The Capuchin reform: what’s in a name?

Table of Contents

Historiography and nomenclature

In 1990, John C. Olin in the Preface to his Catholic Reform: From Cardinal Ximenes to the Council of Trent 1495-1563 wrote:

Let me note at the outset that the subject I am about to deal with is complex and fraught with a number of historiographical and interpretive problems… I assume that Catholic reform at this time is a coherent and constructive movement deserving close attention. It is an assumption that some historians may not readily accept and that some may feel incongruous with a general interpretation they themselves profess.[1]

Within the nine pages of the Preface, Olin uses the following nomenclature:

Reform; Reformation; Protestant Reformation; Catholic Reformation; Catholic reform; Counter-Reformation; Aggiornamento; reform movement; reform efforts that remained within the Catholic fold.

In the same Preface the following descriptions of the intention of reform can be found:

Religious renewal and reform; religious change and revival; to correct ills in the Church and reinvigorate its life and mission; renewal and reform within the framework of the Church’s teaching and authority; defence of the institution and the struggle to maintain and restore it; survival and revival of the Catholic faith; revitalise the faith and life of the Catholic Church; process of inner renewal and outward adaptation; “a continual state of rebuilding”; “not simply a return to the past but rather an assimilation of tradition and an adaptation to present needs and problems. Aggiornamento …” (Henri de Lubac).

Paul Akio Sawada reviews[2] Olin’s book:

What makes the reviewer somewhat uneasy is the ambivalent way the key concept ‘Catholic Reform’ is employed. Olin clearly rejects on one hand the older concept of Catholic Reformation (= Counter-Reformation) in the sense of an anti-movement that emerged to oppose the Lutheran Reformation, and replaces it with the newer concept labeled Catholic Reform(s) that had begun even before the appearance of Luther. On the other hand, Olin uses the two terms Reform and Reformation almost interchangeably, and at times Catholic Reform is called Counter-Reformation. This ambiguity could have been avoided if, instead of following, Evennett’s frame of reference, Olin had chosen Jedin’s approach as explicated in Katholische Reformation oder Gegenreformation? and Reformation, Katholische Reform und Gegenreformation, as adopted by the Protestant church historian Kurt Dietrich Schmidt.

According to Jedin, there had been all kinds of reformationes membrorum from below in the Church since the late fourteenth century. That was the first period of the spontaneous, inner-Catholic reform movement which should be called Catholic Reform. While the ripples of the Selbstreform[3] movement had been prevented from becoming a large stream due to the lack of reform zeal in the higher strata of the ecclesial structure, the Lutheran reform movement broke out, taking on a gradually revolutionary character to become the Protestant Reformation. The second period of Catholic Reform was opened when the ripples of reformationes membrorum penetrated into the papacy, and became a stream of the whole church under the guidance of Pope Paul III. Luther’s Reformation functioned as a stimulus for the second period of Catholic Reform, yet the true source of life of this period was to be found in the vitality of reformatio membrorum of the first period. There is thus clear continuity between the two periods, as between Libellus ad Leonem (1517) and the Consilium (1537), between Egidio of Viterbo and Girolamo Seripanda, between Ludolf of Saxony’s Vita Christi and Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. A great event of the second period was the founding of the Society of Jesus, the most important being the Council of Trent with its decreta de fide (1545-47, 1551-52). The third period of Catholic Reform, according to Jedin, was ushered in when the Council of Trent concretized the pastoral reform ideals in the form of decreta de reformatione (1556-63). The fourth period, stretching into the seventeenth century, witnessed the implementing of conciliar reform decrees throughout the Universal Church. Thus, Catholic Reform is to be clearly distinguished from Counter-Reformation. We need both concepts in order to describe two interrelated yet distinct phenomena, one spontaneous and the other reactionary, although not necessarily in a pejorative sense. For the Counter-Reformation to be really effective, it was bound to derive its life from the source of Catholic Reform. Both phenomena often developed along parallel lines and influenced one another. Events, men, women and institutions often belonged to the history of both movements, as did Thomas More, the Society of Jesus, and the Council of Trent.

