Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Saint Germaine Cousin:
Humility in a Century of Vainglory
A Lesson for Ultramontanes
Saint of the Day, Monday, August 20, 1973
(Wikipedia, picture by Daniel Villafruela)
Today I should comment on excerpts of a biography of St. Germaine Cousin, born in 1579, and died in 1601.
“If there was a useless, sad and miserable life from the standpoint of worldly standards, it was blessed Germaine Cousin’s. She had a paralyzed hand, detestable health, no education, a spinning wheel, and staff for guarding a few sheep. Finally, she died aged 22. That was St. Germaine’s life for the world.
She was born paralyzed in her right hand and afflicted with scrofula. Death took her mother soon afterward. Germaine had to spend her life under the authority of a stepmother who hated her, mistreated her, and kept her away from her brothers and sisters. Laurence Cousin had no tenderness for his daughter and very little concern for her sufferings. That scrofulous wretch had for a bedroom a five feet long cubicle in a corner, some vine twigs for a bed, a little bread and water for food, and a stable.
During the day, she had to guard the family’s flock. The rigorous season of the year [winter] made her suffer a lot.
On the one hand, people mocked her simplicity and devotion. She very likely could not read. She knew nothing but the sweet Name of Jesus, her Savior. She carefully avoided feeling sad for her suffering and misery or asking God to release her from them even when the divine power, multiplying miracles around her, seemed willing to grant her every wish.
Her patience was unalterable. She had no answer to the insults and mistreatment that befell her from all sides when she came home, bringing the herd back to the stable. Her only response was to shut up and retire to her little cubicle.
They [mockingly] called her ‘holy-holy.’ Shortly before Mass time, the blessed young woman set her staff and spinning wheel on the ground and left her flock in the care of the Divine Shepherd. Her confidence was never deceived. A supernatural light inspired the superhuman confidence that she placed at the service of heroic love. The herd was always very well guarded, even at the entrance to Beaucône forest, where she often left it. Never did any sheep stray or do the slightest harm to neighboring fields. No herd was more flourishing, beautiful, or numerous in the village.
One day, St. Germaine couldn’t go to church without crossing a stream. However, the stream had so filled up during the night that it became impassable. Two witnesses stood at a distance, gloating in anticipation of her disappointment. Without stopping at all, she set her foot in the stream and, behold, the waters withdrew for the humble shepherdess of Pibrac as the Jordan once had for the Ark of the Covenant and the children of Israel. Seized with fear, the peasants kept their eyes on Germaine as she hurried away and looked at the stream that continued to run.
In the hands of His charitable servant, Our Lord multiplied bread as He once had with His divine hands [she shared it with the poor]. But her stepmother accused her of stealing bread from her father’s house. One day she thought Germaine was carrying pieces of bread in her apron. She immediately took a stick and started running after Germaine, furiously spewing all the insults that came to mind. Two inhabitants of Pibrac saw her and, taken with pity for the poor girl, rushed to defend her. Her mother approached and had her open her apron. It contained nothing but a magnificent bouquet of beautiful flowers, spreading a delicious scent. Yet it was not during flower season but right in the middle of winter.”
A stupendous miracle, as you can see.
“One evening, as night fell, two religious men were forced to stop in a neighboring forest to wait for the dawn. In the middle of the night, they were awakened by wonderful singing. As their eyes opened, they saw a most radiant light dispel the darkness. In a few moments, that light became brighter than the sun. A group of virgins appeared above the forest surrounded by that light, singing marvelous songs. The vision disappeared but came back a moment later. The same virgins were now going in the opposite direction with a new companion who had just joined them. She wore a wreath of flowers on her forehead. The vision then disappeared, leaving the religious enchanted and talking about what they had seen and heard. The following day, Germaine’s father, Laurent Cousin, not seeing Germaine around – she was always active and an early riser—went to check on her and found she had breathed her last.
Germaine’s body had been resting in the cemetery for forty years. One day, having to prepare a new grave, Pibrac’s gravedigger set to work in the very place where he had dug her grave forty years earlier. At the first blow of the shovel, he lifted a stone but immediately stopped and shouted: under his eyes was a corpse that looked all fresh; the shovel had penetrated its flesh. Women heading to church to attend Mass rushed to the spot. Her flesh was consumed by quicklime, and her bones are preserved in perfect integrity in a chapel of Saint Francis de Sales.”
