Blessed Thomas of Olera

Capuchin Lay Brother (1563-1631)

BLESSED THOMAS OF OLERA Thomas was born in the village of Olera, in the province of Bergamo, North Italy, towards the end of the year 1563. Leaving his family and his sheep at the age of seventeen, he was accepted by the Capuchin Brothers of Venice. As a simple lay brother, for some fifty years he went about gathering alms, first in the territories of the Republic of Venice, and afterwards in those of the house of Habsburg. He was known for his strong Catholic faith and zeal in promoting religious life. He became a spiritual guide of bishops and government leaders, as well as of contemplative sisters and simple people. During his years of formation he was also taught how to write. His many writings reveal him as a poet of the Immaculate Virgin, a mystic of the Heart of Jesus and a precursor of Paray-le-Monial. He died at Innsbruck on May 3, 1661. He is celebrated liturgically on 4th May.

“Yesterday in Bergamo, Thomas of Olera, a Capuchin friar who lived in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was beatified. Let us give thanks for this witness to humility!” So said Pope Francis on September 22, 2013 during his visit to Sardinia, before the recitation of the Angelus. Now memory of this lay friar of our Order will be celebrated by the Church every May 4. In his letters on the “New Blesseds” on August 15, 2013,  the General Minister Br. Mauro Jöhri puts it this way: “The beatification of Br. Thomas of Olera, four hundred years after his birth, may come as a surprise! But the way his reputation for holiness has remained constant over time kept attention on his Cause for Beatification.”

What can join us to a figure so eminent, of a distant era but at the same time close to us in the quest for the same ideals? It will be, of course, that ardent love for the suffering Christ that Br. Thomas carried in all that he thought, said, and did. It is a love that must first be lived and only thereafter recounted, that illuminates like a burning lamp on the altar of his beloved, crucified Lord, from whose open heart Br. Thomas took strength and wisdom for himself and for so many people, from every rank and condition, those that found in him what they themselves sought: someone impassioned by the love of God! Like the fire of embers burning under the ashes of time, Br. Thomas has lasted through the centuries, until this moment a hidden treasure, but now, thanks to the wind of the Spirit that rushes in the Church, all will enjoy “fanning the flame of our charism” in this authentic son of the Poverello of Assisi.

In this time of challenge, the life of Br. Thomas is an exhortation to inflame the heart with passion for the Passion, because this is the sole and authentic furnace, in all times, wherein a Capuchin friar is made. The General Minister continues: “Br. Thomas of Olera lived in a complex period, full of contradictions and violent clashes, but also in a fascinating time that let shine through and shed light on the passion of man and his desire either to assert himself or to let God assert and show himself, visibly and tangibly. The Order had entrusted questing to Br. Thomas, the ‘seeking’ for the subsistence of the friars and the poor of the friary; grace transformed him into the sought-after advisor of nobles and servants, into the learned spiritual teacher who knew how to pronounce the word that pointed to the hidden Christ, as the true mystics and true contemplatives of the Mystery know well how to do.”

From the «Writings» of Blessed Thomas of Olera, religious

(Scala di perfezione, Morcelliana, Brescia 2010, pages 150-161)

Meditation on the Heart of Jesus

O Holy Heart of my most beloved Lord, I turn to you and thus my spirit communicates with you, because you, o dear Heart, are my refuge, my comforter. […] Ah, heart of my God, heart where that blessed spirit dwelt and resided, placed in the centre of the body of my Saviour, heart formed by the power of God, heart filled with God himself. […]

This heart was like the centre of a target: so that the humanity of Christ did not feel any pain, however slight, which did not hurt the heart of our Lord. […] The noble and divine humanity of Christ suffered in all its members, but the heart of Jesus suffered incomparably more, because all pains which Christ suffered in his members were all bound to wound that suffering heart […].

Oh, my soul, if you contemplate exteriorly the cruel and bitter passion of our most beloved Lord, contemplate also the inner passion of your beloved God, but most specially, contemplate that anguished heart; and if you shed tears of water over the external passion of our Lord, weep tears of blood with your inner eyes over the inner passion of your Lord. […]  I adore you, I bless you for ever and propose to contemplate you day and night, making you, O heart of Jesus, to be a new passion.

[…]  God wanted humanity to see that love: this heart was therefore opened with a cruel spear, and to show that the love of God lived in this heart, blood and water flowed out, gushing down from that blessed humanity.  And if it is said that the blood of Christ was blood of love to redeem humankind, this blood poured out by Christ from his heart after death was most precious: it was an extreme overflow of love, the ultimate seal of his love.

