Capuchin friars between work and devotion

by Costanzo Cargnoni OFM Cap (2007)

translated by Gary Devery OFM Cap

When reconstructing our mental image of a contemplative friar, immersed in prayer, we imagine him immobile, abstract, concentrating, quiet, in a distinctive and tranquil stance. His absorbing devotion detaches and distances him from physical work. In fact, contemplation is the maximum of stillness that a man can arrive at in his being, by divine gift and grace, it is the loving work and action of God. Widely diffused in modern culture is a mentality of certain types of philosophy, psychology and theology that considers prayer as an ambiguous and suspect grasp on reality, like an alibi for fear of paying in person, like an opium that tranquilises the conscience, like the luxury of certain types of people who have their bread assured, like an alienated reality that flees from work and effort. Because of this, many desperately throw themselves into activity, even generous activity towards their brothers, and abandon prayer, not able to stand the “silence” and the “absence” of God. Here I would like to recall a reflection by Hendrik Herp, a spiritual author very much liked by the first Capuchins, who warns against over-active temperaments that often are satisfied with their exterior activities, considering it to be a concrete search for God, not sham, not abstract, and more useful than interior exercises. With this insomniac external activity done for God, more than not loving him with interior worship, they put more heart into their external activities carried out for God than directing their heart towards this same God for whom these activities are carried out.[1]

The Capuchin friars who initiated their Franciscan and evangelical reform in the crucible of contemplation, understood very early that prayer is exertion, more so than any other type of work; it is the hardest type of work, it is an incessant battle, but, above all, it is the grace and gift of God that needs to be asked for with humility, without ever tiring of asking. Meditating on the Gospel in the light of Francis, they understood that it was not possible to be truly poor without working. The poor of the world search ceaselessly for honest work so as to be able to live in a dignified manner. The poor of God, in the exercise of contemplation, feel human work to be vitally necessary, also that of manual work. It is interesting that in the ancient handwritten Capuchin ceremonial, drawn up in 1595, the compiler searched to explain psychologically this necessity of work for however is consecrated to the life of the spirit. He writes that

sometimes the friars pray more when they work than when they are in church. On the contrary, as said Saint Bonaventure, with work you do not extinguish the spirit, but excite it to devotion. In fact, when the blood is nearly dead in the body, also the powers of the soul languish; but if the blood revives, and this is optimally verified with work, the powers of the soul are reanimated and reinforced; and so, when the blood is reinvigorated, also the person becomes more disposed to prayer and certainly raises up to God lively and fervent ejaculatory prayer. Sometimes work also serves to refresh the spirit oppressed by long and demanding study and becomes a relief for those who have drooping heads caused by overwhelming meditation, and it contributes to the health and mortification of the body.[2]

The Capuchin friars immediately grasped the problematic underlying the desire of Francis for manual work, as an expression of a grace-gift received and offered to the friars in charitable obedience, for fleeing idleness, to do penance, to have a purified heart and to be better disposed to wise activity, both contemplative and pastoral.

For this reason, in their first programmatic Constitutions they clearly defined this equilibrium between work and prayer, between physical activity and spiritual exercises, and also left for us moderns these brilliant words:

65. However, it is a difficult thing for man to remain always uplifted in God, and to avoid idleness, the root of all evil, [Sir 33:28] and to give good example to our neighbour and be less of a burden on the world, after the example of the apostle Paul who worked while preaching, [Acts 20:34-35; 2 Thes 3:7-9; 1 Cor 4:12; 2 Cor 11:9] as well as other saints. Furthermore, in order to observe the admonition given in the Rule by our Father Saint Francis and to conform ourselves in this with his will expressed in his Testament, it is decided that when the friars are not occupied in spiritual exercises, they should work manually in some fitting activity. They should not fail however, in so far as human frailty permits, to occupy themselves during that time with the mind in some spiritual meditation. Therefore we instruct that while work is being done, the friars always speak of God or some devout book be read.

66. And let the friars be on guard against making work their end, nor to allocate their affection to that work nor be taken up in it so that they extinguish, diminish or retard the spirit, which all things must serve. However, while always their eyes open to God, let them walk along the highest and shortest way. Thus the work given to man by God, accepted and commended by the saints in order to maintain the devotion of the spirit, may not be for them the occasion of distraction or of neglect.

