Chapter 1. Birth and boyhood of Philip.
Chapter 2. At Eighteen he is sent to San Germano, to learn business under his uncle.
Chapter 3. He goes to Rome: His first fervour.
Chapter 4. Philip studies philosophy and theology.
Chapter 5. He leaves his studies, and gives himself wholly to spiritual exercises.
Chapter 6. Of the miraculous palpitation of his heart.
Chapter 7. The winning of souls, and the works of charity that he did in his youth.
Chapter 8. Philip with some others begins the Confraternity of the Santissima Trinita de' Pelligrini e de' Convalescenti.
Chapter 9. In obedience to his confessor he is ordained priest, and undertakes the burden of hearing confessions.
Chapter 10. The beginning of the spiritual conversations in his room.
Chapter 11. Of some of his penitents, who led holy lives.
Chapter 12. Of the greatness of Philip's Zeal for the holy faith.
Chapter 13. For the same end of converting misbelievers he commands Cesare Baronius to compose his Ecclesiastical Annals.
Chapter 14. Of Philip's spiritual exercises at S. Girolamo della Carita.
Chapter 15. The Florentines desire Philip to undertake their church of S. Giovanni at Rome.
Chapter 16. Philip endures many persecutions because of the exercises.
Chapter 17. Foundation of the Congregation of the Oratory in the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella.
Chapter 18. Philip leaves S. Girolamo, and goes to live with his disciples in the Vallicella.
Chapter 19. Of the Institute, and government of the Congregation.
Chapter 20. Of the great obedience which his subjects paid to him, and the reverence they had for him.
Philip was born in the city of Florence, in the third year of Leo the Tenth’s pontificate, 1515, in the month of July, after six o’clock in the afternoon, on the eve of S. Mary Magdalene. He was baptized in the church of S. John the Baptist, as is customary in Florence, there being in fact no other font in the city. He received his grandfather’s name, Philip, and to this was added Romolo, from the great devotion shown in those parts to the saint of that name. His father, Francesco Neri, was a respectable attorney, a great friend to the religious orders, and especially to the Dominicans. His mother, Lucretia Soldi, was of a noble family, which in the time of the republic had long held high offices in the state.
Francesco Neri had four children; two girls, Caterina and Elizabetta, and two boys, Antonio, who died young, and Philip, the youngest born, but chief in merit in the sight of God. He was naturally of a quick mind, a pleasing disposition, well made, and of attractive manners; which latter gift is generally found in those who are ordained to gain souls to the Lord. His parents brought him up in the best possible way. He was taught grammar, and attained a proficiency in it a good deal beyond that of his schoolfellows; and profited not a little by the study of rhetoric. His master in these sciences was named Clemente, a man of note in his day. Even among Philip’s childish characteristics were some things which might be looked upon as prophetic of his future sanctity. Such were his marked respect for his elders, his singular modesty, and a more than ordinary interest in religious matters. He was so obedient to his father, that he never caused him the least uneasiness, except when he once gave his elder sister Caterina an unthinking push, because she teazed and interrupted him while he was reading psalms with his other sister Elizabetta. For this fault, if fault it really can be called, he was corrected by his father, and when he reflected upon it he repented even to tears.
His attention to his mother’s commands was equally exemplary. If she told him to stay in a particular place, nothing would induce him to move without her leave. After her death, his father married again, and Philip’s dutifulness to his stepmother was such that she positively reverenced him, and loved him as tenderly as if he had been her own child; so that when he left Florence she wept bitterly, and on her deathbed appeared to have him always before her, kept naming his name, and declared that the very remembrance of him was a refreshment to her.
it was not only to his parents that Philip was respectful, but to all who were older than himself. With his equals and inferiors he was lighthearted, and so peaceable, that he seemed not to know how to be angry. Whenever anything sad or unbecoming was told him, he always tried to find out some excuse for it, or put a good interpretation upon it, and tried to persuade others to do the same. Indeed, he was never heard to speak evil of any one. His conduct with all ranks and ages was such as made him a universal favourite; and from the kindliness of his temper and the purity of his ways, his comrades nicknamed him the good Pippo. Nor was it only in the sight of men that he found favour, because of the goodness of his disposition; but he seemed to be under a special guardianship of Providence. One day, when he was about eight or nine years old, he saw an ass standing in the court-yard, and with a boy’s thoughtlessness jumped upon its back. By some accident, he and the beast both fell down a flight of steps into a cellar. He was crushed beneath the ass, and no part of his body was visible except an arm. A woman, who witnessed the accident, ran to him and drew him from under the animal, not, as she supposed, killed or maimed, but safe and sound, without the least vestige of his fall. He often related this story himself, as a mark of God’s goodness to him, and deplored his own ingratitude for his preservation, though in truth he was continually returning thanks for it.
To his other good qualities, Philip joined devotion and spiritual-mindedness. There was something masculine about his boyish devotions, which it is difficult to explain. He was not addicted to those exhibitions of childish piety, which are laudable enough in themselves, such as dressing little altars, and the like. He was fond of really praying, reciting psalms, and above all, of hearing the word of God. He never spoke lightly, as boys will do, of becoming a priest or a monk; he concealed the wish of his heart, and from childhood upwards he eschewed ostentation, as if it were his deadly enemy. This maturity of spirit, united with his childlike innocence, rendered him so dear to God, that he appears to have granted him whatever he prayed for. Even when he had lost anything, he had recourse to prayer in order to find it. Once returning from the Zecca to the Pitti palace, near which he was born and dwelt, he lost a gold necklace, but no sooner had he prayed than he found it; and another time he recovered, by the same means, some things which had dropped from under his arm a great way off.
At this time Philip frequented, among other churches, that of St. Mark, where the Dominican convent is, from the fathers of which he first received spiritual instruction. Hence it was that, when he afterwards went to Rome, he was wont to say to some fathers of that order, “What ever I had of good when I was young, I owe to the fathers of St. Mark’s, at Florence;” and he named in particular F. Zenobio de’ Medici, and F. Servanzio Mini, in confirmation of whose virtues he was accustomed to narrate the following event: These two fathers had agreed together to hear each other’s confessions every night, before they went to matins, in order that they might say office with greater devotion; but the devil was envious of so much good, and one night, about two hours before the usual time, he knocked at the cell of Fra. Zenobio, saying, “Up quickly, it is time.” At these words the good father woke and got up, and went as usual into the Church, where he found the devil in the form of Fra. Servanzio, walking near the confessional. Believing it was really his companion, he knelt down to confess, and the devil sat down as if to hear the confession, and at each fault which Fra. Zenobio named, he cried out, “It is nothing, it is nothing.” At last the friar adding a fault which seemed to him of a somewhat more grave character, the devil still said, “It is nothing.” When Zenobio heard this form of speech, he bethought himself a little, and suspecting, not without reason, some diabolical illusion, he at once made the sign of the holy cross, saying, “Perhaps you are a devil from hell,” at which words the evil spirit was confounded, and immediately disappeared.
Besides these two, with whom Philip was on terms of confidence and familiarity, he was a willing auditor of a famous preacher of those times, F. Balderino, of the order of the Umiliati, to whose sanctity the saint used often to bear just witness, declaring that, by the prayer of that good servant of God, the city of Florence was much helped in the disturbances and troubles of 1527, when the duke of Bourbon made his passage through Italy.
From the religious exercises in which the holy youth thus engaged, there sprang up in him a great desire for all virtues, and in particular, with that covetousness characteristic of the saints, a wish to suffer for the love of Christ. So when he was attacked by a violent fever in the sixteenth or seventeenth year of his age, he endured it with such patience and fortitude, that he even sought in silence to conceal, so far as he could, what he really suffered; so that his stepmother’s sister perceived it, and took pains to provide everything he wanted without his asking anything of her or of others. Nor did he display less firmness in a fire which happened in the house, and destroyed a great deal of property; for so remarkable was the calmness with which he took the matter, that many persons on that occasion predicted that he would be no ordinary man. Furthermore, from the same spiritual exercises, he added to the love of virtue an actual aversion to those things which the world most esteems. On one occasion a paper was given him, containing a pedigree of his family; but instead of reading it, he tore it in pieces, saying that he did not care to be put down in that, but in the Book of Eternal Life with the Just.
Philip had an uncle, on the father’s side, named Romolo, an industrious man, who went from Florence into the kingdom of Naples, and for many years was in business at San Germano, a town at the foot of Monte Cassino, until at length he had amassed a fortune of more than 22000 crowns, which in those times was a very considerable sum. Now when Philip was about eighteen years old, and instructed in human literature beyond the average, he was sent by his father to this uncle with the intent that, after an apprenticeship, he should be his heir, Romolo having no one nearer of kin to whom he might leave his property. By order, therefore, of his father, he went to San Germano, where his uncle received him with much affection. Here he behaved himself in such a manner that Romolo discovered his good qualities, and in no long time determined to declare him heir of all that he had. But God, who had destined him to greater things, thwarted this design: for when Philip had lived there for some time, he felt himself inwardly spurred to embrace a more perfect state; and considering how riches, and specially trading, stood in the way of perfection, he began to think within himself of altering his manner of life; and this thought was quickened not a little by a devotion which he adopted in those parts.
Near to the gate of Gaeta, not far from San Germano, there is a celebrated mountain which, according to a very ancient and common tradition, is one of those which opened at our Saviour’s death. It belongs to the Benedictine fathers of Monte Cassino, who have a church there dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. This mountain is split from top to bottom by three huge fissures; and in the middle one, which is the steepest, there is a little chapel on a rock, under the care of the monks, and on it there is a crucifix painted, which the sailors salute with their guns, as they pass under. Here Philip was in the habit of retiring for prayer and meditation on the Lord’s Passion. It was during these retirements that his disdain of earthly things grew on him by little and little, and he deliberated on the best means of putting in execution the design which he had conceived ever since his coming to San Germano, of leaving trade, and giving himself up to God, and embracing a state of life in which he could serve him with less hindrance. When his uncle became aware of this, he endeavoured by every possible means to dissuade him from his purpose, proposing, what he had already designed, to make him heir of all his fortune. He bade him also think of his family, of which he was the last representative, and above all not to adopt lightly a resolution of such importance, adding that he had not expected Philip would behave in a manner hardly reconcilable with proper gratitude to him for his many acts of kindness. Philip, at once putting away from himself all hope of earthly riches, answered with the modest brevity befitting such resolutions, that he never should forget his uncle’s kindness, but as to the rest, he was more touched with his affection than inclined to follow his advice.
Philip kept firmly to his intention, though many suggestions were made to divert him from it. He had now resided two years in those parts, and in 1533, after mature deliberation, he departed for Rome without even letting his father know; though in all other matters he had never so much as deliberated about anything without his knowledge. The reason of his present conduct was, that he might not be hindered in his good design of serving God, detached from worldly things, and especially from riches. He carried nothing with him, that he might the more freely traffic for the merchandize of Heaven, to which he felt the Lord continually calling him. No sooner had he arrived at Rome, than an occasion offered itself of serving God as he desired; for the first place to which he bent his steps was the house of a Florentine gentleman, named Galeotto Caccia. Caccia seeing his modesty, and withal considering his neediness, gave him a little closet to live in, and an allowance of corn, which Philip gave to the baker, and went daily to get bread from him, as he wanted it. The saintly youth returned that gentleman’s kindness, and did not disdain to undertake the care of his two little children, teaching them their letters, and also virtuous ways, specially purity and modesty, so that they became as it were two angels.
While he remained there, which was for many years, he led a life of great hardness and rigour, courting solitude as much as might be; so that some have said that his was rather the life of a hermit than anything else. In food he was so abstinent that he seemed to take no thought either of eating or drinking. At first the people of the house were wont to reserve for him some part of the meat; but he, not wishing for anything, took a roll, and retired below into the court-yard near the well, and there he ate his bread, and thou drank some water, adding at times some few herbs or olives; and in general he only ate once a day; nay, he sometimes continued three entire days without taking food of any sort, or drinking; whence he himself, when a priest, used to take opportunities to relate to his spiritual children, by way of stimulating them to mortification of the flesh, how that in his youth he was contented with ten sixpences a month.
As to his room, to say nothing of its extreme smallness, he kept it so poorly, that there was nothing in it but a little bed, and some books; and his clothes, linen or woollen, were hung on a rope which went across the room. It was no rare thing for him to make the floor his bed; and the time which was not spent in sleep was given mostly to prayer, in which he had such a facility that he had no need to allure himself thereto by meditation. Indeed, he sometimes spent entire days and nights in it. A way of life so singular as this began by degrees to be spoken of, so that the rumour of it was not only spread over all Rome, but travelled as far as Florence. One of his relations, hearing some one speak of his holy life, and the wonders that he wrought, and having known him intimately from a child, said, “I do not wonder at this, for I remember very well what sort of a person Philip was while he was yet a boy at Florence: when therefore you return to Rome, bid him pray to God for me.”
While the youthful Philip was leading this austere life, in order the better to understand heavenly things, and the more perfectly to taste them, he determined to add the study of philosophy and theology to what he had previously learned. First, therefore, he betook himself to philosophy, in which he profited so much that, according to the testimony of Alessandro Buzio, an eminent philosopher, he was reckoned at the the one of the most distinguished scholars in that study in all Rome. His masters in philosophy were Cesare Jacomelli, who was afterwards bishop of Bencastro in Calabria, and Alphonso Ferro, both of them among the first lecturers of Rome in their day. He studied theology in the schools of the Augustinian monks, and laid a sufficient foundation therein to serve his purpose for the rest of his life. In his old ago he used to answer deep questions about the Trinity, the angels, the Incarnation, and other matters, as well theological as philosophical and literary, with a memory as fresh as if he had but just studied them. Some persons were quite astonished to hear him discourse on the variety of opinions on those subjects which were then the popular studies of Rome; for he spoke with a depth and subtilty which made it a pleasure to talk with him, or hold disputes about divinity and science. Even in later life, what little time remained to him from prayer and his incessant study of the lives of the Saints, he spent in reading theology. Indeed, a frank and ready way which he had of entering briskly into conversation on these topics was one of the means by which he made himself dear to his spiritual children, and encouraged them in their studies. Hence it was that so many young men willingly frequented his rooms, inasmuch as his conversation was at once a present exercise and food for future thought, and the Abbè Maffa said of him, that he was magnus aestimator ingeniorum.
At other times, though not often, he discoursed, if the occasion seemed to call for it, with the first theologians of the age, and in particular with F. Ambrogio of Bagnuolo, who was by Pius V., of holy and glorious memory, made bishop of Nardo, and also with F. Bernardini of Lucca, a most learned and discreet man, and with others with whom he was on terms of familiarity. But with strangers he did not open out, and would have passed rather for an illiterate man, especially from his style of conversation, which was concise, and interrupted by pauses, using but few words to express his meaning. Yet when he chose, he could make long discourses, showing a sequency of thought not a little surprising. Thus a prelate of some rank, having one day had a long conversation with him, said when he went away, “I thought that father was a simple and illiterate man, but I have found him apt both in spiritual science and in doctrine.” The like happened to Alexander Sauli, bishop of Pavia, a very holy and deeply-read man. He entered into conversation with Philip, and falling upon some theological questions, he was astonished at the learned answers which the Saint made, having hitherto esteemed him certainly as a saint, but not much of a scholar. On one occasion some students brought him certain hard questions, which they had studied on purpose for four or six days, and could not make up their own minds about. The Saint, taken unawares, nevertheless answered them in few words, and convinced them, just as if he had but recently quitted the study of those very matters. He could not however endure to prolong conversation with mere disputation; so that once in conversation Mgr. Sauli, when they began a theological argument, in the very heat of it the Saint politely withdrew from the discussion, saying that he referred the matter to those present who had studied theology.
How ready and well-grounded he was in scholastic and doctrinal matters will appear from this: when the discourses first began in San Girolamo della Carita and in San Giovanni de’ Fiorentini (which we shall refer to afterwards) there were so few persons, that laymen were admitted to discourse, if spiritual men and eloquent. If by chance Philip heard any proposition stated, or any fact narrated, without fitting clearness and precision, he would immediately mount the pulpit himself, and expound it so judiciously as to show his own learning in the matter, even in spite of himself. It was in consequence of this that many held his knowledge to be rather infused than acquired. In truth, he confessed that he had studied but little, and that he had given himself up too much to prayer and spiritual exercises to become a scholar.
In theology he invariably followed the teaching of S. Thomas, to whom he had
a special love and devotion, having the Summa almost always in his hand. He was
constant also in reading and meditating upon the Holy Scriptures, and acquired a
great readiness in applying them upon occasions with unspeakable edification to
others: and in all disputes he joined so much modesty to his acuteness, that he
quite won the listeners over to him. When young he took pleasure in poetry, both
Latin and Italian, and in the latter he acquired such facility that he could
off hand; though out of humility he caused all his writings to be burned before he died. We have however remaining by chance a sonnet of his, composed in youth, and written with his own hand.
While, however, Philip attended to his studies he did not neglect the things of the spirit. He spent whole nights in protracted prayer, rising in his mind to the glorious altitude of things divine. He continually visited the hospitals, and often, after the schools were closed, he went to the portico of S. Peter’s or of S. John Lateran, to instruct the poor in the holy faith. Nay, his fervour was so far from diminishing, that it seemed rather to increase. One day, being in the school of the Augustinian fathers, while he studied theology, he was unable to attend to the lecture because of a Crucifix which was there and to which he had a special devotion; for every time he looked at it he felt moved to weep and sigh. As in Florence he had been called good Pippo, so in Rome he was called good Philip, a name by which Antonio Altoviti, archbishop of Florence, used to call him, and Cesare Jacomelli, his master in theology, and many others.
He had now made sufficient advancement in learning, not for his own use only, but also for the edification of others; and he began to consider the apostle’s words, Non plus sapere, quam oportet sapere, sed sapere ad sobrietatem. (Rom. xii. 3.) Now, therefore, he laid his studies aside, and applied himself wholly to that science which is found in the Crucifix. He gave himself up more than ever to prayer, knowing full well that that was the means of arriving at the perfection which he desired; whereas study is a great hindrance of perfection, prayer and study with equal jealousy demanding the whole man. First of all, then, he sold what books he had on human sciences, and gave the price away for the love of God. After this he gave himself up to prayer in such a way, that from that time forward he had nothing more at heart than continuance in that exercise; and, indeed, he sometimes continued in it forty hours at a time. While he prayed he felt the incentives of divine love multiply with such power within him, and kindle such a flame in his breast, that very often the holy youth was constrained to weep and sigh. Sometimes to moderate the fire he was obliged to throw himself on the ground, and to take other seasonable remedies to raise his spirits, which were left dejected through the impetuosity of the flame.
