Giovanni Maria da Tusa: First sermon of Lenten course

Translated by Patrick Colbourne OFM Cap

Translator’s note:

This translation is based on the introduction, text and footnotes which were published by P. Costanzo Cargnoni O.F.M. Cap. in I Frati Cappuccini: Documenti e testimonianze dell primo secolo, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, vol III/1, pp.2411–2417. The only additions to the notes made by the translator are references to Francis of Assisi: The Early Documents, edited by Regis Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., J. A. Wayne Hellmann, O.F.M. and William J. Short O.F.M. Conv., New York City Press, New York, London, Manila, for an English version of quotations from the Writings or Biographies of St Francis.

Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni OFM Cap

Giovanni Maria da Tusa became Vicar general of the Capuchins in 1581 and then stopped preaching Lenten and Advent Courses as he had been doing since 1560, when at the age of 27, he received his obedience as a preacher. During the three years that he was Minister General, which were the last three years of his life, he dedicated himself exclusively to the spiritual animation of the friars by short conferences on the Franciscan Rule (cf. vol. I, 799-884). He had preached for more than twenty years in various towns in Sicily, Puglia and Abruzzo and, finally, in places in the vicinity of Rome, as he wrote in a short autobiographical note (n. 1).

Unlike what is the situation with many of his contemporary Capuchin preachers who left no manuscripts of their preaching, we enjoy the possibility of knowing the style and content of his preaching as we possess a codex that was written in his own hand that contains a Lenten Course which contains 45 sermons which were delivered between Ash Wednesday and the Tuesday after Easter. Giovanni M. da Tusa builds up his Lenten Courses into a comprehensive lesson in Christian doctrine, beginning with original sin and dealing with all the truth of faith, God as one and as a Trinity, the incarnation, Christ’s Passion, death and Resurrection, the Commandments, the virtues, the last things and the Sacraments. His “course of sermons”, to use his own expression, was meant to deal with “the entire Christian life and everything that a Christian ought to believe and to do.” This catechesis was developed in a systematic manner, succeeding in skilfully joining the Gospel of the day with the catechetical topic, supported by many passages from Scripture, from the fathers and, above all, from law, thus demonstrating his solid formation and extensive knowledge of Canon Law.

In the first sermon in his Lenten Course he explains the method and the aim of his preaching, suggesting what is the best frame of mind in which to derive fruit from listening to what he says. He is very conscious of his ministry and his pastoral responsibility (n. 2). From this collection we have selected the sermon for the first Sunday in Lent, which deals with the Feast at Cana. It develops the topic of prayer which the early Capuchins emphasised greatly (n. 3). We also present the final sermon, which is interesting since it proposes a review of the entire Lent and an invitation to share the peace that the Risen Christ offers with the showing of the cross (n. 4). Finally, we have added one of his sermons on Joseph, which contains many striking points quite vividly in support of the great devotion which the early Capuchins had for this saint (n. 5).

1. Autobiographical note

5934 I, Brother Giovanni Maria da Tusa, in the year of Our Lord 1548 on the second day of February, the feast of the Purification of the Immaculate Virgin, at the age of sixteen years, took the holy habit of the Order of St Francis of the Capuchins after the Office of Matins, while Father Arcangelo da Catania[1] was the Vicar Provincial. At the time I was given the habit by Father Basilio da Catania in Palermo where he was Guardian.[2] At the time Father Bernardino d’Asti was the Vicar General.[3]

I was ordained priest in the Year of the Lord 1556 at the age of 24 years when Father Tommaso da Città de Castello was Vicar General of Sicily and Father Eusebio d’Ancona was General.[4]

I received the ministry of preaching in the Year of the Lord 1560 at the age of 27 when Father Ludovico da Noto[5] was Vicar Provincial. And Father Tommaso da Città di Castello was Vicar General. I preached in Gesso near the city of Messina in the same year.[6]

In 1561 I preached at Sortino; In 1562 I preached at Rugusa; in 1563 at Bivona; in 1564 in the city of Taormina; in 1565 in Caltagirone; in 1566 in Lentini; in 1567 in Randazzo; in 1568 in Castroreale;[7] in 1569 in Nicosia. In 1570 I preached in the Province of S. Michele Arcangelo at Ascoli Satriano; in 1571 in Toria; in 1572 in Lucera; in 1573 in the Province of Puglia in Molfetta; in 1574 in the Province of the Abbruzzese at Lanciano; in 1575 in the Province of S. Angelo in the city of Torremaggiore at the request of the Duke.

In 1576 I preached in the Province of the Abbruzzese or of S. Bernardino in the city of Ortona. In 1577 I preached in Sicily in the city of Termini Imerese; in 1578 in Catania; in 1579 in the Province of Rome at Preneste; in 1580 in the city of Rome in the church of S. Celso; in 1581 at Tuscolo or Frascati.[8]

2. The statement that every preacher ought to make at the beginning or in the middle of the first sermon of the Lenten course

5935 When the Saviour of the World sent the Apostles to preach throughout the universe, he taught them to wish peace on every person, home, villa, castle and even city. He said: Into whatever house you enter, first say: Peace be to this house.[9] Because of this, as I am obliged by my profession and office to follow (although unworthily) in the footsteps of the holy Apostles, I offer you peace and say: Peace be with you and I urge you to embrace this.

