Defence and Idealisation of the Capuchin Reform by Bonito Combasson



a work of

I FRATI CAPPUCCINI. Documenti e Testimonianze del Primo Secolo. A cura di COSTANZO CARGNONI. Roma 1982, Volume I, 1228-1260.


This booklet which contains a defence of the Capuchin ideals was written in the ‘20’s of the 17th century and was published in Cologne in 1640 and in Vienna in 1710. It was almost certainly written by a Capuchin who wrote under the assumed name of Bonito Combasson who was a Conventual in Savoy, who was playing “the Cicero for his time and place”.

Although it was published as a defence, it is also relevant as a résumé of much that had been written and said about the Capuchins at the beginning of the seventeenth century. It represents a mature assessment of an Order that has grown into adulthood, become stronger through many tribulations and sufferings, and become self-sufficient and self-confident.

The modern reader should not be deceived into thinking that because of its triumphant tone that the values that are emphasised by the anonymous Capuchin author are hyperboles. His description of Capuchin life is like an infrared beam which goes beneath appearances and reaches the essence of the object providing us with an enlarged picture of Capuchin life in the first decades of the seventeenth century. This way of life was characterised by its tenacity, its belief that it could achieve its objective, and being captivated by the prospect of doing so. This even enthrals whoever reads its.

The author raised many questions. First, he asked why did Urban VII describe the Capuchins as “friars who are living the very rigorous discipline advocated by St Francis.” He replied by showing how their lifestyle corresponded completely, even in small things, to the way of life of St Francis.

Next, he asked why the Capuchin Reform had been so successful. He replied that it was because the Capuchins did not accept the houses where religious lived previously but built new ones which would not give rise to envy. Their houses were quite poor and humble. The author gave four reasons for this saying that these were the “four columns” of the Capuchin Reform. 1) Optima iuventutis instructio (Excellent formation for young members): that is, they were proficient in providing formation and education for young friars. He then goes on to discuss the Capuchin “method” of formation in the noviciate, post-noviciate, during the time the young friars were students and after their profession, paying special attention to the development of ascetical and spiritual formation. 2) Bona gubernatio (Good governance): that is providing the best local, Provincial and General Ministers. 3) Frequens oratio (Frequency of prayer): especially periods of mental prayer in common. 4) Fuga saecularium (Flight from worldly concerns): that is detachment from worldly friendship, and idle and pointless gossip with worldly people with the objective of fostering a taste for the life of a hermit and developing a genuine Franciscan spirit even while going about in the world. At this point he takes up the subject of contact with women, nuns, confraternities, and the way to hear confessions etc., a range of contacts that were part of Capuchin life.

The author then makes a comparison between the Capuchins and other Religious Orders which were traditionally ascetical such as the Carthusians in order to demonstrate the superlative nature of the Capuchin Reform which had adopted a very radically austere way of life. Despite this way of life included motherly love for those who were sick. Here we are hearing the last gasping words of a sick man who had been a Capuchin and a Carthusian and who is responding to the frame of mind that had developed within the Order following the Council of Trent near the end of the seventeenth century. As he lies on his deathbed, he desires to experience Capuchin “charity.” It is a situation that shows how fraternal love can supply whatever is lacking. If nothing it witnesses to what was thought of the Capuchins at a time when they had been successful both as an institute and in what they were doing.


1137 As I give an account of this situation, I can do nothing but praise the Reverend Capuchin Fathers, who, having grown into a large multitude, have been careful to preserve unity of spirit and cultivate peace so that there may be one body, one spirit, and one vocation.[1] They recognised that there is one flock and one shepherd,[2] and uniformity in worship and rituals.[3] This was evident in the way they conducted their lives. Their friaries were built the same wherever they were situated. They dressed in the same way, used the same title, and lived under the same superiors. The way that the superiors assisted their subject was marvellous. This meant that everything ran smoothly and went well and that they were well organised. The exercise of authority was carried out with prudence. The formation of those who were young was wonderful both regarding the spiritual life and study […].

This is why the Roman Pontiff, who is responsible for providing appropriate guidance, and who was aware of the sanctity of the way that they were living, praised them in many Bulls, and especially in a letter that he wrote to his brother. In this letter he said that the Capuchins lived the strict way of life of St Francis to the full. […].[4]

1138 The term disciplina (way of life) should be understood in the most comprehensive sense of the word. When applied to Francis it includes the Rule and the way the friars lived and the various ways in which they observed the Rule. In fact, among the Observant Friars some observed the Rule in a relaxed way while some observed it quite strictly. That was why those who lived close to what the Rule prescribed were called friars of the strict observance in order to distinguish them from other friars. The title frati minori della piú severa disciplina di san Francesco was used to identify the Capuchins and it included all the friars minor of whatever group because the Supreme Pontiff was speaking in general.

Speaking in general, I have no doubt that there are some, even many, zealous and holy friars in the other groups within the Order who observe the Rule very well and even better than many Capuchins. However, this is not true in general because the Capuchins outdo the other branches of the Franciscan Order.[5] […].

Indeed, if we look at what a person is wearing, we will find that a Capuchin resembles St Francis from head to foot.[6]

1139 In order to protect his bare feet our Seraphic Father wore sandals in imitation of Christ, the Apostles, and the Prophets. The Capuchins, who were his sons and true followers, did not want to appear to be wiser than their father, and they were content to wear leather sandals rather than wooden clogs which would have been stronger and would have kept their feet dry when the were walking on wet ground.[7]

The man of God wore a threadbare garment, that had been torn and patched. It looked worn-out just like the figure on the Crucifix. There was a length of cord around the middle. The garment he wore had a very long pointed hood that was shaped like a pyramid and was stitched to the habit. It had no small cape around the shoulders, no collar or piece reaching down over the chest. We also read that he wore a mantle which he gave to a poor man who asked him for something when he had nothing else to give the poor fellow. The Capuchins wear a habit that is the same in every detail. They do not cover it with wool and are satisfied to wear patched clothing under the habit when they are well, and to wear a mantle like Elias or Elisha or the other prophets.[8]

1140 We have never seen anywhere that the Seraphic Father shaved his beard. Indeed, he let it grow in imitation of Christ, the Apostles, and the Prophets. The evidence for this can be found in the paintings that have been preserved as precious relics in various places in Assisi and in the private chapel of the Pope in Rome.[9]

Bartolomeo da Pisa[10] said that Francis had a rather short red beard. Not everyone grew the same kind of beard. Some wore a full beard that covered their cheeks. Other wore a beard the grew close to their lips.

