Neri, Philip, St.
NERI, PHILIP, ST.
Catholic reformer and founder of the Oratorians; b. Florence, July 21, 1515; d. Rome, May 26, 1595. Philip, son of Francesco, a Florentine lawyer, and his wife Lucrezia da Mosciano (d. 1520), grew up with his two sisters, Caterina and Elizabetta, in the care of a loving stepmother. He was both popular and pious as a boy, and was found often with the Dominicans at St. Mark's, where he talked with the friars and learned to revere savonarola, who was executed in Florence in 1498.
Apostle of Rome. Philip's family sent him, at 17, to his uncle, Romolo, a merchant of San Germano (now Cassino), who was willing to take Philip into his business and eventually to leave it to him. The prospect of a prosperous commercial career repelled Philip, who wished by then to give his life directly to God. With this intention, he left for Rome (1533), where he lodged with a Florentine, Galeotto del Caccia, whose two small sons he tutored. Already Philip was eating and sleeping little, and praying much. From 1535 until 1538 he followed courses in philosophy at the Sapienza University and in theology at Sant' Agostino, earning high praise as a student. Instead of becoming a priest, as expected, Philip abandoned his studies, and for 13 years followed what was, for that time, an unusual, even idiosyncratic, vocation—that of a layman, entirely on his own, devoting himself exclusively to prayer and the Christian apostolate. He meditated on the Gospels; he prayed, sometimes, it seems, in ecstasy; he frequented the Catacombs (a reflection of his interest in the primitive Church); he persuaded friends and acquaintances to turn to Christ. In 1548 under the spiritual direction of Persiano Rosa, he organized some laymen into the Confraternitá di SS. Trinità to assist poor and convalescent pilgrims. This grew into the celebrated hospital of S. Trinità dei Pellegrini. The background of this activity must be remembered: corruption in the Church at Rome, an indifferent clergy, a people paganized by the Renaissance, a Reformation movement in the North attracting the loyalty of whole nations, and a reforming council just convening at Trent.
Father Rosa urged that he could serve the Church better as a priest, and on May 23, 1551, Philip was ordained. He lived for some years at the church of S. Girolamo della Carità with other priests and exercised a distinctive apostolate in the confessional. For the further instruction and sanctification of his penitents he arranged, in the afternoons, informal talks, discussions, and prayers in a room above the church. He also led excursions to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. In 1559, his "Pilgrimage to the Seven Churches" brought censure from Paul IV and the temporary suspension of all Philip's works. He aroused jealousy, and he was represented as encouraging plots against Paul IV, fomenting a sect, and holding "conventicles," The more moderate reformer Pius IV succeeded in this same year (1559), and Philip was back in favor.
Development of the Oratory. Several of Philip's followers became priests and from 1564 they lived as a community at the church of S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini, where they prayed and ate together (but took no religious vows) and celebrated the Eucharist and preached regularly. This was the beginning of the Oratory, as it is now known. Its distinctive feature was the popular daily afternoon service of four informal talks, interspersed with vernacular prayers and hymns. The talks concerned the spiritual life, Scripture, church history, and the study of a saint's life. palestrina, one of Philip's followers, contributed musical settings for scriptural readings, hymns, motets, and laudi spirituali (hence the term Oratorio). The multivolume Annales Ecclesiastici of Caesar Baronius, whose standard of critical scholarship was high for his times, grew from his regular talks in the Oratory.
Persecution reoccurred in 1567 when it was reported to Pius V that the Oratory was an assemblage of heretics, where laymen preached and sang vernacular hymns. But the intervention of Cardinal Charles borromeo saved the Oratory. In 1575 Pope Gregory XIII, a friend to Philip, formally approved the new "Congregation of the Oratory," as a group of priests living in community without vows, for prayer and preaching. The small, dilapidated church of S. Maria in Vallicella was given to the congregation, and on the site was built a large new one, which has continued to be known as the Chiesa Nuova, and to be the church of the Roman Oratory. Philip was the first provost (superior); he was succeeded by Baronius.
Until Philip died, his advice was continually sought. Visitors, including many cardinals, thronged his room, and (SS.) ignatius of loyola, camillus de lellis, John leonardi, Charles Borromeo, felix of cantalice, and francis de sales delighted in his friendship. As an influence in the Counter Reformation Philip has been justly counted with the Jesuits and the Council of Trent, on the grounds that as the "Apostle of Rome" he was foremost in converting to personal holiness many of those most influential in the central government of the Church. Philip has been considered an eccentric buffoon studying to mortify himself and proud Renaissance gentlemen into humility; a suspect leader of an evangelical reform movement; a saint around whom miracles were constantly occurring; a holy founder of 45 oratories now in existence; and an exponent of real, living, personal faith. Invariably Philip's humility, his gaiety, his personal attractiveness, and his fervent attachment to the Person of Christ have been noticed.
John Henry newman felt his attractiveness, joined the Oratory, and founded the first English-speaking house (Birmingham). Philip was beatified by Paul V (1615) and canonized by Gregory XV (May 12, 1622).
Feast: May 26.
Bibliography: a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, ed. h. thurston and d. attwater (New York 1956) 2:395–399. r. bÄumer, Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65)2 7:881. c. gasbarri, Filippo Neri, santo romano (2d ed. Rome 1944). l. ponnelle and l. bordet, St. Philip Neri and the Roman Society of His Times, tr. r. f. kerr (New York 1933), list and discussion of sources. a. capecelatro, The Life of Saint Philip Neri … , tr. t. a. pope, 2 v. (new ed. New York 1926). g. incisa della rochetta et al., eds., Il primo processo per san Filippo Neri, 3 v. (Studi e Testi 191, 196, 205; 1957–60). a. baudrillart, Saint Philippe Néri, 1515–1595 (Paris 1939). p. g. bacci, Vita di Sto Filippo Neri (Verona 1624); Eng. Life of St. Philip Neri, ed. f. i. antrobus, 2 v. (rev. ed. St. Louis 1903). v. j. matthews, St. Philip Neri (London 1934). l. bouyer, The Roman Socrates, tr. m. day (Westminster, Md. 1958). f. w. faber, ed., The School of St. Philip Neri (London 1850). f. w. faber, ed., If God Be with Us: The Maxims of St. Philip Neri (Herefordshire 1994). r. addinton, The Idea of the Oratory (London 1996). l. bouyer, St. Philip Neri: A Portrait (Herefordshire 1995). p. turks, Philip Neri: The Fire of Joy (New York 1995).