INSPIRATION AND INSTITUTION
FIRST CAPUCHIN COMMENTARIES ON THE FRANCISCAN RULE
(Beginning of 16th century – 1614)
from I Frati Cappuccini, a work of Costanzo Cargnoni, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, 1991, I, pages 487-533.
English version prepared by Gary Devery OFM Cap
Table of Contents
The Capuchins, as a Franciscan reform, managed to immediately establish their own particular approach to the Rule of Saint Francis and slowly developed a precise method of interpretation and observance.
From the first steps of Matteo da Bascio to the ordinances of Albacina (1525-1529), the rediscovery of the vital relationship between the Rule and the Testament of Saint Francis takes ever greater shape and consistency, according to those words which have become a program for the Order: «Let us always have with us this writing [= the Testament] alongside the Rule. And in all the chapters they make, when they read the Rule, they should also read these words. And to all my brothers, clerics and lay, I firmly order out of obedience that they do not add glosses to the Rule and to these words by saying: “Let them be understood in this way.” But as the Lord has given me to speak and write the Rule and these words simply and plainly, may you understand them simply and without gloss and observe them with a holy activity until the end.
The belief that the Rule could not be observed without observing the Testament became the privileged topic of the reformist reflections of the first Capuchins, later catalysed by the authority of Francesco Tittelmans and definitively established in the first legislation. Tittelmans said that the Testament “was an explanation made by the Holy Spirit of our Rule, the clearest and most beautiful that could be found, made by the same Spirit as the Rule”, and that, for this reason, “it was impossible to perfectly observe the Rule without embracing the Testament as a guide and norm”. And in this he did nothing but revive the concept of Giovanni Buralli of Parma taken up by Angelo Clareno, for whom, “just as all the law and the prophets and the Gospel consist in the commandment and in the sacrament of love, so in
Testament of Saint Francis is contained every perfection and the intention and the faithful and spiritual understanding of the Rule; and it is not possible for someone to despise the Testament and be able to spiritually understand and faithfully observe the Rule”.
The constitutions of 1536 established this principle: “It is ordered that the Testament of our father Saint Francis is observed by all…. And we accept this as a spiritual interpretation and exposition of our Rule, as it was written by him for this purpose”. Giovanni da Parma and with him Angelo Clareno and the Spirituals did not have too much sympathy towards comments and declarations other than the Testament and other admonitions of Saint Francis on the Rule. And this attitude was assimilated by the first Capuchins and translated into life practice in the first ten years of their reform, until numerous learned and fervent Observant friars minor came to soften and balance this radical position, already highlighted as pretentious in the short Pastoralis offici of Clement VII of 15 April 1534, alluding to
the first Capuchins who “claim to observe the Rule of Blessed Francis to perfection, not according to the declarations issued so far by the Roman pontiffs, but according to its literal sense”.
The constitutions of 1536, the mature fruit of the contribution of these fervent Observants, specified that, if it is true that the Rule must be observed “simply, ad literam, without gloss”, that is, “purely, holily and spiritually” without “all the carnal, useless, harmful and weakening interpretations and expositions”, however, the “declarations of the supreme pontiffs” must not be rejected, above all, the bulls Exit qui seminat of Nicholas III of 1279 and Exivi de Paradiso of Clement V in 1312, as is reflected in the Constitutions after the Council of Trent.
This was already a development of the primitive literal radicalism of observance of the Rule and a tribute paid to the thinking of the Observant scholars who passed to the Capuchins and was almost a type of compromise. But the principle of literal and spiritual observance of the Rule always remained, in the light of the Testament and the other writings, sayings and deeds of Saint Francis which reveal the “pious, just and divine will of Christ” and of the Gospel.
On this principle, a very animated and vital discussion will develop, a lively preaching within the Order and a fruitful ascetic, theological, juridical and spiritual literature. It is these discussions, this preaching and these Capuchin commentaries on the Rule that we want to present here, in an attempt to clarify the relationships, the mutual influences, the sources and internal developments.
Not all the authors are known or, if known, not all have left writings or documentation of their reading of the Franciscan Rule. Within the first hundred years, the first documentation of the Capuchin experience begins with a “convert”, Giovanni da Fano, who abounds with insights, idealism and realism, having behind him an experience of responsibility outside and inside the reform, which allowed him to compare men and things and that, for this reason, he became a fundamental authority in the analysis of the Rule in the reformed sense and in the consequent language that finds perfect correspondence with what men who were born into and lived, so to speak, the Capuchin life, of which they reflect all the elements of evolution and spiritual and institutional adjustment.
But after Giovanni da Fano a curious fact immediately catches the eye: from 1535/36, the date of the definitive and charismatic drafting of the constitutions of St Eufemia-Rome and the first commentary, entirely Capuchin, of the Franciscan Rule, we skip, with an enormous and significant gap, to 1575/80, which is the immediate post-Tridentine Council period and of the revision of the constitutions of the Order to light of the conciliar decrees. The first 40 years were dominated by the interpretation of Giovanni da Fano and above all by a fervour of spiritual and doctrinal animation of the general ministers (then called “vicars”) in the Italian provinces.
The following 40 years, which correspond to the European expansion of the reform, are instead characterized by an extremely complex rethinking of the entire evangelical form of Franciscan life through a detailed, punctual, not to say sometimes meticulous, analysis of the individual words of the Rule of Saint Francis which led to the printing of three expositions or declarations on the Rule: by Gregory of Naples in 1589, by Girolamo da Polizzi in 1606 and by Santi Tesauro of Rome in 1614.
However, there still remains the commentaries of Giovanni Maria da Tusa and Silvestro of Assisi, worked upon from the 1570s/80s, remained manuscripts, without references to other explanations of the Rule that came to light in other nations in the early seventeenth century, and so remain within our established chronological scope.
These rereadings of the Rule possess a characteristic that makes them unmistakable. But only the details of the reflections compared with each other and the history of this desire for literal observance without privileges can reconstruct the meaning and global message of these commentaries and discourses.
It is always essential to closely touch on the personal lives of these men who focus on a mentality and style of Franciscan observance. Only in this way is it possible to grasp the value of this ancient commitment today. Participants in the past and in the culture of their era, bear witness, in their own way, to the changes brought with it by a new fidelity to a spirit already defined and proposed by the founders of the Capuchin reform and by the historical development of their work.
Let us then draw upon these commentaries to see the development of a methodology of interpretation in both the text and language used.
1. The amended “Dialogue de la salute” (doc. 2) and the “Short discourse” (doc. 3) by Giovanni Pili da Fano (1536)
We cannot ignore the style and method of Giovanni Pili da Fano in reconstructing the formation of the reflections of the first Capuchins on the Rule. His Dialogue, recast in 1534/36 in defence of the Capuchins, as opposed to the one he had published in an anti-Capuchin sense in 1527 in Ancona, circulated in manuscript among the friars and nourished the first generations of the Order; but it was never printed. Instead, his Breve discorso circa l’osservanza del voto della minorica povertà [Brief Discourse on the Observance of the Vow of Minor Poverty], a distillation of his Dialogo, was published in Brescia in 1536 and repeatedly reprinted in the second half of the 16th century and translated into various languages starting from the end of the 16th century.
The method introduced by Pili can be seen from even a brief reading of the text. He reviews the various chapters of the Rule and the different sentences and weaves a dialogue to explain to his interlocutor the meaning desired and intended by Saint Francis. For this purpose he uses a set of authorities taken from the Bible, from the papal bulls, especially the two «of all…the most excellent», he says, of Nicholas III and Clement V; he cites the holy fathers, canon law, ancient commentaries and reflections on the Franciscan Rule and observance, including those of spiritual authors such as Olivi, Ugo di Digne and less clearly Angelo Clareno and Ubertino da Casale, as well as texts coming from those of the Observants: Saint Bernardino, Saint Giovanni da Capistrano and others.
Particular emphasis for collecting and presenting the writings, sayings and deeds of Saint Francis is given in the book of ‘Conformities’ by Bartolomeo da Pisa, to which he frequently refers. He says he has “studied many books and chronicles of the Order and holy doctors and their declarations on the Rule”.
Of the books published at that time, he used above all the collection of Franciscan juridical sources such as Speculum Minorum, which contains a veritable arsenal of Franciscan spiritual, historical, juridical, legislative texts and the most important ancient declarations of the Rule. He is also quite up to date because he cites several times the then very recent Expositione della Resula di Frati Minori by Brendulino, i.e., by Bartolomeo da Brendula, reformatted and published in Venice on 23 August 1533. Everything serves to convince readers of the “true intention of saint Francis regarding the observance of the Rule”, which he is certain he has rediscovered, and of which he becomes an apostle and authoritative announcer. For this reason, he multiplies references to biographical episodes of Saint Francis as concrete examples and current verifications and confirmations of his interpretation of him.
What certainly weighs on his writing is that continuous and heavy reliance on doctrinal and juridical authorities, the conception of the singularity and uniqueness of the Seraphic Rule of Saint Francis as that which expresses the maximum evangelical perfection, especially in the highest poverty and its binding under mortal sin, according to the logic of the various precepts established by the papal bulls and as treated by Giundisalvo and Nicolò da Osimo.
It must be kept in mind, in any case, as F. Elizondo rightly pointed out, that not “everything contained in the second draft of the Dialogo de la salute is an expression of the Capuchin mentality: it would be a fundamental error to interpret it as this; there are quite a few points in it explained according to Observant criteria, expressed as such by the author: only in this way can apparently opposite pages united”. In fact, sometimes he explains as if he were speaking to Observants, not to Capuchins. His stimulatus interlocutor, in fact, has not yet made the Capuchin choice, and therefore is “encouraged” to quickly enter into the reform and then everything will be clear and so many arguments of authority and many legal explanations will not be necessary. He himself recognizes this, writing in the last lines of the Dialogo: “[The Author] has posed many things … regarding the recourse to spiritual friends and syndics and many other things, which in this blessed reform of the Capuchins are not necessary, because by the grace of the Lord we live according to the purity and simplicity of the Rule; but he placed them for the common benefit of others, and so that many errors are discovered and these relaxations are inexcusable”.
However, Giovanni da Fano, while focusing attention on the phrases of the Rule, with an exegesis adhering to the “declarations of the popes and the doctors of the Order”, proposes above all a spiritual observance, identified in the centrality of love, in the spirit of prayer and devotion, in the illuminating and inflaming work of the spirit of Christ which guides the friars to the summit of the cruciform mystical experience by means of a radical internal and external poverty, which detaches the heart from selfishness, from vices and sins, making it pure and unites him to God, as happened with Saint Francis. This is the most “Capuchin” expression of the commentary on the Rule of Pili, and it is from this perspective that we can look for the new character of 16th century Franciscanism renewal in Italy and Europe.
Alongside the Dialogo of Giovanni da Fano, important for clarifying the ideals, but also the realizations in the daily life of the first Capuchins, it is necessary to place the method of animation used by the generals, provincials and local superiors who try to ensure that the particular details of the Rule are observed in the literal sense, revealing how the transition to spiritual understanding and observance occurs precisely in small details.
In this way, the primitive chronicles can help us understand this mentality of the first Capuchin generations, and the importance of the canonical visits of the general ministers, such as Bernardino d’Asti, Francesco da Jesi, Eusebio d’Ancona and Girolamo da Montefiore in the period of the first 40/50 years of the reform, from 1536 to 1575. From this we can know the inspiration that guided these personalities in their service to the friars.
Bernardino d’Asti was convinced and taught the friars that the Holy Spirit had rediscovered “this way of living according to the true observance of the Rule” and specified that father Saint Francis, in giving the Rule, “had no other intention than to order his brothers to holy prayer, freeing them from every impediment and removing from us with the precepts of the Rule all those things that would impede us in holy prayer and giving us the means by which we could acquire the true love of God, which consists in the observance of every good law”.
The importance of Bernardino d’Asti and his influence were very great as he already had a lot of experience with the problems of reforming the Order while still among the Observants. In this he also had the support of Francesco da Jesi in this longing and yearning for reform. While still an Observant Bernardino was already esteemed as an authority for his interpretations on the way of observing the Rule. In his inspiration and mystical interpretation of the Franciscan Rule he reiterated, even forcefully and at the level of legislation, the need for literal observance.
