Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume V: May. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Philip Neri, Confessor
From his life, written in 1601, by F. Antony Galloni, one of the most intimate and learned of his disciples, five years after his death; and again by James Baccius, printed at Rome in 1645. See his new life collected from several other authentic memoirs, printed at Venice in 1727. Sen also certain corrections of this saints history, published at Florence in 1761 by Dominic Maria Manni, member of the academy of Apatists, and Papebroke, t. 6, Maij, p. 461.
PERFECT charity, which distinguishes all the saints, rendered this great servant of God a bright star in the church in these later ages. He was born at Florence in 1515, and was son of Francis Neri, a lawyer, and Lucretia Soldi, both descended of wealthy Tuscan families. From five years of age he was never known in the least tittle wilfully to transgress the will of his parents. Once, indeed, a sister disturbing him on purpose whilst he was reciting the psalter with another sister, he gently pushed her away; for which action his father chid him; and this he bewailed with many tears as a great fault. He was very patient in sickness, and so mild that he seemed not to know what anger was. When he was only eleven years old he visited the churches very much, and prayed and heard the word of God with singular devotion. Such was his piety, his reverence, and respect to superiors, and his humility, sweetness and affability to all, that he was exceedingly beloved, and was commonly called good Philip. Having finished his grammar studies when he was eighteen years of age, he was sent by his father to an uncle, (who lived near Mount Cassino, and was very rich by traffic,) not to learn his business, but to be his heir. But Philip feeling in his soul ardent desires perfectly to follow Jesus Christ, and fearing the dangers of dissipation and of entangling his soul in the world, soon left his uncle, and went to Rome in 1533. There being taken into the house of Galleotto Caccia, a Florentine nobleman, in quality of preceptor to his children, he led so edifying a life, that the reputation of his sanctity was spread very wide, and reached Florence. Ordinarily he ate only once a day, and he could hardly be brought to add to bread and water, a few olives and a small quantity of herbs. He spent much time retired in a little chamber, passing sometimes whole nights in prayer; in which exercise he was favoured with abundant spiritual delights. His pupils made an admirable progress, under his care, both in virtue and learning; and in the mean time he studied philosophy and divinity in such a manner as to distinguish himself in the schools. Everybody sought his acquaintance, but in this particular he was very cautious and reserved for fear of falling into bad company, or at least of losing any part of his precious time. It is the observation of a modern philosopher, that one quarter of an hour a day given to superfluous and unprofitable conversation, amounts to a very considerable part of the longest life, in which the necessities of age and nature make always large abatements, and reduce action to a short span, in which we are to lay in provisions for eternity. This reflection made the saint extremely solicitous to husband well all his moments. Philip gave to his neighbour only that time which duty, mutual edification, and charity required.
He was moreover sensible that even saints complain that they return from company less fit for prayer, and seldom without some wounds in their soul; and that the idle conversation of the world always blows upon our hearts that contagious air of vanity, pride, and love of pleasure which it breathes; and which is always so much the more dangerous, as its poison is the more secret. Notwithstanding his precautions, the devil found means to play upon him his wicked agents. Certain lewd young men made an assault upon his chastity by impudent discourse; but he spoke to them with so much piety and strength that he softened their hardened hearts into compunction, and converted them to God. Against temptations he armed himself by prayer, fasting, and humility; yet he sometimes felt assaults or buffets of the flesh till fifty years of age; but for the thirty last years of his life was as free from all rebellion of that domestic enemy as if he had been without a body, as he declared to Cardinal Baronius; pouring forth at the same time a torrent of tears for his sloth and ingratitude in making no return to God, as he said, for the grace by which he had always preserved his virginity spotless in mind and body. He practised a universal mortification of his senses, often even in the smallest things; saying, that frequent self-denial in little things is necessary for us, that we may conquer in greater conflicts. To such a degree did he carry his love of holy poverty, that when he came first to Rome he would accept of nothing from his fond father but two or three shirts; and he kept nothing in his little room but a poor bed, a few books, and a little linen, which hung upon a cord against the wall. To all kinds of pastime he was an utter stranger, contriving to find necessary relaxation and exercise in works of charity and devotion, as in going from one church to another, and visiting hospitals. Even during the course of his studies he gave a great deal of his time to prayer, and every day visited all, or at least some of the seven churches appointed to be visited by pilgrims, which were several miles asunder, and some of them without the city.1 He often spent the whole night in prayer before the door of some private church, and especially over the relics of the martyrs in the cemetery of Calixtus; often, when overpowered by sleep, he took a little rest on the ground in a porch of one of the seven churches. Whilst he was yet a young student in philosophy, he never called to mind the sufferings of Christ, or reflected on the sins and ingratitude of men, or cast his eyes upon a crucifix without melting into tears. After he completed the course of his theology, he took some time for the study of the holy scriptures, and of the fathers, the two sources and eyes of that science. The canons and laws of the church, containing the precepts and admonitions of her pastors and councils, are a necessary and excellent rule for the direction of manners among Christians; and a skill in some parts of the canon law is very requisite in a pastor of souls. St. Philip therefore made the study of the canon law a part of his care; and became in a short time an oracle in all sacred studies, to whom many learned professors resorted for advice in their difficulties. The saint always recommended and promoted exceedingly these studies among his disciples; and to encourage them, he afterwards commanded his pious and learned scholar Cæsar Baronius,2 who had entered the oratory of St. Philip at eighteen years of age, to compile his annals of the Church; in the beginning of which work he was to him a great assistance, and a daily spur, as Baronius acknowledges,3 who calls him the first author and original contriver of his annals.
