St. PhilipToday the Church honors a great saint, Philip Neri (Filippo di Neri), who countered the decadent culture of his time with humility, charity and truthfulness. Philip (July 21, 1515 – May 25, 1595), was an Italian priest noted for his piety and charity and for founding a society of secular clergy called the Congregation of the Oratory.

Centuries later Blessed John Henry Newman, inspired by his holy life, took him as a spiritual patron and, together with some of his convert friends, joined the Congregation of the Oratory, and founded an Oratory in Birmingham, England. In 1850, in a sermon on the feast day of St. Philip, Newman addressed the members of the Oratory outlining the life and virtues of St. Philip.

In a series of short posts we will look at Newman’s sermon, “The Mission of St. Philip,” contrasting him with Savonarola, another Florentine reformer. Newman begins describing the time in which these men were born, a time when unworthy prelates in Rome and powerful ruling families in Florence disgraced the Church.

While maintaining the assistance of the Holy Spirit in matters of faith and morals Newman was candid about the sinfulness of the Church’s prelates:

The Church “nevertheless was at this time so environed, so implicated, with sin and lawlessness, as to appear in the eyes of the world to be what she was not. Never, as then, were her rulers, some in higher, some in lower degree, so near compromising what can never be compromised; never so near denying in private what they taught in public, and undoing by their lives what they professed with their mouths; never were they so mixed up with vanity, so tempted by pride, so haunted by concupiscence; never breathed they so tainted an atmosphere, or were kissed by such traitorous friends, or were subjected to such sights of shame, or were clad in such blood-stained garments, as in the centuries upon and in which St. Philip came into the world.”

Florence, St. Philip’s birthplace, was the leading city of Italy. The social and political life of Florence, ruled by the Medici family, were just as decadent and damaging to religion as that of some of the Church’s prelates.

Newman writes: “Florence was at that time the most intellectual, the most magnificent city of Italy. About a century before, one of its richest merchants and bankers had become its virtual ruler, and had transmitted his power to his descendants, who still possessed it. The history of this family is intimately connected with that of the Holy See; at times they were its enemies: they ended in giving to it three or four princes of their own blood to fill it: but whether in alliance with it or at war, whether at Florence or at Rome, they exerted, at least for many years, an influence prejudicial to its real, that is, its religious well-being.”

In the wake of the fall of Constantinople to the Turks Florence became the haven for Eastern scholars and the place for revival of classical learning. The Medici became patrons of the arts; public schools were founded; Greek was studied, and a library was founded at the Dominican Convent of St. Mark.

Newman comments that this revival of learning, in itself good, was followed with intoxication for newly found knowledge, as well for discoveries and the news of riches in North and South America. According to Newman the Church was lacking “in order and discipline, in pastoral vigilance, in the sanctity of her individual members” to meet the challenges of the day, to put in perspective the good things achieved through human learning, science, works of genius and discoveries.

“So it was at the time I speak of; what was beautiful was placed before what was true; or rather, the beauty of the creature was preferred to the transcendent beauty of the Creator. Nature and art, the rich material, the creative mind, were suffered to invade and oppress the Church, instead of ministering to her. The world entered her sacred precincts forcibly, and embellished them after its own fashion. It addressed itself to her rulers, who were already enervated by the homage of nations; and it attempted to persuade them to disguise the awful Bride of the Lamb in an old heathen garb, of which her very coming had long since been the destruction.”

Under wealthy Florentine families, Florence became a pagan city given to festivals and carnivals with their accompanying excesses and vices, political feuds and a misguided renaissance. “Good and evil, sacred prerogatives and sinful hearts, were brought into close contact, marvellously and awfully. The Sovereign Pontiffs were familiarly dealt with, and then slandered behind their backs by the profligate artists whom they had benefited.”

In this worldly environment God raised holy men and women to turn people’s hearts back to God. “Holy men grew up and won their crowns, out of families on which history has set its note of shame. Two saints, contemporaries of St. Philip, will occur to you, my dear Fathers, as instances of this portent:—St. Francis Borgia, the third Father-General of the Society of Jesus, bears a name, shameful in the history of Rome; St. Mary Magdalene of the Pazzi came of a Florentine stock infamous  for a deed of combined sacrilege, bloodshed, and treachery perhaps without a parallel.”

It was in these times and circumstances that two other reformers came to the scene: Savonarola and shortly afterwards Philip. The next short essay will recount Newman’s description of Savonarola’s effort to reform Florence. In closing, however, a parallel should be drawn with our times in the Western world where the old gods of mammon and pleasure reign supreme, and science often becomes a pseudo-religion. Right reason succumbs to feelings and public opinion, and piety to sensual gratification. The institutions of marriage, family and government are overturned by a new tyranny of relativism.  These times have given birth to new saints such as St. Josemaría Escrivá, St. Gianna Barreta, St. John Paul II and St. Theresa of Calcutta, who rejected this modern paganism: defending the right use of freedom to love God and mankind, upholding the dignity of every human being and sanctifying family life and work.



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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

The true light of Christ’s divinity was made visible to the Apostles at the Transfiguration.

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

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About Cardinal John Henry Newman

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A Guide to John Henry Newman will interest educated readers and professors alike, and serve as a text for college seminars for the purpose of studying Newman.

Review by Catherine Maybanks
(Catholic Herald, April 1, 2023)

Review by Serenheed James
(Antiphon, April 2023)

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Fr Peter Conley takes us on an exciting journey into the spirituality and inner life of Saint John Henry Newman.

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Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

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What is a Classical Liberal Arts Education? Why is it so important for the development of a person?

Fr. Juan R. Vélez answers these and more questions you might have about University Education in the 21st century. This book is aimed for parents, prospective University students, and educators. It will help you discern why adding Liberal Arts electives to your education will help it form it better, and help the student learn to reason, and not just learn.

He also explains how many Universities have changed the true meaning of Liberal Arts, and the subjects, and gives advise on how to choose College Campus, Subjects, and Teachers.

A wonderful book that every parent should also read way before your children are College bound. A Liberal Arts education can start earlier in life, even from home.

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Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

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Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
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