Review of Capuchin Constitutions 1536, 1552 and 1575

It is all about Cecilia

Prepared by Gary Devery OFM Cap

Table of Contents


There is little that is original in the Capuchin reform. The founding friars[1] who were primarily responsible for the composition of the 1536 Constitutions were fully formed friars of the Observant tradition. The Capuchin reform was the accident waiting to happen. It was an accident of history that those particular ex-Observant friars providentially ended up together at the Chapter in San Euphemia, Rome in 1536. They did not aspire to be original but wanted to gather and use the more valid elements of both previous and contemporary reforms.[2]

Climate of Reform

To attempt to follow the internal Franciscan reform up to the beginning of the Capuchin reform would be a separate course in itself. It is readily available in studies such as by John Moorman,[3] Duncan Nimmo,[1] Maurice Carmody,[4] and with an eye more specific to the Capuchin reform, Thaddeus MacVicar OFMCap.[5]

In his preface to the chapter of his book dealing with the Capuchins, Carmody broadly sums up the situation on the eve of the Capuchin reform:

If one thing stands out in the history of the Lesser Brothers, it is the ongoing attraction that the life of Francis of Assisi and his companions exercised on succeeding generations. The institutionalisation of his charism, accepted by so many Franciscans for the greater good of the Church, failed to dampen the enthusiasm of those dissidents who, in every century afterwards, insisted on recreating his way of life to the letter. Forcing such minorities to unite with the Observants in 1517 may have seemed the tidy and practical thing to do from the Church’s point of view, but it hardly quashed their spirit. They still believed a brother could observe the Rule and Testament of St Francis to the letter. Apart from those who once belonged to such brotherhoods, it is hardly surprising that others also shared their dream. Complete uniformity could not be expected among 30,000 Observants in fifty-three provinces.[6]

The ‘dissidents’ referred to by Carmody are grouped together under the commonly used name ‘spirituals’ in the work by MacVicar. He summarised the doctrine of the broad camp ‘spirituals’ into five central characteristics:[7]

      1. Observance of the Holy Gospel according to the intentions and example of Saint Francis; for most spirituals this meant the observance of the entire Gospel under vow.
      2. Literal observance of the Rule; no relaxing glosses, or even interpretations that favoured developments not traceable to the expressed intention of St Francis.
      3. Friars are bound to observe the Testament.
      4. As well as Testament, the friars must accept as interpretive norms of the Rule all the known words, deeds, and writings of St Francis. It is the mind of Francis that is all important, not Minister General, General Chapter, Holy See. The mind of Francis is the highest court of appeal in deciding observance.
      5. All dispensations and privileges relaxing the obligations of the Rule must be rejected.

Also within these characteristics, to varying degrees amongst the various groups of spirituals, there can be found antipathy towards studies, particularly the Scholastic studies promoted by the great universities and the study of humanities, and a tendency towards the emphasis on the eremitical life as contrasted with a balanced mixed life of contemplation and pastoral ministries, especially preaching.

In MacVicar’s summary of the contrast between the Observant reform and that of the more extreme reform groups of the Spirituals, a parallel can be seen with the reform desired by Ludovico Fossombrone contained within the Statutes of Albacina and the more balance mixed life expressed in the 1536 Constitutions:

On the other hand, we noted among the Observants, the major reform before the Capuchins, the beginnings of a much broader view of the Franciscan vocation than the Spirituals generally would have allowed. St. Bernardine [of Sienna] had proved the plausibility of a reasonable program of studies even within the narrow walls of the Carceri. He, together with the other illustrious friars known as the Pillars of the Observance, taught the reformers the value of a broad priestly apostolate on behalf of the Church. The apostolic labor of these saints, their concern with broad European affairs in the service of the Holy See, drew the Observant Reform out of its eremitical shell and launched it, despite resistance, toward a mentality and curriculum of life more and more resembling that of the Community in the days of Haymo of Faversham and St. Bonaventure. If the chronicles and other works mentioned above conserved the memory of the Spirituals, they also incorporated new ideas. St. Bonaventure (canonised in 1482) is given his revered place after Francis and Anthony, and the vision of Brother James is almost forgotten. Scotus and the other great intellectuals are singled out as the pride of the Order. Liturgical pomp and a degree of conventual life, in contrast with the eremitical, are admitted as a manner of course.

Now it was from both these lineages within the Observant body – the one represented by Brugliano, the other be Ara Coeli, Rome – that the early Capuchins descended. We find both types clearly marked during the first decades of the Reform. The severe, uncompromising attitude represented in such Capuchins as Louis of Fossombrone, Bernardine of Montolmo, and Francis Tittelmans. From the other trend, willing to harmonise the austerity of primitive observance with a program of studies and a broad apostolic ministry, came Bernardine of Asti, John of Fano, Jerome of Pistoia and others of their type. The latter were of those Observants who believed strongly in the need for a return to the earliest principles of Franciscan life, but were determined not to give way to extremism. It was the successful blending of these two attitudes which developed the representative Capuchin mind …[8]

Feeding into the Capuchin reform were men of experience coming from the general Observant reform and those coming from particular groups being allowed within the broader Observant reform, such as the Spanish, Portugese and Italian Recollects.

The Observants and other like minded reform seeking lesser brothers were also part of the wider pre-Tridentine reforms unfolding in the first half of the 16th century within the Catholic Church, along with the likes of Vittoria Colonna, Ercole Gonzaga, bishop of Mantova, Gian Matteo Giberti, bishop of Verona, Gasparo Contarini and Reginal Pole. It was a broad evangelical spirituality that understood interior reform being a necessary pre-condition to wider structural reforms of the Church.

The evangelical spirituality, very broadly speaking, was the reading of the bible, especially the Gospels and the writings of Paul, with a lively faith that, while certainly not rejecting, placed less emphasis on external ceremony and pomp. It was the call of the living tradition expressed in the scriptures to seek a spiritual and moral life based on the experience of the primitive Church. It was a call to seek perfection by way of mental prayer and the imitation of Christ. Theologically, emphasis was placed on the Pauline-Augustinian Christology/anthropology of the incapacity of man as a sinner to fulfil the law and arrive at salvation without the divine intervention of grace and openness to the infinite mercy of God by means of a lively faith through the “benefits” of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Consequent to this and a natural and necessary corollary of a “lively faith” was a stimulus to incessant charitable activity, with special attention towards the needs of one’s neighbour, especially the poor and suffering. It did not seek to remain private but sought to engage in social transformation.[9] With subtle changes of emphasis and practice, this description of evangelical faith could arouse suspicion in those looking for heterodoxic or heretical expressions of faith, especially in the climate of the contemporary protests and reforms being undertaken by the likes of Luther, Melanchthon and Calvin.

Camaioni notes that the Constitutions of 1536 read more as a spiritual commentary on the Rule of St Francis than a juridical text. They express a vibrant evangelical-mystical tension that makes it an authentic tract on the call to holiness, with a language, tonality and approach that is in full syntony with the religious sensibility of the sixteenth century. The influences on the principal composers of Constitutions – Bernardino d’Asti, Giovanni da Fano and, above all, Bernardino Ochino – are evident in the text. It has a lexicon that resonates with the “Benefits of Christ”. There are influences from illuminative mysticism flowing from beghard and alumbrada sources, and influences that the Capuchins absorbed from the Franciscan spiritual authors and the heterodox fonts such as The Mirror of Perfection of Margaret of Porete and the Dyalogo della unione dell’anima con Dio of the Observant Bartolomeo Cordoni.[10]

Camaioni goes on to note that the 1536 Constitutions demonstrate the same concept of “spiritual observance” of the Rule and of the Gospel, central to the tradition of the spirituals amongst the Franciscans, as it had assumed in the spiritual climate the first half of the sixteenth century. “Spiritual observance” by this period had taken on a new and peculiar connotation that placed the primitive Capuchins in close affinity with the variegate elements of the broader Catholic reform that can be grouped under the umbrella of evangelical, Pauline and Valdesian soteriology, which fits into the evangelical spirituality described two paragraphs above.[11]

Camaioni notes that some expressions inserted into the 1536 Constitutions indicate in the thinking of the primitive Capuchins a fusion of the traditional Franciscan piety with contemporary spiritual currents that were more open to both dialogue with and contamination from the new ‘doctrines’ of the early sixteenth century. Viewed from the angle of the more rigid censors of Roman orthodoxy (the likes of Gian Pietro Carafa/Pope Paul IV) this way of thinking tended towards heterodoxy, permeated with a tension pushing towards the interiorization of religious practice at the cost of ceremony and pomp that could appear suspect to the suspiciously inclined. The earthquake of the apostasy in 1542 of Ochino and a number of other Capuchins along with him, including some provincials, only served to araldite these suspicions. Some examples of these expressions: “In Christ are our merits” (n. 152) which could be perceived as exalting the merits of Christ over against our works; “It is impossible to put in place laws and statutes for particular cases that may arise, since those things are countless. Therefore in the charity of Christ we exhort all our brothers, in everything they do, to keep before their eyes the Holy Gospel, … the Holy Spirit will teach them all things” (n. 141) which could be seemingly affirm the superiority of divine inspiration interiorly perceived over against the letter of the law and the judgement of ecclesial authority; “God wants from us our promised obedience in holy poverty rather than sacrifices… God delights more in a pure heart and holy works rather than in precious and very ornate things” (n. 144) could be perceived as the devaluing of liturgical ceremony and works that are not done in the true spirit of charity; within the Constitutions there are multiple references to the letters of St Paul, a perceived ‘over fondness’ for Paul could even be interpreted suspiciously given Luther’s extensive use of the Pauline corpus; expressions such as “… the friars should first carefully examine themselves, their nothingness and their unworthiness…” (n. 91) and “Although the things we have promised may be great, nonetheless they are nothing in comparison to that eternal reward that God wants to give us if we will observe these things faithfully” (n. 151) could be perceived as a type of “nichilitate” or self-contempt that moves from the negative way of Dionysus the Aeropagite into the annihilation of the soul into God in the then considered heterodoxy of The Mirror of Simple Souls of Marguerite of Porete;  “However as children of the eternal Father, having put aside all carnal concern, we should depend completely on that divine generosity and rest in His infinite goodness” (n. 81) expressed the interior acceptance of a doctrine of grace and divine mercy that was developed in the spiritual literature of Antonio da Pinerolo and in the preaching of Bernardino Ochino and could be perceived as demonstrating the then suspect Erasmian theory of the “open heaven” of the infinite divine mercy as a counterweight to the protestant predestination of the elect and the damnation of the majority.[12]

Poverty: the be all but not end all

Poverty was an instrument, not an end in itself.[13] It is so primary in the reform it needs its own separate reference apart from chastity and obedience. Poverty was a worst than useless instrument when it was turned into an end in itself. This was the trap the more extreme spirituals fell into. Poverty used as the proper instrument by Christ and then by Francis, following in his footsteps, becomes the “narrow and thorny path” to finding the pearl of great price buried in the field of the humanity of Christ: the way to the Father, who prodigiously provides for his sons and daughters. Saint Clare is the great teacher of the proper place of poverty in the minoritic life, but that is outside the scope of this course.

