Memorial of Bernardino d’Asti








(1536 – 1641)



from I Frati Cappuccini, a work of Costanzo Cargnoni, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, 1991, volume I, pages 1183-1192.

Translated by Patrick Colbourne OFM Cap

1. A Memoir of Bernardino d’Asti

Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni OFM Cap

In 1536, after Ludovico da Fossombrone and Matteo da Bascio had left, the Capuchins had a gentle and well-balanced leader in Bernardino d’Asti. However, the loss of Matteo da Bascio and especially Tenaglia provided an opportunity for the superiors of the Observants to cast a shadow over the reputation of the Capuchins and interrupt their growth. It was against this background that Vittoria Colonna defended the Capuchins in her famous apologia and that Bernardino d’Asti persuaded Paolo III to intervene by adding his voice to that of three Cardinals in the Commission of Cardinals that had been instructed to deal with the controversy. These Cardinals were in favour of the Capuchins and worked beside three Cardinals who favoured the Observants. Following the Bull of 25th August that approved the autonomy of the Capuchins, the Observants tried to stop their members from moving over to the Capuchins. C. Urbanelli says “that to remove this obstacle, in early September the Vicar General Bernardino d’Asti sent a letter to an unidentified Cardinal protesting against this prohibition saying that it contravened both natural and divine law according to which all are obliged to aspire to greater perfection.”

Even if it does not go into detail about how the Capuchin were living, the document provides important defence and transmits a series of “memoirs” that state if they want to protect their way of life the Capuchins are obliged to report to the Holy See regarding the first hundred years of their history.

Message that was sent to a Cardinal who was friendly to the Order

[Beginning of September 1536]

1095 To Your Very Reverend Lordship in Christ greetings and humble regards.[1]

About nine months ago, Your Very Reverend Lordship would have heard the complaints that were made to three Very Reverend Cardinals.[2] They heard the complaints that were made by some Observant Friars Minor and the responses that were made by your humble servants that are members of the Order know as the Capuchin fraternity. The complaints were about the directives given to the Vicar General of the Capuchins telling him not to accept any Observant friar until Your Reverence had the chance to settle the question.[3] If Your Reverence wants this to be done the Vicar General will obey. Letters concerning this question have been sent to the Observants.[4]

Therefore, it is already eight months since Your Very Reverend Lordship,[5] informed the three above-mentioned Cardinals[6] about the thoughts of both sides and asked that at least two of them would meet with friars from both sides and report to Your Reverence. It seems that the Observants have been postponing this and have not complied with what you wanted. But the above-mentioned Observants for two months etc.[7]

1096 Furthermore, the Very Reverend Cardinal of Santa Croce, who is the Protector of the Order, said that if he had been able to obtain more Bulls or Briefs, he would not have thought of prohibiting the Capuchin friars from receiving fifty of the Observants knowing that Your Reverence has issued a decree authorising that to happen.[8]

In addition to this it has been decreed and communicated to some learned men and Cardinals, who are conversant with what happens in the Roman Curia, and passed on to the Capuchins, that the above-mentioned patent letters have not been modfied by the Briefs or the Bulls issued by the Pope. Furthermore, one of you is in touch with the Rota.[9]

Since the last Brief that came from Your Most Reverend Lordship concerning the above-mentioned Observants and the Capuchin Friars points out that if the Observants have not yet implemented a concrete reform, and will not have done so within two months of the date on which the Brief was issued, their members are free to move over to the Capuchins and be received by them.[10] Since the Observants have not completed their reform within the specified time, friars who come from the Observants may be lawfully accepted by the Capuchins according to pontifical, divine and natural law.

1097 Furthermore, after careful consideration, what is said in the chapter in Licet which treats De regularibus undoubtedly applies to every religious Order.[11] It says that it is permissible to move on to a stricter way of life, especially within the same Order. Everyone has the right to do this and to claim otherwise is contradictory to the law of God and of the Pope.

If someone says that everything must be done to prevent scandal, we reply that this would not cause scandal. Very rich parents who had many children would not be scandalised if one of their sons wanted to leave the family to serve God.

You may reply that by being received such friars are being disobedient and yet remain unpunished by the Observants, and that their superiors should force these friars to be obedient and should punish those who disobey. However, if they have gone to the Capuchins to improve their way of life it will not be disruptive and the superiors should not be upset because their children have moved on to a more austere way of life, to follow Christ and Blessed Francis more completely by being more closely united with Christ to observe Christ’s counsels and the Rule more closely.

Furthermore, if what they are saying was valid, they should not be receiving Augustinians, or Dominicans or members of other Orders, because that would mean that those individuals would be disobedient and remain unpunished. This is manifestly absurd and contrary to the chapter in Licet.

1098 The holy doctors emphasise that, according to the irrefutable word of Christ, both human law and divine law should promote greater perfection. A person should walk the straight path and enter by the narrow gate.[12] Each person must choose the safest road. It is important that there should be no obstacles and they should be loathed.

