Retreat with St. Anthony Zaccaria
Greetings in the LORD!
It is my pleasure to invite you to a retreat with St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria (1502-1539) with Fr. John Scalese, CRSP a barnabite. Originally the retreat was given at Fatima Shrine, NY in 2002. to the North American Province of the Barnabite Fathers.
Their scope is to familiarize a reader with the spirituality St. Anthony. These talks are being presented on the web for the first time. The retreat consists of 3 conferences;
- the first conference is entitled “The ‘Principle and Foundation’ of Zaccarian Spirituality:The Way of God;
- the second conference is entitled “The Basic Doctrine of Zaccarian Sermons: The ‘Due Order’ of the Spiritual Life,” and
- the third conference is entitled “The Zaccarian Charism: The Renewal of Christian Fervor.”
A Retreat with St. Anthony Zaccaria
DAY ONE: The "Principle and Foundation” of Zaccarian Spirituality: The Way of God
DAY TWO: The Basic Doctrine of Zaccarian Sermons: The "Due Order" of the Spiritual Life
DAY THREE: The Zaccarian Charism: The Renewal of Christian Fervor
It is not
easy to summarize the spirituality of St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria, for he left no
spiritual treatise. The scarcity of his writings does not allow for the
reconstruction of an organized body of doctrine. Nevertheless, we can form a
general outline of Zaccarian spirituality from the few writings available to us.
I will consider only certain aspects that I think are particularly significant,
without pretending to be exhaustive. I invite you to ponder three points of
Zaccarian teaching: the “way of God,” the “due order” of spiritual life, and
“lukewarmness and fervor.”
You might be perplexed because these themes seem
to diverge from the traditional presentation of Anthony Mary’s spirituality—Jesus
Crucified, the Eucharist, etc. I do not intend to question this common
perception, which is founded on a strong oral tradition. Rather, I want to
limit myself to Anthony Mary’s writings, while acknowledging the possibility of
other equally valid approaches to his spirituality
The Principle and Foundation
point I will reflect upon is the “principle and foundation” of Zaccarian
spirituality, which is taken from St. Ignatius of Loyola. At the beginning of
his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius states man’s purpose: “Man is created to
praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by these means to save his soul.
The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him to
attain the end for which he is created” (Chicago, 1951, 12).
All of the Spiritual
Exercises are founded on this statement. Before making any other observation, I
will recall that it is advisable to first establish the destination one aims to
reach. When one begins a journey, he must know where he is going. Anthony Mary
opens his Sermon VI with a succinct statement of the reason for man’s
existence: “Man has been created and placed on this earth chiefly and
exclusively in order to reach God; the rest of creation helps him to reach that
goal.” In this concise expression, Anthony Mary is simply rephrasing the more
elaborate statement of St. Ignatius. The end of man is to go to God. In fact,
the spiritual life itself is a “going to God.”
goal is to go to God, it follows that the Christian life is the “way of God,”
and thus also the way to God. It is
not mere chance that the title of Sermon VI is “Concerning one of the causes of
negligence and tepidity in man’s walking toward God [literally, ‘on the way of
the second part of this Sermon deals
with one of the three causes of lukewarmness, which is the greatest obstacle
that hinders man from “going to God.” To
remedy these causes of lukewarmenss Anthony Mary presents Christian life as simply
the “way of God” in the first part of the sermon. This expression, along with
the parallel one of “going to God,” recurs frequently in Zaccarian writings. It
is certainly not original, for it belongs to the Semitic language of both the
Old and New Testament. It comes from the nomadic origins of the people of
Israel and describes man’s life as a “walking toward God.” Anthony Mary
probably took the expression from his spiritual father, Fra Battista da Crema,
In the opening sentence of Sermon VI Anthony Mary does not limit himself to stating that man has to reach God. He also adds, “the rest of creation helps him to reach that goal.” Not only does he state that God is the end of man, but also that creatures, “the rest of creation:, (literally, ‘the other things’) are a means (exactly the “way”) which man can and must use to reach God. Toward the middle of the first part of the sermon, it is stated explicitly that creatures are the way for man to go to God: “Conclude, then, that God has made everything for man and man for God. Thus created things (literally, ‘the sensible creatures’) are to be a way for man to reach God, the Lord.” So, one can speak of a “way of creatures”, because they are the means chosen by God to help man to reach him.
Creatures are the means for man to approach God on two levels: on a cognitive level and on a moral one. This twofold approach to God is founded on a distinction between knowledge and service. One finds this distinction at the beginning of Sermon VI where Anthony Mary writes: “You see that some of them [i.e. creatures] come to the aid of man, namely to be at his disposal, to minister to him, and to enhance his good health. This does not exhaust the purpose of created things. They are, indeed, of much greater usefulness to man for his knowledge than for his bodily services (literally, ‘to be used’).”
