Saint Rabanus Maurus

Feast day February 4

Saints Stories for All Ages

Come, Creator, Spirit, come from your bright heavenly throne, come take possession of our souls, and make them all your own.
You who are called the Paraclete, best gift of God above, the living spring, the vital fire sweet christ’ning and true love. . . .
O guide our minds with your best light, with love our hearts inflame; and with your strength, which ne’er decays, confirm our mortal frame.
Far from us drive our deadly foe; true peace unto us bring; and through all perils lead us safe beneath your sacred wing.
Through you may we the Father know, through you th’eternal Son and you the Spirit of them both, thrice-blessed Three in One. . . .
—Rabanus Maurus

St. Rabanus Maurus had three careers. He was a schoolmaster, then an abbot, and finally an archbishop. He lived during the reign of Charlemagne when Christianity was being established in Europe. We are indebted to Rabanus and saints like him, for they built the church from which most of us received our gift of faith.

Rabanus was a scholar saint. He was a lifelong student of Scripture, the great Christian writers, and Catholic teaching. He used his mind to explore the faith, and his study drew him closer to Christ. We should take him for a model, for study is essential to our Christian growth. Young Rabanus was sent to school at Fulda in central Germany, the chief monastery founded by St. Boniface. Rabanus astounded his teachers with his quickness to learn. He also spent a year studying at Tours with Alcuin, Charlemagne’s adviser. Rabanus learned Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac so that he could better understand Scripture. He also read the church Fathers and wrote summaries of their works.

In 799 he was ordained deacon and in 815 became a priest. Sometime during that period he was appointed master of Fulda’s school. In that office he had the opportunity to form young monks who would help create a tradition of Christian learning in the West.

Rabanus became the abbot at Fulda in 822. During this, his second career, he probably wrote most of his works, including a martyrology and numerous commentaries on Scripture. He was in constant demand as an expert at synods and councils. However, care for the monks caused him to hone his pastoral and administrative gifts. He completed Fulda’s buildings and founded other monasteries.

After a brief retirement, Rabanus unexpectedly took up a third career. In 847, at age 71, he was appointed archbishop of Mainz. He undertook the job aggressively. With a team of priests, Rabanus went about the diocese teaching, preaching, and administering the sacraments. He held synods that called Christians to a stricter observance of church laws and that condemned a local heresy. Once during a famine he fed 300 people a day from his house. With great energy he led the diocese and continued his writing until his death in 856.

Special among Rabanus’s gifts to the church is the Veni, Creator Spiritus. Monks carried the hymn to communities throughout the continent and it became part of the Pentecost liturgy. Praying the Come, Creator Spirit seems to have occasioned life-changing moments for numerous saints, including Lutgarde, Clare, and Teresa of Ávila. Apparently, Rabanus’s hymn is extraordinarily effective in releasing the gifts of the Spirit, so when we pray it we can expect God to act.

from Voices of the Saints, by Bert Ghezzi

Image credit: Saint Paul of Thebes as a Hermit by Meister von MeBkirch, 1540. Public Domain via Wikimedia.