St. Philip was one of the best scholars of the age; but being desirous to approach nearer and nearer to Jesus Christ, whose sweet attractions he continually felt in his soul, at twenty-three years of age he sold even his books for the relief of the poor. Often in prayer he was so overwhelmed with spiritual joy and sweetness as not to be able to stand. Sometimes he was heard as he lay prostrate on the ground to cry out: Enough, O Lord, enough; withhold a little at present, I beseech you, the torrent of your sweetness. And another time: Depart from me, O Lord; depart from me. I am yet a mortal man, and am not able to bear such an abundance of celestial joy. Behold I die my dear Lord, unless you succour me. He used often to say: O God, seeing you are so infinitely amiable, why have you given us but one heart to love you, and this so little and so narrow? It is believed that if God had not, on such occasions, abated or withdrawn his consolations, he must have died through excess of joy, as he himself averred. Humility made him most industrious to conceal his knowledge or science, and much more the extraordinary gifts of grace; for he in all things sought his own contempt. Had not his heart been perfectly empty of itself, the divine love could never have found room in it to overflow in such abundance. So impetuous and so sensible was this love in his breast that it frequently discovered itself in a wonderful manner in his countenance and in the violent palpitations of his heart; for, as St. Francis of Sales shows in his book of the love of God, and as experience convinces, violent affections of the mind produce strange effects on the body.4 Galloni testifies that the divine love so much dilated the breast of our saint in an extraordinary rapture, that the gristle which joined the fourth and fifth ribs on the left side was broken; which accident allowed the heart and the larger vessels more play; in which condition he lived fifty years. In the midst of a great city, he led for some years almost the life of a hermit. For a long time he ate only bread with a few olives, herbs, or an apple, drank only water, and lay on the bare floor. His earnest desire of loving God more perfectly, by being united to him in glory, made him languish continually after that blessed hour when his soul should be freed from the prison of his body, and taking her flight to its origin and centre, should drown itself in the ocean of all good. He was wont to say, that to one who truly loveth God nothing can happen more grievous than delays of his enjoyment, and than life itself. But then the will of God, and the love of penance and suffering made this delay itself a subject of comfort, in which he also rejoiced with St. Paul,5 inasmuch as by living on earth he was able still to labour in bringing souls to God.
His insatiable zeal for the salvation of others drew him often to the Exchange and other public places in the city, to seek opportunities of gaining some soul to God, or at least of preventing some sin; in which he did wonders, and whilst yet a layman quite changed the face of several public places. He often visited the hospitals, there to comfort, exhort, and serve the sick. He lamented to see the custom of waiting on poor sick persons disused in the world; a practice extremely conducive to inspire sentiments of humility and charity. He, therefore, desired very much to revive it, and with that view commenced the confraternity of the Blessed Trinity in Rome, with the assistance of his confessarius, who was a very holy priest named Persiano Rosa. He laid the first foundation of this pious establishment with fourteen companions, in 1548, in the church of our Saviour Del-Campo. He settled the most admirable economy and good order for receiving, serving, and instructing the sick and pilgrims. In this place St. Philip made pious discourses, and held conferences several times every day, and often till late at night, by which he reclaimed great numbers from vice, and conducted many to an eminent perfection. In the year of the jubilee, 1550, he translated this confraternity to the church of the Holy Trinity, and erected a new hospital under the name of the Blessed Trinity, which to this day subsists in the most flourishing condition, and is one of the best regulated hospitals in the world. Several cardinals and princes come thither out of devotion in the evenings, to wash the feet, and to serve with their own hands the pilgrims, and especially the sick. Sometimes six hundred waiters on an evening are assembled together to perform this act of humility. The ladies wait on the female patients in another hospital. St. Philip, not content with the care of hospitals, laid himself out in relieving the distressed in all parts of the city. It happened that as he was carrying an alms in a stormy night for secrecy, he fell into a deep ditch; but was preserved by God from receiving any hurt.
