Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bellarmine on Confirmation (11)

St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (+1621), Jesuit, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church, wrote Ars bene moriendi, the Art of Dying Well, in 1619AD. Today I continue my presentation of this work, as I plan each Sunday, which now brings us to Chapter 11, On the holy sacrament of Confirmation! Certainly a great deal more attention to be given to Confirmation, which is not often enough recalled!

St. Robert Bellarmine (+1621AD)



AFTER baptism follows the sacrament of Confirmation, from which may we draw motives to live well, no less powerful than those deducible from baptism; for although baptism be a sacrament more necessary than Confirmation, yet the latter is more noble than the former. This is evident from the minister, the matter and the effect.

The ordinary minister of baptism is a priest, and in case of necessity anyone; the ordinary minister of
Confirmation is a Bishop, and by the dispensation of the Pope, only a priest. The matter of baptism is common water, that of Confirmation holy oil mixed with balsam, consecrated by the Bishop. The effect of baptism is grace and a character, such are required to create a spiritual child; according to the words of St. Peter, “As new-born infants desire the rational milk without guile." (1st of St. Peter, xi.)

The effect of Confirmation is also grace and a character, and such are requisite to make a Christian soldier fight against his invisible enemies; according to what St. Paul saith: “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places” “Quia non est nobis conluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem sed adversus principes et potestates adversus mundi rectores tenebrarum harum contra spiritalia nequitiae in caelestibus” (Ephesians vi. 12.) In fine, in baptism a little salt is put into the infant’s mouth; in Confirmation a slight blow is given to us, that so the Christian soldier may learn to fight, not by striking, but by enduring.

But that we may the more easily understand what is the duty of one anointed with chrism, that is, of a Christian soldier, we must consider what the Apostles received at their Confirmation on Whit- Sunday. They were not confirmed by the chrism, but they received from Christ, our chief high priest, the effect of the sacrament without the sacrament. They received three gifts, wisdom, eloquence, and charity, in the highest degree, and likewise the gift of miracles, which were most useful in converting infidel nations to the true faith. These gifts were signified by the "fiery tongues” which appeared on the day of Pentecost, whilst a sound as of a mighty wind was heard at the same time. The light of the fire signified wisdom, its heat charity, the form of the tongues eloquence, and the sound the gift of miracles.

The sacrament of our Confirmation does not bestow the gift of tongues nor the gift of miracles, since these were necessary, not for the advantage and perfection of the, Apostles themselves, but for the conversion of the infidels. But it bestows the gifts of spiritual wisdom and of charity, which is
patient and kind;" and as a sign of this most rare and yet most precious virtue of patience, the Bishop gives the person about to be confirmed a slight blow, that he may remember he now becomes a soldier of Christ, not to strike, but to endure; not to do injuries to others, but to bear them. In the Christian warfare, he fights not against visible but invisible enemies; for thus did Christ our great commander fight and conquer, who being nailed to the cross, conquered the infernal powers; thus did the Apostles fight, only just confirmed, for being severely scourged in the council of the Jews, they went forth " rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus."

The grace of Confirmation then effects this, that when a man is unjustly injured, he should not think of revenge, but rejoice that he suffered reproach unjustly.

Let him then who has been confirmed enter into the chamber of his heart, and diligently inquire whether he has kept in his heart the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and especially wisdom and fortitude. Let him examine, I repeat, whether he possess the wisdom of the saints who esteemed eternal goods, and despised earthly ones; whether he has the fortitude of soldiers of Christ, who bear injuries more willingly than they do them. And lest he should possibly be deceived, let him descend to practice and examine his conscience. If he shall find that he is always truly ready to bestow alms, not to heap up riches; and if when injured he thinks not on revenge, but very readily .and willingly pardons the injury: he may justly exult in his heart as having in his soul a pledge of the adoption of the sons of God.

But if, after having received Confirmation, he perceives himself to be no less covetous, avaricious, passionate, and impatient, and if he with difficulty allows any money to be distributed for the relief of the poor; but, on the contrary, if he sees that he is ready to seize every opportunity of lucre, that he is quickly excited, prone to revenge, and when requested by his friends to forgive an offence is inexorable what is the conclusion, but that he has received indeed the sacrament, but not the grace of the sacrament ?

What I have said is intended for those who are adults, when they approach the sacrament; for they who receive it at an age incapable of sin, receive, it is to be believed, all its gifts and graces. But these must stand in fear, lest by sin creeping upon them gradually, and deferring to do penance for a long time, they extinguish the spirit received that is, lose the grace of the Holy Spirit. Thus is to be understood what the Apostle saith: "Extinguish not the Spirit." (1 Thessalonians v. 19.) He extinguishes the Holy Spirit, as for as lies in him, who destroys in himself the grace of God.

He, therefore, that desireth to live well, and thus to die well, must highly esteem the grace of the sacraments, which are vessels of heavenly treasures: and especially should he esteem those sacraments, which, when once lost, cannot be recovered again such as the sacrament of Confirmation, in which we receive an incomparable treasure of good things. For, although the character of this sacrament cannot be obliterated, yet a character without the gift of grace will not bring any comfort, but only increase our punishment and confusion.


