Letter 12 - To the honorable Mr. Francesco Cappelli
- LETTER 12 (Audio)
- SPIRITUAL-THEOLOGICAL THEMES Of THE LETTER 12
- LETTER 12
- COMMENTARY TO THE LETTER 12
This letter has two peculiarities: first, it is only a draft with many deletions and corrections; secondly, though handwritten by Anthony Mary, it is signed by A.P.A., the initials of Angelic Paola Antonia (Negri).191 So, either it was composed by Anthony Mary on behalf of largely unlettered Paola Antonia, according to a custom of the time,192 or Paola Antonia dictated it to him, which may explain the many corrections and deletions.
Be that as it may, this letter is a precious testimony of how mature Christians, whether clergy, Religious, or laity, corresponded among themselves and counseled one another in the midst of a secularistic Italian Renaissance and in the freer, non-regimental, pre-Tridentine Catholic world of the time.193
Layman Francesco Cappelli, the addressee of this letter, with fine spiritual discernment had previously advised Paola Antonia not to lose the all-important guiding light of faith which enables one to distinguish between true humility and false humility, between true humility and self-doubt, between true humility and inaction. In this letter Paola Antonia returns the favor: “...you too, sweet father, take care lest you should make the very same mistake I have made, for it is very deplorable to lose that interior light that has always given us life.”
Francesco Cappelli, a nobleman of Verona, was indeed an outstanding Christian layman. Intimate friend of St. Cajetan Thiene and the Theatines, he was as well a very close friend of the Barnabites. In 1537, at the time of their Verona mission,194 he and his wife joined the Laity of St. Paul. Incidentally, this circumstance places this undated letter between 1537 and most likely the fall of 1538 when Anthony Mary became engrossed in the affairs of Guastalla.195 Later on in Rome, where he was a trustee of Holy Spirit Hospital, Francesco lent his support to the Barnabites, embroiled in controversy over their relationship with Paola Antonia, 196the Angelics in general, and Fra Battista da Crema.197 An autograph letter of his, kept in the General Archives, shows how much he loved the Barnabites and how displeased he was with their adversaries.198
Understandably enough, this letter, signed only by Paola Antonia, was first kept among her papers. At the end of the last century it was rightly placed among Anthony Mary’s other autographs (N, b, II, 13). First mentioned by Premoli,199 it was first published in Rivivere,200 and it was later included in Le Lettere.201 On August 21, 1968 this autograph was donated by Fr. Giovanni M. Bernasconi, Superior General of the Barnabites, 1964–1970, to the Angelic Sisters.
This letter heads a collection of 133 letters of which 70 are published and 62 unpublished.202 Like Letter XII these 132 letters are only signed by Paola Antonia. However, they were almost certainly authored by Fr. Giovan Pietro Besozzi.203
SPIRITUAL-THEOLOGICAL THEMES OF THE LETTER
- Loss of Light
-“I have buried my talent of helping my neighbor. And little by little I have lost the initial fervor to bring people to Christ. As a result, I have lost also the clear vision of the spiritual state of my own soul.”
-“And so now…I tarry in lukewarmness because, as I have already said, I lost my pristine light.”
-“It was that light that animated my spiritual life.”
- Gift of Light
-“I have decided to devote myself to the care of the spiritual welfare of my neighbor. By so doing, I hope to grow in Jesus’ love; and the good Lord crucified will give me back the spiritual light and fervor, which used to keep me spiritually alive.”
MOST CORDIAL FATHER IN CHRIST, GREETINGS.
Several times I have desired to send you my greetings, but my rather poor health has prevented me from doing so.
You must know, most sweet father, that I have reflected over and over again on your loving words. I have found them so useful that I have resolved to come out of the lethargic state of my spirit. In fact, I have convinced myself of one thing, that, under the semblance of false humility and the pretense of having no spiritual graces, I have weakened and almost breached my commitment to help others. My scruples, besides, aggravated this situation by suggesting that anything I thought of saying or doing proceeded from vainglory, which, blinding my mind, made me talk and act in that way. Those suggestions seemed real to me because I was most busy helping others, and made no personal progress.