68. As the devout Saint Bernard says, “Nothing is more precious than time, and nothing today is considered so worthless”, the same Saint Bernard also says that God will examine us carefully on how we have spent all the time granted us. Therefore we exhort all our brothers to never be idle nor spend their time in things of little or no use, nor in vain or useless words. Let them always remember the terrible judgement of the infallible truth: on the day of judgement we will have to give reason for every idle word [Mt 12:36]. Instead, let them spend the whole time in praiseworthy, fitting, and useful spiritual or physical activities for the honour and glory of the divine majesty and for the good example and edification of our neighbours as well as our brothers, both religious and secular.[3]

This view of work, so clear and responsible, took time to develop such clarity and so did not immediately find a balanced equilibrium. In Franciscan history, from its very first beginnings, arose disputes and polemics around the type of activities to be carried out in obedience to the decisive will of Francis, so clearly expressed in the Testament: “ I worked with my hands, and I still desire to work; and I earnestly desire all brothers to give themselves to honest work…”. As always, there was a clash of two interpretations, one literal, that decided for manual work, and also artisanal, whether it be working for oneself so as not to be a burden on society and to be autonomous, eating one’s own bread from the fruit of the sweat of the brow, or hiring oneself out as a labourer to the laity for a useful exchange between work and alms; and a second interpretation more spiritual, seeing in work the engagement with pastoral care by way of preaching, missionary apostolate, study and teaching.

Every Franciscan reform clearly faces this problem of interpretation, and it became a lively problem in the first generation of Capuchins, in seeking an awareness of their own identity and charism. The initial radicalism, which gave the impetus to the reform movement, privileged the sine glossa interpretation of manual work, referencing the example of the apostles, especially that of Saint Paul, and to the ancient traditions of eremitical and cenobitic monasticism, which loved weaving baskets and mats.

The first chroniclers precisely delineated this primitive option. Bernardino da Colpetrazzo wrote that

although we may live off the alms that are given to us, or equally off alms that we have begged, and all this is according to the Rule, nevertheless the most perfect way of conforming to the Rule would be to live off our labours… Because of this, many Capuchins who were familiar with crafts such as weaving and sewing cloth, cobbling, fashioning baskets and hampers, and similar things, took up these occupations. In many friaries they set up looms, such as in the friary of Saint Nicholas in Rome, where I myself saw four or five of them, and where the friars earned almost enough to buy the food they needed. It was the same in Genoa, where they wove cloth of great value, and even distilled herbs. It became such that in most houses the friars could almost make a living from their labours [242].[4]

The chronicler adds that other than this type of work, the first Capuchins also lent themselves to physical work during the periods of pestilence and in assistance to the sick in the hospitals, such as in Rome, Naples, Genoa and elsewhere:

The friars’ zeal to serve the lepers was so great, that very many of them sought permission from their Superiors to serve in that ministry… and it was to great profit and in little time that they were able to acquire that spirit of service for nothing other than charity towards those poor sick, for the love of Jesus Christ, and also to conform themselves to our Father Saint Francis, who at the beginning of his conversion encountered those lepers….[5]

The successive development of the new congregation by the efforts of personalities with great spiritual and doctrinal experience saw it confronting the problem also at the theoretical level, and so the chronicler continues:

However, among the friars the movement to earn their living through work petered out. The venerable Fathers Bernardino d’Asti and Francesco da Iesi, Father Giovanni da Fano, and many other most illustrious fathers and very holy men didn’t want it to go ahead. They said:

“It would be better if the whole Congregation were to live by begging. If some want to live by their labours, let them go ahead, and turn us into a Congregation of shopkeepers, not holy religious who attend to Masses, the Divine Office, the study of the Scriptures and preaching.

This Congregation of shopkeepers would have strong links with secular organizations, and wouldn’t be able to keep its ideals in sight, becoming so engrossed in work that its spirit would be totally extinguished.”

God has arranged it so that everything about our way of life serves the spirit of the Order, just as our Father says in the Rule. Because of this, our Fathers put in the Constitutions that the friars should not make work their goal, but should work only insofar as it is necessary to avoid idleness, the enemy of the soul. This was the reason that our venerable Father Francesco da Iesi evaluated all the activities of the friars. Nonetheless, those early Fathers affirmed that nursing in hospitals and other such work enkindled this spirit.