Today these precious relics are venerated in a reliquary surrounded by gold and lights. More than 400 miracles were attested to in oral testimonies. Pilgrimages were organized. Germaine’s intercession was invoked to obtain the release of Pius VII and later of Pius IX. The sovereign pontiffs were freed soon after those requests.”
Here you have a life we have already commented on, although in less detail. What is the greatest overall lesson we can take away from her existence? Notice that her life has two contrasts: she was born in the 16th century and died at the beginning of the 17th. There is a striking contrast between her life and the century in which she lived; between the prevailing sin of the century in which she lived and her life. On the other hand, there is a striking contrast between her earthly life and the supernatural glory surrounding it in this world and later in heaven.
On the one hand, we see a century still very much marked by the Renaissance and having further developed certain of its bad tendencies. People gave themselves more and more freely to earthly pomp, to the pleasures of this life, and to ambition for worldly glory. Without a doubt, it was less vile than the ambition for money that dominates the contemporary world. At any rate, it was also reprehensive ambition because it was profane and aimed only at earthly glory for self-love. People despised the foundations of the desire for true glory, and above all, heavenly glory—the only one man should earnestly strive for. So we have a century that makes vainglory into one of its idols. As the name suggests, vainglory is centered on passing, transitory, earthly, inconsistent things.
In that century, then, a saint was born who made herself venerated by all posterity on the contrary of vainglory because her whole life was filled with the greatest possible humiliations. You can see that she was a person in very poor health who could hardly do any service; she was viewed with extraordinary cruelty even by her own. Mistreated and despised with that stupid rage that a pagan-minded person has against someone with any intellectual or physical inferiority. “She had both inferiorities combined. She was presumably illiterate or, at any rate, a very uneducated person who never showed any remarkable intelligence.
On the other hand, her physic was as we just described—a despicable person according to the world. Worse than despicable, despised by those closest to her and even by her own father. Even more, her stepmother subjected her to all the persecutions so often inherent in stepmother-stepdaughter relationships.
Therefore, you can see that Providence was pleased to collect around the earthly existence of this saint all the reasons for humiliation one can imagine. That is one aspect of it.
Now comes another aspect: every form of supernatural glorification imaginable. Miracles take place around her in large numbers, proving her sanctity. Two of these miracles are classic: one is to separate the waters to go across a stream, as was done for the Hebrew people to pass [across the Red Sea] with the Ark of the Covenant. The other is resembles the one performed by Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. You know the famous episode when she was taking bread to the poor (I believe the same happened to St. Isabel of Portugal), and a family member came to rebuke her: “What are you taking there?” She answered, “roses.” She opened her apron, and it was full of roses. The same thing happened with St. Germaine. What a magnificent miracle! Then you have the multiplication of the loaves as done by Our Lord himself. These are first-rate miracles. She could realize her greatness and wax proud of it with all that. However, she did not. She was a model of humility even after becoming famous for the excellence of her miracles.
On the other hand, you see how implacable her family was. They punished her without mercy and were blind to her extraordinary qualities. The family knew miracles were attributed to her. Still, you see how brutally her stepmother chases her with a club on an entirely baseless suspicion of theft, given her track record. Her family was so blinded by evil and hardness of soul they did not care about the miracles that glorified her, and so they continued to persecute her.
That shows us her extraordinary balance. Had she asked, she might have been healed. Had she healed, maybe she would not have been saved or at least not attained that extraordinary holiness. She probably had the power to leave the state of humiliation, but she wanted to remain in that state.
She could have worked miracles to tell her family, “Don’t you know who I am? Have you not realized that I am a great saint? That I alone am worth more than the whole village of Pibrac and its surroundings? How much more than you, my ignoble persecutors! Don’t you realize that you may need me at a certain moment for some miracle and that I won’t heed you if you treat me like that? You can become seriously ill: here is one who can heal you! How about a little respect? Get on your knees before me! I want proof of respect right away! Do you want to know something? The time is not far off when I may cast a curse. My curse will be no less effective than my blessing, and you will lose your money and health and may die.”
I assure you that her worldly circles would bow. She could thus intimidate the environment in which she lived. But there was none of that. She continued to accept all the humiliations that Providence imposed on her. Then, she refused the intoxicating aroma of her miracles and the homages paid to her, remaining humble until the end.
