THOUGHT FOR TODAY BY
ST. ANTHONY ZACCARIA
If through perfect humility you will be able to know objec tively yourself, only then will you be.
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Bethlehem, PA 18020
but also - and this is something greater still -
to change evil into something useful
and profitable for yourselves."
[Anthony Mary Zaccaria, Sermon 5)
Sermon V is half-incomplete. Anthony Mary wrote only Part One on human passions. Part Two on the fifth Commandment was never written.
Why does Part One deal with human passions? The reason is quite evident. The Fifth Commandment forbids killing. Anthony Mary wanted to examine the deep natural roots of this sin. In scholastic philosophy and psychology, "passion" is the faculty and the act of sensitive desire or craving, an aspect of human consciousness which is bound up with the body. As Origen reminds us, God, being pure spirit is passionless. Scholastic "passion" is comparable to impulse of present day psychology. It can be called a basic instinct or emotion or concupiscence, the latter being a traditional term for a desire directing human freedom toward a partial good before any decision is taken. Aquinas divides "passion" into desire for pleasure and desire for achievement. The latter is positively characterized by hope and courage and negatively by fear and anger. Anger bears directly on the Fifth Commandment because it is the passion that impels one towards an object, perceived as intolerable evil, for the sake of destroying it.
Part One: Human Passions
[I] Passions are from God.
[I.A] Being part of human nature, passions are ontologically good. Anthony Mary objectively agrees with Aquinas that it would be immoral to try to eradicate human passions.
[I.B] Human nature was created by God, who is all good, all wise, all powerful.
[II] "Passions are of such a nature that some people have directed them toward a good purpose and others toward an evil one."
[II.A] Morally speaking, passions in themselves are neither good nor bad. It is the human free will that gives them a moral connotation. To illustrate this fact Anthony Mary amply quotes from Scripture regarding the passions of sadness, joy and particularly anger. The audience is then invited to find for themselves instances of pride, avarice, lust and gluttony.
[III] "Man's power is so great that he can gain even from evil."
[III.A] God's gift of free will endows human beings with the capacity of making moral choices, including either accepting or rejecting God's grace. Anthony Mary is crystal clear on the proper relationship between grace and human freedom: "So great is the excellence of free will strengthened by God's grace that men can become either a god or a devil according to what he chooses to be." And there is more. We can transform evil into good even as we share, as it were, in the power of divine providence.
[III.B] In this context Anthony Mary recalls a fundamental teaching of Christian spirituality, classically known as "apathy," an attitude of unshakable imperturbability flowing from total trust in God, no matter the circumstances. Here Anthony Mary speaks of "middle course." What counts is not the nature of circumstances but the quality of our attitudes that enable us to turn any circumstance into a stepping stone towards God. For instance, Anthony of Egypt and Paul of Thebes both became desert hermits but for opposite reasons: Anthony, to flee his stifling friends and Paul, to flee his murderous enemies. This avers St. Paul's teaching: "All things work together for the good of those who, according to God's purpose, are saints through his call" (Rom 8:28).
Part One: Human Passions
- I. Passions are from God
- [A] Thesis: passions are ontologically good
- [B] Illustration of the thesis: God created human nature
-  God is all good
-  God is all wise
-  God is all powerful
- II. "Passions are of such a nature that some people have directed them toward a good purpose and others toward an evil one."
- [A] Passions in themselves are neither good nor bad
- [B] Human free will gives passions a moral connotation
-  Morally good expression of sadness, joy, and anger
-  Morally bad expression of sadness, joy, and anger
Conclusion of sections I and II
- III. "Man's power is so great that he can gain even from evil."
- [A] Free will endows human beings with the capacity of making moral choices
- [B] Free will endows human beings with the capacity of turning any circumstance into a stepping stone towards God
Conclusion of Part One
The Fifth Commandment
Part One: Human Passions
- [I] Passions are from God
- [I.A] Thesis: passions are ontologically good
As daily experience shows, passions and natural inclinations (like sadness, joy, anger and love, etc.) are, by their very nature, commonly present in all human beings. Therefore, since what is generally and commonly seen in every generation of men is considered as something natural, that is, attributable to and resulting from its very nature, anyone who declares these inclinations and passions to be evil and noxious would be either ignorant or wicked. In point of fact, he would hold God Himself responsible for them since, as a product of nature, they ultimately come from God, the author of nature. Well, no one except an impudent, foolhardy, and coarse person would dare say that.
- [I.B] Illustration of the thesis: God created human nature
No one who has common sense and right knowledge can harbor in his mind the thought that God who is Goodness itself would want evil, that God who is the Apex of wisdom would be ignorant, and that God who is Omnipotence itself would fail.
- [I.B.1] God is all good
Fathers give their children bread, not a stone, fish, not serpents [Matt 7:9ff.]. Would God place the principle of evil in man's heart and, along with it, give him ruin and death? No one would believe this except a madman. As a matter of fact, God made the heavens and the earth for man; He made man in his own image and likeness [Gen 1:27]; He destined him for eternal life. Most of all, He sent His own Son in the likeness of a slave [Phil 2:7] for man's salvation and gave him up to cruel death in exchange [Rom 8:32].