The Capuchin Constitutions that were approved by the Holy See laid down that a beard should be grown in imitation of Christ, the saints, and the ancient fathers of the order,[11] because it is manly, natural, and austere. This was why God had forbidden the priests in Leviticus to cut their beards.[12]

1141 St Francis proposed insistently that all buildings should be simple. He wanted the friaries in which the friars lived to epitomize poverty and their churches to be modest and small.[13] At present the Capuchin churches are poor and tiny, but spotless like all the other objects that are used for worship. Following their Constitutions, their friaries are simple and set up in accord with poverty.[14] Father Albaspine said: “Their dwellings are austere and completely suitable for men who are searching for and finding a better way of life. Their cells resemble tombs where they could prepare themselves for the coming of their King.”

In his Breve Memoriale dell’Ordine the same author said that “because of their great commitment to poverty they were able to build a large number of friaries incredibly quickly since there was not much involved in building them.” Citing the sixth chapter of the Rule in another place he says: “The Capuchin Fathers, who live strict poverty, laid down the length, breath, and height of their cells in their statutes. They were wise to do this because it maintains uniformity, prevents any deviation from the practice of poverty, and assures regular observance.”[15]

Christ’s Poor Little Man wanted to bind himself forever in loving wedlock to poverty, and to come close to the Son of God. After he had rejected the world completely, he not only left his father and mother, but threw away everything that he might have had, keeping only his habit, cord and draws and reached a point where he was satisfied with retaining just these things. He often spoke to his friar about this telling them about his heavenly inheritance urging them to shine forth in doing the same. This indeed is the true birthright of the Friars Minor. St Francis obtained it from the Lord Jesus Christ and bequeathed in his Testament to become the foundation stone of his Order so that if it were observed the Order would flourish but if it was not observed the Order would collapse. [16]

1142 Because they were the humble disciples of such a great Father, wanting to reach the height of most holy poverty, having left worldly vanity, and decided to walk the road of perfection through the providential gift of divine grace, the Capuchins chose to follow the poor Christ, as poor men willingly living in radical poverty, and to serve the Lord joyfully. No one ever hungered for gold as much as these good fathers hungered after poverty. No on was ever as concerned about protecting a treasure as they were about protecting the pearl of the Gospel, which they knew to be the queen of the virtues, because it shone forth in the King of kings, and the Queen who was His Mother, and was also the special path to salvation and was based on humility and had become the source of perfection which produced much hidden fruit.[17]

Poverty removes all barriers so that all their minds were quietly, readily, and willingly fixed on the Lord God. They were speaking with the Angels in heaven while they were still on earth. Even in this life this bestowed on their souls the gift of the facility to fly above the heavens from the moment that they sprung the wings of humility and love.[18]

Would it be that strange if these dedicated disciples were to perform difficult acts of virtue or mercy? Would it be odd if they lived very harsh lives that were quite solitary yet commendable, were contented with holy prayer, dedicated to being authentic, solid enemies of experiencing pleasure, strong in times of suffering, gracious when offended, opponents of vice, healers of those who were practising immorality, respectful towards everyone, even towards those who were enemies of the faith, uninterested in money and possessing anything beyond what was laid down in the Rule? They do not accept wages for their work beyond what was essential for their upkeep. They only want to please God and the Church and to promote the Order, provide help for the soul and bring about the salvation of people by using every available means including prayer, the fruits of penance which they recommend in what they say and write.[19]

1143 To conclude, this is how they gave everyone an example of how to observe in a pure and simple way what they had vowed to follow the Rule which involved following the Gospel. Their way of life did not only make the Order more holy but it also provided a valuable lesson for the entire Church.

Therefore, it was appropriate for the Pope to call the Capuchins Fratri Minori della piú severa disciplina di san Francesco. Being his children, they certainly imitated their most blessed Father in a praiseworthy manner and by doing what he had taught them they continued carrying the cross of Christ in their hearts.[20] They embraced the glory of genuine humility by steadfastly observing the statutes prescribed by regular observance.

They remembered and reflected on what their Father had done and being sons of Abraham, they did what Abram had done. Because they boasted about being the children of Francis, they had to keep the promise that they had made to God and observe the Rule faithfully They could not dare to say “We profess Francis to be our father” if they did not produce creditable fruit of penance. Human children resemble their parents. Children who claim to have a spiritual father should imitate his spirituality. Therefore, those who do not live according to the spirit of the Seraphic Rule. Cannot claim that Francis is their father because they are not imitating him in the way that children ought to imitate their father.[21]

1144 According to Father Albaspina[22] there were two things that enabled the Capuchins to persevere in seraphic self-control and which brought about their prolific growth.

The first of these was that they did not want to live in the old kind of religious houses, but decided to live in what they built themselves and so they began to build new friaries.[23] In doing so they freed themselves from the controverses that arise concerning the ownership of friaries. They went on peacefully building their friaries, which grew in number without arousing envy but engendered goodwill in everyone. The hammer of competitiveness was not to be heard. They only boasted about building on the foundation that had been laid by another. They were not concerned about reforming other Religious Orders or presuming that they could cure other people.

From the beginning they attracted the brightest blossoms of high ranking and important friars, both Conventuals and Observants. These included Blessed Giovanni da Fano, Blessed Francesco Tittlemans, Alfonso Lupo, and many other outstanding men.[24] This was done very prudently so that the Holy See could forbid receiving men from other Orders. It produced wonderful results, and it marked the beginning of other reforms within the larger Franciscan Order such as the Scalzi, Zoccolanti, Recolletti and the Reformed Conventuals which we shall deal with later.[25]

The second motive for the growth of the Capuchins was their extreme poverty, which enabled them to build many friaries in an incredibly short time.[26]

I will now add another four even more important reasons why the Capuchins became strong and dynamic.

