This Society rests on one foundation alone, the Providence of the heavenly Father.
Two dangers must be avoided: presumption, found in members who place their confidence in the Society alone or in its striking organisation or in the number and greatness of its members and means; and excessive fear and anxiety for its well-being or the paucity of its numbers.
Sin and unfaithfulness alone are to be feared, since these alone can damage and even destroy the Institute. If we work for the good and the increase of the Church, the Providence of God will take care and protect the Institute; if it becomes useless or harmful, “the heavenly Father will rightly cut down and burn the sterile tree”.
This Society is not to be loved for itself, but in it the Kingdom of our Lord. The Church is everlasting and to be loved as an end, being the body and the Bride of Christ. The Institute is one of the many temporary means used by God to fulfil his divine plan for the Church; one day may well cease to exist. Let us always think of the Church of JESUS, not of this Society.
Divine Grace is the foundation of all supernatural activity of the members of the Institute. Whatever human beings do in the natural order is ordered by God to the greatness of the glory of his Son, even without knowing it or wishing it; but in the supernatural order all their efforts are useless without the grace of JESUS.
The members of the Institute intend to act as children of the light whose desire is to fulfil, by the grace of their Saviour, their own sanctification and that of others. So, recognising our total dependence, and the fact that we have been privileged to be chosen, we pray with humility and perseverance to God for his grace.
We must receive the free gift of grace with “fear and trembling lest after receiving it we lose it”. We must take constant care, therefore, to purify ourselves from every stain, working hard at achieving that justice that makes us dear to God.
Disclosure of conscience and a firm desire to amend oneself are excellent means whereby we may cleanse our souls from every sin and imperfection.
The brethren must avoid both excessive scrupulosity, and even more, laxity of conscience. The former is rooted in the presumption that “great purity and even impeccability will be theirs” through their own efforts; the latter may indicate an over-reliance on some good works they do, and a mistaken idea of the mercy of God.
The patient work of purification of our conscience will lead us more and more into the love of God alone, in every person and in every thing.
In God all things and all persons find their origin and their end, all their good and their perfection. God alone, the end of all thing, is lovable and worthy of honour. It is because we love God that we love our neighbour, therefore in all our works of charity we must have before our eyes God the Father and his Son JESUS, the Beloved.
The love of God, therefore, is the single source of all cares and labours to which the members of this Society are dedicated. It is God who lives and loves in us.
We have reached the halfway mark in the Constitutions and Fr. Founder presents now a very short but extremely important section that deals with the “foundation” of the entire Society. He deals with four basic realities, described everywhere in his writings, that constitute the pillars of the Institute: Divine Providence, Grace, Justice, Love of God.
The four pillars are interconnected, and one cannot do without the others. The connection is described by Fr. Founder himself in n. 479:
“As the activity of this entire Society is ruled by the Providence of the heavenly Father, so the activity of the individual members is moved by the grace of our Lord and Saviour. On the part of the members, their first co-operation with the grace they have received must consist in purposing to purify themselves every day unceasingly and increasing through justice. The final end of their co-operation is the love of God alone” (C479).
It is because the four pillars are so connected that each of them has been presented by Fr. Founder as the “foundation” of the Institute. It is true that n.462 is indeed a very powerful and peremptory statement which does not seem to allow for alternatives:
“This Society rests on one foundation alone, the providence of God, the almighty Father. Anyone wishing to lay some other foundation seeks to destroy the Society” (C462).
But, in his sermon on “Justice” in 1844, Fr. Founder himself said, “Brothers, your Institute was born in this way. This is its spirit. Justice is its sole foundation. I want to speak about this foundation”. And, he continues, “The Church of JESUS Christ, has as its end and its foundation, justice, the end and foundation of the universe”; so justice is the foundation both of the Institute and of the Church.
But love of God is itself defined by Fr. Founder as “justice at its most perfect”, hence it could also be called the “foundation” of the Institute of Charity (see A Society of love, p.9; p.15; p.46). Moreover, if nothing good can be done by human beings in the supernatural order, then where would the Institute be without the “foundation” of divine grace?
Each of the four pillars, in a sense, contains the others and the more we scan the depths of each the more we discover the others. The words of the prophet Micah (Mi 6.8) present in a beautifully succinct way the four pillars of the Institute:
“This is what God asks of you,
Only this: to act justly,
To love tenderly
And to walk humbly with your God”
Divine Providence had a special place in the heart and mind of Fr. Founder. His two principles of conduct – passivity and indifference – sprang directly from complete trust in Divine Providence, the “polar star” in the spiritual firmament of Fr. Founder, as Fr. U. Muratore says in one of his booklets, always shining from on high, a visible sign of the eternal and infinite love of God for all His creatures.
