Letter 1 - To Fra Battista da Crema
“Conform to God’s will,
for I myself intend to conform to it.”
Anthony Mary Zaccaria, Letter 1
Gian Battista Carioni (c. 1460–1534), better known as Fra Battista da Crema from his birthplace, belonged to the Observant Dominican Congregation of Lombardy (North Italy). He was a gifted preacher and a prolific spiritual writer, passionately dedicated to promote reform and renewal in the Church and society. He thus reacted against the pagan traits of the Italian Renaissance.
To him indeed goes the credit for tapping and channeling the spiritual energies of three reformers, namely, St. Cajetan Thiene (1480–1547), the leading founder of the first Order of Clerics Regular (Theatines); Ludovica Torelli (1500 –1569), the Countess of Guastalla, the historical originator of the Angelics of St. Paul; and St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria (1502–1539), the leading founder of the Clerics Regular of St. Paul (Barnabites), and the acknowledged founder of the Angelics as well as the founder of the Laity of St. Paul. Arguably, Anthony Mary profited the most from Fra Battista’s spiritual expertise.2
Without a doubt, Anthony Mary held Fra Battista in the highest regard. Indeed, he referred to him as his “patron saint” before God (Letters I and IV). He admired him, the dynamic leader who “was always displeased with those who are negligent and unwilling to help themselves” (Letter IV). Furthermore, he did not hesitate to place him alongside St. Paul, as he reminded the Angelics that “both our blessed Fathers, St. Paul and Fra Battista, have left us a great example of noble and profound love for Jesus Crucified, love for their sufferings and humiliations and for the thorough conquest of souls” (Letter V). And again, to spur his first companions on in the work of reform, he reminded them of Fra Battista’s high expectations: “you will accomplish the wish of our holy Father, who, as you recall, wanted us to be foundation and pillars in the renewal of Christian spirit” (Letter VII). Further evidence of Anthony Mary’s appreciation for Fra Battista’s spiritual leadership is found in the Constitutions Anthony Mary authored, interestingly enough, following a Latin outline drafted by Fra Battista himself. In Chapter 8, on studies, Anthony Mary, along with Church Fathers and Doctors and other well-known spiritual writers, such as Cassian, St. Bonaventure, and St. Catherine of Siena, mentions “the books of our Father Fra Battista da Crema.”3 In addition, the extant manuscript of the time, the Community Acts,4 clearly attests that Fra Battista’s writings were the staple spiritual nourishment of the first generation of Barnabites.
Like St. Paul, his model and master, Anthony Mary begins his letter with a thanksgiving to God. He then manifests his disappointment for not receiving any letter from his spiritual Father, but he is quick to excuse him, being aware that Fra Battista is a seventy-year-old ailing man and the subject of controversy between his Dominican Superiors as well as some Church authorities and Countess Torelli.5
Hence the comforting exhortation of the humble young directee, “May you, dear Father, conform to God’s will, for I myself intend to conform to it.” The subject of the letter is an unspecified incident between himself and a certain Gerolamo. Anthony Mary appeals to Fra Battista for a “satisfactory solution.” And he concludes with a humble and yet resolute assurance, “My affairs move slowly and my negligence delays them even more. Yet I will keep attending to them.”
The original autograph of this letter was discovered by Fr. Enrico Barelli (1724 –1817) in the Archives of Guastalla College in Milan in 1780. He made a copy of it and sent it to Fr. Angelo Cortenovis (1727–1801), the well-known collector of Barnabite historical documents.6
Unsure of its accuracy, Fr. Cortenovis personally made an exact copy of the autograph including its external characteristics as, for instance, the seal in green wax, which reproduced the lily of the Zaccaria family. This copy is kept in the Archives of St. Barnabas (Appendix, Q.IV.1). As attested by Fr. Luigi Ungarelli (1779–1845) as early as 1836, and notwithstanding recent researches, the original autograph is no longer available. A second copy of the autograph, made by Fr. Francesco Caccia (1806–1875) and available in the General Archives in Rome, was utilized by Fr. Francesco Luigi Fontana (1750–1822) in his Dossier for the beatification of the venerable Anthony Mary addressed to Barnabite Cardinal Giacinto Sigismondo.