Humility made the saint sometimes think of devoting himself to the service of God in a laical state. But being desirous to employ his labours in the best manner he could in the care of souls, he deliberated with himself what state to choose for this end. On this occasion he was not only persuaded, but most urgently pressed and compelled by his confessor Rosa, to enter into holy orders. After a long preparation, he was ordained priest in June 1551, being thirty-six years old almost complete. From which time he chose his dwelling in a small community, at the church of St. Jerom, where Rosa and certain other very virtuous priests lived. Every one ate by himself, and fasted according to his strength and devotion. Here Philip mitigated the austerities of his former life, and allowed himself a slender breakfast in the morning; and for his supper a couple of eggs, or a mess of broth, or a few herbs or beans; he seldom ate any flesh, and rarely fish. But when he ate abroad, which was very seldom, he took what was set before him, to avoid singularity; but never touched more than one thing; and seemed to eat without any relish for his food. He lived in a little unfurnished room, attending only to his devotions and to the winning of souls to God. In saying his first mass he was so overpowered with spiritual consolations, that on account of the shaking of his hands and whole body, he was scarcely able to pour the wine and water into the chalice; and this continued during the rest of the sacrifice, especially at the elevation and communion, and he was often obliged to lean on the altar, being otherwise in danger of falling down. He said mass every day, unless hindered by some grievous sickness; and then he always received the holy communion. He often fell into raptures at the altar, particularly after communicating, also after mass. On this account, he was sometimes two hours in saying mass; for which reason, towards the end of his life, he performed that function privately in a domestic chapel. The delight he found in receiving the holy sacrament is inexpressible. The very remembrance of that divine banquet, when he took an empty chalice into his hand, made him melt in tender sentiments of love. Galloni mentions several extraordinary raptures with which the saint was favoured in prayer, and testifies that his body was sometimes seen raised from the ground during his devotions some yards high,6 at which time his countenance appeared shining with a bright light.7
St. Philip was not less eminent in zeal for the divine honour and in charity for men, than in the gifts of contemplation. Soon after he had received the priesthood, he was ordered by his superiors and confessarius to hear confessions, for which function he was by a long preparation excellently qualified. And so great was his desire of gaining souls to God, that he was never weary of this employment; though beginning early in the morning, he often spent in it almost the whole day. Even after mass, when called to this duty, he contented himself with a short thanksgiving, and went immediately to attend this office of charity, preferring the comfort of others to his own most favourite time of devotion. Nor is it credible how many souls he drew out of the mire of sin, and moved to embrace a life of singular perfection. Charity taught him innumerable devices to win the most hardened. The sight of a Jew, who happened one day to speak to him, pierced him with so deep a sentiment of compassion for his soul that for three whole weeks he never ceased weeping and praying for him till he saw him baptized. By displaying the terrors of death and the divine judgments, he softened the most obdurate sinners if they once listened to him. Those who shunned him for fear of the remedy of their spiritual diseases, he often gained by addressing himself to God in their behalf in fervent prayers. One he converted by desiring him to say seven times every day the Salve Regina, kissing the ground in the end, and adding these words: To-morrow I may be among the dead. Those who were engaged in criminal habits, he cured by enjoining them every evening, with some prayer, a short reflection on death, or a short representation to themselves of a soul in hell, and an imaginary entertainment or dialogue with her on her state, on eternity, the emptiness and extravagance of sin, and the like; or such a representation of a person dying, or of a carcass laid in the grave. He had an excellent talent for exciting penitents to compunction, and in inspiring them with a sovereign abhorrence of all sin; also with assisting them to discover the occasions and sources of sin, and to cut them off. In this consists very much the fruit of repentance; the occasions and approaches of the evil must be retrenched; the cancer must be entirely extirpated with every string of its root; the least fibre left behind will push forth again, and with more vigour than before. Here the penitent must not spare himself, whatever it costs him; though he part with an eye or a foot. It is by the neglect of this precaution that so many conversions are false and counterfeit; and that relapses are so frequent. Our skilful director was careful to lay the axe to the root; and not content to draw souls out of Sodom, he obliged them to quit the neighbourhood, and fly to the mountains, to the greatest distance from the danger. With this precaution, the other remedies which he applied all produced their desired effect. The saint, by the lights which the purity of his affections and his spirit of prayer were the means of obtaining, and by his learning and singular experience in the paths of virtue, conducted fervent souls in the maxims of heroic perfection. He sometimes miraculously penetrated the secrets of the hearts of others; and in particular knew hidden sins of impurity by the stench which such sinners exhaled, as several testified after his death. To one he said, that he perceived such a horrid stench to come from the person infected with this filthy vice, that he never found anything so noisome. To some who had criminally concealed such sins in confession, he said: To me you cast forth an ill savour; you are fallen into such a sin of impurity; cast out the poison by confession. His thirst for the salvation of souls made him earnestly desire to go to the Indies; but he was dissuaded by those whom he consulted, who told him that Rome was his Indies; a large field for all his zeal and labour, which would furnish him with an ample harvest.
The saint received all who resorted to him in his chamber, and was wont to instruct them by daily conferences, with incredible unction and fruit. Evil eyes could not bear so great a light; and certain envious and malicious persons derided his devotion at mass, and his other actions, and by the most contumelious discourses, and outrageous slanders insulted his person, and blackened his reputation; all which he bore with meekness and silence, never once opening his mouth in his own defence, or complaining of any one, but rejoicing to see himself meet with scorn and contempt. Often when he was reviled he exulted with joy. One of these slanderers was so moved by seeing the cheerfulness of the saints countenance, and his invincible patience, whilst another cursed and reproached him in the most bitter terms, that he was converted upon the spot, undertook the defence of the servant of God, and entered upon a penitential and edifying course of life. The author of all these injuries and affronts, moved also at the saints patience and mildness, of his own accord came to him, and upon his knees begged his pardon, which St. Philip willingly granted him; and most kindly embracing him, received him into the number of his children. The man of God said, that if we ask of God patience and humility, we ought to rejoice and thank him when he sendeth us occasions of exercising those virtues, which are not to be obtained but by crosses and frequent acts of them. Another time, when he had opened his oratory, certain persons accused him of pride and ambition, and that he loved and affected to be followed by the people. Upon which complaints the vicar of Rome gave him a sharp reprimand, forbade him to hear confessions for fifteen days, and to preach without a new license: he moreover threatened him with imprisonment, if he did not leave his new ways of proceeding. The saint modestly answered, that he was most ready to obey his superiors in whatever they should command him. He excused the authors of his troubles in the best manner he was able, and with cheerfulness said to his friends, that God had permitted him to be so treated that he might become humble. By his patience and modesty this storm blew over, and after an inquiry into his conduct, leave was given him to live after his wonted manner, and to draw sinners to God by such means as his prudence should suggest. After which, his chamber began to be frequented by many of the prime nobility, to the singular profit of their souls. His charity for all seemed to have no bounds; but when he did but look on notorious wicked men, he could hardly contain the abundance of tears which compassion moved him to shed.
