Religion: Saintly Clown

Early one morning this week (351 years ago), a slight old man with skin like alabaster and a beard like carded wool sat on his bed, raised his blue eyes to heaven and died. Cardinals had sought his blessing, popes had humored his whims and solicited his advice. Yet Philip Neri was neither a mighty prince of the church nor a hair-shirt hermit of the desert. He was a saint.

Philip Neri, whose delight it was "to play the fool for the love of God," managed to be both saint and humorist—to what degree is made plain in...

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