The Introduction with which this book opens is intended to facilitate the approach to DF placing it in close relationship with the life, the thought of Fr. Alberione, and with the development of the evolving Pauline Family.
This Presentation is now intended to synthetically outline the general structure of DF, and to offer some considerations on the content of each of its parts.
1. Structure of the Donec formetur Christus in vobis
Both in the manuscript and the printed edition Fr. Alberione makes use of the terms part or period to indicate the structure of the DF, but always related to the three ways: of Purification, of Illumination, of Union.
In fact, anticipating the content of the Way of Purification, he affirms: In the first part, I shall consider... [DFst 15). At the end of this part, instead, he writes: Conclusion of the first period, which is the meditation on the Theology of the Heavenly Father (DFst 36). To indicate the fruit of the Way of Illumination, he asserts: This period must bring to us Jesus Christ (DFst 37). Then, He concludes the same Way of Illumination by presenting the Doctrine of St. Paul, with the subtitle Conclusion of the II Part (DFst 63). In the general Conclusion, finally, both the Way of Purification and the Way of Illumination are designated as parts (DFst 99).
The Contents of the DF bears, all in capital letters, the following titles: Preamble, Way of Purification, Way of Illumination, Way of Union, Means of Grace, Press Apostolate, Useful Notions.
Thus the question arises: what is the work's structure, or, how many parts make up the DF?
In reply, the analysis of the three points of the Conclusions (DFst 99-100), with which Fr. Alberione summarizes the course presented in the work, is decisive.
Although in the third point of these Conclusions the word part is not explicitly found, if the implicit references to the whole book were kept present, it clearly emerges that the parts of the DF are three: Theology of the Father-Way of Purification;
Theology of the Son-Way of Illumination and Theology of the Spirit-Way of Union.
If the passage from the first to the second part does not require special clarifications, the second and the third and the articulation between them appear more complex.
It is affirmed that the second part has as its purpose the vivit vero in me Christus (Christ lives in me) (Gal 2:20) and its fruit also is indicated: Fruit of the second part choices: vocation; or manner of following it up; or a particular point (DFst 99). This same thought is expressed in the Preamble: For the future: to conclude: with conscious and efficacious renewal of the baptismal vows; or with the choice of state of life; or with the special manner of our salvation and sanctification (DFst 10).
Only a profound knowledge of the itinerary of the Ignatian Exercises allows the interpretation of this theme of choices as fruit of the Way of Illumination,1 inasmuch as at the base of the three ways of the DF is found the dynamics of the four Weeks of the Exercises: Way of Purification - 1st Week; Way of Illumination - 2nd Week and 3rd Week; Way of Union - 4th Week.2
For Fr. Alberione, to set up the spiritual work following the mystical method proposed by Krieg (cf. DFin 50), or according to the Ways of Purification, Illumination and Union, has, for its purpose, to bind closely together the speculative element, the vital one and the practical dimension.
To present the structure of DF, then, it is necessary to consider that the three parts of this work are not juxtaposed, but are the expression of that labor of synthesis and unification so dear to Fr. Alberione to the point of making him think of an encyclopedia project on the Divine Master inspired after the exemplarism of Ernest Dubois.3
Let us note, in fact, that aside from the dynamics of the four Weeks of the Exercises, Fr. Alberione has elaborated his thought by setting it up also according to that tertiary and circular process, proper to the divine exemplarism, according to which the first part is considered as the beginning, or the foundation
or efficient cause; the second as the means or exemplary cause; and the third as the conclusion or final cause.
If the three ways are seen as unified by a dynamic process, some of the affirmations of the DF may be reconsidered in order to make a further step in the interpretation of its structure.
At the end of the Preamble, Fr. Alberione affirms: Thus shall be formed the righteous man (Purification), Jesus Christ shall change him to Christian (Illumination) in order to become Priest, Religious, Saint through the work of the Holy Spirit (Union) (DFst 16).
This thought is further developed and clarified in this last passage: Thereby, the three degrees of humility: a) the first depends on the fact that everything was received from God in the natural order (Theology of the Father); b) the second on the fact that we are, rather, sinners and every human suffering is inadequate to make amends for the least sin, required was the blood of Jesus Christ, of infinite value (Theology of the Son); c) since a new, priestly, religious life ought to be created, there is a continuing need of the Holy Spirit (Theology of the Holy Spirit) (DFst 28).
From these passages, it appears that if the election of the state of life is an experience located within the Way of Illumination, its realization in the new, priestly, religious, Christian life takes place as an expression of the Way of Union.
