Also: Lawrence, or Laurence, of Brindisi
Born at Brindisi in 1559; died at Lisbon on 22 July, 1619. In baptism he received the names of Julius Caesar. Guglielmo de Rossi – or Guglielmo Russi, according to a contemporary writer – was his father’s name; his mother was Elisabetta Masella. Both were excellent Christians. Of a precocious piety, Lorenzo gave early evidence of a religious vocation. The Conventuals of Brindisi were entrusted with his education. His progress in his studies was very rapid, and, when barely six, he had already given indication of his future success in oratory. Consequently, he was always the one chosen to address, in accordance with the Italian custom, a short sermon to his compatriots on the Infant Jesus during the Christmas festivities. When he was twelve years of age his father died. He then pursued his studies at Venice with the clerics of Saint Mark’s and under the supervision of one of his uncles. In 1575 he was received into the Order of Capuchins under the name of Brother Lorenzo, and, after his profession, made his philosophical and theological studies at the University of Padua. Owing to his wonderful memory he mastered not only the principal European languages, but also most of the Semitic tongues. It was said he knew the entire original text of the Bible. Such a knowledge, in the eyes of many, could be accounted for only by supernatural assistance, and, during the process of beatification, the examiners of the saint’s writings rendered the following judgment: “Vere inter sanctos Ecclesiae doctores adnumerari potest.”
Such unusual talents, added to a rare virtue, fitted Brother Lorenzo for the most diverse missions. When still a deacon he preached the Lenten sermons in Venice, and his success was so great that he was called successively to all the principal cities of the peninsula. Subsequently, thanks to his numerous journeys, he was enabled to evangelize at different periods most of the countries of Europe. The sermons he left fill no less than eight folio volumes. He adopted the method of preaching in favour with the great Franciscan missionaries, or rather with apostolic workers of all times, who, aiming primarily to reach men’s hearts and convert them, always adapt their style of discourse to the spiritual needs of their hearers. Brother Lorenzo held successively all the offices of his order. From 1596 to 1602 he had, as general definitor, to fix his residence in Rome. Clement VIII assigned him the task of instructing the Jews; thanks to his knowledge of Hebrew and his powerful reasoning, he brought a great number of them to recognize the truth of the Christian religion. His saintliness, combined with his great kindliness, completed the preparing of the way for the grace of conversion. His success in Rome caused him to be called to several other cities, where he also baptized numerous Jews. At the same time he was commissioned to establish houses of his order in Germany and Austria. Amid the great difficulties created by the heretics he founded the convents of Vienna, Prague, and Graz, the nuclei of three provinces. At the chapter of 1602 he was elected vicar-general. (At that time the Order of Capuchins, which had broken away from the Observants in 1528 and had an independent constitution, gave its first superior the title of vicar-general only. It was not until 1618 that Pope Paul V changed it to that of minister general). The very year of his election the new superior began the visitation of the provinces. Milan, Paris, Marseilles, Spain, received him in turn. As his coming was preceded by a great reputation for holiness, the people flocked to hear him preach and to receive his blessing. His administration characterized by wise firmness and fatherly tenderness, was of great benefit to the order. At the Chapter of 1605 he refused to undertake for a second term the government of his brethren, but until his death he was the best adviser of his successors.
