Ascetically and Mystical Spiritual Writings (1535-1628)





Introduction to the Capuchin spiritual, ascetical and mystical writings

A work of

Translated by Patrick Colbourne OFM Cap

from I Frati Cappuccini, a work of Costanzo Cargnoni, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, 1991, III/1, pp 25-234.

Table of Contents


In selecting the many spiritual authors who span the course of the Capuchin Reform during its first hundred years like a cluster of trees, we bore in mind their geographical dispersion, the popularity of specific authors, the importance of their literary products in the history of prayer methods, the almost miraculous survival of some of these rare or unique texts and the originality of others that were saved from oblivion and examined, studied or copied from manuscripts which had been lost and which are now publicized for the first time for modern readers.

I. General Overview: Ascetically and Mystical Writings (1536-1628)

There are about twenty known authors and one anonymous author who come from just about every region of Italy including Piedmont, to Lombardy, Venice, Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, the Marches, Umbria, Campagna and Basilicata as far as Puglia and Sicily. They produced their works over a period of time beginning from1553, the year when the first work by a Capuchin was published, up to 1628, the year when Alessio Segala da Salò died, or up to 1631, the year of the death of the mystic Tommaso da Olera.

They begin with some “devout prayers”, which attest to a moment of initial grace that, as Bernardino Palli d’Asti described it, developed into dawn, and, a century later, turned into the classical, well-balanced and fruitful synthesis produced by the great master and spiritual author, Segala, and the inspirational, mystical experience of the saintly brother from Bergamo.

At the beginning it seems to be a fire that is spreading in a frenzied and violent manner which at times creates anxiety. In the end the fire, even though it is still burning, has been channelled and put to use in an orderly way to warm the house.

If it is true that the Capuchins did not see fit to set down the memory of their history until after 1570, when the long struggle for growth and institutional stability had passed and was forgotten and the objectives and essential aims of their apostolic, spiritual and social presence in the Church and in the world had been established, it is also true that they were concerned to compose, print and circulate texts concerning spirituality, which were based, for the most part, on their experience of the apostolic and the interior spiritual life.

1. Methodological criteria and proposals

Thus, this ascetical and mystical literature is a parallel source to the documented sources of the Order and is indispensable to gaining an understanding of development of the methods of spiritual meditation as they were lived out and taught in the Capuchin Reform during the first century of its history. Together with the historical documents this spiritual literature forms an essential part of the historical record for as Giuseppe De Luca says: “historical truth is not the only thing to exist in the search for truth; historical truth is not contained exclusively in notary documents.”[1]

Certainly, a simple review is not sufficient. Many good introductory works of this type are already available[2] We need to go back over the genesis and development of these writings and read them at depth once again looking at their content, the themes that they emphasise, the apparent contradictions and the whole outlook that is a central fact in the sixteenth century, namely the substantial complex meaning of the Council of Trent, which as M. Petrocchi says is the key “to the understanding of the Italian spirituality of the Sixteenth Century.” We need to do this not by considering it as a “product of the fear of Protestantism, but as a mature consideration of the new religious elites and thus as a vindication of a new rich and vital spirituality which was founded above all in the devotio of the Fourteenth Century.”[3]

Thus we see how the content of this literature faces up to events and initiatives that proceeded and followed the Council of Trent, including the foolishly ambitious aspirations of the spirituality of the followers of Valdo and the spirituality of the “beneficio di Cristo” which savoured of Calvinism, and with the evangelical and Pauline trends of the end of the Fourteenth Century and the beginning of the Fifteenth century and with the tendencies within the Franciscan reform which were revived during the Renaissance “as an experience brought to life by means of strong interior meditation,”[4] which in the new historical and cultural environment had imbibed some of the approaches of the Franciscan Spirituals of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth centuries. The content also absorbed a good deal of the spirituality of St Bonaventure while also remaining aware of contemporary trends in which were emerging in contemporary ascetical and mystical writings. On rare occasions the content tends incautiously and hesitatingly towards subtle pre-quietist positions which make one aware of a conflict, which might have been either conscious or unconscious, and which touches on the teachings of “the free spirit.” which had been condemned as heretical a century before this. The whole of this complex and multifaceted background needs to be examined and studied.

The modern method of studying the texts by mean of an historical critical approach ought not to be passed over. The criterion for this might be described as seeking to understand the original text through the assistance of the various aids offered by contemporary textual criticism, by philology, that is being aware of the words and their meaning at the time when the text was composed; critique of the style, morphological and redaction critique, and today, something which is very popular, linguistic and structural critique. Obviously, another technique which is very helpful in promoting the understanding and cultural problems of a text is the consideration of the historical, social, ecological, cultural and political environment. Finally, one needs to consider the situation within the Church, the part played by various socio and religious factors in the community. It would also be helpful to construct a table of the frequency with which terms are used in order to assess their significance in different spiritual and cultural contexts.

However, such research should not become flight into an artificial paradise of literary techniques, but rather a help towards understand the written text which is not the final aim if we are trying to grasp the thought of the author. It is evident that a written text represents the thought of the author as it has been transmitted rather than the complete wisdom of the author. This will never be reached by what has been put into writing. We take the liberty of pointing this out to readers and to those who wish to go more deeply into the subject.

2. General Features and Characteristics

The following twenty or twenty-one spiritual authors which bring together about fifty different works give a bird’s eye view of certain emerging and interesting features of spiritual direction. They were composed entirely as the product of a fervent interior and apostolic life, and as a personal spiritual response to the needs that arose from practical religious experiences. In the first place these works are the product of the personal spiritual experiences of the various authors who have passed them on in works that were hurriedly written, with little attention given to literary style, scholarship or education.

The popular style of print in which they were produced is significant. All of them were set out in pocket editions in simple colloquial language, with no embellishment, but in sober expressions that were at times old-fashioned, but always forceful yet never pretentious. Thus, they always exhibit quite clearly the difference between erudite literature and popular literature. Usually the former type of literature continued to use Latin, while the latter was deliberately beginning to use the vernacular. What is more, vernacular works showed a preference for pocket editions, which were convenient and short, whereas the scholarly works were larger and of more imposing appearance. In this respect the works that were edited by Capuchins were conveniently usable, for the most part small booklets “which could be passed from hand to hand.”

They were works concerning things which should be put into practice or acted upon rather than about topics which were to be read about. They are manuals, vademecum, which should be consulted repeatedly in order to make certain that a way of life corresponded to what had been written down. They are works which are read so that what they contain can be used and they would only be used by those intending to put what they contained into practice.

Another important feature of these texts is that what they contained had been already preached to the people or to religious communities. Thus, they came about through talks concerning life, real preaching and thus their aim was to communicate with the general public in the easiest and most direct manner.

The basic objective of all this literature is to transmit an experience of prayer, when attempting to access “secret mental prayer”, an experience of meditation, contemplation, of spiritual exercises and of devotional practices. In essence we are confronted with “masters and teachers of piety”, to use an expression coined by Giuseppe De Lucca,[5] who emphasised the immense importance of “books on piety” when reconstructing the history of the past. “Books on piety deserve a separate history. Every age contributes something original, because in every era in addition to piety in the community there has also been vigorous private piety. With respect to Christianity, there has been along with Liturgical piety, the piety of various Churches, various groups and various individuals.”[6]

3. Titles, frontispieces and illustrations

The titles and frontispieces of these manuals are also fascinating in their own rite in that they demonstrate the evolution, assimilation and depth of spiritual and cultural preferences. It can be very enlightening to look at these.

Let us begin with Orazioni devote (Devout Prayers) to the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity (Bernardino d’Asti), or with the Trattato di santé meditazioni divise in sette distinzioni per stabilire il cuor nostro in Dio (A Tract Containing Holy Meditations Divided into Seven Sectors to Centre our Heart on God) (Francesco Tittlemans), or with a figure full of spirituality and complex mystical iconography such as the Circolo del divino amore (Circle of Divine Love) (Francesco da Jesi), in the only surviving edition which is contained in a reprinted small work by The Observant friar Bartolomeo Cordoni da Città di Castello entitled: Dialogo della unione spirituale di Dio con l’anima (Dialogue Concerning the Spiritual Union of God with the Soul) on the front piece of which there is a circle which contains the image of Christ crucified, which is an image that was also used on the front piece of Alcune regule de la oratione, mentale (Certain Rules for Mental Prayer) (Girolamo da Molfetta). All of this appears to have been brought together in Operatta devotissima chiamata arte de la unione, la qual insegna unire l’anima con Dio (A Very Devout Little Work Entitled The Art of Union, Which Teaches How to Unite the Soul with God) (Giovanni Pili da Fano) which contained a summary of the charism of “devotion” and mystical “union” that had been treated in the preceding volumes.

The theme of love and of meditation reappears in the Dialogi sette (Seven Diologues) by Bernardino Ochino, which treats “the method of falling in love with God”, “becoming happy”, “self-control”, “the thief on the Cross”, “conversion”, “pilgrimage” and “belief in what is divine”. The frontispieces of the various editions of this work contain renaissance- style woodcuts [7] that depict Christ taken down from the Cross and laid in the sepulchre, (See Dialogo in che modo la persona debba regere bene se stessa, (Talk on How a Person Ought to Adequately Control Himself), which was edited in Naples probably in 1536, the time at which the First Capuchin Constitutions were printed. Some have the image of a friar who is already well advanced in years and who is wearing a pointed beard and who has his hands joined and is gazing on a Crucifix which is glowing and is suspended in the sky in the Franciscan style that was probably inspired by popular, wide-spread illustration which depicted St Francis receiving the Stigmata. (This is also the only example, prior to Seventeenth Century, of a book which contains a portrait of its Capuchin author). It also has an illustration of a brother with a pointed hood on his head who is standing in a pulpit preaching with a crucifix in his hand while the people below are hanging on his words. In the background there are splendid woodcuts depicting the life of Christ, how He was scourged at the pillar, crowned with thorns and mocked, fell beneath the Cross, crucified and died on the Cross and then risen from sepulchre, or the young Christ among the doctors in the Temple and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Virgin Mary and the Apostles in the Cenacle.

The “dialogo” that had been used by Ochino became Meditazione della Passione (A Meditation on the Passion) (Bernardino da Montolomo) and Invito spirituale alla pietosa meditazione della Passione di Cristo (A Spiritual Invitation to Meditate Compassionately on Christ’s Passion) (Battista da Faenza). These were two texts, one handwritten and the other recopied from a later manuscript that had been interfered with, which were incorporated into Discorsi e orazioni de l’anima spirituali (Discussion and Prayers for a Spiritual Soul) (Francesco da Fognano). These contain the image of a Capuchin on his knees with his hood on his head and his hands elevated towards a large naked wooden cross with the instruments of the Passion, similar to what the Capuchins used for processions.

Thus a persistent focus began to build up in the titles that followed, such as the Specchio di orazione (Mirror of Prayer) (Bernardino da Balvano) accompanied by the reappearance of illustrations and vocabulary that had been used in the medieval literature of the specula (Mirrors), which were very popular booklets that contained images of Christ Crucified or scourged at the pillar or tempted in the desert. Other works returned to a method of teaching prayer and how to practice prayer, meditation and contemplation. A trailblazer among these was the famous Pratica dell’orazione mentale (The Practice of mental Prayer) (Mattia da Salò), which had no images but was full of spiritual insight. This was followed by the interesting but rare Modo come la persona spitiyuale che ora si abbia a disporre nella orazione (A Method for a Person who is now Ready to Enter into Prayer) (Silvestro da Rossano), which contains, at the beginning of the first part, a beautiful illustration of Pentecost, and at the beginning of the second part, a classical frontispiece of Christ Crucified with the trilogy of the Virgin Mary, St John and the kneeling Madeline at His feet. The image of Christ also appears in another work by the same author: Breve modo di fare orazione intorno al spargimento di sangue di Gesù Cristo, (A Short Method of Praying over the Shedding of the Blood of Jesus Christ). In a manuscript another one of his works is attached to this: Devota meditazione sopra la salutazione angelica, (A Devout Meditation on the Angel’s Greeting),

Other titles in this series are: Corone spirituali per l’attenzione in contemplare la Passione del Salvatore (Spiritual Rosaries to be Performed when Contemplating the Passion of the Saviour) (Mattia da Salò), and Essercizi d’anima nei quail s’insegnano divotissimi modi di contemplazione (Exercises for a Soul in which Very Devour Instructions for Contemplation are Taught) and Compendio di cento meditazionisacre (Compendium of a Hundred Sacred Meditations) both by Cristofero da Verucchio.

The Rosaries are contained in very small booklets which contain a frontispiece which displays a small panel with Jesus as the teacher with an orb with a cross over it and at the beginning of the points for meditation for each day of the week there is a small scene of the Passion: Jesus in the Garden, scourged, crowned with thorns, fallen beneath the cross, wiped by Veronica, crucified and taken to the tomb and finally St Bernard’s representation of the name of Jesus. The images are very simple, archaic, popular and probably produced from the artist’s imagination, especially the scenes of the “holy mountains”.

Throughout the Exercises there are small illustrations which in various ways accompany the various meditations and depict moments in the life of Jesus, of his Passion and death or give glimpses of holy Bishops and anchorites, the mysteries and privileges of the Most Holy Virgin and are sometimes repeated with the obvious intent of being ornamental. However, at other times they serve as direct accompaniment of the content of the meditations, as in the case of the Mysteries of the Rosary where the small drawings illustrate the pages.

On the frontispiece of the Compendio there is a small drawing of the Stigmata of St Francis. However, on the pages of the text splendid images of the whole life of Christ are scattered, some of which occupy the entire page, while others cover half a page. It is easy to see how these presentations of the Passion and other mysteries would have influenced the imagination of religious minded people.

Among the titles that come mainly from the seventeenth century but which were also influenced by earlier work we find: Teatro del paradise overo meditazioni della celeste gloria per le quail vien proposto modo facile di contemplare con utilità dell’anime la vera beatitudine (Mattia da Salò) (Theatre of Paradise or Meditations on the Heavenly Glory by means of which an Easy Way of Contemplating true Beatitude is Suggested for use by Souls), which is a very thick volume filled with images. Another volume is Dardi del divin Amore… Opera spirituale e ripiena di devotissime contemplatioi per inflammarsi nell’amore di Dio (Cornelio da Urbino). (Darts of Divine Love … A Spiritual Work Full of Very Devout Contemplation to Inflame us With The Love of God). The front piece contains an illustration displaying a postage stamp seize drawing of the Stigmata of St Francis. Inside there are some scenes of the life and Passion of Christ which are set out in typically baroque style in panels with heavy cornices with spirals and figures. There are some scenes of the life and Passion of Christ, particularly the Crucifixion. Also, there is Fascetto di mira nel quale si contengano 40 meditazioni sopra la Passione (Michelangelo da Venezia), (Bundle of Myrrh which Contains 40 Meditations on the Passion), in which there are drawings of a Saint who is carrying all the instruments of the Passion on his shoulder which is a symbol of the devout soul who is meditating on Christ Crucified. There is Paradiso interiore overo corona spirituale (Paolo da Terni), (Interior Heaven or Spiritual Rosaries), or Romitorio sacro di meditazioni et esercizi di contemplazioni e amorose aspriazioni a Dio (Valerio da Venezia) (Isolated Place for Meditation and Exercises of Contemplation and Loving Aspirations to God), or Orologio spirituale intorno alla Passione (Spiritual Timepiece About the Passion) and the mysteries pertaining to Mary. (Francesco da Corigliario).

Fuoco d’amore (Love’s Fire) is the concise title of various spiritual works by Tommaso da Olera. These are based on the very personal contemplative and mystical experience of the author who places great emphasis on the doctrine of love. This subject is developed at length in another manuscript text which was widely distributed after it was first published when it was attributed to Gregory of Naples. In a certain way it may bear the title “Practica della listica unione con Dio” (The Pracice of Mystical Union with God), in conjunction with “Pratica dell’oration mentale” (The Practice of Mental Prayer) by Bellintani, which must to be treated separately.

The Spiritual Works by Alessio Segala da Salò contain the spiritual terminology that we have seen already, but with mention of the new spirit that belongs to the Seventeenth century. These works include Corona celeste, (Heavenly Rosary), Practica singolare (Special Exercise), Angelico essercizio, (Angelic Exercise), Via secura del Paradiso, (Secure Road to Heaven), Arca santa della vita e passions di Cristo, (Sacred Ark of the Life and Passion of Christ). Segala, who was a classical master of spirituality, imparted a healthy set of guidelines concerning the exercise of virtues and especially of mental prayer. In his titles one notes the optimism of the Seventeenth Century and confidence in the ascetical journey, in which situations of vice are dispensed with “in a short time” and true perfection is achieved easily. This is an encouraging stimulus to enter into “what pertains to the divine” as the ultimate objective of the mystical life. All the Capuchin masters of the ascetical life aimed at this goal.[8]

4. The Geography and Chronology of the Editions

As we continue to list certain general characteristics of this kind of literature we need to be aware of an interesting fact. When they are split into clusters they illustrate all the levels of the robust Franciscan spiritual and social experience of the early Capuchins in their external activity of apostolate, preaching and spiritual direction as well as the internal personal, intimate and psychological elements of their communities and fraternities.

From another perspective the places where the editions were published bear witness to the nation-wide expansion of the Capuchin reform from Lombardy to Sicily. The honour of being the first place where a Capuchin work was printed goes to Milan. This was Orazioni devote (Devout Prayers) by Bernardino d’Asti. Brescia can boast of having produced the most prestigious books namely Arte de la unione con Dio (The Art of Union with God) by Giovanni da Fano, Prattica dell’oration mentale (The Practice of Mental Prayer) by Matia da Salò and the works by Alessio da Salò. Because it was the most important place for publishing, Venice produced the majority of the works of the early Capuchins. This was also because although they were printed elsewhere as first editions, they eventually finished up being republished in the capital city of Venice. For example, this was the case with the works by Father Segala which usually appeared in Brescia first and then were repeatedly reprinted in Venice. This was also the situation with many other works. Salò made a contribution by posthumously printing works by Mattia Bellintani and by his brother Giovanni. Other publications came out of Milan, Naples, Asti, Messina, Bologna, Fermo and Augsburg. This last place was the location of the works that were published by Tommasa da Olera, which were in circulation in manuscript form among the friars and lay people while the author was alive and following his death in 1631.

It is also interesting to note the times of publication to obtain an idea of the period of the greatest success of Capuchin publications during the first century of the Order. It is clear that growth is slow during the first decade. However, following the Council of Trent, the number of publication increase, and they become numerous in the last decade of the Sixteenth Century and almost unbroken in the first decade of the Seventeenth Century. The reason for this is easy to discover as their appearance coincides with the numerical growth of the Order.

With regard to the identity of the authors it is useful to note the religious background from which they come. The greatest number of authors came from the Observant Franciscan family, especially those belonging to the first and second generation, one from the Conventual Franciscans others directly from the world. It should also be noted that many of these authors came to the Capuchins having already composed a certain amount of literary works. Some such as Giovanni da Fano, Bernardino da Montolmo and, especially, Francesco Tittlemans had composed philosophical and theological works.

It is a fact that these spiritual authors differ in importance, fame and influence, while some have become a necessary point of reference in history because they can help us understand the development of predispositions and of the spiritual presentatiosn of the first century Capuchins.

It is obvious that because of the difficulty in finding these texts, not all those who could have easily been included in the anthology have been chosen. For example, there is no mention of Girolamo Avogagro of Novara (+ 1582) who published Meditazioni diovotissime sulla Passione di nostro Signore (Most Devout Meditations on the Passion of Our Lord) in Brescia in 1579. There is no mention of Guido da Finale (+ 1589) who wrote Compendio di molte divozioni e orazioni in onore della SS. Vergine (Compendium of Many Devotions and Prayers in Honour of the Most Holy Virgin). There is no mention of Bernardo Piccoli da Osimo (+ 1591) who in Venice in 1589 wrote and published a Trattato della Passione del Signore (Tract on the Lord’s Passion) that contained various meditations for each day of the week, and which was also translated into French and published in Lyon in 1617 and in Todi in 1623. This last edition contains many other spiritual works. There is no mention of Giustino da Norcia (+ 1594) who anonymously published a tract Dell’ orazione mentale (On Mental Prayer) in Venice in 1593. The same could be said about Matteo da Leonessa (+ 1593) who wrote “a most devout work arranged as meditations and conversations on the pain, torment and wounds of Jesus Christ.” This was published posthumously and anonymously in Venice in 1586 and 1601. Eusebio Fardini d’Ancona (+ 1569) has not been included. He wrote Divine meditazioni (Divine Meditations) which cannot be found. Giovanni Fassati da Milano (+ 1565) who was once a Dominican is not included. He wrote Trattato sull’orazione e meditazione (A Treatise on Prayer and Meditation). There are also many others.

It is clear that a complete bibliographical study is lacking, especially a critical study. The ancient Capuchin bibliographers compiled lists that had imprecise titles or titles which had been translated into Latin. Turning to the field of unpublished or manuscript writings, which we have also made some use of in our collection of sources with interesting results, we find ourselves in a situation of making new discoveries and evaluations. A countless number of collections of devout writings fill the collected works of manuscripts in the libraries and archives of the Capuchin Order. Because of the suppression much of this material flowed into other libraries and archives. A search in local and regional libraries could be very successful and would probably unveil new texts and yield others which were believed to have been lost completely. This was the case with Orazioni devote (Devout Prayers) by Bernardino d’Asti, which was the first text written by a Capuchin, and which the present author discovered in a codex containing an assortment devotional text a few years ago.

5. Literary style, audience and content

A final, general feature that it is useful to note is the consideration of the literary style, the circumstances and the historical context of the item and its content. Some texts appear to be lacking any evident intended connection to any literary style. Because they had been conceived and developed in an atmosphere of “practical” spiritual life they remained for a long time in the environment in which they originated and grew and in which they were received and respected as being something secret and intimate. It was only as an after-thought that they were committed to writing and dictated to others in response to a specific request which came from the brothers or the superiors or the general public. This was the case, or seems to be the case, with the above-mentioned Orazioni devote (Devout Prayers) by Bernardino d’Asti, Circolo del divino amore (The Circle of Divine Love) by Francesco da Jesi, Paradiso interior (The Inner Paradise) by Paolo da Terni, and of some tracts of Fuoco d’amore (the Fire of Love) by Tommasso da Olera, and, finally, in part, for other reasons, Instruttione mistica (Mystical Instruction) by Gregorio da Napoli.

Possibly the literary style which the writing took on could have been developed at a later stage when the work was revised or edited. However, this would not have been to an excessive degree. In such cases the text preserved its original spontaneity. This would be true especially of texts that might be classified as “mystical instructions” and which would thus require a special presentation that would be in line with the particular spiritual personality that had produced them.

Another literary form that was used was that of s letter, either real or fictional. This style was classical and traditional and is especially evident in the Dialogi by Bernardino Ochino, and, at times, in some of the meditations by Mattia da Salò.

However, in general the literary style of these booklets or devotional works and ascetical tracts betrays that they originated in words spoken to the people from the pulpit or in “lectures” or spiritual conferences within cloisters and monasteries or to groups of the laity who were gathered in devout confraternities.

Usually it is possible to identify the original circumstances of these works by beginning with the introduction or preface if mention is made of the “readers”, or the “dedication” which might identify the various people who “sponsored” the publication or by noting certain of the author’s spontaneous statements in the text.

For example, this is how we know that Regole de la orazione mentale (Rules for Mental Prayer) by Girolamo da Molfetta began as “sermons”. Some of Ochino’s Dialogi reflect conversations the he actually had with Caterina Cybo and in the circles of Italian “Spirituals” within the environment of the Evangelical Movement of the early Sixteenth Century. The small work Spechio di orazione (Mirror of Prayer) by Bernardino da Balvano contained to some extent topics on which he had preached in Messinain 1555. The Essercizi d’anima (Exercises for the Soul) by Verucchino were conferences and lectures which were delivered to the people during a Lenten preaching course and which were summarised for popular use in Compendio di cento meditazioni (Compendium of One Hundred Meditations) at the express wish of “some of his reverend Superiors”.

The Discorsi e orazioni (Discourses and Prayers) by Francesco da Fognano were printed for the “Brothers and Sisters of the Compagnia del Santo Sacramento di Santa Maria Maddalena in stra’ S. Donato” in Bologna. The Paradiso interiore (Interior Paradise) by Paolo da Terni would have been composed at the request of Father Giovanni da Narni and at the command of the Superiors. The Corone spirituali (Spiritual Rosaies) were a method of meditative recollection invented by Mattia da Salò that were used and loved by St Charles Borromeo. It was because of this that Bellintani never had then printed. The Modo di orare (Method of Prayer) by Silvestro da Rossano was written for the Benedictine Sisters of Santo Lorenzo in Venice and was connected to the devotion to Christ’s Blood which Silvestro ardently propagated in his preaching. The Prattica dell’orazione mentale (The Practice of Mental Prayer) by Mattia da salò was writen in order to assist Christian persons and families who practiced meditation in the evening either at home or in a church. The meditations on the Passion by Michelangelo da Venezia were composed mainly for groups who undertook adoration at the time of the Forty Hours. Gregorio da Napoli’s mystical tracts came about it would seem following correspondence regarding spiritual direction.

Only a few texts were composed out of spontaneous impulse or from personal choice without precise external concerns. One classical example of this might be Opere spirituali (Spiritual Works) by Alessio Segala da Salò, who made spiritual direction his life’s work.

It might even appear to be extraordinary to name the persons of mark who accepted that some of these works would be dedicated to them so that they became their patrons and followers. This might be the case with Cardinal G. A. Santori, who was the Protector of the Order to whom Dardi del divin amore (Darts of Divine Love) by Cornelio da Urbino was dedicated and the new 1573 edition of Prattica dell’oration mentale by Bellintani, which had been revised by the author, and dedicated to the Bishop of Brescia, Domenico Bollani. On the other hand, Verucchino dedicated his Compendio di cento meditazioni sacre (Compendium of One Hundred Sacred Meditations) to Francesco Maria II of Rovere, Duke of Urbino, while dedicating his Exxercisi d’anima (Exercises for a Soul), through the intervention of Giambattista Rosa of Pieve, to Cradinal Lorenzo Prioli, Patriarch of Venice. Francesco da Carigliano dedicated his Horologio spirituale intorno alla Passione (Spiritual Clock Concerning the Passion) to Cardinal d’Este, while choosing Cardinal Domenico Ginnasio as the dedicatee of his work on the mysteries of the life of Mary. Michelangelo da Venezia offered his Fascetto di mirra (Bundle of Myrrh) containing forty meditations on the Passion to the Prince and Princess of Mantova. The patron of Romitorio sacro (Th Sacred Hermitage) by Valerio da Venezia was the noble Giovanni Guerigli from Venice who dedicated the book to his daughter Sr Zannetta Guerigli from the Monastery of S Eufemia in Mazorobo. Paradiso interiore (The Interior Paradise) by Paolo da Terni was dedicated to Fr Giovanbattista d’Esta, who had been Duck of Modena and who became a Capuchin, but who always remained very influential. The writings of Tommaso da Olera, which were published under the title Fuoco d’amore (Fire of Love) were placed under the patronage of the Emperor Leopold I. With respect to the Venice edition of 1637, the works of Segala received financial support from the Camaldolese Abbot Tommaso Valabio and from the noble lady Giulia Da Ca’ da Pesaro for the 1643 edition. We could continue like this with respect to other works which we have not used. This would take us on a tour of names and famous people that would make us aware to some extent of the cultural and historical environment of the works of the early Capuchins.

With respect to content the topic that receives the greatest attention is the Passion of Jesus Christ alongside that of the Virgin Mary. These are always treated from the aspect of their ultimate objective which is the doctrine, and practice of a life of love and union with God, a theme that runs through all the spiritual and devotional works of the Order. Christ’s Passion is presented in a hundred different ways, but always from the perspective of a life of love that produces union. The Trinitarian dimension is usually presented against a Christological background as associated with the Crucifixion and this inspired many Capuchin devotional practices. A practical and affective approach is the only approach that is proposed in these writings. There is no consideration of what is theoretical or speculative. A few pages appear to speculate about the doctrine of the spiritual life, but they immediately slip back into what is practical and concrete and to be followed as what is suggested or developed for various meditative or affective undertakings, allowing freedom of choice to the one who is at prayer, who may follow the suggestion, the proposed method, the prayer formula, the example of an aspiration and the timing or put it aside.

Some writings teach how to use vocal prayers for meditation or contemplation, especially the Our Father, at times making suggestions that may appear strange.

There are only a few real treatises about the spiritual life under its ascetical and mystical aspects. There are also only a few writings that are prevalently “mystical”. We would only mention Arte de la unione (The Art of Union) by Giovanni da Fano, Circolo (Circle) by Francesco da Jesi, Istruttione mistica (Mystical Instruction) by Gregorio da Napoli, Fuoco d’amore (Frire of Love) by Tammaso da Olera, and, to a certain extent, Paradiso interiore (The Interior Paradise) by Paolo Terni. The rest treat affective prayer meditation, “methods” of mental prayer, spiritual “exercises” and devotional practices. This may be important as a means of gaining an understanding of the spiritual choices made by the Capuchin Reform.

II. Critical Analysis of Capuchin Spiritual Writings prior to the Council of Trent

After attempting a general overview of certain aspects and characteristics of early Capuchin writings we are now in a position to go into a more detailed critical analysis by evaluating the works in terms of the historical context in which they were composed which was that of the Reformation and Counter-reformation of the Sixteenth and beginning of the Seventeenth Centuries. The writings we will consider here were written before the Council of Trent, and reflect many sources of influence, points of view and indications of what was to come in the future.

1. Bernardino d’Asti and his “Devout Prayers”

It was not by chance that Bernardino d’Asti, who had been very active in reform movements within the Italian Franciscan Observants during the early Sixteenth century, brought a very balanced vision of the spiritual life to the early Capuchins. This vision was very serene, interior, enflamed by charity and apostolic zeal and it had a profound influence on the first period of adjustment of the Capuchin Reform, bringing “minds” together to construct the legislation and the spiritual programme contained in the Constitutions of 1536 which became the guide of the spiritual life, the culture and the structure of the Order for more than four hundred years.

“In order to teach the friars (he) wrote some devout prayers, which he used personally and which contained a few exercises that could be used to develop mental prayer and these were put into print.”[1] The opening words in these ‘devout prayers’ contain an act of adoration of the Most Holy Trinity, which is to be contemplated as “infinite goodness” and “most warm delight”. The heading that precedes the first prayer indicates the objective of the exercise when it says that it is in the mystery of the Trinity that “we can see precisely the first and greatest commandment” of love.

The basic theme of these prayers is in fact love that is fostered in its Trinitarian, Christological, Marian and ecclesial character. This is where the profound meaning of “devotion” lies. The word “love” is used thirty times. The verb “to love” is used five times. On two of these occasions it is synonymous with “charity” and “delight”. The other sentiments come from this and run through all of Bernardino d’Asti’s spirituality. The conclusion of the first prayer clearly expresses the dynamics of love, and this becomes the plan for interior reform and apostolic commitment: “He strongly and inextinguishably enflames my heart with the fire of his most ardent love. This is the most perfect love which never subsides, but accomplishes great things. It destroys all kinds of vice and every vicious love. It never allows me to be separated from your love.” (n. 3743).

This is one of the traits that mark the specific spirit of the Italian spirituality of the sixteenth century. It stresses the importance of love for purifying, transforming and marking the steps in the journey towards God, which is the attainment of perfection and union. It fosters action and apostolate by turning men to God as his brothers. It advocates the divine, ardent and consummate love that is taught in the Dillogi of St Catherine of Genoa and the teaching of Blessed Camilla Battista Varani and passes on the experience of holy founders such as Gaetano da Thiene and St Phillip Neri. It is similar to the letters of St Catherine Ricci and St Maria Maddalena de’Pazzi as well as the content of the Combattimento spirituale by Scupoli and other ascetical authors. It is like the works that deal with spirituality such as the Directorium inflammande mentis in abyssum divini luminis, by the Observant Franciscan Antonio da Moneglia. It ignites innocent souls such as Aloysius Gonzaga. It uplifts the souls of converts such as Girolamo Emiliani and St Camillo da Lellis. Finally, it brought about a major flourishing of works on love and spiritual guidance.

The theme of the interior dynamics of the ascetical life gathered momentum through the influence of Neo-Platonist philosophy and the works of various humanists which developed abstract, but sincere, theories on the kind of love that is “unique, individual and concrete, unique, and which leads to ideal love and the love of God”. However it was among the mystics and the saints that it exploded and had its greatest expression. As we shall see in this review of spiritual text this is the only motive and the express aim that every author, even the most simple and uneducated, state as being their ambition.

In these “devout prayers’ what Bernardino d’Asis reveals most of all is a lifetime filled with an experience of prayer. However, it is not difficult to discover, beyond the various expression of emotion, that there is a genuine teaching or “theory” about the spiritual life that is based on “the fire of divine love” and the “most excellent sacrament” of the Eucharist. This is fed by a deep sense of humility and compassion, by contemplation of the mysteries of Christ and the divine favours as well as devotion to the Virgin, the angels and the saints, that is open to a Catholic and Apostolic interpretation, and is always at war with “every vicious kind of self-love, of the world or of the flesh and all of its delights and vanities,” (n. 3752) in the continual practice of prayer and of praise in its various forms.

Some words such as “mindare”, “ornare”, “illuminare”, “infinatemente”, become like steps along the spiritual road to God, while the continual use of superlatives and the insertion of paradoxical expressions reveal a style that is typical of practicing mystics. One could easily say that Palli is one of those spiritual directors who are simply just that. He does not set down a theory but immediately proposes an exercise, just as Christ did not ask his disciples to discuss prayer methods, but told them to offer an ardent prayer, which was in fact the Our Father. Nevertheless it is impossible not to be aware of how these prayers develop into a transparent, articulate and profound doctrine by means of their themes, objectives and certain words that reveal contemplative journeys and an intimate and personal experience of a mystical way of life.

We find a solid doctrinal, theological, ascetical and mystical basis for this in the rich testimony of the ancient chronicles in which the biography of Bernardino d’Asti is filled with “spiritual sayings” which echo expressions of divine love, of prayer, of the virtues of a genuine Capuchin friar,[2] that are worthy of an authentic master and witness to things of the spirit.

The length of time that he spent as the guide of the Order contributed not a little to making him very aware of the key spiritual issues, and he frequently spoke of them to the friars in his sermons, especially during Chapters and elections when it was also necessary to publically correct the abuses that had happened in order to protect the ideals of the Capuchin Reform. He would have suffered greatly as we can deduce form the chronicles mentioned above both because of the intransigence and the pride of Ludovico Tenaglia who, in 1535, did not want to accept correction concerning spreading his ideas of reform, and also because of the apostasy of Bernardino Ochino in 1542, for which he felt responsible to a certain extent, since by means of his moral authority, he had caused him to be elected once again as head of the Order at the General Chapter in Naples in 1541.[3]

2. Two unpublished text by Bernardino d’Asti

Two unpublished texts, which were not known until recently, treat of two matters: the election of superiors and their correction. There is a circular letter by Bernardino d’Asti, which researchers did not know about, that was sent on the occasion of a Provincial Chapter and which set out procedures for all elective chapters. Because we did not know about it in time we did not include in vol II of this collection. We reproduce it here for the benefit of our readers and to explain the spirituality of the Order.[4]

Letter of Father Brother Bernardino d’Asti Concerning the election

Firstly, I exhort you as strongly as I am able to decide to turn to God in humble and devout prayer and offer him your heart, begging his divine Majesty to deign to enlighten and enflame you with the fire of his divine love and enlighten you about the fathers who, for his honour and the welfare of your Province, you should elect as your father definitors and who as your vicar provincial etc.

Just as we recognise good trees by their fruit, as the Lord said,[5] it is the same with men, who can be called spiritual trees, and so can be recognised by their good fruit. Among the other virtues there are two that are most necessary for a genuine brother of St Francis (especially one who has to govern). These are the practice of humble and devout prayer and the practice of most holy poverty. It is certain that without these virtues a Capuchin friar cannot enjoy divine grace or posses any true virtue. The brothers and prelates should be much more virtuous and devout than their sons and subjects. You should consider carefully which brothers practice more virtue, especially the two virtues just mentioned. These are the ones that you ought to elect and to whom you should give your vote.

You should be careful before hell not to give your vote to any brother who appears to be prudent and wise but is not very devout or who is not a great friend of most holy poverty. Such a one will be sensual and a lover of false charity. Such a brother will incur God’s anger as a perverse son and as being destructive of the province and the observance of the Rule. Remember that it is not enough to elect good friars as definitors and vicar, but you are obliged under pain of eternal damnation to elect the best of all the friars etc.

Concerning correction

Sacred Scripture says that whoever rejects correction is foolish.[6] This is because admonishment is to sin what medicine is to illness: it heals wounds. Just as a person would be foolish and mad to reject medicine and remedies, one who does not gladly accept admonishment is ever more foolish.

What brings confusion into our whole life, what disturbs all order, is not accepting admonishment willingly when it is offered to us by those who care. We upset our friends when we do not accept the admonishment that they offer. It is certain that if you were to praise and thank those who admonished you that they would do the same to you. If you think that you do not need to be admonished you are making a great mistake.

You are not as great, nor as holy, nor as knowledgeable as was the great Moses. Nevertheless this great man, who was learned and wise and a holy friend of God and powerful in word and deed, patiently endured the advice and admonition that was given to by his father-in-law Jethro, who was an ignorant, impudent and barbaric person. Yet, as I have said, when this evil man had seen that Moses had done something disgraceful, had the heart to reprimand him without being concerned about him being so great. He reprimanded him in public and did not spare him. Nevertheless Moses did not become upset and did not underestimate being taught by such a man and accepted his counsel and was not embarrassed by the presence of his subjects when accepting such advice.[7]

Yet we who are so evil and worthless become embarrassed not only at being reprimanded but at being given advice and we become indignant and angry. Therefore let us learn from Moses who was not only undisturbed at the presence of such a large gathering but wanted it to be written down as an example for us so that we would not presume that we knew more than others, or glare at those who speak to us about events, times or places. Blessed Bernard told St Francis to always correct him.[8]

This text needs no commentary as it is so clear, lucid and resonates with the serene, profound, intense, spiritual style of the author.[9] Thus we have the possibility of working on three texts by Bernardino d’Asti that are certainly authentic, even with respect to their style: the circular letter Rallegratevi [10] which was written in 1548, the new circular letter Concerning the election and Concerning Admonishment, and the six Devout Prayers.

The emphasis on the use of the adjective “devout” requires explanation in the semantic context of this important concept, as does the meaning of the word “devotion” in early Capuchin spirituality. In fact it ought to be of important relevance when we consider the choice of superiors, who in order to be elected, had to possess these gifts to an eminent degree. “Fathers and brothers should be much more virtuous and devout than their sons and subjects”. Therefore a “devout brother” was the preferred candidate for being superior over one who simply appeared to be “prudent and wise” but perhaps was “not very devout”.

Devotion was always linked with humility, and both were linked with prayer. This was why prayer had to be devout while humble. These were the adjectives used by Palli. He used them to qualify prayer; “humble and devout prayer”. These adjectives appear in both of the circular letters.

Devotion was an attribute that was inseparable from prayer and it went step by step with poverty so that prayer and poverty became the inseparable signs of charity, the object of the journey of virtue and the fruitful culmination of the spiritual life.[11]

3. Francesco Ripanti da Jesi and Giovanni Pili da Fano

The “doctrine” of love as the final outcome of “humble and devout prayer” and of “most holy poverty” corresponds perfectly to the aspirations of the evangelical and Franciscan reform movement of the early Capuchins. It would also become a method of contemplation in the “Circle of Divine Charity” by Francesco Ripanti da Jesi and of a genuine treatise on the spiritual life, the “Art of Union with God,” “the most devout work” by Giovanni Pili da Fano. These two authors are good vantage points from which to observe complex links between ancient and contemporary trends and spiritual movements in Europe and local regions on which it is necessary to reflect more closely.

The atmosphere in which these writings were developed was an environment of reform which was initially linked with the Franciscan houses of recollection in so far as it cultivated a more intense practice of methodical mental prayer which was where spirituality found a fertile soil. It developed in Ripanti in an original manner and together the mysticism of Bartolomeo Cordoni di Castello (+ 1535) it showed a tendency towards illuminative quietism. Pili expressed it in a more balanced and eclectic way as he combined traditional spirituality with some of the authors of the devotion moderna within the mystical theology of the Observant Franciscan Henry van Herp.

This is a deep little topic that held great interest for Giusepps De Luca. When De Luca undertook research on “the love of God’ in a very serious manner he said that “in the first place one had to consider how love had been viewed across the ages and then, above all, how it had been actually lived out and perceived: what were the signs and the results”.[12] Some of these points will be touched on in our study.

a) The “Circle of Divine Charity” by Francesco da Jesi

The Circle of Divine Charity is a text about spirituality that was physically, but perhaps unintentionally, bound together with the mystical booklet composed by Bartolomeo Cordoni. It gathers and sets out all of the Franciscan theological, biblical, ascetical and mystical religious and spiritual experience of Francesco da Jesi. It contains “his” solution for the problem of the reform of the Church and the renewal of the Franciscan Order which were being debated at the time. Like many of his contemporaries he was convinced that the only way that a real reform could be launched was from a profound charismatic and contemplative experience in which the soul would be enlightened to understand the signs of the times by slotting in the desires of the spirit with the anxieties of the universal Church.

It is clear that this is based on the spiritualist tendencies within the reform movement. It came from a continuous personal search for divine intimacy that came to maturity during the years that Ripanti lived a life of recollection and contemplation in various Umbrian hermitages after he had been engaged in a period of intense active preaching before he finally entered the Capuchin Reform. Once he joined the Capuchins he intensified this, made it deeper and became its teacher and propagator.

It was in this “circle” that Ripanti managed to enclose the brothers following Ochino’s sad apostasy, saving them from a general change of direction and spiritual loss of bearings.[13] In effect the strength of his contemplative experience, when it became a genuine system and method of spiritual “illumination,” gave many religious new energy during the enforced period of pastoral inactivity and, as the early chroniclers say, it was the last brushstroke, the final touch of perfection for the Capuchin Reform in its charismatic period of adjustment as it tried to define its ideal and set up a plan of life.[14] In evident similarity to the spiritualist movement he called it ”the most perfect reform of my Christian brothers.”(cf. 5782)

The link with the mysticism of Bartolomeo Cordoni was deliberately fostered by Girolamo da Molfetta, a Capuchin preacher, and admirer of Bernardino Ochino when he published the work. He dedicated the Dialogo dell’unione spirituale, de Dio con l’anima by Bertolomeo Cordoni, which was printed in Milan in1539, to the disciples of Girolomo Mansi,[15] making use, it would appear to be the older, original manuscript of the treatise as has been demonstrated in an important study by Stanislao da Campagnola.[16] Actually this work by Cordoni had been published already in Perugia in 1538, a few month before the Milan edition, by a disciple of the Observant mystic Father Illarione Pichi, who had been allowed to intervene, as a theologian, concerning the more dangerous points in order to smooth over certain expressions that were seen to be too controversial. The additions that were made by Molfetta when he added a new chapter to the original fifty two solved many of the difficulties.

The first of these, and the most obvious, was the relationship of Cordoni’s spirituality with that of Ripanti’s. Is there real influence or dependence? Although we can say with certainty that Francesco da Jesi knew Bartolomeo Cordoni, it was no more than through a few of his disciples who later on became Capuchins and were his close friends.[17] Campagnola’s hypothesis that suggests that the Epilogo or Circulus charitatis divinae, together with the other work, Alcunae regule de la oratione, that were added to the Milan edition by Molfetta, might constitute the complete publication of the opera omnia of Cordoni,[18] in our opinion, is not sustainable, not only because in the Epilogo it states expressly that the “Circle” was composed by a Capuchin, (cf, n. 3782), but also because its style is completely different. Its division into theological and scholastic sections reveal an author who is familiar with the subtleties of theological knowledge. This is quite different from the preceding fifty two chapters that are composed in the literary style of a conversation free from scholastic pedantry, but filled with dynamic shared experience that is set out in words that are plain, fluent and expressed charmingly though sometimes borrowed from other authors.[19]

Therefore, we consider it as proven that the fifty fourth chapter is part of the text of the Circolo de carità divina by Francesco da Jesi. It would seem that there are no other works of spiritual literature that have this title. The only work that might suggest that the topic had been reworked comes a century later and was composed by Antonio da Francavilla a reform friar minor from the Roman Province.

1) Comparison with the “Circolo serafico” by Antonio da Francavilla

This work has the title: Circolo serafico dell’amore divino. It was printed in Naples by Francesco Savio in 1631[20] and was readily seen as a reproduction of the work of Ripanti. In reality it is completely different with respect to content although some of the images seem to have been taken from Ripanti’s Circle.

A more precise title that can be read in the presentation by the Minister General, Bernardino da Siena[21], on 16th September 1625 at the friary at Aracceli enables us to see the difference: Circolo serafico del divono Amore alle cinque santisaime piaghe di Gesù Cristo per essendarsi nelle tre vie, purgative, illuminative e unitive che concucono l’anima a Dio. [22] In practice the author is suggesting a method of devotion to the five wounds of the Crucified by means of affective prayers to each wound, set out in such a way as to arouse sentiments of humility, of weeping, sorrow and compassion as a way of purification. As the prayers become progressively more ardent their aim is “to teach the most correct, broadest, safest and surest way to enter his glorious wounds”.[23] The objective of the teaching of the “Seraphic Circle” is pure love, humility of heart, purity of intention, the resolution to praise and glorify God exclusively without wishing to know anything else since in doing this, so the author writes; one finds “and fosters the spiritual life.”[24]

The vision is no longer cosmic, universal, involving all of visible and invisible reality, but is narrowed down, intimate and devotional totally concentrating on the image of the one who was wounded and crucified The circular shape is not deduced from a philosophical, theological, biblical intuition or from the dynamic reality of the history of salvation, but it comes about from seeing the devout soul at the foot of the cross as a geometric symbol depicting all of the five wounds of the Crucified.

To gain an insight into the difference in the concept and perspective of this work it suffices to read the graceful and devout dedication of the work.

“Brother Antonio Francavilla, a sinner and poor little man, presents and consecrates, like a lost dove, these few feeble words to the most holy and loving wounds of Christ, the Saviour of the world. For five out a thousand reasons, O my most sweet and loving Saviour, your holy wounds ought to be offered to you in the Seraphic Circle of Divine Love. Firstly because, when drawing the circle the wound in the Side served me as the centre point and those in the hands and the feet served as the circumference. I cast my intellect and will over these and as the two of them came back to the beginning it saw a seraphic circle in which the abyss of all perfection is revealed.

As I know that the smallest spark or grain of sand by their nature seek the circle and the centre where they find rest and protection, so too I ought to allow these few sparks that have been kindled in my heart by the bellows of your grace to draw whoever has been called by my poor efforts into the circle of divine love and the centre of all perfection in your wounds.

Gold is refined by fire and the eagle tests her young with the sun, so too I who do not know the value of these vigils, or whether they are legitimate or adulterous, present them to the furnace which your wounds have kindled, and to their divine splendour, since they were made for your glory may they be beneficial to your faithful. {….}

Therefore, I consecrate to your wounds this work that was composed under their influence, so that just as I began the Circle inspired by the wounds, so too you will draw me on to be perfect and competent. Make me always worthy of your Divine Mercy. Make me always live contemplating your wounds, so that I may merit joining my Seraphic Father Francis in contemplating the infinite circle whose centre embraces everything while not being embraced or restricted by any such limits.” [25]

The initial woodcut depicts the act of conformity: Francis is in front of the Crucified gazing into the sun as if to say that the Crucified is his sun and the light of any genuine Franciscan. This is how that Franciscan devotion was born. Thus Francesco da Francavilla developed a Christ centred affective devotion, whereas Ripanti immersed himself in the light of the Trinity by contemplating Jesus Christ, the God-Man, through the image of the cross where the act of most perfect love of God and of neighbour was born and consummated and where it took effect spiritually in communion with the visible and invisible Church and the entire universe.

2) The progress of symbolic icons and geometric mysticism

From ancient times the act of love has been depicted in the form of geometric circular figures. This is evident throughout a succession of generations including the Platonic and Aristotelian, the Neo-Platonic, Pseudo-Dionysian and Islamic Sufi systems, in Dante, the theory of Arias Montano, in the allegorizes of Lull, in the Diologhi d’amore by Leone Ebreo and the Cabbala. [26]

Without presuming that Ripanti would have been aware of the derivation of such symbols, it is most likely that he would have come to know of them from graphic images that were in common use at the time such as the one that represented the Most Holy Trinity in three circles superimposed on a larger circle on which the monogram YHS had been inscribed in the middle of the cross as in the incunable pamphlet Mons orationis (c. 1490)[27] He might have seen some of the works of Joachim of Fiore an edition of which was published in Venice about 1500. These works contained various images of circles that were interconnected to represent relationships within the Trinity or the interconnection of Bible stories and apocalyptic events.[28] There were also other similar editions and manuscripts.

