Home  »  Volume X: October  »  St. Lewis Bertrand, Confessor

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

October 9

St. Lewis Bertrand, Confessor

LEWIS was the son of John Lewis Bertrand, a royal notary, and was born at Valencia in Spain on the 1st of January, 1526. He was the eldest of nine children, who, being all remarkable for their piety, were a proof how deep root virtue takes in the hearts of youth when it is imprinted in them by the good example and early instructions of pious parents. Lewis from his infancy loved retirement, prayed much and with fervour, and practised mortifications of which his tender age seemed almost incapable. He ate very little, shunned all frivolous amusements and recreations, and whatever served to flatter the senses in diet or other things; and, when he could deceive the vigilance of his mother, he slept on the bare ground. He was often found on his knees in some secret part of the house, and seemed by his teachable disposition and sincere humility of soul to have inherited the spirit of St. Vincent Ferrer, to whom he was related by blood. When he went abroad to the schools, he redoubled his watchfulness over himself, lest necessary commerce with the world should weaken the sentiments of piety in his breast. He never lost sight of the divine presence, and, seeking the Lord in the simplicity of his heart, he desired to hear his voice in pious books and devout prayer, which he made his most familiar entertainment. He sought no company but that of the virtuous. At fifteen years of age he desired to take the religious habit among the Dominicans. His father opposed his inclination on account of the tenderness of his age and constitution; and the prior of that Order at Valencia could not but pay a regard to his remonstrance. These delays only increased the ardour of the postulant’s desires. The next prior was the celebrated F. John Mico, who had been brought up a poor shepherd in the mountains of Albaida, in which employment he had learned to contemplate God in the works of the creation. By repeating to his fellow-shepherds the instructions he learned from pious books and sermons, he induced many to embrace the practice of perfect virtue. He afterwards became an eminent doctor among the Dominican friars, introduced a reform of that Order in Spain, was a great preacher, and an apostle of some of the Moors in Spain. He wrote several works of piety and holy meditations, full of unction and science in the interior life. 1 This great servant of God gave the habit to young Bertrand, and conducted the fervent novice in the path of true virtue by the love of the cross and humiliations, the contempt of earthly things, and the exercises of obedience, humility, and charity; teaching him that a soul gains more advantages by patience in spiritual dryness and privations, than by consolations and supernatural favours.  1
  When the saint was ordained priest he usually said mass every day; he prepared himself to offer that adorable sacrifice by spending always some hours in prayer and in exercises of holy compunction, by which and often by the sacrament of confession, he endeavoured diligently to purify his soul from the least stains it might have contracted, to correct the least irregularities and disorders which easily steal into our affections, and to cleanse them from all the poison of self-love which is so apt secretly to infect them. For being filled with a holy dread of the divine judgments, and the deepest sense and awe of the infinite justice, sanctity, and purity of God, with the most innocent life he joined the practice of the most severe constant penance. And he seemed desirous to set no bounds to the fervour of his compunction before he approached the holy mysteries. His angelical modesty, the ardour of his love, the impression of which seemed to appear in his countenance, and the torrents of tears which he usually shed at the altar, inspired with tender devotion all persons that heard his mass. Being made master of novices in 1551, both by his example and words he taught them sincerely and perfectly to renounce the world and their own will, to conceive an entire distrust in themselves, and by a spirit of prayer closely to unite their souls to God. The saint’s talents did not at first appear promising for the pulpit; nevertheless, being employed in that sacred function, he overcame all difficulties, and his discourses produced incredible fruit, because they were animated with zeal and charity, and breathed a spirit of sincere piety and humility. In 1557, a pestilence raging in the kingdom of Valencia, the saint knew no danger, and spared no pains in exhorting and assisting the sick, and in burying the dead. He who cheerfully exposed his life for his brethren during this calamity, when it was over, obtained of his superiors, by earnest importunities, leave to preach the gospel to the savages in America, which was a most painful and dangerous mission.  2
