St Lawrence of Brindisi was born on July 22nd, the feast of St Mary Magdalene, in 1559, and died on the same day in 1619, at the age of sixty. His family was Venetian, but lived in the major port city of Brindisi, then in the Kingdom of Naples, far down Italy’s Adriatic coast. After entering the Capuchin Order 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 Latin and 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 invasion of the Ottoman Turks. He was chaplain to their 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 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. His feast is kept on July 21st.
Here are a few excerpts from the Apostolic letter Celsitudo ex humilitate, promulgated by Pope St John on March 19th of that year, the feast of St Joseph, in which he expounds some of the reasons for making St Lawrence a Doctor.
O inaestimabilis dilectio caritatis Christi, qui numquam temporibus Ecclesiae Sponsae suae passus est se deesse, et, quae ei ingerebantur malis, praesentia invenit remedia; qui, cum novatorum vecors insurgeret audacia nomenque catholicum infestis peteretur assultibus, fides in christiana plebe passim languesceret moresque praecipites irent, Laurentium excitavit, ut defenderet, quod impugnaretur, vindicaret, quod periisset, proveheret, quod omnium conduceret saluti.
Quem, cum rursus pestes importentur nefariae et falsarum opinionum commentis aliisque corruptelis illaqueentur homines, in clariore expedit luce collocari, ut eius virtutum splendore ad rectum confirmentur Christifideles eiusque salutaris doctrinae praeceptis innutriantur.
Quemadmodum igitur Roma gloriatur de Laurentio, invicto Christi athleta, qui dirissimis exhaustis cruciatibus robur addidit Ecclesiae, hostili divexatae furore, ita honestum est Brundusio se alterum progenuisse Laurentium, qui illam, domesticis externisque malis afflictam, studio religionis et ingenii sui ubertate solidavit.
Quo in viro alto et excellenti haec duo sunt praecipua: studium apostolicum et magisterium doctrinae: ore docuit, calamo erudivit, utroque militavit. Non sibi satis esse arbitratus in se ipsum recedere, precationibus litterisque se dedere in umbra coenobii atque adeo in domestica versari exercitatione, foras prosiluit, quasi impetum animi, Christi eiusque fratrum amore sauciati, non posset continere. E templorum suggestu de dogmate christiano, de moribus, de litteris divinis, de Sanctorum Caelitum dicens virtutibus, catholicos ad pietatem exstimulavit et peccatorum caeno ingurgitatos ad eluenda admissa et emendatioris vitae rationem ineundam permovit; scilicet audientium animos ingenii mentisque igne, quo ipse inflammabatur, incendit suarumque lacrimarum vi eorum lentitudinem excussit.
Habent igitur, qui divinas tractant disciplinas, maxime qui dogmati catholico exponendo defendove dant operam, quo mentes alant, quo ad veritatem tuendam suadendamque se instruant et ad aliorum procurandam salutem se comparent. Hunc si sequantur auctorem, qui errores evellit, obscura declaravit, dubia expedivit, certa se noverint via incedere.
(A painting of St Lawrence in the Monte dei Capuccini church in Turin, Italy, photo by Toma Blizanac.)
Oh, the inestimable affection of the love of Christ, Who has never at any time 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. …
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.