Bernardine and John: Apostles of the Holy Name

In the Jubilee Year of the Holy Name Pat Conlan OFM looks at mission of St Bernardine of Siena and John Capistran.

Devotion to the Holy Name was in the background of St Bernardine of Siena. Bl John Columbinus had formed a congregation in Siena dedicated to the Holy Name in 1354. The locals began calling them the Jesuati because of the number of times they recited the Holy Name. Bernardine’s aunt Bartholomea, his father’s sister, is reputedly the person who passed on the love of the Holy Name to her Franciscan nephew. Whenever she heard the Holy Name she would repeat it with sobs and sighs. It seems as if her spirit of fervour induced by the Holy Name would also drive her to apparent insanity. There was already great devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus before St Bernardine. He simplified this devotion so that it would appeal to the mind and gave it a powerful visual format that caught the eye and went straight to the heart. He was living in a time when spiritual values were disregarded, indifference was common and there was a belief in diabolical possession or at least in the power of evil spirits. When Bernardine came to preach in a place, he would have the monogram of the Holy Name, the HIS, carried before him in procession. During his sermons it would be placed beside the pulpit. He spoke in simple language of the power of the Holy Name to bring healing for the ill and chase out devils in the case of possession. As an easy way of remembering the various aspects of devotion to the Holy Name, he returned to the twelve rays as used by Friar Ubertino of Casale to spell out twelve virtues. These provided an excellent aide-memoir. The monogram would be held up for veneration after the sermon. Sometimes this was followed by public burning on pyres of items of vanity or frivolity such as dice, cards or opulent clothes. Due to his influence many priests had copies of the monogram placed inside and outside their churches.   

St Bernardine did not have it all his own way. His enemies accused him of heresy and idolatry. He was cited to stand trial before the Pope. His major opponent was a Dominican, Manfred of Vercelli, who had taken to preaching doom and gloom in the light of the supposed forthcoming of a new Antichrist. Bernardine opposed this view through suggesting positive uses for the Holy Name in overcoming any evil powers. He also suggested that the monogram could be used as a symbol of the power of the name of Jesus. Manfred was not amused and was supported by many of his fellow Dominicans and also by Augustinians.
    Bernardine was brought to trial by Pope Martin V in 1427 and was completely cleared of all charges. The Pope Martin and his curia walked in procession behind the monogram the day after the trial. The Pope invited Bernardine to preach in Rome and attended some of the sermons in person. The Pope also permitted Bernardine to found a Confraternity of the Holy Name in Rome and let the friar use a chapel as the motherhouse of the group. It stood on what is now the site of the Church of the Gesú, the famous Jesuit church.There is no evidence that Bernardine’s chapel bore the name of Jesus. The congregation must have used one of the two small parish churches on the site – Santa Maria de Astallis (name of the founding family) or Sant Andrea alle boteghe scure (Street of the Hidden Shops, where the church was).
   Later there was more subtle opposition, particularly by backbiting in Siena. Then Dominican confessors begun to refuse absolution to those who had honoured the written or displayed name of Jesus. Another Dominican, the Inquisitor of Bologna, removed the monogram from a church. Pope Eugene IV ordered him to replace it. Others worked to have Bernardine tried in Rome by a Dominican cardinal. Pope Eugene was not amused and issued a Bull, Sedis Apostolicae circumspecta in 1432 praising Bernardine for the orthodoxy and zeal. A last attempt was made to have Bernardine condemned as a heretic at the Council of Basel in 1438. It was soon dropped, probably when Eugene IV heard about the moves.

