“States” of the Capuchin Reform 1528-1596

A detailed summary of

Carlo Calloni OFM Cap

Gli “stati” della riforma cappuccina 1528-1596

In Italia Francescana, n.2, 2009: 445-476

Prepared by Gary Devery OFM Cap

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

The period of the first beginnings of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (1528-1596) is most significant for comprehending the evolutive dynamic of religious life within the reform. In the same years Europe was living through a momentous period of changes on the political, social and ecclesial fronts. The growth of the new reform,[1] born of the Franciscan tree, will unfold hand in hand with the progressive divisions and counter positions that will be found within the Council of Trent (1545-1563).

Capuchin historiography, up until the end of the end of the 19th century, dedicated little space to the analysis of these first years. Modern scientific research only really begun at the beginning of the 20th century. As recalled by Servus Gieben in his paper given at the Conference on historical studies for the 4500 anniversary of the Order,[2] the research was initiated by the circular letter of the Minister General, Bernard of Adermatt (1896-1908), requesting that for the writing of a general history of the Order there be a gathering together of the sources and selected materials beginning from the individual provinces. It was published forty years later, in the years 1947-1951, as a work of Melchiorre da Pobladura, who put in order a great mass of material, organising the pontifical documents both for and against the nascent reform[3] and narrating the events from 1525 until 1630. Unfortunately, the interpretative compaction made for such a long arc of time, conditioned all the successive Capuchin historiography, but, above all, it impeded the nuances being made of the various shades and colourings in the very beginnings, that are indispensable for a comprehension of the life of the first Capuchins.

Contemporaneously, Melchiorre da Pobladura published the Chronicles and/or Histories of the first “chroniclers” of the Order.[4] These primary sources allow us to know directly the various aspects, typologies and characteristics of the first period in the life of the Order. Thus allowing us a more complete comprehension of the life and the internal events lived out by the first Capuchins.

The celebration of the Council of Trent was a significant point for Capuchin historiography. However, it has tended to overshadow the recognition of the existence of internal evolutionary dynamics already at play in the years before, as detectable through the Cronache and the Historie of the first decades of the Capuchins (1525-145).[5]

The majority of scholars who have written about the history of the first Capuchins recognise the existence of two significant moments, firstly, the personal crisis of Ludovico Tenaglia da Fossombrone, occurring after the double Chapter of 1535-1536, secondly, that of the apostasy of the Vicar General, Bernardino Tomassini da Siena (1542).

Stanislao Santachiara da Campagnola points out how the pre-Tridentine phase, although characterised as being the exclusively Italian period of the reform, cannot be considered homogeneous. The scholar individualises various differences or variations whose apexes were represented by Matteo da Bascio, Ludovico Tenaglia da Fossombrone, Bernardino Palli d’Asti, Giovanni Pili da Fano and Bernardino Tomassini da Siena. Each of these friars is representative of generations of friars, representing different models. However, the scholar lamented that the source material, now published, had not yet been investigated with an analytical-scientific methodology.[6]

Some years later, Optato Van Asseldonk (from Veghel), individuated and specified the characteristics of the generations of friars of the first hundred years of the reform. The first generation whose characteristic was the heroic: friars totally dedicated to the eremitical and contemplative life, working manually, serving victims of the plagues and preaching in the cities and countryside. It was a generation that desired to relive the life of the first Franciscans – that lived by Francis of Assisi and his first companions. The second generation, with Bernardino Palli d’Asti at its head, operated with a healthy balance between the extremes of the first decades, acting as a model for the subsequent development of the new reform.[7]

A similar opinion was expressed by another Capuchin scholar, Ottaviano Schmucki, who qualified the first generation of Capuchins as “distinctly eremitical-contemplative”, while the second as a moment of “harmonious equilibrium between prayer and contemplation”, becoming a true reference point and creating that “Franciscan synthesis between contemplative life and apostolic action”. Besides these two evolutionary phases, by now accepted and consolidated within the historiographical panorama, he noted a third phase that he qualified and defined as decadence, traceable in the legislation of 1552. It was the legislation that followed the lose of Bernardino Tomassini da Siena to the Protestants.[8]

The years immediately preceding and following the celebration of 450 years since the foundation of the Order in 1978 resulted in a revitalised study of the Capuchin origins. Between the many we recall three scholars: Callisto Urbanelli, Costanzo Cargnoni and Fidel Elizondo.

The work of Callisto Urbanelli, Storia dei cappuccino delle Marche, collected a great quantity of information from the various Episcopal and local council archives and from letters of personalities who had some relationship with the first Capuchins. At the same time, he reported the existence of a great quantity of archival material that was yet to be brought to light or was given little attention; he also noted the lack of studies in confronting these documents with those of the chronicles.[9]

Costanzo Cargnoni[10] and Fidel Elizondo,[11] first studied the historical works of the first Capuchin chroniclers and then the legislative apparatus, noting the existence of not only different generations of friars, but the presence of different mentalities, with their own particular models of what is the Capuchin friar.

The analysis of the abundant data of the Capuchin legislation, Constitutions and Ordinances, noting the omissions and additions, manifests the different mentalities, models and generations of friars, giving consistency to that “divisions between the fathers”[12] according to an eye witness account of the first years, given by Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo.

By comparing the legislation and the chronicles, the depths of changes that have occurred become apparent, that of real tensions in the desire to incarnate the Franciscan-Capuchin life. The lifestyle, or better described, the states of the Reform, clearly emerge between the works of Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo and Mattia Bellintani da Salò.[13]

For a better understanding of the chronicle data, it should be remembered that the need to collect the historical recollections of the early friars occurred already forty years on from the beginning of the reform and at a delicate moment, if not a moment of crisis, for the Order itself (1567-1582). These are the years of a seeking to return, in the never dormant tendency amongst some of the friars, to the original Franciscan lifestyle. The crisis will unfold with the event of the “maddaleniti”.[14] Their openly revealing themselves will lead to the punishment inflicted upon the Vicar General of the Order Girolamo Pratelli da Montefiore (1575-15810 in the Chapter of 1582, with the loss of both active and passive voice, meanwhile the responsibility of writing the “official chronicle” of the Order passed from Colpetrazzo to Bellintani.[15]

Both chroniclers, with their personal experiences, write of states of life by which they subdivide the significant periods of change in the early years of the reform.

Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo presents two states “from 28 until 33 and from 33 until 43”,[16] whereas Mattia Bellintani from Salò presents three: “three states up to the present have occurred in the Capuchin Reform. The first was for a space of ten years […]. The second state was governed by the first Fathers from the first canonical Chapter made by order of his Holiness […]. The third state commenced in the year 1558”.[17]

It is not a matter of two simple historical schools of thought being at play here, which prefer one or the other interpretation, but, rather, two primary models of life being described, both authentic ways of incarnating the Franciscan-Capuchin spirituality within the Church. Holding these in tension is the way of not losing what the chronicles narrate and what the legislation has established.

2. The “states” of the Capuchin reform

By taking note of the centrality of the Council of Trent in Capuchin historiography[18] and at the same time noting the subdivisions of the first chroniclers, it is possible to enter into the events and legislative data of the first generations of Capuchin friars.

When on the 22 May 1542 Paul III again tried to convene the Council, no longer at Mantua-Vicenza, but in Trent, programmed to open on 1st November 1542, the Capuchin reform was living through its second tragedy of its first twenty years. We will begin from this event because it is the more evident, the one that caused the greatest grief; later we will deal with also the first of these difficult events.