If, for example, the Rule says that those who do not know how to read should not endeavour to learn, d’ Asti in the ordinances he issued in 1549 drew this conclusion: “No lay friar should have any booklet, except the Rule in the vulgar tongue”. And, as a general principle, in the ordinances for the province of Rome, he established “that all the friars who are or will be in this province of Rome, shall observe holy poverty and all of the Rule promised by us integrally according to the pious will of our Lord Jesus revealed and expressed to our seraphic father saint Francis, to whom he said that he wanted the said Rule to be observed ad litteram without gloss”.
And this was approved for the whole Order in the chapter of 1552: “Altissima paupertas et Regula serventur ad mentem S. P. Francisci ad litteram et sine glosa [as in the intention of St Francis highest poverty and the Rule are to be maintained literally and without interpretation]”.
An example of a literal analysis of the Rule that would cause much discussion at the end of the sixteenth century was given by Bernardino d’Asti himself with his Dichiaratione intorno al portar tre panni [Declarartion about carrying three pieces of clothing] (doc. 4), with an autobiographical flavour, taken up by chroniclers and distributed in manuscript in many copies. It is a declaration that becomes a splendid testimony of life lived in the heroic and charismatic period of the Order, when the friars were so spiritually free that they did not make too many distinctions, as obligations, between the small and minute things and greater ones, because the fire of love made the very letter of the Rule go beyond them.
Colpetrazzo writes that a few days after becoming a Capuchin Francesco da Jesi “began to preach to the friars about the state of perfection that we promised our Lord God through the Rule to put into action. He seemed like a seraph afire with the love of God, applying most of his reasoning to the Rule, showing how perfect it was and how difficult it is for the friars to maintain this perfection, because whoever perfectly observes the Rule of Saint Francis can be called a saint.” He personally “was very rigorous in observing the Rule to the letter” and believed that it was revealed, almost like the Gospel, and had a mystical concept of it as “a way of living well suited to holy contemplation”, as a “mixed life” which is more perfect because “it is more in conformity with the holy Gospel and the apostolic life, observing with poverty the commandment of the love of God in holy prayer and the love of one’s neighbour in preaching”.
In the same chronicles we read of Eusebio Fardini d’Ancona that “when he was a prelate, he always exhorted the friars to the true observance of the Rule, and he gave all his sermons on the Rule. When he was made general, for the six years he sought to preach in all the provinces on the Rule, and his sermons bore much fruit”. Unfortunately, there is no trace or manuscript copy left of all these sermons. Yet they created and developed a mentality in the Order and a style of observance.
To give an example, in the Naples chapter of 1559 it was decided, among other things, to leave five friaries in the province of Puglia because the friars in them could not live according to the purity of the Rule. After the chapter of 1552, Eusebius of Ancona, during his visits, strongly criticized the preachers who, having abandoned their ancient simplicity, acting with a contrived style, and he said that this was a sign of slackening off in the Order. But it is enough to compare the various general ministers of the time to find the same zeal for observance of the Rule.
It is after the Council of Trent that the teaching of the Rule becomes more and more technically precise according to the pontifical declarations and the previous expositions of theologians and jurists, so in n. 17 of the constitutions the following passage was definitively added: “In that year they will be novices, the masters should use diligence to make them learn by heart the whole Rule, and what the commandments of this Rule are and the advice and admonitions that our seraphic father gives us in it, showing them what the intention of our most holy father was regarding the observance of the Rule”.
Research in the various archives and libraries could, on this point, still hold new surprises and, perhaps, lead to the discovery of useful material for reconstructing this teaching and preaching on the Rule. It is known, for example, that Angelo d’Asti (+ 1560) from the province of Genoa wrote a treatise on seraphic poverty; and Eusebius of Ancona would have done the same; but there are no traces of these works. It is also likely that Girolamo Caluschi da Milano (+ 1584) would also have composed a treatise on the poverty of the friars minor. Francesco da Cannobio (+ 1569), secretary of the general chapter of Rome-S. Eufemia of 1536, according to Colpetrazzo, compiled a well-known little book on poverty: “He was the one who composed that little treatise on holy poverty”. But there are no traces of this either, unless, to make a hypothesis, it is the Brief Discourse by Giovanni da Fano which he summarized from the Dialogo de la salute.
The biggest surprise came from the provincial archive of the Capuchins of Assisi, where a large miscellaneous codex is preserved which, for the topic we are dealing with, has a unique importance. And it still hasn’t been valued and studied. The code measures 27 x 19 cm and is numbered in 1480 pages in pencil in a modern hand. It is bound with a thick worked leather cover and glued onto wooden boards with the sign of two iron studs and hooks and leather straps to keep it tied together. It is paper with parchment sheets inserted between one treatise and another, which were part of an ancient codex which reported a commentary on Dante’s Divina Commedia in two columns. On the spine between the ribs of the binding, on a glued strip of paper we read: Esposiz[ion]e sopra la Regola | Di S. Francesco. At the bottom, still on the spine, another glued note shows an ancient vertical signature: F. III. 1. It comes from the ancient friary of Amelia, a small town in Umbria in the province of Terni, but there is no particular information on the history, movements and tradition of this codex.
The unknown compiler illustrated it with prints that are very rare today, perhaps unique, particularly one, used in three distinct copies, cut and pasted here and there, coloured by hand and representing the episode of Fonte Colombo with the ministers and Brother Elia protesting on one side, and Saint Francis on the mountain on the other and Christ above speaking from the clouds; the scene was originally framed by 12 small pictures illustrating the themes of the twelve chapters of the Rule, but cut and spread across various sheets. This print bears the date 1584. The compiler tried, with the arte povera, typical of the Capuchins, to give the manuscript the appearance of an illuminated codex, drawing by hand, in pen, curious ornaments to the various titles, colouring the initials capital letters, adding at the foot of the page, for 563 pages (then, he probably got tired), framed in ornamental strips, many biblical and ascetic sayings; and also inventing graceful naive pen drawings, with little monks with sharp hoods emerging from the woods, with little churches towering on the hills and a sky crossed by black swallows.
The importance of the codex, obviously, does not lie in these curious ornamental details, but in the anthological content, so it could, in a certain way, be defined as the “Capuchin” version of collections such as Speculum Minorum or Firmamenta trium Ordinum which reproduce, among the other things, the most significant ancient comments on the Franciscan Rule. In our case, however, the first and oldest “Capuchin” commentaries on the Rule are reproduced.
On pages 1236-1260 continues with a schematic collection of points taken from the various papal declarations on the Rule and fragments of a short commentary on the Rule, which reaches up to the third chapter, on pages 1441-1449. The rest includes various texts of an ascetic, theological-moral and juridical nature, fragments of a commentary on the Apocalypse and a long recipe book. But it would take too long to exhaustively describe this very curious codex.
The original numbering is done in letters in instalments of 6 ff each, the first three marked A., A.2, and the other three unmarked; then B., B.2, B.3 and so on up to Z; then A.a, A.a.2, A.a.3 etc. up to S.s.s.s.s.s.3 on page 1477. The writing is by multiple hands. More than ten hands could be distinguished, and this poses major dating problems. From the comparison of the various writings, it will be possible without a doubt to give a name to the different transcribers and also to the compiler.
However, one thing seems certain: the division into paragraphs with the corresponding titles which in each commentary on the Rule is presented as a small summary scheme before each chapter, is by the same hand. So it seems that the compiler commissioned several people for the transcription and then brought together and coordinated the various texts with the illustrations and pen ornaments mentioned above and with the titles in bold Gothic calligraphy and the same with the headers. This adjustment must have occurred, coordinating the various dates that appear in the text, in the last two decades of the 16th century.
Another observation that makes the dating of the codex more probable consists in the fact that all these commentaries are unpublished, and two are also anonymous, but they are of significant interest for our research. These two anonymous texts are: L’amore evangelico sopra la regola di san Francesco and the Exposizione attributed to Friar Angelo Tancredi. Let us carefully place them one after the other.
a) “L’amore evangelico” a bibliographical enigma and secret source of the amended “Dialogo”, by Giovanni da Fano (doc. 1)
The identification of the author of this anonymous writing has not yet been made. For now, for our part, we are walking in the dark. It remains a mysterious bibliographic case, a curious and fascinating enigma.
The writing almost has the flavour of an “esoteric” reading of the Rule among the Capuchins. Apparently, no other known copies exist and nor does it appear, as far as we know, in the biblio-historiography of the Franciscan Rule. Unfortunately, also the copy of the Assisi codex appears without a title and is fragmentary.
In fact, on page 1199, the compiler notes the five paragraphs (with their respective titles) into which the first chapter is divided; then follows a parchment sheet; On the back of this sheet there is a beautiful printed engraving which represents Saint Mary Magdalene with her hands crossed in front of her chest and with the Crucifix in her hand, her hair loose along her shoulders, her face ecstatic and tearful in contemplation of the Passion, but strong, not haggard nor effeminate; all set in a cave, with two little angels fluttering above, framing the scene, in a perspective of the sky from which a clear spiritual light like a sun descends. Then you notice a torn sheet of paper on which the title was written calligraphically as the title page of the text in question, which perhaps could have clarified the origin and the author. The most probable title seems to be: L’amore evangelico sopra la Regola di san Francesco [Evangelical love in the Rule of Saint Francis], as can be seen from the headings of the sheets and the titles of the surviving chapters.
The first chapter of the Rule and related commentary is reported, but the first page which included the title page and the first lines of the commentary is missing. This is followed, complete this time, by the commentary on the second chapter of the Rule, up to page 1223. The following page is blank. The following shows the titles of the five paragraphs of the last chapter, the twelfth, of the Rule and related commentary, whose title page can be read on an unnumbered sheet torn in half, between pages 1225 and 1226, with coloured pen drawings representing Noah’s ark with the dove and olive branch in its beak; while on the reverse of this half-sheet, framed between ornaments also in pen with the coat of arms of the Holy Spirit raised by two little angels, we read the title: Seguita il duodecimo et ultimo capitolo [What follows is the twelfth and last chapter]. The first Latin words of the chapter XII of the Rule follow; but the tearing of the page does not allow us to grasp the first sentences of the relevant comment which, thus, headless, continues on page 1226 up to page 1233.
Therefore, nine chapters of the Rule and their commentary are missing. A letter recently found in the provincial archive of the Tuscan Capuchins in Florence written by Fr Vito da Lucca (+ 1610) to the companion writer of Mattia Bellintani da Salò (+ 1611), that is, to Fr Giacomo da Salò (d 1621) on 14 February 1594, does not remove the veil of mystery, but rather thickens it more. Let us focus for a moment on this.
The text of this letter reports some news, such as having seen in the friary of Nice an ancient chronicle by Ubertino da Casale on the persecutions of the zealous friars which “I believe – he writes – that Father Mattia would enjoy them, and it would be good if he put them in his Chronicles”. But it begins with a particular warning which, as it sounds, remains incomprehensible. He says, in fact, with colourful, spontaneous and orthographically peculiar language: “If your letter, for which I am grateful, had arrived earlier to me, I would have sent the book a long time ago. By means of the friars, I immediately sent it to the father guardian of Siena, as Your Excellency ordered me. I am saddened at heart that I have such bad writing and for the urgency with which I have had to write to you before I left the province, that I could not write you a worthy letter; but with all this little by little it is getting done. Therefore, be assured that no one is mistaken, and if I could not help you in copying it as there were some words that I did not understand, I will send you our copy and at your own convenience you can copy it and send it back to me, as it is enough for me that you send it back to me”.
The incomprehensibility of these notes is overcome by a little note from Fr. Giacomo da Salò who says: “For the Chronicles, which in Nice are the Chronicles of Br Ubertino. The copied book is the evangelical love of P. Gio[vanni] da Parma. Note that it is bound in two volumes in 12 and was lent to Fr brother Luciano”.
So Fr Vito da Lucca apparently copied this text of L’amore evangelico that he kept with him and sent a copy to Siena to Fr Giacomo da Salò. Behind the scenes there is probably Mattia Bellintani who must have requested this writing. Other news is that the copy was in two volumes in -120 and was lent to Fr Luciano Soncini di Brescia (+ 1618), master of novices for 37 years in the province of Brescia. However, the most sensational and disconcerting news is that this commentary on the Rule was apparently composed by none other than Fr. Giovanni Buralli da Parma (+ 1289). But one searches in vain among the works attributed to Buralli for a writing that, even remotely, may resemble this “Amore”.