The Capuchins are outstanding in the way that they form young people.

1145 Without any doubt the Capuchins excel in the way they provide formation for young people. In fact, they put a lot of thought into the way that they accept novices. Acting in accord with their statutes, they do not accept anyone until he has shown them proof of his devotion and vocation over a period of six months and has been presented twice to the Provincial, who is the one who is responsible for accepting candidates and the one who will examine him concerning what is required for admission.

Because of this they usually only accept a few out of the large number of those who are asking to receive the habit. Indeed, it is better to accept a few who are exemplary and resolute to work in the vineyard than to accept many who are unsuitable for this work, not well formed and are not prayerful. To admit such as these would not promote the wellbeing of the Order.[27]

Those who are accepted spend two weeks in the friary dressed as laypeople.[28] They take part in all the prayers and for a short period of time come to know all that they will be called on to do and come to see if they are able to do it.

It is commendable to see how well the Capuchins train their novices after they have been invested with the habit and the prudent way that they introduce them into all kinds of mortification and the practice of virtue without embarrassing or pandering any of them, but challenging them strongly yet gently, so that when they have been professed, they will not be able to say they did not know what would be expected of them when they became members of the Order.

In fact, it is better for them to return to the world while they are novices rather than after they had put their hand to the plough and retreating after they had been professed. This is why they appointed capable formators who were good at forming the young people who had been chosen. They entrusted those who had been transplanted from the world into the friary like plants that had been dug out of the forest and taken from the wilderness to formators who helped them to conform to the hidden life of the cloister the real garden bed of Solomon. In doing so they not only rebuilt an undisciplined way of life but effectively fostered a better way of life. These good formators were responsible for both repairing what had been spoilt and strengthening a new way of life.[29]

The Capuchins provide careful guidance in self-control for the newly professed

1146 Once the profession has been made, the young friars are sent to the seminaries where for three years they soon become proficient in all the exercises of the novices and are looked after with every care and encouraged on the occasion of their profession to desire to continue the path of perfection. Subsequently, the professed, that is, those suitable to apply themselves for seven years to the studies of good literature, such as philosophy and theology, are transferred to other friaries; the others carry out the remaining offices of the Order.[30]

And even for them there is no shortage of good cultivators of the aforementioned plants. Thus the fruitfulness and beauty of the holy congregation of Capuchins grow happily in the paradise of the Church due to their expertise and commitment.

Furthermore, clerics are not promoted to the priesthood until after eight years of religious life and are usually not called fathers until after twelve full years.

Why did the Capuchins teach their new members to be humble and detached?

1147 There is an important reason why the young Capuchins were taught to be humble and given the opportunity to become detached from worldly life and put it behind them. In fact, they had become used to life in the world and to wanting what the world had to offer. Now, when they were adults, they came into religious life bringing with them their bad habits, their independent way of life and other faults that were obstacles to living a religious way of life. Even if they were free from mortal sin when living in the branches they had not yet been stripped to the root where evil might still be hiding in the depth of their heart. To put it in another way, the evil that remained in the soul might break out again because ii had weeds growing along with it. These had to be destroyed without harming the root.[31]

There is also another significant motivation for this continuous exercise of humility by the young friars, namely to give them the opportunity to poison secular life and uproot it to the point of cancelling it. In reality, at least those who, already adults, ascended from the world into the religious state, bringing with them the harmful habits of vices, the continuous habit of doing one’s own will and the like, of being adapted to the world and loving earthly things more, and other similar vices and impediments to religious perfection. And even if they were already held back by a commitment to spiritual life and pruned in their branches, that is, in their terrible mortal sins, they were not however torn up by the root, so it happens that the root, hidden in the secret of the heart, or to speak more clearly, the same vices residing in the soul, sprout again at every opportunity, in the same way as the weed which, cut only on the surface without tearing up the roots, will necessarily re-sprout their thorns and grow rapidly.[32]

The rewards of learning how to be humble religious

1148 This was why it was necessary to break away from all attachment to the former way of life and the wicked behaviour of the world and to tear it out by the roots if a person wanted to change his way of life so that a virtuous way of life might bloom, and he could be could find inner peace.

For this to occur it is necessary to fight long and hard against vice and to do nothing else during the first years of conversion. This is so important and difficult that it requires being totally committed for years.[33]

Finally dig out the roots of vice. Certainly, this does not mean that we will never be tempted. It only means that we will not be tempted as often or a strongly, so that, even when a slight inclination towards sinning arises it will not lead you astray, influence you, or drag you off or even inflict a small wound. You will no longer want to be contaminated by sin but will want to increase your dedication to the work of the Order and the practice of fraternal charity.

The trouble that strikes religious Orders that neglect the formation of young religious

1149 It would be harmful for the young professed friars if they were removed from the care of a Novice Master immediately after they had made their profession and were presumed to be ready to deal with seculars and freely move about in the world and were no longer taught to perform various penitential practices and different forms of mortification.[34]

Because the building could not be finished in the space of one year and was only just being started when they made their religious profession there would be little hope of seeing the evangelical tower completed if no effort was made to see that it was brought to a conclusion and not left unfinished.

What the friars achieved during the year of Noviciate was merely an introduction. What happened to them after they had been professed had to be taken seriously because it was very important and took time. Because of this it had to be carried out in a way that what had been outlined in general for the novices would be laid out in detail for those who had been professed.[35]

1150 Sometimes quite the opposite occurred among the professed. This happened when the one who had been professed acted in an uncontrolled manner so that what he did was like sewing weeds amongst good grain. After they had been tied down by the fear of being rebuked during the year of noviciate and did not dare to be identified, now that they had been professed some who were not so meek dared, in view of their status, to act in an undisciplined manner as though they were not obliged to aspire to higher perfection.

