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.
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Letter 4 - to Giovan Giacomo Piccinini
There is no information about Giovan Giacomo Piccinini outside this letter. He is the only addressee of Anthony Mary with no distinctive designation or title. However, this letter shows that Anthony Mary regarded him as a totally trustworthy man. Quite likely he held a position of responsibility in Countess Torelli’s house by the Basilica of St. Ambrose that she owned since the early 1530’s.
In tone, this letter is noticeably restrained and its content is evidently circumspect. Some specific circumstances should account for both.
First of all, just two weeks earlier, Anthony Mary witnessed the death of Fra Battista da Crema in Torelli’s house in Guastalla. Without a doubt this was a singular personal loss for him. Fra Battista was his mentor, his spiritual guide, his “patron saint.”49
In addition, Anthony Mary was painfully aware of the stressful experiences of Fra Battista in the last two years of his life, for instance, his experience with Bishop Gian Pietro Carafa, cofounder of the Theatines and future Pope Paul IV, and also with his Provincial Superior. In a bristling letter to Fra Battista, on March 9, 1532, Bishop Carafa denounced in no uncertain terms what he considered a thoroughly unseemly situation involving Fra Battista and Countess Torelli: “...it was a great scandal... to see a religious of your age, who is renown, and after so many years of religious profession, jump from your monastery to live alone in the house of a widow of noble rank, young, beautiful, twice married, independent, wealthy, exceedingly sharp-witted, dreadfully capable of good and evil, mostly on account of her fragile sex and unreliable age. Not only that, but you took her triumphantly all over a city like Milan for everybody to see.” And the fiery Carafa went on by stigmatizing Fra Battista’s behavior as contradicting not only the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church Fathers but also natural honesty itself.50
On November 8, 1533, Fra Battista’s Provincial Superior, Angelo da Faenza, formally ordered him to leave Torelli’s residence at once and return to his friary in Milan.51 As it happened, Fra Battista lay gravely ill and the strong-willed Countess did not show him his Superior’s order. Instead, she initiated legal proceedings against the Provincial Superior. She contended that he had no jurisdiction over her, or over Fra Battista, because Pope Clement VII on July 10, 1531 had authorized Fra Battista to reside in her house as her spiritual director. On the very same day, November 8, 1533, Countess Torelli drew up a formal appeal and directed Anthony Mary, as her legal representative, to deliver it to the Dominican Superior. Five days later, Anthony Mary was in Mantua. But both the Provincial and his Vicar, Stefano Foscarari, were out of town. When Anthony Mary was able to confront the latter, the Vicar refused to take Torelli’s appeal. It was, therefore, thrown down at his feet.52
Another circumstance would probably quite help us to understand Anthony Mary’s letter. A contemporary chronicler, Gian Marco Burigozzo,53 in the same year of the letter, recorded that a group of young men and women54 performed acts of humility and penance in the Cathedral and in the streets of Milan. They dressed as miserably as possible, surely a startling thing for people of noble provenance, which easily invited ridicule from those who saw them.
Allusions to the troubles of Fra Battista can be found in the first paragraph of the letter. However, there is incontrovertible proof that Anthony Mary’s affection and reverence for him never wavered. The same paragraph and the following seem to point to the public display of penances chronicled by Burigozzo. Needless to say, the third paragraph is unusually guarded.
The extant autograph of this letter was originally kept in the General Archives in Rome (N, b, II, X) but on July 2, 1911 it was donated by Father General, Pietro Vigorelli, to the Archives of St. Barnabas, the historical mother house of the Barnabites, in Milan.
SPIRITUAL-THEOLOGICAL THEMES OF THE LETTER
- Confidence in God in the Face of Difficulty
- “Neither you nor we need to worry about the present troublesome situations and any future ones… for Jesus Crucified will take care of the matter.”
- The Way of the Cross
- “It is enough and, I would say, more than enough, that we follow the way of the cross, according to which it is sufficient to know whether it is a virtue or a fault to do something or to omit it.”
Guastalla, January 16, 1534
VERY DEAR BROTHER IN CHRIST, GREETINGS.
I am only writing this letter to greet you and to tell you, on behalf of our Father, that neither you nor we need to worry about the present troublesome situations and any future ones, since none of us bears the burden; he does.
It is well known how he was always displeased with those who are negligent and unwilling to help themselves. Therefore, as far as we are concerned, let us strive not to fall into these very shortcomings, for Jesus Crucified will take care of the matter either by Himself or through our Father’s intercession. And so, we should not make too much fuss about what is going on because everything is possible with God—an undeniable truth that we almost touch with our own hands.
