Resist sin, strive to preserve God’s grace

The sixth sermon preached in Venice on the third day after Easter [1539]

By Bernardino Ochino da Siena

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.2270-2290. 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

Bernardino Ochino had concluded a long period of Lenten sermons in Venice and left his audience with some spiritual points so that they would remember the grace received at Easter and bring forth its fruit by performing good works. First of all, he presents some moral considerations such as recognising our personal responsibility in giving in to sin. He says that just one mortal sin makes the soul an enemy of God, and strips it of all the virtues. Therefore, we ought to make every effort to retain the precious pearl of grace. He gives a list of certain remedies that will preserve grace in us: keeping the “windows of the soul”, that is the senses, closed, not placing our trust in the world which is deceptive, avoiding laziness, mortifying the body and its desires, avoiding the occasions of sin, resisting evil so that it does not take root in the heart, keeping good company, not being satisfied with going after earthly pleasures, considering that sin crucifies Christ once again, persevering and not falling back into the slavery of Egypt, remembering the great things that God has promised to give to those who love him whereas worldly things are “like shadows”. He also adds thinking about death.

If then you happen to fall back into sin do not rest there but immediately go to confession and take on a spiritual director and take at least two weeks to come to know how to fight the sinful habit. Relying on what St Bernard said Ochino assures us that sin will be eradicated. However, he is very fearful that after so much preaching people will forget and return “to their vomit”. He warns his audience against the whispering of the devil that caused Adam and Eve to fall. He asks them to at least practice the exercise of the presence of God.

The conclusion is his reply to the accusation that in his sermons he had implied that Purgatory did not exist and questioned the value of indulgences as suffrages. He expresses support for the poor, children who have been abandoned and for those living on the margin of society and he emphasises the need for us to always remember Christ crucified.

14. The sixth sermon preached in Venice on the third day after Easter [1539][1]

5774 Just as a good doctor is supposed to cure sickness, and not only cure it, etiam prevent it and care for a person so that his body remains healthy and does not fall ill again, so too the soul’s doctor should strive not just to cure the sickness of sin but rouse, enlighten and strengthen those who are weak and those who are not enflamed with the love of God so that they may move ahead. He should support those who are perfect and remind them how to act so that they may go on living in the state of purity and innocence and continually do more to persevere in living the Christian life. Therefore, in my opinion I believe that all of you have been cured of sickness of soul by God’s grace. Therefore so that you do not turn back and fall and lose the grace that you have been given, either because of your weakness or because of anything else, I want to offer you certain suggestions[2] and special and strong remedies by means of which you will retain God’s grace and remain free from sin. These suggestions will be the good news that I will put before you this morning. Therefore, I ask you to pay attention and to commit the suggestions to memory. Let us begin.

[Do not give in to sin]

5775 It appears to me that all of you who are here are like new plants that bloom with flowers and future promise, that feel fresh and have holy aspirations, but were a very gentle breeze to blow you would fall to the ground; or like a flickering candle which although it is warm and glistening is barely alight and has not yet begun to blaze and can easily be extinguished. This would place you in greater danger than before as this would put you into a perilous condition were this to happen to you!

Therefore, after we have received the grace of Christ and have been made his brothers and become children of the Eternal Father and then turn back and fall into sin after gaining all these gifts, the infernal devil will gain more power over us than he had before. Thus, anyone who returns and falls into sin becomes worse than he was before.

However so that you will understand what to do, imagine that there is a noble lady, or even a young lady who lives in the town, whose father wishes to provide her with a husband and after all have reached an agreement they bring the young lady along, call the notary and the person who is to be the husband. When they are ready the notary says to the young man: “Sir, do you wish to take this woman for your lawful wife?” Wasting no time, the young man says: “Yes, Sir.” Then the notary turns to the young lady and says: “Madame, do you wish to take this man for your lawful husband?” Then she, because it is customary, or because she has been instructed, or because she is suffering from embarrassment, makes no reply, and it seems to be taking her a thousand years to respond. The notary says to her a second time: “Madame, do you wish to take this man for your lawful husband?” He counts on his fingers the number of times that he has asked her, and when that comes to three, he wants to find out if she has any doubts or has forgotten as this is the third time that she had not replied. He asks her a third time: “Madame, do you wish to take this man for your lawful husband?” She says “Yes, Sir” with a look of embarrassment and with tight lips. Come now, why are you laughing!

5776 Seeing that the young lady was taking an endless amount of time to give her consent and say yes, the wedding did not take place. The same thing applies to you. Your soul will not commit sin[3] as long as you do not give consent with your will, which is free so that no person, no Angel, no devil can force it and so you need to understand clearly what the situation is so that you will know how to discern whether you are committing sin or not.

