St. Thorlak

Author: Rev. Clifford Stevens

ST. THORLAK—1133-1193

Feast: December 24)

Thorlak is a saint of Iceland, one of the few canonized saints of that remote island, even though for centuries, before the coming of the Viking, it was peopled by Irish monks who lived on the edge of the world on what they called Ultima Thule. The Vikings came in the eighth and ninth centuries, and by the beginning of the tenth century the country was divided into two dioceses.

Thorlak Thorhallsson was born at Fljotshilth, Iceland, in 1133 and was ordained a deacon when he was only fifteen. By the age of eighteen, he was ordained a priest and sent to England and France to study. While abroad, he became a canon regular of St. Augustine and returned to Iceland in 1161. Clerical life in Iceland at the time was rather lax, but St. Thorlak set up a religious regime for himself, and when a farmer died and left him land for a monastery, he established a monastery of canons regular, of which he became the abbot.

In 1178, he became bishop of Skalholt and set about to reform his diocese and improve ecclesiastical discipline. Clerical celibacy was not widely observed, there was constant lay interference in the affairs of the Church, and simony was rampant. He met with little success, faced opposition on all sides, and found little to encourage him in his efforts. Fortunately, he had the support of the Norwegian archbishop responsible for Iceland, who was trying to accomplish the same things in Norway, and Thorlak made some progress in raising the spiritual life of his diocese.

After fifteen years as bishop, he determined to resign his bishopric and return to his monastery, but he died on December 23,1193, before he could carry out his intention. His work did not go unnoticed, however, and he was canonized by the Assembly of Iceland five years after his death. He is one of the three Icelandic saints venerated in Iceland. The other two are St. Jon Ogmundson and Blessed Guthmund the Good.

Thought for the Day: When things are falling apart, someone must hold them together. St. Thorlak was a pillar of stability in a lax and careless age, and the memory of his sanctity encouraged others to a holy life. He gave himself to God when he was fifteen years old and never took back the gift. His fidelity became a model for others.

From 'The Catholic One Year Bible': . . . All were holding harps of God, and they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: / "Great and marvelous / Are your doings, / Lord God Almighty. / Just and true / Are your ways, / O King of Ages."-Revelation 15:2-4

Taken from "The One Year Book of Saints" by Rev. Clifford Stevens published by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Huntington, IN 46750.