Social transformation element of the Capuchin reform

Table of Contents

Socio-political, economic, welfare and ecclesial context

Let us quickly re-read the socio-political and ecclesial context of the reform stated above. To examine the social transformation the Capuchin reform participated in, it will be helpful to examine in more detail the transformations in both the economic and welfare systems.

The premise we are operating from in this course is that the preaching and social transformation engaged in by the early Capuchin friars was a continuation of the Observant tradition. This is consequent to some of the most apt Observant preachers and scholars passing across from the Observant tradition to the Capuchins very early in the reform. The Capuchin preaching was also imbued with different strands of the reforms underway in the Church in general in Europe, both orthodox and heterodox. The preaching also contained a dimension of social concern for the poor. Very practical responses in the cities and towns in which the friars preached unfolded, such as the formation or re-formation of hospitals, orphanages and other institutions of welfare for the poor, such as the Monte di Pii. Another concrete response to the combination of preaching and the direct addressing of local social welfare concerns of the particular urban centres preached in was the desire amongst the inhabitants that the friars make a permanent establishment of their presence in the area. Provision was often made for the establishment of a friary. Permanency of friars in a city or region allowed for a greater diffusion among the laity of the prayer, devotional and liturgical practices of the Capuchins.

To more fully appreciate this participation of the early Capuchins in social transformation, we need to, firstly, understand the economic background of this period and, secondly, what was meant by hospital, orphanage, welfare institutions such Monte di Pii in the second half of the 16th century.

From voluntary poverty to market society

The approach for this section will be the position of Giacomo Todeschini, as expressed in his book: Franciscan Wealth. From voluntary poverty to market society.[1]

Todeschini in a more recent book, Come Giuda: La gente commune e i giochi dell’economia all’inizio dell’epoca moderna[2], contrasts the gospel figures of Judas and Mary Magdalene. Judas seeks to hoard goods; he operates from a base carnality. His life is not profitable, hurls towards a dead end, is alienated from others and he ends up alone, devoid of social relationships. Magdalene, after her encounter with Jesus, has a lively faith, she prodigiously ‘wastes’ her goods on others, especially Jesus. She invests her life profitably for the common good and lives a richness of interpersonal relationships.

In Franciscan Wealth, two styles of commerce are contrasted from the period of 1120 to 1200. Bernard of Clairvaux contrasts the Cluniac model with that of his reform, the Cistercian, within the followers of the Rule of St Benedict. The Cluniac model of religious life was orientated towards hoarding wealth by securing it in luxurious objects in both the monasteries and their attached churches. The buildings themselves were large and sumptuous. The Cistercian model was that of slimline economy whereby goods and profits were continuously reinvested in buying more productive lands and establishing more efficient and smaller buildings. The monk’s individual poverty was united to productive economic choices.[3] The first steps towards the market economy were being taken in Europe. The price and value of things became proportional to their possibility to produce. Increased circulation of goods and profits produced growth in the economic life of the regions around the Cistercian monasteries and set up a network of human relationships building up the common good. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, possibly tongue in cheek, could write to Pope Eugene III (pope from 1145-1153, a brother Cistercian, with Bernard as his mentor): “If rarity determines the price of things, nothing is more precious and desirable for the Church than a useful and suitable prelate.”[4]

The tension between these two models would be found in the coming centuries amongst the mendicant Orders, such as between the Franciscan Conventuals and Observant. Saint Francis’ attitude to money and goods is that they are not an end in themselves. To desire to hoard them is to place a value on them in one’s life that is erroneous and unprofitable. “He saw in money, physically represented by coins, the primary configuration of hoarding as opposed to the common welfare, which was understood as the perpetual redistribution of resources or, rather, as a continuous and reciprocal exchange of favors, donations, and alms.”[5] Pietro and Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, father and son, experienced this tension. Pietro’s project for his family was to accumulate and hoard money. Giovanni experienced the joy of using money profitably. To be profitable for the common good it needed to circulate.

Socially relevant men, sometimes rich as well, soon began to throw in their lot with Francis. A mix of wealthy, educated, socially and politically significant men were drawn to this life of professional poverty from across Europe and England. They could not be ignored. Where did they fit socially? Could their freely chosen, radical change in social status contribute to the common good? Enhance it? Or would it cause social erosion that had to be strongly opposed? A dialogue was inevitable within the wider society. The likes of these men joining Francis were:[6]

  • John Parenti, Roman citizen and Master of Law, born in Citta di Castello, elected first general minister in the Order (+ 1250);
  • Master Vincent of Coventry (entered 1220)
  • Master Henry of Coventry (entered 1220)
  • Master Adam (Rufus) of Oxford, theologian (+1233)[7].
  • Sir William of York with the degree of bachelor
  • Brother John of Reading, Abbot of Osney entered;
  • Master Richard Rufus, renowned both at Oxford and Paris (+ c. 1259)
  • Sir Richard Gubiun, knight
  • Sir Giles de Merk, knight
  • Sir Thomas the Spaniard, knight
  • Sir Henry of Walpole, knight
  • John of Parma, (c. 1209 – 1289) General of the Order, master grammarian, teacher of logic; studied the Sentences at the University of Paris.

Italian jurists and theologians:

  • Peter Cattani c. 1180-1221)
  • Crescenzio Grizi of Jesi (+ 1263)
  • Rizzerio of Muccia
  • Luke of Bitonto (2nd custos of Holy Land 1220-21)

English theologians:

  • Haymo of Faversham (+ c. 1243)
  • Adam Marsh (c. 1200-1259)
  • Alexander of Hales (c. 1185-1245)

French theologians:

  • John of la Rochelle (c. 1200-1245)
  • Guibert of Tournai (c. 1210-1284)
  • Eude Rigaud (1248-1275)
  • Portuguese canonical expert Anthony of Padua (1195-1231)

The professional poverty lived by cultured men, such as the above, resulted in a deep reflection on a new way of living economically. This reflection was being led by these Franciscans and other mendicants at the heights of European learning and culture, such as in the universities and courts of Bologna, Paris, Oxford, Vicenza, Cambridge, Salamanca, Padua, Naples, Tolouse and so forth. Scholastic reflection, factoring in professional poverty, was carried out on how a Christian society made use of capital and respected the teaching of Jesus Christ, such as in Matthew 25:31-46. “The keystone of this solution seemed to be encoded in the word poverty (paupertas). This word, even if it referred to an apparently simple practice, in substance forced the clarification of the less easy theoretical and political implications which violently emerged when poverty defined the renunciation of wealth by those who were traditionally rich, and thus socially relevant. Choosing poverty, if people were not poor by misfortune or chance, meant they had to determine their social and political roles.”[8]

Bonaventure supplies an interpretive key to gaining insight into Francis’ attitude to the use of goods/money in Leggena maggiore 7. Hoarding stops the free flow of the market economy. It may preserve some from want but cannot serve others in so doing, and thus becomes a social sin against the common good:

4. At another time, there was in the place of Saint Mary of the Little Portion such scarcity as that they could not provide for the guest Brethren as their needs demanded. Accordingly, his Vicar went unto the man of God, pleading the destitution of the Brethren, and begging that he would permit some portion of the novices’ goods to be retained on their entrance, so that the Brethren might resort thereunto for their expenditure in times of need. Unto whom Francis, instructed in the heavenly counsels, made reply: “Far be it from us, dearest Brother, to act wickedly against the Rule for the sake of any man whomsoever. I had liefer that thou shouldst strip the altar of the glorious Virgin, when our need demandeth it, than that thou shouldst attempt aught, be it but a little thing, against our vow of poverty and the observance of the Gospel. For the Blessed Virgin would be better pleased that her altar should be despoiled, and the counsel of the Holy Gospel perfectly fulfilled, than that her altar should be adorned, and the counsel given by her Son set aside.”

