Saint Lorenza (Lawrence) da Brindisi – Capuchin priest and Doctor of the Church – was born Giulio Cesare Russo on July 22, 1559 to Guglielmo Russo and Elisabetta Masella. We have little knowledge of his childhood. He was one of the top students in his school, but lost both his parents during his youth. He moved to Venice to live with his uncle who was a priest. Thanks to his uncle’s help Giulio Cesare could develop his intellectual, cultural and spiritual skills. It was in the beautiful city of Venice wherein Giulio Cesare came into contact with the Capuchins. The later were a source of great inspiration for the young man due to their simplicity in the friary close to the little church of Our Lady of the Angles on the island of Giudecca.
Captivated by their austerity and poverty of life Giulio felt moved by the Spirit to ask to join them. It was February 19, 1575 when the Capuchins admitted him. He was given the name of Brother Lorenzo. After making his religious profession on 24 March 1576 he studied philosophy in Padua and theology in Venice, leaving a deep impression on those around him due to his intellectual skills and craving for knowledge. His preferred area of study was the Bible, and Fra Lorenzo fully immersed himself in the study of biblical languages. His Franciscan spiritually was deeply embedded within the Bonaventurian school, which highlighted the fervour of the will as well as the ascent of the spirit.
Following his priestly ordination from none other than the Patriarch of Venice of the time, Giovanni Trevisan, and Father Lorenzo’s soon became renowned for his preaching, beginning with his diaconate, when he had the grace and opportunity to preach the whole Lent in the Venetian Church of San Giovanni Nuovo. As a priest he travelled all over Italy, deeply devoted to the proclamation of the Word of God. Father Lorenzo was graced from God by his physical, intellectual and spiritual talents all of which made him a very effective speaker. Profoundly trained in his Franciscan School his preaching heavily rested on the Bible which he explained clearly and rich articulation. Such a powerful preaching left the greatest results. We will never know how many people were won over to Christ, both Christians and non-Christians, including many of the Jewish faith.
Seeing the incredible capacities with which the Holy Spirit endowed this Capuchin brother, a good leader, teacher and animator who could help them life their Capuchin Franciscan charism with fidelity, creativity, tact and joy, Father Lorenzo’s ascended to the government of the Order. From 1583 till 1586 we find him as professor. Then, from 1586 to 1589 he was both guardian and novice master. The year 1590 was Fr Lorenzo as provincial minister of Tuscany. He was also the Swiss provincial in the year 1598. In 1596 he was elected as Definitor General of the Order.
Lorenzo’s activity was decisive to the diffusion of the Capuchin Order in central Europe. In Austria Lorenzo founded the friaries of Innsbruck in 1593 and Salzburg in 1596. He also founded a friary in the city of Trent in 1597. In 1599 the Order reached Bohemia. Despite the vehement anti-Catholic sentiments these zealous and courageous Capuchins, led by Fr Lorenzo, worked tirelessly through the ministry of preaching and open and fraternal dialogue. Fr Lorenzo’s convincing arguments and holy life brought back many people to the Catholic faith. In the year 1600 this zealous Capuchin of Jesus founded two new friaries in Vienna and in Graz. Moreover, one cannot overlook Fr Lorenzo’s pivotal assistance in the Christian army campaign against the ‘Turks’, which campaign was splendidly won in the victory of Albareale (or Székesfehérvár) thanks to his vital encouragement in 1601.
God had wonderful plans for his humble and wise servant Lorenzo. It was May 24, 1602, when during the General Chapter, he was elected Capuchin General Minister. In view of his new crucial role within the Order Fr Lorenzo immediately started visiting all the brothers of the time wherever they were. Then, under his wise leadership, the Order was organized into thirty provinces throughout Europe. At the time the total number of Capuchin brothers totalled nine thousand. Empowered by his God-given mission to encounter, exhort and encourage his Capuchin brethren Fr Lorenzo met them in Italy, Switzerland, Franche Comté (the Free County of Burgundy in eastern France), Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, Toulouse, Spain, Genoa, Sicily and southern Italy. In all his travels Fr Lorenzo kept faithfully following the hard customs of the Order, the long fasts and times of strict abstinence.
As he finished his three years as Generalate, Pope Paul V chose him for specific diplomatic missions which he conducted in Bavaria as well as Bohemia, involving diplomatic negotiation between Maximilian von Wittelsbach and the imperial authorities which gave its fruit in a Catholic alliance against the Evangelical Union set up between the Lutheran and Calvinists to separate the Catholic states for territorial advantage. Between 1610 and 1613 he dwelt in Munich as representative of the Holy See. The General Chapter of 1613 elected Fr Lorenzo as General Definitor for a third time. This role consented him to visit the Capuchin province of Genoa and was honoured as provincial minister. He managed to return to his home province of Venice in 1616 and occupied himself in recollection and prayer. Fr Lorenzo’s spiritually is essentially Franciscan and Christocentric. His love for the Eucharist and Our Mother Mary are ample examples of this. With how much loving devotion he used to celebrate the Eucharist which lasted two to three hours. Thanks to an indult given by Pope Paul V the Eucharist often carried on some eight, ten or twelve hours. Fr Lorenzo’s famous humility made him declare that every gift and grace he had came through the Virgin Mary. With how much love he spread devotion to her!