The only way forward is an internal reading of the text. Already from the first lines a significant choice of language and words appears: “Spirit of Christ”, “spiritual virtues” of the Gospel, “Francis another Christ”, the friars minor “humble and spiritual”, “spiritual sense”, “Holy Spirit and his charity”, “cordial love”, “cordially” etc. From a first observation, this language seems rather of Clarenian ancestry, both in the title “evangelical love” that Angelo Clareno often uses applied to the Rule, for example “regula caritatis et perfectionis Christi evangelii [the rule of charity and the perfection of the gospel of Christ]”, or «regula caritatis evangelii Jesu Christi [the rule of charity of the gospel of Jesus Christ]” etc., both in the term “cordial love” with the adverb “cordially” and the same for other expressions.
But the most incredible aspect of this anonymous and fragmentary commentary on the Franciscan Rule appears when it is compared with the ‘amended’ Dialogo of Giovanni da Fano. The coincidence of some texts that seem to be a summary or abbreviated transcription of the most popular passages from L’amore evangelico is striking. At least five different texts can be identified which, in the fabric of the Dialogo, are usually the most spiritually significant and are, in general, speeches abounding in excess placed on the lips of Saint Francis in the rhetorical style of prosopopoeia.
This curious fact leads to some interesting consequences: it seems critically more probable, precisely because of the greater development of the passages of L’amore evangelico, that this commentary was used and copied freely by Giovanni da Fano with the same method with which, in Arte de la unione, he copied the still unpublished manuscript of the mystical work of Bartolomeo Cordoni. Furthermore, we can assert that we have identified the most secret and spiritual source of the ‘amended’ Dialogo, also because it has no comparison with the style, language and content of the first printed Dialogo. This seems to us to be the strongest evidence.
So it means that Giovanni da Fano found and read the text of L’amore evangelico after 1534, when he entered the Capuchin reform. Did he perhaps meditate on it in Scandriglia, where he had retreated to do his “Capuchin” mini-novitiate which lasted a few months? Or in Rome or Northern Italy where Ludovico da Fossombrone had sent him to plant the Capuchin reform, starting with the Venetian and Lombard provinces? We do not know. The fiery ex-Observant is content to say that he has “studied many books and chronicles of the order, and holy doctors and their declarations on the Rule”.
A more precise answer could be given if other codexes of L’amore evangelico were found, as we think there are. For now, what we have used is the only copy and, what’s more, headless and fragmentary. And yet it is a fundamental indicator for understanding the intentions of the first Capuchins.
It means, again, that this text, certainly attributed to Giovanni da Parma by Fr Giacomo da Salò, probable spokesperson for a common belief of the Capuchins of the time, was probably written, until proven otherwise, by a very spiritual Capuchin, before 1536; and it was a text that, like many others, circulated in manuscript among the friars, attributed to Giovanni da Parma to comfort the unexpected and incredible return to the origins of the Order, which occurred with the Capuchin reform.
This reference to the origins of the Order seems even more evident for the other anonymous commentaries reported in the same Assisi codex with the unlikely attribution to one of the first companions of Saint Francis, Brother Angelo Tancredi.
Angelo Tancredi di Rieti was pointed out by Francis as “courteous” and “adorned with all kindness and goodness”, being the “first knight to enter the Order” and was one of the famous “three companions” who wrote down their memoirs on Saint Francis and signed Greccio letter. He was always close to the Poverello especially in the last years of his life, from La Verna to the transition to S. Maria degli Angeli: therefore a qualified witness of the intention and will of the saint.
The attribution therefore seems symbolic. In fact, the title of this commentary: Nel nome del nostro Signore Jesu Christo et della sua Madre Santissima et del nostro serafico padre san Francesco incomincia il prologo sopra la regola evangelica da Dio rivelata al beato suo confessore Francesco, con una humile espositione sopra l’istessa, fatta da Frate Angelo Tangredi suo compagno [In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and of his Most Holy Mother and of our seraphic father Saint Francis begins the prologue on the evangelical rule revealed by God to his blessed confessor Francis, with a humble exposition on the same , made by Friar Angelo Tangredi, his companion], rather recalls the added title of Angelo Clareno’s Esposizione, as can be read in at least two different manuscripts. Moreover, another copy of the same commentary attributed to Tancredi, dating back to the end of the 16th century, also preserved in Assisi in the provincial archive of the Capuchins, in the codex A of the Chronicle of Colpetrazzo described by Melchiorre da Pobladura, reported the name of Agostino in the title, later corrected to Angelo. The scribe, obviously, copied without critical knowledge.
In the large Assisi manuscript we read, on the title sheet, at the bottom of the page, written by a different hand, this note: “When reading this exposition one understands that it is not by Br Tancredi, but almost entirely by the person who wrote it in this volume”. The text is largely written by one hand, except for the first few pages. The truth is that it is, as Pobladura himself well said, a “simplex italica adaptatio celebris expositionis Angeli Clareni [a simple Italian adaptation of the famous exposition of Angelus Clareni]”. Perhaps he wanted to clearly avoid the name of Angelo Clareno, which was too compromised, by changing it to Angelo Tancredi. It is really an “adaptation”, rather than a translation; indeed, a clear pretext based on Clareno’s writing to support and advocate the options of the Capuchin reform. In fact, in the prologue, freely translated and rather combed through Clareno’s text, original reflections emerge which make the anonymous author’s intent clear, such as this one: “In order that those who challenge and trample upon the true observance, may be recognised and defeated by those zealous for this Rule, and also that they may introduce the evangelical life given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Apostles observed and preached, and in St. Francis our father, and in all those who wish to follow him, may be demonstrated to the world once again by deeds and words. Amen”.
There is no one who fails to grasp, behind these words, the anxiety of the Capuchins who want to defend their reformed life. Thus the commentary on the bull Solet annuere of Honorius III is entirely new. A large number of biographical episodes are included and, for the most part, attributed to the tradition of the saint’s first companions, but also various stories or sayings taken from the Vitae Patrum (but much fewer), as well as the prophetic sayings of Saint Francis: and in these last aspects the influence of Clareno can be seen.
Many biographical episodes of Saint Francis are amplified and commented upon and applied to the concrete life of the friars, using, perhaps, suggestions drawn from various readings, such as the Chronicon or Historia septem tribulationum by Clareno himself, or from the works of Saint Bonaventure or other sources. At times, the style and manner of delivery seem very close to that of Bernardino da Colpetrazzo, which leads one to suspect that the chronicler was familiar with this text, or even used the same large Assisian codex.
The voluminous codex of Assisi, as we were saying, also contains some unpublished commentaries, of which we know the authors. Of particular interest for now is that of Giovanni Maria Bruno da Tusa, never printed, but copied in numerous codices.
We are fortunate to have a precise chronology of this author’s life, following some autobiographical notes left by himself in a handwritten booklet of Lenten sermons. Born in Tusa, a small village near Messina, in 1532, to the Bruno family, he tells us that he entered the Order at 16 and that he received a Capuchin habit from the guardian of the Palermo friary, Fr. Basilio da Catania on 2 February 1548, during the provincialate of Fr. Archangel from Catania and Bernardino d’Asti being vicar general. Then the province of Sicily was the only one for the whole island. He was ordained a priest at the age of 24 in 1556, Fr. Tommaso di Castello being provincial and Eusebio d’Ancona the general. In 1560, at the age of 27, he received the office of preaching, Fr. Ludovico da Noto being provincial and Tommaso di Castello the general; and he began to preach in Gipso near Messina. From 1561 until 1570 he preached in various cities on the island; then in the province of S. Michele Arcangelo in Ascoli in 1570/72, in the province of Puglia in 1573, in Abruzzo in 1574, in 1575 in the province of S. Angelo; then again in Abruzzo in 1576 and finally he returned to Sicily in 1577. He preached in Terne, in Catania in 1577 and ’78 and then went to Rome where he preached the Lent in 1579 in Roma Prenestina, in 1580 in the church of S. Celso and in Frascati in 1581. Here the autobiographical note ends, because in 1581 Giovanni Maria da Tusa was elected vicar general of the Order, having previously been, from 1575, general definitor and general procurator.
The testimonies of chroniclers and local memoirs are unanimous in defining him as “a great canonist and with a very exemplary life and very prudent in government”; or a “great scholar and canonist, so much so that since he was the court prosecutor of our religion in Rome, he was esteemed by the greatest canonist who was still alive and could be found in Rome at that time. Giovanni Maria engaged in much collaboration with him in similar matters and they did great work together.” In fact, “Doctor Navarro”, that is, Martino di Azpilcueta, was a very good friend and defender of the Capuchins and was also very familiar with Fr Tusa. Fr. Agostino d’Asti adds that Tusa “was made provincial of his province of Sicily” before the division and even before it ended, he was sent to direct the province of S. Angelo in Puglia. He was very fruitful in this work, which also included declaring cases of conscience”. Bellintani specifies that he was very temperate, even in the difficulties of canonical visits and was “by nature meek and did not proceed to punish unless compelled by the clear evidence of the excess”.
A contemporary testimony says: “This father was not as rigorous as his predecessor, because he went about his actions with great foundation”. It was he who introduced the “processes” to prevent the provincials from being too severe in giving penance, and wanted “the processes to be preserved for justification by the judge”. Everyone underlines his preaching to the friars on the Rule: “This reverend father went visiting all the Religion in Italy and, in all the provinces where he held the chapter, he made pronouncements on the entire Rule to the friars; while he was preaching on these many of the friars wrote it down and many copies were made, almost for the entire Order; it was a very useful and necessary thing for friars to know.”
“He made pronouncements on the Rule in all the provinces”, writes Colpetrazzo and Mattia da Salò reiterates: “When visiting, he sermonized on the Rule, making pronouncements on it; these pronouncements written down by many friars and these were taken into account by the friars”. The Milanese chronicler Salvatore da Rivolta writes that Tusa was a “father of great value and spirit. He made pronouncements on the Rule here in Milan to the great satisfaction of all the friars, with whom he was very kind. He ate only once a day, and never meat”. Finally, Boverio in his Annales, almost summarizing, presented Giovanni M. da Tusa as “totius regularis observantiae propugnator acerrimus, cuius illud, praeter alia, testimonium est, quod etiamnum per fratrum manus, quaedam haud aspernenda regulae Expositio, ab e compacta, pervolat, scriptis tantum commendata [a most ardent defender of the whole regular observance, of which this, among other things, is a testimony, that by the hands of the brothers, is a certain and unassailable well-constructed, desirable and highly recommended Exposition of the rule]”.
The commentary on the Rule by p. Giovanni M. da Tusa, therefore, had a great diffusion in his time. And it was still willingly read by the friars, as Boverio writes, despite the fact that other commentaries were already officially in circulation and moreover printed, such as that of Girolamo da Polizzi and Santi Tesauro. Manuscript copies can still be found in Capuchin libraries and archives. An initial survey gives the result of at least 14 copies.
These numerous copies must confront the original and fundamental handwritten manuscript by Giovanni M. da Tusa still preserved in the provincial archive of the Capuchins of Messina. It’s a paper codex, bound in wood covered with ornate leather, 15.3 x 11 cm., 198 ff. recently numbered. The writing is crisp with rare corrections. It bears this precise title: Manuale dove so’ scripti alcuni sermoni de alcune | domeniche, et altre cose pertinente al regimento di prelati spirituali | et maxime del Ordine de’ frati | Minori li quali desidera | no il ben vivere et dedicarsi al Signore [Manual where some sermons of some | are written for Sundays, and other things pertaining to the regiment of spiritual prelates | and leaders of the Order of Friars | Minors who desire | not to live comfortably, rather dedicating oneself to the Lord]. Another hand adds: “Handwritten by Fr. General Tusa and received from Fr Paolo da Tusa Capuchin preacher and left at the place of Tusa of the Capuchin fathers in memory of such a great father general | Shelf 4a-, Pillar 4th, n°. one |. With the exposition of the Rule by | hand of the said Father General”.
This code therefore reports in folios 98r.- 157r of the original handwritten commentary on the Rule that Fr. Tusa had already composed it before being made general and when he became provincial in Sicily and then elsewhere, starting from 1561 in Foggia and also in 1573, and from 1565 in Sicily, until he was made attorney general in 1575 and 1578. The full title of his commentary is: Jesus Maria Franciscus. Expositione de la regula di frati Minori per modo di sermone secondo la declaratione de’ Sommi Pontifici et di altri doctori li quali non deviano dal vivo sensu de la littera et voluntà del seraphico Patre sancto Francesco Jesus [Mary Francis. Exposition of the rule of the Friars Minor by way of the sermon according to the declarations of the Supreme Pontiffs and of other doctors who do not deviate from the living sense of the writings and will of the seraphic Father of Saint Francis].
