Oratory, Priests (or Fathers) of The

Oratory, Priests (Or Fathers) Of The

is the name of two Roman Catholic congregations of devotees who flourished in Italy and France respectively. Their origin and early history has been largely detailed in the article on SEE NERI, ST. FILIPPO DE (q.v.). This celebrated religious enthusiast was the founder of the Italian congregation, but he never framed any rules for their government and direction. His scattered papers, from which his plans and intentions might have been collected had been burned by his orders a short time before his death. Soon after that event the fathers, at the instance of Baronius, after due counsel, compiled from the existing practices and from memory a rule for the congregation, framed so as to embody the spirit of their founder. This rule was approved by Paul V on Feb. 21, 1612. The Fathers of the Congregation are a body of priests living in community, but without vows, and under a constitution of a highly democratical character. They are at liberty to withdraw at any time. and to resume possession of the property which they brought with them at entrance; and even during their association each member manages his owl financial concerns, only contributing a fixed sum to the common expenses of the community. There is no superior-general, as in other orders. Each house is distinct and independent. In each the superior is elected only for three years, and his position does not give him any personal pre-eminence whatever. The members take their places according to seniority, not according to official rank, and the superior is compelled to take his turn in all the duties, even down to the semi-menial office of serving in the refectory. The main occupations of the fathers, beyond those of attending to the public service of the church, and the duties of the pulpit and the confessional, lie in the cultivation of theological and other sacred studies, of which "conferences" for the discussion, in common, of theological questions form a principal feature. The congregation has produced many men of great eminence in sacred science, among whom may be named the great Church historian, cardinal Baronius, and his continuators. To these may be added the celebrated explorers of the Roman catacombs, Bosio. Severani, and Aringhi, and the no less eminent patristical scholar, Gallandi. The houses of the Oratory in Italy before the Revolution were numerous and in high repute. Few towns of any importance were without a house of the Oratory.

The Priests of the Oratory in France were established on the model of those in Italy, and owe their rise to Pierre, afterwards cardinal de Berulle, a native of Champagne, who resolved upon this foundation in order to revive the splendor of the ecclesiastical state, which was greatly sunk through the miseries of the civil wars, the increase of heresies, and a general corruption of manners. To this end he assembled a community of ecclesiastics in 1611, in the suburb of St. James. They obtained the king's letter patent for their establishment; and in 1613 pope Paul V approved this congregation, under the title of the Oratory of Jesus (see cut). This congregation consisted of two sorts of persons: the one, as it were, incorporated; the other only associates; the former governed the houses of the institute; the latter were only employed in conforming themselves to the life and manners of ecclesiastics. They also differed from the Italian in that the French Oratorians took charge of seminaries of theological teaching. They were decided opponents of the Jesuits; and, as many favored Jansenism, it was charged by Ultramontanes that the French Congregation of the Oratory was founded principally to spread the Jansenistic heresy. The truth is, the congregation embraced advocates of Jansenism; but they were only in the minority, and simply brought about an unhappy controversy in the society. The French Oratorians became distinguished for their many eminent scholars, as Thomassin, Malebranche, the eloquent Massillon, etc. The Revolution of 1789 put an end to this congregation as to other religious bodies; but they were reorganized in 1852 by six priests, under the guidance of abbe Petetot; and in 1864, finally, the new congregation, under the title of the Oratory of Christ our Lord and of Mary the Immaculate, was approved by the pope. It has a flourishing establishment at Paris, and has received its chief illustration from fathers Gratry and Perraud. It is known as the Oratory of the Immaculate Conception.

In 1847 the Oratorians were introduced on English soil by the Romish convert, Dr. John Henry Newman. This was the period of his secession from Anglicanism. To give strength to his Romanizing tendencies he looked about for a moderate monastic body, and consequently established a house of the Oratorians (the members of which were for the most part ex-Anglicans like himself), first near, and finally at, Birmingham; soon afterwards a second at London, which has since been transferred to Brompton. The Oratorians have also representatives in the Low Countries, whither they spread from France. In the United States they have not as yet founded a congregation. There are houses at Madrid, Constantinople, and in Savoy. See Zeitschrift histor. theol. 1859, p. 142; Perraud, L'Oratoire dle France (Paris, 1865); Histoire du clergy 3:144 sq.; Meth. Qu. Rev. 1866. p. 289; Henrion. Monastic Orders, 2:247-254; Jervis, Hist. of the Church of France, 1:250; Hallam, Literature, iii. 297; Alzog, Kirchengesch. 2:423.

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