Lively, evangelical faith and the alter Christus, Francis of Assisi

In seeking a lively faith, in seeking to have the same mind as Jesus Christ, the primitive Capuchins looked to Francis as a sure guide, as one who had been born again of water and spirit, and filled with the seraphic love of Christ: the pious, just and holy mind of our Lord Christ who spoke in Saint Francis (1536CC n. 5). Saint Francis is an alter Christus,[14] to observe his Rule is to enter into our inheritance: As true and legitimate sons of Christ, our Father and Lord, born again by Him in Saint Francis, we share in his inheritance (n. 6). Francis wrote his Testament when close to death and so fully conformed to Christ. To observe the Rule and Testament of Francis is to let oneself be also conformed to Christ. Francis is a true and tested way: We are sons of the Seraphic Father and imitate his life and teaching. And our saviour said to the Hebrews, “If you are sons of Abraham, do the works of Abraham.” If we are sons of Saint Francis then let us do the works of Saint Francis. Therefore we direct that each friar strive to imitate our Father given us as rule, norm and example, or rather, our Lord Jesus Christ in him, not only in the Rule and Testament but in all his ardent words and loving deeds (n. 6).

In the mentality of the first Capuchins, Christ and his life are the interpretive criteria of every law and moral norm. Francis is the model to imitate in as much as he was an alter Christus, mediator between the friars and the Saviour. In the same way, the Rule of Francis is the true interpretation of the Gospel. Whoever follows it to the letter and in the spirit, can, like Francis, arrive at full conformity to Christ.[15]

Striving to imitate “our Father” Francis in “all his ardent words and loving deeds”. Words and deeds are key words of the lexicon of sacramental theology. They speak of Incarnation, of the words and deeds of Jesus, of Jesus as the Sacrament of the Father, of the Church as the sacrament of Christ, of the baptismal element of Religious Life as the prolongation in history of Christ, the poor, chaste and Obedient One:[16] Hence all men are obliged to observe this teaching, especially Christians who have promised it in sacred Baptism. And we friars have an even greater obligation because Saint Francis was explicit at the beginning and end of this Rule about the observance of the holy Gospel (n. 1); According to some doctors, when novices make their profession in the proper way they are restored to baptismal innocence… clothe themselves in the new man (n. 20). In writing the 1536 Constitutions, the early Capuchins understood the role of Saint Francis, the Rule and the Testament, like poverty, as exemplar and instruments to being conformed to Christ, to having his living spirit in us (n. 1) as a living faith (n. 48), and resting in God’s infinite goodness as children of the eternal Father (n. 81).

St Francis as model, Constitutions as hedge, Rule as guide and Testament as interpretive key

Francis as model to be imitated

I.6 As true and legitimate sons of Christ, our Father and Lord, born again by Him in Saint Francis, we share in his inheritance…  We are sons of the Seraphic Father and imitate his life and teaching… If we are sons of Saint Francis then let us do the works of Saint Francis. Therefore we direct that each friar strive to imitate our Father given us as rule, norm and example, or rather, our Lord Jesus Christ in him, not only in the Rule and Testament but in all his ardent words and loving deeds.

II.15 Francis, the imitator of Christ … to conform ourselves to Christ our Saviour and to the will of the Seraphic Father…

II.25 and to be even more vigilant at the usual prayers and more conformed to our Father Saint Francis, whose bed was the bare earth, and to Christ, the Holy of holies, especially in the desert…

II.27 So that the friars may rise to the epitome of most high Poverty, the queen and mother of all the virtues, the spouse of Christ our Lord and that of our Seraphic Father, and our mother also…

II.28 according to the example of Christ and Francis his imitator … so that our life may always preach the humble Christ.

III.50 according to the example of Christ our Lord and of Saint Francis ….

IV.58 Because most high poverty was the beloved spouse of Christ, the Son of God, and of our Father Saint Francis, His humble servant…

VI.69 And when He was dying He had no place to rest His head. Ruminating on how He was most poor in everything else and to imitate Him, Saint Francis commanded his friars in the Rule that they not have anything of their own… Therefore we, wanting in such a noble example to truly imitate Christ and really observe the seraphic precept of heavenly Poverty…

Constitutions as hedge

There is a long history of Constitutions, Statutes and Ordinances in the Franciscan Order, with some evidence pointing to some forms of legislative texts being written before the promulgation of the Constitutions of Narbonne by Saint Bonaventure. They have served as attempts, according to their particular time and place, to ensure, protect and guard an authentic reading and implementation of the Rule of Saint Francis.[17]

Bernardino of Colpetrazzo records that the first Capuchins accepted unquestioningly the Testament of Saint Francis as being the most authoritative and fatherly clarification of the Rule. However, they did not want to assign to it the prescriptive force of a law or commandment, which is what some – such as the Spirituals – wanted to do. To preserve the Congregation “in the spiritual observance of the evangelical and seraphic Rule” they published some simple and devout statutes in 1536 which gave the Congregation its proper and unmistakable character.[18]

Preface: The Constitutions are a hedge to protect and preserve the friars in living the Rule according to the fervent and seraphic zeal of our Father Saint Francis who lived according to living spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. I.6: “As true and legitimate sons of Christ, our Father and Lord, born again by Him in Saint Francis, we share in his inheritance… If we are sons of Saint Francis then let us do the works of Saint Francis. Therefore we direct that each friar strive to imitate our Father given us as rule, norm and example, or rather, our Lord Jesus Christ in him, not only in the Rule and Testament but in all his ardent words and loving deeds.”

Rule as guide

The singular motivation for the zeal for the integral observance of the Rule is that it is the marrow of the Gospel. It is to be observed ad literam and without gloss. The Rule opens to us the merciful, just and holy mind of Christ. For the early Capuchins the observance of the Rule is the express will of Christ, to be observed purely, holily and spiritually.[19]

I.1: The Rule is about “the observance of the holy Gospel.” The “Rule is nothing other than the marrow of the Gospel… the teaching and life of our Saviour Jesus Christ…”

I.2: The Rule is like “a little mirror reflecting evangelical perfection…”

I.5 It was not only the will of our Father Saint Francis but also that of Christ our redeemer for the Rule to be observed simply, to the letter and without gloss just as our first seraphic Fathers observed it. Since our Rule is very clear, and so that it may be observed more purely, spiritually and in a holy manner, all glosses and fleshly, useless and compromising explanations are rejected. These uproot the Rule from the pious, just and holy mind of our Lord Christ who spoke in Saint Francis. We accept the declarations by the supreme pontiffs as well as the most holy life, teaching and example of our Father Saint Francis as the only valid commentary on our Rule.

I.6: In the Testament “our Father Saint Francis himself set down when close to death, marked with the sacred stigmata. Full of fervour and holy spirit he longed for our salvation. And we accept this as a spiritual gloss and exposition of our Rule since it was written so that the promised Rule be observed in a better and more catholic way.”

Testament as interpretive key

The Testament is held in high regard by the early Capuchins. In the Constitutions they surpass the explicit declaration of St Francis, in that they command the observance of the Testament to guarantee unconditional fidelity to the Rule.[20]

The early friars were influenced by the prophecy of Giovanni da Parma that the true reform of the Order would be realised only with the observance of the Rule without any privileges and dispensations, as requested in the Testament. For them the Testament was the spiritual note and exposition of the Rule,[21] as stated n. 6:

I.6: In the Testament “our Father Saint Francis himself set down when close to death, marked with the sacred stigmata. Full of fervour and holy spirit he longed for our salvation. And we accept this as a spiritual gloss and exposition of our Rule since it was written so that the promised Rule be observed in a better and more catholic way.”

The Testament is cited many times in the Constitutions, as the primary interpretation of the Rule and determined the direction of the Reform in rejecting any form of privilege or dispensation: n. 1: confirms the evangelical life of friars; n. 22: only one tunic; n. 30: way of reciting the Office; n. 47: greeting according to the gospel: The Lord give you peace!; n. 65: manual work; n. 73: take only poor churches and habitations; n. 98: have prisons but in a humane way; n. 119: respect priests and bishops; n. 143: assurance of the blessing of the Lord to he who observes the Rule.[22]

The Testament and the Constitutions collated, form a lifegiving commentary on the Rule, which is the holy life, doctrine and example of our Holy Father Francis.

It is all about Cecilia

The Rule and Testament are a distillation of the prolongation in history of the following in the footsteps of the poor, chaste and obedient One. This living according to the pattern of the holy gospel is not only after the example of Saint Francis but also Saint Cecila. The figure of the virgin Cecilia gives an important insight into the contemporary understanding of this particular way of following the Master:

I.1: “Hence [Francis] says in his Testament that it had been revealed to him that he should live according to the pattern of the holy gospel. Therefore, so that the Friars may always keep before their mind’s eye the teaching and life of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and after the example of the virgin Cecilia always carry the sacred Gospel in their hearts…”

Jean Gerson (1363-1429) writes of how Saint Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of Saint Cecilia bearing always in her memory the gospel of Jesus Christ:

[38] Of the method Saint Bernard followed at the beginning.

Saint Bernard tells of himself that at the start of his conversion he saw that he needed more good works and merits than he could find in himself. And so he decided that he would do his best to acquire some of the merits of Jesus Christ. Ever since then, he kept thinking diligently about the life of Jesus Christ from his conception until the ascension, and of all the sufferings of Christ. Bernard made, so to speak, a bunch of myrrh, which he constantly placed on his breast in holy memory and in compassion with Christ. By this I conclude that Saint Bernard began his contemplative life and found his way of ascent by thinking about the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Similarly, we also read of Saint Cecilia, who always bore with her the gospel of our Lord, that is, the memory of his life, and did not cease speaking to him and praying to him.[23]

Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471) refers to the virgin Cecilia bearing the gospel in her breast:

Cecilia, a most glorious virgin, bearing the gospel words in her breast, and desiring to please Thee only, gave her mind to no amusement or vanity: but intent upon fastings and prayer, sang in her heart, saying, “May my heart and my body be made spotless, O Lord: that I be not shamed.” And questioned of her faith: with great constancy she answered, “We knowing the holy name: are utterly unable to deny it.”[24]

Martin Luther (1483-1546) also speaks of Saint Cecilia constantly bearing the Gospel of Christ in her heart:

Since we are in the midst of enemies and are continually attracted by innumerable allurements, hindered by cares, and engaged in business affairs, through all of which we are withdrawn from purity of heart, therefore there is only one thing left for us: we must exhort ourselves with all zeal and, so to speak, stir up our sluggish spirit by means of the Word of God, by meditating on it, reading it, and continually listening to it, as the apostle admonishes here. Just as we read about St. Cecilia that she “constantly bore the Gospel of Christ in her heart and devoted herself day and night to prayer and conversations with God.” If this did not happen, we would certainly be swallowed up in the end by the great number of those things, and acedia and lukewarmness of spirit, the greatest of all dangers, would overwhelm us.[25]

Alessio Segala da Salò (1558-1628) who entered the Capuchins in 1580 refers to the virgin Cecilia in his Corona Celeste (1612) in the 8th Mystery of his Life of Mary, 11th February (42nd Meditation) The journey of Joseph and Mary towards Bethlehem:

1° The blessed Virgin always loved silence, solitude and quiet, above all, in the time of her pregnancy during which she closely guarded in her Virginal Womb the Word made Man. From the moment of his conception, she willingly avoided conversation with other people, friends and family. She preferred to remain withdrawn, because it was vexing to her to see and hear the things of the world. Rather, she remained in fervent prayer and in solitude. The love, sweetness and devotion that arose from the profundity of her heart towards her Lord, was much greater than that of the devout Virgin Cecilia: “of who, day and night, without interruption, dialogued with the Lord in prayer.