Besides prayer, he studied how to macerate his flesh with every sort of mortification. He slept very little, and mostly upon the bare earth, and disciplined himself nearly every day with some little chains of iron. He loved poverty as his dearest companion, avoided conversation, and all recreations, even blameless ones; and, in a word, he studied how to decline everything which could bring comfort or pleasure to his body. His life now became more retired than ever; indeed he almost separated himself, like a hermit, from commerce with men. Above all things he practised silence, which he prized all his life long more than any other discipline, and kept to it so far as his institute allowed; and thus he attained to the contemplation of divine things. In order to acquire a greater self-recollection he adopted the devotion of going every night to the Seven Churches, and particularly to the cemetery of San Calisto, generally called the catacombs of S. Sebastian, and there he prayed for a long while together. He used to carry with him, either under his arm or in his hood, a single roll, on which he lived all day; neither did he forget to take a book as well. It was in consequence of these practices that a Dominican friar, named F. Francesco Cardone da Camerino, master of the novices in the convent of the Minerva, used to propose him to the novices as an exemplar of penance, and often said to them, “Philip Neri is a great Saint, and, among other wonderful things, he has dwelt for ten years in the caves of S. Sebastian by way of penance, and has lived on bread and the roots of herbs.” For although his regular habitation was in the house of Galeotto Caccia, he mostly spent the night in the above-named places.
Whenever he found the churches shut, he used to remain under the porticoes, where he was often seen reading by the light of the moon, particularly at S. Mary Major’s and S. Peter’s; for he lived in such poverty, that he could not provide himself even with a piece of candle for a light. Besides the abovementioned visits he went for some time to the Four Churches; for once, when speaking disparagingly of himself, he mentioned that he had gone for many years to the four basilicas, S. Peter’s, S. John Lateran, Holy Cross, and S. Mary Major, where he often occupied himself in instructing the poor who stay about the doors of those churches.
In these places Philip was often surprised by such an abundance of spiritual consolations, that, unable any longer to endure so great a fire of love, he was forced to cry out, “No more, Lord, no more;” and throwing himself on the ground, he used to roll upon it, as though he had not strength to endure the vehement affection which he felt in his heart; so that, when he himself was so full of God, we need not wonder at his often saying, that to one who truly loved God nothing was so really burdensome as life; for these words were often on his lips, “The true servants of God take life patiently, and death eagerly.”
Notwithstanding however the great sensible consolations, with which the Lord favoured his servant, while he went about alone visiting these places by day and by night, yet very grievous also were the temptations by means of which the devil sought to divert him from his holy purpose. One day as he was passing by the Coliseum, on his road to S. John Lateran, the devil, who never sleeps, presented himself to him under the appearance of a naked person, and excited most shocking thoughts in his imagination; but Philip, perceiving the device of the enemy, betook himself to his usual remedy of prayer, and remained conqueror in the fight. At other times, and especially in the dark, the evil spirit tried to terrify him. One night the Saint was near S. Sebastian’s, at the place called Capo di Bove; he was alone, walking and praying as he walked, which was his usual custom: before him he saw three demons of horrible shapes endeavouring to frighten him and hinder his devotions; but he made game of them, and pursuing his way without further notice of them, they disappeared. Philip had other combats and temptations, while he was leading this solitary life, but, like a good soldier of Christ, he came victorious out of all of them.
This mode of life Philip adhered to for a long time; and when he was twenty-nine years old God gave him, among other graces, a miraculous palpitation of the heart, and a no less wonderful fracture of his ribs, which happened as follows: One day a little before the feast of Whitsuntide, he was making his accustomed prayer to the holy Ghost, for whom he had such a devotion, that he daily poured out before him most fervent prayers, imploring His gifts and graces. When he was made priest, he always said at mass, unless the rubric forbid it, the prayer Deus cui omne cor patet. Now, while he was importunately demanding of the Holy Ghost His gifts, there appeared to the saint a ball of fire, which entered into his mouth and lodged in his breast; and therewith he was, all suddenly, surprised by such a flame of love, that he was unable to bear it, and threw himself on the ground, and, like one trying to cool himself, he bared his breast, to abate in some measure the flame which he felt. When he had remained so for some time, and was a little recovered, he rose up full of an unwonted joy, and immediately all his body began to shake with a vehement tremour; and putting his hand to his bosom, he felt by the side of his heart a tumour about as big as a man’s fist, but neither then nor over afterwards was it attended with the slightest pain.
Whence this swelling proceeded, and what it was, was manifested after his death; for when his body was opened, the two upper ribs were found broken, and thrust outward, and the two sides standing wide apart, never having reunited in all the fifty years which Philip lived after this miraculous event. It was at the same moment that the palpitation of his heart commenced, which lasted all his life, though he was of a good constitution, a very lively temperament, and without the least tendency to melancholy. This palpitation only came on when he was performing some spiritual action, such as praying, saying mass, communicating, giving absolution, talking on heavenly things, and the like. The trembling which it caused was so vehement, that it seemed as if his heart would break out from his breast, and his chair, his bed, and sometimes the whole room, were shaken. On one occasion in particular he was in St. Peter’s, kneeling on a large table, and he caused it to shake as if it had been of no weight at all; and sometimes when he was lying upon the bed with his clothes on, his body was lifted up into the air, through the vehemence of the palpitation. Whenever he pressed any of his spiritual children to his breast, they found the motion of his heart so great, that their heads bounded off from him, as if they had received a smart shock from something, while at other times the motion seemed like that of a hammer. Yet notwithstanding the shock, they always found, in being pressed to him, a wonderful consolation and spiritual contentment, and many found themselves in the very act delivered from temptations.
But while upon this matter, I must not omit to relate what is affirmed by
Tiberio Ricciardelli, canon of St. Peter’s, who served the Saint out of
devotion for four successive years. “While I was serving the father,” he
says, “there came upon me a temptation to impurity, and after I had conversed
with him on the subject, he said to me, ‘Tiberio, come here, close to my
breast;’ and taking hold of me, he pressed me to his bosom, and I was not
only freed at once from the present temptation, but it never returned afterwards; and besides this I felt such an increase of spiritual strength, that it
seemed as if I could do nothing but pray.” Marcello Vitelleschi, canon of
S. Mary Major, and also one of Philip’s
spiritual children, declared that he had repeatedly been freed from temptations, especially of the flesh, by the Saint’s pressing him to his bosom and very often, when Philip knew that he was suffering from such temptations, he used to take hold of his head and press it to him, without uttering a word and in no case was this done without immediate release from the temptation.
In his side Philip felt so great a heat, that it sometimes extended over his whole body, and for all his age, thinness, and spare diet, in the coldest nights of winter it was necessary to open the windows, to cool the bed, to fan him while in bed, and in various ways to moderate the great heat. He felt it so much in his throat, that in all his medicines something cooling was mixed to relieve him. Cardinal Crescenzio, one of his spiritual children, said that sometimes when he touched his hand, it burned as if the Saint was suffering from a raging fever; the same was also perceived by abbot Giacomo, the Cardinal’s brother, himself tenderly beloved by Philip. In winter he almost always had his clothes on and his girdle loose, and sometimes when they told hum to fasten it lest he should do himself some injury, he used to say he really could not because of the excessive heat which he felt. One day at Rome, when a great quantity of snow had fallen, he was walking in the streets with his cassock unbuttoned and when some of his penitents who were with him were hardly able to endure the cold, he said laughingly that it was a shame for young men to feel cold when old men did not. This heat, however, the Saint felt more particularly during prayer or other spiritual exercises, and application to divine things. In the time of Gregory XIII. when the order was given that all confessors should wear surplices in the confessional, the Saint went one day to the Pope with his waistcoat and cassock unbuttoned: his holiness marvelling very much, asked him the reason of it: “Why,” said Philip, “I really cannot bear to keep my waistcoat buttoned, and yet your holiness will have it that I shall wear a surplice besides.” “No, no,” replied the pope, ‘‘the order was not made for you; do as you please.”
This palpitation of the heart often affected his body in very different ways,
and his various physicians used to administer remedies which he knew would not
be of the slightest service. But he used to make game of them very playfully,
and say, “I pray God that these men may be able to understand my infirmity,”
not choosing openly to discover that his infirmity was not natural, but caused
by the love of God. Hence it was that in the fervours of the palpitation
he was wont to say, “I am wounded with love;” at other times,
considering himself as it were imprisoned in this love, he broke
out into those verses:
Vorrei saper da voi com’ ella è fatta
Questa rete d’ amor, che tanti ha preso.
“I would know from you how that net of love is made which has taken so many.” At other times when he could not stand upon his feet, he was obliged to throw himself upon his bed, and languish there, so that his own people were accustomed to say, that those words of the Spouse were verified in him: Fulcite me floribus, stipate me malis, quia amore langueo. When he was surprised by these affections, he used to quote the case of a Franciscan of Ara Celi, named Brother Antony, a man of most holy life, who though he did not macerate his body by any great austerities, was always crying out, Amore laugueo, amore langueo; and languishing in this way, through love of God, he wasted slowly away till he died. But on the other hand the Saint, to hide the real cause, pretended that all this was bodily infirmity, or a custom which he had had from his youth. He almost always kept his handkerchief in his breast on the side of his heart, in order that no one might perceive the tumour. He did not, however, deny, when speaking once to Francesco Zazzera, that for the most part his infirmities proceeded from this palpitation of his heart.
The whole appears still more wonderful from the fact, that the motion of the palpitation was in his case perfectly voluntary. He mentioned this to Cardinal Frederick Borromeo, his most intimate and devoted friend, telling him that it was in his power to stop the motion by a simple act of the will. But in prayer he did not apply himself to do this, because of the distraction; and that the palpitation was so far from being painful, that it created a feeling of lightness and joyousness. This, however, did not always happen, nor did it exactly observe any general rules. Many physicians, who attended him in his illnesses, considered this palpitation as miraculous and supernatural. This was the opinion of Alfonso Capanio, Domenico Saraceni, and others. Neither was this opinion without reason; for, first of all, the Saint had no sensation of pain with the palpitation, but rather the contrary; and besides that, he only experienced it when he raised his mind to God, for it was greatest when he was in contemplation, and grew less in proportion as he drew his thoughts from prayer. In proof of this Andrea Cesalpino, Antonio Porto, Ridolfo Silvestri, Bernardino Castellani, and Angelo da Bagnarea, have written particular treatises upon it; and all agree that God had wrought in him that fracture of the ribs, so that the heart might not be injured in these violent beatings, and the neighbouring parts be the more easily dilated, and the heart kept sufficiently cool.
When Philip had received this great and remarkable gift from God, he frequented the Seven Churches with still more ardour. There he was often, surprised in his devotion with such affections, that he was unable to support himself. One day in particular, when he could not stand on his feet, he threw himself on the ground, and feeling himself actually dying through the liveliness and impetuosity of spirit, he cried out vehemently, “I cannot bear so much, my God, I cannot bear so much, Lord! for see, I am dying of it.” From that hour God gradually mitigated that intense sensible devotion, in order that his body might not become too much weakened by it. It was on this account, that in his latter years he used to say, “I was more spiritual when I was young, than I am now.” But although Philip received from the Lord such an affluence of heavenly sweetnesses, he nevertheless always admonished spiritual persons, that they should be as ready to suffer dryness in devotion as long as God pleased to leave them in it, and without complaint, as they were disposed to enjoy the relish of divine things.
Philip, having thus lived a retired life for some time, felt himself called by God to the conversion of souls. Ito mortified, therefore, his love of solitude, and gave himself up with great fervour to the assistance of his neighbour. To this end he began about the the year 1538 to go about the squares, shops, schools, and some times even the banks, talking with all sorts of persons in a most engaging way about spiritual things. Amongst others, he exhorted the young men in the warehouses to serve God, saying, “Eh, my brothers, when shall we begin to do good?” and thus with his natural sweetness, and wonderfully attractive manner, he gradually gained such influence over them, as to win them to the service of God.
Among many whom he brought to the service of God, one was Enrigo Pietra, a Piacentine, who was employed at the warehouse of the Bettini, and who left business, became a priest, and after an edifying life died most holily at St. Girolamo della Carità. He it was who extended so much the Company of Christian Doctrine, in which undertaking he was greatly assisted by Philip’s advice. Another of his converts was Teseo Raspa, who also abandoned worldly business, and lived and died, giving great edification, at San Girolamo. Giovanni Manzoli was another, from the warehouse of the Bonsignori: he remained a layman, living a most exemplary life, together with many others whom we shall have incidentally to mention in the following chapters.
But Philip’s earnest longing after the salvation of others, did not stop here. By a particular inspiration of God, he began to converse with men of the very worst lives; indeed, he went out every day in search of sinners, and with his usual charity and dexterity he converted many to the Lord in a short time. But he avoided, especially at that time of his life, any attempt to convert vicious women; though afterwards God made him the means of bringing many such to penance, and even to the monastic state.
Among the conversions which he made, one of the most remarkable was that of Prospero Crivella, a Milanese, and cashier of one of the principal banks of Rome. His soul was in such evil plight, as well because of illicit gains as of carnal sins, that his confessor, F. Giovanni Polanco, a Jesuit, refused him absolution. Horrified and disconsolate he went to Philip, and telling him all that had happened, recommended himself most earnestly to his prayers, and begged of him, with much importunity, to obtain from God for him the grace to obey his confessor implicitly in everything, so that he might be able to receive absolution. Philip, with his usual benignity and sweetness, first set about consoling him. After much conversation on spiritual matters, he saw that the cashier was moved to compunction, but had not the heart to abandon entirely his sinful habits. Upon this he dismissed him, saying, “Go, and I will pray for you, and I will pray so that without any further difficulty you shall separate yourself from this occasion of sin.” And so it proved; for soon afterwards Prospero left off his evil practice, confessed to F. Pelanco, and received absolution; and then putting himself entirely under the care of Philip, he became a spiritual man, and gave the most excellent example to those whom he had scandalized by his former immoral life.
Upon another occasion some wicked persons determined to seduce Philip, if possible, from his virtuous life, and make him fall into sin. When he discovered their evil design, he began with such sweetness arid effect to speak to them of the beauty of virtue and the hideousness of vice, that they who had come to subvert him remained in a wonderful manner a happy conquest to his words. Even before he was a priest and confessor, he had sent many converts into different religious orders. It was on this account that St. Ignatius, the founder of the Company of Jesus, who was at that time at Rome, used to call him “The Bell;” meaning that as the bell calls people into church, but stays itself in the belfry, so Philip sent others into religion, but stayed in the world himself. St. Ignatius tried several times to draw him into his company; but God had destined him to work in his vineyard with different means, and, therefore, he remained in the world. It was said, however, that he was the first who persuaded Italians to enter into the Company of Jesus.
It was commonly observed that those who did not profit by Philip’s admonitions and reproofs came to an unfortunate end. Among others there was a certain philosopher, who lived a bad life, and being reproved by the Saint for some grave offence, took it ill; but had hardly gone out from the Saint’s presence when he was assassinated. Another, who after Philip’s many prayers remained obstinate, about a week afterwards was arrested and condemned to death; though his punishment was afterwards, through favour, commuted to the galleys.
To this zeal which Philip had for the conversion of souls, he always joined the exercise of corporal works of mercy. He visited the sick in the hospitals more than ever; he served them in all their necessities, made their beds, swept the floor round them, gave them their meals, and procured them different kinds of food to refresh and cheer them. Above all he exhorted them to patience; and when they were dying he made the commendation of their souls, continuing in attendance upon them entire days and nights; indeed he generally remained until they died, or some favourable crisis occurred in their disease.
This holy and laudable exercise was not very common in those times; and it not only excited admiration in the spectators, but provoked many to imitate him. For not clerks only, but laymen and nobles, began to frequent the hospitals, and to serve the sick in all their necessities. Some time after the excellent and holy order of the ministers of the sick was founded by S. Camillus of Lellis, a man of holy life, and one of the Saint’s spiritual children. Philip desiring one day to animate some of the fathers of that order to persevere in their holy labours, said that he had himself on one occasion seen angels suggesting words to two of them who were commending the soul of a dying person, which circumstance is noted in the book of their chronicles and Marcello de Mansis, a priest of that order, has made use of it in his book on assisting the dying, as a motive to incite the faithful to so pious a work.
Philip’s exertions for the benefit of his neighbour did not end hero. On the 16th of August, 1548, Philip, together with F. Persiano Rosa, his confessor, a holy priest of S. Girolamo della Carità, began the Confraternity of the Santissima Trinita de’ Pellegrini e de’ Convalescenti in the church of S. Salvatore in Campo. In this place Philip had united together about fifteen companions, simple persons and poor, but full of spirit and devotion. Besides frequenting the sacraments, they had sundry spiritual exercises, and in particular familiar conversations one with another about the things of God, inflaming one another by words and by example with the desire of Christian perfection. Every first Sunday in the month, and during Holy Week in every year, they exposed the Blessed Sacrament for the thirty hours’ prayer, when Philip (sometimes at every hour, whether of the day or night) delivered discourses so full of spirit, that besides exciting men’s minds to works of mercy, they often recalled numbers of sinners to a good life. There was no heart so hard that it was not softened by his discourses. On one occasion he converted thirty dissolute youths by a single sermon; and many of his auditors said that to hear him was enough to convince any one of his sanctity, and his earnest desire to gain souls to Christ. Some went to hear him for the very purpose of making game of him, especially as it was not common in those times to hear a layman preaching, unless he was a monk; but they even were caught by his words, and happily convinced against their own wills.
Philip generally remained as long as the prayer lasted, watching through the whole night, and calling these whose turn it was to assist, one by one; and when the hour was finished, he signified to those who were there that it was time to give place to others. For this purpose he kept a little bell near him, with which he gave the signal, saying, “Now, my brothers, away the hour is finished; but the time to do good is not finished yet.”
The object of this confraternity was then, as now, to receive for a few days the poor pilgrims who come continually, indeed daily, to Rome, to visit the holy places. The institution of it took place in 1550, on occasion of the jubilee of Julius III. In the years of the jubilees an immense number of pilgrims are accustomed to throng to Rome; and as there was no particular place destined to receive them, Philip, together with his other companions, were moved with charity, and hired a small house, to which they conducted the poor among the pilgrims, and provided them with all they stood in need of. But as the number augmented, and the charitable work went on, they were obliged to hire another house more spacious, where they could lodge all who came to them with greater convenience.
It was a most exemplary thing to see the great affection with which Philip and his companions served this great multitude, providing them with food, making their beds, washing their feet, consoling them with kind words, and showing to all the most perfect charity. In consequence of this the Confraternity got a great name that year, and the good odour of it was spread through all Christendom. Many were importunate to be admitted into the company, and a house was now taken and set apart on purpose for a hospital for poor pilgrims. All the first brethren of the company revered Philip as their father; they were men, poor as this world counts poverty, but rich in virtues. The cook even, who was the lowest amongst them, arrived at such perfection that he often went out at night, when it was clear, and fixing his eyes on the heavens was sweetly absorbed in the contemplation of divine things; and another of the same house was so illuminated, that he foresaw the day and hour of his death; and calling to him his sister Margaret he said, “On Friday at such an hour I shall die,” which proved true in the event.