In the same year, on 22 August, Bernardino Tomassini da Siena, called Ochino, Vicar General of the Capuchin reform, fled by way of the Valtellina to Grisons, passing into the Protestant reform. Even though for himself it was probably the result of a personal crisis,[19] the event reflected badly upon the whole Capuchin reform, both internally and externally. The resulting modifications introduced as a result into the daily life of the friars indicated an important change, bringing to an end that period that was defined by Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo as “the most glorious before the world”.[20]

The preaching of Ochino constituted an advantage for all the Order that, other than being known and appreciated throughout Italy, through him was envied for having in him “such a clear and sonorous trumpet”[21] concentrating on the Love of Christ Crucified. Brother Bernardino Tomassini illuminated and warmed the hearts not only of the laity but also drew the admiration of the young friars. This was most welcome after the first great crisis of the Order, when Bernardino Palli d’Asti, as Vicar General had to re-establish an equilibrium after the trauma caused to the nascent Order by Ludovico Tenaglia da Fossombrone in 1535-1536, at the first Chapter.

The Constitutions of 1536, published after the Chapter, are the point of departure for understanding the different mentalities that were formed and realised in the first fifty years in the life of the Capuchin reform. The first chroniclers described them as generating the states of the reform, that carry within themselves the different generations of friars.

The Cronache, Historie, and Constitutions reflect concrete ways established by the early friars of the reform in living out the spirituality of Francis of Assis, expressed in the Rule and Testament, so as not to make an ideology of their life. It is important to note the large numerical change from the few articles of the legislation made at Albacina to the many articles of the Constitutions of 1536. The first Capuchin friars, at least until 1545, all came from the Observants, bringing with them the tension of the desire to live integrally the Rule. They were men tempered by the internal struggle of Franciscanism. It was a tension that found an outlet with Ite vos in vinem meam of Leo X, published on 29 May 1517, but did not result in arresting the profound movement for reform.

Who were the Capuchin friars? Those of the first generation who redacted the first Statutes of Albacina in April of 1529 at the hermitage of Saint Mary of Acquarella, guided by Ludovico Tenaglia da Fossombrone?[22] Or those who with Bernardino Palli d’Asti gave light to the Constitutions of 1536? Or perhaps even those who had a similar spirit to that of Bernardino Tomassini da Siena (Ochino)?

It was the generation who fled from the Observants who felt empowered to incarnate and live sine glossa with all their hearts the minoritic life, Rule and Testament in the milieu of an eremitical fraternity. It was the same generation that on 3 July 1528 obtained the bull Religionis Zelus, that permitted the Tenaglia brothers, Ludovico and Raffaele, to life an eremitical life in observance of the Rule of Francis of Assisi “in so far as human frailty permits”, to wear the beard and a habit with the square cowl, to preach to the people and to receive novices.[23] The consequence to the papal approval soon followed with other Observants seeking to live in the same manner.

The characteristics of this phase of the new reform were that it remained very small numerically; at the beginning of 1529 there were around thirty friars spread amongst four hermitages,[24] who all came from the Observants, therefor they had all received the same formation, and all aspired to the total imitation of the form of life of Francis and of his first companions.[25]

The desire to live in hermitages was constant, irreplaceable requirement of the reform:

They not only took up remote places where they lived in the greatest poverty, but there were many who with the permission of the Superiors made little cells on the site itself. They lived there in order to be more withdrawn, fasting continuously on bread and water, in order to dedicate themselves more perfectly to holy contemplation.[26]

Just one year after drawing up the Statutes of Albacina a change came about in the form of pastoral service in the friars taking on the task of continuous service to the sick in the hospitals of some Italian cities. The Capuchin friars left their hermitages to enter into the cities; Why? The answer was furnished by Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo in his Ratio vivendi fratum:

In order to observe the Testament perfectly they set to serving lepers in hospitals, as was manifest in Rome, Naples, Genoa and other places, but especially in Saint James of the Incurable in Rome. That hospital was almost abandoned […] The hospital was so clean, well-organised and run that many gentlemen and lords had themselves brought to the hospital to benefit from the service and to be instructed in the things of the soul by those venerable servants of God.[27]

These friars had the desire to live in contemplation and solitude in hermitages and to live in fraternity as lesser brothers,[28] but at the same time, to be contemplatives of the type expressed by Francis himself in his Testament, where they could not do anything else but contemplate – to look at reality with the eyes of God – as Francis had “contemplated”, gazing on the lepers as he lived beside them, embracing and kissing them.

The search to live in hermitages in absolute silence took on a new direction pushed by the Testament of Francis: seeking to care for the victims of cholera, plague, leprosy, but with a substantial difference to all the other times friars had responded to these waves of epidemics. They began a permanent service in the Hospital of St James of the Incurables in Rome, which meant not only being in direct contact with the sick but also running the hospital itself, a work which today would be termed as ‘professional’. The abandoning of the hermitages to give continuous service to the sick is a visible and great characteristic of the first generation of the Capuchin friars, fruit of their contemplation of the Mystery of God made man, born and given for us.

The observance of the Testament also pushed the friars into another activity, that left no trace in the Statutes of Albacina, but did so in the Constitutions of 1536:[29] that of manual work. Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo, both gives witness to this aspect and defends it as a characteristic of the life of the Capuchin reform:

… even though we can live from the alms offered us, or indeed from the alms we beg – and all this is according to the Rule – nonetheless the more perfect way of living according to the purity of the Rule would be to live by work. We see this in the early Fathers to whom the shape of perfection was given. We find that they all lived by their labours. […] If we consider it well, all the early Fathers included in their Rules [Constitutions of 1536] that work should be done just as we see also in our Seraphic Father Saint Francis.[30]

Our chronicler goes to some length to give an account of how the friars worked manually to maintain themselves and lived from “their fatigue”.[31]

Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo puts forward Francesco Tittelmans of Hasselt[32] as a model of the characteristics of the first generation of Capuchins. He was a scholar but abandoned his books and studies[33] and asked if he could be put in service to the sick and “having obtained the permission therefor he served in that hospital [St James of the Incurables in Rome] for many months doing the lowliest task there was”. He then became Vicar Provincial and “when he saw the friars spending their time badly, he would strongly reprimand them. He would say that it is almost impossible, especially for the young, to be chaste without continuous exercises, spiritual or manual”,[34] and would order the friars to learn some form of manual work.[35] With a good knowledge of the human person and weakness, these early friars knew well that true charity was not possible if one chose to life on alms alone without the fatigue and habit of work.[36]

Contemplation, manual work and service to the sick were the foundation stones of the first Capuchins. They wanted to experience the value of poverty and the value of charity. The fount from which they drank was prayer and intense silent contemplation, the eremitical life, fraternity.

However, a new dimension had to be factored into the way of life:

 From 1532 until 1536 more than five hundred Friars came to the Congregation of Capuchins from the Order [Observants] and from among the seculars. Therefore it became known that the matter had been consolidated and that His Holiness no longer listened to the adversaries, and how he had given such an authentic Bull, all those zealous for the observance of the Rule felt a great impetus.[37]

Between 1532 and 1534 great numbers of personalities came into the new reform, some of which were: Bernardino Palli d’Asti and Francesco Ripanti da Jesi, two of the four Observants who had requested the bull of Clement VII,[38] Bernardino Tomassini da Siena, called Ochino, Eusebio Fardini da Ancona, two future Vicar Generals of the Capuchins, Giovanni Pili da Fano, formerly Provincial of the Observants of the Marched and intransigent enemy of Ludovico Tenaglia da Fossombrone and of the nascent Capuchin reform.

Their entry into the Capuchin reform lead into the second state, that of the “most glorious in the world”,[39] precisely because these friars where “learned and great preachers”, but at the same time they manifested a change in mentality for the reform, but were still men who, like the first friars, wanted to live integrally the Rule, Testament and life of Francis and his first Companions.