All of the above references on the virgin Cecilia are quotes reflecting on the antiphons and responses of the liturgy of St Cecilia for 22nd November.[26] In the first vespers for Nocturno in the Roman Brevium of the Council of Trent, 1558, we find:[27]

Virgo gloriosa semper Evangelium Christi gerebat in pectore, et non diebus neque noctibus vacabat. A colloquiis divinis et oration. Expansis minibus orabat ad Dominum, et core jus igne coelesti ardebat.

[The glorious Virgin always bore the Gospel of Christ in her bosom, and neither by day nor by night did she cease from divine conversation and prayer. Her hands outstretched to the Lord, her heart burning with celestial fire.]

The first antiphon for the second Nocturno could be read as a response:

Domine Jesu Christe, seminator casti consilii, suscipe seminum fructus, quos in Caecilia seminasti.

[O Lord Jesus Christ, as the sower of chaste counsel, receive the fruits of the seeds which you sowed in Cecilia.]

Devotion to Saint Cecilia reaches a high tide mark during the sixteenth century. In 1599, while the Basilica of St Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome was undergoing repair, her tomb was opened to reveal her body still integral.[28] John Rice, a historian of music, notes that the recognition of St Cecilia as the patron of musicians seems to have become entrenched in the early period of the sixteenth century. In this century there are around 60 extant Caecilian Motets, with the first being written in 1532.[29] However, the early friars in composing the 1536 Constitutions, while mostly very cultured men, were not interested in the musical side of the devotion to St Cecilia. These friars had a great knowledge of and respect for the works Bonaventure. It is from the references to the virgin Cecilia in The Life of Christ of Bonaventure that we can glean some insight into how these early friars understood that the lesser brothers are to arrive at “the marrow of the Gospel” and live “according to the form of the holy Gospel.”

The early friars look to St Bonaventure as a true interpreter of Saint Francis, his Rule and Testament. In The Life of Christ, Bonaventure has three places of reference to Saint Cecilia and their placement is significant.

The book opens with the first reference, which is found in the Preface:

Among the many commendations passed on the virtues and excellence of the holy virgin Cecilia, it is reported of her that she was in the habit of carrying, hidden in her bosom, the Gospel of Christ. By this we are to understand that she selected from the Life of the Lord Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel, some passages which more especially stirred her devotion, upon which she meditated day and night with pure and undivided heart, with attention and earnestness; going over them again and again without leaving out any, and ruminating upon them with sweetness and delight, she laid them up in her inmost heart. I advise you to do the same. Above all other things, too, for I believe that in the pursuit of the spiritual life this practice is most necessary, and most beneficial, and that which is calculated to lead to a higher state. For nowhere will you find such teaching to arm you against vain and fleeting flatteries—against tribulations and adversities, against the temptations of enemies and vices—as in the Life of the Lord Jesus, the Life which had no defect and had every perfection. Indeed, from the frequent and habitual meditation on His Life, the soul is drawn into a certain familiarity, confidence, and love of Him, so that other things are counted worthless and are despised. Moreover, we are thereby strengthened and taught, what to do, and what to avoid.

And first, I say, that the constant meditation on the Life of the Lord Jesus strengthens and renders steady the mind against vain and fleeting things, as appears in the case of the blessed Cecilia to whom I have alluded, whose heart was so filled with the Life of Christ, that into it no vanity could enter. Even amidst the pomp of her nuptials, when there was so much display, singing, and music, she remained with her heart fixed upon God alone, saying to Him, “O Lord, cause my heart and my body to be undefiled, that I be not confounded.”[30]

The second is found in Chapter XVIII, and marks a change in approach for the rest of the work:

Chapter XVIII: Of the Opening of the Book in the Synagogue

Up to this point, by the grace of God, we have treated the Life of the Lord Jesus according to the order of events, omitting little or nothing of all that happened to Him, or of His own doings; but I do not intend to pursue the same course hereafter. This Work would become too long, if I were to touch upon all that He said and did, and to attempt to bring all within the compass of these meditations; especially as it is of the greatest moment that we should, after the custom of S. Cecilia, continually bear deeply engraven on our hearts the facts of Christ’s life.[31]

The final reference is found in the concluding chapter:

Thus, hold converse gladly with the Lord Jesus, and after the example of the blessed Cecilia, strive ever to keep His Life laid up in your heart.[32]

Religious Life is to be a prolongation in history of the chaste, poor and obedient life of Jesus Christ. For Bonaventure, the virgin Cecilia demonstrates the key to incarnating this Christological dimension into a life well lived in “sweetness and delight”: ruminating upon what is contained in the Gospels about Jesus, carrying them close to our heart, meditating on them “day and night with pure and undivided heart, with attention and earnestness.” This is the foundation for the mixed life, the movement from mental prayer to mission and back to mental prayer, with the events, the words and deeds of Christ’s life “deeply engraven on our hearts.”

By their nature Constitutions are legislative texts, the 1536 Constitutions, while including this dimension, expand into being an identity statement of the first Capuchins. Each of the twelve Chapters are “deeply engraven” with references to the life of Christ found in the Gospels and with references to the evangelical and seraphic expressions of Saint Francis, the Rule and the Testament, in so far as they assist in the prolongation of Jesus Christ into the everyday history of the Capuchin life.

Christocentric spirituality of 1536 Constitutions[33]

Vatican II declared: Since the ultimate norm of the religious life is the following of Christ set forth in the Gospels, let this be held by all institutes as the highest rule.[34] It is consoling to know that the 1536 Constitutions assumed and developed this ultimate norm of Religious Life: Therefore, so that the Friars may always keep before their mind’s eye the teaching and life of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and after the example of the virgin Cecilia always carry the sacred Gospel in their heart of hearts… (I.1).

The figure of Jesus Christ dominates the Constitutions as the determining motivation for every norm and directive. Every virtue that is promoted brings with it always a Pauline qualification and theology of conformity to Christ.

Saint Francis is only presented as a model to imitate in function of and related to Christ. Saint Francis leads only to Christ, just as the Rule’s only function is to lead to the Gospel. All the zeal in imitating Saint Francis and the integral observation of the Rule flows only from the passion for Christ and for the Gospel.

It is enough to separate from the more legal aspects of the text of the Constitutions, the more explicitly Christological refences, to demonstrate this expansion of the texts into the invitation to a prolongation of the life of Christ into the daily life of the Capuchin friar:


Living spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ

Chapter I [The life of the lesser brother]

1. the most fair Son of God brought us the totally pure, heavenly, supremely perfect and divine Evangelical teaching and He promulgated and taught it by both deed and word. Moreover His eternal Father approved and authenticated it in the river Jordan and on Mount Tabor when He said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am pleased, listen to Him.” Therefore we proclaim that it alone teaches and shows us the straight way to go to God.

2. follow Christ crucified.

3.  the spirit of Christ our Lord and God.

4. Even though Divine Wisdom may be unfathomable and lofty, nonetheless it has lowered itself so much in Christ Our Saviour… the most holy Jesus Christ himself, in whom according to Paul are all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God.

5. Christ our redeemer… the pious, just and holy mind of our Lord Christ

6. And our saviour said to the Hebrews, “If you are sons of Abraham, do the works of Abraham.”… our Lord Jesus Christ … all his ardent words and loving deeds.

7. for the sake of the love of Him who emptied himself for love of us… invited to the marriage feast of the most holy spouse, Jesus Christ.

8. The humble Christ crucified came to serve us and became obedient even to the bitter death of the cross. Although He was not subject to the law He wanted to submit to it and pay the tax and tribute while being free.

9. they obey for the love of Lord Jesus Christ, the more glorious and pleasing to God that obedience is.

Chapter II [Vocation/Formation]

15. Christ, the most wise master, imposed on the young man who demonstrated his wish to be saved, that if he wished to be His Disciple, he should first sell all he had and give to the poor and then follow Him.

17. So that what the most holy Christ said to the scribes and Pharisees not be addressed to us, “Woe to you who go around sea and land to make one single proselyte and then you make him into a son of Gehenna, much worse than you,” … to perfectly imitate Christ our light, way, truth and life.

19. to carry the yoke of the Lord … the love of Christ, our Lord and God.

21.  It was not without reason that Jesus commended the austerity of Saint John the Baptist’s clothing when He said that those who dress in fine clothes are in the houses of Kings.

25. So that our beds be similar to the one on which died the One who said, “Foxes have their dens and the birds of the sky have their nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head;” … and to Christ, the Holy of holies, especially in the desert…

27.  most high Poverty, the queen and mother of all the virtues, the spouse of Christ our Lord … ne small spiritual book, indeed one about Christ crucified…

28.  In case of necessity, however, according to the example of Christ and Francis His imitator, one may go on a donkey, so that our life may always preach the humble Christ.

29. After the example of Christ most holy and all our early saints, let the beard be worn

Chapter III [Prayer]

33. follow the example of Christ the high priest who, without any reward of His own, offered himself on the cross for us.

36. what our fair Saviour said of the Hebrews may not be said of us: “These people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

39. completely spotless because of the presence of the most unsullied Christ.

42. according to the teaching of Christ, the best teacher, adore the Father in spirit and in truth.

44.  Jesus Christ the infallible truth said that we will have to account for every idle word.

46. after the example of blessed Christ, each one is to strive to spiritually obey and serve his companion, regarding each other as brothers in Christ.

47.  was revealed to him by the Lord, that when greeting persons we must say, “May the Lord give you peace.”

49.  to preach the word of God, after the example of Christ, our one and only Master. When invited to the feast He did not want to accept, but He went there later to preach.

52. that our hearts may not be weighed down by gluttony and drunkenness, according to the teaching of our most holy Saviour…. remember that Christ was denied water on the Cross and He was given wine with myrrh or vinegar with gall. 

55.  according to the example of the humble Son of God, these friars will wash the feet of the quests while all the friars assemble for that act of charity.

56. in memory of the most cruel passion of our most fair Saviour, especially the agony of His scourging … think of their fair Christ, the Son of God, tied to the column. May they strive to feel a small part of His acute pain. 

Chapter IV [Poverty]

57. And Christ our Lord said, “Be on guard against all avarice.” … may Jesus Christ our God be our procurator and advocate and may His fair Mother be our representative and advocate.

58. Because most high poverty was the beloved spouse of Christ, the Son of God…

59. Therefore after the example of the Saviour of the world and His beloved Mother

61. suffer the lack of worldly things after the example of Christ who, while being Lord of all, chose to be poor and to suffer for us.

Chapter V [Manner of working]

64.  most high poverty, pure chastity and humble obedience, as well as the other gospel virtues taught us by the Son of God by word and example, in Himself and in His saints.

Chapter VI [Fraternity]

69. the most high poverty of Christ, the king of heaven and earth. When He was born He did not have even a small place in the inn for His dwelling, and He lived as a pilgrim, staying in the houses of others. And when He was dying He had no place to rest His head. Ruminating on how He was most poor in everything else and to imitate Him, … imitate Christ and really observe the seraphic precept of heavenly Poverty…

81.  follow Christ the supreme emperor and spotless mirror along the way of most high poverty, must keep in mind that their heavenly Father knows how to provide for them. He can do so and wants to do so. Hence He takes special care of them. Therefore, unlike the gentiles who do not believe in divine providence, we must not strive after these things of world with worry and unnecessary concern. The most high God grants these things generously even to dumb animals. However as children of the eternal Father…

Chapter VII [Penance]

90. focused and recollected in Christ, the friars may run more surely to their heavenly homeland.