The brothers were, however, not content with this work of charity. They knew the extreme necessity of the poor convalescents when they first came out of the hospitals, and that from the weakness of their recent infirmity, they very often had relapses more dangerous than the original sickness. On this account, they arranged that the same house, which served for the reception of the poor pilgrims, should be used also for the assistance of the convalescents, who should be supported there and kept under rule for a few days. But the confraternity increased so much in both the departments of its charity, that it was ultimately transferred from S. Salvatore in Campo, to the church of St Benedict in the Rione della Regola, where the Santissima Trinita de’ Pellegrini is at present. We may judge from the number of the pilgrims received there, to what an extent this pious work of mercy has gone. In the jubilee of 1575 under Gregory XIII., and in that of 1600 under Clement VIII. (in which last year the number of pilgrims lodged was 2,070,000), not only the lords and chief prelates of the court, and high-born ladies, the former to the men, and the latter to the females, but Pope Clement himself, showed such charity, and condescended to such humble offices as to wash their feet, say grace for them, serve them at table, and perform for them every menial service of charity to the marvel and edification of all Christendom. In 1625 Urban VIII. set the same example; and in 1650 the same work of charity was performed at that place; in 1675 by Innocent X., in 1700 by Clement X., in 1725 by Clement XI., in 1750 by Benedict XIII. The same edification was given by Benedict XIV., and later on by Leo XII. We must not omit to relate, that this pious institute was the cause of the conversion of several Turks, Jews, infidels, and heretics; and among the rest the nephew of the impious heresiarch Calvin. They were received simply as necessitous pilgrims, and the examples which they saw all around them of humility and charity, moved them to such compunction that they abjured their errors.
God had destined Philip for the conversion of souls; but it was impossible that he should accomplish this effectually, so long as he remained a layman. The Almighty, therefore, put it into the heart of F. Persiano Rosa, Philip’s confessor, to persuade him to be ordained priest, and to undertake the burden of hearing confessions, that he might be the better able to win souls. When Philip first heard the proposal, he brought forward all manner of reasons to excuse himself from it, demonstrating to his confessor, as he thought, his inability and insufficiency, and especially urging the strong internal desire he had to serve God as a layman. But F. Persiano approved of his humility without admitting the validity of his excuses, and desired him to submit the matter entirely to his judgment; and Philip, who always thought every one’s judgment better than his own, resigned himself to obey blindly in everything.
In the year 1551, while the Council of Trout was yet unfinished, and Philip was thirty-six years old, he received on different days in the month of March the tonsure, the four minor orders, and the subdiaconate in the church of S. Tommaso in Parione. In the same year, on Holy Saturday, he was ordained deacon in the usual church of S. John Lateran. His ordination as priest took place on the 23rd of May in the same year, in the same church of S. Tommaso in Pariono, where he had received minor orders and the subdiaconate. He was ordained by Giovanni Lunelli, bishop of Sebaste, vicar general of Pope Julius III. and Philip Archuinto, bishop of Saluzzo.
When he was made priest he went to live at St. Girolamo della Carità, where there were some priests of holy lives, viz., Bonsignor Cacciaguerra, a man of repute, Persiano Rosa, whom we have already mentioned as Philip’s confessor, Francesco Marsuppini of Arezzo, a man of great purity and simplicity of life, who was Philip’s confessor after the death of Persiano, another Francesco no less virtuous, who was surnamed the Spaniard, and Pietro Spadari, also of Arezzo, who died in the odour of sanctity, and was the last of the priests of St. Girolamo who heard Philip’s confessions. For after the death of this saint, Philip confessed for a long time to F. John Baptist Perusco, of the Company of Jesus; and then, till the end of his life, to Cesare Baronius, who, as we shall see, commended his departing soul when it went to Paradise. These servants of God lived in that house with great charity, without any kind of particular customs, or any rule but that of the love and reverence which one bore to the other. They had no superior, but observed only the order of seniority; and so they lived a tranquil and almost a heavenly life, rivalling each other in the service of the Church, and in ministrations to their neighbours. They did not take their meals in common, but each one by himself in his chamber; uniting in prayer and the frequentation of the Sacraments. This institute is still observed in that house to the great edification of all Rome. Here then Philip, having in the same year undertaken the burden of hearing confessions, set himself more than ever to win souls and to convert sinners, with the greatest fruit both to himself and others.
In those times men lived very remissly in matters of devotion; most people thought it enough to confess once a year. Philip, regarding this as the cause of perdition to a great number of souls, put forward all his industry to induce people to frequent the Sacraments, and other spiritual exercises, but, above all, confession. He was one of the first aided by the holy men already mentioned, who revived in Rome the practice of frequent confession and communion. In order to obtain this object of his desire more easily, he abandoned every other care, and gave himself entirely to hearing confessions. He got a number of good penitents together; and seeing the fruit which he obtained by this means, he was not content to employ the day in the confessional, but gave up a considerable part of the night to it as well. Before sunrise in the morning he had generally confessed a good number of persons in his own chamber; for whose convenience he used to leave the key under the door of his apartments, that they might get in whenever they pleased. When he had retired to the solitude of his room, he still confessed every one who came; but this was not enough for his zeal and charity; if he was at prayer, he broke off instantly; if he was at meals, he rose from table the moment he heard that any one was seeking him in order to confess. When the church was opened at daybreak he went down there, and entered the confessional, and never left it except to say mass, which he usually did about midday, or for some other cogent reason, always leaving word whither he was gone. If it happened that no penitents came, he remained near the confessional, reading, or telling his beads, or saying office; and sometimes he walked up and down outside the door of the church, expecting people, and that he might be the more readily seen; so that any one could find him with the utmost ease at almost any hour.
In a word, he had such a spiritual relish in hearing confessions, that he said himself, “To do nothing, beyond merely sitting alone in the confessional is an immense pleasure to me;” and this, as well as other sensible heavenly consolations, was bestowed upon him, as he himself declared, in order that he might be able to endure the fatigues caused by the confessional. On this account he never intermitted the hearing of confessions for any infirmity which befell him, unless his physicians positively forbade it; and if any one through pity said to him, “Father, why do you fatigue yourself so?” he answered, “It is not fatigue, but rather support and recreation.” This he did to keep his penitents in fervour, and not to allow them to cool down, and fall back from what they would find it difficult to reach a second time.
He was not content with having thus acquired several penitents; but desiring to preserve them, he, like a good father, invented sundry exercises, by which they should not only maintain, but keep continually increasing their fervour, and advancing in spiritual things. For this end, and considering the hours after dinner as the most dissipated and dangerous part of the day, he arranged that they should come to him in his room at that time; and there, either sitting on his bed, or leaning on a chair or something else, he gathered them around him, and had a sort of conference with them. Sometimes he proposed a moral question, as of the beauty of virtue and the deformity of vice; at other times some consideration on the lives of the saints. Towards the conclusion he took up the discourse himself in a free and familiar way, managing at once to instruct them and to move them with holy affections; and this he did with so much fervour that the usual palpitation of his heart came on, and made, not only the bed, but sometimes the whole room shake, and his whole body was occasionally lifted up into the air.
In these conversations he made great use of the works of John Cassian, as being full of moral and useful instruction: and when a sufficient time had been spent in this agreeable and profitable manner, the whole company went out for a walk, or to some church, and specially to the Minerva, where they stayed in choir for compline, and in summer for matins, which are then said in the evening. This they did more particularly during the octave of Corpus Christi; indeed they not unfrequently went to the same church at night for matins, and assisted at them with much fervour and spiritual sweetness. Many of the higher orders joined in this practice, and this lasted until the exercise of the oratory began to take a regular form, first at S. Girolamo, then in S. Giovanni de’ Fiorentini, and lastly in the Vallicella. There were at first about seven or eight persons who frequented these exercises; among whom were Simone Grazini, a Florentine, Monte Zazzara, of the same place, Michele da Prato, two young goldsmiths, and one of the house of Massimi. But the number increased so much afterwards, that the room would not hold them, and the Saint took some others close by, and made, at his own expense, a place which would conveniently contain them all.
Philip drew into this work many of the principal men of the court, whose virtues were the subject of admiration. Among those was Giovanni Battista Salviati, brother of Cardinal Antonio Maria Salviati, a person of great distinction, as well from the nobility of his own family, as from his near relationship to Catherine of Medici, Queen of France; but much more to be esteemed for the goodness of his life, and the edifying examples of humility which he gave. He was assiduous in prayer, and in works of mercy, and in the continual practice of meditation, in which the Saint exercised him daily, he was constant in attending the hospitals, where he performed every sort of office for the sick, however vile and degrading. One day he went to the hospital della Consolazione, and found there a sick man who had formerly been his servant. He desired, according to his custom, to make his bed for him, and asked him to get up that he might be able to do so; the sick man asked him, why? “Why!” replied Giovanni Battista, “because I wish to make your bed for you.” The servant knew nothing of his master’s change of life, and thinking he was making game of him, said, “O Signor Giovanni Battista, this is not a time to make game of poor servants; I pray you let me alone.” Giovanni Battista answered, “I say I wish anyhow to make your bed, and what I am doing is in earnest, and not a mockery.” The servant, however, persisted in thinking that he was being made game of; and partly also moved by the respect he felt for his old master, obstinately refused to let him make his bed. The contest between them lasted for a long time, but at length the charity and humility of the master got the better of the pertinacious obstinacy of the servant.
This gentleman came at last to such a degree of mortification that, whereas before he dressed very showily, and was attended by a great number of servants, he would not, after he had become acquainted with the Saint, and had some experience of a spiritual life, dress even becomingly, or have any servants to follow him. But Philip bade him, out of proper respect, dress as his equals did, and be attended as man of his rank usually were. God rewarded these and his other virtues in the peace and happiness of his death; for when he had with exceeding devotion received the last Sacraments, and it was told him that the hour of his passage was come, he was all cheerfulness, and lifting up his hands to heaven, he sang out, “Laetatus sum in his, quae dicta sunt mihi, in domum Domini ibimus,” and shortly after breathed his last in Philip’s arms.
The Saint had a long while before drawn Giovanni Battista’s wife, Porzia de’ Massimi, to a spiritual life, and assisted her to advance far on the road to perfection; and it was with her assistance that he at last made the conquest of her husband. After his death she entered the monastery of Santa Lucia at Florence, that she might be the better able to servo God; but finding the air unhealthy, she returned to Rome, and shut herself up in the monastery of S. Catherine of Siena, near Monte Magnanapoli, where she died holily, according to the tenour of the life she had lived.
Together with Giovanni Battista Salviati was Francesco Maria Tarugi, of Montepulciano, a relation of popes Julius III. and Marcellus II., a man of lively genius, and in high favour with great people because of his engaging manners, which made him pass for one of the first among the courtiers. He went one day to S. Girolamo della Carità to confess, on the occasion of a jubilee published by Paul IV. When he had finished his confession, Philip took him into his room, and talked with him upon various topics. After this he made him make an hour of prayer with him, during which Tarugi, although he had never practised mental prayer before, felt such spiritual sweetness, that the hour passed away without his knowing how, so excessive was the interior delight which he experienced. This caused him to return there again; and as he often saw the Saint raised three or four feet from the ground at prayer, he formed a great opinion of him, and was inflamed with a great desire to change his life. There were, however, some impediments at the time, which seemed to make it necessary for him to defer his conversion, and he made a minute statement of them to Philip. The Saint answered, “Do not doubt; the hindrances will cease before a month is over;” and so it proved. Tarugi, therefore, returned to him afterwards, and made a general confession, during which Philip discovered to him his sins and secret thoughts. On this account he conceived such an affection for the Saint, that he cared no longer for the court or the world, and gave himself up so completely into Philip’s hands, and with such ready obedience, that the Saint did what he pleased with him, and afterwards made great use of him in winning souls.
So great was the fervour of Tarugi, that he soon had more need of the bit than of the spur. He had such resignation to the will of God, that for the fifty years or more that he survived, he never, in good or evil, lost that interior peace which he acquired in the beginning of his conversion. This he himself declared. He was most obedient to the Saint in all things, and such was the respect he had for him, and the opinion which he had conceived of his sanctity, that after he was made cardinal, he boasted of having been Philip’s novice for fifty years, implying that from his twenty-ninth year, when he gave himself into the Saint’s hands, till the end of his life (for he reached the age of eighty three), he had no other conceit of himself than that he was Philip’s novice. He had an eminent gift of prayer and of tears; and his success as a preacher was such, that he was the admiration of the most eloquent men of his day; so that Baronius in his Annals calls him dux verbi. Clement VIII. made him bishop of Avignon, and afterwards cardinal of the holy church. In his extreme old age he begged of the fathers to let him return to die in the congregation; and a few mouths afterwards he surrendered his holy soul to God in the year 1608, aged eighty-three years and eight months, and was buried in our church of Santa Maria, in Vallicella.
Costanzo Tassono was another of the Saint’s first spiritual children. He was nephew of Pietro Bertani, Cardinal di Fano, and Majordomo of Cardinal Santa Flora. he was so given up to the court, that it seemed quite impossible for him to break away from its allurements and pursuits. Nevertheless, he applied himself to works of piety; and there was no exercise, however vile or difficult, in which he did not willingly engage. He confessed and communicated several times in the week, and often daily. He went continually to the hospitals to serve the sick, and went through every kind of mortification which the holy father put upon him. In obedience to Philip he was ordained priest, and said mass every morning, he was so completely detached from the good things and honours of the world, that he refused a rich benefice which was offered him. He was in the end, for his piety, taken into the service of S. Charles at Milan; and there he persevered in his holy life until the end. He died at Rome, his death having been foreseen by the Saint.
One of the oldest of the Saint’s children, and one of those most in his confidence, was Giovanni Battista Modio, of Santa Severina in Calabria. He was the author of some annotations on the poems of the B. Jacopone, and an Italian treatise on the waters of the Tiber. On one occasion, when he was suffering dreadfully from the stone without any prospect of relief, and every one considered him in the last extremity, Philip went to visit him according to his custom; and after having exhorted him to bear his cross manfully for the love of Christ, he went out of the house and retired into a neighbouring church to pray for him, which he did with most earnest vehemence. At the first tear which Philip shed, in the very selfsame moment, Mochio began to pass the stone, and in a short time recovered entirely; and attributing his recovery to the Saint’s intercession, he gave himself completely into his hands. He was a very tender-hearted man, and singularly compassionate to the poor. He had also considerable talent in preaching, so that, although he was a layman, Philip made him relate the lives of the Saints in the oratory, which he did to the great delight and profit of the hearers. After his death Philip appointed Antonio Fucci of Città di Castello to succeed him in this office of relating the lives of the Saints. He also was a very learned man, and what is of more importance, advanced in the spiritual life, and one of those who wished to accompany the Saint to the Indies to shied his blood for the holy faith, as we shall see afterwards.
Merzio Altieri, a Roman noble, was also another of his spiritual children. Under the discipline of the Saint he arrived at such perfection and taste of the Divine grandeurs, that, like another Moses, his spirit so abounded within him that he could not talk of God. He had such piety towards the poor, that he hesitated not to strip himself in order to clothe others, and gave in alms even the counterpane of his bed, expecting from the Lord the promised reward.
To these may be added Matteo Stendardi, nephew of Paul IV., Benardino Valle da Come, maestro di casa to Cardinal Montepulciano, Fulvio Amodei, Giacomo Marmita, of whom we shall speak afterwards, Giovanni Antonio of Santa Severina, and Ludovico Parisi, who served the Saint out of devotion for more than thirty years; and others of the principal families of Italy, who were all his penitents, and so many mirrors of perfection in the court of Rome.
Besides these he had others of a lower condition, who were also men of most saintly lives. Among them was Stefano, a shoemaker of Rimini, who had been a soldier for a long time, and was full of enmities, and altogether given up to the things of this world. Stefano came to Rome, and by some good inspiration went one day to St. Girolamo to hear the sermons and familiar discourses. Through reverence and respect for others he placed himself upon the back seats; but Philip, without ever having seen or known him before, went to him and drew him to the front seats. When the prayer was finished, he showed him great affection, and so captivated him by his manner, that from that day Stefano went continually to the sermons, and began to frequent the Sacraments. By this means he was delivered from his inveterate habits of sin and passion, and became a man of wonderful virtues. He was so given to works of charity, that although he was very poor, he took nothing from his weekly earnings but what was absolutely necessary, and gave the rest away for the love of God. His thoughts ran constantly on death, and he prepared himself for it daily, as if he were actually to die that day; but for all that he was never seen out of spirits or downcast, but always gay and cheerful. He was remarkable also for his obedience, and for his assiduity in prayer, in which he was greatly favoured by God, and was seen one day in the church of the Santissima Trinità di Ponte Sisto, suddenly surrounded by a resplendent light. Stefano lived in these exercises twenty-three years, living in a small house by himself. His friends told him that he would be dying suddenly without any one to assist him; but he answered that for that he put his confidence in the blessed Madonna, and was quite sure that she would not abandon him: and so it proved, for being assailed one night all on a sudden by his mortal sickness, he went out of his house and called his neighbours, who went for the parish priest, and then returned to help him into bed, where he received the last Sacraments, and gave up his soul to God.
Francesco Maria, commonly called Il Ferrarese, was another of Philip’s spiritual children. He was a man of the greatest simplicity, and of such goodness and purity of life, that he sometimes heard the angels singing, and was physically sensible of the noisome odour of sin. He had also a most eminent gift of tears, and when he communicated, which was ordinarily every day, or heard any one speak of the things of God, and particularly of Paradise, he wept immoderately. He was so enamoured of suffering, that being one day in excessive agony from the stone, he prayed God to send him a still heavier infirmity; and no sooner had he said this than he immediately recovered. He had a burning zeal for the salvation of others; and seeing a Jew one day, he was smitten with such compassion for his soul, that he prayed every day for him for three years continuously, beseeching the Divine Majesty to give him the grace of conversion. His prayers were not in vain, for being one morning at S. Peter’s, he saw most unexpectedly that very Jew go to receive holy baptism, and his heart so melted within him at the sight, that he immediately began to shed most abundant floods of tears.
Another time Francesco Maria Tarugi found him weeping bitterly, and being very importunate with him to tell him the cause, the good man (although an entirely uneducated person) answered, that he was thinking of those words which Christ said to his disciples, When you have done all these things, say, we are unprofitable servants; “for,” said he, “if the apostles, after having done so many miracles and converted the world, were for all that to say, We are unprofitable servants, what am I to say, who have done nothing? it is for this cause I weep, nor can I contain my tears.” Another time the same Tarugi found him in prayer, standing, and every now and then he drew back a little, making gestures of surprise. This having lasted some time, Tarugi asked him why he did so: he answered, “I am considering the greatness of God, and the more I consider it, the more it seems to grow before me, and its very immensity forces me to step backward, even corporally.”