You ought to know that there are three ways in which you can consent to sinning. The first is when you go ahead with the act. Exempli gratia: when you feel the desire or the inclination to do something that you know to be a sin and you willingly consent to do it. This is a mortal sin. Another way of committing serious sin is when an action is planned but cannot be carried out. This happens when you have an evil thought and want to commit a sin of lust, of usury, or something similar and are determined to do it if you have the opportunity. What prevents you is not that you have had a change of heart, but simply that you do not have the means to do it. This is a very grave mortal sin.

Another way of committing sin is in thought. Verbi gratia: you do not in fact commit the sin, you do not intend to do the act or want to do the act, but you keep it impressed on your mind and delight in it in order to derive pleasure from the thought of it. Thus, you imagine something that is lustful and the sensual pleasure it would provide, and you take delight in it. You should know that this is also a mortal sin because you are exposing yourself to danger as much as if you were to place a venomous snake on your chest and not throw it away. If it were to kill you, you would be the murderer in killing yourself. Therefore, you have to rid yourself of the occasions of sin as well as not meaning to commit sin.

Thus, every time you place yourself in any of these three situations you always commit a mortal sin. Note that even one mortal sin is vey significant because it deprives you of God’s grace, makes you an enemy of Christ and places you under the power of the devil and sends you to the depths of hell.

5777 However you might say: “Is it possible that just one sin could mean the loss of grace and all of God’s mercy?” I can say that just one sin would make you God’s enemy since it also would offend God’s omnipotence, wisdom and generosity and you would thus lose his grace which is so important as are all of the qualities that exist in him perfectly and this means so much that it would be better to lose the entire world, your life and soul, paradise and the glory that the blessed enjoy than to lose the grace of God.

You might say to me: “Does that mean that when all of the very powerful virtues have been lost that sin and vice have been the cause of the loss of grace and the reason why all the moral virtues and supernatural virtues have been lost?” I would reply that it is true that vice is very powerful. Immo the virtues give the soul its strength while vice weakens the soul. However, when you commit a sin and break away from God with regard to one matter, because all the virtues are united and joined to one another by means of an unbreakable bond, you cannot lose one virtue without loosing all of them at the same time.

5778 Note that the Angels and the souls of the blessed are on fire with the love of God through being focused on his goodness from the moment that they were created. It is the same with the Angels that fell because of their pride and self-love. It is the same with those who remain steadfast and confirmed in turning to what is good. This is true to such an extent that they are unable to sin and do not sin and do not want to be separated from the divine love. The more intimate they become with God the more they want to follow the divine will. They are inclined to do nothing else. They want nothing but to be united to the divine will and are completely happy in maintaining this union, and in being transformed so that they no longer love themselves. Immo they forget about themselves as they honour God, and do not depart from his will in preference to experiencing happiness for one year, ten years or one hundred years. Immo they would prefer to lose God’s glory and be cast out of heaven rather than lose the incomparable grace of God and become God’s enemies. They appreciate God’s grace and friendship much more than going after what serves themselves and they say with Paul: Quis me separabit a charitate Christi? [4] A person like this does not lose glory or go to hell. Nothing can separate him from the charity and love of God. On the other hand, those who are damned are dead and remain obstinate in their sins and self-love, because of which they deserve to be confirmed in the abyss of hell where they are incorrigible, unable to repent. Immo they are continually steadfast in this and grow in self-love and have no chance of being cured of their illness.

5779 However, what about us who are situated in-between the Angels and the devils. We have not yet been confirmed in the state of grace which would mean that we would no longer be able to sin, nor have we been confirmed in the state of being obstinate. We are able to do good things or to do bad things and we should take care to avoid the usual dangers of losing this gift, this treasure, this happy state and this very important and noteworthy good. It is like if you, Madame, lost a beautiful jewel that was very expensive. Oh dear, you would turn the whole house upside down and search most diligently. If you came to me to announce it from the pulpit and this did not help you might have me excommunicated. You would not rest until you had found it. However, after you had found it you would be more careful about guarding it so as not to lose it again.

In fact, I do not possess a collection of gems and precious jewels but I do possess the grace of God that I have procured with a lot of effort during Lent. I have tried to take my soul back from Lucifer’s hands and place it in Christ’s side into which, not because of my merits but because of his grace, he has accepted it as his dear spouse and has adorned it with the diamonds and precious stones of his infinite grace. We should exercise every kind of effort and be most diligent in finding a way to preserve God’s grace within us for it is so admirable and precious.