I will say no more. Soon you will come to know everything by word of mouth, though neither you nor we should be anxious to know the results. It is enough and, I would say, more than enough, that we follow the way of the cross, according to which it is sufficient to know whether it is a virtue or a fault to do something or to omit it. All we have to do, then, is to eliminate all fruitless curiosity and get to work. I am sure you have no idle curiosity, and that’s good. What I have just said is meant to make you somewhat aware of how we all feel about it.
And here I stop, except to remind you that the letters I write to you are strictly personal; keep them a secret and never show them to anyone at all. Should Mr. Gerolamo, the doctor,55 happen to give you a letter, insert it in yours and send them to me; but be careful to give them to trusty carriers, making sure that they deliver them; otherwise, keep them until you find a trusty one.
Remember me as well as everybody here to Madonna [Torelli],56 to Angela [Negri]57 and Porzia [Negri]58 and their sister,59 to Caterina [Candiani]60 and to the other women of our group, and to Mr. Giacomo Antonio [Morigia]61 and Francesco Crippa.62
From Guastalla, January 16, 1534.
Your brother in Christ,
Anthony M. Zaccaria, Priest
Carafa’s blind hostility toward Fra Battista da Crema climaxed with the inclusion of all his writings in the Index of Forbidden Books which was first issued by Carafa himself as Pope Paul IV in 1559. They were removed in 1900 three years after Anthony Mary’s canonization. In 1552 the Holy Office had already censured Fra Battista’s doctrine as “partly scandalous, partly heretical, partly suspect in matters of faith, and hence to be shunned by all Christians” (Atti della Visita Canonica di Mons. Marini, 1552, General Archives, Rome). These developments were all the more surprising in the light of the most favorable approval by Church authorities, which Fra Battista enjoyed during his lifetime. See Vittorio Michelini, I Barnabiti (Milan: NED, 1983) 47–51. See Letter IX, Introduction.
- We are never alone in our difficulties. God is with us; he never abandons us. The saints too intercede for us and protect us.
- We strive to do our duty diligently, for God does not help the negligent, the lazy and the idle.
- When we try our best, the Lord will provide for the rest; for the Lord is a great provider and he continually sustains us.
- Following the example of Christ, our Savior, we must accept our crosses willingly.
- Do I sometimes feel that God pays no attention to me and he does not listen and cares about me?
- Don’t I see it as a failure in my duty when I say, “It makes no difference since God abandons no one;” thus, I expect God to do also that which is my duty?
- Do I truly believe that God who looks after the lilies of the field will not certainly neglect me who have been redeemed by Christ’s blood?
- Am I willing to accept my daily crosses, following the example of Christ who carried his cross to Calvary?
Guastalla, Ianuary 16, 1534
Two years have passed and things are moving ahead.
We know that the letter comes from Guastalla because the Saint still has his residence there. But meantime in Milan, on September 27 and 29, and then between the end of October and the beginning of November 1533, he and Ferrari had been able to obtain two little houses, with garden, close-by the little church (now gone) of St. Catherine, by the Fabbri bridge, in Porta Ticinese, in the parish of St. Vincent in Prato. The first house, next to the church, was rented from the chaplain of Sts. Peter and Paul chapel, with the obligation to say a daily Mass at the altar of the Apostles. They bought the» second from a Mr. Preda, not far from the church, behind the monastery of St. Bernardine.
The two houses were small and in need of extensive repairs; but Ferrari moved in right away, all by himself for now. Maybe Anthony Mary too stayed there during his visits to Milan, if he was not staying at the Countess’ house. But they were already dealing for the purchase of another house, located between the other two. The deal went through on July 28 and on August 2 of the following year, 1534. Finally, having created an area suitable and sufficient for a religious community, they definitively were able to leave the hospitality offered by the Countess in her house near St. Ambrose, and move where the letter to Piccinini is addressed.
They still did not have a chapel. But there was the church of St. Catherine, where they had the opportunity of a holy and profitable apostolate, if nothing else the daily Mass by one of them at the altar of the Apostles.
Yes, by one of them, because meantime also Ferrari had been ordained a priest, March 31, 1532, Easter Sunday. But he was still hesitant to climb the altar. His First Mass will take place only two and a half years later on September 8, 1534, the feast of the Birth of Mary, in the church of St. Mary della Scala "commissioned by our Reverend Father (Zaccaria) and with the participation of Father Battista and the Countess, but without worldly pumps, in simplicity and early in the morning. And it was the first in our Congregation" (Cronachetta A, p. 55).
We could be surprised at this delay! But the same was done, for example, by St. Ignatius of Loyola, who postponed for one year his First Mass. Morigia instead was still a layman. He was going to be ordained a priest on July 5, 1535, and he will celebrate his First Mass, he too without pumps, at the presence of the confreres and the Countess' little community, on September 14, feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Also the fourth of the first five members of the Congregation, John James de Caseis, was still a layman, and maybe a relation of the Countess, who joined them at the end of 1530. He did not want to receive the Orders (cf. Bugati, 864 v).