The Theological Level: the Two Books
As for the cognitive or theological level, Anthony Mary follows the Pauline teaching, “Ever since the creation of the world, his [i.e. God's] invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” (Rom 1:20) Anthony Mary says, “The invisible things are known through the visible ones.” On this subject he uses the traditional metaphor of the “two books”: “Before man sinned, created things were for him like a Book, a Book written in beautiful, alive, well shaped, and clearly delineated letters which he should read in order to reach God. But after he sinned, those letters became somewhat distorted and obscure. To be sure, they were by no means erased, but became all faded, hard to read, and almost impossible to see.” So Anthony Mary declares the possibility for man to know God with certainty from his works, by the natural light of human reason. At the same time, he acknowledges the difficulty for human reason in coming to know God through the Book of Creation, after man’s sin. Therefore, it was necessary to write another book, "Seeing that man could hardly read that Book and was therefore unable to come to know him in all truth and often misinterpreted things altogether, God, who does not brood over our malice, intervened. And what do you think he did? In his goodness he wrote another Book, the Book of Scripture, in which he restored the first one by putting into it all that was good in created things. By showing what is perfect, he taught us how to withdraw from what is imperfect; and by pointing out the necessary things, he eliminated the superfluous ones." Since the natural revelation was insufficient, a supernatural revelation was necessary.
The Moral Level: the Two Ways
Now, let us pass from this level to the moral, spiritual one, where creatures, which were a book to read in order to know God, become a way to walk in order to reach God. Man has to use creatures to unite himself to God. Anthony Mary resorts to several arguments to show this teaching.
First of all, God has always revealed himself to man "under some outward sign ... God, of course, acted in this way so that through these creatures, which are of our own nature and are always visible to us, we could more easily go to him and more often keep him in mind."
Among creatures, man takes a special place, "In his goodness God has not been satisfied by purely sensible things. In addition, he has wanted a rational creature—composed of senses and intelligence, body and spirit, that is, man—to help man. In Sermon VI also, Anthony Mary had maintained that man has to pass through man to approach his Creator, "Any time man wished to move toward God, it was, as is still now, necessary for him to go through another man … God made your neighbor the road (literally, ‘the means’) to reach His Majesty.”
However, the most convincing proof to demonstrate that, for man, creatures are a way to God who is the mystery of incarnation, “He, who is eternity itself, light, incorruptibility, and the very apex of all perfection, willed to come to live in time and to descend into darkness and corruption and, as it were, into the very sink of vice. O infinite goodness, unfathomable love, God became man! And why? To lead man back to God, to teach him the way and give him light.”
Anthony Mary adds other evidences, taken from experience, to these arguments. These suffice for this purpose. Remember that the “way of creatures” corresponds in traditional theology to the via affirmationis or via causalitatis. This way is the basis of cataphatic theology, which underlines the immanence of God in the world and the continuity between Creator and creatures.
On a moral level, things are not as easy as one thinks. If, on the theological level, the letters of the Book of Creation "became somewhat distorted and obscure" after original sin, on the moral level creatures are to be considered "a snare to the feet of the foolish." They are—it would seem constitutionally, intrinsically—ambiguous. On the cognitive level creatures had become illegible after man's sin. Here they are created by God as a snare for man; literally, as a trap door a "Italian, trabucchello", a "Italian, trabocchetto." If this is how things stand, what can man do? “Choose, then, what is good and leave out what is bad.... Draw near to the perfection of creatures and withdraw from their imperfection." From here springs forth the necessity of another way, the "way of separation". According to this way, "if one wants to be good and perfect... one has to separate and withdraw from all creatures, from oneself and from all defects."
Here Anthony Mary's language becomes surprisingly hard. After stating that creatures are a way for man to reach God, he now uses very strong and harsh expressions such as, "It is necessary for man to head towards God's love, hating all creatures and everything else" (translated by Fr. Frank Papa, CRSP).
One must not be astonished at such harsh language. Anthony Mary is passing from a theological language to a spiritual one. Radical expressions like "hating" originate from the Gospel. For this reason they can legitimately be used. But they cannot be taken literally; they are to be correctly interpreted (The Jerusalem Bible states that “hating” is a Hebraism: an emphatic way of expressing a total detachment).
The following Scriptural exemple shows that in this life, even from a purely anthropological point of view, it is necessary to choose: it is not possible to have everything and its opposite at the same time. To get to the Promised Land, the Israelites had to leave Egypt; to get the manna, they were first forced to consume all the flour; to enter the wedding banquet, guests would have had to leave their wives, oxen and estates; Abraham had to leave his country; the Apostles received the Holy Spirit only after giving up the physical presence of Jesus. In the same way, if one wants to go to God, one has to withdraw from creatures (as well as from oneself and from one’s vices). The "way of separation" corresponds to the via negationis or via remotionis in traditional theology. Apophatic theology is founded on this way, which stresses the juxtaposition between what is divine and what is human, the transcendence of God in comparison with the world, the irreducibleness of Creator to creation. Anthony Mary states clearly that, "What is finite cannot claim to be the same as the infinite; nor can darkness claim to be the same as light; nor can what is changeable be the same as the unchangeable, etc." (Sermon VI)
A Settlement of the Two Ways
Thus, there are two ways to reach God, the “way of creatures” and the “way of separation.” These two parallel ways seem to contradict and exclude each other: is it possible to reconcile them? The Catechism of the Catholic Church responds that “Faith in God, the only One, leads us to use everything that is not God only insofar as it brings us closer to Him, and to detach ourselves from it insofar as it turns us away from him: ‘My Lord and my God, take from me everything that distances me from you. My Lord and my God, give me everything that brings me closer to you. My Lord and my God, detach me from myself to give my all to you’ (St. Nicholas of Fláe)” (n. 226). This provides a clear and profound answer to the question. However, it could be misinterpreted: one could think that there are some good things which bring us near to God and other bad ones which take us away from him; or that there is in things themselves a good side and a bad side with the same effects. You see, there is a danger of falling into Manicheism.