Philip had also for his penitent another servant of God, named Tommaso Siciliano, whom he led to such a height of perfection, that he considered it an immense privilege to become some day sweeper of S. Peter’s. This post he obtained according to his desire, and continued to sweep the church for many years with the greatest diligence and delight. Indeed he never left it except when he went to the holy father to confession. At night he slept in his clothes, on the predella of one of the Seven Altars. The devil, always the enemy of humility and perseverance could not endure to see him continuing this exercise with so much sweetness, and endeavoured one night to terrify him from his undertaking. While Tommaso was asleep the malignant spirit made such a disturbance, that the good man, when he roused himself, thought by the noise that all the benches in the church were being thrown up into the air, and were falling down on the floor broken in pieces. Jumping up, he ran to the lamp and lit a candle, but he found all the benches quiet in their places. He then searched the church diligently, thinking there might be a robber lurking in it; and in his search he saw the demon behind one of the columns, in the form of an Ethiopian; upon which he went boldly up to him, and lifted up his hand to give him a blow, upon which the enemy disappeared; and the intrepid Tommaso went back to his place as if nothing had happened, and fell quietly asleep.
Another of Philip’s penitents was Fra. Ludovico, of Spoleto; not that he was really a friar, but was so called because he wore the habit of S. Francis. This servant of God was most poor in earthly goods, but richly endowed with every virtue, and of a life most singularly pure; in consequence of which the Saint set him to take charge of the girls of Santa Caterina de’ Funari, and, knowing his goodness, would never let him abandon that employment, although he wished it. Pietro Molinaro was also one of Philip’s most intimate friends, a man who, through the abundance of his tears, had lost his sight, though God restored it to him again by miracle. There were very many others of different trades and professions, who lived under the care and discipline of Philip, and died in the odour of sanctity; but for brevity’s sake we must omit particular mention of them, except as our narrative may from time to time lead us to touch upon them.
Philip had thus created round about him a good school of spiritual persons. In the beginning of the conferences and conversations in his room, they sometimes read the letters which came at that time to the Jesuit Fathers from the Indies. The Saint, considering how great the harvest in those countries was, and how few the labourers, entertained the notion of going himself into those parts, to sow the seed of the holy faith, and to shed, if needs be, his blood for the love of Christ. He communicated this thought to some of his penitents, and among the rest to Francesco Maria Tarugi, and about twenty others. Some of them he caused to be ordained priests, so that they might he ready to start as soon as they had received the Pope’s blessing. Philip, however, was not a man to come to any grave decision without prayer, counsel, and time. First of all, therefore, he prayed about it for a long while, and then consulted a Benedictine monk who lived at S. Paul’s, a man of great authority, as well in literature as in spiritual matters. This monk referred him to Agostino Ghettini, a Cistercian father, who was then prior of the convent of saints Vincent and Anastasius, at the Three Fountains.
Ghettini was a man eminent both for learning and sanctity, and had been dedicated to religion by his father and mother before he was born; it being their pious custom to confess and communicate and offer each of their children to the service of God before they came into the world. He had the spirit of prophecy, and an ardent devotion to S. John the Evangelist, from whom he received many favours; so that he once said in the presence of the monks, “My Giovanni has told me that I am to die on his feast, but he has not told me the year.” A long while afterwards S. John appeared to him again while he was saying mass on Christmas day, and said to him, “You shall die on this feast of mine, which is at hand;” and so it proved, for on the morning of S. John’s day, when he had said mass, he betook himself to his bed, received extreme unction, and expired the same day.
To this holy man Philip confided his project, and begged for his advice. The good servant of God took time, and told him to come again for his answer. After some days Philip returned, according to his promise. The monk told him that S. John the Evangelist had appeared to him, and had said, that “his Indies were to be in Rome, and that God wished to make use of him there.” He added also, that he had seen the waters of the Three Fountains of a blood colour, which the apostle had revealed to him signified a great tribulation coming upon Rome. Philip implicitly believed the words of the monk, became completely calm, and resolved to attend to the gaining of souls in the city of Rome.
This did not, however, in any way cool the great zeal which he had for the propagation of the holy faith, and what he could not do in the Indies, he did not fail to do to the utmost of his power in Rome. Whenever he saw a Jew, the desire of his conversion was so strong, that the mere sight of him created such an interior tenderness, that he often broke forth into tears and sighs, and left no means untried for his conversion. He went one day to S. John Lateran with Prospero Crivelli, who took with him a Jew. When they entered the church and knelt down before the Blessed Sacrament, the Jew alone stood with his head covered and his back turned to the altar. Philip seeing this, said, “Listen to me, my good man: join me in this prayer: ‘If thou, Christ, art really God, inspire me to become a Christian.’” He answered that he could not make such a prayer as that, because it would be to doubt of his faith. Philip then turned to the byestanders and said, “Pray to God for this man, for without doubt he will become a Christian.” And indeed no long time afterwards, through the prayers and assistance of the Saint, he was baptized.
On the vigil of S. Peter and S. Paul, Marcello Ferro, a priest, and one of his spiritual children, found two young Jews under the portico of S. Peter’s, and began to talk to them about the faith, and in particular about the glory of those holy apostles, who had themselves been Jews. Prolonging the conversation, he at last persuaded them to go some day to speak to Philip at S. Girolamo. When they came to perform this promise, as soon as ever the Saint saw them he caressed them very much, which induced them to come to him every day for some months. Some time, however, having elapsed without any visit from them, the Saint desired Marcello by all means to find the youths out. Marcello went to their house, and asked their mother what had become of her sons. She answered that one of them was lying very ill, almost at the point of death. Marcello expressed a great desire to see him, and God so disposing the mother’s heart, she allowed him to go up stairs. There he found the Jew indeed in the greatest danger of death; and as he absolutely refused to take any food, the mother begged Marcello to try to persuade him to eat something, as perhaps he would take it from his hands. This Marcello readily assented to, and the Jew as readily took whatever he gave him; Marcello then watching for an occasion, whispered into his ear, “Father Philip desires to be remembered to you;” at these words the invalid was all joy and delight; and Marcello at parting said, “Remember you have promised Father Philip that you will be a Christian.” He answered, “I do remember it, and I will do so, if God spares my life.” Marcello related the whole to the Saint, who said, “Do not doubt we will help him with our prayers, and he will be converted.” The Jew got well, and returned to Philip together with his brother, and under the Saint’s care they both became Christians.
He also converted to the faith a Jew who belonged to one of the chief and wealthiest families among them. He was baptized at S. Peter’s, but as his father, who remained a Jew, had continual intercourse with him, Pope Gregory XIII. was afraid lest his faith should suffer injury, and told Philip that this intercourse of the father and son was displeasing to him. But Philip begged his holiness to let it go on, for he felt confident that the son would convert the father. This happy event did actually take place, for the Christian son induced his father to go to Philip, whose efficacious words soon overcame his objections, so that he became a Christian himself in a very short time. Many years afterwards, this man got away from the Jews his four young nephews, whose father was dead, and he caused them to be catechised that they might embrace the holy faith. One day, after Philip had left S. Girolamo and was gone to the Valicella, he took these nephews to the holy father. Philip, according to his custom, caressed them very much, but did not enter into any conversation about the faith. But one evening many days after, he begged them to recommend themselves to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that he would inspire them with a knowledge of the truth, for God does not leave any one under a delusion. He added that he had already made the same prayer, and that the next morning in the mass, he would pray for them and do holy violence to God. Then he said to the byestanders, “To-morrow morning at my mass, they will say, yes;” and one of them afterwards confessed, when he was examined in the process, that in the morning he was constrained to say yes, because he seemed to hear a spirit saying, “Say yes.” When the morning came they were more obstinate than ever; they argued with different people for several hours, and remained still more fixed in their own opinion. But it was observed that at the very time the holy father was saying mass a sudden change came over them, and they consented to become Christians. Then they who were present remembered the words which the Saint had said the evening before, that he would pray for them in his mass and do violence to God.
While these four youths were living in our congregation with the fathers, in order to be catechized, one of them fell ill, and on the sixth day of his malady great fears were entertained for his life, and the fathers thought of baptizing him. But Philip went that same evening to visit him, and sending everybody out of the room, touched him on the forehead, and holding one hand on his breast, prayed for him for a long time, bounding through exaltation of spirit, as he was wont to do at the altar. He then said to him, “it is my will that you should not die, else the Jews would say that the Christians had killed you; and, therefore, to-morrow morning send to remind me to pray for you in my mass.” Father Pietro Consolino, who was present, hearing this, said to the youth, “There is no question but you will get well now, for this holy old man has done things of this kind before.” During the night he was extremely ill; and Girolamo Cordella, the physician, having visited him in the morning, told the uncle to go and see his nephew, for that he was at the point of death. But when the hour came at which the holy father was accustomed to say mass, Father Consolino went to ask the invalid if he wished him to go to Father Philip to remind him of what he had said the night before: he replied that he did, and the father went accordingly. As soon as ever the saint had finished his mass, the sick man sat up in his bed, as if he had never been ill at all, and his uncle coming in at the time found him without fever. After dinner the medical man returned, and feeling his pulse, he crossed himself and said, “You have physicians indoors, I see, and yet you go out for others.” In the street, as he was going away, he met Giovanni Battista Martelli, his fellow-countryman, and said to him, “A great thing has befallen me to-day; this morning I visited a patient at the Vallicella, who was in danger of death; and I have just been there again and found him without fever, so that at first I doubted whether the fathers had not played me a trick, and put some one else into the sick man’s bed.” Martelli answered him, “O you may be sure Father Philip has cured him.” The medical man rejoined, “Well, then, it is a great miracle, and Philip is a great saint.” In the evening the holy father went to visit the invalid, and whispered to him, “My son, you certainly would have died, but I was anxious it should not be so, lest your mother should say we had caused your death.” Two months after his recovery he and his brothers were baptized on the feast of S. Simon and S. Jude, in S. John Lateran, by Pope Clement VIII., to the great joy and contentment of the saint as well as of themselves. The eldest took the name of Alessandro, the next Agostino, the third Ippolito, and the last Clemente.
As soon as they were baptized they began to be anxious for the conversion of their mother, and found means to have her placed in the house of Guilià Orsini, the Marchesa Rangona. They then asked the saint what hopes he had of the success of this experiment; he replied “That it was the way to convert her, and that it would be well for them if she was converted then, but, that if her conversion took place at another time, it would be of greater fruit to herself and to them.” So it proved in the event, for she was converted about five or six years after, and brought over with her twenty-four relations, whom she would not have brought over had she been converted at the time her sons desired.
Besides these Jews, Philip converted many heretics, whose names we cannot mention, out of respect to them. We shall only relate the conversion of one of them, named Paleologo, as being among the most remarkable. This man had been imprisoned by order of the Holy Inquisition, as well for being an heresiarch, as for other delinquencies of which he had been accused. Every possible means was used to convert him; but he continued obstinate, and nothing could induce him to abjure. At last he was condemned to death, and, as an obstinate heretic, to be burnt alive. One morning the holy father was told that they were leading him to punishment in the Campo di Fiori. Philip was then at S. Girolamo, and, as usual, in the confessional. He was moved with compassion at the news, and felt a burning desire for the salvation of a soul in so perilous a plight, and so near to certain reprobation. He immediately left the confessional, and went to meet the criminal in the Strada del Pellegrino. He threw himself into the crowd, intrepidly passed the guards, and full of zeal for the soul of the poor wretch, he went up to him and embraced him closely, and with the greatest tenderness addressed him with words most calculated to excite compunction and full of spirituality, conjuring him to save his soul; and having spoken thus he left him. When Paleologo arrived in the Campo di Fiore said, “Where is that man who speaks in the simplicity of the gospel?”
The saint was called for, and when they were near to the place of punishment, but before they had reached the stake, Philip with an authority which God gave him for the moment, commanded the attendants to stop and not to proceed with the execution. The respect and reverence which they had for him was such that they stopped immediately; and Philip having in that short time turned the heart of the miserable man, ordered him to mount a bench on the spot, and to make a public recantation of his error, to the great astonishment of the crowd who had assembled to see the issue of the matter, he was then reconducted to prison, where, the more to soften his heart, Gregory XIII. assigned him very considerable alms, in addition to the daily allowance of the Holy Office. All this was done at the instigation of the saint, who went almost every day to see him, to visit him, and to keep him to his good resolution. He always conversed with him on matters of devotion, such as were likely to breed compunction of heart. Conscious that pride and self-sufficiency are mostly found in such persons, he recommended, as a means of overcoming them, the life of the blessed John Colombino, and the blessed Giacopone, saying that men of that sort are more often converted by simple things, and the examples of the saints, than by much disputing on doctrinal questions. Paleologo himself said that he wished he had known Philip sooner. He did not however persevere in his good dispositions, but began to waver again, and then returned in part to his old false opinions. Indeed, the holy father had often said to his own people, “I never was overpleased with that man’s conversion.” Nevertheless, by the spiritual helps which the saint continually afforded him, and in particular by the prayers he made and the tears he shed to gain over his soul, he brought him once more to repentance. He was beheaded about two years afterwards as a relapsed heretic, but with good signs of contrition about him; Cesare Baronius and Giovanni Bordoni assisting him in his last moments by order of the saint.
Philip’s great zeal for the propagation of the faith was not confined to Rome. He sympathized with the travails of Holy Church; and seeing how heretical sects multiplied every day in this northern parts of Europe, he took courage to oppose them as much as he could, trusting in that Lord who uses weak things to confound the strong. By a singular inspiration of God, he discovered a method by which he could attack them from a distance having instituted (as we shall mention in its place) an Oratory, where several spiritual discourses were delivered every day, he determined to impose on one of those who delivered the discourses, that they should narrate the history of the Church from the beginning, in order that men might see clearly the true success of Holy Church, her progress, and the truth of past ages, and consequently might discover the falsehood of the heretics; and thus the simple would not be so easily misled, and the better informed would be at least inexcusable.
For this work he chose Cesaro Baronio Sorano, a man of immense zeal, and a doctor of civil and canon law, who, besides his learning, was so full of charity and the bowels of mercy, that he not only gave to the poor the little money he had, but even his clothes and linen. During a scarcity he sold a very rich reliquary of silver, and bought corn with the price of it, in order to supply the poor with bread. He was so detached from all desire of greatness, and had so little affection for the things which the world esteems, that he even tore up the certificate of his doctor’s degree. On him, then, Philip laid this charge; and after he had for many years several times over related, and indeed re-arranged, the History of the Church, the Saint finally commanded him to publish it; and that for no other object than to oppose the Centuries of the enemies of the Holy Faith, who were opposed to the Holy Roman Catholic Church. This huge labour Baronius, after many vigils and fatigues, happily accomplished. Baronius himself, in the preface to the eighth volume of his Annals, assures us that we may rather attribute his work to Philip than to himself, declaring in a very long discourse that the holy father was the author of the Annals, and referring all rather to the prayers of the Saint than to his own labours. This preface we have determined to give here, that every one may read it commodiously, and see the truth of what we have stated.
TO THE BLESSED PHILIP NERI
FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE ORATORY FOR THE ECCLESIASTICAL ANNALS OF CESARE BARONIUS, CARDINAL PRIEST OF THE HOLY ROMAN CHURCH, AND TITULAR OF SAINTS NEREUS AND ACHILLEUS, AND APOSTOLICAL LIBRARIAN.
Up to this time it has not been possible for me to touch upon the first origin and progress of the Ecclesiastical Annals, except to such a trifling degree and in such a way as to shed obscurity rather than light upon the subject. This was because he of whom I had to speak was alive, and was a capital enemy of his own praises. But now that he has gone to heaven, my pen can run more freely in recounting the benefits received from him. In truth, it is a joyful thing to make mention of our ancestors, from whom, as from a fountain, innumerable graces and favours have flowed down to us; but it is profitable as well as joyful; because, being fathers and saints as they are, they continually admonish us not to degenerate from their virtues, according to that saying of Scripture, Keep your eye always on the rock from which ye have been hewn, and on the hollow of the pit from which ye have been cut; look at Abraham your father, and at Sarah, who hath brought you forth. But besides being useful and joyful, it is also necessary to prevent our being shamefully convicted of ingratitude, forgetting and passing over in silence those from whom we have received benefits.
Holy Writ teaches us in many places that the prosperous successes of the children are generally to be attributed to the fathers; particularly where it relates that the patriarch Jacob, in giving his benediction to his son Joseph, said these words: His bow rested upon the strong, and the bands of his arms and his hands were loosed, by the hands of the mighty one of Jacob: thence he came forth a pastor, the stone of Israel. Seeing then that Holy Scripture attributes all the prosperity of Joseph to the powerful hand of Jacob his father, who was not only very far off from him, but had already bewailed him as dead; what shall I say of that father who, being present with me and having aided me in everything, has so many times begotten me with the apostolic spirit, and with the same spirit has from my youth up kept me in check, and restrained me from the slipperiness of my boyhood, inclined to evil, and brought into subjection to the divine laws the untamed colt of my youth, and set Jesus Christ to sit thereon?
I am, then, under every sort of obligation to him, so far as these Annals are concerned; and I wish, therefore, that this my thanksgiving should always live and always speak, and I dedicate it to him in perpetual memory of his being the author of every one of my undertakings. Indeed, it is right, and only a proper mark of a humble mind, to profess to have received everything from one by whom we greatly profited, as on the other hand it would be unfair to attribute it to our own exertions. For he who attributed to himself more than he ought, and said, I have done this in the strength of my own hand, and in my wisdom I have planned it, soon heard the answer of God, Shall the axe boast against him who cuts with it, or the saw against him who draws it? And close upon the threat the vengeance came; and the unhappy wretch was for this very reason chased from his royal throne, and sent to dwell among the beasts.
I must ingenuously confess of the blessed Father Philip, that which Christ
our Redeemer, the Eternal Wisdom, taught us mortals when he said to the apostle
Philip, “My Father, who is in Me, does the works.” Not that I glory in men
rather than in God, but to point to him from whom I have received so much, as co-operating with God; so that I may thus show my gratitude to God and men at the
same time. For it was the blessed Philip, who, by divine inspiration, commanded
me to perform this work, like another Moses committing to workmen the building
of the tabernacle, according to the model which he had seen in the mountain. I
set myself then to this great undertaking, after repeated orders from him, very
much against my own will, resisting him and entirely distrusting my own
abilities for such a work. I undertook it out of obedience to the will of God,
which will was also his pretext for urging me forward, whenever, which sometimes
happened, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the toil and desisted from it;
yet no sooner did I rest, than with sharp rebukes he immediately compelled me
to resume my task.