  St. Lewis embarked at Seville in 1562, with another friar of his Order; and during the voyage, by his daily exhortations and instructions, he brought all the sailors to a reformation of their lives. The vessel in which he sailed landed in Golden Castile, in South America, and the Saint repaired to the convent of his Order in that province. Without the least thought of allowing himself any rest, or taking any refreshment after the fatigues of his journey, he prepared himself by severe fasts and watchings to open his mission. During the course of his mission in those parts he lay often in the open air, and usually on the ground, or on pieces of wood, which formed rather a rack than a bed; by refusing the ordinary succours which missionaries in those parts furnish themselves with, he often suffered the utmost severities of hunger and other inconveniences. The gifts of tongues, of prophecy, and of miracles, were favors conferred by heaven on this new apostle, as the authentic history of his life, and the bull of his canonization, assure us. In the isthmus of Panama, the island of Tobago, and the province of Carthagena, in the space of three years, he converted to Christ above ten thousand souls, and baptized all the inhabitants of the city of Tubara, and the places adjoining. He then preached with like fruit at Cipacoa. The savages at Paluato, still more enslaved to their passions than to their idols, resisted the light of heaven. The prayers, tears, and mortifications which the saint offered up for them seemed at that time to be lost; but afterwards produced the most plentiful harvest. In that manner it pleases God frequently to try the patience and perseverance of his most faithful ministers. The next mission which the saint undertook was among the Caribbees, who are looked upon as the most brutal, barbarous, and unteachable people of the human race. The holy preacher making no account of the sacrifice of his life, penetrated alone through the forests, and over the mountains of Guiana, which they inhabit; neither was the divine seed altogether barren among these barbarians, and several even of their priests were baptized by our saint. The inhabitants of the mountains of St. Martha received him as an angel sent from heaven, and he baptized there about fifteen thousand persons. One thousand five hundred Indians followed him thither from Paluato, and having been instructed in the faith, were baptized by him and his companions. In the country of Monpaia, and in the isle of St. Thomas, the saint gained a new people to Christ, and new triumphs to the Church. Heaven protected him more than once from all attempts made upon his life by poison, the sword, and other ways. He foretold many things to come, and in the city of Carthagena raised a dead woman to life. Pierced to the quick to see the avarice and cruelty of several Spanish adventurers in the Indies, and not being able to find any means of putting a stop to those evils, he was desirous to seek redress in Spain; and about that time he was recalled thither by his superiors. He sailed from Carthagena in America, and arrived at Seville in 1569, whence he returned to Valencia. He was appointed successively prior of two convents of his Order, and wonderfully revived in them both the primitive spirit of their holy founder. Among many other predictions he foretold the conversion of John Adorno, a noble Genoese, and that he would institute a new religious Congregation; which was verified by that of the Regular Clerks, called Minors, whom he afterwards founded. St. Teresa consulted St. Lewis, and received great comfort from his advice under her greatest difficulties. When she wrote to him about her design of establishing a reformation of the Carmelite Order, he sent her the following answer: “Because the honour of God is highly concerned in your intended undertaking, I took some time to recommend it to him by my poor prayers. For this reason I deferred so long my answer. I now bid you take courage in the name of the Lord, who will favour you. It is in his name that I assure you your reformation will be, within the space of fifty years, one of the most illustrious Orders in the Church.”  3