Desiring by all means in his power to help his neighbour, he by his conferences laid the foundation of the Congregation of Oratorians in 1551. Several priests and young ecclesiastics associating themselves with him, began to assist him in his conferences, and in reading prayers and meditations to the people in the church of the Holy Trinity. They were called Oratorians, because at certain hours every morning and afternoon, by ringing a bell, they called the people to the church to prayers and meditations. In 1564, when the saint had formed his congregation into a regular community, he preferred several of his young ecclesiastics to holy orders; one of whom was the famous Cæsar Baronius, whom for his eminent sanctity Benedict XIV. by a decree dated on the 12th of January, 1745, honoured with the title of Venerable Servant of God. At the same time he formed his disciples into a community, using one common purse and table, and he gave them rules and statutes. He forbade any of them to bind themselves to this state by vow or oath, that all might live together joined only by the bands of fervour and holy charity; labouring with all their strength to establish the kingdom of Christ in themselves by the most perfect sanctification of their own souls, and to propagate the same in the souls of others, by preaching, instructing the ignorant, and teaching the Christian doctrine. The general he appointed to be triennial; but was himself, much against his will, chosen general for life, though he afterwards found means to obtain a release from that burden, by alleging his age and infirmities. This happened in 1595, when Baronius was chosen his successor, though that great man left nothing unattempted to remove the burden from his shoulders.8
St. Philip, who dated the foundation of his oratory in 1564, obtained of Pope Gregory XIII. the approbation of his congregation in 1575. Its constitutions were afterwards confirmed by Paul V. in 1612. The same Gregory XIII. bestowed on the saint the church of our Lady of Vallicella, which was newly built in a finished taste by exquisite architects, whence it is called the New Church. St. Philip took possession of it in 1583; but his congregation still continues to serve also the hospital of pilgrims of the Holy Trinity. The saint lived to see many houses of his Oratory erected at Florence, Naples, San Severino, Anxur, Lucca, Firmo, Panormo, Fano, Padua, Vicenza, Ferrara, Thonon, &c.9 He established among his followers the rule of obedience, and a total abnegation of their own will, saying: This is the shortest and most assured way to attain to perfection. He was so great a lover of poverty, that he earnestly desired always to live destitute of worldly goods, and in a suffering state of indigence. He strictly ordained that none of his congregation should have to do with the purse of their penitents, saying: It is impossible to gain both their souls and their goods. This holy man lived equally reverenced and beloved by the Popes Pius IV. and V., Gregory XIII. and XIV., and Clement VIII., and by other great men, particularly by St. Charles Borromeo. Among other miracles, when he himself lay sick of a fever and his life seemed despaired of, he was suddenly restored to health by a vision of the Blessed Virgin, in which he fell into a wonderful rapture, and cried out, O most holy Mother of God, what have I done that you should vouchsafe to come to me? Coming to himself, he said unawares to four physicians that were present: Did not you see the Blessed Mother of God, who by her visit hath driven away my distemper? But immediately perceiving that he had discovered his vision, he besought them not to disclose it to any one. This was attested upon oath by Galloni and four physicians who were present. Under the sharpest pains in his sickness, no complaint, groan, or stir, ever was observed in him; only he was sometimes heard softly to repeat these words: Adauge dolorem, sed adauge patientiam, increase my pains, but increase withal my patience. On several occasions he exactly foretold things to come. Baronius and others testified that they had heard several predictions from his mouth which the events always confirmed.
St. Philip was of a sickly constitution, and was usually visited every year by one or two sharp fevers, which sometimes held him a long time; yet he lived to a good old age. In 1595 he lay all the month of April sick of a very violent fever; and in the beginning of May was taken with a vomiting of blood, discharging a very large quantity. Cæsar Baronius gave him extreme unction; and when the hæmorrhage had ceased, Cardinal Frederick Borromeo brought him the viaticum. When the saint saw the cardinal entering his chamber with the holy sacrament, to the amazement of all who were present, he cried out with a loud voice and abundance of tears: Behold my Love, my Love! He comes, the only delight of my soul. Give me my Love quickly. He repeated with the cardinal in the most tender sentiments of devotion and love those words, Domine non sum dignus, adding, I was never worthy to be fed with thy body; nor have I ever done any good at all. After receiving the viaticum, he said: I have received my physician into my lodging. He had procured many masses to be said for him, and in two or three days seemed perfectly recovered, said mass every day, heard confessions as usual, and enjoyed a good state of health. He foretold to several persons, and frequently, his approaching death, and the very day of it, as they declared upon oath.10 On the three last days of his life, he was overwhelmed with more than ordinary spiritual love, especially on the day that he died, on which he counted every hour, waiting for the end of the day, which he foresaw to be the moment in which his soul would ingulf itself into the ocean of immortal bliss. Being taken with another fit of vomiting blood whilst Baronius was reading the recommendation of the soul, he with great tranquillity expired just after midnight, between the 25th and 26th of May, 1595, being near fourscore and two years old. His body was opened, and the place where his ribs were burst, and the skin projected to the bigness of a mans fist, was seen by many. His heart and bowels were buried among his brethren, but his body was enshrined, and found uncorrupted seven years after. One Austin Magistrius, who for many years had been troubled with loathsome running ulcers in his neck, which physicians had judged incurable, hearing of the death of the saint, went to the church where his body was exposed; and after praying long before his hearse, applied his blessed hands to his sore neck and found himself immediately cured, which miracle five eye-witnesses attested upon oath. Other like miracles, several testified by the oaths of the parties, are related by Galloni the disciple of the saint, and an assistant of Baronius in compiling his annals; also by Baccius and others. Seven years after the saints death, in 1602, Nerus de Nigris, a Florentine gentleman, built a sumptuous chapel beautified with costly ornaments in the Church of the Oratory, and the holy mans body, which was found entire, was removed into it. Many miracles were wrought at his tomb, and by his intercession.11 He was canonized by Gregory XV. in 1622.
