a work of

from I Frati Cappuccini, a work of Costanzo Cargnoni, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, 1991, I, pages 465-478.

English version prepared by Gary Devery OFM Cap.

(The version in the original Italian can be found here)

(The version in Latin can be found here)

Table of Contents





The General Chapter of 1549 began issuing ordinances, some of which were later incorporated into the Constitutions. In 1578 special pronouncements were made on reserved cases in the Order. Translated and published in Italian, the edition remains unaccounted for to this day.

In the General Chapter of 1593 Card. A. Santori, protector of the Order, gave a speech on the advisability of collecting the ordinances in one book and having them approved by the Holy See. They were not in fact approved, but probably because of this suggestion, the general chapter of 1596 began to collect them in the Tables of General Chapters (Tabulae capitulorum generalium, in AGO, Ms. AG/1).

For the 16th century – up to 1596 – the original texts of the ordinances are missing, with the exception of those of 1549 and 1552, which we publish here. They were collected in 1671 from the Order’s historical manuscripts, especially from the Annales of Boverio.

Two editions exist:

– Ordinationes et decisiones capitulorum generalium Ordinis fratrum minorum capuccinorum revisae, ordine chronologico dispositae, Romae 1851;

– Collectio authentica ordinationum a decisionum capitulorum ge-neralium Ordinis minorum sancti Francisci capuccinorum, in AO 5-8 (1889-1892).


After the Ordinances of Albacina and the Constitutions of 1536 and the circular letter of Bernardino d’Asti, the first official Chapter document are the General Ordinances of 1549, preserved by Paolo da Foligno in the Italian text and by Boverio in Latin, but somewhat different in wording and content.

The chronicler Paolo Vitelleschi explains the reason: “Because as the number of brothers increases, disorders arise”. One glimpses the friars’ complaints about the accumulation of laws, but the capitulars, in introducing the short text of 11 points in the Italian version and 8 in the Latin, justify themselves by saying that it would be enough not to commit so many faults and then “there would be no need for so many ordinances” (MHOC VII, 356).

In practice, it is the clash between the spiritualistic and charismatic conception of the reform and the progressive legalisation of the Order. One glimpses that movement that will lead to the analytical and detailed formulation of the Capuchin “penal code”.

Moreover, these are rather disciplinary and juridical norms concerning participation in the chapter and the election of custodians, guardians and discretes. And it is not that it is too exemplary and admirable to perceive in those meagre hints an undercurrent of all-too-human urges towards the exercise of the superiority. That reporting the “faults of the vicar provincial” to the father general and defining them in the general chapter, manifests a method that rather reflects a current mentality, accentuated by an inquisitorial practice in full expansion in the discipline of the Catholic Church, to discover hotbeds of heresy. Likewise, in the fact of wanting to punish “those brothers who will have been too pertinacious in their own opinion” in the election of the discreet (ibid., 357).

There is also mention of the SFO on how to “receive women” who must have finished “40 years” of age and be “of good reputation”; and the same applies to men. There is a prohibition against confessing both these women and others “without permission from the parish priest” or the vicar general, or for “extreme necessity”. It is the choice of a ‘hermit’ life that continues in an attitude of detachment from seculars to maintain ‘quiet’, but which could later prove dangerous and ecclesiologically weak.

Finally, the process of “clericalisation” in the clear distinction between clerics and laity already appears to be underway.

Source: for the Italian text cf. MHOC VII, 356f; for the Latin text cf. AC I, 411: ad an. 1549, n. II-IX; and also Collectio authentica, in AO 5 (1889) 74f.

430 In the name of the Lord we begin some matters that were regulated in our general chapter celebrated in Naples in the year 1549.

First. It is to be warned that no one can complain about so many ordinances, knowing that they have been ordained against the defects that are being made; therefore, if the defects were not made, there would not be the necessity of so many ordinances.

431 1. That at the general chapters that are to be held, as many custodians from each province as there are custodians in each of our places, as is stated in the Conformities,[1] should come, but that they should not exceed five, nor be less than three.

432 2. That in each province one of the custodians be elected by secret ballot by the majority of the vocals of the provincial chapter; to which custodian the aforesaid vocals are to report the faults of the vicar provincial, which they are to report to the Father General and the provincials in the general chapter.

433 3. Those who come from the world to our congregation are not to become guardians until they have completed five years in religion without the permission of the Father General. The religious who come to our congregation are not to have active or passive voice for one year, except if it seems otherwise to the Father General.

434 4. No more than five ballots are to be taken in the election of local discreets, and in the fifth ballot it is to be written down both who gives the voice and who receives it. If the discreet is not elected, it is to be sent well sealed to the Father Vicar and the definitors, so that those friars who are too pertinacious in their opinion may be punished.

Here it should be noted that this order was made before the promulgation of the decrees of the Council of Trent in this matter of election.[2]

435 5. Our friars are not to receive women into the Third Order until they have completed forty years of age, and with the declaration that they are not to be confessed by the friars, and that they have always been and are of good reputation. And these last two conditions are likewise to be observed in receiving men into the aforesaid Third Order.

436 6. When the guardian of any place dies a month before the provincial chapter, the vicar provincial with the consent of two father definitors shall make another guardian; but if he then dies, they shall make a vicar of the place until the chapter.

437 7. Let no friar presume to confess any person without permission of the parish priest. And let no friar dare to confess seculars unless he has been given permission by our vicar general, except in extreme necessity.

438 8. When our chapters are celebrated, no provision is to be made except for necessary things.