I shall be presenting this work at length, but in chapter-length installments each Sunday. If you simply can't wait for the next chapter, or want to read it all at once, you can find the full text here:

Live well.

Monday, February 17, 2014

George Washington Day

George Washington, by Gilbert Stuart, +1828AD.

Today, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is George Washington Day, in honor of the Fairfax County, Virginia native and first President of the United States. Credited as the "father of his country," George Washington (1732-1799AD) was pivotal in the independence movement and revolution of the colonies that formed the United States, not only in his role as military commander, but as the President who set all of the precedents. His approach was one of prudence and steadiness, and his contributions are most certainly a great part of the longevity and stability of this Republic.

His home at Mount Vernon is worth visiting if you find yourself in the area -- it is here that he is buried:

We can leave aside, on this day to honor him, a discussion of his Freemasonry, church attendance habits, and role in a revolution against his sovereign.

As a side note, George Washington DID say this: "A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies." That in his first address to Congress, on 8 January 1790. cf., Spurious versions of this statement are prevalent about now!

Undoubtedly, folks will refer to today as "Presidents' Day," which it might be in some places, but not in Virginia, for one.

Indeed, here is the page from the Code of Virginia on this very subject of state holidays, and you will not carefully today's observance in this complete list of legal holidays:

"§ 2.2-3300. Legal holidays.
It is the policy of the Commonwealth to fix and set aside certain days in the calendar year as legal holidays for the people of Virginia. In each year, the following days are designated as legal holidays:

January 1 - New Year's Day.

The Friday preceding the third Monday in January - Lee-Jackson Day to honor Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870) and Thomas Jonathan (Stonewall) Jackson (1824-1863), defenders of causes.

The third Monday in January - Martin Luther King, Jr., Day to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929-1968), defender of causes.

The third Monday in February - George Washington Day to honor George Washington (1732-1799), the first President of the United States.

The last Monday in May - Memorial Day to honor all persons who made the supreme sacrifice in giving their lives in defense of Virginia and the United States in the following wars and engagements and otherwise: Indian Uprising (1622), French and Indian Wars (1754-1763), Revolutionary War (1775-1783), War of 1812 (1812-1815), Mexican War (1846-1848), War Between the States (1861-1865), Spanish-American War (1898), World War I (1917-1918), World War II (1941-1945), Korean War (1950-1953), Vietnam War (1965-1973), Operation Desert Shield-Desert Storm (1990-1991), Global War on Terrorism (2000-), Operation Enduring Freedom (2001-), and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-). On this day all flags, national, state, and local, shall be flown at half staff or mast to honor and acknowledge respect for those who made the supreme sacrifice.

July 4 - Independence Day to honor the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The first Monday in September - Labor Day to honor all people who work in Virginia.

The second Monday in October - Columbus Day and Yorktown Victory Day to honor Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), a discoverer of the Americas, and the final victory at Yorktown on October 19, 1781, in the Revolutionary War.

November 11 - Veterans Day to honor all persons who served in the Armed Forces of Virginia and the United States in the following wars and engagements and otherwise: Indian Uprising (1622), French and Indian Wars (1754-1763), Revolutionary War (1775-1783), War of 1812 (1812-1815), Mexican War (1846-1848), War Between the States (1861-1865), Spanish American War (1898), World War I (1917-1918), World War II (1941-1945), Korean War (1950-1953), Vietnam War (1965-1973), Operation Desert Shield-Desert Storm (1990-1991), Global War on Terrorism (2000-), Operation Enduring Freedom (2001-), and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-).

The fourth Thursday in November and the Friday next following - Thanksgiving Day to honor and give thanks in each person's own manner for the blessings bestowed upon the people of Virginia and honoring the first Thanksgiving in 1619.

December 25 - Christmas Day.

Whenever any of such days falls on Saturday, the Friday next preceding such day, or whenever any of such days falls on Sunday, the Monday next following such day, and any day so appointed by the Governor of the Commonwealth or the President of the United States, shall be a legal holiday as to the transaction of all business."

Interestingly, even in United States code, this day is known as Washington's Birthday -- no hint of "Presidents' Day." You might note this reference from the Federal Office of Personal Management explaining their title for this day: "This holiday is designated as 'Washington’s Birthday' in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code, which is the law that specifies holidays for Federal employees. Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is our policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law."

Here is the US Code itself: "The following are legal public holidays:
Washington’s Birthday, the third Monday in February."

So, no President's Day in Virginia, even appealing to the code of this Federal Republic.

You might have noticed, as well, the more local Virginia state holiday in the list above, that of Lee-Jackson day in honor of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, two other remarkable Virginians. The Commonwealth also claims the first Thanksgiving -- in 1619AD -- occurred in the Old Dominion before Massachusetts was even founded!

Does your state or province have its own holiday? It probably does!

Do you know what it is?

Live well!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bellarmine on Baptism (10)

St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (+1621), Jesuit, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church, wrote Ars bene moriendi, the Art of Dying Well, in 1619AD. Today I continue my presentation of this work, as I plan each Sunday, which now brings us to Chapter 10, On the holy sacrament of Baptism!