St. Philip, inflamed with the love of God and a desire of praising him worthily, after offering him all the affections of his soul, and the homages of all his creatures, seeing in their poverty and inability nothing equal to his infinite greatness, comforted himself in finding in the mass a means of glorifying him by a victim worthy of himself. This he offered to him with inexpressible joy, devotion, and humility, to praise and honour his holy name, to be a sacrifice of perfect thanksgiving for his infinite benefits, of expiation for sin, and of impetration to obtain all graces. Hence in this sacrifice he satiated the ardent desires of his zeal, and found such an excess of overflowing love and sweetness in the closest union of his soul with his divine Redeemer.
Note 1. These seven churches are the Vatican and Lateran Basilics, St. Mary Major, and that of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, situated on the different sides of the city: St. Laurences extra muros, two miles out of the city on the Tiburtin road, St. Pauls on the Ostian road, five miles from the old Forum, now called Campo Vaccino, and St. Sebastians on the Appian road. These churches are all enriched with relics of the most celebrated martyrs, &c. [back]
Note 2. Baronius was afterwards created cardinal in 1596, by Clement VIII. and died in 1607. Notwithstanding some mistakes in history unavoidable in first essays of that nature, all must applaud his undertaking, and admire both the work, and the great erudition, and immense application and labour of this parent of the annals of Church history. [back]
Note 4. These effects the natural economy of the human body explains, though the cause be obscure, depending on the unknown laws of the union of the soul and body. As anger, and much more hatred and grief, contract the human vessels, make the motion of the fluids languid and sluggish, and create obstructions in the glands which are the seeds of various distempers; so joyful hope, (the most healthful temper of mind,) joy, and divine love, which is always regular, dilate the heart and vessels, accelerate the motion of the fluids, increase the spirits, and exceedingly promote a good habit of body, which envy, jealousy, inordinate fear, and the like affections very much disturb. See Cheyne, Boerhaave, Heister. [back]
Note 7. We find the same authentically attested of many other servants of God. St. Ignatius of Loyola was sometimes seen raised in prayer two feet above the ground, his body at the same time shining with light. The like elevations are related in the lives of St. Dominick, St. Dunstan, St. Philip Beniti, St. Cajetan, St. Albert of Sicily, B. Bernard Ptolomæi, institutor of the Congregation of our Lady of Mount Olivet, Aug. xxi., B. Robert of Palentin, Aug. xviii. &c. in the Bollandists of St. Francis of Assisium in his life by Chalippe and others. Many of the authors of these lives, persons of undoubted veracity, testify that they were themselves eye-witnesses of this fact; others were so careful and diligent writers, that their authority cannot be questioned. Thus Trivet tells us, that St. Richard, then chancellor to St. Edmund, archbishop of Canterbury, one day opening softly the chapel door, saw his archbishop raised high in the air, with his knees bent, and his arms stretched out; but falling gently to the ground, and seeing his chancellor, he complained to him that he had hindered him of great spiritual delights and comfort. Trivet, Annal. p. 73, ad ann. 1240. Dom. Calmet, an author still living, and a severe and learned critic, assures us that he knows a religious man, who, in devout prayer, is sometimes involuntarily raised in the air, and remains hanging in it without any support. Also that he is personally acquainted with a devout nun to whom the same had often happened. Calmet, Diss. sur les Apparitions, chap. 21. See the life of St. Teresa, written by herself, how notwithstanding her resistance, her body sometimes was raised from the ground. Whether these persons and others to whom the like may have happened were raised by the invisible ministry of angels, or by any supernatural operation immediately derived from God, is uncertain, and probably what they themselves could not determine, any more than St. Paul could perceive whether he was carried up into heaven in his body or out of his body. It is objected to these miracles, that Eunapius, a Platonic philosopher who in 380 wrote the lives of Porphyrius and Jamblichus, relates that the latter was often raised ten cubits into the air, and was seen surrounded with a bright light. But this historian in credulity and malice against the Christians surpassed Porphyrius and Jamblichus themselves; and his testimony in relating such idle dreams can have no weight with any serious reader. By the pretended rapture of Jamblichus, it was his aim to forge a prodigy which might seem to rival the Transfiguration of Christ, and probably the favours granted to several saints, like this related of St. Philip. We must observe that those heathen Platonic philosophers, who in the first age of the gospel laid claim to Theurgy or a magic power, never attempted to perform any miracle in a public authentic manner: their historians were remote in time, produce no sufficient vouchers in confirmation of the prodigies they relate, and overset themselves by the ridiculous absurdity of their histories, and their inconsistencies both with themselves and with the most certain monuments of those ages. It was only with a view to discredit the incontestible miracles, which proved our holy religion to be the work of God, that they had recourse to imposture, and to the illusions of magic. For this Porphyrius of Tyre, in 270, laid down pretended rules of divination; and his scholar Jamblichus above mentioned, in Syria, under Constantine the Great, published a book Of Mysteries, which is only a heap of enthusiasm and abominable folly concerning the miraculous effects of the Theurgy, and the purification of the soul, till by a transformation it is united to the celestial powers. Both these impostors seriously relate of Pythagoras, that he was saluted by rivers, and