I myself watched Brother Gregorio da Viterbo, a man of great perfection, seated at table. The tears that fell from his cheeks onto the tabletop outnumbered the mouthfuls of food he ate. He was full of emotion at realising that, through his labours, he had earned the bread he was eating, and that this was perfect observance of the Rule” [244].[6]

Among the supporters of physical work, in particular, can be distinguished the great theologian and Biblicist, professor at the Louvain, an Observant who passed to the Capuchin reform in 1536, Francis Titlemans da Hasselt:

Holy Francesco Titelmans wanted the friars to do manual work, and earn their livelihood this way, saying this was the first and most certain way of living according to the Rule. He cited the example of Saint Paul who, though preoccupied with preaching, writing and praying, wanted to support himself through his own labours. He instanced Saint Basil, Saint Benedict and Saint Bernard, who all wanted their monks to work, and also cited Brother Giles, companion of Saint Francis, who always earned his own food. However, grown old in the friary at Perugia, he became unable to work anymore, and felt conscientious scruples about it. When our General, Saint Bonaventure, visited that house, he got some food for him. All the early fathers were like that.

For instance, Francesco Titelmans said that when the friars aren’t busy in spiritual activities, such as the Office, Masses, prayers, studies and sermons, they should work to earn at least some of the food they eat. He himself, in order to give an example of this, ordered that the friars, especially the lay-brothers, should learn to weave cloth, to make baskets, and other such things. He said that the spirit of the Order is acquired much more in observing the Rule and obeying God than in devoting oneself to times of silence under the pretext of already having that spirit. As for the friars, especially the young ones, it is impossible for them to keep themselves chaste if they do not flee idleness [232].[7]

Even more decisive and severe was the gentle Bernardino d’Asti, who

took to task those friars who retreated to their cells to make plaited baskets or small crosses and similar things; rather, he wanted them, when they were tired of praying, to attend to the common household services, such as working in the garden, serving in the kitchen or serving the sick. Nor did he like those friars who, under the pretext of attending to their devotions, excused themselves from domestic duties; and much less, those friars who were so busy with things that they lost the taste for prayer; he taught them to do both in a temperate way, such that one did not impede the other, rather, that they supported each other; saying that such a friar spending his time in such a manner acquires two wings, that is, of the contemplative life and of the active life, that carry him to heaven.[8]

Giovanni da Fano, in his commentary on the Rule, entitled Dialogo de la salute, writes that

the friar should not put aside necessary prayer for physical work, unless it is for obedience, rather, he must first seek the kingdom of God, and thereby perform the duty of Martha without losing the grace of Magdalene; Saint Francis, who loathed laziness and who wanted the brothers to be occupied in suitable activity after they had eaten and to speak of good things, knew this well [644].[9]

Still during the time of Giovanni Maria da Tusa, who was General Minister in 1581-84, the friars used to also work outside of the friary, but nearby, hoeing in the fields of others, cutting wheat, working in a nearby vineyard, all types of agricultural work, according to the ancient customs in Italy.

Also, Gregorio da Napoli, in his commentary on the Rule in 1589, records this type of work outside of the friary, but specifies, by way of the Expositio of Pietro di Giovanni Olivi, that work needs to be

with alien things, that is, with material owned by others, such that a friar, who is a gardener, if he wants to live from his work by being recompensed, has to do his gardening in the grounds of the laity and not of the friars, such that the possession and ownership of the terrain has to be of the laity, because if this work is done in the garden of the friars, and then he sells the vegetables that he has grown, he would be the owner; the same with the shoemaker, if he wants to live from his work, he has to make the shoes with the leather with the identify stamp of the laity and the recompense that he receives must not be with leather material, that after it has been worked, seems to be identified with the name of the friars, but, rather, he can receive leather to do the soles for the friars, and other similar things; the same with the cloth weavers, the blacksmith friars, likewise, they can receive wool, iron and similar things, to assist with the needs of the friars, both for food and clothing, as for divine worship, and for the study of acquiring the sciences; of which such things are conceded to the friars by the Rule.[10]