It is certain that whoever places obstacles, whoever they may be, will have to render a very strict account when they die and face Christ, the just Judge, at the Last Judgement. Those who have been blocked will certainly shout out just as they do at present and their outcry will reach the ears of the Lord.[13] Because of this it seems difficult, almost impossible, for those who place obstacles to thrive even in this life even if they live for a long time.[14] Therefore, if it is wicked not to do what is good, it is certainly worse to prevent others from doing what is good.[15]

If you still say that they are fully observing the Rule according to the Pontifical declarations, with those on their congregation voluntarily observing what has been dispensed, I reply that the Capuchins do not intend to argue the point or reveal the defects of others. If necessary, they can provide convincing answers to the three points raised here. For the present they say: if the Observant friars are not living strictly then they are not observing the Rule. If someone says that it is difficult to observe the Rule if you stay with them, then it is dangerous to remain there and if in doubt it is better to take the safer path since anyone who indulges in what is dangerous will fall.[16] Given the situation namely that the Conventuals were not following the Rule or observing the Papal declarations and the Observants had been given permission to accept those friars who came to them, chiesta la licenza benché non ottenuta,[17] it follows that the Capuchins should be allowed to accept the Observant friars who came to them.

1099 The crux of the topic is that your humble servants, the sons of St Francis, known as the Capuchins,[18] could and can now legitimately receive friars who come from the Observants.[19] Indeed, in view of the permission granted by the Holy See, they must receive them [for the following reasons].

First,[20] according to the precepts of natural law anyone who wants to live a better way of life must be accepted and nobody can reject them.

Second, according to divine law, nobody can stop somebody from practicing Christ’s counsels with greater perfection.

Third, according to Canon Law this is clearly supported in the chapter that begins with Licet in De regularibus.

Fourth, this is in accord with the Bull issued by Clement VII, of happy memory.

Fifth, it is in accord with countless Briefs issued by the Apostolic See.

The letters that were written by the Cardinals do not contradict this. Though the changes came about a couple of months after what the other three Cardinals had to say and which had not been widely distributed or communicated to the Vicar General, they do not abrogate the Briefs or the Bulls issued by the Supreme Pontiff.[21]

Because of His abundant goodness, the Most Merciful God increases the determination of all those who desire to live life to the full.[22] Even in this life, He rewards them fully and offers them the necessary help and support. However, He either rejects those who place impediments, or gives them a deeper insight, and a strong desire to love Him with fervour.

  1. We do not know who this Cardinal was but Giuseppe M. da M. Rotondo (cf. Gl’inizi, 52) said that it was Cardinal Antonio Sanseverino.
  2. These cardinals were Francesco Quiffiones di S. Croce, Lorenzo Campeggi Bishop of Prenesrina and Antonio Pucci dei Quartro Santi Coronati, Cf, Alincon., Tribulationes, 39s.
  3. The letter of the three Cardinals was sent from the Apostolic palace in Rome and dated 3rd December 1535 Cf L. Wadding (cf. AM, XVI, 462 [400], n. 377. It was republished by E. d’Alençon (Tribulationes, 41s, note 3).
  4. The following words have been cancelled in the original Latin text: Qui fratres eas praefato vicario non praesentantes, ad dictorum capuccinorum provincias destinarunt that is the Observants. This will be taken up later.
  5. Here too the following words have been cancelled in the original: ad instantiam dietarum fratrum capuccinorum.
  6. That is Cardinals Gaspare Contarini, Giacomo Simnetta and Girolamo Ghinucci.
  7. In the original Latin the last sentence has been handwritten by Bernardino d’Asti so that he could remember to bring the subject up later.
  8. D’Alceçon says that this “very illustrious person” was Vittoria Colonna, Marquis pf Pescara. Cf. Tribulationes, 43, note 4.
  9. The Bull is Exponi nobis del 23 agosto 1536 (cf. above sec. 1 doc. 4, nn. 21-36). The Cardinal at the Rota was Girolamo Ghinucci.
  10. This Brief is Dudum postquam del 29 agosto 1535 cf. note 35 in the introductory study section 1 Documenti pontifici.
  11. Cf. Decretalium Gregorii, lib. III, tit. 31, cap. 18 (above, n. 930, note 1).
  12. Cf. Mt 7: 14; 5: 48.
  13. Cf. James, 5: 4.
  14. This text was often used in the old Capuchin chronicles.
  15. At this point seven lines of the text have been cancelled.
  16. Cf. Sir. 3: 27. This thought is also contained in the Letter that Vittoria Colonna wrote to Cardinal Contarini (cf. pa II, sec. I, doc. 21, and after note 36).
  17. Because of this expression we recognise the intervention of Vittoria Colonna with the letter that she wrote to Cardinal Contarini and A. Recalcati (ibid., doc. 15, 1-2).
  18. The following words have been cancelled: secundum omne ius naturale, divinum et canonicum, secundum eorum bullam ac secundum multa brevia Sedis Apostolicae.
  19. The word promo had been cancelled.
  20. The words ex secundum ius naturale have been cancelled. This indicates that Bernardino d’Asti was in a hurry when he wrote this.
  21. The following words have been cancelled: et massime quia fuerunt facta abseque mandato, immo contra mentem sanctissimi domini nostri.
  22. Cf. 2 Tim 3: 12 and Titus 2: 12.