Lawrence of Brindisi, St.
LAWRENCE OF BRINDISI, ST.
Capuchin preacher, doctor of the church; b. Brindisi, July 22, 1559; d. Lisbon, Portugal, July 22, 1619. He was baptized Julius Caesar, and after the death of his devout, middle class parents, William and Elizabeth (Masella) Russo, he was sent to Venice for his education. In 1575 he entered the Venetian province of the Capuchin Friars Minor, receiving the name Lawrence. He completed his ecclesiastical studies at the University of Padua, where he developed his great gift of languages by learning Hebrew, Greek, German, Bohemian, Spanish, and French.
Eminent Preacher. After his ordination in 1582, he preached with success throughout Northern Italy and beyond the Alps. Much of his effectiveness was due to his homiletic use of the Bible. Eleven of his 15–tome Opera Omnia contain sermons and homilies rich with scriptural allusions. To his vast audiences he strove to communicate his devotion to the mother of god. He extolled her Immaculate Conception, her Assumption, and other prerogatives with a splendor of thought scarcely ever heard before. The 84 sermons of his Mariale (Opera Omnia. v.1) employ the Bible, tradition, the Fathers, theology, and the liturgy to magnify her name, and form a complete, solid tract in mariology.
Apostle and Diplomat. Between 1599 and 1602, and again from 1606 to 1613, he came to grips with militant Protestantism in Bohemia, Austria, and Germany. In these lands, he established the Capuchin Order and reclaimed numerous Protestants for the church. At Stuhlweissemburg (Székesfehérvár) in Hungary in 1601, he played a momentary but decisive role in halting the Muslim advance of Mohammed III. When appointed by Emperor Rudolf II as chief chaplain to the outnumbered and disheartened Christian forces, Lawrence rode before the army holding aloft the cross and urging his men to victory. It was his skill as a veteran diplomat that welded the Catholic League in 1610. In 1614 he was instrumental in achieving peace between Spain and Savoy. The journey that ended with his death was a mission to Philip III of Spain on behalf of the people of Naples, who were oppressed by their tyrannical viceroy P. Giron, Duke of Osuna. Lawrence escaped Naples disguised as a Walloon soldier, found the Spanish king at Lisbon, and was successful in his mission. It was in Lisbon that his last illness overcame him. His host, Don Pedro de Toledo, carried his body back to Spain, and interred it in the Church of the Poor Clares at Villafranca del Bierzo in the Diocese of Astorga.
Administrator. In addition to these activities, Lawrence was almost continuously a major superior, serving the order as provincial of Tuscany (1590–92), Venice (1594–96), Switzerland (1598), and Liguria (1613–16). He was commissary general in Bohemia and Austria (1599–1602; 1606–10), and Bavaria–Tirol (1611–13), as well as definitor–general 1596, 1599, 1613, and 1618. When the chapter of Capuchins in 1602 elected him superior general for three years, the order had become one of the main forces of the Catholic Restoration, numbering 9,000 friars in 34 provinces spread throughout Italy, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Spain. He visited most of these areas on foot, preaching to large gatherings en route. His permanent affect, like that of St. Bonaventure, was one of stabilization, as he strove to balance the rigor of primitive Capuchin life with the needs of the apostolate.
Author. The admirable edition of Lawrence's Opera Omnia, published by the Venetian Capuchins at Padua between 1928 and 1956, comprises ten volumes in quarto distributed in 15 majestic tomes. Characteristic of the work is its abundant use of sacred scripture based on a perfect command of the original tongues. His mastery of Hebrew was such that when Clement VIII appointed him preacher to the Jews, rabbis took him for one of their own turned Christian. His qualities as an exegete appear in his Explanatio in Genesim (Opera Omnia v.3), a literal exposition of the first 11 chapters of Genesis.
At Prague in 1607 he undertook his most extensive work, Lutheranismi hypotyposis (Opera Omnia v.2), to meet the challenge of the Protestant theologian, Polycarp Leyser. This original and thorough refutation of Lutheranism is important for its ecclesiology and first hand information about Luther's personal life and teaching. It was never published because of Brindisi's lack of leisure and Leyser's death. As a fair controversialist Lawrence refused to "fight against the dead and make war on shadows."
St. Lawrence served the church as scriptural theologian, popular preacher, missionary, polemicist, religious superior, and diplomat. His achievements in the post–Tridentine restoration of Catholicism earned him, in the words of Benedict XV, "a truly distinguished place among the most outstanding men ever raised up by Divine Providence to assist the Church in time of distress" [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 11 (1919) 268].
Feast: July 23.
Bibliography: a. da carmignano, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, tr. p. barrett (Westminster, Md. 1963). j. haas, The Theological Significance of Some Biblical Symbols in the Mariale of St. Lawrence of Brindisi (Rome 1994), bibliography. a. m. di brenta, "San Lorenzo da Brindisi Dottore Apostolico," In Santi e Santita nell'Ordine Cappuccino, trans. m. d'alatri (Rome 1980) 121–151. Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, Doctor of the Universal Church: Commemorative Ceremonies, v. 2 (Washington, D.C.1961).