It seems to me that Anthony Mary deals with this question more thoroughly, giving a more rigorous solution to it. He works out this problem at the end of the first part of the sermon, “Conclude, then, that all things have been made and have been given you in order that you may reach God. This you must do by the “Way of Separation” and removal of yourselves from things, accepting, on the one hand, their ‘use’ and their ‘fruit’ (In Italian, l'uso e il frutto), and renouncing, on the other hand, any attachment (In Italian, l'affetto) to them." Therefore, one can (and must) enjoy creatures and must use them in order to approach God, but one cannot become attached to them. Affection is to be turned only to God, who is the goal of man. Creatures are only a means: one can use them, but one cannot attach himself to them. Becoming attached to creatures would mean turning away from God, and that would prevent man from pursuing the end for which is the end for which he has been created. And so he would be prevented from realizing himself.
Chiefly and Exclusively
One may wonder if Anthony Mary has a preference for one of the two ways. At the beginning of Sermon VI, he had said, "Man has been created and placed on this earth chiefly and exclusively in order to reach God." In the adverb "chiefly" one finds an echo of the "Way of Creatures" in which God is the main end of man, and which does not exclude the existence of secondary and subordinate ends. The adverb "exclusively" reflects the "Way of Separation." In this way God turns out to be the only end of man, compared with which every other reality looks insignificant. Anthony Mary subsequently asks, "How, then, can you deny having been made exclusively for God?" The adverb "chiefly" has disappeared; only "exclusively" has remained. With that question Anthony Mary reveals his preference for the "Way of Separation". He belongs to the "apophatic theology" also known as Negative theology or Via Negativa (Lat., for "Negative Way.”)
In traditional theology, besides the two opposite ways of Via Affirmationis ( Lat., Way of Affirmation) and Via Negationis, there was a third way, the Via Eminentiae (Lat., ‘The way of Eminence’) or Via Analogiae (Lat., ‘The Way of Propotion’). Anthony Mary also refers to this third way in Sermon VI when he says, "God is neither this nor that, but something far more excellent. God is not prudent; he is prudence itself. God is not a particular and limited good; he is the universal and infinite good. God is not just one perfection; he is perfection itself without any imperfection. He is the All-good, the All-wise, the All-powerful, the All-perfect, etc." In this case, too, the Via Eminentiae, which belongs to the theological level, has a corresponding way on the moral level. Anthony Mary does not speak about it explicitly in Sermon VI, but in Sermon V he calls it the "Middle Way."
"O the wonder of the stupendous art of God manifested in everything he does! Such is man that by the power of his free will he can change evil into good. It was Paul who told you that 'all things work together for the good of those who, according to God's purpose, are saints through his call.' (Rom 8:28) And it was he who said that one has to follow a middle course and, according to the Proverb saying, not to swerve to the right or to the left (Prov 4:27); as he also said, 'Walk with the weapons of righteousness for the right and for the left, in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute, as impostors and yet truthful, as unknown and yet well known, etc.’” (2 Cor 6:7-9)
This last quotation recurs several times in Anthony Mary’s writings. One finds it also in Sermon VI, “Walk toward God in absolute freedom, and do not attach yourselves to anything whatsoever; but run toward him ‘in ill repute and good repute,’ being ‘genuine and yet regarded as impostors,’ (2 Cor 6:8) experiencing plenty or penury, ’cold and exposure’ (2 Cor 11:27).” This quotation is a sign that there is also a reference to the "Middle Way" in Sermon VI. Another piece of evidence that in both cases Anthony Mary is speaking of the "Middle Way" is in the verbs he uses to introduce the Pauline quotation, "Walk with the weapons of righteousness ..." in Sermon V; and "Run toward [God] ..." in Sermon VI. Both verbs are lacking in Paul’s original text; but it is significant that in both cases they are verbs of action. The reason for it is that, it is necessary to follow a way.
What does the "Way of Middle Course" entail? It corresponds practically to the “indifference” about which Saint Ignatius speaks in the “principle and foundation” of his Spiritual Exercises: “It is necessary to make oneself indifferent to all created things ... so that one does not desire health rather than illness, wealth rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long life rather than a short one, and so in all the rest, desiring and choosing only what can lead him to the end for which he has been created.” In Christian life it is not important to be healthy or ill to reach God; it is not important to be rich or poor, to be successful or despised. God is neither in health nor in illness, neither in wealth nor in poverty, neither in honor nor in dishonor. Well then, where is God? He is in the middle. One has to walk the “Middle Way” to find and reach God.
This is not a strange teaching of some strange spiritual author. This doctrine is directly derived from the Gospel. Practically, it coincides with the doctrine of spiritual poverty of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:3). Spiritual poverty consists of an absolute detachment from everything: not only from wealth, but also even from poverty itself. The fruit of such indifference is a total freedom. The Christian is a completely free man because he knows that everything is relative and only God is absolute. The Christian can use creatures with absolute freedom, because he knows they are only a means with respect to God, who is the only end. As soon as the Christian discovers his only goal, he begins to focus on it with all his might, unmindful of the rest, realizing that everything is useful and nothing is indispensable. As Saint Teresa says, “God alone is enough.” Therefore, “Walk toward God in absolute freedom — Va’ libero a Dio.” (Lat., ‘Go free to God’)
DAY TWO: THE BASIC DOCTRINE OF ZACCARIAN SERMONS: THE "DUE ORDER" OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
In the first conference I dealt with the "principle and foundation of Zaccarian spirituality: the way of God." In this second conference I will reflect upon the doctrine which is at the root of the Sermons: the "due order" of the spiritual life. I find this expression in the general conclusion of Sermon I, "The cause of our poor progress is … because we do not follow the due order" (transl. Fr. Frank Papa, CRSP). This locution summarizes the meaning of the Sermon well and in a way it expresses the spiritual doctrine which all the Sermons presuppose.
