THOUGHT FOR TODAY BY
ST. ANTHONY ZACCARIA

If through perfect humility you will be able to know objec tively yourself, only then will you be.

4301 Hecktown Rd
Bethlehem, PA 18020

Sermon 6

"Man... was created and placed on this earth
chiefly and exclusively in order to reach God;
the rest of creation helps him reach that goal."
(Anthony Mary Zaccaria, Sermon 6)

 


Introductory Overview

Originally, Anthony Mary intended to devote three sermons to the topic of spiritual lookwarmness, treating "three causes" of negligence and lookwarmness on the way to God. However, he was able to complete only one of them, our Sermon VI, which he entitled,"Concerning one cause of negligence and lukewarmness on the way to God." 

Part One: The Way to God

[Introduction] Sermon VI does not treat a Commandment but a favorite topic of Anthony Mary, that is, spiritual lukewarmness. He adopts the same approach used in treating the Decalogue: first, a general topic and then a specific one logically flowing from the former. Here, because he treats "one cause of negligence and lukewarmness in the way to God," his first topic, is the Way to God. This is a fundamental and central teaching of Anthony Mary. In his view, the whole spiritual life is a "going to God."
[A] The opening line of Sermon VI has been compared to St. Ignatius' famous "principle and foundation " of spirituality: "Man was created and placed on this earth chiefly and exclusively in order to reach God, and the rest of creation helps him to reach that goal." Here is a clear and most concise statement: our goal is to go to God. The rest of creation is a means for us to go to God but it would be a serious disorder to turn creatures into ends in themselves. God alone is our goal and our end. Everything else is a means to this end. Anthony Mary uses two adverbs, "chiefly and exclusively," which seem to foreshadow the two ways treated in the sermon. The "way of creation," in which creating may somehow be seen as an end, though a subordinated one, for us and the "way of separation," in which God is all. Farther down, Anthony Mary uses the adverb "only," which means that the most important of the two ways is the "way of separation."
[B.1] After stating his thesis, Anthony Mary distinguishes between "spiritual creatures" (angels) and "corporal creatures": If angels, who share the same goal of humans (union with God), are assigned by God to serve humans, it stands to reason that corporal creatures must serve humans because that is their proper and only end.
[B.2] The second distinction deals with "knowledge" and "service." This leads to two levels in Anthony Mary's treatment of his topic: a theological level ("knowing God") and a moral-spiritual level ("going to God'). Although Sermon VI tends to focus on the second level, one can detect in Anthony Mary's presentation a trace of the intellectualistic approach, first Greek and then thomistic, which puts the theoretical ahead of the practical: "Man was unable to come to know God in all truth."
The first one derives from what traditional theology calls the "way of affirmation or of causality" which is the basis of positive or cataphatic theology; the second one derives from what was called the "way of negation or remotion," the basis of negative or apaphatic theology.
The "way of creatures" underlines the necessity of making use of creatures to go to God. Anthony Mary is very clear on this: "God made these creatures in order that through them we may go to Him," "God has made everything for man and man for God," "these created things are to be a ladder to reach God," "All things have been made and have been given to you in order that you may reach God."
Anthony Mary demonstrates this necessity on two levels, one theological and one existential. The theological argument concerns God's way of acting: to reveal himself God always made use of creaturely signs, especially human beings and, in a most eminent way, his own incarnate Son.
The existential argument concerns the human experience of his audience: their awareness of a spiritual instinct pointing to God; their knowledge of the historical experience of saints and, generally speaking, of the Church; and, finally the very spiritual experience of the audience itself.
Related to "knowledge" and "service" are the symbols "book" and "way" which characterized the two sections of Part One. "Book" emphasizes "knowing;" "way" emphasizes the moral level. However, sometimes the two symbols overlap: "a Book which man should read to reach God."
[I] The two books (knowledge level)
Anthony Mary takes up the traditional metaphor of the "two books": the book of nature or creation and the book of Scripture or Bible. God used both books to reveal himself to us and we must use both in order to know God "in all truth." The second book was made necessary by sin which caused the first book to become flawed. The Bible teaches us how to remedy those flaws. This is the theological level.
[II] The two ways (moral-spiritual level)
Anthony Mary takes up another metaphor: the "way." As we have two "books," we have two "ways" as well, which are distinct and complementary: the "way of creatures" and the "way of separation."