These new arrivals gave themselves to an intense activity of preaching, making the reform known and appreciated in all the regions of Italy, with the result than many Observants, as well as others, wanted to join them.[40] The preaching was not done exclusively by the cleric friars, also the lay friars preached “the commandments of God, some examples and quite a few reprimands against the vices”.[41] This centrality of preaching was a characteristic of the second state of the Capuchin reform.

The passage to this second state was signalled by the traumatic conclusion to the double Chapter of Sant’Eufemia (1535-1536) with the exit from the reform of Ludovico Tenaglia da Fossombrone. It was a clash of mentality over the way to live the charism of Francis of Assisi, the Rule and the Testament.

Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo wrote that in these years, however, arose differences of opinion between the friars as to how to live the life,[42] indicating in a clear way that Bernardino Palli d’Asti, Francesco Ripanti da Jesi and Francesco Pili da Fano and many other of these illustrious and holy men were responsible for this change of mentality:

They said, “It should suffice for all the Congregation to live from begging. If there is someone who wants to live from his work, we grant him this. For if they do not think about making a Congregation of holy Religious who attend to Mass, the holy Offices, the study of the Scripture and preaching, they will make a Congregation of shop-keepers because in the mechanical tasks one is forced to get involved with seculars. An also, in order to continue that work it is difficult to keep a balance so that they do not fall headlong into work and the spirit is extinguished completely. For God has ordered all things to serve the spirit, as our Father says in the Rule.” Because of this they put in the Constitutions that the Friars be careful not to make work their end, but only to work enough to expel idleness, the enemy of the soul.[43]

At some period of this second state the continual service to the sick ceases.[44] Why? Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo gives us the answer:

However as the Congregation grew and Friars came who were not so practiced in the spirit, the venerable Fathers, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, knew that to set these Friars to work and at the service of the sick would have been the cause of great ruin and judge that no one undertake these things. Therefore they stopped these tasks.[45]

A concrete preoccupation also led to the elimination of the second characteristic of the earliest form of the reform. Many friars were now coming into the reform from the lay state, rather from the Observants or other religious Orders. This new generation had not lived through the dramatic events of the friars who came from the Observants. It was not that those coming from the lay state did not seek to live the charism of Francis to the full. Manual labour and continual service to the sick were substituted by new responsibilities the new reform was taking on. The friars now had to combine prayer with study so as to fulfil the now primary characteristic of the reform, preaching:

However they thought time should not be wasted, but that they Friars should work at their prayer and holy studies, thus condemning and reprimanding idleness totally. Therefore those venerable Fathers said, “The one who works at holy prayer, holy Offices, holy studies or at preaching is doing a great work. Our Lay Friars spend their time well when they work at the duties and offices of the Order.”[46]

This second state of the reform resulted in its own transformation of the first model of Capuchin life, on the back of the great preachers who came across from the Observants and Recollects. Manual work and continual assistance to the sick slowly disappeared, being replaced by this new field of activity in preaching. This second state closes with the tragedy of Ochino in 1542.

3. Two emergent figures

Two old friars, Fracesco Ripanti da Jesi and Bernardino Palli d’Asti, both charismatic figures, were to lead the reform out of the Ochino crisis. They were both present for the events involving Ludovico Tenaglia after the double Chapter of 1535-1536.

Francesco Ripanti da Jesi,[47] was nominated General Commissary after the flight of Ochino and was described in the earliest biographies as the true antagonist of the later. Not only by way of lifestyle, but also in doctrine.[48]

As General Commissary he had to watch over the Capuchin family and at the same time reply to the questions of the investigation[49] that the Roman Curia undertook. It was composed of nineteen question relating to the doctrines currently under discussion: grace, justification, free will, sacraments, relationship with the Roman Church, pope and charisms, and the Mass. All these themes will be found in the Council of Trent, as an answer to Luther and the programme for Catholic reform.

Investigated, suspended from preaching, closed up in their friaries, some returning to the Observants,[50] others also fleeing to join Ochino.[51] However, most found in Francesco Ripanti da Jesi someone to trust.

Two years of enforced inactivity allowed time for the reform to enter stronger into the contemplative dimension[52] as a counter position to that of the intense activity of preaching. The models of Ludovico Tenaglia da Fossombrone and Bernardino Tomassini da Siena (Ochino) had to be replaced. Francesco Ripanti da Jesi had the work of remodelling the Capuchin reform.

Mattia Bellintani da Salò reports that Francesco Ripanti da Jesi was welcomed amongst the Capuchins around the years 1532-1533. However, he returned temporarily to the Observants because he found that the style and model of Lodovico Tenaglia da Fossombrone “really did not have the spirit of contemplation”.[53] The spirit of contemplation was also lacking in Bernardino Tomassini da Siena who, even though he possessed an eloquence greater than any, he was “cold… and bore little fruit”; by contrast Francesco Ripanti da Jesi preached “full of fire” because it was born from profound contemplation and intense prayer.[54]

Francesco Repanti, while confirming the orthodoxy of the friars before the Roman Curia, he also became a master of contemplation, teaching “to the friars the way of perfection, and he singularly instructed the way of prayer and contemplation.”[55] He would remain as long as possible in places so as to gather the friars together and teach them.

Purified from within, constricted by inactivity, but helped to recover the spirit of fraternal contemplation, the Capuchins, at the beginning of the Council, were able to review and adapt the models of life of the previous generations.

Bernardino Palli d’Asti[56] accompanied Francesco Ripanti in this period and then led from where he left off, becoming, in the opinion of the first chroniclers, the first true Vicar General of the Order, when he took over from Ludovico Tenaglia at the Chapter of 1535.

During his first mandate as Vicar General (1535-1538) the first Constitutions (1536) were written and he was the author of the memorandum of June 1536 in which he defended the possibility of friars passing from the Observants to the Capuchins, motivated by the fact that it was only in the latter that the Rule was being observed and lived integrally.[57]

Being the Vicar General before and after Ochino, he both lived and led the Capuchin reform through the travails of growth and so he had a great influence on the maturing of the reform. There are enough extant documents of this period to reveal this change of mentality amongst the friars over this period.

In his first mandate he lived an austere life, stabilising the life of the friars from all the excesses that characterised the first generation. A work he entered into in minute detail, regulating the daily life, from the minestra that had to be cooked sufficiently, to the moderation of the wine, which meant it needed to be watered down.[58] He also intervened to regulate the prayer, having periods when all were present together, unmasking those who used the excuse of praying to always retreat to their own “cell to make baskets and little crosses”,[59] thus escaping from the everyday work of the friary, in the kitchen, garden or assisting the sick friars.

From the beginning of his second mandate (1548-1552), Bernardino Palli found himself in front of changes that no longer depended upon the zeal, or lack thereof, of the friars, but came from outside. They were dictated by history, that is, the changing times and precise requests from the Church itself.

His clear and critical judgement of the changes that had occurred in the post-Ochino years, and when he had now finished his second term of office, has been transmitted to us by Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo. It was at the time of the approval of the new Constitutions of 1552:

In the General Chapter celebrated in Rome when Father Eusebius of Ancona was elected, some Fathers felt in certain cases that the Constitutions were too strict and so they added some things and changed others. The venerable Father Bernardine of Asti said, “Now we have gone as far as we can. Every little thing that goes even further might go against the Rule in certain cases. Until now we have had a great hedge and the Rule was never touched. Now we do just what the Rule allows us where before we did more that what the Rule commands.”[60]

This judgement of Bernardino d’Asti is a clear indication that within the Capuchin reform there had been a generational change by the time of the 1552 Chapter. The very first generation was characterised by the eremitical-contemplative dimension but then almost immediately began serving the sick; the next generation were characterised by strong and charismatic friars desirous of living integrally the Rule and Testament; the Ochino event had slowed the reform but also allowed it time to recuperate the fraternal contemplative dimension. This leads into the next phase where the renewed vitality results in numerical growth but from men coming from secular life, rather than passing across from the Observants. The Capuchin reform was becoming a new branch in the great tree of the Franciscan family.

