Friday, August 07, 2015

St Cajetan, and the Church of San Paolo Maggiore in Naples

Today is the feast of St Cajetan, the founder of the Clerks Regular of the Divine Providence, the very first order of Clerks Regular. They are usually referred to as the Theatines, since one of the other founders, Gian Pietro Caraffa, was bishop of the city of Chieti, “Theate” in Latin, in the Abruzzo region; he would later be elected Pope with the name Paul IV (1555-59). Cajetan himself was born to a noble family of Vicenza in the Venetian Republic, but spent much of his life in Rome. The name “Clerks Regular of the Divine Providence” refers to the fact that, in imitation of the poverty of the Apostles, whose spirit they hoped to revive in the Church, they neither begged like the mendicants, nor accepted permanent endowments like the monks, but lived on whatever might be offered to them spontaneously by the faithful.

The Vision of St Cajetan, by Michelangelo Buonocore, 1733. While praying in the Chapel of the Crib at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome on Christmas Eve, the Saint beheld the Virgin Mary, who then passed the Baby Jesus to him to hold; he is frequently represented this way in art.  
It may fairly be said that Cajetan’s ministry in Rome, and that of his order, which was certainly important, but never very large, has been overshadowed by his near contemporary St Ignatius, the founder of what would become a vastly larger and more widespread order of Clerks Regular, and by St Philip Neri and the Oratory in the following generation. This is partly because the Council of Trent was only just getting started at the time of his death; St Cajetan belongs to the generation whose good example in evil days would lay the groundwork for the sweeping and highly effective reforms of the Counter-Reformation.

The revised Butler’s Lives of the Saints describes his mission field thus: “The state of Christendom at this time was not less than shocking. The general corruption weakened the Church before the assaults of Protestantism and provided an apparent excuse for that revolt, and the decay of religion with its accompaniment of moral wickedness was not checked by the clergy, many of whom, high and low, secular and regular were themselves sunk in iniquity and indifference. The Church was ‘sick in head and members’. The spectacle shocked and distressed Cajetan, and in 1523 he went back to Rome to confer with his friends of the Oratory of Divine Love. They agreed that little could be done otherwise than by reviving in the clergy the spirit and zeal of those holy pastors who first planted the faith, and to put them in mind what this spirit ought to be, and what it obliges them to, a plan was formed for instituting an order of regular clergy upon the model of lives of the Apostles.”

After founding a house of his order in Naples, St Cajetan died there in 1547, and is buried in the crypt of the Theatine church of San Paolo Maggiore in the heart of the city. The Order tended to attract not just a large number of its vocations from among the aristocracy, but also a great many aristocratic patrons; it also did not unlearn the lessons imparted to the Church by earlier Orders like the Cistercians and Franciscans, that the poverty of religious is not practiced by impoverishing the house of God. The Theatines and their patrons built a number of very beautiful churches; those of Munich and Naples are particularly outstanding. Here then are a few photos of San Paolo Maggiore.

The body of St Cajetan in the crypt of the church.
The high altar
The church was badly damaged during the bombing of Naples in 1943, which caused the ceiling to collapse and mutilated the paintings on it. Note that the side chapels are isolated from the central nave, a typical feature of Italian Counter-Reformation churches.
The Firrao Chapel, named for the family who commissioned it in the first part of the 17th century. Many churches in Naples have this style of elaborate polychrome marble work; this is known as a particularly fine example of it. 
The cupola of the Firrao Chapel 
The body of St Andrew of Avellino, a member of the Theatine Order who served as prevost of San Paolo Maggiore in the later 16th century. He died in 1608, and was canonized in 1712.

The Chapel of Purity, built to house a much-venerated painting of the Virgin by Luis Morales (now replaced with a copy - the original is kept in the Theatine house.)

From the top of the church’s steps, one sees the façade and bell-tower of San Lorenzo Maggiore, one of the most ancient churches in the city, and in the distance, a part of the Armenian church of St Gregory the Illuminator.

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