January 8, 2008

Saint Peter Thomas (St. Pedro Tomas)

1305-1366 Optional Memorial – January 8th

The career of St Peter Thomas presents us with a curious combination of a religious vocation and a life spent in diplomacy. Born in 1305, of humble parentage, at the hamlet of Salles in the south-west of France, he at the early age of 21, came into contact with the Carmelites, and his abilities led them gladly to admit him into their noviceship at Condom; in 1342 he was made procurator general of the order. This appointment led to his taking up his abode in Avignon, then the residence of the popes, and also indicated that in spite of high spiritual ideals he was known to be pre-eminently a man of affairs. His remarkable eloquence became known, and he was asked to deliver the funeral oration of Clement VI. It may be said that from that time forth, although he always retained the simplicity of a friar, his life was entirely spent in difficult negotiations as the representative of the Holy See. To describe the political complications in which he was called upon to intervene would take much space. It must suffice to say that he was sent as papal legate to negotiate with Genoa, Milan and Venice; in 1354 he was consecrated bishop and represented the pope at Milan when the Emperor Charles IV was crowned king of Italy. Thence he proceeded to Serbia, and afterwards was charged with a mission to smooth the difficulties between Venice and Hungary; going on to Constantinople he was instructed to make another effort to reconcile the Byzantine church with the West.

What is most surprising in our days is that Innocent VI and Urban V seem to have placed Peter Thomas virtually in command of expeditions which were distinctly military in character. He was sent to Constantinople in 1359 with a large contingent of troops and contributions in money, himself holding the title of "Universal Legate to the Eastern Church" ; and when in 1365 an expeditionary force was sent to make an attack on infidel Alexandria, again the legate had virtual direction of the enterprise. The expedition ended disastrously. In the assault the legate was more than once wounded with arrows, and when he died a holy death at Cyprus three months later (January 6, 1366) it was stated that these wounds had caused, or at least accelerated, the end, and he was hailed as a martyr.

It is probable that among the reasons which led to the many diplomatic missions of St Peter Thomas we must reckon the economy thus effected for the papal exchequer at a time when it was very much depleted, for he dispensed with all unnecessary pomp and state. So far as he was himself concerned he traveled in the poorest way, and he was willing to face the great hardships which such expeditions then entailed even upon the most illustrious. We must also not forget that though his biographers write in a tone of rather indiscriminating panegyric, they are nevertheless agreed in proclaiming his own desire to evangelize the poor, his spirit of prayer, and the confidence which his holiness inspired in others. There are not many human touches to be found in our principal source, the biography of Mézičres, but it is a tribute to the impression which the bishop made on his contemporaries that Philip de Mézičres, who was himself a devoted Christian and a statesman of eminence, should speak of his friend in terms of such unstinted praise. A decree issued by the Holy See in 1608 authorized the celebration of St Peter's feast among the Carmelites as that of a bishop and martyr, but he has never been formally canonized.

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