As Vicar General, Bernardino Palli d’Asti wrote to the friars what is considered to be the first “Circular Letter” of the Order,[61] where he traces out not only the spirituality of the Capuchin friar but also what is essential to the friar of the “new reform.”

The generation of Bernardino Palli d’Asti lived and breathed a reciprocal awareness of what was essential to a life of fraternal charity, but the letter also contains a woe:

Woe to those Capuchins who try to relax our way of life! They are not true Friars Minor of Saint Francis, but rather of Brother Elias. As the Apostle says, they are enemies of the Cross of Christ, our God, and a destructive instrument for our Congregation.

This makes it evident that even before the first revision of the Constitutions in 1552 their were tensions within the Capuchin fraternity between those, like Bernardino, who wanted to maintain the high ideal of his generation and others against whom he launches his woe who wanted to relax in some way the life of poverty. His was a poverty of precariousness and simplicity of life, with the capacity to readily leave the place of dwelling, to not remain tied to the same people, to be transparent, which eliminates every duplicity or formalism. It was the tension between where the poverty would show forth in the very style of the buildings but had now, with the increase in numbers, also to meet the demands of caring for the sick and old friars and meeting the needs of the young friars who had to study. The various situations of climate and place also meant changes in how the friars dressed.[62] All these tensions among the friars led Bernardino Palli d’Asti to defend the way of living of his generation as the true and only image of the friar of the “new reform”.

The revision of the Constitutions of 1552 is revealing in its omissions in respect to the 1536 Constitutions, signalling a generational change. [For a summary of these omissions and an indication of the internal tensions in the Order cf. From the Constitutions of 1536 to those of 1552 and 1575.]

4. The crisis of the years 1558-1581

Quarantined after the “Ochino case” and still taking live fire from the Observants by way of pushing the Roman Curia to publish bulls and briefs forbidding the passage of Observants to the Capuchins, the Order in the years 1542-1564 was constricted in its natural process of evolution.

On 27 May 1558 Tomaso Gnotti da Città di Casterllo (+1576) was elected Vicar General. He had entered as a secular. This period is characterised as the struggle between the old friars[63] and the younger generation of friars who had joined as seculars and by now were more numerous than the old friars who had passed across from the Observants.[64]

The young friars sought to respond to the needs and the signs of the time: growth in numbers, houses of study, new areas of apostolate, old and sick friars to care for, all from friaries that were too far from the city to accommodate these needs. At the same time the old friars replied by way of putting before them the charismatic model figures of the first generation, such as Francesco Ripanti da Jesi who

…was very much against the construction of sumptuous buildings and said the [protective] wall of Religion is threatened and almost impossible if poverty is offended […] and as soon as a Friar enters into construction, just as soon the demon enters on him and the friar loses his senses and makes things against poverty.[65]

The two decades that followed the closure of the Council of Trent (1565-1581), see a renewed fervour and growth in numbers, but above all, a new pastoral commitment. It was in these same years, forty years since the foundation of the reform, that the Capuchins also feel the need to gather together and write down their collective memories so as not to lose contact with the original experience. The first attempts, the Relazioni by Mario Fabiani da Meracato Saraceno, were less systematic and were published outside of the Order.[66]

The new Vicar General, Girolamo Pratelli d Montefiore[67] (1575-1581) introduces the friars in his letter “Alli divoti dettori” to a work composed by him to be read by the friars: Vite di alcuni frati cappuccini[68]. In his letter he states:

… although I know father friar Mario da Mercato Saraceno, of good memory (as he was a worthy Vicar General of our congregation before me), has beautifully written a history in which he narrates the origin and progress of this congregation up to our times, only because the said father does not extend beyond narrating a few things of the life and facts of particular friars […], I thought it would not be superfluous to undertake the writing down of the more notable things of these particular friars.[69]

He wanted to propose to the friars the biographies of the very first group of friars and also “although it is late, being towards the end of my time in office”, he was hastening to arrange all the material of “some of the older friars” from whom he had solicitated recollections so that he could collect them together and make them more widely known in the Order.

In his hands can be found the work he requested of Bernardino Cioli da Colperazzo. It was already a well-structured core of material. With some additions, he had it ready to propose to the friars for their reading. Writing to Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo, the Vicar General expresses his intention in having the material gathered:

I am of the opinion that the work will be very useful. I believe, God willing, that the friars should read it. My own desire is that this be done and so produce the greatest fruit and open the minds of many. The work will be a great encouragement to those dedicated to the pure and true observance of the Rule.[70]

The aim of Girolamo Pratelli da Montefiore was that of putting in the hearts of the friars the desire to live the Observance of the Rule, with poverty in the first place, in the same furrow traced by “many holy friars” who initiated the “Capuchin reform”:

…seeing that the memory of such things was lacking, not without damage to posterity, I thought for the glory of God (from whom proceeds every good) and for the benefit of all our friars, present and future, to gather together and put down in writing the more significant things of which I might have probable information, both of the holiness of the customs and of the miracles of our friars who have already passed from this life, so that from the holiness of these habits the friars might know, as in a mirror, the pure observance of our Rule and the true spiritual life, which they need to hold to.[71]

Beside this primary aim, the biographies of the “ancient fathers” were to recall and reaffirm the original identity of the reform, but, above all, demonstrate the possibility of living it in their own current time.

That no unanimous consensus existed on Girolamo’s proposed model is shown by the punishment that was inflicted upon him during the General Chapter of 1581, one year after the publication of the Divota Historia of Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo.

The Vicar General was deprived of both active and passive voice “because it was found that he wanted to make a reform, whose friars he called the Magdalenes (maddaleniti), and he did this with much zeal, and in the end he patiently endured the whole thing, but he never wanted to apologise for doing it”.[72]

The “Magdalene crisis” reveals the height of the tension reached that had been building up from the Generalate of Eusebio Fardini da Ancona (1552-1558) but became much more explicit in the years of Mario Fabiani da Mercato Saraceno (1567-1571).

In his Historia Capucina, Mattia Bellintani da Salò, while drawing a judgement on the government of this latter, presents an evolutionary picture of the “reform”:

He in his governing was gentle and kindly, as he was by nature, more perhaps than what was needed at that moment in the Order, which, growing in number, had need of restraint because the many and majority of young [friars] – if not restrained – tend towards becoming lax. They had already commenced to abandon some of the places that were a long way from the towns and to build closer, and slowly this was followed by others, because the number of friars was growing and it was difficult to carry alms on their back for so many; no doctors were available for those who were ill and the necessary provisions could not then be provided. It was found to be impossible to maintain the hospices in the towns if the friaries were far away.[73]

These changes were a consequent to the changing situation within the Order, such as the growth in numbers, the presence of old and sick friars in the various fraternities, fraternities becoming larger. This was resulting in a growing tension between the inevitable institutionalisation of the charism, while at the same time there remained friars who wanted to return to initial experience of the “reform”.