John Capistan
St John Capistran was like Bernadine a reformer of the Franciscan Order and a popular preacher. He was a close friend of Bernardine. He was to write his biography and edited some of his papers. When John heard about the proposed trial of Bernardine, he dropped everything, got the monogram mounted on a pole and marched to Rome with a group of followers. He prepared a detailed document opposing the eighty-five arguments against Bernardine. His document played a major part in the decision that Bernardine was innocent. John also carried his monogram at the head of the papal procession on the day after Bernardine was found not guilty. Later after Bernardine’s death in 1444 John was a keen supporter of the moves to canonise Bernardine. The citizens of Aquila had obtained the mortal remains of Bernardine but were slow to build the promised memorial for the remains. John Capistran publicly denounced the citizens for their failure. As a result they rapidly built a shrine which can still be seen in the church at Aquila.
    The Holy Name in intimately connected with the work of St John Capistran at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456. Constantinople, capital of the remaining part of the Eastern Roman Empire, fell to the Turks led by Murad II in 1453. The subsequent establishment of a Turkish/Mohammedan empire in Europe was viewed as a serious matter in Christian Europe. Pope Nicholas V tried to raise a crusade against the Turks. Most of Western Europe remained distracted by their own disputes and did not listen to the Pope. Nicholas V died in 1455 and was succeeded by Calistus III. He in turn tried but failed to organise a crusade, although he did manage to organise a fleet to fight the Turks. Hungary was under immediate threat. John Hunyadi led a Hungarian army against the Turks with some success. Callistus appointed Cardinal Juan de Carvajal as papal legate. Then John Capistran became aware of the problem and raised a considerable army from Poland, Germany and Hungary. Murad II had advanced into Hungary and laid siege to Belgrade.  
    John Capistran used the name “Jesus” as the one word that his multi-lingual army would understand. John ordered that it be used as the rallying call on all occasions. He prepared a special banner for his troops. The cross, perhaps the version used by crusaders, was on one face and the other had the now St Bernardine with the symbol of the Holy Name in his hands. There is no doubt that this army was marching under the inspiration of the Holy Name. The battle began when a scrap collection of Christian ships attacked and defeated the Turkish fleet on the Danube. John Capistran was on the shore calling out the Holy Name. Then the Turkish army attacked the city around 9.00pm; John Capistran was there with his banner and rallied the outnumbered Christian forces many times by calling out the Holy Name. The Turks broke through the first line of defence and were in a moat preparing to attack the second line. They attacked the drawbridge before it could be raised and the fighting became desperate. Someone got the ides of pouring inflammable liquid into the moat and setting in on fire. This broke the spirit of the Turks and by morning they had pulled back to their camp after massive casualties. In the afternoon the Christians attacked the Turkish camp. John Capistran got on a hillock with his banner and continued to call out the Holy Name. The Turks broke into headlong retreat and their leader was seriously wounded. While John Capistran was the victor at Belgrade, the seventy-year-old friar fell ill and died three months later.

Later Developments
It was another Bernardine, Bernardine de Bustis of Milan (R.I.P. 1500) put together the first office of the Holy Name that was approved for use by the Franciscans. Bernardine may have first published his work in 1492 but a definitive edition appeared in 1494. Pope Clement VII (1523-34) gave permission in 1530 for the Friars Minor and Poor Clares to celebrate the Feast of the Triumph of the Name of Jesus on 14 January. In 1536 Pope Paul III gave permission for some Poor Clare convents to use an office written by Jerome Marispetro of Milan rather than that of Bernardine de Bustis. This gradually became the preferred office. Then in 1721 Pope Pius V extended the use of the office to the universal Church, to be celebrated on the Second Sunday after Epiphany, which would not normally be too far from January 14. Pope Saint Pius X again promoted devotion to the Holy Name and slightly changed the day for the feast. In the most recent revision of the General Roman Missal by Paul VI in 1970, the celebration of the Holy Name continued with a votive Mass. It is still celebrated as a memorial by the Franciscans and Poor Clares, now on 3 January.
   Saints Bernardine and John Capistran also composed a Litany of the Name of Jesus. At first it saw limited use since several popes tried to suppress the extended use of litanies. Bishops who came to Rome in 1862 for the canonisation of the Japanese Martyrs petitioned Pope Pius IX for permission to use the Litany of the Holy Name. He granted it for their dioceses and also for use among the Franciscans. Pope Leo XIII, a great follower of St Francis, extended its use to the universal Church in 1886.