What is more, it is possible that the concept of the circle might have had iconographic antecedents in Bernard’s monogram, which is a complete circle that contains the three letters of the name of Jesus with the crucifix or a cross which is the same idea as Ripanti’s.[29]

According to the Pseudo-Dionysius the circle was the symbol of infinite divine unity in Christian iconography.[30] It subsequently developed more meanings. The circle represented one aspect of “order”. Three circles put together represented the Trinity. In fact the triangle was the oldest representation of the Trinity. During the Middle Ages it became associated with the circle as the object, subject and matter of meditation. J. Beleth (+ 1201) wrote: “Per delta enim circulariter clausus divina figuratur natura, quae nec principium, nec finem habuit.” Henry Suso (1356) described the reality of the Trinity as three concentric circles. In the sixteenth century the circle was God’s halo.[31]

The symbolic iconography of the circle in the seventeenth century allowed the expression of the fundamental concept of the mystical teaching of Benet of Canfield as it depicted his method of living the spiritual life through the figure of the sun being a circle with two other concentric circles, adorned with many smiling faces, that gazed on the central point where God’s name was inscribed. A series of rays brought the circles to the centre which was all light with no rays. Under the circle Christ appeared in prayer in the Garden where he accepted a chalice from an angel. At his side there were three apostles asleep and at some distance there was Judas with the scribes. Finally the words appeared: Not my will, but your will be done. The sun represents the will of God. The souls (the faces) live in its light with joy. The three circles are the three phases in God’s will: exterior, interior and essential. These make up the three parts of the book, treating souls in the active life, souls in the contemplative life and those beyond this. The closer the circles come to God, who is at the centre, the more enlightened they are by his will. The eyes that are turned towards the centre stand for the pure intention of the souls who are completely conformed to God’s essential will.[32]

3) Decree of condemnation from the Sacred Office

There is a problem, not only with respect to iconography, but also, most of all, with a decree of the Sacred Office that was issued on 8th March 1584 and again on 29th January 1600 condemning the mystical writing of Bartolomeo Cordoni. It was published in a Milan edition (1639) and a Venice edition (1548). It would seem that this came about because of the addition of chapter 53, which in fact is part of Ripanti’s Circolo, [33]

The text of the Decree[34] only condemns the last chapter of Cordoni’s Dialogo which “etiam in mango folio aperto, alterius forsan auctoris opera, circumfertur impressus in utraque parte, altera quidem circulis referta, altera vero triangolo et quibusdam figures insignata ad assertum,[35] quemdam novum et insolitum orandi modum, quaedam non pauca contineri rectae fidei catholicae pauram concona, et quae sub quadam pietatis specie periculosis novitatibus viam aperire [….] quaeque per apertas conserquentias ad haereses hoc infelici tempore grassantes, et ad alias iamdiu damnatas dedecunt {…}.

From this text we can see that the Circulis charitatis divinae was circulated in a printed edition as well as in a large scroll which had illustrated symbolic images of triangles and circles and other shapes that graphically illustrated what was being taught in the text. This “large sheet” was not attached to the published edition of the Dialogo but was a separate publication that circulated among the friars and the spirituals as a poster on the wall. Perhaps Ripanti himself used it as a “teaching aid.” during his “lectures” to the friars on the method of contemplative prayer, as attested by Colpetrazzo, if it is true that the Circolo had already been printed in 1521, while Ripanti was still an Observant Friar Minor.[36]

In any case the decree regarded the two works as being the same and condemned them both placing them on the second level of the Index of prohibited works,[37] Thus Girolomo da Molfetta had unwillingly done something bad to Francesco da Jesi by publishing the Circolo together with Cordoni’s Dialogo. The Roman condemnation was also probably influenced by the fact that the Spanish Inquisition had already condemned the Dialogo in1559. Cordoni’s book had been translated into Spanish and was published in Barcellona in 1546 by Carles Amorós.[38] The negative judgement on the teaching in the Dialogo may have contributed to a distorted understanding of the Circolo, especially since Girolamo da Molfetta when including it as the last chapter headed it with the very ambiguous title: Epilogue to the entire exercise of union reduced to a very brief summary and wonderful technique, thus issuing a warning to theologians who would examine it.

This “apocryphal” heading might imply that the Circolo was nothing but the quintessence of the mystical teaching of Bartolomeo Cordoni and, thus the Dialogo would be its real source. Ripanti might have only reworked it and reproduced it in images having the features of “the circle of divine love” (and this would become “the wonderful technique”), which he set in a series of mental and affective exercises that he had performed for a long time. Perhaps this could have been the way that Girolomo da Molfetta’s understood it or his personal opinion according to which he found the Circolo a very suitable conclusion to Cordoni’s teaching that had similar theological and mystical richness.

The images of circles and triangles as representations of what transpired within contemplative souls must have struck the theologians in the Sacred Office as being very strange. To them the Circolo appeared to be a new method of prayer that was something, unusual, odd and strange and therefore dangerous, outside the spiritual tradition of the Church even, by implication, outside of its teachings, open to the Lutheran and Calvanist heresies and to the quietist spirituality of the Beghards and to the tenets of the ‘alumbrados” and adherents of the free spirit.

We are do not know which theological sensors were consulted other than the names of the members of the commission of Cardinals that met on 8th March 1584 which included Cardinal Giulio Santori, the Cardinal Protector of the Order. However we know that Girolamo Mautini da Narni was assigned by Anselmo Marazto da Monopoli in the last years of 1500 to examine Cordoni’s Dialogo which had reappeared in Venice in 1593 as having been written by “P. F. Bartolomeo della Città di Castello who was a Capuchin.” The condemnation was set out in a codex containing more than 200 pages. It identified 14 erroneous propositions which it defined as: “paradoxes of union”. However it did not examine Ripanti’s Circolo perhaps because it was not contained in that edition, or perhaps it did not want to denounce fellow friars or Mazari might have restricted his field of investigation only to Cordoni’s book.[39]

Mautini offers precious insights as to the meaning of this spirituality, which according to him is not very orthodox, is ambiguous and dangerous as it existed among the Capuchins. He defined the “doctrine of union” as being based on the false teaching that “the breathing of the holy Spirit” is at work in a soul that is united to God. That is why his supporters were known as “unionists” and judged to be “fanatical brothers”. They took “many of the reasons” behind this teaching from Father Evangelista Ferratina da Canniobio (+ 1595). Thus discussions continued among the friars, but the idea that “Father Canobio” was infested with this spiritual doctrine was a “complete abomination”. Girolomeo da Narni thought the same.

At this point the doubt remains and the problem is unsolved as to whether the Circolo which is “a novel unfamiliar method of prayer was actually founded on the doctrine of union”, since Mautini and Ferratina have defined Cordoni’s spirituality as being “paradoxical” Because of the difficulties associated with understanding the Circolo this subject has never been treated.

In the first place we may observe that the implications of certain expressions and words, the structure of the journey, the logic behind the language and the proposed objective are very important. In Bartolomeo Cordoni we have the literary device of the dialogue “where the conversationalists are Divine Love and the Soul as the Spouse and Human Reason” with direct dependence on “the Mirror of Simple Souls” by the Franciscan Beghard Margaret Porete (+ 1310). She described “the spiritual union of God with the soul” in a treatise on the spiritual life, as a journey that progresses in different ways and goes through different phases until it reaches the state of perfect divine love where the soul is completely in love with God and completely transformed into him,”[40]

The soul that wants to be united to God must firstly purify itself by means of “confession” and then by walking ‘the path of humility,” “by the path of faith”, “by the path of the Sacrament of the Altar”, “by the path of self-abnegation, that is by annihilation of one’s own will”, “by the path of infusion”, and most of all “by the path of love and loving affection.” In practice, the last way becomes the state of perfect charity in an annihilated life” and it is the kind of perfection that is striving for the infinite perfection of Divine Love.

The seven steps remind us of the “seven states of grace” of Porete, namely humble obedience, which is faithful to the commandments and the observance of the Evangelical Counsels in overcoming worldly biddings and in loving Jesus Christ as the perfect example for life. In the third state the soul is like a statue of goodness that comes about through the observance of obedience to God’s will and not being able to act unless with goodness and being unable to perform works other than the works of mercy. Next it comes close to a kind of contemplation, as if through spiritual exaltation. It becomes as if it were blind. It sees nothing but the love that surrounds it and fills it. It believes that it has arrived at the extreme limits of contemplation. But before it has achieved perfection it must pas through two more states that belong exclusively to liberated souls.

At first, having been enlightened, it sees its emptiness laid naked. It sees itself as being nothing as being marked with sin in its very essence. The more clearly it discovers itself to be nothing, the more clearly it sees God as being “everything”, the “all good.” It is then drawn to what is “everything” leaving its essential being of sin. Thus it wishes to return to where its desire came from, that is to God. Here it is transformed into the very essence of love by means of an extension and the action of “divine light,” and recognises mystical “emptying” in God that controls the special purification that prepares it for divine union. This is real passive purification in which the soul experiences that it is possessed by a strong desire for the one who is attractive and becomes cast into total obedience that involves action, resolve and judgement.

Thus it passes to the second last stage in which it is completely united with God and exists in God alone. The soul is completely annihilated. Nothingness it becomes everything and everything becomes nothing. This is the state of perfect freedom. Set free from the bonds of reason, without its own will, the soul rises to the contemplation of the Trinity after having passed through a purifying death to sin, nature and the spirit.

At this exact moment God, who is the one who is “Distant-Close”, begins to act giving the humble and annihilated soul a “glorified motion” that sighs in the final state of the beatitude of paradise which is supreme perfection. The annihilation of this soul and of its will in God the Father is like giving its will back to God and it makes it return to the state of purity, the state of innocence, to the paradise that Adam lost and in this way the consequences of Original Sin are cancelled. This union of wills implies the definitive abdication of the human will under the divine will. The human will acts no longer. It is only God, when he wishes, who is able to act, since it is he alone who is acting. The doctrine of the free spirit with its “mystical fatalism” and “quietist tendencies” corrupted the teaching on abandonment of one’s own will and gave all the followers of pure love a bad reputation. Indeed, almost always, this “apathy” of soul was joined to view that the body was incapable of suffering.[41]

The close relationship between Cordoni’s Dialogo and Proete’s Spechio has been well examined in certain recent studies and we shall not dwell on them any longer.[42]

Cordoni spent almost half of his Dialogo dealing with the “exercise of love” as a consequence of the soul’s union with God. Ripanti, instead, while echoing a few of the concepts that were also present in Cordoni’s Dialogo, concentrated his efforts on the way and method of arriving at making an act of perfect love as the fullness of the divine life in man. Obviously this is “his” method that had been gained by the experience of meditating for a long period of time. He maintained that it was centred on the symbol of the cross that displayed a continually fluid act of most perfect love that flowed from the unsatisfied thirst of the Crucified Christ, that was irresistible, arresting, “evidence of the most perfect love”, and which moved out in a circular fashion between Christ and the Most Holy Trinity and the Church enveloping all visible and invisible reality. The more one is united to Christ, the more one becomes part of this “circular movement” until he is totally transformed into love in a way that could not have happened except by means of the act of most perfect love of Christ. The soul always remains, from beginning to end, centred on Christ and on the cross. Christ’s humanity is not suppressed to make way for an abstract Deity. By their loving characteristics all the acts unfold in the vortex of the love of the Crucified and blossom in the mystery of the Trinity.

To achieve this Ripanti makes use of his extensive theological and biblical knowledge, especially, so it would appear, his familiarity with Scotus to describe the various stages and moments in contemplation. Using expressions that are heavily scholastic and that reflect his theological lectures, he attempts to enter into, so to speak, Christ’s Pascal mystery, the mystery of the Word Incarnate, true God and true Man, to discover the secret thoughts of love ad intra and ad extra, as he says, and to try to assimilate them, imitate them and share them as they are an “instrument of the Saviour and mystical member of Holy Church”. The perfect act of love, which God demands in the “first tablet” of the law, in the Evangelical Counsels, necessarily becomes an act of perfect love for neighbour. In radical ascetical tones Ripanti spells this out in the commandments of the “second tablet” and in the 14 works of mercy.

One can discover a similarity with Cordoni’s teaching in some of his terminology, such as “instrument”,[43] “exercise of divine love”,[44] as one can see. There are many other expression, for example “the way of humility” and when he suggests “nothingness”, “annihilation”, and “having nothing” (n. 3799),[45] but especially the perfect way of love that are different from Ripanti. However, the symbol of the circle as an act of love is missing from the Dialogue, while, as the author is not a theologian but only a mystic, good use is made of expressions that have been secretly taken from the Specchio delle anime semplici by Porete. As we have said these have not been counted properly and they lean dangerously towards the heresy of the free spirit and quietism.

5) The doctrine of Scotus and the “Circolo’ of Ripanti

On the other hand Ripanti was influenced by the doctrine of Duns Scotus who explains how pure love of God because of his infinite liveableness includes in the one eternal act the love of beings all that are capable of loving God, that is men and what serve them as a means for that love that is the universe. In the act of perfect love there are two objects. The first object is God alone. The second object is the things that are capable of loving God. In loving them we tend towards God. Thus God is not to be loved as one good among others, as bonum condiligendum (One good along with others). This is love that is based on the unity within the pure act of love for the multiplicity of created beings.

God wants the object to be reached in one perfect direct act. Next, he wants what is immediately connected to this end because he has predestined those he has chosen to reach this end alone. “Achieving” this is like performing a circular action, quasi reflectendo, by which he wants others to love the same object that he loves. This predestination means that he wants to have certain beings who love along with him that is beings who have the same kind of love as he has within himself… The first among those who were predestined was Jesus Christ, who is at the head of all loving predestination.

Thirdly, he wants to provide the things that are necessary for achieving this end that is the gifts of grace. Fourth, he wants to provide a universe for those who are predestined where things are good in such a way that is acceptable to the divine will. This is disinterested and pure love, because of the infinite amiability of the divine essence from which every kind of love is born and to which it flows back. Therefore, it is clear that love “of divine friendship” (amcizia divina) is part of this “loving exercise”, and, what is more important; it is more “excellent” than any other knowledge that we might subsequently have of God. This is why Ripanti calls is “suppremo culto divino” (“supreme divine worship) and considers it to be “infinitely precious and of immense value.” (n. 3778)

Christ’s primacy, his universal mediation and his place at the centre of the universe subjects all creatures, especially mankind, to the Incarnate Word, as body members are subject to the head. The fundamental reason why things are intrinsically good is that Christ was predestined to have the most perfect love that it was possible for a creature to have.

This is one of the lessons of the history of salvation. St Francis said that Jesus “was the marrow of Sacred Scripture and theology”. (n. 3780). For Duns Scotus the human capacity to love es natura sua is directed ad summum amandum, et quidem bonum infititum. Therefore the objective of the natural law is to love and serve God.[46] There is a similarity between natural law and the commandments of the Decalogue contained on the two Tablets. On the first Tablet two commandments state, in a negative manner, what their immediate object is. They are laws of nature in the strict sense since man cannot achieve his ultimate end, which is the Supreme Good, without loving him. If there is a God, he is to be loved. This is the rule of rules. The third Commandment, which is expressed in both a negative and positive way, is the same.

All seven Commandments on the second Table, the first in a positive way and the rest in a negative way, can be summed up in the precept of love of neighbour which comes from the love of God. Christ pushed love of neighbour beyond what is contained in the natural law. God’s excessive love wanted to adapt the means to the end. Christ is the only means by which to achieve perfect love for God who is the final end. This is where man’s free will and the initiative of God’s will come into the story. Thus Christ is “the mediator of divine and completely supernatural charity, the fullness of the love that God placed in man when he created him. The Son of God who was made man out of love, God made man out of love.”[47]

Starting from this Scotist vision which needs to be read and understood, Ripanti’s Circolo di carità divina, differs from Cordoni’s Dialogo, which is a mixture of spiritual texts taken from Ubertino da Casale, Ugo Panziera, Henry van Herp, and Jacopone da Todi together with Porete’s Specolo that conditioned the style and structure of the work.

6) Other theological and spiritual links and points of comparison

As well as the extensive influence of Scotus one finds that there are other doctrinal and spiritual links that are very important. For example there is the unpretentious presence of St Bonaventure’s thought. In fact the Seraphic Doctor uses the image of the circle to describe the action of God. He says that everything was created in the Word, and in the Word it returns to God. Ratzinger presents Bonaventure’s “circle” as having Christ as the centre of history: God –Outward Movement – Christ – Return Movement – God. [48] Here is the exact text: “Ut autem perfectissima esset figura universitatis linea curvata est in circulum, primis enim simpliciter Deus, ultimus in operibus mundi, homo. Cum ergo Deus factus est homo, Dei perfecta sunt opera. Ideo ipse Christus, Deus-homo, vocatus alpha et omega, id est principium et finis.”[49]

As God-man-world Jesus Christ forms a “circulis intelligiblis”(intelligible circle)” As a representative of the perfect man who is on a “journey”, the contemplative should always look on Christ as being the centre point of this circle. He should see him as representing the entire Church and therefore all of humanity. Christ alone can use the world as a “ladder” on which to stretch his arms out to men, his “brothers”, so that they may receive the merciful embrace of God the Father “medium, cum amissum est in circulo, iveniri non potest nisi per duas lineas se orthogoaliter intercestantes (since the centre of the circle may only be reached by the two lines that stretch across it and intersect},[50] the axis and centre of gravity of the world and of the cross. At the same time this gives meaning to both Christ and humanity. This should draw a person to the cross both in his mind (spiritually) and in his flesh (physically). The perfection and unique vocation of mankind can only be achieved by being “crucified”. The “Crucified Word” transfigures creatures by transforming them through the cross, which is the seal of Trinitarian love. This is the meaning of Ripanti’s powerful statement: that this implies “the recreation of my brothers to be perfectly conformed to Christ.” This entails that the “deformation” of the image that was caused by sin has been “reformed’ by following the road that is Christ crucified to the point where the “deformation” of the image is restored by the appearance of Jesus, the perfect Man and the image of God.[51]

The idea of the “intelligible circle” came from the works of the Pseudo- Dionysius. The whole of visible creation is focused on the human soul which is at the centre of the circle. The “appetitus” (“desirability”) of bodily creatures who are endowed with senses is an aspect – according to Bonaventure’s teaching – “of the deep vibrant order of what is in the “intelligible circle” which is a created reflection of the most perfect, uncreated life of the Triune God. The soul, which is the most noble of all forms, is the peak of all creation, and of the “intelligible circle” in which creation is situated and in which it returns to its origin.”[52]

The “reduction” (“return journey”) to God takes place in and by means of freedom of will. Thus man was really “in modo constitutus” (as he was created) was placed between God, the Creator, and created things where he was both (“egrussus”} moving away from created things and (“reductio”)[53] returning to God. Ripanti thus says that free will is the precious pearl that God has given thus making human nature just like his divine nature, (cf. n. 3813).

The only source that is quoted in the Circolo on two occasions is Dionysius the Areopagite. However, many other passages show the influence of Pseudo-Dionysius.[54] Other passages that might have contributed to the development of the symbol of the circle are to found in Jacopone de Todi who, among other things, in Lauda 90 sings:

Amor, amor, tu se’ cherchio rotondo
Cos tuto ‘l cor chi c’entra sempre t’ama.
Con il dolce sentire – che sempre grida amore

This symbolic image was also a part of the mystical experience of Saint Margaret of Cortona. Her Confessor, Fra Giunta, wrote that in a vision of Seraphim, while she was on her knees with love, “there suddenly appeared a great circle in front of her. Within the circle there was a angel on a cross resembling our Lord and Saviour.”[56]

There are various references to the teaching of Blessed Angela da Foligno who situates the basis of perfection on the cross and then develops her programme of love. “At one time I was inspired and drawn to consider the beloved when I was contemplating the divinity and humanity of Christ, [….]. It seemed to me that he wanted the soul to burn with the love that He had for us, with all the might of the soul.”[57] In B. Angela da Goligno we read: “a sublime circle, that contains love: at first as it comes to Christ, then, in Christ, ascends to God, and from this sublime height it returns down with more strength to creatures as love of them in God, which is a sign of the seal of the rectitude of divine love, by means of which the right measure cannot be wrecked, or capitulate under the violence of the snares of lust, so that then once the Supreme Being has been recognised and loved, the soul knows and loves how this affects it. According to what the Supreme Being wills, this cannot fail.”[58]

There is also an interesting connection with the Dominican mystic Giovanni Tauler and a wonderful page in his Istituzioni. The connection was not intentional since Ripanti would not have known about him.

“The more the spirit hungers for what is divine, the more God wants to fill his empty capacity for knowledge we have an infinite circle in which though the faculty of knowledge is full it is still hungry, and when it is full it overflows and seeks food everywhere, finding food it becomes bloated. Here we have the wonderful intelligible circle. God grasps the spirit, making it like himself and able to know him by means of a contemplative, supernatural light and allows us to comprehend intuitively by means of an intelligible circle that is by means of the cyclical understanding of the spirit.

Furthermore God is a, illuminated incomprehensible circle which includes within itself man’s immense spirit as if it were a dot. Man’s capacity for understanding is vaster than heaven or earth but is regarded as being so small in comparison with the extraordinary incomprehensible immensity of God so as to be hardly worth mentioning. Yet his created essence remains and it is only when he begins to reason that he becomes lost in the immense incomprehensible glow of the divinity. His humanity is infallibly linked to this enlightenment in a way that is more pure than the way that the air is penetrated by the light of the midday sun. Here indeed light and sun are intimately united and yet light does not deprive the air of its own nature. It only purifies it, clears it makes it better and transforms it. The same thing happens to man’s spirit. It becomes most purely enlightened and noble in God and transformed into the likeness of the divinity and yet with all this sublime illumination it does not forfeit the status of being a created being.

He recognises that he ought to honour God as the source of his being created out of nothing. He came from God by a natural process and returns to Him by a supernatural process. This is where he comes from. Here the spirit plunges into the bottomless sea of the divinity. . He can say God is within me, outside me, around me and everywhere. God is all of me and I am nothing without God.”[59]

Ripant’s Circolo, as a “perfect method of contemplation”, is a mystical treatise that comes from much reading, among which one cannot omit particularly the Arbor vitae by Ubertino da Casale as the source of many passages. However it is enough for us to note the following in which Ubertino deals with reformatio sexii status (the reformation of the sixth state) and explains the meaning of contemplatio Christi secundum quod homo (contemplation Christ as man) as well as Redeemer and Mediator. “We know this because of what he said. My name is new. He used the word new because the union of his human nature to a divine person and what took place in this is what constituted the whole of the redemption of the chosen ones. Note the deep meaning of his name as it demonstrates the perfect method of contemplation. He is the one who came from God into the city of the saints and, in Jesus Christ, brought them peace by two kinds of embracing so that a glorious circle was formed by God for the saints in the holy sacrament of the God-Man. See how this gives special clarity to the notion of God and his whole city, and special understanding and insight into the work of redemption and into whom Jesus Christ is.”[60]

All of this took place in Francis as Bartolomeo da Pisa says in De conformitate, “There were three movements in Blessed Francis: direct movement towards God, reflex movement towards neighbour through being considerate and a circular movement in both of these whereby he gazed on God and executed what God told him.”[61]

Undoubtedly Ripanti who would have read the Mystical Theology by Henry van Henry would have known the following passage that deals with the circle. “To love anyone forms a circle because love should have no end or measure, because according to Dionysius eternal love stretches out like a never ending circle going from good to better in an unending circle. The spirit of love is contained in this circle moving on into infinity becoming ever fuller and since it is reaching for fulfilment it is never satisfied and lives up to what is written: Whoever eats me will still be hungry. Whoever drinks me will still thirst.”[62]

The symbolic image of the circle can be found in many spiritual authors of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. . G. Bona wrote: “This admirable circle progresses from incipient love to love and develops by means of anagogic and enflaming aspirations”.[63] However, there is perhaps no one who expresses the profound meaning of the circular motion of the love of Christ and of the soul better than St Veronica Giuliani when she quotes these words as coming from the lips of Christ: “Love does not just remain in you, it draws you to me, so that when you come to me you see that there is no love in you, you do not know love and realising this you love me with pure love, because everything comes from me and I place it in you so that you will understand what love is as it accomplishes everything in you. In you there is neither love nor recognition of what it is, since what I place in you should return to me completely, and my love should draw you to me and return to me entirely.”[64]

Following this useful diversion, returning to the initial problem of whether Cordoni’s Dialoglo was the main source of Ripanti’s Circolo, we can reply in the negative for the reason just cited above and, most of all, because there is no link with Porete’s Speculum or with the doctrine of the “breath of the Holy Spirit” which is the basis of the spirituality of the “unionists” who were the followers of Bartolomeo Cordoni. Having set these things aside, as I have said above, we find some analogies and similarities in the final chapters where he describes the “state’ and the “exercise of love” and where perhaps to a certain extent he adapts the image of the “most solemn Mass” from Ubertino when he concludes the Dialogo.

“The beloved feeling as if he were almost Christ, takes on the office of the high priest Christ, as he has been completely transformed by divine clarity and love, and out of inestimable love for God and neighbour, celebrates with Christ and through Christ having altissimis affectibus (the highest affection) towards the living and the dead, for Turks, for Moors, for Saracens, and for all races, for the benefit of everyone, because it was instituted for everyone, and offers himself to God, together with all the Church militant and triumphant the supreme infinite treasure, that is the treasure of the Most Holy Trinity.”[65]

b) Arte della unione” by Girolomo Pili da Fano

The Circolo di carità divina was produced as a method of lofty loving contemplation, It presented its objective by repeating certain characteristic phrases such as “loving exercise”, “most perfect exercise”, ‘introductory art and method”, “method of perfection”, “most perfect method”, “wonderful method”, “method and art”, “introductory art”, “organised divine worship”, “right rule”, “sacred circular exercise”, “circular images in the present exercise”, ‘brevity” etc. these words emphasise and provide a structured method designed for determining the material for meditation, the activity of the three faculties of the soul, ejaculatory prayers and interior emotions. However this is just a rough outline, a quite short list that is sometimes difficult to understand. It was really a method for the cream of the crop among those who were educated and theologically sophisticated, in contradistinction to those targeted by Giovanni Pili da Fano who had presented a well set out manual concerning the path to perfection, and an explanation of the ascetical and mystical development of the spiritual life, in a practical manner, in popular language aimed at being useful for both the educated and the simple.

This manual is called: Operetta devotissima chiamata: Arte de la unione, la quale insegna unire l’amina con Dio, utilissima non solo a li Regolari, ma ancora a li Secolari spirituali et devoti. (Very devout little book called: The Art of Union, which teaches how to unite the soul with God, most useful not only for Religious, but also for Secular people who are spiritual and devout.) These words seem to echo the Dialogo by Bartolemoe Cordoni which stresses the concept of “the spiritual activity of God within the soul” as being his essential objective. In fact, once you have paged through this little book, with its ancient gothic script, one becomes aware of the notable influence of the mystical teaching that uses an unedited manuscript but never mentions the author.[66] An analysis of the sources used in composing this “most devout work” yields relevant results that are, to a certain degree, disconcerting but very interesting.

1) An analysis of the sources: the tradition, contemporary value and “Arte del ben pensiero” (Art of good thinking) by Pietro da Lucca

In addition to the Biblical and patristic sources, especially St Augustine, St Bernard, St Jerome and St Gregory, that were cited from works that were attributed to them rather than actually being written by them, Pili quoted Cassian, Anselm, Dionysius the Areopagite, the Victorines Richard and Hugo, Gerson and St Bonaventure. Such quotes were normally not from the original work, but were second hand and taken from other works that were not acknowledged. Only occasionally did he suggest some books that could be read in order to meditate on Christ’s Passion. On two different occasions he recommended the Meditazioni by St Bonaventure (pseudo) and “a small book entitled Arte del ben pensare.” By way of a summary of the practice of the whole of the spiritual life as proposed in his treatise he proposed the Stimolo del divino amore by St Banaventure (actually Ugo di Balma) and Giovanni Gerson, which also might have been “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis. He also referred to the Meditations by St Bernard and St Anselm and others. We imagine that he also made use of other devout spiritual authors who were popular at the time.

These titles reflect either the continuation or rediscovery of medieval spirituality, or a new application of this in a different environment, the so-called devotion moderna which was the inspiration for many reform movements that emphasised methodical mental prayer. However there was only one author, among the many authors who were expressly named, or who remained anonymous, that was a contemporary of Pili and he was the Lateran Canon regular Pietro Lucca (+ after 1522) who wrote Arte del ben pensare from which he may have derived an unacknowledged idea for calling his “most devout work” Arte de le unione.

There are a few pithy spiritual books by Pietro da Lucca the best of these is the one cited above: Arte del ben pensare, or better Arte nova del ben pensare e contemplare la passione d il nostro Signor Greù Cristo benedetto,[67] which appeared in many editions beginning with the first edition in Bologna in 1523. The author was an excellent preacher and spiritual director of many souls, among whom there was Blessed Elena dell’Oglio, his confrere Serafino da Fermo and a supporter, Battista da Crema.

The Arte nova was in fact born in the context of preaching a Lenten course in Venice “in our church della Charità” and was intended to be “a short concise conclusion” and a “spiritual testament” for his Advent and Lenten course in Venice. He explained this himself:

“I have once more arranged and set out the present tract in the common Tuscan idiom, nothing like Dante or Petrarch, but in words that are simple and pure, such as befit such a work. […] Therefore let all my devout Venetian listeners receive the present work with the pious sentiments with which I composed it and dedicated it to their name. When they recall all of the sermons, which number about two hundred, in the great city of Venice during three Lents and two Advents that we preached, the present teaching will serve as a recapitulation and short conclusion that will be my spiritual testament and memorable gift which contains the most worthy, honourable, useful and simple doctrine that one could find and is a sign of the heartfelt love that I leave and give then as I depart.”[68]

The work progresses in five main sections each of which is subdivided into two points or paragraphs with the objective of being a review of the traditional method of meditating on the Passion of Christ. In the first part, which mainly treats “twelve beautiful documents and presentations”, the author suggests important rules of discernment for those who write and preach about Christ’s Passion since often “they write or preach what is vain and puerile and what is not to be regarded or held to be true”[69] As an example he cited the Madonna who appears to be distressed at the death of Jesus, even when this is an oratorical exaggeration to incite emotion and weeping among the listeners. There are some “who are too curious in wanting to know the extent of the pain suffered by our most clement Lord on the harsh wood of the cross.” There are those who exaggerate saying: “the pain and suffering of our Saviour was greater and bitterer than all other pain put together, of all men, even the damned.” Some also say that from the first instant of his conception to his death Jesus always experienced pain and this is false and erroneous.[70]

Furthermore the author reveals that “some preachers are confused when they read in Sacred Scripture that, when the impudent Jewish dogs detained our Saviour violently in a brutal martyrdom that, as he was dying a cruel and violent death, he raised his soul to his Father, and yet they do not know how to explain how what is violent can at the same time by voluntary.” Such critical assessment also includes “many devout contemplatives or faithful listeners who do not know how to distinguish between “real and suspect history and what must be believed” and what is related “as something that is pious, probable and contemplative.” When this attitude is what prevails “in order for it not to become temerarious,” one needs to restrain “Christians who are not devout and who so not believe” from “deriding such innovation…”

However, at the same time, “simple people who are contemplating” need “ most of all to be careful that the enemy does not trick them”, because it can happen that he may sometimes reveal a hidden sin to them making them pass bad judgement on their neighbour, sometimes he arouses and puts sadness into innocent hearts, or makes them cry so rashly over the death of the Lord that their minds become so disturbed that they do not sleep because of how that makes them feel” and claim that they “have known someone like that because they are so simple,”[71] He adds a piece of extraordinary advice against false stigmata: “It seems to me that the time that was foretold has arrived when in nivissimis diebus abubdabit illusores etc. (in the last days there will be an abundance of those who will deceive). I confess to have known many to which such things have happened, a few of whom I believed were loved by the Lord God. I believe that out of ten people who experience such things that you would not find at least one who would not be in the circumstances necessary for such persons. It is only simple people who are easily overcome by such spiritual temptations who do not believe or rely on themselves but submit themselves to someone else’s judgement.”[72]

There is also a complaint against “many heretics, infidels and simple Christians” who “believe that our faith teaches that God suffered death and torment in his divine nature, such a thing is very wrong”.[73] This is like the error and ignorance that is evident in the work of certain artists who paint. For example, they paint “the thieves as not being secured to the cross with nails but with ropes”, or what is more common, “almost all popular artists like some educated men believe that the Our Lord’s breast was wounded by a lance and this is how they paint it, yet they know that he was not wounded in the breast but beneath it in the soft flesh between the pectoral bones.”[74]

The final observation “makes us understand the reason why the mental exercise of thinking about and meditating on the Lord’s Passion is so easy and beneficial, yet a few perform it without gaining any substantial benefit […]. The reason why so few ascend the pinnacle of the mount of contemplation is nothing but human error and negligence which consists of two things: the first is that they rarely begin the exercise of contemplating and meditating on the Lord’s Passion using the required method or system for such a noble and worthy undertaking […]. The second thing is … not remaining firm in their resolutions.”[75]

The other parts of the Arte nova describe “the twelve wonderful fruits” that come from “the twelve meditations and acts of meditation on the sacred and beloved Passion of Our Lord”. The enumeration includes “the twelve most pressing symbols by means of which every person no matter how rough and hard can easily be induced to weep with devout tears over the cruel and bitter death of Christ Jesus , our Blessed Redeemer.” By means of such meditation one comes to the final part which contains the history of the Lord’s Passion in twelve articles, following the text of the holy Gospels. Many pious meditations and affective acts of contemplation will be developed from these scenes in union with the loving tears of the Virgin Mary.”[76] The entire Arte by Pietro di Lucca should lead towards the most wonderful fruit which “loves divine and excellent union.” [77]

The method and active participation of the one who is meditating seem to perfectly coincide with Franciscan and Capuchin affective spirituality. Let us look at these short passages that must have influenced the content and style of Pili’s Arte de la unione. “When you go to meditate, it is good to select a solitary place and also to choose the suitable time for such an exercise since in the night after digesting food completely, or the early morning. It could also be, as some do, at the time for Mass. Finally with regard to time and place you choose what is most comfortable and suitable for you, where it is easiest for you to meditate and where you can more easily experience your Lord. You should prepare yourself for meditation. Thus you should read, or listen to the story and keep it in mind, selecting the main points and single them out. At the time of meditation do not consider them all at once but take them one by one slowly, dwelling on each one for a short time. Digest them well and think through them in the manner that we will describe below. Keep the Lord ever before your mind and imagine everything as if you had been present and taking part in everything.”[78]

The aspect of “experiencing” the Passion is also emphasised, even during the penitential exercise of corporal flagellation, which is also contained in the Capuchin Constitutions. “Take a good and hard whip and hit your flesh strongly think of how much greater was the suffering of the Saviour. Thus as you strike yourself bitterly think of the harsh scourges of your beloved as if they were being inflicted on your soul so that this will show your great love and willing desire.”[79]

Thus meditation on Christ’s Passion as it affected his human nature becomes a step towards thinking of it in terms of his divinity. “Here I am not speaking to you about the contemplation of his divinity, which is very high and difficult. I only suggest calling to mind the Lord’s humanity that is what took place according to his human nature, which were all visible happenings, and which resemble a ladder for rising up to what is incomprehensibly divine.”[80]

2) Three spiritual masters who are important sources of the “Arte de la unione”

He exhibits another facet of being in touch with what was contemporary, even if in a veiled way, without ever indicating his sources, when he literally dips his fingers into three masters who wrote about spirituality: Enrico van Herp (+1477), Garcia de Cisneros (+1510) and Bartolomeo Cordoni (+1535), the last of which we have already spoken about.

Pili’s ability to collect ideas enabled him to set out Herp’s mystical theology in a coherent and systematic way. Herp had merged Bonaventure’s ancient tradition,. that of the Victorines, of Gerson and of the North of Holland with the method of prayer that had been established at Montserrat by the Abbot Garcia Jimènez de Cisneros and with the glowing material in the teaching concerning mystical experience in Cordoni. His choice could not have been cleverer or more daring. We believe that it is precisely these three authors that can explain the whole subsequent development (after 1536) of Capuchin spiritual literature, and its different features as well as its ascetical and devotional outlook and the various ways in which methods of mental flourished as the journey of the mystic guided by theology and, ultimately, the continued increase and steep rise in mystical experiences.

The Arte de la unione was set out in three parts dealing with the purgative, illuminative and unitive ways. The purgative way was developed in sixteen chapters, the illuminative in two and the unitive in eleven. After these twenty nine chapters there followed a final summary entitled’ “A Marvellous Spiritual Exercise Dealing with the Three Ways Set Out Above, Which Is Developed and Imagined as Taking Place in a Palace.” It treats the various acts of the spiritual life in an ascending movement that is to be repeated each day. It is here that the original contribution of Giovanni Pili da Fano can be seen through the addition of a kind of small outline or manual of daily devotional exercises. The idea is to offers suggestions and it would seem that its logic inspired Molfetta to place the image of a circle at the end of Cordoni’s Dialogo in a similar way to how the symbol of a palace was placed here to serve as a summary and an all-inclusive representation of the Art of Union.

It might be helpful to measure the percentage of the occurrences of the three above-mentioned authors in the “most devout work of Pili.” Fifteen chapters are predominantly based on Henry van Herp, ten on Cisneros and five on Cordoni. That means that half the work came under the influence of Herp, one third came from Cisneros and a sixth from Cordoni. Basically these percentages show that Pili was more attentive to tradition than to novelty. He used tradition with great discernment, with the addition of explanatory words and clarifications when the meaning was theologically ambivalent.

It is also interesting to note that the mystic Cordoni was only used practically with regard to the purgative way. Herp and Cisneros are more obvious in the other two ways: the influence of Herp being more pronounced in the purgative way, (9 chapters compared with 4 for Cisneros), with both contributing equally to the illuminative and unitive ways (6 chapters each).

Therefore it is important to think about these choices and omissions since very important themes and thoughts arose from them which became relevant for the spirituality of the early Capuchins. From Cordoni’s Dialogo the early Capuchins mainly made use of the chapters that treated “the way of confession,” the “way of humility,” and “the way of faith,” completely omitting the “way of the breath of the Holy Spirit”.

With regard to the chapters that deal with the topics of “mortification”, “fear” and “intent’ and ,especially, in the unitive way, the teaching on ejaculatory prayer and introversion or the ascendency or rousing of the interior lowers faculties, the author drew on the Teologica mistica by Herp.

From the Exercitatorium by Cisneros, which he must have read in the Paris Latin version of J. Petit on 1511, or of Siviglia of 1534, the author took the pages that deal with the importance of “spiritual exercises,” methodical prayer for each day of the week, unitive love and the effects of divine love and details concerning the relationship between contemplative and active life.

3) Garcia de Cisneros

Giovanni da Fanos’ real intention seems to have been to insert the programme contained in the work of Garcia de Cisneros into the material contained in Cordoni and Herp, carefully sifting through it in such a way that it became available and helpful to simple people making a life of mystical love and divine love available to everyone.

What Cisneros had done for the monks at Montserrat,[81] he wished to adapt for the young Capuchin Reform and so he offered a deep insight into the constant practice of methodical prayer as an indispensable part of the spiritual formation of the friars. In practice it became the first manual of a genuine Capuchin school of piety and devotion, with detailed prescriptions relating to the time and places “of the study of prayer” indicating authors, texts and the precise circumstances to be followed in practice.

This study commences in the noviciate, which is the institutional symbol of the purgative way, where “beginners’ on the journey of the spirit are required to make a general confession. This suggestion which was made by Cisneros was accepted by Pili, who, however, was not speaking to novices only but also to “spiritual and devout lay people.” However, he says that “it is only expedient that you make a general confession if you wish to enter the most devout exercise of uniting the soul to God.” (n 3830) Nevertheless, this was demanded in the Constitutions of the Order at that time and it became common practice. It is significant that the importance of Sacramental confession was strongly emphasised for the spiritual life even though the Eucharist is not mentioned.

Novices, who are beginners, were then initiated to some pious considerations on material that led to fear, such as sin, death, the last things and the life and Passion of the Lord and of the Madonna.

As in the Exercitatorium by Cisneros these topics were spread out over a week, so as to come into the mind habitually. They were “exercised” after matins, by concentrating on sin on Monday, death on Tuesday, hell on Wednesday, judgement on Thursday, the Christ’s Passion on Friday Mary’s sufferings on Saturday and the glory of Paradise on Sunday. (nn. 3886-3901). Obviously these topics had to be taken up and committed to memory just like the formulas of vocal prayers. In the depths of the night, after the Office of readings had been celebrated, in a state of deep recollection, the brother went down on his knees and began meditating. He made a small sign of the cross on his forehead, lips and breast, invoking the Holy Spirit with the Veni Sancte Spiritus while repeating three times “Deus in adiutorium”, just like Cisnernos had told his monks to do. But here, following the Franciscan spirit, Pili added the preliminary invocation of the names of Jesus and Mary.

In developing the meditation many small points were suggested as a guide to developing the “proper order” of motives and affections. Due consideration was also given to the position of the body which ought to correspond to the inner dispositions according to their gradual progress from the “distracted life to a life of compunction” then onto a “superior life”. From here on passing into the illuminative way of life is easy, when slothful meditating has been overcome and the soul is endowed with God’s gifts that nourish prayer of praise and thanksgiving. These steps are also distributed over the days of the week: Monday the gifts of creation, Tuesday, “gratifificazione” (that is the reception of the grace of God), Wednesday, Vocation, Thursday, justification, Friday, “dotazione” (God has bestowed a dowry), Saturday, “gubernatione” (that is how God protects us) Sunday, glorification. (nn. 3905-3913).

4) Henry van Herp

If in the main points that he made Cisneros provided Giovanni da Fano with a practical and well laid out plan for methodical mental prayer, Henry van Herp presented him with the practice of mortification that ought to animate and nourish the purgative and illuminative ways as well as the practice of aspirations that joined the illuminative way to the unitive way.[82]

Herp starts from the incorporation of Christ, which is different from the imitation of Christ. This is the starting point for the devotion modern. It emphasises the development of the practice of the moral virtues. Herp starts from a mystical point of view that sees Christ as the centre of the spiritual life which deifies humanity but not by changing it essentially, but by a loving transformation. The soul which comes from the abyss of divinity, having been stripped of its human faculties, receives the action of God and of exalted spiritual faculties and by means of this supernatural union divine light breaks out and floods the will and the memory.

To achieve this objective the quickest way is by turning within, that is by searching for God in the depths of the soul. This requires the intense convergence of all the faculties in the inner space where the Trinity dwell. The path is studded with “twelve mortifications,” that are directed towards stripping the will of all affections that are not directed towards God. He hardly mentions corporal penances so as to mainly insist on interior functions, such as being hypersensitive, love of self and merely human motivation which are to be overcome entirely.

The first mortification begins with poverty as a privileged instrument for achieving perfection, not just in so far as it is external poverty, but most of all as inner poverty “by denying the emotions and not being too busy so as to be more free and emotionally naked to fly into the naked arms of him who was crucified, the beloved Jesus Christ.”[83] In a passage cited by Colpetrazzo, Francesci da Jesi also explains how the very strong conviction and spiritual option for poverty by the early Capuchins is in perfect agreement with the teaching of Herp.

“If external poverty is so important that whoever does not have it is lacking in spirit, what greater importance shall we attach to spiritual poverty, which consists in complete detachment from all earthly things? I tell you that a person can practice as much abstinence as he wants, give himself to prayer, give himself up to strict religious observance, go into the desert, but still in spite of all this be caught up in the drama of love of self or affection for worldly things and never have an authentic spirit. Therefore true spiritual poverty consists in not having affection for anything but God. This is what our Seraphic Father called lofty knowledge. However to come down to what is basic, I say that whoever has affection for family and friends, the little things that he uses, such as books and other things cannot love God perfectly. […]

You are obliged not to love yourself, indeed to hate yourself, and to love God alone. Therefore, be aware that you do not belong to yourself, but to God and therefore you need to give yourself to him so that he can do with you what will result in giving him more glory without having any concern about yourself. You should be resigned to the will of God, so that if the result of you going to Hell rather than going to Heaven would afford him greater glory you should be content of heart and pray continuously that he will glorify himself through you. You ought to desire nothing more than that God would be glorified in and through you. Therefore be aware that there is nothing more dangerous than the desire to be known as a saint and to act to gain a reputation for doing good, to flatter and serve others to obtain favours, to show off, to write letters to gain friends so that they can assist in promoting you in status, studies or in other useless matters. Furthermore I tell you most of all that to gain merit, to avoid hell, and, particularly, to go to paradise you should act out of love for God or all the good works will be lost.

In conclusion then real poverty consists in not having, not wanting and not desiring anything else but Jesus Christ and to want and desire everything that will make us love Jesus Christ.”[84]

Mortification of the sensual affections and all the other emotions ought to also lead to detachment from deliberate venial sin and its mind-set, since – as Herp wrote – “if we knew how many people perform great things in vain almost without any gain we would be bewildered because what often appears as something big in the eyes of men is repulsive to God.”[85] Whatever causes unrest, especially during prayer, should be mortified. The starting point and basis of the spiritual life is solitude, silence and “custody of the heart.” This “solitude” and “silence” are to be mainly understood as involving inner peace, and spiritual calm, freedom from flights if imagination and fantasy and thinking about what is odd and in being open to the loving promptings of God.

One image and one thought should always remain. This is the image of Jesus Christ, who is the splendour and radiance of eternal light and the unstained mirror. Through becoming conformed to him within and without, in the way that Herp set out, the early Capuchins discovered a programme and the perfect logic of Francesco da Jesi’s Circle.

“You shall carry the image of Jesus Christ in your lower faculties together with a loving desire to imitate him according to the way in which his humanity hung on the cross and the image of his superb humility, abjection, patience and meekness will be imprinted on you as well as all the other superb virtues that go beyond all human capacity. Take this image with you to every place, at every hour, in every word and deed, and into every undertaking, whether interior or exterior, in prosperity and adversity. When you eat dip every bite of bread into his wounds. When you drink think of what he drank on the cross. When you are washing your hands or your body, think of the blood that washed your soul. When you go to sleep, think of the bed of the cross and lay your body on the pillow of the crown of thorns. Thus such thoughts ought to nourish loving compassion and the desire to follow in his footsteps. Carry within the inner man the image of his superb charity because of which he created everything and how when he took on human nature he set an example of all the virtues, underwent a bitter death, prepared eternal life and offered his entire self. By doing this thoughts will be transformed into emotions and knowledge into perfect love, since love motivates the mortification of nature, the life of the spirit, the activity of the higher faculties and divine intervention and detachment from all creatures.”[86]

Another aspect of mortification involves bitterness or scrupulosity of heart. However, its summit is reached in the perfect abnegation of one’s own will by obeying. Here Herp was not afraid to raise his voice in a sharp reprimand to superiors. “First of all today it is not uncommon that those who command others are more inclined to be concerned with external matters rather than internal matters, and so become more of an impediment than a help to their subjects who are drawn towards the interior life. This gives rise to a degree of sloth and lack of mortification in many religious as superiors do not exercise their authority as required by the journey of the spiritual life.”[87]

“Rational nature’s highest freedom” consists precisely in the complete abandonment of one’s own will to the will of God, in imitation of the Crucified Jesus Christ who remained abandoned and stripped of all love and sense pleasure, except “pure, nude indispensable love”. This is “the greatest aspect of the life of Christ,” its greatest perfection, “status perfectissimus.”[88]

A deep psychological analysis clearly reveals the “twelve mortifications” that dig internally to uproot all the roots of egoism and sin and to prepare the way for the work of the Holy Spirit.

What follows is the development of the active life, the contemplative spiritual life and the highest type of contemplation. This follows the threefold division set out by St Bonaventure. It involves preparation, consolidation and progress. Its objective is to bring the soul to an internal exercise of love. Herp analyses the temperament of those who are over active who are satisfied to undertake external activities, to consider what is concrete, not going any further, not rising up to God or more helpful internal exercises. Because of their tireless external activities for God, instead of loving him with heartfelt worship, these people hold working for God closer to their hearts, even closer than the God for whom they are working.[89]

This inner sensitivity reflects the structure of the human soul which is concentric and set out in “three dwellings”, one of which is the heart, where all the inferior inner sense faculties come together, both the exterior (senses) and the interior (the via irascibilis, concupiscibilis, rationis inferioris), which need to be mortified and calmed by means of the moral virtues. The second or middle place or abode, or “dwelling” is the mind where the soul’s three higher faculties, memory, intellect and will, have their origin. It is by means of these that the soul is a spirit and united to the Spirit of God. It is prepared for this by receiving the fullness of grace and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which is the embellishment of the contemplative life. The third, supreme “dwelling”, which is at the centre, is the very essence of the soul where the supernatural contemplative life takes place. This goes beyond the entire capacity of the human mind.

From the cohesion that exists in the heart we pass on to unity of the spirit where the spiritual faculties become unified and the soul acquires the kind of freedom by which it enters into its centre through a process of increasing passivity with respect to God. Here begins the kind of contemplative life which is sharing in the life of the Trinity, being psychologically totally absorbed, though not ontologically, in the reality of the love of God.

Within this “anthropology”, which is similar to the teaching of Blessed John van Ruysbroeck, the ascendency of love comes into play, which requires purification of all the superior faculties.

The basic instrument of this ascendency is the concept of aspirations and unitive love. The former is the body of contemplation; the latter is the soul or the spirit. The first is based on the choice made by the lower faculties; the second on the higher faculties. Aspirations make the lower faculties single minded and purify the heart from vain images and thoughts. Whoever decides to walk the divine and mystical road needs most of all to practice affective aspirations, keeping many short prayers that are called ejaculations, ready in his mind, in order to arouse the state of desire. Such little prayers ought to fill the heart, but also continually blossom on the lips, addressing God as if he were present. They should be said as often as possible and in all situations, walking, standing still, “sitting, lying down or eating.”

Ordinary meditation ought to show the affectionate lover the way to go. However when the amorous lover is ablaze, meditation should disappear to make way for affective aspirations which are the first step on the unitive way. This requires that all the faculties are concentrated on God, even if this is dangerous, if not done in moderation. Such intensity and violent love is necessary. As with all the rest Ripanti often said as much in the Circolo. “You should incite this with all your power and might …so that it has maximum impact.” (n. 3918).

The tendency towards union with God is an exercise that needs to be repeated constantly. It is directly related to unitive love. The more intense and continuous the exercise of aspirations is the more the centre of gravity of spiritual activity will change over from the lower faculties to the superior faculties. Thus aspirations are the shortcut to introversion or spiritual ascendency. In the beginning the exercise should be accompanied with meditation and also when one does not feel the presence of grace. Then the soul will experience a healthy appetite for God in the heart. However, God soon takes back this grace and devotional feeling.