With the paternal blessing and approval of the Vicar General, Girolamo Pratelli da Montefiore, there was developing in secret a movement among the friars desirous of a return to the origins of the “reform” whose members called themselves the “Magdalene” (“maddalene”):

Some taken up by a great desire for perfection, agreed together between friaries to do something more than the ordinary under the name and perfection of Magdalene, arranging amongst themselves some counsels to observe, and instituting among themselves some particular superiors. It was all done in secret. Although they did everything in secret, this enterprise of theirs grew, and it spread almost throughout all the Provinces. Nor did it appear that the General sought to impede it, rather it consoled him to see so much good will and readiness to live well the religious life.[74]

The “Magdalene”, wanting “to do something more than the ordinary”, sought out a life of penance, contemplation and eremitical fraternity, but above all they gave themselves new rules and new superiors, creating a true and proper parallel hierarchy. This fact provoked, as was foreseeable, the reaction of the friars united in the General Chapter:

The fathers of the General Chapter most firmly and with prudence, considering that this could have caused disturbance and that their rules were not about relevant things, being that the common life embraces all that is useful in walking in perfection, forbade those rules as being very dangerous and as bearing little or no fruit, being pleased that all the Friars under the standard of the ordinary Constitutions composed by the old Fathers – learned and holy with great spirit and prudence – study how to continually progress towards the supreme degrees of perfection.[75]

5. 1581-1596: the ordinary life

The punishment inflicted upon the Vicar General signalled the “defeat” of a model, of an idea and at the same time the defeat of a generation of men and friars who believed in this model. The guidance of the Order now passed to a new generation of friars who did not owe their provenance to the Observants but were totally “secular”. They had received their formation entirely within the Capuchin “reform”.

The substitution of the official chronicler of the Order, Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo, took place in the General Chapter of 1587, sanctioned the definitive passage from the Capuchins of the early sixteenth century, the years of the preparation and celebration of the Council of Trent, to those of the second half of the sixteenth century who on the wave of conciliar renewal, felt themselves to be living instruments of the Church. The same Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo, writing to the Duke of Acquasparta, Federico Cesi, to whom he dedicated his work, left us a bitter consideration: “already our Congregation has no further need of me”,[76] making his outburst the emblem of the despondency of all his generation of friars who saw themselves as pushed aside. The baton passed to Mattia Bellintani da Salò and to the new way of guiding the “reform”.

If Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo gave an account of the history of the Capuchins privileging the facts and the friars of the first two states, claiming that the second state was the “most glorious before the world”, judging the first state to be even more glorious,[77] Mattia Bellintani da Salò read the history of the Capuchin within the wider context of the climate of ecclesial renewal of the Council.[78] Mattia Bellintani da Salò lived the third state of the Capuchin reform.

For him the first state was that of preparation where there was not a true and proper control over the vocations, where the proper institutional structures were non-existent. It was a preparation that went hand in hand with another much greater one for “reform”, so much so that when those who met the Capuchins would exclaim:

…or this is the end of the world, or what great things are coming […]. Because there was a singular concord and conformity between this Franciscan reform and that of the Church, being the start of the reform of the Franciscan religious life, in the midst of and a sign of that of the Universal Church […]. The religious life of Saint Francis has always been in conjunction with the General Councils.[79]

The second state (1535-1558) was that in which

…it gave form to the Reform and it took the true state of religious life, governing itself religiously, having General and Provincial Chapters and ordinary visitations, and having learned and saintly Prelates ensuring that the Constitutions were well ordered and published.[80]

Continuing to draw the parallel with the Council of Trent, Bellintani affirmed that the first General Chapter (1535-1536) coincided with the Bull convoking the Council itself.[81]

The third state, that which interested the new chronicler of the Order more,

…began […] in the year 1558, in which the government of those Fathers that had come from the Observants passed to those who came from secular life and from other Congregations […]. This state brought to an end the coming of the Observants to the Capuchin Reform, because on several occasions they were blocked by [Papal] Bulls impeding them.[82]

The Observants are held by Bellintani to be “the origin” of the Capuchin reform, but growth in numbers and the geographical expansion brought with them substantial modifications. The most evident was the “ceasing of that initial fervour and ardour for austerity” that characterised the first generation, but also now was the challenge of the ever growing number of old and sick friars; therefore, notes our chronicler “it was a challenge to accommodate them in the friars that were already too distant from farmlands and towns”.[83]

This involved making modifications, but it did not lessen the vital tension that had moved the friars to embrace the religious life. Mattia Bellintani da Salò comments:

Thus the way of life, the friaries, those who live in them and everything else is reduced to a median state and normal religious practice. They do not have the same enthusiasm of spirit that the early founders had. They do not yearn as ardently to achieve the perfection of virtue and the Gospel life. They are satisfied with an ordinary way of life that suits those who are satisfied to achieve what is necessary for salvation, not aspiring to anything beyond that. They do not observe the safer rules provided by the heavenly Donor who see what is in secret.[84]

Bellintani in his defence of the friars living a “median state” and in “normal religious practice” that is less radical than the first friars, is revealing his own personal experience,[85] affirming that the Capuchins could live the road to sanctity also in the “ordinary living” of the religious life.

Two different sensibilities at play? Two different interpretations of the life? Or, perhaps, two different generations of friars living out two specific models of life! The two historiographical positions draw out the travails and the clashes between the old friars and the friars of the new generation who nevertheless also wanted to live authentically the charism of the Capuchin reform, not for the sake of accommodating to the times but so as not to leave the charism behind in the museum of history.

Further considerations on some concrete aspects of the tensions would bring to light how every generation of friars tended towards authenticity and of being a living presence in the body of the Church of the gospel life, after the example of Saint Francis. Their call to holiness was not for themselves alone, but for the greater Good.

6. Conclusion

It can be seen from the characteristic way in which two ancient chroniclers, Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo and Mattia Bellintani da Salò, trace the history the Capuchins in the first fifty years of the birth of the reform, from just the very small sample taken here from the numerous pages of the Cronache and Historie, reveal a richness: the outline of the humanity and the programme of life of the friars in seeking to respond with authenticity to the charism of Francis of Assisi.

One generation of friars follows the other, each expressing a common tension and the texts of the chronicles conserve indelibly the different mentalities and their consequences for the Capuchins. It is not an ideal that is being described, but the events of men in search of God, itinerant, poor, obedient and chaste because they are receptive to the signs of God in the Church, in the fraternity, and in the world itself.[86]

It is also true that the Capuchin reform begins at one of the more pivotal moments in the life of Europe and the Church. It is the time of a new geo-political order, but above all, a new geo-ecclesiastical order having its point of focus in the Council of Trent. The Capuchins could not leave themselves excluded from these events on the pain of extinction.

It is equally true that the Cronache and the Historie were both written in critical moments in the internal life of the Order (1580-1590). The extraordinary increase in numbers lead many to request a return to the origins so as to breath the pure air of the first companions. They were good intentioned requests and not lacking some foundation. A return to the longed for primitive austerity lived by the first Capuchins in their hermitages, in their solitary cells, in their works of charity towards the lepers, led some friars into the phenomenon of the “Magdalene” that did not take account of the complexity of history and the changes that occurred. The problem with the “Magdalenes” was not with the desire to live austerity or poverty in a more radical way, but in the evident risk in having their own places and superiors exclusively for themselves, could not but appear to be the beginning of a new separation.

The two chroniclers, Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo and Mattia Bellintani da Salò, in their writings and in their own selves and personalities, condensed and at the same time represented two mentalities, two generations, each one with its own model of life that found space in which to develop itself, and were now confronting each other. One was the custodian of the charismatic model, which was the model that had already succeeded he eremitical model of Ludovico Tenaglia da Fossobrone, the other was the defender of the conventual model.[87]

What is revealed by these conflicts is a precious indication of how two different styles of life indicated by the chroniclers followed one on to the other as states of the Reform. Each one with its own limitations but also with its own values.

The eremitical model most certainly had a value within itself, we could also say a function within the context of the Observants, giving hope to those friars who longed to live integrally the Rule and Testament. The men who passed across to the new reform were already tried and proved by the profession of vows as Observants. They were few and aspired to a life of contemplation. According to the judgement of Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo they lived the state “more in conformity with the beginning of the Order and with the time of Father Saint Francis”.[88] Poverty, austerity, demanding forms of apostolate, such as service in the hospitals, did not intimidate the friars, on the contrary, they sought them out. It was the same for manual work, it was not only a means of self-sustenance but also a true sharing in the life of the poor. It was indispensable for forming their own identity. However, they did not account for the fact that the “reform” would increase, that others would want to join them, and the problematics of change this would necessitate.