The papal bull Quo elongati of 1230 regulated and thus institutionalised on a civic level professional poverty.[9] “Poverty, in other words, appeared in 1230 as a door leading to a way of using goods and coins that continuously questioned their meaning in relation to the friars’ needs. At the same time this dispossession made friendly sociability and belonging to a united civic environment the inalienable conditions of the satisfaction of needs.” “All in all, the Franciscans, thanks to this complicated device, were able to be poor within a civic market society.”[10] “After Francis, after the rules concerning the friars’ lives in poverty, after the papal Quo elongati, in fact, we discover that what was becoming a Franciscan laboratory engaged in the research and clarification of the meaning of poverty produced at a faster and faster speed different kinds of texts regarding life in the absence of property, but in consequence, also the economic life of those that did not give up their property.”[11]

Debate over poverty and ownership was not internal haggling amongst the Franciscans that would later divide into the major camps of Conventuals and Observants. It was an economic debate unfolding in the larger society. It was a cultural transformation into a broad market economy. The first Exposition of the Franciscan Rule in 1241 by four highly cultured and educated men, all Franciscans masters active in Paris had much wider implications than how friars were to live their ordinary life of poverty in the local friary. The English friar Alexander of Hales, the French friars John of La Rochelle and Eude Riguad, and the Flemish friar Robert of la Bassée were establishing nomenclature and best economic practices, procedures and ethics that were transforming the culture and social fabric of Christian Europe, England and beyond. “Poverty, use, possession, property, work, and even necessary and superfluous – these words start appearing in this text as the keywords of the Franciscan discourse on Christian perfection.”[12]

These cultured and educated men choosing poverty became experts who were increasingly sought out as advisers by the ruling classes. “The voluntary pauper, described as an expert of the real value of things, was instead able to understand his own needs and to use what he needed as long as he needed it.” “The objective of Franciscan masters in the second half of the 1200s was to establish the economically functional criteria of use for the creation of a common good.”[13] “It was only after 1260 that the first Franciscan texts appeared describing and analysing the behaviour of businessmen. Even if the beginning of a mercantile culture had existed for almost a century in the principal economically active cities, one cannot state that this culture was the expression of the self-awareness of a well-defined social group.”[14]

The Franciscan scholar Peter John Olivi (1248-1298) contributed greatly to reflection on economics, market and exchange. His “constant commitment to understanding how one could define the usual value of goods that make human life possible was at the center of this equilibrium.”[15] “Those who have decided by choice to see their need as the measure of evaluating things will use money as a symbolic good, useful, if necessary, for obtaining things that are really important for living. In this view, coins and pecunia appear in a completely functional way. They are emptied of their specific value and appear, after all, as arbitrary marks of the value of objects that, like basic goods, food, land and houses, have value because they are useful. It does not make any sense, and at the same time it is perverse, to want to take possession of it. Instead, it is perfectly possible to use it if one does not lose sight of the value of the use of things people can get with money. The word money (pecunia) starts to indicate a whole climate of social relationships not founded upon friendly familiarity, and therefore, upon the exchange of reciprocal favors. It characterizes a set of situations in which, at this optimal stage of exchange, the uncertainty and non-involvement among people is replaced.”[16]

By means of such reflection, Franciscan scholars outline “the possibility for the rich who stayed rich to be like the poor of Christ. If, as Franciscans claim, the social importance of money is not in its hoardable mass but, on the contrary, in its numeral power, and the fact that with it and without necessarily possessing it one can determine the value of things when it is not possible to barter or exchange them at no cost, then understanding how the relationship works between money and things becomes critical. If, as Franciscans know, poverty is a state of want, a state of need, which forces someone to reflect on what is useful and what is not, variability and fluctuation will be for them a central aspect of the value of things, since every person has different needs and each situation creates different needs.”[17]

This Franciscan reflection continues and by the beginning of the 14th century the likes of the Englishman John Duns Scotus are including keywords such as “labour” and “compensation for labour” in their economic musings. From this moment on, the clarification of the logic that allows the precise determination of the price of goods going from one market to another is refined.” “Even in this case, poverty, lack, and deprivation appear to Franciscans not as a void to fill but as a starting point for measuring values, wages, and prices, not an indeterminate absence but a criterion of evaluation.”[18]

For the rich to remain rich but live by gospel values, a different relationship needs to be established with goods whereby they do not become an all-consuming end in themselves but serve the common good. As in the gospel parable, it is the merchant seeking the pearl of great price (Mt 13:45-46), according to the Franciscan gospel insight, who can become the enabler of the rich to a noble participation in the common good by use of their money. “The socially positive sense of money, from a Franciscan point of view, depended on the mercantile ability to make it circulate without freezing it, to use it with no desire of accumulating it, to experience it as a unit of measure and not as a precious object.”[19] “In other words, while in the field of evangelical poverty the measure of need, necessity, and the superfluous is established by experts of voluntary poverty, the Franciscans themselves, in the sphere of secular life the evaluation of prices, that is, the measurement of relative values, is entrusted to a common subject, the communitas civilis, concretely composed of all those who participate in the market and in the game of negotiations.”[20]

Taking interest on a loan had a problematic history in the medieval period. It was often viewed with suspicion of engaging in usury. Franciscan reflection opened Europe to understanding how credit and interest on loans could be used for the good of the society as a whole, if it was geared toward maintaining civic relationships that worked towards the common good. “The opening of credit between the public sector and private individuals is not represented in Franciscan economic vocabulary as a contract or a contractual typology separated from its social consequences, but as economic dynamics able to start up a constant system of relationships between private citizens and public powers as well as between people.” “Therefore, the serious risk of usury could cause to public order derived not so much from the fact that the usurer made money profitable, but from the violent break the usury contract brought about in the fabric of interpersonal relationships with the market.” “What Franciscans considered especially positive in this dialectics was the agility of the conversion of private money into public finance. The state’s credit seemed to achieve a circulation able to bring together the usefulness of professional and family groups and that of the civic community, symbolically represented by public power.”[21] “The Franciscan economic laboratory, in other words, discovers in public lending and in the commerce in credit instruments deriving from it, a civic course of finance as ethical and it is able to promote a fluid and constant circulation of money, things, or promises of payment. In this way an economic mechanism starts that facilitates the exchange of wealth between private and public (or vice-versa), determining at the same time an analysis of individual economic choices and their reliability.”[22]

This way of reasoning combined with the preaching of the Observants would lead to significant social transformation in the broad European culture. The preaching sought to build a Europe that had Christian ethics as its foundation. Investment was not only in this life, investments needed to be made for eternal life. The baptismal bonds stretching to the communion of Saints, established fundamental networks of trust on which interpersonal relationships were founded. This also extended to economics, commerce and industry. “In fact, it was necessary and actually indispensable for trust to be concretely based on the membership of individuals in well-structured and civically identifiable groups in a way that everyone’s identity was defined by belonging to important families, professional corporations, guilds, confraternities, or companies. The recognizable market consisted of these collective subjects, and people who acted in the market in a credible and ethically admissible way had to belong to these groups.”[23] “It becomes fundamental to establish who is “in good faith” because the range of legal economic transactions considered useful to the city is wide.”[24] “This fides (trust, reliability, trustworthiness) depends on the good name that the merchant has because he was born into a high-level social environment or because he builds it day after day. It also depends to a great degree on his ability to lead his social life in religiously recognizable terms. His way of “believing” creates his credibility. His way of interacting with others in the public spaces designate to sociability (the church, the square, and the shop) make him a visible part of the city of Christians.”[25]

The wealthy of a Christian society could, in good conscience, seek to maintain their living standard, even increase it, if it was seen as contributing to the upbuilding of the status of the city and region. This would encourage more economic activity for the good of all. At the same time, the Christian ethic, as preached by the Observants, called for investing also in eternal life. The gospel (Mt 25:31-46) was clear about the Final Judgment being made on ethical grounds: did I carry out corporal works of mercy? “According to Bernardino of Siena, John of Capistrano, James of the Marches, and then the Franciscan founders of the Monti di Pietà up through Bernardine of Feltre, the fact that a woman chooses not to waste her family patrimony in clothes and jewellery, or the fact that a man decides to invest his capital in goods or bonds is a very positive element from a public point of view. In both cases, in fact, people chose to make their wealth circulate instead of putting it aside in an unproductive way. But, for similar reasons, it is positive and ethical from the public viewpoint that family members, united in corporations and confraternities, manage economic activities as well as charitable solidarity.”[26] “The equivalence between voluntary poverty and the social use of wealth, or between the renunciation of property and the continuous circulation of goods and money, is possible from a Franciscan point of view only if the market consists of people united by one faith, and so by a concrete or at least symbolic friendship and kinship.”[27]

At this point I want us to read through a long quote of several pages of Todeschini. It outlines both succinctly and clearly the establishment of the Monti di Pietà as one of the key tools of social transformation at the beginning of the modern era. The Observants caught up in the task of the preaching cycles were also trained in the thinking of the Franciscan economics. These were key elements in the establishment of these institutions of social welfare. It is these very men who will pass across to the Capuchins and maintain the continuity of this tradition.

It is to be noted that while the Monti di Pii were being strongly promoted among the Franciscan Observants, it was not exclusive to them among the religious orders of the time. The Observants saw the long-term wisdom of allowing for a moderate interest rate of around 5% on credit loans. This allowed for the normal running costs of the institute (utilities, stationary, wages, etc.) and ensured that the capital was not slowly run down but would keep abreast with CPI – to use our modern parlance – without seeking to make an overall profit. The Dominicans and Augustinians smelt usury in this approach and argued strongly against any interest on credit loans.[28] The papal bull Inter multiplices, issued by Leo X on 4th May 1515 at the V Lateran Council came down in favour of the Franciscan position.[29] The first Monti di Pietà established by the Franciscan Observants in Perugia in 1462 used a 5% interest rate, as did those established in Faenza, Reggio Emilia and Modena.[30]

Giacomo Todeschini’s account of the establishment of the Monti di Pietà[31]

The free flow of money promoted by the Franciscans allowed for the growth of networks of friendship and trust that entwined the religious, social and political dimensions of the society. Christianity was the religious, moral and ethical basis of the wider society in which this network could be sustained.