And if you, o sinner, without any scruples, do not want to convert yourself because of the blood flowing out from the veins of your beloved Christ, at least convert yourself because of that blood and water flowing out from his precious heart: look again at that open heart, conceal yourself in it, build your room in it, because that heart can comprehend all saints in heaven and comprehends all his servants who are on earth.

[…] The spear opened his side and pierced the heart: having opened it, out flowed those two rivers of love and charity, so that every righteous person and friend of God could drink from his love, and sinners too could drink the blood poured out by his mercy and drink the sweet water of his love.  Oh, who could have seen that open heart and who could have seen that blessed blood and water flow out!  They were like two rivers, one of mercy, which was the blood, where every sinner could and still can go, confident to obtain mercy; there was also the river of water, where for sure every faithful friend of God could and still can go, hoping to grow in virtue and perfection.


God our Father,
source of every perfect gift,
that inflamed with charity the heart of Blessed Thomas,
concede also to us to follow his example,
and through his intercession,
make us collaborators of your plan of love:
to make Christ the heart of the world.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Holy Brother of Tyrol

Presented in two Parts from Round Table of Franciscan Research, Marathon 25 (1960), pages 25-32 and 61-68.

Fr. Bede Zelinski O.F.M. Cap.

Confidant of princes and emperors – questor of souls – apostle among the heretics. These and similar titles describe the life of the humble Capuchin Brother, Venerable Thomas of Bergamo. Brother Thomas was no learned theologian. He first learned to read and to write after entering the Capuchin Order. Yet he wrote a book entitled “Fuoco d’Amore,” “The Fire of Love.” This book reveals his tremendous love for God and men. Who was he? What of his extraordinary work? The following pages unravel the wonderful life of this Capuchin Brother.

It was into a world of heresy and religious indifference, a world of much needed counter reform and spiritual revitalization, that Thomas of Bergamo entered to perform his role of holy religious, reformer, promoter of the doctrine of the Sacred Heart, preacher of God’s love, helper of the poor and counselor of rulers as well as bishops.

A poor shepherd boy

Thomas Acerbi, as Brother Thomas was known prior to his entry into religion, was born in the year 1563, the same year the Council of Trent closed. His father, Peter, came from the family of Acerbi Viani. His mother’s name was Margaret. The Acerbi family lived in a small city near Bergamo, called Olera. It is interesting to note that all these factors – the family name and the two cities account for the various names given to Thomas – Thomas of Bergamo[1] (the commonest appellation, or Thomas Acerbi of Olera[2] or Thomas of Olera-Bergamo. [3] His extensive activity in Tyrol earns him the title of the “Holy Brother of Tyrol.”

“Born of good and pious parents….” the familiar introduction to second nocturn lessons in the breviary, rings true in Thomas’ case. He learned the severe lessons of poverty from the early days of hi s life, for his parents were poor in earthly goods. We do not know if the family’s poverty necessitated it or not, but we find Thomas tending sheep as a youth. Shepherding was not only shepherding for him. It was a grace by which he profited. For we read that he laid the groundwork for his holiness here in the grazing land by much prayer. When Thomas would come home evenings after tending the sheep, his mother would teach him for a few hours – his formal education! His mother’s education itse1f must have been meager, for we know that Thomas learned to read and write only after entering the cloister. Perhaps his mother’s lessons were more those of the heart, love of God and neighbor, than those of the intellect.

The authors give us a few glimpses of his appearance and virtue. Of his appearance they tell us Thomas had fiery eyes and a high forehead. Notable were his virtues of innocence and his kindness of heart. Even though a youth he had a mature insight into the real nature, the evilness of sin.

The call to religious life

The facts from Thomas’ earlier life show that he was well prepared naturally and supernaturally, when the call to religious life came. He had always been drawn by the lowliness and poverty of the Capuchins. So he traveled the miles to Venice (Bergamo was in the Venetian Province) to seek admittance from the superiors.

Thomas received the habit at Verona on the twelfth of September, 1580, [4] at the age of seventeen. Usually upon clothing, the novice received a new name. Thomas, however, retained the one he already had in the world. During novitiate Father Francis of Messina was his Guardian and Father Boniface of Udine, his novice master.