Part Two: Lukewarmness

[Introduction]
 Originally, Anthony Mary intended to treat three cause of spiritual lukewarmness, the same three causes itemized by Fra Battista da Crema in his Interior Mirror, that is, the distinction between precepts and counsels; the distinction between mortal and venial sins; and the lack of self-confidence in persevering in the pursuit of holiness.
[First cause] However, Anthony Mary began with the first cause, leaving the other two for the next two sermons; but these were never written.
[A] The real purpose of distinguishing between precepts and counsels was to ease the way for beginners, so that they would be able to gradually face the challenging demands of the evangelical counsels after dealing with the commandments.
[B] The irony is that this distinction, which was supposed to facilitate the pursuit of high holiness, is turned into an excuse to avoid that pursuit: "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." Anthony Mary could not disagree more: "They do not see that, by not trying to follow the counsels, they are in danger of not keeping the commandments, either."
We have here a most intriguing case of circularity. In Sermon III Anthony Mary held that "the capacity for accepting and fulfilling the evangelical counsels" derives from our willingness to observe the commandments; for instance, the Third Commandment, which enjoins to acknowledge God and give him due honor. Therefore, the observance of the commandments facilitates the observance of the counsels, but the observance of the counsels facilitates the observance of the commandments.
The "way of separation" is grounded on the intrinsic ambivalence of all created things: they may be either a positive help or a negative obstacle on our way to God.
What to do?
The negativity of created things does not derive from sin but simply by the fact that they are created. Their positive quality flows from the fact that they are created by God. Their negative trait derives from the fact that they are not God. The two traits can be harmonized thus: We may enjoy the goodness of all created things and make use of them to reach God. However, we must avoid all attachment to them, because attachment is reserved exclusively for God.

Doctrinal Outline

Spiritual Lukewarmness

Part One: The Way to God

  • Introduction
    • [A] Thesis: absoluteness of God and instrumentality of creatures
    • [B] Two distinctions
      • [1] Spiritual creatures and corporal creatures
      • [2] "Knowledge" and "Service"
  • I. The Two Books (knowledge level)
    • [A] The Book of Creation
    • [B] The Book of Scripture
  • II. The Two Ways (moral-spiritual level)
    • [A] The Way of Creation
      • [1] First series of reasons (theological): God's revelation
        • [a] Through sensible signs
        • [b] Through human beings
        • [c] Through his incarnate son

Conclusion (I)

  •  
    •  
      • [2] Second series of reasons (existential): experience of Christians
        • [a] Psychological level: natural instinct
        • [b] Hagiographic level: example of saints
        • [c] Historical level: spread of Christianity
        • [d] Spiritual level: our personal vocation

Conclusion (II)
Conclusion (III)

  •  
    • [B] The Way of Separation
      • [1] Necessity
        • [a] On the theological level: "knowing God"
        • [b] On the moral level: "becoming good and perfect"
      • [2] Typology
        • [a] Separation from creatures
          • [1] Thesis
          • [2] Scriptural exemplification
        • [b] Separation from self
        • [c] Separation from vices
      • [3] Teaching and example of Christ

Conclusion of Part One (IV)

Part two: Lukewarmness

  • Introduction
  • First cause: distinction between precepts (commandments) and counsels (evangelical counsels)
    • [A] Original purpose of distinction: removal of lukewarmness
    • [B] Distortion of distinction: opportunity for lukewarmness

Conclusion of section (V)

General conclusion

 

SERMON 6

Concerning one of the causes of negligence and tepidity in man's walking toward God.