Another degree of the state of aspiration is spiritual inebriation in which the eagerness is explosive and yet a period of egoism is still present until divine light injects the desire to give up every desire for everything that is sweet and consoling and cast oneself into “the naked arms of unclothed divine love.” This “relaxation” opens the heart so much that it becomes wounded with love and the state of aspiration reaches its climax. The inner faculties are annihilated by now and almost completely replaced by those that are superior. However the soul needs to be very aware of God’s anger and carry out aspirations to the “naked presence of God,” offering perfect abnegation, mortification, self-abasement and privation by seeking “God himself, pure and naked, so that he may gain fruit from his immense charity alone.” (n. 3955). He should become like the Crucified Christ by contemplating with his mind’s eye “Christ’s divinity and humanity as in a spiritual mirror or image.” (n. 3958). Such unitive love is like a shoot on a vine, a drop of water in wine or iron in fire.

This is where Giovanni da Fano brings his reading and dependence on Herp to an end. He does not make use of the remaining twenty chapters that deal with the development of the contemplative life and the degrees of spousal union with God as One and Trinitarian. This is the mystery of the soul. He prefers to return to some practical observations made by Cisneros to confirm that contemplation presupposes love and therefore an exercise of preparation and purification which is very exhausting. In addition to this he wants to remind the contemplative that he should always be ready to come down from the mountain of contemplation to the humble valley of daily observance, manual work and the service of neighbour.

After abundantly drawing on the authors mentioned above, namely Cordoni, Cisneros and Herp, Pili resumes the entire journey of the ascetical and mystical life using the image of a palace just as Ripanti had used the image of a circle. This classical image anticipated and preceded both the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius which appeared twelve years later, and the “interior castle” of St Therese of Jesus which came thirty years later. The palace contains ten rooms with a bright hall and throne at the centre. The rooms represent the meditative recollection of the soul according to the topics set down for the purgative and illuminative ways.

It is precisely in this programme that he outlines, for the first time, a list of pious and devotional practices that became typical of the Capuchin spiritual tradition. Among these the following are of particular importance: meditation on Christ’s Passion, which became “the room” where a Capuchin brother spent the most time. The meditation on the glory of Paradise was another “room” where Pili recommended that more time be spent than in others. Christ’s Passion was spread over the days of the week together with the “mysteries” of the Madonna. Precise gestures and devotional postures were put forward and taught for entering the church, as preparation for meditation and for the celebration of the liturgy of the Hours, which were interspersed with various episodes of the Passion.

One gesture that was repeated frequently was the sign of the cross on the forehead, while saying the names of Jesus and Mary. These became a prayer that brought about effective freedom from and remedy for temptation. (n. 3986). There are interesting devotions such as the proposal to say five Our Fathers to the Trinity for enemies, the souls in Purgatory, for all sinners, family and friends: or to say seven Our Fathers in honour of the seven sorrows of St Joseph and finally Mary Virgin and Mother, who conquered heresy, was the refuge of the faithful, Immaculate and Sorrowful.

The word “devotion” has a special meaning in all the works by Giovanni da Fano that became an interior and exterior characteristic of the Capuchin friar.[90] It stands for the inner working of affectivity, sensitivity, heartfelt responses to spiritual things, the sweetness of charity, inner dynamism for every external work, readiness and willingness to perform charitable works and fervour in prayer. Whoever devotes their life to the spirit is devout. We note here the influence of the mystical writings of St Bonaventure and of the devotion moderna.

The best evidence that this is the real meaning of this word is when it is said that prayer ought to be said with heartfelt love, warmth, loving desire, with utter sweetness. These are all expressions that illustrate what Pili calls the “operetta devotissima,” which on the one hand tends to regard devotion as an expression of love for the saints and the Virgin, and on the other hand, especially in the chapters concerning the unitive way, tends to connect “pure love” to “the experience of grace”, “spiritual warmth”, “consolation” and “sweetness” which are not essential in perfect love, which is even ready to thank God also when deprived “of all experience of grace and devotion.” This would be the fundamental point of the mystical journey that would be repeatedly stressed by other Capuchin spiritual writers.[91]

The ascetical and mystical matters treated by the first three Capuchin spiritual authors that is Bernardino d’Asti, Francesco da Jesi and Giovanni da Fano, are the key to the rest of the spiritual literature developed within the Capuchin Reform during this first century of its history.

c) Other authors before the Council of Trent

In fact the authors that come after this either develop particular aspects of devotion such as meditation on the Passion or they specify certain practices that were meant to provide rules for the exercise of mental prayer, or they consider the meaning of spiritual life as an expression of and an image for the life of the individual himself. They also mention some of the accusations, tensions or tormenting allegations that in some way marked the Renaissance, the trials associated with religious reform, the search for unity and internal harmony.

In this context the Diologi sette by Bernardino Ochino and the Regule de la oratione mentale by his admirer Girolomo da Molfetta are significant. The Master and his pupil swing between two opposite positions. On one side there is the mysticism of Cordoni with traces of Alumbradism and of the Free Spirit movement that were connected with the Reformed Movement of Valdes and the Reformed Evangelical Movement. On the other hand there is traditional Franciscan spirituality with meditation of the mysteries of Christ following the style of Bonaventure and Bernard, the exaltation of the cross and the journey of love. This complex background turns these authors into witnesses to a spiritual crisis that in the context of the cultural upheaval that could enterer into the parallel phenomenon of contemporary style of art known as Mannerism.[92]

1) Girolomo da Molfetta and the “Regule de la orazion mentale”

Girolomo da Molfetta basing himself on the literary style of the “Canticle of Canticles” and of Qoèlet, along the lines of Bartolomeo Cordoni, introduced the topic of the espousals of the beloved soul who is in search of the Divine Spouse. The search ends in “stato de’ religosi” (state of a religious lifestyle) which is the “situation” where one finds the “Spouse Christ Jesus”. He does this while also bitterly criticising the manner in which at the time religious were living in convents, accusing them of formalism, egoism, worldly wisdom and pharisaic conduct. Instead there is another type of religious persons who really seek and find the Lord. He could be referring to the Capuchin Reform, but he could also be referring to that “divina religione” that Bernardino Ochino speaks of in the “Dialogo della divina professione”. (cf. nn. 4096-4111).

When the “place” has been found, he suggests the “method” for discovering union with the Spouse, by dictating “some rules for mental prayer” that favour the affective and devout path, teaching how to speak with God “mentally and spiritually.” In the language of Girolomo da Molfetta these two adverbs mean the same thing and explain one another. They indicate a “method” and an “order” that is valuable in prayer of petition as it assigns a sequence in the graces to be asked for beginning with what pertains to God and finishing with what pertains to the needs of people within the Church, and then going on to ask for the virtues which are the basis of Christian life and for the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Love of God, the Passion of Christ and truths concerning “the last things” are proposed as the subjects of mental prayer. The devotional aspect of prayer comes into its own when contemplating the mysteries of the life, death and resurrection of Christ (today they would be called “the Paschal Mystery”), by using a rosary consisting of thirty three beads for the Our Father, with the antiphon Iesus Crucifixus amormeus. In practice the Crucifix becomes the path to the love of God since it reveals this most clearly. The soul immerses itself in the name of Jesus where it finds all that is good, discovers Paradise, the Trinity, the choirs of Angels, the blessed spirits and all the sweetness of peace. Therefore, the Crucifix is the ladder to reach the love of the Most Blessed Trinity, which is the aim of mental prayer. (nn. 3992-4012).

This theme is an echo of the preaching and teaching that was greatly emphasised by Bernardino Ochino da Siena and it contains a wealth of refined enthusiasm in addition to what is contained in his sermons, (which will be dealt with in the next section), and in the classical Dialogi.

2) The “Dialogi sette” by Bernardino Ochino

Here it is possible to discover a real itinerary for a life in the spirit, an authentic treatise on Christian perfection which has an affinity with the radical spirituality that was typical of the “mature” thinking of Ochino. One also senses an evolution from those learned ethical humanist debates that go back as far as Petrarch and partially to the Florentine Academy, towards specifically theological late medieval teachings that were mostly confined to the environment of the Mendicant Orders and the beginning of Lutheran speculation. In fact Ochino personally participated in a theological spiritual debate within the Church in the context of the teaching of Augustine that was characteristic of a great part of Christian culture at the beginning of the sixteenth century. It showed itself as an anguished, dissatisfied, inquisitive religious experience that sought to taste and assimilate the new and sometimes critical innovations.[93]

His seven dialogues reflect this debate in which many trains of thought and opinions about spirituality came together and developed into a growing mystical hunger. In fact, the last dialogue is the summit of this ascent that took its first steps as an urgent proposal for renewal that was based on a firm decision “to convert immediately.” (Dialogue 5). This was motivated by the desire for genuine happiness.,(Dialogue 2), that can only be found in a man who desires what is interior, and it can be achieved only in a precise and well organised “realm of the soul” (Dialogue 3) by means of growing love for God (Dialogue 1). Such a conversion increases the journey of “flight from the world” which is an “ascetical pilgrimage” (Dialogue 6). It finds comfort and hope in the example of the conversion of the Good Thief on the cross (Dialogue 4) and ends up with a “divine confession” as a pure act of unitive love for Christ Crucified in the One and Trinitarian God. (Dialogue 7).

The humanist humus, which can be noticed because of references to ancient philosophers, and from echoes of discussion at Court about happiness and love, is cast aside by the impetuosity of the theology of the cross and of the one who was Crucified. This is always the central point of the discussion, the point of departure and arrival for one who is in love. It is also significant to note how the person in the conversation is always a woman, both because the author is dealing with Caterina Cybo Duchess of Camerino, (who is mentioned by name in three Dialogues), and also because it can refer more generically to the “Soul” or a “Woman”. In any case in mystical language the use of the feminine can express relationship and supernatural love more easily. Conversation between Master and Pupil only comes about in the third dialogue. This is quite different from the other dialogues and perhaps this was why it was regarded as being more traditional.[94]

An attentive and deep reading reveals that substantially Ochino intended to present a lively faith in the gifts that were conveyed by Christ crucified by means of which we have access to the love of God and gain the capacity to love God perfectly and in a spiritual manner. This is achieved by the application of a “method”, a “system”. He states this explicitly and links it to the exercise of mental and interior prayer as a means of achieving the union of love. In fact the anthropological analysis of the soul that is set out in the third dialogue emphasises the different psychological, rational and emotional stages and paints a practical and marvellous picture of the various interior activities that are at work in the exercise of prayer, the interaction of the various interior faculties and the tactics that are required to transform what is a theoretical value into an affective conviction and to transform a clarified rational concept into the flame of a loving choice and the fire of active charity.

According to Ochino the most difficult step is “the first step, which is that of making a start”, or making a decision, wanting to undertake the journey of love, not discussing it too much with the world and what the world wants but throwing oneself without restraint into the arms of Christ Crucified. Without “saying goodbye” to the world one cannot find God nor is it possible to be free from “internal discord or conflict”. He also makes use of a geometrical symbolic image to explain this concept. The soul which was made in the image and likeness of the Trinity cannot be satisfied by the world, just as a triangular vase cannot be filled by a round body, the corners (memory, intellect and will) will always remain empty. (cf. n. 4040).

In order to fill these empty spaces Ochino describes the relationship between the faculties of the soul. In analysing the relationship between the intellect and the will he sets out, with dramatic accuracy, the various steps in meditation for arriving at affectivity, which is the specific objective of mental prayer. He is not speaking about a reality that is just psychological or internal, for this requires ascetical purification through mortification of the senses and bodily members as well as of the feelings within the heart. (nn. 4043-4065).

Following such purification, the “pilgrim soul” becomes enlightened and more in love with God. Such enlightenment does not come from doctrinal speculation or vain, useless, unusual and sublime knowledge, since “speculation that is too literal and subtle impedes love and libido” (n. 4026).Creatures ought to be a “ladder” “that elevates us to divine beauty”. Devout books, the Bible, the lives of the saints, the conversation of virtuous people, “living example” enlighten and enkindle love, and, most of all, contemplating the words, the actions, the virtues and the perfection of Christ and believing in his love will move us. From this point the leap into unitive love is immediate. At this point the work of the intellect ceases and the will takes over on its own. Here the light is the flame of love because “we cannot understand God perfectly except by means of love.”

The conversation becomes intense. Cybo breaks in and expresses an idea of perfect love that contains a kind of spirituality that sounds like the theory of illuminism which was like the quietism of Porete. “You need not only to forget all creatures, yourself and all the subtle questions that the wise men of this world ask about God, but you must also let yourself forget about divine love and God’s divine perfection and about everything nor have your thoughts occupied in anything and put all your might into love. (n. 4034). Ochino corrects the implication and defends the necessity of having previous knowledge in order to love and this means (this is the beginning and the end) “to think of Jesus Christ and of what he suffered for love of me”. Without this happening first it would be impossible to love God. Indeed, what is more profound, to follow the example of the Good Thief involves remaining “in Christ’s memory”, so that Christ cannot forget you, and that means that you are saved, or remain in love, and are united to Mary’s faith as she stood at the foot of the cross.

This whole journey is brought to a conclusion by means of a summary phrase that is like a slogan. “Your Ladyship, try to carry out these exercises while annihilating yourself in transforming yourself into God, who was placed on the cross out of love for us and will grant this to you.” (n. 4043). This expression sets out in three phases the methodology of the entire spiritual journey set down by Ochino. It is rich in vast echoes of ascetical and mystical literature alluding to “exercising, annihilation, and transformation.” The first phase represents the active commitment that is a deliberate act of will to practice meditation and mortification and imitation under the guidance and example of spiritual masters and it requires continuity and perseverance. The second phase is commitment to passive asceticism which, in Ochino’s programme, is directly linked to transforming union, which is the outcome of this journey and its final objective. It is precisely during this phrase that the influence of the mysticism of Porete becomes evident in Bernardino Cordoni’s meditations.

The stage that is characterised by “exercises” disappears into two inseparable words “annihilation” and “transformation” which are repeated more than six times in the final dialogue concerning “divine profession.” This dialogue contains an explosion of ambivalence in which it is possible to detect the farthest point of Ochino’s Catholic period that contained Valdesian evangelism and a dangerous proclivity towards the reform spirituality of Luther and Calvin. In fact, the general impression given by this important dialogue is that this dialogue had been set down purposely in the customary traditional language that dealt with religious profession. This terminology makes the objective of the action the profession of the three evangelical counsels. By doing this the author could avoid certain historical, juridical and institutional issues such as the observance of the Franciscan Rule with its serious moral obligations, when these are compared with the practice of pure love, where faith is “alive, operative, loving, fervent and at a high degree of perfection”, which is all the work of God, “simple love of Christ”, without any human activity.

The final chapter of Margaret Porte’s Miroir des simples ames gives the same impression It is entitled “Comment caste Ame est professe en sa religion et comment elle a bien gardésa regle” (cap.137). It begins in the Latin translation that circulated in Italy, with a phrase that is the source of the inspiration for all that Ochino wrote. “Talis est in sua religione professa: et imlevit regolam suam. Quae sest regola sua? Hoc est quod videlicet risolvatur per anichilarionem in illud primum esse. ubi Armor acceperat eum”.[95]

However, there is a very important difference in that Porete proposes union with the divine archetype in the simplicity of the idea or primordial divine will, whereas, in a more Franciscan manner, Ochino, under the clear influence of Bonaventure and the Franciscan Spirituals as they were understood in the Capuchin Reform, but perhaps also after referring to the theology of Luther, saw “annihilation” as a necessary stage in being transformed into Christ, part of the process of becoming “divine”. “Annihilation in me, brings about transformation into Christ”. The person of Christ is the required “environment” for “annihilation”. Indeed, his open and wounded heart becomes the eternal dwelling place of the simple soul who has been “professed” in a divine religious way of life which consists of pure love without works, because he has passed works over as being his own so that they become the works of Christ alone. Christ’s side, within which the simple soul is hidden,” infused with the blood of Christ”, reveals God’s love. Christ’s Passion is a passion of love. Within it we learn, by placing ourselves on the wave of Christ’s soul, how to produce “an act of love for him that is as intense, sincere and pure as possible only to give him honour”: an act that is continuous and growing “infinitely”, indeed an act that is “infinite, eternal, continuous, gratuitous and supreme love.”

It is within this tension that the influence of Porete’s Specchio, and, even more, the Dialogo della unione spirituale di Dio con l’anima by Bartolomeo Cardoni emerge once again, together with echoes of the Circolo by Francesco da Jesi. “Divine profession” is an eternal promise to love, a desire to love God with the same love that the heart of Christ had for mankind. “I intend to love him forever with the love by which he was loved by Christ’s soul and to continue to do so forever.” This is opting for Trinitarian love and is thus immersion in the Trinity. “By means of love I opt to become intimate with and bound with my heart to the three Divine Persons, and to give up my whole self and all creatures and to live for God alone.” This is a desire to love since the soul having been transformed into Christ has become totally “divine” and thus its “unique activity is to sigh with love always just as the Father and the Son always breathe the Holy Spirit.” (nn. 4096-4111).This is the most extreme, splendid and ambiguous part of Ochino’s spirituality during his time in Italy.[96]

The exaltation of the Passion of Christ Crucified is also the subject treated by two other contemporaries of Ochino: Bernardino Ducaina da Montolmo and Giovanni Battista Galli Castellini da Fierenze, also known as “fra Battistone” because of his imposing physical appearance. He was a priest and preacher and a member of the Conventual Friars and very learned. The second one was a lay brother. Both were converts. The first joined the Capuchin Reform after doing studies and teaching theology and spending a short time with the Reformed Conventuals. The other was converted from a sad military life following a crisis of conscience that was brought about through the preaching of Bernardino Ochino at Florence.

3) Spiritual letters of “Battistone” da Faenza

Fra Battista was one of Ochino’s conquests. However, his spirituality even though it appeared to be a continuation of the theme preferred by Ochino, had a different approach and flavour. Its devotional aspect was that of the Counter-Reformation and was Baroque and centred on the veneration of a miraculous Crucifix that was situated and on display in the Capuchin friary in Florence. It seems to have been more like an historical “rerun” to promote the reputation, attractiveness and importance of the friary in Florence. The ancient wooden cross, which was about 80cm high, was very dynamic and devout. It stood in an “old place” above the high altar. It was moved from there into the choir of the new friary where it remained until it was solemnly put on display in the new church on 22 November 1643 when Antonio da Cesena was Minister Provincial and Guardian of the friary. While Don Pietro da Cremona, who was a celebrated Camaldolese preacher, was preaching the Advent sermons in the city, Battista da Faenza led a pilgrimage to the cathedral and, on the same day, Padre Teodoro da Guastalla did the same in the friary church.[97]

It is probable that the collection of the letters of Battista da Firenze dates from this time. They were written to people in Florence urging then to meditate on Christ’s Passion, following the example that he had set. The history of these letters is not clear and seems to have come to light quite late. What is certain is that a local popular devotion existed and that its origin was justified by means of a “legendary” episode and the religious experience of a convert which spread a commotion. Battista’s accomplishments were described in the various devout biographies that were written by the chroniclers of the Order as being the triumph the Christ’s grace over a great sinner and as being an example of most perfect conversion in the light of Christ’s Passion, and as a topic for sermons that would be most effective and popular.

His early biographers make no mention of the letter that he wrote to the people of Florence near the end of his life. Nevertheless we cannot reject the tradition. A manuscript edition that comes from after 1632 is to be found in city library at Imola. The text, which runs to 34 pages, and is set out in thirty three points or paragraphs appears to be ready to be printed. However it is clear that, following the most benevolent suppositions, the original text was much simpler and shorter and less burdened with quotations and more spontaneous. The only edition that is known up to the present is dated 1757. Because of this it seems probable that the manuscript has been reworked and revised. Considering the content and the quotations from authors one is clearly aware of the environment and “seventeenth” century approach, as well as the contribution of a preacher, both because of the abundance of quotations from doctors and sacred authors, and the crisp style and the well-ordered sequence of the story. It was announced at the start that the sequence of events had been adopted in order to demonstrate that meditation on Christ’s Passion “is pleasing to God and the Blessed Virgin and the Angels in Paradise and even helpful to souls in the present and future life.” One frequently sees this point in the religious literature of that time as well as in the spiritual writers within the Order. Here one notes especially the influence of Alessio Segala da Saló.[98]

However, without going into the particular details of internal criticism, it is better to conclude by emphasising certain aspects of this “spiritual summons” which become a call to all Christians. Here we have a particular fundamental method of meditation. The intellect “mulls over” Christ’s sufferings in order to arouse divine love in the heart. The will should “delve into itself” with “devout affection” in order to discover “the basis and root of the pure love” of Christ Crucified. The memory should recall a particular “mystery” concerning the Passion. This “sacred and devout exercise” will make you discover “through experience” the “sweetness” of the Crucified especially of the wound in the side which is the “nest of divine charity”, and the loving prayer Absorbeat will burst forth at this point. This is like the prayer of St Francis which was cited at the beginning by way of an example. This joins the miraculous cross in Florence to the one at San Damiano in Assisi.

Meditation becomes heartfelt contemplation “an act of gazing on and contemplating with devout and pious affection” which dwells on the cuts and wounds of Christ’s body. This contemplative gazing starts from “the bleeding head”, touches “the most chaste ears”, “the most holy mouth”, “his lips”, “divine cheeks”, “most holy tongue”, sees his “blood-soaked neck,” his “breast and back”, squeezes “his venerable hands”, kisses “his most holy feet” and finally rests on “the great wound in his side”, “that was wounded so deeply that the wound reached his own heart” … “the holy of holies of divine love.” (cf. nn. 4124-4139).

We see that the nucleus of the messages belongs to Ochino: the Crucified Christ reveals the love of God and purifies and saves mankind in his wounded heart and ignites it with love. However the garment is decorated with a style that is devotional and Baroque without the taste of the ambiguity and confusion of proposing justification by faith alone.

4) “Meditation on the Passion” by Bernardino da Moltolomo

What Bernardino da Moltolomo has to say is quiet different. He does not offer an exhortation but a brief method of meditation that is clearly based on personal experience of devout exercises such as the “devout prayers” of Bernardino d’Asti and the “spiritual rosaries” of Mattia Ballintani. It is a procedure that is something like “the stations of the cross” which the devout theologian and follower of Scotus used to practice during his long hours of mental prayer involving a precise “order and method” that left plenty of room for individual spiritual choice.

He divides Christ’s Passion and death into fifty small points or episodes by beginning with the Last Supper on Holy Thursday and ending with the moment when the Crucified Christ “gloriously gives up his spirit.” The “points” are always set out in two parts: first “contemplation” of the individual episode, which is always taken from the account given in the Gospel, then a very brief affective prayer, which fosters a spiritual interpretation and practical and devout implementation. The “method” is concise, condensed and very simple and people-friendly. However, it presumes a radical commitment to the interior life that is set out in the practical actions of initiation and preparation. Before advancing to the practice of the exercise, the author lists the conditions and spiritual prerequisites in powerful language that is filled with unction, following the style used by Bonaventure, which leads into the production of an image of ascetical bustle and contemplative concentration that is like what is contained in the Capuchin Constitutions of 1536.

It is a style of religious life which is totally committed to continuing the Franciscan tradition and which also shows that it has been partially influenced by contemporary devout movements, such as the devotio moderna which is clearly evident in the method of meditating. If the mind is not “purified” and “recollected” it cannot “taste the sweetness that is alight within it” since the objective is “to experience contentment in meditating on this exalted Passion,” and this is the fruit that comes from a purified heart and one that is conformed to the virtues of Christ.

Your strength will continue to grow when you discover inexhaustible motivation in the individual gestures, acts, words and events of Christ’s Passion. Every detail displays a virtue of “most sweet Jesus”, especially his “immense charity,” which the contemplative soul desires and seeks to imitate. Such conformity is born of lively thought and profound contemplation. In fact the various details are introduced with the verbs: contemplate, and on three occasions, think. The intensity of the vision requires not just intellectual involvement, but emotional and affective participation, by means of images that make the events almost physically present. Thus by continuing and persevering in this mental and spiritual exercise, the exterior and interior life becomes motivated by the image of Christ Crucified and his love which is the most frequently repeated reason given in the practical conclusions that are expressed in the prayers. For example; “O Jesus, Son of God, bind my heart so that I cannot love or wish for anything worldly, but only desire and love you completely.’ Another example “O Redeemer of the world and my Father, grant me the grace of being mentally crucified with you, enduring your sufferings in my heart, not just now, but etiam when I am standing, sitting, moving, speaking, and finally in all my activities.” Contemplation ends with a prayer of thanksgiving.

It should be remembered that in its brevity and simplicity of style, the text is part of a very beautiful expression of early Capuchin life and conceals a depth of doctrine and experience that was only revealed gradually through the faithful repetition and persevering excise that slowly came into practice, impressing the meaning of each word in the soul until it burst out as an immense prayer of interior life that was centred on Christ Crucified. (nn. 4112-4123).

5) “Speccio di orazione” by Bernardino da Balvano

The method of prayer that has just been mentioned and which was lived rather than described by Bernardino da Montomolo, was instead explained in detail and developed in a real treatise on prayer by Bernardino da Balvano (+ after 1564) . Because of public demand it was published following a course of sermons in the same year, by the most famous printer and publisher in the city, Pietro Spira. [99]The pocket edition is rather rare.[100] However it had notable editorial success which is a sure sign that it had interpreted and fulfilled a widespread spiritual need.

Its title partly explains its success: A Mirror of Prayer the Briefly Treats the Necessity and Helpfulness of Holy Prayer as It Ought to be Exercised Giving the Order and Rule that Is To Be Observed and its Fruits as Being Useful and Necessary for All Faithful Christians. Most of all it applies a stimulating image, that had been used in a long and ancient line of spiritual and moral literature, that of the Mirror. The metaphor of the “Mirror” immediately rang bells, and in the Middle Ages it also served to represent mystical union with God.[101] In our case the term is explained by the author himself. “Sancta ex pagina quidquid fere quod orantis est sparsim insertum in unum redigi, veluti in speculum, in quo quidemqiu prius tenebrarum caligine abiecti fuerant, luce clarius speculum possunt quid sit oratio ipse, quot eius species praeparationesque ipsius et conditiones, quamve necessaria et utilis. Orandi etiam videtur et modus. Eodem insuper et ad Deum et ad sanctos qualiter orations offerant, lucidissime cernitur. Unde et poterint oratores et imitari quod cupiant et fugere quod operet.”[102]

In practice this means that the book reflects the light of prayer as it shines in the word of God in Sacred Scripture as if from a mirror. This is how he means to be “an evangelical preacher.” His task was only to unite all that would be of interest to a person who was praying so that they could find input and discernment in the pages of the Bible. In this a Christian would enjoy a complete and precise vision of the exercise of prayer in accord with the order that the rules set down in the sacred text and a brief illustration of what he should do if he wanted his prayer to be ‘sacrosanct” and fruitful.

Some original and practical aspects

We find that there are some excellent passages that teach people the real practice of prayer, especially interior mental prayer. Here Bernardino da Balvano explains, over many pages, the four stages of prayer following the traditional monastic format: reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. However certain aspects of these pages are original and interesting and deserve to be considered here. [103] A basic concept which pervades everything is that Christian prayer has its origin in listening to the word of God and retaining it in one’s heart. The only prayer book is Sacred Scripture. The subject of prayer is the mysteries of Christ seen from and reaching their culmination in the Paschal mystery, Christ as God and Man, the mystery of salvation as this is revealed in the Bible.

Another subject that is repeated as if it were a chorus is inner affectivity, or the most intense tuning of the emotional sentiments of the soul as they engage in interior prayer of which they are its main fruit. Such harmony in the emotions develops into a strict apprenticeship or persevering exercise that adopts a system or method, model, example, form, or rule of prayer that demands the most perfect fidelity. The sketch of the journey of prayer is presented with perfect educational progression that explains cleverly what is analytical along with the sequence of stages just mentioned, making the topics that have already been presented reappear in different contexts so that they can be retained in the memory with enriched drive, specific activities and a new approach.

It is a real school of prayer for all Christians without distinguishing between clerics and laity, religious or common folk. As the gift of prayer is gratuitous, everyone has the right and the responsibility to “exercise,” to “try,” and to “prepare” to receive it. Bernardino da Balvano uses these words frequently and they balance what pertains to the will in contrast to passive cooperation with the activity of the Spirit. The exercise that is performed and the effort that this requires are at the service of the readiness and availability to have faith in God’s gift, which is love, and a state of quiet and peacefulness that is filled with sweetness and “supreme happiness”. Such Christian optimism is delightful even to modern sensitivity. It is also very necessary because it comes from a profound emptying and inner detachment as well as indifference to sensual pleasures and pride of heart.

Affectivity is linked with inner activity. This union is part of all the stages of prayer: in fact reading is interior, meditation is interior, prayer is interior and contemplation is unmistakably interior. . The first stage requires “attentive thoughtfulness” and “subtle comprehension”. The objective of interior reading is devotion and devotion arouses affectivity which produces inner warmth by means of meditation so as to achieve perfect prayer. Thus we come to understand that meditation is not yet perfect prayer. However interior reading is already meditation as it stimulates inner thinking on the mystery concerning Christ by visualising it “by means of the imagination”, as St Ignatius of Loyola said, and by introducing us ever more deeply into its meaning.

This approach progresses in stages from what is external to what is internal and to what is beyond and is intensive. One imagines “with an attentive thought in the mind as if seeing with the eye”. The person concentrates on the mystery “as if he were present and it was all going on around him”. He thinks, considers and “enters in” more deeply. He thinks about the mystery in the divine person of Christ in the violent context of his human suffering. Thus the soul becomes caught up in the meditation and experiences “inner warmth” that arouses the six internal emotions: love, hatred, fear, hope, sorrow and joy. This is a key moment in the prayer journey. These “pious affections” “inflame” the soul.

The author, who is writing this “to console those who are simple”, as an authentic “teacher on prayer”, takes time to teach them in a practical way how to develop the various emotions using the mystery of the scourging of the Lord as an example. He sets this out in a conversation between the soul and Jesus. The emotions blend with each other. At one time it is Christ, at another time it is God the Father, who tells the soul about his works of mercy and love. Sometimes the soul reflects on them comparing and contrasting them to his personal sinful behaviour in a very concrete way.[104] It is a continuous back and forth between Jesus and the soul. It is also a soliloquy or stage production of the mystery and the conversation of the various actors. However, it is just a psychological pause, an interval before going back into a more lively dialogue with Christ and listening to his “plaintiff voice,” rolling it up in the very beautiful sound of aspirations that proclaim praise and blessing, (cf. nn. 4155-4158).so that “the Lord Jesus may be engraved on the heart.”

By means of this combination of emotions the soul becomes “enflamed” and breaks out in “loving acts” that correspond to three types of prayer: oblation, petition and thanksgiving. These are the “fruits” of mental prayer that has been prepared by the “flowers” of the “emotions.” The “emotions” ripen the “fruit” but do not yet constitute perfect prayer. Bernardino da Balvano is implying that there are many who read and meditate, but few who go on to real prayer.

Prayer of praise comes before prayer of petition. This is the necessary “order”. It is a “rule and formula” that was taught by the “master of truth Jesus Christ.” The first act of interior and mental prayer is the act of love. “Let us begin praying to him with loving offerings.” (n. 4164) and with “a peaceful mind and pure love let us all place ourselves into his paternal hands, disposed and prepared to accept everything happily” (n. 4162). This is an essential component of prayer which is emphasised further on in very valuable words: “There are two ways to pray: one is to offer humble thanks: the other is to petition, which is inferior .to this When you pray do not ask for something immediately. [….] When you begin to pray, put aside, yourself, your wife your children and the world and move on to heaven, abandoning every visible and invisible creature and begin by glorifying the Maker of all, and while speaking about the glory, do not go here and there letting your mind wander.” (n. 4190).

Prayer of petition is “an enflamed and burning desire to ask for and obtain something” from God to be freed from the evil of sin and punishment and to receive graces in this life and in our homeland.

Thanking God is the third act of prayer which disposes us to receive more gifts as we affectionately recall divine gifts. These acts are also set out clearly by the use of examples. He gives us to understand that he is talking about an experience that does not come from books, but from practice, and if at first the soul finds this tedious with practice “it will feel very happy”. The example is developed in a conversation between Christ and the soul in which Jesus lists the events of his life, his mysteries, especially the sorrowful moments in his Passion, which is a proof of the author’s wish to meditate on this and a counterbalance for the erroneous behaviour of the soul. They are examples of very devout prayer with wonderful liturgical overtones.

This affective and interior exercise disposes and prepares the soul for the free gift of contemplation. The author deals with this briefly, but quite intensely in accord with his personal experience.

“Contemplation is a sweet experience and very gentle taste of the divine riches in which, the soul, that has been purified and warmed by an inner reading and sacred meditation, being lifted up on high, enjoys flashes of thought through frequent and devout prayer, becoming restful and tranquil, and gifted with wonderful sensitivity for the divine mysteries, it tastes supreme goodness. Just as the sun sheds light, warmth and makes the plants spring up and germinate, so divine contemplation enlightens the intellect with wonderful feelings, inflames the will with wonderful sweetness and makes them both function most perfectly, either more or less, according to their infallible wisdom and their human capacity, comprehending in a exalted manner and desiring ardently.” (n. 4179)

This is perfect prayer reaching the finishing line. This is prayer “that has carved on the heart the vivid thought of sweet Jesus and intimate love for him.” This is the objective of meditating on the mysteries of Christ. This is the goal to which all Christians are pointed and thus they ought to try “to be concerned about prayer, study the lessons that it contains and be fervent about holy meditation.” They ought to “perform all the acts of prayer with great love”, leaving the indescribable taste of contemplation to God’s loving decision.

By making many original points and hinting at some more complex matters, and by using the prevailing christocentric theme featuring Christ on the cross which he always linked with affective feelings, Bernardino da Balvano brought Christians, who were living at the height of the sixteenth century, back to the tradition of monastic contemplation as it was in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and as it had been presented in the Scala claustralium and the Scala Paradisi by Guigo II, which were often attributed to St Augustine or St Bernard. The method is based on four spiritual stages. “The reading searches for the sweetness in a holy life, meditation finds it, prayer asks for it, contemplation is sweetness itself and it produces joy. Reading stops at the crust, meditation penetrates to the soft centre of the loaf, prayer builds desire, and contemplation is overjoyed with delight at the sweetness that has been achieved.”[105]

Though the Specchio d’orzione concentrates at greater length on mental and interior prayer, setting out its four stages in strict ascending order up to the summit of contemplation, nevertheless it puts forwards many other practical lessons that make this book a true theoretical and practical handbook for every soul that embraces the spiritual life. It emphasises the importance of “mystical prayer”, which “is partly mental and partly vocal.” However, mental prayer is more important in the same way as the soul is more important than the body. He suggests going back to this type of prayer in moments of dryness, noting the value of ejaculatory prayer or aspirations of “joy”. (cf. n. 4182). However, concentration of the mind and the inner aspects of the heart ought to stand out more than the sound of the voice and the use of many words, which is almost an indirect quotation of the ancient Capuchin Constitutions.

To convince us of the need for prayer he cites the example of the life of Christ that is all prayer. “Whoever does not wish to err and the Christian who does not want to be damned should follow the guide and imitate Christ the safest leader on the way to heaven. What did the Lord do as frequently as pray; sometimes for an entire night, even after preaching very energetically for the entire day? However, it was during his Passion that he gave us a living example of this when he sweated blood because of his great anxiety. On the cross he cried tears and did not want to give up his spirit until he had prayed. Indeed as he was giving up his spirit he prayed: “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” Because of this he did nothing more often than pray devoutly and fervently.”[106]

To demonstrate the utility of prayer, the author referred, as he did for everything, back to the Bible.” There is nothing else to which the Scriptures invites us as often as to holy prayer, especially in what the Lord Jesus says and the apostle St Paul.”[107] However, remote and proximate preparation are also important, to use a traditional expression and there are six conditions for these respectively. The first condition is “correct faith in union with the Catholic Church”, that is “to adhere sincerely from the heart and to confess faithfully with the lips all that the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the head and mother of all Churches, believes”, then “reconciliation with one’s neighbour”, since one can pray only where there is pardon and peace, The third condition is a pure conscience, “frequently attending the divine sacrament of holy Confession” that effectively makes a person ready for prayer.

Another condition is moderation because “he who deprives himself discretely of exterior things for the love of Christ will receive interiorly the divine consolations of prayer more abundantly.” In Capuchin spirituality this is a basic principle and one of the main motives for a life of ascetics, penance and austerity. The fifth condition is the choice of “a hidden place away from noise, which is adequate and quiet.” Finally, it is basic to set down a time for prayer that is “suitable and appropriate” attaching special value to the two hours traditionally set aside by Capuchins even though continuous prayer remains the ideal. (nn. 4184-4187).

As one begins the exercise of prayer and practices it another six conditions are indispensable. Following Biblical imagery they are called the “maids of honour” who accompany the Queen within the King’s palace. They attend to “the demeanour or bearing of the body”, which include the external bodily movements or postures which ought to be in harmony with interior sentiments. After this come “right intention”, alertness of mind and concentration, and these are anchored once again on Christ’s mysteries. They are accompanied by complete trust, without doubts, that is “the trust that is based on hope,” However more than that what is needed is” profound interior and exterior humility,” and lastly perseverance, because “humble constancy is invincible.” (nn. 4188-4196).

Verifying the authenticity of prayer is fundamental for a spiritual director. The period following prayer reaps its fruits and if these are not present the tree is not good. This is a rule of discernment which, above all, depends on four signs or favourable conditions. “The first condition is listening to the divine word with reverence and attention, being prepared to observe it”. This is Mary’s blessedness: to listen and to hold, that is to preserve. The second condition is obedience to the divine precepts, observance of the commandments, putting the word of God into practice. The third condition is “having pity on the poor”, that is “showing mercy to those who are in need”, which was a basic option of Capuchin life. The fourth and the last condition is “modesty and ordering one’s life”, since if after praying one does not order one’s life by being mortified, silent, loving, amiable and affable towards one’s neighbour it means that prayer has only been “a joke”. (nn. 4197-4198).

Meditation on Christ’s mysteries

The most original part of the Specchio d’oratione is the presentation of Christ’s mysteries with their diverse causes, number, order, circumstances and consequent spiritual fruit. It is here that Bernardino da Balvano shows most clearly his personal experience of piety, not simply as an exercise for prayer, but also as an experience of devotion, most of all when, at the end, he proposes various Marian devotional practices and exercises in the form of prayers of intercession that are suitable for different categories of people. He joins these to the devotion to the Blood of Christ that he borrowed from Silvestro da Rossano and other Capuchins.

It is not easy to find spiritual writings that are as clear and profound and in touch with the word of God. The well thought-out succession and enumeration of Christ’s mysteries that is proposed here is accompanied by a clear theological vision of the history of salvation and, at the same time, continues a Patristic and Medieval spiritual tradition that is reset now in the latest technique of the devotion moderna. It is not just the presentation of a personal prayer experience, but is also part of a traditional educational method that has precise objectives that take into account the difficulties and problems that are associated with learning and retention and it explains things in simple words that are close to the word of God. It makes use of unambiguous and as well as unstated events that are both external and internal as it explains the art of Christian prayer. Precisely because it is a Christian art it is necessarily connected to and immersed in Christ’s mysteries and thus with the mysteries of God as they are being contemplated with living faith.

These mysteries are not limited to only the Passion and death on the cross but cover how Christ is the centre of all salvation history. They present the “whole Christ” as he is glorified in the kingdom of the elect, definitively brought to the Father. This is the only way to explain the Christian life and the necessary coherence of all the stages and acts of prayer. This settles the problems of concentration and attention during prayer in a very radical manner because it takes into account the range of options in the system as well as the ease of memorising in the same way as proposed by the devotion moderna. (cf. n. 4203).

The enumeration and description of thirty three mysteries is not original, but the selection of them and the way that they are formulated is new. In fact the titles of the individual mysteries are made up with two nouns and qualifying adjectives. The first adjective specifies the general nature of the mystery while the second specifies what is special about the mystery. Here are a few examples:

The profound mystery of eternal choice
The happy mystery of the joyful birth
The painful mystery of the scourging
The glorious mystery of the happy resurrection.  etc.

It is an ingenious style that was common in the medieval scholastic tradition and in preaching and it was aimed at impressing things on the memory. The memory played an important part in this methodology, since, as the author says, “Order sets up memory, brevity arouses and strengthens it.” In this way the person “by committing the unadorned titles of the mysteries to memory” will be more easily assisted to meditate on them frequently each day, by applying the rules that have already been explained and compressed into a “short phrase” in these words: “Firstly commit well all the mysteries to memory and then the headings of the mysteries […] then frequently read the more extensive notes so that you will see what is involved and what has been done and the names of the participants so as to be able to turn them over in your mind. Also keep in mind the situation as an internal reading […] Then, placing yourself in a comfortable position for prayer, placing the mystery before your mind, as if you were present, start chewing on it with the teeth of strong consideration. […] Then you will be able to inflame yourself with emotion according to the rule and examples that were contained in the meditation. You will be able to warm yourself with some emotions as you feel the need. Thus having been well aroused within you will be able to fruitfully produce the actions over which you prayed. … As a sign that you are a servant say an Our Father and a Hail Mary for each mystery and offer those to the Lord as a faithful and continuous tribute and together with this offering offer yourself.” [108] Later we shall see how this methodology was used and applied by Mattia da Saló and many other Capuchin spiritual writers.

One of the most intense and doctrinally rich pages of this work by Balvano is the chapter that deals with the twelve fruits that can be gathered by meditating on the mysteries of Christ. (Ch. 29). The assignment of these numbers also has its basis in the Bible in the figure of the tree of life that was planted in the middle of paradise which produced fruit every month. It is in this context that we discover the definitive meaning of the title: Specchio d’oratione. In fact this symbolic image which was the inspiration of the book was repeated three times. “The Lord Jesus is the wisdom of the Father, the mirror without stain, the image of God. By contemplating his mysteries you will be enlightened by that wisdom. In that mirror you will contemplate and in that image you will understand what supreme divine goodness is.”(n. 4222). “Whoever wishes to escape from darkness and become perfect in a short space of time, let him grasp these mysteries by means of a mirror being prepared to control his whole life according to these mysteries.” (n. 4226). “There is only one road if you want to serve Christ, to suffer with him and follow his behaviour and that is to always keep his mysteries before you so that the soul can contemplate as much as it likes in the mirror.” (n. 4232).

Specchio d’oratione means to read, meditate, pray and contemplate Christ in his mysteries, until “by means of continual meditation” we have come to “have Christ together with his mysteries always engraved on our heart to the point of imitating his behaviour by means of ardent charity.” At that point the contemplative soul becomes a mirror of the mysteries of Christ, of the Gospel and an image of Christ. This is the simple, profound message of the experience and spiritual teaching of Bernardino da Balvano.

III. Critical Analysis of Capuchin Spiritual Writings after the Council of Trent

What made Bernardino da Balvino’s Mirror of Prayer the clearest and most significant document of Capuchin spiritual literature at the close of the Council of Trent was its precise terminology, its strong theological and doctrinal opposition to heresy and adherence to traditional Church teaching, and its pastoral sensitivity, since its content was open to all categories of society and its challenge to the laity to live a more enlightened spiritual life based on the Bible and the imitation of Christ. In fact, it contains the best of what belonged to the spirituality of the early Sixteenth century and, in part, anticipated what the Council of Trent proposed and clarified advocating a change to a less elite and more pastoral kind of spirituality.

The Council of Trent did not have an immediate influence on spiritual literature. It would take at least another ten years for the spiritual stimulation that the historians call the “counterreformation” to come into effect.[1] M. Petrocchi at once proposes that the Capuchins were an example of the unbroken continuity of the ancient Franciscan spirituality, and fifteenth century devotion in as much as that trend accepted the spiritual efficacy of the asceticism and Catholic mysticism of the earlier centuries.[2] Contact with the people though preaching, the establishment of charitable social works, assistance to the sick and dying, chaplaincies to confraternities and various forms of devotional gatherings contributed to safeguarding and evaluating the various kinds of lay religious spirituality preventing the changes following Trent becoming a violent break. On the other hand, it made the Capuchins along with other new forces within the Church effective agents in the application of the Tridentine decrees of reform.

It was because of the apostolate of preaching and missionary work that the Capuchins took up writing about spirituality. Looking at it from this point of view is perhaps the best way to approach the new kind of works that appeared following the council of Trent. The collection of writings is vast but by applying a little bit of pressure we succeeded in uncovering certain unifying aspects. There is a sequence in method and doctrine. There is a continuity in the development of practices and devotions and a common mystical and contemplative objective. For the former we would propose the names of Matthia da Saló, Silvestro da Rossano, Cristoforo da Verucchio. For the latter we propose Cornelio da Urbino, Michelamgelo a Valerio and Francesco da Corigliano. With regard to mysticism we see Gregorio da Napoli, Polo da Terni, and Tommaso da Oleri. Obviously this grouping is slightly artificial since these three aspects are often found in the one writer while crossing over into another. Therefore each case has to be considered on its merits. However, it is also true that each author has a particular approach that justifies the above classification.

1. Francesco da Fognano, the first spiritual writer after the Council of Trent

In our anthology the first Capuchin author that appears after Trent is Francesco Visani da Fognano who wrote just a year after the end of the Council of Trent at an unspecified date. He did not propose a method for ascetical or mystical prayer, nor develop special teachings on spirituality. He did not indulge in the emotional aspects of contemplation or produce any apparent systematic plan. His work, which was quite rare and unknown, was simply a collection of Discussions and Prayers within the Soul of a Spiritual Person, which are Useful and Necessary for a Devout Christian.

The writer, Francesco da Fogneno, was a zealous preacher, who was gifted with effective projects for the moral reform of social and religious behaviour. Seen from this perspective his “little spiritual work” appears to be points for preaching about meditation within Confraternities of laypeople rather than an articulate treatise. Any structure within the material does not come from its content but from its practical objective. Even at a quick glance, it appears to have the pastoral intention of raising the “devout Christian” above other devout laypeople.

The words mainly come from a biblical, theological and moral background. They are used to impress upon the mind and heart a catechism for developing knowledge of God and his gifts. This will almost immediately lead to the mystery of the Incarnation, the life, the teaching, the Gospel, Passion and death of Jesus Christ and as a result to the love of God and neighbour. It will go on to the discussion of sin, human moral commitment, repentance and conversion of heart, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and reception of the Eucharist, to end with eternal life and victory over sin.

The “discussions” are more like “prayers” as they often start out with an informal greeting of God or of Christ and with extending to the soul an invitation to meditate. They presuppose a method of prayer that is not however explained. In fact many of the points that come before the final prayer are put forward as motives for meditation and reflection. Most of the time, it seems that such reflections have been aroused by various emotions within the soul. This would mean that the soul was already recollected in prayer and already immersed in the flame of love or had already chosen a method of reflection using interior prayer as the best practice.

Another point that is worth noting is the continual use of the word of God. The points are always based on quotations from the Bible, especially from the New Testament. These are usually associated with particular aspects of the live and virtues of Christ, sometimes in the form a repetitive litany or a sigh or meditative refrain. For example, when the author wishes to meditate on the love of Jesus Christ, he turns to him and says: “My Lord, my God, my love Jesus Christ, you show me your love by means of the sign of the Incarnation, by means of suffering …, by many miracles, by your death.” This is the way that he portrays many of Christ’s deeds and actions. (cf. nn. 4257-4260). In another meditation he says: “You are the Good Shepherd,” and then lists Christ’s different actions as the Good Shepherd.[3] It is the same with all the other words. The refrain may also be expressed in unemotional language, as, for example, in the repetition of the phrase “Jesus Christ teaches” (cf. nn. 4265-4279) or in the expressions “Jesus Christ is giving instruction”, “Jesus Christ inculcates.” This meditative refrain appears in at least nine discourses.[4] In the end all of this is gathered together in an affective prayer filled with adoration, praise, thanksgiving, and oblation which is rich with feelings and suggestions.

It is a method that bears substantial resemblance to the method of Bernardino Montolomo even though it is more well developed here. The prayers are always addressed to Christ with various invocations of praise which might make a stupendous litany of adulation. Sometimes they are addressed to God the Father and the Holy Spirit. These prayers are the most precious jewel in the text. Their entire inspiration is Christological and their methodology affective.

The goal is always charity and unitive love, to which all the prayers return. This trend is clear in the following prayer. “My Lord, my God, Jesus Christ, my joy and desire, you are the one in whom I place my trust, and while trusting in you I believe, while trusting in you I love you, while loving you I want to be totally conformed to your divine will, so that I could not move or do anything but what pleases you and what you command me to do and carry out. My Lord would that you would come to me with your divine grace, since I was created for this, that is to praise, bless and glorify your glorious holy name. Therefore, my Lord, I beg of your Majesty that you would grant that I would always be your servant and remain in your grace, fly from sin and all the evils of sudden death. O my Jesus, O my God, out of charity I commend the entire world to you, so that it might change and end your vendetta and do penance and recognise you as its Lord. Amen.” [5]

This is another prayer which has a more sober tone. “My Lord, once again give me the grace that disperses all that is unworthy of being loved and impedes my journey to heaven. My Lord, grant me the grace that will set me completely free to follow you and love you who you are and not for my own benefit. If I loved you for my own good it would be that I could obtains what I want from you. This is imperfect love. However, if I love you for who you are then I would think of you only and I would try to follow you with all my heart because this is perfect love.” [6]

2. A methodical and doctrinal approach

a) Matthia Bellintani da Salò: outstanding master of mental prayer

There is a quite different approach in the writings of Matthia Bellintani da Salò. One could hardly exaggerate the importance of these writings in the history of Catholicism after Trent. Although this is very evident it has not been presented in any detail up to now. In his work Storia della spiritualità Itaiana Petrocchi, when dealing with the school of spirituality in Lombardy in the sixteenth century, says that Bellintani is a typical proponent of “the Capuchin school in Lombardy” and that he produced a solid theological and practical exposition of the nature of prayer. He says that his spiritual writings are: “important pages for the study of sixteenth century piety”.[7]

The content of this work grew out of and was nurtured by an incessant pastoral commitment to evangelisation which started in Foligno in 1561. His first written work appeared in Brescia only in 1553. It could be said that it was “unique”, the most important, and the most famous of his works. This guaranteed that this work, the Prattica dell’ orazione mentale, would occupy a special place in the field of Italian spiritual literature.