St. Robert Bellarmine (+1621AD)



HAVING now explained the principal virtues which teach us how “to live well”. I shall add some remarks on the Sacraments, which, no less than the former, instruct us in this most necessary Art.

There are seven Sacraments instituted by Christ our Lord: baptism, confirmation, holy Eucharist, penance, holy orders, matrimony, and extreme unction. These are the divine instruments, as it were, which God uses by the ministry of his servants, to preserve, or increase, or restore His grace to us; that so being freed from the servitude of the devil, and translated to the dignity of the " Sons of
God," we may one day arrive at eternal happiness with the holy angels.

From these holy Sacraments, therefore, it is our intention briefly to show who are they that advance in the “Art of living well," and who fail in it. We may then know who can hope for a happy death; and who, on the contrary, may expect a miserable one, unless he change his life.

Let us begin with the first Sacrament. Baptism, being the first, is justly called the "gate" of the
Sacraments, because, unless baptism precede them, no one is in a state to receive the other Sacraments. In baptism the following ceremonies are observed.

First of all, he who is to be baptised ought to make a profession of his belief in the Catholic faith, either by himself or by another. Secondly, he is called upon to renounce the devil, and all his works and pomps. Thirdly, he is baptised in Christ, and thus translated from the bondage of the devil to the dignity of a son of God; and all his sins being washed away, he receives the gift of divine grace, by which he becomes the adopted son of God, an heir of God, and co-heir with Christ.

Fourthly, a white garment is placed on him, and he is exhorted to keep it pure and undefiled till death. Fifthly, a lighted candle is put into his hand, which signifies good works, and which he ought to add for innocence of life as long as he lives. Thus our Lord speaks in the Gospel: "So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (St. Matthew v. xvi.) (Sic luceat lux vestra coram hominibus ut videant vestra bona opera et glorificent Patrem vestrum qui in caelis est)

These are the principal ceremonies which the Church uses in the administration of baptism; I omit others which do not relate to our purpose. From these observations, each one of us may easily discover whether we have led a good life from our Baptism until now. But I strongly suspect that few are to be found who have fulfilled all those things which they promised to do, or which they ought to have done. " Many are called, but few are chosen ;" and again, " Narrow is the gate, and straight is the way that leadeth to life, and few there are that find it."

We will begin with the Apostles Creed. How many of the country people and lower orders either do not remember this, or have never learnt it, or only know the words of it, but not the sense! And yet at their baptism they answered by their sponsors that they believed in every Article. But if Christ is to dwell in our hearts by faith, as the apostle saith, how can He dwell in the hearts of those who can scarcely repeat the Creed, and much less have it in their hearts ? And if God by faith " purifies" our hearts, as St. Peter speaks, how base will the hearts of those be, who have not in them the faith of
Christ, although they have received baptism outwardly! I am speaking of adults not of infants.
Infants are justified by possessing grace, faith, hope, and charity; but when they grow to maturity, they ought to learn the Creed, and believe in their heart the Christian faith "unto justice," and confess it with the mouth "unto salvation," as the Apostle most plainly teaches us in his Epistle to the Romans.

Again: all Christians are asked, either by themselves or by their sponsors, whether they renounce the devil, and all his works and pomps. And they answer: “I do renounce them." But how many renounce them in word, but not in reality! On the other hand, how few are there who do not love and follow the pomps and works of the devil! But God seeth all things, and will not be mocked. He therefore that desires to live well and to die well, let him enter into the chamber of his heart, and not deceive himself; but seriously and attentively consider over and over again whether he is in love with the pomps of this world, or with sins, which are the works of the devil; and whether he gives them a place in his heart, and in his words and actions. And thus, either his good conscience will console him, or his evil conscience will lead him to penance.

In the other rite is manifested to us the goodness of God in so sublime and wonderful a manner, that, were we to spend whole days and nights in admiration and thanksgiving for it, we should do nothing worthy of so great a benefit. good Lord! who can understand, who is not amazed, who does not wholly dissolve into pious tears when he considers how man, justly condemned to hell, is suddenly by means of Baptism translated from a miserable captivity to a right in a most glorious kingdom!

But how much the greater this benefit is to be admired, so much the more is mans ingratitude to be detested; since many, scarcely before they arrive at the age of reason, begin to renounce this wonderful benefit of God, and to enrol themselves the slaves of the devil. For what else is it to follow in our youth " the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life," but to enter into friendship with the devil, and to deny Christ our Lord in deed and in word? Few is the number of those, who, prevented by a special grace of God, carefully preserve their baptismal grace, and, as the prophet Jeremias expresses it, have borne the yoke of the Lord "from their youth" But unless we preserve either our baptismal grace, or by true penance again renounce the devil, and return to the service of God, and persevere in it till the end of our life, we cannot possibly live well, nor be delivered from a miserable death.

