28 January 2009

'St Maurus, illustrious for obedience, pray for us!'

Today, 15 January on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Maurus (c. 510-584), disciple of St Benedict of Nursia. St Maurus was offered as an oblate by his aristocratic Roman parents to the venerable Father’s monastery at Subiaco while still quite young. The CE refers to him as St Benedict’s ‘chief support at Subiaco’. He is prominently mentioned in several episodes of the ‘Second Dialogue’ of St Gregory the Great—his Life of St Benedict, III.14-VII.3 (see St Gregory the Great, The Life of St Benedict, commentary by Adalbert de Vogüé, trans. Hilary Costello and Eoin de Bhaldraithe [Petersham, MA: St Bede’s, 1993], pp. 41-3). At one point, St Placidus, who was still a young boy, fell into the lake and was swept far from the shore. St Benedict perceived what had happened clairvoyantly, and told St Maurus, ‘Brother Maurus, run, for that lad who went to fetch water has fallen into the lake and the current is already carrying him out far.’ Then, St Gregory relates:

VII.2 ‘An amazing thing occurred, which has not happened since the time of the Apostle Peter: Maurus asked and received a blessing, and at the behest of his father ran swiftly and reached the place where the current was carrying the boy. He ran over the water but thought he was on land, took the boy by the hair and came back, still running fast. As soon as he reached land, he came back to himself and looked behind him. He realized that he had been running on the water, and was now amazed and shaken that he had done this which he would never have presumed he could do.

3 ‘When he came back to the Father, he related what had happened. The venerable man Benedict began to attribute this to the obedience of the monk rather than to his own merits. On the other hand, Maurus said that it happened simply because of Benedict’s command and that he had no share in the miracle himself which he unknowningly performed. But in this friendly competition of mutual humility, the boy who was pulled out came in as a referee. For he said, “While I was being pulled out of the water, I saw the abbot’s goatskin over my head, and I realized that it was he who was taking me out of the water.”’ (p. 43)

In his commentary on this story, the infallible Adalbert de Vogüé compares it to the accounts of martyrdom, quoting from the Passion of St Felicity, ‘Another will suffer in my place.’ He observes, ‘Here, likewise, another acts in the place of Maurus. Obedience, like martyrdom, dispossesses and immunizes the one who surrenders to it’ (p. 50).

Very little else is said about St Maurus in St Gregory’s Life. I will point out, however, that according to this beautiful litany, about which I unfortunately know nothing more than what is on the page it’s posted on, St Maurus was one of the ‘brothers’ who in XXXVII.3 saw a vision of St Benedict’s ‘road to heaven’ (p. 174).

There is another source for St Maurus’s life, however, purportedly by the pen of a St Faustus of Monte Cassino, who was a companion of St Maurus (see here and here). According to this St Faustus:

St Maurus was sent to France [i.e., Gaul] in 543 to propagate the order of St Benedict [sorry for the slight anachronism!] in that country. He founded the famous abbey of Glanfeuil, over which he ruled as abbot for thirty-eight years. In 581 he resigned the abbacy, built for himself a small cell near the church of St Martin, so that in solitude and prayer he might prepare himself for his passage into eternity. After two years he fell sick of a fever: he received the sacraments of the Church, lying on sackcloth before the altar of St Martin, and in that posture expired on January 15, 584.

Apparently based on some of the miracles related by St Faustus, St Maurus is often invoked as an intercessor for the sick.

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