91. And this most high and divine sacrament where our most fair Saviour deigns to dwell continuously with us … It should be held in the highest reverence by all those who stay in front it and let them pray as if they were in their heavenly homeland with all the holy angels.

94. they should receive them with gentleness according to the example of Christ our true Father and shepherd in the same way the prodigal son was received by his very kind Father. With Christ they should strive to joyfully carry on their own shoulders the lost sheep of the angelic sheepfold.

95. just as the most kind saviour Christ did when presented with the adulterous woman, and not to act with rigid justice and cruelty toward the one brought before them. Indeed Christ, the Son of God, descended from heaven to the Cross to save us and showed all possible gentleness to humbled sinners. … Indeed when leaving him as universal shepherd in His place, Christ told Peter that he should even to forgive the sinner who sins seventy times seven. … to Christ our most kind Lord … when Christ gave penance however he was accustomed to say, “Go in peace and do not seek to sin again.”

96. Hence, so that this good possession of the Lord be preserved by means of a sound hedge…

97. to weep for our sins, to amend our life, to obey, and to carry the cross of penance following Christ

Chapter VIII [Governance]

101. According to the teaching of Christ our humble Lord … according to the example of Christ who came to serve and minister to us and to lay down His own life for us.

102. According to the teaching of Christ our kind Lord, and as persons invited to His wedding feast, the friars should strive to be in the last place with Him rather than in the first place with Lucifer, knowing that the first will be the last and the last first. With Christ let the friars shun status and not accept rank unless, like Aaron, God calls them under holy obedience.

Chapter IX [Apostolic/Preaching]

110. According to the example of Christ, the teacher of life, the proclamation of the word of God is among the worthiest, most useful, exalted and divine offices in the church of God upon which the salvation of the world mainly depends. … following the example of Christ, the supreme wisdom, who from the great throng of Hebrews only chose twelve apostles and seventy-two disciples after having prayed at length.

111. after the example of Paul the apostle, they should preach Christ crucified in whom are all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God. … The preachers should quote none other than Christ (whose authority prevails over all persons and the reasoning of the world) and the holy Doctors.

112. the naked and humble Crucified, …  after the example of Paul … imprint Blessed Christ upon their hearts and to give themselves into His serene possession so that through the superabundance of love He may be the one who speaks in them, not only with words but especially through their deeds after the example of Paul, the teacher of the nations. He did not dare preach anything to others unless Christ had first worked it in him. Christ too, the most perfect teacher, taught us not only with doctrine but with works. Great in the kingdom of heaven are those who do first and then teach and preach to others.

113. after the example of Christ, the mirror of all perfection, who went through Judea, Samaria and Galilee preaching in the towns and villages, and sometimes to just one woman like the Samaritan woman we read about.

114. Acting in this way in a mixed life, like both Martha and Mary, they will follow Christ who having prayed on the mountain went down to the temple to preach. Indeed, He came down from heaven to earth to save souls.

115. live as poor men and beggars just as they have promised for the love of Christ. … in preaching Christ freely and sincerely … not seeking their own interests but those of Jesus Christ.

116.  read Christ, the book of life …. since everything is found in Christ.

117. preaching is excellent and most acceptable to Christ our God. He himself has demonstrated it when, with that great fervour of His divine charity for the salvation of our souls, He wished to practise it, administering to us that most wholesome evangelical teaching. … to announce Christ crucified himself more worthily, and to preach the kingdom of God and bring about fervently the conversion and salvation of souls, by replicating it as it were and in a certain way instilling it, we enjoin and stipulate that in their preaching the preachers use the Sacred Scriptures, the New Testament in particular, and most especially the Holy Gospel, so that being evangelical preachers ourselves we may also make the peoples evangelical.

118. the example of the most holy precursor John the Baptist, and of the most holy Apostles and the other holy preachers afire with divine love, and even after the example of our most gentle Saviour himself, let them preach: Do penance, the kingdom of God is indeed drawing near. … They should neither desire nor seek anything other than the glory of God and the salvation of souls redeemed with the most precious blood of the spotless lamb, Christ Jesus.

119. preachers who minister to us the most holy divine words as those who minister to us spirit and life.

120.  go up the mountain of prayer and contemplation with the most gentle Saviour.

121. read the most excellent book of the Cross more assiduously.

123. the enlightening and enkindling charity of Christ that edifies the soul. … to have the spirit of Christ … work on the spirit rather than the letter, for without the spirit the true meaning is not acquired and the letter alone blinds and kills.

124. the true and fine understanding of the sacred texts beneath whose meaning lay hidden the one whose spirit is sweeter than honey for anyone who tastes it.

Chapter X [Obedience]

133. Following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ and of our Seraphic Father, all the friars should always desire to be subjects and to obey

134.  regarding them all as our fathers and elders in Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Chapter XI [Chastity]

135.  life-giving example of Christ our Saviour and the wholesome teachings of the saints rather than to human persuasion.

136. true religious and servants of Christ…

137. by being pure of heart we may see God with the eye of sincere faith and become more suited for heavenly things … an aromatic fragrance to Jesus Christ, when conversing in each place with purity, discretion and appropriateness…

138. speaking always of edifying matters in Christ our Lord, and about the salvation of one’s soul.

Chapter XII [Mission/Life of faith]

139. Assembled in the fair name of the gentle Jesus, let them be of one heart and one mind, striving always to tend towards greater perfection. To be true disciples of Christ himself let them love one another from the heart, bearing one another’s faults always. … For as our Saviour says, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent plunder it, that is, those who vigorously do violence to themselves.

141. impossible to put in place laws and statutes for particular cases that may arise, since those things are countless. Therefore in the charity of Christ … the Holy Spirit will teach them all things.

143.  perfectly enkindled in the love of blessed Christ … Instead let them cast all their solicitude and concern upon the One who cares for us continually. Let them do all these things as the Holy Spirit teaches and carry out everything with that charity which does nothing badly.

144. So that poverty, the holy bride of Christ our Lord…

145. Since our Saviour began first by doing and then by teaching others…

148. Service with no other intention than to avoid punishment belongs only to servile and mercenary spirits. However it pertains to the true sons of God to work for the love of God and to do something pleasing to His Majesty, for divine grace and glory, and to give good example to our neighbour, and for many similar reasons. … conformed to the Son of God. He was not obliged by the laws he made but wanted to observe them for the salvation of everyone.

149. Carrying out these things, therefore, let us direct our eyes to our redeemer so that having known his divine good-pleasure let us strive to please Him … for the sake of His love. The observance of these constitutions will help to fulfil not only the complete observance of the promised Rule but also the divine law and evangelical counsels. And through Jesus Christ the grace of God will free us from all danger. In all our efforts too, our consolation will abound through Jesus Christ. We will be capable of everything in the Him who comforts us, namely, Christ the Almighty. In everything He will give understanding, He who is the power and wisdom of God and our Saviour, who gives abundantly to each one and does not take back, will give understanding in everything. He will furnish the strength, He who is power and the word that contains all.

150. The suffering that we endure for the love of Christ and the penance that we do for Him will last a little while. However the glory that God will give through Christ will be infinite. Many are called to the kingdom of eternal life, but few are chosen, because very few persons follow Christ in the truth of their heart. However on the last day God will reward everyone according to their works: glory for the good and Gehenna for the wicked.

151. Although the things we have promised may be great, nonetheless they are nothing in comparison to that eternal reward that God wants to give us if we will observe these things faithfully. Therefore let us act as men and not trust our strength. The good Father who created us and has given us evangelical perfection to observe and who knows the clay of which we were made, will give us the strength with His help. Moreover He will give His heavenly gifts in such profusion and abundance so that once all the obstacles are overcome, we will not only be able to obey His most fair Son but also follow and imitate Him with great joyfulness and simplicity of heart, perfectly despising visible and temporal things and always yearning after those that are heavenly and eternal.

152. In Christ are our merits, examples of life, helps, favours and rewards. He is God and man, true light, the splendour or glory and radiance of eternal light, the flawless mirror and image of God, whom the eternal Father has made judge, lawgiver and the salvation of men to whom the Holy Spirit has given testimony. Therefore our meditation and imitation should be of Him in whom all things are fair, easy, light, sweet, wise, holy and perfect. He is the light and expectation of the nations, the end point of the law and salvation from God, the Father of the world to come, and finally our hope. He has become for us God’s wisdom, justice, holiness and redemption. Consubstantial and coequal with the Father and co-eternal Holy Spirit, one God who lives and reigns, to whom be eternal praise, honour, majesty and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The reference to the virgin Cecilia in the opening paragraphs of the 1536 Constitutions provides a hermeneutical key into understanding some of the ‘catch phrases’ or significant lexical terms spread throughout the Constitutions that invite an affective reading from the heart as contrasted to a reading from a legal stance. Especially when compared to the texts from Bonaventure’s, The Life of Christ quoted above:

evangelical and seraphic Rule; divine Evangelical teaching; evangelical perfection; evangelical silence; evangelical correction; evangelical greeting; evangelical pearl; evangelical poverty; evangelical preachers; evangelical people; evangelical precepts and counsels;

living spirit; living faith; gaze of faith;


heart of hearts; bear fruit in our hearts; pure and clean heart; prepare their hearts for the Lord; more with heart than mouth; altar of their heart; speak to God with the heart; so that our hearts may not be weighed down; devout heart; close to his heart; with all out heart, mind and soul; joyful heart; love him truly from the heart; heartfelt repentance; imprint the Blessed Christ upon their hearts; humble heart; contrite heart; pure of heart; one heart and one mind; follow Christ in the truth of their heart; simplicity of heart;

it is a sweet, fair and fitting thing to die for the one who died for us on the Cross; the one whose spirit is sweeter than honey; all things are fair, easy, light, sweet, wise, holy and perfect;

due reverence and devotion; with all reverence, faith and devotion; with devotion, recollection, mortification, quiet and silence; with due devotion, attention, maturity, uniformity of voice and in harmony with the spirit; so that the spirit of devotion not grow cold; in order to maintain the devotion of the spirit; the merits of holy obedience and due devotion; great devotion; extraordinary devotion; with appropriateness and devotion.

General overview of Capuchin legislation

External witnesses

It is important to look beyond the first internal chroniclers of the Capuchin Order. As Paul Hanbridge notes in his contextualisation of the 1536 Constitutions: “My impression has been that Capuchin historiographies about the first years of the reform have often tended to be narratives of a Franciscan spiritual ideal, a kind of history of ideas. While important, such narratives can tend towards a roseate interpretation of events inherited from the first official Capuchin ‘chroniclers.’” There are two extant witnesses writing before the composition of the Constitutions in 1536 who can assist us in gauging that for the contemporary society that came in contact with the early friars the Constitutions were not just a dead letter: Antonio Minturno and Vittoria Colonna.

Antonio Minturno

In 1534 an event turns the world of Antonio Minturno upside down. Padre Cargnoni writes of the event:

Antonio Minturno, son of Antonio Sebastiani, was a prelate and humanist of Traetto. He called himself ‘Minturno’ for love of the ancient name of his place of origin: Minturnae, city of the Aurunci and then of the Romans, near the mouth of Garigliano in the province of Latina.

