Letter 5 - to the Angelics, Mother Priores, Mother Vicar, Angelic Paolo Antonia Negri
Anthony Mary Zaccaria, Letter 5
The Angelics of St. Paul, to whom this jubilantly enthusiastic and tenderly loving letter is addressed, owed their origin to Countess Torelli. Some time in 1531, out of the many young ladies who frequented the Oratory of Eternal Wisdom, Torelli, herself a member, decided to choose ten, accommodated them in her house in Milan, and thoroughly trained them, de facto if not de jure, as religious novices. Indeed her purpose was to establish a new congregation of Sisters. And this she did with her usual determination and alacrity, and with the active assistance of Anthony Mary, her sole spiritual guide since the death of Fra Battista on January 1, 1534.67 In the same year a petition for approval was presented to the Pope through the good offices of Basilio Ferrari.68 The approval was granted by Paul III in January 15, 1535. In August, Torelli acquired a large tract of land and immediately began to build a convent and a church. On October 5, she and her young ladies moved in. The following year, on January 25, feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the church and convent were named after St. Paul. A month later, February 26, the first six young ladies received the habit from Anthony Mary. By the end of the year, the Sisters grew to 24. On June 29, Anthony Mary was officially appointed confessor of the new religious community. On August 4, the Sisters adopted the name of Angelics to which Anthony Mary added “of St. Paul.”69
In mid-May 1537, an unexpected and exciting request reached Anthony Mary from Vicenza, a diocese one hundred miles east of Milan. Its reform-minded bishop, Cardinal Niccoló Ridolfi, wanted Anthony Mary to reform two convents there, the monasteries of St. Mary Magdalene and the Sylvestrines of the Benedictine St. Peter’s Convent. (see Letter VI), and rechristianize his whole diocese. Because Ridolfi resided in Rome, the actual request came from his Vicar General, Roberto Monti.
Despite the ongoing second trial of the Barnabites and the Angelics by the Milanese Inquisition, Anthony Mary responded enthusiastically, as attested by the tone and content of this letter. After all, for the first time the Sons of St. Paul and the Angelics of St. Paul were going to work outside the familiar boundaries of Milan. On July 2, three Angelics, Silvana da Vismara, Paola Antonia Negri, and Francesca “Marescalca,”70 left Milan for Vicenza with Anthony Mary and reached Vicenza on July 7. It is unclear whether at this time Anthony Mary went all the way to Vicenza, because on July 9 he was already back in Milan. Two of the Sisters soon returned to Milan as well. So, the Vicenza mission, so enthusiastically heralded by Anthony Mary, began on a very modest scale: one Angelic, Silvana da Vismara, who took charge of the Convent of the Reformed as Prioress, and no Sons of St. Paul.
The reason is not hard to find. The above-mentioned trial, begun in January 1536, was drawing to a close and presumably required the presence of all interested parties. On August 21, the Barnabites and the Angelics were fully acquitted. Now the road to Vicenza was wide open and on September 2, Anthony Mary and the matron Porzia Negri left Milan for Vicenza. Porzia joined Angelic Silvana in the Convent of the Reformed and Anthony Mary took up residence in a cottage nearby which was reserved for the Father Confessor. Anthony Mary stayed in Vicenza till the end of October 1537.71 About his work there and that of his mission band, see Letter VI.
Obviously, when Anthony Mary wrote Letter V, all details about the mission were yet to be worked out. Hence, this letter is a general clarion call epitomized in this ringing exhortation: “Unfurl your flags, my dear daughters, for Jesus Crucified is about to send you to proclaim everywhere the vital energy of the Spirit.”
The text of this letter is based on a very early copy which is kept in the General Archives in Rome (N, b, II, 8).
SPIRITUAL-THEOLOGICAL THEMES OF THE LETTER
- Spiritual Renewal
-“You are not inferior to [Paul’s spiritual] daughters in your great desire to suffer for Christ…in your striving to lead people to a spiritual renewal and to Jesus Crucified who is despised so much.”
- Spiritual Progress
-“Please make every effort… that… I may find that you have made great spiritual progress as you compete with one another.”