SPIRITUAL-THEOLOGICAL THEMES OF THE LETTER
- Thanksgiving to God
“I give thanks to God.”
- God’s Mercy
“In His mercy He does not treat me as I deserve.”
- Personal Trials and Imperfections
“He subjects me only to such small trials that I tend to be unaware of them because of some reproachable insensitivity of mine. May He set me free from my imperfections, faintheartedness, and pride.”
- Conforming to God’s Will
“May you, dear Father, conform to God’s will, for I myself intend to conform to it.”
“Recommend me to their prayers. My mother recommends herself to the prayers of…”
Cremona, May 31, 1530
To the Reverend Father, Fra Battista da Crema,1
of the Order of Preachers of St. Dominic,
my venerable father in Christ.
REVEREND FATHER IN CHRIST,
I give thanks to God, for in His mercy He does not treat me as I deserve, and He subjects me only to such small trials that I tend to be unaware of them because of some reproachable insensitivity of mine, as our Donna8 Francesca of Vicenza9 used to remark while we were riding on horseback.
I say this because it would have been a great consolation to me to receive a letter from you. But I understand that either your poor health or, no doubt, other good reasons have prevented you from writing at all. May you, dear Father, conform to God’s will, for I myself intend to conform to it, in spite of everything, and come what may.
From my incident with Mr. Gerolamo10 something resulted about which the carrier Mr. Benedetto Romani11 will tell you. I won’t mention it, for it is quite complicated to express and requires many explanations. Mr. Romani will explain it to you by word of mouth. In all truth, dear Father, my wish is that you yourself would give it a satisfactory solution. It is up to you, of course, to keep me informed about this or any other matter, which you may think useful for me to know.
I think our illustrious Countess12 and Donna Francesca are fully excused for not writing to me since they must be busy; and they will in turn excuse me, for I, too, am hindered from doing so. Recommend me to their prayers.
The present carrier has expressed to me some of his ideas and says that he is somewhat acquainted with you. I heartily recommend him to you as, in my judgment, he seems to be good and simple, an upright man who fears God;13 he will do everything for you, and you will not be disappointed because I found him to be obedient and one of those who are said (...)14 both in actions and words. You will get to know him better than I can describe him. For God’s sake, may he be dear to you, as I am sure he will.
My affairs move slowly, and my negligence delays them even more. Yet I will keep attending to them.
My mother15 recommends herself to the prayers of the Countess and of Donna Francesca, and, first of all, to your prayers; Fra Bono16 and Mr. Francesco’s son17 asks for the same favor.
Please, dear Father, don’t forsake me, and be my patron saint before God. May He set me free from my imperfections, faint-heartedness, and pride.
From Cremona, the last day of May, 1530.
The Victory Over Oneself should be written by me with deeds, not with ink.18
Your son in Christ,
Anthony M. Zaccaria, Priest
1. See Introduction of this letter and also Letters IV, V, and VII.
2. See Antonio M. Gentili, “S. Antonio M. Zaccaria. Appunti per una Lettura Spirituale degli Scritti,” Quaderni di Vita Barnabitica 4 (1980) Part I; 6 (1983) Part II.
3. Via de aperta verità (Way of Open Truth, 1523); Cognitione et vittoria de se stesso (The Knowledge of, and Victory over, Oneself, 1531); Philosophia divina (Divine Philosophy, 1531); Specchio interiore (Interior Mirror, published posthumously by Ludovica Torelli in 1540); Sentenze spirituali (Spiritual Sayings, published posthumously in 1583 by Giovan Paolo Folperto with the title Detti notabili [Notable Sayings]).
4. These were the reports of the meetings of the St. Barnabas community, the only Barnabite community until 1557.
5. See p. 17, par. 3.
6. See Angelo Cortenovis, Lettere Familiari (Milan, 1862) 252–253.
7. Information on the original autograph and its copies was kindly supplied by Fr. Giuseppe M. Cagni, archivist of the General Archives (February 1998).
8. Title given a lady in Italy.
9. A laywoman from Vicenza who was called “Marescalca” (blacksmith) after her father’s trade. She was a member of the first mission band in Vicenza (1537). She was one of the widows (like Porzia Negri and Giulia Sfondrati) associated with the Angelics.