His masterpiece on Providence is “Theodicy”, in which he shows the constant love and infinite wisdom of God in the government of the universe, always drawing the greatest possible good from his creation. The book presents the eternal and supreme wisdom and power of God far beyond anything we mortals can understand, and the extremely limited and finite powers and means of all creatures.
This infinite distance, however, is filled by the eternal and ever-present love of God for all that He has made, shown by the Providential laws that guide with a mighty hand all world events and people to a blessed and sure end (see the book, “Rosminian Spirituality” for few important selected passages from Theodicy, pp. 45-68).
The fourth Maxim, however, is the best starting point for a deep meditation on Divine Providence: “To abandon oneself entirely to divine Providence”. Fr. Founder begins by saying that “there is perhaps no other maxim which helps more than this to obtain the peace of heart and stability of mind proper to the life of the Christian”.
All things in the world, both great and small, rest alike in God’s mighty hand, and nothing happens except as He disposes. God turns everything to the good of those who love Him, for it is His sovereign will to bring forth from our lives and from the entire creation the richest possible harvest for our everlasting joy. Therefore in all circumstances we entrust ourselves to Him with child-like simplicity, confident that the more we do so, the more pleasing we become in His eyes and the more abundantly He blesses us: “Adore, Be silent, Rejoice”.
This maxim was recommended by our Saviour by His words and example. The beautiful words of his sermon on the Mountain, “Do not be afraid, you are of more value than many sparrows… Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body… Consider the ravens… Consider the lilies… Your Father knows what you need… Strive for His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well…” (see Lk 12: 4-7; 22-34)
The words of JESUS on the loving care of Divine Providence can be expressed in seven teachings:
These seven teachings on divine Providence are the foundation of Christian and religious life for individual members. In the Constitutions, Providence is presented from the perspective of the “foundation of the entire Society”. The points Fr. Founder makes within this perspective are the following:
The Institute is for the Church, hence Fr. Founder reminds us of the fundamental importance of our baptismal consecration which has made us children of the Church:
“With the rest of the faithful we have the gospel of Christ as our great common codex. We must use it day and night. Our Constitutions, taken from the gospel, must lead us back to it. Hence the members of this Society should not set themselves apart from other people, but rather unite with all in the one body of Christ” (C464E).
What is the Formators’ view about knowledge of diocesan problems and initiatives and co-operation with the bishop and the local clergy? Do they think that the education we provide is sufficient to make our members feel that it is the Church, not the Institute, the primary concern of all our thoughts and cares?
The grace of our Saviour
Grace is the perception of God in the depths of our soul, a perception which is real not merely ideal. In the order of nature, man can only have a negative idea of God with the light of reason alone. Fr. Founder argued strongly against Pelagianism – the view that original sin caused only the privation of grace leaving intact all human faculties – and Protestantism – the view that original sin caused a complete corruption of all human faculties, incapable, therefore, even to establish the existence of God. Fr. Founder shared the traditional catholic doctrine that original sin not only deprived human beings of grace but also corrupted their nature, but not so radically as not to be able to bring man to the knowledge that God exists and that He has infinite qualities such as goodness and justice.
A person born blind can only have a negative idea of light and colours; different arguments may allow him to know that they exist and even that they must have certain characteristics. Without direct experience, however, he will never be able to have a positive idea of light and colours. It is the same with our knowledge of God based simply on reason: we know that He exists, and we can draw a variety of consequences pertaining to Him, but since we have no positive or direct experience of Him – we do not perceive Him, we do not see Him “face to face” – then we cannot say anything “positively” about Him.
This is where “grace” comes to our aid. The “character” and the “sanctifying grace” given at Baptism as an entirely free gift from God allow us to “perceive” God who “acts” really in our soul. God acts in us directly, creating in us a new “fundamental feeling”- feeling of the supernatural - superior to the other two “fundamental feelings” – feeling of our body and feeling of the idea of being enlightening our intellect – which we have since our natural birth. God, through grace, creates in us a new being, more precisely, completes and raises to perfection our human soul in way not possible to unaided human nature.