Part One: The Way to God

  • Introduction
    • [A] Thesis: absoluteness of God and instrumentality of creatures

Sermon One     

     Man, my friends, has been created and placed on this earth chiefly and exclusively in order to reach God; the rest of creation helps him reach that goal.

  •  [B] Two distinctions
    • [B.1] Spiritual creatures and corporal creatures

     Now, if spiritual creatures, who have also been created in order to unite themselves to God, and not to be man's end, are sent by Him to minister to man, it stands all the more to reason that bodily creatures serve man, for that is their end. That is why you see that some of them come to the aid of man, namely to be at his disposal, to minister to him, and to enhance his good health.

  •  [B.2] "Knowledge" and "Service"

     But this does not exhaust the purpose of created things. They are indeed of much greater usefulness to man for his knowledge than for his bodily services. Hence, Paul's statement proves correct; namely, that the invisible things are known through the visible ones [Rom 1:20]. So, do order and beauty existing in created things serve man's bodily needs? Nay, rather they help him understand -- sometimes in depth -- the excellence, the greatness, and other perfections of God, even to understand God himself.

  • [I] The Two Books (knowledge level)
    • [I.A] The Book of Creation

     Spiritual writers, in fact, tell us that before man sinned, created things were for him like a Book, a Book well written in beautiful, alive, well shaped, and clearly delineated letters which he should read in order to reach God. But after he sinned, those letters became somewhat distorted and obscure. To be sure, they were by no means erased, but became all faded, hard to read, and almost impossible to see.

  •  [I.B] The Book of Scripture

     That was when, seeing that man could hardly read that Book and was therefore unable to come to know Him in all truth and often misinterpreted things altogether, God, who does not brood over our malice, intervened. And what do you think He did? In His goodness He wrote another Book -- the Book of Scripture -- in which He restored the first one by putting into it all that was good in created things. By showing what is perfect, He taught us how to withdraw from what is imperfect; and by pointing out the necessary things, He eliminated the superfluous ones.

  • [II] The Two Ways (moral-spiritual level)
    • [II.A] The Way of Creation

     Do you wish to be convinced that God has made these creatures in order that through them we may go to Him?

  •   [II.A.1] First series of reasons (theological): God's revelation
    • [II.A.1.a] Through sensible signs

     God has almost always revealed under some outward sign even the specific favors He has done for mankind such as the gift of man's redemption. Even the apparitions of angels were effected in the shape of this or that creature or man as was necessary for his understanding. God, of course, acted in this way so that through these creatures, which are of our own nature and are always visible to us, we could more easily go to Him and more often keep Him in mind.

  •  [II.A.1.b] Through human beings

     But in His goodness God has not been satisfied with wishing man to be aided on his way to Him by purely sensible things. In addition, He has wanted a rational creature -- composed of senses and intelligence, body and spirit, that is, man -- to help man. Indeed, along with good and evil spirits He wished all men, good or bad, be of some help to those who were being saved. Thus Scripture records both virtues and good deeds of so many patriarchs and prophets and holy people from the beginning of the world to Christ for you to imitate, and vices and evil deeds of the wicked along with their punishments, for you to avoid.

  •  [II.A.1.c] Through his incarnate son

     Is all this record not enough? It is indeed enough, but not for God's infinite love. For He, who is Eternity itself, Light, Incorruptibility, and the very Apex of all perfection, willed to come to live in time and to descend in darkness and corruption and, as it were, in the very sink of vice. O infinite Goodness, unfathomable Love, God become man! And why? To lead man back to God, to teach him the way and give him light.

Conclusion (I)

     How can you say, then, that God has not made you a human being whose goal is to reach Him?

  •  [II.A.2] Second series of reasons (existential): experience of Christians
    • [II.A.2.a] Psychological level: natural instinct

     God has endowed you with an intellect that is not and cannot be limited by the horizon of this world, with an unquenchable desire to taste Him and experience the incorruptibility of your spirit, and with a constant discontent of all worldly things as well as a constant longing for the heavenly ones.