Therefore, the Capuchins, who were very keen about offering the right kind of protection to their newly professed friars, always tried to see to it that the kind of discipline that prevailed during the noviciate was not diminished by granting too much freedom later. This meant that they had a marvellous variety of young men, who were strong in virtue, had received good formation in how to live religious life, who, for the most part, came from rather noble and upper-class families, were well disposed to undertake great things for God, to adopt a sincere and commendable vocation, to abandon worldly riches and embrace extreme poverty, to increase their commitment, to set an example for others, and to help the Order by taking part in questing, at times, from their own noble families. Many Capuchins came from noble families.[36]

1151 This would explain why the Bishop of Campopolino called the Capuchins “a seed ground for Christ’s poor, the religious Order for nobles, which payed no attention to a person’s worldly status, but simply looked at their inner spirit. Therefore, for someone to become a Capuchin he should be living a very virtuous life if he wants to receive the habit. As a matter of fact, this Order was not founded for children, but for adults, not for those who are weak but for those who are strong”.[37] The very learned Antonio da Cordoba repeats this in his work Esposizione sulla regola dei frati minori. In the first introductory question he explains how the way that the Friars Minor live is so perfect that it is only achieved by a few since not many people are able to live life perfectly.

This is what he wrote: “Other Orders are less demanding and live closer to the way that the average person lives, because most people do not want to live a perfect way of life, keeping strict control over what they do, and put aside all that pertains to the world. Because of this, only those who want to live like the Apostles decide to give up everything. People who are that fervent find it oppressive to be burdened with worldly riches or praise or to possess an abundance of material goods and they choose to live like those who are poor. This is not a choice that would be made by children or those who are uncouth or wicked. Therefore, even if there are few who choose to do this, what they do is very holy. They are like the three hundred chosen by Gideon in the Book of Judges, who putting aside temporal things and using only what was necessary conquered the world and the flesh and set a good example.[38]

1152 Our Holy Francis asked those who entered the Order to accept these conditions. This led Bonaventure to say that they ought to be ready to accept martyrdom.[39] Let the one who was well-born and who received the proper formation on how to lead the religious life be very grateful for this.

A warning for religious institutes that simply accept all kinds of people without giving them proper formation or caring for them and thus hurt them by doing so

1153 Let those Orders that admit postulants too easily or too quickly when they ask to be invested in the religious habit be warned. Let them be admonished if they give them the habit as soon as they enter the friary or while they are in the noviciate, under the pretext of providing for the future, or leave them to themselves until they make their profession and then set them free to take on studies or ordain them or assign them to take on work with seculars too soon.

Once again I say let them be aware that, because they have no experience of struggling with the world, these young men are like young saplings that are not yet firmly rooted in virtue that may be blown away by the wind of the distractions of scholarship and the temptations of the world that usually incite pride and cause immense damage to religious sentiments, destroy peace of mind, confuse the minds of simple people and it is not rare for them to abandon the excellent mother, the Order, giving public scandal and, even with scabrous words, works and writings, offend it with falsehood and malice, defame it and persecute it.

These are the fruits of the first age of religious life educated with negligence and poorly guarded, and there is no worse plague for the divine and common good than such a religious institute. In reality, every state, even if defended by laws, is usually destined to perish if the adolescent formation of spiritual life is ignored. In fact, what a young man has once absorbed, he retains until old age and becomes a very great danger to the perfection achieved with great sacrifices by the ancient fathers.

And one cannot hope without temerity to block a licentious life by means of severe reproofs and penances, since it was almost conceived in the pain of childbirth and has become hardened with increasing age. It has been ascertained by very experienced fathers that such an undertaking would be more difficult than that of converting wicked men who live in the world.[40]

Religious congregations should therefore be urged to safeguard with great care the young professed, if they desire to protect and conserve them in the true discipline.

Capuchins have excellent superiors

1154 The second reason for the stability of the Capuchins is the good governance of the superiors, that is, that they guide the whole congregation, the provinces and the friaries with prudence and maturity. There is no shortage of well-prepared superiors, for they choose for this office only men of great mind, inflamed with zeal for the Order and as well matured and baked in the furnace of piety and on the path of poverty, but above all seasoned by the study of mortification and completed by prayer. With all gentleness and gravity they arrange everything, they try to preserve in themselves and in their subjects, with fortitude and gentleness at the same time, the vigour of discipline[41] and the laws of the Order, they frequently visit the brothers, they stimulate them with very serious exhortations, they often gather the fathers together to immediately destroy and incinerate the faults that arise because of human frailty, and they are careful to abolish even every little flaw.

It is certainly known to everyone that the safeguarding of regular discipline depends on superiors capable of governing, while bad and negligent care destroys it. The reason why the Capuchin fathers can have eminent men in every field, both as generals, provincials and guardians, and as definitors, guardians and preachers, is this, and we have already mentioned it: they educate with a spirit of piety and devotion and religiously teach their young friars in such a way that, having become, according to circumstances, preachers, readers, custodians, definitors, guardians, provincials and generals, they propose to others the same things that they have assimilated and teach what they have learned; and, having become guides and leaders of the community, having learned goodness, discipline and science, they make their subjects devoted, exemplary and wise. As with the master, so the disciple; as are the princes in their state, so are the citizens; as are the superiors, so subjects generally become. It is in the nature of things that those who obey become similar to those who command.

Consequently, those who wish to preserve their Order should try to propose suitable superiors, with transparent examples, since nothing guarantees the human soul and pushes young people to commitment more effectively than when they find a master who exhorts with the example.