Eventually, this way of working lessened due to the abundance that came from questing, and the friars that were free from other occupations, such as pastoral ministry or study or teaching (the reading of philosophy and theology), willingly lent themselves to manual work useful to the friary and to the fraternity. These practices came to be inculcated also during the noviciate and I recall a phrase that was often repeated during and after the noviciate, and that still rings in my ears: “Bisogna lavorare per non mangiare il pane a tradimento: It is necessary to work so as not to be a bludger”. This striking expression, without doubt, restating what Saint Paul said: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat” (2 Thess 3:10), is literally referred to in a commentary on the rule preached in Milan during the Provincial Chapter of 1583 by the Sicilian General Minister Giovanni M. da Tusa. By this we can discover the source of this saying that remained in the hearts of the Lombardy Capuchins. It is extremely interesting to hear the reasons why, still valid, that led to arriving at this final expression:

In today’s times, because of the abundance of alms, the way of life of living from the labour of our friars is no longer customary, it remains to say that the house duties that occur in all our places should be carried out by all the friars, if they are not legitimately impeded, therefore, it is not right that these should be done by the laity, because this is an abuse and a disgrace. Therefore all should cheerfully engage in physical work, but so much more in the spiritual labour of prayer, which is so necessary that it obliges each one, and on this we will be thoroughly examined on the day of judgement, because it is for this we are dressed in this holy habit, which signifies nothing else than that of self- mortification, contempt for the world and mortification of the flesh; and the laity, believing that we are interiorly such, take bread from their own mouths [to give to us], thinking that we, with our prayers, implore God to have mercy on their sins. It is for this that the Church concedes that we can live off the exertion of others, it is for this that the cities and castles make provision that we can have our own places, in order that they be assisted by our prayers. Therefore woe, woe to us if we are lacking in what is our debt! Believe me, my dear brothers, the great advantage that the Capuchin has is to unite himself to God with prayers, if he is not grateful, spending all his time in gossip, grumbling, except for the small amount of time that he is forced to spend in choir, he will be held to be the most reprobate by our father Saint Francis, because he will say to him: – Brother, all my friars spend all their time in spiritual and physical exercises, and you live so idly, mangiando le fatiche altrui a tradimento: bludging off the sweat of others. But behold, God has justly prepared you a fitting punishment -; and as a reprobate he will cast you out”.[11]

Santi Tesauro da Roma, who was the guardian of Saint Felice da Cantalice, explaining the grace of work averted to

the deception of some friars who leave aside spiritual things and think to be excused because they have some physical work to do for the fraternity, which is a good thing, but a friar, as much as it is possible, must not leave aside spiritual exercises if he wants to profit and be consoled in religious life.[12]

In the noviciate, the young are progressively educated into work, as is to be read in a very curious ceremonial for novices, written, it would seem, by Bartolomeo Vecchi da Bologna around 1625. In it, we read pages that reveal ancient pedagogical practices of the Order. The novices, in fact, learn, step by step, the different jobs to be done in a fraternity and the Master takes care not to be too forceful of it in the first stages of the novitiate, above all when dealing with “certain delicate youngsters who are not accustomed to work”. During the year of novitiate these need to learn “those practices that they need to exercise in the friaries, that is, work in the sacristy with the corporals, hosts, chieriche [tonsures]; wash the feet of the friars and wipe those of visitors, do the scutching [that is, beat the habits to keep them clean], make the beds with straw, cook, go questing, repair the habits and breeches, washing the clothes, keeping tidy and sweeping the place where the table napkins are washed…”, etc., with a very detailed description of each single occupation.[13]

However, this practical formation in work was not to form the friars to be always flitting around, busy and very active, but to create in them a sound devotion. “Forming them to be more devout than active”, as describes Fr Bartolomeo da Bologna.[14] The lay brothers, in particular, made a solid apprenticeship to the duties of the kitchen and of the garden, and were formed to always exercise them with “charity and holy poverty”, that is, “stimulated by poverty”, in the sense of not letting things become ruined, not to burn too much wood in the fire, and with this attention to avoid every wastage, and, above all, to be charitable in their service, in particular with the sick, weak, aged and visitors.[15]