  St. Lewis preached the divine word during twelve years, without intermission, in several dioceses in Spain. He trained up many excellent preachers, who succeeded him in the ministry of the word in that and the following ages. The first lesson he gave them was, that humble and fervent prayer must always be the principal preparation of the preacher; for words without works will never have the power to touch or change hearts. Words must be animated by the spirit of prayer, and must derive their force and efficacy from this source, or they will be little more than an empty sound. A want of feeling in the preacher never fails to leave the hearers cold, how much soever his eloquence may tickle their ears; and as for those who court applause, and preach themselves rather than the word of God, their studied affectation or vanity alienates and disgusts those that hear them; but the language of the heart is almost irresistible. Our saint inculcated that preachers must not judge of the fruit of their sermons by the applause of men, but by their tears, and by the change of their manners. If, said he, they lay aside enmities, forgive injuries, avoid the occasions of sin and scandals, and reform their conduct by your discourses, then say that the good seed has fallen on a good soil; but give all glory to God alone, and acknowledge yourselves unprofitable servants. 2 He first practised these rules himself, especially by cultivating in his soul the most profound humility, and an eminent spirit of prayer. His humility never appeared more remarkable than when it was put to the most dangerous trial amidst the greatest honours. When all persons with loud acclamations called him a saint and an apostle, and treated him with the highest esteem, then the fear of the divine judgments made the deepest impression upon his soul. With his apostolic labours he joined assiduous prayer and abundant tears for the conversion of sinners; and in this he earnestly exhorted all devout Christians to join him, and to call in all the mourners of the earth, and all creatures, that by their united loud cries and perseverance they might move the tender bowels of the divine mercy to compassion for so many souls that are blind amidst the greatest spiritual miseries, and sport themselves, without thinking of their danger, on the brink of eternal perdition. His thirst for their salvation made him cheerfully meet all dangers, and regard labours and fatigues as the greatest pleasures. Crosses were always his joy, and his continual austerities and penance made his whole life a long martyrdom. The two last years of his life he was afflicted with painful colics, and frequent fevers, under which it was his constant prayer to say with St. Austin; “Here cut, here burn, here spare not, that I may find mercy for eternity.” Under his infirmities it was wonderful with what zeal and alacrity he continued his penitential austerities, and his apostolic labours. In 1580 he preached the Lent at Xativa, and went thence to preach in the cathedral at Valencia, where he was carried sick from the pulpit to the bed, from which he never rose. Amidst the tears of all about him he appeared cheerful at the approach of death, having foretold the very day to several friends in secret, almost a year before; in particular to the archbishop of Valencia, and the prior of the Carthusians. The archbishop would attend the saint during his illness, and administered his remedies and broths with his own hand. The holy man gave up his soul to God amidst his prayers, in company with all the brethren of his convent, on the 9th of October, 1581, being fifty-five years old. Many miraculous cures attested his favor with God. He was beatified by Paul V. in 1608, and canonized by Clement X. in 1671. See the bull of his canonization, and his life written by F. Vincent Justinian Antist, Dominican of Valencia, printed at Saragossa and Valencia in 1582; and again most accurately by John Lopez, bishop of Monopolis. See also Touron, Hommes Illustr. t. 4. p. 485.  4
Note 1. Part of F. Mico’s meditations are translated into English. [back]
Note 2. At that time there flourished in the same Order in Spain two other eminent servants of God, who, by their learning, zealous labours, and experience in an interior life, exceedingly promoted the cause of true piety: F. Lewis of Granada, and Bartholomew de Martyribus. The former was born at Granada, of mean parentage, in 1504, and was indebted for his education to the Marquis of Mondejar. In the year 1524, the nineteenth of his age, he took the religious habit in the Dominican’s convent in Granada, which had been then lately founded by King Ferdinand. The young novice studied in all things to have no other view than the glory of God. All his moments were consecrated to prayer and the other exercises of his holy state. His external employments and his studies seemed, by his constant recollection and attention to the divine presence, as it were, a continued prayer. He spoke very little, meditated much, and though he read all good authors to store in his mind a treasure of whatever seemed beautiful, solid, or useful in their works, he was much more solicitous to digest what he read, and to render all his knowledge clear, just, regular, and methodical. And it was his chiefest care to make everything subservient to devotion and piety. In the excellent rules