Father Sylvester Landinus
From Mathias Tanner, Societas Jesu Apostolorum imitatrix, sive gesta praeclara et virtutes eorum: qui e societate Jesu in procuranda salute animarum, per Apostolicas missiones, Conciones, Sacramentorum Ministeria, Evangelij inter Fideles & Infideles propagationem, ceteráque munia Apostolica, per totum orbem terrarum speciali zelo desudarunt / 1: Societatis Jesu Europaeae
Illustrations by Jan Jiří Heinsch. Engravings based thereon by Kilian, Hafner and others
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Regensberg
Sylvester Landino , or Landini (1503 - Bastia , 3 March 1554 ), was an Italian Jesuit, one of the first
He was born in Malgrate near Villafranca in the Lunigiana in the far east of Tuscany on the border with Liguria
Rather specially, he had already been ordained when he met Saint Peter Fabre and Diego Laínez in Parma in 1540.
There under his influence he made the Spiritual Exercises and underwent a spiritual conversion. He applied to join the Jesuits and was accepted as a novitiate by St Ignatius Loyola
After a difficult novitiate he eventually entered the order
He made as his own missionary work in Northern Italy
From 1547 to 1552, he toiled through the Val di Magra, the vast diocese of Luni and Sarzana, Foligno and Spoleto, the Garfagnana, Florence, Lucca, Este, and the rural areas and towns around Bologna, Lucca and Modena
He was a missionary of the first rank.
Ludwig Pastor, in his The History of the Popes, from the close of the middle ages. Drawn from the secret archives of the Vatican and other original sources, Volume XII, trans Ralph Francis Kerr of the London Oratory (1912) reported:
"A priest of Casola wrote of him [Father Silvestro Landini] to Ignatius:
“When he, accompanied by five or six ecclesiastics to whom he had given the Exercises, went through the country, the people in the fields laid down implements of work, left their oxen, and came running up to them, sometimes ten, twenty, thirty at a time, begging them to hear their confessions.”
The town of Correggio had for more than twenty years been rent by feuds, two parties, a French and an Italian, were opposed ; on one occasion, within a short time five-and-forty men were slain, nothing was spoken of but murder and revenge, and men even came to church carrying weapons.
Landini by his preaching made an entire change; arms were flung away, and all—women, children, the aged—exclaimed, “Peace, peace.” With sobs and entreaties for forgiveness they fell into one another’s arms; some hundred went at the same time to the Sacraments.
In the Lunigiana the magistrate Baldassare Turiano wrote to Ignatius on 27th November 1547 begging that “Padre Silvestro” might not be sent elsewhere.
“ He makes peace between relatives, between neighbours, between communities; he induces runaway monks to return to their convent; he stirs men up to give means of subsistence to convents and to the poor ; he procures rules against profane swearing and for the reverent observance of Sunday ; he preaches in churches and public places, explains the Catechism, exhorts men to enter the religious life; he fasts daily, his food is a coarse bread of millet seed, his drink a little water. Great and small model their lives on his ; even if he were not to preach, his example alone would be a constant sermon.”
Six months later Raffaello Augustini reported from Fivizzano:
“Padre Landini has been with us for about three weeks. He imitates the Apostles and other saints of the primitive church, being ever occupied in prayer, preaching, penance, and works of charity. He is making great efforts to banish hence the plague of Lutheranism, which has forced its way from Lucca into the diocese of Luni.”
After some months’ work in Foligno, the Bishop of the see, the Benedictine, Isidoro Clario [1495ca-1555], gave his testimonial:
“We thought that an angel from heaven and not a human being was dwelling among us.” "
Like many of the Jesuits at this time, whereever he went he founded Companies of the Blessed Sacrament
In 1552 he was sent to Bastia in Corsica. At that time Corsica was a war zone being fought over by the French, the Genoese, the Turks, the Spanish and others. There were no resident bishops.
He was sent as Commissioner by the Pope Julius III. He only had two years there before he died. In that time he continued his mission on the island in the same he had conducted his mission on the mainland and was just as successful
In the lands he preached the problem was the religious state of the clergy and the people.
From the reports to his superiors, the picture emerges of a lower clergy impossible to distinguish, for costumes and ignorance, by the laity:
"I have not met a priest who knows the form [...] of the sacrament of the altar; [. ..] all day go into the forest to dig et gain sustenance for them his children et concubines "). The laity, then, ignored the most basic truths of the Christian faith (they did not know "how many of us were" and "questioned about the sign of the cross, a few did well").
These rural areas and small towns on the mainland and on the islands had all been but forgotten. He set about employing the techniques of the earlier friars and monks.
He called these areas "Indie di quaggiù" and "le sue Indie" - his Indes and the Indes down there, after the East and West Indes that the Spanish clergy and orders were on mission as their political masters colonised huge tracts of North, Central and South America.
In a letter to St Ignatius, Landini wrote of Corsica:
“Non ho mai provato terra, che sia più bisognosa delle cose dil Signore di questa. Vero è quello che me scrisse il P. Maestro Polanco, che questa isola sarà la mia India, meritoria quanto quella dil preste Giovanni, perché qua c’è grandissima ignoranza di Dio” [MHSI, Epistolae mixtae, exc variis Europae locis ab anno 1537 ad 1556 scriptae…, III (1553)]
Unlike the others who went off to convert what the Europeans saw as the pagans and barbarians in the Americas and Asia, he saw that Europe itself had almost all but lost the faith and could not and should not regard themselves as superior to the natives of faraway and other lands.
Courageously he set about tackling the problems at home in his own backyard of Lunigiana rather than appearing in places where he was not known and was anonymous
He dedicated himself completely to the visits. He had a direct relationship with the people. He preached his sermons in public places. He converted and administered the sacraments in person, promoted forms of charity and penance, reformed or founded from scratch convents and nunneries.
He was permeated by a strong ideal of the early Church. He promoted frequent (daily) reception of the Eucharist and regular Penance in the confessional. In his preaching he used the first week of the Spiritual Exercises to the faithful of entire villages and towns
See John Patrick Donnelly SJ`s Year by Year with the Early Jesuits (1537-1556): Selections from the Chronicon of Juan de Polanco, s.J (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2004) for an account by Polanco describing the events when Landini brought his mission to the town of Correggio:
(Polanco was secretary of the Society under three successive Fathers General (Ignatius, Lainez, and Borgia))