[Strive to preserve God’s grace]

5780 Come, brother, what should we do? Beloved soul, I shall tell you a few things which, if you do them willingly will save you and keep you free from sin. Come now I do not want you to have to do more than what our first parents Adam and Eve should have done in the earthly paradise where they were completely pure, innocent and free from the stain of sin and ought to have kept the windows locked.

This is one of the remedies. I am not going to tell you how many there are, you can count them yourself. You too should keep the windows locked. If you put a little girl into a locked room, she will see nothing unless you open the blinds and clear the glass windows. The little girl will then be able to see colours. You should do the same and keep the windows of your senses shut in. Following the sin of Adam, our first patent, even thought God had given him information concerning all of the natural and supernatural virtues, sin darkened his prison so that it was not open, and he was not able to see the divine light that was coming from above. The concepts in our intellect come to us through the senses as the wise man[5] said so clearly: Nihil in intellectu, quod prius non fuerit in sensu: there is nothing in the intellect that has not first entered through the windows of the senses. Further on he said: Oportet intelligentem phantasmata speculari. He also spoke about this in many other places, as you can see, where he said that our senses are the means by which everything enters our intellect and he gives the example of a man who was born blind and he speaks to him about colours but the man does not know what shade they are because he has not seen this kind of thing or the various shades.

5781 Similarly, if you were to take someone who was born deaf and made sounds and created harmony at the pitch of a soprano, tenor, alto and basso he would have nothing to say because he had never heard a sound. As the wise man said, that means that our soul is: Tamquam tabula rasa. The intellect of an infant has no images. If the child is brought up in a holy city, he will become a saint, and if he is brought up in a wicked and rebellious city he will just as likely turn out to be the same as that. Therefore, the best cure is to darken the windows of our senses. If at times they present you with something that is sinful, darken the senses immediately and do not allow it to enter, but occupy your intellect with higher things, to divine matters, supreme matters and not to the apple; instead think of how in this paradise there is fruit that is much better.

Now, here is another remedy. If the apple appears to you in the form of vanity or worldly pleasure, if the devil presents it as he did to Eve and places it before your eyes telling you to eat it because it is pulchrum visu et ad vescendum delectable, [6] do not believe the devil too easily, but peel the apple and you will see, when you break it apart with living faith, that the sweet taste of worldly things is nothing but an illusion of little importance. Consider what Christ said, that when the heavens parted and the world was created, it looked like no more than a grain of millet.[7] Think about what a grain of millet is like when you touch it and think about this wretched and corrupt world and how it falls apart when you touch it.

5782 Here is another remedy. Eve was relaxing in the earthly paradise because God had created her happy and blessed with innocence. They did not need to wear themselves out, the earth produced fruit by itself. However, relaxation played a significant part in the fall, they say idleness est animi vacantis passio. Therefore, if you want to live a Christian way of life, avoid idleness and perform works of virtue and meditate on the things that are above because if Eve had done this, she would not have fallen into sin which brought about the death of the soul.

There is another very good remedy. If Eve had adopted this, she might not have obeyed the serpent so quickly. Do not pamper your body since your wicked body usually demands too much of you. It is no wonder that it reacts against the spirit, so that when a person ought to be making an effort to take care of the way he is living, he turns to bad thoughts and tires himself out in applying himself to them. Thus, it is most helpful for him to mortify his body both by fasting and keeping prayer vigils and doing other things to keep control over his wicked body.

Praeterea you should not look at anything that would lead you back into sin. There will be someone who will say: “Oh what is wrong with simply spending time in the house of this one or that one? If I had not gone there I might have done something worse. I know that I did not intend to do anything wrong or to commit sin.” Oh, my child, if you want to avoid occasions of sin, since you are not greater than a Macarius, or a Hilary or a St Jerome, who did not trust themselves; do what St Jerome did when he was fleeing and people said to him: “Oh dear, you are running away!” He replied: “This war is won by taking flight.”[8]

5783 In St John Cassius we read about a young Roman man who after he had been converted and left the world went to a hermitage where he met an old holy hermit and said to him: “Father, I beg of you to accept me into your company and teach me how I ought to serve God and save my soul.” The priest agreed and they spent thirty years living a very holy life of bitter penance, at the end of which, in obedience to God’s will, the holy priest went to Rome.

By chance it happened that he went into the home of the young man’s father and by chance when the father and mother were talking they spoke about how sad they were to have lost their son. And it was revealed that the young man whom they were talking about was their son. They became so happy that the father and the mother, the brothers and sisters all wrote letters and when the old priest returned to the hermitage, he handed the young man a great bundle of letters from his relatives. The young man took them and appeared to be very happy.