As with every humanist, he delighted in literature and poetry. Some of his verses of religious inspiration impressed his young friend and confidant, Giambattista Bacchini da Modena. Giambattista was then deeply moved by the passionate and penitential preaching taking place in Messina by Ludovico Cumi da Reggio, one of the initiators of the Capuchin reform in Calabria. Giambattista then decided to leave everything and enter into the new Franciscan reform. His investiture in the Capuchin habit was on the evening of 10 April 1534. The next day, without telling anyone, he crossed the strait of Messina to begin his novitiate in the friary of the Immaculate Conception in Reggio.

The future bishop of Ugento and of Crotone then vented his desolation in some letters, one written to his intimate friend Bacchini on the same day as his departure and some letters to other friends the following day. These letters are an interesting witness of what a radical vocational choice creates in the soul of another and also are a presentation of how the Capuchin reform at its very beginning came to be seen by the learned and lettered.

The humanist, while deeply appreciating the radical vocational choice, writes from his heart to his friend that one can save his soul also in a less dramatic way, following a way less direct and short, but at the same time just as good. He makes a comparison between the Christian life of the secular and that of the cloistered religious, in relation to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The secular can give more alms to the poor; in the cloister one fasts more, it is to be admitted, but in regard to the prayer, he does not see why there needs to be a preference: the one state is of equal value to the other.

He manifests analogous thinking to the other friends, but with new details that reveal his great suffering at the loss of his friend. By saying how his “Bacchino” has “set out on a rough and thorny path”, he makes a splendid presentation of this “new Order of friars of Saint Francis”, called “Hermits”, drawn from “ the Marches of Ancona and in Calabria”, with some critical reflections that intuit the difficulties being experienced in the early period of the Capuchin reform.

The learned humanist fears that his friend will not be able to support the rigor of that “hard life” and the “harshness of the clothing”, being “delicate of body and raised in comfort”. He charges the Rev. Messer Antonio de l”Anella to comfort the “poor mother” that, far away, is in the dark to all these happenings.

The reader will appreciate the immediacy and spontaneity of this witness, and also his elegant style, as with the humanities, redundant with classical reminiscences.[35]

Minturno writes to mutual friend, the Reverend Antonio de l’Anella on 12 April, 1534. Fr Costanzo Cargnoni notes that it is one of the best descriptions of the Capuchin reform at its origin seen from the perspective of an outsider:

In the Marches of Ancona and in Calabria there has been born a new Order of friars of Saint Francis or, as they say, the old is renewed; they call themselves Hermits.[36] They are not different from the Observants in anything other, in my opinion, than the outside habit, with a cowl similar to that used by the peasants when it rains, and they have more regard that, in as much as they can have control over it, they do not use money, and they live and serve according to the cherished form of the Rule given by their Patriarch. They live outside the city, but do not cease to go among the people nor to preach, or to do what they can for them. Nor do they use any household necessities or bed, unless they are of the poorest quality, smallest size and very hard. Some go barefoot, which is voluntary.[37]

Vittoria Colonna

Vittoria Colonna writes to Cardinal Contarini, as a representative of the commission that has been established by Pope Paul III to look at the question of the Capuchins. Perhaps earlier, because the letter below is undated but possibly written after May 1536[38], she has written to Pope Paul III (29 February 1536). It is enough to read the opening paragraph of this letter to the pope to appreciate the sophistication which Colonna writes, and her knowledge of the scripture and how to apply them to interpret contemporary situations:

Ten years have passed since this holy Congregation began with the aim of living the very Rule of Saint Francis austerely, while meeting at every turn with all possible human opposition, caused by a few who have taken it into their heads to destroy it. So much has it grown in fervour, number and order that the miracle is plain to see and cannot be denied, yet they go around trying to prove it was done on the Sabbath  [cf. Mk 3:4; Lk 13:14-17; Lk 14:1-6; Jn 9:16]

Colonna chooses Contarini because she recognises in him a like spirit – one seeking authentic reform within the Church. She responds to the five principal accusations being levelled against the Capuchin: 1. They are Lutherans because the preach freedom of the spirit; 2. They submit themselves to human authority; 3. They do not possess any Papal documents approving their way of life; 4. They are not obedient to the Minister General; 5. They wear a different habit; 6. They receive friars from the Observance.

Vittoria Colonna maintains, together with the early Capuchin friars, that when one looks back on the Papal documents relating to the observance of the rule, it is clear that an unadulterated understanding is that the Rule should be observed simply and purely. While they do have the bull of Pope Clement, Religionis zelus, and some other papal documents confirming the Chapter, appointment of the Vicar, and other such matter, the authentic document they possess are their most fervent works. These works are a manifestation of the ‘bull’ of the wounds of Christ in their hearts and the ‘briefs’ of the stigmata of Saint Francis in their minds. Below are some sections of the long letter, with our primary interest in the paragraph regarding “the letters of authority”. The inclusion of parts of other sections help to get a fuller impression of the overall letter:[39]

The devotion I have to the glorious Saint Francis, and the spur of conscience, allied to the trust aroused in me by Your Lordship’s kindness, give me the certainty that you will not attribute my writing to presumption, but to devotion, nor to temerity, but to zeal for the truth.

However much I may lose credit on account of feminine ignorance and excessive boldness, so much authority will I gain from reason and Christian interest alone, which is my motive.

I thought, most Reverend Lord, that matters which had been proved by deeds these past ten years would not need to be daily proved by words, because as our Lord Himself says: the works I do bear witness to me. Therefore, I believed that the extreme perfection of the life lived by seven hundred truly mendicant friars, praised by every town in Italy, would not be placed in doubt by anyone, especially not by those who, over five years ago, said that they wanted to wait one more year to see how this holy Reform would develop…

To the first count, we reply that if St Francis was a heretic, those who imitate him are Lutherans. And if preaching about freedom of spirit more than about vices is called error when one is subject to the ordinance of Holy Church, it would also be wrong to observe the gospel, which says in several places: It is the Spirit that gives life, etc. Besides which, those who say these things openly demonstrate that they have not understood the preaching. If they had, they would start to practise some of it with them; they would understand their humility, obedience, and poverty, their lifestyle, example, customs and charity…

To the second, that they are subject to rulers, we reply that there could never be a more humble or Christian work than this; or again, it would suffice to say: anyone finding fault with this ordinance is going against the will of Saint Francis, who put this same precept into practice in his day. Therefore, these friars, and the others whose only aim is to return to the poverty enjoined by the Rule and to the simple intention of its author, did not change this article, which had been corrupted by others. Rather they restored it, not privately as in some hole in the corner, but in the public chapter which they recently held, and brought it back to its original observance: by submitting first of all to His Holiness as their head, they wish to remain obedient to prelates, and they do so as to members of such a head. This is a far greater act of humility and devotion than that shown by those who intend and speak otherwise, especially in view of the scandal that ensues and the harm done to souls by these disputes and quarrels going on all day in the cities and dioceses, as I hear from talking to gentlemen who have real experience of these things…

Regarding the letters of authority, we reply that those that have been published over many years in the Order of St Francis, meaning those that are binding and are founded on the observance of the Rule, are all intended for these Fathers, who seek to observe them purely as far as is possible. Besides, they have the authentic copy of the Bull [Religionis zelus[40]granted to this Congregation by Clement of holy memory, which is not meant to be used to settle details, as many writings of past popes are. Then there are the letters confirmed by the Chapters and by the present Vicar, and other letters, although the miraculous writings they have are the works they perform with burning zeal, as individuals and communally: they have the Bull of the wounds of Christ in their hearts and the writings of the Stigmata of Saint Francis in their minds, confirmed by the countless blessings which they have daily received and still receive from His Holiness. Likewise they accept all those writings that can bind them to the observance of their Rule, while those which relax it in any way at all they have rejected and still reject today.

As to the allegation that they do not obey the General [of the whole Order], we reply that it is obvious, that there is proof, and it is known that the religious Congregation of the Observants is in need of reform. In three of their general Chapters they passed a resolution to reform themselves, and later did not do so and are unable to do so: indeed in their provincial Chapters they have nullified and totally uprooted the first shoots of reform. There is a Bull about this matter from Clement of blessed memory ordering this reform, and two briefs of His Holiness, one requested by them, the other by these others, so that clearly they are in need of reform. And since all the reforms that have been effected among them have been revoked, while this one alone which is not subject to them is growing, it must be separated. As Your Lordships know, those who hate reform in themselves hate it even more in others, because the whiteness of the one clearly highlights even more the darkness of the others, and this is the chief cause of the persecution directed against them…

As for their acceptance of friars, which in my view is the origin of this storm, this is a case of wanting to shut the door more firmly than God wishes. Besides, there are many reasons to make me greatly fear that those who do this are displeasing to God, since we must remember those words of the Lord: Woe to you who shut the door of the kingdom of heaven. We all have so many obligations to help, encourage and inspire people to walk in God’s way, and to urge religious to live out their profession, that you ought to go from friar to friar and layman to layman, begging them to reform, Nor can I understand why Saint Francis should fare less favourably than the other Saints in this Court. As your Most Reverend Lordships know, in the Order of Saint Benedict there are about ten reforms, all separate, in fact some wear white in order to be more separate from those in black; and every way of separating themselves is necessary. Saint Augustine and all religious Orders have carried out reforms. So why is it surprising that Saint Francis should have wanted his men to be reformed twice, the first time, in a half-hearted way, and this time perfectly, so that his holy habit and his evangelical Rule could be observed without gloss in our times, and that it has excluded all claim to have a founder or new branches? Although there was a Brother Matteo, who began this reform, a holy man who is alive today and is one of these Fathers, he was wary of ambition and was going around preaching when the Bull of Clement (of holy memory) was published, yet I say that the founder is Saint Francis, and that these men have no other leader, no other light to guide their way.

And if your Most Reverend Lordships could see into the hearts of those who know what pain they endured while awaiting an opportunity to go over to this reform (there is not one of them who has not waited ten, twelve or twenty years, in the hope that, once there, they could reform) – you would feel compassion when (the Capuchins) receive them. And if the Most Revd. Protector and the ten governors had chosen a different course, not a word would have been said, especially if they had said: these are our brothers, sons of the same Father, they have greater austerity, God inspires them and gives them the strength to observe such rigidity, which used to be commanded. We do not wish to prevent those who wish from following them; indeed we rejoice to see our Rule lived in its first purity, and we, little by little, will gradually reduce at least the commentaries on the Rule. Everyone would be at peace and content, because among the religious of Saint Francis there would be bonus, melior, optimus.[41]

Conformity to Christ and, secondarily, to Francis of Assisi, as the true imitatio Christi, is the intentionality of the early Capuchins in conforming to the Rule. This places the theological positions of Colonna and the early Capuchins in the same camp: a Pauline prism which gives predominance to the spirit over the letter,[42] and interprets every aspect of the life of religion from the perspective inherited from the spiritual and mystical sources of 16th century evangelism and reform, with a lexicon drawn from such sources as Franciscan spiritual traditions (eg. Bartolomeo Cordoni, Dyalogo della unione dell’anima con Dio), Margherita Porete’s The Mirror of Simple Souls, the Benefit of Christ, literature of the devotio moderna tradition, the influence of Erasmus of Rotterdam and Alfabeto Christiano.

