“It is better to shine a light than to curse the darkness”

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St. Cajetan of Thiene, founder of the Theatines, succeeded in keeping alive the torch of holiness and discipline in difficult times for the Holy Church.

Newsroom (August 6, 2021 17:08, Gaudium PressSaint Cajetan was born in 1480 in beautiful Vicenza, then part of the famous Republic of Venice, of noble and pious parents.

From his mother, a fervent Dominican tertiary, the young man assimilated from an early age a great repulsion to vanity and worldly glories. Nevertheless, at the age of 20, he began to study law in order to build a promising career. His life, however, would pass through certain twists and turns, before Providence made his mission clear to him.

A Society in Ruin

Upon completing his studies, and with the favor of a high ecclesiastic of the time, Saint Cajetan took on the job of apostolic protonotary in the Vatican – a prestigious position with many duties – precisely during the golden age of the Renaissance.

In the midst of the splendid court of Julius II, Cajetan was not carried away by the exaggerated and harmful influence that made the eternal city a humanistic center of letters and arts: the imposing basilica of Saint Peter’s. Under construction, it rose day after day; famous artists decorated – it must be said, often as talented as impudently… – the Vatican precincts; prelates displayed its sumptuousness at banquets and parties, and Cajetan remained reticent in his numerous works.

Worldly men like these who surrounded him seemed more like “travelers who, on arriving at the inn, get drunk and lose their way to their homeland,”[1] as he would later state; these days something came into management in that pure mind….

But the problems were not only there, nor only in the arts, but it was the Church that was urging for a reform that was finally begun to be undertaken.

The door that opens…

In 1512, the Pope convened the Lateran Council, a measure seriously applauded by most Catholics.

In this immense task there were efforts, prayers too; but one point was systematically forgotten, which is summed up in the motto that Cajetan would take from then on: reform himself before reforming others. With the desire to be a docile and useful instrument in God’s hands, he decided to become a priest, which he received in 1516, at the age of 36.

With his admission to the clerical state, Cajetan was able to begin his work; those years he spent in Rome gave him plenty of information on how he should go about reaching his goal.

He conceived an innovative plan: an institute of clerics united by sacred vows, especially the vow of poverty, despite the functions they might exercise. They would not be monks, much less anacorets; but men full of zeal for the flock of Jesus Christ, fulfilling what he had foretold: “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”[2]

With the help of prelates and Pope Clement VII himself, Caetano founded the order of the Theatines in 1524,[3] initiating the first of the institutes of clerical regents, which helped the Church so much in this period.

The saint of the two councils

The new order of the Theatines soon assumed a state of extreme poverty: it would live only on alms, not being able to ask for them, but only receiving them from those who would spontaneously give them. Cajetan himself avoided being appointed superior general of his foundation, giving the position to Cardinal Gian Petro Carafa, the future Pope Paul IV.

There was, of course, no lack of people who believed them to be mad or crazy, inconsequential and wandering, even in ecclesiastical circles; to all this the saint used to reply, as the Lord had done before: “Don’t worry about tomorrow”. [4] With this more than exemplary conduct, the Theatines fulfilled, in the troubled times of the Renaissance and Reformation, what their founder had as a driving principle: “It is better to light a light than to curse the darkness”; that is, to be really light in order to combat the darkness; for who can overcome the darkness if not the light?

Exhausted by apostolic labors and fatigue, Cajetan died on August 7, 1547, and could contemplate yet another triumph of the Holy Church; he who had taken the banner of reform from the Lateran Council, now saw it hoisted in glory at the Council of Trent.

Cajetan can rightly be considered the “Saint of the two Councils”, because in times that were so bad for Christian discipline, he managed to keep alive the flame of radicalism and holiness until the great reformation.

By André Luiz Kleina

[1] Cf. ECHEVERRÍA, Lamberto de. Christian Year: August. Madrid: BAC, 2005, v. 8, p. 159.

[2] Cf. Mt 5:13-14.

[3] The name Teatinos comes from the name of the first diocese in which they settled: Chieti, or Teate.

[4] Cf. Mt 6:34.

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