Girolamo Finucci da Pistoia: 3 sermons: God’s Majesty, Predestination, Confession

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.2346-2357. 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.

Table of Contents

Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni O.F.M. Cap.

First sermon: Knowledge of God and his Majesty’s most correct rule

Second sermon: Concerning divine, universal predestination

Sermon seventeen: Concerning Confession

Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni O.F.M. Cap.

Girolamo Finucci da Pistoia (+ 1570) was a learned preacher, well organised and well respected, but not as popular as Bernardino Ochino or Alfonso Lupo or Giacinto da Casale. Giulio Santori, who was Cardinal of S. Severino and protector of the Order, commended him as being “a religious of saintly conduct, holy life and famous preacher.” (vol. II, n. 2192). However, he was most of all a teacher of the theology of Bonaventure and Scotus. In the beginning Mattia Bellintani da Salò probably made use of what he taught.

His collection of twenty-two sermons that were composed in a classical style and plain language is one of the few printed collections of the sermons of the capuchin preachers of the sixteenth century. They are strongly based on the Bible, especially Paul’s writings, and on theology. Some sermons are set out in the form of a dialogue, others are developed in a logical sequence. The author classifies the latter group as “homilies” and the former as “dialogues,” which were designed to more easily present abstruse and difficult subjects such as predestination and free will, topics which were “fashionable” in Catholic debates. Such philosophical and theological sophistication strikes the reader to the pointed of making him think that these texts are fabricated, that is composed at a desk and not developed before being presented live in public. However the author himself, foreseeing this objection, abruptly states in the beginning of the preface: In Rome, in Venice, in Naples, in Florence and finally in Bologna after I had preached on these and other learned and beautiful subjects, I realised the great fruit that they gave to souls who thought in the same way. For example, many people asked me to print them and I thought that I could not deprive them the satisfaction of seeing other mysteries of the Christian belief treated the same way.”

Other contemporary documents repeat his method of preaching in the form of a dialogue as a new method of orator. Nevertheless, the basis of his sermons is apologetic controversy. The topics are those there were the most discussed at the time: predestination, Purgatory, the real Church of Christ, the primacy of the Pope, free will, and the Sacraments, especially Confession.

What follows offers the different characteristics of his preaching which is specifically doctrinal, both when presented as a topic or a discussion. It is presented also in simple, plain language with popular examples, with loving emotion, rich in the expression of truth and pastoral zeal.


First sermon: Knowledge of God and his Majesty’s most correct rule

5857 In the end the world’s pleasures make you turn your face towards the earth to such an extent that you cannot look up to heaven. On the other hand, crosses make you lift up your face and contemplate the great captain Christ who is raised up on the cross between two thieves. You gaze on Christ’s hands as if they had been fastened to make satisfaction for the evil perpetrated by the hands of men. You gaze on his feet pierced by nails in satisfaction for our evil affection. You gaze on the head of Christ, O most Christian listeners, seeing the humility in the crown of thorns that Christ wore in satisfaction for our pride. You see how his side was pierced by a lance so that he could teach us about love and peace and remove hatred from our hearts. Your nakedness teaches us to spurn all that is frivolity, hypocrisy and vain glory. Christ wanted to be lifted up to teach us to be detached from the world. He did not want to come down from the cross, even thought he could have come down, to set us an example not to refuse the cross that is offered to us, rightly or wrongly. Motionless he awaits on the cross, bowing his head to give us the kiss of eternal peace, opening his arms to give us confidence in him. He thirsts so that we may have compassion and drink from the vessel of the heart the bitter water of tears. O God, O God of my heart, my portion! My God![1]

5858 You, O most kind Lord, are present to the whole person. You are present to the intellect as its complete and most blissful object in which it recognises all the truths that confer glory on it. You are present to the will because you are its supreme and divine love. You are its supreme good and your goodness lives in it. You, my Lord, are present to the entire soul because you created it in your image.[2] You are in the gift of touch by being so very gentle: O how good and sweet is your spirit, Lord. [3] You are in the gift of sight because you are more beautiful than anything. You are the most handsome of men. [4] You are in the gift of taste by being very sweet. His memory shall be sweet as honey in every mouth. [5] You are present to the sense of smell because you are filled with fragrance. Let us run in the fragrance of your ointments. [6] You are most welcome to the ear. I shall hear what the lord has to say to me. [7] O blessed Lord be present to all of us, because without your favourable presence, all is lost.