This exposition was always brought by Fr. Tusa in his canonical visits and on the occasions of provincial chapters he systematically organized a series of sermons devoted to the friars on the Rule, explaining the various chapters, and if he did not exhaust the explanation, he continued it in the subsequent provincial chapters.
The comparison between the original handwritten codex and the copies scattered in the various archives could become the subject of an interesting study. There is a strong difference in tone and material, even if we always find the same basic arguments used by the zealous superior in his explanations.
The handwritten notes often do not cover all the details of the theme which are left to the improvisation of the moment, with the possibility of many variations, and therefore seem rather like prompt notes, above all to establish the fixed points of theological, moral and juridical doctrine. Instead, the copies present a notable variety and it is possible to identify developments of themes barely mentioned in the original, or summaries of more developed thoughts found in the original, or personal insights that came out spontaneously in the heat of the sermon, but not indicated in the original, or a supplement of legal reflections pertinent to certain cases of the Rule and which, perhaps, due to particular local needs, required a more accurate solution.
We can also glimpse the contribution of the transcriber who initially collects the text made up of notes taken down while Tusa was speaking, summaries, outlines and so forth. They were then organically reorganised it at the desk, adding, perhaps, because it is more pertinent, other authorities and other material, probably not used by Tusa, to enrich the comment and embody it more in the local situation.
In the collection of these copies made by the friars we seem to be able to identify a two stage editorial and transcription process: a more learned one with many additions and expansions, to the point of almost seeming like a new commentary; and a simpler, shorter and closer, in a certain way, to the original codex. The first probably reflects an elaboration made in the province of Milan; the second must have been completed in Umbria or the Marche. The titles of these copies in fact present some subtle variations that justify the proposed distinctions. The Milanese one says: Dichiaratione | della Regola de’ Frati Minori | fatta dal M. R. P. Generale il P. Gio[vanni] Maria da Tusa | Capuccino nel Capitolo provinciale di Milano | l’anno 1583 [Pronouncements | on the Rule of the Friars Minor | made by the M. R. P. General Fr. Gio[vanni] Maria da Tusa | Capuchin in the Provincial Chapter of Milan | the year 1583]. Another copy bears the variation in the title: congregato in Milano nel mese di settembre 1583 [gathered in Milan in the month of September 1583], and is similar, so it seems, to the copy preserved in Genoa: Dichiaratione sopra la Regola nostra de’ frati Minori fatta dal R.do Padre fra Gio[vanni] Maria di Tosa Generale de’ Capuccini nel Capitolo provintiale congregato l’anno 1583 nel mese di settembre il giorno della Madona [Pronouncement on the Rule of Ours of the Friars Minor made by the R. do Padre fra Gio[vanni] Maria di Tosa General of the Capuchins in the provincial chapter assembled in the year 1583 in the month of September on the day of the Madonna]. In fact Giovanni M. da Tusa came to the province of Milan “in the year 1583 of July and September – writes the chronicler Salvatore da Rivolta – he convened the provincial chapter in Milan, in which Fr Giacomo Caldarino da Milano was elected, and in this chapter Saint Charles was there and ate in the refectory, and after lunch at the altar the same saint gave a beautiful discourse in praise of our Order, and then solemnly blessed all the friars”.
Instead, the copy from Umbria or the Marche bears this title: Dichiaratione sopra la Re- | gola de’ Frati Minori fatta da molti Sommi Pontefici et | Dottori de l’Ordine, compi- | lata dal molto R.P.F. Giovannil Maria da Tusa, nel tempo | che fu Generale [Pronouncement on the Rule of the Friars Minor made by many Supreme Pontiffs and Doctors of the Order, compiled by the very Rev.Fr. Br. Giovannil Maria da Tusa, who at that time was General]. A curious case is the combination of Giovanni da Fano with Giovanni M. da Tusa. In the ms. Neapolitan of the Chronicles of Mario by M. Saraceno, to the ff. 2031-241r, we read extracts from Giovanni da Fano and from Fr. Tusa on the first three chapters of the Rule, but all done in a personal way, so that it cannot be called Dialogo of Giovanni da Fano, as the title would imply: Molte cose pertinenti alla dichiaratione della Regola de’ Frati Minori estratte dal Dialogo sopra la regola per il R.do Frate Giovanne da Fano composto nel tempo che era nella religione capuccina [Many things pertinent to the pronouncements on the Rule of the Friars Minor extracted from the Dialogo on the Rule bye Reverend Brother Giovanne da Fano composed in the time he was in the Capuchin Order].
All this demonstrates the “popularity” and reception that this commentary on the Rule of the Sicilian general has had in the Order, from which stands out a great zeal for observance, a great love for Saint Francis, a great simplicity of language, above all in those fervent spiritual admonitions with which he usually concludes the most important topics of the chapters on the Rule.
He comments word for word on the legislative text and applies it to the concrete life of the “brothers” with clarity, common sense and precision, like a good jurist, and his solution has remained famous which helped overcome the scruples of austerity of the friars from the Marche, who for the winter covered their habits here and there with patches, so as to avoid wearing three habits (that is, two tunics and a mantle). Instead, “after he came and made a certain pronouncement on the Rule – writes the Marche chronicler Bernardino da Orciano – in which he proved that one could wear a torn and worn habit, over the good one, and as long as it was sewn in the neck, arms and feet, it could to be judged to be a single habit, and it gave the similarity of a lined gipone (- lumberjacket), which is nothing other than a gipone, but excused it from being considered as two garments, it began to be used by some, and was then put into use by the whole province”.
Another unpublished commentary collected in the Assisi codex has as its compiler Fr Silvestro Bini of Assisi (+ 1609), a character who, seen through the main events of his biography, makes us understand many things about the quality of his reading of the Rule.
Having entered the Order in 1567, he taught philosophy and theology for over 30 years in the province of S. Francesco in Umbria, where he twice exercised the office of provincial minister from 1590 to 1595. He had been guardian in Perugia, Assisi, Spoleto and elsewhere and had contributed much to the construction of the new convent of S. Antonio Abate, in Assisi, in 1595. He was elected general definitor from 1596 to 1602.
This is the period in which eminent personalities succeeded one another in “general ministries”: Girolamo Stefani da Sorbo in 1596, Girolamo Gerardoni da Castelferretti in 1599, San Lorenzo da Brindisi in 1602 and among the definitors Anselmo Marzati da Monopoli, who would be the first Capuchin cardinal, Santi Tesauro from Rome, Paolo Angelini from Cesena, Dionigi Scotti from Piacenza etc. And also the period in which the Modus proceedendi was compiled. It, therefore, was a rapid expansion of the organization and institutionalization of the Order which had greatly expanded, and numbered over 30 provinces.
Silvestro Bini from 27 May 1605 until 23 May 1608 succeeded San Lorenzo da Brindisi in the generalate. And his task was not easy, but he knew how to carry it out well, because he knew how to punish without antagonizing the guilty. The criterion of government had already been clearly specified by his predecessor who in the ordinances had established among other things: “That they ensure that all the constitutions printed are observed in all things and that they keep their eyes open so as not to allow abuses and corruption to be introduced, and to remove with all diligence those already introduced”. Bini died on 29 May 1604 at the new foundation in Perugia, where he had been the first guardian.
The chronicler Lattanzio da Terni left a beautiful biography of Fr. Silvestro d’Assisi, in which a significant detail is revealed: “When he was not a vicar, or indeed he did not have students, he always practiced reading cases of conscience to simple priests, clerics, lay people… He was a great jurist. He also made a very fruitful Pronouncement on the Rule on the issue of the construction of buildings. He was very active; he was a pleasant man who could talk to everyone and express his needs. He made good use of his preaching, he incorporated cases of conscience into his sermon, which was of great benefit to everyone”.
The commentary on the Rule that he wrote even before becoming general reflects this theological and juridical formation. It is the most extensive of all those transcribed in the Assisi codex, comprising over 550 pages, with the title: Dechiaratione della Regola de’ frati Minori cavata da Sommi Pontefici et diversi Dottori dell’Ordine [Pronouncement on the Rule of the Friars Minor drawn from the Supreme Pontiffs and various Doctors of the Order].
Another manuscript copy is preserved in the provincial archive of the Tuscan Capuchins in Florence-Montughi, transcribed together with that of Giovanni M. da Tusa in the same codex, but with independent pagination, by f. 1r at 467, with the following title: Dichiaratione della regola de’ | frati Minori, cavata dai Sommi Pontefici, e da | diversi Dottori dell’ | Ordine | per il M.R.P. Fra Silvestro | d’Assisi Capuccino [Pronouncement on the rule of the Friars Minor, taken from the Supreme Pontiffs, and from several Doctors of the Order by the Most Reverend Father Brother Silvestro, Capuchin of Assisi]. The Tuscan codex is very worm-eaten and almost illegible. The writing is by one hand, very thin and clear, 24 lines, 13 × 9.5 cm. On the back of the codex it is written: Regola | Testamento | P. S. Francesco | M.S. | 1581 [Rule Testament Father Saint Francis Manuscript 1581], marked no. 47, leg. in parchment and coming, it seems, from the library of the friary of Livorno, miscellaneous. 20.
The comparison between the two copies, beyond the contents which seem perfectly identical, and therefore copies dependent on each other, offers a small dating problem. The year 1581 marked on the Tuscan codex refers rather to the title of the commentary by Giovanni Maria da Tusa; while, more precise and, perhaps, definitive is the year indicated in the Assisi manuscript, at the conclusion of the same Dichiaratione, on p. 562, where we read: “Compiled in Perugia on 7 February 1586 for the Most Reverend Father Silvestro, Capuchin of Assisi, in the 3rd year of his Vicariate. Laus Deo”. We have no more specific information to clarify the meaning of this “3rd year of his vicariate”. He cannot refer to when he was provincial minister, which was in the years 1590-95, so then it would have to allude to when he was vicar of the new friary in Perugia, friary of S. Maria della Pace, built starting from 1579 and of which he was the first guardian.
The commentary is massive and full of quotes from various texts and authors and reflects the scholastic method. At the same time, it perfectly verifies the judgment of the chronicler Lattanzio da Terni on the variety of cases that the author proposes in compliance with the Rule and explained with an abundance of documentation. In particular, the case of the construction of buildings, which the chronicler himself mentions, as explained in a very useful and practical way by Bini, is dealt with in the Declaration at no. 24 of chapter IV, which says: “If the friars have the labourers working for money, such as bricklayers, wool millers and the like, and covering their expenses, can it be done in good conscience or not”. Silvestro d’Assisi says that “I have not found any expositor of the Rule expressly addressing this difficulty”. He solves the case with the common sense of a practical man, and although he says that the narrow opinion is the safest, yet the “broadest is the most probable, the most rational and the most practical”. And this is an insight into understand the benign and lovable man, as he was judged then by the friars.
Alongside the unpublished and anonymous commentaries, we find the first printed Capuchin commentaries towards the end of the sixteenth century and the first years of the seventeenth century. Their authors are, in chronological order of edition, Fr Gregorio da Napoli, Fr Girolamo da Polizzi and Fr Santi Tesauro da Roma.
If we leave aside Pili’s Breve discorso, which in itself is not a true commentary on the rule, except in the cases of poverty, the first printed work is the work of Gregorio da Napoli, entitled Regola unica del Serafico S. Francesco con la dichiaratione fatta da diversi Sommi Pontefici [The One Rule of Seraphic S. Francis with the pronouncements made by various Supreme Pontiffs], published in Venice in 1589. It is a volume offered to the general minister Girolamo by Polizzi, as shown in the dedicatory letter, dated S. Maria della Concezione di Napoli, 1st April 1588. In it he manifests his intent which is a full demonstration of affection towards “the Order of the one Rule of our seraphic father Saint Francis, albeit in five degrees, one narrower than the other, as per the Bullario dell’Estravag. of the Roman Pontiffs it is demonstrated, that is, first being the Conventual fathers, second, Conventual fathers of the Observance; third, Franciscan Fathers of the Observance; fourth, Reformed fathers of those Observant; fifth, friars of St. Francis of the Capuchins, and with the aforementioned order of rank, for them Estravag. demonstrates that they pass ad strictiorem observantiam and in no way allows the opposite transition, as far as the constitutions 69 and 22 D.N.S. Pope Sixtus V, et constitutions 70 and 56 of the happy memory of Pope Gregory XIII and constitution 29 of Pope Paul III and tenth of Pope Julius III and twentieth of Pope Leo X”. Already from this quote we can sense the massive legal training and specialization of the author who at the time, in Naples, was a highly skilled and sought-after examiner by ecclesiastics.