Other sources of the 1536 Constitutions[43]

Bernardino of Colpetrazzo also notes that:

For their teaching they took up the experience and the admonitions of our Seraphic Father, recorded for the use of all in the books of our Order, namely, the Conformities, the Chronicles of the Order, the Legend of St. Bonaventure and what was written about our Seraphic father Saint Francis by the three most splendid companions: Brothers Leo, Angelo, and Rufino. This was why the first Capuchins held these books in high regard.[44]

In the Conformities of Bartolomeo da Pisa, the early Capuchins found material gathered from: the writings of St Francis; biographies; chronicles of the Franciscan Order. They also used sources from some Franciscan publications in the early years of the sixteenth century, such as Speculum Minorum (Venice, 1513). This and other such sources contained: works on St Francis, Pontifical documents, expositions on the Rule and some constitutions, among the more notable those of Narbona (1260), Farineriane (1354), Martiniane (1430) and that of St John Capistrono (1443).

The early Capuchins gathered from any source that met with their reforming approach. Therefore, they would also gather and use material from the statues of the Scalzi and the Recollects of Spain, sometimes changing the literary expression. They did not aspire to be original but wanted to gather and use the more valid elements of both previous and contemporary reforms. They focused on the urgency of renovating the Franciscan life in the historical context in which they lived. They fixed upon evangelical choices and the better traditions of the Franciscan Order that could continue to inspire the reform.

The legislation portrays a healthy realism. Knowing human weakness, the time for mental prayer is legislated so that the tepid and lazy friars are helped to pray. Union with God is the aim of religious life. It is a grace conceded to those who put into faithful practice the Gospel and the Rule. To embrace Christ poor and crucified has to hurt. The early friars with the legislation knew how to tie together spirit and law, charism and institution. The fervent spirit of the early friars was based upon detailed observances and prescriptions.[45]

Statutes of Albacina (1529)[46]

The friars were spread out in the Marches. Ludovico da Fossombrone called the General Chapter and it was celebrated at Albacina, in the hermitage of S Maria dell’Acquarella in April 1529. Four councillors were elected: Lodovico Fossombrone, Matteo da Bascio, Angelo da S. Angelo in Vado and Paolo da Chioggia. Matteo was elected to act as the leader (Vicar General). Shortly after he resigned and was substituted by Ludovico.

The four councillors were entrusted with drawing up the Statutes. According to the chronicler Mario Fabiano da Mercato Saraceno, Paolo da Chiogga was an expert in Latin and wrote Statutes out in Latin in accord with the curial style. The Statutes are simple and archaic, awkward and a bit all over the place in style, which probably indicates they were originally composed in the vulgar.

They were promulgated under the name of Ludovico da Fossombrone, as Vicar General, who continued in the role until 1535.

Notable characteristics

They express the desire of reform to return to the mind of Saint Francis and the integral observance of the Rule. The composers were already involved with the aspiration for reform within the Observants. They were familiar with the statutes of the Scalzi of Spain and those statutes that the then Minister General, Francesco Quiñones, had promulgated for the Spanish “houses of recollection” among the friars in 1523 and then in Italy in 1526 during his visit to the provinces.

The early Capuchin reformers took up and, with discernment, adapted these elements of reform already existing within the Observants: Albacina n. 1: they “do not intend to by this [promulgation] to institute a new Rule, nor to change to a new way of living it…”.

They are better called Statutes than Constitutions in that they appear provisory and lack an organic development and ordering of arguments. They are more a statement of intent and indication of direction for the reform. The immediate objective is to eliminate reoccurring abuses found in the fraternal life of the friars at that time. They are an urgent call to return to the integral observance of the Rule.

Contemplative prayer and strict poverty are the two pillars on which the Statutes of Albacina rest.

Contemplative life

The first preoccupation of the legislators was that of guaranteeing the primacy of the contemplative life and ensuring it was carried out by way of precise norms that occupy the first twelve articles.

The denomination as “lesser brothers of the eremitical life” was an immediate indication of the program at hand, even if it also served to juridically distinguish the friars from their community of origin.

The stated identity of the friars is in article 1: “to be dedicated and called to assist and remain before the Lord at his service…”. To facilitate this, emphasis is removed from vocal and “ceremonial” prayer forms that suffocate the personal relationship with and contemplation of God.

The superiority of mental prayer over vocal is emphasised. The Statutes safeguard the silence of the friary and protect the friars from becoming busy with external prayers and processions. The primary occupation of the friars is mental prayer and the activity of the friary is built around this intention.

The Statutes favour the personal charism of each friar and his interior prayer, inserting this within a communitarian structure based on St Francis’s Rule for Hermits.

The Statutes do not seek to lock the friars into a complete “hermitage lifestyle”. This is clearly expressed in n. 22 on preaching. They are to seek to preach not only during Lent but at other times of the year. This openness to evangelisation will be further developed in chapter IX of 1536 Constitutions.

A poor and austere life

Rigid poverty accompanies the contemplative life. It is based on the evangelical choice of St Francis to follow the life and poverty of the Lord Jesus Christ and his most holy Mother, and persevere in doing so until the end.

The following of the humble and poor Jesus Christ, after the example of St Francis is the ideal of the Capuchin friars. To be with Jesus upon the holy cross is the means of conversion. For this reason the places chosen as friaries need to be well chosen. Statute 45 quotes from the Testament: the friars shall have small and poor churches and dwellings, and they shall on no account accept what is built for them unless they are built according to that holy poverty which we have firmly promised in the Rule.

Other themes

The Statutes, not being a systematically written document, cannot be used to find the complete expression of the early Capuchin reform. It is simply written to assist in carrying the reform forward. There is not, for example, any expression of an integral Christology – there is Christ poor and crucified but nothing of the resurrection. There is no expression of such things as the dimension of Franciscan joy, charitable obedience and evangelical openness and mercy as expressed in the Letter to a minister.

Transition from the Statutes of Albacina to the Constitutions 1536[47]

The friars living out the life under the guidance of the statutes of Albacina progressed the reform over the first years, laying the foundation for future developments. The statutes were described by Mario da Mercato Saraceno as the “seminary of the Capuchin constitutions” and were absorbed as a block into the 1536 Constitutions, spreading them out in an orderly manner over the twelve chapters, which corresponded to the twelve chapters of the Rule.

Key points between Statutes (1529) and Constitutions (1536):

      1. The Constitutions reconfirm the primacy of the contemplative life but move away from the contemplation taking place primarily in a predominant eremitical setting, allowing for a mutuality between contemplation and apostolate. (Pastoral rebalance): It is a rebalancing because the Statutes are already pastoral by way of expressing concern for preaching with greater frequency, cf. n. 22.
      2. The Constitutions preserve the suggestion of the use of “hermitage cells” but eliminate for reasons of pastoral demands the Statute of only one Mass in each fraternity each day, cf. n. 6. (Pastoral rebalance)
      3. Manual work is further developed and balanced from the Statutes, where it is presented as a complement to prayer, whereas in the Constitutions work is considered from the perspective of the labour of study for proficiency in service to the Word of God in preaching. (Pastoral rebalance) (Kerygmatic element)
      4. Poverty as in the Statutes is reaffirmed by the Constitutions but also made more precise, such as the annual requirement to hand back the property to the owner, and also more attention is given to interior poverty and its Christocentric and eschatological dimensions.
      5. The Constitutions enrich the dimension of fraternity by recalling to the friars Matthew 18:20 (… where two or three gather in my name…) and the primitive Christian community in Jerusalem (Acts 4:32); they soften austerity in regard to the care of sick friars, after the example of Saint Francis, and permitted the questing of meat for the sick; they recalled the friars to the spiritual love of brothers like that of a mother, as according to the Rule.
      6. The Constitutions opened up to mission amongst the infidels (Pastoral rebalance) (Kerygmatic element).
      7. The Constitutions developed the theme of charity on the social transformation level with the courageous directives to beg food for sick during times of famine (n. 85), assist those struck down by the plague even to the risk of their own lives (n. 89), and to welcome all who came to the friaries in times of need “to feed charity, the mother of all virtues”(n. 27). (Social transformation)
      8. The Constitutions imprinted an evangelical and Franciscan style into obedience and authority, recalling the friars to the spirit of faith and the example of Jesus Christ. This was at a period when political authority tended toward absolutism. The Constitutions called for an obedience and authority that was a service of the pastoral style and pedagogy expressed in the Letter of St Francis to a minister.
      9. The treatment of chastity remains at the same level of the Statutes: ascetical and reactionary, in reaction to the prevalent hedonism of the Renaissance. The Constitutions also portrayed a pessimistic vision of women. However, healthy relationships with women is expressed by collaboration with the likes of Caterina Cibo and Vittoria Colonna.
      10. The call to minority expressed in the Statutes (n. 52) is expanded in the Constitutions to a call to be subject to every creature after the example of Christ crucified, renouncing every privilege and exemption and exhorting to seek the last place (n. 7 & n. 8).
      11. The most significant progress between 1529 and 1536 was the organic enunciation of a spirituality totally centred on Christ and the primacy of love.

First Constitutions – St Eufemia, Rome – 1536[48]

The first Capuchin Constitutions were drawn up by a commission of friars at 1536 General Chapter in Rome at St Eufemia on the Esquilino near the Basilica of Sancta Maria Maggiore. On the commission were Bernardino d’Asti, vicar general, Giovanni da Fano, Francesco da Jesi and Bernardino da Siena, known as Ochino. There were 83 friars at the Chapter.

The Capitular friars probably discussed, corrected and completed the text of the commission. It was a work of collegiality, as is indicated by the preface. This is in contrast to the Statutes of Albacina that are presented only as the authority of a single legislator, Ludovico da Fossombrone.

The members of the commission were of diverse background and each contributed their own personal rich experience of years living as Observants and their own particular expertise in areas of study, spirituality, pastoral work, preaching, governance, administration and so forth. For example:

Bernardino Palli d’Asti was vicar general and the friar primarily responsible for coordinating the composition of the Constitutions. One can find in his Orazioni devote an underlying resonance throughout the Constitutions of a call to a life lived out in the spirit of divine love, especially in mental and contemplative prayer. According to his biographers, the Orazioni devote was printed in Milan in 1535.[49]

Giovanni Pili da Fano was imbued with the mystical theology of St Bonaventure, wrote on the Rule and on prayer and transmitted this into the Constitutions.

Francesco Ripanti da Jesi, author of the Circolo dell’amore divinino contributed to the Christocentric and Trinitarian dimensions of the Constitutions.

Bernardino Ochino da Siena contributed to the interior experience promoted by his experience of evangelical and Pauline influences on contemporary reform in sixteenth century, such as that of Juan Valdés in Naples. In Ochino’s writings, such as Dialoghi sette and Prediche nove, the same phrases can be found reoccurring in the Constitutions.

The other friars present at the Chapter would also have given their contributions towards the Constitutions, with the greater part of these friars having their origin in the Observants, and so would have been exposed to the zeal of the Spirituali, the Constitutions of Narbone, the austerity and eremitical tendency of the scalzi of Spain, and the apostolic dynamism of the Italian Observants. Together, their passionate love for Saint Francis and his first Companions, congealed into an overall capacity of those friars present at the Chapter to give input from their contemporary experience of renewal, which was infused into the collaboration, resulting in very dynamic and synthetic Constitutions.