- [I.B.2] God is all wise
Neither would any one believe that God, who teaches men knowledge [Ps 94:10] and gives them light, would be mistaken and fail to bring His own work to perfection.
- [I.B.3] God is all powerful
Is it perhaps that He has no power? But how could He give life back to the dead and sight to the blind, and by the sound of His voice command and subdue every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth? [Phil 2:10] Thus, it is impossible to say that the above mentioned inclinations are evil.
- [II] "Passions are of such a nature that some people have directed them toward a good purpose and others toward an evil one."
- [II.A] Passions in themselves are neither good nor bad
Now my friends, do you wish to be convinced of this truth? It is a common and general opinion that the instinctive movements of nature are not in man's power. Libertines, in fact, feel justified by such opinion. Besides, if these movements were evil, man would merit neither punishment, nor praise or reward. Has anyone ever been condemned for finding pleasure in tasting a good and well seasoned food? On the other hand, is not everybody instinctively confused and grieved when faced with great danger and ruin? And praised indeed is the person who has been able to control his flesh to the point that those instinctive movements may never or seldom be present in him.
- [II.B] Human free will gives passions a moral connotation
Anything that may follow from those movements is either praised or reproached according to what they yield: good or evil.
- [II.B.1] Morally good expression of sadness, joy, and anger
Thus Christ was praised when at Naim He was distressed and felt pity at seeing a poor and unhappy widow, the mother of an only son who had just died [Luke 7:13]. He was praised when He wept with his afflicted friends, the sisters of Lazarus, Mary Magdalene and Martha [John 11:33] and again when He wept over the ruin of Jerusalem [Luke 19:42]. Furthermore, was He not moved with pity over those people who had followed Him, lest they should die of hunger? [Mark 8:2] And who could reproach Him for experiencing such feelings? No one. Worthy of praise indeed is Zacchaeus' joy in receiving his Redeemer, who had so endearingly invited Himself to his house [Luke 19:5]. And should we not remember the father who welcomed back his prodigal son, saying: "It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for he was lost and is found" [Luke 15:32]. Is there anyone who does not commend our Lord when He drove scribes and Pharisees out of the temple with a whip of cords? As the evangelist records, "His disciples remembered that the prophet [Ps 69:10], speaking about Christ, had written, 'zeal for your house has eaten me up'" [John 2:17]. Is there anyone who does not praise the Holy Author of our salvation, when He strongly reproached those very same scribes and Pharisees? [Matt 23:13ff.]
Thus, my friends, by reviewing the behavior of Christ and his saints, you will find so many praiseworthy examples which show that men did control their passions to the honor and praise of God as well as to their own praise and for their common or personal good. Phineas, for instance, was praised because, when he saw that the people in the desert had disobeyed, he avenged God by killing the transgressors [Num 25:8]. Moses was applauded for killing the Egyptian who was beating one of the children of Israel [Exod 2:12]. Saul was praised when, upon hearing the news that the people of Naas Galaat were under siege, and being moved by the Spirit of God, unsheathed his sword, divided an ox into two parts, and said: "Whoever does not come out, etc." [1 Sam 11:7] And what behavior was ever praised more than the indignation of David? Indeed, when he was scorned by the sons of Jemini, and as the sons of Sarvia wished to revenge him, he, enkindled with anger against the latter, said, "What have I to do with you, the sons of Sarvia, etc.? If etc., how much more the sons of Jemini, etc." [2 Sam 16:10ff.] What I have just shown regarding such passions could be said of other passions too.
- [II.B.2] Morally bad expression of sadness, joy, and anger
Consider now, my friends, the other side of the coin, and you will see that from the very same passions evil effects may flow. Is it not from Judas' reprehensible grief that desperation was born? [Matt 27:3] and Cain's? [Gen 4:13] And any worldly grief as well, "which," as the Apostle says, "produces death?" [2 Cor 7:10] Full of shame is the joy of those people, spoken of by the prophet, "who rejoice in doing evil" [Prov 2:14], as well as of those who abandon and lose themselves in the delights of life, in the pleasures of the flesh, in the cravings of possessions, and in every earthly thing.
Even spiritual consolations -- for which, of course, you are eager -- must be sought discreetly, for they cause you not only to end up in silly experiences, but also to fall into some harmful ones. That is why the Sage said: "drink wisely" [Sir 31:36]: a warning relevant to spiritual delight, too. And in another passage, "You have found honey: eat just what you need, lest eating too much of it should make you vomit it up" [Prov 25:16]. This last observation is not meant for you right now, for you cannot grasp its meaning; some time later you will understand my reasoning. As for now, try to rejoice in God as best you can [Phil 4:4]. Blessed are those who rejoice in their hearts and minds! May God grant you some day to savor this true and interior joy. Amen. May God bring it to fruition in you.