The fourth ceremony is, when the baptized receives the white garment, and is ordered to wear it until he shall appear before God. By this rite is signified " innocence of life," which acquired by the grace of Baptism, is most carefully to be preserved until death. But who can number the snares of the devil, that perpetual enemy of the human race, who desires nothing more than to disfigure that garment with every kind of stain? Very few, therefore, are there, who if they live long, do not contract stains of sin; holy David calls those blessed who are " undefiled" in their way. But the more difficult it is to walk undefiled in a defiled way, so much the more glorious will be the crown of an innocent life. All therefore, who desire to live well and to die well, must be careful to preserve to the very best of their power the white garment. But if it should contract some stains, we must wash it often in the blood of the Lamb; and this is done by true contrition and penitential tears. When David had bewailed his sin for a long time, he began to hope for pardon, and giving thanks to the Lord, he confidently said: “Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed; thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow." (Asparges me hysopo et mundabor lavabis me et super nivem dealbabor) (Psalm 50)

The last ceremony is, to put a lighted candle into our hand; this, as we have remarked above, signifies nothing more than good works, which must be joined with a holy life. And what these good works are that men must do who are born again by Baptism in Christ, the apostle teaches us by his example, when he says, " I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to
me in that day." “Bonum certamen certavi cursum consummavi fidem servavi. In reliquo reposita est mihi iustitiae corona quam reddet mihi Dominus in illa die iustus iudex non solum autem mihi sed et his qui diligunt adventum eius” (2nd to Timothy iv. 7, 8.)

Here in a few words are mentioned the " good works" which must be performed by those who are born again by baptism in Christ. They must fight manfully against the temptations of the devil, " who goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom to devour." They must also complete the “course" of good works by the observance of the Commandments of the Lord, according to the words of the
Psalm: "I have been in the way of thy commandments, when thou didst enlarge my heart." (118.)

They must, in fine, preserve fidelity to their master in multiplying their talents, or in cultivating their vineyard, or in attending to the stewardship entrusted to them, or in the government of their family, or in any other matter appointed them by the Almighty. Our most bountiful Lord wishes to admit us as adopted sons to His heavenly inheritance; but that this may be done to His greater glory and our own, it hath pleased the divine wisdom that by our good works, performed by His grace and our own free will, we should merit eternal happiness. Wherefore, this most noble and glorious inheritance will not be given to those that sleep, or are idle, or fond of play; but only to the watchful, to the laborious, and to those that persevere in good works unto the end.
Let every one then examine his works, and diligently inquire into his manner of life, if he wish to live
well and die well; and if his conscience testifies to him that he has fought the "good fight" with his vices and concupiscences, and with all the temptations of the old serpent, and that he has finished a happy " course" in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without reproof, then he may exclaim with the Apostle, For the rest there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day." (2nd to Timothy iv.) But if, having carefully examined ourselves, our conscience shall testily that in our contest with the enemy of the human race, we have been grievously wounded, and his "fiery darts" have penetrated even unto our soul, and this not once but often, and that we have often failed in the performance of good works, and not only ran on slothfully, but sat in the way through fatigue or laid down; and in fine, that we have not preserved our fidelity to God in the business entrusted to us, but have taken away part of the profit, either by vain-glory, or acceptance of persons, or any thing else; then must we have immediate recourse to the remedy of penance, and to God himself, and not defer this most important business till another time, because we know neither the day nor the hour.


I shall be presenting this work at length, but in chapter-length installments each Sunday. If you simply can't wait for the next chapter, or want to read it all at once, you can find the full text here:

Live well.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Bellarmine on Almsgiving (9)

St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (+1621), Jesuit, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church, wrote Ars bene moriendi, the Art of Dying Well, in 1619AD. Today I continue my presentation of this work, as I plan each Sunday, which now brings us to Chapter 9, On Almsgiving. St. Robert certainly presents a demanding standard for Christians to aspire to!

St. Robert Bellarmine (+1621AD)



THREE things are to be explained concerning almsdeeds; its necessity, advantages, and the method. And first, no one has ever doubted of almsdeeds being commanded in Holy Writ. Sufficient is the sentence of the just and supreme Judge, (even supposing we had nothing else,) which he will pronounce against the wicked at the last day: " Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me not in; naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me: " and a little lower: " Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me." (St. Matthew xxv.)

From these words we may conclude, that those only are bound to give alms, who have the means of doing so: for even our Lord is not said to have done these works, but only to have ordered, out of the money that was given to him, a part to be distributed to the poor. Hence, when our Lord said to Judas, " That which thou dost, do quickly," the disciples supposed that our Lord commanded Judas to give something to the poor out of the common purse. But some theologians suppose the precept of almsdeeds is contained in the command, "Honour thy parents: " others in the command, " Thou shalt not kill." But it is not requisite for this precept to be contained m the decalogue, since almsdeeds relate to charity; the precepts of the decalogue are precepts of justice. But if all the precepts of morality are to be referred to the decalogue, the opinion of Albert Magnus is probable that the precept concerning alms, is to be referred to the command, “Thou shalt not steal," because it seems a kind of theft not to give to the poor what we ought. But the opinion of St. Thomas seems to be more probable, who reduces it to the command, “Honour thy parents.” By the word honour, is not here understood "reverence" alone, but particularly the supply of things necessary for existence, which is a kind of alms that we owe to our neighbours especially, as St. Jerome remarks in his commentary on the xxv. chapter of St. Matthew. From this we may see, that alms ought to be given to others also, who may be in want. Moreover, the precept is not negative, but positive; and amongst the precepts of the second table, none are positive except the first, " Honour thy parents."