that he could remember all the several bodies his soul had animated, and how he had been a tree, a girl, a fish, and that very Euphorbus the Trojan, who was slain by Menelaus; with many other tales still more ridiculous, unknown to Diogenas, Laërtius, or any former writer, above eight hundred years from the death of Pythagoras. Philostratus, under the Emperor Severus, in 206, another of the same class, wrote the life of Apollonius Tyanæus, above one hundred years after his death, containing an account of his pretended prodigies. But the view of all these writers was only to oppose such forgeries to the true and evident miracles of Christ and his followers, the reality of which they were not able to contest. And such are the inconsistency and absurdity of their vague idle stories, that to rank them with the fables of Ovids Metamorphoses would be doing them too much honour. How unjust is it to put the most authentic Christian miracles upon a level with such ridiculous forgeries! These their pretensions far from weakening, serve to corroborate the evidence for the Christian miracles, inasmuch as by them it appears to what wretched shifts the most ingenious, the most implacable, and the most learned adversaries of our religion were driven. Certainly the reality and evidence of our miracles left no room for cavil, seeing philosophers of the greatest penetration, abilities, and power could find no other expedient to gratify their inveterate malice against us, than by pretending to rival our miracles by the grossest forgeries. It is, however, no way unreasonable to allow that Apollonius Tyanæus and some others might, by the divine permission, effect certain wonderful things, as Tillemont and Fleury seem not unwilling to grant; though the authority of the vouchers is by no means cogent. The empire of the devil, though much restrained from the time of the death of Christ to the coming of Antichrist, which is implied by his being said to be bound, (Rev. xx. 2, 3,) is not so far abridged that he is not suffered by special permissions of God, to use his natural power to tempt men to sin; and also sometimes, though very rarely, to endeavour to seduce them by lying signs, in which he would fain mimic the finger of God. But on these occasions he always bears the visible marks of his imposture, by which his works may be distinguished from those of God. Among these, a secret spirit of pride is always a certain proof of his artifice. Hence those who lay down rules for the discernment of spirits, unanimously teach, that in visions, rapts, or extraordinary favours, everything is to be ascribed to the illusion of the devil or the force of imagination, if the person coveted or was fond of such extraordinary favours, which is always a grievous presumption and dangerous snare: likewise, if under them he seemed puffed up, if he divulged them, or willingly spoke of them, except for private advice or necessity. For the Holy Ghost, especially in such favours, always inspires by his gifts, and requires the most profound humility, love of the closest secrecy, and perfect obedience to the advice of spiritual superiors, even against a persons own judgment. Such favours, if doubtful as to their origin, must always be disregarded. Persons must also be convinced that sanctity no way consists in them; must set no high value on them, and labour only to advance by every means in sincere humility, meekness, and charity; rejoicing not in them, but in the divine grace and mercy. (Luke x. 20.) This St. Philip perfectly understood, and was endowed with a singular gift of discerning spirits. He sharply reproved those who seemed to be delighted with visions, and was wont to exhort such persons to contemn them as dangerous snares, affirming, That nothing is more pernicious than such mad mockeries of the devils, who easily transform themselves into angels of light. He inculcated, That persons ought to be only solicitous to correct their manners, and subdue their passions. [back]
Note 8. See the life of Card. Baronius published with the letters, and censure of Molina, by Raymundus Albericius, in 2 vols. 4to. at Rome, in 1759. [back]
Note 9. The Oratorians in Italy are called Philippini, and are not religious men, but secular priests living in communities. This congregation flourishes in that country with learned and eminent men, from whose zealous labours in teaching youth, and in all the functions of the ministry, the public reap much advantage. The French Oratory is an institute formed upon the plan of the Italian Oratory, but differing in several material points. The founder was the learned and pious Cardinal Peter de Berulle. That great man was descended of a noble family of Champagne. His father, Claude, was a counsellor or judge in the parliament of Paris, and his mother, Louisa Seguier was, by her exemplary piety, an additional ornament to the long line of great statesmen and prelates, which in her family had for many ages served their country. After the decease of her virtuous consort she became a Carmelite nun, in which austere Order she died in the arms of her pious son, in the seventy-eighth year of her age. Peter, when only eighteen years old, wrote an excellent book on Self-Denial. He at first turned his thoughts towards a religious life; but being desirous to serve his neighbour, at last entered among the secular clergy, and after a retreat of forty days spent in assiduous prayer and great austerities, in a convent of Capuchins, received holy orders in 1599. In saying his first mass he fell into raptures in the presence of many persons. From his infancy he was a fervent lover of humility, mortification, retirement, and prayer; and his whole life was a perfect model of these virtues. Though he was a most learned divine, yet out of humility he would never take the degree of doctor. He refused the bishopricks of Laon and Nantes, and the abbacy of St. Stephen of Caen; also the honour of being preceptor to the dauphin of France, though he was very much pressed to take upon him that charge. The king once finding all his endeavours in vain to oblige him to accept of a bishopric, said with warmth, he