The Saint Who Rode Into Battle Armed With Only The Crucifix

The Saint Who Rode Into Battle Armed With Only The Crucifix

St Lawrence of Brindisi put all the strength of his heart, soul and mind into both his interior life and outward activities.

Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, O.F.M. Cap. (22 July 1559 – 22 July 1619), born Giulio Cesare Russo, was a Roman Catholic priest and a theologian as well as a member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin.


Brief Biography 

Giulio Cesare Russo was born in Brindisi, Kingdom of Naples, to a family of Venetian merchants. After the early death of his parents, he was raised by his uncle and educated at Saint Mark’s College in Venice. Cesare joined the Capuchins in Verona as Brother Lawrence. He received further instruction from the University of Padua. An accomplished linguist, in addition to his native Italian, Lawrence could read and speak Latin, Hebrew, Greek, German, Bohemian, Spanish, and French fluently. Brother Lawrence was ordained a priest at the age of 23.

At the age of thirty-one, Father Lawrence was elected superior of the Capuchin Franciscan province of Tuscany. He was appointed definitor general to Rome for the Capuchins in 1596; Pope Clement VIII assigned him the task of preaching to the Jews in the city. He was sufficiently proficient in Hebrew that the rabbis assumed he had been a convert from Judaism. Beginning in 1599, Lawrence established Capuchin monasteries in modern Germany and Austria, furthering the Counter-Reformation and bringing many Protestants back to the Catholic faith.

In 1602, he was elected vicar general of the Capuchin friars, at that time the highest office in the Order. He was elected again in 1605, but refused the office. He entered the service of the Holy See, becoming papal nuncio to Bavaria. After serving as nuncio to Spain, he retired to a monastery in 1618. He was recalled as a special envoy to the King of Spain regarding the actions of the Viceroy of Naples in 1619, and after finishing his mission, died on his birthday in Lisbon.

He was entombed at the Poor Clares’ Convento de la Anunciada (Convent of the Annunciation) in Villafranca del Bierzo, Spain.


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In 1959 John XXIII bestowed the title of Doctor Apostolicus on the Franciscan friar St. Lawrence of Brindisi (d 1619). He was a gifted linguist and theologian who produced many works on a wide variety of topics. He was a diplomat, apologist, scholar and general of his Capuchin order. The Capuchins collected his works into 15 volumes, 11 of which are sermons. In both the traditional and post-conciliar calendars the Apostolic Doctor is honoured at the altar on July 21.

With conviction he defended the Catholic Faith in places where Protestant errors had taken hold and with his knowledge of Hebrew and Scripture he evangelised among Jews in Italy. With conviction in 1601 he literally led troops into battle facing great odds against Islamic invaders. Thirty years after the Christian victory at Lepanto, Sultan Mehmed III, having slain his 19 brothers to secure power, swore that he would turn the altar of St Peters Basilica into a horse trough. While Elizabeth I sent envoys with gifts to Mehmed, Clement VIII asked Lawrence to help organise Catholic princes into a crusade to save Europe.

Speaking of conviction, at Székesfehérvár (Stuhlweissenburg) in Hungary, Lawrence, armed only with a crucifix, rode to battle and victory with 18,000 men against 80,000 invaders.

St. Lawrence was intensely active in the world and his accomplishments are staggering. 

However, as Benedict XVI explained in a 2011 audience series about Doctors of the Church, “At the school of the saints, every priest … may only avoid the danger of activism – acting, that is, without remembering the profound motives of his ministry – if he attends to his own inner life.” Lawrence of Brindisi was grounded in prayer and in the celebration of Holy Mass, which in his devotion could last for hours.

The devout conviction of St. Lawrence is exemplary. He put all the strength of his heart, soul and mind into both his interior life and outward activities, and the two dimensions were unified in love of God and neighbour, even when in great physical peril. Each of us has God-given vocations, with interior and outward dimensions. To fulfil them we must rely on both grace and elbow grease, putting our whole selves forward in conviction. As Lawrence taught, “The Holy Spirit sweetens the yoke of the divine law and lightens its weight, so that we may observe God’s commandments with the greatest of ease and even with pleasure.”

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