Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Saint John Capistran, Confessor


The nearer the Church approaches to the end of her earthly existence, the more she seems to love to enrich her cycle with feasts that recall the glorious past. Indeed, one of the objects of sacred Liturgy is to keep before our minds all that God has done for us. Remember the days of old: think upon every generation, said God to His people in the alliance of Sinai. It was a law in Jacob that the fathers should hand on these traditions to their children, who were in their turn to transmit them to their descendants. The Church has taken the place of the ancient Israel and her annals speak, even more than those of the Jewish people, of the manifestations of divine power. The children of the new Sion have more right than the sons and daughters of Juda to say, as they look back on the past: Thou art thyself my kind and my God, who commandest the saving of Jacob.

At the time when the defeat of the Iconoclasts was being completed n the East, a new and most terrible war was beginning in which the West was to fight for the sake of civilization and for the cause of the Incarnate Word of God. Like a sudden torrent, Islam overwhelmed Eastern Europe, reaching even to Gaul, and for a thousand years it disputed, foot by foot, with Christ and His Church, a land occupied by the Latin races. The glorious Crusades of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, which attacked this power in its very center, only succeeded in paralyzing it for the time being. In Spain the struggle continued until the triumph of the Cross was complete, but in other parts of Europe Christian princes forgot the traditions of Charlemagne and St. Louis, grew weary of the holy war, and gave themselves up to the pursuit of their private ambition, so that the Crescent was able once more to defy the Christian powers and renew its plan of universal conquest.

In 1453 Byzantium, the capital of the Eastern empire, fell before the Turkish janissaries, and three years later Mahomet II invested Belgrade on the very outskirts of the Western empire. It might have been expected that all Europe would hasten to the aid of the besieged fortress, for if this last dyke were to fall, Hungary, Austria and Italy would be overwhelmed and the peoples of the North and West would share the fate of the East, that life in death, that irremediable sterility of soil and intelligence which still holds captive the once brilliant Greece. But this imminent danger only resulted in deepening the breach in Christian unity, and the Christian nations were at the mercy of a few thousand infidels. Only the Papacy was true to itself in the midst of all this egoism and perfidy. Truly Catholic in its thoughts, its labors, its sufferings, as in its joys and triumphs, it took up the common cause which had been basely betrayed by kings and princes. The powerful were deaf to the Pope’s appeals, but he turned to the humble and, trusting more in prayer to the God of armies than in military tactics, he sought for the deliverers of Christendom among the poor.

It was then that John Capistran, the saint of today, attained the consummation of his glory and sanctity. At the head of a few poor men of good will, unknown peasants gathered together by the Franciscan Friars, this “poor man of Christ” undertook to defeat the strongest and best organized army of the century. On the 14th of July, 1456, he broke through the Ottoman lines with John Hunyades, the only one of the Hungarian nobles who would accompany him, and revictualled Belgrade; and on the 22nd of July, feeling that he could no longer endure the defensive, he threw himself, to the stupefaction of Hunyades, on the enemy entrenchments. His troops were armed only with flails and pitchforks, and their only strategy was the name of Jesus. John had inherited this victorious battle-cry from his master, Bernardine of Siena. The Psalmist said: Some trust in chariots and some in horses: but we will call upon the name of the Lord our God. This name, so holy and so terrible, proved once more the salvation of the people. At the end of that memorable day twenty-four thousand Turks lay dead on the field of battle; three hundred cannon and all the spoils of the infidels were in the hands of the Christians, and Mahomet II was seeking a distant hiding place for his shame. The news of this victory, so like that of Gedeon, reached Rome on August 6, and Pope Callistus III decreed that henceforth the Universal Church should keep a solemn commemoration of the Transfiguration of Our Lord on that day, for it was with the soldiers of the Cross as with the heroes of Israel—“they got not the possession of the land by their own sword: neither did their own arm save them, but thy right hand and thy arm and the light of thy countenance because thou wast pleased with them,” as with Thy beloved Son on Mount Thabor.

Let us read the life of St. John Capistran as related in the Liturgy.

Joannes Capistrani in Pelignis ortus, et Perusium studiorum causa missus, in christianus et liberalibus disciplinis adeo profecit, ut ob egregiam jeris scienctiam aliquot civitatibus a Neopolis rege Ladislao præfectus fuerit. Dum autem earum rempublicam sanctissime gerens perturbatis rebus transquillitatem revocare studet, capitur ipse et in vincula conjicitur: quibus mirabiliter ereptus, Francisci Assisiensis regulam inter Fratres Minores profitetur. Ad divinarum litterarum studium progressus, præceptorum nactus sanctum Bernardinum Senensem, cujus et virtutis exempla, in cultu potissimum sanctissimi Nominis Jesu ac Deipare propagando, egregie est imitatus. Aquilanum episcopatum recusavit, et severiore disciplina atque scriptis, quæ plurima edidit ad mores reformandos, maxime enituit.

John was born at Capistrano in the Abruzzi. He was sent to study at Perugia, and made such progress in learning, both sacred and profane, that on account of his eminent knowledge of law, he was made governor of many cities by Ladislaus, King of Naples. He was laboring piously to restore peace to these troubled states when he was kidnapped and put in chains. He was wonderfully delivered from this captivity and made his profession according to the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi among the Friars Minor. He devoted himself to the study of Divinity and had as master St. Bernardine of Siena, whom he zealously imitated in spreading devotion to the most holy name of Jesus and to the Mother of God. He refused the bishopric of Aquila, and is most famous on account of his mortified life and his writings on the reformation of manners.