which he lays down for the method of religious persons applying themselves to studies, he laments that great numbers by them suffer shipwreck of their devotion. For as the male children of the Israelites in Egypt were no sooner brought into life, but by the order of Pharaoh they were drowned; so these souls drown in such studies the spirit of devotion which they had just begun to conceive. To prevent this dreadful abuse, he will have such students to be sincerely persuaded that these studies often wound our souls, and inspire a science which puffs up; to guard against which evil they must continually lament the miserable necessity which we lie under of listening sometimes to the masters of this world for our improvement in necessary science, whilst we ought to listen to God alone by meditating on his divine word. The dangerous wounds of these studies are only to be avoided by keeping our mind closely united to God in them, and by always remembering that, to divest ourselves of the old man, and to put on the new, is not an affair of small importance, or the work of a few days, but requires our utmost and most constant application. (See Granada, Tr. on Prayer, part 2, § viii. c. 4.) This holy man had preached many years to himself in solitude, applying to himself, and imprinting deeply in his own soul, the most perfect maxims of all Christian virtues, before he began to announce the same to others. This he afterwards did with incredible fruit, chiefly at Granada, Valadolid, Evora, and Lisbon. Cardinal Henry, infant of Portugal, archbishop of Evora, with much difficulty drew this apostolic man to that city, and committed to him the direction of his conscience, and of all his important affairs. Queen Catharine, regent of Portugal, afterwards chose him her confessor and counsellor, and obliged him to reside at Lisbon. Inflexible was his constancy in refusing all ecclesiastical dignities, especially the archbishopric of Braga, which burden he contrived to put on the shoulders of his colleague, the celebrated Bartholomew de Martyribus, whom he obliged, as his provincial, to accept the same. The dignity of cardinal was modestly shunned by Lewis with no less resolution. He died on the 31st of December, in 1588. His first work was his excellent Treatise on Prayer, than which few books of this kind are extant more useful. The Sinner’s Guide he composed in 1555, whilst he was prior at Badajos, which of all his works is the best written, and has been blessed with incredible success in the conversion of innumerable souls. All who aspire to the happiness of truly serving God, will find, in the serious perusal of this work, the strongest incentives to fervour. It was followed by his Memorial of a Christian Life, by his Meditations, and other such treatises. To instruct preachers in the rules proper for discharging that important duty, he wrote his Church Rhetoric, full of excellent remarks, as is set forth in the preface to the French translation. In his book, On the Conversion of the Indians, he instructs the missionaries in what manner they ought gently to insinuate the Christian truths into the minds of infidels, beginning by the moral precepts, and the motives of credibility before the mysteries are expounded.
  The works of this eminent, contemplative, and apostolical man have been translated into most languages of Europe; also into the Persian, Chinese, and those both of the East and West Indies, and were commended by an express brief of Pope Gregory XIII. and by St. Francis of Sales, (l. 1, ep. 34,) who advises every clergyman to procure them, to make them his second breviary; and daily to meditate on some part or other of them, beginning with the Sinner’s Guide, then proceeding to the Memorial, after this to the rest in order. This, he says, was the practice of St. Charles Borromeo, who preached no other theology than what he learned chiefly in these books, and who, in a letter to Pope Pius IV. prefers the works of Granada to all others of the kind. See Touron, (Hist. des Hommes Illustr. t. 4, p. 558,) Echard, (Bibl. Script. Ord. S. Domin. t. 2, p. 288,) and the Life of Lewis of Granada, prefixed to the Latin edition of his works in three large volumes in folio. In the first we have his excellent large and small Catechism; his Method of catechising the Indians; Common-place Books on Pious Subjects; and his Church Rhetoric on the method of preaching. In the second tome are contained Sermons, and other moral Tracts. In the third, the Sinner’s Guide, Treatise on Prayer, on the Eucharist, Memorial of a Christian Life, the Discipline of a Spiritual life; on the Incarnation, on Scruples, the Life of the Ven. John of Avila, some time his master in a spiritual life, &c. The French edition of his works in 8vo. is in request. F. Lewis died on the 31st of December, 1518, aged eighty-four.
