Bernardino Ochino: Confidence in God (fifth sermon) given at Lucca 1538

Translated by Patrick Colbourne OFM Cap

Translator’s note:

This translation is based on the introduction, text and footnotes which were published by P. Costanzo Cargnoni O.F.M. Cap. In I Frati Cappuccini: Documenti e testimonianze dell primo secolo, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, vol III/1, pp.2167-2178. The only additions to the notes made by the translator are references to Francis of Assisi: The Early Documents, edited by Regis Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., J. A. Wayne Hellmann, O.F.M. and William J. Short O.F.M. Conv., New York City Press, New York, London, Manila, for an English version of quotations from the Writings or Biographies of St Francis.

Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni OFM Cap

The was the fifth and last sermon that he preached in Lucca in 1583. It was presented in two distinct parts, though the subject matter remained unified, which treat confidence in God and the mercy of God. This is probably why, if it is not an error of publication, the sermon dealing with two topics was presented as the fifth sermon. What is clear is that the objective of the whole discourse is to have confidence in God who saves sinners when they believe that he loves and forgives them in Christ.


5662 There are those who place their trust in wealth, in status in the honours of the world as do those who are rich, and other, such as moral philosophers, who place their trust in blind, shady, vain carnal knowledge that deceives them. There are others who place their trust in intrinsically dead works out for vainglory and not out of living faith and charity, such as the Pharisees. There are others who despair completely and do not place their confidence in wealth, knowledge or what they do, but who only trust in Jesus Christ, who was born for them, went about, conversed, cried, was captured, suffered, was flogged, crowned with thorns, crucified, died and was buried for them and who say with David: I hoped in the multitude of your mercies.[1]

Because I intend to speak about those words, I want us to search for where we ought to place our confidence. Listen to me well and let us begin in the name of Jesus.

Because the body cannot live without the soul, and we can achieve nothing without God’s grace, and our good deeds are filth,[2] stained and woeful, and because the soul cannot support any weight without the body, so we too, who are more or less spirits cannot achieve anything without divine grace.

Just as the birds of the air never rest, except in their nest, so too we Christians in the present circumstances, situated among the fallen and fluctuating things of the world, that exist momentarily and in passing, cannot find rest, or quiet, except in the nest of the cross, that is in Christ’s side where we are enflamed with charity by means of faith, despising everything that is under heaven, and hating our own soul in accord with the Gospel precept: even life itself.[3]

We should never despair of Christ, who has been given to us by God, with all of his treasures, and who is our sweet, gentle and kind Jesus Christ who is in love with human nature. Oh, what a great present God has given to us in his own, unique Son! I shall prove that this is so.

5663 May God bless us: that is the Father: Our God: that is the Son. May God bless us.[4] The Angel said at Christ’s birth: I am bringing you good news of great joy, for to you this day is born the Saviour of the world.[5] He is Christ our brother and Redeemer. Oh, what a great present! Oh, what great news! In another place it says: I am ascending to my Father and to your father, my God and your God.[6] Oh, what a great message from God to mankind, saying that God has been bestowed on human nature. God has become our Father! Why? This is only out of love for us, to free us from the devil, to bestow life on us and to lead us to heaven, so that we might recognise him being our Father, and love him by following his footsteps.

I shall say even more. Oh, what an exchange Christ has made with us! This is by far much greater than what goes on at Lyons.[7] He took our past, present and future sins that God did not want to forgive! Surely, he has borne our infirmities, and carried our diseases.[8] That means that he clothed himself in our sins, and endured our sorrows, carrying our iniquities on his shoulders, and such punishment made us whole.[9] Authority rests upon his shoulders.[10]

5664 Oh, what a change this was, my Christians! Who would be so hard as not to be moved by the love of such a gift as not to continually carry it in his heart? Inasmuch as he underwent death and gave up his life, endured poverty and gave us a crown of gold, honour and glory. He became a sinner out of love for us, he who had not sinned, nor was deceit found on his lips.[11]

Because of this a sinner need never despair, since all past, present and future sins were gathered by him as long as such a sinner has resolved with lively faith and enflamed charity to follow in Christ’s footsteps in future. However, this will not happen to who continues to sin, who is presumptuous and not a Christian, for whom Christ has not been born, or crucified, or died, or buried, or risen. We should love God above everything, he who became a sinner out of love for us.