The Capuchins are nourished by mental prayer

1155 Frequent mental prayer is the third and strongest support of the Capuchins. It preserves their peace of mind and heart. Observing their Constitutions, these seraphic friars are engaged in it day and night.[42] Each day they spend two hours together in mental prayer, one period very early in the morning for two hours, when it is dark during the winter, another period at sunrise in the summer, and another period after Compline throughout the year. They all gather in the choir, with the doors and windows closed, in dim light in order to promote recollection.[43]

This period of common prayer is laid down for everyone and no one can absent himself without the permission of the Superior. This kind of prayer is more effective because it is like what the Apostles did after Christ’s Ascension when they assembled in the Cenacle. All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus and with his brethren.[44] This is how it is reported in the Acts of the Apostles. And when the days of Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place.[45] Even the place where many people go to meditate, such as the choir or the church is sacred. The congregation in the church intercedes for what we are asking from divine providence and this together with the sacred nature of the place strengthens reverence and devotion. In fact, inside the Church, we gaze on the high altar, the tabernacle, and the throne of the Eucharist.[46]

1156 As far as I know this form of common prayer is not used by other Religious Orders. They simply recommend it and prescribe praying in one’s cell which is rather ambiguous.[47] The danger here is that tepid religious would neglect prayer and sometimes stay away from prayer in common. No one is that strict on themselves that they do not occasionally stay away from common prayer, but he should not do so habitually,[48] or he will be sorry in future for doing what he did. He who is bursting with devotion today may become lethargic tomorrow.

Meditation in common might often be cut short because there is a lot of work to be done. However, most of the community should be always able to pray together at the proper time, so that what someone cannot pray for, someone else can ask for. A brother that is helped by his brother, is like a strong city. [49]

Such communion in prayer guides us on our journey and travels with us throughout our entire life. It gives us strength and courage for all that we must do. It is the mother and the nurse of religious life.[50] Oh what happy hours! How precious, and wonderful are the times for prayer! They are sweeter than any kind of honey, tastier than any food or drink! While the soul is contemplating God it is ablaze with love for God and heavenly things, speaking with God, being filled with his words that instruct us in marvellous ways and as the soul becomes detached from the love of worldly things it is elevated and raised above all creatures.

Oh, what unspeakable consolation for a Capuchin! If he had to dedicate himself to performing works of obedience and charity for the whole day and part of the night, he could at least spend two hours each day in contemplation in order to give himself time for his personal spiritual life. Although he was tired and drained, he could run to where it was quiet and take refuge in prayer. After his day of work his body would find rest at night and would recover by means of sleep and relaxation.

The soul which had carried the same burden as the body would be also exhausted and it would also need the respite provided by the time of prayer so it could revive and continue its work.

The Capuchins kept going because they did not live like seculars

1157 The fourth thing that sustained the deeply religious family of Capuchins was keeping at a distance from seculars apart from when they were prudently involved in works of charity, transactions with those who controlled the city and taking part in brief conversations. This made it easier to avoid danger. In fact, in accord with their specific charism, they focused on the salvation of their neighbour since they were religious who were living a mixed way of life and not monks or hermits. A careless religious can be overcome by many dangers if he engages too much with seculars who live a different way of life. They are seculars which means that they do different things and have different ambitions which might influence religious.[51]

Whoever is frailer in virtue will be infected more easily. This often happens to young men who do not yet have the degree of discernment that is necessary to distinguish between what is good and what is bad. In any case, all religious of whatever age need to be protected. This is so important that it was laid down in the Capuchin Constitutions.

How the Capuchins implemented being detached from seculars

1158 Firstly, they did not speak to seculars in the friary without obtaining permission from the superior, and, after he had given them permission, they spoke briefly about what was essential. [52]

Secondly, they hardly ever spoke to women, and only did so when it was clearly necessary and carried out in a public place where they could be seen by another friar so that no suspicion could arise.[53]

Thirdly, nobody was to have dealings with anyone outside the friary or visit anyone without the superior knowing it so that such visits would be very rare and very fruitful.[54]

Fourthly, under pain of mortal sin no one was allowed to go and speak informally to anyone in the convents of nuns without the written permission of the Provincial which was valid for one year and required on every occasion. In addition to this the local superior had to give consent on each occasion.[55]

Fifthly, no one was to undertake being a spiritual director to nuns or chaplain to confraternities of men or women. They could only preach the word of God if they had been invited to do so.[56]

Nevertheless, these good priests were forced by the Holy See to accept the care of four or five convents of Reformed Poor Clares who were also known as the Siters of the Passion but they tried not to become too involved in this.[57]

1159 Sixth, they did not allow townsfolk to live in the friaries for any reason, even if they worked there. They were very humble. They did not have servants but looked after one another. They made their own sandals. They made their own clothes. They took care of their own gardens and built their own friaries. They cooked and were taught how to do other things during noviciate. It was a blessing to live without servants. Servants would have been a nuisance in the friary, and they knew from experience that Satan would have made use of them to accomplish his own plans. There is an old proverb that says that a priest’s servant has a full stomach as soon as his master gets out of bed.[58]

Seventh, they rarely invite seculars to eat with the friars and even then, only when there is no possibility of giving scandal.[59]

Eight, the friars do not eat with seculars wherever they have a friary. They might do so only once or twice a year. If their family insisted, they might eat with them once or twice a year after gaining permission from the Provincial.[60]

1160 Nine, the friars do not leave the friary on their own, but always go about in twos, so that each one could see what the other one did.[61] All the other Orders either sent or allowed their members to go about alone which is quite dangerous. However, among the Capuchins this was a very serious duty and could incur heavy punishment. They should certainly be praised for this as well as for many other things and it gave rise to a proverb that said some go about in twos just like the Capuchins.[62]

1161 Ten, they did not hear the Sacramental Confessions of seculars of either sex or of whatever status. The Capuchins laid down this wonderful statute in the early days of the Order in order to avoid any danger and cast aside any mental distractions so that being completely and intimately united to God they could run unimpeded along the road to their home in heaven.[63] In this praiseworthy statute I find the reason for the incredible expansion of the Capuchins and their perseverance in strict observance of the Rule.

The Rule laid down, and the Founder of the Order intended even if not expressed, that the Friars Minor were to hear the confessions of lay people and to regard this very sacred ministry as their primary and basic activity.[64] (In fact, in this Order hearing Confession is just as important as preaching the word of God). This is what the early Franciscans did when they carried out their apostolate in the time of their most holy father. As time went by, the Capuchins were not able to prevent many laymen and women who admired the Order, from asking the Ministers General or the Procurator General to allow them to go to Confession to members of the Order.