  Dom Bartholomew de Martyribus received this surname from the church in which he was baptized at Lisbon, in which city he was born in 1514, of pious parents, whose favourite virtues were devotion, and a boundless charity to the poor. Their good economy supplied them with a constant fund for alms beyond the ordinary abilities of persons of their circumstances in a middle condition of life. Bartholomew from his infancy was made by his mother the bearer of the charitable relief which she secretly sent to distressed families, such especially as were fallen from a state of opulence. He made his solemn vows in the royal convent of the Dominicans at Lisbon in 1529, being fifteen years and six months old. The will of his superiors was always his, and an eminent spirit of prayer was in his soul the foundation of all interior virtues. His reputation for learning and piety whilst he taught theology in several houses, and was employed in several offices in his Order, made the greatest personages in the court of Portugal to seek his acquaintance. In all his employments he walked always in the presence of God, studying to pay to him a constant interior homage of spiritual adoration and worship. This practice he always inculcated to those who had the happiness ever to fall under his care. Exterior virtues, as he used to say, have their root in the affections of the soul; if these be well regulated by perpetual watchfulness over ourselves, and fervent interior exercises, our exterior will be regulated as it were of course. The perfect disinterestedness of the servant of God, his contempt of earthly things, and the disengagement of his affections from creatures; his sublime gift of prayer, and zeal for the honour of God and the salvation of souls, were virtues which qualified him for the most arduous apostolic functions. Being compelled, in 1558, to receive the episcopal consecration, and raised to the see of Braga, the first in the kingdom of Portugal, the alarms which this promotion gave him, and the violence he offered himself in making this sacrifice, threw him into a dangerous fit of illness. In this dignity the poverty and austerity in which he continued to live, the exact regulation of his time and functions, the good order of his household, the modesty and edifying deportment of all those who composed it, his immense charities, and his care of the whole diocess, were proofs of his extraordinary virtue and prudence, and the admiration of all Spain. Nor was he held in less veneration at Trent, where he assisted at the general council, in which, when some out of respect would have no canons enacted for the reformation of cardinals, he strenuously insisted that the more eminent the dignity of persons is in the church, the greater is the obligation of the strictest canons for the reformation of their manners. In that council he vigorously maintained that the obligation of residence in pastors of the church, is of divine right and precept, consequently indispensable. Certainly no considerable absence from their flocks can ever be excused in any, unless for public great necessities of the church. “To what a pass are matters brought,” said our zealous prelate, “since they to whom God has given charge of his church pretend to make it a debatable point whether they are obliged to abide with her! Who could bear with a servant who is intrusted with the care of his master’s children, yet should dispute whether he was obliged to be near them! What should we say of a mother who should abandon her babe which she suckles! or of a shepherd who should leave his flock in the fields amidst wolves!—What! shall we doubt that we are bound personally to watch over those for whom we are bound to lay down our lives, if their salvation requires it! We owe our life to them for their spiritual necessities more than to ourselves for any temporal ends,” &c.