Some of the values expressed in the Constitutions that rendered the Capuchin reform an expression of evangelical fraternity operating at the service of the Church and humanity:

      • continuity and renewal of the Franciscan charism;
      • choice for a humble and poor life inserted into the life of the people;
      • a healthy contemplative dimension to the apostolate;
      • refusal of privileges and taking on the cause of the forgotten ones;
      • heroic dedication to victims of the plague;
      • universal missionary impulse;
      • abandonment to the Spirit and unconditional obedience to the hierarchy.

Core of Text

No other legislative text of the Capuchin reform can be compared with the 1536 Constitutions for its importance – historically, juridically and, above all, spiritually. Up until recent years it remained the basic code of the Order, substantially represented in the successive texts of 1552, 1575, 1608, 1643, 1909 and 1925. Except for some omissions in the 1552 text, it was substantially transmitted almost unchanged until the text of 1968. It therefor constitutes an authentic “identity card” of the “bella and santa reforma”.

Thanks to the 1536 constitutions, the Capuchins have been able to live for over 400 years the same spirituality, showing the same face to the people, walking with the same paths, in “holy uniformity”, as the times demanded.

From the sixteenth century until 1927, when a copy was first discovered in the Capuchin archives of Assisi,[50] the original text was thought to be non-extant, and it was thought not to have been printed; at the same time, the image of the Capuchin remained intact, because it was indelibly carved into the life of the Order by the potency of the first constitutions. The Capuchin Order, in times of renewal, need only look back into these constitutions to rediscover its identity. Hence, the importance of reviewing the 1536 text.

Seraphic spirituality[51]

The link that binds the soul to Jesus Christ is the ascetical striving to love. Love is the marrow of the evangelical dynamics that jumps out from every page of the Constitutions, where every norm or directive finds its reason of being in the love of God and of Christ. Love, together with Christocentrism, is the constant that runs through all the legislative text.

The filial spirit of seraphic love closes the distance between law and freedom, norms and charism, which transform a legislative text into a rich tract of spirituality.

Some notable characteristics[52]

Christocentrism and charity leaven from inside the constitutions until they rise up to the summit of an ideal that calls for heroism in living them out.

Between the many norms and directives, the experts have individuated some in particular that indicate the high spiritual plane the 1536 Constitutions arrived at and which indicate how the Capuchin reform was moulded from its infancy.

1. The renunciation of privilege and exemption from the authority of the local Ordinary. This was uncommon and surprising legislation. The enunciation of the reasons is exquisitely evangelical and Franciscan: The humble Christ crucified came to serve us and became obedient even to the bitter death of the cross. Although He was not subject to the law He wanted to submit to it and pay the tax and tribute while being free. Hence to better conform ourselves to Him and to avoid scandal, the General Chapter renounces the privileges of being free and exempt from Ordinaries. With the Seraphic Father we accept being subject to everyone as the highest privilege.[53]

2. Austerity in food, to the degree of distributing to the poor and food donated that was not absolutely necessary: If some superfluous food has been brought let the friars refuse it while humbly thanking the donors. Or with their consent, let the friars distribute it among the poor.[54] Poverty must be, above all, be interior, but must also be external, in such a way that it is a credible witness to the detachment from goods and an openness towards the needy: On the other hand, let each friar keep in mind that Evangelical Poverty consists in not having affection for any earthly thing; in using these things of the world sparingly, as if compelled by necessity to do so and for the glory of God, whom must be acknowledged for everything; and in giving to the poor what we have left over for the glory of poverty. Let the friars also remember that we are in an inn and eat the sins of the people. However we will have to give an account of everything.[55]

3. For the effective observation of poverty and to avoid any semblance of possession, every year the owner of the property where the friars are dwelling, during the octave of the feast of Saint Francis, must be given back the property and then asked if he is will to grant the use of it to the friars for another year. If he no longer wants to loan it to the friars: let them leave without any show of sadness but rather with a joyful heart. Accompanied by divine poverty, let them recognise themselves indebted and not offended for the time that the place was lent them. If the place is his, he is not bound to lend it again.[56]

4. In every friary, if possible, there should be one or two solitary cells so that: if any friar (judged suitable for this by his superior) may wish to lead the anchoritic life, he can give himself quietly to God with an angelic life in solitude, following the impulse of the holy spirit.[57] This is a directive carried over from the Statutes of Albacina, with an explicit reference to the small rule of Saint Francis for hermitages.

5. During periods of famine the friars can go questing for the poor. Contemplation does not close them within the friary, but renders them willing to be available to meet the needs of the poor: We also order that in times of famine questing be done by friars assigned to this by their superiors in order to provide for the needs of the poor, according to the example of our most pious Father who had great compassion for the poor. If he was given something for the love of God, he did not want it without an agreement to be able to give it to the poor when he found someone poorer than himself. As we read in many places, so as not to be without the gospel wedding garment of charity, he stripped off his own clothes and gave them to the poor. Or rather, he was stripped by the violent impulse of divine love.[58]

6. During periods of epidemics, the friars are to assist the sick to the extent of even being willing to give their own lives. The supreme model is the love of Jesus Christ and the Capuchins want to follow: Since for those who have no love upon the earth it is a sweet, fair and fitting thing to die for the one who died for us on the Cross, we instruct the friars to serve the sick during the times of plague, according to what their Vicars decide, who will strive in such cases to keep prudent charity in mind.[59]

These six notable characteristics were omitted from the 1552 Constitutions and were not taken up again in any successive revisions. These could indicate the dividing line between the idealism of the origins of the Capuchin reform, within the spirit of the original pioneers, and the inevitable realism of the latter period, that had to adapt itself to being a very large and growing Religious family.

However, the overall message of the primitive text of the Constitutions remained indelibly written and preserved in the fabric of the Order, because this lies not in the given norms but in the inspiration of the charism. Within the legislation the spirit had been infused and could not be cancelled out.

An example of this is in the service to the plague victims. While it had been cancelled from the successive legislation, the inspiration remained. This history of the Order is documented with accounts of how the friars continued to respond in city after city In Italy, when the plague struck.

From the Constitutions of 1536 to those of 1552 and 1575[60]

It seemed opportune at the General Chapter of 1552 to review the 1536 Constitutions so as to adapt them to the new needs of the Order. There was a perceived need also to correct the somewhat rough and ready style of 1536. This work was entrusted to Fr Angelo da Savona. He occupied himself with embellishing the form but without taking care to conserve their original simplicity.

Already in the title page the new direction is announced. It was padded out with adjectives and prepositions: In the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ begin the Constitutions of the Friars Minor called Capuchins (1536) becomes The Constitutions of the poor friars minor called Capuchins, ordered by their General Chapter for a smoother observance of the Rule, newly corrected and reformed (1552).

In the flow of the text epithets accumulate with an affectation that foreshadows the style of the Baroque period. For example, the apostle Paul is named the most prudent architect of the Church.[61] To state that Christ came to save souls, he resorts to circumlocution: for whose salvation He willed to come down from heaven into this vale of tears (1552 n. 103) as compared to: He came down from heaven to earth to save souls (1536 n. 114).

The early Capuchins did not like such transformation that disregarded the original simplicity of the text, subsequently, in 1575, in a new redaction of the text, the more primitive style was taken up again, and discreetly reworked.

The changes made in the 1552 and 1575 texts were also an indication of the new orientation of the Order. The omissions, in particular, from the 1536 texts have a significance in the historical evolution of the Order. Only some indications to this are given in the following:

      1. In the section on contemplative prayer, the hermitage cells disappear, indicating a break with the past and the new orientation towards the pastoral life.
      2. In the 1552 text, in reaction to the departure of Ochino, who had commenced to deviate with the abandoning of prayer, prayer as the “mother and nurse of all true virtue” is underlined (n. 33); the exhortation to not leave the preachers idle is eliminated and replaced with, “we exhort preachers to strive to imprint upon their hearts Jesus Christ our blessed Saviour through humble, fervent and constant prayer, so that He can take peaceful possession of them, and that He may speak and act in them through overflowing love, like Paul, the Teacher of the Gentiles, who did not dare to preach virtue to others unless Christ had first accomplished it in him” (n. 106).
      3. In the area of poverty, the norm of annual restitution of property and significant objects to the owner disappears and is replaced with an implicit acknowledgement that the property does not belong to the friars.
      4. The appellative of poverty as the queen and mother of the virtues disappears in 1552 and reappears in 1575. It is the same with the directive to give superfluous food to the poor. When reappearing in 1575, this directive is moved to chapter six (Chapter III, n. 54 (1536); Chapter VI, n. 72 (1575).
      5. In the field of pastoral service, the exhortations to collect food for the poor in times of famine and to assist the sick during times of plagues, even at the risk of giving their life, are removed. However, there are many testimonies to the friars continuing to give their lives in such service beyond the 1575 Constitutions.
      6. The 1575 General Chapter recognised the need to recover the 1536 texts at the levels of form and content. They perceived a mutilation of the ideals having crept into the 1552 texts. They sought to recuperate the original values present in the 1536 texts:
        1. The Testament was at the root of the reform. In 1552 the text was altered from a command for the friars to observe the Testament, to only a suggestion to observe it. It returned to a command in 1575.
        2. The Christocentric call to mortification in what the friars drank (III, 52:  Christ was denied water on the Cross and He was given wine with myrrh or vinegar with gall) was removed in 1552 (III, n. 44) and returned in 1575 (III, 44).
        3. Obedience to every human creature (I, n. 9) was omitted in 1552 but taken up again in 1575 (I, n. 6) inspired by the Praise of Virtues and the Testament of Saint Francis.
        4. The call in the Letter to a minister to use mercy (VII, n. 95) towards the friars who sin is omitted in 1552 but reinserted in 1575 (VII, n. 80).
        5. The prayer before studies was removed in 1552 and reinserted in 1575.
        6. The Christological conclusion to the Constitutions was removed in 1552 and reinserted in 1575.
      7. The following passages disappeared completely from the 1536 Constitutions and were not reinserted in 1575:
        1. The reading of the Gospels three times a year in honour of the Holy Trinity.
        2. The beautiful spiritual consideration that Jesus was understood by the simple and uneducated.
        3. The freedom to confess oneself outside of the friaries to any approved priest.
        4. XI, n. 136: the strange expression attributed to Saint Francis: For our Father St. Francis said that God has taken wives from us and the devil has given us nuns.

There were some additions dealing with liturgy that occurred consequent to 1552 General Chapter, and others that resulted from the 1575 Constitutions consequent to the Council of Trent, such as the organising of studies in each province.

Generalising, the 1575 Constitutions took up again the important elements omitted in the 1552 Constitutions and remained substantially unchanged until 1968.

