St. Cajetan, Founder of the Theatine Order
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
St. Cajetan, founder of the holy order, whose members are called Theatines, was born in 1487, at Vicenza, in Lombardy, of noble and pious parents. Immediately after his baptism, his mother consecrated him to the Blessed Virgin, humbly begging her to guard him and take his spiritual welfare under her motherly protection. His entire after life proved how effectual his mother's prayers had been. He was never, even in his most tender years, like other children; his greatest pleasure consisted in praying, building small altars, giving alms to the poor, and being most perfect in his obedience to his parents. His whole conduct was such, that even in childhood, he was called a saint. He afterwards went to the University, and always made it his greatest care to preserve his innocence unspotted among so many temptations. Having received, at Padua, the degree of civil and canon laws, he repaired to Rome, where he was ordained priest, and preferred by Pope Julius II. to a high ecclesiastical position.PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS
After the death of the Pope, he resigned his dignity and returned to his home, desiring to work more effectually for the salvation of souls. He served the sick in and out of the hospitals, with untiring charity, in the time of pestilence. His labors were at first, confined to his native town; later, however, he went to Venice. His principal aim was to save souls. The sick, he persuaded by kind and gentle exhortations; and others he moved to virtue by his earnest sermons. The popular saying was, that Cajetan looked like a seraph when standing before the altar, and like an Apostle when in the pulpit. His devotion when he said mass, was equalled by his fervor and zeal while preaching. Whenever he had the opportunity, he tried to win a soul for the Almighty. After some time, he went again to Rome, where, inspired by God, and with the co-operation of three other pious and learned men, he founded an Order for such priests as desired to live an apostolic life, to reform the negligence of the clergy, and the corrupt morals of the people of the world; to observe carefully the sacred ceremonies of the church; restore the observance of pious conduct in the temples dedicated to the worship of the Most High; to labor in opposition to the heretics; assist the sick and dying, and in a word, to promote the welfare of men to the best of their ability.
He imposed a special obligation on the members in regard to the vow of poverty; they were not only forbidden to have annual revenues, but even to ask alms. They had to leave the whole care of their subsistence to God, and wait patiently for what Providence would send them. Hard as this seemed to be, still many were found willing to bear such abject poverty. The first house of the order was at Rome; but it was abandoned after the first year, on account of an inroad of imperial soldiers, who also treated Cajetan with great cruelty. Among these soldiers there was one who had formerly been acquainted with the Saint at Vicenza, and knew that, at that time, he was very rich. Believing that he still possessed great treasures, he tried to force them from him, by maltreating him most brutally, and several times casting him into prison.
From Rome, the holy founder went to Venice, where he again nursed those stricken down with pestilence. He was then ordered by the Pope to Naples, to found a new house for his Order. This city had to thank the vigilance of this Saint, under God, for its preservation from heresy; for, several disciples of Luther, who at that time disseminated his poisonous doctrines in Germany, had come to Naples and begun privately, as well as publicly, to maintain, under the name of "Evangelical liberty," the teachings of Luther. They had also brought with them several books which contained the Lutheran doctrines, designing to give them to the people, and thus contaminate the city with the doctrines they contained. When St. Cajetan was informed of this, and had, moreover, seen the Evil One standing in the pulpit beside Bernardin Ochino, one of Luther's disciples, whispering into his ear every word that he preached, he notified the ecclesiastical authorities of these facts, and preached so zealously against the new heresy, that the heretical books were all given up and burnt, and the inhabitants of the city were preserved in the true faith. The Saint rendered the same service to several other cities in Italy.