When he was confronted by the Jews in the garden, he asked them: Who are you looking for?[12] They replied: “We are looking for the sorcerer who casts out devils in the name of Beelzebub, the prince of devils,[13] a drunkard, a glutton who drinks wine,[14] a wretch, a ignoramus, how does this man have such learning when he has never been taught,[15] a blasphemer: we heard him blaspheme,[16] a deceiver, he is deceiving the crowds,[17] one who violates feasts, perverting our nation,[18] someone possessed by the devil, you are possessed by a devil.[19] Because he had taken all our iniquities, past, present and future, upon his shoulders out of love for us, Jesus humbly said: “I am he.” I am the one who is guilty of what you have said. If you are looking for me, let these men go. I shall pay for them.” At the sound of his voice they fell back.[20] This was to demonstrate that it is by means of humility and by not relying on the weakness of our actions but by completely setting aside what belongs to us we will break and overcome the devil.

5665 The one who falls on this stone will break into pieces.[21] Acting out of presumption will achieve nothing. The one on whom the stone falls and who is broken completely is the one who confides in his own works. Paul says: I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.[22] They are nothing and I am nothing unless I live by the strength of Christ who suffered and paid for me. Through him I hope to gain a heavenly inheritance rather than inherit death through my own works. This is why Christ wanted to be crowned with thorns and bound as the leader and the king of sinners out of love for us. Oh, how when he was brought before Herod and asked whether he was a criminal he remained silent,[23] by his silence admitting that he was guilty and a criminal. He did all this out of love for us, Christians.

Some would say: “Oh Brother, you are not preaching about fasting, penance, prayer or religion.” I reply that I do not want to act like a hypocrite and shine with dead works like a Pharisee. I want to be a good Christian and lay the foundation of faith, hope and perfect charity in your heart. Without these virtues your works will not be meritorious. Equipped with these virtues you cannot perform works. If you do not perform works, believe me, if you do not have living faith, hope and perfect charity in Christ, but only have faith that is spoken eloquently on your lips it will lead you to perish.[24] Dear little one, can you not see this!

5666 I say the same about those who place their trust in jubilees, in the prayers of those who are upright, in Masses and in alms that they want to leave in their wills following their death while continuing to live a depraved life, not changing their ways. Oh, how they deceive themselves!

You might say: “O Brother, if God has paid the price for us, and if he has given us all of his treasures, as you say that he has, we can also be sure of our salvation. Therefore, there is no need to worry about works or failing to observe his commandments.”

I reply to you: “Christ has given you all of the above things. However, you know well that when something is given if the one to whom it has been given refuses it, he can never accept the gift nor claim it as a gift. In a similar way Christ has given you the entire above, but by not changing your way of life, not doing anything and not despising everything for the sake of Christ, you have refused the gift. Thus, you can neither say or think that you were given anything and have been deprived of such a beautiful gift. However, when you accept the gift and recognise God by means of living faith, by performing good works, and embrace it with faith, hope and charity, note what I am saying, you will possess immediately Christ, paradise and heavenly treasure as well as all the Christ has merited. As a consequence you will become part of Christ’s family, part of the world and possess all happiness.”[25] So, my Christian, do not think of exchanging or refusing all of these things, for the filth of this world, for worldly things, that are frail, finite, short-lived, momentary and transitory!

5667 Oh the great and wonderful dignity of the human condition! Paul said frequently: I know the one in whom I have put my trust and I am sure that he is able to guard me.[26] Paul knew well whom he trusted and to whom he had entrusted his body and soul and all their faculties. And so, my Christian, trust in your Christ, who is your Redeemer, father and brother and entrust your soul, your preference and activity, including yourself to him and not to the world, so that they may be safe, and pay attention to this.

There was a sick person, who was close to death and who despaired of everything, being very close to damnation. When someone called on him, he answered: “I am desperate, let no one say anything to me.” Many rebuked him with kindness, contradicting what he said being upset about his blunder. Someone else not only contradicted what he said but corrected what he had said and convinced to despair completely over his own works, but not the works of Christ who was praying for him and had taken all of his sins and ours upon his shoulders. So, the sick person despaired about his own works and merits and placed all his trust and faith in Christ and when he died with such faith he was saved.