However, he had initially planned an exposition of the Rule of Saint Clare for the Capuchin nuns, but then he realized that he could not explain Saint Clare without Saint Francis: “Since I have to write down the one – he says – I am forced to include the other”. And so the result was a commentary, like a diptych, which addresses the friars on one side and the nuns on the other, interpreted and carried forward together, in parallel. For this reason, the title is: One Rule, almost as if to demonstrate the unity of the Franciscan charism in the multiplicity of historical expressions, and this also concerns the “five degrees” of observance, the maximum expression of which, according to the author, would be the Capuchin reform. This concept is reiterated by him in a characteristic page of his Enchiridion (doc. 8).
The main characteristic of this commentary is the continuous and punctual reference to the “declarations made by holy pontiffs, who do not err, especially in the true interpretation of the things that pertain to the health of the soul”. He, addressing the “Thirty-three” nuns, wanted to give them “a certain way of understanding the intention of the said Saint Clare, as it can be compared to your and our poverty, in the way that jurists always use to produce a decision made in a case when the determination is similar, or analgous, for those same reasons produced in the first”.
The style he uses is based on the method of Giovanni M. da Tusa and also for this reason he prefers the vernacular instead of Latin which the simple nuns and friars would not have been able to read. However, he apologizes if he was “rather verbose in our natural Italian language, leaving the new Neapolitan [dialect] with its orthography and Tuscan [dialect] to speak”.
If he wants to favour the “simple”, he also takes aim at those “friars who consider themselves knowledgeable”, by way of the bulls Exiit or Exivi, one becomes aware that the learned are often “unlearned in canonical law” and these papal declarations “they have reckoned as if the cook or another private person said it or determined it”. And then he finds his own way of quoting them: “Wanting to remedy such a great error – he says -, I changed the ordinary style of the doctors… and introduced this new way of adducing, saying: This is what the supreme pontiff says”, so that the friar “with greater devotion and reverence submits his sensual intellect to the sound work of the said holy Apostolic Chair”.
We do not know how the friars reacted to this writing. It was certainly read and studied, and contributed to solidifying the conscience of the Order. But a curiosity could be the volume of the One Rule preserved in the convent of Venice-Mestre where, on the first handwritten folio, we read: «Although the Rule of Fr. Gregorio the Capuchin is not prohibited or suspended, nevertheless it is best not to read it, as this is the intention of our superiors. Corrected in some sentences. Valdobbiadene, 27 September. 1635. Brother Fortunato de Vicenza”. The reason for this marginalization is unclear. One fact is certain: that the work of Gregorio da Napoli is not cited in the subsequent commentaries and remains a closed parenthesis and “unique” testimony of its author’s love for Capuchin life. He is a good Neapolitan and with the strong juridical armour and citations of authorities with which he peppers his comments, he knows how rally forth here and there with sagacious, tasty, ironic and even cutting jokes, especially towards scholars and superiors, when they exaggerate in their functions. Perhaps he made some inadvertent comments on the overly intrusive Protector of the Order? He, for his part, asks for prayers so that “up to the point of my death I may always carry out with true and not false deeds everything that is appropriate for a true Capuchin friar”.
Another, more concrete reason why the one Rule of Gregorio da Napoli soon remained in the shadows was probably due to the fortune of the commentary by Girolamo Errente da Polizzi Generosa (1544-1611), which demand particular attention to its history.
Belonging to the province of Palermo, Fr Girolamo had been provincial there in 1579 and had then exercised the same service in Messina. In the general chapter of 1584, he was elected procurator of the Order and three years later he became general. Already for 22 years, as he later wrote in 1606 in the Dedication to the Cardinal of S. Pietro in Montorio, Anselmo Marzati da Monopoli, that since 1584 he wanted “commentarios seu verius interpretationem a plurimorum dubiorum super minorityana nostra Regula resolutiones edere et in lucem, producere [to bring to light, edit and produce commentaries with more accurate interpretations on the majority of doubts about our Rule of the Minors]”. And in fact, he had collected the most significant sentences of the previous expositors of the Rule, doctors and theologians, to open to the friars to “ipsius Regulae vera intelligentsia and regularis perfectionis observantia [the true intelligence of the Rule itself and the observance of regular perfection]”.
In his visits to the friars, as his eye-witness biographer writes, he manifested “particular expressions of rancour regarding the excesses of the constructions of buildings, of subornation, of poverty, of useless speeches and suspicious conversations and the like; over which he gave very fervent sermons which terrified and moved the hearts of all, in which he was very determined and had particular grace. Neither did he ever hold, nor did he make use of ordinary written sermons throughout his visit, but in each province and in each chapter, he gave particular sermons according to the defects and needs that he found. Except when he dealt with things pertinent to our Rule, which then he made use of the exposition extracted by him and written down”.
In a letter, written as general minister from the friary of St. Bonaventure in Rome to all the friars on March 1, 1593, he himself explained in more detail the origin of his commentary on the Rule. He said that, being the procurator in Rome, he had the opportunity to read the magnificent commentary on the Rule composed by the Observant theologian Antonio da Cordova and he liked it so much that he thought of collecting its substance in a short booklet with the most relevant points for his own use. This compendium was soon requested by the friars who made copies; but others encouraged him to publish it “for the consolation of the simple brethren”. He remained convinced and undertook the work, but reduced it “in a better from” with additions and bibliographical updates both from the Council of Trent and from other commentaries with the various pontifical expositions. So he added these various “determinations” to his compendium, and the booklet grew, became a new book, went beyond the summary aspect of Anthony of Cordova, was presented to the press as a new exposition of the Rule, like the author, he himself brilliantly writes: “that I might, as it were, make a microcosm out of the macrocosm; and this little book of mine would not be an epilogue to a single fact of the Doctor nor a simple summary of the main points, but a short and succinct collection of all the expositions of our holy Rule, and composed like a bundle of many flowers gathered from thence. But the little spring grew into a river; on this little work, more work was done, added to by many additions, filled with many doctrines… both from the sacred canons, and also from theologians and canonists. So much so that it cannot be called a summary of that work, but a new exposition of the Rule”.
The historical details are revealed by his biographer. During the visit to the province of Genoa, which was in the second yearof the trimester, from the month of September 1591 until the beginning of 1592, being not well recovered from an illness which had struck him during the visit to Milan, and waiting for a boat to to go to Spain, “he retreated to the place of Sestri di Ponente… where to gain time, although convalescing, having no hope of a quick passage to Spain, he set about reviewing, ordering and completing the work on the Exposition on the Rule he had already sketched and set out in sections, which he then printed, as we read today. This he did to satisfy the desire of many friars, and the great request they made of him, having heard of it and heard from him some sermons on it during the visit, and they believed that he had truly written it thoroughly, and many asked him for it, others to see it and others to write it down. He therefore remained in that place for a few months, never having the opportunity to pass to Spain, so much so that it pleased the Lord to give him that time and that opportunity to be able to finish that work for the benefit of the Order. From time to time he went through revising it, polishing it and tidying it up, until he thought he could send it to the press, as he then did first in Rome and then in Naples”.
Girolamo da Polizzi had the entire manuscript copied and orthography revised by Fr. Arangelo da Palermo, preacher and one of the first disciples of Fr. Trigoso. He also had it reviewed ad litteram by Saint Lawrence of Brindisi. And he also wanted to include three papal bulls that limit and specify the authority of the cardinal Protector.
The work appeared in print in 1593 in Rome, “apud Guglielmum Facciottum”; “But because I don’t know what it contained – writes Salvatore da Rivolta in his Chronicle – that undermined the authority of the Protector, it was suspended by him and annulled.”
The interventions of the cardinal protector Giulio Antonio Santori in the affairs of the Order was well known and many complained that he placed the authority of the superior generals in difficulty. Father Girolamo da Polizzi wanted to clarify the limits of this “protection” so that it did not turn into “oppression”. This must have got under the Cardinal’s skin, such that he succeeded in the consistory audience of 27 November 1595, together with the cardinal Cusano, protector of the conventuals, to have Polizzi’s work condemned by decree.
The Decretum super suppressione libri inscripti Expositio F. Hieronymi a Politio [Decree on the suppression of the book called the Expositio of Fr Girolamo da Polizzi] etc. carries the publication details: Romae, Apud Impressores Camerales M.D.XCVI (1596) and was signed by both cardinals. In it the details of the doctrinal errors of this Expositio are not specified. It only speaks in generalities: “having seen and revised, and given long an mature consideration to the said book, both by ourselves, and by other theologians and learned men of the said Order of Minors, and also having made at the same time a collation of the errors, it is noted an observed there are futile and dangerous teaching that are a relaxation of the aforesaid rule”. Also in the book of the Audiences of the cardinal of S. Severina, only the topic is noted on 27 November 1595: «Reporting the book of the Exposition of the Rule of Saint Francis printed by Brother Geronimo Polizzi, former general of the Capuchins and various censures made on it, and the latest from father Monopoli etc. and of that it seems to us… His Holiness ordered that it should be prohibited and suppressed, that the printed matter should be burned and that what was dispersed and distributed should be collected and distributed, and was satisfied that this should be made a decree by us. And when I asked if it would be a good idea to place it in the Index in 2nd class, he said that it was already published etc.”.
The consequences, however, were drastic. The volume was destroyed and apparently no copy of the Roman edition of 1593 now exists, so other than the three bulls mentioned above that Gregory XIII had reconfirmed in 1578, it is no longer possible to directly verify the tone of the criticism that Polizzi made in regard to the authoritarianism of the cardinal Protector.
However, fortunately, it is possible to formulate another plausible hypothesis. The original text of this Expositio, when it was still a sort of compendium of the book by Antonio da Cordova, that had to be written in Italian, not in Latin, precisely to accommodate the “simple friars”. Only later, when it was revised to prepare it for printing, did the author rewrite it in Latin. All editions of Polizzi’s Expositio were in Latin. However, the Italian version in the Assisi codex remained in manuscript, with the following title: Breve, et utile dechiaratione | della Regola, fatta dal m. r. p. f. Hiero- I nimo di Boniza [sic] eletto per Gene- | vale de’ Padri frati Cappuccini nel anno | del Signore 1587 nella Alma città I di Roma [A short explanation and useful dechlaration of the Rule, made by the most reverend father brother Girolamo da Polizzi elected General by the Capuchin Fathers in the year of the Lord 1587 in the noble city of Rome]. In our opinion this text is a copy of the very first draft, the one that the author in the letter of March 1, 1593 called the “short compendium” of the Expositio of Antoni di Cordova, or “libellum” or “opusculum”. It is precisely here that we clearly find the criticism of Cardinal protector, which instead was abolished in the printed editions. In fact, on the last page of the manuscript text, that is, on p. 1061, we read these words which must have triggered the wrath of Cardinal Santori:
“The office of the Protector (according to Ugone, Bartolo, Pisano and la Serena Conscienza, in question 107) is that he is to be governor of the Order, in the promotion of goods; he is to be a protector, defending against adversaries; but he is then to be the corrector of the bad. Nonetheless, the Protector can perform the aforementioned acts with the following limitations, that is, in those three cases expressed and specified in this Rule: first, if the community of the Order was not subjected in mere obedience to the feet of the Holy Church, therefor he can say: “so that we are always subjects and dependent upon” and this is against the divisions of schisms; second, if the Order was not firm in the Catholic faith, and therefore he can say: “be firm in the Catholic faith”; and this against errors against our faith. Thirdly, then, if the Order did not commonly observe the Rule, founded in the Gospel, nor did it try to remedy this, and therefore he can say: “let us observe poverty and humility”, and this against all the common transgressions of the Order, notably at fault against the Rule. In these things, he does not simply have the authority, but when the community of the Order, or indeed the general chapter, deviates in the aforementioned things; and in other cases, he cannot interfere, as stated in the Esposizione without a title., Bartolo, Pisano, Ugone and the Serena Conscienza, q. 107. This was ordered by Gregory XI and Sixtus IV. But there are some who hold the opposite, that is, that he is absolutely and simply governor, protector and corrector in all cases, although he must not interfere in everything, but leave this to the prelates of the Order. With these things the declaration of our Rule is brought to an end. To the honor and glory of God. Amen”.
