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Words from the heart: Selected from …

03 July, 2011

179pp. Published by Ovada Books, St Mungo’s Retreat, 52 Parson Street, Glasgow G4 ORX www.ovada.com


Beginnings 1720
In Search of a Place 1721-1728
To Build a House 1729-1737
Index to Letters


Paul Francis Daneo was born in Ovada, Italy, on 3 January 1694, the son of Luke Daneo and Anna Maria Massari. He was the second of sixteen children (ten of them died in infancy). Paul pursued his limited studies at Cremolino and Genoa until he was about fourteen years old. His studies were discontinued probably because of his father’s financial difficulties. Though his formal education was curtailed, Paul had a sharp mind and retentive memory. Later on he manifested a profound understanding and assimilation of the mystical doctrine of the Salesian, Carmelite and Rhineland schools.

Paul speaks of a ‘conversion’ in 1713-1714 and refers to a call to deeper union with God. In 1716 he enlisted as a volunteer in the army of Venice for the crusade against the Turks. However, he learned in prayer that God had other plans for him. In 1720 he experienced the two great Marian visions of the habit and Passionist sign which gave direction to his future life. On 22 November 1720, Paul was clothed in the habit of penance by Bishop Gattinara and made a forty-day retreat at St Charles in Castellazzo. During this retreat he wrote the Rule for the future Congregation and his famous Spiritual Diary at the request of the bishop.

After the forty-day retreat Paul returned to the bishop and gave him both the Rule and the Diary. For some time thereafter Paul lived as a hermit in various churches. His first trip to Rome to seek approval of his work in September 1721 ended in disaster; he was thrown out of the Quirinal Palace. But he went immediately to the Basilica of St Mary Major where he was inspired to make a vow to promote devotion to the Passion of Jesus. From Rome Paul went to Monte Argentario, then south to Gaeta and to Troia. On 21 May 1725, Pope Benedict XIII gave him oral permission to gather companions, and in the next year from May until September 1726, Paul lived in Itri near Gaeta and then went to San Gallitano Hospital in Rome where he worked as a hospital attendant with his brother John Baptist. While there, he and John were ordained priests, on 7 June 1727. They soon left the hospital and returned definitively to Monte Argentario in Tuscany, the cradle of the Congregation.

The opening of the first Retreat took place there on 14 September 1737. The first approbation of the Rule was given by rescript by Benedict XIV on 15 May 1741. Paul’s great missionary career through central Italy continued on until 1769. On 3 May 1771, Paul founded the Passionist contemplative nuns in Tarquinia after working towards it for thirty-eight years. On 9 December 1773, Pope Clement XIV gave the Basilica of Sts John & Paul to Paul and his Congregation. Paul died there on 18 October 1775; he was eighty-one years old.

Historically speaking, Paul lived in a period of transition – a time (Paul called it ‘calamitous’) in which the Church was attacked from without by the so-called ‘Enlightenment’ and from within by Jansenism. Paul was a contemporary of Voltaire, Rousseau, the Encyclopedists of France – proponents of Rationalism. At the same time in England various forms of Deism appeared, inspired by such men as Locke, Toland and Hume. In Germany, a somewhat different trend was the movement known as the ‘Enlightenment’ with such leaders as Leibniz, Wolff and the reactionary Kant.

In countries such as Spain and Italy, these ideas seem to have done little damage. They were not widespread among the majority of the people. Irreligion made progress only in the upper classes. Italy was divided politically among six main powers: the Papal States, the Republic of Venice, the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia (Savoy), Genoa, Tuscany and the Two Sicilies.

Despite the difficulties which the Church encountered, a spirit of revival appeared around the middle of the century – particularly in Italy. There we find such extraordinary men as Leonard of Port Maurice, Alphonsus Liguori and Paul of the Cross. The story of Paul of the Cross shows that the Age of Enlightenment, Rationalism and Deism was also an Age of the Spirit, attracting many to Jesus crucified – the Wisdom and Power of God.

Let us examine the meaning of this man, Paul of the Cross, in order to appreciate the value of his letters which manifest such a rich and holy personality.

Paul of the Cross was a great spiritual guide. Through his intimate experience of Jesus crucified, he showed his age and ages to come how to interpret reality through and in the light of Christ’s Passion. The key to Paul’s spirituality is his personal faith-response to the Word of the Cross. When he was about thirty years old, Paul received the grace of mystical marriage, followed by almost fifty years of darkness and seeming abandonment by God. He lived the gospel of the Passion by surrendering himself to the charismatic desire expressed in the first-day entry of his Diary: ‘My sole desire is to be crucified with Jesus’. The whole of his spirituality is but the unfolding of this experience of filial abandonment with Jesus to the Father, and the sharing of that ideal with the People of God.

