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A historical-charismatic survey

Acts of the International Seminar
on "Jesus, the Master"
(Ariccia, October 14-24, 1996)

by Eliseo Sgarbossa ssp


4. The magisterium of the priest and of woman

In one of his "various works" of 1913, Fr. Alberione defined the priest as "master of faith, master of worship, master of adoration" (Q LV, 115). He himself brought to reality such a definition in its fullest sense: through preaching, by example of life, through his writings. Two of his books started in 1911 and published between 1913 and 1915 deserve to be remembered: Appunti di Teologia Pastorale (Notes in Pastoral Theology) and La Donna associata allo zelo sacerdotale (The woman associated with priestly zeal) (cf. AD 77, 83, 109).(72) We shall pause only on those passages that contain references on Jesus Master.

We have to note that these books were drawn from life, not on a desk. The Appunti di Teologia Pastorale(73) were fruit of his researches and lessons given to the clerics at the Seminary. In the method and in contents the book already connotes that proposal of "tridimensional" completeness which was bringing about in the author a growing understanding of the "integral Christ": Truth, Life and Way. The same archbishop of Turin, Cardinal Richelmy, praised its "solid doctrine"..., its "practical sense", its "lively love of virtues..." (cf. ATP vii-x and 2-6). La donna associata aimed at extending the discourse to priests in order to convince them to decisively assume in pastoral practice the collaboration of women.(74)

In the first book we find only one reference, hardly significant, to Jesus Christ, "our supreme Master."(75) But more important is the testimony of the author referring to one of his experiences: while preparing the Appunti and speaking of it with the clerics, he "felt even more alive [the mandate]: "Go, preach, teach..." (cf. AD 82).(76)

In the Donna associata references to Jesus Master are more frequent and articulated. Even in the preface the author declared: "I entrust this book to Jesus Master and Model of priests; to Mary most holy, the loftiest ideal of the mission of woman and counselor of apostolic zeal" (cf. DA 11). Later in the book, he affirmed that Jesus "the Divine Master wanted to administer to us first by example than with words" (cf. DA 84),(77) and he explicitly affirmed at the end that "Jesus Christ is our only true Master" (cf. DA 125).

It is the first time, in our opinion, that such a formula takes place in the writings and in the known documents by Fr. Alberione. This is of great importance since it dates back to the time prior to the foundations,(78) and it is not the only one as we shall see soon. The book nonetheless refers to a wider consideration on the specific magisterium of woman as mother-educator and, even more, as disciple of Jesus like the women described in the Gospels and as Mary, the Mother of the Lord, counselor of the apostles.(79) - (summary)

5. "Our only true Master"

This affirmation, made apparently casually within the topic of woman’s commitment in the family,(80) acquires its full value if located in the immediate context, that is, within the context of a "symbol of faith" that the mother-educator must propose to children in the initial family catechesis. The phrase, "Jesus Christ, our only true Master," is proposed as a summary article of faith of the whole of elementary Christology.(81) Such a declaration, however, appears more relevant in the expanded context of the third chapter on the involvement of woman in society. In a series of "prayers for the organization" the themes, the instruments and the specific field of ongoing struggle against false masters – the enemies of the Catholic faith – and the "true Master" are remembered.(82) In these prayers Jesus is asked not only to intervene in defense of the people thirsty and hungry of truth and of holiness, but also to raise men and women "of lively faith and of solid virtue" so they may work in the Christian formation of society by opposing press with press, organization with organization (cf. DA 159-162).

We know that in that same period (1913-1914) Fr. Alberione was engaged in the dual activity of teaching in the seminary and of animating the socio-pastoral work of the diocese. From both sources, he drew experience and stimuli for the deepening of his vision of the Divine Master.(83) One or the other involvement introduced him to the heart of a dramatic reality where ideological clash was accompanied by a political and military clash of global dimension which peaked in July 1914 with the outbreak of World War I. In that juncture, aggravated by the death of Pope Pius X (20 August 1914), one can understand why the thought of Fr. Alberione would evoke that scene of struggle between light and darkness which we have seen emerge every time he remembers his "discovery" of the Master and the following Pauline mission (cf. AD 48-54). It is as well significant that the themes evoked in the prayers suggested then to the clergy and the woman should appear in the first Pauline manual of prayers.(84) In this manner we are introduced to the foundation phase. (summary)

6. Giaccardo: the "Signor Maestro"

Except for the humble but significant voice of Maggiorino Vigolungo,(85) cleric Giuseppe Giaccardo was the almost unique witness of the years 1915-1920. From his diary we learn that in the seminary the interest for the good press was alive and that the conference heard about this topic "drove all fog" away from his spirit thus convincing him to embrace the work of Fr. Alberione: he, in fact, perceived in the words of the speaker the echo of the words of Jesus: "Go, teach all nations."(86) Until 1917, Giaccardo always invoked Jesus with the titles, Priest, Missionary of God, Formator of Apostles, Eucharistic Victim, Sacred Heart... The title "Master" does not yet appear in his writings although the threefold dimension of Jesus Way Truth and Life already conquered his mind, his will and his heart.(87)