One should remember that Anthony Mary's Sermons are, catechesis on the Decalogue. They were addressed to the Amicizia (Friendship), an Oratory, in Cremona. This group was composed of noble laymen, married, and with children. Their purpose was to search for perfection in the Christian life: "You may rest assured that God, in His infinite goodness, has gathered us here above all for our salvation and for our souls' spiritual progress; and this group to which we belong, is not to be thought of as something yielding just a little profit" (Sermon I); "Hereby, then, you come to understand that before you walk and advance on the way of perfection (such as our N. has in view) ... " (ibid.); "[The spiritual life] is the state to which you are led, and called, and invited by these meetings in our A." (Sermon II). It would seem odd that Anthony Mary addresses a series of sermons about the Commandments to such people. At that time the observance of the Commandments was attributed to simple Christians, who, at most, could aspire to "save their souls." Whereas "perfection" was considered their prerogative of a few privileged people, Anthony Mary does not share this spirituality at all. According to him, all Christians are called to holiness and all Christians have to keep the Commandments. Moreover, he explains to his listeners that, if they make scant progress in their spiritual life (Sermon I), if they are unable to obtain the composure of their minds (Sermon II), if they have the feeling that God is unfaithful to his promises (Sermon III), there is one reason for all of this: it is because they do not yet observe the Commandments faithfully.
The Due Order of the Spiritual Life
In the spiritual life there is an order that cannot be disregarded. "The cause, then, of our scant gains is not God, nor the law, nor our supposed incapability to make progress; we are at fault because we do not follow the proper order (literally, the 'due order') of the spiritual life and because we want to be teachers before being disciples." (Sermon I)
This due order of the spiritual life consists of two states which must be lived in their natural succession. In Sermon I such states are presented in various ways; a) "It is imperative for you, my dear friends, to keep the old law first, if you wish to keep the law of Christ;" b) "Keeping of the Commandments must precede the following of Christ." "Before you walk and advance on the way of perfection ... you must first keep the ten Commandments;" and c) "We want to be teachers before being disciples." "Let us first strive to keep God's commandments, and then we will reach the liberty of spirit." And in the Appendix to the same Sermon, addressed to nuns, we find, "You do not observe your religious rule because you have not yet begun to keep the old law."
To illustrate this doctrine, Anthony Mary uses three metaphors in Sermon I (he will take the same ones again in Sermon II), "Why did those inhabitants of Sodom not enter Lot's house? Because they were utterly unable to reach the doorway. Why don't you succeed in reaching the loft? Because you don't go up the staircase ... Since you have not laid the foundation, neither can you build the edifice.”
As a rule, they dwell especially on the second image, the staircase. More often than not, the staircase is interpreted, emphasizing the steps it consists of. This is a legitimate interpretation because it is suggested by Anthony Mary himself, "If a man wishes to reach God, he must proceed by steps. And so, he must go up from the first step to the second one, and from this one to the third one, and so on. He cannot, of course, begin from the second step, jumping over the first one, for his legs, as well as his steps, are too short" (Sermon II). We are in the presence of the enunciation of the so-called "principle of gradualness", which is certainly an important aspect of Zaccarian spirituality. At other times, Anthony Mary uses other verbs to express the same idea: to grow, to advance, to ascend, to pass from virtue to virtue, etc.
Here, this interpretation does not adapt well to the context. Here, what is important are not the steps but the staircase itself as a means to reach the loft, as a door is a means to enter the house and a foundation is a necessary condition for building the edifice. These are metaphors used to explain that in order to reach perfection, it is necessary to pass through the observance of the Commandments.
Patristic Foundation of this Doctrine
The doctrine, the due order of the spiritual life, follows the Patristic teaching about the relation between the Old and the New Testament. On this subject Saint Ambrose says, "Quench your thirst first from the Old Testament, to be able then to drink from the New. If you do not drink from the first one, you cannot drink from the second one ... Drink this word, but drink it in the order in which it proceeds: first in the Old Testament and then in the New" (Commentary on Psalms, 1, 33).
The Control of the Senses
In Sermon II one meets the same doctrine again, but with a different nuance. The necessity of keeping the Commandments before undertaking the way of perfection remains. It is presupposed by all the Sermons. But here, stress is laid upon the control of the senses, mainly of the tongue.
Let us remember that Sermon II is about the Second Commandment, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." On this subject, Anthony Mary speaks of the "tribute of the mouth" (Sermon III), and, to introduce the second Commandment, in the initial part of Sermon II, he deals first with the "true nature of spiritual life." He then highlights the tongue's role in the spiritual life of a Christian.
Since "true spiritual life consists in this: that man should keep his eyes on God all the time, long for nothing but God, begin every single action in the Lord's name, and direct it to him: in short, that he unify his whole being—mind, will, memory, senses, and actions—in God." Anthony Mary wants to respond to the problem of why we cannot
concentrate on God. Here is his answer, "That which cause us to be imperfect and unable to obtain the composure of our mind are our tongue and our failure to keep the Second Commandment." And here is the solution to the problem, "Do you wish, my friends, to put your spirit in order? Do you want your soul to abide in God and experience nothing other than God? Begin controlling your feelings, for death enters through the windows."