It was on the occasion of the foundation of the convent of Prague (1601) that Saint Lorenzo was named chaplain of the Imperial army, then about to march against the Turks. The victory of Lepanto (1571) had only temporarily checked the Moslem invasion, and several battles were still necessary to secure the final triumph of the Christian armies. Mohammed III had, since his accession (1595), conquered a large part of Hungary. The emperor, determined to prevent a further advance, sent Lorenzo of Brindisi as deputy to the German princes to obtain their cooperation. They responded to his appeal, and moreover the Duke of Mercoeur, Governor of Brittany, joined the imperial army, of which he received the effective command. The attack on Albe-Royal (now Stulweissenburg) was then contemplated. To pit 18,000 men against 80,000 Turks was a daring undertaking and the generals, hesitating to attempt it, appealed to Lorenzo for advice. Holding himself responsible for victory, he communicated to the entire army in a glowing speech the ardour and confidence with which he was himself animated. As his feebleness prevented him from marching, he mounted on horseback and, crucifix in hand, took the lead of the army, which he drew irresistibly after him. Three other Capuchins were also in the ranks of the army. Although the most exposed to danger, Lorenzo was not wounded, which was universally regarded as due to a miraculous protection. The city was finally taken, and the Turks lost 30,000 men. As however they still exceeded in numbers the Christian army, they formed their lines anew, and a few days later another battle was fought. It always the chaplain who was at the head of the army. “Forward!” he cried, showing them the crucifix, “Victory is ours.” The Turks were again defeated, and the honour of this double victory was attributed by the general and the entire army to Lorenzo.
Having resigned his office of vicar-general in 1605, he was sent by the pope to evangelize Germany. He here confirmed the faith of the Catholics, brought back a great number to the practice of virtue, and converted many heretics. In controversies his vast learning always gave him the advantage, and, once he had won the minds of his hearers, his saintliness and numerous miracles completed their conversion. To protect the Faith more efficaciously in their states, the Catholic princes of Germany formed the alliance called the “Catholic League”. Emperor Rudolph sent Lorenzo to Philip III of Spain to persuade him to join the League. Having discharged this mission successfully, the saintly ambassador received a double mandate by virtue of which he was to represent the interests of the pope and of Madrid at the court of Maximilian of Bavaria, head of the League. He was thus, much against his wishes, compelled to settle in Munich near Maximilian. Besides being nuncio and ambassador, Lorenzo was also commissary general of his order for the provinces of Tyrol and Bavaria, and spiritual director of the Bavarian army. He was also chosen as arbitrator in the dispute which arose between the princes, and it was in fulfillment of this role that, at the request of the emperor, he restored harmony between the Duke of Mantua and a German nobleman. In addition to all these occupations he undertook, with the assistance of several Capuchins, a missionary campaign throughout Germany, and for eight months travelled in Bavaria, Saxony, and the Palatinate.
Amid so many various undertakings Lorenzo found time for the practices of personal sanctification. And it is perhaps the greatest marvel of his life to have combined with duties so manifold an unusually intense inner life. In the practice of the religious virtues Saint Lorenzo equals the greatest saints. He had to a high degree the gift of contemplation, and very rarely celebrated Holy Mass without falling into ecstasies. After the Holy Sacrifice, his great devotion was the Rosary and the Office of the Blessed Virgin. As in the case of Saint Francis of Assisi, there was something poetical about his piety, which often burst forth into canticles to the Blessed Virgin. It was in Mary’s name that he worked his miracles, and his favourite blessing was: “Nos cum prole pia benedicat Virgo Maria.” Having withdrawn to the monastery of Caserta in 1618, Lorenzo was hoping to enjoy a few days of seclusion, when he was requested by the leading men of Naples to go to Spain and apprise Philip III of the conduct of Viceroy Ossuna. In spite of many obstacles raised by the latter, the saint sailed from Genoa and carried out his mission successfully. But the fatigues of the journey exhausted his feeble strength. He was unable to travel homeward, and after a few days of great suffering died at Lisbon in the native land of Saint Anthony (22 July 1619), as he had predicted when he set out on his journey. He was buried in the cemetery of the Poor Clares of Villafranca.
The process of beatification, several times interrupted by various circumstances, was concluded in 1783. The canonization took place on 8 December 1881. With Saint Anthony, Saint Bonaventure, and Blessed John Duns Scotus, he is a Doctor of the Franciscan Order.
The known writings of Saint Lorenzo of Brindisi comprise eight volumes of sermons, two didactic treatises on oratory, a commentary on Genesis, another on Ezechiel, and three volumes of religious polemics. Most of his sermons are written in Italian, the other works being in Latin. The three volumes of controversies have notes in Greek and Hebrew.