May 24 – Vincent of Lerins; Lanfranc of Canterbury

Vincent of Lérins (d. ca. 445) was definitely from Gaul, and may or may not have been of noble birth. He served for a time in the military, then fled the “service of the world” to become a monk at the island monastery of Lérins off the south coast of Gaul. At some point he was ordained a priest. (St.) Eucherius (who should know) referred to him as holy, eloquent, and knowledgeable, and Prosper (a friend of Augustine) (who may or may not know) referred to him as a Semipelagian. This comes from a smack-down Prosper gave to a treatise written by somebody named Vincent (some authorities think it was some other Vincent). At any rate everybody knows that south Gaul was simply crawling with Semipelagians at the time (for values of “everybody” approximating “the Catholic Encyclopedia”).

What we do have is his justly famous Commonitory (or “reminder”). This is something that Vincent says he jotted down to refresh his memory on how to determine true doctrines from false ones. It was also apparently to help him remember his pseudonym, because its noble, Pauline, 133-word (in English) first sentence starts, “I, Peregrinus.” He repeats it again near the middle of the sentence, apparently having temporarily forgotten. The Commonitory as we now have it runs about 19,000 words, although it purports to be only half of the original work. Yet, he said, he cut it short lest he be “wearied by prolixity.” Clearly he was a sturdier man than I.

“What is he reminding himself of?” I hear you cry. To judge rightly in matters of doctrine, he says, we should apply a threefold rule, holding to those doctrines that have been held from antiquity (“always”), in all places (“everywhere”), and by the greater majority of (“by all”) teachers. He then goes on to give multiple examples of heretics who taught something that would be excluded by this handy rule of thumb, including Nestorius, Pelagius, Origen, Tertullian, and Apollonius. Interestingly Augustine is not in this list, nor was I able to find any mention of him in the Commonitory. Hmm. Maybe that’s why part two is missing.

Lanfranc of Canterbury (1005–1089) was, unlike John Fogarty, a senator’s son. He went to law school and practiced for a time as a lawyer, but he got over it, and became a monk at Bec. While there he got into political trouble for condemning the marriage of William of Normandy (yes, that William of Normandy) to Matilda of Flanders. Even the Pope got involved in that one, but nobody today remembers why it was so important that these two lovebirds (and they appear to have been rather smitten, and to have remained so, political as their marriage was) shouldn’t wed. William nearly exiled him, but they got over it and became fast friends. Lanfranc even secured a papal override for the marriage prohibition, although it came many years after it was moot.

Crossing the storm-tossed English Channel with the Conqueror, Lanfranc became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1070. Always an advocate of the usurper—um, rightful king of the British lands—he even served as regent, and crushed a rebellion. He was responsible for bringing the Archbishop of York under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and placed many Norman bishops in the island’s sees, some of whom were actually better suited to the office than the Englishmen ejected—erm, allowed to retire—to make room for them.

According to my source, Lanfranc has always been called “Blessed” (in that special sense of “nearly a full-fledged saint”), but there is no record of a cultus forming around him. But then, given the political situation at the time, this is perhaps not astounding. I could not discover any patronage, but perhaps we can consider him the patron of political yet amorous royal marriages that are first prohibited then blessed by the pope. Okay, maybe not.