In this case, too, it is necessary to keep an order. Taking again the metaphors used in Sermon I, Anthony Mary states, "I am much afraid that we are not of those few [who receive the prize] because, as I have said before, we do not enter the door. Namely, we do not start with the first step and do not go on gradually."
At the end of Sermon II, Anthony Mary uses another beautiful metaphor, “Conclude, then, and say: I want to live according to the spirit; I want to become one spirit with God; I want my citizenship to be in heaven. I want to have God in my heart always, and indeed I can have Him—difficult as it may be. Therefore... I will prepare my heart for God in all truth, in all simplicity, and in all sincerity. May He dwell in my heart forever through His grace and make it His temple." In this case the condition to aspire to the divine inhabitation is the preparation of one's own heart (praeparatio cordis): if we want God to come to dwell in our heart, we must first be in the mood to welcome him.
Man's Part in the Work of His Own Sanctification
What does the observance of the Commandments have in common with the control of the senses? Both of these involve the part man must play in the work of his sanctification. One cannot deceive oneself that holiness is granted to man without asking anything of him to deserve it. To be sure, Christian perfection is not the result of a purely human effort. It is, first and foremost, a free gift of God; but at the same time it is to be deserved. It could seem that, with this teaching, Anthony Mary falls away from the Pauline doctrine of the absolute gratuitousness of grace and the uselessness of law, "A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ" (Gal 2:16); "All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus" (Rom 3:23-24).
Actually, if we limit ourselves to these texts— as at that same time Luther did— Anthony Mary's teaching could appear more "Judaizing" or "Pelagian" than Pauline. One must not forget that the Apostle's teaching and the New Testament revelation are not exhausted by just those texts. Anthony Mary— who had a complete Catholic vision of revelation, and read Paul in the light of tradition—gave a very balanced interpretation, which was later taken up and dogmatically defined by the Council of Trent (1545-1563). According to this interpretation, the totally free initiative of God does not exclude, but rather requires, man's cooperation.
Justification and Sanctification
Anthony Mary elucidates his thinking on this subject in Sermon III. This sermon deals with the necessity of "recognition", "acknowledgement", and "gratitude" in order to pursue Christian perfection. St. Anthony Mary writes "You do not want to acknowledge Him; you do not want to pay Him the promised tribute; you do not want to give Him the due honor of keeping the Sabbath holy, as the third commandment enjoins. Neither, then, will He give you what He has promised you, nor will He grant you perfection and that particular knowledge of both His goodness and your own wretchedness, nor the capacity for accepting and fulfilling the evangelical counsels."
Here, man's part is strongly stressed; the relation between God and man is described as a reciprocal trading and is called in Latin, do ut des (i.e., I give that you may give): you do not do your duty; God does not give you perfection; you do not keep your promises; God does not keep His.
Afterwards, Anthony Mary explains such surprising behavior on the part of God. He introduces a distinction of prime importance in Christian life: a) a first instant—with Paul, it can be called "justification"—which is totally free and presupposes no merit in man; and b) a second instance—with the Council of Trent one can call it "acceptae iustificationis incrementum" (i.e., the increase of justification, once it has been received)—which not only allows, but also demands cooperation from man.
Anthony Mary states: "Do you know the reason [why God deals with us this way]? It is because, though in His goodness and in spite of us—unfaithful and insincere servants, even His enemies—He gives us so many good things; nevertheless, He is unwilling to give the gift of perfection, the tasting of His sweetness, and the knowledge of His secrets, except to His friends and faithful disciples" (Sermon III). This is one of the finest and the most profound pages of Anthony Mary's writings. The grace of God comes to meet us while we are yet sinners ("unfaithful and insincere servants ... enemies"); it asks us for nothing, but only to be accepted. Man can do nothing to gain it. It is a totally free gift of God. To give us His grace, God does not wait for us to become His friends, because we become His friends through His grace. However, once we have been justified without any merit on our part, the increase of grace depends on us, on our correspondence, on our cooperation. Perfection, holiness, union with God are not given indiscriminately to everybody, but only to those who deserve them by remaining faithful, by keeping the Commandments, by doing good works, by undergoing ascetical exercise, and by persevering to the end ("friends and faithful disciples").
Catholicity of this Teaching
A similar doctrine occurs in Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, "The forgiveness of sins is given to everybody equally. On the contrary, a share in the Holy Spirit is granted in proportion to the faith of each one" (Catechesis, I, 6).
The same teaching is found in the Council of Trent. The Decree on Justification states: "Men, then, so justified and having become friends and relations of God (Eph 2:19), going from virtue to virtue (Ps 83:8), are renewed, the Apostle says, day by day (2 Cor 4:16), that is, mortifying the members of their bodies (Col 3:5) and presenting them as weapons of righteousness for sanctification (Rom 6:13,19), through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, they grow in the same righteousness received through the grace of Christ because faith cooperates with good works, and so they become more and more righteous. As it is written, 'The righteous must still do right' (Rev 22:11), and moreover, 'Wait not to fulfill your vows when you are dying' (Sir 18:22), and again, 'See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone' (Jas 2:24). The holy Church asks for this increase of righteousness when she prays, 'Increase in us, Lord, faith, hope, and charity'" (Chapter X, session The Sixth, 1547);
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also presents the same doctrine, “Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life" (n. 2010).