  • [II.A.2.b] Hagiographic level: example of saints

     He has, moreover, let you know the powerful and resounding preaching of the Apostles, the martyrs' burning desire for death, the luminous and true profession of confessors, and the firmness of both virgins and practitioners of continence.

  •  [II.A.2.c] Historical level: spread of Christianity

     Besides, you have known the results of Christ's passion and of the saints' way of life; and you have seen the spreading of the law of Christ among the nations.

  •  [II.A.2.d] Spiritual level: our personal vocation

     And, in particular, you have been born Christians, in this faithful country of ours, in this place and time -- a place of happiness, a time of promise for the reform of men and women -- and you have been called in a special way to know yourselves, to have contempt for the world, to be victorious over yourselves, to come together with others in this place; and, for good measure, you have been gifted by God with many other favors. How, then, can you deny having been made exclusively for God? You would be entirely blind if you did not recognize that you have been made for this end: to reach God.

Conclusion (II)

     But watch out, my friends, lest you should pervert it, as you have already done many a time and are still doing.

Conclusion (III)

     Conclude, then, that 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.

  •  [II.B] The Way of Separation
    • [II.B.1] Necessity
    • [II.B.1.a] On the theological level: "knowing God"

     You understand, my friends, but take care not to stumble, for Scripture tells us that, though God created all things, some of them became a snare to the feet of the foolish [Wis 14:11]. Choose, then, what is good and leave out what is bad. But which is the good side of created things? It is their perfection, while their imperfection is the bad side. Therefore, draw near to their perfection and withdraw from their imperfection.
     Look, my friends: if you wish to know God, there is a way, "the way of separation" as spiritual writers call it. It consists in taking into consideration all created things with their perfections and in distinguishing God from them and all their imperfections, so as to say: "God is neither this nor that, but something far more excellent. God is not prudent; He is Prudence itself. God is not a particular and limited good; He is the Good, universal and infinite. God is not just one perfection, He is perfection itself without any imperfection. He is the all good, the all wise, the all powerful, the all perfect, etc."

  •  [II.B.1.b] On the moral level: "becoming good and perfect"

     Thus, my friends, since you wish to observe Christ's commandment, "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect" [Matt 5:48], 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.

  •  [II.B.2] Typology
    • [II.B.2.a] Separation from creatures
    • [II.B.2.a.1] Thesis

     Do you wish to understand this point? You know, of course, that what is finite cannot claim to be the same as the Infinite; nor can darkness claim to be the same as Light; nor can what is changeable be the same as the Unchangeable, etc. How, then, can man be in love with both sides? This is no doubt impossible. So, to achieve God's love man must take the way of renouncing all creatures and everything else.

  •  [II.B.2.a.2] Scriptural exemplification

     Hear this, my friends. The people of Israel could not take possession of the Promise Land until they came out of Egypt; nor could they be given manna until they had consumed what was left of the little flour they had taken with them into the desert [Exod 3:16ff.]. And in the Gospel we read that none of the guests invited to the wedding banquet entered to partake of it because one had just been married, another had bought five yoke of oxen and had to go to examine them, and another one had bought a field and wished to go out to see it [Luke 14:16ff.]. And what did God tell Abraham? He told him: "Go from your country and your father's house and your kindred, etc.." [Gen 12:1]. And David, did he not say: "If riches increase, set not your heart on them" [Ps 62:11].
     What is said of possessions, of course, can also be said of any other thing, spiritual and material as well. Thus, in order to receive the Holy Spirit, the Apostles had to wait until Christ left this world, as He said: "If I do not go away, the Paraclete will not come to you" [John 16:7].

  •  [II.B.2.b] Separation from self

     Hence, if visible things, which have been created and given to you by God and are external to yourselves, might hinder you from reaching God, think of what impediment you yourselves might be to that effect, since, as Chrysostom states, "No one is hurt but by himself" ["Nemo laeditur, nisi a seipso" (John Chrysostom, PG52,3,459)].