In this manner, one notices the close relationship between the Way of Illumination and the Way of Union, so that more than as stages clearly defined, one after the other, they are to be considered as concomitant dimensions of a process, for certain aspects, indispensable.
This link between the Way of Illumination and the Way of Union is clearly expressed in the content of the DF, inasmuch as the beginning of the considerations regard the Theology of the Holy Spirit, or of grace, is found in the chapters dedicated to the meditation on Jesus Way (DFst 55ff). And we can find the basis of this transposition in the affirmations on the works that are attributed to the Holy Spirit: a) The Son has proposed his divine truths: the Holy Spirit keeps them, makes them understood and used. b) The Son has obtained the grace, by purchasing it back: the Holy Spirit applies it to us in sanctification, by communicating it to each (DFst 68).
To these affirmations, it is also good to add what is said regarding actual grace: Actual grace adiuvat (helps) to accomplish those acts above nature: of true penance, of faith, hope, charity, of Christian life in the precepts above the natural law (DFst 61).
From what we have considered till now, one could see the motive for which, in DF, the theological virtues and the states of life are dealt with in the Way of Union. But before drawing the entire structure of DF, we still need to analyze the placement of the chapters regarding the Church, the Sacraments and the Press Apostolate.
To clarify these points, aside from the dynamics of the Weeks of the Ignatian Exercises and of the tertiary process inspired after exemplarism, we have to take into consideration also the development of the History of Salvation constant in the theological vision of Fr. Alberione: God wants to be glorified as Bonus (Good), especially: and yet what he did is the divine diffusion of good in order to show him: a) in the creation of things invisible, of things material, of man; b) in the elevation to the supernatural order, in bearing with man, in promising to prepare the Savior's times; c) in the incarnation, life, death of the Savior: with doctrine, examples, reparation, Church, Sacraments; d) with the effusion of the Holy Spirit in general in the world, the Church; in particular in every soul (DFst 61-62).
In this description of the economy of salvation, which includes creation, the elevation to the supernatural order, incarnation, redemption, sanctification, we can underline how the Church and the Sacraments have been instituted by Christ and confer graces to the effusions of the Holy Spirit, according to the most efficacious affirmation regarding the Sacraments: They are born of Calvary, they work through the Holy Spirit (DFst 73).
The reason with which the Church and the Sacraments fall into the Theology of the Holy Spirit or the Way of Union appears clear then.
The third point of the Conclusions allows us, finally, to identify the place wherein the text on the Press Apostolate is inserted: In three ways one walks with Jesus Christ: in the way of the commandments: Christian life; in the way of the
evangelical counsels: religious life; in the way of zeal, life of apostolate... Hence our study is double: that Jesus Christ be formed in us. Cooperation with special resolutions and prayer with the abundance of practices (DFst 100).
The text takes up again and completes the considerations on the states of life with the purpose of indicating the features of the Pauline life always within the sphere of the Theology of the Holy Spirit or the Way of Union.
A point of crucial importance is to clarify the meaning of the affirmation: Hence our study is double: that Jesus Christ be formed in us. This text is not referred to the statement that follows after: Cooperation with special resolutions and prayer with the abundance of practices. Instead, it refers to the three ways with which one walks with Jesus Christ: Christian life, religious life, life of apostolate. It is for this that Fr. Alberione, after the part Means of grace, including the way of the commandments and of the evangelical counsels, introduces the way of zeal, through the part dedicated to the Press Apostolate.
Finally, let it be noted that in the itinerary drawn in the DF everything converges towards the Way of Union: Everything is accomplished in the Holy Spirit: just as how the life of Jesus Christ is, thus the life of the Church, that is, the supernatural life of souls is communicated, developed, perfected, consummated in the Holy Sprit (DFst 100).
Aside from the considerations made till now, in order to draw some conclusions regarding the structure of DF, it is still necessary to distinguish between the structure of the work, structure of the text, and the structure of the spiritual journey.
By the structure of the work, we mean the division into parts and chapters. We can say that the DF is composed of five parts: Way of Purification, Way of Illumination, Way of Union, Means of Grace, Press Apostolate. To these parts are to be added the Preamble and the Useful Notions. Every part, also the Preamble and the Useful Notions are subdivided in turn into short chapters.
By the structure of the text, we mean the division of the chapters into paragraphs (generally numbered one to three) and in paragraphs.
As regards the structure and the dynamics of the spiritual journey of the DF, it is clearly composed of three stages: Way of Purification, Way of Illumination and Way of Union, that have to be considered as the source, the means and the end of the spiritual journey presented therein.