When he went to his cell he threw them into the corner saying: “Oh letters, you would not understand how when I fled from the world’s trials and tribulations I abandoned my homeland, left my father and mother, brothers and sisters, having no regard for sensual pleasure or setting any value on worldly wealth, having the desire and firm hope of acquiring something greater that that. I came to this deserted place, where for thirty years I have had to bear very hard work, privation, vigils and fasts, as well as temptations, with the senses rebelling against the spirit. Now you have come to disturb and upset my mind. Such letters could be the cause of my losing what I have acquired over a long period of time. Therefore, dear letters, be patient because I do not want to read you.” He took them and threw them in the fire and burnt them.[9]

5784 This is what you have to do if you want to run away from sin and avoid the occasions of sin. Never trust yourself while you are in the dark world, because our weakness and wretchedness are too great. However, just as there was no sin until Adam gave consent, so it is necessary that the first man Adam, that is your heart, does not give consent. If either due to weakness, sensuality or anything else some sin crops up in your heart you need to kill it like the firstborn were killed in Egypt.[10] Put up strong resistance immediately and cast it away from you. Do not allow it to take root, because then it will need more effort to irradiate malice and vice from your heart. Let us take a short break and then continue.

The Lacedaemonians were very careful about having control over their children and so they employed three remedies. Firstly, they did not allow their children to go to foreign lands because they would learn the vices that existed there. Secondly, they did not allow foreigners into their cities, unless it was necessary, so that they could not introduce bad practices into their cities. They would not allow anything bad or the subject of usury to be mentioned in the presence of children.[11]

5785 Oh dear, if only we could see this among the gentle folk in the city of Venice where just the opposite happens! What gentleman would there be who had a child of ten or twelve years who would send him to Turkey among the infidels? Just think how such a small child could put on Christian clothes or be taught the precepts of Christ. Go a little further. All kinds of people come to your city, Turks, Jews and heretics and all kinds of sinners and do you want your children to learn how to commit all the sins in the world? As you do not even want your children to hear filthy and lustful talk, you take care of them and because the city is full of prostitutes,[12] you forbid your young people to go down certain streets, so that they neither see nor hear bad things and become disturbed, or come across bad books so that with regard to the things of God they do not become worse than Buda. Bad companions are often the cause of sins. Good companions bring about virtue. If you keep company with a modest and virtuous person you will learn his habits. The same applies if you keep company with those who are wicked and bad from whom you will learn about vice and bad behavior. If you join a Religious Order and go into one of their houses and wicked brothers live there you will become a rebel because it is said that Modicum fermentum totam massam corrumpit.[13]

5786 Plato proposed another remedy that I shall tell you about as I remember it. Plato says that if you were crossing a flowing river and looked down at the water and fixed your gaze there because of the weakness of your eyes all that you would see would be how the water was swirling around and you would not be able to keep your balance and this would cause to fall in and sink. Therefore, I say that you should come to a stop in the water but keep looking at the bank and you will cross safely. O beloved soul, you should do the same thing and not allow your emotions or desires to dwell on base things, on vile things, but put them aside as if they were a part of the flowing river and fix your gaze on the bank, that is on Christ who is our destination and who has promised us greater things, and treasures that we can find here and which we can hold onto through faith and hope.

There is another remedy of which if Adam had made use, he would never have sinned against God. If he had considered that because of his sin Christ would have to come to earth to heal, restore and pay for it, and have to undergo a cruel passion and death, I believe that he would certainly not have committed sin. Therefore, gentlemen, each time that you think about committing a sin you ought to say: “If the Jews put Christ on a cross once, each time that I commit a sin I repeatedly put him on a cross as often as I sin. I put him on the cross each time and renew his wounds. However, I do this more shamefully that did the Jews, since I have received more gifts, more enlightenment and more love than they had received”.

Note that a sin is so abominable in the sight of God that if the Virgin Mary, who is the mother of the Son of God and the spouse of the Holy Spirit, was to commit a sin in paradise, by way of speaking: the Eternal Father, Christ and the Holy Trinity would cast her down from heaven.[14]

5787 I shall briefly mention another remedy. If the Hebrew people, after Moses at God’s command has led them out of Egypt, and then miraculously parted the Red Sea for them to travel through the desert, where they found themselves free from such tyranny and slavery, would you not hold them as crazy if they wanted to go back to Egypt? When they were traveling through the desert, they received graces from God each day, which were the dictates and precepts and the manna, and if then they wanted to return to Egypt, would they have not been stupid people? But say if ahead of time they had travelled through the desert, and not only entered the Promised Land, but being led to the holy city and God built them a splendid temple and yet they still wanting to return to Egypt, would you not say that they were certainly very foolish? The same thing could be said of Adam. Had he thought about all of the graces and treasures that God had given him out of generosity, the gift of intelligence, of created things over which he was placed, he would never have given in. However, he was only thinking about the apple and its sweet taste and he behaved like someone who had a high temperature and wanted a drink and was presented with a large glass of cold water and drank it all. For a while he thought that it had refreshed him, but as soon as he finished it the fever gradually began to return more than ever.

