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St. John of Capistrano, March 28

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Biographical selection:

Born in 1386 in the city of Capistrano in the Kingdom of Naples, Italy, John entered law school at Perugia where he became a famous jurist and was appointed governor of that city in 1412 at age 26. He entered the Franciscan Monastery of Monte after becoming disillusioned with the world. His superior, Blessed Mark of Bergamo, made strong tests of his late vocation before he was accepted in the Order. For example, once John was ordered to ride through the streets of Perugia on a donkey with his head turned toward the tail of the animal and wearing a cardboard mitre on his head with his worst sins written on it.

With the support of St. James of the Marches and St. Bernardine of Siena, he overcame all the difficulties and met with great success in his apostolate. He had the friendship and support of four Popes, reformed his Order, led a Crusade, and with his extraordinary gift for preaching evangelized in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Poland. He converted countless pagans, fanatic heretics, and obstinate Jews, and brought hundreds of young men to the religious life. He had a special grace to reconcile quarrels. He was named Inquisitor against the Hussites and tenaciously fought this heresy.

He was described by the future Pius II, then a Bishop, as “small, old, dry, thin, wasted, nothing but skin and bones. Always cheerful and tireless, he preached often to audiences of twenty or thirty thousand people. He used to resolve the most difficult questions to the satisfaction of both the simple and the erudite.”

Siege of Belgrade, St Juan Capistrano

St. John of Capistrano, center, holding up a crucifix, in the middle of the Battle of Belgrade, July 23, 1456.
 - Siege of Belgrade by Huge Loischinger, Hungarian National Museum

After the fall of Constantinople at Islamic hands, he preached the Crusade against the Muslim Turks, exhorting Catholics to raise an army to resist the invaders, who were threatening Christendom by their victorious march into the northwest of Europe. At age 70 he was commissioned by Pope Callistus II as delegate and adviser for the war against the Turks.

He traveled to Belgrade to encourage the 40,000 Catholic soldiers who were surrounded by Mohammed II. By a clever feint, he got past the Turkish guard, entered the city and began to preach constancy in the fight and confidence in the victory. All of Christendom was praying for a successful outcome for the city. The soldiers, under the influence of the Saint, fought and prayed. John Capistrano accompanied the troops in their more difficult maneuvers: the surprise attacks and recoups. Although he took the greatest risks, he was never wounded by a single bullet. It was due to him, above all, that Belgrade was saved. This victory stalled the Turkish invasion, which in turn saved all of Europe.

Then, worn out from the battle, he was taken in the field by the bubonic plague. A few months later, he died in 1486 in the Franciscan Monastery of Villach, Austria.

Comments of Prof. Plinio:

One could try to make a classification of the saints. Some were founders of nations, others were organizers of nations, still others were founders of religious orders. Then, there is a category of saints who were the defensive walls of the House of God. They constitute a kind of saint whose principal goal is to fight, to destroy the enemies of God. They have the capacity to put fire in souls to stimulate them to the defense of God, to lead them to combat. And in the combat they know how to sustain the courage of the good as well as how to attack the enemies. Doing this, they defend the walls of the House of God. Such is the mission of this category of saints. St. John of Capistrano was one of these saints.

Consider his vocation: First, he was an Inquisitor and a great fighter against heretics on the doctrinal level, a fighter who also converted many of them. I do not think that to fight against heretics and destroy them is a negative mission, because the heretics are already negative, and to place a negative with the negative is to make a positive. No one would say that a physician who destroys the viruses that attack the human body would be doing something negative. The same principle applies to the Inquisitors. They were the physicians who destroyed the viruses that attacked the spiritual health of the Church and Christendom.

Second, he was a great orator who preached to audiences of 20-30,000 people. There is a curious thing that the text does not report, which is the way the people of that time used to listen to an orator. There was no hall large enough to receive these multitudes, so the speaker would deliver his speech outdoors. But a problem would arise when the wind would change, because then the voice could no longer be heard in some places among the crowd. To resolve this problem the custom was established to have a flag hanging at a high site that everyone could see. When the wind would change, the waving flag would indicate the change, and the people would know where they needed to stand to hear the voice of the speaker and they would move there to accommodate the wind change. Thus, it was a moving audience. But let us return to our St. John of Capistrano.

Third, he preached a Crusade and made the necessary diplomatic arrangements for the Catholics to fight against the Turks. But he was not satisfied with this. He went a step further. He thought it necessary to be present on the battlefront. Although he did not personally take up weapons, since a priest is not supposed to shed human blood, he was there as the soul of the combat. He was everywhere giving support and encouragement. It was his action that saved Belgrade, which at that moment was the strategic weak point of Christendom. He broke the march of the Turks into the West and foiled their plan to enter Hungary, Austria, and Italy until they reached Rome to subjugate the Holy See.

Rich in merit and years, he died. His figure remains in History as a great fighter. Perhaps it is for this reason we do not hear much praise today of St. John of Capistrano.

A final point that requests comment in this text is that of the convivium of saints. This association of fellow-saints is one of the most beautiful things in the History of the Church. One saint is already a rare and admirable thing. But this fellowship of many saints, the convivium that sometimes existed among them, and the way that the distinctive holiness of one influences another and in this sense multiplies the sanctity – all this is truly wonderful.

St. John of Capistrano lived in an ambience of sanctity. His superior was Blessed Mark of Bergamo. He was a disciple of St. Bernardine of Siena and a fellow student with St. James of the Marches. There were four saints in a small region of Italy. Four saints of the same religious order living at the same time. Can you imagine the supernatural atmosphere that reigned there under such conditions?

The only thing that remains for us to do is to recommend ourselves to the prayers of the great St. John of Capistrano.


Tradition in Action



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Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Saint of the Day features highlights from the lives of saints based on comments made by the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Following the example of St. John Bosco who used to make similar talks for the boys of his College, each evening it was Prof. Plinio’s custom to make a short commentary on the lives of the next day’s saint in a meeting for youth in order to encourage them in the practice of virtue and love for the Catholic Church. TIA thought that its readers could profit from these valuable commentaries.

The texts of both the biographical data and the comments come from personal notes taken by Atila S. Guimarães from 1964 to 1995. Given the fact that the source is a personal notebook, it is possible that at times the biographic notes transcribed here will not rigorously follow the original text read by Prof. Plinio. The commentaries have also been adapted and translated for TIA’s site.



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