Philip Neri

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Philip Neri

Born22 July 1515
Florence, Republic of Florence
Died26 May 1595(1595-05-26) (aged 79)
Rome, Papal States
Venerated inCatholic Church
Church of England
Beatified11 May 1615 by Pope Paul V
Canonized12 March 1622 by Pope Gregory XV
Feast26 May
PatronageRome, Italy; Candida, Italy; Mandaluyong, Philippines; US Special Forces; Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest; Catbalogan, Philippines; laughter; joy; comedians; artists; writers

Philip Romolo Neri CO (/ˈnɪəri/ NEER-ee; Italian: Filippo Romolo Neri, pronounced [fiˈlippo ˈrɔːmolo ˈneːri]; 22 July 1515 – 26 May 1595), known as the "Second Apostle of Rome" after Saint Peter, was an Italian Catholic priest noted for founding the Congregation of the Oratory, a society of secular clergy.

Early life[edit]

Philip was the son of Francesco di Neri, a lawyer, and his wife Lucrezia da Mosciano, whose family were nobility in the service of the state. He was carefully brought up, and received his early teaching from the friars at San Marco, the famous Dominican monastery in Florence. He was accustomed in later life to ascribing most of his progress to the teaching of two of them, Zenobio de' Medici and Servanzio Mini. At the age of 18, in 1533, Philip was sent to his uncle, Romolo, a wealthy merchant at San Germano (now Cassino), a then Neapolitan town near the base of Monte Cassino, to assist him in his business, and with the hope that Philip might inherit Romolo's fortune.[1] Philip did gain Romolo's confidence and affection, but during his stay he also experienced a religious conversion. From then onward, Philip no longer cared for the things of this world. In 1533, he left San Germano to live in Rome. [2]

Founding of the Oratory[edit]

Philip Neri
St. Philip Neri and the Virgin Mary, by Tiepolo

Mission work[edit]

After arriving in Rome, Philip became a tutor in the house of a Florentine aristocrat named Galeotto Caccia. After two years he began to pursue his studies (for three years) under the guidance of the Augustinians.[1] Following this, he began those labors amongst the sick and poor which, in later life, gained him the title of "Apostle of Rome". He also ministered to the prostitutes of the city. In 1538 he entered into the home mission work for which he became famous, traveling throughout the city, seeking opportunities of entering into conversation with people, and of leading them to consider the topics he set before them.[2] For seventeen years Philip lived as a layman in Rome, probably without thinking of becoming a priest. Around 1544, he made the acquaintance of Ignatius of Loyola. Many of Philip's disciples found their vocations in the infant Society of Jesus.[3]

Confraternity of the Holy Trinity[edit]

In 1548, together with his confessor, Persiano Rossa, Philip founded the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity of Pilgrims and Convalescents (Italian: Santissima Trinita de' Pellegrini e de' Convalescenti),[4] whose primary object was to minister to the needs of the thousands of poor pilgrims who flocked to Rome, especially in jubilee years, and also to relieve the patients discharged from hospitals but who were still too weak for labor.[2] Members met for prayer at the Church of San Salvatore in Campo[5] where the devotion of the Forty Hours of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament was first introduced into Rome.[6]

The Oratory[edit]

In 1551, Philip received all the minor orders, and was ordained deacon and finally priest (on 23 May). He thought of going to India as a missionary but was dissuaded by his friends who saw that there was abundant work to be done in Rome. Accordingly, he settled down, with some companions, at the Hospital of San Girolamo della Carità. There in 1556 he tentatively founded the Congregation of the Oratory, an institute with which his name is especially connected. The scheme at first was no more than a series of evening meetings in a hall (the Oratory), at which there were prayers, hymns, and readings from Scripture, the church fathers, and the Martyrology, followed by a lect of some religious question proposed for consideration. The musical selections (settings of scenes from sacred history) were called oratorios.[2] Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip's followers and composed music for the services.[7] The program developed, and the members of the society undertook various kinds of mission work throughout Rome, notably the preaching of sermons in different churches every evening, a completely new idea at that time.[2] He also spent much of his time hearing confessions and effected many conversions in this way.[4]

In 1564 the Florentines requested that Philip leave San Girolamo to oversee their newly built church in Rome, San Giovanni dei Fiorentini.[3] He was at first reluctant, but by consent of Pope Pius IV he accepted while remaining in charge of San Girolamo where the exercises of the Oratory were kept up. At this time the new society included among its members Caesar Baronius (the ecclesiastical historian), Francesco Maria Tarugi (afterward Archbishop of Avignon), and Ottavio Paravicini – all of whom later became cardinals – and also Gallonius (Antonio Galloni, author of a well-known work on the Sufferings of the Martyrs), Ancina, Bordoni, and other men of ability and distinction. In 1574, the Florentines built a large oratory or mission room for the society, next to San Giovanni – to save them the fatigue of the daily journey to and from San Girolamo, and to provide a more convenient place of assembly – and the headquarters were transferred there.[2]