would take care that he should be compelled to consent, by one who was greater than himself, meaning the pope. Berulle resolutely answered, that if he were pressed any more upon that head, he would leave his majestys dominions. He converted the Count of Laval, and many other Calvinists, and employed himself with great zeal in the direction of souls. He settled in France the Teresian or Carmelite nuns, whom he brought from Spain in 1603, and was himself many years the confessarius of those chaste spouses of Christ in their nunnery, which, for his sake, the queen mother, Mary Medicis, built for their use in Paris. This servant of God formed certain priests in the perfect spirit of their holy state, and by the strong persuasions of St. Francis of Sales, venerable Cæsar de Bus, and F. Coton, and by the repeated commands of his bishop, Cardinal de Retz founded the French Oratory in 1611. He worked with his own hands in building their first chapel, and carried himself hods of mortar; for he sought every opportunity of humiliation. The French Oratorians are a congregation of priests who live in voluntary poverty, obedience, and the laborious functions of their state, according to the spirit of Jesus Christ. They are not religious men, but can of their own accord leave the Congregation; which was confirmed by Paul V. in 1613. The holy founder, notwithstanding his reluctancy, was often employed in public affairs. When the marriage of the Princess Henrietta Maria, daughter of Henry IV. of France, with Charles I. king of England, was concluded, the French king sent the Abbé Berulle to Rome to procure a dispensation on account of the difference of religion, on which occasion the then Pope Urban VIII., after conversing often with the holy man, said: Mr. Berulle is not a man but an angel. And he gave orders to his nuncios in France to follow in all things his advice, and to do nothing without it. He sent a cardinals hat to meet him upon his return into France, with an express command to accept it. Berulle received the hat at Paris in 1627. King Louis XIII. sent him into England to conduct thither his sister Henrietta Maria; and he there gained the esteem and veneration of the whole court, though his stay was very short. We are assured, says Perrault, that what chiefly determined Louis XIII. and his council to undertake the siege of Rochelle, was a revelation which this cardinal had, that it would be successful. Berulle wrote many excellent works of piety, which were published in one volume, folio, by his learned and holy successor in the Oratory, F. Bourguoin, who has prefixed to them his life. In his writings we admire his wonderful zeal and piety, his love of perfect self-denial and profound humility; and the most tender devotion to our divine Redeemer, and his sacred passion; also to the Blessed Virgin and St. Mary Magdalen. Notwithstanding his dignity of cardinal, and his great authority in the church and state, he never departed from his first plan of life, or from the simplicity, modesty, poverty, and temperance of a true disciple of Jesus Christ. He said mass every day with the most tender and edifying devotion, and died of an apoplexy at the altar, just before the consecration, whilst he was offering to God the sacrifice of his heart, together with the immaculate victim he was going to consecrate. Whence the epigram:
Cæpta sub extremis nequeo dum sacra sacerdos
Perficere; at saltem victima perficiam.
See his life by Perrault, Hommes Illustr. by Bourguoin, and by Habert de Cerisy. Cardinal Berulle died in 1629, fifty-five years old. He is buried in the stately church of the Oratorians in the street of St. Honoré in Paris; and in the rich and beautiful church of his dear Carmelite nuns, in the chapel of St. Mary Magdalen, in which he was accustomed to pass many hours in prayer and heavenly contemplation, is placed a fine marble statue admirably finished, representing him on his knees at prayer before the altar. Over against this statue is the justly admired picture of St. Mary Magdalen, the masterpiece of Le Brun, exhibiting the true portraiture of the famous Duchesse de la Vallière, who made her religious profession in this austere house in 1675, and after a most penitential and holy life, died in 1710. Her spirit is expressed in her book, entitled, Reflections on the Divine Mercy. In this chapel the cardinal kindled in his meditations the glowing sentiments of devotion to St. Mary Magdalen, and of divine love, humility, and compunction, which he expresses in his writings on her illustrious virtues. Nothing is of greater importance in the church than that clergymen be formed in the perfect spirit of their holy state. And it must be acknowledged that it is not easy to imagine anything better adapted to this purpose than the original institute of the French Oratory. The example indeed of this spirit is of all means the most powerful to communicate it to others. This help none so perfectly possessed as those pastors who had the happiness of conversing with, and being formed by the apostles, or the most eminently holy apostolic men among their disciples, the Ignatiuses, the Polycarps, the Simeons, &c. Yet the first Oratorians had an admirable example of this spirit before their eyes in their holy founder; and in all the constitutions and exercises of their institute the greatest external helps, especially in those of prayer and holy meditation, which are the soul of an interior life. These Cardinal Berulle was chiefly solicitous to direct, so as to instil the most perfect spirit of Christ, or of his humility, meekness, patience, entire disengagement from the world or view to its interests, (which is called the spirit of poverty,) ardent zeal, and love both of God and our neighbour. This holy spirit was eminently inherited by F. Condren, the second, and by F. Bourguoin, third general of the French Oratory. The former, out of that profound humility for which he was most remarkable in all his actions, never would print anything during his life, and refused with invincible resolution the dignity of cardinal, and the archbishoprics of Rheims and Lyons. Something, indeed, of his