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Giovanni da Capistrano

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Saint Giovanni da Capistrano (English:John Capistrano, June 24, 1386October 23,1456), Italian friar, theologian and inquisitor, was born in the village of Capistrano, in the diocese of Sulmona in the Abruzzi. his father had come to Italy with the Angevin court of Louis I of Anjou, King of Naples. He lived at first a wholly secular life, studied law at the University of Perugia under the legal scholar Pietro de Ubaldis, married, and became a successful magistrate. In 1412 Ladislas of Naples appointed him governor of Perugia, a tumultuous and resentful papal fief held by Ladislas as the pope's champion, in order to effectively establish public order. When war broke out between Perugia and Sigismondo Malatesta in 1416, John was sent as ambassador to broker a peace, but Malatesta threw him in prison.

During his captivity he in despair put aside his new young wife, with the claim that he had never consummated the marriage, and, studying with St Bernardino of Siena, in company with St Giacomo della Marca, he entered the Franciscan order at Perugia on October 4, 1416. At once he gave himself up to the most rigorous asceticism, violently defending the ideal of strict observance and the narrowest reading of orthodoxy, following Bernardino as he preached and from 1420 onwards preaching himself with great effect in many cities throughout Italy. Unlike most Italian preachers of repentance in the 15th century, Giovanni da Capistrano was effective in the north, in Germany, Bohemia, Austria, Hungary, and Poland. The largest churches could not hold the crowds, so he preached in the piazzas: at Brescia he preached to a crowd of 126,000. When he was not preaching, he was writing tracts against heresy of every kind. This facet of Giovanni's life is covered in great detail by his early biographers, Nicholas of Fara, Christopher of Varese and Girolamo of Udine. While he was thus evangelizing, he was actively engaged in assisting Bernardino in the reforms of the Franciscan Order, largely in the interests of more rigorous hierarchic discipline.

Like St Bernardino of Siena he greatly proselytized devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, and, together with that saint, was accused of heresy on this account. In 1429 John, together with other Observant friars, was called to Rome on the charge of heresy, and he was chosen by his companions to defend them; the friars were acquitted by the commission of cardinals.

He was frequently employed on embassies by the popes Eugenius IV. and Nicholas V., in which he acquitted himself with implacable violence. In 1439 he was sent as legate to Milan and Burgundy, to oppose the claims of the antipope Felix V; in 1446 he was on a mission to the King of France; in 1451 he went at the request of the emperor as Apostolic nuncio to Austria. During the period of his nunciature John visited all parts of the empire, preaching and combatting the heresy of the Hussites; he also visited Poland at the request of Casimir IV. As legate or inquisitor he persecuted the last Fraticelli of Ferrara, the Jesuati of Venice, the Jews of Sicily, Moldavia and Poland, and, above all, the Hussites of Germany, Hungary and Bohemia; his aim in the last case was to make conferences impossible between the representatives of Rome and the Bohemians, for every attempt at conciliation seemed to him to be conniving at heresy.

Finally, after the Fall of Constantinople, at the age of seventy Pope Calixtus III sent him to preach a Crusade against the Turks at the Diet of Frankfort in 1454, and he succeeded in gathering troops together, which in the summer of 1456, with Giovanni da Capistrano leading a contingent of troops, at least helped John Hunyadi to raise the siege of Belgrade, which was being blockaded by Mahommed II. He died shortly afterwards.

Capistrano, in spite of this restless life, found time to work both in the lifetime of his master St. Bernardino of Siena and after, at the reform of the order of the minor Franciscans, and to uphold both in his writings and his speeches the most advanced theories upon the papal supremacy as opposed to that of the councils (see Conciliar Movement).

He was canonized in 1690 by Pope Alexander VIII.

Mission San Juan Capistrano, in California, is named for him. March 28 is his nameday.

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