5668 Therefore, my Christian, at the hour of death note these words and imprint them on your heart, and reply to the devil when he throws into your face that you are a sinner: Admit it and say yes, and when he says, ”You have committed many grave sins,” admit it and say yes, and when he says, “You are in a disparate situation,” reply, “I despair of all my works, but not about my Jesus, who has paid the price for me and done penance for me on the most sacred wood of the cross.”

And when he says: “You should despair about Christ”. Say very ardently: “I shall never despair about him who created me and redeemed me with his most precious blood and who loves me like a father, mother, brother or sister”. Say like Paul, “I know the one in whom I have placed my trust etc. The Son of God is mine; He is my Lord and my God. [27] Oh, my soul! No one is closer to you that Christ. Indeed, I have nothing but Christ. I do not control the world or gold or silver, or creatures, or the unstable or unbridled human emotions. Christ is our only hope. We ought to love honour and seek Christ alone.[28]

In a similar way I want to declare to all those who are suffering tribulation that they will be immediately freed from whatever tribulation if they steadfastly believe in God with living faith and warm charity. If God has endured the cross and given them himself and all his treasures, if they clearly recognise that they have a free share in his salvation it is certain that he will save those for whom he endured death for our salvation. One must believe firmly that he permits tribulation so as to improve us. The world causes us anxiety, but you should turn your back on it and turn towards Christ and follow him alone.

5669 In short, he does everything to heal us and to free us from eternal death. Thus, if he has taken a child from you, know for certain that if he had left the child with you both of you would have been damned for going after wealth honestly or dishonestly. He will love you more because of this the Wiseman says: I reprove and discipline them whom I love.[29]

This was expressed in the changing of wine at the wedding into something better than it was before.[30] This was meant to teach us that those who despair of help coming from the world, receive better wine, namely God’s generosity and assistance. This means that when you have been completely bereft of what human help can offer, it shows that Christ will help you in a miraculous manner since he wants to help you. He wishes to intervene with his own hand and in his own way, not using human means, or the assistance of anyone else.

Can you not see the beautiful example of the widow who although she was very poor never doubted that God would never let her down? A good Christian woman offered her one hundred scudi (pounds). However, she refused the gift and would not accept it in any circumstances. She wanted to give it to her and said to her once again: “Take it, although I am a woman who is subject to a husband, nevertheless, I can give it to you in good conscience and I do not want you to refuse me because of this.” With living faith, the widow replied: “I know for certain and believe that you are willing and able, and I thank you. However, I do not wish in any way to replace or change my procurator that is sweet Christ, my unwavering and firm hope who has never failed me. It would be truly unworthy of me to replace him for a hundred pounds of gold. That would be wrong. Go in peace since I refuse the money together with all worldly things as if they were dung compared to Jesus Christ.[31] Whoever chooses him as his procurator possesses every treasure, happiness and wellbeing as well as all the other treasures. Without him a person remains poor and miserable.”

5670 Therefore trust in God and not in yourself, because whoever trusts in a faithful friend and makes know what he needs, receives help from him. Whoever does not have trust does not deserve to be helped. Therefore, my Christian, do not put trust in yourself, in your strength or works, nor in wealth, children or friends, but place your trust above yourself by placing living and firm hope in sweet Jesus Christ.

Therefore, I beg of you, O sinner, in the name of Christ’s birth, of your Baptism, by your fasting, by pilgrimage, by the tears, the nails, the lance, the death and precious blood that Christ shed out of love for us, and by his burial to show love for his poor little members and recognise him in them,[32] and show him your love, and place all your hope in him. Trust in his solid, stable and infinite goodness, not in your merits or works, and with fervent hope and living charity, while performing works that are worthy of his love, trust, so that you may be happy in this life and in the next.

The mercy of God – Fifth Sermon

5571 We should never despair or lose hope in God’s mercy since just one of Christ’s little tears was sufficient to redeem thousands of worlds. For our sake he sustained and endured tears, hardship, privation and a very disgusting death.

Therefore, we should never despair provided that, with a humble, contrite heart, and with the purpose of never willingly sinning or offending our God again in any way in the future, we ask him for pardon for all the offenses and faults that we have committed, being more ready to suffer a thousand deaths and punishments than to offend him.

