Tuesday, July 21, 2015

St John XXIII on St Lawrence of Brindisi

Today is the feast of St Lawrence of Brindisi, who was born on the feast of St Mary Magdalene in 1559, and died on the same day at the age of sixty in 1619. Although his family was Venetian, he was born in the major port city of Brindisi, then in the Kingdom of Naples, far down Italy’s Adriatic coast. After entering the Capuchins at the age of 16, he studied at the University of Padua, then the major university of the Venetian Republic, and showed a remarkable facility for languages, learning several modern ones in addition to the languages of the Bible. He was instrumental in establishing the Capuchin Order, then still a fairly new branch of the Franciscans, in Germany as a bulwark against the further spread of Protestantism, but also in rallying the German princes against the Ottoman Turks. He was chaplain to the army, which he helped to organize, stirred to attack with a rousing address, and led in battle armed only with a crucifix in his hand.

Despite these and many other activities, including a period as the head of his Order, and despite the extreme austerity of Capuchin life and the full round of liturgical and devotional prayer, St Lawrence also found time to write hundreds of sermons, almost all in Latin, covering a very wide variety of topics, as well as a commentary on Genesis and some writings against Lutheranism. As is noted in the revised Butler’s Lives of the Saints, when these writings were examined during his canonization process, it was said that “Indeed, he is fit to be included among the holy doctors of the Church.” This honor was bestowed upon him by Pope St John XXIII in 1959, the fourth centennial year of his birth, making him the 30th Doctor of the Church.

Here are a few interesting excerpts from the Apostolic letter Celsitudo ex humilitate, promulgated by Pope St John March 19th of that year, the feast of St Joseph, in which he expounds some of the reasons for making St Lawrence a Doctor. (There are very few images of St Lawrence available on the internet, and none of any real quality; if anyone cares to send in a picture of the Saint, I’d be glad to update this article and add it. Update: reader Toma Blizanac very kindly sent in a link to his blog and this very nice picture of St Lawrence from the Monte dei Capuccini church in Turin, Italy.)

Oh, the inestimable affection of the love of Christ, Who never has never allowed Himself to be lacking to the Church, His Bride, and finds present remedies for the evils that are hurled against her. When the insane daring of the innovators rose up, and the Catholic name was attacked by hostile assaults, when the Faith was languishing in many places among the Christian people, and morals were in steep decline, He raised up Lawrence to defend what was under attack, to avenge what had been destroyed, and to promote that which was conducive to the salvation of all. And since wicked plagues are again being introduced, and men are being ensnared by the inventions of false beliefs and other corruptions, it is useful that this many be placed in a brighter light, so that the Christian faithful may be confirmed towards what is right by the glory of his virtues, and nourished by the precepts of his salutary teaching. Therefore, just as Rome boasts of Lawrence, Christ’s unconquered champion, who by the most dire torments which he suffered, increased the strength of the Church as She was rent by persecution, so Brindisi is held in honor for begetting another Lawrence, who strengthened Her by his zeal for religion and the abundance of his talents as she was afflicted by evil from within and from without. …

In this noble and excellent two things are especially outstanding: his apostolic zeal, and his mastery of doctrine. He taught with his word, he instructed with his pen, he fought with both. Not deeming it enough to withdraw into himself, and dedicate himself to prayer and study in the refuge of his monastery, and occupy himself only with domestic matters, he leaped forth as if he could not contain the force of his spirit, wounded with the love of Christ and his brothers. Speaking from many pulpits about Christian dogma, about morals, the divine writings, and the virtues of the denizens of heaven, he spurred Catholics on to devotion, and moved those who had been swallowed up by the filth of their sins to wash away their crimes, and undertake the emendation of their lives. … outside the sacred precincts, when preaching to those who those who lacked the true religion, he defended it wisely and fearlessly; in meetings with Jews and heretics, he stood as the standard-bearer of the Roman church, and persuaded many to renounce and foreswear the opinions of false teaching. …

In the three volumes called “A Sketch of Lutheranism” (Lutheranismi hypotyposis), this defender of the Catholic law, mighty in his great learning, seeks to disabuse the people of the errors which the heretical teachers had spread. Therefore, those who treat of the sacred disciples, and especially those who seek to expound and defend the catholic faith, have in him the means to nourish their minds, to instruct themselves for the defense and persuasion of the truth, and to prepare themselves to work for the salvation of others. If they follow this author who eradicate errors, who made clear what was obscure or doubtful, they may know they walk upon a sure path. (Pope St John continues, in the traditional manner of such documents, with a lengthy list of the praises other Popes before him have heaped upon St Lawrence.)

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