O father, for it is with thee I wish to speak - when thou wert yearning with zealous compassion over the travails of Holy Church, as soon as in thy mind, illuminated by God, and full, if I may so speak, of the prophetic spirit, thou sawest those Centuries of satan issue out of the gates of hell to the detriment of the Church, then didst rise up to go forth and combat in behalf of the people of God. But thou didst not set thyself to levy a multitude of troops, greater or even equal to the number of the enemy. Thou knewest that God chooseth the weak things of the world to confound the strong, and so thou didst select one of thine own people, the least among his brethren, and of the meanest ability, to set him alone and unarmed to combat with so many and such well-equipped enemies. Then, feigning a far other project, thou didst not at once put him in the spacious field, but to make experiment of his strength, thou didst choose a narrow room, that is, the Oratory of S. Girolamo, commanding me in daily discourses to narrate the history of the Church. This I began in obedience to thee, and persevering happily for thirty years, I went through the entire history of the Church seven times.
Thou wert continually by me, spurring me on with thy presence, and urging me forward with thy words, always an austere exacter (pardon me for saying so) of the daily task thou didst require of me, in such a way, as that it seemed as if I had committed a sacrilege, when sometimes I turned off for diversion to something else; for thou couldst not endure that I should swerve one hairs-breadth from the undertaking. Often, I confess, I was half scandalized, as it appeared to me that thou wert proceeding tyrannically with me; for I was taking the measure only of my own strength, not perceiving that thou wert first treating of the whole matter silently with God. Not only was no companion given to me to help me, but, as it happened to the children of Israel in Egypt, the labour was increased, and no straw given. Many other things were demanded of me; the cure of souls was added to the weighty task of compiling the Annals, then preaching, then the government of the house, and sundry other affairs which were daily imposed upon me, one after the other. So that it appeared from this conduct of thine, either so acting thyself or letting others act so to me, that thou wert desiring almost any thing of me rather than the one thing which beyond all else thou wert aiming at.
In this I thought that thou didst imitate Elias, who, when he wished to overcome the priests of Baal by asking fire from heaven to consume the victim, made them first of all drench it with four vessels of water, that the power of God might appear the greater. But on the other hand, while thou wert assisting me with prayer, and extending thine hand over the work, it seemed that thou didst imitate Eliseus, who laid his hand upon the hand of the king, and then made him shoot the arrow, which set forth the conquest of all Syria. Thus didst thou act; thou didst join thy strong hand to my weak one, and convert my blunt style into an arrow of the Lord against the heretics. This I know to be true, and so it is a pleasure to me to make public profession of it.
Thou, then, wert in truth the combatant, although, according to thy custom, it was by the hand of another; for thou wert one who wert always working wonders, yet striving not to appear wonderful thyself, taking care in every thing not to be made much of, and often covering thy wisdom with the mantle of folly, bearing always in mind that paradox of the apostle, Whoso wisheth to be wise, let him become a fool. Thus thou wert not possessed with the vain rejoicing of the world, but like David, who feigned himself mad, thou wert continually, with outward demonstrations of the contrary, hiding the gifts of the Holy Ghost, knowing, as the apostle says, how to abound and how to suffer penury in such a manner that thou mightest say with him, If we exalt ourselves, we do it for the honour of God, and if we abase ourselves, we do it for your profit; so that thou wert like Philip the deacon, whose name thou barest, for according as the season required, thou wert one while attending to the salvation of others; and another while, carried away by the vehemence of the spirit, thou wert lifted on high in the contemplation of heavenly things.
But this glory, which while thou wert alive thou didst hide in the treasury of Christ, He himself did after thy death most abundantly restore to thee; and when the vessel of clay was broken, the lamp which was concealed within presently appeared; and the hidden light, once placed upon the candlestick of eternity, was recognized by miracles through all the world. Then were made manifest the marvellous things which in thy lifetime thou didst hide, and countless wonders wrought by thee after death appeared as well. Thy sepulchre shines, though not yet adorned as it must be - still, I say, it shines with tablets and silver votive-offerings, clear testimonies of thy miracles, by which it glitters more splendidly than if it were encrusted with precious stones, and adorned with pyramids and obelisks of Egypt; and from day to day the splendour goes on increasing from the signs men bring of the benefits they have received.
Give me a place then, O my brothers, for to you I turn, you who form so pious and noble a crown about his sepulchre, give me a place, that this my offering of thanks, though most unworthy of the benefits I have received from him, may yet remain for ever hung upon his tomb, hung there, yet with the Annals traversing the wide world as well. Let it be a column which moves and speaks, and in great characters proclaims him who has been the inventer and the architect of the Annals; in order that if men shall reap any fruit from reading them, they may give the principal thanks to him. Let this my protest, I say, be fixed upon his sepulchre, as an epitaph which never can be cancelled; and O that I too could have my wish, and abide there as a living tablet, to be traced upon with the pencil of his prayers, until I be come a perfect portrait of his sanctity!
Come then, O Father - for I speak to thee as if thou wert present, because thou seest Him who is omnipresent, come, I say, and protect this work of thine; and that the victory may be attributed to thee, come, as Joab wrote to David, come and finish what remains of the battle, and by the means of thy prayers send an army from heaven, and utterly discomfit the enemy, that we may sing with Deborah, heaven has fought for us, and the stars, standing still in their order, have warred against Sisera. When thou wert alive on earth, thou wert always a guard to me, thy son; with thy vigilance thou didst protect me; with thy counsel thou didst govern me; and in thy patience thou didst bear with me: now that thou art living in heaven, give me still stronger aid, and from thy perfect and consummate charity send me greater succour. And grant me further, only in a greater degree as more needing it, what Gregory Nazianzen affirms that he received from S. Basil, viz. the having him for his monitor and corrector even after death; so that still holding the reins of my life, thou mayest guide what remains of my tottering old age, so that it stumble not; and thus when my labours are finished, I may attain finally to that blessed rest which thou enjoyest now in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost, to whom in perfect unity be glory, praise, and honour, for evermore. Amen.
Such are the words of Baronius: and we may see from them how he himself attributes the Annals to Philip. Indeed, the Saint a little before he died called Baronius to him, and said, “O Cesare, know that you ought to humble yourself, and acknowledge that your writings have not been composed by your own wisdom, but have all been the most evident gift of God.” This he repeated several times over. Baronius always replying that he acknowledged himself to owe all to his prayers.
Baronius had a proof of this in a vision. When he first began to speak in public in the Oratory, he almost always discoursed on terrifying subjects, such as death, hell, and judgment. When he had done this for some time, the Saint saw in spirit that he would discourse on Church History with much more fruit both to himself and others, and particularly by being thus able to overturn the very foundations of the hereticks. He exhorted him therefore to leave off those other matters, and betake himself to a chronological narration, year by year, of the history of Holy Church. Baronius not putting this design in execution very readily, because of the great repugnance he felt for it, the Saint kept from time to time reminding him of it, until at last one day he gave him an express obedience to do it. Thus obedience appeared to Baronius a little too hard, and too repugnant to his natural turn of mind; yet on the other hand he did not like to resist it; so that he was in a strait what to do. But the Lord, to relieve him in this difficulty, and also the more to excite him to execute Philip’s obedience, signified his will to him in the following manner.
It seemed one night in a dream to be talking with Onofrio Panvino, who was at that time himself compiling a church history; and speaking to him about the obedience which Philip had laid upon him, he besought Onofrio with the most importunate earnestness to finish the work he had begun. While Baronius uttered these words with no little anxiety, Onofrio seemed as if he did not wish to listen, and turned the other way. Baronius wishing to follow up the conversation, began to prove to him how it was best in every respect that he should compose the Annals; upon which he heard the voice of the holy father quite sensibly and distinctly, saying, “Quiet yourself, Baronius, and do not weary yourself any longer with this conversation, for it is you, and not Onofrio, who has to write the history of the church.” When he heard this he felt clear about the will of God, and set himself to discourse upon ecclesiastical history; and having run through it all once, from the birth of Christ to his own times, the Saint ordered him to begin afresh, and for the space of thirty years, as he himself affirms in the preface just quoted, he narrated the whole seven times through in the Oratory, before he published the first volume of the annals; with what success his undertaking was crowned, the whole world is sufficiently aware. On the 5th of June, 1596, Baronius was made cardinal, under the title of Saints Nereus and Achilleus, by Clement VIII. This duty, as he himself affirms in several places of his Annals, and as appears in his life already printed, he only accepted through obedience, having done all he could to put it aside, and having long before refused three of the best bishopricks of Italy.
This good cardinal died worn out with labours, on the last day of June, 1607, aged sixty-nine years, according as had been revealed to him several years before. He was taken ill at Frascati, and as the medical men said that there was some prospect of its terminating fatally, full of the ecclesiastical spirit, he said, “Let us go to Rome; non decet Cardinalem mori in agro.” He was buried in the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, with an extraordinary concourse and devotion of the people.
It was for the same end of opposing the heretics, who deny the intercession of the saints, and the adoration of images, that Philip ordered Baronius to make his Annotations on the Roman Martyrology; and at the same time Tommaso Bozzio took occasion to write De Signis Ecclesiae Dei, and Antonio Gallonio the Lives of the Saints, both of them being priests of our Congregation.
Philip being now established in Rome, as we have already seen, and the number of his spiritual children always increasing, their former place of meeting was unable to hold them, so much had their numbers augmented by the year 1558. He Obtained, therefore, from the deputies of S. Girolamo della Carità one side of the church above the nave, on the right hand, and there he constructed an Oratory, transferring to it the spiritual exercises which used to take place in his room, and meeting likewise for an hour of prayer before daybreak on all great feasts. This Oratory still exists, although it is better furnished and more diligently kept than it was; and those fathers at S. Girolamo meet there every day for prayer, with much fruit, besides the discourses which they make on feast days.
Here, then, every day after dinner Philip and some others came together to discourse on spiritual matters, in the fashion of a conference, and sometimes, out of a charitable desire to instruct others, they had conferences on theological studies. When the exercises were finished they used to go to some open place for recreation; or if it was a feast day he led them, now to one church and now to another, to hear vespers, or compline, or a sermon, and in particular to hear Friar Vincenzo Erculano, afterwards Bishop of Perugia, a most learned man, who was expounding the Miserere in the church of the Minerva to a great multitude of people. Very often, indeed on almost all feast days, he went to the cloister of the Minerva, to hold spiritual conferences, at which there were sometimes more than three hundred people present. In the Oratory, after a little time, Philip began those familiar or conversational discourses, which are still given every day in our church, at night prayers; and indeed he was the first who introduced into Rome the daily Word of God.
But that men may know more particularly in what manner and order they used to discourse, I will insert here what Baronius writes in the first volume of his Annals, when he is speaking of the re-unions of the primitive Christians, according to the form given by the apostle in his Epistles to the Corinthians. He says as follows: “Certainly it is by the Divine disposition that there has been renewed in our age, in a great part of the city of Rome, the ancient and profitable custom of the Church in the method of discoursing of the things of God to the edification of the hearers. This has been the work of the Reverend Father Philip Neri, a Florentine, who, like a skilful architect, laid the foundation of it, and of the Reverend Father Francesco Maria Tarugi, of Montepulciano, his scholar, who, for his power in preaching, may be called the captain of the Word of God. By the pains and industry of these two it was first arranged, that every day those who were most desirous of Christian perfection should come to the Oratory of S. Girolamo (hence the name of the Congregation of the Oratory), where they should make a pious and devout union after the following manner: First, there was some length of time spent in mental prayer; then one of the brothers read a spiritual book, and during the reading the Father, who superintended the whole, discoursed upon what was read, explaining it with greater accuracy, enlarging upon it, and insinuating it into the hearts of the hearers. Some times he desired one of the brothers to give his opinion on some subject, and then the discourse proceeded in the form of a dialogue; and this exercise lasted an hour, to the great consolation of the audience. After this he used to command one of his own people to mount to a seat raised some few steps above the rest, and there, in a familiar and unornamented style, to discourse upon the lives of such saints as are approved and received by the Church, adorning what he said with some passages of Scripture, or sentences of the Fathers. To him another succeeded, in the same style, but on a different theme; and lastly, came a third, who discoursed upon ecclesiastical history. Each of them was allowed only half an hour. When all this was finished, to the wonderful contentment, and no less profit, of the hearers, they sang some spiritual praises, prayed again for a short time, and so the exercise finished. Things being disposed in this manner, and approved by the Pope’s authority, it seemed as if the old and beautiful apostolical method of Christian congregations was renewed. Good people applauded the practice, and did their best to propagate these pious exercises in different places.” So far Baronius, who gives this account of the origin of the Oratory.
Besides these exercises which the Saint introduced for working days, he originated others for the feast days. In the morning, after confession, they made their prayer till the time for mass. After mass they communicated, and he then sent them to different hospitals, whither they went in marvellous silence. He generally divided them into three companies, one of which he sent to St. John Lateran, the other to the Madonna della Consolazione, and the third to Santo Spirito. Here they assisted the poor patients with deeds as well as words, both spiritually and bodily, taking them different things to refresh themselves with. He sent there from thirty to forty of the most fervent every day, to the great edification of the spectators. He used to say to those who went to serve the sick in the hospitals, or to do any other similar work of mercy, that it was not enough simply to do the service to the suffering person, but that to do it with greater charity they ought to imagine that that person was Christ, and to hold it for certain, that what they did to the sufferer they did to Christ himself; and thus they would do it with love, and with greater profit to their souls.
Besides this some of them, on Saturday nights and the vigils of the principal feasts, used to return to the holy father at San Girolamo, and then go with him either to the church of the Minerva, belonging to the Dominican friars, or to St. Bonaventura of the Capechins, where they assisted at matins in choir with the friars, spending those nights in preparation for the holy communion of the morning, so that the choir of the friars was often full of seculars, his spiritual children. He often took there Animuccia, master of the chapel at St. Peters, with other singers, and when they came to lauds, they began singing. Philip for a long time went there every night, so that the sacristan of the Minerva knew Philip’s knock at the Church door, and used to go immediately to let him in. So great was the love which those servants of God bore to the Saint, that they gave him keys of the convent, so that he could enter when he pleased; and besides this confidence and familiarity, both the Dominicans and Capuchins affiliated him to their orders.
Philip was not, however, contented with all this; but the more effectually to keep his penitents far from those dangers into which the greater part of men, and especially young men, are wont to fall, he was wont several times in the year, and especially at certain more dangerous seasons, to go with them to the Seven Churches. This he did particularly during the Carnival, and the days after Easter; but in the Saint’s latter years he only went during the Carnival. At first he had but few companions, five-and-twenty, or thirty at most; but very soon the number increased so much that even during his lifetime there were upwards of two thousand persons. All sorts of people were admitted except women; a great number of religious joined, and very often twenty or five-and-twenty Capuchins at a time; particularly Dominicans, who sent all their novices.
The order they observed in going, and which with some trifling variations is still in force, was this: the day being fixed, they went early in the morning to S. Peter’s, and then to S. Paul’s, in which latter place they united themselves all together, and went in orderly ranks to the other churches. Along the road one part of the time was spent in meditating upon some spiritual consideration assigned them by the father who led them; for they were divided into many classes, and to each class was assigned a leader to guide and instruct them; another part of the time was occupied in singing some psalm, or hymn, or spiritual praise, and sometimes the litanies, and they had music with them throughout the journey. If any time was left after this, they conversed one with another upon the things of God, doing their best to avoid all vain and useless talking.
In each church, except S. Peter’s and S. Paul’s, there was a short sermon either by Philip, or some religious. When they came to S. Sebastian’s, or S. Stefano Rotondo, mass was sung, after which the greater part of them communicated, which is at present done in the church of Saints Nereus and Achilleus. They next went to the vineyard of the Massimi or the Crescenzi, or to the garden of the Mattei on the Celian, to which last place they have always gone from the death of the Saint to this day, the proprietors of it having with exceeding courtesy permitted them to do so. Here then they sat down in order, and to each was given bread, and wine and water, in abundance, with an egg, some cheese, and some fruit. While they were eating, there was either singing or instrumental music, partly for recreation, and partly to keep the mind occupied in the divine praises. When dinner was finished, they pursued their journey to the other churches, and then returned home with great joy, and spiritual fruit to their souls. Many, who came at first out of curiosity, afterwards pursued the exercises in good earnest; and experienced such compunction in them that they gave themselves up to the frequentation of the Sacraments, and to lead spiritual lives, taking for their guide the holy father, whom they obeyed in everything.
At first the Saint always joined in this devotion, and with such an anxious desire that all should turn out well and edifying, that the excessive fatigue he went through to gain that end sometimes brought on a fever. In the latter years of his life, as well because of his age as because the exercise was well understood and established, he remained at home, leaving the conduct of it to others. God was pleased to show, if not by miracles, at least by graces and particular favours, how acceptable this devotion was to him. One year Philip went with the usual crowd to this exercise; while they were between St. Paul’s and St. Sebastian’s there arose a tremendous storm, and those who were in the Saint’s company, fearing lest they should get wet, wished to fly; but he told them not to fear, for that they would not get wet. Some believed the Saint’s words, and those who did not took to flight; and so it was, that they who followed him, although they were not very far from the others, did not catch one drop of rain, while they who fled were wet through.
Philip instituted these holy and pious exercises both to maintain the fervour of his spiritual children, and also to excite devotion in those who saw the frequentation of the Sacraments, the visits of the hospitals, the abundance of the word of God, the concourse of the Seven Churches, and other edifying things, which these exercises caused. This sort of institute now began to give such pleasure, that many persons, both of learning and influence, as well by word of mouth as by writing, greatly applauded it; so that Giovanni Derossi, in a book which he wrote at that time, and dedicated to the Saint, addressed him in the following words: “Among all the wonderful things which I saw in Rome during the past year (1568), I took the chief pleasure in beholding such a great multitude of devout and spiritual persons frequenting the church and oratory of S. Girolamo della Carità. Amidst the monuments of antiquity, the superb palaces and courts of so many illustrious lords, it appeared to me that the glory of this exemplary exercise shone forth with superior light, far surpassing the honour and the fame of all the remarkable things which were presented to my view. And I was the more astonished,- and at the same time how much consoled! to see continually the great concourse of nobles and of foreigners, who came with such relish to hear sermons, and the word of the Lord God, expounded to them there with a pure zeal for the Christian faith by you, for the salvation of their souls. Hence arises so often the desire of many of your spiritual children to abandon the world, and to serve our Lord Jesus Christ, as we have seen in the conversion of numbers who are at this very time in cloistered monasteries, or in other religious congregations.”
