How the Theatines lived
SAN GAETANO
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How the Theatines lived
The tiny community established itself in Via Leonina in the Campo Marzio area at the centre of Rome in the house offered by Bonifacio de Colli. There was only one condition, that after three years the property would be sold according to the principle that the new congregation could not possess anything at all.

The system of communal life put into practice by the Order was twofold: Contemplative, with study and prayer and Active in assisting the needy. In the case of Rome this meant the incurables at the San Giacomo hospital. Carafa, even though Bishop, humbly did nursing jobs like the rest.

Adjacent to their house there was (and still is) a small church of San Nicola di Campo Marzio which was seldom used. Taking it in their care, the Theatines transformed it into a jewel of order and cleanliness. It was Don Gaetano who, more than the other three, pushed the broom and used rags for cleaning, but they were always all available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and attentive to the proper celebration of Liturgies. In this way they attracted many people not only from the area but from all around Rome. On top of all this they also found time to go to other churches preaching the Word and giving example to the pastors and curates who usually left sermons for monks because they thought it below their dignity to preach. But preaching to the masses was the merit of the Theatines especially when they started increasing in numbers. Don Gaetano did not deny the value of theological studies at the desk but insisted that they did not have any direct effect on the faith of the people. To bring 'light and fragrance' (his favourite expression) one had to descend to the level of the masses in the language they could understand and invite them to participate in the truths of their faith.

So the Theatine order started to spread out on foot, horseback or otherwise to the countryside where other priests seldom went. They courageously brought 'light and fragrance' to more and more people through the Gospels.

The main rule for Don Gaetano's congregation was that they should give up all care of earthly things, neither keeping any income, nor begging the needful things of life from the faithful, but living only on such alms as might be given them unasked. The clergy had become extremely rich and attached to wealth, so the ideal of poverty was being reinstated in the Church by our Saint mainly through the clergy as an example to the faithful.

It was not a surprise that they didn't find too many formerly greedy and licentious priests wanting to join their congregation and change their ways. But Gaetano and the others persevered even in the face of open opposition from laity and clergy who didn't want to reform. It was his holy example as well as his preaching that converted many. He preached care in the worship of God, exactness in the liturgy, and frequent reception of the Eucharist. It was also Don Gaetano who later would introduce the Forty Hours' Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, as an antidote to the heresy of Calvin. He would remain in tearful prayer for as long as eight hours at a time. He was often thrown into trances, and was celebrated for his gift of prophecy.

Regarding the necessities of life, they resolved the question in a simple way. They had given away all the real estate they had owned, but the small sums of money they had at the time of professing their vows, they shared for the first basic expenses. Loyal to the principle, they never asked for anything, but alms started coming in spontaneously, enough being kept for the necessities of life while all the rest was given to the poor. Since Rome in those days was the size of a small town, it is not surprising that this system of life chosen by our friends became common knowledge throughout the city.

It is obvious that not all the Roman Clergy admired them. There were too many Priests and Bishops still clinging to a comfortable and easy life, but many of them even high up in the hierarchy regarded them respectfully and started to imitate them. Not everything, therefore was wrong - there were righteous individuals waiting for the call to the right and straight path. The number of new recruits coming to join the Theatines were of this kind and were also a sign of the good reputation the Theatines had. It is true that many who asked to be admitted, found the way of life too hard and had to leave, but it is also true that many stayed and some were not just common folk. A prime example just for the record was Bernardo Scotti a priest from Rieti coming from a rich family, concistorial lawyer versed in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, gave up all his riches and started the life of exemplary poverty in the Theatine cassock - later he would become the first Cardinal from the Theatine congregation.

After a while they became twelve, all coming from the 'Divino Amore' experience, and so the problem of residence presented itself since the house where they were living became too small to accommodate them all. The solution came from Cardinal Gilberti, bishop of Verona, who appreciated the work done by Don Gaetano and had met him before. This Cardinal was leaning on entering the new order himself, but with the indispensable work he was doing at the Vatican, the Pope did not grant him leave to do so. Knowing about the plight of the Theatines in the restricted space of their residence, he bought a house with ample property out of his own pocket, and it was there where the group went to live. Now the San Giacomo hospital with its incurables was not far off and it soon became the centre of their charitable work especially with the huge activity brought by an outbreak of plague in 1525. Now pilgrims were hit hardest because they traveled on foot and carried the pestilence from one city to another. But these poor sick people were dearest to Don Gaetano and his companions.

After a few years of communal life there came the time for the Theatines to draw up a proper definite constitution. It was written by Bishop Carafa but the spark within it came from Don Gaetano who spoke little but was always fair with everyone.