The history and pastoral goal of the “Prattica dell’orazione mentale”

In a way the history of this book is the history of its author. It is the result of a pastoral initiative and of his personal spiritual experience. It represents his conviction concerning what is the excellent pastoral strategy that he developed during his life. The Practica unfolded in his own mind like a map for a clear integrated plan combining method and content. However, it took a long time to generate and was produced in various stages. The cohesive plan was conceived and set out in four distinct parts. The first part, which consisted of fifty-two meditations, began with the gifts of God, the destiny of man and concluded with the mystery of the Incarnation having dealt with Christ’s life and Passion and with his burial. The second part is comprised of fifty-nine meditations on the life of Christ in the Church, his descent into hell, the Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, the birth and growth of the Church, the sacraments, with particular emphasis on the “Sacrament of the Altar”. The third part consists of sixty-three different meditations on death, Purgatory and the universal judgement. The last part is made up of seventy meditations on the pains of hell and the glory of paradise.

Thus it was almost a complete Gospel and ecclesiastical instruction. The final meditation dealt with “the blessed eternity of the saints,” using the image of a sea voyage arriving at a peaceful port. “This is your port, O my heart, where your ship can come to a halt, safe from the tempest tossed seas of worldly disturbance, with the blessed anchor of holy prayer uniting you to God, safe where no wave crashes.”[8]

It was a long journey lasting thirty-five years between 1573 and 1607 because after publishing the fifty-two meditations and an important introduction Mattia da Salò could not put his hand to paper for ten years because he was too busy. Then when he published the second part he said: “as I had done in the first part, I wanted to include some chapters to explain how to pray more fully. However, lack of time made me change the plan because the time that I had set aside to write these chapters I spent in revising the others improving them.”[9] Thus the publication of the second part of the meditations was accompanied by anew edition of the first part which had been completely revised and restructured in the introductory chapters.

A comparison of the two editions shows that the first was more intuitive, basic and spontaneous which reflected “the fervour of discovery,” as the author said. The second was more elaborate and theologically structured and developed. It does not have any special changes in perspective, but it has a more logical rearrangement of theological incentives. Some repetitions have been omitted, some topics redistributed and some of the structural aspects of prayer have been more or less emphasised and elaborated. The eight chapters in the first version become twenty-two in the new version, but the content is the same only it is presented in a better way.

The change is more a matter of emphasis. Some of the changes are subtle and others odd. Although the first edition maintains in theory that the religious life is more perfect than that of the laity, especially with respect to prayer, it withholds any arguments for a contrast between the two by evaluating the prayer of the laity as being equal or possibly better than that of religious. In the second edition no comparison is made, and this reflects the new atmosphere that followed Trent.[10] The topics of suffering and repentance are also treated in more detail in the first edition whereas they are only mentioned in the second. The second edition speaks in greater depth about deeds and their consequences especially love which is seen as the outcome or climax of actions, whereas in the first edition it was treated at the beginning before all the other emotions.

From the letters that have come down to us[11] we know that his writings were composed during “pieces of time”, as he called them, at table or in bed during his frequent bouts of sickness on the impulse of inspirations that he had during his many journeys and courses of sermons but specially during his continuous meditation and prayer during which his mind, as his brother Giovanni assures us, became very agile, detached and active.[12]

The last two parts were to see the light only twenty-three years later with the great resurgence of the author who succeeded in bringing his grand project to an end. “Here I come at last to complete the Prattica dell’orazion mentale that I started twenty-seven years ago, producing the first part and then the second part.”[13]

The choice of the vernacular to the exclusion of Latin in this and in other spiritual works came from deliberate pastoral concern as he says himself in a confidential letter to Orazio Mancini. “I did not write in Latin for many reasons. One of them is that I could not express myself with as many words in Latin as I can in the vernacular and all the more when it comes to Scripture the pen needs to be able to fly where it wants to since concepts are more important than words when delivering the discourse. Another reason is that at first it might appear that these discourses are meant for educated people, nevertheless, when they are published experience (I am certain) shows that vernacular speech is more widespread and is more commonly used. This seemed to be evident to everyone when I published Prattica dell’oration mentale. It was also useful for simple people in as much as up to the present time it has been printed nine or ten times. However, there is still the need for a Latin edition.”[14] In fact in 1608/1609 a Latin translation of the work by the Cistercian Antonio Walsmar appeared. This was republished in Prague in 1682.[15] For Mattia da Salò the common Italian language would have been more suitable for preparing the people to live a Christian way of life and gain an understanding of the divine mysteries. It would spread among the people a more enlightened faith which would be closer to the reform of the Church as envisioned by the Council of Trent.

His involvement in the pastoral problems in Italy and beyond convinced him that he needed to become an apostle of mental prayer as an effective instrument in the reform of the Christian people and of the church. An examination of both his printed and transcribed sermons might be important with respect to this not only because he insists on this topic, but also because in the structure of the discourses that have come down to us, we note their meditative and affective components which are inserted into exercises of mental prayer. What is special in the model of a religious way life as proposed by Bellintani is that while on the one hand it conforms to the general directives of the Church of the Counterreformation, it attempts to guide souls towards a predominantly affective and contemplative spiritual experience. Thus by means of the practice of mental prayer it brings the faithful to a more interior experience in pastoral religious living.

He considered the apostolate of interior prayer to be an essential element of evangelisation and he propagated the exercise of mental prayer with the same intensity as he spread the devotion of the Forty Hours. Indeed, we might say that in him and in other Capuchin apostles the devotion of the Forty Hours is a real school of mental prayer for the people. [16] The implementation of the decrees of the Council in daily life did not require only an intervention from above that was authoritative and effective but needed to be passed on by taking them to heart and being convinced and open to what was magnificent with a deep hearted sensitivity to a religious way of life. He explains the profound motivation for his choice when he says that mental prayer “is a most powerful remedy for all that is evil and a most excellent exercise for becoming rich and full of all that is good.”[17]

The importance of and the necessity for prayer are clearly expressed in the first introductory chapters. However, the reasons for this are not just stated theoretically. We can see this by reflecting on what he did in faithfully carrying out the Capuchin custom in this respect, as we can see from what a contemporary biographer wrote: “He was in fact a friend of prayer for the space of fifty years or more, never omitting the two hours of mental prayer laid down in the Capuchin Constitutions. If, at times, he was held up by some serious business he never missed one hour but infallibly made it up, nor did he want to be called away during the time in choir. He said that secular affairs, no matter how serious they may be, were worldly flies. He used to say that whatever great trials might come his way, he wanted to be allowed to pray without being held back by either the world or by hell. At times he became so immersed in prayer that he had to be forcefully struck to awaken him from his ecstatic trance.” [18]

Having established that “holy prayer is sufficient on its own for all that we need”, and “that it is a very short way of acquiring virtue,” since it is the “the easiest and more perfect” means, he never ceases to praise it by making many kinds of comparisons such as these: “prayer is a weapon, a medicine, a food, a garment, a key.” [19]

He demonstrates the importance and necessity of prayer by using the Our Father, the prayer that provides every reason for praying and goes beyond all models of prayer since “it was taught by Christ, who is the unique teacher of all virtues especially prayer.” He proposed the Lord’s Prayer as “a living example” both of the order and manner on which a “devout soul” ought to “base his prayers” (n. 4301).

This is a basic component of his teaching which is repeated wherever he speaks about prayer, such as, for example, in his posthumous Quadragesimale ambrosianum on “Feria II Domenicae de Abraham”, where he develops the whole dynamics of Christian prayer using the words of the Lord’s Prayer. He could not repeat this message often enough because the more deeply he studied prayer the mind became more enlightened and the practice more fruitful. The same applied to Christian doctrine by means of which “holy Church advances, as the real heavenly dawn, discovering the splendour of Christ who is the true sun, with ever greater never-ending abundance through the rays of his Holy Spirit.”[20]

Thus there is a need to insist on “praising and promoting prayer,” and on “teaching how to pray” as a remedy for laziness, an aid to awareness, to counter ignorance of the process and lack of experience. By means of the subtle prompting of the spirit he realised that the cause of a lack of spiritual life among Christians was due most of all to the lack of a spirit of prayer. Because of this he defended the primacy of prayer over external works and in doing this he places religious and laity on the same level, lamenting that for some time it had been the common perception that “praying was something that belonged to friars and nuns and not to seculars even though it was necessary for all Christians. I do not know how a person who does not pray can be saved, or how they can think that study, preaching, assisting the poor and other similar Christian works are pleasing to God, or how they think that when they do such things that they are doing so much, or how they spend so much time doing these things that they have time for nothing else.”[21]

In addition to this consideration, which came from his continual apostolic missionary activity, Mattia da Salò was inspired by the responsibility of his teaching role as a priest. In this he was going along with the spiritual sensitivity of Trent and the Counterreformation. “As it is a precept for official priests to keep the fires burning by continually adding wood, so also we other ministers of the altar are bound to teach the people to keep the sacred and blessed fire of prayer alight on the alter of their minds by adding material that will keep it alive and increasing. Just as this responsibility has moved many to write about prayer so that the faithful could be roused and instructed how to pray well, this is the reason why I began to write this book which I called Pratica dell’ orazion mentale in which I tried to help anyone who wished to engage in mental prayer, by using the exercises in mental prayer.” [22]

This pastoral activity was very successful with both religious families and the laity in the world. Because of this he was able to write with such editorial and spiritual accomplishment, that his “method of prayer” became “a style of prayer that had not yet been set down in detail. In practice it brings together the many rules that have been proposed for this kind of prayer … in full in books.”[23] Here he shows the typical characteristics of a skilful collector who is both an eclectic and a thinker, who has transformed the material making it very personal and simple. However, it is difficult to find out with any certainty which books he consulted and which spiritual authors influenced him both because he never cites his sources and because he manages to assimilate them in a wonderful way and transform them into personal thoughts.[24]

The structure of a method of meditation

The Pratica dell’orazions mentale was meant to be a writing that made it possible to pray, a kind of “an instant aid”, that “proposed material for prayer in a practical manner” without wishing to “involve theology” (n. 4372). Whoever goes in search of a specific system of theology in this work will find instead an eclectic variety of theological allusions that are based on Bonaventure, and Scotus or the scholastics in general but without using the terminology of the schools. The terminology is meditative and affective because Bellintani is simply seeking to create devotion in his readers by facilitating the act of prayer without wishing to eulogize specific theological theories. Obviously it contains a precise inner logic that brings the different theological perspectives together.

However, if your want to determine which author contributed the most you would then find would be that it was St Bonaventure. Mattia da Salò was one of the most active proponents and sponsors of the Seraphic Doctor’s way of thought, not just because he was a pupil of Girolomo da Pistoia, who in 1569 had been a party to a commentary on the sentences by St Bonaventure, but also because when he was a definitor at the Chapter in 1578 he had contributed to drafting the General Ordinances which exhorted all the lectors in sacred theology to read what St Bonaventure taught because he had been “such a worthy and saintly doctor”.[25] He was also the first one to appreciate the sermons of the Saint, publishing about thirty of them and making use of them in his uninterrupted preaching.[26]

C. Bérubé quite correctly observed “the problem that faced the Capuchins following the Council of Trent was not of the speculative order, but of a practical nature, namely how to live their apostolic vocation faithfully, specifically in an Order that had been founded by St Francis. Throughout the Church, and particularly in the Order of Friars Minor, the reform of studies was regarded as a condition in carrying out their apostolic vocation in the Franciscan movement. The falling away from seraphic poverty went hand in hand with a fall of in preaching and the life of prayer.”[27] It was by means of his preaching and the Pratica dell’orazione mentale that Bellintani “brought St Bonaventure’s teaching into religious piety, both as a source of inspiration and of nourishment and also as a psychological affective condition.” This involves precisely his emphasis on affectivity”, [28]

This method required divine prompting, and this is of two kinds. One type is “secret and internal”. It occurs with the whispering of the Holy Spirit when the Spirit comes down secretly into the soul and moves it to pray by means of “impulses and assurances”. There is also the “extrinsic and apparent” kind which consists in studying “holy books” and following a method taught by a spiritual director. (cf. n. 4328). Whoever is following inner promptings must not despise the external rules because this would be the same as despising the Holy Spirit with the danger of falling into the explanation proposed by “Quietism”. What instead was needed was great decisive collaboration on the part of the individual. The individual must “ardently desire to practice and have clear knowledge of how to pray.” Such a desire provides that ability to “accept the influence of the Holy Spirit.,” because “it is like a fire which together with heat also gives light,” and thus brings about prayer and supplication. “Therefore, do you want to pray always? Ask Christ to teach you how to pray to him and he will grant you the enlightenment of the Spirit who teaches all truth.” (n. 4330).

Mattia da Salò wanted to introduce everyone to mental prayer, without devaluing oral prayer which, in comparison to the contemplation performed by those who are “perfect”, is like “being on the ground eating grass.” He preferred to go beyond prefabricated formulas and to abandon oneself to thoughts and words. He suggested meditating on the words of vocal prayers and proposed using interior acts rather than ready-made phrases, but under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This takes place when the soul is already aroused. However, the first requirement is preparation which is useful for the process of purification in order to keep the soul “clean” and “suspended from all attachment to creatures,” disposing itself in humility and in “holy and confident trust.”

When entering into meditation the preliminary acts should be performed resolutely “with great fortitude” and “with feeling” or at least “pronounced on the lips while paying attention to their meaning”. Thus the lingering of the heart will be warmed by the meditation which will enlighten the intellect and “weaken the senses” so that “what the eye does not see, will not concern the heart” (n. 4348) and it will be like “wood kindling the emotional fire of the heart” Once prayer has become affective it will mean that it has achieved its objective.

In this affective state various loving acts and processes will develop. Bellintani calls the third part of mental prayer “azione” (action). This means that the person’s real activity which consists in a work of love, means “controlling love properly” and working up to love. This applies to every stage of the interior life of those who are beginners and those who are proficient in the purgative, illuminative and unitive ways. It is in this context that the best pages of Giovanni da Fano and Bernardino da Balvano are now presented and the most genuine and profound thoughts of the Circolo del divino amore by Francesco da Jesi are summarised, although with updated theological and doctrinal sensitivity to the pronouncements of Trent. However, they are revisited with austere ascetical overtones and expressed in theological language that is clear and perfect.

Once the heart has been drenched with holy meditation, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, this automatically produces emotions, movements and acts of love. Mattia explains this with precision and depth in the revised edition of 1584. “In the first place the word love implies an ardent desire for union with the object that is loved so that because of this the soul that is in love with God languishes to be united with him as the spouse in the Canticle professes (Song 2: 5). This kind of love is emotional. It involves an act of the will which freely loves somebody. Thus the soul that is in love loves God loves him and wants to do what pleases him so that it will receive divine love from him who is an ocean of all perfection. When we love our neighbour, we want him to possess love, grace and God himself as well as temporal goods. Normally emotions are produced by actions. Then acts are produced out of love because the first thing that our will does is to love. It does so because love is at the root of all the movements of our heart. Thus, man’s greatest concern should be to control love well.”[29]

The “exercise of the emotions should be carried out with vigour and fervour” (n. 4351). This is greatly facilitated by “pondering well and ingeniously considering the mystery that produces it.”[30] As Bernardino da Balvano had already taught, Mattia da Salò places great emphasis on attention and the ardour of the emotions making the two dependent on each other.

During meditation = the intellect is very attentive

As part of attention = the emotions should be ardent

When attention falls off emotion also decreases with the danger that tepidity will destroy affective prayer.

There are five acts of love that are produced during prayer: resolutions, oblation, praise, thanksgiving, love and petition.[31] Resolution should be made “with great strength and purpose” even though with, fear, humility and trust. The act of oblation should also be offered with “great purpose” but without deceiving oneself and lying to God. It should be transformed it into a desire and plea for “having strength and vigour.”

Praise is another affection activity that comes from meditation and is something different from simple praise and thanksgiving. It means praising God as he is magnificent in himself and in creation and thanking him for the gifts that he has bestowed on creation. In this double act the soul can steady itself continually by moving from thanksgiving to simple praise in an “honourable step” and by “a beautiful and sweet turn” enjoying a wonderful feeling and gaining great merit. Praise is more perfect and noble than thanksgiving. Because of this, a person should spend as long as possible in offering praise and, given that “God’s goodness and his gifts are greater than praise,” it involves the whole of creation both visible and invisible until it places before us such great love over which we rejoice and rest at peace, abandoning ourselves to sleep peacefully “in the womb of such great goodness.” (n. 4362).

It is precisely from this concept that he develops the movement of love that involves “all the affective fruits that can be gathered from meditation.” Such love is at the same time active and passive and it is wonderfully described, with more brevity than in our text (n. 4352), but in more depth, in the revised edition of 1584.[32] The passive movement is said to be “intratto” (inward movement). This occurs “when the soul is drawn towards God by a loving impulse and remains fixed in gazing on him with delight and keeps its eyes fixed on God’s eyes, in which it sees that it is seen and admired, and so the two take to one another using the direct form of speech and it wonders in silence. The soul experiences the mortal wound of love in its heart that makes it fade away as though simply by means of its glance it had pierced the heart of God. No one could regret this, but the deeper the wound, the more it pierces him.” (n. 4352).

This passage is a masterpiece of spiritual literature since it summarises in short and intense expressions of an extensive reading of spiritual books and also reflects personal experience as the author of the Compendio della vita del P. Mattia stated: “It is no wonder then that he was so dedicated to divine contemplation as he was quite frequently wrapped in God, experiencing ecstasy, and on one occasion among many, while at prayer in the Province of Umbria at midday in the summer’s heat, he was found with his arms extended in the form of a cross and with his eyes open and filled with flies as if he were dead. On another occasion a saintly friar saw him with a white dove over his head at the time of prayer.”[33]

In the second edition Bellintani insists mostly on the concepts passivity and activity that characterise the operation of loving. He follows the doctrinal approach of St Augustine, St Bernard and St Bonaventure. “Love is passion. It is a kind of inclination and desire to be united to the one whom we love and to whom we feel drawn. When this becomes ardent, we do not seem to be satisfied until we have been united with him, because union of heart, which is already present in that love, wants everything else to follow making up perfect and complete union between both. This is achieved in a wonderful way when we love God. When the weight of such love draws us towards the one who is the centre of every rational being, it does not allow anything to stay behind, but desires, us to enter, with what we are, and become one with God since we cannot find peace anywhere else.[34] Indeed, since the heart itself cannot fully enter into God and be transformed into him as it wants to, so that it may have deeper union, it burns with a more devouring flame to be more closely united. The closer it comes to this, the faster and more ardently it moves towards its spiritual centre. Because the distance is infinite, so that it could never reach the end, love is never satisfied, nor does the inclination ever cease or ever extinguished the flame of desire within us.”[35]

The passive movement can hardly be distinguished from the active. It consists “in wishing the best for the beloved or wishing that he had what he does not have or be happy with what he has. When this is applied to God who not only possesses what is good but who is all goodness, he is pleased when we share in some of his perfection and grandeur. It is a fact that the honour, obedience and servitude that we owe him, we consider as being gifts from God, which at present we do not offer him as we ought to. However, the love that we have for God makes us want to give him what is good. The object of such a desire is not only other people since we desire the same thing for ourselves. When we see that we are not honouring, obeying or serving the divine Majesty with the kind of love, which wants us to give God exalted honour, humble obedience and wide-ranging service, and this motivates us to do what is possible for us to do. Since the act of love and passion for love go hand in hand to the point that they cannot be separated or barely distinguished, the exercise of love, that comes about through prayer, moves us towards perfect union with God and to honour, obey and serve him.”[36]

He calls this second movement “estratto” (outward reaching) and it consists in “drawing our heart to more than God.” This occurs when “the act of love wishing that everyone would honour and obey God, strikes us and sharply spurs us on to practice all the virtues by which God is honoured and his law observed.”[37]

These two acts of love “come together in contemplation with one following the other because one generates the other.” Anyone who is not already prepared because his vision of God is not yet clear, converses with God using “the second person,” (the familiar form of address).[38] The “outward” movement casts the soul towards God making it ready to be drawn into the vortex of love by means of the “intrato” (inward movement) towards which it should always aspire as being the climax of love, “not however in an demanding manner,” but allowing oneself to be drawn, “to run behind the divine leadership without becoming exhausted.” (n. 4353).

It is precisely in the context of this loving action, which renders every virtue and apostolate effectual that given his personal experience Mattia da Salò offers us theological and spiritual motives. “When a person who is seeking Gods feels called to the heights of the inward movement, let him follow the voice and guidance of God because it is there that he will receive great strength to do what has to be done, and overcome himself. He will certainly experience that the inward movement is stronger than the outward movement.”[39]

This detailed analysis of love combines the image in the Circolo di carità divine by Ripanti, which contains an ascent towards God by allowing oneself to be drawn by love and descent to creatures through the reception of divine love to be lavished on oneself and on others. In this way the loving attraction of union with God will begin again forming an endcolsed circle of love. Bellintani did not use this image perhaps because the Circolo together with the Discorso by Cordoni had been placed on the Index in 1584.

Meditation that enlighten the intellect and the emotions that enflame the will come together in the final exercise of prayer as petition. Mattis da Salò takes examples from the Our Father. Even in this final act of prayer he highlights the strong influence of the will. “Prayer ought to be said with great warmth and might, by crying out loudly in the secret of the heart.” (n. 4370). The contribution of the will had already been emphasised already in both the preliminary preparations and in the affective acts in general as well as in the resolutions and, especially, in the oblations so that at first the whole exercise look like being exhausting, deliberate, aggressive,[40] This, as Petrocchi says, corresponds completely “with the rigour and austerity of Capuchin ascetical theology.” [41] However, this was reduced immediately by the warmth of the affections and the “enflamed will” ending up in “the unfailing delight” of the “inward movement” in which the soul “gazes on God in the quietest silence and fixes his eyes of God’s eyes.”

What are required to achieve this are technique, method and order, which, however, should not limit “the operation of the Holy Spirit”, in as much as the rules of mental prayer are subservient to this as “a ladder” to let us rise and enter into God. If you feel able to fly to God with affectivity without a lengthy preparatory meditation, there is no need to practice this.”[42]

The centrality of Christ’s Passion

We have said that the Practica dell’orazione mentale is genuinely the work of Bellintani in which he combined the experience of a whole life taken up with preaching, animating groups of devout laity, establishing friaries, spreading the Capuchin Reform in France and Bohemia. There is a great similarity between his practice of meditation and his life which was the basis of his composing meditations on Christ’s Passion. Bonaventure is the bedrock of his thought and experience. This is so important that it can never be overlooked. It is imperceptible. It is his “daily bread” which he breaks and chews even on the greatest liturgical solemnities. He returns to it continually in his preaching, in his sermons for the Forty Hours, in his books and spiritual instructions.

The author of the Compendio, which we have already quoted, wrote “that he had such a taste for contemplating the Passion of Our Lord that on Easter Sunday he did not want to lose his sight because he wanted to celebrate the triumph of the Redeemer and while he was speaking he broke out in tears. Evidently, he took his teaching in the Pratica dell’orazione mentale which had been reprinted many times, from Prediche delli dolori di Cristo, which contained the same mysteries of the Passion arranged in the form of a rosary for each day of the week, which had been printed and was used by many people with great spiritual profit.”[43]

Brother Giovanni Bellintani published Corone spirituali in 1614. However, Mattia never wanted to have them published because they had been used most profitable by St Charles Borromeo and many eminent people. He said this himself in an important letter to Orazio Mancini in 1595. This was his way of putting things together by way of comfort and occupation during his long and tiresome journeys. According to him it was the best way to lead people to an interior appreciation of the faith. This is also why he continually preached on the subject of the cross.

It is also the most effective exercise in the religious formation of novices and professed Capuchins so that they could be formed on the contemplation of Christ’s Passion which gave meaning to the practices of mortification and penance. The methodology was always fundamentally the same. At the beginning there was the feeling of being tired when considering all the points into which the “mysteries” of the Passion had been divided. They were so short that they might seem to be “dry.”

Meditating by means of points spread across the days of the week was the best way to begin what we have called the “realistic devotional” way. It is simply an application of his method of prayer. It is a tactic for becoming immersed in Christ’s Passion in order to develop the mental habit of being focused on Christus patiens (the suffering Christ) as a ladder to reach contemplation and unitive and glorious love. In fact, perseverance with these points in meditation transforms them, by the means of a “holy anointing,” into a delightful “chain of many rings” that “grips the soul as if it were bound.” (n. 4455). The effort was only at the start, just like when one starts a motor, once it is running it could even fly.

When he was in France and Bohemia Mattia da Salò would have spread this way of contemplating on the Passion. However, when Rhineland and Flemish ideas became influential in France and the Low Countries, and when the doctrine of Benedict of Canfield became popular, the spirituality of the Capuchins became tinted with subtle theological and spiritual controversies. The Order officially insisted its spirituality was Christ-centred and conformed to Christ in its journey towards perfection. As to the mystical life, it was opposed to all illuminist tendencies which might propose to even push the Humanity of Christ aside using a method of “introspection”.[44] This official position also appears to have an influence on Giovanni Bellintani’s “prologue” to the Corone spirituali in which he says decisively: “Following the teaching of our Father St Francis, whoever directs his prayer to anyone but Christ our Saviour exposes himself to the illusions of the devil and to falling. He should first of all deny himself and in imitation of Christ carry the cross if he wishes to relish it in contemplation.”[45]

The Project of “Pratica della contemplazione” as the final objective of mental prayer

Mattia daSalò built up the vast subject of his meditation on Christ’s Passion. These meditations included the mysteries of Christ, of God, of the last things and the mystery of the Church. Though the prevalent approach was ascetical, it is clear that this was only a methodological and pastoral tactic as he wished to have the soul come to an affective and contemplative peak. It was for this very important reason that when he wrote the one hundred and fifty meditations on “heavenly glory,” spurred on by an inventive urge he wanted to have them preceded by “a chapter on contemplation” in the final part of the Pratica dell’orazione mentale. His quite active life within the Order and then his death impeded him from carrying out his plan and his brother, Giovanni Bellintani, who collected and published these meditations in 1620, was unable to do this. Giovanni could not certainly match Mattia’s vast and profound mind. During the last years of his life Mattia had been meditating on and writing about the Apocalypse in which he perceived were revealed the mysteries of the history of the Church and the whole significance of Christ. As he came to the end, Mattia loved to meditate with delight on eschatological biblical prophesies, plunging himself into meditation on Christ’s heavenly glory, the Trinity and the Church of the saints.[46]

Even though they are more elaborate, more speculative and more finely tuned, it is perhaps in these meditations that were set out in the same way including the three parts laid down in the Pratica dell’orazione mentale, that it might be possible (in a deeper study) to collect the basic elements in the practice of contemplation. As a matter of fact, there is a real blossoming of subjects that have a contemplative and mystical quality. He regarded prayer as an exercise of love or a walk or journey in which the emotions and the intellect were “like the two feet of the soul working in unison,”[47].so that both go forward to look for God “on the ladder of creatures”, and above all “by means of the ladder of the cross,” it becones possible, “to rise to the greatest height” of knowing God, whose love is always increasing “like the rising sun,” because “love is a virtue that unites” and carries the love to the beloved. The more one concentrates on this, the more he becomes enflamed. Whoever loves God more intensely, will be more warmly enflamed.”[48]

For Ballintani “Jacob’s real ladder,” that is the symbol of contemplation, which reveals and unites the soul to God, is the Incarnate Word in his Passion. [49] It is Christ’s Passion that reveals the infinite goodness of God.[50] This also makes us recognise what are the heavenly blessings.[51] This is the “easiest means” for knowing the Supreme Good, to behold “the divine nature,”[52] and to behold “the excellence of all corporal and spiritual beings put together,”[53] since Christ, God and Man are more infinitely blessed than all other creatures and Paradise.”[54] Thus it is necessary “to cleanse the inner eye which is the heart.”[55] This is the purpose of the present life. To achieve this he prays: “Kindle within me the desire to know the heavenly gifts: give me exceptional clarity, prepare me for that by means of your help, unite delightful relish to enlightenment, so that intoxicated by the abundance of your home, I will lose the relish for what I discover in this earthly home.”[56] Contemplation is sharing in God’s light where gazing on God and being gazed on are one and the same where there is very great delight of spirit in “seeing ourselves being continually gazed on by the parental, loving and shining eyes of God,” which take pleasure in seeing the divine image reflected in the mirror of the creature.[57]

The cognitive element of contemplation is no longer intellectual and rational, but is operating through love and annihilation to bring about union with God and transformation into God. This subject reoccurs continuously in these meditations and is conveyed in an impressive variety of shades of doctrinal perceptions that progress from considering the divine will, which is the source of every good, to moving on to beatific love, then to the circumstances of this love that exist in the soul, then to “blessed awe” and “deep experiences”, of being immersed and transformed into God When they are applied to the blessed in heaven, they replicate the problems of the mystical and contemplative life of a person on a journey..

Such feelings of delight in God leave “the soul feeling bitter, making it feel very hungry and worn out.”[58] God replenishes the souls divinely: “like water does with a sponge, or light with a crystal. This replenishment means that wherever they gaze, they see God in themselves and when the vision absorbs the mind it alone fills it completely taking away all sight of self, without depriving it of anything, if you can put it that way. It sees only God as he is all in all.”[59] This is the journey of love that possesses “the strength to unite and transform the soul that loves her beloved. Because as the intellect while it is thinking draws the object into itself and retains it, it is just the opposite with the process of loving in which the object itself draws out the subject’s affection and even without entering in brings about a transformation in such a way that the object of love enters the soul by means of the intellect and through love the soul is united to the object”.[60]

Such “contemplative faith” and “faith-filed contemplation”[61] makes a person test how “in achieving union the will does not actually take possession of God himself, but rather God takes over the will. However, because God is simple when the will is united to him, he completely penetrates it. Since when the will enters into itself it takes control of both the intellect and what is desired, it follows that the whole of the soul is taken over by God and, consequently, God takes over the soul.”[62] A stupendous example of this union is to found in sacramental communion in as much as “when the divine body is united to the human spirit one is changed into the other, as far as that is possible, without the change being a complete change. Our spirit does not just remain in Christ’s body. Christ’s Spirit penetrates through it and lifts it up to the divine nature, where without losing its own nature; it wonderfully and unspeakably fades into God’s nature.”[63]

This transformation into God takes place by means of annihilation, a word that was used by saintly contemplatives “because when drawn by the divine glow, they simply stand gazing at that alone seeing nothing of what belongs to their own person.”[64] In fact God’s will “which is essentially goodness itself, draws the created will into itself, then having found its object and food, it immerses itself totally in the infinite abyss of self-annihilation in order to transform itself into Gods’ will and become totally one with it… indeed with all its might it impels itself to become one with the infinite abyss of the divine will where it lives a most happy life as if it were lost and dead to itself.”[65]

Elsewhere he gives a better and more wonderful explanation of the meaning of such annihilation which the saints in glory experience in its fullness. “When we speak of this like children, we see the many actions that a saintly spirit offers to God all put together with all of them being carried up into his divine nature in an incomprehensible way as if there was no difference between knowing and loving, between respecting and obeying, praising and admiring or other similar actions. It follows that all these actions take place simultaneously so as not to break up or distract the soul. This is so that performing one act does not sap the strength from performing another. This means that when the soul is faced with all the divine gifts and consecrates on that wanting to penetrate it he reduces the work involved in entering into the joy of the Lord, immersing and submerging himself into God all at once and not only experiences greater unity within himself, but by means of such great diminution of effort he becomes lost and dissolved, thinking of nothing but God, the more the divine union increases, which is infinite in grandeur, containing all good in itself because it is one entity. Thus, the soul by means of such empting of self through being transformed into the divine unity, takes on unspeakable grandeur, which at the same time makes it infinite even though it is nothing of itself. It becomes greater in God while being little or nothing in itself. Whereas it feels that it is nothing, once it has accumulated all its feelings the more incomprehensibly it will be filled with feelings for God, who is occupying all of its strength and actions. It looks to him alone without any thought about itself.”[66]

“O my soul – Matttia da Salò then exclaimed – what would you say if one of the divine rays that regularly enlighten the mind of holy contemplatives came into your inner self giving you a taste of one of the very exalted ways through which God unites himself to the pure and detached minds of creatures? By means of the admirable support given to them by God, these people, having entered into the abyss of the joy of their Lord, almost leaving themselves behind, not being concerned about or recalling anything about themselves, not feeding on anything, or relishing anything, do not know or feel anything but God, and have in fact been changed into him.”[67]

There would be no end to citing similar passages to show how effective these one hundred and fifty sermons are with regard to the practice of meditation on heavenly glory. They are full of mystical and contemplative thoughts that contain all the methodology of Prattica dell’orazione mentale.

b) The “way to pray” by Silvestro da Rossano

Silvestro Franco da Rossano (+1596) was a contemporary of Bellintani. His treatment of the practice of devotional prayer is quite clear. The devotion to the blood of Christ influences all his literary output and pastoral activity. Nevertheless, since the “devotion to the most precious blood” is “a method of prayer”, it could not be practiced by the faithful until they were conversant the “method and exercise” of prayer in general. Because of this in 1574, a year after the publication of Bellintani’s famous Prattica, Silvestro da Rassano published a small volume on the method of prayer, which was set out for popular consumption as morning and evening prayer for every day of the week. Because the characteristic features of his “method of prayer, include the nature and subject matter of the emotions, which need special attention, they are discussed in “the section on method and doctrine” but in less detail than by Bellintani.

The first part of the work deals with prayer and its features in general as necessary “useful spiritual instruction”. He then proposes a concrete way of praying for every day of the week as an effective “spiritual exercise.”

A close reading reveals that the original inspiration was based on some of the words in the Rule of St Francis especially the following. “Let the friars not extinguish the spirit of holy prayer and devotion to which all temporal things ought to be subservient,” and “let them pay attention to what they must desire above all else the Spirit of the Lord and Its holy activity, to pray always to God with a pure heart.”[68] The author does not state this expressly but it seems to be obvious from the context that this is what he intended. In fact, he begins to speak about prayer and devotion including the latter among the five intrinsic qualities of prayer, alongside preparation, attention, time and suitable place.

The divisions, which have been set out numerically and in an instructive way, remind us of a catechetical formula to assist the readers in memorising the elements. If this sounds quite scholastic, and like a brief theology of prayer for the laity, the many subdivisions reflect a skilful and evocative way of transmitting doctrine in concise and simple phrases along with very concrete suggestions and reflections which are at times striking and ingenious. This shows the wide experience of someone who preaches to people. Every once and awhile the sound of a fervent preacher creeps in and this is the echo of the apostolic approach to the people adopted by the Capuchins from the very beginning.[69]

To produce conviction regarding the necessity of prayer, Silvestro da Rossano cites the example and teaching of Christ at prayer and gives fifteen different reasons why “in the living and heavenly example and divine teaching of Our Saviour Jesus Christ “we find “the most efficacious way to persuade our souls to kneel down and attend to holy prayer and devotion.”[70] However there is also the example of the saints. Here the author delves into the Bible beginning from Able, Noah and Abraham and going on to the various patriarchs and prophets and other people connected with the practice of prayer. In the New Testament he alerts the reader as to how the most significant mysteries are revealed in an existential situation of prayer. “The blessed God takes on flesh at the time of prayer, when Mary is praying. He is born during prayer, lives with prayer, lays down precepts and teaches how to pray and dies while praying. Standing beside her Son the Virgin Mary is more than a heavenly oracle, because during holy prayer she heard the voice of the heavenly messenger, and was put to sleep by the Holy Spirit and became the Mother of God, while praying and contemplating she preserved in her virginal and immaculate heart all the mysteries of the divine Incarnate Word.:[71] This is followed by twelve additional reasons aas to why we ought to pray which are based on Christian life and teaching.

When defining prayer, he makes use of unusual comparisons with grammar, logic, rhetoric and philosophy. However, when he places the discussion on a theological basis, he explains the essence of prayer as being a concept based on pietas (piety) which involves the whole of the inner and outer person as well as all the objects and practices of worship insisting particularly on the mind and the heart. (nn, 4515-4529).

Preparing for prayer means “concentrating on everything that God is doing,” in order to have a cheerful and modest disposition. Such “modesty” is understood as the habit of charity that “transforms” all the virtues, enriching charity itself with all the qualities mentioned by St Paul. This creates an image of Christ that is to be imitated by the soul that wishes to pray and which consequently has reverence for and pays genuine attention to God’s presence and detaches itself from everything that is detracting.

The emphasis on the expressions “devout” and “objects of the senses,” that are spiritual, as the author describes them, is interesting. He says that they nourish devotion and are indispensable for genuine prayer. The list of the qualities of devotion is developed using many subdivisions, citing its positive and negative aspects. For Silvestro da Rossano, as well as for the preceding spiritual authors, devotion was a basic point in discernment (“devotion is necessary for holy prayer”). In doing this they are echoing the words of St Francis concerning the danger of losing devotion of heart because of excessive exterior activity: “Devotion may be easily lost by a multiplicity of activities and responsibilities and by undertaking many diverse works. However, everyone should do such things in such a way that they do not become so busy that they lose the great treasure of devotion, by means of which the soul possesses God and God possesses the soul.” (n. 4550).

One required aspect of devotion is attention or “a firm and tenacious peace of mind and tranquillity”, by means of which one becomes stable. He set up a precise line of succession for this.

Prayer = devotion = attention.

Just as prayer without devotion is false, it is also false without “devout attention.” “Attention should come from the heart and it is very necessary if prayer is to be pleasing to God. Lacking it is fire without heat and that is not real fire. Prayer without attention is not prayer.” (n. 4553).

In establishing the time and place for prayer he assesses all the external conditions of ceremonies of liturgical and devotional worship that might obstruct prayer. He insists on prayer from the heart as being above any other external circumstance. “The spiritual place for prayer … is our heart and will which are not helped very much by holy places and decorated churches or secret oratories if the heart is filled with vanity and does not pray diligently.” (n. 4569). The soul is “where the heart is” and the soul ought to be “the home for prayer”.

The final chapters of this “spiritual instructions”, which are always very well set out, gives an even better picture of the pastoral purpose of the work as it grew out of experience gained while preaching, especially when they differentiate between the twelve qualities of prayer or the twelve categories of people who ought to pray, or note what makes prayer unproductive. We also note the strong opposition to what is heretical, support for the magisterium and the Catholic Church, rage again what deviates from the faith, superstitious Christians, hypocrites, those guilty of simony, mercenaries, those who are tepid or ungrateful. This is expressed in terms that betray the practical experience and impatience of a genuine “evangelical preacher”.[72]

Having said all that, we still do not know the method of prayer that he explained and set out in the second part of the book. We are faced with a method that defines the concrete acts of prayer, especially mental and interior prayer, making use of the sequence and coordination of points and affective feelings which are strangely set out with mathematical and geometric precision that extends from morning to night. The various elements that are moved around and their affective character allow us to gain a general idea of what the author intended to be “a practical action”, “a method” of prayer “arranged in an order that made it easy, for a person, who was experiencing spiritual consolation, to meditate, pray and contemplate.” (n. 4586).

The treatment of meditation is special, and not as simple as it might appear. However, it seems to be an ingenious interpretation of St Francis’ exhortation concerning the primacy of the Spirit of the Lord and Its holy activity. In fact, the subject of the morning meditations is simply God in his various attributes. The meditations at night deal with the qualities of the love of God as in the following table.








The divinity of God

Supreme goodness of God

The life of God

The grandeur of God

The existence of God

The Spirit of God

Perfection of God

Inner love of God

Loving works of God

Particular Love of God.

How God directs his love

God’s protective love

Strong filial love

Superabundant love

The topics take on greater depth and become absorbed by means of the slow performance of the seven acts that form the unique structure of mental prayer. The first is l’atto cognitivo (the act of knowing) where the intellect is operative. This is divided into five considerations with the introductory verse: “My soul, consider.” The second is the act of magnificativo (glorifying God) which is developed in a further five points which transform the various shades of meaning into the prayer of thanksgiving and praise. In the next act, which is called umiliativo (humiling), the person who is praying compares himself to God (“Who are you and who am I?”), and makes acts of humility and longing. These are again divided into five points. Next there comes the unitivo (unifying) act by means of which the soul lifts itself up to God out of its poverty aspiring towards union “by perfect imitation.” Here the prayer is not divided into parts perhaps because this is the highest point of prayer and we should respect the free outpouring of feelings and spiritual emotions. Following the acts of petition, oblation and invocation, Bernardino da Balvano, and Bellintani recommended that the meditation be ended with an Our Father and a Hail Mary. Silvestro da Rassano repeats this, but instead of saying them only once he wants them recited five times to coincide with the five points in the meditation. He centres the emotions on the content of the prayers by praying about the different situations and categories of persons (= an act of entreaty) and by invoking the saints (= an act of invocation) with precise intentions for each day of the week as in this diagram.








Sinners and
The JustThose with worries and
Those who prosperThose in Holy OrdersReligious servants of GodThose for whom we are obliged to prayThose who offended usBenefactorsSaints in general and the dead
Friends and
EnemiesLeaders and
PrelatesMarried people
CelibateThose who have asked for our prayersThose we have offended or scandalisedCriminalsSpecial Saints and the dead
Angels and
SaintsApostlesMartyrsPontiffsPriestsVirginsAll the
Patriarchs and
ProphetsEvangelistsThe InnocentsDoctorsMonks and hermitsWidowsSaints to whom we have special devotion

Prayer to the Saints and for particular people in need became popular in the spiritual climate that followed Trent and also among Capuchin preachers. When Silvestro da Rossano meditated on the twelve occasions that Jesus shed blood, he said a prayer at each one for a particular kind of person. This devotion probably came from Bernardino da Balvano who, however, only mentioned nine times when blood was shed. (nn 4238-42). He propagated it among the people during his frequent sermons especially when speaking to the Confraternities.[73] It was particularly within these groups that he taught his method of prayer, even using the words of the Hail Mary, for which he had a special devotion, in an emotional way. (cf. nn. 4633-4639).

c) The promotion of the life of piety among the people in the devout writings of Verucchino

Silvestro da Rossano began from a popular devotion to Christ’s blood and went on to a more complete and articulate method of mental prayer passing on to any spiritual person the monastic practice of two periods of meditation a day one in the morning and the other in the evening. Cristoforo da Verocchio, who was a contemporary of Ballintani and enjoyed a reputation for sanctity and who over a period of many years was a popular preacher in great demand, put together a large work concerning “exercises of the soul”, as the title says, which contained both practice and theory. It was somewhat of a novelty because of the biblical and patristic references that it provided, because of the subjects that it touched on and for its comprehensive content as a Vademecum which appeared to cater for elite souls but instead had been prepared for all the faithful. This Vademucum packed into handy portable printed pocket editions the substance of all the exercises of the spiritual life. It presented them as “affective sacred practices of meditation,” which were centred mainly on the life and sufferings of Christ and the Madonna. (cf. doc. 16 and 17).

We are dealing with documents on spirituality which are the flower of the patristic tradition and medieval popular devotion, as it was lived in the Capuchin Reform, developed in intense preaching, within the most vigorous “orthodoxy” of Trent and after and full of unadulterated calm asceticism and heartfelt humanity. These writings make Verucchino a genuine master of meditation and mental prayer for the people, with a progressive method of teaching that is well set out, as we shall see. It starts with the more common prayer formulas to move on to authentic mental prayer, which is interior and contemplative, using the subject of the mysteries of Christ.

It is a safe guide which is based on Church tradition that goes along with the popular piety of external practices. It forms them into focusing on what is internal and spiritual charity. Above all it is in these writings that we obtain a better understanding of popular piety and its causes expressed in language that echoes this very period, and which Verucchino articulates using a thousand affective allusions and numerous authoritative sources and examples to more easily implant his doctrinal teaching on the soul.

It is not a simple undertaking to outline this comprehensive teaching on Christian piety in a few words. It came about through weighty theological and ecclesiastical scholarship. Often Verucchino leans towards what are predominantly devotional aspects. However, he commits himself immediately to history and doctrine so as these devotions can be practiced with affective and enlightened sensitivity. If we have listed him as being among those who wrote on doctrine and method, it is because he offers a genuine method of mental prayer that is open to contemplative experiences which are the basis of his eclectic and congenial meditations and “exercises of the soul”, as he calls them. The method is developed in a few introductory pages of the two spiritual works which we have made use of, namely Essercizi d’anima and Compendio di cento meditazioni sacre.

One of the striking characteristics of the sequence of the “points” for meditation is that it is presented as if it were a series of beads in a rosary each of which were given baroque titles preceded by numbers: “Nine points for meditation”, “Fourteen points to be recited with feeling”, “Twenty four points and inducements to weep for sins”, “Sixteen points for contemplating the vanities of the world.”, “Twenty points for preparing for Holy Communion”, “Five points for adoration”, “Eleven points for having recourse to the Saints”. “Ten flashes and flames of love”, “Five ornaments of our delight”, “Six points to consider …, “Eight points to ponder …, to consider”, “The thirty-three limbs and main faculties of Christ which are to be acknowledged …”: and so on.

The meditations are always made up of a sequence of “points “with noteworthy variations. Indeed, it is here that one can find a handbook of a list of all the more odd and strange devotions. For example, devotion to the five wounds, the six sobs of Christ, the seven words on the cross, the seven gifts of the Spirit, the seven joys and the seven sorrows of Mary, the nine times the Lord shed blood, the twelve stars in the Madonna’s crown, the forty Our Fathers for the dead, etc.[74]

This taste for numbers, which is clearly baroque, was accepted at the time as pertaining to mystery and it cultivates an atmosphere of mystery, while also conveying a need for the use of numbers and a need to calculate the laws of exchange and commerce which was just taking its first steps. However it was not a novelty since it was directly connected to the devout literature of the later Middle Ages and followed the type of contemporary piety that was “calculating and greedy” as some have described it.[75] It was a system that was both numeric and mnemonic, a teaching device, a mental refrain to organise the subject so as to facilitate “thinking it over, meditating, and contemplating.”

This is why the words used in the headings are indicative of a mentality that is simple and uncritical. It does not distinguish between”contemplation and devotion” or between “points for contemplation, meditation, pondering”, between “recalling or deliberating”, between “meditating and thinking affectionately”, or “ardently meditating”, between “reciting prayers in an affectionate manner and reciting them with attention” or saying them “with ardent devotion”, etc.

The author speaks of “meditation” and “contemplation” as if they meant the same thing even though he has a clear notion of what each one implies. Because of this at the end of his Essercizi he has many very interesting pages that deal with mental prayer and contemplation where he distinguishes between the two spiritual exercises. Nevertheless, what is striking is the vividness of the adjectives and adverbs that portray an atmosphere that is warm with devotion, with burning affection and heartfelt fervour. However, let us follow the development of his method in an orderly manner. He wants to present it in a way that is “succinct but clear; adequate but not excessive with a style that is simple, but pleasant, having intelligent phrases, but not too trite and confusing”. He aims at describing “the main practices by means of affective, ardent and meaningful points that have come to me.”[76] Like other authors on prayer he repeats that it needs “the right method, the proper place and suitable time.” (n. 4855).

Preparation for prayer

With regard to time he advises choosing the time that is the quietest and the most silent such as the night or the morning. In general, the place ought to be “a somewhat darkened room, free from anything disturbing, providing silence and far from all noise.” (n. 4857) However if one is meditating in the presence of other people, then there is no need “to do anything unusual, not even to sigh loudly or say any words,” just like St Francis.

With regard to method he suggests to imagine God “in various bodily poses which are decent,” in the way that Scripture does. He expands this using provocative suggestions and concrete and strongly colourful imaginative scenes and devout fantasies. We have already seen the use of the imagination during meditation in the instructions given by Giovanni da Fano, Mattia da Salò and others. However, with Verucchino the tone is stronger, the realism more physical and raw, a style that literally reflects the flights and fantasies of the movements that were involved in contemporary architecture and painting.

In contrast to the method of Mattia da Salò and others, preparation for prayer had to be made gently and intensely without violence or force. “It is better to begin slowly, taking a bit at a time.” Three “very special Methods” of approaching meditation are presented. These are called respectively “the home of the soul”, “Christ’s rib” and the “espousal of the soul”, three images that are full of mystical imagery, but which are employed here with simpler people in mind. As G. Getto put it, they are used with “a taste for what has come from ingenious medieval sensitivity.”[77]

The first image is used to arouse the inner mind and focus attention, by means of imaging that God is drawing the soul to pray from within and that he comes and knocks “on the door of the heart” and the soul opens it and welcomes him with acts of humility, righteousness, obedience, charity, adoration and contrition. She happily prepares a “mystical banquet” to spread out before the Most Holy Trinity which makes its home in the three faculties of the contrite soul “in three secret rooms of the divine palace.” (n. 4946).