So much on the necessity of alms. But the fruits are most abundant. First, Almsdeeds free the soul from eternal death, whether this be in the way of satisfaction, or a disposition to receive grace, or in any other way. This doctrine the sacred Scriptures plainly teach; in the book of Tobias we thus read: " For alms deliver from all sin and from death, and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness;" and in the same book the angel Raphael says, “For alms delivereth from death, and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting.”And Daniel said to Nabuchodonoser: "Wherefore, king, let my counsel be acceptable to thee, and redeem thou. thy sins with alms, and thy iniquities with works of mercy to the poor, perhaps he will forgive thy offences."
(chap, iv.)  Alms also, if they be given by a just man, and with true charity, are meritorious of eternal life: to this the Judge of the living and the dead beareth witness: " Come ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat," &c. And he answered: "Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me." (St. Matthew xxv.)

Thirdly, almsdeeds are, as it were, like baptism, because they do away both with the sin and the punishment thereof, according- to the words of Ecclesiasticus: "Water quencheth a flaming fire, and alms resisteth sins." (chap, iii.) Water entirely extinguishes fire, so that not even any smoke remains.
That almsdeeds are of this nature, many holy fathers teach, as St. Cyprian, St. Ambrose, St.
Chrysostom, St. Leo, whose words it is unnecessary to quote. Such, then, is one great advantage, which ought to enflame all men with a love of almsdeeds. But this must not be understood of every kind, but only of that which proceeds from great contrition and ardent charity. Such was that of St.
Mary Magdalen, who, with tears of true contrition, washed the feet of our Lord; and having purchased most precious ointment, she anointed His feet with it.

Fourthly, Almsdeeds increase confidence with God, and produce spiritual joy; for, although this is common to other good works also, yet it belongs in particular to almsdeeds, since by them we render a service grateful both to God and our neighbours: and this is a work which is not obscurely, but most plainly acknowledged to be "good." Hence the word of Tobias: "Alms shall be a great confidence before the Most High God, to all them that give it." (chap. iv. 12.) (Fiducia magna erit coram summo Deo elemosyna omnibus qui faciunt eam) And the apostle, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, says: "Do not therefore lose your confidence, which hath a great reward." (chap. x. 35.) In fine, St. Cyprian, in his Sermon on Almsdeeds, calls it, “The great comfort of believers."

Fifthly, Almsdeeds conciliate the goodwill of many, who pray to God for their benefactors, and obtain for them either the grace of conversion, or the gift of perseverance, or an increase of merit and glory.
And in all these ways may be understood these words of our Lord: "Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity, that when you shall fail they may receive you into everlasting dwellings." (St.
Luke xv.i. 9.)

Sixthly, Almsdeeds is a disposition for receiving justifying grace. Of this fruit Solomon speaks in the
Proverbs, where he says: “By mercy and faith sins are purged away." And when our Lord had heard the liberality of Zaccheus, saying: "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor: and if I have wronged any man of anything, I restore him four-fold." he said: " This day is salvation come to this house." (St. Luke xix.) In fine, we read in the Acts of the Apostles that it was said to Cornelius, who was not yet a Christian, but who gave large alms: “Thy prayers and thy alms are ascended for a memorial in the sight of God." (chap, x.) From this place St. Augustine proves, that Cornelius by his alms obtained from God the grace of faith and perfect justification.

Lastly, Almsdeeds are often instrumental in increasing our temporal goods. This the wise man affirms where he says: "he that hath mercy on the poor, lendeth to the Lord ;" and again: “He that giveth to the poor shall not want." Our Lord has taught us this truth by His own example, when He ordered His disciples, who possessed only the five loaves and the two fishes, to distribute them to the poor: in return they received twelve baskets-full of the fragments, which served them for many days. Tobias also, who liberally distributed his goods to the poor, in a short time obtained great riches; and the widow of Sarephta, who gave to Elias only a handful of meal and a little oil, obtained from God by this act of charity an abundance of meal and oil, which for a long time did not fail. Many other remarkable examples may be read in St. Gregory of Tours, in the 5th Book of his History of France; and in Leontius, in his Life of St. John the Almoner; and Sophronius, in his Spiritual Meadow. The same doth St. Cyprian confirm in his Sermon on Almsdeeds, and St. Basil in his Oration to the Rich, in which, by an elegant similitude, he compares riches to water in wells, that gushes forth the purer and more copiously the oftener it is drawn out; but if it should remain stagnant, it soon becomes putrid. These things covetous rich men will not willingly hear, and scarcely will believe; but after this life they will understand them and believe them to be true, when such faith and knowledge will be of no avail to them.  We will now dwell a little on the method of giving alms; for this is especially necessary, that we may live well and die a most happy death. First, then, we must give our alms with the pure intention of pleasing God, and not of obtaining human praise. This our Lord teaches us when He says: "Therefore, when them dost an almsdeed, sound not a trumpet before thee, &c.... Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth." (St. Matthew vi.) St. Augustine, in his Explanation of St. John’s Epistle, expounds the passage thus: " By the left hand is meant the intention of giving alms for worldly honour or any other temporal advantage; by the right hand is signified the intention of bestowing alms to gain eternal life, or for the glory of God, and charity for our neighbour.”