5788 Therefore, citizens of Venice, you ought to think about the greater riches that Christ could give you if you abandon your sensual emotions. If you do not cherish honors, he will give you something better that will make you lords of heaven, his brothers and God’s children and tabernacles of the Holy Spirit. If you abandon pleasure and sensuality down here, he will give you something that is much better and beyond comparison, that is to taste the delights of the Spirit. He will provide you with other things because the things that are down here are not real, but only a shadow, something like a dream. The apple of this world[15] has very little juice so that even if you were to put it in a press you would not get much liquid out of it, indeed, not enough to satisfy even a single person.

Now imagine that you had to satisfy a thousand people, this would never be enough. What is more this little drop of sweetness is mixed with bitterness, poison which takes most of the sweetness away. This is how it is with the sweet things of this world. Even the worldly wise admit that it is all vanity and they despise it even though they enjoy no Christian enlightenment. You would be very lucky if they were not the cause of you losing heaven. But they are the things that will deprive you of heaven. If you only lost heaven but not the glory it would be a great misfortune, and if you lost the glory and not the grace of God, it might not make you unhappy, because if you have divine grace you have all that goes with it. If you were to also lose God’s grace and were condemned to a prison it would not be that bad. It would be worse if you were condemned to hell and so you ought to think about where sin is leading you. Perhaps there are no torments or pains to be endured, but you can be sure that there are the most atrocious pains, punishments and torments, more than we can imagine. If in the midst of these punishments there was hope of escape after some time the pain would be lighter, but it has been laid down ab eterno by God that it lasts forever, and the sentence cannot be revoked. Beloved soul, considering these things is the best remedy.

5789 With regard to another remedy: thinking about death. Memorare novissima tua et in aeternum non peccabis.[16] It is very helpful to recall death frequently, and if you happen to witness someone die and see all that happens, the suffering, the fixed eyes, the open mouth; it will be of great help. You will say: “Brother, I have yet to go through this passing from life and I do not know when it will happen, whether this evening or tomorrow. I will then leave everything behind except the good works that I have done, and I shall have to give a detailed account before the tribunal of the just judge.”

Come now, if you go on further there is another remedy. Even if you go back to committing sin there is no need for you to act like Adam who, when God said to him Adam ubi es?, hid himself.[17] If you commit sin at least go and confess it. It should not be too hard for each of you to privately find a spiritual director and go to him every eight days without having to say too much or stand on too much ceremony.[18] Simply kneel before him, make the sign of the cross and say Confiteor Deo etc. Then say “Father, I accuse myself that since my last confession I have committed this or that sin” and nothing more. The priest will place his hand over your head and give you absolution saying: “Ego te absolvo in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, amen. Then you will be given back the grace that you had lost along with the strength, authority and merits of Christ, and grow in strength and profit by being able to resist sin for some time and to resolve to do so. If you are unable to do this immediately after you commit sin at least within yourself feel sorry first of all for having offended God and then for having hurt your soul. Then make a firm promise to go to confession at the appropriate time. If you do not decide to do this at least make an act of contrition each night placing all the sins that you have committed that day at the feet of Christ. Admit not having given glory and honor to God or promoted the salvation of your neighbor that day as you ought to have done. I beg of you to put up some resistance and I promise that if you do this for a fifteen days and not more, then you will develop the habit of not sinning, since it is more difficult to do what is evil than what is good.

5790 We read how at the time of St Bernardine, who preached in Rome, after an important prelate had been to confession and repented of his sins, he went to meet the Saint and said to him: “Brother Bernardine, I have been to confession and made a great act of contrition for all of my sins but I have doubts because of my weakness and the trials of the world about not turning back to them again.” This happened on Palm Saturday. St Bernardine replied: “Do me a favor for all the love that Christ has shown you, try not to sin all day tomorrow and come back to me.” The prelate resisted and did not sin. When he came back in the evening he said: “Brother Bernardine, thanks be to God I have not committed sin today.” Come then – St Bernardine replied – do me another favor for the love that Christ had for human nature in creating it in his image, try not to sin tomorrow.” He promised and he did not sin and when he came back, he spoke to the Brother.

