Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Further Adventures of St. Corbinian's Bear

The Story of St. Corbinian's Bear

St. Corbinian (d. 730) was a holy man in France who decided to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. On the way, a Bear killed his pack horse. Undaunted, St. Corbinian compelled the Bear to carry his baggage. When he arrived at the outskirts of Rome, he freed the Bear, who was last seen running into the woods. The Pope thought he was just the man to tame the savage Germans, and made him Bishop of Freising, the same see that Pope Benedict XVI would later have. The local warlord, Grimoald, had married his brother's wife, Biltrudis. St. Corbinian condemned the irregularity and had to flee for his life. Grimoald was killed in battle, and Biltrudis was captured by his enemies, leaving St. Corbinian free to take up his duties as Bishop.

That's the official story. What follows is mostly unofficial. In the story of the Bear, you may recognize the more Bearish elements you struggle against.

And I am brought to nothing, and I knew not. I am become as a beast before thee: and I am always with thee. Psalm 73 : 22-23

St. Corbinian's Bear may have been based on a historical miracle. If God wanted to help and encourage a saint -- and make a memorable point -- He certainly could have caused the bear to become docile and carry the saint's baggage. Saints and animals have often formed unusual bonds, and it would be rash to dismiss all of them as fabrications. 

The beloved Russian Orthodox saint Seraphim of Sarov also had a bear companion. St. Benedict had a raven that would daily come to feed from his hand. When St. Benedict was the target of a poisoned loaf of bread, he commanded the raven to carry it far away where it could do no harm. On the other hand, St. Corbinian's Bear may be a pious legend, perhaps representing the evangelization of the turbulent Germans. As we shall see, St. Corbinian did not have an easy job. Another interpretation is that the bear is St. Corbinian himself, tamed and burdened with his duties.

Either way, it means something to me, and is relevant to what I try to do here. It meant something to Pope Benedict, too, who spoke of his office as the bear's burden. (He was archbishop of Freising and Munich, whose first bishop was St. Corbinian, and the bear was on the pope's coat of arms.) 

Pope Benedict XVI's Coat of Arms With St. Corbinian's Bear

The Bear is who I am, really, beneath the human exterior. He is a beast, with beastly traits and habits. Yet, as I see him, he has been touched by grace. He is set free by St. Corbinian at the outskirts of Rome and vanishes from history and legend. This blog continues his unofficial story. So pour yourself a glass of milk, find some cookies if you wish, and read the rest of the story.

The Further Adventures of St. Corbinian's Bear: A Fairy Tale for Little Children

The bear of St. Corbinian never forgot the kindly saint's conversations as they trudged across the Alps. For a proud bear, carrying a burden like a common horse was humbling. Yet during those weeks, he caught a glimpse of what it is like to be more than a bear. To serve a master. The kindly saint set him free, but the bear remained fascinated by him. 

When the pope told the holy man to quit France and try to tame the turbulent Germans, he secretly followed St. Corbinian to his new home in Bavaria. But the warlord Grimoald and his evil wife Biltrudis sought St. Corbinian's life, for St. Corbinian had condemned their wicked marriage. The new bishop could do nothing. The bear thought he might be just the sort of friend the saint could use right now. 

The Bear Solves a Problem for St. Corbinian

The bear waited until the warlord Grimoald was in battle. Grimoald was nearly victorious until his enemies were astonished to see a bear charge out of the forest, chase his horse down and drag Grimoald right from his saddle! Needless to say, that was the end of Grimoald. Biltrudis was taken prisoner and lived out her days hoeing mangelwurzel fields by day and cleaning stables by night.

Now, thanks to the bear, St. Corbinian could return and evangelize the Germans.

The bear continued to eat horses, and do all the things St. Corbinian had taught him were bad. Sometimes, though, he was sorry, and tried to do better. It was almost as if he were no longer bear through-and-through, but bear mixed with something higher, almost human. And what's more, his better nature seemed to be growing!

Saint and Bear Reunited

One day, he saw St. Corbinian walking alone, deep in thought. The bear, head bowed, much as in the picture (although he was burdened by nothing more than his bad deeds) approached the saint. St. Corbinian was delighted to find his old friend! They met as often as the saint could get away by himself. 

Sometimes they prayed the Divine Office together, deep in the woods, the saint on his knees, singing psalms, and the bear imitating him in a musical sort of growl. That made the old man laugh at first, but then he looked thoughtful and tears came to his eyes. He patiently taught the bear how to pray the psalms, and the bear did his best to learn them, but, try as he might, the bear could only whine and growl. St. Corbinian told him he was doing his best, and that is all Holy God asked of anyone.

Some of the psalms stirred the bear so much that he couldn't help but let out a ferocious roar! But St. Corbinian would clap his hands in joy and say, "Rugiemus quasi ursi omnes!" That is from the Bible book of the prophet Isaiah. In Latin (which is the language of the Catholic Church) it means "We shall all roar like bears." Can you roar like a bear? Try it sometime!