In the handwritten Capuchin ceremonial of 1595, already cited, the oldest of the series of Capuchin ceremonials, written at Gand in Belgium, it recommends to the lay brothers to remind themselves that they have to act towards the others not only as brothers, but also as mothers, with every cheerfulness, diligence and love, and to serve not simply as men, but as angels and saints, or rather, as if they were Christ himself.[16] This “maternal” attitude shown forth brightly in the life of Blessed Geremia da Valacchia. He served the sick as if they were his lords, but he also helped in the domestic work of the other friars to relieve them of their fatigue, always ready to wash their feet with water containing sweet smelling herbs, he would take the broom from their hands, wash their dirty laundry and their habits. He served them as a mother serves her children. In the procedural testimonies recurrent was the image of his maternal love. So much so that at his death, his sick friars and his other confreres cried for a long time, as if they had really lost their mother: “We cried many times, as if he had been our mother”.[17]

So that all the weight of fraternal service did not fall on the lay brothers, the ceremonial of Gand, cited above, adds a specification that has always guaranteed fraternal charity in our Order, suggesting delicate attention be given to the division of labour:

To conserve that charity and humanity that has always been between us, the friars are to help out each other in physical work and in works of charity, when someone requests it. Moreover, do not wait to be asked, when you see the necessity and know that someone out of humbleness will not ask for it. Thereby, charity, mutual fraternal concern, trust and confidence are preserved and malicious judgement is kept at bay, because when we help out each other, we clearly demonstrate that we have true and fraternal love.[18]

The diverse services already well organised within the ancient Capuchin fraternities were pointedly delineated in the last section, like an Appendix, of the Ceremonial of Boverio. It explains the service of porter, guest master with a rite of fraternal welcome of the visitors, the brother assigned to the care of the clothes or house brother, sandal maker, questor, refectorian, cook, infirmarian, gardener and director of the wool making, all the manual workers, all that have characterised the social and humble “economic” running of a Capuchin fraternity. It is a work that is a true “discipline”, words that were very much loved and repeated by Boverio, and became a spiritual attitude, interwoven with prayer and meditation, that then overflowed into the external comportment, done with delicacy, respect and decorum.[19]

A whole book could be written on the variety of works exercised by the Capuchin friars throughout their history. Mariano D’Alatri writes that “the chapter of ‘material history’ is still to be written and would assist us to know, in its daily reality, what actually took place and was done in our friaries”.[20] It would also deal with works of art that the friars were working at before entering into the fraternity and which they then continued to work at during their religious life. Capuchin art, with its unmistakeable “style”, is an important part of the Capuchin tradition and is expressed in painting, sculpture, miniature, and especially in the architecture in the construction of the churches and friaries. This saw the friars being labourers, bricklayers and builders, and in the realisation of more humble works that for centuries have decorated the Capuchin churches: tabernacles, candlesticks, altars, reliquaries and wooden inlays. To what we call “artistic” could be added many other activities of mechanical arts, such as designing new types of looms for cloth weaving or machinery for making cinctures, the contraptions used by the French Capuchins, considered the “firemen of Paris”, manufacturers of sundials, or a device that signalled the duration of the time of community meditation. It was a variety of work in which many lay brothers, in particular, distinguished themselves, but also several priest friars who already had a specialisation in the world behind them.[21]

The distinction and division between lay and clerical friars, accentuated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and also in much too monastic forms, needs to be overcome by way of shared work, like a suture that closes the wound. The modern crisis of the lay brothers probably arose from the lack of this suture. But already in a little-known book by a great missionary and apostle, Francesco Gagnand di Chambéry, written in 1634, this lack of trust is exorcised with words worthy of being meditated upon because they go to the heart of the problem: “Those who are destined to play the part of Martha [that is, the lay friars] should not depreciate their vocation, but remain in it with simplicity and devotion, knowing that the more humble it is, the more sure it is, and since its instruments are more effective on the will than as operations of the intellect, they dispose much more towards perfection”.[22] It is not without significance that the first Capuchin saint was a lay brother, Saint Felice da Cantalice. He was a great contemplative and great worker, who “was never idle” and carved little crosses with a knife, his famous “crocette” [“small crosses”] of boxwood that he distributed out of devotion to the people. Because prayer, devotion and love have primacy over all other things and the exercising of love is the primary occupation, as Benedict XVI has forcefully underlined in his first encyclical letter, Deus charitas est, and as Saint Francis desired and as the Capuchins perfectly understood and expressed in their Constitutions when they chose to begin chapter five, which is precisely concerned with the friars who carry out physical work, with this sublime maxim:

