Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Homobonus, Merchant, Confessor

Article

A.D. 1197

All lawful secular professions have furnished heaven with saints, that the slothful in all states may be without excuse. In the infancy of the world, men were chiefly shepherds and graziers, and before the improvement of agriculture were obliged to live in moveable tents, and as soon as the produce of the earth was consumed in one place, they removed to another. The useful arts were at first few and very imperfect: clothing was simple and mean, and houses, so necessary a shelter to men, were at first, even in the coldest climates, raised of mud, or made with boughs: trunks felled, and unhewn, set upright for walls, were once looked upon as a great improvement in building. 1 Industry, convenience, and luxury have discovered and perfected arts in the world, which their progress shows against modern deists not to exceed the age which the sacred history of Moses assigns it. Commerce originally consisted in bartering goods of one kind for those of another; but since the invention of money as one common or general kind of goods, trade has become as important in the republic of mankind as agriculture itself, and is as great a source of wealth, and the strength, support, and ornament of a nation; though the tillage of the earth, which raises a mine from the ground without giving any thing in exchange, and by which all mankind subsists, always deserves the first consideration in the eye of the public, and the chief encouragement from its hands, far from being suffered to sink into contempt, or give up its hands too frequently to the pursuit of refined, or useless, or even pernicious professions. Trade is often looked upon as an occasion of too great attachment to the things of this world, and of too eager a desire of gain; also of lying frauds and injustice. That these are the vices of men, not the faults of the profession, is clear from the example of this and many other saints.

Honobonus was son to a merchant of Cremona, in Lombardy, who gave him this name (which signifies Good Man) at his baptism: the name of his family was Tucinge. Whilst he trained him up to his own mercantile business in shop-keeping, without any school education, he inspired in him, both by his example and instructions, the most perfect sentiments of probity, integrity, religion, and virtue. The saint from his infancy abhorred the very shadow of the least untruth or injustice, and having always the fear of God before his eyes, would have chosen with joy rather to forego the greatest advantages, and to suffer the loss of his whole fortune, than to stain his soul with the least sin. This rule is the more necessary to persons engaged in trade, as they are more easily betrayed unawares into occasions of such sins, and are more apt to palliate, or extenuate them to themselves, unless a steady resolution put them infinitely upon their guard. A man who is content, and ready to meet cheerfully the most grievous disappointments, and even the ruin of his temporal affairs rather than to tell the least lie, or any other way wilfully offend God, makes to him a constant sacrifice of obedience by this disposition of his soul, and secures to himself a lasting peace: for a mind which finds its comfort and joy in the divine grace and love, and in the goods of eternity, is out of the reach of anxiety and troubles on account of the uncertain and perishable goods of this life, especially when they were sacrificed to religion. But probity is usually attended also with temporal success; for though a person may be a gainer by injustice in some particular occasions, it is an undeniable maxim, that honesty is the best policy, and that a man thrives in business by nothing so much as by unshaken integrity and veracity, which cannot fail to draw down the divine blessing, and gain a man the highest credit and reputation in all his dealings, which is his stock and his best fortune. This Saint Homobonus experienced by his unexpected success in his business, which, under the divine blessing, was also owing to his economy, care, and industry. His business he looked upon as an employment given him by God, and he pursued it with diligence upon the motive of obedience to the divine law, and of justice to himself, his family, and the commonwealth, of which he thus approved himself a useful member. If a tradesman’s books be not well kept, if there be not order and regularity in the whole conduct of his business, if he do not give his mind seriously to it, with assiduous attendance, he neglects an essential duty, and is unworthy to bear the name of a Christian. Homobonus is a saint by acquitting himself diligently, upon perfect motives of virtue and religion, of all the obligations of his profession.

By the advice of his parents, he took to wife a virtuous virgin, who was a prudent and faithful assistant in the government of his household, which, by the piety and regularity of all those who composed it, bespoke the sanctity and attention of the master. Men’s passions, which they neglect to subdue, as in every state of life, so particularly in this, are their greatest slavery and the cause of their miseries and troubles. Instead of rejoicing, how many repine at the prosperity of other traders, and expose their faults with a rancour which all who hear them ascribe only to their envy, jealousy, and want of charity! how many seek to raise a family by meanness and sordidness! how many fall into an inordinate passion for riches! For though wealth may be a blessing of God, if neither coveted nor abused, yet immoderately to thirst after it, is always a grievous and most fatal vice. This one thing is the philosophy of the trader, a point of the utmost importance in a trading life, that a man curb the lust of riches, regulate his desires of them, and be in all events calmly and sweetly resigned to the will of God, who knows what is best for us. As to the pretence of a provision for children, a prudent care for them is a point of justice; but, under all disappointments, we know that the blessing of God and his grace is the best inheritance, and that that provision for them is often the wisest which lays a sufficient foundation for their industry to build on, and leaves them under an obligation to business and employment. Ambition, vanity, and pride are often no less preposterous than destructive vices in this class of life, which is best set off by modesty, moderation, and simplicity. Whatever exceeds this in dress, housekeeping, or other expenses, is unnatural and affected; consequently ungrateful and offensive to others, and uneasy and painful to the persons themselves. A man of low stature only becomes frightful by strutting upon stilts. Nothing unnatural or distorted can ever be becoming. The merchant is the honour and support of society; but an ostentatious parade is what least of all suits his character or concurs to the happiness of his state. This vanity shows itself either in extravagant expenses, in the neglect or affected contempt of business, or in engaging a man in bold and hazardous projects, which prove often in the end a most grievous robbery, injustice, and cheat committed upon widows and orphans, the dearest friends and nearest relations. Sloth, or love of diversions and pleasures are in men of business crimes of the same tendency and enormity. The Christian moderation and government of the passions are the fence of the soul against these dangers, and the most consummate prudence. By this Saint Homobonus avoided the common rocks on which so many traders dash. He, moreover, by his profession, attained the great end which every Christian is bound to propose to himself, the sanctification of his soul; for which he found in this state opportunities of exercising all virtues in a heroic degree. The capriciousness, unreasonableness, injustice, and peevishness of many with whom he interfered in his dealings, he bore with admirable meekness and humility; and by patient silence, or soft answers, or by a return of gentleness and obsequiousness, he overcame perverseness and malice, and remained always master of his own soul. This appeared so admirable, that it was commonly said of him at Cremona, that he was born without passions.