439 Let no novice be received as a cleric unless he can read at least moderately.

440 Let no lay friar have any booklet except the vernacular Rule.


In the ordinances of 1552, of the general chapter in Rome on 3 June, where Eusebio Fardini of Ancona was elected, there is a particular emphasis on poverty. The casuistry naturally became more and more varied as historical and environmental situations changed.

One notes, in particular, the rise of pharmaceutical and herbalist interests among the friars, prodromes of a later and rich tradition, also literary; or the participation in exorcism ministries, not well approved by the superiors, or a ingenuous appropriation of books, a sign of the first foundations of library resources for the use of individual communities.

There is also a nocturnal snapshot of happenings next to the ‘warmer’ in the kitchen, with spontaneous and innocent fraternal conversations, paid for dearly in the refectory the next day with a warm scourging. And once again a surge of lay brothers who feel inferiority among the clerics and would like to learn to read and write, but the improvised teachers are immediately blocked. In short, even a dry and extemporaneous list of prescriptions can reveal the reality of the hard daily life of the first generations of Capuchins with its notes of human spontaneity and truth.

These “ordinances” are reported in Italian in Vitelleschi’s chronicle, but dated 1553 and are rather an initiative of the provincial chapter in Rome, led by Bernardino d’Asti, then sealed and approved by Eusebio d’Ancona. The Italian text somewhat amplifies Boverio’s more stringent Latin version.

Sources: cf. MHOC VII, 359-361 (for the Italian text); for the Latin text sunt, cf. AC I, 465s: ad an. 1552, n. II-XIX; and also in Collectio authentica, in AO 5 (1889) 75s.

441 The preceding matters were regulated in our provincial chapter by the reverend father friar Bernardino d’Asti vicar general; and by the reverend father friar Eusebio d’Ancona vicar general confirmed, and by the whole provincial chapter in the year 1553 in Rome in our accepted place of celebration.

442 1. In primis, that all the friars who are or will be in this province of Rome observe holy poverty and the whole Rule which we have promised in its entirety according to the pious will of our Lord Jesus revealed and expressed to our Seraphic Father Saint Francis, to whom he said that he wished the said Rule to be observed ad litteram without gloss.[3]

443 2. Our constitutions are to be observed, not, however, obliging to any sin, but to the penances contained in them, if the prelates command them.

444 3. No thing is to be bought either directly or indirectly, unless it is really necessary, which cannot be obtained in the good way of begging, and especially things to eat.

445 4. The friars are not to allow anyone to give money for the buying of meat, fish or anything to eat.

446 The friars are not to allow anyone to ask for any of the above things for them, except in case of necessity that the friars could not go themselves. In that case, they may ask for those things that the friars could ask for when they themselves could not go in search of them.

447 5. In sleeping, the constitutions are to be observed that the friars, who are not sick or very weak, are not to sleep on sacks or other cloths; but as the aforesaid constitutions say.[4]

448 The mantles are to be as the above Constitutions say,[5] and without extra length; and the longer ones are to be cut.

449 6. No friar shall bring or keep anything to eat in his cell.

450 7. The father guardians are to correct the office holders when they do not perform their duties well; but, otherwise, neither they nor others are to interfere with their duties. And let them go to the table not knowing what they have to eat; and they shall not seek to know.

451 8. Let the prelates and office holders take care that the sick and the healthy do not lack their necessities, so that they do not offend the most holy poverty. Let them be between these two virtues; and in those things that are necessary let them yield to charity, and in those things that are not necessary let them yield to poverty.

452 9. Let no friar presume to medicate seculars, nor give advice to any sick person who takes anything by mouth, without the advice of the doctor.

453 10. Let no friar meddle in casting out or warding off spirits.

454 11. On the unconscionable and unbearable friars the father vicar provincial shall put the caperone for six months or for a year; and let them tell their faults every day; and let them take the discipline every Friday in the refectory. And if seeing that it is not enough, let them add bread and water on Mondays and Wednesdays, so that they may be amended or give way to the others.

455 12. Seculars are not to be brought into the refectory to eat with the friars, nor even when without friars. But if it happens that some want charity from the friars, it should be given to them in the room of the visitors or outside in an honest place. Nor do we want them to bring seculars into our places of work, such as the refectory, the kitchen, the canteen, the dormitory and the choir; except for a visit, when they wish to see the place out of devotion. And whoever allows protracted intrusions of seculars in such places, let him take the discipline in the refectory for a Miserere.

456 13. No subordinate friar or guardian shall demand alms for any person outside our congregation without special [permission] in scriptis from the reverend father vicar general, to whom he shall tell who and how much he wishes to demand. Let Father Vicar General not grant him such permission except as charity requires.

457 14. Let no friar presume to go and eat with seculars, except when travelling out of necessity; and let them do as the poor do, accept a little bread and ask for a drink; and when they have been refreshed, let them depart and continue their journey. And whoever will contravene this, the guardian of that place where they will arrive, will make them take the discipline in the refectory for a Miserere.

  1. Cf. Conf. IV, 503-533.
  2. In fact the Council of Trent established that the elections must always be done “by secret vote, so that the names of each elector is never published” (cf. Sessio XXV: Decr. de regularibus et monialibus, cap. VI: Conc. cecum. decreta, 754,25-38).
  3. (Footnote 1 in hardcopy) According to the noted episode of Saint Francis at Fonte Colombo. Cf. Leg. per. 113; Spec. perf. 1 (FF nn. 1672, 1577-78).
  4. (Footnote 2 in hardcopy) Cf. Cost. 1536, n. 25, 3 (n. 185), and variants.
  5. (Footnote 3 in hardcopy) Cf. Cost. 1536, n. 23, 2 (n. 183), and variants.