- The Role of the Holy Spirit
- “The teacher of justice, of holiness, and of perfection: the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete,… will not let you go wrong; rather He will teach you everything. He will not let you lose heart, but will always remain with you. He will not leave you in need, but will provide you with everything. He will grant you, in particular, a continuous spirit of self-abandonment on the ignominious cross, and lead you to a life conformed to Christ’s according to the pattern of the great saints.”
- Love for Jesus Crucified
- “Both our Blessed Fathers, St. Paul and Fra Battista, have left us such a great example of noble and profound love for Jesus Crucified.”
Cremona, May 26, 1537
MY SWEET AND BELOVED DAUGHTERS, MY ONLY STRENGTH AND CONSOLATION,
I am overwhelmed with joy when I think that soon I will be among so noble and generous souls as you are, amiable daughters. You are my crown and my glory, so much so that someday I will make our holy Apostle Paul feel envious of me on account of you. In fact, you are not inferior to his [spiritual] daughters in your great desire to suffer for Christ, in your total contempt of worldliness and self-denial, and in your striving to lead people to a spiritual renewal and to Jesus Crucified who is despised so much. Moreover, you, my daughters, all of you, not just one, by wholly renouncing any desire for recognition as well as the interior consolation which Paul’s disciples in general used to cherish very much, are 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.
Unfurl your flags, my dear daughters, for Jesus Crucified is about to send you to proclaim everywhere the vital energy of the Spirit. Infinite thanks to you, Lord, for giving me such generous daughters.
In the meantime, my beloved, please make every effort to gladden my spirit so that on my arrival I may find that you have made great spiritual progress as you compete with one another. May I find that some of you have acquired such stability and fervent perseverance in spiritual matters that you will never again be victim to a will that fluctuates between fervor and tepidity, but rather will enjoy a steady and holy fervor, nourished by life-giving water and enriched by new vigor. May I find that another one has received such great faith that even the hardest things seem quite easy to her, without being deceived in her confidence by either presumption or vainglory. May I find that someone else believes that she has reached perfection by doing her daily chores, no matter how insignificant they may be, with constancy and persistence, not allowing herself to become bored or feel humiliated. May I find that another one has utterly denied herself, putting aside her own interests to care for others, since she has convinced herself that it is a great gain for her not to worry about herself but about others, and mindful to be at all times prudent and mature in her activities. May I find that others have arrived respectively at overcoming their irrational sadness or their discouragement at having lost control in the war against self, or their hardness of spirit, voluntary distractions, or this or that shortcoming. And so from all this progress of yours may I conclude that you have received the teacher of justice, of holiness, and of perfection: the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. He, of course, will not let you go wrong; rather He will teach you everything. He will not let you lose heart, but will always remain with you. He will not leave you in need, but will provide you with everything. He will grant you, in particular, a continuous spirit of self-abandonment on the ignominious cross, and lead you to a life conformed to Christ’s according to the pattern of the great saints. Consequently, you will be able to say with your Father, “be imitators of us as we are of Christ.”72
Be mindful only of this: both our Blessed Fathers, St. Paul and Fra Battista,73 have left us such a great example of noble and profound love for Jesus Crucified, love for their own sufferings and humiliations, and love for the thorough conquest of souls, that, if we had no such unbounded desire for the aforementioned things, we would not be considered their children, but bastards and mules. You, of course, do not want to be in such company. Your generous hearts want to belong above all to Christ and to please me, your beloved father. And I always think of you with loving care, anxiously awaiting the moment when I can return to you.
To Christ Crucified I recommend you through your worthy Superiors: that they may not fail in their usual care for you, both because of their love for you and because of my prayers, the prayers of this faithful servant who constantly offers you to Him.
I ask you to tell them to cheer up my heart by bringing about your progress and mine, too.
May Christ make this a reality. May He bless you all with a special blessing of His, a blessing complete and perfect.
My mother,74 Cornelia,75 and our Battista76 send their greetings.
Special greetings from my dear Isabella77 and Giuditta 78.
May Jesus Christ bless you.
From Cremona, May 26, 1537.