Charity to the poor is a distinguishing part of the character of every disciple of Christ, and, provided that justice takes place, a tribute which the merchant owes to God out of his gains; and this was the favourite virtue of Homobonus. Not content with giving his tenths to the distressed members of Christ, after the death of his father (of whom he inherited a considerable stock in trade, besides a house in the town, and a small villa in the country), he seemed to set no bounds to his alms: he sought out the poor in their cottages, and whilst he cheerfully relieved their corporal necessities, he tenderly exhorted them to repentance and holy life. His wife sometimes complained, that by his excessive alms he would soon reduce his family to beggary; but he mildly answered her, that giving to the poor is putting out money to the best interest, for a hundred fold, for payment whereof Christ himself has given us his bond. The author of his life assures us, that God often recompensed his charities by miracles in favour of those whom he relieved, and by multiplying his stores. His abstinence and temperance were not less remarkable than his almsdeeds. His assiduity in prayer condemns the false maxim which some make a pretence for their sloth, that business and a life of prayer are incompatible. The saint spent a considerable part of his time in this holy exercise, and joined prayer with his business by the frequent aspirations by which he often raised his mind to God in sentiments of compunction and the divine praise and love amidst the greatest hurry, so that his shop, his chamber, the street, and every place was to him a place of prayer. It was his custom every night to go to the church of Saint Giles, a little before midnight, and to assist at matins, which it was then usual for many of the laity to do: and he left not the church till after high mass the next morning. At mass the example of his fervour and recollection was such, as to inspire all who saw him with devotion. He waited some time prostrate on the pavement, before a crucifix in the church, till the priest began mass. The slothful were quickened to virtue, and many sinners converted from vice by the example of his life, and the unction of his discourses. Sundays and holidays he always consecrated entirely to his devotions: prayer accompanied all his actions, and it was in the heavenly exercise of prayer that he gave up his soul to God. For, on the 13th of November in 1197, he was present at matins, according to his custom, and remained kneeling before the crucifix till mass began. At the Gloria in excelsis he stretched out his arms in the figure of a cross; and soon after fell on his face to the ground; which those who saw him thought he had done out of devotion. When he did not stand up at the gospel they took more notice of him, and some persons coming to him perceived that he had calmly expired. Sicard, bishop of Cremona after a rigorous examination of his virtues and miracles, went himself to Rome with many other venerable persons, to solicit his canonization; which Pope Innocent III performed after the necessary scrutinies, the bull of which he published in 1198. The saint’s body was taken up in 1356, and translated to the cathedral, but his head remains at the church of Saint Giles. Vida, the Christian Virgil, has honoured the memory of Saint Homobonus, the patron of his native city, with a hymn.

Both religion and the law of nature dictate that no man is to be idle or useless in the republic of the world. Man is born to labour and industry. Our capacities on one side, and, on the other, our necessities and wants urge us to it: and this we owe to human society. For it is not just that he who contributes nothing to its support, should, like a drone, be feasted and maintained by the labour of others. A circle of amusements and pleasures cannot be the life of a rational being, much less of a Christian. A gentleman who applies not himself with earnestness to some serious employment, finds his very life a burden, and is a stranger to the obligations of his state, and to all true enjoyment. A man is never more happy than when he is most eagerly and commendably employed; the activity of his soul is a fire which must be exercised. Hence business is necessary for man’s temporal happiness; and the situation of the working and trading part of mankind is more happy than most are sensible of. It is still more necessary to a moral or Christian life. Trades which minister to sin are always unlawful: others are honourable and commendable in proportion as they contribute to the comfort and welfare of mankind, and as they concur to supply the wants and necessities of our species, or to promote virtue. Religion teaches men to sanctity them by motives of piety, and to refer them to God, and the great ends for which only we are created. Every one’s secular calling indeed is a part of religion, if thus directed by its influence: and no spiritual duties can ever excuse a neglect of it. Arts and trades, which immediately minister to corporal necessities, have not indeed in themselves any direct tendency to the improvement of reason, or production of virtue; though, if they are consecrated by principles of religion, become acceptable sacrifices to God. For this they must be accompanied with the exercise of all virtues, especially humility, meekness, patience, charity, confidence in God, and self-resignation, which prevents anxiety and those fears to which the uncertainty of human things expose men. Without self-consideration, prayer, and pious reading or meditation, it is impossible that a man should be really possessed of these virtues, how finely soever he may talk of them by way of notion or speculation. It is also by prayer and holy meditation that he pays to God the homage of praise and compunction, and improves himself as a rational or spiritual being, and as a Christian. Every one, therefore, must, in the first place, reserve time for these employments, even preferably to all others, if any should seem incompatible. But who cannot find time for pleasures and conversation? Sure then he may for prayer. By this even a man’s secular life and employs will become spiritual and holy.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Homobonus, Merchant, Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 13 November 2013. Web. 25 April 2014. <>