11. No further identification available.
12. Ludovica (Paola) Torelli (1499–1569), Countess of Guastalla. See Letter V, Introduction; also Letters I, IV, VI, and IX.
13. Job 2:3
14. In light of the context, the illegible words in the manuscript could mean: “to be trustworthy.”
15. Antonia Pescaroli: she married Lazzaro Zaccaria on February 2, 1501, and gave birth to Anthony Mary during the first half of December 1502. She died in 1544. See also Letter V.
16. Fra Bono Lizzari, a hermit from Cremona. Together with Anthony Mary he was one of the earliest promoters of the Forty Hours Devotion. Although he secured permission to hold this devotion as early as 1534, it was actually introduced only three years later, in Milan. See also Letters II, III, and VI.
17. Father and son most likely from Cremona.
18. Anthony Mary is alluding to one of the spiritual writings of Fra Battista da Crema - perhaps his masterpiece - The Knowledge of, and Victory over, Oneself, which was to be published in Milan, March 31, 1531. Apparently, Fra Battista invited Anthony Mary to help him write that book, but the latter preferred to decline, perhaps out of humility.
- God is generous and merciful. He does not only respond to our prayers, he also anticipates them. He wants our own good more than we ourselves do.
- Often times our response to God’s love is indifference. We give priority to things, and even ourselves, rather than God.
- Those who love conform themselves to God’s will. They renounce love of self; they “die to themselves.”
- The journey toward perfection is often slow. It may stop and even slip back. So at times we need a shake-up. We do not get discouraged. With God’s help, all is possible.
- We must devote ourselves to help others walk in the Spirit and to spur them on to give the best they can.
- How much interest do I take in, and how much time do I devote to, God and the Church?
- Am I aware that one gauge of my being in God is the time I devote to him and the importance I give to spiritual matters in my daily activities?
- Am I willing to sacrifice my own convenience for love of God?
- As I examine my life, can I honestly say that I have become better over the years?
- Do I encourage and help others grow spiritually?
COMMENTARY TO LETTER 1
Cremona, May 31, 1530
The manuscript was discovered in September, 1780, in the archives of the Institute of the Countess of Guastalla in Milan, by Fr. Henry Barelli, who made an exact copy and sent it to Fr. Angel Cortenovis (cf. A,. Cortenovis, "Lettere Familiari," Milan, p. 252). Fr. Angel Cortenovis too transcribed it and added some extrinsic characteristics like the green wax seal representing the lily of the Zaccaria family (St. Barnabas, Archives, Q, IV, 1). Unfortunately, soon after the manuscript disappeared again, either lost or hidden.
The copies kept in the General archive in Rome and in St. Barnabas in Milan, have been collated. The one in Rome was handwritten by Fr. Caccia and matches the one transcribed by Fr. Fontana in his document prepared for the process of canonization, where he affirms that he had copied it "with faithful scrupulosity" from the one done by Fr. Barelli from the original manuscript.
This letter, the first in chronological order and the only survivor of a frequent correspondence, as indicated in its first paragraph, is very important for the understanding of the psychology of the young Anthony Mary, who reveals himself humble and dependent, while in the other letters he assumes that vibrant tone of a leader so very peculiar to him.
1. Father Fra Battista Carioni da Crema
When, on May 31, 1530, St. Anthony M. Zaccaria, with his heart filled with respectful docility and filial trust, was writing this letter to Fra Battista Da Crerna, a 70 year old Dominican Friar, he had been his spiritual son for about two years, since the death of Fra Marcello, another Dominican Friar.
Many and decisive happenings had taken place during those two years, under the authoritarian and vigorous guidance of that "holy" man. A man who was "venerable" because of his age, of his reputation as a great preacher and spiritual director, but most of all because of his long and painful experience in spiritual life as a religious. An experience he kept always enriched with youthful enthusiasm because of the freshness of his spirit and the determination to restore Christian fervor among the people of God and his clergy.