Given that God is our final end to whom everyone should tend and long to see himself transformed in Him, we exhort all the friars to direct all their thoughts to this aim. With every possible impulse of love let us focus all our intentions and longing to unite ourselves to our supremely good Father with all our heart, mind and soul, with our strength and virtue, with actual, continuous, intense and pure love.[23]

Francesco Gagnand, great Capuchin apostle who worked with Saint Francis di Sales, explains the human and spiritual motivations of collaboration and sharing together in the same work:

We priests and clerics, after Prime and Terce, [6am and 9am], having finished the conventual Mass, tidy up the cell and visit the sick friars, we are then free and work with modesty and religious gravity to help our lay brothers. Also the preachers and the superiors, when they are not tied-up, do the same. Such customs were introduced from the beginning and were handed on to us, not in an unconsidered way, but for many valid reasons. Firstly, to avoid the vice that is contracted mostly from idleness, as the Holy Spirit says: “Idleness has taught much evil” (Sir 33:28). Secondly, so that the soul is not suffocated by an excessive attention to spiritual things, with the danger of giving up. Thirdly, so that we spread the perfume of Christ among the laity, as we follow in the footsteps of our ancient fathers who spent their time left over from the divine office and spiritual meditation in weaving baskets and working the land. Fourthly, so that we do not weigh too much on our benefactors, asking of them all the necessary things. Fifthly, so that we can say with the apostle Paul: “We have provided for our needs with our own hands” (Acts 20:34). Therefore, we tend the gardens that we cultivate with our own hands and with the sweat of our brows, which serves us almost all of the year with the greens that we eat with our bread.[24]

If we then ask the mystics, the friars who have spiritual experience and the gift of contemplation, we find that manual work is necessary to the contemplative life, as explains Giovanni da Fano in his Operetta devotissima chiamata Arte de la unione (Brescia 1536). He writes that the contemplative needs to descend from the mountain of contemplation by means of “some corporal works. Even though corporal works are of little use, as the Apostle says, still spiritual and corporal works, should be undertaken at the proper time when the one or the other are duly disposed and executed with discretion the one does not interrupt the other, and the devil finds a person always occupied”. The explanation of the necessity of attending to physical work reflects a clear discernment and equilibrium of the spiritual life. The motives are diverse: so that when boredom sets in at times we do not leave spiritual things aside; to return to the spiritual with greater strength and ardour; to overcome and conquer concupiscence; to occupy and hold firm the heart, which is so fickle and tossed about by various emotions and thoughts like a boat on a tempestuous sea; and finally, because the enemy “ finds more ways and means of tempting the unoccupied person than one who is occupied, since only one devil tempts a person who is occupied, where many tempt those who are unoccupied”.[25]

A mystic by nature, as was the Capuchin Gregorio da Napoli, even if relatively unknown, has deepened the vision of external and manual work indicating a “little known deception and possessed by many”, that of distinguishing between exterior and interior work:

People like this are thinking of God as being separate and independent of the activity… When you perform a work, offer a service, carry out an activity, assist the sick or do something else whatever it might be, do not consider it to be something material, incidental or detached from God, but think of it as being the will of God Himself, as God Himself and therefore force yourself to do it in a manner, with the same reverence, love, care and purity as you would if you were doing it for God Himself [4802].[26]

Blessed Maria Maddalena Martinengo expressed in another way the same concept, when she taught her novices that

our work has to be a continual prayer… In principle, therefore, you need to gather all your actions into your interior and, stripping them of every gaze from others, that is, the worldly intention to be pleasing to Creatures, to be praised and well-liked by them; nor for being pleasing to yourselves, nor because that task is your talent and satisfaction: of all that is necessary to be stripped of one’s self and so able to fix one’s eyes on God, working only for his highest Glory. And desiring not only to be conformed to the Will of God, but to be so united with him that your wills remain conformed, identified and transformed affectionately to him, in such a way that you no longer live for yourselves, but only with God living in you.[27]

Our saints were enamoured by manual work, such as, for example, Saint Giuseppe da Leonessa, who “considered himself inferior and less than all others, because he wanted to do all the work that was the most vile and basest of the friary, which was washing the stables, sweeping the house, washing the clothes and any other contemptable work that was done by the lay friars around the house”.[28] Brother Cecilio M. da Costaserina, was always occupied in the work of questing, friary porter and then serving the poor, living his daily labour in the will of God as “a continual prayer and a continual hymn of love”.[29]