The charismatic model, that prevailed in the years 1532-1552, shaped the Capuchin reform by way of high-quality personalities, both lay and clerical friars. Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo has gathered together accounts of these men in his biographies.

The numerical increase registered in these years with the entry of great spiritual and charismatic tempered men, carried with it the first big problem: the government of the fraternity and, as a consequence, the modality in which new vocations were to be welcomed.[89] The new arrivals imposed themselves on the Order, forming a hierarchy, drawing up a new legislative apparatus that to many of the original group seemed to lessen the spirit of contemplation. Ultimately, they gave to the “Reform […] the true state of Religious life”,[90] giving equilibrium to the contemplative and active life.

Preaching, by way of the pragmatic activity of Bernardino Tomassini da Siena, called Ochino, made the Capuchins known at the great Italian courts, but it dangerously moved the centre of gravity that had been so painstakingly reached. In fact, manual work was gradually eliminated so as not to make a “congregation of shopkeepers”, as was the continuous service to the sick because it was judged not to be an “enterprise for everyone”. They were substituted with prayer and work necessary for the proper functioning of the fraternity. Prayer itself was regularised, establishing a regular times in common for all, knowing that work matters, charity and pastoral activity ran the risk of becoming morally accommodating substitutes.

The Capuchin reform, in its charismatic model, after the apostasy of Ochino was forcibly reigned in to rediscover that preaching was born only from intense prayer and contemplation and could not only be a profession and it could not be an individual exercise. The figure of Ochino was not hidden but used as a reminder to all the friars of the peril of absenting oneself from the life of prayer. The introduction of studies as a necessary preparation for preaching would lead to clericalization of the Order.[91]

The renewed numerical growth experienced in the post-Conciliar years lead the Capuchins, albeit slowly, to embrace the conventual life model. It was a response to the new demands made to the life by the increased numbers of friars.

Faithfulness to the directions of the Church after Trent imposed upon the Capuchins the need for their own houses of study. Faithfulness to the charism of charity imposed on the friars to live this within the fraternity through the care of sick and elderly friars, which required the construction of bigger friaries that were near the centre of the towns and cities.[92] It was manifested that even through the conventual model of the ordinary living of religious life, it was possible to observe the Rule and arrive at sanctity. This is demonstrated by Saint Felice da Cantalice (1515-1587).[93]

The larger number of friars, the life that became comfortable and secure, lacking in precariousness, lead to a relaxation of the rigour of the earlier friars. Mattia Bellintani da Salò notes that while there was a lessening of the common holiness of the first friars, still after 69 years, the Order, unlike some other religious Orders, was not scandalising the world with excesses in laxity but rather, by the grace of God, was giving good example.[94]

The Ordinances of 1596 dedicate a long paragraph to the discoli – the undisciplined, highlights how in this conventual model losing sight of the precarious aspect of poverty (the comfort of a decent bed and a good plate of minestra), was not only theoretically dangerous but had concrete implications in the everyday life of the friars.

The approach of the first century in the life of the Capuchin reform of not remaining only on the macroscopic level in legislation and the chronicle records revealing the detailed life of the friars in its complexity, permits us to look at the first and successive generations of Capuchins without falling into prejudicial judgements of exaltation or indifference.

The Cronache and the Historie transmits to us the vital tension and real conflicts that moved the first generations of Capuchins, offering a pluriformity of models that can also be valuable lessons for the Order today in the discussions amongst ourselves of various tensions over the interpretation, implementation and living of the Capuchin charism.

The first generations of Capuchins, through their own travails and questioning, have left us a way of practical response by way of a pluriformity of models that have not tarnished or weakened the original intuition.

In fact, within the human condition will always be found the imperfections, failed attempts and deviances. However, remembering and treating with respect the complexity of the situations is a necessary condition for the process of discernment in remaining true to our charism, both for ourselves and for the Church.