Savonarola had been his confrere in the monastery "Le Grazie" in Milan, while Blessed Sebastian Maggi was the Prior. This had been the second last of a marvelous chain of nine Blessed, all Dominicans, who, starting with St. Vincent Ferreri, had shaped a new form of Religious Life. Fra Battista proposed this new approach to Religious Life to St. Cajetan Thiene and to St. Anthony M. Zaccaria, inspiring them in the creation of new Religious Congregations.1
It was the authoritarian and decisive intervention of the Dominican Friar to bring our Saint to the Priesthood at the end of 1528 or beginning of 1529. For the past two years it had been Fra Marcello to guide him through the study of Sacred Scripture and of the Fathers of the Church. He, on his part, between April and June of 1526, had put aside Medicine, "going from good to better,"2 but still as a layman or maybe as a cleric, and perhaps hesitant to stay as such while working on the reform, without going behind the limits of his city, Cremona.
Fra Battista offered to Anthony Mary the chaplaincy of the Countess of Guastalla household, and also to move from Cremona to Milan. This city was a much more important center, offering a better chance to spread the desired reform. This is the only surviving letter of what must have been a prolific· correspondence between St. Anthony M. Zaccaria and his beloved spiritual director. Other letters and writings most likely were given, as ordered, to the Holy Office in 1552.
For sure Fra Battista played a central role in the life of our Holy Founder and in the early beginnings of his Institutes. Very appropriate suggestions were given to De Rohden, who painted the huge canvas to be given to the Pope Leo XHI on the occasion of Anthony M. Zaccaria’s canonization. The painting is kept in the Cancelleria of the Vatican. The same goes for the double banners by Virginio Monti, carried in procession during the ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica, and which have been reproduced in a fresco in the church of the Angelics in Milan. Another painting, kept in our General Curia, in Rome, is signed by E. Bottoni, 1898. In this last painting the Holy Founder from the altar is preaching to his sons and daughters about St. Paul. In a corner, in the front, there is depicted the old and vigorous Dominican Friar, with his white tunic as a reminder of the Angelics’ white habit, and a black mantle, a reminder of the Barnabites’ black habit.
2. The mother of the Saint
Together with the Sisters, but not confused among them, and with an invisible white veil on her face and neck, stands a lady in whom we would like to recognize the mother of the Saint, but instead she is the Countess Ludovica Torelli of Guastalla. She, although living with the Angelics, never took their habit.
The mother of Anthony M. Zaccaria was Antonia Pescaroli, who remained and willingly stayed a widow at the young age of 18, when her husband, the Marquis Lazzarus Zaccaria died at the age of 27. She had to take care not only of her young child Anthony Mary, but also of Valentina, natural daughter of Lazzarus, and of her nephew Bernard, left orphan at the death of his father, Pasquale, Lazzarus’ brother. The child had moved in his aunt’s house together with his mother Apollonia Roncadelli. Together with them there was also Elisabette Pasquali, their mother-in-law, who will be the legal administrator of the goods of the two orphans, during their minor years.
St. Anthony Mary’s mother appears only twice in his letters: I and V, when he writes from Cremona, obviously from his mother’s home, and he seals the letters with the lily, seal of the Zaccaria family (a golden lily on a red background). But, although far away from her son, the priest, Antonia, busy with her many responsibilities, was carefully following him, attentive with advice and provisions, as needed.
When Anthony Mary reached 18, and willingly renounced all his heredity in favor of his mother, she demanded from him to keep its administration. When Anthony Mary became a priest, he refused the wealthy patrimony of the Zaccaria’s church of St. Lazzarus, to be free from attachment to any material goods. In turn his mother decided to put at his everyday disposal those very benefits, to be used as he best wished. Later, at the proper time, she will leave everything to the Institute of her relative Valeria degli Alfieri, widow Borgo (which later became the monastery of St. Mary’s), in memory of her son.
3. Ludovica Torelli, Countess of Guastalla
The greeting the Saint adds from his mother to the "Lady Countess" makes us guess that, by then, the two ladies must have known each other. As a matter of fact to go to Milan the Countess had to pass through Cremona, and it could be that since 1516 she had got to know the Marquise Pescaroli with her young boy Anthony Mary, because her first husband, Ludovico Stanga, was from Cremona.