In the general chapter of 1593, in which Fr. Silvestro Pappalo da Monteleone was elected general, Fr Girolamo, after six years of government, had failed to visit the provinces beyond the Alps, and for this he had been reprimanded by Clement VIII. But above all it was the harsh intervention of Cardinal Santori that resulted in him being given the greatest penance. He had to serve three years of confinement in Reggio Calabria and was deprived of active and passive voice for ten years. It is in this period of exile that Santori had a good hand in also procuring the condemnation of the Expositio with a published decree. When Saint Lorenzo da Brindisi became general of the Order, in May 1602, the death of the cardinal of Severina occurred a few days later and so Girolamo da Polizzi was rehabilitated. Lorenzo da Brindisi desired a precise and complete interpretation and explanation of the Rule. Since Polizzi’s work had been condemned, it was necessary to think about a new exposition. He entrusted this to Fr. Ruffino da Napoli, who for personal needs had already composed “a very learned, spiritual, zealous and clear exposition of our Rule”. He did not finish the work before San Lorenzo concluded his three-year term in 1605; and re-elected provincial of Naples in 1606, he no longer had time to perfect the text and died shortly afterwards.
In the meantime, Clement VIII also died (5 March 1605) and it was then possible to obtain a retraction of the condemnation and permission for the reprinting, albeit slightly corrected, of Girolamo da Polizzi’s Expositio. The new general minister, Fr Silvestro d’Assisi, put a lot of effort into this, and Cardinal Monopolitano suggested a few corrections. Sylvestro d’Assisi wrote to him from Verona on 3 September a letter of thanks for having obtained the printing license from the cardinals of the Sacred Congregation of the Index saying that he hoped that through it the Order, by the grace of God, has not deviated in any way from the way of the ancients, and it may increase day by day in greater observance. And he authorized him to publish it soon with due approvals. Among the cardinals gathered on 26 August 1605 in the general congregation of the Index and who discussed the reprinting of the Expositio, after a speech by the archbishop of Trani and of Fr Giovanni da Rimini, Capuchin theologian, there was Cardinals Baronio, Bellarmino, Colonna, Pamfili, Camerino, Serafino, Asculano and Monopolitano.
The work was elegantly printed by Gian Giacomo Carlini of Naples in 1606 with the title: Expositio | F. Hieronymi | to Politio siculi | Ordinis Fratrum Minorum | Capuccinorum. | Cum dubis excussis in Regulom Seraphici | Patriarchae S. Francisci eiusdem | Ordinis Fundatoris…, Neapoli 1606, and includes  + 844 +  pp., 15 cm. All the others that subsequently appeared depend on this edition, such as that of Paris in 1615 and that of Cologne in 1695; and so the aforementioned chronicler Salvatore da Rivolta could write that this exposition of the rule “is used throughout our Order and is very useful, learned and fruitful, and praised by all”.
Now approaching Polizzi’s work more closely, we note that he knows how to express and organize his explanation of the Rule in a perfectly coherent way, synthesizing with rare effectiveness and clarity, even without particular originality, the long and scholastic disquisitions of other commentators and especially of Antonio da Cordova, whose importance is primary, as the one who constitutes the transition line between the ancient and modern expositors of the Rule of Saint Francis.
He also makes discreet references to Saint Bonaventure, Hugh of Digne, Olivi etc. with appropriate use of classical theologians or ascetic-mystical writers such as Gerson and frequent quotations from the Decretals and the commentaries of Navarro.
The conciseness of language sometimes appears excessive to the detriment of that spiritual anointing that often seems to characterize the tone and language of other Capuchin writers. And yet it is precisely because of this incisiveness, not very indulgent to sentimentality, for an effect of clear division and orderly succession of themes and topics, with the objections and “cum dubiis excussis”, as we read in the title, that Polizzi’s work obtained a notable editorial success in Italy and abroad. Not the least reason for this greater dissemination was undoubtedly the conscious choice to write in Latin, the language of the learned, for the first time in the Order, because all the previous expositions had always been written in the vernacular. This too is a characteristic sign of a new historical and institutional awareness of the Order, which could be seen, with its lights and shadows, in these concise words by Salvatore da Rivolta: “[Polizzi] put many ordinances into writing and he sent them throughout all the Provinces, which were of little benefit, or rather detrimental to our Order… By this general, friars were sent to Flanders to found friaries there at the request of Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma. By his order the aforementioned provinces were divided for greater peace, quiet and regular observance, that is: the one of Milan from that of Brescia…, the one of Lyon in France, called of S. Bonaventura, from that of Marsialia in Provence called S. Lodovico… He was a very learned general….”. In 1589, among other things, he was persuaded by Mattia da Salò, to have various collaborators appointed in the various provinces for the collection of memoirs to be included in the Chronicles of the Order.
His commentary on the Rule always remained a sure point of reference in the Order. Subsequent Capuchin expositors normally mention and appreciate it. And even the general minister Innocenzo da Caltagirone, for example, in his speech on poverty which lasted three hours, quotes him with these words: “Navarrus, quem sequuntur nostri expositores Hieronymus a Politio et Santes…”; this brings us back to Fr Santi Tesauro, on who we now want to focus.
When Fr Santi wrote his Exposizione, he was the general minister of Fr. Paolo Angelini da Cesena (1556-1638), from whom he received the printing license on 25 June 1613. He had great experience in government, being then general definitor for the third time. Dedicating the volume to cardinal Mont’ Alto (dated: From our place of S. Bonaventura 14 July 1614), he explained that the obligation to observe the Rule had pushed him “to seek and investigate its intelligence. And with the experience of some government I had in our Order, studying various authors, I went about extracting and noting some important things to communicate them to others. And after a long time, finding myself having made a choice of several particular things, the desire came to me (also exhorted by many friars zealous for the observance) to make a Disposition on the said Rule for the common benefit of those who profess it, and especially for the simple friars I produced it in the vernacular, and sent it to print.”
He therefore returns to the traditional system of simply writing in the vernacular for the simple. The method has now acquired common characteristics. However, he insists on the fact that, as Capuchins, we renounced all privileges and dispensations and, therefore, “in compiling this work” – he says “To the Reader” – he had “no regard whatsoever for similar dispensations”, but “I simply did it.” The difference with other authors is all here, “it will be in respect for some privilege”.
The volume is verbose. Polizzi’s analysis is now sets the standard. It was published in Rome in 1614 by Egidio Spada with the title: Espositione sopra la Regola del Serafico Padre san Francesco, di F. Santi Thesauro romano predicatore capuccino, nella quale brevemente si dichiara l’intentione di esso Institutore circa l’osservanza, e si risolvono i dubbi concernenti a detta Regola [Exposition on the Rule of the Seraphic Father Saint Francis, by Fr Santi Thesauro Roman Capuchin preacher, in which the intention of the Institute regarding observance is briefly declared, and doubts resolved regarding said Rule].
Somehow Fr Santi reproduces the design of Gregorio da Napoli, in the sense that he sees the opportunity to also add a Declaration on the rule of St Clare, published in Venice in 1621 and dedicated to the new general minister Clemente da Noto with a letter dated 30 November 1620. Also in this case the intent is to propose a commentary “according to one’s own true intelligence in conformity with the intention of the glorious Father St. Francis without privileges, which in any way can distract him from his pious mind and from that of Blessed Clare, the first offshoot”.
This insistence on renouncing any privilege makes Fr Santi a strong defender and champion of the traditional austerity of the Order; and there is a curious doctrinal debate between him and Verucchino on the question of the mantle and two tunics: An super tunicam et habitum fratribus Minoribus interdicatur usus palli? [Is the use of a mantle over the tunic and habit forbidden to the Friars Minor?] In practice, Bernardino d’Asti’s classic solution began to be undermined. The question is addressed by Fr Santi and Verucchino with a rich historical-juridical documentation obtained from St Bonaventura, John of Pecham, the «Serena Conscientia», Olivi, the Quattro Maestri, Ugo da Digne, the Declarationes dubiorum super Regulam Fratrum Minorum of Antonio da Cordova etc.
Verucchino, basing himself on an Augustinian principle, according to which the Gospel is not simply in the sound or bark of the words, but in the marrow of the sense and in the truth, is more possibilist in rigor, to the point of allowing the possibility of wearing three garments, that is two tunics with a mantle. Santi Tesauro on the other hand, more traditionalist, linked to the idea of Bernardino d’Asti and the rigor of only two tunics, counters the position of Verucchino who accused him of futile questioning, and maintains that his sentence, that is, the illicit use of the mantle with two unsewn tunics, when there is no necessity or permission, is very true and very mild: very true because it is more in conformity with the intention of Saint Francis and the Rule; very mild, because it is permitted in cases of necessity and with license. This position, says Fr. Santi, is safer and holier, because dispensation and therefore license is preferable to acting according to one’s personal choices or one’s conscience without obedience. And he signs his name: “Ego frater Sanctes Romanus inter omnes fratres minores capucinos minimus et inter minimis novissimus [ I, Brother Sanctus Romanus, am the least among all the Capuchin brothers, and the last among the least]”.
We have traced a historical and bibliographical panorama to frame the various comments on the Rule written by Capuchins in the first hundred years of their history. It is now appropriate, by way of conclusion, to briefly review these writings in their internal logic and coincidences of spiritual and vital values.
In fact, some methodological and critical convergences can be drawn. If these writings are indebted to an exegetical method linked to the tradition of the Order, they become, in many points, significant of a new style of reading the Rule of Saint Francis. We also notice a gradual evolution of tools of analysis and exegesis, moving from ancient and classical commentaries to modern and contemporary ones. But above all we see a conscious passage from datum, as something given within a plethora of information, to its significato as reality so that we decide existentially and vitally. It is a true hermeneutical act.
The given is the letter of the Rule, which is never “innocent”, completely given, but something that always remains mysterious and already qualified by a pre-understanding and a judgement. The meaning, however, is like the Spirit who precedes the letter because it identifies it and follows it, strengthening it.
The history of the struggle for the meaning of the letter of the Rule and the struggle for poverty effectively coincides, in the Franciscan Order, with the history of the hermeneutics of the Rule of Saint Francis. The effort of the Capuchins of the sixteenth century to rigorously analyse the literal meaning of the texts, of the chapters of the Rule, was a vital necessity of their reform to arrive at the global and “spiritual” meaning of it, to find a living, breathing image of Saint Francis.
The linguistic datum, pre-understood doctrinally according to the interpretations of the holy doctors and commentators of the past and present, was referred to life in its fundamental choices to arrive at an existential decision of the significance and from here the options of the reform were born and developed.
In other words, the first Capuchins were convinced that they would rediscover the genuine Saint Francis if they rediscovered the Spirit of Christ who dictated the Rule and the spirit of Francis who translated it into lived experience. Therefore, an integral Christian experience of faith, study, meditation, personal and ecclesial prayer was essential, with asceticism and purification to circulate the richness of the Spirit who is the great hermeneutic.
They favoured a “spiritual” exegesis, in this way the Franciscan evangelical Rule became the foundation of their thinking, living and organizing themselves. They said that only those who observe it understand it. In fact, the deepening of the meaning (spirit) occurs as a repetition of the bare word of the rule (letter).
This is very clear in the logic of L’amore evangelico, despite its fragmentary nature. Here, it seems to us, we find the greatest awareness of this “spiritual” reading and exegesis of the Rule. Specifying all the nuances with which the anonymous author interprets the words would take too long. Basically he says that when a text is implemented, the letter is no longer necessary and those who allow themselves to be educated by the Spirit at the foot of the Cross have no need for expositions. If you do not believe that Christ and Francis wrote the necessary things in the Rule, then, “by defect of the procedure”, “due to the human condition” it happens that the more one explicates and explains the Rule, the less one discovers the way to its spiritual understanding and observance.