  1. The term “reform” was most dear to all the early chroniclers; at times it seems to be a boast that the new Franciscan movement represented a “reform”. An example is found in Mattia Bellintani da Salò (+1611) who explains the dynamics of the birth of the reform, its evolutive consequences and the radical consolidation of the Order founded by Francis of Assisi in its parallel and contemporary context to the reform that was occurring within the fabric and life of the universal Church; cf. Historia Capuccina. Pars altera (Monumenta Historica Ordinis Minorum Capuccinorum [= M H O C] VI, 273-277). The Capuchin reform would be tied to the universal reform of the Church which in the Council of Trent had its celebration and visibility.
  2. SERVUS GIEBEN, La storiografia cappuccina, oggi e domani, in Le Origini della Riforma Cappuccina. Atti del Convengo di studi storici, Camerino 18-21 settembre 1978, Ancona 1979, 323-340.
  3. MELCHIOR A POBLADURA, Historia Generalis Ordinis Fratrum Minorum Capuccinorum, 4 voll. in 3 tomi, Romae 1947/1948 /1948/1951.
  4. These works were published in the period of 1939 to 1955 and constitute the first seven volumes of “Monumenta Historica Ordinis Minorum Capuccinorum”. There are the three Relazioni of Mario d Mercato Saraceno redacted in the years 1565-1569, 1578-1579 and 1580 (MHOC I); the three-part work of Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo, in order, la Semplice et divota istoria, 1580 (MHOC II), la Vitae fratrum, 1582-1584 (MHOC III) and la Ratio vivendi fratrum, 1584-1594 (MHOC IV); the Historia of Mattia Bellintani da Salò, composed of two parts and compiled in the years 1587-1600 (MHOC V-VI); finally, the work of Paolo Vitelleschi da Foligno, 1620-1625 (MHOC VII). This last work was not recognised by his superiors and was published for the first time in 1955 in the collection: Monumenta Historica Ordinis Capuccinorum, with the title: Origo et Progressus Ordinis Fratrum Minorum Capuccinorum.
  5. Cf. the essential and foundational study on the Constitutions by Fidel Elizond, who between 1975 and 1980 published in the Laurentianum a series of studies that allow for the comparison between the legislation and the chronicles, between the juridical sources and the daily life of the friars (cf. note 11).
  6. STANISLAO DA CAMPAGNOLA, “L’esperienza dei primi decenni di vita cappuccina in alcuni studi recenti”, in Laurentianum 4 (1963) 497-516.
  7. O. VAN ASSELDONK, “Le reforme des Frères Capucins dans l’Ordre Franciscain et dans l’Eglise”, in Lettere e Spirito. Tensione vitale nel francescanesimo ieri e oggi, I, Roma 1985, 129-255. The article was published for the first time in Collectanea Franciscana 35 (1965) 5-108.
  8. O. SCHMUCKI, “Preghiera e vita contemplativa nella legislazione e vita dei primi Frati Minori Cappuccini”, in Le Origini della Riforma Cappuccina, 353-374.
  9. C. URBANELLI, Storia dei Cappuccini delle Marche, 3 voll. in 4 tomi, Ancona 1978-1984.
  10. C. CARGNONI, “Alcuni aspetti del successo della Riforma Cappuccina nei primi cinquant’anni (1525-1574)”, in Le Origini della Riforma Cappuccina, 235ss; “Sviluppo della riforma cappuccina nella storiografia dei primi cronisti”, in Italia Francescana 54 (1978) 389-408.
  11. F. ELIZONDO, “Las Costituciones capuchinas de 1529: En el 450 aniversario de su redaccion eb Albacina”, in Laurentianum 20 (1979) 389-440; “Las costituciones capuchinas de 1536. Texto, fuentes, lugares, paralelos”, in Estudios Franciscanos 83 (1982) 143-252; “Las costituciones capuchinas del 1552”, in Laurentianum 21 (1980) 206-250; “Costituciones capuchinas de 1575: En tornio a un centenario”, in Laurentianum 16 (1975) 3-52; “Regola francescana presso i primi cappuccino”, in Italia Francescana 53 (1978) 625-666.
  12. MHOC IV, 196.
  13. MHOC II, 259; MHOC VI, 273ss.
  14. MHOC VI, 352. Cf. Melchior a Pobladura, Historia generalis I, 63; 175; C. Cargnoni, «Fonti, tendenze e sviluppi della letteratura spirituale cappuccina primitiva», in Collectanea Franciscana 48 (1978) 39 ss.
  15. From 1565 until 1580 the task of chronicler was carried out by Mario Fagiani da Mercato Saraceno (+1580) who wrote three short Relazioni that covered the years 1525-1542. The first Relazione, written in 1565 on account of the desire of Cosimo I de’ Mecici to know who the Capuchins were. The second, written in 1569, was at the request of the Cardinal Protector, Giulio Antonio Sartori; finally, the third, written in 1580, was the reply to the polemics provoked by Giuseppe Zarlino who wrongly attributed Paolo Barbieri da Chioggia as the founder the Capuchin reform, rather than Matteo Serafini da Bascio.
  16. MHOC II, 259. Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo came from the Observants, which he had entered in 1532 but two years later passed to the Capuchins. These were the years of the greatest exodus from the Observants to the new reform; it was the arrival of these personalities that would have a great influence in the immediate years following. Except for two or three, he knew all the friars of the very first generation.
  17. MHOC VI, 273ff. Mattia Bellintani da Salò entree the Order as a layman when the ecclesiastical event of the 16th century, the Council of Trent, had celebrated its first session. Bellintani lived in a time of new sensibilities where there were no longer the contrasting positions within the Franciscan movement that always give vitality to the life of the Order itself, to the new reality of the reform being within the Church itself.
  18. To highlight the changes that occurred within the nascent Capuchin reform with the publications of the Tridentine decrees it would be sufficient to take a look at the Prologue of the Constitutions of 1575 that affirms: “But since the sacred Council of Trent, and the Supreme Pontiff, have issued Decrees which it was necessary to insert into these Ordinances of ours, the Reverend Father General and Definitors have thought fit, with the consent of the whole Chapter, held in Rome in the year 1575, to reprint the same Statutes with the additions required by the aforesaid Decrees of the Council and of the Supreme Pontiff. These statutes are as follows:”.
  19. Bernardino Tomassini wrote to the Marchesa di Pescara, Vittoria Colonna: What more can I do in Italy? Preach under suspicion and preach Christ always in a masked way? Many times I have needed to blaspheme Him to satisfy the superstition of the world, and more than this, it is enough for any bad spirited person to write to Rome about me and the we will return immediately to the same tumult… (Letter to Vittoria Colonna, 22 August 1542, in Fonti Cappuccine [=FC] II, 261).
  20. MHOC IV, 259.
  21. MHOC I, 438.
  22. MHOC VI, 158-172. It was Mattia Bellintani da Salò who in his Chronicle has transmitted the text. He individualises Ludovico Tenaglia da Fossombrone as responsible for the first redaction of the text, qualifying it as a true and proper legislative apparatus: “Constitutions that were done at Albacina”. The majority of Capuchin scholars consider this text to be a simple declaration of some norms, rather than an attempt to regulate the reform at its very beginning, thus excluding it from being a true and proper legislative apparatus (cf. FC I, 166-167).
  23. Religionis Zelus, in FC I, 61-69.
  24. In August of 1529 this first nucleus of friars was joined by a group of friars from Calabria, guided by Ludovico Comi from Reggio Calabria and Bernardino Molizzi from Reggio Calabria.
  25. From the Franciscan sources that the first Capuchins had at their disposal, they made use of what had an immediate and sure resonance of reform: “For their teaching they took up the experience and instruction of the Seraphic Father which have been written for general use in the books of our Order. These are the Conformities, the Chronicles of the Order, the Legends of Saint Bonaventure and that which was written by the Three Companions of the Seraphic Father Saint Francis: Brother Leo, Brother Angelo and Brother Rufino” (MHOC IV, 4).
  26. MHOC IV, 42.
  27. MHOC IV, 195-196. Mattia Serafini da Bascio, when he was still with the Observants, served the plague-stricken during the epidemic that struck Camerino in 1523. Together with the Tenaglia brothers and Paolo da Chioggia, the four of them together placed themselves in service among the plague victims of Camerino in 1527. It was from this experience that they won the admiration of Caterina Cibo, Duchess of Camerino.
  28. Cf. Alb., 4; Const. 1536, 70. The Chronicles insist on referring to them living in places of solitude but at the same time in fraternity (MHOC, 42).
  29. Cf. Const. 1536, 25-26.
  30. MHOC IV, 194-195.
  31. Ibid., 195: “Because of this, many Capuchins who knew how to do certain fitting jobs worked, such as weaving, sewing garments, making shoes, bags, baskets and similar things. In many friaries they organised looms, just as I saw with my own eyes at Saint Nicholas in Rome where they had four or five looms. They earned almost enough for the food of all the Friars. The same in Genoa where they wove very valuable cloth and also distilled herbs. In this way most houses almost lived from their own work”. MHOC III, 134: When it occurred that he [Benedetto da Subiaco] and the other Friars ate what they obtained with their own efforts, he often joined his hands and raised his eyes to heave. He was often seen to weep. He said, “May God be thanked! The desire I have always had to live by labour is now fulfilled”.
  32. He as born in 1502 at Hasselt (Belgium), he was a Doctor of Philosophy from the Leuven, he entered the Observants in 1523 and passed to the Capuchins in the province of Romagna in the years 1535-1536. He died on 12 September 1537.