There was also the "faithful" priest Francis Lecco, already a Canonical Regular from Desio, who had been with them from the very first beginnings.
The greatest news was that, meantime, they had received the approval from Pope Clement VH with the Breve "Vota per quae," signed February 18, 1533. This authorized them to profess the vows, to live in community, and to give themselves laws or Constitutions. The first thing they did was to receive the habit from the hands of Anthony M. Zaccaria: first De Caseis on May 10, 1534 (unless we follow the oldest of the so called "Cronachette," the Part II of the "Cronachetta A," which gives the same date but of the previous year, 1533, and from the hands of Father Battista da Crema); on the feast of the Assumption is the turn of Fr. Ferrari and of the layman Francis Crippa, and on the 24th of the same month Father Morigia. So if we add also Father Soresina who received the habit on February 2, 1535, at the end of the year the members of the Clerics Regular in the little church of St. Catherine were nine.
All of them showed great fervor: such an absolute contempt for the world, austerity of life, and great thirst for humiliations and penance, "that Father Zaccaria was forced to grant permission to one to carry fish in a basket, another to do public penance in the Cathedral, another other things, which will be too many to mention"; and so they kept begging the Reverend Father to grant them these permissions" (words of Fr. Soresina in his Cronachetta C): "desiring, like the Apostle, to be crucified to the world and to live in Christ, and so not caring what the false world would say about them... And I Friar Paul, "the present author, could mention many of these mortifications, which I saw, etc.; and the women who were following the mortified Countess, were wearing a rope around their neck, like a halter, in public to mortify themselves for love of Jesus Christ."
Since the little church of St. Catherine was too small, many of them would go on the streets and public squares, with a rope around their neck, holding high a cross to attract the crowd. They also visited prisoners and the sick.
They were also thinking about some rules or a Constitution, but first they freely and generously tried to practice and to experiment Community Life, always helped by the guidance of Father Battista da Crema, until he lasted.
Now all this information is not in the Letter, but for sure was in the heart of the Saint, who was full of joy and of renewed enthusiasm.
Instead the pages of the letter are impregnated by a deep but peaceful and serene sorrow. He does not say it, but they all know that two weeks before, on January 2, the "Father," Father Battista da Crema, "our first Father and Founder of the sacred monastery of St. Paul the Apostle and of our house," had migrated from this life to the next (Cronachetta A, part II).
The Father, our Father, our sweet, our saint, our divine 1 father, the one and the other blessed Father (St. Paul and Father Battista)... How many times that "Father" returns in the letters, and how many times it is present in the life of the Saint and of his Communities! He assisted him to the very end, receiving the last greetings and the last recommendations, and he died in his arms.
He died in peace, thanks to an intervention by the Countess, who refused to show him, sick by now, the precept by his Provincial Superior (Fr. Angel of Faenza, Provincial Superior of the Dominican Province of Lombardy), who, again and with new apostolic letters was calling him back to the monastery, under the penalty of excommunication (November 8, 1533).
Against this precept, considered not valid until expressly confirmed by the Pope, that same day, November 8, the Countess, at the presence of three witnesses (one of them was our Canonic Lecchi), made a notarized appeal and named Anthony M. Zaccaria as her Procurator to represent her in front of the Dominicans.
The Saint went to Mantova on November 13; but neither the Provincial nor his Vicar wanted to take in their hands the documents, so he left them there at their feet, on the floor.
Painful events for Anthony Mary as well as for the Dominican Friar, who, gifted with a strong personality and called to a mission outside the ordinary strict monastic life, found himself to fight two battles. One against his Dominican confreres, who were worried, perhaps, more about the fear that he could end up staying too willingly outside the monastery, than his faithfulness to his Dominican vocation.
On the other hand he had to face the inevitable "zealous people," who were constantly smelling heresies, "many heresies, and especially those of bigot origin or from the Poor of Lyons" (the accusation, evidently instigated by them, can be found even in a Breve of June 26, 1536, by Pope Paul III, who succeeded Clement VII).
And so, as he died, his books ended up on trial. All those little works, which had been published with the approval and the praise of the Ecclesiastical authority, and of the Milanese Inquisition (Msgr. Landini, Vicar General, and the Dominican Father Crivelli, Inquisitor), ended up on the Index. The Holy Office ordered them to be confiscated.
Truly obedient, as always, the Barnabites and the Angelics handed over whatever they had of their "first Father" (most likely this was the end of his private letters too). They handed over, obedient, all the books, printed already or manuscripts, which the Saint had distributed among them, even making a special recommendation in the Constitutions (Chapter VIII, on Study).