Since Francis’ words were spoken “in a prophetic spirit”, it would be impossible to investigate the ways of his expression without spiritual understanding. This means feeling by way of the blazing fire of love the immeasurable pain of the Crucified one and then – exclaims the anonymous writer – “with this sign you will be true friars minor and you will serve the Rule without difficulty and you will not need any expositions or concessions or declarations, but the Spirit who loves you will guide you”. It is knowledge through love, characteristic of Francis and much emphasized by the Capuchins. The criterion is not to look only at the words of Christ and Saint Francis but at their works: “Christ has given us a greater example with his works than with his words”.
The same, in practice, is also said by Giovanni da Fano in his Dialogo, dependent in this on L’amore evangelico. As does the other anonymous Capuchin commentary expressively attributed to Friar Angelo Tancredi. It is the search for “true sense”. Having posited the datum of the Rule, this anonymous author illuminates it with the example of Jesus Christ and the Gospel; and since it is the same Spirit who spoke in Saint Francis, he immediately moves on to the vital teaching of Francis who, “enlightened by the Holy Spirit, fully and perfectly declared the pure understanding and final intention of Christ concerning the observance of this Rule in the Testament and in certain admonitions and epistles sent to various brothers and in many of his conversations which he had familiarly with some of his companions and confidants, and particularly in the answers he gave to the holy friar Leo, who was his most familiar companion, and several times sought from the holy father knowledge of the pure understanding of the Rule, and he greatly blessed him with deeds and words and most graciously manifested the will of Christ to this friar Leo and his other companions”.
Hence the biographical facts of the saint obtained especially from the “Legend of the Three Companions” and Brother Leo are privileged sources. The sign of the perfect observance of the Rule must arrive at the point where “conformity to the likeness and life of Jesus Christ and his apostles”, for a “perfect charity” urges the brothers to conform themselves to Christ in death, that is, to give their lives for love.
If the remaining “Capuchin” commentaries seem to be more conditioned by casuistry and law, it is only because of a serious search, at the level of the exegetical instruments then prevailing, for the “living sense of the letter and will of St Francis”, as Giovanni M. da Tusa says; but he immediately specifies that “if we want to get from the material to the formal, it is convenient to observe the Rule not only in the exterior, but also in the interior”.
Silvestro d’Assisi, in his turn, offers an explanation and justification of the Rules overabundance of authority, writing that “something cannot be observed, nor put well into practice, if that thing is not understood, and our Rule, just as it is most perfect and lofty, so it is of no small difficulty and obscurity, especially for us who do not have that light and spirit our seraphic father had”.
Beyond the individual authors, it must be said, in a unitary simplification, that the centre of the Capuchin reading of the Rule is the union of love with God, it is the love of God in the Spirit of the incarnate and crucified Christ. Here the “holy operation” of the Lord is revitalised, manifested and developed, which becomes an unceasing “praying to God with a pure heart”. Here is the centre in which all the other dimensions converge, as to their end.
The strongest means to achieve this convergence in this centre or source is holy poverty, at once exterior and interior, a poverty terrible in its demands, material and spiritual. It is like a progressive path of detachment and stripping, until there is nothing left between oneself and God. It is therefore a mystical journey.
The Gospel is the means of spiritual discernment in the fraternity, where feelings, affections and operations are calibrated and qualified. Filial obedience, humble in its simplicity and joyful in its availability to the Magisterium-ministry of the Roman Catholic Church and the Supreme Pontiff, is the guarantee of authenticity in reading the Gospel so as not to adulterate and instrumentalise it.
Fraternal charity with the spirit of a mother, that is, divine charity, charity of the Spirit, who gives her life for her brothers and sisters, is the ripest fruit of this form of evangelical life.
Those texts and reflections that return again and again to the study of the Rule are revelatory of the Capuchin spirit. But they are not cloying repetitions of a lesson learnt by heart in the novitiate, but a rethinking matured in the daily contact of life with its problems and difficulties. The casuistry, which to a modern reader imbued with new theologies and proud critical awareness appears as a deleterious element, is instead in these commentaries a sign of continuous attention to changes in concrete situations. It is the expression of a zeal embodied in deeds, not consummated in words. The exterior is created from the interior, and the deeper the interior life, the stronger the external sign, the visible expression. It is not an aseptic, intellectual, mental spiritualism, but a concreteness of signs, of measures, of practices, of exercises, of visible and vital connections, of consequent gestures, of corporal and institutional structures, an appearing not to seem as what one is not, but as a necessary effusion of what one is and what one lives in the secret of being. Finally, it is the most normal attitude of the simple and humble of heart who want to ensure that they live the promised Rule, in the true sense with which Saint Francis dictated it, relying not on their own personal judgment and free consideration, but by relying on the advice of who is more learned, more experienced and holier.
The dubia of the general chapters must be read not as formalizations of a ruthless and tormented casuistry, but as a delicacy of conscience of the Order which knows it will find in the general minister and general chapter a convincing and authoritative response, being close to the Holy Roman Church, pillar and foundation of truth.
If the Order remained substantially zealous for the Rule, it was due to this mentality spread among the friars by these commentaries on the Rule and by the fervent preaching of the general ministers, such as Saint Lawrence of Brindisi who never let an opportunity pass without persuading the friars “that every day among themselves they should renew the profession already made, so that with this motive and stimulus they would be more fervent in observing our holy Rule”.
- Testament 39 [Test. 43-46 (FF n. 129-130)]. ↑
- Cf. MHOC III, 5. ↑
- “Et sicut in caritatis mandato et sacramento tota lex et prophetae et Evangelium pendet, ita in Testamento beati Francisci omnis perfectio et intentio regularis et fidelis et spiritualis intelligentia clauditur. Nec est possible quempiam spernentem Testamentum spiritualiter intelligere Regulam vovel fideliter observare” (Hist. 7 trib., 113s). ↑
- Cost. 1536, n. 6 (n. 156). ↑
- Cf. above, Section I: Pontifical documents, doc. 2. ↑
- Cost. 1536, n. 5 (n. 155). ↑
- Ibid., in the critical apparatus, where the passage from the Const. 1575 is quoted [cf. n. 3]. ↑
- Ibid. ↑
- Particularly in France and Belgium-Holland with Ludwig of Paris in 1621, Cyprian of Antwerp in 1625, whose commentaries did not have an easy life. See, in this respect, some significant passages taken from these commentaries, here, in the section on the settlement and early development of the Capuchins in France and Belgium-Holland (cf. part IV). ↑
- Cf. F. Elizondo, El «Breve Discorso» de Juan de Fano sobre la pobreza franciscana, in CF 48 (1978) 31-65. ↑
- Cf. ahead, in doc. 2, in correspondence to note 102 (n. 525). ↑
- On these collections cf. Jean-Xavier Lalo, Les recueils des sources juridiques franciscaines (1502-1535). Description et analyse, Grottaferrata (Roma) 1981. ↑
- It is a small volume of 224 pages. The Prologue contains the most complete title of the work: “… Incomincia la expositione de la Regula de’ Frati Minori, novamente compillata et extratta da diverse espositione de’ Summi Pontifici, et Dottori, et reddutta in vulgare per me frate Bartholameo ditto Brendulino della provincia de Santo Antonio, tra li minori minimo, ad utilità et consolatione spirituale de li frati semplici, li quali desiderano sapere le cose necessarie alla sua salute” (ibid., f. 1v). ↑
- Cf. Gundisalvus Hispanus, Tractatus de praeceptis Regulae, in Monumenta Or. dinis Minorum, Salmanticae 1506, tr. III, f. 98v-100v; Nicolaus de Auximo, Declaratio super Regulam fratrum Minorum, ibid. tr. III, f. 87v-98r. – On these authors and their works cf. F. Elizondo, Doctrinales Regulae franciscanae expositiones usque ad annum 1517, in Laurent. 2 (1961) 480s, 485-87: id., Disquisitio historica de praeceptorum descriptione et enumeratione in regula franciscana, in CE (1967) 271-76. ↑
- Id. Regola francescana presso i primi Cappuccini, in IF 53 (1978) 632. ↑
- See further ahead, after note 485 of doc. 2 (n. 681). ↑
- See the section regarding the early Capuchin chronicles (cf. part II, section IV). ↑
- MHOC III, 187. ↑
- Cf. MHOC VII, 357; AO 5 (18897 75a (cf. n. 440). ↑
- MHOC VII, 359 (cf. n. 442). ↑
- Cf. AO 5 (1889) 75b (cf. n. 442). ↑
- On this Dichiaratione, with its relevant bibliographical references, cf. ahead, in the introduction to doc. 4. ↑
- МНОС III, 79. ↑
- Ibid. 80s. ↑
- Ibid. 122 in the note; IV, 134. ↑
- Cf. AO 5 (1889) 776. ↑
- Ibid. 75b. ↑
- Cf. Cost. 1536, n. 17 to note the critical apparatus (cf. n. 171). ↑
- МНОС III, 375. ↑
- These parchment folios are found at the inside guard of the front cover, beginning 1200s, 1234s, 1250s, 1411s. ↑
- The three copies of the very rare print are inserted on p.  num., p. 733 and 852v. The small paintings illustrating the themes of the twelve chapters of the rule are pasted on pp. 10, 31, 71, 125, 171, 205, 250, 352, 392, 520, 544, 735, 753, 773, 781, 791, 805, 813, 819, 836, 843. A copy of these prints bears the date: Romae, Claudi Ducheti Formis MDLXXXIII , after the following inscription also engraved: “Regulam Minorum fratrum, beato Francisco divinitus in valle Reatina secundo revelatam, irritam facere ministri Ordinis conabantur, concilio prius inter se inito, tum demum Patrem adeuntes, ac iurgio improbe acclamantes, ut sibi uni duriorem secundam, non tamen caeteris observandam statueret; sed mox, dum Sanctus oraret, vocem coelis elapsam quae sine glosa hanc ad literam servari praeciperet, audierunt; quo territi miraculo, eamdem perscribi, ac promulgari terga vertentes permiserunt”. – On these and al. three ancient iconographic testimonies cf. at the end of this collection, in the Appendix, the study by Fr. Servus Gieben. ↑
- See above, at note 12. ↑
- There are a number of reasons that make the dating of the codex to the last decades of the 16th century highly probable: it in fact contains the first ‘Capuchin’ commentaries, all written in the 16th century. ↑
- Although we have not made a systematic search, we do know that in the lists of L. Wadding, Scriptores Ordinis Minorum, Romae 1806, LXIXs (= Index materiarum: Pro Instituto Ordinis Minorum), where, in alphabetical order, all the authors who wrote “In regulam Minorum” and “Defensi Minores” are listed, nothing similar to L’amore evangelico appears. ↑
- For the complete text of the letter see the note of C. Cargnoni, Una sconosciuta fonte inedita del «Dialogo» emendato di Giovanni Pili da Fano, in Estud. Franc. (1988) 343-358. ↑