Prædicationi verbi Dei sedulo incumbens, Italiam fere universam lustravit, quo in munere et virtute sermonis, et miraculorum frequentia innumeras prope animas in viam salutis reduxit. Eum Martinus Quintus ad exstinguendam Fraticellorum sectam inquisitorem instituit. A Nicolao Quinto contra Judæos et Saracenos generalis inquisitor in Italia constitutus, plurimos ad Christi fidem convertit. In Oriente multa optime constituit et in Concilio Florentino, ubi veluti sol quidam fulsit, Armenos Ecclesiæ catholicæ restituit. Idem Pontifex postulante Friderico tertio imperatore, illum apostolicæ sedis nuntium in Germaniam legavit, ut hæreticos ad catholicam fidem et principum animos ad concordiam revocaret. In Germania aliisque provinciis Dei gloriam sexannali ministerio mirifice auxit, Hussitis, Adamitis, Thaboritia, Hebræisque innumeris doctrinæ veritate ac miraculorum luce ad Ecclesiæ sinum traductis.

He zealously devoted himself to preaching the word of God and travelled throughout nearly all Italy, where he recalled countless souls to the way of salvation by the power of his words and the number of his miracles. Martin V made him Inquisitor against the sect of the Fraticelli and Nicolas V appointed him Inquisitor-General in Italy, against Judaism and Mohammedanism. He converted many souls to the faith of Christ. He did much good in the East and at the Council of Florence, where he shone like a sun, he brought the Armenians back to the Catholic Church. The same Pope, at the request of the Emperor Frederic III, sent him into Germany as nuncio of the Apostolic See, in order that he might bring back heretics to the Catholic faith, and the minds of princes to peace and union. He did a wonderful work for God’s glory during the six years of his mission, and brought back to the Church by the light of his teaching and miracles almost countless numbers of Hussites, Adamites, Thaborites, and Jews.

Cum Callistus tertius ipso potissimum deprecante, cruce signatos mittere decrevisset, Joannes per Pannoniam, aliasque provincias volitavit, qua verbo, qua litteris principum animos ita ad bellum accendit, ut brevi millia Christianorum septuaginta conscripta sint. Ejus consilio et virtute potissimum Taurunensis victoria relata est, centum ac viginti Turcarum millibus partim cæsis, partim fugatis. Cujus victoriæ cum Romam nuntius venisset octavo idus augusti, idem Callistus ejus diei memoriæ solemnia Transfigurationis Christi Domini perpetuo consecravit. Lethali morbo ægrotum et Villacum delatum viri principes plures visitarunt: quos ipse ad tuendam religionem hortatus, animam Deo sancte reddidit anno salutis millesimo quadringentesimo quinquagesimo sexto. Ejus gloriam post mortem Deus multis miraculis confirmavit: quibus rite probatis, Alexander Octavus anno millesimo sexcentesimo nonagesimo Joannem in sanctorum numerum retulit, ejusque officium ac missam Leo decimus canonizatione sæculo, ad universam extendit Ecclesiam.

It was mainly at the entreaty of John that Callistus III proclaimed a crusade, and John hastened through Pannonia and other provinces where by his words and letters he so roused the minds of princes that in a short time seventy thousand Christian soldiers were enrolled. It was mainly through his advice and courage that a victory was gained at Belgrade, where one hundred and twenty thousand Turks were either slain or put to flight. The news of this victory reached Rome on the sixth of August, and Pope Callistus consecrated this day for ever to the solemn commemoration of the Transfiguration of our Lord. When John was seized with his last illness and taken to Illak, many princes came to see him, and he exhorted them to protect religion. He piously yielded up his soul to God in the year of salvation 1456. God confirmed his glory by many miracles after his death, and when these had been duly approved, Pope Alexander VIII enrolled his name among those of the saints. Two hundred years later Leo XIII extended his office and mass to the Universal Church.

The Lord is with thee, O most valiant of men. Go in this thy strength and thou shalt deliver Israel out of the hand of Madian. Know that I have sent thee. Thus did the angel of the Lord salute Gedeon when he chose him from among the least of his people to fulfill a high destiny. Thus do we in our turn salute thee, O glorious son of St. Francis of Assisi, and we beseech thee to be our constant aid. The enemy whom thou didst defeat on the field of battle is no longer an imminent peril for the West, but there is a greater danger, as Moses said to his people after their deliverance from Egypt: Take heed and beware lest at any time thou forget the Lord thy God … lest after thou hast eaten and art filled, hast built goodly houses … and shalt have herds of oxen and flocks of sheep and plenty of gold and of silver, and of all things; thy heart be lifted up and thou remember not the Lord who brought thee out of the house of bondage. If the Turk had conquered in that struggle of which thou wert the hero, what would have become of the civilization of which we are so proud? Since thy day the Church has had once more to champion the cause of Society, which the heads of the nations no longer seem to understand. May the need of giving expression to the gratitude which is due to her preserve her children from the forgetfulness which is the great evil of the present generation. We thank God for the feast of today; it is a perpetual memorial of His goodness and of the noble deeds of His saints. Help us to conquer in that warfare which is being incessantly carried on within our own souls against the world, the flesh, and the devil. May the name of Jesus put our enemies to flight, may His Cross be our standard and lead us through the death of self-love to the triumph of the Resurrection.


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