The Soldierly Friar

ca. 1470 (

John of Capistrano (+1456) lived a life very much in the ‘world’ at first, studying law, and becoming involved with the complex political machinations of the 15th century, appointed as ambassador from Perugia to the quarrelsome family of the Maletestas, to broker peace, a mission which landed him in prison.

Like his forebear, Saint Francis, this time alone allowed him to reflect upon his life, a salutary practice later to be advocated by Blaise Pascal, who claimed that the world’s problems could be solved by forcing everyone to spend just half an hour in alone in a quiet room. John joined the Franciscan Order, becoming one of the most zealous of friars, his prayer and asceticism intense, his fiery sermons attracting such thousands that no church could hold them. Recognizing his ability, the Church sent him on numerous diplomatic missions, in which he was unbending in not compromising the truths of the Faith.

His life was controversial: There are claims his sermons tended, shall we say, to what we now call the ‘anti-Semitic’ (an ambiguous term), as his condemnation of the Jewish religion went beyond what some might consider prudent boundaries; but, at least, a syncretic Father John was not. He also was a fervent supporter of the Inquisition; and was gung-ho in gathering together and leading troops (being called the ‘soldier-saint’, albeit, like his near contemporary Joan of Arc (+1431) without himself being armed) into battle against the ‘Turks’, helping lift the siege of Belgrade in 1456.

It was just after the strain of this endeavour, when he was already 76, that he caught the bubonic plague raging through the camp, and died on October 23rd of that year. It’s good to know that saints can be holy, yet still be ‘men of their age’, with all the limitations thereof. There is hope, then, for us all, who are mired in the maelstrom of our own fractious time.