13 Spiritual Themes
St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria
St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria
THEME 4: Friend of Simplicity
By Fr. Antonio M.Gentili, CRSP
By Fr. Antonio M.Gentili, CRSP
Father Soresina in his "Attestazioni" writes, "This Father was perfect in every virtue." He could say it, because of his personal experience especially about the virtue of simplicity.
But let us go in order. We are reminded that Anthony Mary Zaccaria was "simple" by the "Anonymous Angelic" in her Memoirs. She proves it first of all from his style of preaching: "He explained the Word of the Lord with great ardor, fervor, and wise simplicity." What Anthony Mary was doing was to transfer into his preaching the style and language of the Bible, as he himself reminded the Friends of his Cenacle in Cremona: "The Scripture ... uses a very simple language" (Sermon IV). Through his writings, from the Letters to the Sermons and the Constitutions, we can catch the major lines of his thought on simplicity.
With The Simple He Talks About God
Our Saint for sure became familiar with this virtue of simplicity through the assiduous reading of St. Paul. We must act "in simplicity of the heart" (Eph 6:5), a simplicity rooted in Christ or which, better yet in the Greek text, makes a person long for him (2 Cor 11 :3). The Apostle sees simplicity in action in a life of charity (Rm 12:8), and more specifically in the special collection taken on behalf of the Church of Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:2; 9: 11.13). Keep in mind that Anthony Mary quotes the Vulgate which uses the word "simplicity" instead of generosity). St. Paul affirms to have acted in "simplicity of the heart and sincerity of God" (always according to the Vulgate edition).
These are the foundations of Anthony Mary's teaching. He reminds the laity in Cremona that "God speaks to the simple" (Sermon XI), and he praises Fra Dona's simplicity, affirming that "it has always been heard" (Letter VI). On the contrary, "The Holy Spirit shuns the double-hearted" (Sermon II). "The principal aim," he outlines for those who are consecrated, is "the imitation of Christian Bounty and Simplicity" (Constitutions XIX) which he was inculcating in the novices, urging them "to reach (Christian) Simplicity" (Constitutions XII), avoiding any negative judgment and emptying the mind of any fabulous thinking.
This suggestion will be repeated often in the correspondence with his disciples. In the first "circular letter" addressed to the "Children of Paul the Apostle" he writes, "compete…in becoming simple" (Letter VI). But it is especially in the letter addressed to Father Soresina that the invitation to simplicity becomes more insistent. He should be "getting along in sincerity and simplicity with everybody," "use…the same simplicity" (Letter X). Anthony Mary wanted his followers to be "simple" subjects (Ibid.), just as they were described by the "Anonymous Angelic" who writes that they had to be "founded in holy simplicity" (Memoirs). Almost to emphasize this invitation, at the closing of the letter to Father Soresina, in the long list of greetings he adds an adjective to the name of many of his children, and he qualifies Corrado Bobbia as "simple" (Ibid, 53). We know little about him; he entered the Congregation on July 9, 1538 and died of sickness on January 30, 1543. Perhaps we can apply to him the judgment expressed by Anthony Mary about one of his followers, "he is good, simple" (bounty and simplicity mentioned before), "and of upright heart, and fearful of God" (Letter I).
Of course the Zaccarian writings could not miss the classic Gospel text, which is quoted with the usual spiritual addition, "Simple like doves, and as prudent and cautious as serpents” (Mt 10:6; Constitutions XII). This leads to the commitment of Anthony Mary to his friends in Cremona, "I will prepare my heart for God in full truth, simplicity and sincerity. In his grace may God live forever in my heart, and make it his temple" (Sermon II).
Simple Eye and Evil Eye
The Gospel praises the simple eye (Mt 6:22; Lk 11:34), which is God's eye (Jn 1:5: "who gives generously" in our translation), whose "sun rises on the bad and the good, he rains on the just and the unjust" (Mt 5:45). Opposite to the simple eye of God there is the "evil eye" of man (Mt 20: 15), which is one of the twelve poisons which, Mark says (Mk 7: 22), render the heart impure. Therefore, the eyes of the heart can be "enlightened" (Eph 1: 18) or cloudy. In this case we have an absolute need for a spiritual medicine to "recuperate the sight" (Acts 3: 18).
Once back to simplicity, man appears transparent, receptive, condescending, disarmed, and vulnerable, since he does not stay on the defensive, but he is perfectly in tune. This does not prevent him from being unpredictable and paradoxical, just like Anthony Mary. Two examples are enough: When the novices gained little fruit from the "spiritual exercises" prescribed by their Mistress, he ordered them to spit her in the face! A disturbing gesture which encountered their reluctance; but actually what else had they done if not "spit on her face?"
Monsignor Cacciaguerra, a merchant from Siena who had converted to Christian life, and a disciple of St. Philip Neri (he moved to Rome in 1550, where he died sixteen years later), in his autobiography says to have lived in the Community of Anthony M. Zaccaria, who was called the "Major" (Father Morigia was the Superior). He had come out saying the expression, "I wish I could inflict a couple of wounds to his heart, to see what is inside." From then on almost all, including the novices, would provoke him, to say the least. They would pull his beard, because too refined; rub his cassock, because too luxurious; make fun of his politeness and pride ("he sucks the spirits" the Major told him, meaning to be filled with self-gratification); catch the red of shame on his face; and to conclude, “You are still rotten!” Anthony M. Zaccaria ended the trial saying, "We have taken some liberty with you!" “Truly terrible men,” Cacciaguerra concludes, "those reverend, in mortifying the persons coming under their hands" (O Premoli, Storia dei Barnabiti nel '500, p. 457-77).
The Saints are implacable, but we must judge them by their fruits, beginning with the "simplicity of the heart." What was the aim of their austere pedagogy if not to destroy any double face, incoherence, presumption, and lack of authenticity? What should be a natural virtue, almost the original sign of our being, it turns out to be the object of an arduous conquest, the end of a long journey. Man is wounded and full of self defenses, and only the desire to "go from strength to strength" (Sermon III), to "advance from virtue to virtue" (Sermon VII), will bring us back to the fullness and perfection of our being.
(original text in Ecco dei Barnabiti, 1989:4)
All the 13 Spiritual Themes of St Anthony M . Zaccaria were translated from Italian by Fr. Frank Papa, CRSP and edited by Ms. Fran Stahlecker.