December 15, 2007


Introduction to the teachings of
St. Anthony Zaccaria

Fr. Anthony M. Gentili, CRSP
Fr. John M. Scalese, CRSP

"I am not surprised if you do not yet understand
the meaning of …contemplation" (Sermon III).

Anthony Mary speaks ex professo of contemplation only in Sermon III dedicated to the sanctification of the feast day, and when he affirms that anger "separates ... from the contemplation of God" (Sermon V, 124).

In regard to this, Zaccaria recalls the classic scheme of the Lectio Divina: "Meditation, my friend, is not enough. It is necessary ... to pray, and, moreover, to contemplate" (Sermon III, 100). In Constitutions XII he refers specifically to the "Reading of Sacred Scriptures," where Lectio Divina, as the idiom itself indicates, starts with the reading of the Bible, which the Founder considers, together with the Eucharist, as one of the "extrinsic" expressions of the conversion to God, which take place especially on holidays. Extrinsic refers to "external" practices, against the interior ones. Meditation, prayer, and contemplation belong to this setting.

A similar distinction is found also in the chapter Anthony Mary dedicates to prayer (Constitutions X), where he speaks of "exterior or vocal prayer" and of "interior prayer," which is expressed in the three grades mentioned above. Zaccaria declares not to be disturbed if his hearers ignore what prayer is and so much more contemplation, since it is easier to limit oneself to meditation only or mental reflection ("meditation is more familiar to man than prayer and contemplation") (Famous Sayings, 17, 4). On the other hand, especially prayer and contemplation are much more tied to affection and intuition, and, more than object of theoretic learning, they are the fruit of direct experience, if they are not practiced - the Saint seems to affirm - they will always be ignored.

It is superfluous, finally, to remember that Zaccaria follows the great model of monastic prayer, although he seems to feel the danger of spiritual practice, still true today, we may say, of reducing Lectio Divina and, more in general, interior prayer only to the meditative moment. This is due also to the existence of a growing difficulty in passing from "exterior" prayer to the meditative and contemplative one. The first is food for the beginners, the second for the advanced (Constitutions X), the third for the perfect. Nor should we forget that "mental meditation" (Constitutions XII) and "the loving prayer" lead by their very nature to contemplation, which is "knowledge of love." Anthony Mary could have taken this directly from Gregory the Great, where he affirms: "Amor ipse notitia" (Homiliae in Evangelia, 27,4).

The Famous Sayings have a voice dedicated to contemplation.

1.Contemplation is a pleasant knowledge of truth, without any rationalization or fatigue.

2. Contemplation goes over one truth after another. At the beginning it is similar to imagination, but in the middle and at the end it is quite different.
3. Just as chastity is an ornament for the body, so the mind adorns itself with the virtue of contemplation.

4. Contemplation is for man a noble activity. There is not a truer and more perfect exercise.

5. The creativity needed to be ready for contemplation is rare. It is not given to lazy people or to children.

6. Philosophical contemplation is imperfect since it is compatible with some filthy passions. However, Christian contemplation wants to exclude any passion and, so, it is most perfect.

7. True contemplation avoids the one who looks for it out of curiosity. It follows and embraces, though, the one who avoids it out of humility.

8. The briefest contemplation of Christian things is more satisfying, more sublime, and clearer than the greatest philosophy.

9. Some Christians contemplate like pure philosophers, but true contemplatives are few. This is because one deceives himself if he tries to contemplate without overcoming the passions.

10. The true Christian contemplative always dwells in the intimacy of his beloved.

11. True Christian contemplation comes very close to rapture or the excess of the mind.

12. Sometimes the contemplative wishes to stop and contemplate over some aspects but, against his will, the Spirit leads him elsewhere.

13. The contemplative gains more in one act of contemplation than in many previous methods.

14. The contemplative of mixed life gains in active life as well as in contemplative life. Indeed, mixed life is more precious than any treasure.

15. A true contemplative sees more in one glimpse than a person of meditation does through a long exercise.

16. Sometimes in contemplation what is united is divided, as when from God one descends to the creatures.

17. Only a contemplative knows and hears the interior harmony produced in the soul by the Holy Spirit. He obeys the various promptings and movements.

18. A contemplative sees clearly in the dark, yet things become murky to him through the greatness of the light.

19. The deeper the heart of a contemplative, the more he can see God dwelling in the dark and unfathomable.

21.The more things the Contemplative person sees and the surer he becomes that he will never be able to cross the whole darkness, the more his desire will grow.

22. A contemplative is always on fire without pain and gets full without trouble. The mind of the contemplative is gently attracted, without violence, by the love of the beloved.

23. Laziness and rest are sweet for the contemplative, but the embrace with his beloved is extremely sweet.

24. The contemplative looks with his left eye at the angelic choirs, Divine Providence, the order of creatures, the divine bounty and other things which can be known through nature.

25. This eye receives light either through meditation done with the natural reflection, through knowledge acquired through human studies, or through Divine inspiration.

26. This contemplation is sweet for the soul although it is not perfect because it is finite and all of it can be described.

27. The right eye, not happy with this light, goes higher and looks into the secret of the Divinity and of the divine substance. This eye contemplates many of the divine attributes and many secrets of the creatures which human knowledge cannot reach.

28. This eye does not remember what it has seen and after the vision cannot tell. In short, it acts in such a way that it is no longer man at work but God at work with man.

29. If your mind is eager to rise to this vision above the mundane, remember what the Scripture says, “while living, man cannot see me. Therefore, may that soul die the death of the just so it will be able to see its desired God in the newness of life." (Do you need to cite quote?)

30. The soul which has not seen God lives in misery. The soul which, with purity of heart and ardent desire, does not long to see Him will be much more unhappy.

31. The most desirable of all treasures is to reach this state which cannot be achieved in any other way but through mortification.

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