The holy man was exceedingly severe towards himself. He never divested himself of his rough hair-shirt. Almost daily he scourged himself most mercilessly. In partaking of nourishment he was so temperate, that his life might justly be called a continual fast. He spent most of his nights in devout exercises, taking but a short rest upon straw. He never spoke except to honor God or benefit man. He was indefatigable in his exertions for the salvation of souls, and hence it is not surprising that God bestowed many graces upon him. One Christmas Eve, when he was passing the night in the Church of St. Mary Major, the Holy Child appeared to him, and the Blessed Virgin, who carried Him, laid Him into the Saint's arms, filling his soul with heavenly consolation. The holy man had many other visions during his life, and was often seen in a state of ecstasy during his prayers. He also possessed the gift of prophecy, and miraculously cured a great many sick. There was a priest of his Order, whose foot was to be amputated. The evening before the operation was to be performed, the Saint examined the foot, which was extremely swollen and affected with gangrene; he kissed it, made the holy sign of the cross over it, bandaged it anew, exhorting the sufferer to put his trust in God and to ask the intercession of St. Francis. After this he turned to God in prayer. When on the following day, the surgeon came to perform the painful and dangerous amputation, they found, to their amazement, that the foot was healed.
When St. Cajetan sailed from Venice to Naples, a terrible storm arose, and all on board expected the boat to sink every moment. Cajetan took his Agnus Dei and threw it into the sea, which immediately became calm. His life is filled with similar events; we, however, having no space for more of them, will only relate how happily and with what heroic charity he ended his earthly career.
The authorities at Naples, civil as well as ecclesiastical, had resolved to institute the Inquisition in the city, to guard the faithful more thoroughly against heresy. The people were, however, opposed to it to such an extent, that a revolt was feared, and neither the exhortations and persuasions of St. Cajetan nor of other men were of any avail. The holy man was deeply distressed at the danger of so great a city and still more of so many souls. Hence he offered his life as a sacrifice to appease the wrath of the Almighty, praying that God would accept of it, restore peace, and spare the city and its inhabitants. The following event will show how pleased the Almighty was with this sacrifice. Soon after the Saint had offered himself to Heaven, he became dangerously sick, and repeating his offer, died a most peaceful and holy death, having had the privilege of seeing Christ and the Blessed Virgin. The Saviour assured him of his salvation, the Divine Mother of her protection until his death. And yet he would not die in any other manner than as a penitent; for when the physician said he needed a more comfortable bed, he protested most emphatically against it, saying that he would not, in his last hour, allow his body any comfort, but that he would be laid in his penitential robes upon ashes on the ground, adding: "There is no road leading to Heaven but that of innocence or repentance. He who has departed from the first, must take the second; else he is eternally lost."
He received the last Sacraments with great devotion, turned his eyes towards Heaven, and rendered up his soul tranquilly to God, in the year of our Lord 1547. The strife in the city soon after ceased and peace was restored, as if God had wished to show that He had accepted the life of St. Cajetan as a peace offering for the salvation of innumerable souls. Many miracles were wrought by the Almighty to recompense the great faith which St. Cajetan manifested in the Divine Providence, when he instituted such complete poverty in his new order. After his death also, God honored him by working many miracles through his intercession.
I particularly desire that the last maxim which St. Cajetan gave on his death-bed should sink deeply into your heart. " There is no road to Heaven but that of Innocence or Penance." This is a truth which is founded upon Holy Writ. If then it is your earnest wish to go to Heaven, examine yourself carefully, and see if you are walking in the right path. How is it with your innocence? How with your penance? I leave it to you to answer these questions, and will only say, in the words of St. Cajetan: "If you have departed from the road of innocence, you must enter that of penance; else you are eternally lost." Having said this much to you, I will give you a few instructions on the life of this great servant of God.
I. St. Cajetan placed a special trust in God in regard to the necessaries of life. Many persons are too much concerned about their temporal matters; others, too little; the latter lead an idle life, take no care of their homes, do not work according to their station in life, or squander their earnings or inheritance. But by far the greater number are too greedy of wealth. Their thoughts, from early morning till late at night, are occupied with their temporal affairs. They do not even take time to say a morning prayer or to assist at Holy Mass, because they fear to miss something by it, or think they neglect their household duties. They give not one thought to God or to their soul during the whole day. In short, they are as much absorbed in their temporal affairs, as if riches were the sole aim and object of their existence. They expect everything from their own exertions, not remembering that all success depends on the Almighty.
