June 22, 2008



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

"You will discover innumerable and highly commendable instances when natural feelings
(=the passions) and emotions brought about the honor and glory of God and of men, for one's usefulness and that of another.... On the other hand, ... you will discover that evil effects may derive from the same emotions and feelings.” (Sermon V)

Radical Goodness of the Passions
The Founder introduces the explanation of the Fifth Commandment (not to kill) with a teaching on the passions (feelings and emotions) along the traditional thinking. The passions are natural inclinations, therefore, wanted by God, worthy of praise or despicable according to the use we make of them. This was the thought of Cassian (De Instituti Coenobiorum, 73), and of St. Thomas (Summa Th, I II 241). St Thomas offers us a list of eleven passions: love and hate, desire and flight, joy and sadness, hope and despair, fear and boldness, anger (Ibid, I II 23 4), to which he dedicates twenty three "Questions."

About the goodness of the passions the spiritual tradition is in perfect accord. They are natural and therefore not sinful. Cassian teaches as he writes to Bishop Castore about the eight sinful thoughts (cf. Filocalia, I 135) . Not different is Isaac of Nineveh: "The passions are part of the ordinary going of the world; when the passions cease, then the going of the world stops" (Ascetical Speeches, 2). Further: "The passions of the body have been put by God in the body to help it and make it grow. In the same way, the passions of the soul, that is the psychic powers, are put by God in the soul to help it and make it grow." (Ibid, 3). Zaccaria was very well aware of this as he encouraged the reformer to avoid selecting "the kind of men whose bounty has little value" (Constitutions, XVIII).

Disorderly Passions
A whole different story is the question of disorderly passions, which must be overcome at any cost if one wants to lead an authentic spiritual life: "Man, in order to reach God and to be able to love him, must purify himself and rid himself of all vices" (Sermon IV). This is why authentic contemplation implies the overcoming of one's passions: "To want to contemplate without overcoming the passions is nothing else but to fool oneself." At the most it would be a "philosophical contemplation," but not "Christian contemplation" (Famous Sayings, 4, 6, 9). Another specification is bound to ''the primary impulses" which "are not under man's control" (Sermon V). This "popular saying" should not turn out to be "a shield for vicious people," but reminds us that we must discipline our natural inclinations, because it is for "what follows the first impulses" that man "is either praised, or blamed" (Ibid, 122). Fra Battista indicates a precise strategy "against such movements in so far as they are natural." It is a question of obtaining "four victories":

1. Make sure that ''these movements do not come too often";
2. "that do not come with so much fury and violence";
3. "that they would leave as soon as possible";
4. "that some would be totally uprooted" (Cognitione et vittoria di se stesso, 93v).

Zaccaria goes back to these guidelines when he recommends to "kill" (Letter 9), "to win" (Sermon IV), "to tame" (Constitution VIII) one's passions and, as a consequence, to be able to see "exteriorly and interiorly" (Letter IX) if a passion has been overcome or not.

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