Most kind Lord let man be subject to you, because you have formed him with your sacred hand, and then redeemed him with your most precious blood. Let him place himself under your control because he belongs to you just like soil and clay are in the hands of the potter and the craftsman. As clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.[8] You are like the bride in the presence of her loving and affectionate husband. As the eyes of a maid are on the hands of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God until he has mercy on us.[9] It is like what passes between pupil and master. Whatever Mordechai commanded Esther she observed.[10] It is like what captivity meant to the one who has conquered and won. He led captivity captive.[11] It is like a merchant who has made a profit. Behold his reward is with him.[12] It is like a hen with her chickens. How often would I have gathered together your children as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings and you would not?[13] It is like a writer with a book. Take a great book.[14] It is like the temple and the high priest where your soul is the temple of the most kind God,[15] the resting place of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit.

5859 We shall come (says Christ) to a person and make our abode with him provided that he wants to bind himself and give himself to our rule.[16] Therefore, eternal Father, may you remain in my memory to make me always remember the many gifts, graces and favours that you have always bestowed on me, and make me recall the many times that I have offended you, so that I may never cease washing these offences away with my tears. Most kind Spirit deign to dwell in my will so that nothing that is unworthy should ever enter there and so that it will be made warm by your love. Blessed Son, get rid of my ignorance forever, since I desire to proclaim that you are my most divine God. I will do this with all who are wise, with the angels, with the ancient Fathers, with animals and all creatures since I can hear all their voices protesting against my confusion and crass, supine and vicious ignorance concerning my God.

All creatures which are my inferiors profess that you are their God.[17] The earth shook so that my earthly heart would tremble at seeing Christ’s side pierced by a lance. Rocks were split because they were in anguish over the hardness of our hearts when seeing Christ, the cornerstone, split into five parts.[18] The sun was darkened as it proclaimed Christ to be our most bright light and yet being overshadowed by death. The veil of the Temple was split professing that Christ’s holy body had been split in five parts so that his divinity might be dispensed to everyone. Ultimately these rare and exceptional things happened to show the whole world that the torrents of heaven had been released to confer grace on everyone.

As you were generous with your enemies and with the thieves do not turn away from us or cast us away from you. Therefore, Lord, have mercy on us. Amen.[19]

Second sermon: Concerning divine, universal predestination

5860 O man, also remember that whatever God made in this world he made for you placing you in charge.[20] Later on he even gave you his Son and his Son presented you with all of his works, so that, when he had made you rich, you would appear before the Father after he had paid all of your debts so that you could procure heaven.[21]

He gave you his flesh as food and his blood as drink, his teaching and enlightenment, his whole life as a gift, rule and way of life. He did all of this so that man might reach the goal for which he had been chosen before the world began.[22] Because all the signs of love that the Lord gave us were exceptional the one that made us God’s children and predestined and directed us to our great homeland in heaven (this one I say) was more than all of the others because it was beyond them and above them. Therefore, we ought to keep all this in mind, and keep it before our eyes more than anything else. God deigned to grant that we should be his children.[23]

Thus if the other gifts, favours and graces are so valuable and this is beyond everything, because it includes and contains everything else, and if the recollection of the gifts that have been received makes a man happy and joyful, the memory of this should make a man continually jubilant and help him greatly.

How wonderful it is to speak about predestination

5861 Let a man not say that one should not discuss or preach about the most extraordinary gift of predestination since this is nothing more than stating, preaching and explaining how man was made a child of God, a gift that we ought to discuss continually.

