Neri, Filippo De, St
Neri, Filippo De, St.
the founder of the Congregation of the Oratory, was born of a noble family at Florence, July 22, 1515. His character, even in boyhood, foreshadowed the career of piety and benevolence to which he was destined, and he was commonly known among his youthful companions by the name of "good Philip." On the death of his parents he was adopted by a very wealthy uncle, with whom he lived for some time at San Germano, near Monte Cassino, and by whom he was recognised as his destined heir. But he relinquished all these prospects for a life of piety and charity; and, after having considerably advanced in his studies at his native place, he decided to set out for Rome, where he hoped to have greater opportunities for charitable labors. He went to the Italian capital in 1533, and there arduously devoted himself to philosophical and theological studies in the Augustine schools. But he by no means confined himself to his intellectual improvement. He won the esteem and reverence of all by his extraordinary devotion to the Church and to the poor and needy and forsaken. He abounded in charitable labors, instructing children who had no teachers, caring for the sick, reclaiming vicious persons, and engaging in all manner of enterprises requiring a benevolent disposition and a pious soul. (The particulars of his life, some of which are very curious, have been fully narrated by his biographers Bacci and Gallonio.) In the pursuit of these objects he displayed a sincerity and a single-heartedness which naturally enough exposed him to the sneers and the slanders of the worldly, the prudish, and the sticklers for outward decorum. But he cared little for the opinion of such people, and went on unmindful of all opposition or want of interest. Neither money nor labor did he spare to accomplish his purposes. Thus he founded an asylum for poor and sick strangers, and other houseless or helpless persons, in which they were sheltered until they were able to return to their home. Realizing his need of closer alliance with the Church, he decided finally to take holy orders, and or May 23, 1551, was ordained priest in the church of the Lateran. The year previous to his admission into the priesthood he had exerted himself for the conversion of several associates of his, and he succeeded with Salviati, a brother of the cardinal of that name, and Tarugio, who afterwards became a cardinal, and Baronius, so celebrated in ecclesiastical history as a writer, and some others. No sooner had their zeal been enlisted in the interests of the Church than he banded them together in a confraternity for the care of poor pilgrims visiting Rome, and other houseless persons, as well as of the sick generally, which still subsists, and which has numbered among its associates many of the most distinguished members of the Roman Catholic Church. This confraternity is noteworthy, moreover, as having been the germ of the far more celebrated Congregation of the Oratory (q.v.), which was founded by St. Philip in concert with these friends. Besides 'the general objects above indicated, and the spiritual duties designed for the personal sanctification of the members, the main object of this association was the moral instruction and religious training of the young and uneducated, who were assembled in chapels or oratorios, for prayer and for religious and moral instruction. The personal character of Neri, the unselfish devotedness of his life, his unaffected piety, his genuine love of the poor, his kindly and cheerful disposition, and, perhaps, as much as any of the rest, a certain quaint humor, and a tinge of what may almost be called drollery which pervaded many of his sayings and doings, contributed to popularize his institute. Besides being a man of education and general information, he could readily enter into the spirit of the respective pursuits of all whom he sought out for his assistance, and thus so greatly endeared himself to every one who was brought in contact with him. Many and peculiar were the means are used to further his purpose. Thus, e.g., indirectly Neri became the founder of the Oratorios (q.v.). As a further means of withdrawing youth from dangerous amusements, sacred musical entertainments (thence called by the name of oratorio) were held in the oratory, at first consisting solely of hymns, but afterwards partaking of the nature of sacred operas or dramas, some of which were written by distinguished writers, such as Zeno and Metastasio, except that they did not admit the scenic or dramatic accompaniments of these more secular compositions; the parts were sung, like those of an opera, with this difference, that the singers were stationed in a gallery of the chapel. The chapel being called in Italian "Oratorio," i.e., a place of prayer, came to be applied to the performance, and the congregation or order constituted by Neri hence took the name of Fathers of the Oratory. Besides the musical entertainments, religious and literary lectures also formed part of his plan, and it was in the lectures originally prepared for the Oratory that, at the instance of Neri, the gigantic Church History of Baronius had its origin. But though Neri's great characteristics were simply charity and a cheerful piety, the people, who greatly revered him, believed him to be a more than commonly endowed saint, and he was by them said to have the power of working miracles and curing possession. He no doubt wrought miracles in freeing people from the possession of evil spirits, for, as he himself said, the idea of being possessed of evil spirits was not to be too readily received, and its best remedy is cheerfulness, as it often arises only from melancholy. These precepts he carried into practice to such an extent that, having been accused of allowing and even encouraging worldly pleasures, such as dancing, etc., among his disciples, he was suspended from his functions as confessor and preacher; he was even complained of to the pope as trying to found a new sect. The accusation, however, did not prevail, and he was soon after restored. In 1570 the nocturnal meetings of his society, held simply for devotional and charitable purposes as above spoken of, were made the ground of new accusations, yet he became but the more confirmed in his peculiar views. Some have accused him of triviality, but it is more likely that he meant his practices as a check to the sanctimonious, pharisaical gravity and decorousness which prevailed in Rome after 1560. Though pressed on several occasions to accept the office of cardinal, he steadily declined. Theiner relates that when Henry IV, of France, joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1593, the pope refused to revoke the excommunication pronounced against the prince; a total separation of the French from the Roman Church seemed unavoidable, but Baronius having occasion to confess the pope, Neri forbade his granting him the absolution unless he promised to grant it in turn to the king. This plan succeeded, and Henry IV rewarded the order by munificent donations. The Brotherhood of the Oratory was regularly organized by the pope in 1575; according to its regulation the members are all equal, and have to perform in turn all the menial duties necessary in the community. (They show yet an inscription said to have been traced by the hand of the great Church historian: "Caes. Baronius, cocus perpetuus.") All the affairs of the communities were to be decided by the majority of votes. Neri, more prudent than other founders of ascetic organizations, did not suffer the members of the Oratory to bind themselves by perpetual vows as do the monks, preferring that the spirit of charity and sacrifice should alone unite them, and for this end each member had to pay a monthly fee for the expense of the house, as the lodgings alone were free. The institution was approved by Gregory XIII in 1575, and it soon spread over Italy, France, and other countries. The congregation "De l'Oratoire" has produced many distinguished men, Baronius and Massillon among others. Study, preaching, and the education of youth are the chief occupations of its members. Being bound by no vows, any member of the Oratory can at any time withdraw with all his property. The present Oratory, Sta. Maria at Vallicella (Rome), was the residence of Neri after 1583. It has a good library, and the oratorios continue to be performed, especially from All- saints' Day (November 3d) to Palm Sunday. Neri resigned the office of superior of the community in favor of Baronius, and died a few years afterwards, May 25, 1595. He was canonized in 1662 by Gregory XV. Some of his letters, and his Ricordi, or advice to youth, have been published, as well as two sonnets out of many which he composed. The regulations he left for the guidance of his order were published in 1612. Neri was an amiable, virtuous, and religious man, and his example had a great influence on the clergy of Rome. See Gallonio, Vita beate Phil. Nerii (Rome, 1600); Vita Phil. Nerii (Munich, 1610); Vide y Hechos de S. Filipe Neri (1613); Bacci, Vita di S. Filippo Neri (1622); Vasquez, S. Filipe Neri Epitome de sua Vita (1651); Manni, Raggionamenti sulla vita di F. Neri (1786); Vie de St. Philippe de Neri (1847); Faber, Spirit and Genius of St. Phil. Neri (1850); Ranke, Hist. of the Papacy, 1:323-367 sq.; Hase, Ch. Hist. page 462. SEE ORATORY, CONGREGATION OF THE.