In this way also you should never despair of not being able to make satisfaction or pay for the infinite number of gifts that you have received from God through the infinite merits of Christ as these merits have repaid the great debt. Oh, what a debt and vast obligation that could only be paid for, cleansed, washed away and wiped out by the Incarnation of the Son of God! Is there a vast world, filled with sin that the birth, baptism, life, presence, tears, hard work, privations, Passion, death and burial of the Son of God could not cancel and dissolve? This is what will happen when you humbly grasp such a valuable treasure, like a little child who is enflamed with love for such a good Father, and do not spend and squander it like an irresponsible and presumptuous servant who has no respect or love for such a treasure.

Oh, you sinner! Are you frightened to return to your good God? Are you afraid of not being able repay the large debts that you owe him? Take up the infinite treasure of Christ’s merits and repay the debt in abundance and generously not with what you possess but with what your sweet, very gentle and good Christ has.

5672 Because of this you should not stand with idle hands becoming lazy and presumptuous. In this respect tell me something. If there was a dear child, who had been ransomed from the hands of the Turks and redeemed at great cost by his good father and still did not want to return to his homeland because he had come to relish and like the free lifestyle he had come to live while in Turkey, in spite of this would the father not accommodate him, beg him, plead with him and lovingly invite him to return to his country? Tell me; if he does not return is, he not to be condemned? Yet, my dear Christian, when your good, sweet Father saw you in the grasp of the Devil he redeemed you and ransomed you because of the love he had for you and gave his only precious Son with all his treasures as the price of your redemption. Now he is inviting you, by means of the divine Scriptures, through preachers, by inner inspirations and sweet encounters. He invokes and begs you using priceless gifts and heavenly promises to return to your homeland and live with him free from sin and concupiscence.

If you want to have the freedom to behave in a carnal manner by presuming too much on God’s mercy and by being too accustomed to sinning and having the comfort of the world, of wealth and other concupiscence, you will derive no benefit from the high price that was paid for you and for your redemption. What can come of presuming in the infinite treasure of the merits of your Christ? Therefore, O my dear Christian, you should strip off the garments of the old Adam and put on those of Christ and then you can turn to the Father with confidence.

5673 If you reply that because of your infinite sins and infinite ingratitude towards such an infinite benefactor you are unworthy of this, I will tell you that you are worthy, through the goodness of your Lord and not through your own efforts. This is the same as when a Nobleman bequeaths a castle to a servant, in spite of his unworthiness, but because of the Nobleman’s generosity, and the servant, who remains unworthy, confidently goes to take possession of the castle. When he is scornfully asked: “Why did you who are unworthy dare to take possession of the castle?” he replies, “I am not taking possession because I am unworthy, and I am unworthy to a certain degree, rather I take possession in spite of being unworthy because of the goodness and generosity of the Nobleman.”

We Christians are also unworthy of possessing the infinite treasure of Christ, and of forgiveness of our infinite sins, nor are we worthy to approach the Father in prayer, nor to approach the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Saviour, or worthy to be saved, or possess Paradise, through our own actions, that is certain. However, we are most worthy of all the above things through God’s great goodness and generosity which by means of the last will and death of his only Son have been bequeathed and bestowed on us, even though we were unworthy.[33]

5674 Therefore, O sinner, rejoice and regret your ingratitude, because Christ has suffered for you and cried over you. He died and was buried for you. He has prepared this great supper not for himself but to gain merit for you. Therefore, all you who are exhausted and burdened with sin come to him. Break out of your depraved way of life because for you who are a sinner and, on your behalf, Christ has acquired so many infinite merits. This is the only way to receive merits that you did not win but which were acquired on your behalf and will be won by those for whom they were acquired. The greater the sinner you have been, the more willing God is to forgive you. Among the angels there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.[34] Therefore, tell me this: If you were to see someone, no matter how very bad and wicked and full of vice he was, yet when you saw that he was sad and miserable at being in the custody of justice and about to be punished by the use of hot, burning tongs, would you not feel great compassion for him? Certainly, you would. Oh dear! Do you not think that God has mercy on sinners who are miserable, no matter how great was their sin, feeling much greater compassion than you felt? I will say much more. At the time of his conception Christ’s soul did not possess any merits and it was like a blank sheet, because there was no Christ Redeemer before him, whereas there was a Redeemer before we existed who possessed many infinite merits that he gave us for our salvation, therefore nobody ought to despair or be frightened to turn to his very king Father with great trust, because of Christ and in the name of sweet Jesus Christ.