Nor should a man say that to speak about this is dangerous because Christ spoke about it and Paul did too, so that we could speak about it without any danger. Thus, Christ expressed the principle of predestination when he said that we had been blessed by his Father and a kingdom had been prepared for us before the world began. He said the same thing when he said: “I was hungry and thirsty and in need of other things, and you came to my aid with works of mercy.” At the end he added that this is to take possession of heaven.[24]

Paul also says: predestination began when God made his choice before the world began. Its middle point was when he obliged us to live a holy life. Its end is reached when we are worthily clad in the garment of consummate love with those who are living with him in heaven.[25]

5862 The beginning could not be more divine, because it comes from our God or his infallible will. The objective could not be richer, or happier, because it is heaven, the homeland of the blessed. The means could not be sounder or more religious because it is the grace of God and the free choice of man to follow the will of such a good Father regarding his vocation and perseverance in good works. The beginning is brought about by nothing but the divine will. The foundation of the objective is the grace of God by means of which it is acquired as Paul says when writing to the Romans. The grace of God is life everlasting,[26] as well as the observance of the divine will as our Saviour showed us when he said: “If you want to enter my kingdom, keep my commandments.”[27]

Concerning this matter Augustine says in the Dogmi ecclesiatici: “The beginning of our salvation lies with God and it consists of an invitation, the second part is within our power, and it consists in consenting to divine inspiration and the divine promptings. The third part involves both God and us. We do not bear fruit that is worthy of gaining such an inheritance. We do not gain salvation by using grace or human freedom, as separate identities, but by the use of both together. Our salvation comes to us in the first place by the mercy of God, secondly by means of our own power, thirdly by means of the workings of both.[28] The grace of salvation is brought to us as a gift from God, coming from his hands as a gift to mankind. Such grace is not forced upon him, nor is the vocation to accept it. It is a gift from God. He has only to accept the gift or favour that God has given. Man himself has to accept it and work along with God to deserve to receive everything that is good.

The beginning is the call and predestination, and then comes justification and then glory. The beginning and the end are eternal. The conferring of grace happens within time. Paul touched on these matters saying: For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be made conformable to the image of his Son. And whom he predestined them he also called. And whom he called, them he also justified, and whom he justified he also glorified.[29]

5863 A person should not say that he should not speak about such exalted secrets just because the wise man[30] says that whoever scrutinises majesty using his own intellect wants to understand and explain these high mysteries. The one who is humbly faithful to what God has revealed in Sacred Scripture and only wants to understand and preach it or write about it and proclaim it is a genuine believer and is not scrutinising the divine Majesty.

You cannot say that such inquiring is not fruitful, for if recalling the other gifts is advantageous, recalling all these things is even better.

You cannot say that this gift of God has not been given to everybody, or that only the elect are his children. If they heard this kind of talk it would be offensive to both parties (for no one would yet know who had been chosen and who had not been chosen). It would be the same as saying that God had to give happiness and satisfaction to all who listened to this sermon if they considered themselves to be God’s children through the grace of his Majesty and bound to obey the Father if they did not want to forfeit their inheritance. Saying that a father or a mother deliberately had children just to have them die in prison or jail would be very cruel, as we expect that all animals show most diligent care for their young. It would be much more absurd to say that God made an angel or human being in his image just to send him to hell where he would continually blaspheme and curse his most holy name in spite of his having been formed in his image. Therefore, let a person respectfully bless the magnitude of his Father who has ordained that both angels and men are destined to be in heaven, with the elect and those who have been predestined by God before the world began. He wanted everyone to be with him to enjoy heaven if all became genuine imitators and observants of his divine will to the end.

5684 Do not say that a simple and devout or timid person could discuss, preach about or write about other things that would be of more benefit to mankind, because I do not know of a more beautiful gift, one that is richer or more delightful than this among all the gifts and graces that God has given. Therefore, I cannot think of anything more beneficial that could be discussed than this since we have been made God’s children by this gift. In doing this he has given us the gift of his divine Son. Because of this we are brothers of Christ and his fellow heirs. By means of this we recognise how God made us to be greater than all other things, having chosen us before the world began. This is why he set down the law. God deigned to give his Son as a servant, together with whom we would be lead to our inheritance. He did so many other things for the world, so that in the end we who had been chosen and predestined by God would become children of the great Father, brothers of Christ. So that we would not be lost, he worked so hard as the Good Shepherd surrendering his own life for the salvation of his tender flock.[31]