Even in novitiate, Brother Thomas showed the most evident signs that the seeds of superior holiness had fallen on good ground in his soul. This was recognized by his fellow novices as well as by his professed confreres. We don not know all the details of his spiritual striving and development in novitiate. We do know, though, that he founded his inner life on humility and prayer.

Brother Thomas started his quest of perfection from the firm bedrock of humility. His practice of this virtue was not ordinary or half-careless. He strove to acquire the habit of humility assiduously. He went out of his way to avoid praise and to make himself despicable. [5] This striving influenced his daily manner of 1iving. His outward appearance and carriage and his modesty in speech were an expression of his inward humility.

He advanced swiftly in the life of prayer. His intensity in prayer was massive as a mountain. His love as the flames and sparks strewn forth by eruption. His fellow novices aptly nick-named him “volcano.” [6] The love gained through prayer also became his support in temptation. Prayer became the “running water” and Thomas, the “tree planted” nearby, for he brought forth fruits in due season and whatever he did prospered. [7]

Some of the first fruits in his religious life, as they must be in every life seriously intent on God, were his acts of mortification. The mortifications undoubtedly were interior as well as exterior ones, but we have only definite examples of exterior ones. The Brother never completely satisfied his hunger or thirst; slept sparingly; went barefoot even in cold weather; he disciplined or scourged himself often with iron chains to help make it easier to say “No” to pleasureful demands of the body. He referred to his body as “the beast,” [8] and followed St. Francis’ command that the friars shall work faithfully and devotedly to avoid idleness, the enemy of the soul. [9] Thomas kept busy for this very reason, to keep idleness a sword’s length away.

The quest for food and souls

Spiritually fortified by his novitiate training, he pronounced his vows. From then until 1619 when he was to leave his home province for work in Tyrol, Austria and Bavaria, we know only of his appointment as questor. This burdensome duty found him trudging daily through the cities for about thirty-eight years begging for his own and his confreres’ daily sustenance. During these years Brother Thomas was appointed to various Capuchin houses in, Verona, Vicenza, Conegliano, Trent, Udine and Roveredo, for we have incidents recorded which happened while questing in these cities, and which show the effects of grace previously won by his life of prayer and penance.

At Vicenza he and a companion entered a home on one of their questing trips at the request of the occupants to console and edify them. Thomas broke into one of his rhapsodies on divine love, exhorting and explaining for six hours straight. By the time he finished it was time to start back to the friary, but their wallets were empty. His fears that his confreres would go hungry were allayed by the woman of the house when she announced that the baker had delivered more bread than was ordered. It seems the oversupply was just enough to satisfy the whole community. [10]

On another occasion he converted a prostitute. He learned from her neighbors the type of woman she was. Knowing this, he went questing alms at her door, but instead of Thomas receiving alms, the woman of ill fame gained the grace of conversion. After hearing Thomas preach to her on the state of her soul, the flames of hell and the passion of Christ, her heart melted in her own tears and the grace of God. This Magdalene spent the rest of her life in penance in order to make up for her earlier life of sin. This striking conversion also took place in Vicenza.[11]

There was a Coneglianese Jewess named Paula, whom Thomas had a difficult time in converting. He had spoken to her time after time in hopes of winning her for Christ, yet she could never make up her mind. So where words fail, God used more striking means. Fire surrounded her at night. Frightened, she sought Thomas’ explanation for this phenomenon. She was told that the fire would cease when her hesitation ceased. Thomas gained another convert.[12]

In these years of questing, Brother Thomas gained a reputation for his holiness. How far his fame spread and the exact time he became known to the many people is difficult to say. Yet it seems that knowledge of Thomas and his life preceded his actual arrival in Tyrol and Austria, This knowledge penetrated even to the reigning royalty, for about 1618 when Leopold V, Archduke of Tyrol, petitioned that Capuchins be sent into his lands, Thomas was mentioned in particular.

Just six years before Thomas entered the Order, that is in 1574, Pope Gregory XIII had allowed the Capuchins to leave Italy and establish themselves in other countries. Houses were erected in one country after the other. Soon provinces were established in all the countries of Western and Central Europe.

