Treasures of the Faith, Part 5: Nemo dat quod non habet

In this installment of Treasures of the Faith, I’d like to continue looking at some of our great Latin maxims, turning now to nemo dat quod non habet.

Nemo dat quod non habet means “No one can give that which they don’t have.” If it sounds obvious, it should! Often these ancient maxims are meant to remind us of truths so simple and true that they lie hidden at the base of reality beneath the clutter of life and thus get overlooked. It is of such basic principles that we often need to be reminded.

Using this maxim, the great spiritual director of Venerable Sr. Consolata Betrone, Father Lorenzo Sales wrote the following:

“You can’t give what you don’t have. […] Behold that which the world needs in order to pick itself up and take up the uphill climb once again: It needs souls full of Jesus to be able to give Jesus.”[1]

In that quote, Father Sales points to the most important ramification of this principle: If we want to bring Christ to our families, our friends, to all whom we encounter, we must first have Him living and working within us. How can we do this?

1) We must work hard to remain in a state of grace.

2) We must be people of prayer in union with Christ. As Christ said, communion with Him: Lovingly contemplating the Face of Christ is the “unum necessarium,” “the one thing necessary.”(Luke 10:42) Being of primary importance, it must be put first. Then, moving outward: The more we are in union with Him, the more He can shine through us and reach others. This is why we must take the time out of our work schedules to pray. We should begin and end our day with prayer, try to offer and direct all our actions to God, and try to remain mindful of Him and His Presence as much as we can throughout the day.

3) We should be joyful. If we are not filled with Christian joy, people will not be invited to want and to seek what we have. Joy is often the best missionary work we can do. Regardless of how dark and difficult things may seem at times, we know how it ends: The Sacred and Immaculate Hearts will triumph! We know Who is in charge and we know His Love!

So, let us stay full of Jesus and united to Him; for, the Word says the following:

“Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”(John 15:4-5)

Amen. We can’t give what we don’t have. Without Him, “we can do nothing,” but “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.”(Philippians 4:13) Let us strive daily and pray for each other to have Jesus for love of Him, for our own life, and so that we may give Jesus to a desperate world. Ave Maria!


Photo and Article by Stephen Snyder, 2020. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Original translation by the author, Stephen Snyder.