Grace operates in the intellective essence of our soul because “the supreme being can communicate with what is most noble in the human being”. This action, even though is produced in the intellective essence of the soul, is not “ideal” but “real”: the distance between what is ideal (purely based on ideas) and what is real (based on feeling) is immense. The operation of grace is real, not merely ideal: Fr. Founder gives as examples of this difference the “law of Moses” (purely ideal, incapable therefore of operating any change in human beings) and “the grace” of Christ, a real action operated by God in our soul and capable of drawing it to Himself.
We can say therefore that:
Fr. Founder calls grace a “deiform operation”. God performs many operations, like creation and the government of all created things. These operations begin in God and terminate in something different from God. These operations are obviously divine, yet they are not “deiform”. Fr. Founder defines a “deiform” operation as “an operation which not only has God for its principle, but the operation itself and its term is God”. He is the cause and the effect:
“I define a deiform operation as that which not only has God for its principle, but God is also the operation itself or its term. God is the principle and the term or end of grace; He is the cause and the effect. The Incarnation of the Word is the pre-eminent “deiform” operation” (Supernatural Anthropology, Vol.1, p.113)
In the soul touched by grace there is not only a divine effect but there God Himself. God is therefore not only the “efficient cause” – producing various effects in our soul – but is the “objective formal cause” – that is, God is the cause and the effect at the same time of what is happening in the soul, without in any way becoming our soul.
The unity of the Divine Nature was the basis of the Jewish revelation and that of the evangelical revelation is the Trinity in which knowledge given by God to man has been completed. So it is clear that the grace which sanctified man before the coming of Christ may properly be called “deiform”, the title of “deitriniform” grace being reserved for the grace of the Redeemer. The grace of the Old Testament manifested itself in man by a divine power which made the law of God superior to all other things in his heart, and by a feeling of expectation, a feeling of hope which promised him the possession of the “totality of being” and gave him a certain pledge of that possession.
God unites Himself to us formally through grace. But God subsists in three Persons, hence, since the time of the revelation of the Trinity by JESUS, the three Persons of the Trinity unite themselves formally to the just person. The Christian therefore through grace experiences the Holy Trinity, though in an imperfect way in this life.
Though the feeling of the Trinity is indistinct it is a force acting in us and which fills us perfectly and satisfies and contents us completely so that we feel “all being”, “all good”. The feeling of this totality has three forms or modes: a feeling of infinite power and force that acts in us, a feeling of truth – a subsistent truth which illuminates – and a feeling of diffusing love. We experience therefore the real action of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Founder defines the “character” that we receive at Baptism as the “seal” of the Word of God in our soul operated by the Holy Spirit. We become the “image” of God, not because anything “created” can ever be the “image” of God – this is impossible – but because by the power of the Holy Spirit the “true and only image of the Father”, that is the Son, the Word of God, is impressed in our soul. It is the Son in us that is the “image” of God: the character is the “seal” of the Son in our soul, a seal which is indelible and which raises the soul to its supernatural state.
It is from the baptismal character that sanctifying grace springs up, enabling us to do what pleases God thus becoming holy. Grace may indeed be lost if we resist the Spirit, but the baptismal character, or our generation to supernatural life, cannot be lost:
“St Paul, speaking about the baptismal character says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ep. 4,30). What does it mean to say – do not grieve the Holy Spirit – if not that we may indeed lose sanctifying grace by means of sin? Thus it is clear that the Holy Spirit gives us both the “seal” or character and the sanctifying grace” (Supernatural Anthropology, p.233)
We could go into far more accurate and extensive details about the treatment of divine grace in Fr. Founder’s eminent books, “Supernatural Anthropology” and “Introduction to the gospel of St. John”: but what has been written is sufficient to give us an idea of the fundamental importance of grace in our Christian and religious life.
Human beings, by themselves, cannot do anything in the supernatural order, that is, they cannot do anything which can make them holy, pleasing to God. This is what JESUS meant when He said, “Without Me you have no power whatsoever to do anything”. The good in us is brought about by grace, by the living presence of the Trinity that operate in a real way in the essence of our soul.
This awareness brings humility and complete reliance in God. JESUS is the vine, we are the branches: “Abide in Me, and I in you”, this is grace that produces abundant fruits.
In the Constitutions, Fr. Founder deals with grace by stating beforehand that in the order of nature everything is geared towards achieving the greatest glory of God: whether willingly or unwillingly, “the children of this world co-operate with God’s plan” (C469).