This allowed the Franciscans to develop in the late fifteenth century a separate institution to that of the existing hospitals that were already giving credit loans. The Monti Pietà (pawn agencies) further promoted the circulation of wealth that at the same time assisted economically struggling families from falling into abject pauperism. The wealthy and powerful were able to form a public fund that could be invested in helping the citizens of the town or city who were struggling financially.

Here, credit and lending at interest revealed themselves as beneficial financial stratagems, once it was established that the same logic of productive investment could make the sociability of believers and also reciprocal affection concrete. This affection, according to Bernardino, had to be at the basis of a sociability founded on the exchange of “reciprocal favors.”[32] In a word, capital could represent charity and be equivalent to the love for one’s neighbor; that is, it could give substance to the real civitas. Finally, the Monti Pii (charitable institutions) were to establish once for all that donating to the Monte, as businessmen did, to create savings to lend to the poor meant investing in the community and extracting from it a kind of gain which was not monetary but spiritual. It was a profit made of a probability of salvation as much as of a better reputation. it was an increase of that good name that, by itself, could guarantee one’s belonging to the market and, as consequence, to society.

In short, the Monte Pio was a treasure that the wealthiest Christians established for the entire community of believers. Spending this treasure by investing it meant, according to the Franciscans who meticulously planned how the first Monti were supposed to work, lending on pledge at the price of a small interest. Monti di Pietà, in fact, rapidly multiply in Italy in the second half of the 1400s. It is evident, in Bologna and Savona, as in Rome, Milan, and Pesaro, that Franciscan preachers can plan their functioning because public authorities (from the Sforza family to Pope Sixtus IV, a Franciscan of the noble Della Rovere family) support them. This is because Franciscan economic reflection has now become a plan of intervention that commercial Christian cities and their governors follow by adopting it as an economic plan of development.[33]

In response to the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, the Australian government, through various means, made cash available to families and initiated infrastructure building programs throughout the nation. It was a way of stimulating the economy and thereby preventing Australia dropping into recession, which would result in a stagnated economy, many businesses going bankrupt, unemployment rising rapidly, less tax coming into the government and other economically and socially undesirable results that would end in more poverty. Similarly, the investment of the wealthy in funding the Monti di Pietà had similarly beneficial social effects.

Creating new possibilities for spending ‐ that is, for investment ‐ is, after all, the goal of the Monti di Pietà. In both cases the Franciscan initiative turns into laws or into institutions that introduce planning totally addressed to increasing the possibilities of economic protagonism in the city and the Christian community. This means reducing the number of people who cannot afford to spend because they are burdened with debts, because they lack resources, and because, after all, they have not been able to or known how to get the maximum advantage from their own money. The sermons of Franciscan observants related to immorality and the unproductiveness of gambling,[34] as well as the increase of luxurious objects in cities, are, in this sense, directly useful for the civic foundation of credit institutes. In Franciscan discourses, as in civic legislations that inherit their formulation, the desire to free money from the immobility of luxury is evident, unless the ostentation of objects and clothing or of ceremonies becomes productive for the City by precisely defining the identity of those who make it up. Money is squandered if it is hoarded in jewels and velvets whose value is determined only by individual pleasure. On the other hand, this individual pleasure functions as a criterion of identification, which is socially productive.[35]

The Monti di Pietà becomes firmly established over the next two centuries throughout Italy and later in Europe. They become the central welfare organisation of many cities and towns. They become the economic basis for the diversification of other social transforming activities:

On the other hand, more and more numerous charitable organizations collaborate with the Monti by collecting money and investing it for the benefit of girls to be married, poor people to be taken care of and nursed, and young women, who had been led astray, to rehabilitate. In the cities they constitute real organizations able to capitalize wealth, especially real estate, by organizing important and complex business networks. In general the government’s desire to regulate luxury, as contested as it is, produces wide profit margins that flow back into the funds of public institutions like the Monti, charitable institutions, hospitals, confraternities which are in close relationship with government powers, and businesspeople.[36]

The Monti di Pietà was not for the poorest of the poor. They still needed to rely on these other institutions and straight out alms, such as was distributed by the traditional Capuchin lay brothers, such as Felix of Cantalice. The Monti di Pietà was a socially important institution in that it prevented many from falling into such abject destitution and thus becoming a burden on the local community.

Whether the Monte invested in the community by lending to impoverished people, or the community of economic operators invested in the Monte by donating or depositing money into its branches, the money circulated by this institution derived its own value from the quality of business it produced, or from the socioeconomic position of those who did business with the Monte. Even before it was a generic charity it was the application to public credit of a classical Franciscan theory of variable price. Money, like goods, had the value and price that the market recognized in it. Therefore, it was not a price determined once and for all, but a price deriving from the foreseeable agreement on its social meaning. The impoverished economic operator, the bankrupt artisan, or the struggling small businessman could then get money at low cost from the Monte. This low cost of money was just enough to offset managing expenses, and it depended on the fact that the loan changed into an assignment of money with a modest social value, just able to reestablish a condition of minimal entrepreneurship.[37]

From this viewpoint, the Pietà (piety) of the Monte toward those citizens who needed money was a concrete manifestation of what Franciscans meant by credit. It was not an abstract sale of money, but a transition determined first of all by the identity of those who, through the Monte, wanted to do business or go back into business with the rest of the community to which they belonged. The fundamental issue was still whether a person belonged to this community of Christians and the right that derived from being rich or not being poor (unless it was for voluntary poverty), as well as the duty of being useful to that community.[38]

Cooperation between friars and laity in social transformation

These leading figures amongst the Franciscans engaged in the articulation of economic ethics and practice for the modern age were also increasingly called upon by the wealthy and powerful, both secular and ecclesial, to be advisers, counsellors, diplomats and ambassadors. The Franciscans were also carrying out formation of the laity at the local level. This enabled Franciscan tertiaries to become trusted collaborators in the social transforming endeavours. The hospitals, Monti di Pii and other charitable institutes that were being established were not run exclusively by religious. “It is not surprising that in the fourteenth-century Italian or French cities Franciscan tertiary laymen, those laymen who while continuing to live with their family and to do business made vows of personal poverty and obedience, were given important and delicate public functions by government powers: the management of levies, the inspection of road conditions, the management of waterways, and the organization and administration of hospitals and public works.[39] Political and economic abilities, personal disinterest, and belonging to the civic community made them the most suitable people for being responsible for those parts of the social patrimony that formally belonged to the civic community as a political subject.”[40]

The importance of trust, professionality and experience in these collaborative endeavours is noted by Benedetto Cotrugli Ragueseo, a distinguished business man writing in 1458:[41]

Don’t believe in lords, priests and friars, scholars, doctors, soldiers, who are not used to handling money and as a consequence paying other people, and by its nature money is indeed a tasty morsel; and as soon as he has it, the man who is not used to spending it feels such a sweetness in his soul that he cannot throw it away, and as a consequence he does not know how to pay for it. Merchants would also do something similar if they did not continuously give and receive money, and their giving gets converted into use because they weigh the giving and receiving without any passion.

“The management of charity, and so the welfare to those among the poorest people who were seen as redeemable, providing dowries for young women with no support, and the care of the sick were the visible and social forms of a piety that the Franciscan Order had always indicated as the very concreteness of charity, of social reciprocity. Beyond the more strictly bank structure of this civic solidarity, constituted by the Monti, the entire charitable organization along with the confraternal organization supported by mendicant friars had nevertheless assumed, in the Europe of the early modern age, the aspect of an imposing bureaucratic machine in a position to legalize the system of transactions present in cities and in states, defining their most specific economic and credit movements as being of public interest. The finances and accounting of charitable confraternities and of charitable institutions clearly show that some of the most typical moments of Franciscan economic reflection were now peacefully manifesting themselves in the concrete apparatus of everyday economic life.”[42] Todeschini notes how this collaboration in social transformation becomes part of the everyday life in the broad European culture in the modern era. The Capuchin reform finds itself firmly placed within this significant period. We will look at this in more detail below.

At this point it will be helpful to briefly look at the institutes called ‘hospitals’, as these are both precursors to the Monti Pii and for a whole series of welfare institutions. The ‘hospital’ often included the credit lending as one its many works before the Monti Pii developed into independent institutes. The Capuchin reform becomes involved in the pastoral care of such ‘hospitals’.