Greetings to my Giuliana.79 I remind you to be generously responsive to the holy and zealous effort of our noble Paola [Torelli]80 and to give joy to our common Father, our saintly Father Superior.81
Your Father in Christ and indeed your Spirit in Christ,
Anthony Mary Zaccaria, Priest
- Acceptance of our crosses, patience in dealing with conflicts, and tolerance of people’s imperfections are all signs of authentic love for Christ.
- True love banishes lukewarmness which prevents us from imitating Christ Crucified.
- Only those who imitate Christ can convincingly invite people to follow him.
- Anyone who has attained the inner peace produced by a deep and solid faith will never be worried when things go wrong nor will he exult when they go well because he has learned to leave everything in God’s hands.
- People who love God attach no importance to any tasks that are entrusted to them, or are given to them by chance, because these tasks, great or small, have the same value in the eyes of God when done in love.
- We show great love for our neighbor when, in imitation of Christ, we deny ourselves and put Christ above ourselves.
- Those who accept their crosses deny themselves. They rely on the teachings of Christ more than on their own knowledge. They follow the Spirit who preserves them from error, sustains them in difficulties, and gives them abiding peace.
- Can I carry the cross of living with imperfect persons patiently and willingly?
- Can I overcome the dullness of a day-to-day life, lived without liveliness and in moral and spiritual lukewarmness? Am I able to carry this cross, which is heavier than any other crosses I carry, with strong determination?
- Am I convinced that only by living in harmony with Christ can I find the motivation to proclaim the Gospel with enthusiasm as it has then become part of my very life?
- Do I know that changing moods is a sign of unsteady faith?
- Do I accept in the same way, for love of Christ, both tasks that are important and those that are modest?
- Do I understand that to be able to love my neighbor truly, I must loose myself?
- How can I know if I am inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit?
Cremona, May 26, 1537
This letter was written on the Vigil of Pentecost. It is addressed to the new convent of St. Paul where the Angelic Sisters are residing since the Fall of 1534.
This is a very bright and promising year after the persecution suffered in October, 1534:
- January 15: Bull of approval by Pope Paul III for the Angelic Sisters, giving them the faculty to open a convent under the Rule of St. Augustine;
- July 24: the Breve "Dudum felicis recordationis" of the same Paul III, confirms for the Fathers and enlarges the approval granted by Clement VII. It is rich of praises s for the Fathers, instead of the feared condemnation by the judges;
- August: the miraculous acquisition of twenty-four little houses at St. Eufemia by Porta Ludovica. The foundations of the convent and of the church are laid so fast that on
- October 5: the Torelli and her young ladies can move in to inaugurate the foundation;
- Christmas: first Mass in the chapel entitled to St. Paul, which will be used for the public until the new church of St. Paul will be finished.
Also 1536 proves to be a very bright year:
- January 26, Tuesday: first feast of the conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. Both the convent and the church are dedicated to his name;
- February 26: The Holy Founder gives the habit to the first six members of the Congregation: Paola Antonia Negri, Antonia Maria da Sesto, Maria Magdalene Rotoli, Tecla Martinengo (Bianca, daughter of the first wife of the Torelli’s second husband), Battista da Sesto (sister of Fr. Dionysius, and first Prioress of the convent), Agnes Baldironi (the novice who, according to tradition, came up with the name "Angelics"). By the end of the year they will be 26;
- Torelli is able to transport the body of Fra Battista da Crema from Guastalla to Milan, to rest in the choir of the convent of St. Paul, amidst his spiritual daughters;
- June 29: the Chapter of the Sisters nominates Fr. Zaccaria as confessor of the Community. The Saint leaves Fr. Morigia as Superior of the Clerics Regular, to assume that position, until his death;
- September: from Mantua arrives the Cremonese patrician Julia Sfondrati, widow Picenardi, sister of the well known senator Francis Sfondrati, He was the father of Pope Gregory IV and of four daughters, all four Angelic Sisters, and, being a widower, he himself became a priest and Cardinal Bishop of Cremona. She had transformed her palace in Mantua into a hospital for the poor. It was Fra Serafino Aceti da Fermo, her classmate at the University, to direct Julia to the Angelic Sisters. She professed in 1562 with the name of Paola, and became a great blessing for, the Community, especially after the cloister was imposed, and the funds from the Countess Torelli had run out;
- August 4: the Chapter of the Sisters adopts the name "Angelics" for the new Congregation, as proposed by the youngest of the first six novices, and which was completed by the Holy Founder as "Angelics of St. Paul." Pope Paul HI will confirm it on August 6, 1549, putting them under the jurisdiction of the Superior of the Barnabites."