May you not belong to either of these classes. Work for your livelihood according to your position; avoid idleness; but above all, trust in God, Who will assuredly not forsake you, if you do your duty. "Behold the birds of the air; for, they neither sow nor do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are you not of much more value than they? And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they labor not, neither do they spin. And if the grass of the field, which is today, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, God does so clothe; how much more you, O ye of little faith? Seek therefore first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all things shall be added unto you (Matt. vi. ii)." St. Cajetan never suffered from want. God frequently assisted him by miracles. With many men it is quite different. They are often in want, and God does not assist them. For some, it is their own fault; for others, it is a trial. The latter must console themselves with the thought that this want serves them to obtain salvation. God wishes to lead them, like Lazarus, through poverty, into Heaven. Had Lazarus possessed worldly goods like the rich man, perhaps he would have had to, suffer in hell like him. Therefore, they must not grieve over their poverty, but bear it with resignation. They must endeavor to lead a Christian life and put entire trust in God, and He will surely not forsake them.
But those who have come to poverty, because they have been idle, or worked on Sundays or holidays without necessity, or sought for gain by unlawful means, should not be surprised, if they suffer want; for, how can they reasonably expect to be blessed by the Almighty, if they so often, without shame or fear, transgress His commandments? Do they not know that God's curse threatens him who transgresses His laws? "Cursed shalt thou be in the city, cursed in the field. Cursed shall be thy barn and cursed thy stores. Cursed shall be the fruit of thy womb and the fruit of thy ground, the herds of thy oxen and the flocks of thy sheep," etc. But the Almighty also promises His blessing to those who keep His commandments: "Blessed shalt thou be in the city and in the fields; blessed shall be the fruit of thy womb and of thy ground, and the fruits of thy oxen and the droves of thy herds. Blessed thy barns," etc. (Deut. xxvii.) If men desire that God should help them in their poverty, they must resolve to keep His commandments better, to work according to their station, and take sufficient care of their affairs. " Behold, says He, this day I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Choose therefore life."
Prayer of Saint Cajetan
and Visit to the Blessed Sacrament
Look down, O Lord, from Thy sanctuary, and from the high habitation of heaven, and behold this sacred oblation which our great High Priest, Thy holy Servant, the Lord Jesus, immolates unto Thee for the sins of His brethren, and be propitious to the multitude of our iniquities. Behold, the voice of the blood of Jesus, our brother, crieth to Thee from the cross. Graciously hear, O Lord; be appeased, O Lord, hearken and do? Delay not for Thy own sake, my God, because Thy name is invoked upon this city and upon Thy people, and do with us according to Thy mercy.(Indulgence one hundred days)
(Plenary indulgence on the first Thursday of each month for communicants visiting the blessed Sacrament and reciting this prayer. Partial indulgence of seven years and seven quarantines on other Thursdays. --Pius VII.)
May all praise and thanks be continually given to the most holy and most august Sacrament.
The Origin of the Congregation of the Perpetual Adoration
and the Exposition of the Forty Hours
Several Fathers of the Theatine Order, taking example by the zeal of their saintly founder, could not endure that our Divine Redeemer, Who in His love tarrieth with us poor men in the Most Holy Sacrament under the form of an insignificant Host, should be so little sought, honoured, and praised with thanksgiving. The thought therefore occurred to them to found a congregation whose members should undertake in turns to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. All the hours of the year were distributed amongst the members, so that every hour of the year the Most Holy Sacrament should be adored in deepest humility.
Besides the devotion of the perpetual adoration, which was the result of the love of our Lord, the same congregation founded that of the Exposition of the Forty Hours, in honour of the forty hours during which the body of Jesus lay in the grave.
