August 12, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Stephen of Hungary

John F. FinkThis week and next, I am going to write about the wisdom of two of the saints in my book Married Saints—St. Stephen of Hungary this week and St. Louis of France next week.

St. Stephen, whose feast is on Aug. 16, was born a pagan, but was baptized along with his father, Geza, the chief of the Magyars, when he was about 10.

When he was 20, he married Gisela, sister of the future emperor, St. Henry. He succeeded his father in the year 997, and was crowned the first king of Hungary by Pope Sylvester II on Christmas day in 1000.

He devoted much of his reign to the Christianization of Hungary, establishing a system of tithes to support churches and help the poor. He decreed that one of every 10 towns had to build a church and support a priest. He abolished pagan customs, and crushed a pagan revolution.

He tried to pass on his religious practices to his son. In a letter to him, he wrote, “My dearest son, if you desire to honor the royal crown, I advise, I counsel, I urge you above all things to maintain the Catholic and apostolic faith with such diligence and care that you may be an example for all those placed under you by God, and that all the clergy may rightly call you a man of true Christian profession.”

If he failed to do that, Stephen wrote, his son would not be called a Christian or a son of the Church. Indeed, he said, in his royal palace the Church held second place—after the faith itself—because it was “first propagated by our head, Christ; then transplanted, firmly constituted and spread through the whole world by his members, the Apostles and holy fathers.”

Although the Church was ancient, he wrote, in Hungary it was young and newly planted. “For that reason,” he wrote, “she needs more prudent and trustworthy guardians lest a benefit which the divine mercy bestowed on us undeservedly should be destroyed and annihilated through your idleness, indolence or neglect.”

He further admonished his son to show his favor not only to relations or kin or to the most eminent, “but also to foreigners and to all who come to you.” If he fulfills his duty in that way, he said, “you will reach the highest state of happiness.”

Therefore, he wrote, “Be merciful to all who are suffering violence, keeping always in your heart the example of the Lord. Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful, but also with the weak.”

Finally, he told his son to be strong lest prosperity lift him up too much or adversity cast him down. “Be humble in this life, that God may raise you up in the next. Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice. Be honorable so that you may never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness of lust like the pangs of death.” †

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