Table of Contents
- Introduction and translation by Patrick Colbourne OFM Cap
- Good Friday Sermons delivered by Matteo d’Agone
- The popular preaching of Giacinto da Casale
During the first hundred year of its existence preaching was one of the leading features of the activities of the Capuchin Order. Before the regulations that were set down by the Council of Trent both priests and lay brother were involved in this form of the apostolate.
The special characteristic of the style and content of this form of preaching was that it was based on the Gospel. Unlike other contemporary preachers, the Capuchins were itinerant, directed what they had to say towards ordinary people, emphasized repentance, accepted the word of God as their inspiration and used it as they advocated a change in the way of life and a revival in the life of prayer.
After the decrees issued by Trent it became necessary for preachers to undergo special formation authorised by the Superiors of the Order and the local Bishops. This included the study of philosophy and theology.
Capuchin preaching was very successful. Their way of life contributed to this. Their way of dress was austere. They lived a strictly regulated lifestyle that was set out in their Rule, their Constitutions, and the Ordinances of the General Chapters. The only ones who were allowed to preach were those who could travel to the place on foot, or who, for serious reasons, were exempt from observing the Lenten fast. The Holy See granted Mattia da Salὸ and Giacinto da Casale special dispensations from this so that they could continue to preach.
The leading Italian cities sent out persistent and adamant requests for Capuchin preachers. Some of these were sent directly to the Roman Curia by the local authorities. Those who were in charge were inspired to do so by the example set by the way that the friars lived, the efficacy of what they said and the amount of fruit that this produced within the church and in society as confraternities, orphanages, and establishments to help the poor began to appear. Some requests were because the Capuchins gave their services without charging.
(I Frati Cappuccini, Costanzo Cargnoni Ed., Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, III/2 p.2756-2759)
In the accounts that were composed by Gabriele da Cerignola, Father Matteo d’Agnone was portrayed as being the most well-known preacher in the Province of S. Angelo (Foggia). Gabriele noted the clarity of Matteo’s presentation, his use of simple language and his fervent spirit. However, he did not travel as far as some of the other friars of his time who were called to different cities in Italy. Except for a short initial period in the region of Bologna, he preached within the limits of his own Province. Nevertheless, what he achieved was remarkable. A manuscript containing his sermons has come down to us. The cover states that this was composed in the friary at Monte Calvario in Bologna in 1594. I Frati Cappuccini here reproduces one of his sermons on the Lord’s Passion. It would have been delivered on Good Friday during a Lenten Course. The text is challenging, interspersed with Latin quotations based on the Gospel according to St John. If what is said on the cover is true it would have been preached in Bologna shortly after Father Matteo was ordained to the priesthood. It is a typical example of the long sermons that were delivered on Good Friday. They often lasted for four or five hours. The people were encouraged to spend time in careful meditation on the Lords’ Passion with the preacher concluding by holding up the Cross and blessing the people with the cross.
[Translator: We provide here only the introduction to the sermon on the Passion as an example of the style and content of the sermon]
6365 As I turn my mind to contemplating the Passion of my Lord and the enormous help and wonderful fruitfulness it provided for our soul, I seem to see that it is like the book that God gave to the Jewish Prophet to eat in order to remove his sins. The holy Prophet heard a voice that said: “Ezekiel, open your mouth and eat what I am giving you.” He then saw a hand which was holding a closed book reach out to him and he opened it and there was writing on the inside and the outside which contained lamentations, mourning and woe. Et scripta erant in eo lamentationes, carmen et vae. After that he heard another voice say, “Ezekiel, eat this book”. The Prophet ate it and he said that when he ate it that it tasted like honey in his mouth.
It was both a book and a piece of food. Because it was a written document it was a book. Because it was tasty it was food. As a book it had something to teach and as food it provided nourishment. As a book it is focused on the intellect. As food it is focused on the will. Let us now look at how it functioned as a book and later how it functioned as food.
Ludwig von Pastor said that Giacinto Natta da Casale Monferrato was one of the most outstanding popular preachers of all the friars who preached at the beginning of the seventeenth century. His continuous travel and frequent transfers for preaching assignments as well as his diplomatic engagements gave him a wide experience of the workings of the human heart as well as the conventions of different parts of society. He could speak just as easily to those who were educated as to those who were simple and he knew how to adapt what he said to the various mentalities of all classes of people and address their problems with the wisdom of the Gospel. Many of his contemporaries have left long account of his preaching. (Cf, below document 8, 1-3 which deal with his Lenten sermons). However, today it is not easy to discover his notes or copies of his sermons since they may be hidden in different libraries. However, in order to discover some aspects of his popular oratory we have made use of a valuable collection of his sermons on Christ’s Passion that was published thirty years ago by Father Giangrisostomo da Cittadella, as well as an interesting booklet “of admonitions to different classes of people”, that was edited in Brescia in 1616 and reprinted four times in the space of four years up to 1620.
The manuscript, which deserves a deeper study, provides us with the possibility of coming to know how Giacinto da Casale introduced people to meditating on the Passion while he was preaching during the Forty Hours and Lent. It contains forty sermons on the Passion starting from when Jesus left the Cenacle and went to the Garden of Olives and extends to the moment when He died on the Cross. We have chosen the second of these sermons (cf. n. 1). The language is the outcome of intense affective meditation and deep love for the suffering Christ. This Lenten sermon was probably preached for the first time in 1614 in Venice.
