Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Andrew Avellino, Confessor

[Saint Andrew holy card]Article

A.D. 1608

Saint Andrew Avellino was a native of Castro Nuovo, a small town in the kingdom of Naples, and born in 1520. In his infancy he gave early tokens of the most happy dispositions to virtue. At school he had the fear of God always before his eyes, and dreaded the very shadow of the least sin. A beautiful complexion exposed his chastity to several snares and dangers; which he escaped by assiduous prayer, mortification, watchfulness over himself, and care in shunning all dangerous company. To pretend a desire to serve God, and resist the world and vice, without a strenuous application to all the exercises of virtue, especially penance and prayer, he called a vain and foolish illusion. In the straight passage which leads to life we are sure to meet with many temptations and persecutions, which the world and the devil will not fail to raise against us. And, as watermen, who row against the wind and tide, exert their whole strength in plying their oars, so must we strive with all our might to maintain and daily gain ground against our malicious enemies, and the unruly sway of our passions. If any one lets go his hold, his soul, like a boat driven with the tide, will speedily be hurried into the gulf from which he may never be recovered. Andrew never looked back, and never lost sight of the goal to which he strove happily to arrive. After mature deliberation he took the ecclesiastical tonsure, and was sent to Naples to study the civil and canon law. Being there promoted to the degree of doctor in laws, and to the dignity of the priesthood, he began to plead such causes in the ecclesiastical court, as the canons allow clergymen to undertake. This employment, however, engrossed his thoughts, too much dissipated his mind, and insensibly weakened his affection for holy meditation and prayer. A fault into which he fell opened his eyes, and made him see the precipice which lay before him. Once in pleading a cause, in a matter indeed which was of no weight, a lie escaped him; for which, upon reading these words of holy scripture, The mouth that lieth killeth the soul, he was struck with so great remorse and deep compunction, that he resolved immediately to renounce his profession, and to give himself up entirely to a penitential life, and to the spiritual care of souls. This he did with so great ardour, that his whole conduct was a model of perfect virtue.

The archbishop judging no one more proper than Andrew to be the director of souls that were engaged by the obligations of their state in the career of evangelical perfection, committed to him the care of a certain nunnery in that city. The holy man’s zeal for removing all obstacles to the recollection of those spouses of Christ, in which consists the very essence of their state and virtue, stirred up the malice and rage of certain wicked men in the city, whom he had forbid being ever admitted to the grate to speak to any of the nuns. He once narrowly escaped death, with which they threatened him, and another time received three wounds in his face. These injuries he bore with invincible meekness, being ready with joy to lay down his life for the spiritual interest of souls, and for the defence of justice and virtue. Out of an earnest desire of more readily attaining to a perfect disengagement of his heart from all earthly things, in 1556 he embraced at Naples the rule of the Regular Clerks, called Theatins, in whom flourished at that time, to the great edification of the whole city, the religious spirit and fervour which they had inherited of Saint Cajetan, who died there in the convent of Saint Paul, in 1547. Our saint, out of the love he bore to the cross, on this occasion changed his name of Lancelot into that of Andrew. By the humiliations and persecutions which he had met with even amongst his dearest friends, (which trials are always the most severe to flesh and blood,) he learned what incomparable sweetness and spiritual advantages are found in suffering with patience and joy, and in studying in that state to conform ourselves to the holy spirit and sentiments of Christ crucified for us. Nor can it be conceived what improvement a soul makes by this means in experimental perfect meekness, in patience, humility, and the crucifixion of self-love, and all her passions, by which Christ (or his Spirit) begins to live in her, and to establish the reign of his pure love in all her affections. Of this Saint Andrew was an example. To bind himself the more strictly to the most fervent pursuit of perfect virtue in all his actions, he made two private vows which only an extraordinary impulse of fervour could suggest, or, even according to the necessary rules of Christian prudence, make allowable or lawful, for fear of sacrilegious transgressions, or scrupulous and anxious fears. The first was, perpetually to fight against his own will: the second, always to advance to the utmost of his power in Christian perfection. Wonderful were his abstinence and exterior mortifications, and the indifference with which he treated his body; but much more his love of abjection and hatred of himself, that is, of his flesh and his own will. He bore without the least disturbance of mind the barbarous murder of his nephew; and not content to withdraw all his friends from prosecuting the assassin, became himself an earnest supplicant to the judges for his pardon. His exactitude in the observance of regular discipline in every point, and his care to promote the same in others, especially whilst he was superior in his Order, were equal to the ardour of his zeal for the divine honour in all things. All the hours that were free from exterior employments of duty or charity, were by him devoted to prayer and contemplation; and these were the source of his interior eminent spirit of piety and charity, by which his labours in the conversion and direction of innumerable souls were miraculously successful. By the eminent sanctity of many of both religious and secular persons who had the happiness to be his penitents, it appeared visible that saints possess the art of forming saints.