From lodgings to hospitals for the poor

In our conference on A Theological Foundation for Capuchin Ministry to the Poor we noted that in Pope Benedict’s Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (nn. 24 & 31) outlines how diakonia has had organised structures within the Church from the beginning and how these have expanded into well organised works of charity over the centuries and into the present. He also mentions twice the attempt of the emperor Julian the Apostate (†363) to replicate these organised systems of charity. Emperor Julian the Apostate desired to, at the very least, neutralise the attractiveness of the Church and re-establish paganism as the religion of the Roman Empire. =>

St Jerome writes in 380 that there was a Roman matron, Fabiola, a convert to Christianity, who founded the first ‘hospital house’ to help the abandoned sick. Around the same period a Roman consul, Flavio Gallicano, considered a saintly man, instituted a hospital to welcome the poor. A tradition exists that in 396 St Pammachius, a Roman senator, dedicated himself to the assistance of the poor. Working with Fabiola, they founded a hospital at Ostia for the care of pilgrims, poor people and the sick.[43]

Between the fifth and sixth centuries various institutes (‘hospitals’) were founded by monastic orders, such as those of Saints Pachomius and Basil, to care for the sick and foreigners. The Greek names were introduced into Europe, indicating the diversity of care given by these ‘hospitals’: nosokomèion – care of the sick; xenodokèion – care of foreigners; bephotrophèion – abandoned children; gerontokomèion – poor elderly. The terms ‘sick’ or ‘paupers’ were interchangeable in significance as they referred to a category of people who could be described as sick, vagrant, poor, beggars, insane, orphans, widows or poor old people.[44]

The Council of Nicea, in 325, established that every bishop’s residence and monastery was obliged to institute hospitality/care for pilgrims, the poor, sick, and anyone who was searching for shelter. In such ‘hospital houses’ only the most generic form of health assistance could normally be administered. With the breaking up of the Holy Roman Empire in Western Europe, and the disintegration into small and rivalling feudal dominions, the ancient monastic hospital institutes disappeared. [45]

The Benedictines establish the practice of giving institutional hospitality and welfare in the Medieval period as part of their Rule of life.[46] The Rule of 516 admonishes the monks that the guest who arrives “should be received as Christ, for he himself will say, “I was a stranger and you took me in” (Matt 25:35). Proper respect should be shown to “all, especially fellow monks and pilgrims” (Gal 6:10).”[47] Already two or three decades before St Benedict’s Rule, the Rule of the Master, an anonymous collection of monastic precepts, states that a visitor, be he a layman or religious brother, should be given hospitality but only for two days. After this he should be put to work. “Now guests who are spiritual men, though they may not be able because of the exhausting hardship of travel to do any work the day they arrive, 26 will at least the next day of their own accord join the brothers in what they see them doing, 27 lest those who are working consider them not only loafers but worse.”[48]

The initiative towards greater organisation of ‘hospitals’ was born in the ambient of Benedictine monasticism. The major abbeys – such as Montecassino and Salerno – established near the infirmary of the monastery, hospitale pauperum, hospitale pergrinorum and a hospitale hospitum. [49] While it was, by tradition, those of the Church who chose to care for the poor, in 793 Charlemagne inserted amongst the duties of the sovereign also the officium hospitalitatis. Hospitals became the mainstays of the visible territory of the sovereign. They were also the fulcrum of encounter between the local church and local civil authority in moments when some problems needed to be confronted, such as pauperism, wave of epidemics, and political problems. The prestige of the hospital was also a way of reinforcing the power and image of the local sovereign.[50]

The hospital community was a place of welcoming pilgrims, travellers, sick people, orphans, old people, widows, but above all, the poor, understood in the sense of pauper – a very person in need of help and protection; the spiritual needs of the people also needed to be attended to. The hospital community members could be a combination of the likes of, depending on the local circumstances, fratres, sorores, religious with professions, oblates, and laicus religiosus.[51] Others participated by leaving their memory or that of their family by way of founding a new institute. The foundation of hospitals was well regarded as a work for the elite aristocracy – from nobles of the patrician families and also of well-known persons in society, by way of productivity or popularity. Between the end of the XII century and the beginning of the XVI century modern hagiography identifies the growth of the specific category of “saintly laity of charity and work”, made up of aristocrats (eg. St Elizabeth of Hungary and St Louis IX), artisans and merchants known for the foundation of hospitals and who became the object of popular devotion that carried them to beatification. As well as these individuals, there were also promotors and supporters of the foundation of new hospitals by way of the associations, such as confraternities, and other institutes, lay and above all ecclesiastical.[52]

A contemporary example from the period of the early Capuchin friars of support from a noble family of the hospitals and Monti can be found in the Will of Giulia Gonzaga Colonna, Countess of Fondi, who listened to Bernardino Ochino preach in Naples in 1537. She died on 19thApril, 1566. In her Will she stipulates:

I leave to the Hospital of the Nunciata at Naples, fifty ducats currency at once; to the Hospital of the Incurables, another sum of fifty ducats; to that of the Converts, another fifty ducats; to the Monte della Carità, another fifty ducats.

In the 13th and 14th centuries various terms start to be used to differentiate the primary scope of the institute: domus leprosorum, domus infectorum, hospitale pauperum, and hospitale alamanorum.[53]

Today we associate the word ‘hospital’ with an entity that has a basic level of hygiene to avoid infections, that is primarily for the cure of sick people, and in some cases, is a place of scientific research. The medieval ‘hospitals’ were often very small with a great diversity of non-specific functions, such as places of hospitality and recuperation, places of distribution of alms, places for the care of abandoned children, places of care for the elderly poor, and so forth. Only in the cases of the more contagious illnesses were specialised institutes used, such as for leprosy (lebbrosari) and incurable diseases (lazzaretti). The medieval ‘hospital’ could also be occupied with urban planning, roads, water supply.[54]

A gradual transformation is noticeable from the 13th to 15th centuries towards these more specialised institutes as a result of a whole series of epidemics sweeping through the Italian Peninsular at this time. Some cities established a permanent group of citizens (health board) to work out systems of isolating and quarantining plague victims and other victims of various epidemics. For example, in Florence after the plague of 1348 there is a marked shift towards the larger charitable and somewhat specialised hospitals, such as the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital we will look at below in greater detail.[55]

Beginning from the 15th century, there is gradual change by a process of reform from markedly religious hospitals (ie. run by religious brothers or sisters). The reforms took in administration and architecture – see below in the example of the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital, Florence. Laity and religious can be found working alongside each other in the daily functioning of these entities. The institute became a central part of the town and a place of recovery and medical care, more controlled by the laity, especially with the administration by members of the ruling class and controlled by the public authorities, but never excluding the presence of the Church in the governance.[56]

Before exploring in more detail the early Capuchin ministry of social transformation in the 16th century, it will be useful to sample a contemporary look at both the situation of the poor and vulnerable in a reasonable sized European city, Bruges, and the welfare response to it, and the running of a hospital in another city, Florence. This will assist in contextualising the social transformation engaged in by the early Capuchins.

Concerning the Relief of the Poor in Bruges by Juan-Luis Vivès

Ospidale di Santa Maria Nuova, Florence

Capuchin preaching and social transformation

From all that we have seen above, we are now in a position to unpack seemingly simple sentences of a contemporary source: the Capuchins “friars began to serve lepers in hospitals”;[57] the Capuchins “encouraged the establishment of Monti di Pietà”;[58]the orphanage for girls (orfanelle) was located near the hospital for the incurable.”[59]

In the early years of the Capuchin reform, when some almost unknown friars arrived at the entrance doors of a new city, they needed to demonstrate to the local authorities their social worth. Amongst the many poor moving about in this period, there were also many itinerant poor hermit-types. If allowed into the city, they had to be fed. It was a social welfare problem.

For the Capuchin friars, the way to establishing a permanent presence in a new city was by way of two ministries that worked in tandem: evangelical preaching and a proven willingness to take on social welfare services such as the hospitals for the incurables.[60] Some of the best preachers of the Observant Franciscans joined the ranks of the early Capuchins, especially in the period of 1534/5, with the likes of John of Fano, Francesco da Iesi, Bernardino d’Asti and Bernardino Ochino.[61] Hence, there was already a solid foundation from the very beginning to make evangelical preaching one of the pillars of the reform. Matteo da Bascio ministering to the plague victims in Camerino in both 1523 and 1527 was not forgotten by the Duchess, Caterina Cibo.[62] Two years after the 1527 sack of Rome, the Protectors of the San Giacomo Hospital for the Incurabiles in Rome, the two brothers of Caterina Cibo, engaged Ludovico da Fossombrone and the friars in revitalising the hospital. Here the friars were in contact with some of the politically powerful, both secular and ecclesial, such as Fracesco Vannucci, a member of the Roman curia who became the Pope’s Almoner (elemosiniere) and helped to establish the long and sometime rocky relationship between the Capuchins and Pope Paul III.[63]

Francesco Tittelmans (+ 1537), who moved across from the Observants in 1536, was a classic example of the combination of a highly educated, capable scholar and preacher who served the sick in the most practical ways, such as in the washing of the bandages of the sick as he ministered at St Giacomo’s in Rome: “I have taken up the work that our Seraphic Father Saint Francis taught me. See, I have exchanged my Augustines, Jeromes and Chrysostoms for these people. They are my library now. I serve these poor people commended to us so much by the Lord God.”[64] The ninth chapter of the Constitutions of 1536 on preaching echoes in these sentiments: “Anyone who does not know how to read Christ, the book of life, has no doctrine he can preach.”