I leave it to you to investigate how countless evils may derive from the passion of anger. It suffices now to say this: anger hinders you from contemplating God. It ruins both your physical and spiritual life. It causes you to be imprudent, even if you -- in everybody's opinion -- were the most prudent of all men, for "anger ruins prudent people" [Prov 15:1]. It keeps you from being just with other people, "for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God" [Jas 1:20], as the Apostle James says. What else does anger do? It diminishes your speech, proper of a civilized man, for "a man of quick temper acts foolishly" [Prov 14:17]. In short, it makes you devoid of any virtue and slave of all vices and a receptacle of anxiety. Thus, my friends, you can see how many evils are caused by anger. Go on considering by yourselves in other passions, like pride, greed, lust, gluttony, etc., what you see in this passion. Now you can clearly see the ruin they cause when they are not strictly controlled.
Conclusion of sections I and II
Conclude, then, my friends that these natural movements -- as such -- are good, just as possessions and wisdom are good, and can be channeled to do good or evil. Therefore, if possessions and wisdom cannot be said to be bad, neither can natural inclinations.
- [III] "Man's power is so great that he can gain even from evil"
- [III.A] Free will endows human beings with the capacity of making moral choices
Is there any doubt, my friends, that man can control these inclinations as he wishes? Not in the least. He can truly control them from their very beginnings. Indeed he can so diminish and subdue their first movements, if he wants to, that they may do little harm, if any, to those who are wise and always watchful. Moreover, so great is the excellence of free will strengthened by God's grace, that man can become either a god or a devil according to what he chooses to be. Through David, the prophet, God declared: "I say: you are gods, sons of the most high" [Ps 82:6]. Our saints too have been many times called, and believed to be, gods in the flesh as, for instance, Paul, when he got rid of a serpent, tossing it into the fire [Acts 28:5-7]; and as Jude and Simon, when, in their mere presence, the oracles of the devils were unable to give any answer [According to popular traditions]. Similar events occurred in the lives of many more saints. But worse than devils were Pharaoh, and that Antiochus who did so much evil [1 Macc 6:12], and many other people like Simon Magus [Acts 8:9ff.], and above all the Antichrist who will try to extol himself even higher than God, so great will his malice and wickedness be! O the anguish and joy of men, if they only were fully aware of this, namely, that it is in their power to become good or bad! This is what God declared so clearly when He said: "If the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it." On the contrary, "If the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live for it" [Ezek 33:18-19]. And again, as Scripture says, "There are set before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you choose" [Sir 15:17]. And, "God made man upright" [Eccl 7:29], and "made him subject to his own free choice" [Sir 15:14]. Scripture again gives you the same teaching figuratively in the words addressed by Abraham to Lot: "Look, if you take the right hand, I will go to the left; if you take the left hand, I will go to the right" [Gen 13:8-9]. In this example you are taught that it is in your power not only to choose evil or good, but also -- and this is something greater still -- to change evil into something useful and profitable for yourselves.
- [III.B] Free will endows human beings with the capacity of turning any circumstance into a stepping stone towards God
O the wonder of the stupendous art God manifests 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 we have to follow a middle course and, according to the Sage's 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 in dishonor, in ill repute and good repute; as impostors and yet truthful; as unknown and yet well known, etc." [2 Cor 6:7-9]
And there is something else. From the evil things he did, and from the good ones he omitted, man can get a deep knowledge of his baseness and misery on account of which he comes to esteem himself not worthy of living, let alone of doing anything pleasing to God. From such opinion of oneself a profound humility is born, the great usefulness of which is well known to those who posses this virtue.
Do you think that the friendship of the world was of benefit to Anthony? It was indeed on account of it -- as he was being visited by all who loved him for his great sanctity -- that he fled elsewhere with some monks, and there they achieved wonderful progress. By the same token, but in the opposite sense, the hostility and hatred of some people made Paul, the first hermit, to flee to the desert -- a circumstance that led to his own salvation and to that of others as well.
To discuss how good and evil may be useful to God's friends, not a whole day, not even a hundred days would be enough.
Conclusion of Part One
Conclude, then, my friends: If man's power is so great that he can gain even from evil, and if passions are of such a nature that some people have directed them toward a good purpose, and others toward an evil one, and if, furthermore, they take their origin from God, who can ever be so foolish as not to believe for certain that passions are present in man for his own great profit, that by resisting and overcoming them a noble crown is kept for man, and that they have been given him by God not for the evil they may yield for him, but rather for his own good?
As an example of this truth, God let the children of Israel have, even in the promised land, enemies with whom they did constant battle, but whom they always overcame [Josh 23:13]. The purpose was that they would know whether or not they were faithful to his commandments. God has done likewise with man's passions: he has placed them in man for his own good. If then man wishes to use them for an evil purpose, it is up to him, but he will pay the sad consequences.
Do you wish, my friends, to know the reason why God, in His goodness, has placed in men passions and natural inclinations which they incline to twist? Listen and I will tell you.