Saint Cajetan of Thienna, Confessor
from the Liturgical Year, 1901
Cajetan appeared in all his zeal for the sanctuary at the time when the false reform was spreading rebellion throughout the world. The great cause of the danger had been the incapacity of the guardians of the holy City, or their connivance by complicity of heart or of mind with pagan doctrines and manners introduced by an ill-advised revival. Wasted by the wild boar of the forest, could the vineyard of the Lord recover the fertility of its better days? Cajetan learned from Eternal Wisdom the new method of culture required by an exhausted soil.Let us now read the life of this new patriarch:
The urgent need of those unfortunate times was that the clergy should be raised up again by worthy life, zeal, and knowledge. For this object men were required, who being clerks themselves in the full acceptation of the word, with all the obligations it involves, should be to the members of the holy hierarchy a permanent model of its primitive perfection, a supplement to their shortcomings, and a leaven, little by little raising the whole mass. But where, save in the life of the counsels with the stability of its three vows, could be found the impulse, the power, and the permanence necessary for such an enterprise? The inexhaustible fecundity of the religious life was no more wanting in the Church in those days of decadence than in the periods of her glory. After the monks, turning to God in their solitudes and drawing down light and love upon the earth seemingly so forgotten by them; after the mendicant Orders, keeping up in the midst of the world their claustral habits of life and the austerity of the desert: the regular clerks entered upon the battle-field, whereby their position in the fight, their exterior manner of life, their very dress, they were to mingle with the ranks of the secular clergy; just as a few veterans are sent into the midst of a wavering troop, to act upon the rest by word and example and dash.
Like the initiators of the great ancient forms of religious life, Cajetan was the Patriarch of the Regular Clerks. Under this name Clement VII., by a brief dated 24th June, 1524, approved the institute he had founded that very year in concert with the Bishop of Theati, from whom the new religious were also called Theatines. Soon the Barnabites, the Society of Jesus, the Somasques of St. Jerome Emilian, the Regular Clerks Minor of St. Francis Carracciolo, the Regular Clerks ministering to the sick, the Regular Clerks of the Pious Schools, the Regular Clerks of the Mother of God, and others, hastened to follow in the track, and proved that the Church is ever beautiful, ever worthy of her Spouse; while the accusation of barrenness hurled against her by heresy, rebounded upon the thrower.
Cajetan began and carried forward his reform chiefly by means of detachment from riches, the love of which had caused many evils in the Church. The Theatines offered to the world a spectacle unknown since the days of the Apostles; pushing their zeal for renouncement so far as not to allow themselves even to beg, but to rely on the spontaneous charity of the faithful. While Luther was denying the very existence of God's Providence, their heroic trust in It was often rewarded by prodigies.
Cajetan was born at Vicenza of the noble house of Thienna, and was at once dedicated by his mother to the Virgin Mother of God. His innocence appeared so wonderful from his very childhood that everyone called him "the "Saint." He took the degree of Doctor in canon and civil law at Padua, and then went to Rome where Julius II. made him a Prelate. When he received the priesthood, such a fire of divine love was enkindled in his soul, that he left the court to devote himself entirely to God. He founded hospitals with his own money and himself served the sick, even those attacked with pestilential maladies. He displayed such unflagging zeal for the salvation of his neighbour that he earned the name of the "Hunter of souls."Prayer:
His great desire was to restore Ecclesiastical discipline, then much relaxed, to the form of the Apostolic life, and to this end he founded the Order of Regular Clerks. They lay aside all care of earthly things, possess no revenues, do not beg even the necessaries of life from the faithful, but live only on alms spontaneously offered. Clement VII. having approved this institution, Cajetan made his solemn vows at the High Altar of the Vatican basilica, together with John Peter Caraffa, Bishop of Chieti, who was afterwards Pope Paul IV., and two other men of distinguished piety. During the sack of Rome, he was most cruelly treated by the soldiers, to make him deliver up his money, which the hands of the poor had long ago carried into the heavenly treasures. He endured with the utmost patience stripes, torture, and imprisonment. He persevered unfalteringly in the kind of life he had embraced, relying entirely upon Divine Providence: and God never failed him, as was sometimes proved by miracle.
He was a great promoter of assiduity at the divine worship, of the beauty of the House of God, of exactness in holy ceremonies, and of the frequentation of the most Holy Eucharist. More than once he detected and foiled the wicked subterfuges of heresy. He would prolong his prayers for eight hours, without ceasing to shed tears; he was often rapt in ecstasy and was famous for the gift of prophecy. At Rome, one Christmas night, while he was praying at our Lord's crib, the Mother of God was pleased to lay the Infant Jesus in his arms. He would spend whole nights in chastising his body with disciplines, and could never be induced to relax anything of the austerity of his life: for he would say, he wished to die in sackcloth and ashes. At length he fell into an illness caused by the intense sorrow he felt, at seeing the people offend God by a sedittion; and at Naples, after being refreshed by a heavenly vision, he passed to heaven. His body is honoured with great devotion in the Church of St. Paul in that town. As many miracles worked by him both living and dead made his name illustrious, Pope Clement X. enrolled him amongst the Saints.