Scant Diffusion of this Doctrine
Thus the Church's teaching on this subject is clear, but it seems that it has not yet diffused enough in the common sensibility of Christians. Catechesis, preaching, and spirituality have not handed on this doctrine. Many faithful remain "Pelagians", because they think that we are justified through our good works; but at the same time they turn themselves into "Lutherans", when they expect to become holy without making any effort for this.
Anthony Mary can help us rediscover a doctrine so important for our Christian life. It is a specific teaching of his and one not developed by other great spiritual authors. Unfortunately, not even we know and appreciate it enough.
The Evangelical Derivation of this Teaching
Earlier the evangelical derivation of the "Middle Way" doctrine was highlighted. Here I want to stress that the "due order" doctrine is also the development of an evangelical teaching. Anthony Mary, immediately after the last text cited, quotes a sentence from the Gospel of John, "I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father" (Jn 15:15). We have become friends, because He wanted it: it is a gift of His. In the same Gospel, however, Jesus tells us that to be His friend, it is necessary to keep His commandments, "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (Jn 15:14). Being friends of Jesus means loving Him, and loving Him is the condition for enjoying His presence, "Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him" (Jn 14:21). "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him" (Jn 14:23).
DAY THREE: THE ZACCARIAN CHARISM: THE RENEWAL OF CHRISTIAN FERVOR
The Charism of the Founder
The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life stated, "It is for the good of the Church that institutes have their own proper characters and functions. Therefore, the spirit and aims of each founder should be faithfully accepted and retained, as indeed should each institute's sound traditions, for all these constitute the patrimony of an institute" (Perfectae Caritatis, 2b). This motivated a search for the Barnabite Fathers’ charism, more or less successfully, through a series of discussions, studies, and reflections. However, since a religious institute’s charism is but the heritage bequeathed by the founder to his sons, I felt the need to know the charism of our Founder, St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria better. On this subject the document Mutuae Relationes (Directives for the Mutual Relations Between Bishops and Religious in the Church, 1978) says, "The very charism of the Founders appears as an experience of the Spirit, transmitted to their disciples to be lived, safeguarded, deepened and constantly developed by them, in harmony with the Body of Christ continually in the process of growth" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 11). At this point, too, let us define the charism of Anthony Mary.
The "Pauline Charism" and the "Charism of Reform"
Until now, there have been two main results of this research. The first one is found in the General Chapter of the Barnabite Fathers. Its first deliberation mentions "the Apostle Paul's charism that our holy Founder made his own." Actually, in the sixteenth century, Anthony Mary embodied the same spirit as Saint Paul. The Apostle was a constant landmark for him: he was his inspirer, model, and patron. If it were not irreverent, one could say, using a very topical expression, that Anthony Mary was a "clone" of Paul.
The Ratio Barnabitica, (Barnabite Fathers’ document on formation) for its part, speaks of a "charism of reform". To be sure, the main purpose of the Founder of the Barnabite Fathers and the Angelic Sisters and his disciples was the reform of the Church and society of their time. Anthony Mary was one of the most important representatives of the Catholic Reformation. The Most Reverend Bishop Erba has very appropriately entitled his biography of the Saint Il Riformatore (The Reformer). This expression indeed summarizes all of Anthony Mary’s work.
The Specific Charism of Anthony Mary
These two presentations of Anthony Mary's charism are surely true, but they associate him with others. The "Pauline charism" stresses his dependence upon the Apostle; and the "charism of reform" highlights his participation, along with several other saints, in the Catholic Reformation.
But one might wonder whether there is anything specific to Anthony Mary, anything that characterizes him and distinguishes him from the other saints, even from Paul and from the other Church's reformers of the sixteenth century. A search of the Zaccarian writings for the theme that is most frequently found in them reveals that there is one recurring topic in Anthony Mary's spirituality, even though it can be considered from two points of view, a negative one and a positive one. In essence, at the heart of the work of Anthony Mary, there is the struggle against lukewarmness and the need to spread fervor.
The Struggle against Lukewarmness
The Barnabite Fathers’ Founder speaks of lukewarmness in many parts of his writings. In Letter II he singles out irresoluteness as the cause and effect of lukewarmness. In Letter V he entrusts to the Angelics the mission of "routing out the most pernicious and greatest enemy of Christ Crucified, which is nowadays triumphing almost everywhere—I mean, Lady Tepidity." In Letter XI he expresses to Mr. and Mrs. Omodei his desire that they may "not fall victims to lukewarmness."
Anthony Mary dedicates the whole of the sixth sermon to tepidity. As a matter of fact, there should have been three sermons on this subject, concerning the three causes of negligence and tepidity in man's walking toward God. However, Anthony Mary limited himself to treating only one of the three causes: the distinction between precepts and counsels. The other two, according to the Interior Mirror of Fra Battista da Crema, would be the distinction between mortal sin and venial sin and the lack of self-confidence in persevering in the pursuit of holiness.
Lukewarmness is mentioned in chapter IX of the Constitutions (in which one of the topics of the spiritual meetings is “the causes of spiritual fervor or of lukewarmness"). This is treated in detail in the chapters devoted to the deterioration of morals and their reform (chapters XVI, XVII, and XVIII). In these chapters, lukewarmness is identified with the slackening of religious life: the signs of the deterioration of morals are all signs of tepidity.