Archduke Ferdinand II and his wife, Anna Catherine Gonzaga, had asked for the Capuchins to be sent to Tyrol. The General Chapter of 1593 at the bidding of Pope Clement VIII delegated the Venetian Province to send some friars there. Their response was quick, for in the same year the friars had a convent at Innsbruck, from which sprang the Tyro1ian Province. The convent at Salzburg was founded in 1595.[13]

Leopold V succeeded Ferdinand as Archduke of Tyrol in 1595. Leopold had been bishop of two dioceses before he was allowed by Pope Urban VIII to return to the capacity of secular ruler. He seems to have retained a faithful bishop’s solicitude for the Catholic faith and set about to rebuild it in the lands subject to him. Other Capuchins were a1ready active in his reforming of Tyrol, but he sent a specific request for Brother Thomas to help in the work of strengthening virtue and allaying the poisons of heresy by his prayer, preaching and good example.[14] Thomas’ superiors complied with the wishes of the Archduke.

Conquering hearts in Tyrol

Brother Thomas was fifty-six when he set out from Roveredo for North Tyrol and new sights, new lands and new hearts to conquer for Christ. Despite his age he walked the whole distance from Roveredo to Innsbruck, and he crossed the border into Tyrol “with heart and hands raised to heaven and with a prayer on his lips… in order that God would give him heavenly gifts through the intercession of the glorious Queen of Angels, and would accompany his labors with abundant fruit.”[15]

As to his work in Tyrol, we have more information about the methods and approaches he used in his work, than about his actual accomplishments.[16] He worked from the top down: if the people were to become good Christians, then there was a need of reform, religiously and morally among the nobility. They were a constant object of his exhortations. Yet as serious as the scandal was from the nobles, Thomas was moderate and patient and kind in dealing with them. This is the very method which won over to a holier life two Barons von Frieger of Friedburg, John Francis and Andrew Benedict. Thomas even worked hand-in-hand with the Archduke and Archduchess themselves. His relations with the reigning family were very dose and free of formalities. Some days Thomas appeared at court twice. Sometimes he came announced; at other times, unannounced. He had ready access to the Archduke’s presence. At times the conferences between the two lasted as long as three hours or more. That the Archduke would seek the counsel of the Brother stupefied the Lutheran princes. The Archduchess, Claudia de Medici, likewise supported Thomas, making his work easier. The Archducal couple were accustomed to visit Thomas at his friary. At these times Claudia even sought advice on rearing her children.

The civil authority played no little part in Thomas’ plans for reform of the Church and morals in the lands in which he labored.[17] The religious and moral upheavals were due to the religious innovations of the Protestant revolt and ensuing wars. At the very time that Thomas§ entered his northern field of apostolic endeavor, the Thirty Year’s War raged in its first years. He recognized that the dominions of the Hapsburgs and Bavaria were the only bulwarks against the Lutheran princes in South Central Europe. He also saw that the enemies of the Church were indirectly attacking the Church by undermining the civil authority which was the protector of the Church. In this case he demanded obedience and fidelity on the part of the people to their government. Without this, true peace and order could never exist.

More countries – more souls

Tyrol was only the start of a number of visits which led Thomas to Bavaria, then to Salzburg and finally to the Emperor at Vienna. Maximillian I of Bavaria was distinguished in politics of his time, being head of the Catholic League and one of the best generals in the fie1d. He invited the humble brother from Bergamo into Bavaria to work among the people and to reform the clergy. He pursued his work with great apostolic ardor, “especially in the holy conversations he had with the said pious prince,”[18] Maximillian, who also sought the prayers of the Brother for success in his battles for the faith. Thomas and the ruler of Bavaria became fast friends. As a sign of this friendship and his esteem for and gratitude to Thomas, Maximillian gave the Brother a relic of the most precious Blood.

From Munich, the capital of Bavaria, Thomas traveled to Salzburg where Paris von Lodron ruled as Count and as Archbishop. The Brother previously had prophesied the Count’s election to the Archiepiscopate. Here as before Thomas was employed to reform faith and morals and to counsel the Archbishop.

While he was in Salzburg Thomas converted Eva Maria Rettinger who had been born in Hungary and raised a Protestant. She had married at an early age, but was left a childless widow soon afterwards. Thomas encouraged her to enter the Benedictines at Salzburg in 1624. Her fortune, amounting to 58,000 gulden (about $24,500), was distributed to re1igious orders. After only one year of religious life she became abbess and her monastery served as a refuge for girls and widows during the Thirty Year’s War.