Thus I have buried my talent of helping my neighbor. And little by little I have lost the initial fervor to bring people to Christ. As a result, I have lost also the clear vision of the spiritual state of my own soul. At other times, while I was looking into other people’s spiritual situation, I was led to renew my own; and while trying to affirm them in their spiritual journey, I felt affirmed in my own. But now, on the contrary, the fear for other people’s spiritual life has struck me with such doubts about my own as to feel paralyzed.
And so now, afraid of my very shadow, I tarry in lukewarmness because, as I have already said, I lost my pristine light.
I would have suffered a lesser evil if, while leading others, I had been partly covered with dust but kept that pristine light. Instead, I suffered a greater evil when by leaving those others I lost that light. It was that light that animated my spiritual light [life]] and that, at the end, would have removed the dust itself.
See, amiable father, what an excessive fear does to one’s susceptible temperament: on the one hand, not to be afraid of it and not let ourselves be annoyed and disturbed at times by others always causes us to remain oversensitive; on the other hand, to be afraid of our own shadow, as we try to avoid a pitfall, causes us to fall into a far greater one.
Besides, if we wish to become totally self-assured, we must fight and let ourselves be tested; and after having fought for a long time, we cannot leave great battles to pursue lesser ones.
Therefore, you too, sweet father, take care lest you would make the very same mistake I have made, for it is very deplorable to lose that interior light that has always given us life.
Well, I feel certain that, considering my sad experience, you will not make the same mistake. As for me, because of your fatherly words, I have decided to devote myself to the care of the spiritual welfare of my neighbor. By so doing, I hope to grow in Jesus’ love; and the good Lord crucified will give me back the spiritual light and fervor, which used to keep me spiritually alive. At last, I shall be living in certitude, not in deadly doubts that made me suspicious of any inspiration that I was receiving. Rather, with the help of Christ and of your prayers, I am confident that I will again recognize what is true from what is false, and what is certain from what is doubtful.
Can you see, now, very dear father, what a great benefit I have received from your words? Oh that I could talk with you every so often! But, until I have the opportunity to see you again, be kind enough to write to me once in a while. In reading your letters, I will feel as if I were talking with you and being comforted by you, to the point of being able to rest in the midst of this ocean.
That’s it for now.
Many good wishes and regards to Madonna Anna204 and to Cecilia205 from me and Father.206 He will write to you at some other time. He recommends himself to your prayers, to Mr. Agostino’s,207 Mr. Gerardo’s,208 and everybody else’s.
A[ngelic] P[aola] A[ntonia Negri].209
190 Letter XII.
191 See n. 59.
192 See Letter VI, p. 57: “As to those who are outside our community, if you think it fit to write something to them on my behalf, it is up to you...”
193 See Friedrich von Hugel, The Mystical Element of Religion. (2nd ed.; London: J.M. Dent, 1923), 1, XXI.
194 See Letter X, Introduction.
That which causes us to fall into a state of spiritual apathy, that is, the lack of concern toward other people for fear of appearing proud, cannot be humility.
Fear blocks spiritual growth which is always a going forward on God’s way.
God himself will see to it that we are gradually cleansed of every trace of pride.
Fear of making mistake should not stop us from moving forward. He who stops makes an even greater mistake.
Did I sometimes stop doing good for fear of being praised by people, as if doing good, even without any hint of pride or self-aggrandizement, were evil?
- Am I humble enough to let God be the judge of my deeds and intentions, and am I ready to ask forgiveness from him when I do wrong?
- Do I believe that acting imperfectly is better than not acting at all?
For a long time this letter had been buried in the archives of St. Charles in Rome together with the letter of the Angelic Paola Antonia Negri. But toward the end- of the last century it was added to the other writings of the Holy Founder.