  This great prelate, long before this council, was extremely affected one day in the visitation of his diocess, upon seeing a shepherd’s boy watching sheep in the midst of a violent shower of rain, without daring to take shelter in a neighbouring cave, lest a wolf should break in upon the sheep, or some fox run away with a lamb. How much more watchful ought a pastor of souls to be in protecting them from the snares of the devil! said this true pastor with the most feeling emotion. From Trent he took a journey to Rome, where he was received with extraordinary marks of esteem by Pope Pius IV. and all the prelates of his court, especially by St. Charles Borromeo, who opened to him the secrets of his conscience, that he might be guided by him in the path in which God should direct him to walk, that he might fulfil his holy will. Our archbishop returned from Rome to Trent, where the council was closed after the twenty-fifth session, in December 1563. It had been called eighteen years before, but had been assembled only five years; two under Paul III. in ten sessions, one under Julius III. in six sessions, and two under Pius IV. in nine sessions. Between the two last popes, two others, Marcellus II. and Paul IV. had sat, but the council was not held in their time. The archbishop of Braga, on his return to Portugal, was received with extraordinary honour at Avignon by the vice-legate, who gave him the following account of two bishops who had been at Trent. Leaning to Lutheranism, they went to the council as spies to condemn its decrees; but by assisting at the conferences and deliberations, in which all points were discussed before the decisions, they were edified by observing the extreme difference of the method which the reformers pursued, who, in their deliberations about faith, consulted only their own private opinions, caprice, and fancy, and that held by the Catholics, who weighed every thing in the balance of the sanctuary, and by the most careful search into the constant and primitive tradition, and the faith of all nations, set the true doctrine of Christ in a clear light. One of them was afterwards singularly zealous and successful in confuting and converting the Calvinists, and other sectaries. (Touron, t. 4, p. 645.) Don Bartholomew visited with incredible zeal and care his whole diocess, even the exempted churches of military Orders, and others; though this was not compassed without lawsuits, and other difficulties, which by his invincible constancy and the weight of his authority, he overcame. He every where reformed disorders, and put into execution the wholesome decrees framed by the council at Trent. A long history would be requisite to relate the wonderful conversions which he wrought of many obstinate sinners, and other fruits of his piety and zeal; the edifying examples of his charity and humility, and the meekness and patience with which he suffered the most atrocious injuries.
  In 1578, King Sebastian I. in the twenty-fourth year of his age, sailed into Africa with thirteen thousand foot, and fifteen hundred horse, to restore Mahomet, the late king of Morocco, who had been dethroned by his uncle Muley Moluc; but, in the same battle, three kings perished.—Sebastian was killed in the action, after having fought six hours with incredible valour; Muley Moluc died of sickness, whilst he was giving his orders to his last breath, and Mahomet was drowned in his flight. The cardinal Don Henry, uncle to the late king, sixty-four years of age, ascended the throne in Portugal, but died in the beginning of the year 1580, not having supported on the throne the high reputation he had acquired in private life. Upon his demise, Philip II. of Spain put in his pretensions, and took possession of the crown of Portugal. Soon after this revolution, Don Bartholomew obtained of Pope Gregory XIII., and King Philip the leave, which that pope and Pius IV. and V. had often refused him, of resigning his archbishopric. This he carried into execution on the 20th of February, 1582, retiring to the convent of his Order at Viana, in which he begged for charity the smallest cell in the house to be allowed him. He comforted his afflicted flock with heavenly instruction; and with tender exhortations to his clergy, he assured them he would never cease, in imitation of Moses on the mountain, to implore the divine succours for them, with hands lifted up to heaven, whilst they, like Joshua, should conduct the army of the Lord into the land of promise, and should fight against the enemies of his people. In this retirement he spent eight years in fervent contemplation, in which his soul was closely united to God by the most perfect exercises of ardent love. He joined the practices of the most austere penance, being entirely taken up with the desire of dying perfectly to himself, that he might live only by the spirit of Jesus Christ. After a lingering sickness, he happily died on the 16th of July, 1590, being seventy-six years old. Several miracles are ascribed to him by his historians, both living and after his death. Lewis of Granada, who died a year and a half before this holy prelate, wrote a short account of his virtues and principal actions. His life is written by three other good authors, who were his contemporaries, particularly by Lewis de Sousa, a Portuguese Dominican; from which, and other memoirs, the edifying and much esteemed history of this holy archbishop is compiled in French, in quarto, which work is by some ascribed to the Dominicans at Paris, but more justly by Touron (t. 4, p. 593,) to M. Isaac le Maitre, or Sacy. A new edition of Sousa’s work was given at Lisbon in 1763. [back]