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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VIII: August. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

August 7

St. Cajetan of Thienna, Confessor

        See his life compiled by Antonio Caraccioli, Pr. of his Order, published in Latin with those of the three other founders in 1612. Also the same given more at large in Italian, by F. Jos. Silos, of the same Order, on the occasion of his canonization in 1671, with the bull of his canonization, and the comments of the Bollandists. See also his life written by Del Tufa, bishop of Acerra; Helyot, Hist. des Ord. Relig. t. 4, p. 71. Contin. Fleury, t. 32, et la Vie de S. Cajetan de Thienne, par D. Bernard. Paris, 1698, 12mo.

A.D. 1547.

ST. CAJETAN was son of Gaspar, lord of Thienna, 1 and Mary Porta, persons of the first rank among the nobility of the territory of Vicenza, in Lombardy, and eminent for their piety. The saint was born in 1480. 2 His mother by earnest prayer recommended him from his birth to the patronage of the Blessed Virgin, and as he grew capable of instruction, never ceased setting before his eyes the example of our divine Redeemer’s humility, meekness, purity, and all other virtues; and such was his docility to her lessons that from his infancy he was surnamed the Saint. The perfect mortification of his passions from the cradle, made an unalterable sweetness of temper seem as it were the natural result of his constitution. The love of prayer taught a constant recollection, and the continual application of his mind to eternal truths, made him shun all loss of time in amusements or idle conversation; for no discourse seemed agreeable or interesting to him, unless it tended to raise the mind to God. His affections were entirely weaned from the world, and he directed all his aims to the life to come. His tender charity towards all men, particularly his compassion for the poor, and all who were in affliction, were remarkable on all occasions. The long exercises of devotion which he daily practised, were no hinderance to his studies, but sanctified them, and purified the eye of his understanding, enabling him the better to judge of truth. He distinguished himself in the study of divinity; likewise in the civil and canon laws, in which faculty he took the degree of doctor with great applause at Padua.
  To devote himself perfectly to the divine service he embraced an ecclesiastical state; and, out of his own patrimony, built and founded a parochial chapel at Rampazzo, for the instruction and benefit of many who lived at a considerable distance from the parish church. After this he went to Rome not in quest of preferment, or to live at court, but hoping to lie concealed in that great city, and to lead an obscure and hidden life, which it was impossible for him to do in his own country. Nevertheless, Pope Julius II. compelled him to accept the office of protonotary in his court, and by that means drew him out of his beloved solitude, though the saint had the art to join interior recollection with public employments, and to live retired in courts. Being much delighted with the end proposed by the confraternity in Rome, called of the love of God, which was an association of zealous and devout persons who devoted themselves by certain pious exercises and regulations to labour with all their power to promote the divine honour, he enrolled himself in it. Upon the death of Julius II. he resigned his public employment, and returned to Vicenza. There he entered himself in the confraternity of St. Jerom, which was instituted upon the plan of that of the love of God in Rome; but which in that place consisted only of men in the lowest stations of life. This circumstance was infinitely pleasing to the saint, but gave great offence to his worldly friends, who thought it a blemish to the honour of his family. He persisted, however, in his resolution, and exerted his zeal with wonderful fruit in the most humbling practices of charity. He sought out the most distressed objects among the sick and the poor over the whole town, and served them with his own hands, being most assiduous about those who laboured under the most loathsome diseases in the hospitals of the incurables, the revenues of which house he considerably augmented. In obedience to the advice of his confessor, John of Crema, a Dominican friar, a man of great prudence, learning, and piety, the saint removed to Venice, and taking up his lodgings in the new hospital of that city, pursued his former manner of life. He was so great a benefactor to that house as to be regarded as its principal founder, though his chief care was to provide the sick with every spiritual succour possible. He at the same time emaciated his body with penitential austerities, and seemed to rival the most eminent contemplatives in the sublime grace of prayer; and it was the common saying both at Rome, Vicenza, and Venice, that Cajetan was a seraph at the altar, and an apostle in the pulpit.  2