N. B. The following will rely heavily upon the doctoral thesis (2011) of Michele Camaioni.[65]

The preaching of the Capuchins was socially productive. It followed the 14-15 centuries model of the other mendicant orders and in particular that of the Franciscan observants. As with the Observants, the Capuchins understood the promotion of works of social transformation and religious devotions as a prolongation of the preaching. In both the sector of public assistance and in new forms of piety, the Capuchins from the 1530’s onward contributed with creativity and depth, in certain cases anticipating what would be affirmed in the Tridentine period that would be the work of the Jesuits and other teaching orders.[66]

The evangelical preaching of the early Capuchins that the free gift of grace leads man into a one-to-one relationship with God and at the same time opens man up to his neighbour, formed the people in the practical-ethical dimensions of charity. Carrying forward the Observant tradition, the friars promoted and encouraged the people to a unified working relationship with the local authorities towards the common good.[67]

A lively synthesis of the various forms of the preaching apostolate combined with social transformation can be found in the chronicle of Colpetrazzo. Let us take a little sample:[68]

[817] It was a wonderful thing, that all Christianity woke up at their preaching. Where at first people went to Communion hardly once a year, now they began to go more often. Many associations arose, whose members gave excellent example in frequenting the most holy sacraments and dedicating themselves to works of mercy. For in that time the Christian way of life was quite run down. However, because of the preaching of the Capuchins, many lords, gentlemen and distinguished persons began to lead a spiritual life. Among the people many made restitution for past wrongs, and many were converted to the spiritual life….[826] The Forty Hours Prayer, prized so much today, was devised by the Capuchins, by the venerable Brother Giuseppe da Ferno in Milan. Moreover many worthy arrangements were made regarding the care of hospitals, especially the care of orphans and other pious works. This was because everyone was stirred up by the preaching of the Capuchins.

The cycles (Lent, Advent, etc.) of evangelical preaching sought also the fruit of social transformation in the town or city: works of mercy, renewal of Eucharistic practice and introduction to the practice of mental prayer amongst the people, conversions, reconciliation of feuds, renewal of the welfare statutes of institutions and confraternities, reorganisations and also new foundations of “istituti pii” (Monti di Pietà) for the disadvantaged, especially abandoned children. As Colpetrazzo writes and what is confirmed by the sources, around the preaching of the Capuchins were created networks of charity, that carried forward a work of reform of the urban systems of public welfare/assistance. The pastoral activity of these men of professional poverty led to new forms of human and economic resources being brought together into service of the common good of the local community. This also involved collaboration with higher echelons of the dominant groups of the society, cultural, economic and political.[69] For example, the Capuchins, such as Giuseppe da Ferno and Antonio da Pinerolo, were the active protagonists of the reform of the charity system of the city of Modena in the 1540’s.[70]

The Capuchin preachers distinguished themselves in being able to respond aptly to emergency situations that called for the mobilisation of all citizens of a town or by a select group. Emblematic of this was the strategy of urban reform adopted by Giuseppe da Ferno and Antonio da Pinerolo in Modena in November 1539, when they, along with Giovanni Castelvetro, head of the group of custodians of the city, organised a census of the poor of the city, that were more than 2,000 in number, and growing daily. Vivès recommends a similar action for the relief of the poor in Bruges. Through a month of preaching, Giuseppe was able to establish with some good standing citizens a system of distributing alms by way of a piece of bread being given each day, so that the poor did not die of starvation. Contemporaries describes this activity:

Tuesday 11th November 1539. Today, that Capuchin friar who preached yesterday and the Sunday before in the Cathedral, has preached in St Martin’s. He had a big audience, he preached with humility to persuade the people to make provisions for the poor that are moving around the city; it is good to believe that they will do it, because the religious who should be the first in doing it, are making it more difficult to be done than the people of the world.[71]

Lancellotti, 7 December 1539: The order was published on the part of the Lords of the Academy, that to all those people to whom has been given the responsibility of overseeing the providing for the poor, that the Lords are willing to give to the poor “of God’s love” a loaf of bread each day, but only one, so that they do not die of hunger […]. The number of poor is very great […]. The above written alms are given at the request of friar Giuseppe da Ferno of the Order of Saint Francis of the Capuchins, who has preached in the Cathedral for many days, and is now preaching all of this Advent with great charity; he goes barefoot for his apostolate, and stays with a companion in the Bishop’s house; the bishop is at Vienna for the Pope, and has already paid the expenses for the said preacher and his companion from the Bishop’s house.”[72]

A pastoral strategy can be observed: the evangelical preaching cycle; call to conversion; encouragement to see crucified Christ in the poor; some improvised intervention, such as a collection of alms for the poor at the end of the preaching; stimulating active interest in setting up an organised structure to deal with the wound of pauperism. Parallel to this was also the promotion of religious devotion.

Let us look at a concrete example of the establishment of an organised structure to deal with pauperism. It is possible to observe, thanks to the extant documents of the State Archives of Milan, the foundation of the House of Mercy of Como. This was a work of Francesco Calabria, one of the Capuchins very close to Bernardino Ochino. In part of a 1540 letter addressed to a collaborator of Alfonso d’Avalos, governor of the State of Milan on behalf of the Spanish Monarchy, it is possible to reconstruct in a synthetic but detailed manner the dynamics of the first approach to the unfolding emergency of pauperism in the city. The letter demonstrates the actions of the higher middle-class citizens in requesting the approval of a new institute of Pietà that was destined to become the hub of more stable and organic charitable assistance. The letter is seeking the approval of a new arrangement that is to become a more stable and structured method of distributing alms:

Most illustrious and excellent Lord, you are already well aware of the great scarcity [of food] throughout the State and especially in the city of Como since last June. To provide for the needs of many poor and disadvantaged people, it has pleased our Lord God, through the efforts of his servant Reverend Father Friar Francesco of Calabria, to dispose the souls of the inhabitants of Como to have pity on these poor, disadvantaged and miserable ones by giving diverse forms of alms. These have been collected in the city at different times very effectively through the goodness of God. During many months of this food shortage 4,000 loaves of bread have been distributed each week in works of mercy. This took place in addition to alms given to the poor, the infirm, prisoners and vulnerable women without husbands. Observing the good work carried out in the city by well-disposed people in a well-ordered manner, it would be good if you could delegate thirteen people to supervise the collection and distribution of alms. Three of these could come from among the Deacons of the principal church and the other ten from laymen within the city. Carrying on the good disposition of the city and with a desire to care for and help the poor and disadvantaged, he [Father Francesco] had resolved with the help of our Lord God and the consent of Your Excellency to erect a place in the city under the patronage and name of Mercy where the appointed delegates of these works of mercy would continuously, at times suitable to them, come together to carry out what their office requires, observing the undermentioned rules which are only made for the honour and praise of the Divine Majesty and for the benefit of the poor. We entreat the Excellent Virgin as the genuine protector of these virtuous works, and being grateful to his Divine Majesty, that you would deign to confirm and order that these rules are to be observed and executed inviolably. [73]

The involvement of the Capuchin friars in this enterprise was not just from the pulpit. The sources indicate that the statutes of the House of Mercy of Como were drawn up under the supervision of Capuchin friar Francesco di Calabria using as a template those of the similar Milanese institute. We know this from a letter sent on 18 August 1540 by Agostino Monti to Padre Francesco di Calabria, that was attached to the proof of the Statutes of the House of Mercy of Como, for a final revision of the text before they were sent to Del Vasto for approval.[74]

What emerges from these primary sources is a model of collaboration between the Capuchin friars and laity, whose faith has been enlivened by preaching, for the establishment and good functioning of charitable institutions but also, in tandem, the guarantee of an assiduous sacramental program on the part of the Capuchin friars. In tune with the important aspects of Pauline spirituality and the Christo-centricity of the first Capuchins, in the statutes of the House of Mercy there is found the invitation to the assistants of the poor “to be assimilated and conformed to their patron Christ”. To such an end, the statutes counselled frequent confession and reception of Communion. The more the people received communion the more they were spiritually united to Christ. We will explore this religious renewal dimension in the section on “Mental Prayer”, but we need to keep in mind how the three legs of the tripod stand together.[75]

What is also obvious from the above is the entwinment of Church and State. A unified approach is possible because all share in a common world view and are bonded together in a common faith and baptism.

