23 February 2010

'Let the Choir of Virgins & Nuns Be Glad'—St Scholastica

Today, 10 February on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Scholastica of Italy (6th c.), Abbess and Sister of St Benedict of Nursia. As Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette, OSB, writes, ‘Just as St Benedict is acknowledged to be the Father of Monks in the West, so we can also rightly call St Scholastica the beloved Mother of Nuns.’ [1] For those who are unfamiliar with her, here is a brief summary from the Oxford Dictionary of Saints:

Scholastica (d. c.543), sister of Benedict and first Benedictine nun. All that is known of her comes from the Dialogues of Gregory the Great. Her nunnery was Plombariola, about five miles from Monte Cassino; Benedict and Scholastica used to meet once a year in a house at a distance from his monastery; on his last visit to her, she asked him in vain to stay longer to discuss ‘the joys of heaven’. When he refused, she prayed for rain to such effect that a violent thunderstorm prevented him leaving and they spent the night as she had wished. She died three days later and was buried in the tomb Benedict had prepared for himself. Her relics were alleged to have been translated to Le Mans when Benedict’s went to Fleury. Feast: 10 February, in the Roman calendar with a high rank in Benedictine nunneries, of which she is the patron. [2]

Unfortunately, last year I essentially exhausted my treasury of material on St Scholastica. In a post on her life (here), I excerpted the entire account of all that is known of her life and death from the sole primary source—St Gregory the Great’s Dialogues. I also included some of the most profound reflections on that account possible, from the pen of the infallible Adalbert de Vogüé, a Western hymn for St Scholastica taken from the hard-to-find Liturgical Year of Dom Prosper Gueranger, and some lovely reflections by the RC blogger, Fr Mark Kirby in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In subsequent posts, I offered a possibly apocryphal story about St Scholastica told by Kathleen Norris along with my reflections on the importance of saintly titles (here), and finally (here), a probably apocryphal letter on Lent attributed to St Scholastica which I found on Fr Mark’s blog (here). Also courtesy of Fr Mark (here) is the ‘Preface [from the Mass] for the Feast of St Scholastica, Virgin’, which I have altered slightly to clarify the divine pronouns:

Truly it is right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give You thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

Saint Scholastica, obedient to the teaching of Saint Benedict, her brother,
inclined the ear of her heart to the voice of Christ
Who led her into the wilderness
and there espoused her in mercy and faithfulness.

This holy virgin chose the best part,
and in preferring nothing to the love of Christ,
reached that love of Yours which,
being perfect, drove out all fear.

When in earnest prayer she sought your help,
You answered her outpouring of tears
with a sudden downpour of rain amidst lightning and thunder,
and in this You revealed the surpassing power of love.

In the form of a dove,
her pure soul entered the glory of heaven;
seeing this, her brother was filled with joy
and raised his voice in glad thanksgiving.

Now Saint Scholastica rejoices in You who called her,
and praises You forever with the powers of heaven,
with whom we also raise our voices
in this, their endless hymn of praise:

Here is the ‘Collect’ for St Scholastica, taken from the Ohio Anglican blog (here) and similarly altered:

O God, who didst reveal in a vision the soul of blessed Scholastica Thy Virgin entering heaven in the likeness of a dove, that Thou mightest show the way of the undefiled: grant us by the aid of her merits and prayers so innocently to live, that we may worthily attain unto joys eternal. Through Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord, Who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

In conclusion, here is the Magnificat antiphon for St Scholastica:

Let the Christian people rejoice
in the glory of the gracious virgin, Scholastica;
But most of all, let the choir of virgins and nuns
be glad celebrating the feast of her who,
Pouring forth her tears, entreated the Lord;
And because she loved so much,
she obtained greater power from him. [3]

[1] Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette, OSB, A Monastic Year: Reflections from a Monastery (Dallas: Taylor, 1996), p. 45.

[2] Hugh David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, 5th ed. (Oxford: Oxford U, 2004), p. 470.

[3] d’Avila-Latourrette, p. 43. Sorry to be so 'Western Ritey' in this post, but unfortunately I don't know of any 'Byzantine Rite' hymnography for St Scholastica at all.


123 said...

For me, St. Scholastica was that odd name for a Catholic school in Duluth, MN (www.css.edu). I actually sort of thought it was a joke, I think. I believe it was built by or around a Benedictine convent, which I have visited. My wife was dancing for a ballet company in Duluth (of all places) and the Board Member of the company who she was staying with had been a nun there until she left in the years following Vatican II. More can be found about the school's "Benedectine Roots", the Monastery, and Sts. Scholastica and Benedict at www.css.edu/benedictines.xml.

(Incidentally, I have never been colder than in Duluth - and I'm from MN, my mother is from the UP of MI. It was actually warmer in my wife's freezer than it was outside over Valentine's Day weekend 2004.)

James said...

"Saint Scholastica, obedient to the teaching of Saint Benedict, her brother,
inclined the ear of her heart to the voice of Christ
Who led her into the wilderness
and there espoused her in mercy and faithfulness."

The heart, according to the Old and New Testaments and the Holy Fathers, is the locus of our deepest self. And what does this organ do? It senses. It is described in Holy Writ as having sight, hearing and touch. What's more, the heart, when it's energies are unified by being directed only to God, becomes "all light" as St Basil the Great says. The heart becomes a heavenly, sapphire-like light (Evagrius Ponicus), it becomes like unto that with which it is united. What could be a higher "sense" than this? Our hearts are made to sense God's being (His energies or glory). Vladimir Moss recently slandered Fr. John Romanides by saying that Fr. John's assertion that the energies of God are incomprehensible is agnostistic and a denial of theosis. Sadly, Vladimir Moss has fallen into the Western error of analogia entis in asserting the knowability of God's energies. They are unknowingly known (see St. Dionysius and St. Gregory Palamas) and the essence of God is utterly unknown.

What does this have to do with the heart as a "heavenly sensor (pun intended!)"? Only this: Our heart senses things that are beyond the created world, it expands through God's energies to experience in a supra-rational manner the energetic and concrete life of God.

"The heart is deep"