  By the advice of the same director, Cajetan left Venice to return to Rome, in order to associate himself again to the confraternity of the love of God, among the principal members of which, many were no less eminent for their learning and prudence than for their extraordinary piety. He deliberated with them on some effectual means for the reformation of manners among Christians, grieving that the sanctity of this divine religion should be so little known and practised by the greater part of those who profess it. All agreed that this could not be done but by reviving in the clergy the spirit and zeal of those holy pastors who first planted the faith. To put all the clergy in mind what this spirit ought to be, and what it obliges them to, a plan was concerted 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 Peter Caraffa, afterwards pope under the name of Paul IV., but at that time archbishop of Theate, now called Chieti, a town in Abruzzo; Paul Consigliari, of the most noble family of Ghisleri, and Boniface de Colle, a gentleman of Milan. Those among them who were possessed of ecclesiastical livings addressed themselves to Pope Clement VII. for leave to resign them with a view of making such an establishment. His holiness made great difficulties with regard to the archbishop; but at length he gave his consent. The plan of the new institute was drawn up, laid before the pope, and examined in a consistory of cardinals in 1524. The more perfectly to extirpate the poison of avarice, always most fatal to the ecclesiastical order where it gets footing, and to establish in the hearts of those who are engaged in that state the most perfect spirit of disinterestedness, and the entire disengagement of their hearts from the goods of this world, the zealous founders made it an observance of their institute, though not under any vow or obligation (as several French writers of note have mistaken), that this regular clergy should not only possess no annual revenues, but should be forbidden ever to beg or ask for necessary subsistence, content to receive the voluntary contributions of the faithful, and relying entirely upon Providence. The cardinals objected a long time to this rule, thinking it inconsistent with the ordinary laws of prudence. But their opposition was at length overcome by the founders, who urged that Christ and his apostles having observed this manner of life, the same might be perfectly copied by those who were their successors in the ministry of the altar, and of the divine word. But this clause was added to the rule, that if a community should be reduced to extreme necessity, they should give notice of their distress by a toll of the bell. The Order therefore was approved by Clement VII. in 1524, and Caraffa was chosen the first general. As he still retained the title of archbishop of Theate, these regular clerks were from him called Theatins. 3 The principal ends which they proposed to themselves were to preach to the people, assist the sick, oppose errors in faith, restore among the laity the devout and frequent use of the sacraments, and reestablish in the clergy disinterestedness, regularity, a perfect spirit of devotion, assiduous application to the sacred studies, the most religious respect to holy things, especially in whatever belongs to the sacraments and pious ceremonies.  3
  Rome and all Italy soon perceived the happy effects of the zeal of these holy men, and the odour of their sanctity drew many to their community. They lived at first in a house in Rome, which belonged to Boniface de Colle; but, their number increasing, they took a larger house on Monte Pincio. In the following year they were afflicted with a calamity which had like to have put an end to their Order soon after its birth. The army of the Emperor Charles V., which was commanded by the constable Bourbon, who had deserted from the French king to the emperor, marched from the Milanese to Rome, and took that city by assault on the 6th of May, 1527. This Duke of Bourbon, after having committed horrible outrages, was killed by a musket shot in mounting the wall; but Philibert of Challons, prince of Orange, took upon him the command of the army, which was composed in a great measure of Lutherans, and other enemies of the see of Rome. The pope and cardinals retired into the castle of St. Angelo; but the German army plundered the city, and were guilty of greater cruelties and excesses than had been committed by the Goths a thousand years before. The house of the Theatins was rifled, and almost demolished; and a soldier, who had known St. Cajetan at Vicenza before he renounced the world, falsely imagining he was then rich, gave an information to his officer against him to that effect; whereupon he was barbarously scourged and tortured to extort from him a treasure which he had not. Being at length discharged, though in a weak and maimed condition, he and his companions left Rome, with nothing but their breviaries under their arms, and with clothes barely to cover themselves. They repaired to Venice, where they were kindly received, and settled in the convent of St. Nicholas of Tolentino. Caraffa’s term for discharging the office of general expired after three years, in 1530, and St. Cajetan was chosen in his room. It was with great reluctance that he accepted that charge; but the sanctity, zeal, and prudence with which he laboured to advance the divine honour, especially by inspiring ecclesiastics with fervour and the contempt of the world, drew the esteem of the whole world on his Order. The fruits of his charity were most conspicuous during a raging plague which was brought to Venice from the Levant, and followed by a dreadful famine. Excited by his example, Jerom Emiliani, a noble Venetian, in 1530, founded another congregation of regular clerks, called Somasches, from the place where they lived, between Milan and Bergamo, the design of which was to breed up orphans, and such children as were destitute of the means of a suitable education.  4