Secondly, Our alms should be given promptly and willingly, so that they may not seem to be extorted through entreaties, nor deferred from day to day, if possible. The wise man saith: "Say not to thy friend: Go, and come again; and tomorrow I will give to thee: when thou canst give at present." (Proverbs iii. 28.) Abraham, the friend of God, requested the angels to take up their abode with him: he did not wait to be asked: so also did Lot do the same. And we read that Tobias did not wait for the poor to come to him, but he sought them himself.

Thirdly, We should give our alms with joy, not with sadness. Ecclesiasticus saith: "In every gift show a cheerful countenance;" and St. Paul: " Every one as he hath determined in his heart, not with sadness, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver." (2 Epist. to Corinth, ix. 7.)

Fourthly, Our alms should be given with humility, that so the rich man may remember that he receives much more than he gives. On this point St. Gregory thus speaks: "When he gives earthly goods, he would find it avail much in taming his pride, were he to remember and carefully ponder on the words of his heavenly Master: “Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity, that when you shall fail they may receive you into everlasting dwellings” If by their friendship we purchase everlasting dwellings, those that give should doubtless remember that they offer their gifts rather to patrons than to the poor” (Lib, Moral, xxi. cap. 14.)

Fifthly, Our alms should be given abundantly, in proportion to our means: thus doth Tobias teach us that most generous alms-giver: “According to thy ability be merciful. If thou have much, give abundantly: if thou have little, take care even so to bestow willingly a little,” (chap. iv. 9.) And the apostle teaches that alms are to be given to obtain a benediction, and not with avarice. St. John Chrysostom adds: “Not merely to give, but to give abundantly, is almsdeeds.” And in the same sermon he says again: That those who wish to be heard by God when they say, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy, ought to have mercy on the poor themselves, according to their means."

Lastly, It is necessary above all things, if we wish to be saved and to die a good death, diligently to enquire, either by our own reading and meditation, or by consulting holy and learned men, whether our "superfluous" riches can be retained with out sin, or whether we ought of necessity to give them to the poor; and again, what are to be understood by superfluities, and what by necessary goods. It may happen that to some men moderate riches may be superfluous; whilst to others great riches may be absolutely essential. But, since this treatise does not include nor require tedious scholastic questions, I will briefly note passages from Holy Writ and the Fathers, and so end this part of the subject. The passages of Scripture: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” “He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner." And in the 12th chapter of St. Luke it is said of one who had such great riches, that he scarcely knew what to do with them: " Thou fool, this night do they require thy soul of thee." St. Augustine, in the 50th book of his Homilies, and the 7th Homily, explains these words to mean, that the rich man perished for ever, because he made no use of his superfluous riches.

The passages from the Fathers are chiefly these: St. Basil, in his Sermon to the Rich, thus speaks: "And thou, art thou not a robber, because what thou hast received to be given away, thou supposest to be thy own?" And a little farther he continues: " Wherefore, as much as thou art able to give, so much dost thou injure the poor." And St. Ambrose, in his 81st Sermon, says: "What injustice do I commit, if, whilst I do not steal the goods of others, I keep diligently what is my own? impudent word! Dost thou say thy own ? What is this ? It is no less a crime to steal than it is not to give to the poor out of thy abundance." St. Jerome thus writes in his Epistle to Hedibias: " If you possess more than is necessary for your subsistence, give it away, and thus you will be a creditor." St. John Chrysostom says in his 34th Homily to the people of Antioch: "Do you possess anything of your own ? The interest of the poor is entrusted to you, whether the estate is yours by your own just labours, or you have acquired it by inheritance." St. Augustine, in his Tract on the 147th Psalm: “Our superfluous wealth belongs to the poor; when it is not given to them, we possess what we have no right to retain.” St. Leo thus speaks: “Temporal goods are given to us by the liberality of God, and He will demand an account of them, for they were committed to us for disposal as well as possession.” And St. Gregory, in the third part of his Pastoral Care: “Those are to be admonished, who, whilst they desire not the goods of others, do not distribute their own; that so they may carefully remember, that as the common origin of all men is from the earth, so also its produce is common to them all: in vain, then, they think themselves innocent, who appropriate to themselves the common gifts of God.” St. Bernard, in his Epistle to Henry, archbishop of Sens, saith: “It is ours, for the poor cry out for what you squander; you cruelly take away from us what you spend foolishly.” St. Thomas also writes: “The superfluous riches which many possess, by the natural law belong to the support of the poor”; and again: “The Lord requires us to give to the poor not only the tenth part, but all of our superfluous wealth.” In fine, the same author, in the fourth book of his “Sentences,” asserts that this is the common opinion of all theologians. I add also, that if one be inclined to contend that, taking the strict letter of the law, he is not bound to give his superfluous riches to the poor; he is obliged to do so, at least by the law of charity. It matters little whether we are condemned to hell through want of justice or of charity.