However, given the extreme ease with which the illustrious Procurator granted such requests which increased the number of penitents each day, the Capuchins wisely asked the Apostolic See to prevent the hearing of the confessions of laypeople unless a special indult was provided by the Holy See.[65]

Despite this, they were not released from doing this holy work. Through divine providence and because of what was needed in many places and the increasing admiration of laypeople, princes, powerful prelates and entre communities, various Popes obliged the Capuchins in different places to hear the Confession of any layperson.

1162 In the end having been swayed by such persistent requests, some Supreme Pontiffs issued Briefs that told the Capuchin superiors to assign suitable priests to hear the Confessions of laypeople wherever this was requested. They humbly obeyed this command and, anticipating a good result, they began to hear the Confessions of laypeople wherever this was required due to a shortage of priests.[66]

It is wonderful to see how fruitful this sacramental ministry turned out to be and how many people came to Confession and confidently opened their hearts and turned away from people who were living a different way of life and resolved to freely dedicate themselves to the serenity of holy prayer. I maintain that they knew how to be merciful to sinners and how to love everyone with the same love. They were appropriately friendly with everyone and greeted everyone that came to them with holy joy. They offered gentle consolation to those who were afflicted and became all things to all men in order to win souls for Christ.

This does not mean that they did not put all kinds of obstacles in the way of undertaking this responsibility so they could live their holy and former simple way of life. However, once the saw that the Holy See had directed them to undertake this apostolate, they laid down holy and prudent rules and regulations for the friars so that they could continue to observe what had become customary.[67]

1163 As we have already said, this was the basis and the foundation of all Capuchin discipline. These were the four columns that supported, strengthened, and maintained their spiritual edifice. It was built on humility and its walls were the virtues and its roof and its pinnacle was love.

[The austerity of the Capuchins was greater than that of other Religious Orders]

1164 Navarro says that the Carthusians are more austere in what they eat than are the Friars Minor.[68] This is because they never eat meat even when they are seriously ill. However, they are always allowed to eat eggs and dairy products. When they are well the Friars Minor also observe a kind of continual Lent as part of the strict way of life in the Order. Nevertheless, they are allowed to eat meat, eggs, and dairy products when they are sick or recovering from sickness. He explains the reason behind this. Hunger is the best seasoning. However, when someone is sick, they feel nauseated and lose their appetite and if it helped them to recover, they would be glad to eat a handful of meat rather than have anything else.

1165 Certainly both ways of life are very austere. However, the way life of the true Friars Minor is stricter than can be expressed or imagined. I say this without wishing to criticise any Religious Order or cause anyone to envy the Friars Minor. They suffer hunger, thirst, feeling cold, being poorly clothed, living without a wife and endure other difficult human privations for love of Christ.

Other communities undertake long periods of fasting and practice great abstinence. However, at the same time they know that they are going to have a good lunch. They possess land that brings in regular, adequate income knowing that they will be able to meet the expenses of every day. However, St Francis not only practiced fasting and abstinence, but often endured hunger and thirst by just eating a piece of bread which was usually not enough.[69] On many occasions the friars found that all that they had was hard, tasteless bread even when they were in well-known cities. No one could describe what they endured on their journeys, and neither can I. They often slept on the ground, on straw, going without a meal, soaked by rain, covered with a piece of cloth that looked more like a shroud and denoted death more than anything else.

Consider, if you will, what it means to renounce your will in everything, except if the command involved doing something that was contrary to the Rule or your conscience,[70] or having to obey until death what a Superior commanded. Think of what it means to give up having an income, owing property, having money or anything else personally or as a community, or, in line with the Rule, not having the necessary provisions to maintain life, but having to depend on begging or on Divine Providence to inspire people to donate what was necessary to survive.

1166 Try to imagine what it means not to have storerooms or barns and to be unable to provide anything for the future and to have to wait to see how to provide for everyday needs and to have to rely on God and His Divine Providence because He feeds the birds of the air, who do not gather into barns, or sow seeds or worry about anything.[71]

What would it feel like to wear rough clothing, without any woollen underclothing and to have no more than two tunics without any personal embellishments? How would it feel to sleep on straw wearing rough clothes when you were sick or seriously ill or about to die? How would it feel to always (except when sick or when it was necessary) go about barefooted when that might result in contracting some serious disease? How would it feel to have to wake up at midnight and stay awake for three hours in the winter and two hours in the summer? How would it feel to never have enough so that something was always missing because the Rule prohibited them having anything superfluous, unnecessary or valuable? To keep this list short, how would it feel to be bound under pain of mortal sin by the 25 precepts in the Rule to observe all of this and much more?

This is why in his commentary on the Rule Navarro maintained that the Capuchins who observe the Rule of St Francis to the letter were living like martyrs.[72]

1167 Nevertheless, amid the many other deplorable circumstances and hardships that the genuine Friars Minor endured with joy and perseverance for the love of Christ they glowed with joy and did not envy the pleasures of kings and, with the blessing of God, (which is undoubtedly an enormous treasure), were content with their good fortune. They were contented and found it comforting to be able to say with St Paul: We both hunger and thirst and are naked ect.[73] Like this Apostle, they rejoiced at being able to life this sad kind of life. They boasted that the life of Chris could be seen in their flesh, and they wanted to endure the sufferings of the cross in their body. The wanted to rejoice that they carried Christ in their bodies.[74] This was how the highest kind of poverty was practiced in this Order.

There is nothing wrong with going about on horseback when working and preaching in order to save your neighbour. Some people need to commit themselves to this work and travel by land and sea, on foot or on horseback, walking or running, stepping out or going slowly. God asks this of those who are not very strong. However, God has not chosen to use stock markets or wallets, or someone who is well-dressed and wearing shoes, or is seated on a horse to convert the world. If He had wanted to do this His Church would have chosen princes or emperors who were wealthy to go and spread the Gospel everywhere to the end of the earth. Instead, God chose those who were weak in the world in order to shame those who were strong.[75] The workers that He uses to proclaim His gospel are humble little people, who walk barefooted and look untidy and grubby. […].

