St Anthony Mary Zaccaria Writtings
Because Anthony Mary wrote no systematic spiritual treatise, his teaching is not easily summarized. His few and occasional writings do no permit a reconstruction of a structured and exhaustive body of doctrine. Suffice it to present the following points:
The Way of God
The opening sentence of Sermon 6 reads: "Man, my friends, was created and placed on this earth chiefly and exclusively in order to reach God; the rest of creation helps him reach that goal." The rest of the sermon develops what Ignatius of Loyola would term the "principle and foundation" of Anthony Mary’s spirituality. The ways to God are many:
- way of creatures: "God has made everything for man and man for God. Thus created things are to be a ladder for man to reach God, the Lord" (Sermon 6). Among all creatures, human beings are a choice way to God: "God has made your neighbor the road to reach His Majesty" (Sermon 4).
- way of separation: "You must, in your effort to know God, follow the way of negation - the way of separation. And so, if you want to be good and perfect in this way of life, you have to separate and withdraw from all creatures, from yourselves, and from all defects" (Sermon 6).
- way of the middle course: "[Paul] said that we have to follow a middle course and, according to the Sage’s saying, not to swerve to the right or to the left [Prov 4:27]" (Sermon 5). This is the practical equivalent of St. Ignatius’ "indifference."
- "Due order" of the spiritual life
This is the basic teaching of all the Sermons. It is particularly explained in Sermon 1: We do not progress in the spiritual life "because we do not follow the proper order of the spiritual life and because we want to be teachers before being disciples." The order to be observed in the spiritual life consists in keeping the Commandments, which must precede the pursuit of perfection. A more profound articulation of this teaching is found in Sermon 3: God "in His goodness and in spite of us - His unfaithful and insincere servants, even His enemies - ... gives us so many good things; nevertheless, He is unwilling to give the gift of perfection, the tasting of His sweetness, and the knowledge of His secrets except to His friends and faithful disciples," that is, to those who keep the Commandments. On the other hand, if it is true that, if "you do not want to pay Him the promised tribute [keeping the Commandments]... neither... will He grant you perfection... nor the capacity for accepting and fulfilling the evangelical counsels" (Sermon 3), it is equally true that "whoever wants to avoid the danger of failing to keep the commandments must follow the counsels" (Sermon 6). Definitely, a most intriguing case of circularity!
- The relation between grace and free will
It is a classic problem for theologians. At times grace is favored over free will; other times, it is the other way around. Pelagius, for instance, emphasizes human effort, while Luther excludes any human role and insists on grace alone. Anthony Mary offers a balanced synthesis: "So great is the excellence of free will strengthened by God’s grace, that man can become either a god or a devil according to what he chooses to be" (Sermon 5). "Any effort to reform the religious life is futile without the grace of God, who has promised to be with us until the end of the world and is always ready to help us. In fact, God can prove us guilty of lacking courage because of our unfaithfulness in undertaking great things, whereas we cannot accuse Him of failing us" (Constitutions 18).
- From virtue to virtue
This phrase, taken from Psalm 83, is found many times in Anthony Mary’s writings. It pointedly describes the necessity of advancing from stage to stage in the "Way of God." "Climb up as high as you can, for you owe Him [God] much, much more" (Constitutions 12). "Strive continuously to increase what you have begun in yourself and in others because the heights of perfection are limitless" (Constitutions 18). A spiritual ascent should not be sluggish, but vigorous, similar to running. Christ himself "to avoid being negligent, ran toward the cross regardless of its shame" (Letter 2). His followers, then, are called to "run like madmen not only toward God but also toward [their] neighbors" (Letter 2).
As we have just learned, "the primary requirement in God’s ways is expeditiousness and diligence" (Letter 2). However, on our way to God we are slowed down by lukewarmness that makes us say: "It is enough for me to honor God thus far" (Constitutions 12); "This is enough for me - that I save my soul by keeping the commandments. That’s enough, and I don’t care a bit for all this talking about great holiness!" (Sermon 6) "It’s enough to do this, why bother about so high perfection!" (Constitutions 17). Lukewarm people delude themselves. They defy a fundamental norm of the spiritual life. "Not to make progress is to fail" (Constitutions 12). "Not to go forward on the way to God, and to stand still, is indeed to go backward" (Sermon 6). Lukewarmness is no secondary detail in the spiritual life. It affects the very essence of Christian life. More than once, Anthony Mary identifies lukewarmness with a Pharisaic attitude. In Sermon 4, Pharisaic people are described as being virtuous but loveless. So lukewarmness may be described as the opposite of love. It does coincide with hypocrisy, which simulates the spiritual life but lacks inner convictions. "O how many ‘saints’ - rather, to be exact, how many people who but ‘ape the saints’ - have died . . these first-class-hypocrites, like the Pharisees. . ." (Sermon 4). Anthony Mary’s disciples must above all war against lukewarmness. His Angelics are summoned to be "filled with apostolic zeal in removing from the hearts of people not only idolatry and other big, big defects, but also in routing out the most pernicious and greatest enemy of Christ Crucified, which is nowadays triumphing almost everywhere - I mean, Lady Tepidity" (Letter 5)
- The spirit and true fervor
To combat lukewarmness one needs fervor. This is the condition that enables one to walk in the way of God. "To do this you need a great fervor" (Sermon 6). Anthony Mary rightly distinguishes between fervor and fervor. There is a superficial fervor, a passing feeling of devotion, an emotional high that every Christian experiences at some time or other of his life: "One thing is exterior fervor and devotion, and quite another is interior fervor and true devotion" (Constitutions 12). The former has no real worth. It is quite misleading and unreliable and may create a false sense of security. On the other hand, real fervor comes true in times of dryness, when one keeps doing God’s will with great generosity. "It is proper for persons with a generous heart to wish to serve without reward and to fight without remuneration and provisions for the journey" (Constitutions 12). True fervor and true devotion are simply "readiness for service in obedience to God’s will" (Constitutions 12). Persevering in the performance of one’s duties leads to an increase of fervor: "By so persevering, you will grow in spirit and fervor. These can only be increased through renewed, firm, and frequent promises, and by strongly and resolutely checking one’s natural inclinations" (Constitutions 12). True fervor reveals the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the driving force of Barnabites and Angelics in their apostolic endeavors: "Unfurl your flags, my dear daughters, for Jesus Crucified is about to send you to proclaim everywhere the vital energy of the Spirit" (Letter 5).