At this point we could multiply the examples of “devout work” exercised and developed by the Capuchins in their long history. Here we could repeat what Cassiano da Langasco wisely and brilliantly wrote on the “material culture” of the Capuchins that, although concerning the friars of the province of Genoa, can be perfectly applied to the whole history and tradition of the Capuchins regarding manual work.[30] And we could also dwell upon the intellectual work documented in their libraries and by the volumes they have composed on medicine, botany, physics, astronomy and other natural sciences (without mentioning the writings of philosophy, theology and biblical) and not to forget to include with them the enormous and tiring work, physical and pastoral, that our missionaries have carried out in the different continents where they have worked and still work.[31] But in the end always remains, still most current, the dilemma that our founders proposed from the beginning: work needs to be devout, that is, it should not impede devotion to and loving union with God; and the devotion, to be authentic, should not distance us from work and make us lazy and idle.

  1. “Idcirco intrinsecus minime illuminatur, nec quid sit internum exercitium agnoscit, sed in eo contentus est, quod scit et sentit se Deum quaerere et intendere non ficte videnturque sibi externa exercitia esse multo utiliora qualibet exercitatione interna. Et quia magus exercet opera exteriora propter Deum, quam cola eum interiori affluxu dilectionis, propterea in corde eiua magis depicta sunt opera quae propter Deum perficit, quam ipse Deus propter quem agit” (Cf. Directorium aureum contemplativorum, c. 1, in Theologiae mysticae D. Henrici Harphii, lib. II, c. 3, Coloniae 1556, f. 139va).
  2. “Nam interdum fratres plus orant in laboritio quam in ecclesia. Immo, iuxta divum Bonaventuram, exercitio spiritus non extinguitur, sed excitatur ad devotionem. Cum enim sanguis est fere mortuus in corpore, etiam animae vires languescunt; et, sanguine vivificato (quod optime fit per exercitium), reviviscunt et roborantur; et cum vigoratur sanguis, tunc etiam magis homo aptus est ad orandum et admodum vividas et ferventes iaculatorias preces mittit ad Deum. Valet etiam exercitium aliquando ad recreandum spiritum obtusum ex laborioso et continuo studio, et ad solamen illorum qui laborant capite prae nimia meditatione ex illa extravagatione ad exteriora et ad corporis sanitatem et ipsius mortificationem” (cf. Caeremoniae et observantiae in nostra congregatione gandensi ordinatae anno domini 1594 consensu omnium patrum provinciae, pro bono publico et pace et uniformitate totius provinciae, et ad disciplinam regularem conservandam, et profectum religi[o]sorum valde necessariae et utiles. Anno 1595, f. 106r).
  3. Cf. Costituzioni cappuccine di Roma-S. Eufemia del 1536, n. 65-66 e 68, in I Frati Cappuccini [= FC]. Documenti e testimonianze del primo secolo. A cura di C. Cargnoni. Vol. I, Roma-Perugia 1988, 337-342.
  4. Cf. Bernardinus a Colpetrazzo, De l’observantia del testamento et del laboritio, in Historia Ordinis Fratrum Minorum Capuccinorum (1525-1593. Liber tertius: Ratio vivendi fratrum – Ministri et Vicarii Generales – Cardinales Protectores. In lucem editus a P. Melchiore a Pobladura. (Monumenta Historica Ordinis Minorum Capuccinorum, 4). Romae 1941, 194s.
  5. Ibid., 196, 198.
  6. Ibid., 196s.
  7. Cf. Matthias a Salò, Di Fra Francesco Titelmano, in Historia Capuccina. Pars altera. In lucem edita a Melchiore a Pobladura. (Monumenta Historica Ordinis Minorum Capuccinorum, 6). Romae 1950, 182s.
  8. Matthias a Salò, Vita di F. Bernardino d’Asti primo generale canonicamente eletto, ibid., 26.
  9. FC I, 694.