The second image, which is the “sacred rib”, stands for the longing of the soul “that desires, hopes and sighs to pray well” and wishes to enter into “the most divine palace of Christ’s heart” where it is expected. Then it ascends “the stairs of warm desires by means of which is ascends” to reach “the door to the divine rose garden of contact with the Lord.” It stops there and while crying, knocks and awaits, recognising its unworthiness. Indeed, with humility, is assumes the position of a little pup which, “when thrown our of his master’s door never goes away, but remains “barking and scratching”, hoping that someone will open the door, while the Angels, like small children, heaven’s family, stand gazing “at such folly” and amuse themselves thinking of a passage from the Song of Songs. (n. 4947). In the end such constant waiting is rewarded with a joyful welcome: “into the secret enclosure”, “into the abyss of much love” into the burning flames that leap up from there.”[78]

The third image makes the soul “want to contemplate”, to become like “a bride who is thirsting for her husband” and who has two chances to meet him. “If the meditation lays out a mystery in the life of the Lord, imagine that you are going to his wedding. However, if it lays out a mystery that concerns his Passion and death, then you might consider attending his funeral.”[79] Like a poor little farm girl who is taken to a royal wedding, the soul that is in love with Christ discovers the eternal love of God and beholds her most beautiful, most noble, most wealthy, most powerful most gracious and most wise spouse, hears how gently he speaks and enters into conversation with him.” Once this conversation has started, like a real interrogation, it leads to judgement, self-knowledge, repentance, attention to the divine presence and abandonment to the guidance of the Spirit.[80]

To gather the scattered emotions and faculties, Verucchino invents another tactic for those who do not wish or who cannot make use of these “three most effective ways” It involves making devout use of the imagination. “Once you have retired to a comfortable place or are kneeling down in front of some sacred image, or taking up some other appropriate and reverent position, imagine that you have always been in the presence of these persons and look at them. In the first place imagine God the Father on high. Ask him to fire a golden arrow to wound your heart with his love. Imagine God the Son with his radiating wounds. Ask him to pant his blood-drenched cross in your side. Imagine God the Holy Spirit shining more than the moon and the sun and ask him to send you the white dove of his grace. Imagine that you are beside the Madonna seeing her crowned with stars and place your hand in her hand so that she can present you to her Son. Imagine seeing the Angels all around the mystery that you are contemplating. Try to move the representations or sacred images, if you can, so that you have a better view from where you are. This will not matter in the end, since from whatever perspective you are looking you are gazing with pious and loving eyes and deep humility. Beg the Angels to help you from the beginning to the end of your meditation.”[81]

We can see how when a sacred scene is visualised internally the shades of light and the movement of people portray the emotional spiritual content of the event, and this produces a meditative component that is somewhat baroque. Like with St Francis, this listing the different images of Jesus Christ involves emotional imagery, the spirit of humility and gradual warmth that leads to strong devotional feelings.

“Finally, like St Francis, you can consider God as being in front of you in some kind of likeness, encompassing you with his rays, showing you his open heart. There are eight quite emotional images, and these are: his is praying like a Pope, like a king, like a judge, like a father, like a doctor, like a captain, like someone held in high esteem, like a shepherd or finally, like a friend and brother. You look like an ungrateful servant who is going to him for his gifts; or like a traitor to take his life for gain, or a bandit who is in prison who wants his support and your release, or a prodigal son, looking for a heavenly inheritance, or someone who is sick and desolate looking for lost health, or a besieged soldier destined to die who is looking for help, or a person in debt who is looking for release from his debt, or a famished beggar who is looking for food and clothing, or a friend in need who is desperately looking for consolation.”[82]

This atmosphere of concentration and devotion can be expressed in poetry:

Stop the empty mind, so empty,
Raise it to heaven, taking a short cut.

The preparation concludes here, and we pass on to “the body or process of holy meditation.

The body of the meditation

Abundant use of devout imagination is also evident in this section. This follows precise rules in order to avoid flights of fantasy: “I should keep the whole mystery before the eyes of the mind as I actually see it,” by following the account in the Gospel and the thoughts of “serious doctors”, without additional enhancements “that often in feeding the intellect divert the affectivity of devotion and internal compunction from the feelings that they are looking for.”[83] However, it is important “that in building this foundation for the topic … that we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit and thus progress rejoicing in his grace, direction and favour while it lasts.”[84]

Where there is no special movement of the Spirit, he suggests a few points for reflection: “Always imagine penetrating the heart of God, of Christ and his Mother or the other saints …, and gaze and contemplate very well on the inner meaning of every action and word, and the humility, patience, eagerness and alacrity with which he did, said, suffered and endured everything, One should always try to consider the cause of events, especially how he wants to draw us to him by having so great a love for us. How greatly I would be drawn to love and cultivate devotion if I saw Christ speak, act and suffer, thinking that he did it very willingly, wanted to do it, readily offered himself to do it just for me because he loved me so much and, if it were necessary, would have done more. Here we have to consider that the heart of God, of Christ and of his Mother is speaking silently to our heart, that it is calling us, watching over us, warning us, sanctifying and blessing us.”[85]

In coming to know the mystery more deeply, in addition to what caused it, the souls ought to consider what was the result of the mystery and ask: “Why did all this take place and to what purpose? “When doing this we distinguish “five main outcomes.” “In order to feel pity for your suffering Saviour and to grieve with his afflicted Mother when she saw his wounded flesh and flowing blood, and to increase your pity, gaze into their faces and repeat this over again. Then arouse yourself to wonder and amazement at his anxiety, disparagement, shame and confusion, which reached a point beyond belief. Thirdly, to cheer oneself and break into praise over these events consider how they are the source of our consolation, that our merits come about through his sufferings and our life comes about through his death. Fourth, to fall in love with him, we have to transform ourselves into him, unite ourselves to him and become one with him because he loves us so much. Finally, to offer him proper praise and thanks for his gifts we should consider them one by one.”[86]

With thoughts such as these the soul turns into itself and challenges itself by comparing itself strongly with Christ as he is in this mystery. As Bernardino da Balvano had already done when delving at more depth into the Augustinian and Franciscan suggestions concerning the knowledge of God and of self. “In addition to this, we ought to focus on ourselves by considering … if with regard to the points in the meditation we have followed the example of Christ. For example, lying on the straw in the manger why do I take pleasure is sleeping comfortably? When I see Christ in tears, why do I protect my eyes? This is how we can penetrate and record all that Christ did and suffered for our own benefit, as the Spirit within instructs us. Making a special effort to imitate him in the seven virtues of humility, contempt for the world, abnegation of will, self-mortification, obedience, patience, charity and the like, and to uncover these four main emotions, love of virtue and of grace, hatred for oneself and the flesh, fear of the last things and human frailty, sorrow for sins and for the small amount of profit we have gained. Indeed, do not leave prayer without gaining some special fruit for yourself.”[87]

As far as Veruchino is concerned, meditation is a “sacred activity ”during which a person needs “to address and to turn one’s thought to as many things as we feel the spirit drawing us … sometimes speaking with the Angels, at other times speaking with creatures even those who are dumb creatures, at other times making an exclamation with the heart, or posing a question, at times regretting our tepidity or reproaching our ingratitude, sometimes languishing with love or sighing with longing, at times confessing that we deserve nothing and are not worthy, at times begging everything from God, rejoicing that he can do that, knows what we need and begging his infinite mercy through his Son’s Passion and the sufferings of his Mother.”[88]

All this is the activity of the spiritual emotions which had been so well described by Bernardino da Balvano and Bellintani. These emotional actions arouse “the entire inner man” especially “when accompanied by alternating silence and words: maintaining silence for a while to allow the devour mind to ponder for a while; using words to rekindle and enflame the mind in the same way that the puff of bellows usually kindle and enflame fire.” (n. 4858). “Only words that are appropriate, spontaneous and honest will warm the heart”[89]

Here it is of great help to accompany the emotions with calm and intense bodily gestures. “If from time to time during his exercises the Lord’s friend utters sighs, says warm words, repeats lamentations and performs emotional actions, stretches out with his face on the floor, sometimes raising his eyes to heaven, sometimes folding his arms across his chest and sometimes stretching them out like a cross, or strikes his cheeks and his chest, sometimes kisses the ground and the benches and covering his face with his hands, and if he does all of this with feeling, pausing in the proper places and at the proper times, he will gain wonderful strength to shake off sleep and avoid idleness.” (n. 4858). Our body becomes the human space for silent prayer or “outcry” that transforms the emotions of the heart symbolically. However, “when others are present” it becomes necessary “to burn within while meditating without exterior movements and even without strong deep breathing, so as not to be noticed, or disturb those who are near.”[90] Control of breathing, which is so highly recommended in many modern methods of meditating, is advocated here.[91]

At the moment of the climax of the affective dimension of prayer people ought to offer God “Seven very important perfect acts”, which in any case should accompany every meditation that is: “To contemplate the grandeur of your immense divinity and ad mire it, praise and celebrate it, adore with due humility the deity, who is full of all perfection and abundance, love him with all your spirit and be united with him and ask him to transform you, reverently, thank him for all his gifts, ask him to consecrate your body and soul, your honour and reputation, faculties and family and everything that you have, take me to heaven not for my own welfare, nor because I thirst for such glory, but only mainly and exclusively so that I can love, praise, adore and contemplate you.”[92]

The importance of aspirations and the objective of contemplation

Just as one’s mood and the maintenance of spiritual emotions are important even following meditation, so too are ejaculations and aspirations, to which Verucchio, as well as other Capuchin writers, consecrates many pages in his Essercizi d’anima. He notes quite a close relationship between them and meditating and scatters them throughout the day so that they will be more “profitable”. They are “like love arrows that follow the same trajectory in passing through the heart of God and the soul of the sinner. They are known as aspirations because they are like warm sighs, furtive glances or mutual secret exchanges between friendly lovers.”[93]

As an experienced tutor of prayer he wanted to teach “the way to do it and do it well” These aspirations were like notes in spiritual music, “the notes in music, not real music, but spiritual music that creates spiritual harmony with the Spirit of God.”[94] The sacred act of “uttering ejaculations”, which is a stirring way to pray, proceeds in the same way as a soliloquy or dialogue, “and ordinarily serves as a statement a command, a questioning, a choice, a plea to be united and a means to conform with the object of love rather than a plea to be aroused to love. These correspond to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. This method includes a statement which is derived from the gift of knowledge, a command which is derived from the gift of counsel, and a plea for strength whish is associated with the gift fortitude, a questioning about fear, about the strength of piety, the submissiveness of understanding. Finally, it involves the way of comfort which is derived from the gift of wisdom.”[95]

These aspirations can be performed “by the heart as well as by the mouth, not necessarily all at once but at different times and increase as the heart is enflamed”. The can be expressed “while standing, walking, working, thinking things over or doing anything else that you like, but always with the mind raised to God and his Mother”[96]

Verucchino brings every prayer to a conclusion with a review of life. The soul reviews the whole exercise in the light of faith, recognising God’s infinity, the gift of that gratuitous divine visit. “O most merciful one, you deigned to come down to the door of my heart”. He recalls his welcoming gestures: “I opened the heart to you, let you into my private room, in a certain way I had you seated in the middle and I seem to see you glowing all around,”. He reveals his distractions and negligence and asks pardon from all three divine Persons imploring them so that “they will come back to take up residence in the three faculties of my soul: the Father in my memory, deifying it, the Son in my intellect, enlightening it, the Holy Spirit in my will making it love you.”[97]

Finally, he feels unhappy that the prayer time ended so quickly and promises to return to it very quickly with the ardour of a horse going back into battle. “O most sweet spouse, next time I will not pay so much attention to the time for holy mental prayer, neither with respect to the time set down which I shall prolong hour by hour so as to detach myself and cast off all laziness. I shall carry this out much better than a generous horse who at the sound of the trumpet or tambourine immediately begin to fume, to nay, to tremble, and scrape the ground out of eagerness to go into battle.” (n. 4983). He offers thanks, renews his offering, presents various intentions and finally takes his leave, and “is permitted” to go by Christ and the Virgin with their blessing and promise to see him again soon.

This method of mental prayer, which is similar to the preceding methods, appears to have less doctrine and theology, and by setting more emphasis on similarities with emotional development, it contains linguistic expressions that are more suited to people who have a taste for what is effusive and demonstrative which was characteristic of baroque culture. It is interesting to note the sources that have been used which all come from the vast spiritual literature of the middle ages, primarily from the “devotional” literature of the Franciscans and Bonaventure with its colourful religious images, the Meditationes vitae Christi, the saintly Fathers John Chrysostom, Basil, Ambrose, Augustine and Gregory the Great, John Damascene, St Bernard, the Meditations of St Anselm, the writings of Gerson, Hugh, Richard of St Victor and many others. This represents a collection of the entire medieval approach being transmitted in a contemporary manner that contained something of the advances of the sixteen-hundreds. [98]

We have already said that Veerucchino also deals with the topic of mystical contemplation as the last thing in the Esseercizi d’anima. However, he does so in a very simple and informal way without going into subtle details or significant techniques and what is “exceptional” about it or dealing with mystical doctrine. He highlights the active life of the contemplative, but states that “it is not the best way to make a person wonder, fear and love meditating on Christ’s Passion.” (n. 4962).

The rules “for flying to the sublime mountain of contemplation” are mostly the ones set out “by the supreme internal master with the operation of the Holy Spirit.” (n. 4963). He then alludes to the “six stages of contemplation” as set out by Richard of St Victor and to the “six stages of contemplation” attributed to St Bonaventure that were already contained in The Sayings of Blessed Giles of Assisi, but which were proposed more likely by the Abbot of Vercelli, Thomas Gallus. He would have commented on these texts, but did not do so “in order to cater for the capability of everyone.” He preferred to return to the field of mental prayer stressing the “alternating interchange of silence and talk, sayings and events” that had already been explained in the practice of meditation and to practically repeat the entire process.

His turn of phrase may also lead to some confusion since, as we have often observed, he uses the verb “to contemplate” in the context of meditation. However, this was probably his way of proceeding in order to spread and popularise mysticism by translating it into a form of robust asceticism without wishing to compromise its nature as a mystical and contemplative experience. This is confirmed since he goes on, by way of an exclamation, “to speak about the effects of contemplation such as mental joy, melting of the heart, sensations of pleasure, intoxication of spirit, relish, wonderment, ecstasy, rapture, enlightenment, vision, gestures of an almost indescribable nature resulting from the extraordinary amount of devotion, the admiration, and exultation surrounding the divine mysteries and the more sacred sacraments, the detachment, elevation, and rapture of our senses and faculties in God” and also of what aroused “more wonderful fervour and amazement” such as impression of the stigmata on the body or on the heart. (cf. n. 4970s).

However, he did not wish to dwell on these extraordinary matters. Perhaps the contemporary climate and its tendency to regard of mysticism as being dangerous and ambivalent weighed on him. While we appreciate “the higher gifts” as being “the better signs of divine grace in the creature, “contempt of self, humility, patience and charity” still remain (n. 4973). This is why he concludes with an ardent prayer which though it has a fundamentally ascetical emphasis, is heavy with higher assumptions and possibilities which have a poorly hidden insight into higher things as well as a dynamic quality that involves what is already contemplatively mystical which, in any case, leads onto what follows. “O my most sweet beloved One, whom I always want to meditate on and contemplate so that I might be completely transformed into you alone, I do not want special visions or special sweetness, but if your could, out of your compassion, wish to assist my weakness, deign to give me your holy enlightenment to be able to discern what is diabolical trickery.” (n. 4975). He asks to acquire every virtue, even to a heroic degree. He invokes the grace of the “seven most divine gifts of the Holy Paraclete” and continues: “Nor am I content with this, since I also want to aspire to Angelic works, that are hierarchical and divine, to the most perfect and sublime degree, so that I may enjoy in you forever indescribable joy of spirit.” (n. 4977). He added: “I no longer wish to receive new elevations of mind that are superabundant and make me know what is beyond everything.” (n. 4079).

It is essential for the heart to always possess a great desire to meditate and contemplate, a great desire to be ready for and to follow the invitation and unction of the Holy Spirit even more than “a generous horse “ who once he has heard the sound of the trumpet, yearns for battle” (n. 4083) It is this preoccupation with and thirst for interior prayer (Bellintani speaks of the “continual desire to pray, that keeps nipping at the soul and makes it feel that the heart has been bitten”),[99] that wraps up the detailed and numerical structure of his “exercises of the soul” and his ever more detailed “sacred meditations”. These adopt a method that was a popular simplification of a tangle of ascetical emotions and devout feelings, nourished by a strict culture of the daily reading of church authorities, carried out in the patient and minute exercise of systematic meditation and doctrinal expansion which was performed in the context of a personal spiritual exercise.

3. Authors of a prevalently devotional bent

If in the period that came after Trent, Bellintani appears to be the one who developed the deepest theory on “the practice of mental prayer”, while Silvestro da Rossano developed a method of meditating that was very geometric and rhythmic , almost like a litany, with obvious improvements and very precious emotional overtones, Cristoforo da Verucchio tended to deal with all practices of Christian piety and every popular expression of devotion, traditional and modern, whatever pertained to the spirit of mental prayer, both what was refined and what was full of affective images, using terminology that was very warm and colourful. In achieving this all three may be said to be masters of methodical mental prayer.

Some contemporary Capuchin authors put special emphasis on a method of meditating on and contemplating Christ’s Passion and we have listed them among those having a devotional bent because of the prevalence of this aspect, even if in fact, when viewed from a different perspective, it might have been necessary to put them among the series of authors who could be classified as treating a method or doctrine of prayer.

1) “Darts of Divine Love”, by Cornelio da Urbino

The first of these writers is Cornelio da Urbino and his rich volume entitled: Dardi del divin amore in which he adopts the role of the apostle of the love of God as this is portrayed in the contemplation of Christ’s Passion and death and the sorrows of the Virgin Mary.

The book is rather long and wordy but well set out in its internal structure and style. In fact, it contains many preambles, summaries, pieces of advice, exhortations and prayers and has a vast analytical index “of the more important things” that facilitates locating all spiritual subjects and their details. The Augustinian theologian Arcangelo Ricciio da Venezia who reviewed the work was enthusiastic and praised “this good, animated Father and author for his fluent use of words that were simple and clear” as well as praising the work for “the great extent of its devout concepts, subtleties, coverage and new material.”[100]

Whoever begins to read and allows himself to be absorbed by it’s very contemplative and affective language, after initially being bewildered by the range of topics and the wealth of sentiment, will discover in the end a very simple and intense spiritual plan, that turns into a devotional practice, which is suitable even for the simplest person. The practice is this: to recite each day at least three Our Fathers and Hail Marys as a mark of thanksgiving and love for the Saviour for the “three very intense and vehement sufferings” which “afflicted his body and disturbed his most holy and blessed soul.”[101] The “three sufferings” are the three darts of love that opened Christ’s side and uncovered his heart. The “first dart of sorrow that pierced the loving heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ was that of the many injuries, calumnies and insults that were said to him unjustly by the wicked Jews against the nobility and reputation of his divinity and his humanity.”[102] The “second dart of sorrow … was when he was on the cross and saw his sweet and afflicted Mother, full of suffering and sorrow.”[103] The third “was the extreme ingratitude and ignorance of the human race especially Christians.”

Clearly these sorrows were drawn from the famous treatise I dolori mentali di Gesù nella sua Passione by Blessed Camilla Battista da Varano. In fact, according to the Poor Clare from Camerino, the first sorrow was chosen from among the three sorrows that were caused by the breaking up of the mystical body which was the work of those who rejected salvation namely the damned, Judas and the Hebrew people. The second sorrow was due to the mental anguish caused by separation from loved ones namely the elect, the Virgin Mother, Magdalene and the Apostles. The third sorrow corresponds to the eighth mentioned by Blessed Camilla, namely the ingratitude of those who have been saved, and this is the strongest. [104]

The reduction from eight to three might also reflect a need for simplification. However, there is no substantial change in the language. What is striking is the superabundance of sentiment which is nourished with biblical and liturgical words together with many quotes from the Fathers and Church doctrine. However, there is no immoderate glow of religious sentiment and geometric speculations that was seen in Silvestro da Rossano, or, especially, in Verucchino. Following the custom at the time abundant use is made of adjectives but this is not overdone. The thoughts are expressed clearly and with intensity and with wonderful harmony in the recurrent affective prayers that are contained in and conclude each chapter. The tone varies. At one time it falls back onto Augustinian expressions, at another it moves into the style of St Bernard and at other times it embraces the intense affectivity of St Bonaventure.

The method of prayer is taken for granted. He advocates “a process of reasoning” only to expose the depth of Christ’s mental suffering “by means of reasoning, using authorities on the subject and citing examples.”[105] One could say that intense prayer already exists where the consideration of the intellect,[106] the dispositions of the heart, the emotions of an enflamed spirit, the sacred images developed in the mind, the aspirations of consummate love, ascetical recollections and mystical apprehension converge to produce something wonderful.

This is usually introduced with a biblical quotation. He builds his reflection of these reinforcing them with quotations from the Fathers and ecclesiastical writers. He then turns to the devout soul prompting it to experience Christ’s sufferings within and to emit very affective spiritual sentiments, and almost always concludes with a moving and inspired prayer. Undoubtedly the text looks more like a spiritual conference than an exercise in meditation. In addition to the inspiration taken from the Dolori mentali by Varano, other important sources include Meditazioni sopra la vita e Passione di Gesù Cristo which is attributed to John Tauler and the Vita Jesu Christi by Rudolph of Saxony, whom he calls a “very devout doctor.”[107] Perhaps the emphasis on the subject of pure disinterested love, “without regard to reward”,[108] that “brings about contentment in itself, not seeking any other reward” could reflect the influence of Tauler and, in a more general way, Rhineland and Flemish mysticism in addition to the traditional mysticism of Bonaventure.

In any case, if there is any kind of method here, it is to be found in the presentation of the treatment of the love of Christ according to the following principle: “First we call to mind his great love, then his bitter suffering.”[109] It is only by knowing about God’s love that it is possible to know about Christ’s suffering on the cross. Therefore, a treatise on God’s love and on his “noble status” should always precede contemplation of the sufferings of the Crucified. This is why in the first chapters Castellucci insists on God’s love for mankind and shows how “love and God go together and are dressed in the same clothing” and it proves “how God deserves to be loved” and is the oldest lover in the world, so that all who treat love know who was the principle of love and who was the leader of those in love.” (n. 5018).

He invites everyone to this school of love in accents that are astute and challenging: “From (Adam), my father, I learnt disobedience, from Eve, my mother, I learnt gluttony, from Cain I learnt idolatry, I learnt about adultery from King David, about cursing from King Sennacherib, to weep from St Peter, I learnt to love from you my good Jesus who you became man out of love, so that man might become God. … Arise, arise, my dear soul, leave aside and depart from all other evil and poor schools and attend God’s school which is good, holy and perfect in order to learn and acquire divine love.” (n. 419).

In love he saw God’s law with the whole of visible and invisible reality immersed in love: “The Angels, the earth, the sea and the heavens swim in the amplitude of the vastness of that love.”[110] Indeed, “love is as big and spacious as hell.”[111] The reason that it is precious is the fact that “love is free, because it is born from a free mother that is our will that cannot be restricted by prayers, torment or any other form of pressure. If it was any other way it would not be free. This is why love is so precious and why our jealous friend Jesus Christ demands it insistently for it really is noble joy and more valuable than we could describe.”[112]

All the reasons for loving are to be found in Christ’s charity which “obliges” us to love God as this is Christ’s uniquely “excessive” act. This took place not when he ate, drank, dressed, slept, but only when he loved which means that all that Christ did as man was finite with the exception of loving which was infinite.” Love overcomes suffering. In fact “if the torments that Christ suffered, the blood that he shed, the tears that he shed were placed on one side, and the immense love that he bore was placed on the other, hps love would be incomparably greater than his sufferings for his Passion finished on the cross but not his love.. Christ was a person who was controlled and moderate in everything except in his love for the entire world that was so excessive and so immeasurable that it went beyond human capacities.” [113]

It was against this background that Cornelio da Urbino discovered the inspiration for his book: “It was by this excessive suffering and immense love that, as if by two sharp and piercing spurs, we were stimulated and greatly urged on to write the present spiritual book entitled Dardi dell’amore.”[114] He did so in order to move souls to sorrow for sin and to warm them with divine love. He maintains that this is what makes up all Christian hope including both what is mystical and contemplative: “This is the study of genuine wisdom as we occupy ourselves in recalling Christ’s Passion and think about, contemplate and imitate his Passion and death. There is no other way to acquire genuine enlightenment and holy virtues, a taste of what is divine and a special experience of the grace of God, except by doing this.”[115]

He introduces prayers with the mystery of love and lets them burst out from the soul tenderly and affectionately. These are like pearls in a spiritual opera. Here is one example among many: “O you who are very sweet, good, fond, dearest, gentlest, most precious, most clement, most exalted, admirable, indefinable, immeasurable, incomparable, powerful, magnificent, great, incomprehensible, infinite, immense, all powerful, all merciful, all loving, sweeter than the sweetest thing, whiter than snow, more delightful than any delight, more sweet than any liquor, more precious than gold, and all the precious stones, but what am I saying when I say all that? My God, my life, my only hope, my infinite merciful one, my sweetness and beatitude! O he who is totally amiable, totally sweet and totally delightful! O Lord, grant me the grace to find my happiness in you alone. May I rest in you alone, love and serve you alone. May I think of you when I wake and dream of you when I sleep so that I may always be yours and you my prize forever and ever!”[116]

After coming to this conclusion, he begins to contemplate the three abovementioned sorrows, mainly as interior sufferings which he regards as being worse than bodily sufferings. They penetrate so deeply into the mystery “that it is much better for contemplate it than to read about it.”[117] A phrase that is often repeated and which sets the tone for the meditation is: “Consider briefly and contemplate the following well in a devout and pious frame of mind:” Gaze for a while with eyes filled with mercy and compassion on your afflicted and suffering Lord”: or also “Raise, raise, my soul, raise your eyes to what the Lord is who is suffering: get up, my soul, gaze with mercy; devout heart and with great gratitude of soul on your sweet loving Saviour”,[118] He then speaks of the need for seeing “with the eyes of the mind” , to gaze “with the eyes of the soul on the living image of humility and charity.”[119]

This penetrating gaze inspired Castellucci over many pages that concerned the sufferings of Mary in which he recaptured a rich and moving literary tradition reproducing and adding new touches. Some of his enlightening expressions or descriptions are specially beautiful, such as the following: “By means of a special grace and privilege the Virgin experienced greater grief at the death of Christ than any other creature in the world, because the more tenderly the Lord loves a soul, the more he shares the sufferings of his Passion with it.. As we can contemplate what the Virgin suffered, we can contemplate what Christ suffered as if the Virgin herself were suffering. You can contemplate her crowned with thorns, nailed by her feet and hands, having her side opened and suffering what her Son suffered since the Mother’s soul was within the body of her Son.”[120] When he speaks about Mary as she stood at the foot of the cross the reflection assumes spiritual traces that are reminiscent of certain pages in Bernardino Ochino and Vittoria Colona (cf. n. 5026ss) and the scene is presented with powerfully extraordinary drama. (n. 5034).

The subject of ingratitude, which is treated as the deepest suffering in the heart of Jesus Crucified, takes on heart-breaking and intense qualities in the chapters of the volume that develop into a wish to share the “sacred wounds of the Passion with a profuse and bitter sob as did St Francis. “Rise, rise, Christian soul, cry now over the bitter Passion of your sweet Lord and loving Redeemer, and, if possible, (it would be a holy thing) to cry over it continuously.”[121] However, the image is that of Magdalene including all the resonance and delicate thoughts associated with ascetic medieval literature as well as shades of the evangelical spirituality of the early sixteenth century.

Such passionate love makes a person inebriated with desire and longing for possession of the glory of the blessed where love becomes full and complete. Castellucci deals with this subject very briefly and intensely, as if he were in a hurry, only providing a little taste, and he informs the reader “that he will deal with it more fully elsewhere especially in the eighth book entitled Porta del Paradiso which we hope to present soon, with the help of God.”[122]

This assurance failed immediately and disappeared under the overriding devotional treatment of three instances of suffering: “I ask you, O Christian soul, under any circumstances, not to fail to say at least three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys every day for his three moments of suffering as a mark of gratitude and love for him.”[123]

The final prayer that accompanies this devotion if filled with loving motives and it shows better than on any other page the meaning and objective of this spiritual book by Castellucci. Because of this we shall quote it leaving it up to the reader to relish it and assimilate the content.

“O most sweet and merciful Redeemer, my Jesus Christ, Lord and God, my most beloved, I entreat you, as strongly as I can, through the very sharp spear of grief that pierced and transfigured your very sweet divine heart when you contemplated the great inestimable ingratitude and ignorance of human creatures, most of all Christians, and especially those who had received and possessed more enlightenment, gifts and honours than others. I entreat you more particularly for my ignorance in not recognising this, as much as I should have. I was like others, who because of their continual malice did not appreciate the price that you paid and the gift of our salvation, your blood so abundantly shed and the fruit of your most holy Passion. Grant me the grace to recognise such an exalted and beneficial gift as was the gift of redemption, and may it please you that I will not lose the gift of my future and the merit to reach it through my own fault.

Pierce and pass my hardened and adamantine heart through with the same spear of sorrow, so that I can suffer and weep over my sins and your sorrowful and bitter Passion which took place for my salvation and redemption.

O true lover of mankind, who does not want anyone to perish, but who converts and enlightens everyone to know the truth, from the depths of my heart I beg that you look upon me, my compassionate God, with the eyes of your mercy as you looked on Peter, Magdalene and Matthew whom you vigorously snatched from iniquity, and drew into your unique love. Kind Lord, take me away from all vice and evil living and make me turn to true penance, and derive real fruit from it, and draw my heart to you, so that all my enflamed love will banish all self-love and love of the world. O Jesus, my only love, grant that I may love you completely, so that I may ask for nothing but to love you perfectly.

Lord, permit that I may become your lover. Lord, you certainly commanded that I love you with all of my heart, but in addition grant what you commanded and command what you wish. Pierce my heart with grace, with the gentle dart of your enflamed love, so that I may languish with love all the days of my life.

Grant that I may love you intimately, as you want me to love you. O God make me know how greatly you love me so that throughout my life, with all my might, I will approach your love in the way you love me and make me happy. O good Jesus, inebriate my heart in a way that it is full of your honey-sweet love, so that the whole world will make me feel nauseous and that it is a bitter cross.

O Jesus, mirror of every virtue and perfection, and lover of purity, cleanse my soul and take from my heart all the uncleanness and filth that I have put in it through the merits of your most holy Passion, and purify it with your precious blood and then keep it clean always, so that you may live there forever, and it may possess you in this life through grace and love, and in the next through glory and perpetual happiness, you who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.”[124]

2) Devotion to Christ’s Passion in three other Capuchin authors, at the beginning of the seventeenth century

Using the devotional approach, the topic of the Passion was developed by three other Capuchins authors who belong to the beginning of the seventeenth century. They are Michelangelo and Valerio Bellintani from Venice, the first being a famous devout preacher, the second a simple priest and spiritual writer, and then Francesco Longo da Corigliano, from Calabria, who was a gifted theologian of the school of Bonaventure, a writer and fervent preacher.[125] The devotional aim and character of these three authors consists in the direct association of their works with methods, various exercises and practices of piety. When teaching a method of meditation and contemplating the mysteries of Christ and of Mary they propose a journey of mental prayer, which, for the main part, is based on aspirations and emotions, and is associated with all other spiritual exercises and forms of oral prayer.

In fact, Michelangelo da Venezia teaches more than anything how to meditate on the Passion in the context of the devotion of the Forty Hours. In a subsequent small volume, he praised many other spiritual exercises and devout prayers.[126]

Valerio da Venezia instead in addition to “many affective exercises based on Christ’s life, Passion and death, offers useful suggestions for the spiritual life in general with regard to the value and practice of vocal, mental and affective prayer including many suggestions, and advice on concrete conditions and devout meditations to assist in acquiring divine love.

Finally, Francesco da Corigliano borrows a famous image from spiritual literature to construct a Spiritual Clock on the mysteries of Christ and of the Madonna spreading subjects for meditation over the twenty-four hours of the day to prompts a continual spirit of prayer and devotion.

However, a closer reading of these works reveals interesting unique details and further refinements in the method of prayer already studied by the previous authors.

a) “A Bundle of Myrrh” by Michelangelo da Venezia

Michelangelo da Venezia’s book Fascetto di mirra del Passione di nostro Signore does not contain a great deal of what is original. However, it is rich in practical instructions gathered from previous authors. Above all the influence of Mattia da Salò is evident in the structure of the forty meditations on the Passion and the quite detailed rules it presents for use by the devout reader who wants to be shown the way to pray mentally.

The method is set up in three parts which include: after remote and proximate preparation, reading, meditation and action. Remote preparation consists in living in God’s grace, in maintaining “a heart that is free” from worldly preoccupations and wayward emotions, bodily mortification and the practice of the virtues. Purity of heart is very important because “the heart is like a guesthouse that is open to all who are passing by” and it needs to be always kept free from inordinate affections and this cannot be achieved without prayer.

Proximate preparation places special emphasis on love of the poor through the performance of the works of mercy. Within the environment of the city of Venice Michelangelo placed particular emphasis on “the most fruitful way of almsgiving” that is “to go around in Venice to visit the poor people who are sick, labourers and unfortunate people who are in the very famous hospitals” because sometimes “the Lord is more pleased with doing works such as these simply out of love for him than when we are on our knees at prayer.” (n. 5077). [127]

Purity of heart and charity prepare and dispose us for recollection “in the secret room” where we need to close the door of the senses, freeing ourselves from all thoughts and phantasies, to concentrate on God alone, only seek to please and praise him in humility and seeking pardon from sin. If “every place is suitable for praising God”, it is still better that in every house, especially the homes of noble families, (evidently because they are more spacious), there should be “a place for prayer” for the entire family, even though the church always remains the sacred place, the “house of prayer” officially.

Bodily posture may vary when pray is private and solitary. Otherwise one ought to maintain a motionless posture, avoiding any gesture or indiscrete sigh. “The best times for prayer are in the morning or in the evening before going to bed.

He then comes to specifically treating the three moments of prayer and what they mean in practice. In the first place we need to arouse the will to pray and meditate resolutely on a subject that has already been chosen. Such internal conversations to arouse the will are regarded as being very valuable because they produce a most effective psychological stimulus. Then, within the heart, you make an act of contrition with true sorrow or sin. You repeat the intention to pray “purely”. Raise the eyes to heaven, and with hands joined recite some traditional church prayers to God, to Mary and to the saints.

Once prayer has begun one “enters into reading” which presents the subject of the meditation which is viewed briefly as simply “history”. It ought to be read “comfortably” that is slowly. Then we go on to meditation, since it is not enough to look at the mystery, it needs to be chewed and digested. “In the mortar of his heart, with the pistil of diligent and sagacious reflection, the Christian should strike and pick out the details of the mysteries of the Catholic faith, not being satisfied to think about them in general but delving into their devout, deep and individual causes.” (n. 5069).[128] Here he proposes three ways to proceed: at reconstruction: “with your inner eyes” reconstruct the scene of the Passion; the holy places; including heaven, purgatory, hell; b) reconstruct the environment of the scene in the place where one is praying and this is “ very devout and easy”; c) the “sweetest” method is “to place the mystery in your heart.” (n. 5082).

As you can see, this is a process of progressive interiorising and assimilating of the mystery, with new original touches, including the extended use of devote imagination. The scene and the people are always coming closer to the soul, which from the outset is listening hopefully, observing all the details and eventually transferring them into its own situation. If the former method was traditional but had received something special and new from the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, this method treated a few examples in the medieval tradition in an unusual way, especially when it rubbed shoulders with the devotio moderna which contemplated and shared in the Passion by means of a spiritual vision that emphasised the details of the circumstances. Thus the “secret room” for prayer became the place in which Christ suffered the Passion and the soul “saw” it, came near to it, watched it listened to it and spoke.

This method was already in use among the Capuchins to the point of transforming the entire friary into “a permanent exhibition” of the mysteries of Christ. For example, this is what Silvio da Milano did (n. 1607). “In every friary where he lived, he scattered images of the life of the Saviour and the Virgin Mary to all the different parts of the house, placing one in each spot, so that, wherever he was he could always find a reason for and the means to meditate.”[129]

The third method is somewhat surprising because it anticipates certain modern exercises of contemplation with inconceivable intuition. Here the scene and the mystery of Christ are taken, so to speak, out of their external circumstances, deprived of their historical and devotional context and enclosed “in the house of the heart”, to use Verucchino’s image. They are made to function in the heart using the dynamic mechanism of the inner imagination that involves the memory and the imagination operating with very deep adaptation and unity and correlation that goes quite deep.

To explain this way of meditating concisely he uses three Christological examples: the scourging, the crowing with thorns and the crucifixion. “When meditating on the scourging of the Lord, imagine that your heart is the pillar and that you are being scourged there and that some lashes land above the heart and that much of the blood bathes you … If the meditation is about the crowning with thorns imagine that your heart is the seat on which the Lord sat or the purple with which he was clothed, and that the blood that flowed from the divine head covered your heart with blood. If you are meditating on the mystery of the crucifixion of the Lord, imagine that your heart is the rock into which the most holy wood was fixed. Oh what loving, fervent and very sorrowful concepts …!” (n. 5082).

The heart becomes identified with the setting and absorbs the steps in the mystery. It feels indivisibly united to them and thus bursts into acts of love which make up, in fact the “action” that is the third part of the meditation, where “the mystery becomes present more in the emotions than in the intellect”, and then the imagination disappears to be replaced by the body and face of Christ.[130] In fact “the acts of thanksgiving, of sorrow, of being ashamed, of resolve, of desiring to have the virtues of Christ, of praise, adoration, supplication, salutation, beseeching, begging for healing, offering supplications to God,” are aimed at “passing from the image in the fantasy to what is being imagined which is in heaven”. (n. 5083). The gaze now falls on the “suffering Christ” by contemplating him “from head to foot”, and, by way of contrast, applying the sufferings and wounds to yourself where they are like so many openings through which internal serious sins escape to be washed by the blood of Christ and we begin to practice all the more perfect virtues.

The final movements of prayer enkindle commitment for life that is after prayers comes action, which is to say “whatever we come to know through meditation we should put into active practice. Thus, by meditating and acting … I trust that with divine grace a beautiful reformation of life and behaviour will begin within us.” This is what happened “in the primitive Church’ when “those faithful”, those “new Christians” carried “always firmly in their hearts the most sacred Passion” This is in fact the true significance of meditation. It is not enough – he insists – to think and meditate on the mysteries of Christ. It is necessary for the will to relish and that the emotions be moved to accompany the Lord and to experience within ourselves a part of what our most sweet Redeemer experienced.” However, he adds immediately: “Do not be satisfied, brother, with pages of beautiful words and exterior ceremonies.” (n. 5144).

Using a most beautiful comparison taken from one of the many sources of art in Venice, he stresses the importance of imitating Christ. “As the painter’s disciple copies what he has done and placing them in front of himself gazes at them and then puts brush on canvas so should a Christian transform himself into the image of Christ. He needs to have an example of the holy virtues which make up the Passion of Christ before the eyes of his mind. He ought to draw on this at one time for one virtue and at another time another virtue,” until “by means of imitation” he reaches conformity to the image to which he was predestined, which is “Christ’s suffering and crucified human nature.” (n. 5119). This is where all the spiritual exercises, which he proposed, in the second volume, with suitable concrete touches come from.[131]

In the sphere of spirituality, the Passion represented a deliberate and official change on the part of the Capuchin Order. In the seventeenth century this kind of spirituality was a more or less a direct reaction to those who were proposing a “new” spirituality of greater detachment, based on the will of God, interpreted in terms of “Quietism” that was quite different from the Latin and Mediterranean tradition. Michelangelo too was open to this new spirituality and encouraged abandonment and conformity to “the divine will” of God, based on the example of the Crucified. “When you strip your own will, then you do so together with the naked Christ …, only seek heavenly things and to please God.” (n. 5097).

Such “stripping” was called “spiritual death” and was “the destination of the whole spiritual life”, the objective of all the spiritual exercises of meditation and contemplation. We might say that this is the whole purpose of his method. An outcome like this is almost unexpected, dreamt up and abrupt as it follows on the intense instructions concerning devout practices, engaging in gestures, activities, and daily exercises, and thoughts and words concerning Christ’s Passion. This is like saying that all these things are beautiful, Christ’s own words are “like so many burning coals …, all fire and love,” his Passion lifts us up to partly understand the indescribable and incomprehensible love of God” (n. 5102), kissing Christ’s wounds is indescribably joyful. It is praiseworthy to recite the Our Father and the Hail Mary frequently, to keep the Lord in mind in everything that we do and “to always have at hand some mental exercise.” However, what is important above all of this, is “to be dead to ourselves, the world and everything that belongs to this world.”

The corpse as the image of perfect obedience which was taken from St Francis’ teaching and example is turned into the main criterion for every spiritual life. Just as Christ was first crucified and then “died on the cross, we should also go up onto the cross, not just to stay there, but to die with Christ.” (n. 5183).[132] This is the journey from the cross to death where “the way of the Passion” and the “way of detachment,” of annihilation come together to constitute “spiritual death”. “This is the most that can be said in word or writing concerning the spiritual journey”. “This is the safe, certain and short way to reach the eternal Father by following Christ.” (n. 5185).

Thus, meditation on the Passion leads the spiritual person into the crucible of passive and mystical purification and into unitive love as the author himself explains with mystical intensity. “[Our spiritual death] understood as the annihilation of all that is not God, ardently draws us back into God himself by means of unitive love, extinguishing all desire or concupiscence for anything in this world, so that you either yield to God or reject him and give away what you need for human life, remaining perfectly and equally content to thank God, being completely happy that his divine Majesty carries out what pleases him to the point of being completely abandoned by all men and destitute of all internal and external consolation, just like the Lord, who was left without all human or divine recourse on the cross.” (n. 5184). For Michelangelo da Venezia too the practical and devotional aspects are not an end in themselves, but a means to receiving the gift of mysticism.

b) “Sacred Hermitage” by Valerio Ballardini da Venezia

The picture is complete and becomes clear with the work of Valerio da Vanezia who represents a new move forward. Ballardini has been recently rediscovered in the history of religious literature. This came about particularly because of the enormous success of his collection of the entries that appeared in his work entitled Prato Fiorito [133]. He had not been studied adequately as a spiritual writer, but without doubt he belongs in the same stream as Michelabgelo da Venezia. In this respect his most significant work which is entitled Romitorio sacro di meditazioni et esserizi di contemplazione ξ amose aspitationi in Dio is entirely devoted to meditation on and devotion to Christ’s Passion. The subject is treated by the use of a methodical journey of mental prayer which the author calls “unitive”. This is combined with the practice of many vocal prayers regarding “the sacred limbs of our Lord”, the mysteries of the Virgin as contained in the Rosary, prayers to the angels and the saints, prayers for the needs of the Church and the world, weeping over various sins, prayers for the various intentions of the poor and those who are suffering and for society etc. There are also various “exercises of mental prayer using aspirations.”[134]

What resulted from the very rich inventory of prayers and meditations that were brought together here is that the words that reappear most frequently are: “prayer” and “exercises” in the same context that they had been used by Verucchino.[135] Given his style of writing one can consider and verify how his texts are often copies, imitations or reproductions without anything being original. For example, he recommends the devout “Meditations by Enrico Susone on the Passio as it is spread over each day of the week” or some “holy meditations” on the very new practices of a “holy hermit.”[136]

Nevertheless, one notes a style that is more informal and brusque which employs contemporary expressions taken from ascetical and mystical literature. The result is prose that is slightly sugary, to tell the truth, with adjectives that are forceful and slightly pretentious and yet effective in producing a response and arousing emotion. He intends to teach how to pray. He invites everyone to enter his “sacred hermitage” in order to acquire “the sacred gift of contemplation.” It is here that “the devout and humble person at prayer” can learn “to pray, meditate and contemplate and to yearn with an ardent spirit for his beloved Christ to unite his soul to God.” (n. 5242).

For Ballardini, just as it was for the other authors, the journey wends it safe way along “the steady and safe ladder of pious meditation on the Passion” because in doing so “the contemplative soul … gains the clear and certain knowledge that what the sweet and merciful Christ suffered was out of the love that he bore , and then by contemplating the love that had enabled him to endure such severe pain and bitter torment, the soul feels great admiration and excess of spirit concerning the great charity of her beloved spouse Jesus, then using all of her bodily senses, she becomes wrapped in indescribable and incomprehensible love for her creator and Redeemer.” (n. 5246).

Praise for prayer occupies a number of introductory pages. The reader is discretely urged to rediscover a taste for interior recollection, “May the devout soul always be blessed by our Lord and by the entire heavenly court, if she is always engaged in vocal or mental prayer, and while avoiding idle talk and all worldly impediments, she retires to the cell of her heart or to a remote and secret oratory and completely absorbs herself in burning prayers and affective meditations. Oh, how many things she will see, know and understand in her spirit concerning heavenly things. Such a soul will enjoy secret inner prayer.”[137]

A few preliminary warnings or “reminders” define the dispositions for prayer more clearly. These stipulate the choice of topic, object, and exercise “according to time, circumstances and state of mind as well as body” (n. 4258). The objective of vocal prayer is to become united with God and when the soul has been uplifted to “sweet calm contemplation” it ought to leave aside vocal prayer and engage “fervour of spirit.” Ballardini also assesses “the exterior posture of the body,” allowing great freedom when praying alone for a long time. (cf. n. 5250). In contras to contrived prayer: “The person who is at prayer … should not in any way force the intellect, nor pressurize the spirit to understand or to experience more taste or fervour of soul.” (n. 5251).

For immediate preparation he suggests reciting the Creed, invoking the Holy Spirit and selecting the most suitable time and place, always however, insisting on always making “a cell of the mind or of the heart and once you are locked in speaking internally, in sighs and aspirations, to most sweet Christ.” (n. 5253). One should persevere in this even in the desert of aridity, thankful for every internal consolation and making use of oratio (prayer} together with operatio (action).

When he begins to speak more specifically about the “exercises of mental prayer”, he also speaks about the boundary of prayers of aspiration and contemplation. The objective of the prayer of meditation always involves union. In fact he describes it as “a devour, humble emotional elevation of the mind to God, by means of which the devout soul comes to shed internally everything in this human life and become united in spirit by means of ardent charity to the higher things that pertain to God, being transformed in the beautiful sweet light of loving union with God,” (n. 5259). This requires, as well as humility, “a pure clean conscience” and “lively emotion and an ardent desire to please God and be united with him”, that is “internal knowledge” of self “watchful custody of the heart” and the desire to possess and to love God purely.

Kneeling in the oratory the person who is at prayer lifts his mind to God “Closing his outer eyes and opening his inner eye,” he should imagine that he is standing before the most Holy Trinity in heaven. The contemplative excise that “is being carried out using aspirations” is specifically directed to the individual divine persons, by “sighing and strongly wishing to be totally transformed in divine love”. The “devout contemplative internally beseeches the Father, using the voice of the Spirit and beseeches the Son, from the depths of his heart, and beseeches the Holy Spirit with purity of conscience.”

He then gives individual examples of how “to beseech and approach the eternal father”. He suggests that an emotional prayer be addressed to the Father in which the Son is offered to the father for the conversion of sinners. The aspiration offered to Jesus Christ is a wish to be admitted into “the clear light of your beautiful and loving face”, imagining allowing himself to be drawn by Christ “to kiss his most sweet heart”. Then the soul would experience the sorrow and humiliation “in the depths of its own nothingness” and rest “in deep silence of spirit” in the “loving kiss as if I had been entirely absorbed by divine love” and would “repose there”. (n. 5264).

Note the perfect assimilation of the style of mystical authors which clearly describes contemplative “rest”. However, what is more interesting is the prayer to “mentally approach the Holy Spirit” in which we find two technical words “inspirare” (inspire) and “aspirare” (aspire). They represent two fundamental moments in the movement of the love of God coming into the soul and of the soul moving to love God. (cf. n. 5265). This appears to be the peak of the method of prayer that was taught by Ballardini.

c) “Spiritual Clock” by Francesco Longo da Corigliano

In the luxuriant vegetation of Capuchin “devout life” not only were the mysteries of the life of Christ and of the Virgin spread throughout the friaries at the local level in various symbols and images, but along with the devotoi moderna and the later middle ages, they were spread out over time throughout the liturgy of the days and weeks of the Divine Office, finally even being devoutly associated with the ticking of a clock as it tolled the hours of day and night.

The first Capuchin who formulated this devotion literally was Francesco Longo da Corigliano from Calabria when he wrote his Orologio spirituale intorno alla Passione. He insisted on the necessity of recalling God’s gifts, especially the Passion and death of Christ, which the devout soul should have “written on his heart and read frequently.” Just as Samson found the honey comb in the mouth of the dead lion, so all kinds of sweet things are at rest in the dead Christ, so that “more than anywhere else the soul becomes enlightened in the intellect and enkindled in the emotions during meditation on the Passion”. In Christ crucified we see all the virtues to a sublime degree and come to know our grandeur.

In his learned, biblical language, which has a touch of what came from Bonaventure, we discover a succession of biblical images. For example, whoever meditates devoutly on the Passion is like Obed-Edom, who was a servant of the man of blood, “passionate, covered in blood and wounded.” He is like St Agnes and, above all, St Francis who became “covered in blood, received the stigmata and was crucified”. The cross thus becomes the continual subject of meditation for the devout soul “in every detail and in every place.” Indeed, this is so every hour of the day, since the Evangelists have left us a meticulous account of every hour of the Passion during which Jesus had no rest at all. Therefore, it is proper that we recall this as the clock strikes every hour of the day or night

This is the spiritual clock that Francesco da Corgliano devised and circulated amongst Christian people and consecrated souls. Symbolically imitating the nobles and ecclesiastics who used to carry a watch in the breast pocket, the poor Capuchins carried the ‘spiritual clock” to always be in step with the suffering and crucified Christ.[138]

4. The mystical, contemplative aspect

We have seen how Mattia da Salò produced a “Practice for Contemplation” wanting to continue what he had said in his famous and influential Practicadell’orazione mentale.[139] Verucchino too made the whole of his rich exposition of devotion proceed through the use of aspirations and contemplation. Many other authors did the same. However, none of them wished to become embroiled in the delicate and difficult topic of mysticism. After dealing with devotion at length, Michelangelo da Venezia, as if he was going to show the way, took up the topic of ‘spiritual death”. However, the topic remained almost untouched until there were further developments.

Unexpectedly we discovered an initial development elsewhere in other authors. At the end of the first century of the existence of the Order the Capuchins joined in with the first spiritual authors in the Order in emphasising the mystical and contemplative dimension of the spiritual life. The process moves in a circle which begins with a mystical experience, goes on through asceticism and affective contemplation and comes back to mysticism.

