Bernardino Ochino First sermon in Lucca 1538

Evangelical preaching of Bernardino Ochino of Siena

The text is taken from Cargnoni, Costanzo (editor), I Frati Cappuccini. Documenti e Testimonianze del Primo Secolo, IIII/1, 2135-2138.

Prepared by Gary Devery

First Sermon preached in Lucca in 1538: How to recognise a good Christian

5630 Among difficult things, it is certainly most difficult to know a true Christian, whence Diogenes at noon lit a lantern and with it went through the city among the multitude of people looking for a man; he was asked for what was searching with the lantern, it being noon. He replied: “I’m searching for a man, and I cannot find him”. They said[1] to him laughing: “Oh my, there are so many of us here in front of you, and you are looking for a man?”. Said Diogenes: “Oh my, man is rational and with reason carries out all his actions;[2] and nevertheless, I go searching with the lantern lit, and I cannot find one single rational man, because all of you, who consider yourselves men, are not men, neither living rationally, nor acting with the use of reason”. In the same we can say it is very, very difficult to know a good Christian. So, I want us to see in what way we are to know a good Christian. It will be a useful and necessary matter. Grant me a good hearing and let us begin in the name of Jesus.

A fructibus eorum cognoscetis eos:[3] says our Saviour. By the fruits one knows a good Christian and not by doctrine and blind prudence, nor by dead faith, nor only by religious habit, nor by dead ceremonies and actions, but by the fruits of faith and living spirit, of which Paul describes by saying: “The fruits of the spirit are peace, joy, patience, forbearance, piety, kindness, meekness, faith, modesty, continence, chastity”,[4] and these are the fruits of the true Christian, and not doctrine and blind prudence, dead faith and dead actions, the faith of such is certainly lax and idle.

5631 There are many who are learned and know the epistles of Paul, the articles of faith, and speak well but do not do,[5] whose beautiful words and beautiful sayings will be saved but they will lose both soul and body. You know well that you do not recognise the trees in the winter nor in the spring, but only in autumn by the fruits; thus, one does not know the true Christian who is not known by baptism, nor by ceremonies, but by living fruits of living faith and by the living spirit. Non omnis qui dicit mihi: Domine, Domine, intrabit in regnum colorum;[6] that is, not everyone who says to me: “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven. Do you want to clearly know for yourself whether you are a Christian or not? Take a pair of scales and open it, my Christian, put your chest between them, and hold the balance in the middle, and wait to see whether it inclines or declines to the right or to the left; that is, if you have greater love for God or for your children, for yourself or for the world with its lusts. If you have greater love for God, then you are a perfect Christian and truly believe.

But, O my, what shall I say of those whose least thoughts they have is to think of God and of charity towards their neighbour in which resides Christian perfection, those to whom riches, children, love of the world, unbridled desires, self-love and self-will, and comfortability is their Trinity and their Christ? Nor does living faith consist of only dead works , after the manner of the Pharisee, who said, justifying himself: “I am not like other men”,[7] but in being humble with Jesus who says: Cum feceritis haec omnia, dicite quia serviutiles sumus,[8] that is, when you have done every good action that a good Christian can do, say that you are[9] useless servants and without any fruit, because if Christ stripped you of all his gifts, which he has freely given you, what would remain that is yours, if not an infinite multitude of sins, offences and infirmities without number? And therefore, the perfection of the Christian life does not consist in only dead works, but in living works of living faith.

Therefore, Christ must be like the heart in the body and like the head, since all the members of the body battle to defend the heart and the head, so you must expose your body and all that you possess and despise all things that are under heaven so as not to offend the heart and the head, that is, Christ, your treasure and bridegroom.

5632 O my, if you knew the goodness of God in you and the infinite glory and riches which God has prepared for you in the future life, you would certainly despise these vile, perishable, frail and momentary things, in the same way that a pontiff, a cardinal or a newly created prince, who with joy distributes all he possesses in his royal palace, having received much greater and more precious prizes and riches;[10] thus if you truly believed the great happiness and dignity of the future life, and in the invisible goods, great and infinite, which God has prepared for you, O my, that you would regard as most vile all these base things and like dung, in order to gain Christ[11] and you would find life in dying, joy in weeping, riches in poverty, sweetness in bitterness, comfort in hardships, and thus you would be truly Christian, since Paul says: Quos praescivit, hos et praedestinavit conformes fieri imaginis Fili sui,[12] that is, those whom God has foreknown, he has predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, not with only dead faith, but in imitating the life of Christ are we able to be conformed to him, who being Son of God despised all things of the world, to show us the evangelical way and of that which Christian perfection consists; since living faith, which works by loving kindness,[13] works actively and is not idle, and like quicksilver [argento vivo/living silver] is always active, giving fruition to works of the spirit and of living faith, from which and by which fruits one certainly recognises a perfect Christian. Therefore, it is not by being baptised or learned, not by dead faith, nor by ceremonies alone that one knows the Christian. But what does our Saviour say? A fructibus eorum cognoscetis eos:[14] by the living fruits of living faith and by the living spirit one recognises the true Christian; by these fruits you will be consoled, my Christian, if with all your heart you ask this of God, with a humble heart, so that you may be happy in this life and in the next.[15]

  1. Cargnoni slightly corrects the original Italian here; I am noting it only to keep the footnotes aligned between the Italian and the English translation.
  2. Diogenes of Sinope, Greek philosopher of the Cynic school, disciple of Antisthenes, was born in Sinopesul Ponte Busino and lived in the IV century BC. Tradition portrays him as an undaunted denier of all bourgeois values and an advocate of a poor life but surrounded by nature. He slept in a large ceramic jar and went around Athens with a stick in his hand, a knapsack on his shoulders and a lighted lantern, as Ochino mentions in this introductory part of the sermon. The Capuchin way of life was compared with the ancient Stoic philosophers by Fr. Julien-Eymard d’Angers, in relation, however, to the French Capuchin spiritual authors of the century. XVII. Cf. Raoul de Sceaux, Le père Julien-Eymard d’Angers (Charles Chesneau). Esquisse biographique el bibliographie, in CF 43 (1973) 353, 356s.
  3. Cf. Mt 7:17.
  4. Cf. Gal 5:22.
  5. Cf. Mt 23:3.
  6. Mt 23:3.
  7. Lk 18:11.
  8. Lk 17:10.
  9. Cargnoni notes that the verb siate used is the antique. I mention it here only to keep the Italian and English translations footnotes in correspondence.
  10. Remember the saying of St Francis: “We have promised great things to God, but God has promised greater things to us”. Cf. Cost. 1536, n. 150.
  11. Cf. Phil 3:8.
  12. Rm 8:29.
  13. Cf. Gal 5:6.
  14. Mt 7:16.
  15. It is the concluding formula that only Ochino uses in his preaching.