St Ivo of Chartres

(in central France) Bishop (entered heaven on 23 December, 1115)

Dear Yves,

You won’t like me saying this, but I’m your uncle, so I have to say it anyway.  Your most recent editorial endeavor has probably pleased the devil more than Christ.  Now, now, don’t get your gander up.  This is just a bit of constructive, avuncular criticism.  The problem with your letter to the editor wasn’t its content (no university president should behave as yours has, and it is a good thing to point out an error and its solution).  Rather, it was your tone.  Your anger is wrongly directed primarily at the sinner, not the sin.  That, my choleric young nephew, ain’t Christian.  Take a lesson from today’s saint.

Ivo was one of the many young men who took advantage of the easiest place to get an education in Medieval Europe: the Cathedral schools.  These were designed by the bishops to educate future clergy, and became the seedbeds for the great European universities.  Ivo attended one of the schools and received more than just an academic formation; he discovered a call from God to follow in the footsteps of Christ by becoming a priest.  He didn’t leave his studies behind, however, and his expertise in Canon Law led him to become prior of the other priests associated with his Cathedral (such priests were, and still are, called canons).  When it became clear that his keen intellect worked in tandem with sound prudence and authentic piety, he was elevated to the bishopric of Chartres.

Ivo’s reputation as a scholar and a dedicated churchman made him into one of King Philip I’s key advisors.  And that’s when the trouble started.  The King wanted to divorce his wife, Bertha, and marry a woman named Bertrada.  Without going into details, let’s just say his motives were not pure.  The king was perturbed when Ivo denounced this plan.  He was even more perturbed when Ivo persisted in his denunciation even in the face of cajolery, and then in the face of threats.  Ivo would not condone violations of God’s law to countenance the royal whim.  His holy intransigence wound him up in prison (and while he was there, by the way, the king conveniently confiscated the diocesan income).  Only the Pope’s direct intervention freed him.

You may see yourself in this portrait (someone willing to be persecuted in defense of the truth), and I hope you would not be wrong to do so.  But the point I want to make is the following.  Ivo did his denunciation primarily for the good of the king himself, not out of some legalistic commitment to abstract moral norms.  He was concerned first of all for the health of the king’s soul.  He was no self-glorifying martyr interested in parading his righteousness.  This became clear later, when Bertha died, and Ivo took the initiative to lead Philip back to communion with the Church and the Pope.  Going that extra mile shows that Ivo was primarily a bishop, not a pundit.

I don’t know if God is calling you to the priesthood, as he did for Ivo, but if it’s a pundit you want to be, then at least don’t be devilish about it – hate the sin, yes, but save the sinner.

Your loving uncle,


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