writings has been published since his death, which happened in 1641. From his edifying life, written by F. Amelot, it appears how eminently he was replenished with the spirit of God and the science of the saints; with how tender a piety he was endowed, and with how extraordinary a talent in directing souls in the paths of Christian perfection. F. Bourguoin, who died in 1662, and left five volumes of very pious meditations on the life of Christ, &c., was not inferior to his predecessor in reputation for sanctity. The most tender devotion to our blessed Redeemer, and assiduous meditation on the mysteries of his Incarnation, were the characteristic virtues of these holy men and their colleagues. Among these, John Baptist Gault being consecrated bishop of Marseilles, in a short time reformed that whole diocess, finished the hospital begun by M. de Gondy for the galley-slaves, spent much of his time in comforting and instructing them, and by his astonishing meekness and patience overcoming the obstinacy of the most hardened and most insolent, whom he would attend in their voyage or expedition at sea. He died on the 23d of May, 1643, in the odour of sanctity, and his tomb is visited in a chapel of the cathedral by great crowds of devout Christians, and the chapel filled with votive tokens for favours received of God. His life is written by several hands. F. Le Jeune, surnamed the Blind Father, because he lost his sight whilst he was preaching at Rouen, in the thirty-fifth year of his age, though he continued his missions and preaching to his death, in 1672, the eightieth year of his age, was not less illustrious by the sanctity of his life, than by the wonderful success of his sermons. See the Discourse on his life by M. Ruben, in 8vo.; also Lamy, 7me Entretien sur les Sciences, p. 224. The happy influence of the zeal, holy example, and perfect spirit of these pious clergymen was not confined to their own congregation. M. Olier, who founded the seminary of S. Sulpice, at Paris, in 1642, entirely reformed that vast parish and many other parts of France, and by his missionaries planted the faith at Montreal in America, was formed to perfect virtue, and directed in his pious establishments by F. Condren. His life, written by F. Giry, presents us in a short portraiture the most accomplished model both of an ecclesiastical spirit, and of an interior life in all its states, whether of spiritual dryness and desolation, of contemplation, or of all the various functions of the ministry. His letters and other short tracts breathe the most cordial sentiments of charity and true piety. F. Eudes, brother to Mezeray the French historian, was a perfect imitator of Cardinal Berulle, and F. Condren, and upon their spirit formed both his own in all maxims of true piety, and that of the Congregation of reformed secular clergy which he instituted at Caën in 1643, and which still subsists under the name of Eudistes in Normandy, Paris, Senlis, &c. They obey their superior without any vow, and are employed in the direction of several episcopal seminaries. The tender devotions and spirit of piety of Cardinal Berulle, are pathetically expressed in F. Eudess excellent book, entitled Le Royaume de Jesus Christ. F. Bernard, surnamed the Poor Priest, son to a counsellor of the parliament of Burgundy (afterwards Lieutenant-general of Chalon upon the Saöne) was much assisted after his conversion to God by the pious counsels of F. Condren. He was one of the most eminent contemplatives of his age; and the grand prior of Clugni gave public evidence that he saw this servant of God once, in the chapel of the Jesuits college at Paris, raised above two feet from the ground for a considerable time together. So great was his love of abjection and the cross, that he thus addressed himself to our Redeemer: The first of thy priests asked as a great favour that he might stay with you upon Mount Thabor, and I who am the last of thy ministers entreat thee to suffer me to remain at the foot of thy cross, suffering and dying if you please, provided I suffer and die by you. So perfect was his spirit and love of poverty that Cardinal Richelieu could not prevail upon him to accept of any benefice for himself or any other, or to ask of him any other favour than that some loose boards in the bottom of the cart on which he attended criminals to execution might be mended, that they might pray without distractions from the fear of falling in the way. The fruit of his inflamed extemporary sermons several times in the week was inexpressible. He died in 1641, was buried in the chapel of the hospital De la Charité, and the court and clergy of France have often solicited his beatification. See his life by M. Gauffre, F. Giry, and F. Lempereur, Jesuit. To omit many other instances, that of sister Mary of the Incarnation has too close a connection with the history of Cardinal Berulle to be passed over. A virtuous lady of Paris was a great assistant to the cardinal in his pious foundations, especially that of the Carmelite nuns. Her name was Barbara Aurillot, by marriage Acharie. Having lived in the world remarkable for her great charities, devotions, and mortifications, being a widow, she was professed a lay-sister in the poor house of the Carmelite nuns in Amiens; for she declined the great nunnery in Paris, in founding which she had been greatly instrumental. It is not to be expressed with what reluctance the nuns consented to receive a person of her quality, their mistress and foundress in France, as a servant; and Dr. Du Val, joint superior with Berulle, and the nuns opposed the design; but Berulle, discerning in her request a sincere spirit of humility, would not have her lose the merit of that virtue, and prevailed that her request should be granted. She with joy undertook to serve in the kitchen, and as second sister in keeping the house clean. She was called, in religion, Mary of the Incarnation, and is regarded as foundress, under Cardinal Berulle of the French Teresian nuns. After her solemn vows, she was removed to Pontoise, and there died in 1618, fifty-two years old. See her edifying life by F. Hervé the Oratorian. [back]