  •  [II.B.2.c] Teaching and example of Christ

     And if good and spiritual things quite often delay you on the way to God, think how much more will your vices and bad habits do that! Therefore, rid yourselves of everything so that you may have God who is everything. Walk toward God in absolute freedom, and do not attach yourselves to anything whatsoever; but, run toward Him "in ill repute and good repute," being "genuine and yet regarded as impostors" [2 Cor 6:8], experiencing plenty or penury, "cold and exposure" [2 Cor 11:27].

  •  [II.B.3] Teaching and example of Christ

     And that you may unload yourselves of any burden, Jesus invites you with these words: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" [Matt 11:28]. Previously, He had invited you with His example by leaving all possessions and embracing extreme poverty, by shunning honors, and by desiring and looking for reproaches, by declining spiritual as well as material consolations, and by accepting all desolation and abandonment on the part not only of creatures but also of His own Father [Matt 27:46]. And this He did for your own good. Now, if Jesus has taken that path, can we think to take a different one? "Awake, O sleeper, and Christ shall give you light" [Eph 5:14]. "Look to God that you may be radiant with joy and your faces may not blush with shame" [Ps 34:6].

Conclusion of Part One (IV)

     Conclude, then, that all things have been made and have been given you in order that you may reach God. This you must do by the way of separation and removal of yourselves from things accepting on the one hand the use and fruition of them and renouncing, on the other hand, any attachment to them. To do this you need a great fervor, so that you may withdraw from everything, and most of all from yourselves and from what is natural to you, namely, your bad habits. But, O wretchedness of your souls! Lukewarmness and negligence restrain you from doing that: hence, on your way to God, you also want to get rid of lukewarmness and negligence.

Part two: Lukewarmness

  • Introduction

     Oh! -- you, my dear friends, will tell me -- any illness can be cured as long as its root cause is known, but we really don't know the source of this lukewarmness! Do you want to know its origin? It comes from one or the other of three causes, and indeed may come from all three together. For the present I will only talk about one.

  • First cause: distinction between precepts (commandments) and counsels (evangelical counsels)

     Some people say: "It's not really necessary to be so enthusiastic in doing much good or in doing many things. After all, some things are necessary, while others are supererogatory or pertaining to the counsels. So much praying, so much humbling oneself, so much disciplining oneself, so much giving one's good to the poor, and so much overdoing in the spiritual life: it is not necessary!" Alas, how niggardly and ungenerous we are! It is quite true that there are things to be done by precept and things to be done only by counsel. When, in fact, a man came up to Him and asked what he should do to enter eternal life, Christ answered: "Keep the commandments." And, as that man went on protesting that he had observed them since his childhood, Jesus added: "If you wish to be perfect, go and sell, etc." [Matt 19:16ff.] Christ also said: "There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven," and immediately added, "let him accept this teaching who can" [Matt 19:12]. And Paul, speaking about virginity, said: "I am just giving a counsel, etc." [1 Cor 7:25] From all these statements the distinction we are talking about is drawn.

  •  [A] Original purpose of distinction: removal of lukewarmness

      Do you wish then, to know the reason why such a distinction was made? It was made to combat lukewarmness. How? Listen. Some people, considering what great perfection Christian life demands, so great a control of thoughts and custody of the heart, such a moderation in speaking, such an austere way of living and such a conduct, were overwhelmed and despaired of being able to do any good deed and to aspire to such perfection. Taking into account this situation, spiritual writers made this distinction in order that people would begin doing good; and then, once they had gotten somewhat stronger, they would climb step by step the mountain of perfection. Paul told Festus that he wanted him to become a Christian as he himself was, except for those chains in which he was preaching so ardently [Acts 26:29]. O please, Paul! If your chains are so beneficial, why would you like Festus to be a Christian without them? "Let him be a beginner in the Christian life," Paul would answer, "later on he will not be afraid of the chains." Christ asked Zacchaeus to invite Him to his house, not to give away his property. And yet, because Zacchaeus received Christ as a guest, he gave back what he had stolen and gave of his own goods besides [Luke 19:8]. Christ forgave Mary Magdalene [Luke 7:50. Actually, this woman is nameless.], and she began to follow Him [Mark 15:40]. But He did not tell her to do penance, and sell her goods, and give them to the poor; nevertheless she did penance and gave her possessions to the poor. So, begin doing good, and you will necessarily go forward and become better persons.