Who has ever obeyed so well as thou, O great Saint, that word of the Gospel: Be not solicitous therefore saying: What shall we eat? or what shall we drink? or wherewith shall we be clothed (St. Matth. vi. 31)? Thou didst understand, too, that other divine word: The workman is worthy of his meat (Ibid. x. 10. 3), and thou knewest that it applied principally to those who labour in word and doctrine (1 Tim. v. 17.). Thou didst not ignore the fact that other sowers of the word had before thee founded on that saying the right of their poverty, embraced for God's sake, to claim at least the bread of alms. Sublime right of souls eager for opprobrium in order to follow Jesus and to satiate their love! But Wisdom, who gives to the desires of the Saints the bent suitable to their times, caused the thirst for humiliation to be overruled in thee by the ambition to exalt in thy poverty the holy Providence of God; this was needed in an age of renewed paganism, which, even before listening to heresy, seemed to have ceased to trust in God. Alas! even of those to whom the Lord had given himself for their possession in the midst of the children of Israel, it could be truly said that they sought the goods of this world like the heathen. It was thy earnest desire, O Cajetan, to justify our Heavenly Father and to prove that He is ever ready to fulfil the promise made by His adorable Son: Seek ye therefore the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you (St. Matth. vi. 33).
Circumstances obliged thee to begin in this way the reformation of the sanctuary, whereunto thou wert resolved to devote thy life. It was necessary, first, to bring back the members of the holy militia to the spirit of the sacred formula of the ordination of clerks, when, laying aside the spirit of the world together with its livery, they say in the joy of their hearts: "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup: it is Thou, O Lord, that wilt restore my inheritance to me (Ps. xv. 5)."
The Lord, O Cajetan, acknowledged thy zeal and blessed thine efforts. Preserve in us the fruit of thy labour. The science of sacred rites owes much to thy sons; may they prosper, in renewed fidelity to the traditions of their father. May thy patriarchal blessing ever rest upon the numerous families of Regular Clerks which walk in the footsteps of thine own. May all the ministers of holy Church experience the power thou still hast, of maintaining them in the right path of their holy state, or, if necessary, of bringing them back to it. May the example of thy sublime confidence in God, teach all Christians that they have a Father in heaven, whose Providence will never fail His children.
Regular Clerics, The Theatines
To Saint Cajetan belongs the honor of having given birth to the institution of Regular Clerics. The saint was born in Lombardy, in the year 1480, and he seemed a saint from his childhood. After studying theology and taking the degree of doctor in the Civil and Canon Laws at Padua, he embraced the ecclesiastical state. At Rome Pope Julius II. compelled him to accept the office of Prothonotary in his court, which he, however, resigned on the death of the Pope. From Rome he repaired to Vicenza. By the advice of his confessor, John of Crema, a Dominican friar, he returned to the Eternal City, and associated himself to the Confraternity of the Love of God, a society to which he had formerly belonged. He deliberated with the members of this confraternity on some effectual means for the reformation of morals among Christians, and they all agreed that the best means was to revive in the clergy the apostolic spirit. Apian was hereupon formed among the associates for instituting an order of regular clergy upon the perfect model of the lives of the apostles. The first authors of this design were St. Cajetan; John Petro Caraffa, Archbishop of Theate, afterwards Pope Paul IV.; Paul Consiglieri, and Boniface de Colle, a gentleman of Milan.
The plan of the new institute was drawn up, laid before the Pope, and examined in a consistory of Cardinals in 1524. The founders made it a rule of their institute that its members should not only possess no annual revenues, but that they should be forbidden even to beg or ask for necessary subsistence, being content to receive the voluntary contributions of the faithful, and relying entirely upon Providence. The clause, however, was added to the Rule that if a community should be reduced to extreme necessity, they should give notice of their distress by tolling the bell. The Pope allowed those among them who were possessed of ecclesiastical benefices to resign them.