In the supernatural order, however, “mankind can do nothing without the grace of God and our Saviour JESUS. The creature’s work, study, planning, his efforts, the burdens he takes upon himself, are useless; there is nothing he can do of his own power, even though he possess every natural gift and the whole world besides, which would leave him with the slightest capacity for acting on the supernatural level” (C470).
If man desires to do actions that produce his own sanctification or the sanctification of others “he must first humble himself by careful consideration of God’s free choice, and pray. All other graces will come through this grace of prayer” (C470).
The members of the Institute, therefore, who as children of the light want to pursue holiness must surrender themselves entirely to the grace of God, and let God work in them: “Their confidence will be in the power of God which uses persons and things alike, making them suitable in His hand for every work” (C472).
Fr. Founder backs up his words with a long quotation taken from his favourite passage from St. John’s gospel, chapter 15, 1-16, the passage that presents the image of the vine and the branches, with which we are already familiar.
Justice, our Yes to divine grace
“As a person without eyes cannot see, so human beings can do nothing towards eternal life unless the grace of our Lord and Saviour JESUS Christ works in them” (C473)
This free gift must be received with infinite love and gratitude, and with fear and trembling lest after receiving it we lose it. Our response to God’s grace is, therefore, to co-operate fully taking great care to correct our spirit through continual purification.
Everyone in the Institute is aware of the immense importance of the word “justice” in Rosminian spirituality, yet some may find it difficult to explain precisely what Fr. Founder means by this word.
We may begin by saying that justice has three aspects that involve our constant and simultaneous attention:
In the section of the Constitutions we are studying, Fr. Founder insists on the first meaning of the word justice, that is, abstinence from sin. No one can escape the fact that he is a sinner in God’s eyes: “He that is holy, let him be sanctified still” (Rev. 22,11); “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1, 8-10).
We must, therefore, endeavour to purify ourselves from every stain day by day. Two are the means recommended by Fr. Founder:
But there are also two opposing excesses to be avoided:
The Love of God
God is the end of everything, He alone is to be loved in all things since everything comes from Him, the source of love: “We are not obliged to serve the glory and greatness of any person, but give help and service from our hearts to all, not for the sake of flesh and blood, but for love of the one God who alone is lovable and worthy of honour” (C481).
Christians, “the children of the heavenly Jerusalem”, must direct all their love to God the Father and to his Son JESUS. All other things must be loved for the sake of God, not in themselves: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments” (1 John 5,2).
The love of God is, therefore, the “single source of all the cares and labours to which the members of this Society are dedicated” (C483).
We need to deepen the meaning of the few words Fr. Founder says in the Constitutions about the love of God. One way of doing this is to study carefully what Fr. Founder said in his homily on “Charity” (p.44-85, a very long homily indeed!).
He begins by saying that “Christ’s charity is simply justice at its most perfect”: this applies to the love of Christ for us, and to the love we have for Christ. But to love someone is to do his will in all things: “In the lover, the special proper object of love is simply the will of the beloved”, hence loving God means doing His will in all things.
But, what does the divine will want? “All it wants from us – what a marvel this is – is love itself”, expressed in the two commandments of love of God and of neighbour. However, how can mortal, finite creatures ever hope to be able to respond to God’s infinite, eternal love? How can contingent beings ever hope to be able to match their own weak and limited will to the eternal, almighty Will of God? Isn’t the distance too great, impossible to fill?
Fr. Founder answers these questions by saying that the distance can indeed be filled, that our love and will can raise themselves up to the Almighty by means of JESUS Christ. It is JESUS who does the loving in us, it is JESUS who does the Will of the Father in us: “Christ in us is our charity… Christ in us is the great lover” (p.47, 49). It is Christ in us, therefore, that makes it possible for us to love God and to do His Will. We have learned from the letter to the Romans that the Holy Spirit prays in us on our behalf: “For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words” (Rom. 8, 26); we need to understand now how the Son loves in us.
The answer lies in the “seal”, the “character” impressed upon us in Baptism, and given even more depth in Confirmation, and Holy Orders:
“The sublime Word, God from God the Father, the figure of His substance (Heb 1, 3), through His everlasting mercy, impresses Himself upon our souls. He does this through the Sacraments which He, JESUS Christ, has instituted in His love for the sake of uniting and binding to Himself all other human beings” (p.48).