  At the end of the three years of Cajetan’s office, Caraffa was made general a second time, and our saint was sent to Verona, where both the clergy and laity were in the greatest ferment, tumultuously opposing certain articles of reformation of discipline which their bishop was endeavouring to introduce among them. The saint in a short time restored the public tranquillity, and brought the people unanimously and cheerfully to submit to a wholesome reformation, of which they themselves would reap all the advantages. Shortly after he was called to Naples to found a convent of his Order in that city. The count of Oppido bestowed on him a convenient large house for that purpose, and used the most pressing importunities to prevail upon him to accept a donation of an estate in lands: but this the saint constantly refused. A general reformation of manners at Naples both in the clergy and laity was the fruit of his example, preaching, and indefatigable labours. No occupations made him deprive himself of the comfort and succour of his daily long exercises of holy prayer, which he sometimes continued for six or seven hours together, and in which he was often favoured with extraordinary raptures. In 1534 Caraffa was created Cardinal by Paul III. Clement the Seventh’s successor. He was afterwards raised to the papacy upon the death of Marcellus II. in 1555, and died in 1559. Our saint was then gone to receive the recompense of his labours. In 1537 he went back to Venice, being made general a second time; but after his three years were expired, returned to Naples, and governed the house of his Order in that city till his happy death. Being worn out by austerities, labours, and a lingering distemper, he at length perceived his last hour to approach. When his physicians advised him not to lie on the hard boards, but to use a coarse bed in his sickness, his answer was: “My Saviour died on a cross, suffer me at least to die on ashes.” His importunity prevailing, he was laid on a sackcloth spread on the floor, and strewed with ashes; and in that penitential posture he received the last sacraments, and calmly expired in the greatest sentiments of compunction on the 7th of August, 1547. Many miracles wrought by his intercession were approved at Rome after a rigorous scrutiny, a history of which is published by Pinius the Bollandist. St. Cajetan was beatified by Urban VIII. in 1629, and canonized by Clement X. in 1671. His remains are enshrined in the church of St. Paul at Naples. 4  5
  The example of this saint inculcates to us the holy maxims of disinterestedness which Christ has laid down in his gospels. He teaches us that all inordinate desires, or excess of solicitude for the goods of this world is a grievous evil, and extremely prejudicial to all Christian virtues; he presses upon all his followers the duty of fighting against it in the strongest terms, and explains the rigorous extent of his precept in this regard. 5 It is incredible how much avarice steels the heart against all impressions of charity, and even of humanity, and excludes all true ideas of spiritual and heavenly things. The most perfect disinterestedness and contempt of the world, necessary in all Christians, is more essentially the virtue of the ministers of the altar; it always formed the character of every holy pastor. But alas! how often does the idol of covetousness, to the grievous scandal of the faithful, and profanation of all that is sacred or good, now-a-days find a place in the sanctuary itself! New fences against this evil have been often set up, but all become ineffectual in those who do not study perfectly to ground their souls in the true spirit of the opposite virtue.  6
Note 1. The house of Thienna, illustrious for the antiquity of its nobility, its alliances and military honours, still subsists at Vicenza. Two branches of this house were settled in France; one in Dauphiny in the year 1563, under Charles IX. and the other near Loches in Touraine, according to F. Giri. Nicholas of Thienna, says this author, was page to Francis I. captain of a company of artillery under Henry II. and highly esteemed under the three following reigns, and under that of Henry IV. He married Jane de Villars, daughter of Honoratus of Savoy, marquis de Villars, and grand admiral of France. But these two branches of the house of Thienna, although originally from Vicenza, were not descended from Gaspar of Thienna, father of St. Cajetan; John Baptist, only brother to our saint, having but one daughter, in whom the branch of Gaspar of Thienna was extinct.