Thomas also worked in Vienna, the capital of the Hapsburg Austrian Empire. Ferdinand II reigned there, as King of the Austrian-Hungarian Hapsburg domains and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. It seems Thomas had already ingratiated himself with Ferdinand by foretelling his election to the Imperial throne.[19] When Thomas arrived in Vienna, the Hapsburg domains were suffering from a dai1y increase of the infectious heretical reforms. This was a cause of anxiety to Brother Thomas and he used his office of adviser and counseler (which he performed even in regard to the most important matters of state) to urge the Emperor to stronger measures against the heretics’ ever-widening sphere of power.

As to the Brother’s positive influence on the Emperor’s line of action regarding the Bohemian crisis and its ultimately leading to the battle of Prague, we see nothing direct or immediate. But his heart and sympathy were with the Emperor in the ultimate battle. In fact, as Moses[20] played a role in the defeat of the Amalekites by his outstretched arms of prayer, Thomas played a role in the battle of Prague, for heaven was as besieged by his prayers as Prague was by the troops of the Emperor. He did not have the vantage point of the hillcrest from which Moses could view the armies below him, but miraculously he saw the encounter pass before his imagination as he knelt praying in the chapel at Vienna. The battle took various turns during its course, causing him noticeable anguish when the battle turned bad1y for Ferdinand. But Thomas could joyfully announce at its end: “The enemy is scattered; the Emperor has triumphed.”[21] He brought the good news to Vienna before it arrived by natural means of communication. Thomas’ influence had again affected another country.

Part 2

In the first part of this study on the life of Brother Thomas of Bergamo, we treated his early life in the world and his life as a Capuchin in the apostolate in Italy, Tyrol and Bavaria.[22] But that resume of his labors lacks one important aspect of his search for souls, namely, his writings. Even though Thomas first learned to write only after entering the Capuchin Order, he put this late-learned talent to good use throughout his religious life.[23]

Thomas’ writings are contained in a quarto volume of about 720 pages entitled Fuoco d’Amore, “Fire of Love.”[24] For the most part Fuoco d’Amore contains in separate ascetical and mystical writings the fruits of his contemplation. Their affective character stands out even with the most cursory reading. Although they were not intended to be doctrinal, these pages could hardly exclude truths of the faith. In fact; in one outstanding example as we will see below, the doctrine of the Sacred Heart was exactly and maturely deve1oped. We also read that his works gained the admiration of theologians.

His various editors have divided his works into several parts. The first part contains a work of about 120 pages, entitled “A Forest of Contemplations.” It consists of meditations on the life, passion and death of Christ. Thomas intended this work primarily for beginners. The second and third part contain matters addressed to those souls in the second and third stages of the way of perfection, traditionally called the illuminative and unitive ways. The second part is entitled “The Ladder of Perfection”; and the third is a compilation of smaller treatises on love, consolation, and the joy of a soul united with God.

Most of Thomas’ letters were lost in the chaos accompanying the Thirty Years War, but the twenty-two that remain make up the fourth part of Fuoco d’Amore. Some of these letters were to particular individuals; others took the form of circulars. Besides his influence on the nobility and prelates of the Church, Thomas exercised a great influence on many other persons in Central Europe through his letters.[25] One author especially singles out Germany where Thomas fought for the true faith with numerous letters.[26]

The fifth part of Fuoco d’Amore is the most interesting. In this part is included a work which Thomas had intended for some heretics in Bohemia. Of all his works this one seems the most able to be categorized as dogmatic. It is also evidently written in an apologetical vein since the heretic’s are directly in mind. It takes up 180 pages of Fuoco d’Amore. Thomas wrote it at the command of his superiors in 1620 at Vienna, and reworked it about ten years later. A glance at the list of the topics treated makes one wonder at this illiterate brother, for he wrote on papal infallibility, the Immaculate Conception, the superiority of the respect paid to Scripture by the Church, the external worship of Catholics, the right of the Church to hold property, and the Pope’s temporal power.

Doctrine on the Sacred Heart

Before we pass from considering Thomas as a writer, mention must be made concerning the attention he paid to the doctrine and devotion to the Sacred Heart. Besides dedicating one short explicit work to the Sacred Heart,[27] Thomas interspersed his other writings and letters with rhapsodies on the Sacred Heart. He continually returned to the Sacred Heart as a favorite theme. Actually the doctrine and devotion to the Sacred Heart are treated when he is teaching and writing on contemplation. “His contemplations on the Sacred Heart are full of truly seraphic piety and of lofty doctrine.”[28] His development of this doctrine was eminently practical.[29]

The position Thomas deserves in the historical treatment of this truth and devotion should not be underestimated. He died sixteen years before the birth of St. Margaret Mary, yet, as Fr. Bernardino of Cittadella shows in his study, Thomas wrote quite exactly of the doctrine as it evolved subsequent to the revelations that Our Lord made to the holy Visitation Nun.