Paul embodied the values he proclaimed in a vital, creative way. He first became himself what he wanted his religious to become: ‘a living portrait of Jesus crucified’. As a charismatic founder and leader, Paul inspired men to become contemplative apostles who would proclaim the glory of the crucified Word. He inspired women to become Passionist contemplative nuns who would spend their lives pondering and mourning the Word of the Cross in their hearts as Mary did. His own sacrificial surrender to the Spirit by ‘making his own the sufferings of Jesus’ empowered him to create community in and for others.

The spirituality of the Passion emerged strongly in Paul’s missionary career. For forty years this ‘Hunter of souls’ worked as a popular preacher of missions in Central Italy. He looked upon those to whom he preached as ‘in the wounds of Christ’. Paul’s missionary apostolate is seen and understood in the biblical symbols of the ‘open wounds’ and the ‘living water which springs forth from the transpierced Heart of Christ’. He led the people to a more interior assimilation of the Passion mystery by making the meditation publicly with and for them. In order to prolong this initial awareness of the Passion, Paul encouraged the people to continue this kind of meditation at home, within the context of the family, as their morning and evening prayer.

As a spiritual director, Paul guided all types of persons to Jesus crucified – the man and woman of ordinary tasks, both married and single, the contemplative religious, diocesan clergy, his own religious. The sources of Paul’s Passion spirituality were always the Word of God and the Eucharist. For Paul, Jesus crucified is always the sure and only way to the heart of the Father. He suggests a rich variety of ways to participate in the Passion of Jesus: detachment from whatever is not God, refusal of consolations which are too sense-centred, abandonment to the Father’s Will, serenity in the midst of turmoil, joy in the Lord amid sufferings, patience in daily trials, practical love of neighbour at all times. He simply takes the ancient themes of prayer, penance, poverty and solitude and places them in the perspective of participation in the Passion. He often expresses this experience of the Cross in the language of the German mystic, John Tauler, who had a profound influence on Paul. The Rhineland approach appealed to Paul because it expressed for him more adequately the spiritual rigours of the Wisdom of the Cross and the radical implications of the law of self-emptying.

This spirituality of the Passion emerges in the present selection of letters. These letters show Paul as a man for all seasons. While he was conditioned and limited by his times and culture, still his basic insight into the Passion of Jesus as a light in which to see and judge all reality is a ‘constant’. In these letters we find a practical application of a lived experience of the Paschal mystery to the lives and problems of bishops, priests, religious, married men and women and young people.

Paul’s spiritual message in these letters is timely and relevant because it is evangelical. The gospel of the Passion is the supreme norm for Paul. His language is evangelical; he devoured God’s Word until it became part of him. His examples and symbols are so often biblical ones. His message is also ecclesial. Paul is first and foremost a son of the Church — a living and true sign of what the gospel of the Passion seeks to produce in the hearts of men and women — love for Jesus and his Church. By his example Paul showed clearly that genuine religious life is at the very heart of the mystery of the Church. Moreover, his message is penetrated with the interior fire of the Spirit. His great emphasis on the interior life for all Christians is one of the signs of this dimension of his spirituality. There is a constant transition from the exterior to the interior in Paul’s personal life as well as in his missionary activity. For Paul, the Holy Spirit is the Spiritual Director, and he is most insistent on this point when directing others. Paul’s message is also apostolic in the basic sense of that word. Like the apostolate of the Church, Paul’s apostolate is rooted in the divine missions of the Word and the Spirit. He leads souls to listen attentively to the Word and to follow the guidance of the Spirit. In his correspondence Paul indicates that a holy life is the first apostolate — an apostolate of presence and witness. Finally his message is always a paschal one, but with a Passion emphasis. The glory of the risen Christ belongs only to those who have shared in the pain and anguish and solitude of his Passion.

This spiritual doctrine of Paul is relevant because of his constant concern for the essential. His spirituality deals with the radical realities of life — God, the Passion of Jesus, the Church, the human response to and communion with God and others. His doctrine speaks to the modern world because of his realistic approach to suffering. The emphasis in Paul is always on God, on others and not on self. He does not indulge a morbid preoccupation with his own sufferings, great and real as they are.

