and devotion, and, taking an opportunity afterwards to discourse with him, was much more struck with the piety and unction of his conversation, and retained him in the service of his church in quality of beadle. This church is the most ancient of all the famous places of devotion to the Blessed Virgin in those parts. The name of Laken signifies a convent or house in a moist or marshy ground, as Sanderus shows. The saint, who rejoiced to have an opportunity of being always employed in the most humble offices of religion, embraced the offer with pleasure. His business was to sweep the church, dress the altars, fold up the vestments, take care of the linen and other moveables used in the service of God, ring the bell for mass and vespers, and provide flowers and other decorations which were used in that church: all which he performed with the utmost exactness and veneration which the most profound sense of religion can inspire. The neatness and good order that appeared in everything under his direction edified all that came to that church; for, out of a true spirit of religion, the servant of God looked upon nothing as small which belonged to the service of God, or to the decency of his house. His religious silence, modesty, and recollection in the church seemed to say to others: “This is the house of the Lord; tremble you that approach his sanctuary.” During his employments, he walked always in the divine presence, praying in his heart. When they were done, he refreshed his soul at the foot of the altar in fervent exercises of devotion; and often passed whole nights in prayer. He chastised his body by rigorous fists, and endeavoured, by constant compunction and the severity of his penance, to prevent the anger of his Judge at the last day. Had it been reasonable to form a judgment of the enormity of his sins by the humble sentiments he entertained of himself, and by the penitential tears he shed, he would have passed for the most grievous sinner on the face of the earth; whereas the sins he so grievously bewailed were only the lightest faults of inadvertence, such as the just fall into, and which only his great purity of heart could have discerned, and which it magnified in his eyes. To wipe away these daily stains (through the merits of Christ’s passion applied to his soul) he lived in constant compunction, learning every day to become more watchful over himself in all his words and actions, and in all the motions of his heart. By humility and meekness he was sweet and courteous to all, showing that true virtue is amiable to men, and that nothing so much civilizes the human soul. Out of his small salary he found a great deal for the poor; and, for their sake, he always lived himself in the greatest poverty, and often begged to procure them relief. For his humiliation God permitted the following trial to befal him.  3
  A certain merchant of Brussels persuaded him to endeavour, by a little commerce, to gain something for the succour of the poor, and offered to put him in a way of thus making a more plentiful provision for them, by admitting him into a partnership in trade with himself. Guy’s compassion for the necessitous wrought more powerfully with him than any other regard could have done; nor was it easy for him to throw off the importunities of his tenderness for them. The bait was specious, and he was taken by it; but God did not suffer him long to remain in that illusion. The vessel, which was chiefly freighted by his partner, perished in going out of the harbour, and Guy, whose place in the church of Laken, upon his quitting, had been given to another, was on a sudden left destitute. He saw his mistake in following his own prudence, and in forsaking a secure and humble employment in which Providence had fixed him, to embark, though with a good intention, in the affairs of the world, in which, by dissipation, his virtue would perhaps have been much impaired, and worldly attachments secretly have taken root in his heart. For, though this employment was good in itself, yet he considered that God had justly punished his rashness in forsaking a station so suitable to the practice of piety, and had, in mercy, turned another way that affluence which might more probably have produced in him an affection to avarice or luxury, than have enlarged this charity. For plenty, riches, and worldly prosperity do not always, like soft distilling rains and dew, cherish, refresh, and increase the tender plant of virtue; but much more frequently, like a flood, wash away the earth from its roots, and either utterly extirpate it, or leave it oppressed and buried in rubbish, according to the maxims of eternal truth, condemning the spirit of the world, which the experience as well as reason of mankind confirms. This St. Guy clearly saw under his disappointment, and he condemned himself for the false step he had taken.  4
  Another danger to which he had lived long exposed, was the persecution, if we may so call it, of the applause and praises of the world, which his virtue drew upon him in his low station. He had always carefully studied to arm himself against this temptation by the most sincere humility and constant watchfulness; but now, upon a review of his heart and whole conduct, he resolved to avoid this flattering enemy, by seeking out some foreign retirement. In this disposition, and in a spirit of penance for his reputed fault, he made an austere pilgrimage, first to Rome, and then to Jerusalem, and visited all the most celebrated places of devotion in the Christian world. Being returned as far as Rome, he there met Wondulf, dean of the church of Anderlech (a little town about two miles from Brussels), who, with some others, was ready to set out for the Holy Land. Guy was prevailed upon by them to be their guide, and to take another penitential journey thither. The dean and his companions were all carried off by a pestilential distemper, just as they were going to set sail from Palestine to return to Europe. Guy attended them in the time of their sickness, took care of their funerals, and, after seven years’ absence, returned to Anderlecht. The subdean of the chapter gave him an apartment in his house, not suffering him to return to Laken. The fatigues of his journeys, and other great hardships he had undergone, brought upon him a complication of distempers, of which he died soon after, on the 12th of September, about the year 1012, or rather 1033. 1 The canons buried him honourably in the ground belonging to their church. Many miracles that were performed by his intercession gave occasion to Gerard II., bishop of Arras and Cambray, about the year 1090, to order his sacred bones to be taken up, and a chapel to be built over the spot where they had been buried in the churchyard; for Anderlecht and Brussels were then in the diocess of Cambray, though they are now in that of Mechlin. In place of this chapel a magnificent collegiate church, under the patronage of St. Guy, was erected, and his relics translated into it in 1112. This church is endowed with very rich canonries, and is famous over the whole country.  5
Note 1. Baronius and Molanus, by mistake, place the death of St. Guy in 1112; it is more surprising that Baillet fell into the same error, since it has been demonstrated from the original life of the saint, and the deeds of several donations made to his church, that his death happened one hundred years before. See Miræus, both in his Fasti Belgici and his Annales Belgici, ad an. 1012; also Gramaye, professors of laws at Louvain, afterwards public historian of Brabant and Flanders, and provost of Arnheim, Antiquitates Brabantiæ, ann. 1708, p. 10, from memoirs furnished by Dr. Clement, a celebrated English theologian, dean of Anderlecht. This point, and other difficulties relating to the life of St. Guy, are fully cleared up by Sanderus, canon of Ipres, in Chorographia Brabantiæ, in the account of Laca Parthenia, or the Virgin’s Laken, § 41, 42, where he corrects the mistakes of Miræus concerning the first translation of St. Guy’s relics, and proves, against the same author, that he was not a native of Anderlecht, since his life informs us that he was a stranger there. [back]