Thomas’ writings were first published in 1681, fifty years after his death. In 1682 a second edition of the complete Fuoco d’Amore appeared as well as an edition of his letters. The final edition was published in Naples in 1683 at the command of Cardinal Caraccioli, the Archbishop. These three editions in such a short space of time indicate the popularity with which they were received. In fact one author states that they had “very many buyers.”[30]

Holiness of Life

It is evident that the life of Thomas as seen in his active apostolate and writings is marked by signs of holiness. Here we would like to present a more synthetic picture of his holiness. We will, however, limit ourselves to several examples and brief generalizations, especially since there has been no pronouncements to our knowledge by the Church in this matter. And we have no intention to anticipate any such pronouncements.

All were quite unanimous from the first years of his life in religion that Thomas’ virtues were destined for full bloom. His obedience was always prompt. His faith and charity stand out from the few pages that we have written here of him.

He also had to endure the purifying crucible of suffering. Physically he suffered from the gout all his life and it finally became one of his conquerors on his death bed. Also toward the end of his life he could hardly eat or sleep. Added to these, were interior trials. For thirty tears doubts about his eternal salvation tortured him, until on one day of greater than usual desperation three years before his death, St. Lawrence of Brindisi appeared to him to console and relieve him of his doubts for good. He also had his tussles with the devil, which he suffered patiently and with complete trust in God.

Miracles provide a special guarantee that an individual possesses the Spirit or God in a special way. To fail to make any mention of them in a life such as that of Thomas would leave the picture incomplete, since Providence chose to perform through Thomas, the instrument, many wonders. We have already mentioned several of his miracles and prophecies. Their occurrences in general were comparatively frequent. Many favors, also, are recorded as having been worked through bone and wooden spoons that Thomas had carved during his lifetime.[31]

The Tyrolian apostle also was blessed with that rare combination of highest contemplation and onerous as well as numerous activities, with neither impeding the other. In conclusion we may say that it is not without reason that Thomas gained a reputation for holiness.

As can be seen from the life of the Brother given so far, his life was full – full or love of God and neighbor. When he neared the end of his life he found brother body worn out. In fact it could no longer take food, nor could it give itself over to sleep. “His prayer and meditation became his nourishment, and union with God, his rest.”[32] So love was his life. But it was his death, too, for as the flame of the lamp consumes the oil, so Thomas’ love burnt out the energy of his body.

On the second of May, it was seen that brother body would have to surrender before the onslaughts of the gout and fever. Thomas, however, expressed his wish not to die before being blessed by his Provincial, Father Seraphin of Bruneck. Father Seraphin, however, was not expected to arrive at Innsbruck until two days later, and he was a man to follow the schedule he set. Yet Providence did not deny Thomas this one last wish No sooner had Thomas expressed his wish, than Father Seraphin’s knock sounded on the friary door. He arrived at the friary two days ahead of schedule. In the evening of the same day Thomas devoutly received Holy Viaticum, and then confessed his faults and begged pardon for them from his brethren. Thomas died about two o’clock the next morning at the age of sixty-eight and after fifty-one faithful years of religious life.

Three days after his death his remains were buried in the crypt on the Epistle side under the Blessed Virgin chapel of the convent at Innsbruck. In 1636 his remains were examined for the first time. After this many more examinations ensued until the year 1704; then again in 1757. The head by this time had been placed in a reliquary in the “Thomas-cell.”[33] In 1787, the government suppressed the convent and did not restore it until 1803. In the meantime the remains, excepting the head (which was transferred to the convent at Chiusi) were left undisturbed in the crypt. In 1803 the head was brought back from Chiusi and the remains rested in peace until 1903, when they were again scrutinized. The most recent investigation, in 1931, was most thorough and official. For it was witnessed by the Apostolic Administrator of Innsbruck, Provincial superiors, monsignori and other clerics, specialists in anatomy, and some prominent lay people. The remains were authenticated. The remaining bones were transferred from the crypt and along with the head were placed in the chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It may be mentioned that often at these investigations and openings of the crypt, the remains of the Brother emitted a fragrant odor.[34]

The case of Bro. Thomas of Bergamo gives cause for wonder on several accounts. He certainly must be admitted to the ranks of those spiritual giants who go by the name of counter reformers, whom God raised up following the defections from the faith because of the religious revolts of the fifteenth century. These men stood up as other Christs to quell the winds and waves of religious chaos which were raging and surging over Europe. Their task was twofold: first, certainly unenviable, to clean house in the Church itself; second, surely more cheerful but none the less arduous, to antidote the poisons of heresy.