Fr Lorenzo was a great scholar. The following list of his works amply shows us the calibre of his intelligence and holy wisdom. First, the Mariale: sermons on Our Lady. Second, the Lutheranismi Hypotyposis (in three tomes): refutation of Lutheranism in general and of P. Leiser in particular. Third, the Explanatio in Genesim: commentary on the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Fourth, the Quadragesimale Primum: Lenten sermons. Fifth, the Quadragesimale Secundum (in three tomes): Lenten and Easter sermons. Sixth, the Quadragesimale Tertium: Lenten sermons. Seventh, the Adventus: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany sermons. Eighth, the Dominicalia: sermons for the Sundays after Easter and Pentecost. Ninth, the Sanctorale: sermons on the saints. Tenth, the Quadragesimale Quartum and Sermones de Tempore (in two tomes). Lenten and Easter sermons in the first tome; in the second tome are found various sermons on the Sundays of the year and special feasts. Furthermore, two small works of St. Lawrence are incorporated in the second tome: 1) Commentariolum de Rebus Austriae et Bohemiae (deals with his work and impressions in Austria and Bohemia, and written in obedience to the will of the Procurator General); 2) De Numeris Amorosis (a dissertation on the mystical numbers of Scripture).
Saint Lorenzo died at Lisbon in 1619. He was beatiﬁed by Pope Pius VI in 1783 and was canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1881. In his homily at Mass on the occasion of the canonization of Lorenzo da Brindisi, Pope Leo XIII said of him: The canonization of saints is always a subject of joy to the Catholic Church and her visible Head. The memory of Blessed Lawrence . . . is most opportunely revived amongst the people of the present day. This great servant of God, under the humble garb of St. Francis, possessed the choicest endowments of nature and the loftiest gifts of grace. His unceasing and marvelous labors, undertaken solely for the benefit of others, shed a splendid lustre on the seraphic order, and, indeed, on all the religious orders, which, though persecuted and vilified by the impious of our day, deserve the gratitude of humanity. . . . Wherefore, in raising to the honors of the altar this great Franciscan, we are comforted by the hope that, through his aid, nations and princes may listen to the voice of the Church, and, returning to the path of righteousness, may escape the dangers that menace them with irreparable ruin.
Saint Lorenzo da Brindisi was declared a Doctor of the Church by Saint John XXIII in 1959. Let us appreciate more who this great saint and Doctor of the Church really was through the words of Pope St John XXIII’s apostolic letter Celsitudo ex humilitate, which highlights some of reasons why Saint Lorenzo is suited to be a Doctor of the Church.
Oh, the inestimable affection of the love of Christ, Who never has never allowed Himself to be lacking to the Church, His Bride, and finds present remedies for the evils that are hurled against her. When the insane daring of the innovators rose up, and the Catholic name was attacked by hostile assaults, when the Faith was languishing in many places among the Christian people, and morals were in steep decline, He raised up Lawrence to defend what was under attack, to avenge what had been destroyed, and to promote that which was conducive to the salvation of all. And since wicked plagues are again being introduced, and men are being ensnared by the inventions of false beliefs and other corruptions, it is useful that this many be placed in a brighter light, so that the Christian faithful may be confirmed towards what is right by the glory of his virtues, and nourished by the precepts of his salutary teaching. Therefore, just as Rome boasts of Lawrence, Christ’s unconquered champion, who by the most dire torments which he suffered, increased the strength of the Church as She was rent by persecution, so Brindisi is held in honor for begetting another Lawrence, who strengthened Her by his zeal for religion and the abundance of his talents as she was afflicted by evil from within and from without. …
In this noble and excellent two things are especially outstanding: his apostolic zeal, and his mastery of doctrine. He taught with his word, he instructed with his pen, he fought with both. Not deeming it enough to withdraw into himself, and dedicate himself to prayer and study in the refuge of his monastery, and occupy himself only with domestic matters, he leaped forth as if he could not contain the force of his spirit, wounded with the love of Christ and his brothers. Speaking from many pulpits about Christian dogma, about morals, the divine writings, and the virtues of the denizens of heaven, he spurred Catholics on to devotion, and moved those who had been swallowed up by the filth of their sins to wash away their crimes, and undertake the emendation of their lives. … outside the sacred precincts, when preaching to those who those who lacked the true religion, he defended it wisely and fearlessly; in meetings with Jews and heretics, he stood as the standard-bearer of the Roman church, and persuaded many to renounce and foreswear the opinions of false teaching. …
In the three volumes called “A Sketch of Lutheranism” (Lutheranismi hypotyposis), this defender of the Catholic law, mighty in his great learning, seeks to disabuse the people of the errors which the heretical teachers had spread. Therefore, those who treat of the sacred disciples, and especially those who seek to expound and defend the catholic faith, have in him the means to nourish their minds, to instruct themselves for the defense and persuasion of the truth, and to prepare themselves to work for the salvation of others. If they follow this author who eradicate errors, who made clear what was obscure or doubtful, they may know they walk upon a sure path.
San Lorenzo da Brindisi, pray for us!