Thursday 18 November 2021

Ireland's Noblest Roman


Father Luke Wadding, O.F.M., one of the leading Franciscan scholars of his age, died on November 18, 1657. Although from a Waterford family who played a prominent role in Irish civic and ecclesiastical affairs, he spent the majority of his life in continental Europe, where he developed a considerable reputation as a scholar and administrator. The Irish Colleges, such as that established by Father Luke in Rome, played a crucial role in furthering the Counter-Reformation in Ireland and in preserving the memories of the Irish martyrs. Below is a 1957 article from an American Franciscan magazine written to mark the tercentenary of his death. It mentions the official Irish state celebrations of 'one of the greatest of Ireland’s heroes and one of the noblest friars ever to wear the wool of the Poverello' and notes approvingly that 'Luke Wadding’s greatness is receiving some of the recognition that it deserves' even if his name 'deserves to be spread far more widely than it is.'

Ireland’s Noblest Roman 

by Titus Cranny, S.A. 

NINETEEN FIFTY SEVEN is a special anniversary in the history of Ireland and in the annals of the Franciscan Order.

Three centuries ago on November 18 one of their greatest luminaries finished his career on earth and passed on to his eternal reward. He was famous in Ireland, though he had permanently left home at the age of 15; he was probably one of the most learned men in the world in the seventeenth century. He was the friend and confidant of popes, consultor to various congregations of the Roman Curia, the most noted historian of the Order of St. Francis, and courageous champion of Irish independence. He might well be called Ireland’s great Roman or Rome's greatest Irishman. His name is Father Luke Wadding, O.F.M.

This friar of future greatness was born in Co. Waterford in Ireland on October 16, 1588, the year that the Spanish Armada met defeat off the coast of England. He was the son of Walter Wadding and Anastasia Lombard, who was a relative of Peter Lombard, Archbishop of Armagh. Luke was the eleventh of fourteen children and was baptized on the feast of St. Luke, (October 18). When he was fourteen years old both parents died and he went to Lisbon under the care of an older brother and began the study of philosophy at the Irish seminary in that city under the direction of the Jesuit Fathers. Several months later he entered the Franciscan novitiate of the Immaculate Conception at Matozinhos, near Oporto and later specialized in the study of John Duns Scotus, the most noted doctor of the Franciscan Order. 

Fr. Luke was ordained to the priesthood in 1613 and sent by Fr. Antonio de Trejo, the vicar general of the Order, to the famous University of Salamanca for higher studies. Here he mastered the Hebrew tongue and wrote a book on the origin and excellence of the language. For the next few years he taught theology with distinction until 1618 when he was chosen by King Philip III for the office of theologian to the embassy which the monarch was sending to Pope Paul V to promote the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. 

Fr. Luke drew up nearly all the documents for the commission and spent entire days in the libraries of Naples, Perugia, Assisi, and other cities, in search of data. When the legation returned to Spain in May, 1620 Fr. Luke remained in Rome and as long as the commission lasted he was its theological advisor. King Phillip IV thanked him profusely for his work in this matter. 

 His burning desire to show the glories of the Franciscan Order led him to compile its history. His first work was an edition of The Writings of St. Francis, published in Antwerp in 1623. He had persuaded the Minister General, Fr. Benignus of Genoa, to write to the friars in all the provinces to forward to Rome all documents on the history of the Order. Thus began the celebrated work on the Annales Minorum, the history of the Franciscan Order, which even today is a marvelous work of scholarship. 

 Another singular accomplishment was the establishment of St. Isidore’s College in the Eternal City for the Irish friars. Originally a house for a Spanish province it was renovated and enlarged to serve as a house of studies for candidates from Ireland and it became a model in this regard. Then through the friendship of Pope Urban VIII, the financial aid of Prince Barberini and Prince Ludovisi (after whom the college was named) and the support of the Ministering General, Fr. Luke began a seminary for the training of Irish diocesan priests, called Ludovisan College. The plaque on the portico of St. Isidore’s Church bears the admonition of St. Patrick so characteristic of Fr. Luke: “Any difficulties arising in this island should be brought to the Apostolic See; if you would be true Christians, you must be children of Rome.” He collected 5,000 volumes for the library of the college which now contains some of the most precious manuscripts on the history of the Franciscan Order and on the Irish nation. 

Another monumental task was the editing and publishing on the works of John Duns Scotus, the brilliant friar who had lived more than three centuries past, but whose luster had dimmed without a complete edition of his writings. Working with him were other Irish Franciscans such as John Ponce, Anthony Hickey, J. Lychetus, and MacCaughwell. The outstanding sixteen volume project was published in 1639 in Lyons, a tribute to Scotus and to the industry and devotion of Fr. Luke and his collaborators.

The Irish friar was guardian for four terms in St. Isidore’s, president or rector of the seminary for the full thirty years of its existence since he founded it. During this time more than 200 friars finished their course of studies here and became missioners, professors and martyrs. More than 80 of them became noted as professors in Italy, Bohemia, and Austria. Augostino Gemelli, O.F.M. pays him unstinted praise in his work, The Franciscan Message to the World: “Around the central pivot of this Franciscan friar gravitated all the problems of the age—as for instance, the defence of the Immaculate Conception, the publication of the writings of St. Francis, a revival of interest in Duns Scotus, the compilation of a religious and literary history of the foundation of a model Franciscan House of Studies like St. Isidore’s College in Rome.” 