The Florentines, considering the great fruit which Philip obtained through these exercises, and with what prudence and dexterity he governed those who were under his care, and knowing also the integrity and sanctity of his life, took every means they could to induce him to undertake the charge of their church of S. Giovanni. For this end, in 1564, they sent deputies to pray him, in the name of the people, by all means to accept the charge, offering to provide him with a habitation and everything else that he might need. The Saint replied, that he should like to think over it and pray about it, and if he understood it to be the will of God he would not fail to give them satisfaction. Some days afterwards they returned for his answer; he said that he felt the greatest repugnance and difficulty about it, for that he could not bring himself in any way to leave S. Girolamo. When they had received this answer, Mgr. Cirillo, Commendatore of Santo Spirito, Giovanni Battista Altoviti, and Pier Antonio Bandini, who had the management of the business, adopted the expedient of going to the Pope, at that time Pius IV., of happy memory, and getting him to interpose his authority. They obtained what they wanted from him, and then returned to Philip and said that it was the will of his Holiness that he should undertake the government of their church. Philip immediately accepted the charge with all submission, on condition, however, that he should not be obliged to leave S. Girolamo. There was no difficulty in satisfying him in this matter, so that he was enabled both to take the care of S. Giovanni, and to direct the exercises at S. Girolamo.
When he took S. Giovanni he had three of his subjects ordained priests; one of them was Cesare Baronius, the second Giovan Francesco Bordino, a Roman, a man of great conversational talent, who was first made bishop of Caviglione, and afterwards archbishop of Avignon, in which see he died; and the third was Alessandro Fedeli, of Ripatransona, a man of great integrity and purity of life; and these three he sent to live together in community at S. Giovanni of the Florentines, where Alessandro took with him his nephew Germanico Fedeli, then a youth of about sixteen years. With them he sent, but not as priests depending on the oratory, Giacomo Salorti, a Majorcan, and Giovanni Rausico, most devoted priests; to the last of whom he committed the care of the parish. Not long after he added to these Francesco Maria Tarugi, of whom we have already spoken, and Angelo Velli, of Palestrina, a man truly of angelical disposition, and singular purity of conscience. He it was who succeeded the Saint in the government of the Congregation, ending his days in peace, on the 10th of December, 1622, aged eighty-five.
One of Philip’s chief thoughts, when he had undertaken the government of
the church and the priests attached to it, was to introduce among them an
ecclesiastical community-life. He foresaw the immense advantages which easily
result from such a manner of living. He drew up, therefore, a few
constitutions, which they immediately began to observe with unanimous
contentment. When, therefore, they had, in obedience to the Saint, gone to live
at S. Giovanni, they applied themselves with great fervour to labour in that
little vineyard. They went to San Girolamo every morning to confess to Philip,
and returned there again during the day to the sermons, either to hear them or
to preach them, according to their turns. In the evening they went there a third
time to the prayer, never missing, winter or summer. Indeed, neither rain nor
hardly any other outward hindrance caused them to fail at the accustomed
exercises at San Girolamo. As to the service of the house, they waited at table,
each one for one day; but for some time they served in the kitchen week by week,
and that with such readiness and good humour that Cesare Baronius left written
over the chimneypiece, “Caesare Baronius coquus perpetuus.” It very often
happened that when some dignified personage went to confer with him, which was
very common, on spiritual or other matters, he found him with his apron on,
washing the porringers. For a long time Germanico Fedeli and Ottavio Paravicini,
afterwards Cardinal, youths of the same age, took it in turns to read at table
week and week about. The reading was either from Scripture or some common
spiritual book, which lasted about two-thirds of the meal; the other third was
spent in proposing some moral doubt or case of conscience, according as they
pleased, proposing it sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the evening, and
each putting forward their own views. When the Congregation was founded at the
Vallicella, they began to have three readings, and to propose two doubts, as we
shall explain more fully in its place. As to the service of the church, they all
took part in sweeping it every Saturday; and hence it was that on Saturdays, for
the convenience of the church, they had not their accustomed discourses. On
festivals some of them assisted at the confessional, and some at communion.
Besides this mass was sung; and as there were so few, it very often happened
that one of them had to leave the confessional to attend to the functions of the
altar. For some years Baronius and Bordino preached in surplices in the pulpit
on festivals, taking it in turns. This was a thing which the Florentines desired
most earnestly, and the Saint thought it right to give them satisfaction. After
dinner they sang vespers, and then went in search of the Saint, either to the
Minerva or the Rotonda, or to some other place where he had told them beforehand
that he intended to go; and there they had a spiritual conference. Philip, or
some one whom he named, proposing some points, and calling first on one, then
on another for answers.
It was then that they began the practice of going every year after Easter to the hill of Sant’ Onofrio, an open place with a most beautiful view, commanding the whole city of Rome. During the great heats of summer they went to some church within the inhabited part of the city; there they first sang some spiritual praises, then had a short sermon recited by a boy who had learned it off by heart; after which some of the fathers made short discourses, interspersed with music, with which also the whole exercise always concluded. In winter, that is, from the 1st of November till Easter, after the usual prayer, they used to sing the litanies in the evening at the Oratory, together with the antiphon of our Lady, proper for the time; then came the sermon recited by a boy, and after that half an hour’s discourse, with music before and after, with a great concourse of people.
This was the manner of life which those first priests led at S. Giovanni of the Florentines. It lasted for ten years, and we have been anxious to give this minute relation of it, that posterity may see with what a spirit of humility those good priests lived together, although they were so eminent both for birth and literature that they might well deserve distinguished places in the church. When the ten years were over, the Florentines, considering the great inconvenience of the fathers in going three times a day to San Girolamo through the heat, the wet, and the mud, prayed the Saint most earnestly to transfer the exercises from S. Girolamo to S. Giovanni. In 1574, the 2nd year of Gregory XXIIIth’s pontificate, and the 50th of Philip’s age, on the 15th of April in the Octave of Easter, the fathers left the Oratory of S. Girolamo, and began to discourse at S. Giovanni in a more spacious Oratory built for that purpose by the Florentines. The multitude that assembled to hear the word of God increased very much, to the great edification of those who went there. Father Giovenale Ancina, priest of our congregation, and afterwards bishop of Saluzzo, who died in the odour of sanctity, as appears from his life recently printed, went to the exercises at the Oratory of S. Giovanni before he entered our congregation; and he was so deeply impressed, as well by the institute as by Philip’s sanctity, that in a letter (May 28, 1576) from Rome to F. Giovanni Matteo, his brother, who was in Piedmont, he writes as follows: “Since that time, I go to the Oratory at S. Giovanni of the Florentines, where they deliver every day most beautiful spiritual discourses on the Gospel, or on the virtues and vices, or ecclesiastical history, or the lives of the Saints. There are four or five each day who discourse, and persons of distinction go to hear them, bishops, prelates, and the like. At the conclusion there is a little music to console and recreate the spirits which are somewhat wearied by the preceding discourses. They have gone through the life of the glorious S. Francis and some of his disciples, and of S. Antony of Padua. I assure you it is a most delightful entertainment, and a most consoling and edifying thing altogether; and I regret very much that neither you nor I knew last year of this excellent and laudable exercise. You must know too that they who deliver the discourses are in holy orders, and of most exemplary and spiritual lives. Their superior is a certain Reverend Father Philip, an old man of sixty, but wonderful in many respects, and especially for holiness of life, and for his astonishing prudence and dexterity in inventing and promoting spiritual exercises, the author also of that great work of charity which was done at the Trinità de’ Pellegrini, during the last jubilee. Father Toledo, Possevino, and others, attribute much to him. In a word, they say he is an oracle not only in Rome, but in the far-off parts of Italy, and in France and Spain, so that many come to him for counsel; indeed he is another Rusbrochio, or Thomas a Kempis, or Taulero.” Such are the words of Father Giovenale, from which we may gather how the fruit of the exercises went on increasing daily.
These laudable exercises, which caused nothing but love and good feeling in pious men, only fomented the envy of the perverse, and became a very hot-bed of calumnies. As soon as Philip introduced the custom of conferences and spiritual discourses in his own room, which was about 1552, ill-natured persons began to speak against it, at first indeed secretly and in an underhand way. The chief of these was Vincenzo Teccosi, of Fabriano, a physician, and one of the deputies of S. Girolamo della Carità; and with him were associated two apostate monks, who under the shelter of the clerical habit lived unknown in that house, and at the instigation of Vincenzo did all they could to make Philip leave S. Girolamo. They had the care of the sacristy; and some times when Philip went to say mass they shut the door in his face; at other times they would not give him vestments, or they gave him old torn ones, with insulting words. Sometimes they took the chalice and missal out of his hands, or hid them from him; at other times when he was ready, they made him unvest, and then made him leave one altar, just when he was about to begin, and go to another, or return into the sacristy. With these and similar insults they did their best to force him from S. Girolamo; nay, they sometimes went so far as to push him; so that he said once to Marcello Ferro, “See what these men do to me; but let us pray to God for them.”
Philip went on charitably dissembling all these injuries and affronts, not allowing himself to be in the least disturbed by them. Many times indeed he made light of them and laughed about them, praying for them with a continually increasing zeal, and behaving to them with the greatest kindness and humility. He never let any occasion slip of doing them a service, or speaking well of them; indeed when his own people begged him to leave that Church and go to live elsewhere, he answered that he would not on any account fly from the cross which God sent him in that place. While he, however, was doing his best to subdue their ignorant insolence by his patient endurance, they were so far from being softened, that their impertinence increased in proportion to Philip’s moderation. The good father, seeing that his efforts availed nothing, had recourse with greater fervour than ever to that God who never fails his servants in their greatest needs. One morning when he was saying mass, he fixed his eyes upon the Crucifix, and said, “O my good Jesus, why dost Thou not hear me? O so long and with such importunity I have asked patience of Thee, why hast Thou not heard me?” Immediately he heard an interior voice saying to him, “Dost thou not ask patience of Me? Well, I will give it thee; but My Will is that thou shouldst gain it by this means.” Philip, strengthened by this voice, from that time endured every kind of injury which they offered him with still calmer mien and greater contentment; so that the malignity of his persecutors was tired out before his patience. Indeed he came at last not only to have no sensible feeling of these insults, but even to desire them; and when they maltreated him, he either made no account of it, or else excused them. The Saint used to relate the story to his spiritual children by way of animating them to perseverance in prayer, saying that they should never desist from their petitions, even though God might be a long time in granting them.
About two years afterwards it happened that one of his persecutors met him at the door of the house, and immediately began to load him with opprobrious epithets, and to put himself into such a passion with him, that the other apostate who was present, considering the great and long patience of Philip, was so completely overcome by his virtue, that he suddenly from his enemy became his defender, and threw himself upon his companion with impetuosity, seizing him by the throat as if he would have strangled him; and he would certainly have done him some injury if the Saint had not prevented him. Whereupon he too, who had just insulted him, was moved to compunction; and considering the great wrong which he had done the servant of God, and calling to mind the religious order which he had left, he took Philip into his confidence, and by his advice returned to his order, magnifying everywhere the sanctity of the holy father, and becoming his most devoted friend.
Even Vincenzo Teccosi was at last overcome by Philip’s moderation; and repenting of his fault, went to him, and in the presence of several others prostrated himself before him, and begged his pardon with great humility. He became also one of his spiritual children, giving himself up entirely into his hands, and following him continually; indeed he hardly ever allowed a day to pass without visiting him.
Philip’s persecutions did not, however, end here. A still worse storm arose in 1559 against the pilgrimage to the Seven Churches. Some imputed this action of his to pride, and said it was hardly becoming in a man, who made a profession of despising the world, to be drawing the eyes of all Rome upon himself. The lower sort who saw that some expense was gone to in providing refreshments, and not considering either the number of persons, or the simplicity of the provisions, set the pilgrimage down as an idle merry-making. Others of a more subtle turn attacked it on pretext of political objections, as though such a company of people might give rise to tumults and seditions, and said that the matter ought to he remedied forthwith. All these things were related to Philip, who listened to them with the utmost composure. He was not in the least disturbed by it, but left all to Providence. Some of the objectors were persons of consideration, and of spiritual lives; and when he heard his people complaining of these, he excused them as much as he could, that his own spiritual children might not lose their esteem for them. Indeed all such complaining so displeased the Saint, that he told F. Gallonio that when he heard it, he threw himself on his knees before the complainers and said, “I confess my fault of judging such or such a person,” as if he had himself done it; and by this means they who were really guilty the more readily perceived their error.
This rumour, however, increased, and finally came to the ear of the pope’s vicar, who, being misled by ill-natured information, summoned Philip before him, and rebuked him with great severity. “Are you not ashamed,” said he, “you who make such a profession of despising the world, of gathering together such a multitude of persons to court popular repute, and under the pretence of sanctity thus to hunt for preferment?” When he had thus bitterly reproved him, he forbid him to hear confessions for fifteen days, or to have any more exercises without fresh license, or to go about with any company of persons, threatening him with imprisonment, if he was disobedient, and furthermore compelling him to give security for his appearance upon any simple summons that might be sent him. Philip very modestly replied, that as he had begun these exercises for the glory of God; so for the same glory he would leave them off; and that he had always preferred the injunctions of his superiors to his own designs; and that his object in introducing the pilgrimage to the Seven Churches, had been to recreate the minds of his penitents, and to keep them removed from the sins so commonly committed during those days of the Carnival. The vicar replied, “You are an ambitious man, and what you do, you do not for the glory of God, but to make yourself head of a party.” When Philip heard this he turned to a crucifix which was there, and said as he went away, “Lord, Thou knowest if what I do is to make myself head of a party, or for Thy service.”
But Philip had always esteemed obedience above every thing else, especially towards ecclesiastical superiors, and, therefore, he forbade his disciples to go with him, he told them to have patience, for that the world would find out the truth at last, and meanwhile they were to pray. Indeed, to hinder them as much as he could from following him, he had recourse to an artifice, for when they went out of the house he told some that they were to go to one place, and others that they were to go to another place; yet, for all that they could not bear to be without him, and so they used to step aside and wait for him, and when he was passed, they followed him at a distance, and the more he forbade them, the more their desire to be with him increased. Philip, however, recommended himself to the Lord, and caused many servants of God to pray for him. One day when he was with some of his disciples, a priest appeared amongst them, whom they had never seen before and never saw afterwards. He was clothed in a coarse habit, and girt with a cord, and said he had come on the part of some religious who had had a revelation about the opposition to the Oratory, and that they had had the forty-hours’ prayer in consequence, and that great fruit was about to follow from it. Then drawing near to Francesco Maria Tarugi, he whispered secretly in his ear, “The persecution will soon end in the establishment and increase of the work;” and added, that they who were now opposed to it, would soon become its supporters; that he who had persevered in attacking it would be severely punished for it by God; and that the prelate who had been forward beyond others in the persecution, would be dead within fifteen days. And so it happened, for he perished miserably by a sudden death after he had come from giving in a relation of the matter to the pope.
It was necessary, however, for Philip to give an account to his superiors of the things objected to him. This he did without the help of worldly means, and only by his innocence and by prayer. He was continually saying to his followers, “This persecution is not for you, but for me, God wishing to make me humble and patient; and be sure, that when I shall have gained from it the fruit which God intends, and shall be thoroughly mortified, the persecution will cease.” He would not allow one word to be spoken against that prelate; nay, one of his penitents going one day to confession, and alluding to the judgment of God in that sudden death, the Saint instantly took the words out of his mouth, and said, “Hold your peace.”
After some time Paul IV., who was pope at that time, having heard the whole success of the exercises, and ascertained the innocence of Philip, perceived that it was God who guided him in his actions, and as a little mark of his good feeling, sent him two gilded candles, such as are burnt before his holiness, on the feast of the Purification, telling him at the same time that he gave him full leave to have the pilgrimage to the Seven Churches, and to resume his exercises, and in all respects to go on as before. His holiness further added, that he was sorry he could not go there in person, but begged Philip to pray for him. When those who were present heard this message delivered, they returned thanks to God; and soon after they went to the Seven Churches with an immense multitude, praising the Divine goodness for the happy termination of this great persecution, and for the free enjoyment once again of that consoling spiritual recreation.
A few years after, namely in 1570, a still more vehement persecution arose. Some persons, under pretence of zeal, informed the pope, S. Pius V., that in the discourses at S. Girolamo, there were a great many frivolities, and examples related that had not much foundation in truth, a thing which showed either great imprudence or great ignorance, and which might give scandal as well as do mischief to the hearers. The pope had no sooner heard this, than, as a zealous pastor, he gave orders to two Dominican divines, Father Master Paolini, and Father Master Alessandro Franceschi, who was afterwards bishop of Forli, that they should go, separately, the one not knowing that the other was going, to hear the discourses, and make minute observations on every thing that was said and done at S. Girolamo; and if there was any thing contrary to the faith or sound morals, it was to be reported to him.
While these fathers were pursuing their inquiries, Alessandro de’ Medici, afterwards Leo XI., and at that the ambassador of the grand duke of Tuscany, went to have an audience of the pope. After they had discussed some matters of business, the pope, knowing that Alessandro went often to hear the discourses at S. Girolamo, said he had understood that in the sermons delivered there due caution was not observed; as, for instance, the example of S. Apollonia throwing herself into the fire had been related, without its being added that her conduct was directed by a particular motion of the Holy Ghost. Immediately after the audience, the ambassador went to the sermon at the Minerva, where he saw immediately in front of him Germanico Fedeli, one of Philip’s penitents. Germanico requested him on the part of the Saint, to go to S. Girolamo as soon as he could, for that he particularly wished to speak to him, and that he could not visit him, as he was lame and confined to his bed. In the afternoon Alessandro went to S. Girolamo, but before going up to Philip, he determined to hear the discourses, and among others he heard Father Francesco Maria Tarugi, who by the Saint’s commands handled the very matter which had been the subject of conversation between the pope and his excellency in the morning, and he particularly related the fact of S. Apollonia, with the most remarkable caution, which greatly astonished the ambassador. After the discourses he went up to the Saint’s room, and the very first words that Philip said to him were, “I pray you tell me, Signor Alessandro, what the pope said about us this morning.” Alessandro, seeing the whole thing already discovered, freely confessed all, and marvelled how Philip could have known what he had never told any one, and which he could not have known except by divine revelation.
The religious, whom the pope had deputed to observe very narrowly all that was said and done at S. Girolamo, at length made their report to his holiness, and declared that they had never heard any thing but what was sound doctrine, and gave the greatest edification, and, indeed, that they were struck by the spirit, and yet secure moderation with which the discourses were composed. The pope was delighted with this good report, and rejoiced that he had in his times men who took such pains to plant devotion in the hearts of the faithful. From that time he had a great esteem for Philip and his subjects, so that when the cardinal Alessandrino, his nephew, went as legate into Spain, France, and Portugal, he desired Francesco Maria Tarugi to go with him, letting him into all the secrets of the business he was going to treat about. These fathers, moreover, whom the pope had deputed, took such an affection to the institute, that for .many years they went almost every day to hear the sermons, and often delivered discourses there themselves; as did Father Franceschino, the Conventualist, a man of holy life, and a famous preacher; and the same may be said of many other religious of different orders.