The Bear Turns Into a Man

By the Easter of every year, the bear would look back and realize he was a little bit better of a bear. But he also realized he was still very much just a bear. 

St. Corbinian died, and the bear mourned, but he remembered that the saint warned him that this day would come, but that he shouldn't be too sad. "We will be judged. Bear," he had told him. "If Holy God please, I shall be in Heaven, even though my body sleeps." The bear asked if he could go to Heaven with him, and St. Corbinian shook his head sadly, and said Heaven was not for bears. "Heaven is for people, Bear," he said, and looked at him in a way the bear had never before seen and never forgot. 

He swore to remember his friend and teacher by being a better bear. Perhaps St. Corbinian would see him from Heaven and be pleased.

As years went on, other bears passed out of life. Kingdoms rose and fell, but the bear -- miraculously -- lived on. (It is a great mystery to this day, but some say the bear will live until he is ready to go to Heaven. If this is true, he shall live a very long time!) 

He began to think like a man. In dreams he even put off his thick and heavy brown bear skin and turned into a man. One night, he had one of those glorious dreams, the dream where he put off his bear skin and walked the earth as a man, understanding things as a man does, and raising real hands heavenward, instead of massive paws good only for walking and killing. The sun rose, but a very strange thing happened. The bear did not wake up! The bear had not been asleep and dreaming, after all, but had become a man!

The Bear Turns back Into a Bear and is Confused and Discouraged

It was wonderful to be a man. For one thing, he could pray St. Corbinian's beloved psalms much better. But he often missed being a bear. On those nights, he would turn back into one. He took a bearish pleasure in eating horses, and sometimes he spent years at a time as a bear, until he forgot about being a man entirely. Yet something -- the sound of a church bell, the beauty of something he could not eat -- would remind him of St. Corbinian, and he would begin the process of becoming a man all over again. He spent less and less time as a bear, and more time as a man. 

He almost wished he could stay one or the other for good, because it was very confusing and unsettling! When he was a bear, he felt bad and missed things like singing the psalms. But then there were the beastly pleasures of bearish existence. When he was a man, he was truly happiest. But there was always the bear inside, just waiting to get out and run through the forest and farms with the scent of hot blood in his nose.

Sometimes, even as a man, he acted like a bear and did bad things. His temper was bearish. Since his only real friend had been St. Corbinian, he loved the Catholic Church, and had no patience with those who did not. Worse, in his simple bear mind, were those who said they loved St. Corbinians Church, but acted as if they did not. These people were like bad shepherds who let wolves and bears eat their sheep.

He loved his bed, and slept through the day, instead of doing his work. He had a bearish appetite. Try as he might, he could never be like St. Corbinian: bear-tamer, evangelist to the Germans, defender of the sanctity of marriage, and first bishop of Freising. Impossible! He could never even be a proper man, much less a saint. He often became very discouraged. Sometimes the discouragement was what turned him back into a bear.

He had many adventures as the centuries rolled on. During those times he was a bear, he was sometimes captured by circuses. He felt trapped and angry at first, but there was plentiful horse meat and entertainment to distract him. He settled in and it was easy to forget what it was to be a man. Always, however, he would manage to escape, and eventually find himself in human form once more. 

Sometimes it almost seemed like old St. Corbinian was helping him. He wasn't sure what drew him toward his better part, unless it was that mysterious "grace" that St. Corbinian had often tried to explain to him.

The Bear Comes to America

In America, he became a lawyer, which provided a perfect job for a bear of his savagery and cunning. Church, family, the blog -- you know the rest of the story. Sometimes he succeeds in being a good man; mostly he is just a Bear. What he wants to do, he doesn't, and what he doesn't want to do he finds himself doing. Oh, dear! Whatever shall he do?

But the Bear is sure you cannot understand these things, because you are true boys and girls and good, without any bear mixed in with you!


  1. I saw a poster when the Bear came to America. Under it was its new Latin phrase; Solum potestis prohibere ignes silvarium. (Only you can prevent forest fires). Glad the people have spoken. I'd hate for the bear to have survived so many years to perish in the Digital Age.

  2. Probably screwed that up. "Silvarum" and not "Silvarium" is forest, I believe.

  3. Yes, the whole story about the "cub found in the forest fire" was an elaborate "legend" (as they called it) concocted by the U.S. government during the Bear's infiltration, which occurred for reasons he is obviously not at liberty to discuss.

  4. Didn't you also have another alias...for security reasons?

    ...sooooo....whatever happened to boo-boo?

  5. Plans for the Bear's entry into the U.S. began in the Teddy Roosevelt administration, and have involved many different operations to eliminate ursophobia and promote acceptance of bear rights. Even the Bear does not know what was part of "Operation Ursa Major" (think Operation Paperclip, but with bears, instead of German rocket scientists) and what was merely somebody cashing in on the fad.

  6. Bear, Are you able to reveal the approximate location of your den?

    1. Mesopotamia, United States, the Independent Kingdom of Zoar.


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