A life well spent

Thomas did both. In Salzburg and Bavaria the rulers employed his services to reform the clergy; he never spared himself to strengthen or teach the true faith; the nobility were an object of constant exhortations to convert their lives into examples of morality instead of immorality. He found fervor in palaces and worked hand in hand with it for internal reform of the Church as well as against the heretics. Here we get a glimpse of the breadth or the influence exercised by Thomas, that is in acting as counselor and spiritual director to the leaders of states. It is true such influence is indirect and hardly calculable, yet it is none the less real and active in the acts and words of those directed and counseled. With his letters, too, he enjoyed a widespread influence in the Catholic counter reformation. And in all these considerations we should never forget the end for which he labored – the glory of God.

When a resurrection of recognition will terminate his burial in oblivion, then the true wonder – his life, will appear. A lay brother, yet helping in the reform of clerics; voluntarily despicable in an exacting practice of humility, yet counseling and directing potentates of Church and State; unlearned, yet writing dogmatic and mystical treatises; a man questing alms, yet influential in the Tyrolian counter reform; a. contemplative, yet ever active. And the peaceful wedding of these apparent contradictories is even more striking than their mere presence.[35]

  1. Authors use the form, “Thomas of Bergamo,” as a general rule, except the few instances mentioned in footnotes 6 and 7.
  2. Pellegrino da Fodi, Annali Dell’Ordine Dei Frati Minori Cappuccini, Milano, 1885, Vol. 4, pp. 333-35.
  3. “De Recognitione et Repositone Exuviarum Ven. Fr. Thomas a Olera-Bergamo…,” A. O. C. Vol. 49, Romae, 1933, pp. 333ff.
  4. This date is given in Adolf Steidl, O.C., Der Ehrwuerdige Thomas von Bergamo, Kapuziner1aienbruder, Druck und Verlag von Fel. Rauch, (Innsbruck, 1899, p. 23. In Marco da Cognola, O.F.M. Cap., I Frati Minori Cappuccini della Provincia di Trento, Reggio-Emilia, 1932, p. 84, the date for Thomas’ reception to vows is given as September 2, 1580.
  5. One instance of making himself despicable may seem rather extreme. He signed his letters: “Fra Tomaso feccia e sterco di peccatori,” or in the German: “Bruder Thomas, ein Auswurf und Koth der Suender.” Steidl, op. cit., p. 25.
  6. “…einen feuerspeienden Berg…” Steidl, op. cit., p. 26.
  7. Cf. Psalm 1:3.
  8. “Bestia” or “bestione.” Steidl, op. cit., p. 24.
  9. Chapter 5.
  10. Cf. Steidl, op. cit., p. 28.
  11. Cf. Ibid., pp. 29-30.
  12. Cf. Ibid., p. 30.
  13. Cf. Melchior a Pobladura, O.F.M. Cap., H. G. C. Pars Prima, 1525-1619, Rome, 1947, pp. 93-94.
  14. Cf. Steidl, op. cit., pp. 41-44.
  15. “Cor et manus ad coelum elevans ac orans… ut Deus per intercessionem gloriosae Reginae Angelorum concederet sibi dona coelestia, atque labores uberiori fructu prosequeretur.” A. O. C., Vol. 2, 1886, pp. 284.
  16. A. O. C. Vol. 2, 1886.
  17. Cf. Steidl, op. cit., pp. 44-52 passim; A. O. C. Vol. 2, 1886, p. 285.
  18. “Maxime vero in sacra conversatione cum dicto pio principe habita.” A. O. C., Vol. 2, 1886, p. 285.
  19. This prediction was written in a letter to the sisters of the Emperor. Cf. a review of the work, Thomas von Bergamo, Kapuzinerlaienbruder. St. Laurentius-Druckerei, Innsbruck, 1933, which appeared in Collectanea t. VI, 1936, p. 318.
  20. Cf. Exodus 17:8-13.
  21. “Die Feinde sind geflohen, der Kaier hat gesiegt.” Steidl, op. cit., p. 75.