Fra Battista must have talked to her about the young priest from Cremona, between the years 1527-1530. After the violent death of her second husband (the brutal Count Martinengo of Brescia, who had killed his first wife, and was already maltreating Ludovica), and after the death of her two children, she had converted from a gay and worldly life to a life of prayer, austere virtues, and greatly generous with charity and social activities.
When Fr. Peter dell’Orsi, chaplain of the Countess, died in 1529, Father Battista proposed Anthony M. Zaccaria as the new chaplain. Ludovica, passing through Cremona, on her way back from Milan, in March of 1530 (the letter was written two months later), was able to convince the young priest to follow her to Guastalla.
It was during this time that the Countess changed her name from Ludovica to Paola, wanting to assume St. Paul the Apostle as the protector of her own conversion. We can see the influence of the old spiritual director and of the young chaplain.
For sure the three of them must have been dreaming over their plans, and Milan, the great metropolis, would have been the logical place where they could carry through their realization. Therefore, the Countess, at the beginning of May, went back to Milan together with Father Battista, to stay there until the end of September. Here she will receive the greetings of the Saint’s mother together with the ones of Fra Bono.
4. Fra Bono
It is very meaningful to find this humble Capuchin Friar present already in the first letter. He had been a hermit and a pilgrim all over the Holy Land and Europe. Then, toward 1530 or before, he dedicated himself to the apostolate of prayer and action together with our Saint, until he became "the most able and caring of workers."3
In the painting by Bottoni, mentioned above, he is kneeling, almost hidden, behind Father Battista, in his Capuchin brown habit. We will talk about him a little later.
5. The occasion of the letter
Father Battista, the Countess Torelli, Antonia Pescaroli, Fra Bono are all central characters in Anthony Mary's life drama. The other two are still missing: Bartholomew Ferrari; and James A. Morigia. Actually they had already met in Milan at the Oratory "Eternal Wisdom," but they are not mentioned in the letter.
The Saint mentions that the occasion of the letter is "a little thing" from the argument with Jerome, who could be that "Sir Jerome doctor" mentioned in Letter IV, there too with an obscure language. We know nothing more about this "little thing," except that the Saint cared very much to have Father Battista to resolve it well, since he did not want to put it on paper. Instead he charged a courier to make a report in person, a certain Benedict Romani, a trustworthy friend (this or similar term must be the word which is illegible in the manuscript), a man worthy of great praise. We know nothing about him, and the same about that Francis and son, mentioned in the last paragraph.
Some more conjectures we can make about "Lady Frances" whose name is mentioned three times. Fr. Premoli thought to be a relative of the Countess: the respectful tone used by the Saint, and the fact that she asks to be remembered to his mother and to the Countess, could lead to such a conclusion. I am not sure if we can identify her with the Frances "Marescalca" from Vicenza: a woman of great virtue, and one of the great collaborators for the foundation of the Mission of the Angelics in the city of Vicenza; where the Founder sent her on April 2, 1537 (cf. Premoli, "Storia" I, p. 22, 1, and p. 38, 2).
We could also question that "Lady Frances" to whom a relative of the Countess appeals (see the "Postscriptum" mentioned in the introduction) to defend himself from the extravagant accusations by a certain Adrian, whom, he says, he would have never maltreated in deference to the Saint (or the Countess), and "in deference to Lady Frances who loved him (Adrian) as a good brother."
It could be that the "our" Lady Frances mentioned above (the Marescalca) is the same as the "yours" Lady Frances mentioned later and always together with the Countess Torelli. Anyway the suggestive opinion by Bugati is always valid. He suggests this Frances to be, together with Porzia Negri, sister of the Angelic Paola Antonia, one, of the two widows about whom Burigozzo writes in his curious "Cronache di Milano" in 1534:
"Some priests are appearing in Milan with a shabby habit, a round biretta on their head, without a hat, and all dressed the same walking with their heads down. They live all together close by St. Ambrose, and there, they say, they perform their offices, and there they live in company: and they are all young. Then, another company of young girls, said to be humble: certain days of the week they go in certain places begging for alms, and there they do I do not know what; they are badly dressed with a large, square linen handkerchief on their head, heads low, covered and tied down to their throat without any ornaments: they go through Milan in four or six at the time; but with the company of one or two ladies behind, and they go with their faces uncovered. Of these groups, both the priests and the girls, it seems that the head is a Countess, the one called Countess of Guastalla."4
6. Some elements for meditation
a. The monogram "IC.XC.+" is located on the top front of all his letters, and even at the top corner of each page of his manuscripts, almost like another signature, affirms the constant presence of the Crucified Lord in the thought and works of Anthony M. Zaccaria.
