10. Brief “Decet seraphicam religionem” of Gregory XIV



Translation and notes by

I FRATI CAPPUCCINI. Documenti e Testimonianze del Primo Secolo. A cura di COSTANZO CARGNONI. Roma 1982, 130-133.


Rome, 1 June 1591. – So that the friars are not disturbed and impeded in their life of prayer, contemplation and solitude, they are prohibited from hearing confessions of lay people and secular clerics, cancelling any license granted up until then; Anything brought against anyone and by any authority will be invalid.

Source: AGO, QA 230, n. 400, original and copy. Cf. AC II, 953; BC I, 44s.

69 Gregory XIV pope. In perpetual memory of the fact.

1. It is fitting that the seraphic religion of the Order of Friars Minor of Saint Francis should offer free service to the Lord, and remove itself, as far as possible, from contact with the people of the world, so that, once the obstacles have been removed, it may ascend from the low level of human activity to the summit of contemplation, where it can more easily adore God in spirit and truth.[1] Prayer, in fact, through solitude, takes place more calmly in the soul and through meditation rises higher, so that what faith believes, hope and charity implore with greater efficacy; the spiritual soul then, elevated to heaven almost by two wings,[2] unites itself more closely with God in such a way as to foretaste, in a certain sense, a foretaste of heavenly bliss.

70 2. Therefore we, in order that inopportune responsibility for the affairs of the world may not impede the better part which the beloved sons, brothers of the congregation known as the Capuchins of the Order of Minors have chosen,[3] nor may the care of worldly activities cause distraction, desiring to provide, by virtue of our pastoral solicitude, for the confirmation of the said Order, as well as its constitutional norm,[4] do hereby establish and decree, by motu proprio and certain knowledge, in the fullness of apostolic power by this our constitution valid for ever, that no religious of the aforesaid Order, may, henceforth, or shall take charge of the confessions of the laity of both sexes and of secular clerics, whatever be their dignity, pre-eminence, authority, or power, nor hear their confessions, even if they have hitherto obtained permission to do so from the superiors of the Order, or from the Cardinal Protector, or even from us in any way and under any verbal form, or from the Apostolic See itself which, by the authority of the present letters we revoke, invalidate and annul.

71 3. We further decree that whatever may be brought against this by any person by any authority, either deliberately or through ignorance, shall be invalid and without force. Apostolic constitutions and ordinations and anything else contrary thereto shall not be obstructed.

4. We decree that reproductions of the present letters, even in printed form, signed by the hand of any public notary and bearing the seal of a person constituted in an ecclesiastical dignity, shall be given the same faith as the present letters.

Given at Rome, on the Quirinal Hill, under the ring of the Fisherman, on the 1st day of June 1591, in the first year of our pontificate.


Ad perpetuam rei memoriam.

1. Decet seraphicam religionem sancti Francisci Ordinis fratrum minorum liberum Domino famulatum exhibere et a saecularium, quantum fieri potest, conversatione seiungi, ut ab humili humanae actionis quasi solo ad arcem contemplationis, remotis impedimentis, ascendat, ubi in spiritu et veritate facilius Dominum adoret. Oratio enim, per solitudinem, quietius concipitur et, per meditationem, altius extollitur, et ita, quod fides credit, spes et caritas tutius orat. Spiritualis vero anima duabus quasi alis in caelum elata, ita etiam Deo arctius coniungitur e caelestis beatitudinis specimen in hac carne quodammodo degustat.

2. Nos igitur, ne optimam partem, quam dilecti filii fratres congregationis capuccinorum Ordinis minorum nuncupatorum elegerunt, importuna saecularium rerum administratio impediat, aut mundanarum occupationum cura distrahat, providere pro nostra pastorali sollicitudine satagentes, ad dicti Ordinis etiam constitutionem, confirmationem motu proprio et ex certa nostra scientia, ac de apostolicae potestatis plenitudine, ha nostra perpetuo valitura constitutione statuimus et decernimus, nullum posthac Ordinis praefati religiosum posse vel debere in laicorum utriusque sexus et clericorum saecularium quacumque dignitate et praeeminentia, atque auctoritate et facultate suffulti sint, confessionibus occupari, vel confessiones eorum audire, etiamsi ad id faciendum a superioribus Ordinis, aut protectore, aut etiam a nobis et ab ipsa Apostolica Sede quomodolibet, et sub quacumque verborum forma licentias hactenus obtinuerint, quas, auctoritate praesentium revocamus, cassamus et annullamus.

3. Decernentes nihilominus irritum et inane quicquid secus super his a quocumque quavis autoritate scienter vel ignoranter contigerit attentari. Non obstantibus constitutionibus et ordinationibus apostolicis, ceterisque contrariis quibuscumque

4. Volumus autem ut praesentium transumptis, etiam impressis, manu alicuius notarii publici subscriptis et sigillo personae in dignitate ecclesiastica constitute munitis, eadem quae presentibus ipsis adhiberetur, fides adhibeatur.

Datum Romae in monte Quirinali, sub anulo Piscatoris, die prima Juni MDLXXXXI, pontificatus nostri anno primo.

  1. Recalling Jn 4:23-24.
  2. Here the two wings are solitude and meditation.
  3. The contemplative option of the Capuchin apostolic charism, as it was then conceived in the form of Mary of Bethany who optimam partem elegit: cf. Lk 10:42, could not be better expressed.
  4. Translated in this way to make the sense clear, it is not the confirmation of the Order’s constitutions, as the BC’s erroneous transcription might lead one to suppose (which reads: etiam constitutionum), but rather the confirmation of the Order’s ancient constitution that forbade seculars from confessing, as Boverio explains: “supplicatum fuit ut antiqua Ordinis constitutio, qua fratribus a saecularium confessionibus excipiendis cavendum praescribitur, immota apostolico praecepto stabiliatur [it was pleaded that the ancient constitution of the Order, by which it is prescribed that the brethren should beware of receiving secular confessions, should be established as immovably by the apostolic precept]” (AC II, 462).