 Nor was he only a bookworm “but a man of action in the fullest sense of the word. He would have run a factory with the same success as he directed a library and was withal a man of tact and initiative, capable of giving sound advice on delicate questions.” (ibid) Fr. Luke was a model religious in every part of his life, for he believed that he should give good example to the younger student friars. 

 Some other books that he wrote were the following: a biblical concordance of St. Anthony of Padua; the works of Angelo del Paz, a friar from Mortorio who had died about 1605; lives of Franciscan saints and martyrs; the legation of Philip III and Philip IV; offices for various feasts which he wrote as Consultor for the Sacred Congregation of Rites. His works appeared in Spanish, Italian, Latin and Hebrew. He has been called “the greatest Irishman of all time” and while this title might be open to question, surely no one can doubt that he was one of the greatest of Ireland’s heroes and one of the noblest friars ever to wear the wool of the Poverello. He had the feast of St. Patrick inscribed in the calendar of the universal church which had been celebrated in the Franciscan Order since the General Chapter of 1390. 

His emphasis on studies was a kind of revitalization of the golden age in the thirteenth century and he seemed to realize “that after the Protestant Reformation books and the work of teachers in schools were destined in part to supersede preaching and become, in fact, the pulpits of the new ages. His eyes were fixed on the future and therefore he aimed at injecting into Franciscan spirituality that eagerness for learning which animated the new religious orders founded in the sixteenth century.” (Fr. Gemelli). 

He was outstanding in his service to the church. No bishop in Ireland was named without his advice. The Popes and cardinals depended upon him in every important matter and it is said that he could have been a cardinal himself—but the papers had to pass through his hands—and_ so they were found in his room after his death. Historians say that some of the cardinals voted for him for the papacy, but he shunned all honors in the spirit of St. Francis. One biographer sums up his work for the Order in these words: “As far as the Friars Minor are concerned no important or difficult transaction was carried through at Rome, during his whole time there, that he did not carry a great part of the burden, and often, the entire weight of it.’ 

The third love of his life, in addition to his affection for the Church and the Franciscan Order, was allegiance to Ireland. Indeed Pope Pius XII called attention to this virtue in his letter of September 22, 1956, addressed to Cardinal D’Alton of Armagh. “In a special way,” said His Holiness, “love of country shown in him. In Ireland at that period the enemies of the Catholic name were striving not only to dispossess the people of their civil liberties but also to root out the ancient faith from their minds; so, to the very end of his life, the man of God generously came to the aid of his oppressed fellow-countrymen by every means in his power. Thus he showed the effectiveness of love of one’s country when it is joined with truly great love for God.” 

The Holy Father also told the Franciscans that “ him you have a noble pattern of the religious life, an admirable example of virtue combined with patriotism. Gaze and meditate on his example and courageously imitate him.” 

 Persecution was rife in Ireland at the time. And so Fr. Luke convinced Pope Urban VIII to send Fr. Scarampi as envoy to the Confederation of Ireland (a kind of provisional government) and when he came in 1643 he brought 30,000 Roman crowns (about $35 000) which the Roman friar had collected from the Roman nobility. The Holy Father himself contributed a considerable supply of arms and ammunition for the soldiers. The friar’s friendship with Pope Innocent X brought Archbishop Rinuccini as Apostolic Nuncio in Ireland in 1645 and the sum of $25,000. The prelate also brought 2,000 muskets, 4,000 swords, 2,000 pike heads, 4,000 pairs of pistols, and 20,000 pounds of gun-powder. Due to this intervention the famous battle of Berburb the following year was one of the most glorious victories in Irish history. Fr. Luke was a friend of Owen Roe O'Neill, the leader of the Irish forces. He called his homeland by the affectionate names of Dark Rosaleen and Kathleen Houlihan. 

Death came quickly and quietly in St. Isidore’s where Fr. Luke spent more than half of his life. He seldom left Rome, except to go to Assisi, and a few of the cities in northern Italy, “..his piety was equal to that of his learning” writes one biographer, “and his death was that of a saint.” It was November 18, 1657 when he breathed his last. 

Now on the third centenary of his death Luke Wadding’s greatness is receiving some of the recognition that it deserves. A new college at Gormanston in County Meath, Ireland has been dedicated to him; it is under the direction of the Irish province of Franciscans. The Holy Father wrote an encyclical letter about him which we have quoted, the Father General of the Friars Minor also sent a letter to the Irish Friars, and Cardinal D’Alton, Eamon De Valera and other notables of Church and state took part in celebrations in his honor. 

The humble Irish friar can do nothing to prevent the praises heaped upon him now. They are the rewards of history, by those who appreciate his greatness as a churchman, a Franciscan, and an Irishman. His name deserves to be held in benediction—and it deserves to be spread far more widely than it is.

 The Lamp, A Catholic Magazine Devoted to Christian Unity and Missions (Franciscan Friars of the Atonement), October 1957, pp.10, 20, 22, 28.

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