But it wants also to be a reminder to the reader, and especially to us his children, of the primacy of the Cross in our_ lives, while encountering in adoration that other "vessel of the Most Holy Host" he had solemnly exposed and raised "for victory" on the altar of the Eucharist. Unfortunately all the monograms were cut off by the Barnabite Cardinal Granniello, before the body of the Saint was found on May 9, 1891 in the church of St. Paul of the Angelics in Milan. In obedience to the pontifical Bulla "De humandis defunctorum corporibus," "that chaste body" had been buried twenty years after his death, "and the heart of his daughters remained buried with the Father’s body (Fra Battista)" (Angelica Anonima, "Ristretto della vita etc." manuscript in the archive of St. Barnabas). But a good number of them have been recovered and, properly authenticated, are kept in the General archive in Rome.
b. The beginning of the letter follows St. Paul’s style, who loved to start his letters with a praise in honor of the Lord, "Blessed be the Lord and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, etc." (cf. Rom 1:8; 1 Cor 1:4; 2 Cor 1:2; Eph 1:3; etc.). Once it was the custom to start a letter with: S.L.G.C., or (as all the manuscripts of Fr. Semeria) A.M.D.G.Mque, that is, "To the glory of God and of Mary."
c. In the text of the letter note the followings:
1) The filial confidence and surrender expressed in the greeting to his spiritual father, together with a humble but strong willingness to conform himself to the will of God.
2) The sincere confession about his "negligence" and cowardice," together with a resolved determination to get rid of them. A natural tendency of which he will accuse himself other times even up to his death: but we known him as one "rushing like a mad man"5 until he fell exhausted, unable to stand again except for his final flight I heaven.
d. The signature
We know about the nobility of the two families, Zaccaria and Pescaroli. A locality near Cremona, that was called in older times "Pescarolo," might be an indication of a possible ancient property of a family with the same name, which was still in existence at the time of Bugati (Apostolic Trial, p. 780).
Although the Zaccarias were wool merchants (not a profession for nobles!), in all public documents the title "Nobilis" inevitably accompanies the names of our Saint’s father and ancestors, and also of his cousin Bernard. The same title is used for his mother "nobilis et honesta mulier" (a noble and honest woman).
But Anthony Mary, once out of minor age, and most of all once a priest, does not allow for himself any title except "Dominus" or Reverend, or Venerable; and this also when he had to sign documents together with his noble cousin Bernard. As for himself he loved to sign all his letters: Anthony Mary Zaccaria, Priest.
e. The Post-scriptum of the letter
"Victory over oneself" is a spiritual little work of Father Battista da Crema, his master work, which he was composing at that time, to be published in Milan on March 13, of the following year, 1531, with the title: "Knowledge and Victory over the Self." Perhaps Father Battista had invited his young spiritual son to cooperate in its composition, but the Saint avoids it humbly and beautifully.
A man of action more than a writer, he will not write with ink but with deeds the victory over himself, following the program outlined by his venerable master in his spiritual works; Anthony Mary loved to read and to carefully meditate upon them, and exhorted the children of Paul to do the same (cf. Const. VIII; Letter III).
1. Cf Tiberio Abbiati B., "Beat.i e santi medievali domenicani, e fondatori di congregazioni," in "Memorie Domenicane," 1940. pp. 249-255.
2. Angelica Paola Antonia Sfondrati (1530-1603), "Dell’0rigine e progressi del monasterio delle Angeliche," etc. (Manuscript - General Archive, Rome).
3. Paolo Morigia. "Historia dell’antichità di Milano” (cf. Premoli, "Storia dei Bamabiti nel '500,” pp. 14-15, 17-18, 42ff, 456ff).
4. Premoli, “Storia dei Barnabiti nel ‘500," pp. 21-22.
5. In the "Concordanze degli scritti di S.A.M.Z.," the voice "correre" (to rush) appears 11 times.