You see there the opposite of the world: behold a saint of the most extreme humility in a century of vainglory. She is despised precisely because everything opposed to vainglory was despised in the century of vainglory. She, therefore, collided with the prejudices of the time in the most resounding manner and overcame those prejudices by ignoring them and being glorified by God. He wanted the aroma of her holy life and miracles to spread far and wide around her. You can imagine the news penetrating palaces, convents, circles of the high bourgeoisie, inviting everyone to trust in her prayers. The takeaway is that God heeds the prayers of those who have no vainglory. Vainglory separates man from God, and if you want to unite yourself to God, ditch vainglory. In this sense, it is a specifically counter-revolutionary message. It preaches humility contrary to the pride of the Revolution; it teaches virginity contrary to concupiscence already engendering, in the revolutionary process, the fruits that would bring about the French Revolution.
Thus, this saint deserves our special attention. She helped Holy Church in two notable afflictions by interceding for the liberation of Pope Pius VII, and later of Pope Pius IX, immediately after asked. She thus became a protector of the most glorious institution on Earth, the Holy See, the Papacy. So you can see the greatness to which God raised her.
Is there a lesson for us here? Yes. We must practice the virtues that Saint Germaine Cousin practiced, adapted to our circumstances. From a certain point of view, an ultramontane is a heraldic lion – fearless, combative, noble, and conscious of his nobility – as we see in our standard. On the other hand, a counter-revolutionary is his century’s Germaine Cousin. He is denied, frowned upon, isolated, persecuted. Most gratuitous enmities form around him, and long-established friendships unravel. He fights open-heartedly against all the powers of the times. Let’s face it: to a large extent, he is a pariah in this era. He enters a restaurant, and people find him strange; ditto when he gets on a bus or walks down the street. On every side, he is paddling against the tide. And if not despised, he is the object of hate, which contains and supersedes contempt. He is hated.
We must know how to bear this hatred as St. Germain endured humiliations with complete meekness-- provided one understands what that meekness means. She was the object of personal injuries and injustices and did not react. We must not react when receiving strictly personal injustices and insults. But we must react to defend the glory of God. If something opposes the glory of God, we must turn into fighters like this lion. Apart from that, we must be meek as lambs. We must have no personal claims or self-love issues. We must be gallant and valiant in defense of God’s glory. Then we will imitate Saint Germaine Cousin’s attitude in our own way. In other words, we should not care about what is ours but lower our heads and easily accept to get along. But we must be real lions when it comes to the glory of God!
You will say: “But in this biography, I don’t see even once St. Germaine Cousin fighting like a lioness.” Nor have you seen any episode in which she had to defend the faith. She suffered only personal humiliations and bowed to them. That is what she did.
At the end of her life, you see the beautiful miracle of the appearance of the choirs of virgins. Can there be anything more beautiful and poetic than those forests in France which are friendly to man rather than enemies? They have no swamps, flies, snakes, or scares. They are forests made to rest, to shelter man. What a beautiful scene: two friars – we can imagine two traditional Capuchins in their habit, beard, sandals, staffs—making a long journey on foot, and praying, recollected. When night comes, they are tired and sleep peacefully in the forest, waiting for dawn. How beautiful it is to walk through the woods and see the two sons of St. Francis lying on the ground protected by trees, praying with Rosary in hand or sleeping as if they were dead in their coffins in that peaceful forest, among those majestic trees. We can think a bit about nature painted by Wateau, for example. How wonderful!
So during the night, a choir of Angels appears in extraordinary light! They see virgins walking through the forest. That choir of supernatural virgins looks as if made of vaporous crystal. They pass through the trees paying no attention to material obstacles, and walk without stepping on the ground or crushing a leaf. How admirable! They get on their knees as the virgins passi by. Sometime later, the virgins come back, and one more has joined them. This time, her hand is no longer crooked; her scrofulosis is gone; her humiliations are over. As in a fairy tale, the shepherdess has become a queen! Surrounded by the other virgins, that princess marches in noble step with her gaze up on high. She is walking to heaven to receive her crown of glory. What a beauty! It is a kind of sensitive canonization in life, showing what happened to her soul in heaven. Deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles: pride is punished with hell; great humility is crowned in heaven.