The order was approved by Clement ViL, in 1524, and Caraffa was chosen the first General. As he still retained the title of Archbishop of Theate, these Regular Clerics were from him called Theatines. Their principal objects were to preach to the people, assist the sick, oppose errors in the faith, restore among the laity the devout and frequent use of the sacraments, and re-establish the apostolic spirit in the clergy.
The Theatines were the first, in modern times, to labor at the reform of the clergy and to inculcate habits of piety into the people. Their zeal and regularity were so great that their name was commonly given to the most zealous ecclesiastics.
St. Cejetan, God's Champion
Against the Lutheran Heresy
After a brilliant course of study and taking the title of doctor at the university of Padua, St. Cajetan went to Rome: when he was twenty-five years of age. His intention was to lead a hidden life. But his virtues and talents were not slow to raise the veil under which he wished to lie concealed. Pope Julius II. desired to see him. Observing in him the marks of an eminent sanctity, he kept him at his court; and, in order to attach him thereto, appointed him protonotary--an important post. But the Lord had other views over His servant: these views were indicated by the very date of Cajetan's birth. As we have said, it took place in 1480, three years before that of Luther. To the champion of error, the Lord had opposed a defender of truth.
That such was the mission of St. Cajetan, we find authentic testimony in the decree of his canonization. "His birth demonstrates the sovereign goodness of God, who prepares a remedy for evils, even before they appear. Thus, to check the unbridled fury of Luther, He sent to the Church a powerful auxiliary in the Order of Regular Clerks, founded by St. Cajetan at the very moment when the German monk was laying aside his habit and renouncing the practices of his state." As a matter of fact, it was in the year 1524, the same in which Luther threw off his habit, that St. Cajetan founded his institute. Such a coincidence, and many others besides, made St. Cajetan be regarded, not only by Pope Innocent XII., but by the various princes of Europe and by all the historians of his life, as a providential antagonist to the apostate of Wittemberg. St. Cajetan, says the learned Boverio, a Capuchin, was the scourge of the Lutheran heresy, and the Jesuit Father, Rallestieri, declares him born to make war on Luther.
His French historian, Mgr. Carpy, a counsellor of state, bears the same testimony of him. "Scarcely had Luther raised the standard of rebellion in Germany, when the blessed Cajetan founded his Order in Rome, chiefly with a view to combat the heresiarch by a reformation of the clergy, whose conduct was in Luther's eyes a rock of scandal. "Whence it follows that the other orders of regular clerks, established after his example, were so many auxiliary forces to the grand army raised by St Cajetan, without any other heads than Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Hence, the Tribunal of the Rota delivered this beautiful panegyric in regard to him: Zeal in defence of the Faith made him institute, for the confusion of heretics, the Order of Regular Clerks, which the all-good and all-powerful God has favoured with such happy increase, even to our own days.
This increase was not confined solely to the Order of St. Cajetan: it also and more particularly extended to Orders of the same kind, the offshoots of this fruitful tree. Sixteen years after St. Cajetan, behold St. Ignatius with his Clerks of the Society of Jesus--religio clericorum societatis Jesu, as the Council of Trent says; St. John of God, with his Good Brothers; St. Camillus of Lellis, with his Clerks to attend the Sick; St. Jerome Emiliani, with his Somasco Fathers; St. Joseph Calasanctius, with his Fathers of the Pious Schools; Antony, with the Barnabites; Adorno, with his Minor Clerks! As it is meet to attribute to the founder of an Order the glory of the good done by the different congregations born thereof, or formed on its model and animated by its spirit, we ought to say that all the good done during the last three centuries by the different congregations of Regular Clerks is referable to St. Cajetan, justly called the father of these congregations.
A proof, still more evident if possible, of the Providential mission of this great Saint, is found in his life, which was an appropriate counterpart to Luther's, and in his works, which were the bulwark of the Faith against heresy. We have seen that pride and a spirit of rebellion in regard to the Holy See, a love of riches, and a passion for pleasure were the beginnings of Protestantism. To these diabolical evils, St. Cajetan opposed in his congregation a filial obedience towards the Holy See, chastity, absolute poverty, and the most exemplary regularity.