- There were novelties for the Fathers too: between the end of 1535 and the beginning of 1536 they moved from their "Bethlehem" in St. Catherine, to the house left empty by Torelli and companions close-by St. Ambrose. The nerous Countess gave it to them "gratis et amore Omnipotentis Dei ac ex puro caritatis affectu," as later it will be written in the formal document of April 12, 1539, by the notary public john Peter Besozzi. Besozzi himself soon will join the Barnabites, and it would not be pretentious to think that those words were dictated by our Saint, two months before his death.
In the midst of so many successes, what could be the relevance of the terrible storm they have just overcome or the one they are about to face?
As a testimony of the first storm we have intact that fiery address of October 4, 1534; in the midst of the second storm, much longer and worst than the first, but still impotent against those who are deeply aware to be followers of Christ Crucified, here is the joyful announcement contained in this letter: the joy of the upcoming celebration of Pentecost and the evident satisfaction of the Father for the spiritual progress of his daughters. But most of all he is happy because of the invitation by Cardinal Ridolfi to open the first Barnabite mission in Vicenza.
Soon the judicial sentence, with full absolution, will come (August 21, 1537) as a testimony to their innocence and virtue: that is, of Torelli and her associates, Zaccaria, Ferrari, Morigia, the two Angelics Negri, the "Marescalca," etc.
According to the explicit declaration of Fr. Gabuzio, Fr. Tornielli, and Fr. Chiesa, the invitation had come from Rome (where Cardinal Ridolfi used to reside) toward the middle of May, 1537: Anthony Mary interpreted it as a clear heavenly approval of his reformation efforts.
The Angelics were ready: Anthony Mary, who knew them well in their defects as well as in their burning desire and readiness to serve, gave them a final fiery exhortation toward perfection, and then - without compromise, since the agreement had not been concluded as yet - he added: "Oh daughters, let your flags fly high because Christ Crucified soon will send you to proclaim everywhere an energetic- spirituality and zealous spirit."
Only one month later, at the beginning of July, the Angelics left for Vicenza to bring into action that plan of reform Anthony Mary had in his heart and mind: "destroy this deadly and greater enemy of Christ Crucified, which reigns in our modern times - I mean lukewarmness."
"Your holy Leaders” - Perhaps, better than "your holy patrons," like St. Paul and, maybe Father Battista, what is meant here are the living Superiors, leaders and holy because of the authority they have from God: like "our Holy Father Superior," as Fr. Morigia is called in the Post-criptum.
We are not going to try to identify the other persons who sent greetings (relatives of his mother) or are receiving greetings (Giuliina), but we will say that "my divine Paola, "who for some is Torelli, for others might be the Angelic Paola Antonia, to whom, as Mistress of novices, "the holy and fervent works," would fit much better.
"My Isabelle, my Giuliina" (little Julia) - How many times the Holy Founder uses this possessive adjective with so much affection, as he considers as his own a person he loves!
 The name "St. Paul the Converted" will come when three years later, at the death of the Holy Founder, the private chapel of the Fathers, in the ex-house of the Torelli, next to St. Ambrose, dedicated to St. Paul, will become a public church (November 29, 1542), and will be rededicated to "St. Paul Decapitated," denomination assumed by the Congregation few years before, as it appears from a notary document dated December 11, 1540. To distinguish one church from the other, the one of the Angelics was called "St. Paul the Converted."
 Some people today contest this traditional origin of the name “Angelics.” They see its origin, instead, in the spiritual movement of the time, celled Angelism. An opinion which needs to be documented.