As the community grew, and its mission work extended, the need for a church entirely its own made itself felt, and the small parish church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, conveniently situated in the middle of Rome, was offered and accepted. The building, however, not large enough for their purpose, was pulled down, and a splendid church was erected on the site. It was immediately after taking possession of their new quarters that Philip formally organized, under permission of a papal bull dated 15 July 1575, a community of secular priests, called the Congregation of the Oratory. The new church was consecrated early in 1577, and the clergy of the new society at once resigned the charge of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini; Philip himself did not leave San Girolamo until 1583, and then only by an injunction of the pope that he, as the superior, should reside at the chief house of his congregation. He was at first elected for a term of three years (as was common in modern societies) but in 1587 was nominated superior for life. He was, however, entirely free from personal ambition, and had no desire to be superior general over several dependent houses, so he desired that all congregations formed on his model outside Rome should be autonomous, governing themselves, and with no provision for Philip to retain control over any new foundation they might themselves make elsewhere – a regulation afterward formally confirmed by a brief of Gregory XV in 1622.[2]

Political activity[edit]

Philip Neri, as painted by Guercino in 1656

Although Philip refrained from becoming involved in political matters, he broke this rule in 1593–1595 when he persuaded Pope Clement VIII to revoke the ex-communication and anathema pronounced against Henry IV of France[1] and the refusal to receive his ambassador, even though the king had formally renounced Calvinism. Philip saw that the pope's attitude was more than likely to drive Henry to relapse and rekindle the civil war in France, and directed Caesar Baronius, a member of the Oratory who was then the pope's confessor, to refuse the pope absolution and to resign the office of confessor unless the pope withdrew the anathema. Clement yielded at once, though the whole College of Cardinals had supported his policy; and Henry, who did not learn the facts until several years afterward, testified lively gratitude for the timely and political intervention. Philip continued in the government of the Oratory until his death. He was succeeded by Baronius.[8]

Personal character[edit]

Philip Neri embodied several contradictions, combining popular veneration with intensely individual piety. He became deeply involved with the Church while seeking to reform a corrupt Rome and an indifferent clergy.[7]

Philip possessed a playful sense of humor, combined with a shrewd wit. He considered a cheerful temper to be more Christian than a melancholy one, and carried this spirit into his whole life: "A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one." This was the secret of Neri's popularity and his place in the folklore of the Roman poor. Many miracles were attributed to him. When his body was examined after death, it was found that two of his ribs had been broken, which was attributed at the time to the expansion of his heart while fervently praying in the catacombs about the year 1545.[9][3] Benedict XIV, who reorganized the rules for canonization, decided that Philip's enlarged heart was caused by an aneurysm. Ponnelle and Bordet, in their 1932 biography St. Philip Neri and the Roman Society of His Times (1515–1595), conclude that it was partly natural and partly supernatural. What is certain is that Philip himself and his penitents associated it with divine love.[6]

"Practical commonplaceness," says Frederick William Faber in his panegyric on Philip, "was the special mark that distinguishes his form of ascetic piety from the types accredited before his day. He looked like other men. ...He was emphatically a modern gentleman, of scrupulous courtesy, and sportive gaiety, acquainted with what was going on in the world, taking a real interest in it, giving and getting information, very neatly dressed, with a shrewd common sense always alive about him, in a modern room with modern furniture, plain, it is true, but with no marks of poverty about it – in a word, with all the ease, the gracefulness, the polish of a modern gentleman of good birth, considerable accomplishments, and widespread knowledge."[9]

Accordingly, Philip was ready to meet the needs of his day to an extent and in a manner which even the versatile Jesuits, who much desired to enlist him in their company, did not rival; and, though an Italian priest and head of a new religious order, his genius was entirely unmonastic and unmedieval – frequent and popular preaching, unconventional prayer, and unsystematized, albeit fervent, private devotion.[9]

Philip prayed, "Let me get through today, and I shall not fear tomorrow."[7]

Philip had no difficulties in respect of the teaching of his Church. His great merit was the instinctive tact that showed him that the system of monasticism could never be the leaven of secular life in the world of his day, but that something more homely, simple, and every day in character was needed for the new times then emerging.[9]

Death and veneration[edit]

Philip Neri's effigy at his tomb
An altar dedicated to St Philip Neri at Brompton Oratory in London, containing a wax effigy of the saint

Philip Neri died around the end of the day on 25 May 1595, the Feast of Corpus Christi that year, after having spent the day hearing confessions and receiving visitors.[10] About midnight he began hemorrhaging, and Baronius read the commendatory prayers over him. Baronius asked that he bless his spiritual sons before dying and, though he could no longer speak, he blessed them with the sign of the cross and died.

Philip Neri was beatified by Paul V in 1615 and canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622.[6] His memorial is celebrated on 26 May. His body is venerated in the Chiesa Nuova ("New Church") in Rome.