I shall be presenting this work at length, but in chapter-length installments each Sunday. If you simply can't wait for the next chapter, or want to read it all at once, you can find the full text here:

Live well.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bellarmine on Fasting (8)

St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (+1621), Jesuit, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church, wrote Ars bene moriendi, the Art of Dying Well, in 1619AD. Today I continue my presentation of this work, as I plan each Sunday, which now brings us to Chapter 8, On Fasting.  Certainly the practice of fasting is one so essential to the good life and to spiritual health, but is all too rare in our time.  Listen to St. Robert!

St. Robert Bellarmine (+1621AD)



ACCORDING to the order given by the angel, we will now briefly speak on fasting. Omitting many of the theological questions, we will confine ourselves only to our subject. Our intention is to explain the Art of living well, because this will prepare us for dying well. For this Art, three things seem sufficient, of which we have spoken above on prayer; its necessity, its fruit, and the proper method.

The necessity of fasting is two-fold, derived from the divine and human law. Of the divine the prophet Joel speaks: "Be converted to me with your whole heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning." The same language does the prophet Jonas use, who testifies that the Ninivites, in order to appease the anger of God, proclaimed a fast in sackcloth; and yet, there was not then any positive law on fasting. The same may be learnt from the words of our Lord in St. Matthew: “But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee." (chap. vi. 17, 18.)

We will add the words of one or two of the fathers. St. Augustine thus speaks in his Epistle to

Casulanus: "In the gospels and epistles, and in the whole of the New Testament, I see fasting is a precept. But on certain days we are not commanded to fast; and on what particular days we must, is not defined by our Lord or the apostles."

St. Leo also says in his sermon on fasting: " Those which were figures of future things, have passed away, what they signified being accomplished. But the utility of fasting is not done away with in the New Testament; but it is piously observed, that fasting is always profitable both to the soul and body. And because the words, "Thou shalt adore the Lord thy God, and serve Him alone," &c., were given for the knowledge of Christians; so in the same scripture, the precept concerning fasting is not without an interpretation." St. Leo does not here mean to say, that Christians must fast at the same times the Jews were accustomed to do. But the precept of fasting given to the Jews, is to be observed by Christians according to the determination of the pastors of the church, as to time and manner.

What this is, all know; and therefore it is unnecessary for me to mention it. The fruit and advantages of fasting can easily be proved. And first; fasting is most useful in preparing the soul for prayer, and the contemplation of divine things, as the angel Raphael saith: "

Prayer is good with fasting." Thus Moses for forty days prepared his soul by fasting, before he presumed to speak with God: so Elias fasted forty days, that thus he might be able, as far as human nature would permit, to hold converse with God: so Daniel, by a fast of three weeks, was prepared for receiving the revelations of God: so the Church has appointed " fasts" on the vigil of great festivals, that Christians might be more fit for celebrating the divine solemnities. The holy fathers also everywhere speak of the utility of fasting. (See St. Athanasius, Lib. de Virginitate St. Basil, de Jejunio. St. Ambrose, de Elia et Jejunio. St. Bernard, in sermone de Vigilia Santi Andræ., &c.) I cannot forbear quoting the words of St. Chrysostom (Homily in Genesis): " Fasting is the support of our soul: it gives us wings to ascend on high, and to enjoy the highest contemplation.!

Another advantage of fasting is, that it tames the flesh; and such a fast must be particularly pleasing to God, because He is pleased when we crucify the flesh with its vices and concupiscences, as St. Paul teaches us in his Epistle to the Galatians; and for this reason he says himself: "But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway." (1 to Cor. ix. 27.) St. Chrysostom expounds these words of fasting; and so also do Theophylact and St. Ambrose. And of the advantages of it in this respect, St. Cyprian, St. Basil, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine, and in the office for Prime the whole Church sings, "Carnis terat superbiam potûs cibique Parcitas." (Moderation in food and drink, tames the pride of the flesh.)

Another advantage is, that we honour God by our fasts, because when we fast for His sake, we honour Him: thus the apostle Paul speaks in his Epistle to the Romans: " I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service”(chap, xii.) In the Greek, "reasonable service," is, reasonable worship: and of this worship St. Luke speaks, when mentioning the prophetess Anna: " And she was a widow until fourscore and four years; who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day." (chap. ii. 37.) The great Council of Nice in the V. Canon, calls the fast of Lent, "a clean and solemn gift, offered by the Church to God." In the same manner doth Tertullian speak in his book on the "Resurrection of the Flesh," where he calls dry, unsavoury food taken late, “sacrifices pleasing to God: " and St. Leo, in his second sermon on fasting saith, " For the sure reception of all its fruits, the sacrifice of abstinence is most worthily offered to God, the giver of them all."