  10. Regola unica del Serafico S. Francesco… compilata dal reverendo Padre F. Gregorio Cappuccino…, Venezia 1589, 266-275 (FC I, 977s).
  11. Cf. Dichiaratione della regola de’ frati Minori fatta dal M.R.P. fr. Gio. Maria da Tusa capuccino nel Capitolo provinciale di Milano l’anno 1581, f.41v-42v (FC I, 847s).
  12. Cf. Espositione sopra la Regola del Serafico Padre S. Francesco di F. Santi Thesauro Romano Predicatore capuccino, nella quale si dichiara l’intentione di esso Institutore circa l’osservanza, e si risolvono i dubbi concernenti a detta Regola, In Roma 1614, 259 (FC I, 1148).
  13. Cf. Degl’essercizi corporali che debbono fare li novizi in Modo d’incaminare i novizi con santa uniformità di cerimonie e riti (FC I, 1360-1366). Per tutto il cerimoniale cf. ibid., 1323-1485.
  14. Ibid., 1362, n. 1267.
  15. Ibid. (FC I, 1364-1365).
  16. “…recordentur laici fratres, quia non ut fratres tantum, sed etiam ut matres, cum tota hylaritate, diligentia et amore erga confratres suos se debent exhibere; et quibus non tanquam hominibus, sed angelis et sanctis, immo tanquam Christo, cuius locum inter ipsos praelatus obtinet, debent inservire ” (cf. Caeremoniae et observantiae in nostra congregatione gandensi ordinatae anno domini 1594 consensu omnium patrum provinciae, pro bono publico et pace et uniformitate totius provinciae, et ad disciplinam regularem conservandam, et profectum religi[o]sorum valde necessariae et utiles. Anno 1595, f. 112rv).
  17. Cf. Alcune testimonianze sulla vita del beato Geremia Stoica da Valacchia dal Processo contemporaneo (FC III, 5116).
  18. “Procurent fratres, ut charitas illa et humanitas, quae hucusque extitit inter nos, conservetur, nempe ut fratres se invicem adiuvent in exercitiis et operibus charitatis, si ab aliquo requiruntur uti ad faciendam coronam, habitus resarciendos et consimilia. Nec etiam expectent vocari, si opus videant et interdum cognoscant quod aliqui ex humilitate non audeant ab eis petere. Isto enim modo charitas conservatur et fraternitas inter fratres et confidentia, et malae opiniones discedunt, si quid de fratre nostro male sentimus. Cum enim invicem adiuvamus, tunc optime declaramus charitatem in invicem nos habere. Nonnunquam enim accidit ut aliqui de fratre aliquo male sentiant, quae nihilominus tentatio recedit per communicationem in invicem charitatis” (Caeremoniae et observantiae, f. 107v).
  19. Cf. [Zacharias Boverio de Saluzzo], Appendix in qua de externis quibusdam ritibus ad religionis politiam et domestica munera recte obeunda spectantibus agitur, Neapoli 1626.
  20. Mariano D’Alatri, I cappuccini. Storia d’una famiglia francescana. Roma 1994, 91.
  21. For a list of these types of activities, other than the Appendix of Vol. IV of the “Fonti cappuccine” that deal with Capuchin architecture, the art of “minors” and of the “material culture” (FC IV, 1461-1732), cf. various chapters of Historia Generalis Ordinis Fratrum Minorum Capuccinorum di Melchiorre da Poblatura, vol. I, Romae 1947, 121s, 231-235; Vol. II/1, Romae 1948, 461-468; vol. II/2, Romae 1948; 145s; Vol. III, Romae 1951, 382-408.
  22. Cf. FC I, 1955.
  23. Costituzioni 1536, n. 63 (FC I, 336).
  24. FC I, 1956s
  25. FC III, 405s.
  26. FC III, 1039.
  27. B. Maria Maddalena Martinengo, Avertimenti spirituali, in Id., Gli scritti. Edizione critica, introduzione e note a cura di Franco Fusar Bassini. Vol. II, Roma 2006, 1724-1726.
  28. FC III, 4871.
  29. Fra Cecilio Maria Cortinovis da Costaserina, Diario – Lettere – Note spirituali, 1924-1982. A cura di C. Cargnoni. Roma 2004, 176.
  30. Cf. Cassiano da Langasco, I libretti del museo di vita cappuccina, in FC IV, 1643-1732.
  31. On this aspect see Mariano D’Alatri, I cappuccini. Storia d’una famiglia francescana, Roma 1994, 91-94, 113s, 140-143, 170-174, 190s, 225228, ecc.