St Bernardine said to him: “Out of respect for all the Christ did and suffered for you over the space of thirty-three years try not to sin tomorrow.” He did this. On Wednesday he did it for the thirty-three pieces of silver for which Christ had been sold. On Thursday he did it for the forty days Christ spent in the desert. On Friday he did it for Christ’s most bitter Passion and for the blood that he shed for us. On Saturday he did it for Christ’s burial and for the freeing of the holy fathers from Limbo. On Sunday he did it for the Resurrection which was the reason we could hope and believe that we would enjoy a glorious resurrection in our homeland. When the prelate had gone through eight days without sinning, he returned to St Bernardine and said; “Father I do not want to be in competition with Christ. I want to be always at peace with him. Just as I have gone eight days without committing sin I hope, with God’s help, to continue like this for the rest of my life.”[19] Therefore, gentlemen, principiis obstar, try really hard and you will win.

5791 Come we shall say fifty words and then finish. I am very afraid that because of weakness or something else you will return to your vomit and that you will trust the serpent who said to Adam and Eve: Estis sicut Dii.[20] I hesitate to say that I want to start with you ladies: Eritis sicut Dii. Leave well behind the various kinds of vanity that run after you and make you appear to be gods as everyone admires your beauty. There will be some gentlemen who will say: “Practice usury so that when you have accumulated a good sum your will be sicut Dii, and be able to do whatever you please”. Someone else who is proud will say: “Eritis sicut Dii if you gain honors, fulfill your ambitions and achieve high status and this will appear to you to something like being a god. Note that someone who is proud sets no value on wealth except in so far as it serves to achieve honor and status and promotes his longing to acquire these things.

Someone who is greedy is not concerned about pleasure, or honors because his sole aim is to accumulate. Someone who is lustful does not care about possessions but occupies himself with what fulfills his desire the most. Someone who is taken up with literature takes no pleasure in anything except his books and therefore when the devil, the wicked serpent, tempts him to sin he should resist and not give in.

The serpent will say to you: “Take and eat and non moriemini. Take what you like and acquire wealth, honors and status and you will not die. It is enough for you to repent when you grow old because God’s mercy is great, and he will feel compassion for your weakness and wretched state etc. Do not believe him because he is a liar and deceptive and never tells the truth in order to seduce you. He promised Adam that he would become like God and not die. It turned out just the opposite because by sinning he lost enlightenment and the knowledge of truth and later he died. Therefore, do not listen to him because he will make you fall and suddenly death will come upon you. Even though God’s mercy is great, his justice is also infinite and must have its moment.

5792 There are various things to remember and many remedies to stop you from sinning, carry them out as you need to. I am happy to do penance for you. There is just one condition: that if you should commit a sin or do something bad you will not be ashamed to confess it. Please say that you will do this. Whatever you think, if you commit a sin God and Christ will see you. This will happen even if you do something in a secret hidden place. God sees everything because he is present everywhere and nothing can happen that he does not see and there is nothing that he does not see, or stench that does not reach the sky. Therefore, do not be ashamed in front of an earthly man. God is everywhere, do you think that he does not see all that is unclean? Therefore, the Prophet said: Praevidebam Dominum in conspectu meo semper, quoniam a dextris est mihi.[21] Lord, you are always present to my actions and I cannot hide or escape from your divine sight. You are continually at my right side.

[Final suggestions]

5793 Come now; allow me to say twenty-five words.

As we have finished our sermons and are about to leave you, I would like to do what other preachers do when they are about to leave and give you a keepsake.[22] With this in mind when I was about to preach to you I approached another good priest and said to him: “Father, please show me how to prepare a good keepsake.” He said to me: “I will do that most willingly. This is what you do: when you have finished preaching take you mantle, turn your back and leave the pulpit.”

Instead of doing that I will say ten words because I have heard that I have been falsely accused of certain things, praecipue of heresy,[23] and when they are more specific they say that I denied Purgatory. I maintain clearly and certainly that it does exist. Martin Luther does too.[24] Thanks be to God I do not think that I have said anything that is heretical, and I am prepared to speak to anyone in order to clarify what I did say. I will be here today and tomorrow, except for two hours when I have to go out for a service. My room will be open, and anyone may come and if they think it is necessary, I will retract anything that I said. However, I do not think that this will be necessary because up to now I have preached thirty Lenten Courses and I have not had to do this because I am a Catholic and am faithful to our Church which I believe is most holy and I will believe in that until I see one that is better. If it happened that I saw something better, which is impossible, I might go there, however at present I do not see anything like that.[25]