Therefore, when we speak about this gift we explain how to observe the divine precepts, how to follow Christ, how to be humble, how to even love enemies and to be the generous dispenser of the talents that God has given us, because these are the paths that we need to tread if we want to reach our inheritance in heaven. This demonstrates the grandeur of the divine Majesty, the grandeur of the great palace of heaven with what it holds as being the objective of our predestination, the dignity of those who are saved and the misery of those who in the end are lost. Therefore, to write or to preach about this most divine favour is something that is worthy and very useful. However, because everything has been set up by divine wisdom, which is wonderful and mysterious, it would be good to look at various aspects of the wisdom of mankind, of angels and then of God himself.

The wisdom of mankind, of angels and of God

5865 Human wisdom consists in self-knowledge and at the same time knowing all the various creatures that serve him and in contemplating the great Lord whose hands made and govern all the good things that he has given us, and also in enjoying, relishing and finding rest in the delightful goodness that this shows.

The wisdom of the angels consists in self-knowledge, in knowing God’s creatures on earth, in knowing the most pleasant place in which they live with God, in knowing the supreme Monarch who is the source of all their beatitude and in being contented with all the great things the Lord has done through them, abandoning themselves to him with all their affections.

The wisdom of our God consists in contemplating no other things except his own grandeur, and in recognising his own beautiful nature and everything else in that, in loving himself with infinite love, in enjoying his own self and in being happy within himself.

Sermon seventeen: Concerning Confession

5866 If a person who is seriously sick wants to be cured, he should make his illness known to a learned and expert doctor. A person who is in mortal sin and (wants to be healed and free) should present himself to a confessor, who is Christ’s vicar, assigned to be a doctor by Christ, and confess his sin with his own lips. When Paul was thinking about this, he was moved to speak to the Romans what he wrote in the tenth chapter: For with the heart, we believe unto justice, but, with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation.[32] It is necessary to believe, but this is not enough, because you need to confess with your own lips. Paul was discussing these words with a Roman person and was happy to answer their questions.

Roman person. Tell me, Paul, what kind of confession do we have to make if we want to be saved?

Paul. A person has to confess his sins in the sight of God, whom he has offended and dishonoured by sinning. This is what David had to say about himself: I said I will confess against myself my injustice to the Lord; and thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sin.[33]

The second thing that a person ought to confess is the goodness of God in order to avoid being ungrateful. Therefore, David said: Give praise to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.[34]

The third thing that a person ought to confess is the Christian faith, concerning which Christ said: If someone confesses me before men, I shall also confess him before my Father, and any who does not acknowledge me as his friend before men or is ashamed of me before the world I will deny before my Father.[35]

The fourth thing that a person ought to confess is his own frailty which should be done in the context of fraternal correction, concerning which James said in chapter five: Confess your sins one to another.[36]

The fifth thing that a person ought to do and this is necessary for salvation, is to confess all his sins to a priest.

5867 Paul. You need to confess everything otherwise if you keep something back you are headed towards hell and in danger of being lost like one who is suffering from four or six wounds and conceals one from the doctor places himself in danger of death. It is like a foolish person who has ten enemies and is seeking protection, but who is convinced that the tenth will not do him wrong, when he is as willing as the rest to put him to death. How foolish would the person be who wanted to heal a wound without being careful about how he uses the knife? The sinner who hides a sin while confessing would be just as mad or even madder if he did not whole heartedly put the knife into some fault or sin.

Therefore, O citizen of Rome, follow the example of David who is teaching you a lesson in Psalm 76 when he says: I meditated in the night with my own heart and I was exercised and I swept my spirit.[37] In the shadows of your life begin to meditate, O Roman citizen, and arouse yourself to discover all your faults and then take the broom, and sweep everything clean[38] in confession cleaning out all of your sins.