Bernardino Ochino, both as a member of the General Council and then as Minister General (to use the current terminology of the 2013 Capuchin Constitutions), had a major formative influence on the early Capuchin reform. Following the lead of Camaioni, I want to further explore social transformation, especially in the area of urban reform, from the perspective of the influence of Ochino.[76]

Broader political-social context: While on the other side of the Alps, the European institutes of the Reformation were defining themselves, in Italy, Bernardino Ochino was working to renew the Christian society within the Italian peninsular. This involved also the instruments of public power. This aspect of the Capuchin apostolate also merits to be put into consideration. Ochino and his friar collaborators were involved on the political plane. There was the vying of power between the Farnese camp (Pope Paul III) and the Imperial presence in Italy (Charles V). Exponents of the aristocracy bound to the Emperor, with whom Ochino worked, were the likes of Ascanio and Vittoria Colonna, Ercole Gonzaga, Gasparo Contarini, Giovanni Morone and Reginald Pole. In his preaching Ochino favoured the spiritual approach and climate of the irenic Contarini. This culminated in the unhappy colloquium at Regensburg in the spring of 1541. Ochino also maintained a working relationship with Pope Paul III in as much as it was the Pope himself who directed Ochino’s preaching cycles in the various cities throughout the Peninsular. The choice of city had its own background of vying political forces.[77]

Local social level: At the same time, the Capuchin preacher was also the protagonist of an intense period of social and religious reform of a specifically urban character. This was done in close collaboration with the city magistrates and with the more resourceful reforming bishops. This action was in line with the primitive Capuchin spirituality, influenced by illuminative and unitive mysticism, which centred on a personal relationship with the crucified Christ and at the same time projected towards one’s neighbours in the radical tension of the imitation of Christ. The preaching of Ochino contained affective and subjective dimensions of religious experience, combined with the ethics of faith, and therefore the works and solidarity of Christian charity was a natural corollary of the grace dispensed upon humanity by the benefits of Christ:[78]

Just as all the lesser beings obtain their origin and vigour from the prime Mover, so too all the other virtues receive their origin and have their start in God’s charity and love of neighbour. However, even if you have not come to know God in the manger, on the cross or in his glorious Ascension, you know of his goodness, his dignity and supreme beauty in the poor who are creatures who have been redeemed by God by means of his precious blood. They are your brothers in so far as they are squalid, shabby, weak and putrid. [You come to know God] when you show them your smiling face and warm heart and give them of your wealth, for no other reason than that you are giving it to God, except for what you need for yourself, handing out the rest to the poor, indeed to Jesus Christ.[79]

The invitation to recognise “the meek Jesus Christ” under the ragged clothing, filthiness, sickness and smelliness of the suffering, recalls the typical motives of social preaching in the late medieval period. The preaching was often made against the vices and hypocrisy of the ruling classes, who were more attentive to the external ceremony and devotions than to the good governing of themselves and the real needs of the population:

However, it is needed, rather, it is necessary, to unbind and cast away from ourselves self-love and dress ourselves with the love of God and our neighbour. In this way we begin to confront and take command of ourselves, because if anyone does not know how to command and govern himself, how is it possible that he will know how to command and govern his family, the republic, his subjects and his sheep? […] O Shepherds of souls, O priests, O princes, O fathers and mothers, take care! O judges, doctors and magistrates, get yourselves in order and rule yourselves first![80]

Notwithstanding the predilection for preaching grace and the positive side of faith, Ochino’s tone, when confronted with the themes of religious conformism and of social justice, became sharp and cutting, putting the listeners in front of the radical choice of a true evangelical faith:

I will tell you this word: that God does not accept your love, your sacrifices, even if you love him with greater and more burning love than Mary Magdalene loved him, and even with all your amassed perfections of charity, if you do not love your neighbour for love of Him and you do not help and care for his needy ones with the hearty affection of the love of Christ, it will gain you nothing.[81]

Jesus Christ, in fact, “does not want to be loved without your neighbour”, for this reason, true Christians are called to give back to the needy their “superfluous property” because “they are not yours, and you appropriated them, believe me, because they belong to the poor”.[82] By way of this convincing argumentation, Ochino searched to strike the consciences of his listeners, making them conscious of their own “nothingness” [nichilitade] and the necessity of reading Christ, the book of life,[83] abandoning oneself with faith in the embrace of the Crucified. The preaching of Ochino served to move the citizens of the city to carry out concrete interventions of a social and charitable character. To “feed Christ in the poor”[84] is transformed into an imperative of social responsibility, that usually produced immediate effects. The phrase Christ, the book of life is found in the 1536 Capuchin Constitutions.

Having sampled some of this socially transformative, evangelical preaching, let us look briefly at some of the social fruits.

Preaching the Lenten cycle at Rome in 1535, Ochino promoted the establishment of an institute for helping vulnerable young women in danger of being exploited. During preaching on Holy Thursday, he exhorted some noblewomen to seek to help convert these young women and assist them to marry. It is to be noted that Vittoria Colonna attended this preaching and engaged herself in such corporal works of mercy under the patronage of Mary Magdalene, “holy sinner” and patron of courtesans and prostitutes.[85]

From the chronicler Paolo da Foligno we read that during one of the preaching cycles in Naples,[86] the invitation by Ochino to the people of the city to carry out a charitable collection resulted in the collection of “five thousand scudi”.[87]

In 1536 at Perugia, as a fruit of Ochino’s Lenten preaching, a “new Monte for young girls to assist them to marry, in which one put 100 florins when the child was born, so that by 17 years, they had multiplied to up to 600 that would be the entire dowry”.[88] Ten citizens were chosen to supervise this enterprise. He also instituted an institute for orphans called the “Cappuccinelli”.[89]

In 1537 at Bologna, Ochino by way of his preaching encouraged the support of the hospital of the “bastards”, an institute probably not unlike that called the “Cappuccinelli”, that Ochino had promoted the founding of in Perugia between 1536 and 1539.[90]

Returning to Perugia again in 1539 for a cycle of preaching, Ochino promoted the formation of another institute for abandoned children. The archives of the city record that this work of mercy was instituted

“by the order and permission of the most reverend and illustrious Christoforo Iacobacci, legate of this noble city of Perugia and most excellent divine evangeliser Br Bernardino of Siena, general of the Order of the Capuchins and founder of this most holy and spiritual work of charity.”[91]

At this orphanage the Sisters “diligently feeding and educating them in the fear of God for the allocated period from the age of four until ten years.” To guarantee adequate and ongoing resources for such a work, the magistrates of Perugia drew from the already established Monti di Pietà of the city, obtaining the authorisation to do so from Pope Paul III by means of a brief sent in 1537.[92]

In the same manner, in 1538 Ochino was able to convince some of the mercantile oligarchy in Lucca to propose to the citizen council to erect a place that would welcome and sustain the more needy of the city. City archives record that on 28 May 1538 a commission of six citizens was formed “that was to take into consideration the finding of a place for the said friars.”[93]

Ochino also worked to reconcile urban and rural communities that were lacerated by divisions. This occurred in Perugia and other urban centres, that were riven by bloody inter-family feuds and opposing factions. The traces of this action of social reconciliation can be found in his Prediche, according to which the Capuchin chronicler, Paolo da Foligno, writes that with the people, Ochino was able to “bring about what seemed unachievable peace, induce huge amounts of almsgiving to the poor.”[94] An example of the persuasive preaching can be found in his second preaching cycle in Lucca in 1538:

In addition to this, if your neighbour has done you innumerable injuries, whether great or small, whether to your possessions or to your person, well then my dear Christian, if you are truly Christian, if you really have faith, offer up to God not only what has happened to you, offer up now to Jesus all the injuries and pain that you have received during your life. In as much as you seek revenge, you violate and disparage the blood of Jesus Christ, by which you are denying and saying that Christ has not spilt his blood for such an injury and that he cannot, nor wants to pardon this, and so you now dare to seek revenge.[95]

In places where these works of mercy were instituted by collaboration with the Capuchin friars, inevitably, the local population would seek to find a place for the friars to establish a local fraternity.[96] For example, when Ochino preached in the Cathedral of Ferrara in 1537, he was so appreciated that he received the concession to establish a friary with another 7 friars.[97] After preaching in Faenza in 1538, Ochino obtained permission to establish a friary, where Fra Battista da Faenza (Battistone) lived. After listening to the preaching of Ochino, he converted from a life of violence and became a Capuchin.[98] The same with Lucca, after his preaching there and upon the request of Caterina Cibo and Vittoria Colonna a friary was constructed.[99]

