Charles Buck Theological Dictionary
A name given by Christians to certain places of religious worship. In ecclesiastical antiquity, the term houses of prayer, or oratories, is frequently given to churches in general, of which there are innumerable instances in ancient Christian writers. But in some canons the name oratory seems confined to private chapels or places of worship set up for the convenience of private families, yet still depending on the parochial churches, and differing from them in this, that they were only places of prayer, but not for celebrating the communion; for if that were at any time allowed to private families, yet, at least, upon the great and solemn festivals, they were to resort for communion to the parish churches. Oratory is used among the Romanists for a closet, or little apartment near a bed-chamber, furnished with a little altar, crucifix, &c. for private devotion. Oratory, Priests of the. There were two congregations of religious, one in Italy, the other in France, which were called by his name. The Priests of the Oratory in Italy had for their founder, St. Phillip de Neri, a native of Florence, who, in the year 1548, founded at Rome the Confraternity of the Holy Trinity. This Society originally consisted of but fifteen poor persons, who assembled in the church of St. Saviour, in campo, every first Sunday in the month, to practise the exercises of piety described by the holy founder.
Afterwards their number increasing by the addition of several persons of distinction of the society, St. Philip proceeded to establish a hospital for the reception of poor pilgrims, who, coming to Rome to visit the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, were obliged, for want of a lodging, to lie in the streets, and at the doors of churches. For this charitable purpose, pope Paul IV. gave to the society the parochial church of St. Benedict, close by which was built a hospital, so large, that in the Jubilee year 1600, it received 444, 500 men, and 25, 500 women, who came in pilgrimage to Rome. The Priest of the Oratory in France were established on the model of those in Italy, and owe their rise to cardinal Berulle, a native of Champagne, who resolved upon this foundation in order to revive the splendour of the ecclesiastical state, which was greatly sunk through the miseries of the civil wars, the increase of heresies, and a general corruption of manners. To this end he assembled a community of ecclesiastics, in 1611, in the suburb of St. James. They obtained the king's letter patent for their establishment; and, in 1613, pope Paul V. approved this congregation, under the title of the Oratory of Jesus. This congregation consisted of two sorts of persons; the one, as it were, incorporated; the other only associates: the former governed the houses of this institute; the latter were only employed in forming themselves to the life and manners of ecclesiastics. And this was the true spirit of this congregation, in which they taught neither human learning nor theology, but only the virtues of the ecclesiastical life.
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Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Oratory'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/o/oratory.html. 1802.