- Fr Vito da Lucca is the same one who wrote a letter to Paul V on 26 February 1610 to safeguard the rules of justice and the rights of the subjects in the Order against trials that were not duly validated, as St Laurence of Brindisi had established. Cf. Arturo M. da Carmignano di Brenta, Il generalato di S. Lorenzo da Brindisi (1602-1605), in CF 20 (1959) 220f; for the rest there is no biographical information. A confusion between Ubertino da Casale and A. Clareno seems probable in the text of the letter. ↑
- Nor does it appear in the accurate entry by A. Maierú, Buralli, Giovanni (fra Giovanni da Parma), beato, in DBI XV (Roma 1972) 381-86. ↑
- Cf. Expositio Regulae Fratrum Minorum, auctore Fr. Angelo Clareno quam nunc primum edidit notisque illustravit P. Livarius Oliger, Ad Claras Aquas (Quaracchi) 1912, 10s, 28 ecc. ↑
- The complete and annotated parallel texts can be read in C. Cargnoni, Una sconosciuta fonte (supra, note 35). For comparisons on this collection cf. 1) nos. 462 = nos. 506; 2) nos. 463, 467-468 = nos. 513-515, 533; 3) nos. 477 = п. 591; 40) м. 482 = n. 597; 5th) n. 488 = n. 610. ↑
- Cf. C. Cargnoni, Fonti, tendenze e sviluppi della letteratura spirituale cappuccina primitiva, in CF 48 (1978) 349-360. ↑
- A patient comparison of the text of the first Dialogo of 1527 shows no trace of these passages. But even in the amended Dialogo, one immediately notices the difference in style between the congeries of quotations from legal and biographical sources of St Francis and these neat, free and autonomous texts, all spiritual, without any citation of sources or authority. ↑
- Cf. note 11. ↑
- See ahead, the introduction to doc. 1. ↑
- Cf. Spec. perf. 85 (FF n. 1782). ↑
- Cf. Expositio (note 38), 1. ↑
- Cf. Melchior a Pobladura, Disquisitio critica de vita et scriptis P. Bernardini a Colpetrazzo, in CF 9 (1939) 51; MHOC II, p. LVs. ↑
- In the codex cit., p. 1967. ↑
- Ibid., 1067-1082. ↑
- Ibid., 1069s. ↑
- Cf. Messina, APC: Quadragesimale del P[ad]re Tusa, f. 2r. ↑
- Cf. MHOC IV, 139. ↑
- Cf. Genova, APC: Cronaca E (= 32 Cf. Genova, APC: Cronaca E (= Cronache de’ frati Capuccini della Provincia di Genova raccolte per me frate Agostino da Genova… l’anno 1610). Cf. F. Zaverio, I Cappuccini genovesi. Tesori d’archivio, IV, Genova 1929, 38; the text is reported also further ahead, at sect. IV of part II: Minor chronicles. ↑
- Cf. Estud. Franc. 26 (1921) 262s; 27 (1922) 44ss. ↑
- Cf. F. Zaverio, I Cappuccini genovesi cit., 38. ↑
- MHOC VI, 364. ↑
- Cf. Melchiorre da Pobladura, Un catalogo inedito dei XV o XVI primi Superiori Generali dei Minori Cappuccini, in CF 8 (1938) 78; Agatangelo da Langasco, De «Modus procedendi» O.F.M. Cap., Romae 1942, Gss. ↑
- MHOC IV, 230s. ↑
- Ibid. 139. ↑
- Ibid. VI, 364. ↑
- Cf. Metodio da Nembro, Salvatore da Rivolta e la sua cronaca, Milan 1973, 48. – This chronicle is important for its abundance of first-hand documentation and sure knowledge of the facts concerning the foundation of the Lombard friaries. ↑
- Cf. [Z. Boverius], Annalium seu sacrarum historiarum Ordinis Minorum S. Francisci qui Capucini nuncupantur tomus secundus, Lugduni 1639, 102s (a. 1584, n. 32). ↑
- In the provincial archives or Capuchin libraries: in Ancona (three copies), Assisi (2), Florence (1), Genoa (1), Milan (1), Venice-Mestre (1), Livorno (1), Lugano (1), Cagliari (1). It was also translated into French, as can be seen in cod. 872 in the Douai library ( = Cod. D), which comes from the Capuchin friary in the city, founded in 1591, written by Fr. Philip of Cambrai (+ 1640) of the Belgian province. There is also a German translation in the friary of Zug (ms. Z 119). Cf. AO 12 (1896) 52; 44 (1928) 239; Z. Boverius, Annalium… tomus secundus, 95s (a. 1584, n. 10); Melchior a Pobladura, Fragmenta biographica S. Felicis a Cantalicio et Rayneri a Burgo S. Sepulcri ex codice Duacensi 872 excerpta, in CF 21 (1951) 348; C. Urbanelli, Storia I/2, 269s and note 174. ↑
- In the title, after the word vivere et, two deleted words follow: of those in the service. ↑
- This codex along with another had already been mentioned by Fr Antonino da Castellammare in: Della venuta dei Cappuccini in Sicilia, Palermo 1937, 64 note; and by Fr. Terenzio di Cento, in IF 10 (1935) 276 note 15. ↑
- Copy from the former convent of the Badia in Brescia, written by Fr Mattia Bellintani, prepared by Fr. Giacomo da Salò, and now in Milan, APCL, ms. 386/A, 16 x 11.5 cm, 86 ff., recently numbered. ↑
- The copy, with the quoted variation, is preserved in Assisi, APC: it is a small codex, 10 x 6.5 cm, with very fine and very clear writing. The Dichiaratione is included in ff. 1r-105v. We have not seen the Genoa codex in person, but we have obtained the data from the index of the Historical Institute of the Capuchins in Rome: it is a ms. in -24, of about 80 pp. ↑
- Cf. Metodio da Nembro, Salvatore da Rivolta cit., 77. ↑
- In the large Assisian codex it is between p. 736 and p. 850. Note the variations of the title in other similar copies: Dichiaratione… fatta dal R.do P.re Giovanni Maria da Thusa Generale de’ Capuccini, dichiarata nei Capitoli Prov.li della nostra Congregatione l’anno 1581, 1582, 1583 (Ancona copy, 10,5 x 14,5 cm., 156 ff.); Dichiaratione… nel tempo del suo generalato l’anno del Signore 1581, 1582, 1583 (Florence-Montughi copy,13 x 9,5 cm., 11 + 126 ff.). ↑
- Cf. Melchior a Pobladura, Introductio generalis, in MHOC I, p. LXVII. We have not directly seen this manuscript. ↑
- Cf. C. Urbanelli, Storia I/3: Documenti (1517-1609), volume two, Ancona 1984, 717. ↑
- Cf. AO 5 (1889) 168a. – The zeal of these general ministers is to be noted. ↑
- Francesco da Vicenza, Cenni biografici scritti dal P. Lattanzio da Terni, in CF 11 (1941) 82; see also: id., Le Carcerelle e i primi Cappuccini in Assisi (1535-1935), ibid. 5 (1935) 254; id., Il convento di S. Antonio abate, dei Minori Cappuccini di Assisi (1595), ibid. 9 (1939) 83s. ↑
- At the least, this codex is a third copy. ↑
- It would seem that no other copies of this Dichiaratione are extant. ↑
- The whole question is found in the Assisian codex at pages 162-167. ↑
- Gregorio da Napoli, Regola unica, *2v-*3r. ↑
- Ibid. 134. ↑
- Letter to the “Twenty-three”, end of January 1588, ibid., in the first pages but not numbered. ↑
- Ibid. ↑
- Ibid., 135. ↑
- Ibid., 135s. ↑
- Cf. Arturo M. da Carmignano di Brenta, San Lorenzo da Brindisi, I, 380. ↑
- From the letter to the Capuchin nuns, called Trentatré, quoted above. A study on Gregorio da Napoli is still lacking that could be of interest. For the first bio-bibliographical data cf. Lexicon ch., 700f. ↑
- The letter of dedication is dated from Naples, 1st January 1606. ↑
- CE. [Fr Vincenzo da Polizzi], Il Padre Fra Girolamo da Polizzi della Provincia di Palermo XIV Generale dei Cappuccini. Biografia edita ed annotata dal P. Antonino da Castellammare, Palermo 1933, 48. The original ms., unfortunately incomplete, is preserved in Bologna, APC, Class I, Series V, Envelope VII, No. 3a, and bears this title: Relatione del nascimento, vita, conversione nella religione et governo del P. f. Gir[ola]mo da Polizzi Gen[era]le dell’Ord[in]e e di Fr[at]i Minori Capuccini di S. Francesco. ↑
- This letter follows the dedicatory letter to Cardinal Monopolitano in the 1606 edition of his Expositione. ↑
- Cf. Il Padre Fra Girolamo da Polizzi (nota 85), 65-67. ↑
- Ibid., 78. The codex of this transcription is preserved in the Bibl. Vaticana, Vat. lat. 7757: it comprises 464 ff. 20 x 14 cm., and dates from 31 March 1593. It bears the following title: Xhs – Expositio | Fratris Hieronymi Politiensis | Siculi Generalis Ordinis Fratrum | Minorum Capuccinorum | in regulam Seraph.ci Patriarchae S.ti | Francisci eusdem Ordinis | Fundatoris | Cum duplici indice, altero punctorum sive | dubiorum, altero rerum notabilium. ↑
- But then, in order to obtain a licence to print, he would have to expunge them from ch. 12 of the Expositio. The three bulls that restricted the Cardinal Protector’s powers were those of Gregory XI of 27 May 1373, Sixtus IV of 26 January 1472 and Julius II of 15 October 1508. And these were confirmed by Gregory XIII on 15 December 1578. Ibid., 76-80 and footnote 43. ↑
- Metodo da Nembro, Salvatore da Rivolta, 49s. ↑
- Cf. Città del Vaticano, ASV, Arm. 4, n. 30, 9-10; another copy of the decree printed in Rome, AGO, A 13. ↑
- ASV, Arm. 52, vol. 21, f. 107. ↑
- See for pages 854-1061 of the Assisi Codex. ↑
- Ibid., 1061. The Dichiarazione of Polizzi, therefore, in its first draft, ended with this stance against the cardinal protector: something that could not fail to impress any reader. ↑
- Cf. Vincenzo da Polizzi, Relatione ecc., ediz. Antonino da Castellammare (sopra, nota 85), 84; cf. also Arturo M. da Carmignano di Brenta, Il generalato di S. Lorenzo da Brindisi (1602-1605), in CF 29 (1959) 201. ↑
- Metodio da Nembro, Salvatore da Rivolta, 50. ↑
- Cf. BC III, 173s; the original of these corrections, signed by Cardinal Monopolitano, is in Rome, AGO, A 13. ↑
- Cf. Father Brother Girolamo (footnote 85), 104f and footnote 57, for biographical information on the cardinals mentioned here. ↑
- Metodio da Nembro, Salvatore da Rivolta, 50. ↑
- Cf. F. Elizondo, Disquisitio historica.., in CF 37 (1967) 278 e 280; vedi anche: Lamela Alfonso, Aportación biobiblio-gráfica entomo a Fray Antonio de Córdoba ofm [obs.] (1485-1578), in Liceo Franc. 6 (1953) 179-207. ↑
- Cf. note 99. ↑
- Cf. Melchior a Pobladura, De cooperatoribus in compositione Annalium Ordinis Fratrum Minorum Capuccinorum, in CF 26 (1956) 18. ↑
- Melchior a Pobladura, Concio P. Innocenti a Caltagirone de seraphica paupertate, in CF 10 (1940) 200. ↑
- Thus in the introduction “To Readers”, not numbered. ↑
- Rome, AGO, EA: Miscell. circa Regulam.- Many other writings on the Rule appear in this period, but would need to be verified in their consistency. For example: Arcangelo da Brescia (+ 1620), Adnotationes inregulam fratrum Minorum, Brixiae 1616; Doroteo Bétera da Brescia (+ 1624), Esposizione della regola (various editions): cf. Biblioteca dei Frati Minori Cappuccini di Lombardia (1535-1900), edited by Fr Ilarino da Milano, Florence 1937, nos. 410 and 528; also various mss. of Bartolomeo Vecchi da Bologna († 1628) preserved in Bologna, APG, Class 6 – Series 1: Envelope 1, Nos. 1-2. ↑
- The importance this hermeneutics is currently gaining appreciation, through the influence of biblical sciences; it is becoming increasingly important and the literature on the subject is expanding. For an initial approach see R. Marlé, Le problème théologique de L’herméneutique, Paris 1968; for rich bibliographical suggestions and horizons cf.Incontro con la Bibbia. Leggere-pregare-annunciare, edited by G. Zerini, Roma, 1978; see also I. de La Potterie, La lettura della Sacra Scrittura “nello Spirito”: il modo patristico di leggere la Bibbia è possibile oggi?, in La Civ. Catt. 137/III (1986) 209-223. ↑
- Cf. doc. 1, after note 113 (n. 489). ↑
- Ibid., in correspondence with note 39 (n. 469); see also the corresponding passage in note 15 (n. 465). ↑
- Cf. in the Assiano codex, p. 1069. ↑
- The formulas are frequent: “The Companions narrate”, “it is narrated in the legend of the three Companions”, “on this the Three Companions say” etc., and the other: “friar Leo writes”, “whence narrates friar Leone”, “as says blessed Leo”, etc. Cf. Assisian Codex., pp. 1072, 1079, 1086, 1088, 1089, 1097, 1112f, 112a etc. ↑
- Ibid. 1185. ↑
- Cf. the title itself of P. Tusa’s commentary (above, in correspondence to footnote 64). ↑
- Cf. in the Assian Codex, cit., p. 9. ↑
- Cf. Brundusina Beatificationis et Ca-nonizationis ven. Servi Dei P. Laurenti a Brundusio.. positio, Romae 1756, 256. ↑