There are three ways in which it develops. One way is profoundly doctrinal involving a treatise on Christian perfection based on solid theological, patristic, scholastic and biblical sources backed up by deep personal experience and communicated as if instructing a disciple. Another way of carrying this out is by means of affective prayer and aspirations, as in the use of devotional rosaries. The third way is by means of an exceptional contemplative experience without any previous knowledge of doctrine or study of theology.

Two of the authors are priests who preach and the other a lay brother. The last one mentioned, Tommaso da Olera, whose cause has been pending for some time, worked in the north of Italy, in the Valley of Rieti, Alto Adige, in the Riviera and Austria, from Rovereto to Trent and as far as Monaco and Innsbruck. One of the two priests is Paolo Manassei da Terni from the Franciscan Province of Umbria who finished up as a missionary in Rezia. The other was an unpublished Neapolitan author called Gregorio da Napoli.

a) The “dottrina mirabile” (wonderful doctrine) by Gregorio da Napoli

We have mentioned the author’s name because even though the unpublished manuscript in the Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli attributes authorship to him this is no guarantee and there is no absolute certainty. The title “Doctina [sic] mirabile del P. Gregorio di Napoli Capuccino” that is on f. 2 was added by a hand that is different from the hand that wrote the codex which was written by one hand only. This is the only justification for attributing the work to this famous author. There are notable consequences if this work was composed before 1601 if we consider the date of Gregorio’s death. Among other things this would place the work before what Benedetto da Canfield wrote concerning the mysticism of the will of God.

On the other hand, there are various reasons that favour a latter date towards the middle or later half of the centaury. The style is not like the juridical, casuistic theological style of Gregorio da Napoli, lo “Scalzo” (the unshod) as we know it.[140] Note also the technical expressions that appear to show familiarity with a vast controversial literature concerning the spirituality of mysticism. There is repetitive emphasis on conformity to the will of God, annihilation and deification that reflect a precise period in the history of the science of mysticism, beginning at the end of the seventeenth century predominantly under the influence of Breve compendio della perfezione by the Jesuit Achille Gagliardi and the Regola di perfezione by the English Capuchin Benedict of Canfield.[141] There is also a reference to St Therese Avila (cf. n. 4785) which leads us to think of another edition of the manuscript after 1622, the year in which she was canonised.

A final hypothesis might be that we are dealing with a different Gregorio da Napoli to the one that was called “scalzo” (unshod). In the Necrology of the Capuchin Province of Naples there are two friars of the same name who died one on 16 August and the other 10 July 1707. The first was a painter, who later became a friar, leaving paintings at S. Agnello di Sorrento, Mattaponi and S. Eframo Nuovo. He was a very holy religious and because of this he also held the office of Master of Novices. The second Gregorio da Napoli was a preacher, lector of Philosophy and theology, Guardian in various friaries and also Master of Novices.[142]

The fact that both had been a master of novices may probably have been the cause and justification for having “instruction in mysticism” placed in the manuscript as material for what had to be practiced. In fact the codex contains an assortment of tracts and texts which deal in more or less detail with diverse subjects that concern problems within the mystical or contemplative life, meditations on imitating Christ’s virtues, an “alphabet that contains the whole of perfection”, a small “a treatise that arouses the soul to love the most holy Sacrament,” a “short compendium of the spiritual life, “advice that St Therese gave concerning prayer and the steps of humility”, etc. Thus, it would appear to be notes that were used by a master of novices for his spiritual conferences to novices.[143]

He first pages, which we have not reproduced, through the use of various Latin aphorisms, deal with mystical concepts including deification, annihilation, the divine darkness, deification, the workings of God, ecstatic love, perfect silence, perfect poverty of spirit. The way these topics are presented appears to indicate that the material has been taken from the works of various mystical authors. For example, we read; “Conversion, absorption, and transmutation into God is brought about by simple intuition and living faith and the effortless recall of images and pure forms. Here the whole of human existence is immediately forgotten and absorbed in the divine essence, that can be described as the divine darkness because of its excessive brightness and incompressibility, which neither the intellect can grasp nor tongues express.” In another place we read: “By means of fervent desire and holy aspirations God shows himself to the soul and speaks to it in a most secret way and this is mystical theology.” Elsewhere we read: “Perfect poverty of spirit is exclusively a divine work in the midst of the divine darkness.”

One has the impression that in these introductory pages some basic principles are being proposed which are the foundations of the whole structure of the mystical life. This is similar to what Francis of Osuna said in his Spiritual Alphabet which was based on a series of couplets that grew into different chapters. The content is very deep touching on subjects that are difficult and precarious. It could be described as a kind “key to mysticism” in the fundamental truths of mystical experience and knowledge are explained.

Following the introduction, the author goes onto the real subject matter of the treatise developing it in three phases. The first phase is a short summary of all of the substance of the doctrine. The second phase, which is also brief, clarifies and defines certain theoretical and practical points concerning mystical union, presents the subject under the title: Divini Lumini – Mistiche practtiche (Divine Lights – Mystical practices). These are set out in sixty-one chapters which were no doubt written at different times. This becomes evident following a careful critical study of the content. In fact, chapter forty-five appears to be the conclusion of the work since it has the work Finis added to it. The twenty-two chapters that follow are a repetition and an addition. Indeed, chapter sixty one should introduce the “third part”[144] of the entire codex including, as it says in the title: “Various tracts on spiritual exercises”, among which one treats of mystical love, another of prayer while the rest are short pieces already treated but not published by us.

The colloquial and popular style of the work makes it look like a number of letters that were written as spiritual direction which were the result of a few conversations, instructions, the solution of doubts, practical advice and the explanation of doctrine. Nevertheless, it might also be the result of the literary style adopted by the author in order to have a greater effect on the reader and involve him directly. In fact, it seems, as we read in the introduction, that we have here a genuine “work” that is a compendium of perfection as “requested” by the person “whose wish is being granted”.[145] At various parts of the text the author makes mention of a “book” and he frequently refers to “the doctrine found at the beginning of my book.”[146]

However, from the outset the “book” has an esoteric ring. It is not supposed to be read by anyone who has not shared the same experience: “Be very careful not to allow anyone who is alive to read this book, but only someone who is dead, otherwise you will offend the Spouse.” (n. 4640). “This lesson is not meant for everyone: the teaching is for those who are blind, humble; and ignorant. … This is doctrine for those who are dead. … Therefore, hide my work from those who are alive, from those who are wise and from those who can see.” (n. 4801). “This is doctrine for those who are blind; therefore do not let those who can see read my work because I am writing for those who are blind.” (n. 4660).

Such statements may indicate acknowledgement of treading a path that is out of the ordinary path, and which is therefore dangerous, off the beaten track and ironical in comparison with other ways. This also shows a tendency to work from concealment at a time when suspect doctrines were the rage that is during the days of “Qquietism” and the movement of the “alumbrandos” when debates about these movements were unfolding in Europe. However, these considerations danced around in the mind together with the recall of other theories. For example, the beginning of the Mirror by Margaret Porete who forbade the learned and theologians to read her book which was only open to “simple annihilated souls who wanted and wished for love.”

This air of secrecy is related to the fact that the work was dealing with assimilating “divine activities that were not human.” These followed a course that was symbolically presented as “comfortably” crossing a “beautiful”, “closed” ocean. Which was closed to those who were not initiated that is “many spiritual persons who are not receptive and very unlucky.” (n. 4656). All of this is the work, the gift and the perception of the Spirit, not of the intellect. The teaching rises to the highest possible heights of perfection and cannot be understood without “tears of prayer”. (n. 4640).

The image of the ocean symbolically revisits the subject of the soul’s journey as “simply pleasing the spouse by reaching the peaceful port of divine pleasure”. (nn. 4641 and 4650). The navigation of this ocean, which is “peaceful” “very deep,” and “very calm”, is only possible through annihilation of the will. It ought to be achieved “with a heart full of unspeakable happiness,” from the moment that “our spirit is in the abyss, in the vast ocean of divine pleasure.” Instead when the heart is disturbed and sad” this means that it is “outside this very deep but calm sea, immersed in a thousand trivialities, which are making waves that crucify it.” (n. 4650).

Perhaps by idealize the vista of the wonderful Bay of Naples, the author enthusiastically exhorts us to plunge into this sea: “I exhort you, my dearest, to do this. Oh, what bays where you cannot see any shore of trivialities: where the boat is intimate annihilated resignation and anxiety is ardent desire for what is divine! The pilot is the flame of divine love, the sail is the will, the wind is the breath of the Holy Spirit, the light is faith, where keeping hopeful watch means always seeing new lights, new desires, new thoughts, new discoveries and one goes down to the depths passing inestimable boundaries that are beyond desiring, where little by little you lose all human thinking, desire, vision, sensual appetite and love.” (n. 4656).

Thus, annihilation is the ship that takes you to “the state of deification” which is the “summit” (n. 4653) “the moment and essence of all our perfection.” (n. 4652). To this annihilation of the “sensual and spiritual” will, by the continuous exercise of “ejaculatory prayer” and “ardent aspirations and sighs to the spouse Jesus (n. 4641), is added “continual quiet, peaceful, happy, mystical aspirations to the spouse, until the spouse is united to us and transforms us deifying us completely.” (4642). The spiritual will is “infected” and while that is so it cannot be deified.

The vocation to mystical union, to the “state of deified union” is a summons “to die spiritually and temporally”. “Beware of spiritual death. Die to everything, even what is very spiritual and very divine.” (n. 4710). “I summon you to death in the Lord where genuine sanctity and deification are to be found.” (n. 4642). This is also a progressive stripping. This is a refrain that is repeated frequently. “Advance by stripping and changing.” (n. 4654). “Remain dead, blind, happy, beautiful loving etc., and leave all thought to Him who loves you more than you love yourself. … No one can deprive you of God except your will, so let the will become lost in God resting in his divine pleasure, (n. 4707), so as to be “naked in the bare pleasure of the spouse,” (4654), because “whoever wishes to arouse the divine pleasure needs to be totally stripped within and without.” (n. 4737).

Prayer should be raised up to God “with a naked heart that has everything but nothing, nothing of its own’. (n. 4646). “Of what value is knowing, understanding or sense perception? Stripping is what has value.” (n. 4648). “Remove everything and strip your spirit of everything including what is superior and inferior. Let us strip our spirit of everything except what is pleasing to God. However, let us not strip our spirit of what God wants even though man cannot know what this may be until he has died in God, emptied himself and come away from what is his own. This will create a wise new man in God.” (n. 4760, 4761). The “mystical way” is the “way of nothingness” that makes way for a new birth. “If a person does not do this first it is impossible to come to the second birth, to this mystical vision, this insightful experience.” (n. 4826).

In this context paradoxical phrases which seem to be somewhat risky and theologically dangerous crop up. “Root out being, and become nothing. You have to cancel being, and become nothing, nothing, nothing. Nothing exists except what is perfect. You are nothing, only God exists: Ego sum qui sum (I am who am). Until you are within God you are nothing. When you have become nothing, God will be everything in you and you will be totally God. … O happy nothing, O omnipotent nothing, O most happy non-being, what will genuinely confer being on you, what will make you suddenly become God. … Annihilate yourself, you are nothing, nothing. Think nothing, say nothing, do nothing, remember nothing, have nothing on your mind, nothing in your will, nothing within or without.” (n, nn. 4646, 4647).

These expressions seem to collect spiritual pronouncement that became famous as formulas proposed by the “alunbrandos” and the movements of the “free spirit”. However, they were also present among the Mystics in the Rhine and the Spanish mystics who were led by Francesco de Osuna (No pensar nada) right up to Bernardino da Laredo, St Therese, St John of the Cross, Alvares de Paz. They also resemble expression in Cordoni’s Diologi. It is the theology of negation which means so much to those who have become annihilated and resolute. However, it is merely the reverse side of what is positive, namely pure love and union with God, It is the characteristic secret code for describing passivity of soul in the state of mystical union.[147]

This is the origin of deification and divine transformation which gives rise to the gift of passive annihilation. If the soul accidently falters while in this state it becomes sad about God, not about its own circumstances. It does not ask how did this happen or seek to know the cause because this would mean “loosing the beatific, very secret vision.” (n. 4664). If it were otherwise this would not be “gazing mystically” but seeing with the imagination. The soul exists by itself: “To our shame this unwillingness to die makes us die a thousand deaths an hour.” This is why Gregorio da Napoli exclaims: “Cursed be existence! Crude and heart-rending existence! Cursed be such existence!” (n. 4670). He curses it because this is when it separates us from “the vision of the true God”. This is no longer the “spiritual eye” that sees nothing and is completely transformed into God. In fact, this light cleanses all images and created forms and produces very high spiritual intellectual concepts and enlightenment that renders the soul capable of seeing God “beyond what is intellectual” without outward forms or images. Thus, the purified soul becomes naked and simple.” (n. 4674).

“The spiritual eye” does not even see the virtues that are being produced to an extraordinary degree by this transformation into God because it sees God alone beyond visible things. By means of inner “divine enlightenment” and touches the soul enters upon “the way of nothing” totally consumed and dispossessed and God takes his place.” (n. 4665).

Mystical language is full of contradictions. The author is aware of this and makes a laborious attempt to translate his experience of God’s “genuine mystical enlightenment by means something very intimate. Along with the very distractions, fits of impatience, feelings of separation and aloofness, the faithful God reveals himself to the soul. She can find God within hell itself. When being driven out the God of loving mercy gives the soul joy, and where it is shines the light there will give it a more deeply intimate and brighter vision of the divine essence. O those words are full of contradictions, but they describe the soul that has been deified and transformed by love, the love of her God.” (n. 4667).[148]

As they are written some of these formulas sound like “Quietism,” and give the impression of trembling on the brink of “Quietistic” spirituality. For example when speaking about practical applications he says; “even in holy things if the soul chooses something, it is not seeking God but itself,” (n. 4644) and he states drastically: “Do not do anything: in all that you do make sure that there is nothing of your own, nothing that is yours. … When that is anything that is yours in what you do flee from it, leave it do not do it, for, granted that it may be good, what little it has that is yours will make it evil.” (n. 4646). However, as we shall see, the author makes his thought more precise on other pages when he gives a balanced explanation. However, this does not prevent the language from being ambiguous.

He knows how to present an uncommon doctrine, and because they are gifts of divine wisdom,[149] they are not immediately understandable, but practice will bring about enlightenment “When you do not understand the things that I reveal to you, do not pass judgement, or have others pass judgement. Attend to the practices so that practice may enlighten you to what is true,” (n. 4658). In the end what is important is simply annihilation of the will: “therefore, strip yourself, cleanse yourself, make choices, do not desire, do not love, do not become affectionate, do not search, wish for nothing except the divine will, the naked will of Him who is your only love. … Do not rest in suffering, in rejoicing, in what is uplifting, in anxieties, in worldly things, in being imperfect, in being weak, in being in heaven or even in God, but in always pleasing God alone in everything (nn. 5658, 5651). This is the doctrine of love which captures the whole of perfection,” understood from a negative perspective as the mysticism of denial or darkness.

Gregorio da Napoli continually sends his disciple back to this doctrine progressively unveiling new details that are more profound and intimate according to the disciple’s development. “Do not put aside what I am writing to you, because what I tell you I do not tell others and I reveal divine hidden things to you a little at a time according to what you need and the grace that the Lord has given you.” (n. 4743).

What he taught he had experienced personally. He used symbolic language such as what follows which is very interesting: “I am a little bit better and can see more clearly. Five days ago, my dear Jesus made me stay overnight on top of a high spot that was buffeted by winds from all directions that filled me with nervous anxiety. Just the thought of their ferocity made me fall in loss of heart. Intus pugnae, foris Dolores. (Buffeted within, suffering on the outside). What happened outside did not concern me, and, indeed, the worse it became the more I sighed. Come, my Lord! However, I was at a loss within. I felt that I was heart broken. I thought that I had been abandoned by God. The sky seemed to me to be bronze; the earth seemed to be hell. Books gave me no pleasure and If I read it was a waste of time. I found no peace in Mary who was my usual and only consolation. I could neither eat nor sleep. I had a burning thirst, I was almost desperate. On another occasion, for a longer length of time, but not as bitter, the Lord fed me. He wanted me to practice what I preached.” (n. 4708).[150]

Basing himself on this difficult experience of mystical asceticism places great demands on him as a spiritual director. He is aware that making concessions cannot be tolerated in the spiritual life.[151]. He says: “If this seems hard to you, have patience.” (n. 4751). He gives peremptory orders: “I command and entreat you as much as I can to turn your back on all creatures, placing all that is visible beneath your feet.” (n. 4752). He requires “blind obedience, without the discussion and debate that is fashionable today, because “obedience does not have eyes or ears and thus does not see but is like a blind person. Remove your eye, throw it away, I say.” (4742). Try to be simply obedient in everything that is not sinful. Obey blindly without looking for reasons, because once reasoning and discussion enter there is no blind obedience but obedience that has been subjected to reasoning, and rational argumentation. Blind obedience is super intellectum (beyond the intellect)” (n. 4751). He emphasises the importance of a spiritual director with special gifts and moral qualities especially for those who are young. (cf. n. 4749).

Because the times are difficult, there is the need of safe discernment to distinguish false spiritual persons from those who are genuine. He often mentions this critical subject using words that give us to understand that he was aware of abhorrent happenings, indiscrete situations and false mysticism. He says that: “at this time there are few who know God’s way that is why saintly Jeremiah shed many years because he could not see anyone who was walking along that way.” (n. 4734). “As in these days there is no one who wants to acquire virtue, we have to conclude that there is no one who loves properly and no one who is a genuine lover.” (n. 4772). In fact, “these times are evil, very dangerous, even for God’s great friends. Few search for God with genuine appreciation of the cross. Everyone looks out for himself and for what satisfies him within the spirit of God making calculations.” (n. 4739).

He explains this more clearly when he asserts: that “the times are evil with everyone concerned about himself and what is transitory and is not God’s. What is worse, there are some who appear to be spiritual persons and God’s friends what they do is worse than what the worst Christians do,” (n. 4757).Therefore it is necessary to be very watchful: “especially during these dark times, because where we think we can find light there is more cloud” (n. 4759). “The bond between spiritual persons is meticulous, and very precarious, very secret and recognised only by those who are expert.” (n. 4752).

He never mentions “Quietism”. However, he knows about it and often alludes to it and passes acute critical judgement on it. For example, he writes: “O how deceptive they are who do not care about virtue: “A spiritual person ought to be dead to all desires, including wanting to possess God. It is not up to us to drag him to earth in our desires but up to God … otherwise if we did this by desiring what God should do, and then once our desire stopped, virtue would disappear, and the devil would come and conquer.” (n. 4773). He complains about this: “O there are many people who talk about union without knowing what it is!” (n. 4806). The most important reaction to “Quietism” appears in chapter 58 where he distinguishes and compares the acts and the outcome of good and bad freedom, (n. 5827-4829).

What is particularly suspect in learned speculations is that although they contain sublime thoughts and profound reflections when interpreting the word of God, they lack “practice.” Authentic “revelations” instead are inseparable from “practice” and “immediately become involved in practice”. (n. 4842).

The servant of God who wants to venture into the mystical way has to possess a brave fighting spirit that befits a warrior of the Crucified who is always happy and generous.” (n. 4724). “We must always advance (immersed in the divine will) along the road to battle.” (n. 4726). “Remain a steadfast soldier in all situations. The more dangerous the attack is, the greater the glory of victory and the more strength the conquering hero receives from God.” (n. 4729). It is a war against every vice and sin and it radically strikes every voluntary fault. “Do not commit the slightest voluntary defect, so that thus you can save the entire world. Note well. The quickest way to ruin the honour, life and the soul of any creature is to willingly commit a fault. (n. 4769). “Fortify the will so that it never offends holy God, or willingly commits the slightest blunder against perfection. Prefer to risk life itself than surrender your soul.” (n. 4736).

An instruction and a methodology without a set plan

The make up of this “mystical instruction” does not involve a logical plan. It continually returns to the same subjects, the same points and the same thoughts but at different levels of experience following a logical sequence that is not circular but which ascends in a spiral trajectory that is similar to the logic of St John’s Gospel. There are words that appear continuously: annihilation, mystical union, deification, transformation, death, nakedness, mystical vision, cross, suffering, quiet, peace, pleasure and will of God, blindness, purification, cleanliness, stripping, desolation, solitude, silence, divine love, divine pastures, heavenly food, very deep inebriation, darkest secrets, divine secrets, practices etc.

The lack of a plan is perhaps the clearest proof that we are dealing with living material that was not born on a desk but from the living experience of a spiritual director who wrote letters which turned into a “book” later on. The author is teaching a doctrine that comes from his personal life which he is sharing by way of a gift. From this point of view, he demonstrates a surprising sensitivity to what he has read and a spiritual approach to interpreting the word of God. His use of the Bible is unusual. It is not hermeneutical but rhetorical, that is as the only correct way to speak about and to explain realities that are beyond words. We could quote many examples of this.[152]. In fact, it is by means of biblical citations that emerge spontaneously in the passionate discussion that the doctrine “of mystical practices” and “divine enlightenment” derive their justification and approval.

Next to the Bible he proposes examples and methods of imitation by making frequent references to the experiences of the saints, especially St Paul, who he calls “the master of mystical souls and the vessel of election”, “crazy about the love of the cross”, and “the beloved of Christ. (n. 4681, 4712, 4723), However, he quotes most of all St Francis of Assisi from whom he cites various sayings regarding spiritual happiness (n. 4724, 4723), the joy of suffering, love of the cross (n. 4792), and the gift of tears (n. 4803, 4818). He describes him as being a martyr by desire. “Our Seraphic Father was not martyred by any material weapon, but by desire alone (to desire without accomplishing, o what martyrdom for one who loves). Yet as if he had been crowned with that crown, holy Church gives him the title of martyr: O martir desiderio.” (n. 4723). He also makes reference to the companions of St Francis such as Giles with his experience and teaching on contemplation, (n. 4778-79, 4789, 4790) Bernard of Quintavalle, Br. Lucido, and Br. Juniper. (n. 4771).

Among the women he turns to Mary Magdalene and St Catherine of Siena to whom he had special devotion. He presents a magnificent picture of the first contrasting his own way of life to her way. (n. 4756). She was “totally in love with what is divine.” (nn. 4716, 4741). He does the same for St Catherine. (nn. 4716, 4747, 4750).

He quotes Dionysius the Areopagite, St Bonaventure, St Bernard and St Therese as authorities to prove that to love God is more excellent than to know him. He also quotes Pico della Mirandola. (n. 4837). However, a deep study of the sources that have not been acknowledged might produce surprising results as famous names which are much discussed in the history and theology of mysticism crop up. We are referring particularly to Achille Gagliardi, and Benedict of Canfield along with Blessed Angela of Foligno, Catherine of Genoa, Blessed Camilla Batista Varani, and then Henry van Herp, Tauler, Eckart, Bartolomeo Cordoni, and Margaret Porete, the Spanish and Dutch mystics as we have already mentioned above.

Notwithstanding the lack of a plan and scholastic logical thinking (which is characteristic of authentic mystical discourse and which springs from a genuine mystical experience) it is possible to discover in the succession of various chapters and to unveil a genuine methodology of the interior life, because it is a doctrine that was written with a view to teaching and filling in what had been lacking the presentation of a method of contemplation that had been cast in terms that were very basic. In its radical language appeals to what is interior. It seems to demolish or reject the crusading spirit of the Counterreformation. His teaching appears to be almost a revival of the “ spirituality of “a new insight” that sprung up a hundred years before in hermitages and houses of recollection in Observant friaries in Spain and in Italy that predated “friaries of retreat”, “friaries of desert observance” and ‘friaries of solitude” among the Alcantarines in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds.

However, the method possesses the characteristics of free activity of the Holy Spirit which fills the sails of the will on the ocean of annihilation, to use an image that the author has already used. Gregorio da Napoli only wants to reflect on the divine activity of the Spirit which goes beyond human plans. He deliberately called his “book” “Divine Enlightenment” in order to balance the two elements of the mystical life: illumination and union. It is like a new “Art of Union with God” set out with new sensitivity and language, immediately translated into practical activities. This means that “the sublime thoughts” and the “mystical lights” are of no use to the soul if not put into practice. Practice becomes the way to achieve passive mysticism surrendering leadership to the Holy Spirit to be led “like a little donkey” (n. 4779), in order to learn how to use “mystical vision”, “to live by naked faith” (n. 4747) in passive annihilation, to love in silence and solitude,”[153] to arouse the prayer of quiet,[154] and the exercise of the active and passive divine love.

The “royal and safe way” of Christ Crucified

The most important thing about the method that Gregorio da Napoli taught was that it was centred on attending the school of Christ Crucified. This is typical of the balanced approach of Italian, Franciscan and Capuchin spirituality The two dimensions of mysticism, the speculative and the affective are closely interrelated., According to G Pozzi, the abstract or speculative dimension pertains to “the relationship between God and the creature as a relationship between two entities which can be described only in the negative, because it is indefinable. The other dimension, the affective involves renunciation and is passive.” The affective dimension “involves the earthly events of Christ’s life and his inner feelings, especially his suffering.”[155] Both are found in profound symbiosis by means of which one brings to mind the other as an essential component just as the body brings to mind the soul.

The unremitting topic of annihilation, spiritual nudity, learned ignorance, being and non-being, as a spiritual experience becomes a concrete not imaginary reality by means of the cross of Christ. “On the cross of our sole consolation, dear Jesus, I greet you as being where I always want to see you.” (n. 4640). When writing to his disciple Gregorio da Napoli he introduced himself with these words.

It is in Christ crucified that it is possible to become “truly spiritual.” In saying this he delivers a blow to “Quietist” spirituality. “Let our mirror be Christ Crucified and when like him you are poor, vile, abject, despised, suffering, anxious, unnerved, lacerated, abandoned by all except God himself, thirsty, famished and whatever, then you will be a spiritual person, all beautiful without a mark and not am imaginary spiritual person full of air as some are today.” (n. 4719).

The school of the mysticism of the cross; “Let the cross be your school … I am teaching you this. I want it to be in your heart, on your lips and in your hands. This has to be inside and outside of you,” (n. 4792). You cannot walk apart from the Crucifix and make progress in the spiritual life.” “The genuine path is Christ Crucified”. … Whoever wishes to enjoy the contemplation of the divinity by any other road than Christ Crucified is mistaken.” (n. 4763). We discover true enlightenment only in the cross of Christ Crucified.” (n. 4764).

If Christ and his Gospel teaching is the true light, then this is the truly safe light. “To put such high doctrine into practice, hold the mirror up in front of you. Fix your gaze on the Word become Man, where you will see him lost, or at peace, or very humble or very charitable etc. and, especially, go along with the Gospel teaching since it is the true safe and divine fountain all the sacred streams which all the saints, or scholastic masters draw from today so that they neither utter nor see anything but what Christ taught.” (n. 4772). In fact “as it is by means of mysticism that we discover and behold divine brightness and this can be found nowhere but in the light that is Jesus Christ, then we must say that the Gospel reaching that Christ taught us is the brightness, the light, the mystery and the splendour of the eternal Father instructing us through mystical union with the divine light.” (n. 4793).

Here Gregorio da Napoli intends to seal his teaching: “Dearest, do we want to possess the true, safe light by means of which we can discover God? We ought to avail ourselves of the light with which I seal all the doctrine that I have written or might write in this book. Understand that every mystical upsurge, uplift, rapture, ecstasy and mystical manifestation consists in an elevation and rapture in the glow of the divine light.” (n. 4794). “Every light, glow, manifestation and knowledge of God, no matter how exalted, can only come from this light and the crucified lover Jesus Christ, the rest is fallacy, speculation, intricacy of nature, acquisitiveness and diabolical.” (n. 4793).

The centrality of the “way of the cross” as being the “mystical light” is emphasised as strongly as Benedict of Canfield stressed Christ’s agony in the garden which was a sublime symbol of the mysticism of following the will of God. “Christ taught us about the state in his prayer in the garden in which he subjected ever wish and desire concerning suffering completely to the divine will and his Father’s pleasure.” (n. 4704). In accents that remind us of some of the thoughts in Blessed Camilla Batista da Varano’s Dolori mentali he presents Christ’s incomprehensible sufferings in Gethsemane: “With Christ’s Humanity being the most beloved creature … it added nothing to his divinity except that he died a long mortal martyrdom, because the dereliction that was evident on the cross, was part of the pains he endured from the instant of his conception. I say that the sum of all the anxiety and pain etc. of all creatures put together made up a small part of the sufferings and apprehensive agony that our spouse suffered in the garden”. (n. 4808).

The overwhelming and perfect balance in the person of Christ who is in agony and who is God and man, binds all the mystical doctrine of Gregorio da Napoli together. The soul is immersed in the Crucified Christ “for genuine union consists in always being anxious inside and outside, about the world, about hell and about the spouse,” and it receives the indescribable gift of deification. In this immersion in love the deified soul bursts with ecstatic joy and the soul erupts into a wonderful heart felt prayer of praise similar to what St Francis did after receiving the stigmata. (cf. n. 4854). We shall make no comment so as not to disrupt the mystical beauty.

b) “The Interior Paradise” by Paolo Manasseri da Terni

The “mistica della voluntà di Dio” (“the mysticism of God’s Will”) reappears in another Capuchin author of the early seventeenth century, Paolo Manassei da Terni (+ 1620) who wrote a book of affective practices that were developed by means of a sequence of purification, illumination and union with God forming a rosary of thirty three separate exercises each of which consisted of ten points. Thus, the literary style of the book looked like something devotional and affective. However, a profound and complete spiritual instruction and spiritual experience lay concealed beneath the feelings and emotions expressed.

The title is evocative: Paradiso interiore, overo Corona spirituale nella quale con trentatré essercizi si practicano tutte le virtu per arrivare alla perfezione. (Interior Paradise, or a Spiritual Rosary by means of which all the virtues for the acquisition of perfection are achieved by thirty-three exercises”.) There is a certain similarity with the Corone spirituali by Mattia da Salò and it contains a strong ascetical program that sets it apart from any suggestion of Quietism. However, the opening words make us recall the title of another contemporary book by the Reformed Minor Friar Bartolomeo Cambi da Salutio (+ 1617) Paradiso dei contemplative (Roma 1607) that was a translation of the third book of the mystical theology of Henry van Herp, Eden seu Paradisus complativorum.

The story of the publication of the book by Manassei is rather foggy. In fact, it is not possible to determine the relationship between the original text of the author and the changes made by the publishers. Already the fact that Paolo da Terni did not want to publish these spiritual exercises while he was alive seems to show that he had certain misgivings and concerns and probably considered that his spiritual experience was too personal and intimate to be applicable to everyone. It is impossible for us to examine the third edition which appeared seventeen years after the death of the author in Bologna in1637 and had been completely rewritten. In order to discover a text that was probably closer to the first edition which appeared anonymously in Brescia shortly after the death of Manassei it would be essential to find a text that was probably closer to the original. However, there is no trace of this.[156] Because of this it is impossible to critically evaluate the passage of the primitive text to the published edition.[157]

Furthermore, when we consider that the Paradiso interiore was placed on the Index (26 April 1689 and 29 November 1691) seventy years later, we can understand how this condemnation put a definite price on the validity of these paradoxical and radical exercises. Thus, in Petrocchi’s classical work, the book became an important page or precarious piece in “early Italian Quietism.”[158] However this scholar appeared to have slightly softened his judgement. He says that Manassei’s quietism was discovered “later on,” following a reaction against Quietism in the closing years of the nineteenth century.[159]

Leaving aside the juridical content of “Quietist solutions”[160], what is important here is to reconstruct the method of prayer that went side by side with the ascetical and mystical journey of the author. The method breaks down into a vast network of emotions which arise from interior dialogue and the progression of topics.

Before beginning the exercises all the angels and saints are invoked in accord with the Capuchin practice of reciting the Litany of the Saints in the morning before mental prayer and one asks for the grace of a love that is similar to the love of the Seraphs and the Virgin Mary “through I will give you my heart with every breath I draw and take in your love as I breathe in.”[161] This cycle of breathing is very important to Manassei as we shall see further on for producing spiritual emotions and it becomes an instrument for attentiveness and a sign on an unlimited desire to achieve great things, to reach the highest perfection, to equal and to outdo the greatest saints. Continual limitless desires (note the emphasis on wanting) are a psychologically effective way to overcome the limitation of being a creature. Once again in the exercise pertaining to faith, he refers to a “breathing” prayer. (cf. n. 5186, § 8).

Preparation in faith and contrition for sins ignites desire in the will not to seek any consolation and to settle itself in hope.[162] The souls that is prepared and disposed is made beautiful and performs all the virtues by means of the exercise of the life of Christ meditating and becoming emotional in her imagination over the mysteries of Christ, the Nativity, the Flight into Egypt, the finding in the Temple, the retreat into the Desert, the public life, the prayer in the Garden, the arrest, being before Caiaphas and Herod, sentenced to death, taken to Calvary, dying and being taken down from the Cross and buried. Manassei describes himself as a participant in the events. He says that his love “is a very imperfect way of meditating on the pain and suffering” of the Lord However, the vivid, physical and very personal description of the scenes is full of rare beauty and drama.

He takes the mystery into his heart as Veruchino and Michelangelo da Venezia had taught. “I pretend to embrace it with my heart before breathing and feeling very sad I carry it in my breast where I have made a bed out of my heart and I caress it and make it feel at home placing it on the bed to rest. I wash it with my own tears. I gaze on it from head to foot and since it is weak and wounded, I bring it into my heart. Like an ungrateful child I will never go away from you.” (n. 5197).

In the acts of love the image of the spouse, and of the child always emerges and in order to be consistent that of the traitor and the slave. Meditation on Christ’s mysteries reveals God’s love to the soul as well as human ingratitude which was the greatest cause of Christ’s suffering. However, at the same time it helps the practice of the virtues especially religious profession which is considered to be the perfect “offering” of self to God.

All of these exercises are directed towards the act of pure and perfect love. This is the aim of the “spiritual rosaries” which should lead “the loving soul to seek being adorned by all the virtues to the delight of the divine spouse” and to love him with “love in charity and through charity” so that this is the objective of carrying out this rosary” that “should be the real foundation.”

The exercise of love for God is delightful, rejoicing in the goodness and grandeur of God, in the hope that all creatures will praise him in glory. Such sentiments and thoughts are like those of Ripanti in the Circolo and Cordoni in the Dialogo. God’s love is unceasing. To revive it and continue to love him the soul should be continually immersed in this love. In order to make the act continuous, Manassei uses a new prayer “of aspiration” (exercise 24). As someone who is in debt, he takes out eight coins, four as he breathes out. This is how he offers himself and all that he has to give as a holocaust, wishing that God’s name be made holy and thanking him for the gifts of creation, enlightenment, redemption and grace and extolling him with all past, present and future praise.

The next four coins are spent as he breathes in. This is when he rejoices over all the joys of heaven and earth, throwing all imperfections into the furnace of love in conformity to Christ’s Humanity imitating how the saints were transformed into God. This “wish to acquire charity and love for God” requires hiding in the heart of Christ. “Grant that I may eat, drink, sleep, walk, read, think over, live and die within your heart.” (n. 5213 § 10)

In experiencing these things, the soul collects all the features of love. It sings about them and exercises them as if “God had been shamed and saddened. Thus, it experiences being abandoned.” (Exercise 26). It experiences disinterested love of God without worrying about reward or punishment. Thus, he wrote, “I do not know any other paradise that offers such an experience of you.” (n. 5218 § 4). He is tormented by the quandary of the saints whether to “suffer or die”. (n. 5220, § 8).

The “genuine offering that is made to God” comes out of this. This means that the annihilated soul offers Christ’s heart to the Father for the love of God as a golden vase that contains all the treasures of divinity and, at the same time, rejoices in the divinity. Then it offers the graces of the humanity of the Son, those of the Virgin Mary, of the saints and of its own self “as a perpetual holocaust together with all the thoughts, words, actions and events of its life.” This is “an offering of You in me and me in You”, in union with the offering of the Incarnate Word who died on the Cross for the militant pilgrim Church. Once more we can observe a similarity with the Circolo by Francesco di Jesi. He is an making an offering of all created treasures, the sorrows, the souls, souls that have been created and will be created, gathering them into his own heart, turning them into a furnace of love and sorrow “for the offenses committed against You.” (n. 5223, § 10).

Caught up in such fervour the soul also experiences “parched and disheartening love for creatures” (exercise 29) because “I do not know any other hell than to offend you, who are consummate beauty” (n. 5225, § 5) and plunge “into self annihilation in the will of God.” It cannot find anything in the world that is more beautiful than the expression “God’s will.” “I die in your hands and throw myself into the abyss of your will from which I will never find an escape.” (n. 5228, § 8). It does not wish to think of itself anymore, as if it no longer existed in the world but only thinks of God.

There are other aspects of God’s love. At times it is “distressed and parched,” because the soul remembers the sufferings of Christ’s heart during his earthly life, especially between the Last Supper and the agony in the Garden of Olives up to his death on the Cross when it suddenly becomes ready to endure any affliction and dryness. At other times love is “embracing and welcoming” (exercise 32) and the soul, becoming confused, does not know how to grasp the “infinite sharing in divine goodness.” (n. 5233, § 3).

All these aspects and variations of love that were experienced by Manassei in spirit are directed towards and take delight in the Eucharist as their highest expression. “My love, open my heart, revealing yourself in the most holy Host.” This inebriating vision of Christ’s Eucharistic presence is transformative as it produces an ardent desire, a cosmic presence which is almost a repetition of the experience of St Francis who saw nothing in this world with his physical eyes except Christ’s Body and Blood. “Grant that wherever I look I will seem to see this with my physical eyes.” (n. 5325). “If the whole world were all fire, or sun, how would I linger absorbed in such flames? Yet this is nothing in comparison to what you are. How is it that I am not annihilated by such Majesty? My love, unite me to yourself by means of your divine bread, completely transform me into you,” (n. 5237, § 8s).

Paolo da Terni’s spiritual teaching contains terms and expressions that are not always theologically coherent. A. Vecchi has this to say on the subject: “the mystical climax that is coloured with quivering eagerness and shivering emotion seems to be selective,”[163].in reference to when he wrote “We ought to love God like a father who loves his child because he is his child since God is more than a child for us and love him only because of this goodness and glory.” (n. 5204). At other times the expressions are quite paradoxical and bizarre to the point of describing situations that are theologically incorrect pushing the concept of Franciscan “perfect happiness” beyond the borders of eschatology, (cf. n. 5218), or fantasising about “a thousand weaknesses and purifications for an eternity” in order not to stop God performing an act of love, or even rejoicing if “I would be damned in order to serve you.” (n. 5217, § 2).[164]

As we have said, Petrocchi links this to early Italian Quietism because it emphasises “pure love of God beyond any Christological considerations” and is not concerned about solutions involving faith or hope, while continuing to repeat the need for annihilation under the will of God, setting aside the motivation of reward and punishment, salvation or damnation and the objective efficacy of the Sacraments.

Like Gregorio da Napoli, Manassei also places strong emphasis on the principle of annihilation using very fiery and hyperbolical expressions: “I wish to be annihilated with all creatures rather then allow myself to be wanting in a minimum once of divine perfection” (n. 5207, § 2). “I offer you myself, not only as a slave but as a most perfect holocaust, annihilating myself in your will. (n. 5211, § 2). “I enclose myself in your loving heart, I annihilate myself there, completely and change myself completely like a drop of water is absorbed an ocean of purest wine, so that not a trace of me would remain, nor any footprint, but being completely transformed and deified in you so that whatever I would think or do would be swathed in your heart. I intend and resolve with your heart to love you infinitely, hastening with desire and desire towards the practical act which you produce infinitely and eternally when you love yourself.” (n. 5227, § 1). There are many more expressions like this.[165]

More than taking the Franciscan trend towards the “imitation of Christ”, Manassei appears to come closer to the Jacobean trend (and the approach of the mystics from the Rhineland) advocating “transformation” into Christ and consequent deification through unitive love. Nevertheless, the “Christological aspect” is not lacking, nor the practice of the Sacraments. They are taken for granted. Jesus of the Gospel is very present as the forma virtutum (the model of the virtues) as the indispensable example, especially by means of contemplation of his mysteries by means of a dramatic sharing, which is almost barouche, of the inner emotions, as suggested by Bonaventure. This method adopts using the imagination to contemplate all of Christ’s mental anguish during his Passion in order to become united through his humanity to his divinity in “holy perfection of resemblance.”

This is an inner “acknowledgement,” a learning process of “heartfelt self-examination in which I hold you, my treasure, closely, locked and sealed in an eternal embrace.”[166] The harsh exercises of mortification and corporal and spiritual penance together with the practice of the virtues are all fed by the dynamic presence of Christ Crucified,[167] and the meekness and humility of his divine heart.

It is a variety of spirituality that tries to achieve a balance between concrete practical Franciscan exercise of the will and the illuminist spirituality, even though some expressions appear ambiguous. The title itself and the logic within the discussion appear to be influences by certain doctrines akin to the Liberal Spirit which maintains that the mystical and contemplative journey begins with humility, severe asceticism and the heroic practice of the virtues to culminate in a kind of acquired contemplation comprised of spiritual arousal and inebriation reaching the point of deification per caritatem (deification by means of charity) in which the soul sees itself as nothing and God as everything. It becomes annihilated in God and God’s divine will. Having been transformed in this manner, it becomes concerned exclusively with “giving glory and praise to the Trinity and becomes caught up in heavenly innocence.”[168]

Paolo da Terni probably used this doctrinal source relying on various authors who were in vogue in the Order. These included the popular Henry of Herp and his famous “twelve mortifications” and the spirituality of the will of God according to Benedict of Canfield.[169] One can also see various matters taken from Italian Evangelism of the Sixteenth century and from Bernardino Ochino. Closer to home we see the influence of the Circolo by Ripanti and the Dialogo by Cordoni which are sometimes quoted literally. At times we also note a certain similarity, not to say influence, with the way Bartolomeo da Salutio presents the emotions, which we have already mentioned, and with the Reformed Observant Sisti de Cucchi (+1630) from Bergamo and his Vie della compemplazione (Venice 1617) with the use of almost identical phrases.[170]

c) “Fuoco d’amore” by Tommaso da Olera

In the mystical texts that have been analysed up to the present the doctrine that has been expounded or treated, whether with respect to its formulation or literary style, demonstrates the authors had already undergone theological and scholastic training. Instead in the case of Tommaso da Olera we find experience and teaching that excludes any theological preparation and that simply reflect his formation during the time of his noviciate and post-noviciate and material from the conferences of superiors and preachers which he avidly absorbed.

It is certain that the spiritual atmosphere of Capuchin life which he lived with great fervour enriched his religious sensitivity and his spiritual reading, but when, under obedience, he began to write his ascetical and mystical tracts he did not consult any books except, as he says, the “Christ’s wounds.”[171]

His writings, though often repetitive, given his tendency to digress into emotions concerning the one topic, convey a high degree of inspiration. He felt directed by an inner impulse that drove him to write with doctrinal sincerity, earnestness and assurance. Owing to this he became a “popular contemplative”, as G. Getto put it.[172] He succeeds in describing and transmitting the profound, subtle and intimate realities of the experience of God in the soul.

He had very precise and clear ideas about the spiritual life. Because of this his Fire of Love treats the most heated and ardent topics regarding mystical experience with sincere simple language and without doctrinal ambiguity. Compared to Gregorio da Napoli and Paolo da Terni his style appears to be clearer than both of them. As a lay friar he presents things with simplicity using language that is plain and ungrammatical as a sign of spiritual acumen with the object of “making a mystic” though it might sound discordant and unclear.

Let us attempt to enter his Silva di perfezzione and try to ascend by means of his Scala di perfezzione. Let us achieve pure love which is the basic topic of his writings, the last shore, the high point of his doctrine, where “his word is enlightened with aristocratic dignity.”[173]

Tomasso da Olera separates the “external life” that is the active life from the “inner life” that is the life that consists in “our every good.” (cf. nn. 5293 and 5300). He also put this in a letter to Catherine da Brabdis: “Our highest good consists in reforming ourselves within” (n. 5405). Ascetic commitment to mortification of the senses,[174] and of the passions, and having pure intentions (= custody of the heart) are the foundations of the inner life. Here the exercise of the virtues comes about only “by means of the pleasure and will of God” (5303) “only through his good pleasure, according to his design.” (n. 5294).

The “ornament of virtues” is the first step, that is “clothing oneself in virtues,” towards sharing in the presence of the spouse and in becoming pleasing to him alone, to planting one’s own garden with flowers and fruit so the God may enter “having been charmed.” (n. 5301). The images are sour being taken from the experience of working in the fields: brambles, ploughing, soil, garden, shoot, flower, fruit, pastures etc. Such detached practice of virtue means “gazing exclusively into the pupil of Christ’s eye” by acting out of pure love. One needs to suspect everything and carefully consult reason which is “the gardener of the garden that is of the body and the senses, and to consult the Spirit of God. (n. 5303). Before doing anything experience “the fire of God within you which says to your heart: “Do this, do not do the other”, as if God were actually guiding you in everything internal and external”. (n. 5304).

Mental prayer, “which is a holy and divine teacher is indispensable for acquiring inner virtues” (cf. n. 5295). It is a gift that we need to ask from God endlessly. Whoever feels at home with mental prayer is like a bird soaring into the sky. It needs “special places” because”it knows that “when it is flying it will know where it can rest” that is places that are solitary and silent (“cells, oratories, churches, mountains, hills, caves, valleys, shady places, deserts), where it is easier “to make progress by means of the divine mysteries”. (n. 5296).

Concerning meditation on the “mysteries” he repeats certain norms given by other teachers. However, he also suggests some personal criteria always having a contemplative objective in mind. For example, he says that “there is no need to be restricted to one mystery each day” as many say, at least if that is not “exceptional”. (n. 5297). Thus, he has no personal sympathy for tightly structured methods of the devotio moderna. He prefers to address himself to those who want to contemplate and intend to “rise by means of this ladder of perfection”.

He offers another suggestion, which is also traditional, which consists in “approaching the divine mysteries” not as “something far away”, but “as if they were present” so that they become “imprinted on the heart and in the mind”. (n. 5297). He gives an example using the subject of Christ on the Cross or which he is carrying the cross up Mount Calvary, setting it out in a meditation that uses the imagination,[175] always however presenting “external events” while trying to penetrate “internal matters (n. 5298) not “going over them hurriedly but pondering point by point.” He was so expert in this that he succeeded in “concentrating on a nail for weeks or months.” (n. 5298).

However, the most important element in meditation was always love, the deep meaning of existence: “Know that you will gain more profit in ten years by moving on with loving, affective, interior acts making frequent resolutions to seek God for God and not for yourself than you could gain in a hundred years in serving God in any other way.” (n. 5305). His writings overflow with these prayers of aspiration that are the “language” of the genuine contemplative. There are many examples of this even in the passages that we have selected. (cf. nn. 5318-5321). However, humility, which is “the most favoured lady that God has in his heart” is the most necessary requirement and the Mother of God is a splendid personification of this. (cf. n. 5306).

It is only after having achieved total interior purification that “the soul soars to its centre” which is God going on from the inner life to the contemplative and unitive. “Like a soaring eagle it can soar up to the sun of justice and fix the mind’s eyes there on that heavenly sun experiencing the heat of its blazing rays” that make the fruits of union bud forth and mature. (n. 5307).

He makes use of a very keen example to distinguish between meditation and contemplation. Meditation is like observing the details of an alter piece while contemplation is taking the whole thing at a glance. (n. 5308). In the first case the intellect predominates with reasoning, in the second case the will opens with emotion. Christ, the sun of justice, draws the soul into his love and the soul fixes its eyes on him as if looking into a mirror and its rays wound the heart that cannot be healed except by “the one who has inflicted the wound,” Christ. (n. 5310). Wounded by love it is moved “to live only to be united to Christ and it becomes “frenetic” and by means of the fire of love gushes like a torrent in Christ and rises continually towards God with greater ease and sweetness than the blink of an eye.

This is wisdom that cannot be learnt in a classroom where the learned indeed “know how to say great things about God, but which in practice are far from genuine contemplation,” (n. 5313), because speculation of the intellect bears little fruit and leaves the soul “dry”. On the other hand, contemplation is ‘controlled” and “learnt from the dear sweet wounds of the Crucified”, (n. 5321), “in the school of the Crucified where every uneducated, simple idiot can become a highly educated person. Tomasso da Olera is the proof and a direct witness. However, he admires a humble uneducated person than a contemplative idiot. (cf. n. 5312).

In “genuine contemplation” the soul being free from self love unites itself to God like “a drop of water in a large bottle of wine” and it becomes wine. (n. 5313). I “sees the will of its God reflected in the most divine mirror” and carries it out with agility and pleasure. (n5314). This is contemplation “by means of emotion”, “the faithful guardian” that keeps the soul humble and devout, and at the same time is “the wings of a bird” that lift it up to blessedness on earth by means of which man “becomes the secretary and servant of God himself”. (n. 5321).

In the very practical teachings of Tomasso da Olera it is possible, to a certain degree, to discover the explanation of the emotional paradoxes of Paolo da Terni. In fact these mystics place great importance on “desire” in the effort to overcome the limits of self love of God. This is how the enlightened lay brother from Bergamo explains this.” What works cannot achieve ardent desires to suffer great things for the love of God accomplish.” (n. 5316). Thus desires “enable the soul to partially arrive at more than acts of love, (n. 5335). Love’s flame sighs in the soul and it consecrates everything to God. “I entrust my life, death, heaven and hell to your pleasure.” It is even ready to cast itself into hell, but with more love, not because of sin.” (n.5318). “I want to annihilate myself for your glory. I die without dying.” (nn. 5319 and 5320). These expressions are similar to those used by Manassei and are like other “mystical expressions” used by Gregorio da Napoli.

Love “by desire” progresses by means of an ascending ladder taking “step by step”, passing through “the purgative, illuminative and affective ways”. (n. 5327). When it achieves pure, upright, heartfelt and filial love” it reaches perfection. This is the strong point for Tomasso da Olera. We can easily put his Trattato del divino amore alongside the Circolo di carità divina by Francesco da Jesi or the Arte de la unione by Giovanni da Fano or many other Capuchin writers that we have read.