They have spoken about indulgences. If I did not think that indulgences were good per modum suffragi, I would not have mentioned them. However, I want to ask Christ’s forgiveness because I have spoken about him so unworthily during this Lent, because I did not do it with the complete sincerity or truth as was my duty, and because my words did not break forth from a blazing furnace and were not like a burning sword that could have had the power to enflame, set alight and illuminate all of your hearts, uniting you to and transforming you into Christ through living faith, hope and, above all, an ardent charity towards God and neighbor.[26] If I have actually offended someone in my sermons, especially when speaking about vices, I have to assure you, from the depths of my heart, that I intended nothing more than to produce fruit in the name of Christ, and bring some soul back into the womb of holy mother Church.[27]

5794 I bring to your attention all the poor houses and there are many in this city, and also the abandoned children and the incurably ill poor, those who are living in destitution and are being neglected and also any others who are seeking shelter and the many monasteries of good and holy religious for all of them need your sympathy.[28] Without going into detail I thank you on behalf of all of them for your various acts of charity and for your gifts for, in some cases, without these gifts they may not have survived. I offer my thanks to one special person and his household who welcomed me and took me in as if I were their father or a member of the family. Because of this I am obliged to them.[29] The same goes for all of you who have shown me so much charity that it will live on in my heart, even though I have to go away. I will always remember you and always pray to God for you. Wherever I may go when I see someone from this city, I shall embrace them as if I were meeting my own brother. I hope to return and see you on another occasion when my superiors tell me to come.[30]

I do not want to say any more except to beg of you to lay aside those old garments of sin and bad behavior and put on Christ crucified,[31] as I have unworthily preached to you in these days, sometimes remembering to read the word of God, so that the spirit may not fall asleep and at times block out the sermon, especially the Sunday sermon, which would be of great benefit to you. You could visit the hospital for incurables where I understand a priest whom I do not know is preaching. I have been told that he is a very learned and holy person and that he preaches there on feast days.[32]

I wish to beg you to be satisfied with giving me a gift of doing me the favor that I ask of you, immo that Christ asks of you. I am making this request on his behalf and I will ask him to give you the necessary grace to do this. Always keep Christ and his Passion and death in your heart. Let him be your mirror,[33] your life, your happiness, your joy, your hope, glory, love and your treasure so that your heart, your senses, your memory, your intellect and everything else will be completely filled with Christ because when something is full nothing else can come in. Therefore, when someone is filled with Christ nothing worldly can enter, and because they find that the room is occupied, they will go away.[34] This is where you will discover all relish, good feeling and delight, and learn about the most exalted virtues.[35]

5795 If you feel bitter when contemplating the laborious life of Christ this will awaken you to become active. If you are proud you will become humble through his humility. If you are greedy you will become charitable through his generosity. If your take pleasure in sensual things when you see him drinking gall and vinegar you will become parched. In the end, you will discover and acquire all the virtues through him and he will become your new mirror as he was portrayed this morning in the Gospel when he appeared in the room to the eleven disciples and said: Pax vobis, et ostendit eis manus et latus.[36] Note that wherever Christ is there is always peace, both on the inside and the outside. He showed them the sacred stigmata so that they could see that he was glorified and yet wounded.

To impress the Passion firmly in their minds he had Thomas put his hand into his side,[37] so that they would see clearly and with certainty that we can be saved from all danger, since this was the safest place to be protected against sin and death and from the grip of Lucifer, and to arm yourself against the world, the flesh and the devil by placing your hope in Christ who was born for us and died for us to redeem our sins. Let us believe strongly that his labors were ours, his fasts ours, his preaching our preaching, his tears our tears, his Passion our passion, the blood that he shed was our blood, his merits our merits and that everything good that he did has been credited to us.[38]

I, an unworthy preacher, leave you here in this temple with this gift, this treasure and with Christ as a mirror. I leave this instead of a crown for priests and spiritual and earthly leaders. I leave it to you, ladies, to replace your beauty, greed, wealth and desire for honors, in place of your pleasures and everything like that. Let it be your captain, your guide and your refuge from all tribulation.[39]

Go to Christ to enrich and intoxicate yourselves and to make yourselves happy here through grace and in the other life through glory. May God lead all of you to this![40] Amen.