Post-Council of Trent Social Transformation

Before 1542 the Capuchins could be found at the front positions in the various urban and rural pastoral sectors, finding solutions in the challenging areas of social-charitable assistance and catechising the people. In the second half of the 16th century, they would be accompanied in this by the Jesuits, Somascans, Barnabites and other new clerical congregations that would arise at this time.[100]

In the second half of the 16th century, post-Council of Trent, the areas of activity remain fundamentally the same (assistance to the plague victims, setting up confraternities and institutes for the disadvantaged, peace-making, preaching, promoting the 40 hour devotions, service in hospitals) but it is all done rigidly at the service of the missionary and anti-heretical activities of the Church of Rome. The Capuchins, at the side of the Jesuits, become the pillars of the Counter-reformation. After the flight of Ochino, the primary promotors of devotions and social works among the Capuchins are Cristoforo da Verrucchio, Francesco da Soriano, Girolamo da Pistoia, Mattia da Salò, Stefano da Faenza and Alfonso Lupo.[101]

La Pace did Campobasso
La Pace di Campobasso (1592 & restored 1742) by Gianmaria Felice

The painting of “La Pace di Campobasso” was hung in the Church of the Capuchin friars.[102]

Let us look briefly at an account of such a work of Gironimo da Sorbo and his confreres in Campobasso in 1587.[103] Gironimo became the General Minister in 1596.[104] As a source we will use the chronicle of Michelangelo Ziccardi (1802-1845) first published in 1841. Some criticize the narrative of Ziccardi in writing the chronicle of the Capuchins in Campobasso as being ‘romanticised.’ [105] He is writing several centuries after the event. However, even if it is written with some creative licence, especially the account of the conversion of Orazio at the beginning of Chapter IV, the documentation provided by Pasquale Albino in his 1876 publication establishes the underlying veracity of the work of social transformation of the Capuchin friars in Campobasso.[106]

By 1587, Campobasso was a city divided by decades of factional hate that at times turned into violence and even murder. The division was between the Confraternity of the Crociati and the Confraternity of the Trinitari. The Crociati base was in the Church of Holy Mary of the Cross. They dominated the civil and religious life of the city for centuries. They drew their members from the craftsmen, working class and ordinary citizens. The Trinitari base was the newer Church of the Trinity, the actual cathedral. Their members mostly lived outside the city walls and were businessmen, professionals and nobles. The two annual solemn processions they both participated in were Corpus Domini and that of Good Friday. After a violent incident between the two fractions in 1504 during a procession, the annual processions were never peaceful, sometimes deadly. Despite the attempted intervention of some of the leading families of the city over the years, a peaceful co-existence could not be established. The hatred was such that there could be no marriages celebrated between families of the factions.

In 1587, at the request of some of the nobles of the city, the Capuchins were invited to carry out the preaching cycle for Lent. Father Gironimo da Sorbo and Brother Luigi arrived in the city and set to work. The work was not easy, but the untiring work of preaching by Father Gironimo slowly softened the hearts of some citizens and they converted. Some of the conversions astounded the people. Even the local prior of the Carmelite convent, who led a dissipate life, converted. Finally, peace, as demonstrated in the above painting, was established between the two factions. Even today the “Pace” of Campobasso is celebrated annually as a festival of the city.

Fr Gironimo pushed on with the work of preaching, renewing the religious devotions and social transformation. With peace established by hearts being transformed by the preaching of the crucified Christ, the poor needed to be assisted. A large collection was made for the poor to be distributed in an orderly way. The very ancient Monti di Pietà had been poorly managed. It was restored. If the account here has not been too ‘romanticized’, it is fascinating: on the chosen night of 2nd March the Church of San Leonardo was left open but with all the lights off. Those who had despoiled the Monti were encouraged to do restitution.[107]

The people wanted the Capuchins to remain with them. On 17 March 1587 the University of Campobasso proposed that a friary be built and committed funds to the project. On June 23rd, 1587, the Capuchins departed. Father Gironimo returned on March 29th, 1588 with a brief from the Pope permitting the foundation of the Capuchin friary. The friary was opened on 25 March 1589 under the title of Saint Mary Announcer of Peace [S. Maria Annunziata della Pace].[108]

Let us now conclude this section on social transformation by reading through chapter IV of Michelangelo Ziccardi’s I Cappuccini in Campobasso o la pace. Cronaca del secolo XVI (Pasquale Albino’s 1876 version).