His doctrine has special significance today when the theology of the Cross is once again the subject of serious theological reflection.

Paul wrote thousands of letters of which most have been lost or destroyed. Fortunately we have about two thousand of them.

The most complete edition of the letters is that of Father Amedeo Bella Madre del Buon Pastore CP — Lettere di S. Paolo Bella Croce, Fondatore dei Passionisti, 4 vols (Rome, 1924). These four volumes contain 1884 letters. Other letters were discovered after 1924 and eighty-five of them were published in the Bollettino of the Passionist Congregation from 1926 to 1928. [Publisher’s note: these and more than a hundred other letters remained unedited, until a fifth volume of Lettere di S. Paolo della Croce was produced by Father Cristoforo Chiari, CP in 1977. In recent years, the first two volumes of a three volume revised edition of Paul’s letters have been published in Italian: volume 1 appeared in 1998 and volume 2 in 2002.]

In this English edition, we have selected a series of letters from 1720 to 1737. This selection was made because these particular letters are important source material for the beginnings of the Congregation and for Paul’s thinking at this early period of his life. These letters are presented in three sections:

I. Beginnings 1720. The first letter is the Preface to the Rule, written as a letter to Bishop Gattinara describing Paul’s call to seek solitude and to found a Congregation. This is followed by the Spiritual Diary which contains a day-by-day description of his interior lights and struggles during the forty-day retreat. All the core elements of his spirituality are found in this Diary which Father Zoffoli rightfully considers the most authoritative document of the spirituality of St Paul of the Cross.

II. In Search of a Place 1721-1728. The second series of letters shows Paul in search of a place to settle and found his Congregation. Among the correspondents in this section are: Bishop Gattinara; an Augustinian nun, Sister Teresa Constanza Pontas, to whom Paul addresses his first letter of spiritual direction; Marchesa Marianna del Pozzo, a well-to-do landowner, who asked Paul to preach a mission to her workers; his brother, John Baptist, who was co-founder of the Congregation; his brothers and sisters, to whom he writes a farewell letter applying the spirituality of the Passion to the family scene; Nicolina Martinez, a married woman whom Paul met in Gaeta; Father Tuccinardi, a priest of Gaeta who was Paul’s confessor and director at one time; and his mother.

III. To Build a House 1729-1737. The third series of letters is written during the time in which Paul is building a retreat and church for his new community. At this time he writes to: Cardinal Alfieri; the bishop of Alessandria; Francis Appiani, who will later become a Passionist; Sister Mary Cherubina Bresciana; Agnes Grazi; his mother and family; Thomas Fossi, a married man who will become a Passionist after the death of his wife; and Gregory Gualas y Puego.

Paul wrote many of these letters in great haste; he often says so explicitly. Frequently he was sick when he wrote them, as he attests in several instances. But what comes through is the depth of spiritual doctrine and the sureness of the spiritual guide. With his acute ‘feel’ for the essential, Paul chose as his first book the Bible, his ‘book of lights’. God’s Word — at times imperceptibly — is woven throughout his letters and gives them their strength and perennial relevance.

A man of strong thoughts and self-taught in so many ways, Paul’s style is clear, spontaneous, vivacious. He moves with ease in the technical language of the spiritual classics but with equal ease adapts the doctrine and language to the needs of each.

The translator has endeavoured to imitate Paul’s free, forceful and candid style.

Some brief notes have been added to the letters to provide a clearer understanding of the text.

Despite the variety of types of persons to whom he addressed himself and the differences of questions treated, there is a unified thrust, a core reality of reference in Paul’s correspondence. Perhaps it is best described again in terms of Paul’s charism as he expressed it in his Diary: ‘My sole desire is to be crucified with Jesus’. He desires the same grace for others and leads them to con-crucifixion with Jesus so that they may experience all reality in the light of Christ’s Passion.


The life of St Paul of the Cross – mystic, missionary and founder – has its beginnings in his family circle and native places. Into this very human setting for a young man of eighteenth-century Italy, there breaks the compelling call of the Spirit of God.

Paul heard this call as he listened to a sermon by his parish priest. This marked his ‘conversion’. Several years of ever-deepening graces followed until, clothed in the habit of the Passion, he made a forty-day spiritual retreat. It was during this retreat that he wrote the Rule.

Fortunately the Preface to the Rule and the Spiritual Diary preserve Paul’s own account of the ‘beginnings’ of his spiritual adventures. Part One contains a translation with notes to these two important documents.

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