This letter, already mentioned by Fr. Premoli ("Storia," F I, 93, note 1), and brought to light by "Rivivere" (a collection of Barnabite studies and annotations edited by the Barnabite students in Florence during the summer of 1949), deserves all our attention because of the precious contribution it makes on the spiritual as well as historical level.
It is a draft made by the Founder in the name of the Angelic Paola Antonia Negri, to the Magnificent Francis Cappelli, a patrician from Verona, intimate friend of St. Cajetan Thiene, of Carafa, of the poet Marcantonio Flaminio, and especially of our Confreres, whom he helped and defended until his death in Rome, in 1566.
In the same archive there is one of his letters, which shows his great affection for the Fathers, and the great pain he suffered because of the many troubles caused to the Fathers by evil men.
The custom of writing for somebody else was well known in the 1500’s. Also Anthony M. Zaccaria in his letter to E Fr. Ferrari, October 8, 1538, says: "To the outsiders, if you think it would do good to write in my name, go ahead, because you can see better than us what they need." In this case the Founder limits himself to draw a draft of the letter, which will be signed and addressed by the Angelic Negri.
Its style is very close to the one of Letter IX (Guastalla, November 3, 1539), and it seems to imply a chronological closeness. Anyway it has to be dated after 1537, that is, after the opening of the Mission in Vicenza.
The terms "Father and Son, Son and Guide" were very easily exchanged among persons tied to each other by a spiritual bound, as we have seen in the letters of the Saint addressed to Charles Magni and to Negri.
In this letter, Negri calls "most cordial Father in Christ" the patrician Francis Cappelli who, with care and love, has guided her in a most difficult moment of her spiritual journey.
He had been able to make her understand that her effort to hide the graces received from the Lord, under the pretense of humility, was false humility, and so causing damage in her relationship with her neighbor. To add to the problem, scruples had set in, suggesting that whatever she was trying to accomplish was the fruit of vainglory. This was proved by the fact that when she had been busy with her neighbor, she had received no spiritual benefit at all.
And so it has happened that I have buried my talent, that is my ability of doing good to my neighbor. Slowly I have lost my first fervor in leading my neighbor to Christ; and of late I have even lost the light and the knowledge of my own interior journey, because as I used to look at the conduct of others, I used to update my own, and the security I used to experiment in others used to confirm my own. Instead, now, scared by the conduct and thoughts of others, I am so full of doubts about my own that I cannot even move.
Scared of my own shadow, I stay in lukewarmness, since I have lost my first interior light.
It would have been a good thing if, in pushing the others, I would have dusted myself a little, without losing that fervor, instead of, letting them go, losing it all together! This is what was giving me interior life, and at the end it would have purified me from that dust.
My dear Father, see what is caused by the exaggerated fear of one’s enthusiasm: just as not fearing them and not been troubled or stimulated by the others, leave us always alive and sensitive, so the fear of our own shadow, while we run away from a vice, makes us fall into a bigger one.
Now, if we want to be totally certain, we cannot believe I to be so without any fight: we have to prove it. And after a long fight we cannot abandon the major war to take care of minor tasks.
And so, you too, my sweet Father, be careful so that you will not fall in my own mistake, because it is too painful to lose the light which has always given us life! I am sure that, as you mirror yourself in me, you will not make the same mistake.
I myself now have reached the decision to totally lose my own self and to toil in favor of the spiritual life of my neighbor. In this way I hope that in exchange of the good I do to my neighbor, the beautiful Crucified Lord will give me back the light and the fire which used to keep me alive, and so finally I will feel secure, instead of standing like dead in my doubts, suspicious (as I was) of all inspirations I was receiving. Now, instead, with the help of Christ and of your prayers, through experience I hope to be able to distinguish between good and false, between certain and dubious.
See, then, my dear Father, how much good I have received from your words! I wish it was the will of God for you to be able to talk to me all the time! Meantime, until I will have the grace to see you, be so good to write to me once in a while, because reading your letters it will be like talking to you, and in this way you will comfort my heart; which, in the midst of this sea, reading them, will be able to rest.
A P A
(Angelic Paola Antonia Negri)