  •  [B] Distortion of distinction: opportunity for lukewarmness

     This distinction (as you have by now understood) was made to remove lukewarmness and negligence from the way to God. But now, instead, it is an excuse for lukewarmness and negligence for many people. Do you know why? Because these people, not deeming those supererogatory things as necessary, disregard them and care not to practice them. So, little by little they get lukewarm and say: "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!" How wretched they are! They do not see that, by not trying to follow the counsels, they are in danger of not keeping the commandments either. Consider what happens to those who receive communion and go to confession just once a year, and say: "What good is it to go to confession so often? As for me, once a year is enough." You will see that they fall into blasphemy and into other sins. But you will not find in such dangerous situations those who receive holy communion often, both because they do not fall into sin so often, and because, if they do, they rise up more quickly.
     Likewise, one is not content to live by his honest income, but wishes to gain more and get rich; or he is just so afraid of not having enough for his livelihood. Although he does not want to fall into the sin of possessing other people's goods, in reality he already possesses them. He does so through anxiety and excessive craving. So it is in a thousand other things.

Conclusion of section (V)

     So, you may conclude by saying: whoever wants to avoid the danger of failing to keep the commandments must follow the counsels. And who do you think is telling you this? Is it I? Not I, but Solomon. He said: "He who despises small things, will fail little by little" [Sir 19:1]. Do you want not to fall into the water? Do not get too close to it. Do you want not to disobey the commandments? Keep the counsels. Do you want not to commit mortal sins? Avoid the venial ones. Do you want to avoid even venial sins? Renounce some of the things that are licit and allowed to you. For instance, do you wish not to sin by eating with some sort of gluttony -- which is probably only a venial sin? Leave out some delectable and permitted food. Now then, you can understand that what was found useful to remove lukewarmness has become for some people the cause of this very evil.

General Conclusion (VI)

     Conclude now by saying that everything has been given you in order to lead you to God, that it is imperative for you to go to God by the way of separation, and above of all, separation from lukewarmness, and that it is absolutely necessary for you to refrain from saying: "I do not want to do excessive good." For, by speaking like that, you run the risk of perturbing and reducing to a bare minimum your natural instinct which tends to do as much as it can. Now, tell me: do you wish to enjoy good health, entirely or only partially? To get all the goods possible or only some or none of them? To acquire only so much learning and no more? And so on with other desires you may have. Everyone wishes to reach his own end as fully as he can. Now, the end of your will is the good, that is why you desire it with all your heart and without any limit.
     O you niggards! Has God not given up possessions and honors and His own life for your sake? And -- as He said -- what could He have done that He has not done? [Isa 5:4] And here you are, trying to serve Him, to love Him, and to honor Him only in a limited degree. Never again do that. For, beside spoiling the natural instinct God has given you and refusing to pay back to God what you owe Him, you harm yourselves because you do not go forward on the way to God. And, of course, not to go forward on the way to God, and to stand still, is indeed to go backward ["Non proficere, sine dubio deficere est" (Bernard, Ep. 385,1 = PL 182, 587-588)]. You see, it is like the sea water that is never still, but rather constantly moves, flowing six hours and ebbing six hours. Yes, you cannot say that it is motionless. It is the same with man in his spiritual life: either he grows in virtue or, by not growing in it, he stagnates in vices. In other words he says farewell to virtue and back he goes [to a lukewarm and negligent way of living.]



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