Cardinal Paul Aresi, Bishop of Tortona, the author of many works of piety and ecclesiastical learning, and the Mecænas of his age, had a particular esteem for our saint, and often made use of his advice and assistance in his most important affairs. Saint Charies Borromeo did the same, and obtained of him some religious men formed by his hand, and animated with his spirit, for the foundation of a convent of his Order, at Milan. That great saint had nothing so much at heart as such a reformation of the clergy, that all amongst them might be replenished with the spirit of the apostles. For this end so many Orders of regular canons and clerks have been instituted, from Saint Austin down to our time. Yet into their houses, through the negligence of superiors, and the propensity of the human heart to the gratification of its passions, the spirit of the world has too often found admittance to the aggravation of the scandal. For the same purpose have congregations of secular clergy, living in common without vows, been sometimes erected: amongst which scarcely any was more famous than that of Windesheim, established by Gerard the Great, or Groot, in Holland, who died in the odour of sanctity in 1384, leaving his plan to be finished by his worthy successor, Dr. Florentius: it was continued in the same spirit by John Cacabus or Kettle. 2 Saint Charles Borromeo had a design of engaging his canons to live in this manner in common without vows; but the execution was prevented by his death. He had, soon after he was made archbishop, pitched upon the Theatins, whom Saint Andrew had formed to a perfect ecclesiastic spirit, to set before the eyes of his clergy a model and living example from which they might learn the apostolic spirit of the most perfect disengagement from the world. Our saint founded new convents of his Order at Placentia, and in some other places; and was honoured by God with the gifts of prophecy and miracles. After having given the world an example of the most heroic virtues, being broken with labours and old age, he was seized with an apoplexy at the altar as he was beginning mass, at those words, Introibo ad altare Dei; which he repeated thrice, and was not able to proceed. He was prepared for his passage by the holy sacraments, and calmly resigned his soul into the hands of his Creator, on the 10th of November, 1608. His body is kept with honour in the church of his convent of Saint Paul at Naples; and he was canonized by Clement XI.

This saint was a fit instrument of the Holy Ghost, in directing others in the paths of perfect virtue, because dead to himself, and a man of prayer. He never spoke of himself, never thought of his own actions except of his weaknesses, which he had always before his eyes in the most profound sense of his own nothingness, baseness, total insufficiency, and weakness. Those who talk often of themselves, discover that they are deeply infected with the disease of the devil, which is pride, or with the poison of vanity, its eldest daughter. They have no other reward to expect, but what they now receive, the empty breath of sinners. Even this incense is only affected hypocrisy. For men, by that base passion which they betray, become justly contemptible and odious to those very persons whose vain applause they seem to court. Saint Teresa advises all persons to shun such directors, as pernicious to souls, both by the contagion of self-conceit and vain-glory which they spread, and by banishing the Holy Ghost with his light and blessing; for nothing is more contrary to him than a spirit of vanity and pride. The most perfect disinterestedness, contempt of the world, self-denial, obedience, and charity, are no less essential ingredients of a Christian, and especially an ecclesiastical spirit, than meekness and humility. The vows of Regular Canons, and their strictest rules only point out what are the duties, and what ought essentially to be the spirit of every clergyman by the obligation of his state, without the tie of particular vows, as the example of Christ and his apostle shows.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Andrew Avellino, Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 9 November 2013. Web. 25 December 2014. <>