Capuchin Spiritual writers after the Council of Trent

Critical Analysis of Capuchin Spiritual Writings after the Council of Trent

By Costanzo Cargnoni OFM Cap

Translated by Patrick Colbourne O.F.M.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.114-218. 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, (1999) for an English version of quotations from the Writings or Biographies of St Francis.

Table of Contents

 

CAPUCHIN SPIRITUAL LITERATURE OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURE: 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.

Days Morning Night
Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

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.

Day Morning Evening Morning Evening
Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sinners and
The JustThose with worries and
Those who prosperThose in Holy Orders

Religious servants of God

Those for whom we are obliged to pray

Those who offended us

Benefactors

Saints in general and the dead

Friends and
EnemiesLeaders and
PrelatesMarried people
Celibate

Those who have asked for our prayers

Those we have offended or scandalised

Criminals

Special Saints and the dead

Angels and
SaintsApostlesMartyrs

Pontiffs

Priests

Virgins

All the
saints

Patriarchs and
ProphetsEvangelistsThe Innocents

Doctors

Monks and hermits

Widows

Saints 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]

3. 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.


Endnotes:

  1. Cf. G. Alberigo, Studie problemi relaiuvi all’aplicazione del concilio do Trento in Italia 1945, 1958) in Riv. Stor. Ital. 70 (1958) 239-298.
  2. Cf. M. Petrocchi, Storia della spiritualità Italiana, II, Il Cinquecento e il Seicento, Rma, 1978, 17s.
  3. Cf. Discorse de l’anima come Guse Cristo é nostro bon pastore, in Discorsi e orazione…. 25-31.
  4. Cf. Discorsi e orazione… 93-179.
  5. Ibid. 199s.
  6. Ibid. 88.
  7. Cf. M. Patrocchi, Storia, 85.
  8. Cf. Prattica dell’orazione mentale di P. Matthia Bellintani da Salò, Quarta parte. In Venezia 1607, 682.
  9. Cf, Prattica dell’orazione mentale, Parte seconda novamente posta in luce in Venezia 1584, 9.
  10. Cf. n. 4343 and Prattica I, ed. Umile da Genova cit., 46s.
  11. 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.
  12. Cf. See further ahead in the introduction to Document 13.
  13. 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.
  14. Cf. Perugia, Arch. Dell’Oratorio Corrispondenza di Mattia da Salò con Orazio Marcini: Brescia, 3 agosto 1594.
  15. 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.
  16. Cf. the introduction to the section here in II/2.
  17. Cf. Pratica dell’orazioni mentali, Parte prima, In Venzia 1584, 9.
  18. 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.
  19. Cf. n. 436 at the end.
  20. Cf. Oratica … Parte prima, Venezia 1584, 10.
  21. Cf. nn. 4324-4326,
  22. Cf. Practicadell’orazion mentale Parte seconda, novamente posta in luce, In Venegia 1584, 8s.
  23. 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.
  24. 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.
  25. Cf. Balduinus ab Amsterdam, Sanctus Bonaventura “magister” proprius a saperioribus Ordinis capuccinis designatus, In Laurent 2 (1961) 83s.
  26. 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.
  27. C. Bérubé, Gli studi nelle coastituzioni cappuccino (I Frati Cappucini – Sussidio per la lettura dei doccumeenti testimonianze del I secolo. 101, Roma, 1980., 18s.
  28. Cf. Biblioteca dei Frati Minori Cappuccini di Lombardia (1535-1900) a cura di Ilario da Milano, Firenze 1937, XXXI.
  29. 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.
  30. Cf. Practica cit., 61.
  31. 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.
  32. 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.
  33. Cf. Compendio cit., 13.
  34. 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.
  35. Ibid. 66.
  36. Ibid., 66
  37. Ibid., 67.
  38. 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).
  39. Ibid., 69.
  40. 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.
  41. Cf. Storia della spiritualità Italiana II, Roma 1978, 89.
  42. Cf. Compendio cit., 14.
  43. Cf. vol. II nn. 2544-2545.We reproduced Coronw spirituali. See below doc. 13 nn. 4454-4507.