1168 When the Carthusians, or members of other Religious Orders send someone on a journey they provide them with horses, and give them some money to cover their expenses so that they can feel safe, secure, and have whatever they need. However, when the friars Minor send someone to Italy, France, Spain, Germany, India, or other foreign countries they provide them with nothing more than their obedience and pray that God will look after them on the journey.[76]

[Capuchin charity]

1169 […] Two or three Carthusians became Capuchins, and some Capuchins became Carthusians. When he fell seriously sick one of these Capuchins, who was living in the famous monastery at Certosa in Pavia, began to weep and cry out: Capuchin charity! Capuchin charity! Nobody could stop him because he knew that if he was living with the Capuchins, even if they were very poor, he would have received very charitable treatment when he fell sick. This was not happening now that he lived with the Carthusians even though they were quite rich.[77]

One of the outstanding features of the Capuchins was the way that they cared for the sick. Out of love of God and with motherly love, they sought and found what the sick person needed and provided it for him. […][78]

  1. This is based on Ephes. 3:4-4.
  2. Cf. Jn 10:16.
  3. This the principle of “sacred uniformity” which was laid down in Capuchin legislation and which characterised the social life of the Capuchins and how they were depicted in works of art.
  4. The author is referring to the letter Agnoscimus in gratalatione, that Urban VIII wrote on 2nd September 1623, and sent to his brother, Antonio Barberini, who was a Capuchin. The author had a copy of the entre work and based his statements on what was said in the letter. In the margin he also quotes P. Cavellus, an Observant, and what he wrote in Tractatulis contra statutorum quae Iulii II dicitur, § 20 in resolutiones quaestionis, editi a Parigi in French, (cf. Ugo Cavellus, in Sbaraglia, Scriptores Ord. Min. I, Romae 1906, 120b-121a).
  5. Even thought he praises the Capuchin Order as the group that is the most strict, the author is aware that there are some individuals who are more zealous than some Capuchins.
  6. By naming the Capuchins specifically the author is indicating their complete conformity to St Francis both internally and externally.
  7. This indicates complete conformity with St Francis in both internal and external matters. The author is trying to demonstrate that this was a specific characteristic of the Capuchins.
  8. The emphasis on the imitation of the Prophets is interesting, as are also the repeated references to the Franciscan biographies and legends: cf. Leg. Per. 54; Spec.5; 2 Cel. 86 and 92.
  9. The Capuchins often cited paintings containing the habit as proof of their fidelity to the traditional image of St Francis.
  10. Cf. Conf. IV, 468, where there I Cel 83 is quoted.
  11. Cf, Const. 1536, n. 29 (n. 189). In the margin the author also quotes canon law: cler. De vita et bonest cler. (CIC II 449-54: Pars secunda Decretalium Colectiones, III, 1).
  12. Cf. Lv. 19 27; 21, 5.
  13. Cf, Test. 28-29.-C
  14. Cf, Const. 1536 n. 73-74.
  15. Nicola Albaspina was Guardian on the big friary in Toulouse and Provincial Minister of Aquitania.
  16. Here the text consists of a selection of reminiscences based on the Sacrum Commercium, the Rule, and the Constitutions of the Order as well as on many of the sayings and deeds of St Francis that were recorded for example in the Major Life 1, 2.
  17. The following passages are quoted here literally and applied to the Capuchins: 2 Cel. 55 and Leg. Maior. 7, 1.
  18. This thought had been well developed in the Order since the beginning. It meant that poverty fostered contemplation and love.
  19. This adulation of the Capuchin apostolate was based on they way they went about promoting prayer, penance, preaching and producing what they wrote.
  20. Cf 2 Cor. 4, 10.
  21. Cf. Const. 1536, n, 6.
  22. Cf. P. Nicola Albaspina, Memoriale pro reformation cit. where he puts forward many reasons why the Capuchins were so successful (I have not seen this work myself).
  23. The Chronicles of the Order describe this. This was why the Capuchin friaries had a distinctive simple style. This subject is dealt with in the Appendix of the first volume of this collection of documents which deals with Capuchin Architecture.
  24. In the margin the author mentions P. Blancona citing the fourth part of the Cronache dell’Ordine. (cf. Chronicorum Ord. Min. quarta pars, edited by Barezzo Barazzi, published by Ioannis Blanconae versionem, Parisii apud R. Fouet, 1627: Supplementum et castiatio ad Scriptores, III, Romae 1921, 41b). He also quotes the Bull of Sixtus V, Optissmi scientia regiminis.
  25. It is interesting to see how the author interprets these events. He sees the restriction placed on the Capuchins regarding the reception of vocations as being the reason why other contemporary reforms flourished. He deals with these groups in the last chapter and comments on their origin and the collapse.
  26. A good account of the growth of Capuchin buildings can be found in the volume that deals with the enquiry held by Pope Innocent in 1650. Cf. I conventi cappuccini nell’inchiesta del 1650, I: L’Italia Settentrinonale, Roma 1984, III: L’Italia meridionale e insulare, Roma 1985, a cura di Mariano D’Alatri, corrispondenti a. MHOC XV-XVII.
  27. Cf. Is 9, 2 (Vulg.)
  28. Const. 1536, n. 14 (n. 168) says that there are just a few days of probation without stating the specific number. In 1638 the Constitution lay down eight days. Alb. lays down fourteen days.
  29. These observations are very pertinent and accurate.
  30. This is a synthesis of the life in formation of the Capuchin professed and of the students for the priesthood. It would be possible to cite various paragraphs of the Constitutions. Enough to cover all: Cost. 1536, n. 19. The seven years of study are composed of three of logic and philosophy and four of theology. Cf. Cost. 1643, n. 122 bis (3): see above, n. 383.