The Way of Union, however, in its turn shows three further articulation that represents its foundation, the means and the end. Fr. Alberione, in fact, has preferred to include in a first block short references to the Theology of the Holy Spirit regarding the Church, and the theological virtues. The second and third blocks mirror the demands of the dual study referred to earlier. Thus, in the second block, from the title Means of Grace, he has reunited the theme regarding Christian life and religious life. The third block presents the way that was particularly close to the Founder's heart, that is, the way of zeal or, for the Pauline men and women, the Press Apostolate.
Based on all the considerations made, we can now affirm that the election, fruit of the second part, assumes its true feature in the third part, or stage, as sanctity of life (evangelical counsels) and as apostolic mission (Press Apostolate). One can also affirm that the spiritual journey (Way of Purification, of Illumination, of Union) constitutes the fountain or the foundation; the religious life, the application; and the apostolic mission, (press apostolate), the fruit of the Pauline formation.
2. Contents of the Donec formetur Christus in vobis
The clarifications on the structure of DF, on the levels of work, text and dynamics of the spiritual journey, allow us to be more aware in entering into the content of the individual parts of the work.
The analysis of the first page of the Quaderno manoscritto (Manuscript notebook) of DF (= DFms) allows us to notice a belabored draft of the start of the Preamble as well as to see that the references to the novitiate are additions made in the last stage of drafting. From the Introduction, however, we know that Fr. Alberione considered the itinerary of the Exercises
as the point of reference either for yearly cycles of daily meditations as well as for the period of novitiate.
The Preamble of the DFst has, in some ways, a function similar to that of the Annotations of the booklet of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and, bearing in mind the coordinates of Pauline life, it draws the framework wherein one can undertake the journey of the Exercises: the initial quotations, in Latin, open as if as gates, the Trinitarian sphere wherein the person doing the exercises is invited to union with the withdrawn life of Jesus Christ, gathered in the cenacle of the Holy Spirit, with Mary, Queen of the Apostles, admitted to the experience of St. Paul in the desert. He is called to correspond, as a disciple of Christ, Way, Truth and Life, to the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit, or, it is grace (On one hand... grace) that seeks a reply (On the other... cooperation) in an all-embracing cooperation through exercises performed in detail even to the point of holy excesses, until the accomplishment of conformation with Christ, that is, until Christ is formed in us.
Five barrier reefs are presented. While these mark the possible obstacles, they put in focus the true dispositions for making the Exercises.
Then three frames of reference for the experience of the Spiritual exercises are presented. The point of departure is the need to discover one's own vocation or to constantly renew the choice of one's state of life (Need). The style to be kept is that of Jesus of Nazareth (The School of Nazareth) and, in his School, the person doing the exercise lives the three stages of the journey. The finishing line is the realization of God's project (The Key of Life) that grafts in time the life that shall cross the threshold of eternity.
b) Way of Purification
It is absolutely necessary that we consider that the global theological vision of the whole of DF, and in a special way of the three ways, is expressed systematically in the Lezioni di Teologia (Lessons in Theology) by Francesco Chiesa4 that
consider creation as work referred by attribution to God the Father; redemption, as work attributed to the Son; sanctification as work attributed to the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Alberione presents the Way of Purification in 18 chapters, plus a conclusion.
The first chapter presents a meditation on being human before God: Who is God?... Who am I?. Two meditations on God the Father as Creator and Provider follow. After these meditations, the exerciser is invited to conduct a review of his adherence to God and to his will.
Starting from the fifth meditation, the exerciser considers the creation of man and of all things and he is called to place himself in perfect attunement with God's project in the use of all the goods received by him,5 in view of time and of eternity. After a long series of exercises, he arrives at the transforming moment of reconciliation. A meditation follows, summarizing the journey drawn by the Father who has sent his Son as Master and concludes with the prospect of continuing the journey towards holiness that consists in incarnating God in us.
c) Way of Illumination
The DFst presents the Way of Illumination in 26 chapters, generally homogeneous although some are longer than the others and have a special structure, thanks to the recourse to asterisks for separating paragraphs.
In the first chapter, the exerciser finds himself before Christ and, in order to answer to the question, Am I saved? he recurs to the Gospel parables. We have here a clear similarity with the Ignatian journey which, in the second week, proposes the parable of the Kingdom. Rather, this similarity is extended to the whole of this part or period inasmuch as the DFst presents the meditation of the mysteries of the life of Christ, Way, Truth and Life, starting from the Incarnation.
Particularly significant is the prayer To the Divine Master, inspired after the Pauline I thrust forward, or, after the
ceaseless search for a continuing growth. This prayer can be considered as corresponding to the prayer of offering of the second week of the Exercises of St. Ignatius, inspired after the Ignatian dynamic principle of ever more and ever greater (magis or ad maiorem).6
The development of the Way of Illumination follows the itinerary indicated in the opening, after the title of the prayer Master, your life draws the way for me, your doctrine confirms and sheds light to my steps; your grace sustains and supports me in the journey to heaven (DFst 39).