  33. MHOC II, 281.
  34. MHOC III, 176.
  35. MHOC VI, 183.
  36. MHOC III, 176.
  37. MHOC II, 368.
  38. In Suprema militantis fed hope amongst those of the Observants who believed the moment of reform within the Observants themselves had arrived, but the obtuseness of the General Minister, Paolo Risotti, dashed this hope.
  39. MHOC III, 259. “So then the poor Capuchin Congregation could lift its head in the world because the coming of these great men and their preaching made the Congregation very celebrated throughout the world. This was especially so among the Prelates of Holy Church” (MHOC II, 258).
  40. The chronicle of Sister Caterina Guarnieri of Osimo, Poor Clare and chronicler of the monastery of S. Lucia of Foligno. She notes, but under the year of 1532, with the Capuchin friars having arrived in Foligno already in 1530, that a group of friars have come forth, in the time of Pope Clement, called “scappucin”. She says that they are true friars, and that they literally observe the Rule of holy Francis; they wear habits of coarse and dark material and with pointed cowls and they go barefoot and live from day to day, in such a way that the people hold them in great devotion, and many of the Observant friars are joining them” (cf. FC II, 417).
  41. MHOC IV, 44.
  42. MHOC, IV, 196.
  43. Ibid., 197.
  44. Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo notes that the charitable exercises were moderated by Francesco Jesi (MHOC IV, 1979), but he was Vicar General from 1543 to 1549, therefore, some years after the exit of Ludovico Tenaglia da Fossombrone and the death of Francesco Tittelmans da Hasselt.
  45. MHOC, IV, 198.
  46. Ibid.
  47. Francesco Ripanti was born in Jesi in 1469 and studied both canon and civil law at Perugia without obtaining a doctorate. At the death of the bishop, his fellow citizens wanted him as their bishop, but Ripanti left everything and entered the Observants. His superiors had him continue his studies but in theology, at which he excelled (cf. MHOC VI, 119), becoming an expert in the school of Scotus (MHOC, III, 74). Having obtained permission from the Apostolic See, he began preaching in the cities of the Marches, but did not obtain the fruits he hoped for and returned to his contemplation and solitary life, to which he believed God had called him (cf. MHOC, IV, 120). He remained living a such for fourteen years, hoping for a reform within the Observants, and hearing about the Capuchin reform a great desire came upon him for this life of perfection (cf. MHOC, VI, 212). He went to Rome to find Ludovico Tenaglia da Fossombrone, but here his hopes were dashed because the Brief of Clement VII, Cum sicut accepinus, forbad the passage of Observants to the Capuchins. He spent some time imprisoned by the Conventuals but was eventually invested in the Capuchin habit at Camerino in 1534. In 1535 he was elected a General Definitor, which was reconfirmed in 1538 and 1541. He was Commissioner from 1542-1543, after the flight of Ochino, and elected Vicar General at the Chapter in 1543. He terminated his mandate in 1546, returning to his land of the Marches, dying in the friary of Montemalbe in 1549.
  48. Cf. MHOC, VI, 128.
  49. The questionnaire, in Latin, is recorded by Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo in his Ratio vivendi fratum, Ministri et vicare generals, Cardinales protectors (MHOC IV, 127-132).
  50. MHOC VII, 278-279.
  51. B. NICOLINI, Ideali e passioni dell’Italia religiosa del Cinquecento, Bologna 1962.
  52. Cf. C. CARGNONI, «Fonti, tendenze e sviluppi della letteratura spirituale cappuccina primitiva», in Collectanea Franciscana 48 (1978) 340.
  53. MHOC VI, 122. The reason for the lack of contemplation in Ludovico is given as him being occupied completely with the defence of the reform.
  54. MHOC VI, 128.
  55. Ibid., 114.
  56. He entered the Observants and was a few times the Provincial Minister of the Roman Province. He passed to the Capuchins in 1533, becoming the successor to Ludovico Tenaglia in the tumultuous Chapter of 1535. Because of an illness he renounced the office in 1538 and was substituted by Bernardino Tomassini da Siena (Ochino), but after Ochino’s apostasy and three years of Francesco Ripanti as Vicar General, he was re-elected Vicar General in the Chapters of 1546 and 1549. He participated in the first period of the Council of Trent. He died at Rome in 1557.
  57. BARNARDINUS AB ASTI, Memoriale, in EDUARDUS ALENCONIENSIS, Tribulationes Ordinis fratrum minorum capuccinorum primis annis pontificatus Pauli III (1534-1541), Romae 1914.
  58. Cf. MHOC VI, 24-25.
  59. Ibid., 26.
  60. MHOC IV, 9.
  61. Bernardino Palli d’Asti, Rallegratevi sempre, Castrogiovanni 6 giugno 1548, in Litterae circulares superiorum generalium Ordinis fratrum minorum capuccinorum (1548-1803), in lucem editae a P. Melchiorre a Pobladura (MHOC VIII), Romae 1960, 4-6. It has been recently re-edited by Costanzo Cargnoni in FC II, 831-833, but without the critical apparatus present in the edition of P. Melchiorre da Pobladura. The variations are often important for understanding more deeply the life of the first Capuchins.
  62. Cf. MHOC VI, 32-34: Bernardino Palli d’Asti, Piccola dicharazione.
  63. Cf. MHOC VI, 283.
  64. Cf. Ibid., 279.
  65. MHOC III, 77.
  66. See footnote 15 above about the Relazioni.
  67. For an exhaustive biography cr. C. URBANELLI, Storia dei cappuccino delle Marche, II-III, Ancona, 1978-1984.
  68. The manuscript is conserved in the General Archives of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. Rome AB2.
  69. GIROLAMO DA MONTEFIORE, Alli divoti lettori, in FC II, 929.
  70. MHOC II, 11. The letter is dated 21 March 1580 and addressed to Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo to thank him for his work. It is published in the Introduction to his Semplice et Divota Historia.
  71. GIROLAMO DA MONTEFIORE, Alli divoti lettori, in FC II, 929.
  72. METODIO DA NEMBRO, Salvatore da Rivolta e la sua Cronaca, Milano 1973, 47-48.
  73. MHOC VI, 310-311.
  74. Ibid., 352.
  75. Ibid., 352.
  76. MHOC II, 3.
  77.  “I was in the Congregation at that time. On rethinking it carefully I say that the more glorious period that ever was in our Congregation was between 1528 and 1533 because it was more in conformity with the beginning of the Order and with the time of Father Saint Francis. I do not deny that the second state of the Congregation until 1543 was more glorious before the world. Nor do I deny that there was a great number of more learned Friars and great preachers. However since the Order of the Seraphic Francis is founded on humility, poverty, despising oneself and on holy and perfect contemplation, the Congregation was never more conformed to those things they call perfection as it was in that first period. There it truly renewed the first state of the Order with every degree of perfection. The habit, life, humility, despising of the word and the true contemplation which Francis had with his companions were all made present in the world” (MHOC II, 259).
  78. MHOC VI, 414-420. Perhaps this is the characteristic, burning for the truth, of his historiography.
  79. Ibid., 277.
  80. Ibid., 277.
  81. PAOLO II, Ad Dominici gregis curam, 2 June 1536.
  82. MHOC VI, 279.
  83. Ibid., 279ff.
  84. Ibid., 281.
  85. “In the year 1582 the place where the Provincial Chapter was celebrated was Milan, in which the above-mentioned Fr Mattia (da Salò) was confirmed. He was called to Rome for the extravagance of his governing” (METODOIO DA NEMBRO, Salvatore da Rivolta e la sua Cronaca, Milano 1973, 77). The contingent fact that leads to the suspension of Mattia Bellintani da Salò from his office as Provincial Minister is his allowing the use of dairy products on days of fasting. Mattia, on his part, considering the tiredness of the friars due to their engagement in pastoral ministry, especially in Valtellina, territory on the frontier with the Protestants of Grisons, sought to mitigate the rigidity of the table food. He was denounced by a lettore of studio [Reader: a university lecturer of the highest grade below professor] at Milan, who opposed Mattia so much by his arguments that Mattia was called to Rome and suspended from his responsibility as Provincial (cf. VALDEMIRO DA BERGAMO, I conventi cappuccino della provincial Milanese, I, Crema 1898, 176-178).
  86. Cf. MHOC II, 259p VI, 273-281.
  87. It is important to understand how the two chroniclers present and evaluate the evolution that has taken place in the history of the Order. For this, see Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo, Ratio vivendi fratrum (MHOC IV, 198) and for Mattia Bellintani da Salò, the conclusion of the chapter in which he speaks of the Tre stati della Congregatione capuccina (MHOC VI, 280-282).
  88. MHOC II, 259.
  89. Mattia Bellintani da Salò notes that being a turbulent phase “it was not possible to judge well who was guided by a good spirit and who by a bad one, but almost all were received indifferently” (MHOC VI, 273).
  90. Ibid., 277.
  91. Bernardino Cioli da Colpetrazzo was clear in indicating the two resulting groups: “The one who works at holy prayer, holy Offices, holy studies or at preaching is doing a great work. Our Lay Friars spend their time well when they work at the duties and offices of the Order” (MHOC IV, 198).
  92. Cf. MHOC VI, 281.
  93. He entered the Capuchins in 1543 and for forty years faithfully carried out his task of questor in the streets of Rome. He is the representative figure of this period. He adapted himself to the contemplative life lived out in the conventual structure.
  94. Cf. MHOC VI, 281.