  1. Duncan Nemmo, Reform and Division in the Medieval Francscan Order. From Saint Francis to the Foundation of the Capuchins, (second edition, Rome 1995, Capuchin Historical Institute.
  2. This is note 3 from the 1536 Capuchin Constitutions Annotated by Paul Hanbridge OFMCap: “The Congregation could be reckoned as blessed during the time of his (Bernardino d’Asti) government, and we can state that was the time when the Congregation began to assume the shape it had later, making it clearly recognisable as an Order. For up until then it was a company of strays, fugitives and frightened, insignificant friars. In the days of Father Asti it assumed the proper shape which well organised Orders have. At the time (of the Chapter in 1536) the friars were divided into provinces. When the Chapter finished, some good, prudent and learned Fathers stayed on with the Father General and the Father Definitors and made our Constitutions, which still stand, and with God’s help, will continue to stand.” MHOMC I, 246, lines 8+. Bernardino da Colpetrazzo (MHOMC II, 249, lines 3-6) says that these Constitutions derive essentially from the Statutes of Albacina, and were composed in the Chapter held in Rome in 1536. Bernardino Palli d’Asti (c.1485-1557) was Vicar General, and the Definitors were Bernardino Ochino da Siena (c.1487-1564), Giovanni Pili da Fano (†1539), Antonio da Monteciccardo (†1550), Eusebio Cardini d’Ancona (c.1490-1569), Bernardino da Monte Olmo (†1565), Francesco Ripanti d’Iesi (c.1469-1549), Simone da Sant’Angelo in Vado and Girolamo Paganucci da Montepulciano. LC (1951), 315. Attempts to identify some specific contributions to the various members of the commission are interesting, e.g. Costanzo Cargnoni, “Fonti, tendenze e sviluppi dela letteratura spirituale cappuccina primitiva” in CF 48(1978) 311-398, and see IFC I:227.
  3. Cf. Francesco Saverio Toppi in Costanzo Cargnoni (ed.), I Frati Cappuccini, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, 1988, I, p. 159.
  4. John Moorman’s A History of the Franciscan Order. From its origins to the year 1517. Oxford University Press, 1968; Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, 1988.
  5. Maurice Carmondy, The Franciscan Story: St Francis of Assisi and his influence since the thirteenth century. Athena Press, Twickenham, 2008.
  6. MacVicar, Thaddeus O.F.M. Cap., The Spirituals and the Capuchin Reform. Edited by Charles McCarron, O.F.M. Cap. Franciscan Institute Publications, History Series No. 5. The Franciscan Institute, St. Bonaventure University, New York, 1986.
  7. Carmody, p. 365.
  8. MacVicar, pages 18-19.
  9. MacVicar, pages 66-67.
  10. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini Carnali…, p. 164.
  11. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini Carnali…, p. 167.
  12. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini Carnali…, p. 168.
  13. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini Carnali…, p. 168 and for reference to the “open heaven” cf. pages 229-230; cf. also, Camaioni, Il Vengelo e L’Anticristo. Bernardino Ochino tra Francescanismo ed eresia (1487-1547), Mulino, Napoli, 2018 p. 229; cf. also Le opera della “viva fede”. I primi cappuccino tra politeche della carità e teologia del cielo aperto by Michele Camaioni in Pietro Delcorno, Politiche di Misericordia tra teoria e prassi. Confraternite, ospedale e Monti di Pietà (XIII-XVI secolo), Società Editrice il Mulino, Bologna, 2018, pages 275-309, cf. especially pages 303-309; cf. also Bernardino Ochino: Confidence in God (Fifth sermon) given at Lucca 1538, especially 5571: We should never despair or lose hope in God’s mercy since just one of Christ’s little tears was sufficient to redeem thousands of worlds. For our sake he sustained and endured tears, hardship, privation and a very disgusting death.
  14. MacVicar notes that the more extreme Spirituals, such as Olivi and his follows, tended to exaggerate the function of poverty to being an end in itself, rather than as an instrument promoting charity, contemplation, and all the virtues. Cf. MacVicar, Thaddeus O.F.M. Cap., The Spirituals and the Capuchin Reform. Edited by Charles McCarron, O.F.M. Cap. Franciscan Institute Publications, History Series No. 5. The Franciscan Institute. St. Bonaventure University. New York, 1986, p. 32.
  15. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini Carnali…, p. 169.
  16. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini Carnali…, p. 169.
  17. Cf. Vita Consecrata n. 19 & n. 76.
  18. Cf. Paul Hanbridge, 1536 Capuchin Constitutions Annotated at the beginning of the “Context” section.
  19. Cf. F. Toppi, I Frati Cappuccini, I, p. 158.
  20. Cf. F. Toppi, I Frati Cappuccini, I, p. 156.
  21. Cf. F. Toppi, I Frati Cappuccini, I, p. 157.
  22. Cf. F. Toppi, I Frati Cappuccini, I, p. 158.
  23. Cf. F. Toppi, I Frati Cappuccini, I, p. 158.
  24. Gerson, J. (1998). Jean Gerson: Early Works. (B. McGinn, Ed., B. P. McGuire, Trans.) (p. 115). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
  25. Thomas à Kempis. (1907). Here beginneth a Meditation on the Incarnation of Christ, according to the testimonies of Holy Writ. In D. V. Scully (Trans.), A Meditation on the Incarnation of Christ, Sermons on the Life and Passion of Our Lord and Of Hearing and Speaking Good Words (p. 41). London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd.
  26. Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 29: Lectures on Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 29, p. 153). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
  27. The tradition continues down to the present:St Frances de Sales (1567-1622) writes:So saints of old have carried the Gospel in their bosom, as we read of S. Cecilia; and the Gospel of S. Matthew was found next S. Barnabas’ heart, written with his own hand. [Francis de Sales. (1888). Of the Love of God. (H. L. S. Lear, Trans.) (p. 257). London: Rivingtons.] Henry James Coleridge writes in 1885:We have here a picture of a soul full of the love and fear of God, and what the Church calls the counsel of chastity is, in her language, already sown in her heart.22: “Domine Jesu Christe, seminator casti consilii, suscipe seminum fructus, quos in Cæcilia seminasti.” In Off. S. Cæcilia, V. M. [Coleridge, H. J. (1885). The Preparation of the Incarnation (p. 349). London: Burns and Oates.] Corelius à Lapide when commenting on Luke 18:1 in 1908 writes:So the Church sings of S. Cæcilia: She always bore the evangel of Christ in her bosom, and neither by day nor by night did she cease from divine conversation and prayer, and when the organs sounded Cæcilia sang to the Lord, “Cleanse thou my heart, that I may not be confounded.” Valerian her husband found her on her bed praying, with an angel. By this increasing prayer she merited to be given to the angel for the preservation of her virginity, the conversion of her espoused husband Valerian, of Tiburtius and 400 others, and lastly a glorious martyrdom with them all. [Cornelius à Lapide. (1908). The Great Commentary of Cornelius à Lapide: S. Luke’s Gospel. (T. W. Mossman, Trans.) (Fourth Edition, Vol. 4, p. 437). Edinburgh: John Grant.]Pope Francis, during a pastoral visit to a Church in Rome in 2014, said:Take the Gospel and read two little words. Having the Gospel with us always! It was said that several of the early martyrs—St Cecilia for example—always carried the Gospel with them: they carried the Gospel; she, Cecilia, carried the Gospel. Because it is truly our basic meal, it is Jesus’ word, which nourishes our faith. [Francis. (2016). Pastoral Visit to the Roman Parish of “SANTA MARIA DELL’ORAZIONE” (Second Sunday of Lent, 16 March 2014). In Homilies of Pope Francis, 2013–2015 (English). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
  28. From Breviarium Romanum ex Decreto SS. Concilii Tridentini Restitutum S. Pii V. Pontficis Maximi Editio Postrema Neapolitana MDCCCXLVI [1846] Pius V Bulla, quae incipit, Quod a nobis, data Romae septimo Idus Julii anno 1558, significat causam edendi hujus Breviarii, nempe ad tollendam orandi varietatem, p. 927.
  29. Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (Eds.). (2005). In The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev., p. 311). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
  30. Cf. Webpage by John Rice: John A. Rice, History of Music
  31. Saint Bonaventure. (1881). The Life of Christ. (W. H. Hutchings, Ed.) (pp. xxvii–xxviii). London: Rivingtons.
  32. Saint Bonaventure. (1881). The Life of Christ. (W. H. Hutchings, Ed.) (p. 88). London: Rivingtons.
  33. Saint Bonaventure. (1881). The Life of Christ. (W. H. Hutchings, Ed.) (p. 333). London: Rivingtons.
  34. This section is from Cargnoni, I Frati Cappuccini, pages 232-236.
  35. Decree on the adaptation and renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis), 2 a).
  36. My translation from the Italian: Costanzo Cargnoni, I Frati Cappuccini, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, 1988, II, pages 302-304.
  37. The notice is exact. The first Capuchins defined themselves as “friars minor of the eremitcal life”.
  38. Cargnoni, I Frati Cappuccini, II, (n. 2084) pages 308-309.
  39. Cf. footnote 335 of Paul Hanbridge in Cardinal Gasparo Contarini: A collection of his published correspondence, 82. From Vittoria Colonna, mid 1536.
  40. Cf. Camaioni, Fare uomini, p. 155.
  41. Cf. Camaioni, Fare uomini, p. 154: Così, alla Colonna non bastava più rispondere all’accusa sulla mancanza di «scripture» affermando che i cappuccini «hanno la copia autentica de la bolla concessa ad questa congregazione per la sancta memoria di Clemente» – cioè la Religionis zelus.
  42. This translation is that of Charles Serignat OFM Cap found in the Early Capuchin sources of CapDox: Vittoria Colonna to Contarini and the Commission of Cardinals, 1536
  43. Cf. Camaioni, Fare uomini, pages 154- 155.
  44. This section is F. Toppi, I Frati Cappuccini, I, p. 159.
  45. The Capuchin Reform. A Franciscan Renaissance, text chosen and arranged by Fr. Melchior of Poblandura OFM Cap & translated by Paul Hanbridge OFM Cap, 2003, Media House, Delhi, pages 38-39.
  46. From F. Toppi, I Frati Cappuccini, p. 162.
  47. This section is from Cargnoni, I Frati Cappuccini, pages 165-176.
  48. This section is from F. Toppi, I Frati Cappuccini, pages 230-231.
  49. This section is from F. Toppi, I Frati Cappuccini, pages 227-229.
  50. Cf. F. Toppi, I Frati Cappuccini, III/1, p. 239.
  51. From footnote 8 of Paul Hanbridge, 1536 Capuchin Constitutions annotated: Francesco da Vicenza, “Scoperta del primo esemplare a stampa delle Costituzioni dei Minori Cappuccini” in L’Italia Francescana 2(1927) 251-254, an edition published in Venice in 1552 and found in the Capuchin archives in Assisi. A copy of the original edition may be found in the Archive of the Capuchin Province of Rome (Via Veneto). Another copy was found in the Capuchin Archives at Lugano in 1983.A publisher note follows the conclusion of the text of the Constitutions: “Stampata in Neapoli per Ioanne Sultzbach / Alemano. M:D:XXXVII.” The Capuchin Constitutions are not listed, however, in the Annali di Giovanni Sultzbach (Napoli, 1529-1544 – Capua, 1547), Firenze, 1970.
  52. This section is from F. Toppi, I Frati Cappuccini, pages 236-241.
  53. This section is from F. Toppi, I Frati Cappuccini, pages 241-244.
  54. Hanbridge translation of 1536 Constitutions, n. 8.
  55. Hanbridge translation of 1536 Constitutions, n. 54.
  56. Hanbridge translation of 1536 Constitutions, n. 67.
  57. Hanbridge translation of 1536 Constitutions, n. 70.
  58. Hanbridge translation of 1536 Constitutions, n. 79.
  59. Hanbridge translation of 1536 Constitutions, n. 85.
  60. Hanbridge translation of 1536 Constitutions, n. 89.
  61. This section is from Cargnoni, I Frati Cappuccini, pages 244-248.
  62. This is translated from F. Toppi, I Frati Cappuccini, I. p. 245. The translation in CapDox does not contain this exact phrase, but rather translates the text as: the great prudence cf. n. 102.