Philip Neri is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation and is noted for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the church itself.[7]

Philip is remembered in the Church of England with a commemoration on 26 May.[11]


The Oratory[edit]

The congregation Philip Neri founded is of an original stamp, little resembling a monastery of the older type, and its rules (not drawn up by Philip Neri, but approved by Pope Paul V in 1612)[12] leave considerable freedom of action compared with traditional religious foundations.[9]

Statue of Philip Neri in Congregados Church, Braga, Portugal

The Congregation of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri is a pontifical society of apostolic life of Catholic priests and lay brothers who live together in a community bound together but without formal vows. They are commonly referred to as Oratorians (Oratorian Fathers). Oratorians commit themselves to membership in a particular, independent, self-governing local community (an Oratory, usually named for the place in which it is located). In some locations, the local Oratory has been designated to administer a particular parish; others may be tasked with campus ministry.

The French Oratory[edit]

The Oratory movement spread in the early period, especially in Italy. In France, a separate and distinct foundation from the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri was founded, though inspired by St Philip's model. Best known as the French Oratory, it was founded in 1611 in Paris, France, by Pierre de Bérulle (1575–1629), later a cardinal of the Catholic Church.[13] The French Oratory had a determinant influence on the French school of spirituality throughout the 17th century. Unlike St Philip's Oratory, it operates under the central authority of a Superior General. Early members included Nicolas Malebranche, Louis Thomassin, Jules Mascaron and Jean Baptiste Massillon. Suppressed at the French Revolution, it was revived by Pierre Pététot, curé of St Roch, in 1852, as the "Oratory of Jesus and Mary Immaculate".


Philip Neri encouraged the singing of the Lauda spiritual (laude) in his oratory services. The prominent composers Tomás Luis de Victoria and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina probably participated in this music.[14] The result of Philip's approach was undoubtedly a unique and varied aesthetic experience. [15]

Seven Churches Walk[edit]

Philip sometimes led "excursions" to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way.[7] In 1553, Neri started the tradition of making a one-day pilgrimage to seven churches, starting from St. Peter's Basilica and ending at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.[16][17]

The tradition of visiting all seven churches was started by Neri[18] to combine conviviality and the sharing of a common religious experience through discovering the heritage of the early saints. Neri drew up an itinerary that included visits to St. Peter's Basilica, then St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, St. Sebastian's, St. John Lateran, Holy Cross-in-Jerusalem, St. Lawrence-Outside-the Walls, and finally St. Mary Major. He and a few friends and acquaintances would gather before dawn and set out on their walk. At each church, there would be prayer, hymn singing, and a brief sermon by Neri.[19]

A simple meal was pre-arranged at the gardens of the Villa Mattei. The Mattei family opened their grounds for pilgrims to rest and provided them with bread, wine, cheese, eggs, apples, and salami. During these "picnics", musicians would play and singers would perform.

The street which links Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls with San Sebastiano fuori le mura is still called "Via Delle Sette Chiese" (Seven Churches Walk). These pilgrimages were designed to be a counterpoint to the raucous behavior of Carnival.[19] The Walks became very popular and began to attract others. From this developed the custom of visiting seven churches on Maundy Thursday. In Rome, the Seven Church Walk is traditionally done on Wednesday of Holy Week.

In popular culture[edit]

Johnny Dorelli played Philip Neri in a 1983 Italian movie State buoni se potete.

Gigi Proietti played Philip Neri in a 2010 Italian movie made for television, Saint Philip Neri: I Prefer Heaven.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "St. Philip Neri". Retrieved 2017-12-09.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Chisholm 1911, p. 389.
  3. ^ a b c Ritchie 1911
  4. ^ a b Walsh 1991, p. 157.
  5. ^ "San Salvatore in Campo". Retrieved 2017-12-09.
  6. ^ a b c "Addington, Raleigh (of the London Oratory), Saint Philip Neri" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-05-28. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  7. ^ a b c d e Miller, Don (2016-05-26). "Saint Philip Neri". Franciscan Media. Archived from the original on 2017-12-10. Retrieved 2017-12-09.
  8. ^ Chisholm 1911, pp. 389–390.
  9. ^ a b c d e Chisholm 1911, p. 390.
  10. ^ Walsh 1991, pp. 157–158.
  11. ^ "The Calendar". The Church of England. Retrieved 2021-03-27.
  12. ^ Ingold 1911.
  13. ^ Britannica: "Oratorian" Retrieved August 17, 2016,
  14. ^ Smither.
  15. ^ Danieli 2009.
  16. ^ "Visiting the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome – ZENIT – English". 12 November 2012. Retrieved 2017-12-09.
  17. ^ "Catholic News Herald - Catholic News Herald". Retrieved 2017-12-09.
  18. ^ Schneible, Ann. "Visiting the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome", Zenit, November 12, 2012
  19. ^ a b ""St. Philip's 'Picnic'", The Pontifical Congregation of the Oratory". Archived from the original on 2016-02-07. Retrieved 2017-11-24.



Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]