5675 Therefore, O sinners do not delay. Be converted to your God with your whole heart.[35] Renew you good intention, regret past sins and do not doubt even if all the sins that you have committed, commit, will commit or might commit in a thousand ways were your personal responsibility and belong to you. If you are heartily sorry and promise to change your way of life in future, recognise your God and in recognising him love him, and in loving him always seek to do what pleases him you will be forgiven. A single drop of one of Christ’s tiny tears is enough to cancel all the sins that have been committed or ever were committed.

Therefore, sinners, repent at the last hour as you are dying, so that there will be nothing left to be judged, because the Son of God has suffered for us, died for us, was buried and rose for us and ascended into heaven in glory. He is our brother and the one who shed blood to redeem us. Do you think that he would abandon us to perish and be damned? O dear! If one of your earthly fathers had spent a thousand pounds to redeem you and bring you back from the hands of the Turks or Moors, if the payment fell short by a penny, or one coin, do you not think that he would pay it to save you? O indeed. How much more then should you know and to believe that God, who has given his Son and all of his treasures for your salvation, would fail to help you at the hour of your death even if you are not ready to receive his abundant mercy. Humble child do not postpone this any longer. Return to him. He is our advocate, our defence. Who does not love his father, mother, brothers and sisters and all the members of his family?

My Christian, tell me what would a father or mother do at such an hour of death? Do you not think that they would rescue you if they could? Christ will save you with much more love and certainty at that time and final moment. Therefore, my Christian, the world has not suffered for you, nor did gold or silver, nor your children, your mother, your wife or earthly and passing pleasures, but your sweet, kindly, precious and merciful Christ did. Therefore, you ought to give all your love to Christ and despise all created things in order to acquire and gain Christ’s surpassing and infinite merits, so that you may be happy in this life and in the next.

  1. Cf. Ps 5:8; 12:6; 51:10 (Vulg.)
  2. Cf. Is 64:6.
  3. Lk 14:26.
  4. Ps 66:7 (Vulg.)
  5. Lk 2:10-11.
  6. Jn 20:17.
  7. This is a business centre where great transactions take place.
  8. Is 53:4
  9. Is 55:3.
  10. Is: 9, 6.
  11. 1 Pt 2:2; Is 53:9.
  12. Jn 18:4.
  13. Lk 11:15.
  14. Mt 11:19.
  15. Jn 7:15.
  16. Mt 26:65; Mk 14:64.
  17. Jn 7:12.
  18. Lk 21:3.
  19. Jn 8:48.
  20. Jn 18:5-7.
  21. Mt 21:44.
  22. 2 Cor 12:5-9.
  23. Cf. Mt 22:9.
  24. Works of mercy come from living faith in Christ and they come about in us by means of the power of Christ. This concept was questioned by Protestants who advocated faith without works.
  25. Note the various steps. God gives the Son. The soul believes in this gift. Faith justifies and confers spiritual life on the soul. Now that the soul has life it produces good works out of hope and charity. By means of the activity of charity the soul recognises God, loves him, welcomes him and holds him to herself. This is how she possesses Christ and so possesses all good.
  26. 2 Tim 1:12.
  27. Jn 20:28.
  28. The spirituality on this page is in complete accord with the “benefit of Christ’s death”.
  29. Rev 3:19; Pt 3:1; Heb 12:5.
  30. Jn 2:1-10.
  31. Phil: 3, 8.
  32. The whole sermon, including this part, is aimed at implanting the love of the crucified Christ “in his poor little members.” So as to redeem the city of Lucca from the crime of having rejected the poor during the uprising of “the masses” a few years before.
  33. One may compare the whole of this sermon with chapter VI of Trattato utillissimo del beneficio di Gesù Cristo Crocifisso verso i cristiani, printed in 1543. Cf. C. Ginzburg – A. Prosperi, Giochi di pazienza. Una seminario sul “Beneficio di Cristo”, Torino 1975, 242-258.
  34. Lk 15:7, 10.
  35. Cf. Gal 2:12.