What Does Lukewarmness Do?
What does lukewarmness consist of? Here is a detailed description of the lukewarm in Letter XI, "Having left his old ways, he does not commit big sins any longer, but takes pleasure in little ones; and does not feel remorse for them. For instance, he stops blaspheming and insulting his neighbor, but he attaches no importance to getting somewhat upset and to insisting on his own opinion rather than to giving in to his opponent. Speaking evil of others is no longer a bad habit of his, but indulging quite often in vain and useless chatting during the day is not much of a sin to him. He got rid of eating too much and drinking excessively, as drunkards do, but he enjoys snacking here and there, between meals, without necessity. The vicious habits of the flesh are a thing of the past for him, but he takes delight in conversations and entertainments that are not so clean. He loves to spend hours in prayer, but during the rest of the day his spirit wanders aimlessly. He no longer seeks honors, but if they are given him, he gloats over them. Be sure to conclude that the lukewarm person works at getting rid of serious sins, but allows himself to commit little ones. He eliminates all illicit things, but desires everything that is considered licit. He refrains from sensual actions, but he takes pleasure in visual sensualities. He wants to do good, but only within certain limits. He controls himself but not totally. I am not saying that he should accomplish all this in the twinkling of an eye and in a short time, but neither should he do it by fits and starts and over a long time."
There is an expression, which is continually found on the tongues of the lukewarm, namely "That's enough!" "This is enough for me—that I save my soul by keeping the commandments. That's enough, and I don't care a bit for all this talking about great holiness!" (Sermon VI) "What good is it to go to confession so often? As for me, once a year is enough" (ibid.); It is enough for me to honor God thus far" (Constitutions, XII); "It's enough to do this, why bother about such high perfection?" (ibid. XVII) The lukewarm is he who wants to set bounds to perfection. He not only limits his action, but also he ends by limiting the work of God himself.
The Renewal of Christian Fervor
The concern for fervor recurs equally frequently in Zaccarian writings. In Letter II Anthony Mary reminds us that "those who truly love Christ have always been, to our shame, fervent, diligent, and not sluggish." In Letter V he expresses his desire to the Angelics. "May I find that some of you have acquired such stability and fervent perseverance in spiritual matters that you will never again be victim to a will that fluctuates between fervor and tepidity, but rather will enjoy a steady and holy fervor, nourished by life giving water and enriched by new vigor." In Sermon VI, after showing that man's vocation consists in "going to God", he adds, "To do this you need a great fervor, so that you may withdraw from everything, and most of all from yourselves and from what is natural to you, namely, your bad habits."
In chapter XII of the Constitutions, Anthony Mary tells the master "to teach the novices not only to keep their novitiate fervor, but also how to increase it, by reminding them that 'not to go forward is to go backward.'" In this chapter Anthony Mary makes a careful distinction between "fury" and "fervor". Until now the word "fervor," is read in both cases, but the new critical edition of the Zaccarian writings shows that Anthony Mary used two different words: fury and fervor. "Fury", namely "exterior devotion", may or may not be there; what is important is that there is always "fervor", that is "true devotion". "Fury" is in the feelings; "fervor" is in the will.
In chapter XVII of the Constitutions, the fervent are those who do not resign themselves to the deterioration of morals and are ready to promote reform, "But you, the ones who claim to be fervent, please, do not commit such an injustice, that is, to fatten God's enemies with Christ's patrimony! ... But you who do want to be fervent, avoid taking part in their corrupt lukewarmness." In chapter XVIII, the picture of reformer coincides with that of the fervent.
What Does the Fervent Do?
The most complete description of the fervent is also found in Letter XI, "Anyone willing to become a spiritual person begins a series of surgical operations on his soul. One day he removes this, another day he removes that, and he relentlessly proceeds until he lays aside his old self. Let me explain. First of all, he eliminates offensive words, then useless ones, and finally speaks of nothing else but of edifying things. He eradicates angry words and gestures and finally adopts meek and humble manners. He shuns honors and, when they are given to him, not only is he not interiorly pleased, but he also welcomes insults and humiliations and even rejoices in them. He not only knows how to abstain from the marital act, but, aiming at increasing in himself the beauty and merits of chastity, he also renounces anything smacking of sensuality. He is not content to spend one or two hours in prayer but loves to raise his mind to Christ frequently."
At the end of Fr. Scalese’s presentation of Anthony Mary's figure and spirituality, with regard to this subject of lukewarmness and fervor, a person came out with this remark, "It is a weak topic."
Actually, the first reaction one has when one meets Saint Anthony Mary’s spirituality for the first time is the sensation that he dealt with the details of Christian life. At mst, one is willing to allow him—who was a saint—to attend to such trifles, but who cannot waste one’s time with them. One has to worry about more urgent things: that people may believe in God; that they may not commit sins that are too grave sins; that they may keep the commandments; and so on. If one stops a moment to reflect, one realizes that this mentality is exactly the lukewarm's as it is described by Anthony Mary, "That is enough for me—that I save my soul by keeping the commandments. That is enough, and I don't care a bit for all this talking about great holiness!" St. Anthony Mary fought against lukewarmness, because he was persuaded that it is the worst harm for a Christian. It is "the most pernicious and greatest enemy of Christ Crucified."
