BY TOMMASO DA OLERA
Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni OFM Cap
Translated by Patrick Colbourne OFM Cap
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.1483-1486. The only additions to the notes made by the translator are references to Francis of Assisi: The Early Documents, edited by Regis Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., J. A. Wayne Hellmann, O.F.M. and William J. Short O.F.M. Conv., New York City Press, New York, London, Manila, (1999) for an English version of quotations from the Writings or Biographies of St Francis.
Among all the dissertations that were composed by the Servant of God Tommasso da Olera this one contains the most significant points of his form of piety. Fernando da Riese, Pius X, said that “he was responding to the persistent requests of some of his followers who were quite serious in how they were living the spiritual life.” This topic was foremost in his method of prayer and was frequently repeated in all that he wrote. This essay contains nothing that was not contained in his other writings but it is interesting to know the concern of the Servant of God, who was probably familiar with the semi-quietist doctrine, to avoid illusions and morbid sentimentality, to clarify that love is the pre-eminent fruit of will and that it grows and magnifies with humility, vigilance over self-love, constancy in the practices of mortification and prayer, and with an expert spiritual guide.”
How affable God is, and how comprehensive is His love for mankind
5327 God is so immense, infinite, lovable, desirable that no matter how sublimely a person thought of Him, or how much he raised his mind to God, I would consider these only to be sparks falling from the raging furnace which God is. If anyone amalgamate all the love of men and women in the world, and multiply it beyond measure it would amount to little in comparison to the love of God which is immense and never-ending and known to God alone. Neither men, nor women, nor Angels, nor Saints, nor Cherubim, nor Seraphim can fully understand the wonderful and stupendous works of God.
No matter how much we mortals love God it amounts to nothing. If a person appears to have done something for God, I say that would have done it because he desired to love God. When someone does something the God commands him to do it means that he passed through the purgative, illuminative and unitive ways and is moving towards perfection step by step.
And if I well consider that our God can in one act draw a soul to this state of perfection, as happened to Magdalene, and the thief on the cross and others, nevertheless, our God wanted us to walk step by step.
5328 I am not speaking to those who are beginners and the proficient. I want to speak to those who are more advanced in living a peaceful and tranquil way of life. I realise that they are not experiencing inner turmoil and have gained control of their passions so that they obey the prompting of the spirit and the longings of the higher faculties of their soul and that they can easily focus on God who is their final goal.  Because the soul who is full of love it is at peace and feels nimble and light-hearted and is wearing the wedding garment, it rises on high flying up to the olive branch of God’s mercy and remains there enjoying the Beloved. Even though the soul abides in human nature which is burdensome it wishes to become involved in divine and heavenly mysteries. This happens because the soul that has mastered the flesh can now think about whatever it wants to dwell on.
Because souls like that are well prepared to do this they ponder over perfection, union with God and their intimate relationship with God. He created them and made their soul, and has revealed His beauty and His other attributes to them. Once the soul has seen God’s exalted magnificence it becomes enraptured and inspired by what it sees in God and grows in its love for God. God loves the soul and grants it the grace to love Him in return. All the soul has to do is fix its gaze on the divine sun and become illuminated by its rays and receive the love it provides. Because this love comes from the blazing sun it produces pure love. Such love does not experience any darkness and because it comes from God it looks up to God and can see nothing else and God looks back on the soul.
This kind of love gazes on God and admires Him. It exclaims: My beloved to me. and I to him. The soul assumes the heart of a spouse saying: You have wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse. The two lovers, God and the soul, always remain united by the bonds of love so that the soul becomes transformed and raised up to God and completly engrossed in love for God. Because the soul has been wounded by the love of God, it seeks no other healer than the one who inflicted the wound, namely God. The deeper the wound the more the soul aches with love.
5329 This kind of love disposes the soul to love more deeply. This kind of love consumes what is insignificant and gives the soul the strength to advance towards something deeper. It flies up higher on the wings of love. The higher it goes the higher it wants to go. What does it want to reach? It wants to reach the divine mysteries through contemplating the beauty and generosity of God where, like the spouse in the Canticle, it recalls that your breasts are sweeter than wine. Once there it seeks to embrace the Beloved. It seeks him with warmth and fervour so much so that if God did not moderate this it would collapse, since as it is seeing with pure vision it can behold God in an incredible manner. When the soul sees this vision, it wants to respond and understand it all. It is so overwhelmed that it remains silent and unable to fully grasp what it sees and hears about God.
Such souls are set alight like a blazing furnace. The Master extinguishes some of this fire otherwise the soul would not be able to contemplate God’s wonderful majesty. What they see makes them sigh and weep abundantly. Although some of the fire has been extinguished enough remains to increase the warmth of love within the soul so when it stops sighing and weeping the soul has been purified and received greater warmth of heart and experiences a greater desire to be united with God.
5330 When this union has been established God guides the soul because it often happens that the soul experiences very strong emotions that make it feel that it would rather be absorbed by God than remain in a body so that the union could be deeper. By means of such union God produces thoughts, revelations, and intuitions in the soul. This kind of union grows as the soul cultivates the thoughts that God sends so that it progresses from one level to another, from one degree of enlightenment to a deeper one until the soul is experiencing continual union with God. Such a level of union brings with it great peace and tranquillity. The soul cannot endure being separated from the Beloved and desires to be united to God all the time and wherever it may be. The soul longs for God with every breath it takes.
For souls like this life means nothing but being united with God through ecstatic experiences, and sighs of love. Because they are in love they can speak to God whenever they wish. For them union with God means life, peace, and repose. Frequently they experience such union without reciting any vocal prayers. In the same way they often contemplate the divine mysteries without following any method of preparation because they are always ready to engage in contemplation. The first of these options is inferior to the second.
- “Spiritual desire” is one of the topics that the author stresses. We have seen this above in n. 3521. ↑
- Tommasso da Olera is directing his remarks to contemplative souls. ↑
- Cant. 2: 16 ↑
- Cant. 4: 9. ↑
- Cant. 1: 3. ↑
- He wants to say that meditation is inferior to contemplation. The title that follows is drawn from Fuoco d’amore; but in the manuscript of APC of Innsbruck it reads: Modo facile che dà questo illuminato Servo d’Iddio all’anima per unirla al suo centro Dio e sarà la prima detta di sopra. ↑