In fact, the chapters concerning Jesus Way propose the contemplation of the mysteries of the life of Christ (your life draws the way for me): birth, private life, entrance to the public life. Christ is considered as Way to the young and model for discerning and accomplishing God's will.
The chapters dedicated to the contemplation of Jesus Truth (your doctrine confirms and sheds light to my steps) present Him as the Master and propose the adherence to Him through the growth in Sacred Science, the study of the Sacred Scripture and attachment to Tradition.
Finally, the chapters dedicated to Jesus Life, after the contemplation of the kingly way of the Holy Cross, presents Jesus as the communicator of the Spirit and of Grace (your grace sustains and supports me in the journey to heaven), through the paschal mystery, the mystery of death and resurrection and of Pentecost. Special attention is put on the commitment to correspond to grace through prayer and to let one's mind, heart and will be transformed by work of the medicinal grace. The stage concludes with a summary look at the history of salvation, understood as the Diffusion of the divine Goodness, and with a synthesis of the spiritual journey under the light of St. Paul's teachings.
d) Way of Union
In the examination of the structure of the DFst it has been noted that the Way of Union, from the point of view of the dynamics of the spiritual journey, includes also the parts regarding the Means of Grace and the Press Apostolate.
On the level of the work's structure, the part that bears the title of Way of Union includes, as it has been pointed out, some references to the theology of the Holy Spirit, the meditations on the Church, and on the theological virtues.
From the point of view of the experience of the Exercises, it is good to emphasize that these meditations are destined to characterize life in the Spirit as gift and strong commitment to communion and participation, expressions of the sentire cum Ecclesia. This stretch of the journey can be summarized as life in Christ and in the Church: in Christ, Truth, Way, Life, and in the Church, that is Truth, Way, Life. Thereby the adherence to the Church requires: a) faith in her doctrines; b) obedience to her laws; c) love for what she loves and what matters to her (DFst 68).
e) Means of Grace
The content of this part reflects the evident centrality of the Eucharist, understood as Mass, Communion and Visit. The exerciser is brought to live the sacramental life and the life of prayer, by nourishing himself with Christ Truth, Way, Life. And Christian life formed by this new resolution, or Way-truth-life method can mark with its imprint every state in life, especially the Pauline life, called to be for the world, through the evangelical counsels and the Press Apostolate, a manifestation of Christ Master Way, Truth and Life.
f) Press Apostolate
It is necessary to consider the content of this part, on the Press Apostolate, under the light of the Introduction of this edition, and from the point of view of the articles published contemporaneously with the DFst, in the periodicals of the Casa and eventually collected in the book Apostolato Stampa.7
The analysis of the aforementioned book allows one to see
clearly the relationship of this fifth part with the other parts of the DFst, and also to integrate its content, especially as regards the aspects of Christ Way, Truth and Life and the Pauline religious consecration that characterize to thirst for souls with St. Paul8
and for his attachment to Mary, Mother, Teacher and Queen of the Press Apostolate.
g) Useful Notions
Starting with the Theological Virtues
these Useful Notions
deal with life in the Spirit and with the Norms for the Spiritual Exercises and for the Novitiate.
Fr. Alberione's considerations on life in the Spirit follow a precise and well structured vision of the action of grace. Charity, spread in the hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit, forms three diffusions: brings light with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, warms with the seven gifts of the twelve fruits of the Spirit and transforms with the eight beatitudes.9
The norms for the spiritual Exercises, indicated as valid also for the Novitiate, show the Alberione vision of the Spiritual Exercises, and they let us understand that in his interpretation, such Exercises, so that they may bring about immense abundance of grace and light (DFst 106), are to be guided preferably in a personalized form.
ANTONIO F. DA SILVA
1 Cf. A. F. DA SILVA, Il cammino degli Esercizi Spirituali nel pensiero di Don Giacomo Alberione, Centro di Spiritualità Paolina, Casa Divin Maestro, Ariccia, 1981, pp. 54-63; A. F. DA SILVA, Cristo Via, Verità e Vita centro della vita, dell'opera e del pensiero di don G. Alberione, in AA.VV., L'eredità cristocentrica di don Alberione, Edizioni Paoline, Cinisello Balsamo (Milano) 1989, pp. 263-271; P. SCHIAVONE, Gesù Maestro Via, Verità, Vita e gli Esercizi Ignaziani, in Ibid. , pp. 340-381.