Biblical Foundation of this Doctrine
This conviction was derived by the Barnabite Fathers’ Founder from an assiduous meditation of Sacred Scripture. If one search, for our themes—lukewarmness and fervor—in the Bible, one might remain disappointed. Only once does it mention tepidity, in the Book of Revelation, "I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit (literally, vomit) you out of my mouth" (Rev 3:15-16). This text alone should be enough to persuade one of the seriousness of tepidity. However, since it is only one text, one might think that it is really a question of secondary importance.
Parallelism between the Lukewarm and the Pharisee
If one reads Anthony Mary's writings attentively, one realizes that the being lukewarm is identified with the Pharisee. This surprising parallelism is found in Letter XI, "If you let lukewarmness ensnare you, your life in the spirit will be overcome by the flesh. And—to use the proper word—you will be Pharisees rather than Christians and spiritual persons." Anthony Mary dwells on this comparison twice, "Now, here is how the lukewarm—the Pharisee—behaves, "and then, after a description of a lukewarm individual, he remarks, "Be sure to conclude that the Pharisee or lukewarm person works at getting rid of serious sins, etc. "If we think that, as we read the Gospel, Jesus rails only at the Pharisees, we can realize that we are in the presence of a very serious attitude. Jesus does not pick on sinners: he has come to save them. But he gives no rest to the Pharisees, because they oppose him. They prevent grace from fulfilling its work. The same can be said about lukewarm individuals. With their attitude, they set bounds to the work of grace.
Moreover, if we consider that Anthony Mary mentions the Pharisees another time in his writings, namely in Sermon IV, to indicate those who possess all virtues without charity, we realize that lukewarmness is the opposite of love. A lukewarm Christian life is but a caricature of true Christian life; it is only outward appearance; it is pure hypocrisy.
The teaching about fervor is equally important. Evidence for this is found by referring to chapter XII of the Constitutions. Here, too, there is a very interesting parallelism; "So, keep well in mind that, by so persevering, you will grow in spirit and fervor ( Italian. "lo spirito e il vero fervore," the spirit is the true fervor)." Fervor is not a secondary detail in Christian life. It is the sign of the Spirit's presence in us. So one can see how, with these two topics of lukewarmness and fervor, one is not on the periphery of Christianity but in its center. A lukewarm Christian is not a Christian. Either a Christian is fervent or he is not a Christian at all; a mediocre Christian life is not acceptable. This applies not only to clergy and religious, but also to any of the faithful. Vatican Council II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) teaches that; "All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity" (n. 40).
However, Saint Anthony Mary Zaccaria had already given the same teaching five centuries before. He had realized that all the evils of his time, in the Church and in society, came from lukewarmness, and, in order to overcome that deplorable situation, it was necessary to revive fervor.
Saint Anthony Mary entrusted this mission to the Angelic Sisters of St. Paul, "Unfurl your flags, my dear daughters, for Jesus Crucified is about to send you to proclaim everywhere the vital energy of the Spirit " (Letter V). Pope John Paul II has since reminded us that to "become spreaders of the Spirit, by becoming bearers of the Cross (staurophoroi), we have to become bearers of the Spirit (pneumatophoroi), authentically spiritual men and women, capable of endowing history with hidden fruitfulness by unceasing praise and intercession, by spiritual counsels and works of charity" (Vita Consecrata, 6).
To his sons—the Barnabites—Anthony Mary left this legacy, "To be the foundation and pillars in the renewal of Christian fervor." In this sentence one finds the synthesis of the whole work of the Barnabite Fathers’ and the Angelic Sisters’ Founder, and the mission that he entrusts to them—his charism and their charism.
Therefore, the Barnabite Fathers’ and the Angelic Sisters’ Founder's charism is indeed the "charism of reform", provided that by this expression one means not an outward reform, and not a reform of the Church's structures. The reform promoted by Anthony Mary is an all-spiritual reform: the renewal of Christian fervor. First of all, the individual person's reform is pursued, and afterwards a reform of the Church and society; but in both cases, it is a reform that consists principally in reviving fervor.
Igniting the Fire of Faith
Angelo Montonati has seized the core of Zaccarian spirituality perfectly, entitling his biography of Anthony Mary Fire in the City (Italian. Fuoco nella Cittá, Edizioni San Paolo, 2002). As a matter of fact, in this image one can summarize the work fulfilled by Saint Anthony Mary in his short life using this image: he came into this world to set a fire, and then, he left. One can apply to him the sentence from the Gospel that he quotes in his writings with reference to Christ (Sermon IV), "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" (Lk 12, 49).
Father John Scales, CRSP (Rome, 1955) belongs to the Order of Clerics Regular of St. Paul (Barnabates). He is a priest since 1981. He holds a BA in philosophy and theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (Angelicum) and a licentiate in theology (specialization in Biblical Theology) at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He graduated in philosophy at the University of Bologna with a thesis on "Il Rosminianismo in the Barnabite Order". He taught religion, history and philosophy at Collegio alla Querce in Florence and at Collegio San Luigi in Bologna. From 1994 to 1999 was rector of Collegio alla Querce , from 2000 to 2006, assistant general of the Order. From 2003 to 2009 was a missionary in Asia. Together with Father Antonio Gentili has published the "Handbook of the Spirit. Ascetic-mystical Teachings of Saint Anthony Mary Zaccaria” (Milan, 1994).
Fr. Scalese Has his Italian Blog Senza peli sulla lingua