The small booklet originated in the sermons delivered in Natta in Brescia in 1615, which were taken down by Father Teodulo who was there. They were printed a year later by Father Marchetti a Brescia. We do not know for certain if Father Teodulo is the same Father Teodulo Barbarigo da Venezio who died in 1615. We note another characteristic of the preaching of Giacinto da Casale which stands out in these “admonishments” and that is his capacity to be all things to all people. He used popular terminology. He used the language of the working class, tradespeople, nobles, the rich and the poor. This provides us with a description of society. He directs his remarks to everyone, princes, magistrates, lawyers, administrators, those who are married, those who are parents, those who are children, those who are teachers, notaries, doctors, and surgeons, those in charge of children and those who are businessmen. Since we could not cover the whole range of these categories, we chose the admonishments issued to tradespeople and ordinary people. He described them as being involved in “the liberal arts and trades people,” that is those who were involved painting pictures or caving sculptures, musicians, booksellers, chemists, carpenters, bakers, brick layers, tailors, shoe makers, wig makers, farmers, fishermen, inn keepers and wine merchants, coach drivers, male and female domestics (cf. n. 2). He had an incredible ability to challenge all of these people by drawing images based on the Gospel and applying them to each group. He preached like Matteo da Bascio addressing the situations that prevailed in contemporary society.
Other admonitions are addressed to “those who have a special vocation or who are religious.” It is here that we see his novel approach in dealing with sister death (cf. n. 3). He introduced this theme when concluding his sermons during Lent. (Cf, n. 4). These are just some of the points that give us an insight into the impact that his sermons had on the people of his day.
[Translator: We have chosen the beginning of his sermon on the Passion as an example of his style and content. (I Frati Cappuccini, Costanzo Cargnoni Ed., Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, III/2 p.2798-2799)]
6417 This was the sad departure, the apprehensive exit, the bitter starting point with which John begins his Gospel account. Oh, people of Venice behold Christ going forth. What a change from delight to apprehension, from peace to persecution, from the calm to the storm, from peace to war, from rest to anxiety, from enjoyment to apprehension, from a feast to the cross, from life to death. Jesus went forth from the cenacle to a rushing stream, from the stream to the garden, from the house of pontiffs to the court of criminals, to Calvary for the Cross, from the cross to death. He went for nothing else but to suffer yet He loved to do so. He left everything, distanced Himself from all that was good and let nothing stop Him even many waters. Oh. Sweet Jesus.
Beloved brethren, devout souls, in one very short sermon I cannot deal with the departure and the destiny, or treat the circumstances from which He departed and the place where He arrived, the things that he left behind and what the beloved Jesus won for our salvation. It would still be great to at least treat part of this in the course of these forty sermons. Today, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of your prayers, I hope to say something about His departure for His Passion and something about what He left behind so that when you see that he left everything the he held dear and that could give Him consolation, rest, security, and abundance and accepted all that could afflict, endanger, and torment Him, you will understand the great love that He had. This love was so great that nothing could impede the work of our salvation. Many waters cannot quench love.
[Translator: Challenges put before various segments and occupations in society. As an example of these sermons, we have chosen what was said to male and female servants: FC pages 2824-2825.]
6451 40. I am speaking to those of you who offer your services for your own profit without having any love or respect for your employer. By doing this you carry out what was said in the old proverb: A person has as many enemies as he has servants.
41. You often injure their reputation telling lies about them in order to boast about yourself. You offer mediocre service to the children, the masters and those who are related to them. You are not as humble at Joseph. You who are maidservants. When the master is busy you become arrogant and undermine his authority creating friction between husband and wife that leads to disagreement and anger. Those who are older show those who are young how this is done.
42. You reveal secrets about your masters in order to damage their reputation. You often spread gossip and speak ill about the household. You do not restrain yourself. You complain when they are stingy and if they are generous, you want more.
6452 43. You take the master’s goods home for some evil purpose. Sometimes you want to give them to your wives or husbands or children. However, you cannot do this with a clear conscience. Cast this aside as something bad so that the master will not have to keep watching you. St Paul said: Do not be servants only when the master’s eyes are on you. How do you act if you oversee finances, receipts, payments? Are you dishonest? Do you not tell lies? Sometimes you charge the record, adjust debts, steal from the farmers and others who are doing business with you. This is deceitful and theft. You are obliged to make restitution if you want to be saved.
44. At times you ruin the life and soul of your masters by acting as if you were their enemy in everything. As far as the world is concerned you are not doing anything that is wrong. You are collaborators in the iniquity of your masters. If they are keen about sin, they will paise you. If they are lukewarm, they will praise you but never tell you the truth. If they are unable to carry out their evil thoughts, they will trick you and find a way. You deceive and blaspheme and teach your children and other young people the same. If you were not satisfied with your wages or income, you would steal a Crucifix to make a profit.
45. Weep, moan and cry out because of such vices you will pass over from a light, easy temporary life of service to a most miserable, unhappy, immutable, eternal way of life. God may begin to punish you, as you have seen happen to many of you, by handing you over to justice or placing you on a dung heap or some halfway house where you miserably end your days.
- Cf. Ezek. 2:8-10; 3:1-3. ↑
- Jn 18:1. This is the subject matter of the sermon. The reader will be amazed at how Father Giacinto was able to draw such devout and emotional reflections from this phrase. ↑
- Eph 6:6: Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you; Col, 3:22: not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favour. ↑