Because, my Beloved in Christ, in this Lenten course, I intend (with the Lord’s help) to preach about the road to virtues affirming their practice and to teach you how to acquire them, I am certain that I will be accepted and listened to by those who are virtuous. On the other hand, however, when you see me cursing vices and being determined to speak disparagingly about them, I am certain that those who practice vice will curse me. However, I have hope in the Lord that they will be converted to Christ and like me hate iniquity and wickedness.

Both when praising the virtuous and scolding the wicked I intend to speak only in general. When praising and when reproving I do not intend to indicate any particular person,[10] but to respect each one as a creature of the Supreme Monarch.

5936 What is more since I wish to explain to you mysteries that pertain to our faith, I declare and state that whatever I will say or preach during this Lent I want to lay at the feet of the Catholic and Apostolic Church as being in accord with its declarations. I intend to preach nothing but what it wishes. If on occasion (may God not allow) because of a slip, I say something wrong, I wish that I had not said it and I retract it. From now on I will always want to retract this, and I wish to never say such a thing. Because of this I urge you that if you hear something that gives you doubts or displeases you, perhaps because you have not understood it properly, approach me. Then if you have not understood it correctly, I shall repeat it. If you want to be sure, I will explain the reasoning, show you the books and explain the doctrine in question. I do not say anything that comes from me but what the holy theologians and Catholic doctors have said. Then, with the Lord’s help, you will be satisfied ad plenum (completely).

Therefore, my most dear and beloved Christian people, my joy and my crown,[11] I beg of you to come gladly to the preaching because it will show you the way to paradise, indeed you will be inspired to embrace this and turn away from the road to hell.

Do this quickly and make sure that you do not miss out, since the prophet David said: Come to him and be enlightened, and your faces shall not be confounded.[12] When you come to the sermon you should arrive at the beginning, not in the middle or at the end, by missing out on the beginning, the rest of the good thing it contains are lost.[13]

5937 This is not enough, for there is the need to persevere to the very end, not only while something is being preached, but for the whole of Lent so that you may know your soul completely, for St Isidore said: the prize has been promised to those who undertake to do good works, but it is given to those who persevere.[14]

In addition one should be careful not to wander here and there or talk about one thing or another because it will then come about that you treat the negative aspect of something without mentioning the positive aspect, and think that you have covered the whole subject, when you have mixed one aspect with another. You ought to be careful and consider that when the preacher is speaking, he is giving instruction in the name of Jesus Christ and his Apostles as David said: I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me.[15]

Finally, I tell you that that if you wish to profit by the preaching it is necessary to believe what I have said, committing them to memory, and trying to put them into practice. You have to believe me because I am saying nothing but what Christ, his Apostles and prophets and the holy doctors who were enlightened by the Holy Spirit said. The Saviour said: for it is not you who speak, but the spirit of your Father who speaks in you.[16]

You ought to keep this in mind so that you consider my teachings and your life and realise how far you have strayed from the correct path, as David said and did: In the night I have remembered your name, O Lord.[17] You must observe what you have heard, otherwise you have accomplished nothing, for Jesus Christ said: blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.[18] Do not allow the word to be the reason for your damnation: the servant who knew the will of his lord and did not act according to it shall be beaten with many stripes.[19]

  1. Arcangelo da Catania who was Provincial seven times established the friaries of Nicosia (1546) and Randazzo (1544) when the Province of Sicily was still one entity.
  2. We do not have any further information with regard to this friar. See Lexicon cap, 1266s.
  3. Bernardino d’Asti was re-elected during the General Chapter of 1546 in Rome. Cf. Felice da Mareto, Tavole dei capitoli generali, 51.
  4. Eusebio Fardini d’Ancona was re-elected in 1555 during the Chapter at Ferno having served three years as General. Tommaso Gnotti da Città di Castello was Provincial of Sicily before the division in 1556 and established the friary at Modica. Cf. Felice da Mareto, Tavole, 63.
  5. The preacher Ludovico da Noto was Provincial from 1557 to 1560 and in 1562.
  6. Tommaso Gnotti was elected in 1558. The Latin word Gyps corresponds to the district of Gesso just outside Messina, where in 1584 a Capuchin friary was established. Cf. Lexicon cap. 682s; MHOC XVII, 279s
  7. The Latin text has in civitate Castri, that is Castroreale also known simply as Castro. Cf. MHOC XVII, 272s.
  8. With regard to some of these names note that Ascoli Satriano is in the Province of Foggia; Lanciano in the Province of Chieti; Torremaggiore, where Tusa made his noviciate, is in the Province of Foggia and Termini Imerese in the Province of Palermo.
  9. Lk 10: 5
  10. This shows his intention to observe the Rule of St Francis which exhorts preachers to speak about vices and virtues. (Cf. Rb 9, 5) as well as showing a desire to observe the Capuchin Constitution, Cf. Const. 1536, n. 119: 1-2 (n. 373).
  11. Cf. Phil 4: 1
  12. Ps 33: 6 (Vulg)
  13. This is a philosophic and legal axiom.
  14. S. Isidorus, Sententiarum lib. II, cap. VII 1-2 (PL 83, 606s)
  15. Ps 84: 9 (Vulg.)
  16. Mt 10: 20
  17. Ps 118: 53 (Vulg.)
  18. Lk 11: 28
  19. Lk 12: 47