On 4 July 1917 Giuseppe Giaccardo, 20 years old, moved from the seminary to the Pauline community, and Fr. Alberione introduced him to the young students as their "Master." Let us listen to how in his own words he narrates it: "On the evening of my entrance, after the prayers, the Signor Teologo introduced me to the boys and he gave me the name master and he invited me to say a few words: I did not want to speak because I was unprepared." So he wrote a year later in 1918. However, he added: "If I should enter today... I’d say, Master [so I have been called]: I obey: however, we have only one Master: Jesus, who speaks to us and raises us through the Signor Teologo," and further ahead: "You call me master, but in truth I am a disciple: I am the least..." (cf. Diary, 72-73).(88)

Cleric Giaccardo was then aware that that title could only refer to the role of "teacher," but he took it with that Christological value which was in the mind of Fr. Alberione. And as such he exercised it, thus becoming the most faithful interpreter of the teachings of Fr. Alberione on Jesus Master. We in fact have a point to hold that the happiest formulations on the matter, contained in the texts of the prayers as well as in the articles and in the reports of the bulletin Cooperatori Buona Stampa came from his mind and his pen. Such role of interpreter and spokesman carried out by Fr. Giaccardo for the Founder is an example of that "unanimity" or consonance of apostolic and prophetic spirits which complete each other and grow together. The disciple interprets the master in the same manner that this translates the Divine Master. Giaccardo gave expression to Fr. Alberione and this helped him grow.

When Timoteo Giaccardo died in holiness on 24 January 1948, the Founder said of him: "Fr. Timoteo... represented the Lord well, he was Alter Christus, the Master; Master in piety and in the apostolate..." And seven years later, motivating the introduction of his cause of beatification, Fr. Alberione explained: "It was decided that [Fr. Giaccardo] should be designated with the name of Master [because] he aimed at this: that everyone given the name Master to priests remembered the Divine Master, with two fruits: that every priest... be more easily considered a copy of Jesus Master and that he really functioned for Him, "alter Magister," and [because he] should be, for his people and for the apostolate, the "Way, Truth and Life"... To exalt Maestro Giaccardo is to remember the Pauline spirituality, the Divine Master and the fundamental articles of the Constitutions."(89)

No one would miss the paradigmatic importance of this figure of Master proposed by the Founder himself as an adequate image of Christ Master and as guarantor of the right interpretation of the Pauline priesthood in its dual relations with Christ and with the brothers. (summary)

7. Fr. Alberione: the "Primo Maestro"

Even from the Seminary, as we have already said, Fr. Alberione held and taught that the priest is "master" to his faithful. That he attributed it to himself in the consecrated sense eventually does not appear in any document if not after 1920. In the terminology current that time among the Paulines, the Founder was simply "Il Signor Teologo". The title "Primo Maestro" would officially appear in two documents of 23 November 1921 and 16 November 1922 respectively submitted to the bishop for canonical approval.(90) The same title appears in a document of 3 May 1927, addressed to the Bishop of Alba, Cardinal Laurenzi.(91)

So in 1921 reference is made to the title of "Maestro Generale" and in 1922 the term "Primo Maestro" is explicitly used. Furthermore, it is interesting to note the terminology used to refer to professed members of both branches destined to work in the editorial offices: "maestri" and "maestre". (92)

Regarding such a choice, we think Fr. Alberione’s special sympathy towards the "magisterial" tradition incarnated by the Friar Preachers and felt by him as akin to his vocation and mission must have had some bearing. His discovery of St. Thomas Aquinas in 1904 was(93) as we have seen, important. More important was his effectively belonging to the Dominican Third Order and his office as organizer exercised upon assignment of the bishop.(94) The decision to assume also such a terminology could probably be due to his frequent contact with the Dominicans beginning from that one related to the office of Supreme Moderator who, as is known, is called "Maestro Generale."

Such a title then was in line with the thought of Fr. Alberione. But the historian Fr. Giuseppe Barbero attributes the initiative immediately to Abbot Mauro Serafini, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of Religious from 1918 to 1925.(95)

It is not easy to specify when exactly the use of the title "Primo Maestro" became a current usage among Paulines. Fr. G. Barbero reports that it started on 28 July 1929.(96) But in the internal correspondence to Paulines, the Founder already affixed his signature as "M(maestro) Alberione" since March 1926.(97)

This title comes in letters, circulars and articles, signed till the forty’s, often preceded from the formula of communion: "In Jesus Christ Divine Master."(98)

To Sr. Teresa Tecla Merlo, Superior General of the Daughters of St. Paul, the title "Prima Maestra" was officially conferred in 1929, with the diocesan decree of approval to the Institute. Such a title, homologous to that of the Founder, further clarified the magisterial vestige referred to a year earlier: "They are called Maestro, in honor of the Divine Master who spent his life teaching by example and by word" (cf. UCBS 15 February 1928, 32).

This declaration, if it explained the role of the Daughters of St. Paul as well as of the Pauline brothers, it defined above all the figure and the role of the "Primo Maestro," and he was fully aware of it. (summary)

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