Lawyers have not fared very well in most English translations of the Bible. We find, for example, this denunciation in the Gospel of Luke: “Woe … to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.” (Luke 11: 46) (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition). This reference, however, is not directed at those known to us as civil and criminal lawyers. More accurate translations render the word “lawyers” in this and other biblical passages as “scholars of the law,” that is experts in the Mosaic law whom we know more familiarly as scribes. See the Catholic Study Bible (2d ed.) rendering of Luke 11:46, and its note on Luke 10:25. While the analogy is imperfect, these scribes may be compared to today’s canon lawyers, not to civil or criminal lawyers.

By contrast to the scribes, many notable saints began their careers as practicing civil lawyers, or were at least trained in the law. St. Thomas More is the most well-known of these lawyer saints, but there are many others. St. Ambrose, for example, was a well-known advocate in Milan well before he became bishop of that city. St. Alphonsus Ligouri had similar successes as a trial lawyer in Naples where he allegedly never lost a case in his first eight years of practice. Ligouri left the practice only after he made a fatal mistake with regard to the law that applied to the last case he tried, and which he consequently lost.

Other less well-known saints were also civil lawyers. St. Cajetan, the patron saint of the  unemployed, received a doctorate in civil and canon law from the University of Padua and worked as a papal diplomat for 10 years before he was ordained as a priest. St. Gregory Barbarigo of Venice was also the recipient of a doctorate in civil and canon law from the same university. The English martyr, St. Henry Walpole, was also a civil lawyer and attended University of Cambridge before he began studying law at the Inns of Court in London. Walpole converted to the Catholic faith, left England during the Elizabethan prosecutions of Catholics, and became a Jesuit priest. He was martyred when he returned to England, practicing the faith in a secret ministry to other Catholics.

In subsequent, individual posts, we will provide brief biographies of several of the leading Catholic saints who had practiced as lawyers or were trained in the law. We will begin later this week with St. Cajetan, who lived from 1480 to 1547. One of his more notable accomplishments was the founding of the Bank of Naples to help the poor by providing an alternative to loan sharks.




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