When these persecutions had ceased, Philip’s designs went on prospering more than ever, and becoming more and more firmly established. He had too humble an opinion of himself ever to have spirit enough, as he once expressed it, to found a congregation; yet when he saw the fruit which the exercises daily produced, and the urgent desires of some of his dearest disciples, to live in community and perpetuate an institute which seemed to them so profitable, he judged it most advisable to provide a place for that end, a place which should be his own, and where he could found a congregation and carry out the work he had already begun. While he was deliberating about this matter, two churches were proposed to him; Santa Maria in Monticelli near the street della Regola, which was the easiest to obtain possession of, and Santa Maria in Vallicella in the contrada di Parione. While he was in doubt which of the two to take, he thought it would be well in a matter so important, and on which the fruit of the institute depended, to have a conference with the pope, at that time Gregory XII; besides that by this means he should better learn the will of God. The pope recommended him to take the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, as being in a more frequented part of the town than the other; and also as the institute was for the good of Rome, and this plan of secular priests living with strict observance in community was highly edifying, that church was altogether more suitable than the one in Monticelli. Philip took this answer as the expression of the will of God, and without any further delay took means to obtain the church.
No sooner had he obtained it than he erected in it by apostolical authority, as appears by the bull of the same pope, July 15, 1575, a congregation of Secular Priests, which he called the Congregation of the Oratory. He obtained a faculty also to make decrees and constitutions for the good government of it, with the clause that after they had been drawn up, and put in force, they were to have a subsequent approbation and confirmation of the Holy See. When Philip had get possession of the church, he sent some of his disciples to live there, namely Germanico Fedeli, and Giovanni Antonio Lucci of Bagnarea, a very virtuous priest, and one of the Saint’s earliest spiritual children. Their business was to perform the functions of the church, to look after the parish, and to superintend the small building he designed to erect there. But the fathers, seeing it so small and ruinous, began to discuss how they were to repair it. They would have wished to have built it afresh from the foundations, but as they had no money, they durst not come to such a determination. While they were hesitating about it, Philip, who had always an unlimited confidence in God, seemed on this occasion to be inspired with it. For one morning he gave an order to throw the old church down, and to build a new one which should be spacious enough for the exercises of the congregation, in fact the church as we see it at this day.
The old church then being dismantled, and the order for the new one given, Matteo of Castello the architect drew the line to mark out the length of the building. Philip was then at S. Girolamo; and as he was going out of the sacristy to say mass, he sent a messenger to him to tell him not to draw the line till he came, for that he wished to be present himself. When mass was over he went to the Vallicella, and the architect drawing the line as far as he thought the building ought to go, Philip told him to draw it further. Matteo did so; Philip cried out, “Draw it further still;“ he obeyed, and Philip again repeated the same order; the architect obeyed this second time, but still the room seemed scanty to the Saint, and a third time he bade him draw it further. At last they came to the spot which God had shown him in spirit, and he cried out, “Stop there, and dig.” In digging they came to an old wall ten palms under-ground, as wide as the whole church, and longer, of which no one knew before. Upon this they built all the wall on the Gospel side, and found a quantity of solid materials, which sufficed for the greater part of the foundations, and for some of the walls; and on that side the fabric has not suffered so much as on the other. Thus the building of the new church was begun on the 17th of September, 1575, and Alessandro de’ Medici, then Archbishop of Florence, laid the first stone with the usual solemnities.
Of course, as the building went on there did not fail to be oppositions and contradictions; for there is seldom a work of God without them. Some of those who dwelt near began to murmur against the fathers, and some of the more evil-disposed tried to wound Father Giovanni Antonio Lucci, who superintended the work, with cross-bows and stones: but God always preserved him from injury; and it was observed, that all those who had most actively opposed the work died within two years. The building was finished in 1577; and on the 3rd of February, which was Septuagesima Sunday, the fathers began to celebrate the divine offices there. In order to give a greater solemnity to the opening, the Pope granted a plenary indulgence to all who visited the new church on that day. There was in consequence an immense concourse of people, and the Archbishop of Florence officiated at the High Mass. In the month of April in the same year the fathers left the oratory of S. Giovanni of the Florentines, and began their discourses in the new church of the Vallicella; but the holy Father still refused to leave San Girolamo della Carità.
The number of the fathers and brothers in creased so rapidly that they soon amounted to one hundred and thirty, and there was not room enough to lodge them. There was, however, close to their houses a little monastery of S. Elizabeth, in which were a few Poor Clares, whose superiors had ordered them to remove to another house, commonly called Delle Muratte, belonging to the same order; and this monastery the fathers thought of buying. When the plan was proposed to Philip, he could not by any possibility be persuaded to incur such an expense, as it would load the house with debt; and he had such confidence in God that he felt sure a dwelling would be provided for them in some other way. Now, as if for the very purpose of showing that Philip’s thought was from God, and that he foresaw events before they took place, the Lord permitted these fathers to try to obtain that monastery contrary to the opinion of Philip. They carried their project into effect; but in the very making of the bargain, the prelate, Mario Marzo, who was superintendent of the monastery, refused to take the bank bill which the fathers offered him, and insisted upon having ready money, which is by no means usual in such purchases. Pompeo Pateri, a priest of the congregation, hearing this, set off to S. Girolamo to relate the whole affair to Philip; but as he was going out he met the Saint, who was just going up the steps into our church, and before Pompeo could utter a word Philip said, “Did I not tell you that this monastery was not to be bought?” and then he added, “give me that bill, for although we shall not buy the monastery, God will provide for us in another way:” and indeed five months afterwards Cardinal Cesi bought the monastery together with some other houses, and gave them to the congregation.
In all this business Philip showed a remarkable trust in Divine Providence. He began building with scarcely any funds, and yet no sooner was the work fairly started than aid came from all quarters, so that in two years the fabric was completed. During the progress of it, it is true that he was often in want of money, but he never lost courage; he contented himself with saying, “God will help me.” Nor was his reliance vain; for not in this building only, but in almost every occurrence when he had need, money came to him in such a way, that many, seeing him spend so much and never ask for any, believed he obtained it miraculously. Some maintained that his undertaking at the Vallicella could not be carried out, and that he was making the building far too large; but he answered, “I can assure you that my confidence in God is such that I have heart enough to pull down what I have built, and make another larger and more sumptuous.” Talking one day on this very subject with the countess Adriana, wife of count Prospero della Genga, he replied thus to some remarks which that lady made, “I have made a bargain with the Madonna not to die till the church is covered in,” which indeed was verified by the event.
The first money with which the building was begun was two hundred crowns given by S. Charles Borromeo. Then Gregory XIII. gave eight thousand; Cardinal Cesi bequeathed another eight thousand; Angelo his brother, bishop of Todi, spent thirty thousand on the facade, besides what he spent upon the chapel of the Presentation; Cardinal Frederick Borromeo, also gave four thousand; and all the rest, which far surpassed the sum already named, was given by different persons of their own accord, without the now aged Saint ever asking money of any one. Indeed he often said himself, that, without any thing to begin upon, by the grace of God and for the honour of God, four hundred thousand crowns had been spent in the building of the church. It happened one day that a brother of the congregation, who looked after the building, told Philip there was no more money, and that the building had reached the cornices, and could not advance any further. The holy father told him not to be in trouble, for that God would not fail to provide what was necessary. The brother suggested that there was a certain very rich gentleman who gave away almost all his fortune for the love of God, and that he would be sure to give them a very large alms, if he were only asked. Philip replied, “My son, I have never yet asked any thing, and God has always provided for me; that gentleman knows our necessity very well, and if he wishes to give us an alms he will do it of his own accord.” This answer, so full of confidence and detachment from earthly things, was not long without its reward. A few months afterwards an eminent advocate, who was very much attached to the congregation, died, and left more than four thousand crowns for the church; and six months afterwards another died who left more than eight thousand. In this way did God seem to approve Philip’s determination of never asking for any thing.
Philip had now brought every thing into good order, and governed the congregation so completely that nothing was done without him, as indeed he had been the author of it all at first. But he had never yet consented to leave his dwelling at S. Girolamo della Carità, although the fathers had often begged him to do so, and used every means to induce him. This reluctance appeared to his disciples a little hard; but the real cause of it was his dislike to be called the founder of the congregation, a title very uncongenial to his lowly opinion of himself. Besides which, he said that he did not wish to fly from the cross, or to leave the place in which the Lord had given him so many opportunities of meriting; and, lastly, that having lived there for three-and-thirty years, he wished to persevere to the end.
But the fathers saw how necessary it was for the congregation that the superior should be resident; and as they had failed hitherto in persuading him to leave S. Girolamo, and comply with their wishes in coming to the Vallicella, they had recourse to Cardinal Cesi, beseeching him to request the Pope to give Philip an obedience to live with them. The Pope considered the petition of the fathers to be only what was reasonable, and told the Cardinal to command Philip, in his name, by all means to go to live at the new church. The Saint, with his usual prompt obedience, especially to the Pope, submitted instantly, and on S. Cecilia’s day, 1583, left S. Girolamo and went to the Vallicella. The change of place, however, made no difference in his manner of living, and his retired habits. At the Vallicella he chose one of the highest and most remote rooms of the house, that he might give himself the more easily to contemplation, as at S. Girolamo. This was his manner of walking in the way of God, which he had undertaken when he was ordained priest, and he persevered in it to the very end of his life.
On the day of his removal he commanded his disciples to carry in procession from S. Girolamo to the Vallicella all the few household goods he had, such as frying-pans, shovels, and other mean utensils, and while they passed through the Corte Savella, which was at that time a public gaol, the prisoners saw them and made game of them, and one of them cried out, “Father, fry us some good pancakes:” the Saint, according to his usual custom, managed to earn a little mortification, by any means, either for himself or his followers. He had still such an affection to the church of S. Girolamo, that as long as he lived he kept the keys of his rooms, sometimes going there himself for an hour or so, and often sending others to look at them. He enjoyed, however, perfect peace at the Vallicella, and his residence there gave the greatest satisfaction, not only to his congregation, but to all Rome.
When Philip had gone to live at the Vallicella, he was, of course, as head and founder of the congregation, elected by common consent, the actual superior. He accepted this burden against his own will, and wished that example should be given in his own case of what was to be observed after his death; namely, that the superior was either to be elected or confirmed afresh every three years. In 1587 the fathers judged it expedient to change this custom and to except Philip from the rule, and on the 19th of June in that year, they declared him perpetual provost of the congregation. At first he was determined not to accept it, but he was at last overcome by the unanimous prayers of his subjects.
After his election and confirmation as perpetual provost, he began to organize the congregation according to his original idea; he enacted that those who entered it were to live as priests and secular clerks, and in all outward things to be conformed to that state. They were by no means to be bound by vow or oath; for he said that if any one was desirous of a more perfect state and wished to make vows, there were plenty of religious orders in which they could fully satisfy their pious wishes; but that he wished his congregation to be composed of persons who would serve God freely and without tie, as he by no means wished to introduce a new order. The members of the congregation were to attend to the salvation of their own souls, the edification of their neighbours, and to maintain the spirit of the institute which was chiefly in prayer, in imparting the word of God to others, and in the frequentation of the Sacraments. He said that they should all seek to imitate religious in their perfection, although they should not imitate them in making vows. In fact he wished the community-life of the congregation to be such that it might offer a tempting refuge to those who durst not presume to enter any of the regular orders because of the austerity of the rule, and yet wished for a retirement in which they could serve God more freely and perfectly than in the world. Indeed, he went so far that on one occasion, soon after the congregation was established, when one of the members, who thought the fathers ought to renounce whatever they possessed, had actually drawn up a paper to prove that they ought not to possess, Philip, when he read it, scratched out the words “should not possess,” and wrote above, “Habent, possideant.”
He made also some other constitutions, with the consent and counsel of the fathers, which were unanimously received; but before undertaking this, he conferred with several persons eminently skilled in spiritual matters, as well as men of learning and prudence, and especially with Cardinal della Rovere, Archbishop of Turin, a most learned man, and of singular judgment. These Constitutions, after being well reviewed, and acted upon for more than thirty years successively, were finally approved and confirmed by an apostolic Brief of February 24, 1612, by Pope Paul V., from whom our congregation gratefully acknowledges that it has received very many favours.
The government and particular manner of life in the Congregation is treated of very fully in the Constitutions, and therefore we shall not say much about it. It is enough to remark, that by S. Philip’s means the Divine Majesty has introduced into Rome a method of familiarly and profitably handling the Word of God every day. From the very beginning of the discourses at S. Girolamo, Philip discovered the great fruit of this exercise; and therefore he ordered (and the same has been observed since his time) that every day, Saturdays excepted, there should be some spiritual reading, and then four discourses, one after another, of half an hour each; after which they should sing some spiritual praises, to relieve the minds of the hearers; and then that the exercise should conclude with a little prayer, and three Paters and Aves for the needs of Holy Church, or any other special object they might be praying for at the time. He himself, for many years, was present at all the four sermons every day, as were also the majority of his subjects; and when the oratory was at S. Girolamo he was not only present every day, but bore a part in the discourses.
He commanded those who delivered the discourses not to enter into scholastic matters, except when it was unavoidable, as in some cases it is; for he said that the Oratory was not for scholastic knowledge, but to learn how to acquire Christian virtues and to avoid sins; that there were abundance of schools, if they wished for doctrine, and professors’ chairs to which they could resort. He also instructed those who discoursed not to indulge in fine or far-fetched conceits, but to speak in a useful and popular way. To some he assigned Lives of the Saints for their subject, to others he allotted Church history, to others the Dialogues of S. Gregory, and other devout matters by which they might move the hearers rather to compunction than to admiration. When he heard them touch upon subtle and curious questions, he made them come down from their raised seat, even if they were in the middle of a sermon. His general instructions to all were, to use an easy and plain style, and to expatiate upon the beauty of virtue and the deformity of vice, insisting particularly on their relating some life or example of a saint in their discourse; and he always related one himself, so as to impress the doctrine more upon the minds of the audience.
There was hardly any point about which he was more anxious, than that his subjects should not depart from this method of discoursing; and for this end he was very particular in seeing that they did not engulph themselves, so to speak, in study, or take too much affection to it. On this account he never allowed Baronius to leave community duties, prayer, sermons, and the confessional, and other ordinary functions, for the sake of study. He did not, indeed, forbid them to study, but he ordered them to dedicate themselves to matters conformable to the institute, and not seek the reputation of being scholars, or to show learning in the presence of others; the servant of God ought, he said, to obtain wisdom, but not to show it nor make a boast of it; neither ought he to make excessive or anxious application to study, for in that there may be even sin; but he should do a little at a time, for this above other reasons, that the mysteries of holy scripture are learned rather by prayer than by study.
To the word of God Philip joined the daily exercise of prayer, and for this end he ordered the Oratory to be opened every evening on work days, about five o’clock. Any one was at liberty to go there, except women. The exercises began with half an hour of mental prayer, then they recited the litanies, and concluded with some Paters and Aves for such public or private necessities as were urgent at the time. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, in place of the litanies, the discipline was taken, after a short and devout compendium of our Lord’s Passion and the discipline lasted through the Miserere, De Profundis, and some short prayers; after which they sang the proper antiphon of our Lady, the Salve Regina, or whatever it might be, according to the season, and so the exercise was concluded.
As to the frequentation of the Sacraments, his wish was that the priests of the congregation should ordinarily say mass every morning; and although he refused to give some of them leave to celebrate every day, by way of mortifying them, yet he expected them to be prepared at any moment that he should give them the order to do so. He preferred mass to be rather short than long, yet not too short for the decorous performance of such an action; so that he exhorted any, who should feel an excessive abundance of sweetness during mass, to say to themselves, “I do not wish for You here, but in my room;” meaning by that, that while mass was to be said with devotion, it was not to be tedious to those who were hearing it, but that in the retirement of his own chamber a man may give a loose rein to his devotion. When he was in the sacristy he was not particular about what was given him, and although he was superior he used to say, “Give me the oldest and shabbiest things.”
He desired all the confessors to assist at the confessionals on the morning of feasts, and on Wednesdays and Fridays; and on other days there was at least always one there. He wished those who were not priests to confess at least three times a week, and to communicate according to the will of their confessor; for he said that no one ought to communicate without such leave, because frequent communion at our own will increases our temptations, without our always getting strength to resist them.
With regard to domestic matters, and the community life, and clothing, he wished everything to be free from singularity. At table two-thirds of the time were spent in spiritual reading; the other third he ordered to be spent in proposing two doubts, one moral or scriptural, and the other a case of conscience. They proposed them by turns morning and evening, and every one answered as it seemed best to him, according to the method set forth in the constitutions.
Such is a sketch of Philip’s institute, which has since been introduced into many cities of Italy, and elsewhere, and always with great profit to the places where it is established. It was, however, the Saint’s desire, that the congregations founded in other places, on the model of the one at Rome, should be independent of it, and govern themselves, being subject to their ordinaries, and without any dependence one upon another. This was confirmed by Gregory XV. in a brief dated July 8, 1622. Paul V. had also granted another, March 3, 1612, in which he forbade all the congregations, out of Rome, which professed to be of the Oratory, and to live under the protection of S. Philip Neri, to make or promulgate any other constitutions; but ordered them to receive and obey the ones already mentioned, in all things which regarded as well as their manner of life as their assemblies, so far as local circumstances permitted it. Moreover, he forbade any one to erect another congregation of the Oratory in Rome, or to open fresh houses of that institute in the city.
Philip had such a firm confidence that God would preserve his congregation, that if all the subjects in the house had determined to leave him, he would have done nothing to retain them. He said that God was in no want of men; and when any one left the congregation he used to cry out, “God is able of those stones to raise up children to Abraham,” and that God himself had made the congregation, and so would maintain it. He added, that he did not trust in men; “I wish,” were his words, “I wish to fear no one; God is my fear.” On one occasion it was mentioned that some religious had tried to adopt the institute of daily discourses, and one of the fathers of the house remarked to Philip that this was not right: but the Saint corrected him, and said, “Quis det ut omnis prophetet?” He often declared, that he desired nothing but the honour of God, and that he was ready to go on with the Oratory or to leave it, to hear confessions or not; and thus in things not only indifferent, but even good, he was always resigned to the will of God. Hence, he took no pains to amplify his congregation, or increase the number of subjects. He had continual opportunities, if he had chosen to avail himself of them, of getting the best subjects in Rome. When he met with young men who to all outward appearance were excellently fitted for the institute, he either advised them to enter into different religious orders, or to persevere in piety in the condition of life in which they were, according as he judged most expedient for their souls.