2 Fr. Alberione begins his ministry as Spiritual Director of the Alba Seminary by dealing with the subject matter in his meditations. During the first meditation to the Seminarians, he already affirms: “We shall do the Spiritual Exercises at large - the way of purification (to hate sin) - way of illumination (virtues in J. C.) - way of union (the rewards)” (G. ALBERIONE, LV02, 27 October 1908, p. 1). In the following day, he concludes the theme of meditation by presenting the dynamics of the four Weeks of the Exercises making use of the expressions of the traditional formula: “Deformata reformare - reformata conformare - conformata confirmare - confirmata transformare” (G. ALBERIONE, LV02, 28 October 1908, p. 1).
3 It is good to recall that the final draft of the DF took place at the same time with the publication of the Lezioni di Teologia by Francesco Chiesa. Such Lezioni are inspired in a special way after the divine exemplarism of Ernest Dubois, a fundamental point of reference for understanding the Trinitarian horizon of the entire teaching of Fr. Alberione.
For example, read what Dubois writes to explain his concept of encyclopedia: “Furthermore, inasmuch as the first efficient, exemplary and final Cause is the beginning, the means and the end of all its effect, it is necessary that these effects start from it, go ahead according to or about it, and go back to it, and let them be led to the end in a circular manner. In fact, every movement that goes back to its beginning without going back to it in a straight line, but uniformly goes ahead around the same means, or center, is a circular motion, that advances inasmuch as it goes back or approaches its beginning, and ends when the circle closes by reaching the same beginning.
“Now, the Divine Trinity is the first Principle, Means and exemplary Cause and final End of the progressive motion of all created things, that are brought to end by imitating in various modes its only Form and by approaching more or less its similarity, and they find beatitude in its own true perfection.
“Hence the doctrine that teaches this divine movement of things is necessarily encyclopedic, inasmuch as it is arranged in the manner of beginning, means and end by God according to or around God, and towards God. This is the genuine Encyclopedia (en kuklo paideia), or the study in circle, that can be more exactly illustrated with geometric circles, as we have shown in the Appendix of Book II, where we have dealt with the triune order of perfection of all things.
“Hence, the pseudo-philosophers of the XVIII century have erroneously honored with the term Encyclopedia the material and unformed volume of all that can be known that they have gathered without any other order than the succession of the letters of the alphabet, and without any relationship with the exemplar and central Perfection of the divine Form, according to which all things have been formed, and those deformed are reformed and transformed” (E. DUBOIS, De Exemplarismo divino, seu doctrina de trino Ordine esemplari et de trino rerum omnium ordine exemplato, in-4°, Cuggiani, t. I, 1899, p. XI).
4 Cf. Testimonianza di Mons. Natale Bussi, in AA.VV., L'eredità cristocentrica di don Alberione, op. cit., pp. 397-410.
5 Cf. DFst 23. It concerns the decision to offer to God one's self, inspired after the Principle and foundation of the Ignatian Exercises, interpreted the Pauline manner.
6 “Eternal Lord of all things, to you I make my offering, with your favor and help, before your infinite goodness, and before your glorious Mother and all the saints of the heavenly court: I want and I desire and it is my firm resolve, in greater service and praise to you, to imitate you in bearing all the injustices and every humiliation and every sort of poverty, actual or spiritual, whatever your most holy majesty wants to choose for me and to receive me for such a state of life” (IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, Spiritual Exercises, no. 98).
7 G. ALBERIONE, Apostolato Stampa, Pia Società San Paolo, Alba, 1933.
8 G. ALBERIONE, Apostolato Stampa, op. cit., pp. 32-33.
9 “The Theological virtues of faith, of hope and of love, insofar as HABITS, are a way and a determination of sanctifying grace; and inasmuch as ACTS, they are species of the actual graces of illustration, of affection and of inspiration.
“The grace is further explicitated in the SEVEN GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, which can be considered as the seven natural virtues ennobled by grace, or supernaturalized, that is, directed to the acquisition of eternal life.
“The gifts of the Holy Spirit together with the Theological virtues produce certain marvelous effects that are called FRUITS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. They, according to the Apostle Paul are TWELVE, and they correspond to the demands of the ordering of the human soul in itself and in relation to things outside itself, or over, or under or on its sides.
“Finally the grace has a marvelous explicitation in the EIGHT EVANGELICAL BEATITUDES, that are as if acts with which the false beatitudes of the world are contended with and so that one could enjoy even in this world a certain happiness, prelude to the perfect happiness of the future life” (F. CHIESA, Introduzione all'Ascetica, Alba-Roma, 1929, pp. 163-164).