The seal is, therefore, JESUS Himself, the perfect image of the Father: this is the profound reason for the assertion in Genesis that man was created in the image of God. The true image of God can only be His Son, and at baptism the Holy Spirit impresses that image deep within our souls:
“This is the reason why many fathers of the Church teach that the image of God in man is given by the Holy Spirit, because it is the Holy Spirit that gives the character which He impresses in the soul by communicating the Word of God, the Son” (Supernatural Anthropology, p. 303).
The Holy Spirit, therefore, gives to the soul the divine Word, who becomes united to the soul by being impressed in it with a permanent seal.
“Because the indelible character left upon our souls in the sacraments is our Lord JESUS Christ himself, the brightness of God’s glory and the figure of his substance, so Christ is the great lover in all of us. He is our power of love. Love is Christ’s very own Spirit diffused in our souls” (p.49)
“What a wonder this is! Almighty God, as charity subsistent in us, is our charity! Charity in God, therefore, and charity in us, is one. It is of equal nature, of equal grandeur and of equal infinity. It is always Almighty God in himself and in us” (p.57)
“For charity to be in the world, it was necessary for God to come into the world because “God is charity”. Charity came into the world in JESUS Christ. When charity was in the world, the world could share in it: “And of His fullness we have all received” (Jn 1,16).
The love of God has been said by St. Paul to have four infinite qualities: breadth, length, height, and depth; qualities which we should also imitate.
The first characteristic is the breadth of charity: it enfolds everyone, the saints in heaven, the souls in purgatory, and all the members of the militant church on earth. But it embraces also our “enemies”: “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you. That you may children of your Father in heaven…”: Christ gives us His Father as teacher of charity; He gives us Almighty God, who is charity, as the example for all our actions. Our charity, therefore, must be as universal as the charity of God; must be marked by generosity and care for all. Charity must go beyond self, family, country: the true follower of JESUS is the sign of concord and peace, of meekness and humility, recognising in everyone the one God who is love.
Charity is also long and unbounded. God loves of an everlasting love: He has always loved, and He will always love. The length of charity is the constancy with which God-charity loves, who has loved all his works ab aeterno. This love has never allowed itself to be conquered by human waywardness of any kind, on the contrary, He paid our infamous debt with His own blood. We too must imitate the duration, longanimity, constancy of the love of God: we must never cease loving, never tire of doing good, never to abandon the good works we have begun, never allow the sacred fire to be extinguished.
Just as charity embraces all human beings and things through its breadth, and extends to eternity through its length, so through its end it rises to a height which has no limit, since the end of charity is God Himself who loves in us. All our desires, actions, endeavours have God as their end: the one necessary thing in our life is to love God with all our mind, heart, strength, so that God may be “all in all”. The whole universe is a manifestation of the love of God and is progressing, notwithstanding moral and natural evil permitted by the infinite Wisdom of God, to the fullness of the glorious kingdom of His Son. Charity reaches its height only when it is well-ordered and leads our actions to the eternal salvation of souls, the end of the universe. It is the height of charity that urges us to embrace all kinds of work for our brethren: temporal, intellectual, spiritual charity has the only purpose of saving our soul and the souls of people.
The limitless height of charity requires as its indispensable condition an unlimited depth of humiliation, and of sacrifice, which follows on humility. Anyone who is not humble without limit is unsuitable for the grandeur of charity. Pride is ignorant of charity. The humiliation of the Son of God brought charity to the humble: “Being in the form of God, He thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death…” (Phil. 2, 6-8).
We also must be prepared to “lay down our life” for our brethren, to sacrifice ourselves for the others. Love is as strong as death and perfect charity is tied up to martyrdom.
Fr. Founder ends his homily by quoting from St. Thomas Aquinas who has left a very moving picture of the four dimensions of charity:
“Under the impulse of charity, Christ chose the death of the Cross in which we find the four dimensions we have mentioned. For the breadth, look at the crossbeam to which His hands were nailed; our works too must stretch out even to our enemies. For the length, look at the upright from which hangs his body; charity must persevere and save mankind. For the height, look at the wood higher up where his head rests; our hopes must rise to eternal, divine matters. For the depth, look at that section of the wood buried in the earth and invisibly upholding the cross; the depth of divine love incomprehensible to us because the reason for predestination exceeds our understanding upholds us”.
It would be of great interest to compare the recent encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, “Deus Caritas Est”, with Fr. Founder’s homily on the love of God. The concept that love is one, and that God is the principle and the term of love, the source and the purpose of love is the fundamental teaching of both documents: “Love is divine because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a “we” which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is “all in all”” (Deus Caritas Est, p.22).