They were taken out of the Index in 1900, three years after the canonization of St. Anthony M. Zaccaria, and from then on they have been eagerly sought. When some rare copy is found, we are provided with that powerful and edifying nourishment which sustained our Holy Founder, our first Fathers, and the Angelics.
The news, distorted as we have seen, about the Friar, reached the ears of the severe John Peter Cardinal Carafa, future Pope Paul IV. On March 9, 1532, from Venice he wrote to Father Battista a long letter, so much more sour than friendly:
My father, I beg you not to be deceived by your own self, but know for sure that the jump you took in these past days has caused a great scandal due to the excessiveness and inconvenience of seeing a religious of your age and your fame, after so many years of profession, jump from his Congregation, and put himself alone in the house of a woman noble, young, beautiful and bigamous, widow, free and wealthy and of high intelligence… You should think that that Father Battista is dead, and that you are another person, and that the dead was a spiritual Father, a worker in the vineyard of the Lord, but you are a little friar, not only it useless, but also a transgressor and on the run… etc... and then finally,
If with a proud mind you will be disgusted and would say who is this guy who talks to me so boldly?, I will tell you with the Apostle: I am innocent of your blood, etc., and with Moses I will invoke heaven and earth to testify over you, and I will call you in front of God’s tribunal!"
When the Cardinal heard of the death of the Dominican, giving the news to his confrere, St. Cajetan Thiene, he wrote: "Battista has died outside his Congregation in Guastalla, after long illness, the first of this month. May the Lord be merciful to him and grant him what prayer does not dare to ask."!
The letter is of January 18, 1534. How different is the letter of the Saint to Piccinini, written two days before the one of the terrible Carafa!
It is not an exaggeration to say that in the life and in the heart of Anthony M. Zaccaria, Fra Battista da Crema took the place of his natural father, who had died in 1504, when he was only two years old.
This letter reveals a son profoundly grieved two weeks after the death of his "father," and still a victim of the nightmare of this loss.
It is pervaded by a controlled and serene sorrow, comforted by the trust that from up there "the Father" will still be our saint, ready to carry the load we would be afraid to carry: I am the one to say it to you, but in his name... Up to his last breath he seems to say: I have received the task to greet you and to tell you not to worry...
Naturally, he continues, this does not mean that we stand idle. Oh, no, he does not like lukewarm people! We do what we can, then Christ Crucified will do the rest.
It is enough, my dear Piccinini: I will tell you the rest in person. But what?
The Saint does not say. Rather he writes on purpose a in a way that is understandable only to his addressee.
This Piccinini might have been a relative of the Countess, perhaps in charge of St. Ambrose house, where he resided. A very trustworthy man, well informed and capable to carry on the tasks entrusted to him, without been nosy: "I am sure you are not interested in similar things, and you are right..."
We, instead, would like to know a little more! Perhaps he is referring to the "novelties," or the "oddities" of some public manifestations of piety and penance! In 1534 Burigozzo wrote about them with a mixture of irony and reverence as we have seen above. But others thought and talked about them in a quite different way: like for example an old preacher in the "Duomo" as reported by the same Burigozzo in 1532.
Or perhaps the storm which led to the famous speech of October 4, 1534, was already in the air.
But in the letter he speaks only of a certain doctor Jerome, with no other information about him, and of letters, his or of the Saint, to be kept safe and hidden. Note a similar advice in Letter II.
But, St. Anthony Mary is repeating also to us, that we should not be curious about these things, because it is enough for us to walk on the way of the Cross, and to worry only if a thing is good or bad, and then to get to work, leaving to others the talking.
Exactly what we have heard Morigia say above about our first Fathers and the Angelics: "rushing like mad men" through the streets of Milan, they used to scandalize the just, and edify the others.
- The GREETINGS: Madonna (Lady):
- in the writings of the time this title was always used for the Countess of Guastalla;
- Angela, Partia and their sister: the three Negri sisters;
- Angelic Battista the first;
- the widowed Partia the second;
- Angelic Paola Antonia the third;
- Catherine Candiani, one of the very first Angelics.
Together with Frances the "Marescalca" of Vicenza, and before the Co-Founders, these four are mentioned in the document of the 1534 trial (cf. Fr. Premoli, pp. 466·467; Francis Crippa, pp. 402-403).
 Paul Morigia, the historian of Milan and of Torelli, quoted by Premoli, "Storia dei Barnabiti nel ‘500," p. 21.
 The first time had been in 1531, and the controversy had been brought to a close on August 4 with the injunction by the Vicar General and by the Inquisition of Milan to the Dominican Superiors, not to molest anymore the Countess and her Chaplain, according to the Apostolic Letters of July 10, by Clement VII.
 Note that among all those to whom the Saint addressed his letters, he is the only one without any kind of honorary title in the address.