priest and scholar. Born at Alicata (Sicily) of a princely but devout family (four sisters became nuns and eventually his mother and father also joined religious houses), Joseph received a very good education and joined the Theatine Order, founded by St Cajetan, at the age of sixteen. Called to Rome in 1673, he was for some time a martyr to scrupulosity, and lived in quasi-solitude, devoted to prayer and study. Greek philosophy, the Bible, and the Liturgy were the special subjects of his study. He also learnt Hebrew and published texts of the Sacramentaries and the Psalter that demonstrate a skill which has impressed scholars since. In 1697 he worked for the Vatican and in 1704 was appointed theologian to the Congregation in charge of the religious Orders. He became confessor and director to Cardinal Albani, subsequently Pope Clement XI, who appointed him a cardinal soon afterwards.
Joseph continued his simple life when cardinal: his food was sparse, he went to choir with his community, and the only music he allowed at his Mass was plainsong, accompanied by the organ alone. In this baroque age people from all over Rome flocked to his Mass. He himself gave religious instruction to the children, and the poor continued to flock round him.
In late 1712 he prophesied his death and chose the spot for burial in his church. He celebrated Christmas for the last time in spite of illness and later delirium, and died on 1 January. Cures were accomplished round his death-bed and through the agency of his clothing. The popular cult was confirmed by his beatification in 1803. This ‘prince of liturgists’ was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1986. His blend of constant and exacting scholarship with a life of exemplary poverty and simplicity is indeed rare. Feast: 1 January.
Works in 11 volumes published in 1746–9 with selections published by Cardinal G. Mercati in Studi e Testi, xv (1905). Life by D. Bernino (1772) and anonymous one in 1803. B.L.S., i. 11–12.