  22. Part One on Thomas of Bergamo is found in ROUND TABLE, vol. 25 (Jan. 1960), pp. 25-32. The author of this article is grateful to those who helped with the various languages and is especially indebted to Fr. Elroy Pesch who was a constant crutch in working with the German language. Following are corrections to be added to Part One. The second last line of paragraph four of p. 26, “So he traveled the miles to Venice (Bergamo was in the Venetian Province)….” should be changed to “So he traveled the 160 mi1es to Venice (Bergamo was in the Province of Brescia)….” Also for footnote l, p. 31, “… in footnote 6 and 7,” should be changed to, “… in footnote 2 and 3.”
  23. Yet his learning to write in novitiate was only a partial mastery of the art. Cf. Michael Hekenauer, Das Kapuziner Kloster zu Innsbruck, Innsbruck, 1893, pp. 75-76.
  24. The full title is Fuoco d’Amore mandata da Christo in terra per essere acceso in the Italian, and Feuer der Liebe von Gott auf die Erde gesandt, dass es sich entzuende in the German. Unless otherwise noted, the material on Thomas writing is taken from Steidl, Der Ehrwuerdige Thomas von Bergamo, Kapuziner-laienbruder zu Innsbruck, Innsbruck, 1893, pp. 98-108. Bernardino da Cittadella, “Un Contemplativo del Cuore di Gesu: Il Servo di Dio Fra Tommaso da Bergamo,” L’Italia Francescana, 3 (1928), pp. 434-440 and 4, (1929), pp. 29-44; “Thomas a Bergamo,” Lexicon Cappucinum, Rome, 1951.
  25. Epistolae eius dirigebantur Salisburgum, in Bavariam, Austriam, et Bohemiam, et factae sunt pro istis regionibus quasi scintillae excitantes fervorem religiosum et ignem charitatis, A. O. M. C. 2 (1886), p. 285.
  26. Steidl, op. cit., p. 105.
  27. In Bernardino da Cittadella, op. cit., 4 (1929), pp. 31-42, this work is reproduced. Also cf. Hilaire de Barenton, La Devotion au Sacre-Coeur, Paris, Librarie Saint-Francios, 1914, pp. 145-149.
  28. Borromeo Jackson, O.F.M. Cap., “Franciscan Devotion to the Sacred Heart,” ROUND TABLE, Vol. 22 (July 1957), p. 90.
  29. For Thomas the doctrine of the Sacred Heart was geared to devotion. He “considers the fruits of this devotion at length. He plunges himse1f, so to speak, in the Heart of Jesus in order to taste the joys of union with Christ. This Heart is for him the inexhaustible cellar where one can draw in abundance the wine which makes souls strong – the wine of ecstatic and beatific love.” Ibid.
  30. Steidl, op. cit., p. 108.
  31. Examples of these spoons are preserved in the “Thomas cell” (cf. ftn. 12 below) at the Capuchin friary or convent at Innsbruck. Cf. Steidl, op. cit., pp. 77, 90-92, 96; and Hekenauer, op. cit. p. 86.
  32. Hekenauer, op. cit., p. 81.
  33. The “Thomas-cell” is the cell in the Innsbruck convent where Thomas stayed when he sojourned in that city. After his death it had been converted into a shrine to his memory. For some time it contained relics of him. For a minute description of it and its appointments, cf. Steidl, op. cit., pp. 94-98; and Hekenauer, op. cit., p. 83.
  34. This description of the examinations of the relics of Brother Thomas is a summary of “De recognitione et repositione exuvarum Ven. Fr. Thomas ab Olera-Bergamo…” A. O. M. C., 49 (1933), pp. 333-36.
  35. One recent general Church history work does recognize the distinction that is Thomas’. He is mentioned along with a Franciscan friar, Johannes Nas and Dr. H. Guarinoni (an intimate friend and spiritual son of Thomas, as well as the Brother’s first biographer; cf. Steidl, op. cit., pp. 53-59) as the three reformers of Tyrol during the latter part of the sixteenth century and the first part of the seventeenth century, on p. 299 of Die Kirche im Zeitalter des Konfessionellen Absolutismus – 1555-1648 (Kirchengeschicte, III/2, Johanne Peter Kirsch), Freiburg, Herder, 1949.