For the rest, Philip always governed the congregation with the greatest judgment and prudence, and maintained it in holy peace and concord. He used to say of the government, “No one would believe how hard it is to keep together free subjects: there is no easier way to do it than by being kind, and sparing of giving orders; he who wants to he well obeyed should give few orders.” He never said to his subjects, do this, or do the other; but gave his orders rather in the shape of an exhortation: “I should like you to do this,” he would say, “but if it seems too hard I will do it for you. Supposing I were to impose this burden upon you, what would you say?” and by this means he obtained everything he wished. But notwithstanding this gentleness he knew how to use authority when it was needed. Indeed, his authority over many of his subjects was such, that with only a look he could guide them as he pleased. To fix his eye severely on a person was his ordinary method of rebuking him. He had such a horror of disobedience, that when any one had shown a notable repugnance to any duty, it mattered not what, he wished him immediately to leave the congregation. Upon this subject we may quote what was found in one of his manuscripts: “In case the man does not know how to go on without making a trouble either about meals, or the church, or what also is wanted of him, let him ask leave to separate himself from the congregation as quickly as possible; for otherwise after the first or second offence, his dismissal will be given him; for I am positively resolved, my fathers, not to keep any in the house who are not observers of the few orders which are given them.”
he was always desirous to give them opportunities of mortifying and submitting their own judgments. When he gave an obedience to any one, and saw that he had a great repugnance to it, or excused himself, he pressed it on him more than ever, he often sent his subjects to do things at hours and times which were contrary to the dictates of human prudence; and all this was for the object of keeping his spiritual children in a humble opinion of themselves, and that they should not exercise themselves, as he used to say, in mirabilibus super se. Here I may quote a letter which Cardinal Baronius when he was at Forrara with Clement VIII. wrote to Father Pietro Conso lino, to whom the care of the young men was at that time committed. We may gather from it the lessons which Baronius himself had learned. “I ought to take shame to myself for not having written to you before, at least to thank you for the prayers you have offered up for me. I do so now, and give you most fervent thanks for them, and I pray you to persevere in them for the future, together with all my dear sons, the novices, for whom I desire all increases of piety. Make, my father, make those young plants conformable to the grand tree of which they are slips, and force yourself to govern others as you were governed yourself. You may be sure that our blessed Father still lives, and sees and rules his sons, and keeps the scourge in his hand for the disobedient. As to myself, I beg you to count me and treat me as one of your novices, and correct me as you think well without showing me any respect. O that it might please God thus to renew my youth in my old age, and that that word of the prophet might be fulfilled in me, Renovabitur ut aquilae juventus tua! This seems to me the proper spiritual sense of the sleep of Abisag with the aged David, namely, the union of spiritual fervour with old age. Truly did Abisag sleep with our holy father, as you well know; for so fervent was he in his old age, that one could feel him to be really on fire. It is not the purple or firred vestments, that warm the old, but only Abisag. O may my icy old ago be worthy of such a companion! That you should pray for this for me is the very end for which I have written to you now. May God console you, and make a Saint of you. From Ferrara, the 14th of August, 1598, your reverence’s brother at command, Cesare, Cardinal Baronius.”
Philip held it also to be a matter of great importance in the government of the congregation, to spend the revenues very parsimoniously, calling them, as they really are, the property of the poor, and the patrimony of Christ. He was so sensible upon this point, that he could not endure any expenses in the congregation, except such as were absolutely necessary, alleging the anecdote in Cassian, of the cook who was so sharply rebuked by his superiors for letting three lentils spoil; and also that of S. Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence, who went to study by the lamp in the church, that he might not diminish, as he said, the goods of the poor. If any one told him that this was running matters too fine, he used to say, “Remove this scruple of mine about their being the goods of the church, and then do what you will.”
Such was the character of Philip’s government of the congregation, as well in the temporal as spiritual concerns; and I will say no more how, as different occasions will present themselves, especially in treating of his virtues; and I wish to avoid repetition as much as possible.
When the congregation was fairly established, the thing Philip had most at heart was obedience. It was not only from his subjects that he exacted the most scrupulous and prompt obedience, but from all his penitents, and those who were devoted to him. Indeed, there was nothing, however difficult, which the majority of them would not readily have attempted at his command. Cardinal Tarugi affirms, that though his subjects were not bound to him by a vow of obedience, yet some of them almost equalled the old monks of Egypt in the exactitude of their submission; and on some other occasions when the cardinal was speaking upon this subject, and exhorting some of our house to obedience, he said, that so far as he knew there was no religious superior, not even of old times, that was more readily and blindly obeyed than Philip was, not by his subjects only, but by his disciples and penitents; so beloved and feared was he by all of them. Neither was this assertion unfounded; for many of their own accord affirmed, that they had such faith in Philip, that if he had said to them, “Throw yourself out of the window,” they would have done so without fail; and others declared, that if he had ordered them to throw themselves into the fire, they would have done so without reasoning upon it, because they considered his words as inspired by God. All this will not appear exaggerated when men have well pondered the actions which we shall now proceed to relate.
Philip was one day talking familiarly with some of his spiritual children on the virtue of obedience, exhorting them to it, especially in arduous and difficult matters. It so happened that there was a fishpond in the place, and in the course of the conversation, he said, “Who is there of you that is so prompt in this virtue, that he would throw himself into that fishpond, if I ordered him?” He had scarcely uttered the words when one of the company, with great simplicity, and never waiting to think of the Saint’s real meaning, leapt into the pond, and ran some risk of being drowned, though fortunately some of the byestanders pulled him out uninjured.
Another time, in order to try them, as well as to give them an opportunity of exercising themselves in obedience, he ordered three of his disciples to strip themselves and walk naked through the Banchi. They immediately set off to perform the obedience, and had even begun to strip themselves, when the Saint, satisfied with their promptitude, bade them put on their clothes again, saying, “That will do; there is nothing else wanted;” a favourite phrase of his.
On another occasion he told a priest to strip in the middle of a church full of people, and the obedient son immediately began to do so, when the Saint told him that was enough. Another time he went with some of his disciples to visit the sick in the hospital of S. John Lateran, and as he passed by the Colosseum, he found a poor man lying in the dirt, seriously ill, covered with wounds and apparently dying. This spectacle moved his compassion, and he made a sign to one of them, named Francesco, to take him on his shoulders and carry him to the hospital. The Saint had scarcely made the sign before Francesco had taken him up; and he carried him to the hospital, which is some distance from the Colosseum, to the wonder and edification of all those who saw him.
Baronius suffered from such a great weakness of stomach, that the least morsel of food gave him excruciating pain; joined to which was such a feebleness in his head, that the Saint had forbidden him to make mental prayer, or in any other way to fatigue his mind. One day, while he was in this condition, he went to the Saint in the afternoon as usual. In the room there was a large roll and a lemon. Philip said to him, “Cesare, take that roll and that lemon, and eat the whole of them in my presence.” Although Baronius fully believed that that food would naturally cause some serious injury to his health, and perhaps even endanger his life, yet for all that he put his trust in the virtue of obedience, made the sign of the Cross, and ate the whole. Not only, however, did it do him no injury, but he was immediately freed from the malady, both of his head and stomach. He also declares, that having gone for nine years successively to the hospital of Santo Spirito to serve the sick, in obedience to the Saint, it sometimes happened that he went there with a fever on him, and when he had finished his work, returned home perfectly well. And indeed, the examples of the sort which we might relate are almost numberless.
It was likewise observed by many, that what his penitents did out of obedience to him always turned out well. Fabrizio de’ Massimi, one of the Saint’s first penitents, and a great favourite of his, had two sons who had been sick for a long while, and at last became so bad, that one of them could take nothing but broth, and the other took even that reluctantly. Fabrizio wished to carry them to a castle of his, called Arsoli, about twenty-eight miles from Rome, hoping that by leaving Rome he might save their lives. He consulted the physicians, who told him that as it was July, and in the dog-days, he was on no account to take them; in fact, they declared that if he took those children from Rome they would inevitably die. Fabrizio went to take the advice of the holy father, who said openly and before the physicians, that he was by all means to take them, and to have the litters ready for the following day, and not to have any doubt about the matter. Fabrizio obeyed, and receiving the Saint’s blessing, he set off the next day with his children, who suffered no inconvenience, either on the road or at Arsoli; nay, one of them, when only four miles from Rome, descended from the litter, mounted on horseback, and accomplished the rest of the journey as if he had been well.
Vincenzo Crescenzi, brother of Cardinal Crescenzio, being one day in the Saint’s room with some other young men, asked leave to go out with them as far as S. Francesco di Ripa; and all of them, after having obtained his blessing, left the room. It happened that as they were returning home in a carriage, Vincenzo unfortunately fell from the door upon the pavement, and one of the wheels passed over both his legs. His companions immediately cried out, thinking that his legs were both broken, and that he would be crippled. Nevertheless he got up of himself without the slightest injury, and walked home on foot, saying, “The obedience of our father saved me.” When he returned to the Saint, Philip told him it was a miracle, and that he must be mindful of it, and thank God for it; and this he repeated at different times. This young man afterwards became a Barefooted Carmelite friar, and died some years since provincial of his order, having by his spirituality given great edification to all who knew him.
Another young Roman noble relates of himself, that after his marriage, whenever, for any just cause, he was obliged to go out to any party, if he went with Philip’s leave he was not molested by bad thoughts; but when he went without his leave he was always assailed by them.
The Abbate Marco Antonio Maffa, of whom we shall speak elsewhere, was most averse to preaching, and, as he himself declares, he had such a horror of it, he would rather have been exposed to any danger than preach; yet when Philip commanded him to deliver a discourse, he mortified himself and obeyed, and became one of the best preachers in the Oratory.
When it seemed good to the fathers to send F. Pompeo Pateri to Milan upon sonic grave business, he excused himself on the ground of unfitness. The Saint, however, ordered him to perform the obedience imposed upon him, and as he left Rome, he said to him, “Go, and trust in God; but beware of examining the commandment of your superiors, for everything will turn out happily at last, and as you would wish.” And so in fact it did, and that very shortly, notwithstanding the vehement opposition which persons of influence made to it, and the threats they uttered against him. In all his necessities and perils he never had recourse to any one, only to the prayers of the Saint, recommending himself to him by letters, and being always scrupulously mindful of his words.
On the other hand it was observed that they who disobeyed Philip generally got themselves into trouble. Francesco Maria Tarugi was mostly very obedient to the Saint; but he had a strong desire to rise during time night to pray, and he asked leave to do so. Philip, knowing the delicacy of his constitution, refused it. This did not quiet Tarugi, who begged harder than ever, and at last put his thought into execution. But the very first night that he did so, he injured his head so much that for twelve months he could make no prayer at all.
Another of the Saint’s penitents took the discipline everyday without his leave, till at last, a scruple arising in his mind, he asked permission to do so. Philip, knowing that it was not good for him, said that he was so far from being pleased that he took it every day, that he wished him never to take it at all. The penitent, however, was not contented with this, and importuned Philip so much that at last he said, “Well, I command you to take the discipline once a week,” at the same time fixing the day. Strange to say, no long time elapsed before the penitent came and threw himself at his feet, and confessed that when the appointed day came, on which he had the obedience to take the discipline, he had such a repugnance that he actually could not inflict it upon himself; although before he had received the obedience, he had the greatest pleasure in that penance, and inflicted it upon himself everyday. Once he forbid one of his penitents to go to Tivoli, and another to Naples; both of them, however, went in spite of him; and the first fell from his horse and broke his thigh and the other had a dangerous voyage by sea. A young Pisan, whose name I shall not mention, kept company with another in disobedience to the Saint, who when he heard of it, said, “This man will come to a bad end.” Not long after he murdered his companion in the Campo di Fiore, and fled away, and was never heard of again. Giovanni Andrea Pornio Lucatelli, of whom we shall have to speak in another place, says in his deposition: “Nothing that I did by the counsel of Father Philip ever turned out ill; but whom I departed from his orders, I always got into trouble.” Indeed it was observed, that he who obediently did his will, prospered in his temporal as well as spiritual affairs.
Fabrizio de’ Massimi, who has already been mentioned, had put out a great sum of money on the life of his daughter Helena; and as he was leaving Rome in the spring, as was his custom, for his castle of Arsoli, he went to take leave of Philip, who said to him, “Before you go, take up that money which depends on your daughter’s life.” Fabrizio did not obey, for his daughter was young, strong, and healthy, so that it did not appear necessary. In September she fell ill, and died before there was time to get the money secure; and thus by his disobedience to Philip he lost all the money. The same sort of thing happened to Curzio Lodio of Aquila; the Saint told him not to lend a certain sum of money; he persisted in doing so, and never could get it back again. On the other hand, several of his penitents, by following his counsel, escaped the loss of hundreds of crowns. A poor cowherd, called Domenico, had put in a bank 300 crowns, which was his whole fortune; Philip one day said to him, “Go and take that money out directly.” He obeyed, and shortly after the bank broke. The same thing happened, in the case of much larger sums of money, to Ludovico Parisi and Francesco Fortini; Marco Antonio Ubaldini in like manner escaped a great loss, which many others incurred. A noble family, who were going to make an agreement with a relation for many thousands of crowns, and to whose property they were thus to succeed without further delay, consulted Philip, who said, “Do not do it, for your relation will die shortly.” He was then quite well and in the flower of his age, but in a few days he died suddenly, and they were at once masters and heirs of all. We might relate many other such anecdotes, but as they have nothing to do with devotion we pass them over.
Philip taught this virtue of obedience by example as well as by words. As he was a priest and superior of the congregation, he had not the full opportunity of showing to what an extent he really possessed that virtue; but he was most exact in exemplifying it as far as he could. We have already seen what regard he paid to the slightest hint of his superiors in the institution of the congregation; and in the little daily occurrences of community life, as well in the public service as in private, he was always most punctual in every thing. If he was called to the door on business, or to the sacristy to say mass, or to the church to hear confessions, he left every thing else and went down immediately, never requiring to be summoned a second time, and he used to come down for all sorts of people and at all hours. The said it was better for a man to obey the sacristan or porter who called him, than to remain in his room praying; and if any one said that at least time ought to be given to persons to prepare for saying mass, he answered, that certainly preparation was necessary, but that the true preparation of a good priest was to live so that he could conscientiously say mass or communicate at any hour.
He was particularly obedient to physicians when under their care; and although he had such a repugnance to taking medicine that it almost made him sick, yet he always submitted and took whatever was ordered. If they said he was to leave off saying mass, or hearing confessions, or making mental prayer, he did so immediately - without any expostulation or debate. Angelo of Bagnarea once commanded him to desist from saying office forty days; and he obeyed with out a word, although it was the keenest possible mortification to him. When the Saint was ill at S. Girolamo from an infirmity which was altogether supernatural, the physicians ordered the draught from a window to be stopped, as if it would be of service to him. He consented to everything, and behaved as if he quite agreed with them, and as if the indisposition arose from the causes they supposed. When the physicians were gone, Giovanni Antonio Lucci said to him, “I suspect this infirmity does not proceed from the cause they assign, and yet you agreed with all they said!” The Saint answered, “Why, what would you have me do? one must condescend sometimes.”
But his example was not all; he gave many excellent lessons on this matter, he said, that they who really desired to get on in the ways of God, must give themselves up altogether into the hands of their superiors: and that those who did not live under obedience, ought to make a voluntary submission of themselves to a learned and discreet confessor whom they should obey in the place of God, discovering to him all their affairs with the utmost freedom and simplicity, and determining nothing without his counsel: for that they who acted in this way were secured against having to give any account of their actions to God. He admonished persons, however, to think well and to pray much before choosing a confessor; but when they had once chosen him, not to leave him except for most urgent reasons; but to have the greatest possible faith in him, conferring with him about the minutest points; for God will never allow him to err in things which substantially regard the salvation of their souls. He remarked, that it was a common artifice of the devil, when he could not make a man fall into great sins, to put forth all his skill to create difference between the confessor and his penitent, for this means he contrives little by little to do all the mischief he wished. He added, that obedience was a compendious way of arriving at perfection; and he very much preferred a man who lived an ordinary life under obedience, to one who practised great penances, out of his own head; for he considered nothing more dangerous in the spiritual life than to act as our own director, whereas, on the other hand, nothing rendered our actions more safe, or more effectually cut the cords of the enemy, than to do good according to the will of another. He summed up all by saying, that obedience was the true holocaust which we sacrifice to God on the altar of our heart. He desired, moreover, that a man should force himself to obedience, even in trivial things which appear of no moment, because it is the best practice for obedience in great things.
Here I must not omit to relate what happened, somewhat amusingly, to Francesco della Molara, a Roman noble and one of Philip’s penitents. The Saint sent him one day to S. Girolamo della Carità, giving him the keys of his rooms. When the youth got there, he tried to open the door, and though he tried several times, he could not manage to get it open. However, he tried on till he was weary, and then turned to go back to the Vallicella. But as he went down stairs, he felt ashamed to go to the Saint without having opened the door; so he went back to try again; and now he was not only unable to open the door, but he could not even turn the key. He wondered much at this, because he had so many times opened the door with the same key. So he was obliged to return to the Vallicella, very much ashamed of himself, and to tell the Saint what had happened to him. Philip replied, “You are a silly fellow, go back and open it.” Francesco obeyed, and when he arrived there, he put the key in, and opened the door with the greatest ease. He was not a little surprised at this; and when he returned to Philip, the Saint said, “Now learn from this what a thing unreasoning obedience is.”
He exhorted those of his congregation to leave every thing else for community duties, even prayer, or any thing else that seemed in itself better. He inveighed against their asking for any thing particular in the sacristy, either a particular hour, or a particular altar, or particular vestments, or, in fact, any thing else particular; he desired them to be entirely subject to the sacristan, and say mass when they were called and where they were sent. He said that true obedience was something more than doing what we are told; it consists in doing it without reasoning. When, on the contrary, any one debated about an obedience, or made any sort of answer when an order was given, whatever other estimable qualities he had, Philip made no account of him; for he said that things done of our own will were not so meritorious as those which were done under obedience; and although he was one of the mildest of men, yet he showed himself extremely stern to those who failed in community duties, and rebuked them very harshly; if, for instance, they were not at the meals at the same time with the rest; and he treated them as persons who disturbed the public peace; and said one might take it for an infallible truth, that what is commanded us by those who hold the place of God to us is, in reality, the best and most perfect thing we can find to do, whatever appearances there may be to the contrary.
Some of his spiritual children were almost daily joining religious orders; and whenever any of them came to visit him, he was wont to give them this advice, that if they were doing good in any place, and actually converting souls, and obedience removed them from that place to another, they were to leave everything willingly and without a word; although the fruit was certain in the one place, and even the possibility of it very dubious in the place to which they were ordered; because the command was a sign that God did not wish to have that fruit by their means. For it is not enough, as he often used to say, to see if God wishes to have that good at which we aim, but also if he wishes to have it through our instrumentality, and at that time; and that it is only by true obedience that we can discern all this. He used to admonish them, also, that to be perfect, it was not enough to obey and honour superiors, but we must honour our equals and inferiors also. He repeatedly told confessors that they did very ill, when they had any opportunity of exercising their penitents in this virtue of obedience, and through negligence or human respects omitted to do so; and he be sought them earnestly rather to mortify the will and understanding of their spiritual children by obedience, than to impose upon them a multiplicity of corporal penances. It was a favourite maxim of his, that to mortify one passion, however small, helped the penitent on far more than many abstinences, fasts, and disciplines.
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