In the fight against heresy there are casualties

Today, 21 April 2012, is the memorial of Blessed Bartholomew of Cervere, a Dominican monk and martyr. He lived and died in that region of northern Italy closest to the French border. To be able to call those in heresy back to truth, you need personal holiness and an excellent grasp of theological doctrine. For this purpose Blessed Bartholomew was highly suited.

Blessed Bartholomew of Cervere was born in Savigliano, within the Piedmont region of Italy around the year 1420. His family was a land owning one of influence, so young Bartholomew could have had quite a brilliant secular career had not God called him to serve as a Dominican. From quite early in life it was obvious that Bartholomew was an outstanding student. Accordingly, when he entered the Dominicans, they sent him to study in Turin. He continued to be academically impressive and obtained his dotorate, licentiate and postion on the teaching faculty on the same day. Learning of the ways of God is fruitless unless you put them into practice, and from all accounts Bartholomew’s piety was indeed as solid as his intellectual abilities.

Following a year teaching at the university he returned to the monastery. Here Bartholomew was twice elected to the position of prior – a role requiring great wisdom, sold virtue and a pastoral heart. From this base at Saviglino, Bartholomew proved to be highly gifted at helping those estranged from the Church by heresy to return home to the Catholic Church. Either because of these talents, or because someone really didn’t like him, or both, Bartholomew was apponted as an Inquisitor for the Piedmont region. 

It was now his special task to seek out heresy, and to eradicate it. The Cathars certainly had some odd ideas about God’s ways, yet they lived attractively ordered lives full of penitential practices. Being threatened by the Inquisition, some of the Cathars turned toward violence. To travel from town to town as an Inquisitor was to take the risk of being ambushed. All three men prior to Bartholomew’s appointment were martyred. It was a very risky business being an Inquistitor. To his credit, Bartholomew accepted the appointment.Perhaps partly his decision was based on obedience, perhaps partly to bring souls from error into the fulness of truth. He knew what he was getting himself into, and yet he continued to serve.

Having pleased Jesus with his success in bring souls back to the true faith, Bartholomew was shown mercy himself through the internal warnings given to him that Martyrdom was inevitable. Bartholomew quickly put his spiritual affairs in order by making a general confession – (by going over his whole life before a fellow-priest and confessing all the sins he remembered from that lifetime, both those already confessed and all those sins not yet confessed for the first time). Then he courageously set out towards the township of Cervere having been warned by God that ambush and death awaited him on the way, and that the name of that township would always be mentioned in connection with his life.

Sure enough Bartholomew and his assistants were set upon, but only Bartholomew died immediately from the stab wounds to his body. God was pleased to quickly bring attention to his martyrdom and holy life, by marking the place with a bright star and granting many miracles at his gravesite. 

Even though Bartholomew was a casualty in fight against heresy, that martyrdom of his was a catalyst for many to return to the Catholic faith. His death took place in 1466, and his beatification took place during the pontificate of Blessed Pius IX.

Blessed Bartholomew of Cervere, pray fo us.