  Our saint was called Cajetan, from his uncle the famous Cajetan of Thienna, who was canon of Padua, and esteemed one of the greatest philosophers of his age. We have a work of his printed at Padua, an. 1476, fol. under the following title: “Gaëtani de Tienis Vicentini Philosophi clarissimi in IV. Aristotelis Meteorum libros expositio.” This edition is “rare and very much sought after,” says the author of the Bibliographie instructive, No. 1277. Spondanus mistakes in pretending that St. Cajetan was called Marcellus. Fleury has been guilty of the same mistake, Instit. au Droit Eccles. t. 1, p. 202. [back]
Note 2. Baillet says that St. Cajetan was born either at Vicenza or at Thienna; but he is the only person who has admitted this alternative. All the historians of his life are unanimous that he was born at Vicenza; nevertheless the day of his birth is not exactly known; most authors place it at the latest in 1480. [back]
Note 3. Baillet is mistaken in dating the bull of the institution of regular clerks of St. Cajetan in 1525, it being given in 1524. The 14th of September following, St. Cajetan and his companions made their vows. See the form of these vows in the life of the saint, by J. B. Caraccioli, p. 49, of the edition of Pisa, in 1738.
  St. Cajetan was the first institutor of regular clerks, that is, priests united by vows to fulfil the duties of an ecclesiastical state. They reckon generally eight congregations of regular clerks in Italy. 1. Regular clerks of St. Paul, called Barnabites, from their house dedicated to God in honour of St. Barnaby at Milan, instituted in 1533. 2. Regular clerks of the Society of Jesus, instituted in 1540. 3. Regular clerks of St. Mayeul or Somasquos, thus called from a village near Milan, instituted in 1530. This congregation was united to that of the Theatins in 1546, and again separated in 1555. 4. Regular clerks, Minors, instituted in 1588. 5. Regular clerks, ministering to the sick, called also cross-bearers, from a red cross which they wear on their cassock, instituted in 1591. 6. Regular clerks of pious schools, instituted in 1621. 7. Regular clerks of the Mother of God, instituted at Lucca in 1628. 8. Theatins; but as these were the first, they had no other name given them in the bull of their institution than that of regular clerks, without any other addition, as Spondanus in his Church Annals takes notice. These different congregations have nearly the same dress; they make use of the ancient cassock which the secular priests wore towards the end of the sixteenth century, and in the beginning of the seventeenth.
  Thomassin (Discipl. de l’Eglise, t. 1, p. 1806. Edit. 1725,) says, that the life of the regular clerks is nearly the same as that of the canon regulars; there is yet this difference, that the ancient canon regulars observed the fasts, the abstinences, the silence, and the night watchings of the monks; whereas the regular clerks, according to their institution, embraced the functions of the ecclesiastical state, without practising the great austerities of those religious men who dedicated themselves to silence and retirement. See the statutes of the canon regulars of the Order of Premontré. [back]
Note 4. The Order of Theatins has eight houses in Naples, two in Rome, several in other parts of Italy, Spain, and Poland, and one in France, which was founded at Paris by Cardinal Mazarin in 1648. [back]
Note 5. Matt. vi. 24. [back]