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Saint Raymond of Penafort, was born in Vilafranca del Peneds, a small town near Barcelona, Catalonia, around 1175. He was educated in Barcelona and also at the University of Bologna, where he received doctorates in both civil and canon law. From 1195 to 1210, he taught canon law. In 1210, he moved to Bologna, where he remained until 1222, including three years occupying the chair of canon law at the university. He was chaplain to Pope Alexander IV, and confessor of King James I of Aragon.
He was instrumental in the founding of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy. When approached by Peter Nolasco, Raymond encouraged and assisted him in obtaining the consent of King James I of Aragon for the foundation of the Order. Returning to Barcelona in 1222, he entered the Dominican Order.
Knowing Raymond's reputation in the juridical sciences, Pope Gregory IX summoned him to Rome in 1230 to help in the rearranging and codifying of canon law. Canon laws, which were previously found scattered in many publications, were to be organized into one set of documents. In particular papal decretal letters had been changing the law over the course of the previous 100 years since the publication of the Decretum of Gratian. Being pleased with Raymond's efforts, the pope announced the new publication in a Bull directed to the doctors and students of Paris and Bologna in 1231, commanding that the work of Raymond alone should be considered authoritative, and should alone be used in the schools. His collection of canon law, known as the Liber extra or Gregorian Decretals, became a standard for almost 700 years. When Raymond completed his work, the pope appointed him Archbishop of Tarragona, but he declined the honour. Raymond followed this with the publication of a work on penitential discipline, Summa casuum, which is widely considered an authoritative work on the subject. Canon law was finally fully codified by 1917.
Raymond returned to the Iberian peninsula in 1236. Not long able to remain in seclusion, however, he was made General of the Dominican Order in 1238, but resigned in 1240. It was during his tenure that he revised the Dominican Constitutions. Having reached his sixtieth year, Raymond retired in Barcelona.
There, his principal aim became to convert Jews and Muslims to Christianity, and for the furtherance of this aim he caused both Arabic and Hebrew to be studied and taught in the higher schools conducted by Dominicans, the Studia Linguarum. He also encouraged Thomas Aquinas to write his work Summa contra Gentiles.
He exercised great influence over King James of Aragon and succeeded in persuading him to order a public debate, concerning Judaism and Christianity, between Moshe ben Nahman, a rabbi in Girona, and Paulus Christiani, a baptized Jew of Montpellier who belonged to the Dominicans. In this debate, which took place in the royal palace at Barcelona from 20-24 July 1263, in the presence of the king and of many of the higher clergy, Raymond took an important part. He was at the head of the theologians present, and in agreement with the king gave the rabbi perfect freedom of speech. Raymond simply observed to Moses ben Nachman that he must not allow himself to blaspheme Christianity, to which Moses replied that he knew what the laws of propriety demanded. On the Jewish Sabbath following the close of the debate, the king, together with many preaching friars and other clergy, visited the synagogue. There, Raymond allegedly delivered an address on the Trinity, which Moses ben Nachman denied.
Tomb of Saint Raymond. Cathedral of Barcelona.
He was among those who established the Inquisition in Catalonia.
Raymond died in 1275 and was canonized by Pope Clement VIII in the year 1601. He is buried in the cathedral of Barcelona. He is the patron saint of canon lawyers, specifically, and lawyers, in general.
His feast day was inserted in the General Roman Calendar in 1671 for celebration on 23 January. In 1969 it was moved to 7 January, the day after that of his death.
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