A fourth advantage fasting hath, is being a satisfaction for sin. Many examples in holy Writ prove this. The Ninivites appeased God by fasting, as Jonas testifies. The Jews did the same; for by fasting with Samuel they appeased God, and gained the victory over their enemies. The wicked king Achab, by fasting and sackcloth, partly satisfied God. In the times of Judith and Esther, the Hebrews obtained mercy from God by no other sacrifice than that of fasting, weeping, and mourning. This is also the constant doctrine of the holy fathers: Tertullian says: “As we refrain from the use of food, so our fasting satisfies God." (De Jejunio) St. Cyprian: “Let us appease the anger of an offended God, by fasting and weeping, as he admonishes us. "( De Lapsis) St. Basil: "Penance, without fasting, is useless and vain; by fasting satisfy God." (De Jejunio) St. Chrysostom: "God, like an indulgent father, offers us a cure by fasting." St. Ambrose also says: "Fasting is the death of sin, the destruction of our crimes, and the remedy of our salvation." St. Jerome, in his Commentary on the third chapter of Jonas, remarks: "Fasting and sackcloth are the arms of penance, the help of sinners." St. Augustine likewise says: “No one fasts for human praise, but for the pardon of his sins." So also St. Bernard in his 66th Sermon on the Canticles: “I often fast, and my fasting is a satisfaction for sin, not a superstition for impiety."

Lastly, fasting is meritorious, and is very powerful in obtaining divine favours. Anna, the wife of Eleanor, although she was barren, deserved by fasting to have a son. So St. Jerome, in his second book against Jovinian, thus interprets these words of Scripture: "She wept and did not take food, and thus Anna by her abstinence deserved to bring forth a son." Sara, by a three days fast, was delivered from a devil, as we read in the book of Tobias. But there is a remarkable passage in the Gospel of St. Matthew on fasting: " But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face. That thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee." (chap. vi. 17, 18.)

The words "will repay thee," signify will give thee a reward; for they are opposed to these other words, "For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear to men to fast. Amen, I say to you. That they have received their reward." Wherefore, hypocrites by their fasting, receive their reward, that is, human praise: the just by fasting receive their reward also, the divine praise. Many are the testimonies of the holy Fathers on this point. When St. John was about to write his gospel, he underwent a solemn fast, that he might deserve to receive the grace of writing well, as St. Jerome tells us in his preface to his commentary on St. Matthew; and Venerable Bede is also of the same opinion. Tertullian says: “Fasting obtains of God a knowledge even of His mysteries." St. Ambrose, St. Athanasius, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Chrysostom, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine, might also be quoted on the subject.

Here then we have seen the necessity and the fruit of fasting: I will now briefly explain the manner in which we must fast, that so our fasting may be useful in enabling us to lead a good life, and by this means to die a good death. Many fast on all the days appointed by the Church, viz: the vigils, the ember-days, and Lent: and some fast of their own accord in Advent also, that they may piously prepare themselves for the nativity of our Lord; or on Friday, in memory of our Lord’s passion; or on Saturday, in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God. But whether they so fast as to derive advantages from it, may be reasonably questioned. The chief end of fasting, is the mortification of the flesh, that the spirit may be more strengthened. For this purpose, we must use only spare and unsavoury diet. And this our mother the Church points out since she commands us to take only one "full" meal in the day, and then not to eat flesh or white meats, hut only herbs or fruit. This, Tertullian expresses by two words, in his book on the "Resurrection of the Flesh," where he calls the food of those that fast, “late and dry meats." Now, those do not certainly observe this, who, on their fasting-days, eat as much in one meal, as they do on other days, at their dinner and supper together: and who, at that one meal, prepare so many dishes of different fishes and other things to please their palate, that it seems to be a dinner intended, not for weepers and fasters, but for a nuptial banquet that is to continue throughout most of the night! Those who fast thus, do not certainly derive the least fruit from their fasting.

Nor do those derive any fruit who, although they may eat more moderately, yet on fasting-days do not abstain from games, parties, quarrels, dissensions, lascivious songs, and immoderate laughter; and what is still worse, commit the same crimes as they would on ordinary days. Hear what the prophet Isaiah says of such kind of people: " Behold in the day of your fast your own will is found, and you exact of all your debtors. Behold you fast for debates and strife, and strike with the fist wickedly. Do not fast as you have done until this day, to make your cry to be heard on. high." (chap. lviii.) Thus does the Almighty blame the Jews, because on the days of their fasting, which were days of penance, they wished to do their own will and not the will of God; because they were not only not willing to forgive their debtors, (as they prayed to be forgiven by God.) but they would not even give them any time to collect their money. They also spent that time which ought to have been devoted to prayer, in profane quarrels, and even in contentions. In fine, so far were they from attending to spiritual things, as they ought to have done on the fasting-days, they added sin to sin, and impiously attacked their neighbours. These and other such sins ought those pious people to avoid, who wish their fasting to be pleasing unto God, and useful to themselves: they may then hope to live well, and die a holy death.

There now remain " almsdeeds," one of the three good works recommended to our imitation by the angel Raphael.


I shall be presenting this work at length, but in chapter-length installments each Sunday. If you simply can't wait for the next chapter, or want to read it all at once, you can find the full text here:

Live well.