This humble lay brother guided many souls along the path of high spirituality, some of whom lived in the world while others followed the consecrated religious life. He possessed to a high degree the charisma of arousing women to the “mystical way” of love. Among others witnesses to this gift is the splendid figure of one of the Clares of Rovereto, Giovanna Maria dlla Croce, who left many hand-written manuscripts which were quite interesting as spiritual reading.[176]

The Trattato del divino amore which we have reprinted is one of many that the mystic brother for Bergamo wrote on this topic.[177] It is dedicated to contemplative souls, who being totally obedient to the spirit in everything, “practice, perform, and read, while wearing the nuptial apparel of filial love,” These fly, rise up on high and carry “the green olive of God’s mercy” to where they enjoy the Beloved,” (n. 5328), in the playfulness of “heavenly glances” that burn “the heart of the soul” as well as “the heart of the spouse.”

Having a “purified eye’ the soul is consumed by these “sights” and “remains as if it were dumb”, since what it sees is ineffable, incomprehensible and indescribable, “not being able to put into words what it is seeing and experiencing in God, (n. 5329), otherwise “it would say so many things that would be of no interest to the entire world.” (n. 5333). “Whoever wishes to understand, will understand through love, ardently loving our God”. Tears pour out the inner ardour. The soul wishes to “absorb itself in God and does not wish to have a body” so the it can be more closely united to God who by the time he takes one breath the soul has breathed many times in God.” (n. 5330). “This state is a continuous breath that joins the soul to God.” (n. 5336).

It is a discussion that seems to be endless. The sentences boil over and continue saying how “such contemplation does not allow drilling into it”, that is it never strays from God, rather the soul comes to recognise its nothingness and “in this nothingness it sees God as its all” (n. 5331). However, this is not an abstract, metaphysical God. This is being conscious of the Crucified, so that, even in such “high contemplation” the soul cannot wish for anyone greater to imitate than Christ “on the way of the cross.” Note the great practical and doctrinal balance of Tomasso da Olera who immediately introduces autobiographical details. “The main thing in this kind of love is to imitate Christ and in suffering for Christ to enjoy highest delight with the soul wanting to be the naked Christ. If I, who am a poor person, were to talk about such love and union I would say that it is admirable.” N. 5333).

It is in Christ that the soul always experiences “a hunger and ardent thirst for love.” Bound to him, she “runs on the path of love without feet, since pure, upright, heartfelt and filial love goes everywhere drawn on by the perfume of the Spouse, to do God’s will.” (n. 5334). Man will understand a little bit about love “only when it is based on the cross.” (N. 5342).

His emotional contemplations of the head crowned with thorns and of Christ’s heart, “the seat of all sufferings”, are the best expression of this essential affinity, so that “our sweet Lord’s heart is sincere, our sweet Lord’s heart is a second life of the Saviour.” (n. 5351). It is the internal life where the greatest love of the Father is revealed as being for us. This is where the repeated challenges for strict interiority, being despoiled and totally purified come from. As Gianmaria da Spirano writes; “Brother Tomasso speaks about submersion, absorption and being drowned in Christ. All the presence of self is extinguished by the flame of love. One is consumed in Christ: such is the anxiety of the seraphic soul.”[178]

In this “unknown way” love spreads becoming universal, involving and calling upon heaven and earth.” (cf. n. 5336) Once again by means of a clear image he clearly describes the circular movement of love. “Just as the rivers, wells and lakes come from the sea and spread through the world … and return to the sea … so these souls descend from God like rivers, wells and lakes and spread over the world … doing so much good to our souls, but not staying there, returning to God who is an immense sea of infinite love, and are submerged in this sea, swimming there like fish changing themselves into the substance of the sea that is God.” (n. 6339).

All souls are invited to this love and it is regrettable that contemplation is not loved and practiced. “O the sad times of our days! Where have they gone who spent this life in such happiness? O God! Now the cities, villages and castles are full of people who contemplate the flesh, being lascivious, the land and themselves leaving aside contemplation of the things of heaven! Now where are the deserts, the monasteries and the quite places of our forebears?”[179]

He sighs and moans specially over the indifference of consecrated souls: “O religious! O religious of our times! Where has the time of our forebears gone when they were so dedicated to contemplation and God that they almost forgot everything else attending to contemplation day and night? O how this state has fallen!”[180]

Tomasso da Olera languished in this fire. Love consumed him. His biographers say that he died from an excess of love.[181] His physical illnesses were nothing in comparison to “this fullness and satiation with God “because of which he could hardly “stand up on his feet”. However, when he wrote that ecstasy was nothing else than “a death from wonder and admiration at seeing such charity in God, such love for creatures, such ingratitude and lack of recognition” (n. 5359) unwittingly he had foretold and revealed the cause of his death.

IV. Concluding Summary: The “Capuchin Ascetical School” in the Spiritual Direction of Alessio Segala da Salò

In the three authors just examined, who are in substantial agreement about the nature and experience of mysticism though they express it in different terminology, we have found a description of the final objective of the journey of mental prayer as well as what was the inspiration behind the “Capuchin ascetical school”.[1] The full comprehensive programme of this “school”, which was based on the marked contrast between penitential severity and mystical appeal and which came to maturity with the generations of friars who lived during the first hundred years of the Capuchin Reform, is presented in a superb manner by a disciple and contemporary of Bellintani, Alessio Segala da Salò.[2]

He clearly presents a rich synthesis that is very simple and yet very extensive and complete as is evident by the great success of the publication of his “spiritual works” across two centuries spanning the eighteen and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries.[3] In him we find all of the points indicated by the previous authors: rich doctrine, useful methodology for discursive meditation that is above all affective, admiration for devotions and especially for the centrality of the Passion of Christ which comes back in all his writings as proof of the authenticity of the spiritual life. We also find that the tone of the work is contemplative and mystical. This is expressed in a discrete manner but is continually present as the final objective. It is presented with firmness and simplicity and not as something that is exceptional in the life of the spirit, but as something that is natural and necessary in the spiritual programme of a Christian.

a) An overview of the works of Segala

His “spiritual works” consist of nine titles, on which it is opportune to dwell for a few moments because they are perhaps the best introduction to his style and teaching.

The first work is consecrated to Marian devotion and bears the title Arte mirabile per amare, servire e onorare la gloriosa Vergine Maria (Brescia 1608; 2a ediz. Brescia 1611). It is Segala’s most famous work that was praised by J. P. Camus and the source of the Mariology of St. Alfonso M. de Ligori.[4] Its objective is to “teach devout and beautiful souls to revere … the great Queen of heaven … so that the faithful soul can come to elevate itself in love.” The Madonna becomes the example and guide in the soul’s ascent to achieve union through the love of God, the infinite Good.

The second work in order of publication is entitled Prattica singolare per quelli che desiderano spiantare dell’anima gli abiti viziosi e piantarvi quelli delle santé virtu; il tutto con multo facilità e in breve tempo (Brecia 1611). Because it was bound as the final chapter of Arte mirabile it appeared as an independent publication in 1611 asserting the necessity and usefulness of abnegation in the spiritual life. Although it took its inspiration from Arte para servir a Dios by Alfonso di Madrid, the Latin edition that was published in 1594 and was edited by the General of the Cistercians, Giovanni Michel de Vesly, preserving its characteristic creativity. Segala wanted to teach a “particular” method of forming the will to guide the beginner during the beginning and early development of the illuminative life. In spite of the cheerfulness of the title the method is quite arduous. It requires the “consummate martyrdom” of purification of the soul that involves continual current and repeated hard work in order to uproot instinctive vicious tendencies and foster the formation of virtuous habits with the ever-present intention of the complete acquisition of a life of union.[5]

The third work, appeared in two volumes in 1612 also in Brescia which bore the title: Cronica celeste, ornate di preciosissime considerazioni overo meditazioni, accomodate per tutti i giorni dell’anno, per contemplare la vita poverissima, i molti disagi, le gravi fatiche e le opere merivigliose che Cristo nostro Signore ha operato per nostra salute, e le rare qualità, i celesti costumi e le eroiche virtú che risplendettero nella gloriosa Vergine Maria nostra avvocata. This is a work of genuine value, but which has been forgotten today. Its objective is the assimilation of Christ’s virtues as they are displayed most of all in the Passion in order to achieve habitual union with God. At the outset there are pages of methodology that are important for carrying out meditation. The author adopts a narrative style and begins a dialogue with the reader adopting an affable tone that creates a climate of recollection and facilitates concentrating on the mystery that is the object of the meditation.[6] In 1622, Segala selected certain meditations from this work which had been dedicated to the Virgin and put them into a popular work entitled: Sette divotissime meditazioni sopra la vita della Madonna, assignate ai sette giorni della settimana per commodità di quelli che si dilettano di contemplar l’opere e azzioni de essa Virgine Maria Santissima.[7]

The fourth spiritual work bore the title: Via sicura del paradise; insegnataci da Gesú Cristo Nostro Signore in quelle parole: Si quis vult venire post me [etc.], dove con esempi si mostrano a tutti gli stati di persone li veri mezzi di annegare la propria voluntà, con diverse pratiche et esercizzi per raffrenare gli appetiti, regolare le passioni e portare la sua croce con tranquillità di cuore. E si scuoprono i mirabili doni che Dio darà sí in questa vita come nell’altra, a quelli che lo seguiranno per questa via (Brescia 1617). This is one of Segala’s main works in which he analyses abnegation of the will and all that it involves in practice. The work is addressed most of all to those who have already started out on the journey to God, but it is useful for all kinds of persons who want to become “fervent” and achieve the perfection of charity.[8]

The fifth work bears the title: Angelico exercizio per tenerela mente racolta e divota mentre si va recitando l’Officio del Signore, della Madonna; e potrà servire ancora per l’orazione vocale e mentale (Brescia 1618). This is a short tract on devout recollection during the celebration of the liturgy of the hours. It teaches the “simple” the way “to unite and transform the heart and mind into the living God”. Meditating on the mysteries of Christ and especially on the Passion of the Lord is the best basis for nourishing exterior and interior devotion which is the mother “of the beautiful daughter of spiritual happiness, from which the generous son known as fervour of spirit is born” and thus fosters an appetite for contemplation, “the gateway to Divinity.”[9]

The sixth work contains a prevalently dogmatic and devotional approach treating the doctrine of Purgatory in one spiritual exercise as the title implies: Triumfo delle anime del purgatorio, distinto in due parti. Nella prima si essorta il cristiano a sovvenire con divoti suffragi le anime de’defonti per condurle al riposo di vita eterna; dipoi sipegarsi gran beni che di ciò può egli conseguire e si risolvono i principali dubbi che in questa materia si possono desiderare. Nella seconda narransi vari esempi d’anime del purgatorio, le quail apparendo a’vivi hanno rivelato loro cose di eterna maraviglia, molto profittevoli di ogni stato di persone per operar bene e fugire le pene di ditto purgatorio (Brescia 1620).[10]

The seventh work is Arca santa nella quale si contengono i sacratissimi misteri della vita e Passione di Cristo Signor nostro, assegnandosi per ciascuno misterio il sacro testo evangelico. Con alcune regole e avvertimenti per saper ben meditare e orare con frutto. Il tutto si è cavato da gravissimi autori (Brescia 1622). This is the work that brings together the best of Segala’s teaching on mental prayer, meditation and affective contemplation.[11]

The last work which consists of two noteworthy volumes bears the title: Catene d’oro delle più belle e meravigliose vite de’santi che ne’ libri de’gravi autori si possono trovare. Distinta in due parti. Nella prima sono riposte le vite de santi; nella seconda, delle santé … Ove el fine della vita di ciascun santo si ponga saluberrimi documenti, per i quail potrà con agevolezza ogni persona ridursi a gran santità di vita e camminare a longhi passi per la via del cielo (Brescia 1627). It offers everyone a series of commentaries on the lives of the saints. It puts forward invitations and ascetical suggestions of fundamental value. Segala conveys his deep conviction of the importance of spiritual reading in stirring up the ascetical life.[12]

All things considered, viewed from this perspective, his ascetical production exhibits a harmonious quality that is balanced and accurate. However, when we delve into the details of his methodology, we can see why Segala is regarded as a “classical author” of spiritual literature and, at the same time, how he clearly reflects the most mature and peaceful outcome of the spiritual journey of the Capuchins during the first century of their history.

b) Certain fundamental characteristics

An initial general observation is that the main inspiration behind all that he produced regarding asceticism was based on what is Franciscan and Capuchin. There are frequent references or quotations from the Capuchin Constitutions and the words and deeds of St Francis that form the basis of entire tracts and many pages. For example this is the case when he is speaking about silence (n. 5590), or referring to the example he mentions the virgin Cecelia who “always carried the ‘Gospel of Jesus Christ’ hidden in her breast”, (n. 5450), or how St Francis through “assiduous meditation” became “like one who had been crucified”, or when he exhorts the reader to imprint or stamp “blessed Christ on his heart” (n. 5454), and when he frequently repeats that when meditating one ought “to arouse the affections rather than excite the intellect” because “praying is nothing but speaking to God from the heart” (n. 5455, 5532) etc., and “in everything one should seek to preserve the grace of devotion” (n. 5458).

An expression that is repeated in some of Segala’s tracts is “to deny one’s own will”. It is a phrase that comes directly from Franciscan inspiration and comes from chapter ten of the Rule: “Let the friars remember that for the love of God they have denied their own will, abnegaverunt proprias voluntates” This is not a case of giving a personal interpretation. We believe that M. Pattrocchi was wrong in describing it as “Jesuit intellectualism … that crept in through Rilabeneria’s formula about smothering the will.”[13]

Another point that needs to be stressed is the structure of his mental prayer which in substance is a copy of Mattia da Salò’s division of mental prayer into the three stages of preparation, meditation and conversation (cf. n. 5459). Here many of the suggestions are copied directly from Prattica dell’orazione mentale, especially with respect to the doctrine of “desire”, the acts of the affection, “aspirations” and spiritual freedom as well as allowing oneself to be led by the Holy Spirit. The same applies to the centrality of Christ’s Passion which is in line with the spirituality of Bonaventure which was popular with the Capuchins at the time.

All of these points, which can be found in different ways in the preceding authors, come together in a wonderful complete and profound synthesis in the spiritual doctrine of Alessio Segala da Salò. What strikes the reader immediately is his “voluntaristic” instinct regarding the need for involving one’s own will, and of “strongly denying one’s own will” as the “sure way of going to paradise” because “ as our own will is the cause of all that is evil in us, so resisting it is the way to what is good for us.” (n. 5501).

This is a genuine “spiritual battle” that involves “strong, forceful and violent acts” (n. 5507) and requires total interior and exterior ascetical effort, mortification and penance. This is a “glorious exercise” that corresponds to the method that was inculcated by the sensitivity that prevailed after Trent and during the Counter-reformation. It is in line with the radical proposition concerning “twelve mortifications” proposed by Henry van Herp who was a favourite of the first generation of Capuchins.

With regard to “denial of will”, Segala prefers to place more emphasis on internal mortifications than on exterior asceticism, adopting an attitude that is similar, for example, to that adopted by Tomasso da Olera (cf. nn. 5486 and 5507) and using expressions that remind us of St Francis de Sales (undoubtedly this is why the Saint recommended the works of Segala to spiritual people) and which would be repeated a century latter by Gaetano da Bergamo and St Alfonso M. De Liguri. In fact, he has no time for internal inordinate emotions that upset souls and are like “a grapple” that grips the soul, and “although they might lead to some exercises and penitential mortifications, they cannot promote an experience of sweetness of spirit, because they exist within hearts that have many disordered emotions and passions.” (n. 5505). Indeed “even a small passion that eats into your heart is enough to impede the freedom of your spirit, just as a very small hair would stop the pupil of the eye seeing clearly.” (n. 5507).

The emphasis on the will implies a commitment to abnegation, to being stripped and to detachment that is carried out mainly within the person, before affecting him outwardly, even though at times inner hidden perfection shines on the outside.[14] The quality of being moved from within is of great importance in Capuchin austerity. It was inculcated from the very beginning, for example, in the Arte de la unione by Giovanni da Fano and repeated in a thousand ways by subsequent spiritual authors in the Order.

The “insistence on the will” proposed by Segala is based directly on the drive of the “emotions” and the reality of “the effects of emotions” on practical behaviour. This is the way that Bellintini speaks about the will calling it “the motor.” It is different to what the Dominican Battista da Cremona wrote at the beginning of the sixteenth century, which was slightly “Pelagian” and arose out of an anti-Lutheran reaction.[15] Because of this the will accompanies the journey of perfection and is a genuine expression of a person’s supernatural guidance.

c) Structure and importance of the method of mental prayer

This work which deals with the progressive establishment of the dominant position of the spirit not only in carrying out the will of God, but also in combining one’s own will with God’s will, to achieve the “union of wills” as Segala puts it, so that the divine will becomes the inner and living inspiration of the human will. This is only possible through the continual and faithful exercise of mental prayer. In doing this a person efficiently continues the apostolate of animation and initiation into deep prayer which always characterised the pastoral activity of the Order.

In all of his “spiritual works” he makes methodical and practical suggestions and provides explanations from his own experiences and from the experiences of those who went before him. In practice, he regards the spiritual journey as a journey of prayer, which, by means of affective acts and penetrating meditations on Christ’s Passion, in varying degrees of intensity by its very nature moves onto loving contemplation that makes one “enter into the Divinity”, or makes a person enter “the immensity of the Deity in a state of infinite wonderment within himself.” This unites and transforms the heart and mind “into the living God” which is “the most excellent and noble objective” of all prayer. (cf. n. 5494).

In his method, which he does not claim to be something new, but something easy, sure, and a short guide for everyone as well as bring a summary of the teachings of the saints, meditation on the life and Passion of Christ and the exercise of aspirations are highly valued in line with Franciscan and Capuchin norms. Preparation is also important for creating the disposition to pray. These three elements guarantee the authenticity, cohesion and effectiveness of mental prayer and are indispensable for genuine spiritual progress.

He distinguishes various stages in the preparation for prayer. The first is “a lively and very ardent desire to have the sacred mysteries of Christ’s life and Passion engraved on your heart” (n. 5455), that is “a very ardent desire to pray”” (n. 5459), to obtain “the taste for meditation”. In explaining this “desire” he borrows his inspiration directly from Mattia da Salò. (cf. 5529).

The second elements is “to recollect yourself” (n. 5400), then making a “profound act of adoration” place yourself in the presence of the immense God and ask for God’s help to pray well and finally as “a prelude or preamble, “commit the points of the meditation to memory”. These “points” derive their inspiration from expressions coined by Ignatius.[16] However, they have an emotional overtone to avoid them becoming purely intellectual.

If “every divine mystery is like a meal, and the points are like mouthfuls, they ought to be chewed one by one to extract their flavour and good nourishment.” (n. 5510). This should not tie the soul down but free it to attend to the prompting of the Spirit. (cf. n. 5514). In any case, to become ready for meditation, one should take on an unaffected attitude, using simple words (that are not unusual), but plain and filled with heavenly devotion (which are not artificial and affected), not overflowing with ideas and full of quotations, but words that express the simple story and give a presentation of the fact or episode in Christ’s life and Passion. What is more, this should not be too brief or too long, yet always complete and substantial, and set out precisely “according to the inspiration and special prompting of God.” (cf. 5511-5512). Tomasso da Olera also taught that it is better to change each day than to dwell on the same things for a whole week. (cf. n. 5313).

This is where the three faculties of the soul come into play. Memory holds up the mater for meditation; intellect discusses and evaluates like a servant who is carrying in a light which as it enters furnishes light for the will. The “points” should be considered “one by one”, “very gradually and very calmly,” that is “with an animated spirit, paying great attention and with tranquillity”, so as to “assimilate them well if one wishes to achieve a taste for them and observe their gentle quality. You know only too well that whoever wishes to experience the strength and potency of pepper has to break it open, crush it and split it into grains.” (n. 5518).

The intervention of the intellect only serves as “a means to excite and arouse emotions and desires for virtue within our heart.” It is like when someone uncovers a treasure and is exhausted by the effort, but once he has discovered “the treasure of emotion and devotion” he stops and becomes preoccupied “with emotion and desire in the will” and develops “acts and plans concerning virtue.” (n. 5519). Ardour of will is the objective; otherwise there is a risk that meditation will simply remain a speculative act of study. (n. 5534).

When a point gives rise to “devotion and sensitivity in the heart” one needs to stop until the “taste” has been consumed. For example, this is like what happens in a friary when water bathes the garden. The water runs and where it finds dry soil it slows down, stops and is absorbed by the soil until the soil is well soaked. In the same way it is necessary “to delay the reasoning of the intellect to enjoy the will becoming immersed and emotional” for as much as possible. (n. 5520).

It is through the “emotion of the will” that very important aspirations break out and begin to operate. Indeed this is decisive for bringing the exercise of meditation to a positive conclusion since this is “the home and the seat of prayer,” (n. 5523, by means of which the soul “rises up to God, which is same as yearning for God.” (n. 5522). This is the derivation of the classical term “to aspire”.

The practice of aspirations also includes the exercise of God’s presence and this is like “giving a boat a push” so that “the process then goes ahead by itself.” (n. 5490). Then come “tears, sobs, sighs, and the desires of the heart” that are much more important than “exalted and subtle considerations.” (nn. 5521-5522). When one no longer needs “points” to “fly to God emotionally” then he has received the gift of prayer and the ability to “fly and at the same time eat like swallows.” (n. 5523). The passage to contemplation becomes easy and this is proved “when a person not longer has to search for incentives for loving by means of meditation, but once he enjoys having found love he desire it and is at rest within the conditions of what he was seeking and desired … because in perfect prayer the intellect is like an ornament … while the will awakening him to loving his spouse.” (n. 5520).

He differentiates meditation from contemplation. The former is more like “discussion of the parts and circumstances of the mystery.” Contemplation requires going beyond “everything material or earthly in thought without discussing the mystery at length, fixing the eye of your intellect on your sweet Christ who is suffering out of love for you”, and engaging in “ a nonrepresentational manner in contemplating his infinite grandeur and his consummate perfection”, interiorly producing “the most excellent acts which arise from contemplation itself, namely, wonder, marvel, love, happiness and sorrow, compassion and the like.” (n. 5498).

According to Alessio da Salò the two most important “circumstances” for such aspirations are the exercise of the presence of God and meditation on Christ’s Passion. Both of them are infallible means of keeping the mind recollected and devout. (Cf. nn. 5493s and 5534s). They require the active intervention of the intellect and of the will. The first considers how man “is completely filled by God and surrounded by God and is swimming in God as if in an infinitely vast sea, like a sponge that was in the middle of a vast ocean which surrounded him on every side.” (n. 5536). The will releases “some warm desires in which the will desires to be united with God with perfect love,” and “lifts the heart up to God” in everything and wishes to do everything out of love for God and according to God’s will. In this way it never ceases praying. (cf. nn. 5537-5538).

Intellectual thinking is not enough. It is not enough to form certain concepts, or bodily images, of Christ or other saints in the imagination, since God’s presence “excludes all such images and considerations.” Instead one has to persist with “acts of the will,” that is “with the emotions and desires concerning the virtues and the imitation of Christ,” for this is the fruit of prayer. (cf. 5539-5540). The teaching that was hammered home to Capuchin Novices during their spiritual formation was just this: keep one eye fixed on the loving presence of God and the other intent entirely on doing good works for love of him. (cf. n. 5541).

The other incentive for devotion is Christ’s Passion. Indeed, the most secure exercise that leads straight to God, to get to know him and to enjoy his divine nature is “to always keep your eyes on sweet Christ”, in his “most holy and sacred Passion” (n. 5548) because “there is nowhere that you will find the Love of God more clearly than in his most painful Passion … The more the soul is transformed into Christ Crucified, the more it will be transformed into the high, glorious God, because his humanity cannot be separated from his divinity.” (n. 5596). It is “in the very deep abyss of divine goodness” that the saints often “found themselves lost and gave up their lives, raising themselves above themselves, by knowing, loving, tasting and experiencing something beyond all human strength and ability.” (n. 5549).

Meditation on the Passion is the first exercise that should be taught to those who “begin to change their way of life” (following general confession and the exercises of compunction and penance). It is evident that this is an allusion to the system in the Capuchin noviciate.[17] This is even more important for those who are proficient and perfect, in accord with what St Francis demonstrated during his entire life by being immersing himself in Christ’s Passion. (cf. n. 5550).

By now we are accustomed to hearing this refrain from Capuchin authors and thus it becomes a characteristic point of the spirituality of the Order. Meditation and contemplation of the Crucified is the road to all perfection. “Other roads are death traps”. Whoever thinks that he can “make more progress taking other roads will find that they are not roads but concealed precipices.” One is deluded in considering that there is “such freedom of life in the service of God” when instead he is following his own will. “There is no better way to discover love than in his loving Passion.” (n. 5551).

Segala sets out the range of emotions that are derived from meditating on the Crucified in seven main points in which it is once more possible to recognise the notable influence of the teachings of Mattia da Salò and Bernadino da Balvano and also of Pietro d’Alcantara, Luigi di Granada and Louis de Blois.[18]

The first emotion is compassion at seeing Christ’s physical sufferings, but even more the “inner” suffering, which was like an “invisible cross,” on which “the good Christ was continually held … from the moment of his conception.” (n. 5556). With this in mind Alessio Segala pleads with very delicate unction: “O soul … go a short way ahead with considering with a merciful eye all of his torments one by one. I hope that from time to time you would burst out with an inner voice into devout, short aspirations … Adopt this style of meditation which is completely loving, devout, sweet and ringing with most merciful emotions.” (n. 5557).

The second emotional activity is contrition and sorrow for sin. (nn. 5558-60). The third is love of God which takes place for five different reasons: because the Father sent the Son into the world and Christ died for us, when we were his enemies. He offered himself and suffered for us without any self-interest, he wanted to suffer more and shed all of his blood when a single drop would have been sufficient.” (nn. 5561-68). These are not outlandish motives or motives that have been invented, but motives that have simply been taken from Sacred Scripture.

Even the acts of wonder and admiration that come from meditation on the Passion are based on five motives. These were often used by other Capuchin authors such as Bernradino da Balvano, because they were a help to penetrating the “divine mysteries”. They include thinking of who is suffering, what he is suffering, who the person is, how he suffers and for whom he is suffering. This is to meditate on the “works and sufferings of Christ, not as something that happened in the past, but in the present.” (nn. 5569-71). This makes one “present in spirit as if looking on in reality with one’s own eyes.” (n. 5496).

Another “emotion” concerns the imitation of the virtues which shine out in the Passion. This is a subject that Segala repeats continuously: “goodness and sanctity do not only consist in having good thoughts and the understanding of holy things, but in solid virtues and in carrying them out in a genuine and proper manner.” (n. 5542). One should “take to heart” the virtues one by one into the soul, making acts of each one internally, until you experience that “they are well implanted in the heart.” This exercise ought to be performed with “great calm and stillness” and not “while moving along in a hurry” (5544). Once the virtues have been “implanted” in the heart, they will easily develop into action, even if “one needs to put some effort into this.” (n. 5492).

The Passion strengthens hope in us once again for it was the moment that we received everything through the Son. Thus the Father will give us every grace and gifts that we ask for, for we are no less than what the Son has given us. It is precisely in such infinite generosity that Segala sees “the work that is most intimate to God” and singles out mercy as the virtue that “glows and shines the most” in God.” (n. 5578).

The seventh and final emotion is gratitude. He simply gathers the most beautiful motives for cultivating this virtue from the spirituality of the liturgy which provides nourishment for the prayer of thanksgiving. We have received everything from Christ: “pardon for sin, grace, glory, peace, salvation, redemption, justification, sanctification, the Sacraments, and merits, teaching” and all that is good. In fact, “if all our works have any merit, they have it through him, washed with his blood.” (n. 5580).

Following the preparatory acts for mental prayer that keep the source of prayer flowing in the heart and ever ready to burst into longed for “strong and warm emotions” there emerges a result that needs the further activity “of brief conversation with the Lord.” (n. 5580).

What stands out very clearly in coming to this conclusion is the offering of Christ’s sufferings and the offering of our very selves with complete abandonment to the divine will, since “this makes up the summit of all perfection”. However, it should be an offering that is made “from goodness of heart and not just in words or appearances, deceiving oneself, as some do – Segala comments – who offer themselves to God, to even suffer the pains of hell.” Such offerings are “deceitful, not true and do not make sense, since such people are not yet ready to endure a single unjust word for the love of God.” (n. 5588).

He also offers a comprehensive evaluation of meditation according to which we should “make note of the defects committed” and correct them. (n. 5457). However, a sure sign that prayer is authentic is the “fervour of devotion” produced in the heart. It is necessary “to keep this within” as long as possible, remembering “the inspiration that occurred, the good proposals and the many resolutions that were made.” (n. 5458). Thus, resolutions are also necessary if we are to make good progress. Here too Segala’s theological and ascetical pragmatism is evident. He maintains that when the soul has concluded the meditation it ought to “resolve to effectively put into practice what it has learnt in prayer as being the will of God.” (n. 5546), placing strong trust in God and being humble should it fail, since (here he borrowed some points from Bellintani) “where generosity and promptness have failed, humility, that is no less a gift from God, will supply.” (nn. 5547 and 5589).

The last stroke of his enlightening and clear description of a method of mental and affective prayer is an atmosphere of silence: “Let him be a person of silence.” This is the most genuine sign in a person who is coming from prayer. He carries in his heart the life, the habit, the gift and the breath of prayer. Whoever has spoken with God and listened to the Word cannot immediately dissipate himself with vane words and gossip. Alessio Segala gives an example and cites the teaching “of our ancient fathers” quoting the first Capuchin Constitutions that praise silence as “custody of spirit”[19] Therefore the injunction bids the friar to leave mental prayer but to never let his heart stray far from the mystery he had meditated upon when he used sacred recollection and never to let “his inner eye stray far from the suffering Christ.” (n. 5590).

The final invitation to meditative silence, which is almost essential in order to “enter into the divinity”, became at the same time a humble suggestion to the readers that tempted them into a gratifying knowledge and an informed hearing of the early Capuchin spiritual writers and spiritual directors, collecting the notes and blending them together into a symphony of prayer, devotion and affective contemplation that permanently and immutable characterised the soul of the “ascetical school” and “classic identity” of the Capuchin friar.