  1. Wednesday 9th April 1539.
  2. In the past preachers who delivered the Lenten Courses left lists of suggestions about how to maintain and encourage Easter renewal.
  3. This is a sermon about practical moral issues.
  4. Rom 8:35
  5. He means Aristotle the philosopher.
  6. Gen 3:6
  7. Paníco: a grass seed plant, whose tiny seeds make excellent food for birds; it is similar to millet.
  8. There are statements like this in the letter that St Jerome wrote to Eustichia. Cf. Ep 22 (PL 22, 398s)
  9. Cf. Joan. Cassianus, De coenobiorum inst., lib. V, c. 32 (PL 49, 248s).
  10. The reference is to Ex 12:29.
  11. These were customary things among the Spartans.
  12. This is the negative side of the city of Venice that was a cultural and commercial crossroad. This is also mentioned in other sermons.
  13. 1 Cor 5:6; Gal 5:9.
  14. It is interesting that Ochino remember the title of the Virgin Mary as “spouse of the Holy Spirit” that was also used by St Francis. However, what follows, “by way of speaking” is unfortunate.
  15. This expression is often used to represent not only the earthly sphere but also to describe the character of this world as treacherous and deceptive. Cf. above n 5653.
  16. Sir 7:40
  17. Gen 3:9-10
  18. Note how in this passage Ochino recommends finding a spiritual director and following his spiritual direction.
  19. It is difficult to identify the source of this story about Bernardine.
  20. Gen 3:5
  21. Ps 15:8; Act 2:25
  22. At the time this was a fitting way to end a course of sermons. For the early Capuchins it provided an opportunity to set up confraternities, to launch charitable works to help the poor and neglected. It was a pastoral initiative to provide for what was to come after the preaching in order to ensure that there would be spiritual benefits among the people. Cf. C. Cargnoni, L’apostolato dei cappuccino come “redundantia de amore”, in IF 53 (1978) 5s – This passage from the sermon was copied for the first time by Fr. P. McNair, New Light on Ochino in Bibl. Humanisme et Renaissance 52/2 (1973) 297, and repreated by R. Rusconi, Predicaiione e vita religiosa nella società italiana (Documenti della storia, 30), Torino 1981, 266s (doc. 27).
  23. Ochino rebuffs the accusations that were going around against him which claimed that he was preaching Lutheran and heretical doctrines.
  24. Ochino also speaks about Purgatory in Dialogo della divina professione (cf above n. 4170) For certain the debate created about Martin Luther was very effective as an oratorical tool.
  25. Some see in this the method of Nicodemus. It might be somewhat ambiguous bit it had an effect on the people.
  26. This is a reference to the teaching of B. Cordoni in chapter 39 of the Dyalogo. “How every time the soul utters the foresaid aspiration it comes into in spiritual communion with Christ and grows in all that is good.” Here are a few phrases: “Spouse: The Apostle says: “Regum coelorum non est in sermone sed in virtute… And this is the Spirit of the Lord which is in the word that is spoken and makes it become a flame of fire “as when the Prophet said: The fire of your word burns strongly, and it delights your servant”. Love: Indeed, it makes it become spirit and life …” (f. 190r).
  27. This point is made clear in Const. 1536, n. 118-119. Note Ochino’s tactics. Rather than excusing himself he accuses himself of not being a fervent preacher and asks forgiveness for not having preached with fervour and asks pardon if he has offended someone. It was also a kind of captatio benevolentiae, but made sincerely.
  28. These suggestions about being charitable towards the various kind of poor people were all part of what was preached at the time including by the Capuchins.
  29. Like all the preachers, Ochino received hospitality during the Lenten courses at the house of the pastor of the Church of the Santi Apostoli.
  30. There were requests from diverse cities, such that the superiors, bishops and the Pope himself had to intervene
  31. Cf. Eph 4:22; Col 3:9-10; Gal 3:27. See also Const. 1536, n. 111.
  32. We do not know the name of this preacher.
  33. The image of Christ as a mirror is also contained in the Constitutions of 1536.
  34. Cf. Mt 12:44
  35. This lyrical way of singing the praises of Christ is the basic subject of Ochino’s preaching. We can often hear something in Cordoni’s Dyalogo, for example in chapter 25: “Through the infusion of grace a person can be united to God in an instant.” (ff. 114v-120r). There is also a beautiful passage in chapter 28, f. 145r: “When the soul is united to Christ, she becomes Christ and is enriched with Christ’s virtues and puts Christ’s virtues into practice. To put it better, Christ operates his virtues in her, without her trying, that is without requiring an effort on her part. To put it in another way, when the soul is united to Christ, she offers herself together with Christ to the eternal Father, in union with his divinity, his glorious humanity, his virtues and his perfections, his merits and his treasures’ etc. An ancient Capuchin Chronicler states that it was with arguments such as these that Ochino converted Fra Battistone da Faenza who became the spokesperson for the love of the Crucified. (cf. above, nn.4103-4118).
  36. Jn 20:20
  37. Cf. Jn 20:27
  38. This is also the theme in the “Beneficio di Cristo”.
  39. This also appears in some passages in the Invito spirituale, by Battistone da Faenza. Cf. above nn.4133-4134
  40. Conduca – vi conduchi in the text.