  44. 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.
  45. 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.
  46. Cf. C. Cargnoni, Riforma della Chiesa, profezia e Apocalisse in Mattia da Salò in Laurent. 26 (1985) 497-569.
  47. “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).
  48. Ibid. 98 (I/1 prat. 21: Del conoscimento di Dio per via negativa.)
  49. “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.
  50. Ibid., 110-114 (I/1, prat. 24. Come il sommo Bene si conosce dall’amore scoperto dal Verbo Incarnato).
  51. Ibid., 54-58 (I/1), prac. 12, Della Passion di Cristo si trae il conoscimento dei beni celesti.
  52. “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).
  53. Ibid., 14 (I/1, prac. 3. Del modo con che Iddio si manifesta e dà ai beati in Cristo Uomo.”
  54. Ibid., 4s (I/1, prat. 1: La celeste patria illustrate da Dio e dell’Agnello, col suo perchè).
  55. “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.)
  56. Ibid., 35s (I/1 prat. 28: Del uso di Dio.
  57. This is a splendid meditation. Cf Ibid., 296s (I/2, prat. 18. Dell’unione essenziale del beati con Dio)
  58. Ibid., 153 (I/1 pret. 33: Dell’unione essentiale dei beati con Dio).
  59. Ibid., 149 (I/1 , prat. 32: Dell’eccellenza della divina unione coi beati).
  60. Ibid., 182 (I/1, prat. 59: Dell amor beatifico).
  61. Ibid., 187 (I/1, prat. 40: Degli effetti dell’amor beaticico e delle varie unioni nel beato).
  62. Ibid. 190.
  63. Ibid., 141 (I/1, prat. 30Delle alter unioni si augmenta l’eccellenza della celeste).
  64. 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.”
  65. Ibid., 352s 9I/2, prat. 30: Della singular beatitudine dei santi nella voluntà di Dio; cf. also nn. 4422-33.
  66. Ibid., 362s (I/2, prat. 32: Somma unione per gl’atti beatifici uniti del beato con Dio uno.)
  67. Ibid., 141 (I/1 prac. 30 cit.)
  68. Cf. Rb 5, 3; 10, 10. FAED, I, PP. 102, 105.
  69. With regard to the characteristics of Capuchin preaching cf. see below in the introduction to section two.
  70. Cf. Modo come la persona spirituale etc. 6.
  71. Ibid., 10
  72. 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.
  73. Cf. doc. 2, nn. 4621-4632.
  74. 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.
  75. Cf. H. Martin, Le metier de précateur à la fin du Moyen Age (1350-1520), Paris 1988, 282.
  76. Cf. Compendio di cento meditazioni sacre, Venezia 1602, 4.
  77. 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.
  78. 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.
  79. Ibid., 6.
  80. 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 ….”
  81. Ibid., 11s.
  82. Ibid., 12, cf. also n 4881.
  83. Ibid., 14.
  84. Ibid., 15.
  85. Ibid., 15s.
  86. Ibid., 16s. also n. 4969.
  87. Ibid., 17, see also n. 4969.
  88. Ibid., 17, cf. n. 4966.
  89. Ibid., 18.
  90. Ibid., 19, see also n. 4970.
  91. Cf. Pauk de la Croix, La pluie et la source. Les voies de la prière silencieuse, Saint Maurice 1981, 85-88, 171-176.
  92. Ibid., 20, cf. also Exercisi di anima, 68 were “very important perfect acts” is applied to the celebration of the liturgical hours.
  93. 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.)
  94. Ibid., n. 98.
  95. 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.
  96. Ibid., 317
  97. Cf. Compendio di cento meditazioni sacre cit. 21-23.
  98. 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.
  99. Cf. Matthia da Salò, Pratica dell’oratione mentale Prima parte, Venezia 1584, cap. XIV, p. 52.
  100. Cf. Lettera “A’ devoti e pietosilettori”, Venezia, nel monastero di S. Stefano, 30 agosto 1593.
  101. Cf. Dardi del divin amore, Venezia 1593, 404.
  102. Ibid., 435.
  103. Ibid., 440.
  104. 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.
  105. Cf., Dardi di divin amore, 273.
  106. Ibid., 159. “Sometimes, O dear reader, consider with your intellect …”, he says this with very little variation in many places.
  107. 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.
  108. Cf., Dardi del divin amore, 6, 64s.
  109. Ibid., 2 (“ .. Preambolo”).
  110. Ibid., 46.
  111. Ibid.
  112. Ibid., 60.
  113. Ibid., 22.
  114. 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.
  115. Ibid., 77.
  116. Ibid., 41.
  117. Ibid., 191.
  118. Ibid., 192, 332s, see also n. 4045.
  119. Ibid., 197.
  120. Ibid., 206s.
