One of the stranger elements of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last month at the Cibolo Creek Ranch in Texas has proved to be his connection to the International Order of St. Hubertus, a 17th-century Habsburg ceremonial order named after a 7th-century bishop of Liège—who became the patron saint of hunters and fishers. This centuries-old order is only open to men and is very secretive (the names of the other guests at the ranch with Scalia are still mostly unknown). Members wear green robes, hold archaic titles like “knight grand officer,” and hunt by the motto “Deum diligite animalia diligentes” (“Honoring God by honoring his creatures”).
The story of how Hubert became Saint Hubertus actually rests on a case of mistaken identity. Saint Hubertus is now seen as a kind of Saint Francis for hunters, though most people will have heard of him because of his association with the Jägermeister stag. This image is based on a misattributed story (originally it was Saint Eustace’s) in which a white stag with a cross between its antlers appears to a man, leading to his conversion to a spiritual life. The International Order of St. Hubertus is not the only group to embrace the saint, and the symbol of the stag with a cross has become a touchstone for hunting groups’ environmental activism—like preserving endangered species and hunting sustainably. (Although how ardently members adhere to those values is not clear.)
Hubert and his cross-bearing stag may seem like something out of a Harry Potter novel or a quaint relic of a bygone superstitious era. But today, he and other medieval saints can be models for how to think about the complex motives in the national discourse about resource rights and use. Saints demonstrate that moral and cultural leaders not only tell truth to political power; they also participate in and shape the patterns of that power.