5868 A broomstick is made out of useless trivialities, whereas confession deals with all things that are lethal: What fruit therefore had you then in those things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of them is death.[39] Concerning such sins Christ says clearly: Say to yourselves: we are unprofitable servants.[40]

A broom that is used to sweep the oven is made of old clothes and rags. Confession which sweeps the heart is made of the sins that we have committed in imitation of our primeval father Adam.

A broom cleans smooth surfaces. Confession pacifies rational and prudent consciences and not those that are scrupulous and imprudent. These will never be satisfied: We would have cured Babylon, but she is not healed.[41]

A broom removes rubbish. Confession bestows the Holy Spirit: Come O south wind, blow through my garden, and let the aromatic spices flow there.[42]

A broom takes away all that is nasty and cleans the entire house. Confession takes all sins away from the heart and cleanses it: Rise from among them.[43]

A broom is clean on one side and soiled on the other. While the law of the Spirit brings calm and peace, in confession, it challenges the flesh.

A broom drives away fleas. Confession chases away temptations that by earthly means assault the soul.

A broom removes cobwebs that collect flies. Confession brings down avarice and cupidity that weave falsehood, plotting, theft, and robbery and a thousand tricks. Look at the example of Zacchaeus who said: Behold Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have wronged any man of anything, I restore him fourfold.[44]

A broom takes care of dust and other filth. Confession is concerned with other things besides sin.

A broom gathers together what is has to gather. Confession gathers all sins.

Someone holds a broom in their right hand. Confession is made to one confessor with the right intention.

A broom is put in a cupboard so that it is out of sight when not sweeping. A confessor must always keep silent.

Finally, a broom is assisted by water to clean God’s temple. Confession is accompanied by crying and it cleans the heart which is God’s holy temple. Just as we often use a broom to sweep, we should go to confession often if we want to remain in the grace of the Lord who blesses us. Amen.


Endnotes

  1. Ps 23: 26. In the original text the chapters and verses of the quotes from the Bible appear throughout the text. To make it easier to read we have placed the references in the footnotes.
  2. Gen 1: 26-27; 2: 7.
  3. Wis 12: 1
  4. Ps 45: 3.
  5. Sir 49: 2
  6. Cant. 1:4; 4:10b
  7. Ps 85: 9
  8. Jer 18: 6; Is 45: 9
  9. Ps 123: 2
  10. Esther 2: 20
  11. Eph 4: 8; Ps 68: 14.
  12. Is 40: 10; 62: 11
  13. Mt 23: 37
  14. Is 8: 1
  15. Cf 1 Cor. 6: 19; 2 Cor. 4:16
  16. Cf. Jn 14: 23
  17. This had already been stated by the Fathers of the desert, and the ancient monks and hermits who considered that creatures were a reproach to men who did not love God as they should.
  18. His refers to Christ’s five wounds.
  19. Note the easy passage from treating the subject in an objective and analytical manner to treating it in an emotional way as prayer. This was a characteristic feature of “Capuchin” preaching.
  20. Ti ha reso padrone.
  21. Cf. Mt 15. This is another one of the author’s citation that is difficult to identify. He then refers to Eph 1: 3-5.
  22. Eph 1: 5
  23. Cf. Eph 1: 5
  24. Mt 25: 34-40
  25. Cf. Eph 5: 1
  26. Rom 6: 23
  27. Mt 19: 17
  28. Cf. S. Augustinus, De eccl. Dogmatibus, cap. XXI. (PL. 42, 1217)
  29. Rom 8: 29-30
  30. The Vulgate says: he that is a searcher of majesty shall be overwhelmed by glory. Cf. Prov. 25: 27; Sir 3: 22
  31. Cf. Jn 10: 11, 15
  32. Rom 10:10
  33. Ps 31: 5.
  34. Ps 117: 1-29
  35. Mt 10: 32-33
  36. Jam 5: 16
  37. Ps 76: 7
  38. Granata in the text refers to a broom that sweeps clean. or “picks up fine grains of dust”.
  39. Rom 6: 21
  40. Lk 17: 10
  41. Jer 51: 9.
  42. Cant 4: 16.
  43. Sir 31: 21.
  44. Lk 19: 8