  1. Franciscan Institute, Saint Bonaventure University, New York, 2009. (Original title: Ricchezza Francescana. Dalla povertà voluntaria alla società di marcato, Società editrice il Mulino, Bologna, 2004).
  2. Società editrice il Mulino, January 1, 2011, (Saggi Vol. 732) Italian Kindle edition.
  3. cf. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 19. On page 35 Todeschini states that “… the individual poverty of the hermits leads from the possession of a domestic patrimony to the disinterested administration of a collective, and therefore public and social, patrimony.”
  4. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 48. Bernard of Clairvaux, Epistola CCXLIX, to Pope Eugene III, PL 182, y71: Si rebus raritas pretium facit, nil in Ecclesia pretiosius, nil optabilius bono utilique pastore.
  5. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 73.
  6. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 73-75.
  7. Michael J. P. Robinson (editor), The English Province of the Franciscans (1224-c. 135) Brill, 2017 (Leiden; Boston), p. 188.
  8. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 76.
  9. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 79.
  10. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 80.
  11. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 81.
  12. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 81.
  13. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 86.
  14. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 87.
  15. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 95.
  16. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 100 – 101.
  17. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 102-103.
  18. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 107.
  19. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 103.
  20. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 115.
  21. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, pages 142-143.
  22. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, pages 148-149.
  23. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, pages 154-155.
  24. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 164.
  25. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 165.
  26. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 167.
  27. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 170.
  28. Cf. Maria Giuseppina Muzzarrelli, I Monit di Pietà: Le cure prestate e quelle richieste in Italia Francescana 85 (2010), p. 105. Cf. also Gaetano del Rosso, Il Monte di Pietà e L’Ospedale. Carità e assistenza spedaliera a Molfetta in età moderna e contempranea, La Nuova Mezzina, Molfetta, 2015, pages 149-150.
  29. Cr. Gaetano del Rosso, Il Monte di Pietà e L’Ospedale.. p. 150.
  30. Cf. Maria Giuseppina Muzzarrelli, I Monit di Pietà: Le cure prestate e quelle richieste in Italia Francescana 85 (2010), p. 105.
  31. This section follows closely the argument of Giacomo Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth. From voluntary poverty to market society, pages 174-181.
  32. Cf. Bernardino of Siena, Sermo XLIII: De contractibus et usuris, in Opera, 382: nam mutua dilectio, quae ex dissuetudine alterutrum subveniendi exstincta fuerat inter cives, vivificatur propter mutua servitia facta et acceptata, domesticantur simul et intrinsecantur Silvestria corda, efficitur vera civitas, quae est cordium unitas. Cf. Todeschini, I mercanti e il tempio, 389, and Chapter VII in general.
  33. Ibid., pages 174-175.
  34. Ceccarelli, Il gioco e il peccato.
  35. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, pages 176-177.
  36. Ibid., p. 178.
  37. Ibid., p. 180.
  38. Ibid., p. 180-181.
  39. La conversion alla povertà nell’Italia dei secoli XII-XV (Spoleto: CISAM, 1991); G. Albini, Carità e governo delle povertà, secoli XII-XV (Milan: Unicopli 2002); Povertà e innovazioni istituzionali in Italia dal Medioevo ad oggi, ed. V. Zamagni (Bologna: il Mulino, 2000).
  40. Todeschini, Fraciscan Wealth, pagfes 130-131.
  41. Todeschini, Francscan Wealth, p. 184. Il libra dell’arte di mercatura (1458), ed. U. Tucci (Venice: Arsenale, 1990), 155.
  42. Todeschini, Franciscan Wealth, p. 190.
  43. Cf. Gaetano del Rosso, Il Monte di Pietà e l’Ospedale. Carità e assistenza ospedaliera a Molfetta in età moderna e contemporanea ,Quaderni Dell’Archivio Diocesano di Molfetta – Ruvo-Giovinazzo-Terlizzi n. 27, La Nuova Mezzina, Molfetta, 2015, p. 29.
  44. Cf. Rosso, Il Monte…, p. 31.
  45. Cf. Rosso, Il Monte…, p. 31.
  46. Cf. Gaetano del Rosso, Il Monte di Pietà e l’Ospedale. Carità e assistenza ospedaliera a Molfetta in età moderna e contemporanea ,Quaderni Dell’Archivio Diocesano di Molfetta – Ruvo-Giovinazzo-Terlizzi n. 27, La Nuova Mezzina, Molfetta, 2015, p. 38.
  47. Kardong, T. (1999). Benedict’s Rule: a translation (electronic edition., p. 420). Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 53,1-2.
  48. Eberle, L. (Trans.). (1977). The Rule of the Master (p. 241). Cistercian Publications, LXXVIII, 25-27.
  49. Cf. Rosso, Il Monte…, p. 36.
  50. Cf. Marina Gazzini, Ospedali nell’Italia medieval in Reti Medievali Rivista, 13, 1 (2012), p. 2.
  51. A term coined in the XIII century by Enrico da Susa, Cardinale Hostiensis, to indicate those men and women who lived their proper Christian vocation, without abandoning the status of laity, consecrated to God without embracing a Rule. Some of these lay religious dedicated to the works of charity entered then into the various hospital Orders, with codified norms of life, such as the Order of Templars, of St John of Jerusalem, the Teutonic knights, etc..
  52. Cf. Marina Gazzini, Ospedali nell’Italia medieval in Reti Medievali Rivista, 13, 1 (2012), p. 2.
  53. Cf. Rosso, Il Monte…, p.36.
  54. Cf. Marina Gazzini, Ospedali nell’Italia medieval in Reti Medievali Rivista, 13, 1 (2012), p. 1.
  55. Cf. Katherine Park and John Henderson, The First Hospital among Christians”: the Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova in Early Sixteenth-Century Florence, in Medical History, 1991, 35:2 p. 169.
  56. Cf. Marina Gazzini, Ospedali nell’Italia medieval in Reti Medievali Rivista, 13, 1 (2012), p. 2.
  57. Paul Hanbridge (translator), The Capuchin Reform. A Franciscan Renaissance (La Bell e Santa Riforma), text chosen by Fr Melchior of Pobladura OFM Cap, Media House, Dehli, 2003, a. 849, p.353.
  58. Ibid., a. 869, pages 360-361.
  59. Ibid., a. 824, p. 342.
  60. Cf. Michele Camaioni, «DE HOMINI CARNALI FARE SPIRITUALI» Bernardino Ochino e le origini dei cappuccini nella crisi religiosa del Cinquecento, (Dottorato di Ricerca in Storia, Università Roma Tre 2011, pages 202-203, as of 3/1/2019 available at
  61. Cf. Ibid., p. 106.
  62. Cf. Ibid., p. 61.
  63. Cf. Ibid., pages 90-91.; cf. Hanbridge, The Capuchin Reform, a. 849 p. 353.
  64. Cf. Hanbridge, The Capuchin Reform, a.850 & a. 851 on pages 353-354.
  65. Michele Camaioni, «DE HOMINI CARNALI FARE SPIRITUALI» Bernardino Ochino e le origini dei cappuccini nella crisi religiosa del Cinquecento, (Dottorato di Ricerca in Storia, Università Roma Tre 2011, especially pages 243-251 & 267-283. As of 3/1/2019 available at
  66. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 243.
  67. Cf. Michele Camaioni, Il Vangelo e L’Anticristo. Bernardino Ochino tra Francescanesimo ed Eresia (1487-1547), Società Editrice Il Mulino, Napoli, 2018, p. 222.
  68. Hanbridge, The Capuchin Reform, n. 817, p. 337 & n. 826, p. 342.
  69. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 244.
  70. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, footnote 176 on p. 244.
  71. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 245, footnote 178 (cited in Cargnoni, I Frati Cappuccini II, p. 434).
  72. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 245, footnote 179.
  73. MILANO, AS, Concellerie dello Stato, Corteggio generale, 30, cc. 110-111 from Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 246.
  74. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 246, footnote 182 has the text of the letter.
  75. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 247.
  76. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, pages 247-299.
  77. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 274.
  78. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 275.
  79. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 275: OCHINO, Prediche predicate, II.
  80. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 276: OCHINO, Prediche predicate, II.
  81. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 276: OCHINO, Prediche predicate, II.
  82. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 276-277, OCHINO, Prediche predicate, II.
  83. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 277: OCHINO, Prediche predicate, IX.
  84. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 277: OCHINO, Prediche predicate, IV.
  85. Cf. Michele Camaioni, Il Vangelo e L’Anticristo. Bernardino Ochino tra Francescanesimo ed Eresia (1487-1547), Società Editrice Il Mulino, Napoli, 2018, pages 163-164.
  86. It would refer to 1536, 1540 or 1541.
  87. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 278: FOLIGNO, MHOMC VII, p. 259.
  88. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 279: PERUGIA, BIBLIOTECA AUGUSTA, mss. 1150-1151, T. BOTTONIO, Annali, II, a. 1536.
  89. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 279: PERUGIA, BIBLIOTECA AUGUSTA, ms. 1192, C. BAGLIONI, Memorie serafiche appartenenti al ven. Monastero di S. Chiara, detto le Cappuccine di P. S. P. in Perugia distinte in tre libri, cc. 51v-52r.
  90. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 278; also Michele Camaioni, Il Vangelo e L’Anticristo. Bernardino Ochino tra Francescanesimo ed Eresia (1487-1547), Società Editrice Il Mulino, Napoli, 2018, p. 248, where in footnote 317 it is referred to as “Il Collegio de gl”Orfanelli” called the “Cappuccinelli”.
  91. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, pages 280-281, quote is from footnote 54.
  92. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 281, footnote 56: PERUGIA, AS, Archivio Storico del Comune, Diplomatico, pergamena 1118 (cfr. Tavola n. 6); also, a copy can be found at PERUGIA, AS, Archivio Storico del Comune, Copiari di privilegi, bolle, brevi e lettere, n. 6 (1530-1554), c. 48r.
  93. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 278, footnote 48: LUCCA, AS, Colloqui, 7 (1532-1540), p. 457; cf. also Michele Camaioni, Il Vangelo e L’Anticristo. Bernardino Ochino tra Francescanesimo ed Eresia (1487-1547), Società Editrice Il Mulino, Napoli, 2018, p. 248 and 323.
  94. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 283: FOLIGNO, MHOMC VII, pp. 257-258. Cf. also Michele Camaioni, Il Vangelo e L’Anticristo. Bernardino Ochino tra Francescanesimo ed Eresia (1487-1547), Società Editrice Il Mulino, Napoli, 2018, p. 247, footnote 314.
  95. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 283: OCHINO, Prediche predicate, II.
  96. Cf. Michele Camaioni, Il Vangelo e L’Anticristo. Bernardino Ochino tra Francescanesimo ed Eresia (1487-1547), Società Editrice Il Mulino, Napoli, 2018, p. 249, footnote 323 where the name of such a benefactor is recorded: Di Antonio Lachi or De Luca, called Berrettaio who financed the construction of several friaries in the territory of Umbria.
  97. Cf. Michele Camaioni, Il Vangelo e L’Anticristo. Bernardino Ochino tra Francescanesimo ed Eresia (1487-1547), Società Editrice Il Mulino, Napoli, 2018, p. 300
  98. Cf. Michele Camaioni, Il Vangelo e L’Anticristo. Bernardino Ochino tra Francescanesimo ed Eresia (1487-1547), Società Editrice Il Mulino, Napoli, 2018, p. 313.
  99. Michele Camaioni, Il Vangelo e L’Anticristo. Bernardino Ochino tra Francescanesimo ed Eresia (1487-1547), Società Editrice Il Mulino, Napoli, 2018, p. 322.
  100. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 243.
  101. Cf. Camaioni, De Homini…, p. 243-4, especially footnote 173.
  102. Cf. I Cappuccini in Campobasso. Cronaca del Secolo XVI del Dottor Michelangelo Ziccardi, ristampata in più facile lettura e fornita di note, e documenti Dall’Avv. Pasquale Albino, Campobasso, Tipografia Domenico de Nigris, 1876, p. 86. The painting of La Pace of Campobasso.
  103. Cf. I Cappuccini in Campobasso. Cronaca del Secolo XVI del Dottor Michelangelo Ziccardi, ristampata in più facile lettura e fornita di note, e documenti Dall’Avv. Pasquale Albino, Campobasso, Tipografia Domenico de Nigris, 1876, especially Capitolo IV, pages 57-73; Ziccardi – Cronaca pages 8-10; also
  104. Cf. Ibid., sketch of Fr Geronimo da Sorbo, Gernale de Cappuccini nel 1596 (between pages 96 & 97).
  105. Cf. Ibid., p. 135.
  106. Cf. Ibid., pages 133-254.
  107. Cf. Ibid., Chapter IV, pages 57-73.
  108. Cf. Ibid., pages 129-132.