  1. Cf. Giuseppe De Luca, Introduzione alla storia della pieta, Roma, 1962, 55.
  2. Cf. Melchiodor a Pobladura, Historia generalis O.F.M.Cap. I, Roma 1947, 189-200; Optatus a Veghel, Scriptores ascetici et mystici Ordinis Capuccinorum, in Laurent. I (1960) 98-130, 213-244; Metodio da Nembro, Quattrocento scriptori spirituali, Roma 1972; C. Cargnoni, Fonti tendenze e sviluppi della lettatura spirituale cappuccino primitive, in CF 48 (1978) 311-398.
  3. M. Petrocchi, Storia della spiritualità italiana. II; Il Cinquecento e il Seicento, Roma 1976, 17.
  4. M. Petrocchi, Storia della spiritualità italiana. II. Il Cinquecento e il seicento, Roma 1978, 17.
  5. Cf. Introduzione alla storia della pieta cit., 30.
  6. Ibid., 76.
  7. For these woodcuts in the various editions of the Dialogi sette and concerning the iconography of Ochino cf. U. Rozzo, I “Dialogi sette” e altri scritti del tempo delle fuga, Torino 1985, 42, 59, 65, 81, 89, 79, 108.126, 128ss, 153-157.
  8. Cf. Cuthbert of Brighton, I cappuccino e la controriforma cit., 478s, 491.
  9. Cf. MOHC VI, 22.
  10. Cf. MHOC III, 180-194; VI, 17-35, 340-364.
  11. Cf. I frati cappucint, vol II 1384s, n. 3092.
  12. This text is contained in a small codex held in the Biblioteca Provinciale del Aquila, Cod 203. It came from the Capuchin friary at Montereale, in the Province of Umbria as reported in the Dichiaratione della regola raccolta dal Dialogo del R. P. frate Giovannida Fano del l’ordine dei capuccini. This codex must have been used by the Provincial Superiors since it also contains a Latin collection of obedience formulas which are very interesting, but which were unknown when the documents were put together for volume I (cf. sez, IV/4, 1593-1762. nn. 1620-1736). It also contains the text of the General Ordinances of 1544 and 1554. I wish to thank p. Pietro Zarrella, from the Province of Naples, for the courteous donation that he gave me of a photocopy of the codex. The transcription has been made adjusting the abbreviations and adding punctuation and capital letters but leaving the rest of the text as it was written.
  13. Cf. Prov. 12, 1.
  14. Cf. Ex. 18, 13-27.
  15. Cf. Ex. 18, 13-27.
  16. Cf. The Little Flowers of St Francis, AFED III, Chapter 3, p. 571.
  17. It is interesting to note how immediately after Bernardino d’Asti’s letter what follows are three pages concerning charity, headed De caritate. In these all the arguments that are given in Scripture in support of why the love of God is the fullness of the law as well as the various kinds of fraternal love are set out in scholastic fashion. The passage begins: Nota quod dilectio Dei dicitur legis plenitude tripliciter (Note that the love of God is said to be the fullness of the law for three reasons). Further on it continues saying: Nota quod propter sex devemus proximum dilegere etc. (Note that we should love our neighbour for six reasons).
  18. Cf. Vol. II831-833, nn. 2416-2412.
  19. On the concept and meaning of “devotion” see Stanislaus da Campigagonla, L’unniverso e la dimanica della “divotio” in san Francesco e in san Bonaventura, in Laurent. 30 (1989) 322-329.
  20. Cf. Lettura a un convegno di studi, di G. De Luca, Introduzione alla storia della pieta cit. 168.
  21. When Mattia da Salò became Commissary General after Bernardino Ochino had fled to the Calvinists he wrote in his Historia capuccina that Francesco da Jesi “visited the congregation on the one hand to restore peace and to diligently enquire whether any infection remained, and on the other to teach the friars the way to perfection and, especially, to teach them how to pray and contemplate, spending a long time in places where he assembled as many friars as he could so as to teach many at the same time.” Cf. MFOC, VI. 114.
  22. This is also one of Bellintani’s thoughts and he wrote: “Asti was well educated but Jesi was even better educated. Asti was spiritual, devout and given to very frequent prayer, but Jesi spent longer in contemplation, practised it well and had a special way of arousing the friars to do it so they would profit from it. Without any doubt, Asti was more qualified and already well-versed in being a superior both among the Zoccolanti and the Capuchins, something that could not be said about Jesi, who when he was among the Zoccolanti never wanted to be a superior. In spite of all this Asti was judged to be better than Jesi, because the congregation already held Asti in high regard and continued to do so. What was needed now was a person who only thought about the inner life who was able to inspire the friars with the Spirit of the Lord and his holy operation.” Cf. MHOC, VI, 116.
  23. The letter of dedication was published in volume II of our collection nn. 2572-2575.
  24. Stanislao da Campagnola, Bartolomeo Cordoni da Città di Castello e le due orime edizioni del suo “Dialogo,” in Boll. Deputat. Storia per l’Umbria 80 (1983) 89-152.
  25. Cf. C. Cargnoni Fonti, tendenze e sviluppi cit. in CF 48 (1978) 340-342.
  26. Cf. Stanislao da Campignola, Bartolomeo Cordoni, cit, 119.
  27. Alcunr regule presents no difficulties in comprehension which require a presumed depth concerning spiritual concepts. It is simply a devotional work that grew, as the title indicates, out of the preaching of Molfetta. Cf. below document 5, nn. 3992-4012.
  28. This is the exact library reference. Circolo Serafico dell’amore divino, Composot del molto Rev. P. F. Antonio da Francavilla dell’Ordine di S. Francesco di Min. Osservanti Riformato della Provincia di Roma {Slogr; Francesco col Crocifisso che guada al sole.} In Napoli, per Francesco Savio. Con licenza de’ Sup. 163, 14×7 cm., [18] + 237 pp. Copie nella Bilb. Valicalliana [S. Borr.III 243) e Nazionale 98. 3. G. 17) di Roma.
  29. Regarding Bernardino da Siena (+ 1632) cf. I. B. Bueno Felipe IV y le elección del P. Bernardino de Sena, Ministro general de la Orden Franciscana, in AIA 33 (1830) 396-42,
  30. Cf. Circolo serafico cit. Napoli, 1631, 4.
  31. Ibid. 49.
  32. Ibid. 185-188. Avvertimenti intorno a questa dottrina del Circolo serafico del divino Amore. Amen.
  33. Ibid. – Following various prayers to the individual wounds and to all of then put together, with epilogue and colloquy (pp. 1-88), there follows other devout exercises. “A brief, concise, helpful and fruitful exercise to the five wounds of Jesus Christ to be said with devotion in front of the Crucifix.” (89-92); “Say firstly a prayer for the poor dead people and then enter into holy Communion with the five wounds of Jesus Christ.” (93-102). “Sermon on the Most Holy Sacrament on the topic: With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you.” (103-140). “The second part:” of the sermon (141-156), “Devout prayer to the Virgin Mary, to the Angels and to the saints before Holy Communion.” (157-162); “Prayer before Communion.” (165-168). “Prayer before Communion to the Virgin Mary”, “Outpouring of the heart after Holy Communion to the Most Sacred Virgin”, (169-183). “Very short exercise for each day of the week to acquire divine love.” (183-185) Praises to be said by the preacher with the people when the Cross is unveiled at the end of the Passion”. (189-192) “Then follows various devout poems to Mary, to the holy wounds, to St Dominic, to St Francis and one on the subject: Merciful Jesus, my God,/ Who are you, and who am I? etc..
  34. Cf. Manuel Morale Borrero, La geometria mistica del alma en la literature espaiiola del siglo de oro. Nota y puntualizaciones, Madrid 1975, see also D. Mahnke, Unemdliche Sphaere und Albnittelpunkt, Halle 1937; M. Hope Nicolson, The Breaking of the Circle, Northwestern University Press 1850; M. Th. D’Alverny, Le Cosmos symbolique du XIIe, in Archives d’historie doetrinale et litérarne du Moyen Age 28 (1953) 3181 Umanesimo e symbolismo, Atti del 4 Convegno internazionale di studi umanistici, A cura di E. Castelli, Padova, 1958; L. Han-lecoeur; Mystique et architecture: lè symbolisme da ccècle et dè coupole, Paris 1959; Emblemata Handbach zur Sinnbildkunst des XVI und XVII. Jh. Hg. von Arthur Heukel und Albrecht Schone, Stutgard, 1967 (v. Kreis}; Simboli e simbologia nel alto Medioevo (Settimane del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’alto Medioevo, XXIII, 3-9, aprile 1975(2 vol: Spoleto 1976; Georges Poulet Lei metamorphoses de cercle, Paris 1978; Lurker Manfred, Der Kreis als Symbol im Denken, Glauben und kinsterlischen Gestalten der Menschheit , Tùbingen, Rainer Wunderlich Verlag, 1981 (con. 64 ill); Gerard de Champeaux –Dom. Sèbastien Stereckx, osb. I simboli del Medioevo, trad. M. Gerardi, Milano, Ed. Jaka Book 1981; Wilfred Mersmann, Rosenfester und Himmelskreise, Mitenwald 1982 with 95 illustrations); Ladner Gerhart B. Images and Ideas in the Middle Ages. Selected Studies in History and Art, Roma, Edizionidi Storia e Letteratura, 1981.
  35. Cf. C. Cargnoni, Fonti, tendenze e sviluppo, cit. 345.
  36. So for example Psalterium decem cordarum “Venetiis in aedibus Francisci Bindoni et Maphei Pasini sociorum anno domini 1527, die XVIII mensis Marii,” or the published edition of Super Esaiam prophetam, Venice by Laçarum de Soardis 1517, die 27 iunii.
  37. Cf. Giuseppe Marchini, Un ivenzione di S. Bernardo in Attidel simposio internazionale Cateriniano-bernardiniano. Siena, 17-26 aorile 1986. A cura di D. Maffei e P. Nardi, Siena, 1982, 639-642.
  38. “In him divine Love shows excellently that it has neither an end or a beginning but like a complete circle that spins around going from Good to Good yet remaining Good on an impeccable orbit remaining always on the same course and following the same trajectory.”
  39. Cf. Oskar Holl, Kreis, in Lexiconder christlichen Ikonographie II, Rom (etc.) 1970, 560-562.
  40. Teaching by sacred and profane symbols really exploded in the seventeenth century, especially in France and the Low Countries. In this regard, we could quote many special works, for example, Otto Vaenius [van Veen], Amorum emblemata, Anvers 1608, id., Amoris divini emblemata, Anvers 1615; Hermann Hugo, SJ, Pia desidera, Anvers 1624; Maximilien Sandaeiis [van der Sandr] Theologia symbolica, Matence 1626; Jacques Masen, Speculum imaginum veritatis occulta exhibens symbola emblemata, hieroglyphica aenigmata…, Cologne 1650. Cf. Karl-Ludwig Selig, Emblèmes religlieux, in DSIV/I, Paris, 1960 605-610.
  41. N. Santinelli, the first modern scholar to be concerned with the Dialogo by Cordoni, states that in addition to the doctrinal rigidity of Paul IV and Pius V, there also existed the questions of “errors in the text of De amore, its steady future prospects and the poor reception of the Milan edition.” Cf. Il beatol bartolomeo Cordoni 1930, 102.
  42. The text is printed in P. Simoncelli, Il “Dialogo del unione spirituale di Dio con l’anima” tra alumbradismo spagnolo e prequietismo italiano per l’età moderna e contemporanea, 29-30(1977-1978) 600s. However it had already been published in Ĕtudes roamin, in Analecta iuris pontifici, II, Roma 1857, 26-32.,
  43. Simoncelli has erronemente.
  44. This ia what Bernardus a Bononia says, Biblio theca scriptorium Ord. Min. Cap. Venetia 1747, 90.
  45. The commission of Cardinals that met on 8th March 1584 in the presence of Gregory XIII consisted of Cardinals Giovanni Francesco di Gambara, Ludovico Maduzzo, Giulio Santoro, Giovanni Antonio Facchinerti, and Gianbattista Castagna. The second level of the Index included not only authors who were heretics or suspected of being heretics (these were on the first level) but particular books that were regarded as being dangerous because they contained unhealthy or suspect doctrine. The third level contained anonymous books.
  46. Cf. J. M. De Bujanda, Index de l’Inquisition espagnole (1551, 154, 1559), (Index des livresinterdicts, vol. VI}, Sherbrooke, Centre da la Renaissance, [1984] 427s 9n. 470).
  47. With regard to this see C. Campagnola, Bartolomeo Cordoni, cit. 126s. C. Campagnola, Fonti, tendenze e sviluppo cit. in CF 48, (1978), 366s.
  48. Cf. Bartolomeo Cordoni, Dialogo dell’unione spirituale de Dio con l’anima, Milano1539, 135r.
  49. Concerning “Miroir des simples âmes” by Margherita Porete cf. R. Guarnieri, Il movimento del libro spirito. Testi e documenti, in Archivio italiano per la storia della pieta, VI, (1965) 353708; J. Orcibal, Le “Miroir des simples âmes” et le “secte” du libre esprit” in Revue de l’histoire des religions, 176 (1969) 35-60; Michael G. Sargent , “Miroir des simples âmes” and the English Mystical Tradition, in Abendlädische Mystile im Mittelter. Symposion KlosterEngleberg 1984, Herausgegeben von Kurt, Stutgart [1986] 443-465.
  50. These studies, which have already been noted, were by P. Simonelli, Il” Dialogo dell’unione spirituale di Dio can l’anima” 565-601; C. Cargnoni, Fonti tendenze e svilupo cit, 336-379; Stanislao da Campignola, Bartolomeo Cordoni cit.
  51. Cf. Dialogo cit. f. 245r: “Soul. We need to know how by means of the power of being lovingly transformed into God the soul is united to everything and everything to the soul. The soul is in everything, yet how do these things come together in the action of the soul, how does the soul together with these things share in divine works if by doing this it has almost, to a certain extent, become an instrument of the glorious humanity of Christ himself, including his divine essence, and everything including all the creatures in heaven, on earth or in hell, as if the soul had become the strings of a divine musical instrument.”
  52. Our pleasure consists entirely in love. Like the Salamander it is heated by fire, is nourished, feeds and lives on that same fire. Whoever senses the smell of this fire takes flight from the crowd like ants flee from smoke and withdraw from and cut off the superficial cares of creatures so as to be able to be available to the Creator, since just as the smallest hair disturbs the eye so too a crowd will exterminate divine love very easily. The exercise of love is so noble that when the soul is involved in this very intimate conversation, having raised its loving attention to the supreme Good, without doing anything else it will be lifted up in a wonderful way and enlightened and instructed in the divine mysteries.”Dialogo c. 27 f. 135 v-136r. See also c. 33 f. 161v; c. 34 f. 165v: “How the exercise of love contains all perfection; c. 41 F, 196v How in the exercise of the love of God he is most highly praised, honoured and glorified by the soul; etc.
  53. Ibid. c. 17, 1 f. 61r Concerning the state of Nothingness and its evil circumstances and settings; c. 20 f. 67v How man, no matter how good and just he is, must consider himself to be infinitely nothing; c. 24 F. 104v How man can be united to God by the path of self-abnegation; c. 44, f. 218v How man by means of self-annihilation can find perfect peace and in that find God. etc.
  54. Cf, Ord. I 2 n, 130. II205s.
  55. For these and other concepts see C. Berubé, D l’homme à Dieu selon Duns Scot, Henri de Grand et Olivi, Roma 1983, especially 366-390 (Humanisme et vertus theologiles chez Duns Scot): cf. review by A Maierù, in CF 54 (1984) 191-195; Ambrogio Giacomo Manno, Il voluntarismo antropologico di Giovanni Duns Scoto, in Filosofia 34 [1983] 243-276; C. Balic, Ls s[iritualità de B. Giovanni Duns Scoto, in Vita Minorum, 32 (1961), 36-58, 108-118; A. Maranic, Il contributo di Giovanni Duns Scoto alla spiritualitù francescana, ibid., 31 (1960) 219-232; P Leon Veuthey, Desir naturel etincarnation, in MF 39 (1939) 529-533.
  56. Cf. J. Ratzinger, De Gesechichtstheologie des hl. Bonaventuris, Monaco-Zurigo 1959; P. Brezzi, La concecezione della storia in san Bonaventura, in Doctor Seraphicus 11 (1964) 39-54.
  57. Cf. S. Bonav., In native. Domini, II; ! Sent., d. 37, p. 1. a, 3, q. 2, concl.; IV Sent.d. 24, p. 1,a. 1, q. 1, concl. (Op. omnia IX, 109; 1, 684b, IV, 609a)
  58. Cf. S. Bonav., Coll. In Hexaëmeron, coll. 1, n. 23-24. (Op. omnia V, 335ab).
  59. Cf. Cosimo Reho, L’uomo exemplare nell’ Exaëmeron di S. Bonaventura, in MF 77 (1977) 328-366.
  60. “Hinc est quod vita aeterna haec sola est, ut, spiritus rationalis, qua manat a beatissima Trinitate et est imago Trinitatis, per modum cuiusdam circuli intelligibilis redeat per memoriam, intelligentium et voluntatem, per deiformitatem gloriae, in beatissimam Trinitatem”. (De mysterio Trinitatis, c. 8 Op. omia V, 115b).
  61. Cf. S. Bonaventura, Breviloqioum p. II, c. 4 Op. omnia V, 221b; Frederico da Poppi, Essenza e poresrà analogical del libero arbitrio in san Bonaventura, in Laurent. 6 (1965) 157s (the entire article 284-314); B. Madariaga, La “imagen de Dios” en la metafisica del hombre sugùn S. Bonaventura, in Verdad y Vida 7 (1949) 154-194, 297-335; Wilhelm Nysen, La contemplazione come gardo della conoscenza in san Bonaventura, in Contributi di spiritualità bonaventurana. Atti del Simposio internazionale (Padova 1974-1975, 55-75; W. Hülshuch, Die Theologie des Transitus bei Bonaventura, in San Bonaventura 1274-1974, IV, 533-565, concerning the Pseudo=Dionysian origin of the “intelligible circle” cf. A. Schaeler, The position and Function ofMan in the Created WorldAccording to St Bonaventure, in Franc. Studies, 20 (1960)263 and note.
  62. Where he says that in speaking about Christ, who is the absolute object of the circle, Christ must be “ponderato” (“considered”) in an “affirmative” and in a “negative” way according to Dionysius. (n 3817): and when he says the “circular movement” involves “desire according to Dionysius” (n. 3781) There is also another place where there is clear dependence on Dionysius. This is where Ripanti describes the kinds of love as “jealous and ecstatic love”. In fact, in the “Divine Names” IV, 13 we read: “But divine love is ecstatic, not permitting (any) to be loved of themselves, but of those beloved. they show this too, the superior by becoming mindful of the inferior, and the equals by their mutual coherence; and the inferior, by a more divine respect towards things superior. Wherefore also Paul the Great when possessed by Divine love and participating in its ecstatic power. says, with inspired lips. “ as a true lover, and beside myself, so he says, to Almighty God, and not living the life of himself, but the life of the Beloved, as a life excessively esteemed. One might make bold to say even this, on behalf of truth, that the very Author of all things, by the beautiful and good love of everything, through an overflow of His loving goodness, becomes out of Himself, by his providence for all existing things, and is, as it were, cozened by goodness and affection and love. and is led down from this Eminence above all, and surpassing all, to be all in all, as befits an ecstatic super essential power centred in himself. Wherefore those skilled in Divine things call Him even more jealous, as [being] that vast good love towards all beings, and as rousing his loving inclinations to jealousy, – as proclaiming himself jealous, – to Whom things desired are objects of jealousy, and as through the objects of His providential care were objects of jealousy, for Him. And, in short, the loveable is of the Beautiful and Good, and Love pre-existed both in the beautiful and Good, and on account of the beautiful and the Good, is and takes being.” (Translation of Divine Names Ch. 4, section XIII pp. 86-87, from John Parker, The Works of Dionysius the Areopgite , Forgotten Books, 2007).
  63. Cf, Le laudi, Firenze 1976, 309s.
  64. Cf. Fra. Giunta Bevegnati, Leggenda della vita e del miracoli di santa Margherita da Cortona. New translation from Latin with preface and notes by P. Eliodoro Mariani, O.F.M.: (Collano Bibliotheca Franciscana Santorum, vol. II) , Venezia 1978, 319.
  65. Cf. L’Autobiografia e gli scritti della B. Angela da Foligno, ed. M. Faloci-Pulignani, trad. M. Castiglione Humani, Città di Castello 1932, 27, n. 22, 73, n. 46, see now Ludger Their-Abele Calufetti, Il libro della beata Angelo da Foligno (edizione critica), Grottaferata (Roma) 1985, 152-214.
  66. Ibid. 434, L’Autobiografia cit. 357, n. 225, cf. A. Blasucci, Angela da Foigno, in MF 39 (1939) the entire article 79-108, 287317, 495-528, 593-634,
  67. Cf. G. Tauler, Divine istituzioni, c. 12: Opere, Introduzione, trad. E note di Bernardino de Blasio, Alba, 1977 691s.
  68. Cf. Arbor vitae crucifiae Jesu Christi lib. V, c. IV Jesus seraph alatas.For many other references see the notes to the text of the Circolo.
  69. Cf. De conformitate in AF V, Quaracchi, 1912 78, lines 25-27.
  70. Cf. Theologiae Mysticae D Henrici Harphii Theologi erudissimi …, Coloniae, Iohannes Novesiamus, MDLVI (1556) CXVIIva.
  71. Cf. G. Boma, Via compendiiad deum per motus anagogicos et orations iaculatores. Liber isagogicus ad Mysticam Theologiam, Romae 1657, in Opera omnia, Antwerpiae 1739, 63.
  72. Diario, VI, 189.
  73. Cf. Dialogo della unione spirituale, Milan 1539 I 250r.
  74. Cf. C. Cargnoni, Fonti, tendenze e svilupo, cit. in CF 48 (1978) 347-360.
  75. The front piece continues: Per il R. D. P. Pietro da Lucca, Teologo e Predicatore. Bologna per maestro Girolomo de Benedetti, 1523, a di ultimo ottobre, – 19 x 14 cm., 100ff., font, silografato/ There was also a Venice edition in 1535 by Aloisio de torti and another in 1543 by Francesco Bindoni. When Pili was compiling his Arte de la unione he would have used the Bologna edition of 1523 or the Venice edition of 1535 perhaps when he came to Venice and Lombardy to establish the new Capuchin Reform.
  76. Cf. Arte nova delben pnsare, f. 2r.
  77. Ibid. f. 3r.
  78. Ibid. f. 3rv.
  79. Ibid. f. 4, 3rv.
  80. Ibid. f. 8r.
  81. Ibid. f. 6v.
  82. Ibid. F. 5r.
  83. Ibid. f. 10v-11r.
  84. From “Proemio” ff. n.n.
  85. Ibid. F. 16v.
  86. Ibid. f. 36v.
  87. Ibid. f. 36r.
  88. Ibid. f. 29r.
  89. Cf. A. M. Albareda. O.S.B., Internr alla scuola di orazione mentale stabilita a Montserrato dall’abate Garcia Cisneros (1493-1510), in Arch. Hist. S. J. 25 (1956) 254-316.
  90. Cf. Canisius Kassen, L’oraison aspirative chez Herp et chez ses Prédéecesseurs, in Carmelus 3 (1958) 19-48; id., L’oraison aspirative chez Jean de saint Samsons, ibid. 183-216.
  91. Cf. Directorium aureum contmplativorum, c. 1, in Theologiae mysticae D. Henrici Harpii, Coloniae 1556, f. 138ra.
  92. Cf. MHOC III, 78 in the note.
  93. “O si agnoscamus quam multi frustra adsque ulla vel modica utilitate operentue msgna, profecto multum miraremur , quia saepe quod coram hominibus magum appatet , coram Deo foetet:” (Theologiae mysticae, lib. II, c. 3, ed. Cit. F. 139va).
  94. “Hanc imaginem amoroso desiderio imitandi portabis in exteriori homine tuo secundum humanitatem eius in crocependentem, imprimesque tibi formam suae abyssalis humilitatis, abiectionis, patientiae, mititatis et abyssales virtutes ultra omnium hominum capascitatem. Imaginem hanc accipe in omni loco, in omni hora, in omni verbo, in omni opera, in omni ocupatione, intus ac foris, in prosperis et adversis. Si comedis, intinge singual bucellas panis in vulnera eius. Si bibis, cogita potum quem in cruce potavit. Si lavas manus, vel corpus, cogita sanguinem quo animam tuam lavit. Si vadis domitum, cogita lectum crucis, et reclina caput tuum super cervical spineae coronae. Et in his cogitationibus debes nutrire amorosam compassionem et desiderium imitandi vestigial eius. In interiori autem homini portabis imahinem abyssalis charitatis suae, ex qua cuncta creavit, humanam naturam assumpsit, formam cunctarum virtutum deditamaram mortem sustinuit, vitam aeternam paravit, et seipsum totum promisit. Et hoc modo cogitationescommutabuntur in affections, et cognition in amorem perfectum, quia amor operator mortificationem naturae, vitam spiritus, operationem superiorum virium influxumque in Deum et separationem ab omni creatura.” (Theologiae mysricae,lib. II, c. 5 ibid. 140va).
  95. “Practicum temporibus istis, in quibus commuiter omne superiors qui alios regnt, magus as exteriora quam ad interiora proni sunt, ita ut valda parum aut nihil da internavita percipient, et ideo subditis suis qui a Deo ad internam viam trahuntur, potius impedimento sunt quam auxilio. Et haec est causa quare inter quosdam religiosos adeo magna acedio est et immortificatio , quia regimem suam non ordinant ut interna ac proficiens vita exigit.” (Theologiae mysricae,lib. II, c 12, ibid, f 144rb))
  96. Ibid. f. 145ra.
  97. “Idcirco intrinsccus minime illuminator, nec quid sit internum exercitium agniscit, sed in eo contentus est, quod scit et sentit se Deum quaerere et intendere non ficte videnturque sibi externa exercitia esso molto utiliora qualibet exercitatione interna. Et quia magis erercet opera externa propter deum, quam colet eum interiori affluxu dilectionis, propterea in corde eius magis depicta sunt opera quae propter deumperficit, quam ipse dues propter quem agit.” (Theologiae mysticae, lib. II, pars II, c. 13, ibid., f. 146ra).
  98. Pili used the term “devotion” and its derivatives more than thirty times.
  99. Regarding the words “piety and devotion “it would be instructive o read the article by Z. Zafarana, Pietà e devozione in san Bonaventura, in S. Bonavnetura francescano, Todi 1974, 129-137.
  100. Cf. Tibor Klaniczav, La crisi del Rinascimento e il mannerismo. Trad. Ital. di R. Scrivano, Roma 1973, se also M. DeCerreau, La Fable mystique, XVIe-XVII esiéle, Paris, 1982, 195, note 88.
  101. Cf. Segio M. Pagano-Concetta Ranieri, Nuovi docomenti su Vittoria Colonna e Regialdo Pole, Cità del Vaticano 1980, 87.
  102. Cf. B. Nicolini, D’una concseiuta edizione di un dialogo dell’Ochino, in id. Ideali e passioni nell’Italia religiosa del Cinquecento, Bologna 1962, 143-146.
  103. Cf. “Miiroir des simples âmes” di Margherita Porete, in Il movimento del libro spirito, Testoi e docu,emit, a cura di R. Guarnieri, (Arch. Ital. per la Storia della Pietà, vol. IV), Roma 1965, 634.
  104. A more detailed analysis of the Dialogur and of Ochino’s opinions after his flight can be found in Ugo Rozzo, Nouvi contribute su Bernardino Ochino, in Boll. Della Societâ di Studi Valdesi, N. 179 (decembre 1979) 51-83.
  105. This information was put together by the Capuchin chronicler Filippo Bernardi da Firenze in the unpublished Fondazioni dei cappuccino in Italia. This were published by Sisto da Pisa, Il convento dei Cappuccini a Firenze, in IF, 6, (1931)280-283. For more bibliography see Lexicon cap. 567s.
  106. Among the early Capuchin chroniclers the only one who presents a biography of Battista da Faenza is Colpetrazzo, but he does not mention the letter to the city of Florence. (cf. MHOC III, 504 508:) Boverio presents a lengthy devout biography but does not speak about this writing. (cf. AC I 588-594); In the Investigation into the friary at Florence carried out by Innocent X in 1650 there is no mention of the miraculous crucifix. (cf. I conventi cappuccino nell’inchiesta del 1650, I: L’Italia setentrionale , a cura di M. D’Alatri, Roma 1986 343s) which instead is mentioned by Filippo Bernandida Firenze in the diary of the travels of the Minister General Bernardino d’ Arezzo. “Quivi pure, in una capella, conservasi coperto un Crocifiso miracoloso, del quale si ha per tradizione che parlasse a fra Battsta da Faernza, cappuccino, ditto communamente Battistone, ome si racconta nel primo tomo de’ nostril Annali, sotto l’anno 1562” (cf. Phillus de Firenze, Itinera miistri generalis Bernardini da Arezzo (1691-1698) IV: Per Italiam in lucem edidit M. D’Alatri, Romae 1971 389.The first one to note the biographical item was apparently Dionisio da Genova in Bibliotheca Sciptorum Ordinis Minorum S. Francisci Capuccinorum, Genuae 1680, 277 which appears also in Leggendario cappuccino III, 124b. “Scrisse una lettera tenerissima piena di spirito del Signore alli suoi concittadini fr Battista nella quale con gran fervore gl’invita a venerare in ogni meliore modo e di singolare pieta la Passione del nostro Signore Gesù Cristo. La quale lettera é poi stata replicatamente in diversi tempi e in molte città data alla luce ad istanza e per consolazione delle pie persone, come si ha e si legge nelle nostre Biblioteche.”
  107. Cf. Bonifacio Achilla, Ancora su tipografi ed editori messinese nel secolo XVI, in Accademie e biblioteche d’Italia 47 (1979) 305-307. More bibliography in RSCI 34 (1980) n. 434.
  108. In addition to an incomplete copy in BCC, other copies can be found in the Public Libraries at Enna, and Regionale Centrale di Palermosegnalati da Bonifacio Achille, Gli Annali del tipografi messinesi dek Cinquecento,Vito Valentia 1977 n. 2.
  109. Cf. H. Grabes, Speculum, Miror und Looking-Glass. Kontinuitäl und Originalität der Spiegelmetapher in des Buchtiteht des Mittelalters und der englischen literature des 13. bis 17. jahrbunderts, Tubinga 1973.
  110. From Bernardino da Balvano’s letter to Vincenzo gara, Messina 6th My 1553, reprinted at the beginning of the Speculo di oratione.
  111. Recently Ottavio Schnucki undertook a study of these passages. La “Specchiodi oratione” del P. Bernardino da Balvano, O.F.M.Cap., in IF 65, (1990) 5-32.
  112. Here is one example among many. “You O rebel committed the sins, and my Son endured the scourges. You who are wicked and iniquitous go to sleep on peaceful and soft beds, and wear ornate clothing, and my dear Son Jesus stands naked in view of wicked people at the column! You, an unhappy person, stretched out your hands to shed blood, to inflict blows, to enjoy dishonest pleasure, and my Only Son was bound with ropes. You, ungrateful person, perform many unjust deeds against this one or that one for your own advantage, and my obedient Son has his blood taken away violently! You who are ambitious and want to climb high, seek glory, titles and vain praise, and my Wisdom is vilely disgraced! You who are proud, do not want to obey the just commands of your superiors, and my meek Jesus is bound and subjected to scourging! You laugh and sing in a dissolute manner, and my only Son begins to cry! “etc. See also “Imagine that the Lord Jesus, turned his severe face towards you and said in rather severe tones: You despise me for nothing, you see me bound to the column, and rejoice all day at my disgrace. I am bitterly scourged, and you enjoy so many comforts. My hands are bound with rope and you wear perfumed gloves and go to play. Filled and bloated with insults I endure hurtful words while you are full of questions about the smallest things. Like someone who is dumb I say nothing when I am hit again, while you use diabolical language to blaspheme violently against my Father, against me and all the saints. My eyes are already filled with tears, while you look on my disgrace with approval. My hair and beard are dishevelled and torn while you take no notice. I give off a bad odour while you are perfumed and spotless. I, who am the Lord of the universe, appear naked in front of pagans while you, who are most vain, have many rich, soft clothes in your house and allow so many of my poor people to go poorly dressed and almost naked.” Cf. Essempio dell’essercitio nella meditatione al timore, Cap. IX in Specchio d’orazione, Venezia 1564, ff. 29v-31v.
  113. Cf. Un itinerario di contemplztione, Antologia di autoricertosini. Spiritualità/Maestri, 2a serie, 14) Alba (Cuneo)Edzioni Paoline, 1981, 22.
  114. Cf. Della necessità dell’oratione, cap. 20.
  115. Cf. Della necessità dell’oratione, cap. 21.
  116. Cf. Del modo d’essercitare li misteri, cap. 28.
  117. Cf. G. Alberigo, Studie problemi relaiuvi all’aplicazione del concilio do Trento in Italia 1945, 1958) in Riv. Stor. Ital. 70 (1958) 239-298.
  118. Cf. M. Petrocchi, Storia della spiritualità Italiana, II, Il Cinquecento e il Seicento, Rma, 1978, 17s.
  119. Cf. Discorse de l’anima come Guse Cristo é nostro bon pastore, in Discorsi e orazione…. 25-31.
  120. Cf. Discorsi e orazione… 93-179.
  121. Ibid. 199s.
  122. Ibid. 88.
  123. Cf. M. Patrocchi, Storia, 85.
  124. Cf. Prattica dell’orazione mentale di P. Matthia Bellintani da Salò, Quarta parte. In Venezia 1607, 682.
  125. Cf, Prattica dell’orazione mentale, Parte seconda novamente posta in luce in Venezia 1584, 9.
  126. Cf. n. 4343 and Prattica I, ed. Umile da Genova cit., 46s.
  127. Cf. Fedele Merelli, S. Carlo Boromeo e P. Mattia di Salò cappuccino, Epistolario in CF 54 (1984) 285-31, id. Carteggio di Mattia e Giovanni Bellintani da Salò con il cardinale Frederico Borromeo, ibid. 56 (1986) 57-108; and especially the correspondence which is not yet known completely with the Oratorian Orazio Mancini which has been noted and partially used by A. Cistellini, Aspetti e momenti religiosi della communità lacuale, in Vari. Il Lardo di Garda, Storia di una Communità lacuale, Atti del Convegno Internationale promsso dall’Ateneo di Salò, I, Salò 1969, 165-186.
  128. Cf. See further ahead in the introduction to Document 13.
  129. Prattica dell’orazione mentale, Terza parte. In Venezia 160, promeo – Here the calculation of the years probably refers to the revised edition of the first part and not to the first publication in 1573.
  130. Cf. Perugia, Arch. Dell’Oratorio Corrispondenza di Mattia da Salò con Orazio Marcini: Brescia, 3 agosto 1594.
  131. Cf. Bibl. Die Frati Minori Cappuccini diLombardia (1535-1900) edited by P. Ilario da Milano, Firenze 1937, 250 nn. 1340, 1343. The title of this translation, Pratica orationis mentalis seu comtemplativae appears to have been derived more from the French translation than from the original ItalianIn fact all the French translations, which number at least eighteen, that cam out between 1588 and 1621 have the title Pratquie de l’oraisonmentale. C f. ibid. 251-254.
  132. Cf. the introduction to the section here in II/2.
  133. Cf. Pratica dell’orazioni mentali, Parte prima, In Venzia 1584, 9.
  134. Cf. Compendio della vita del P Mattia Bellintani predicatore cappuccino delineate da un divoto padre dell’istessa religione, Bergamo 1650. See also the letter of 13th February 1599 to Cardinal F. Borromeo in: F. Merelli, Carteggio di Mattia e Giuseppe Bellintani, cit. 69s.
  135. Cf. n. 436 at the end.
  136. Cf. Oratica … Parte prima, Venezia 1584, 10.
  137. Cf. nn. 4324-4326,
  138. Cf. Practicadell’orazion mentale Parte seconda, novamente posta in luce, In Venegia 1584, 8s.
  139. Cf. Pratica dell’orazion mentale. Parte prima di nuovo dallo stesso autore riveduta, corretta e in alcune parti ridotta a meglior forma, In Vinegia 1584, 11.
  140. Cf. So far there has not been a careful study of the spirituality of Mattia da Salò. Whoever has spoken about him has only provided allusions or hypotheses without a real analysis. Thus, Umile da Genova mentions the influence of St Ignatius of Loyola, Theresa of the Child Jesus and John of the Cross, Blosio, Aloysius of Granata, Peter of Alcantra and especially Francis of Osuna. Cf. P. Mattia da Salò, Practica dell’orazion mentale Parte 1, Introduzione ed edizione critica del P. Umile da genova, Assisi 1932, 11s. We can mention one author who can certainly be recognised namely Bernardino da Balvano and leave the easy comparison to the reader.
  141. Cf. Balduinus ab Amsterdam, Sanctus Bonaventura “magister” proprius a saperioribus Ordinis capuccinis designatus, In Laurent 2 (1961) 83s.
  142. Cf, In sermons SersphiciDoctoris Bonaventutae et in evangelia a Paschate usaue ad Adventum scriptuales introductions f. Mattiae Bellintani salodiensis … quibus adiecti sunt sermons ipsi e iusdem Seraphici Doctoris ab eodemet Autore correcti, Venitiis 1588.
  143. C. Bérubé, Gli studi nelle coastituzioni cappuccino (I Frati Cappucini – Sussidio per la lettura dei doccumeenti testimonianze del I secolo. 101, Roma, 1980., 18s.
  144. Cf. Biblioteca dei Frati Minori Cappuccini di Lombardia (1535-1900) a cura di Ilario da Milano, Firenze 1937, XXXI.
  145. Cf. Pratica dell’orazione mentale. Prima parte, di nuovo dallo stesso Autore riveduta , corretta e in alcune parti ridotta a miglor foema, In Vinegia 1584, 59s.
  146. Cf. Practica cit., 61.
  147. In the first edition Mattia only listed resolution, oblation, and praise which included thanksgiving and prayer, presupposing that everything was included in prayer. In the revision of 1584, in order to provide greater clarity, he separated praise from thanksgiving and placed love at the end as the culmination of all before he concluded with prayer.
  148. This text has perhaps more detail than the short text of 1573. Bellintani has made this into a complete chapter of several pages which has a deeper treatment of a topic that is considered to be central to the practice of mental prayer. A comparison of the two texts is very interesting, but we are leaving this up to the reader.
  149. Cf. Compendio cit., 13.
  150. The modern editor of Practica dell’ orazione mentales Umile da Genova has misunderstood the meaning of this discourse when he wrote: “…con tutto ciò che abbiamo de entrare” when he added the word da which changed the meaning of the sentence. Cf. Mattia da Salò Pratica dell’orazione mentale Parte I, Assisi 1932, 65.
  151. Ibid. 66.
  152. Ibid., 66
  153. Ibid., 67.
  154. The modern editor (ibid) has used the phrase “parlandoli senza parole,” instead of using “in seconda persona” which means making use of the familiar turn of phrase as St Francis did in The Praises of God (FAED I pp. 108-109).
  155. Ibid., 69.
  156. Here are a few sentences:” Perform the emotional activity well and make a manful effort to practice it as daringly as you can…” (4375). “Exert yourself with these [emotions] and make a great effort.” (4376). Etc.
  157. Cf. Storia della spiritualità Italiana II, Roma 1978, 89.
  158. Cf. Compendio cit., 14.
  159. Cf. vol. II nn. 2544-2545.We reproduced Coronw spirituali. See below doc. 13 nn. 4454-4507.
  160. Cf. P. Hildebrand [de hoogledel], Lespremiers capucins belges et la mystique, in Revue d’Ascétique et de Mystique 19 (1938)245-294, Optat de Veghel, Bènoit de Canfield (1562-1610). Sa vie, sa doctrine et son influence, Rome 1949.
  161. Cf. Corone spirituali … per l’attenzione in comtemplare la Passione del Salvatore, Salò 1614, 12. See the complete text of this very important Prologue below in the introduction to doc. 13.
  162. Cf. C. Cargnoni, Riforma della Chiesa, profezia e Apocalisse in Mattia da Salò in Laurent. 26 (1985) 497-569.
  163. “I can demonstrate and exercise the emotions of love of God at any time as I ought to always observe his commandments, but with reference to the internal act of love that comes directly from the will I do not know how I could do this in a more perfect better and manner than within prayer.” Cf. Teatro del Paradiso, Salò 1620, 253 (I/2, prat. 9. Through different loving movements we come to know the Trinity ; “Like the two feet of the soul in unison the emotions and the intellect, without ever being divided and like feet that are walking move one after the other, continually walking along the same road. It is impossibly for only one to go towards the end or reach it, while the other takes another road and reaches the end of its long journey.” Ibid 31 (I/1 prat. 7. Our destination is not the things of this world); “And because new concepts of God develop, and grow continually, without ever coming to an end, the foot of the intellect stops, while the other foot of the emotions continues to move, wanting what seems good to you: When you feel this stoppage, which takes place because of our wretched common frailty, which interrupts our progress, the foot of the emotions goes ahead of the intellect, aware of the incomprehensible grandeur of God and out of the excitement of desire it moves both feet to continue walking and to arrive at the real God.” ibid. 91 (I/1, prat. 21 Per gradi di tre infinità si ascende a quello di Dio).
  164. Ibid. 98 (I/1 prat. 21: Del conoscimento di Dio per via negativa.)
  165. “O gracious ladder, that from your low steps, which represent Christ’s life and death, lift us on high and take us up to the love of the infinite God and to all the divine excellence and ultimately to the divine essence which is full of all goodness. O ladder, that is more glorious than Jacob’s ‘adder, God is placed at the top of this ladder; here God is on the lowest rung although God produced the earth and is king and creator of heaven. He is the Son of an earthly mother but at the same time he is Son of the heavenly Father. We draw infinite love from the first step, which is God himself, source of divine goodness who is still God, being God under all circumstances.” Ibid., 118 (I/1, prat. 25. What we can know about the divine nature and of our beatitude and what we ought to do for him. – “Come, my soul, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, which, as you know, is the house of prayer, which was consecrated in Bethel in the early days with Jacob’s oil. Here we find the Angel’s ladder by means of which we rise to God and separate ourselves from external concerns by means of mysterious music after which we shall see God.” Ibid., 128 (I/1, prat. 28. Dell’uso di Dio.
  166. Ibid., 110-114 (I/1, prat. 24. Come il sommo Bene si conosce dall’amore scoperto dal Verbo Incarnato).
  167. Ibid., 54-58 (I/1), prac. 12, Della Passion di Cristo si trae il conoscimento dei beni celesti.
  168. “Laonde primeriamente io [Cristo] son quasi un mezo da vedere la dinività mia immediatamente”: ibid., 8 {I/1, prat. 2: Del modo come da Cristo viene in quanto Uomo la beatitudine).
  169. Ibid., 14 (I/1, prac. 3. Del modo con che Iddio si manifesta e dà ai beati in Cristo Uomo.”
  170. Ibid., 4s (I/1, prat. 1: La celeste patria illustrate da Dio e dell’Agnello, col suo perchè).
  171. “O blessed prayer and holy contemplation, to achieve your objective and with the help of grace you should cleanse the heart, removing every thought and worldly emotion, which under the disguise of being dust stops the vision from sees heavenly realities.” Ibid., 162 (I/1, prat. 35. Della beatifica visione.)
  172. Ibid., 35s (I/1 prat. 28: Del uso di Dio.
  173. This is a splendid meditation. Cf Ibid., 296s (I/2, prat. 18. Dell’unione essenziale del beati con Dio)
  174. Ibid., 153 (I/1 pret. 33: Dell’unione essentiale dei beati con Dio).
  175. Ibid., 149 (I/1 , prat. 32: Dell’eccellenza della divina unione coi beati).
  176. Ibid., 182 (I/1, prat. 59: Dell amor beatifico).
  177. Ibid., 187 (I/1, prat. 40: Degli effetti dell’amor beaticico e delle varie unioni nel beato).
  178. Ibid. 190.
  179. Ibid., 141 (I/1, prat. 30Delle alter unioni si augmenta l’eccellenza della celeste).
  180. Cf. Ibid., 174 (I/1, prat. 37: Dellagliosa figliuolanza di Dio, where we read: The resemblance is so strong and clear that it is called transformation, the reason being that, because the divine is of such grandeur and clarity, and human nature nothing by comparison, human nature is absorbed by the divine nature, like a drop falling into the ocean, though, however not losing its own nature, but being clothed and penetrated in every aspect by the divine nature until it has such an admirable and unspeakable likeness to God…. This lifts the blessed up higher, but because they see God clearly, they also see themselves in him, and in a way that is inconceivable to us they behold the divine essence by means of an unspeakable and glorious transformation granted to them by God. When by most excellent annihilation they have divine essence, they become indescribably like God as thus his children in a divine and most excellent manner.”
  181. Ibid., 352s 9I/2, prat. 30: Della singular beatitudine dei santi nella voluntà di Dio; cf. also nn. 4422-33.
  182. Ibid., 362s (I/2, prat. 32: Somma unione per gl’atti beatifici uniti del beato con Dio uno.)
  183. Ibid., 141 (I/1 prac. 30 cit.)
  184. Cf. Rb 5, 3; 10, 10. FAED, I, PP. 102, 105.
  185. With regard to the characteristics of Capuchin preaching cf. see below in the introduction to section two.
  186. Cf. Modo come la persona spirituale etc. 6.
  187. Ibid., 10
  188. This is how he is described in the colophon of the first part of the book. “The end of the first part of the helpful instruction and spiritual exercises concerning prayer, that was composed by the Most reverend Br. Silvestro da Rossano, Capuchin Evangelical Preacher.” Ibid., 111.
  189. Cf. doc. 2, nn. 4621-4632.
  190. There are lists of numbers that are even more odd, such as “275 Our Fathers for each of the days that the Madonna carried the Redeemer in her womb”, the “thousand Our Fathers for the wounds made by Christ’s crown”,, “3212 Our Fathers for the steps taken by the Lord:, the “666 Our Fathers for the most likely number of lashes during the scouring”, or “12,143 Our Fathers for the days that Christ spent with his Mother on earth”, etc.
  191. Cf. H. Martin, Le metier de précateur à la fin du Moyen Age (1350-1520), Paris 1988, 282.
  192. Cf. Compendio di cento meditazioni sacre, Venezia 1602, 4.
  193. Bartolomeo da Salutio (+1617) said this. Cf. G. Getto, Lettatura ascetica e mistica nell’età del concilio tridentino, In id. Lettatura religiosa del Due al Novecento, Firenze 1967, 226.
  194. Cf. Compendio di cento meditazioni sacre, venezia 1602, 8. Further on it says “Imagine, with St Augustine, in the Soliloquy, that Christ opened his most divine heart to you and brought you in through the door by saying: “Enter into the joy of your lord. Enter, beloved spouse, into happiness and the paradise of your God. Know, my sister, I want you to become better and so I shall lead you into the exercise of holy meditation. Come, come with secure confidence since I will guide you personally, accompany you, follow you and help you, and, in the end, I shall give you the crown of glory in heaven.” Ibid., 10s.
  195. Ibid., 6.
  196. Ibid., 9s. “Listen because he wants to ask you five questions, which, according to St Basil in libris asceticis et in suis quaestionibus, you answer with humble eagerness. Where have you been up to now, and what company have you kept? You reply. Wherever my senses led me and I enjoyed the company of those who took me away from serving you. Also tell me: What have you been doing and what has kept you busy? You reply: Doing useless, vile, vicious things, occupied with dangerous thoughts, using bad words and doing bad things. Third, how much time have you wasted? You reply. Months and years and this upsets me as it is my fault and I humbly beg of you to forgive me out of your mercy. Fourth. What should you do? You respond. Promote your glory, imitate the saints, have my sins forgiven, and receive grace, save myself and others … in union with your infinite merits. Fifth. Who should you deal with? You respond quickly. With you, Lord ….”
  197. Ibid., 11s.
  198. Ibid., 12, cf. also n 4881.
  199. Ibid., 14.
  200. Ibid., 15.
  201. Ibid., 15s.
  202. Ibid., 16s. also n. 4969.
  203. Ibid., 17, see also n. 4969.
  204. Ibid., 17, cf. n. 4966.
  205. Ibid., 18.
  206. Ibid., 19, see also n. 4970.
  207. Cf. Pauk de la Croix, La pluie et la source. Les voies de la prière silencieuse, Saint Maurice 1981, 85-88, 171-176.
  208. Ibid., 20, cf. also Exercisi di anima, 68 were “very important perfect acts” is applied to the celebration of the liturgical hours.
  209. Cf. Essercizi d’anima, Venezia 1596 316 (Essercizio 20, Salutifere regole e massime d’orazioni iaculatorie per stare raccolta e uniti con Dio benedetto il giorno e la notte, Pratica sesta di rapprasentazioni sacre.)
  210. Ibid., n. 98.
  211. Ibid., He also gives practical examples citing the Soliloquies and the meditations of St Augustine and the meditations of St Bernard. He made up his own example for those who are simple; “Let us begin with the way that indicates what is being done (indicativo). My soul what are you doing? Behold your God, the one you love! Behold your spouse, the one in whom you delight, your well being, your joy, your treasure! Let us go on to the command (imperative). Humble yourself, poor little one, withdraw into yourself, open your eyes well, gaze on him, welcome him, and embrace him! O good Jesus, O dear master, O King of glory, O my life, O delight of my heart, O sweetness of my soul, O happiness of my breast, O comfort of my innermost self, O most gentle one, O most sweet one, O most pure one, O most loveable one, O kindest Redeemer and my Saviour, O my Christ, O my God, O my Jesus! Then move on to the way of questioning (interrogativo): when shall I ever see you? When shall I imitate you? When shall I enjoy you? When shall I be with you forever? When shall I always do my duty? When will I give myself totally to you? When shall I ever be absorbed in the abyss of your mercies? When shall I ever become vexed with this wicked world with all of its arrogance? I go after what is outside of you. Next comes the way of choosing what is attractive (optativo) O that my conversation could be immaculate and pure! O that I could put all my passions to sleep! O that every virtue could shine in me! O God I wish that you would come to me and that I would become all yours! O Christ I wish that I could be transformed completely into you! Go on to the way to transformation (subiuntivo). So that you will not be always so blind, ignorant, tepid and ungrateful and be detached from every vile love … so as to desire you and long for you. I also want you to break out of your laziness and depression … Finally, we come to the way of experiencing comfort (confortativo). Do not be afraid, hope, trust in God, my soul. Pull yourself together and do not despair, O my dearest one, of soon being free from upset. Be strong and constant …” Ibid. 316s.
  212. Ibid., 317
  213. Cf. Compendio di cento meditazioni sacre cit. 21-23.
  214. All of the Essercizi d’anima and Compendio di cento meditazioni sacre are filled with continual citations and references to the holy Fathers and ecclesiastical writers. To give an example, in Meditation XI which carries the title The Immaulate Conception of Mary there are quotations from Nicephorus, St Augustine, St Bernard, Abbot Rupert, St John Damascene, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Germano, St Simeon, St Athanase, St Thomas, Albert the Great, St Ambrose and St Jerome. Cf. Compendio cit. 87-95.
  215. Cf. Matthia da Salò, Pratica dell’oratione mentale Prima parte, Venezia 1584, cap. XIV, p. 52.
  216. Cf. Lettera “A’ devoti e pietosilettori”, Venezia, nel monastero di S. Stefano, 30 agosto 1593.
  217. Cf. Dardi del divin amore, Venezia 1593, 404.
  218. Ibid., 435.
  219. Ibid., 440.
  220. Cf. M. Petrocchi, Storia della spiritualità italiana, I: Il Duocenro, il Trento e il Quattrocento, Roma 1978, 178-181, Pietro Luzi, Camilla Battista da Varano. Uns spiritualitàfra papa Borgia e Lutero, Torino, 1989, 200-203.
  221. Cf., Dardi di divin amore, 273.
  222. Ibid., 159. “Sometimes, O dear reader, consider with your intellect …”, he says this with very little variation in many places.
  223. Cf. Dardi deldivin amore cit. 285. C. Urbanelli also speaks of this, Storia dei cappuccino delle marche, I?2, Ancona 1978 444-446, note 44 and 46-47.
  224. Cf., Dardi del divin amore, 6, 64s.
  225. Ibid., 2 (“ .. Preambolo”).
  226. Ibid., 46.
  227. Ibid.
  228. Ibid., 60.
  229. Ibid., 22.
  230. Ibid., 77. Elsewhere he adds other reasons that motivated him to write: “For these as well as for other reasons and so as not to fall completely into the depths and abyss of ingratitude and to fulfil and satisfy to some degree my great personal obligation to my most clement and generous God and Lord Jesus Christ, and to lead others to do likewise, and to enflame them to praise and thank God and be grateful, I was moved and induced to compose the preceding and following exercises pertaining to contemplation “ Ibid., 289.
  231. Ibid., 77.
  232. Ibid., 41.
  233. Ibid., 191.
  234. Ibid., 192, 332s, see also n. 4045.
  235. Ibid., 197.
  236. Ibid., 206s.
  237. Ibid., 401 where the example of St Francis is cited.
  238. Ibid., 437. Note the analogy with Bellintani who produced a book of meditations on divine glory which was later reprinted after his death. We do not know what happened to the manuscripts of Castellucci which must have been numerous since he hints at the number of eight books. It is certain that his book Porta del Paradisi was never published.
  239. Ibid., 405.
  240. Ibid., 443-446.
  241. Michelangelo was not included in the review written by Optatus a Veghel, Scriptores ascetici et mystici Ordinis Capuccinorum, in Laurent. 1 (1960) 98-139 where mention is made of Valerio da Venizia (Quattrocento scrittori spirituali, Roma 1972 43s, 65, 58s.
  242. It is sufficient to read the index where we see entries such as the following: First exercise to greet the Lord’s wounds, Mental exercise on the glory of heaven, Exercise to understand sorrow, Exercises pertaining to the divine office, Exercises for Mass and Communion, Devour exercise for a poor mendicant soul, Daily exercise etc., or Prayers before the Office, before Mass, before the elevation of the host etc. before Communion, before and after our work, Ejaculatory prayers, etc.
  243. Compare this suggestion with what Bernardino Ochino said to those participating in the Forty Hours Cf. below, nn. 6551-6554.
  244. Michelangelo da Venezia also proposes the traditional method of meditating on the mysteries: “I want you to think about five things: first about the person who is suffering, second his characteristics, third the reasons that moved and led him to die, fourth, the way and manner of his suffering and death, fifth, how many evil things he suffered.” Fascetto di mirra e di vari fiori, il quale contiene molti esercizi spiriuali, Parte seconda, Venezia 1613, 73. – Elsewhere, in the first volume, in the meditations he often repeats expressions like this: “O my soul, avid to taste the mysteries of the most sweet Jesus, come and follow him with the Apostles and enter the Cenacle … Soul delighted by the meditation on the internal sufferings of your Lord … Do not be satisfied to wonder, but resolve to imitate, since this is the fruit of the meditations. … Rise, lift yourself up, my soul, and wrap yourself in total grief, sorrow and lament and come and see. … My soul, the height of Mt Calvary which Christ has already climbed to be crucified, invites you to rise above yourself in exalted and emotional compassion at the signs of the mystery of our redemption. …” Cf. respectively, Fascetto di mirra, prima parte, Venezia 1611, 19, 50, 34v, 139v, 242v.
  245. Cf. Salvatore Rasari da Rivolta, Vita di alcuni frati capuccini, f. 268v (ms. nell’Archiv. Di Stato di Milano).
  246. It is particularly in the second volume that he writes: “Think, consider, meditate and contemplate on his most holy life and most of all his most holy Passion so that … you are raised above to his divinity … Stop here to consider, do not run hurriedly, paying little attention, rather feel emotion and shed a tear and experience loving compassion.” Cf. Fascetto di mirra cit. Venezia, 1613, 72v.
  247. Among the many exercises in the second part of Fascetto di mirra there is an “exercise to discover the feat of God and sorrow for sin” that uses the image of the interior palace which has been copied from Arte de la unione by Giovanni da Fano without acknowledgement. He names him without giving the source when he deals with the devotion to the seven sufferings of St Joseph, Cf, Ibid., 79r-83r, 171r-v.
  248. Both St Francis and St Paul are presented as special examples of love for the Crucified. These is a wonderful description of the two of them in nn. 5117-5519.
  249. Cf. Guido Pedrojetta, Valerio da Venezia: Preliminari sull’opera di suo scrittore spirituale del Seicentio, in CF 58 (1988) 5-44.
  250. The complete title of the book by Valerio da Venezia explains the content as well as the nature of the material that has been collected. Cf. below after the introduction to doc. 21.
  251. Verucchino’s influence on these two authors from Venice is abundantly evident also in a comparison of the devotional topics.
  252. Cf. Romitorio sacro, Venezia 1626, 99=135, 508-578.
  253. Ibid., 26s.
  254. This prayer method found fertile soil in the prayer life of the Capuchins. Thus, for example, in a rough Assisi codex containing comments on the Rule we find in volume I mention of the use of a Spiritual clock that is points for meditation for every hour of the day to maintain the devotion of heart, in which “some meditations on the life of Jesus Christ” are proposed. as well as “Most useful considerations for acquiring self knowledge and the knowledge of others.” (cf. p. 1302ss).
  255. Cf. above note 46. Note that in the very same year that Bellintani died, the famous book by the Jesuit, Achille Gagliardi Breve compendio was printed in Brescia.
  256. See the first volume nn. 939-979.
  257. The bibliography on these two authors is vast. For Gagliardi (+ 1607) cf. M. Petrocchi, Storia della spiritualità italiana, II, Il Cinguecemo e il Seicento, Roma 1979, 93-109,(con Bibliog.). For Benedetto da Canfield (+1610) cf. Optat de Veghel, Benoit de Canfield, (1562-1610), Sa vie doctrine et son influence, Roma, 1949, Benoit de Canfield, La Règle de Perfection: The Rule of Perfection, Edition critique publièe en annotèpar jean Orcibal, paris, 1982.
  258. Cf. Corrado da Arienzo, Necrologio dei minori cappuccino della provincial monastica di Napolie Terra di Lavoro, 215 e 241.
  259. We have only published the central works and not the short tracts. The Meditations on imitating Christ’s virtues were published by Sant’ Angelo di Sorrento in 1887. Note that Edoardo d’ Alençon when he wrote the entry for Gregorio da Napoli in DTC V1/2, 1819 speaks of the “Istruttione mistica” as a manuscript composed by Gregorio da Napoli, without discussing the question of the real author.
  260. This is written in small letters and placed up high in the middle of the codex on p. 209.
  261. “Here by the grace of God I have completed the work that you requested where I have placed the entire ocean of exalted and sublime perfection into a small vase.” Ibid., 5; n. 4640.
  262. This phrase is repeated at the end of n. 4714 and also in n. 4718. Elsewhere, in n. 4731 we read; “Read the book that I gave you frequently”” and again “in n. 4758: “Hold this dear together with the doctrine that I gave you at the beginning of my book”. However also see nn. 4797 and 4801where he clearly refers to a “letter”.
  263. Cf. Melquiades Andres,Introducción general, Francisco de Osuna, Tercer Abecedarioespirituak, Estudio historico y edició critica, Madrid 1972, 74s; C. Cargnoni, Fonti, tendenze e sviluppi cit., in CF 48 (1978) 372.
  264. In various chapters, for example chapter 47 Gregorio da Napoli returns to the doctrine of the “spiritual eye” and “mystical vision.”
  265. “Do not imagine that what I have taught you by word or in writing happened by chance, for it came by means of very deep thought with Jesus so that in the future it would serve you as many weapons in attacks, at time by giving you one reading or another, not as if they were mine, but as coming from your spouse who is revealing to you what is in his heart.” (n. 4770).
  266. The whole of chapter 12 from which this quote if taken should be read as a personal passionate account of what he is teaching.
  267. For example, see chapter 28 nn. 4742-4743.
  268. See nn. 4671-4672, 4698, 4712, 4826 etc. The whole manuscript is broken up into Biblical quotations from the Old nd the New Testaments that are commented on using very lively unusual considerations.
  269. The manuscript has some marvellous pages on these terms. For example, see n. 4799.
  270. With regard to prayer we can read pages that are rich with doctrine and experience especially in chapters 41-42 and 62 in which he describes the experience of the prayer of quiet and explains “what is perfect prayer” quoting the authority of St Therese, and reviews the meaning of vocal, mental and unitive prayer, their relationship to each other. Their connection is the fruit of mental prayer and meditation. There is a relationship between unitive prayer and mystical prayer, but unitive prayer is beyond anything that is intellectual. Whoever prays mentally “as one should” is also praying mentally. The aim is union with God, not to simply meditate. To reach “purity of mind” ejaculatory prayers are essential. There is no need to burden oneself with long devotions and beautiful meditations, but to thirst for the Spirit, at least “at certain times with a greater excess of love”, using special bodily gestures, even though you ought not to be worried about these “observances” (bodily gestures are also “observances”) but long for union. When required some rules for spiritual discernment are proposed. They deal with spiritual sweetness with respect to ascertaining if it comes from God or elsewhere. The quickest way to obtain profit from prayer is the practice of annihilation of the heart and not being like those who imagine that “consists in being ecstatic, in a trance, like those who are blind to the work of the Holy Spirit (many of these, in my experience, should take a step backward.” See nn. 4725, 4767, 4775, and 4841ss.
  271. Cf. Maria Maddalena de’Pazzi, Laparole ell’estasi. A cura di Giovanni Pozzi, Milano, 1894, 194s.
  272. What is contained in the Preface (“Al pio lettore”) of the Bologna edition of 1637 is interesting. It says there that Manassei would have been converted to the spiritual and mystical life by san Giuseppe da Leonessa. The book was a collection of the exercises that he performed at night which were secretly overheard by other friars who kept watch from cell to cell and then wrote them down by order of the superior. He spent two or three years in Brecia preaching to the heretics. There were various copies of the manuscript “each one was different” either because of failure to understand the material or because the chroniclers had different insights. “At last the book was published in Brescia without the name of the author. Soon after1636 the Capuchins restored the good name of the original author.” Cf. Paradiso Interiore, Bologna, per Giacomo Monti, 1637, 12s.
  273. Here there is a certain analogy with the history of the publication of the Diologi by Cordoni that were published after his death after being rewritten.
  274. Cf. M. Petrocchi, Il quietismo italiano del Seicento, Roma 1948, 28-32, also repeated in his Stpria della spiritualità italiana, II, Roma 1978, 220-223.
  275. Cf. M. Petrocchi, Bilancio sul quietismo umbro del Seicento, in Storia e cultura in Unbria nell’ età moderna (sec. XV-XVIII). Atti del VII Congresso di Gubbio.
  276. This is the terminology used by Petrecchi. However one should remember that some scholars say that the placing of the Paradiso interiore on the Index came about because of German translations (we know of at least five between 1643 and 1659) which were extensively rewrites by the Capuchin Fr Nicola Barsotti (cf. DS XI, 252s) and which were very well received by the disciples of F. G. Spener (+ 1705), who was the founder of Pietism, a movement that reduced “piety” to a system associated with great religious rigor.. Cf. Francesco da Vicenza Gli scrittori cappuccino della Provincia Serafica: Note biografiche e bibliografiche, Foligno 1922, 69-74. Optatus a Veghel, Scriptores ascetici et mystici Ord. Cap., in Laurent. 1 (1960) 127s.
  277. Cf. Paradiso interiore, Bergamo e Napoli 1684, 26s.
  278. These introductory expressions concerning faith, hope and the other virtues are developed in a way that is close to what is said in the Paradiso dei contemplative by Bartolomeo da Salutio where the opening chapters deal with the exercise of the virtues of faith, hope and charity.
  279. Cf. A. Vecchi, Comenti religiosi nel Sei-Settecento Veneto, Venezia-Roma 1962, 12 he said this with regard to the Observant Franciscan A. Pagani (+1589).
  280. See also n. 5228, § 7-8.
  281. Note how the verb to annihilate or the term annihilation appears 15 or 20 times in the book.
  282. Cf. Paradiso interiore cit. Bergamo e Napoli 1684, 121.
  283. Cf. ibid., 71ss, 78ss, 102ss, 127s, 166 etc.
  284. Cf. concerning this doctrine in general R. Guarnieri, Il movimento del libero spirito: Testi e documenti, in Arch. Ital. per la Storia della Pietà, vol. IV, Roma11966357-708.
  285. We should remember that in the Decree of 26 April 1689 the Paradiso interiore appeared to have been condemned together with Regle de perfection by Benedict of Canfield and other similar spiritual books. Cf. J. Hilgers, Der Indes der verbotenen Bücher in seiner neuen Fassung dargelegt und rechtlich-bistorischgetuvirdiget, Freiburg I, B 1904, 434, In addition Règle de perfection, which appeared in an Italian translation in Venice in 1616 (cf. A. Vecchi, Conenti, cit., 68) and Manassei could have read this.
  286. Cf. M. Perocchi, Il quietismo italiano, cit., 25-28, id., Storia della spiritualità italiana cit., II, 217-220.
  287. Concerning Tomasso da Olers”s formation Cf. P. Gianmaria da Spirano, Fra Tomasso da Olera laico cappuccino (1563-1631), in Miscellanea A. Bernareggi (“Monumenta Bergomensia” I), a cura di L. Cortesi , Bergamo 1958, 652-655.
  288. Cf. Lettatura religiosa del Dueal Novecento, Firenze, 1967, 212.
  289. Cf. G. Gatto, Letteratura cit., 216.
  290. The body – he says – is the worst enemy, “the weak body”. The spirit should never trust it. Cf. n. 5302.
  291. He often repeats “I saw, I saw him…” Cf. n. 5299.
  292. With regard to the greatest spiritual daughter of Tomasso da Olers see Fernando da Riese Pio X, Tomasso da Olera e Giovanna Maria della Croce, maestro e discipola nelle vie dello spirito, in IF 48 (1975) 478-488, id., La spiritualità diGiovanna M. della Croce ibid., 399-417; id., Venerabile Giovanna M. della Croce, Ebbed a Cristo segni disangue e anello di sposa, Padova 1975.
  293. Cf. Gianmaria da Spirano, Fra Tomasso di Olera cit., 698-715.
  294. Ibid., As A. Vecchi onserves we note the new mystical atmosphere and the cult of Christ’s humanity in many cases end up in devotion to the cross of Jesus. “In this atmosphere many strong mystical currents prevailed. The seventeenth century recognised the ineffable man-God rather than the God-man. The image of a suffering God begging for love triumphed. Devotion to the heart of Jesus of which, for example, Tomasso da Olera is a passionate propagator did not come about by chance.” Cf. A. Vecchi Correnti religiosi, cit., 14.
  295. Cf. Fuoco d’amore, 228.
  296. Ibid., 245.
  297. Cf. Bergomen seu Oenipontan beatificationis et canonizationis Servi DeiThomae ab Olera, possitio, Roma 1978, 324ss.
  298. This is the tern used by Paul VI. Cf. C. Cargnoni, I primi lineamenti di una “scuola cappuccina di devozione”, in IF 59 (1984) 111.
  299. With regard to him see the praiseworthy Doctoral Thesis, which is also the only monograph in existence, written by Teobaldo De Filippo, Alessio Segala da Salò (1559-1628) maestro di perfezione cristiana, Roma 1968, XLII – 304 pp.
  300. With respect to the various editions and translations of the works of Segala see Illario da Milano, Biblioteca dei Frati Minori cappuccini di Lombardia (1535-1900), Firenze 1937, 8-50.
  301. The first edition of the work was reprinted four times, the second edition fifteen times in Italian, twenty-one French editions, two German, one English edition and one Latin. Cf. Illario da Milano, Biblioteca 10-18, 21-33.
  302. The Prattica singolare had fifteen Italian, four French, eleven German and one Latin reprints. Cf. Illario da Milano, Biblioteca, 26.
  303. This work went into twelve Italian and three French reprints. Cf, ibid., 20-23.
  304. This very short work ran to seven Italian and two French reprints. Ibid., 39s.
  305. This work was reprinted ten times in Italian, sixteen times in French, and once in German, Cf. ibid., 44-50.
  306. This work was reprinted ten times in Italian: ibid., 8s.
  307. The complete edition ran to nine Italian and eight French reprints. There were a further ten Italian editions that were abbreviated and altered in various ways. There were five German reprints and one French reprint. Ibid., 23-25, 40=44.
  308. This work ran to six Italian reprints: ibid., 9s.
  309. This work ran to three Italian reprints: ibid., 18s.
  310. Cf. M. Pettrocchi, Il problema dell’ascesi in Mattia da Salò, in Humanitas 8(1953) 987; and now in id., Storia della spiritualità italiana II, Roma 1978, 91 This interpretation has been already contradicted for various reasons by Teobaldo da Genova, “Voluntà di Dio” e “unione delle vountà” secondo Alessio Sgala da Salò, in Laurent., 9 (1968) 159 nota 81.
  311. The “peak” of perfection – according to Segala – “is hidden within a person even though occasionally he ought to allow it to shine out.” Cf. n. 5509.
  312. This is the opinion of M. Petricchi, Storia cit., 61-68.
  313. In effect Segala is going back to the Exercises of St Ignatius and to St Alphonsus Liguri.
  314. Cf. vol. I, sec. IV/2: Tradizionie pratiche di province e di noviziato.
  315. The last two are expressly quoted by Segala. Cf. n. 5554.
  316. Cf. Const. 1536, n. 44 (n. 219).