  31. The logic is perfect and also applied both to the novitiate and afterwards. For the novitiate see what Boverio has written and the customs of the Venetian province, in this section, as well as the ceremonial of Bartolomeo Vecchi.
  32. Usually most of those who had a vocation were adults and the early Capuchins were quite strict with them. In fact, this why the life in the early noviciate friaries was so austere. The early chronicles attest to this when they say: among other things that the people say is that the Capuchins practice severe penance because they had been great sinners before entering.
  33. This indicates the penitential aspects of the purgative way.
  34. Note how practical the early Capuchin formation programme was.
  35. This is something like the way today there is a process of development between initial and ongoing formation.
  36. It is surprising how many vocations came from noble families during the early history of the Order especially in France but also in Italy.
  37. Cf. Petrus da Campopolito, De excellentia seraphicae religionis, sive Thsaurus regularis et historialis Ord. Minorum, Ebreduni [Embrun], apud Stephanum de Prato, 1640, lib. 8, c 31. Cf. Scriptores Ord. Minorum I, 186b where we can see that Pietro da Campopolito was an Observant and Bishop of Pamphilimensis [Eraclea?] and then suffragan Bishop of Embrun.
  38. Cf. Antonio de Corduba, Expositio evangelicae Regulae, Venetia 1610, 18s.
  39. Ibid. 19.
  40. This is a page on which to seriously meditate for our own time.
  41. This is a photograph of the style the superiors used in their ministry and have maintained it according to the seraphic Capuchin spirit.
  42. Cf, Const.1536, n, 41 (n.251).
  43. For the custom of meditating in semi-darkness to favour recollection see what Boverio writes at chapter 25 of his De externis quibusdam ritibus, Neapoli 1626, 192-95 (in this section, nn. 1752-1754).
  44. Acts 1:14.
  45. Acts 2:1. The interpretation given to this passage is interesting. It implies that the Capuchins wanted to come together in one place in imitation of what took place in the Cenacle and after Pentecost.
  46. In the margin the author says that prayer in common is more fruitful than private prayer.
  47. Note how this comment is based on the recognition of the instability of the human heart. The author noted in the margin that when someone deliberately neglects prayer it means that he has become careless.
  48. Job, 14:2.
  49. Prov. 18:19. The Septuagint says: A brother who is helped by his brother is like a high fortified city. He is as strong as the bars of a castle.
  50. Const. 1536, n. 41 (see also the variations of the following editions) to depict an image of prayer some say “maestra spirituale” (spiritual director) while more recent editions say “madre e nutrice d’ogni vera virtú (mother and nurse of all genuine virtue) (cf. n.215).
  51. This is what Bernardino d’Asti used to say: “A friar who lives like a secular is the enemy of St Francis,” (MHOC) III, 188).
  52. Cf. Cost 1536, n. 138 (n. 407).
  53. Ibid., n. 137 (n. 406).
  54. Ibid., n. 128 (n. 394).
  55. Ibid., n. 136 (n. 405).
  56. Ibid., n. 135 (n. 404).
  57. The Capuchin nuns that were called “The Daughters of the Passion” were established in Paris in 1602. Concerning the hesitation of the Capuchins to undertake the spiritual direction of convents of Capuchinesses see below in the index of the last volume where there is information about the early development of the Capuchin Poor Clares.
  58. Going without lay servants was very productive. The author is speaking quite strongly when he calls them pests in the friary. When the friars became few, especially following the suppression servants were taken in everywhere.
  59. Cf. Alb. n. 12. This prescription was repeated in Cost. 1575 and those that followed. See in the section on legislation n. 53 bis (1): cf. nn. 93 and 24.
  60. Cf. Cost 1536, n. 48, 115 and 129 (nn. 223, 366 and 195).
  61. Ibid., n. 46 (n. 221).
  62. Note what Dante said: “In silence, alone and unaccompanied/ they go around one in front of the other/ in the same way that the Friars Minor go about.” (cf. Divina Commedia: Inferno 23, 1)
  63. Cf. Cost. 1536, n. 90 (n. 281).
  64. The author maintains that St Francis wanted his friars to hear confessions and to preach. However, the early Capuchins held a different view and based it on MP 50 and LP. 115.
  65. The Brief was issued by Gregory XIV, Decet seraphicam religionem del 1 giugno 1591 (see above nn. 69-71).
  66. This, in brief, is the history of how the Capuchins began to hear the Confession of laypeople. Cf. AO 19 (1903) 251-55, 279084, 370-73. There is a short bibliography in Lexicon cap., 440 and in C. Cargnoni, La controversia per le confessioni: un episodio della presenza dei cappuccino in Valle Camonica. Brescia 1984, 99-186.
  67. The Capuchins became the most popular confessors.
  68. The comparison between the Carthusians and the Capuchins is interesting. There was much debate over whether a Capuchin would be able to join the Carthusians. The problem was resolved in law in favour of the Capuchins. See above in section III. And what Gregorio da Napoli has to say, nn. 930-938, For Navaro see Marini Azpileuetae doctoris Navarri … consiliorum et responsorum … libri duo, vol I, Lugdoni 1594, 271: Consilium 51, n. 41.
  69. Cf. 1 Cell. 51; LM 5, 1; Fioretti 113,
  70. Cf Rb 10, 3-4.
  71. Cf, Mt. 6:26.
  72. Cf. Commentarius quartus de Regularibus: De stabilitare et trasitu eorum, n. 17, in Martini Azpilcuetae doctoris Navarri … opera, I, Lugduni 1597, 162: “Adeo suspicion et venetor Regulam illam altissimam S. Francisci, ut observantes eam ad unguem et mentem auctoris, repute esse quodam incruentos Christi martyres.”
  73. Cf. 1 Cor. 4:11.
  74. Cf. 2 Cor. 4:10-11; 1 Cor. 6:20.
  75. Cf. 1 Cor. 1:21.
  76. Gregory da Napoli said the same thing. Cf. above section III, doc. 8, n. 938.
  77. See what Boverio said about the help provided by the Carthusians to those who were sick nn. 1749-1802.
  78. Manzoni said that the Capuchins were a mother who goes about everywhere looking for what is needed and then brings it back and gives it out.