  121. Ibid., 401 where the example of St Francis is cited.
  122. 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.
  123. Ibid., 405.
  124. Ibid., 443-446.
  125. 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.
  126. 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.
  127. Compare this suggestion with what Bernardino Ochino said to those participating in the Forty Hours Cf. below, nn. 6551-6554.
  128. 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.
  129. Cf. Salvatore Rasari da Rivolta, Vita di alcuni frati capuccini, f. 268v (ms. nell’Archiv. Di Stato di Milano).
  130. 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.
  131. 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.
  132. 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.
  133. Cf. Guido Pedrojetta, Valerio da Venezia: Preliminari sull’opera di suo scrittore spirituale del Seicentio, in CF 58 (1988) 5-44.
  134. 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.
  135. Verucchino’s influence on these two authors from Venice is abundantly evident also in a comparison of the devotional topics.
  136. Cf. Romitorio sacro, Venezia 1626, 99=135, 508-578.
  137. Ibid., 26s.
  138. 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).
  139. 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.
  140. See the first volume nn. 939-979.
  141. 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.
  142. Cf. Corrado da Arienzo, Necrologio dei minori cappuccino della provincial monastica di Napolie Terra di Lavoro, 215 e 241.
  143. 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.
  144. This is written in small letters and placed up high in the middle of the codex on p. 209.
  145. “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.
  146. 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”.
  147. 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.
  148. In various chapters, for example chapter 47 Gregorio da Napoli returns to the doctrine of the “spiritual eye” and “mystical vision.”
  149. “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).
  150. The whole of chapter 12 from which this quote if taken should be read as a personal passionate account of what he is teaching.
  151. For example, see chapter 28 nn. 4742-4743.
  152. 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.
  153. The manuscript has some marvellous pages on these terms. For example, see n. 4799.
  154. 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.
  155. Cf. Maria Maddalena de’Pazzi, Laparole ell’estasi. A cura di Giovanni Pozzi, Milano, 1894, 194s.
  156. 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.
  157. 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.
  158. 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.
  159. 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.
  160. 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.
  161. Cf. Paradiso interiore, Bergamo e Napoli 1684, 26s.
  162. 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.
  163. 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).
  164. See also n. 5228, § 7-8.
  165. Note how the verb to annihilate or the term annihilation appears 15 or 20 times in the book.
  166. Cf. Paradiso interiore cit. Bergamo e Napoli 1684, 121.
  167. Cf. ibid., 71ss, 78ss, 102ss, 127s, 166 etc.
  168. 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.
  169. 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.
  170. Cf. M. Perocchi, Il quietismo italiano, cit., 25-28, id., Storia della spiritualità italiana cit., II, 217-220.
  171. 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.
  172. Cf. Lettatura religiosa del Dueal Novecento, Firenze, 1967, 212.
  173. Cf. G. Gatto, Letteratura cit., 216.
  174. The body – he says – is the worst enemy, “the weak body”. The spirit should never trust it. Cf. n. 5302.
  175. He often repeats “I saw, I saw him…” Cf. n. 5299.
  176. 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.
  177. Cf. Gianmaria da Spirano, Fra Tomasso di Olera cit., 698-715.
  178. 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.
  179. Cf. Fuoco d’amore, 228.
  180. Ibid., 245.
  181. Cf. Bergomen seu Oenipontan beatificationis et canonizationis Servi DeiThomae ab Olera, possitio, Roma 1978, 324ss.