Adam Patrick Robinson tackles the difficulty of historiography and nomenclature for this period towards the beginning of the Introduction of his book, The Career of Cardinal Giovanni Morone (1509-1580): Between Council and Inquisition[4]. It is a long quote but well worth exploring in full. He writes:

‘Catholic Reformation’, Evangelismo and Other Things: The Wider Historiography

‘What’s in a name?’ asks John W. O’Malley at the outset of his work on the historiography of Catholicism in the early modern era.[5] O’Malley proceeds to discuss different terms used to describe the Catholic situation in the period from what in conventional historiography has been known as the Reformation, down to the end (roughly) of the eighteenth century. For the American, although categories such as Catholic Reform, Counter Reformation, Tridentine Catholicism and Social Disciplining, etc., each have their particular merits, none on their own adequately describes the totality of the Catholic scene. They are parts of the whole and the best way of describing the whole is to refer to it as Early Modern Catholicism.[6] His contribution to the debate is made from a background of considerable scholarship from both sides of the Council of Trent, itself one of the traditional watersheds. However, it seems unlikely that it will find unanimous acceptance.[7]

In relation to the historiography of the Cinquecento, an important subset deals with the phenomenon known as Italian Evangelism or evangelismo.[8] This contentious and troubled historiographical appellation has links to Catholic Reform or Reformation, the Italian Reformation, the Counter Reformation or Tridentine Catholicism, to point to the obvious categories and the ones with which this book will largely be concerned. Per O’Malley, the historiographical picture is in something of a state of flux, and this is particularly so concerning categories like evangelismo, Catholic Reform and Counter Reformation.[9]

It is more than 50 years since Eva-Maria Jung’s intriguing article on the nature of Italian Evangelism and many of the positions she espoused therein have since come to be challenged.[10] Jung traced the origin of the term evangelismo in French historiography (évangelisme) and its application by Hubert Jedin to the similar Italian situation, notably in his immense biography of Girolamo Seripando.[11] For Jedin and Jung, evangelismo was an aspect of the movement christened Catholic Reform that many scholars have detected in the pre-Tridentine Church.[12] In this way, it was essentially orthodox. Hence Jung’s grandiose description of it as the last Catholic reform movement before the Council of Trent and the first ecumenical movement after the German schism.

Although both scholars noted the importance of the issue of justification for many of the proponents of evangelismo as part of a wider spiritual questioning in the early decades of the sixteenth century, they saw the movement’s religious outlook as rather vague and sketchy. Jung called it undogmatic and Jedin argued that it was undefined and fluid: part of the pre-Trent theological milieu that he characterizes as lacking clarity. In the English-speaking world, Philip McNair was one of the first to attack some of these positions.[13] Putting forward rather trenchant views on the way Catholic scholars like Jedin and Jung sought to present evangelismo as orthodox, he was much more insistent on its essentially derivative nature, placing greater emphasis on the issue of justification by faith alone. The perceived influence of the Protestant reformers in this area is still disputed and recent scholarship has shed further light on other key antecedent or contemporaneous currents such as savonarolismo, erasmianism, pre-Luther paolinismo, Augustinianism and, arguably the most important trend, valdesianesimo. These now vie with their contentious cousin for prominence.[14]

Others, like Paolo Simoncelli and the Morone expert, Massimo Firpo, challenge the validity of Catholic Reform as a category or the thesis of autonomous, pre-Tridentine reform seamlessly feeding into the council and the Counter Reformation.[15] Firpo, as much interested in valdesianesimo as anything else, certainly argues for a concerted religious policy on the part of the spirituali including Morone, in the first years of the 1540s.[16] His wider thesis might be briefly stated as follows. Either shortly before, or upon the death of Juan de Valdés in 1541, the circle that had gathered around the enigmatic Spanish thinker dispersed and sought other congenial households. In particular, Marcantonio Flaminio, Pietro Carnesecchi, Vittoria Colonna and others linked up With Pole in Viterbo, in whom they found a kindred spirit and formed what became known as the ecclesia viterbiensis.[17] Within this group, Valdesian spirituality fermented to the extent that they began to espouse ever more radical positions and drift away from Gasparo Contarini, hitherto the leading figure in evangelismo. After the Venetian’s death, the Pole group was left as the most prominent faction.

Firpo contests the view of the spirituali as an esoteric group of churchmen and noblewomen with an intense, radical, perhaps heretical, but ultimately private spirituality. According to the Italian, they undertook a conscious and audacious campaign of propaganda to publicize their agenda with the use of the pulpit and the publication and dissemination of suspect literature especially the tract known as the Beneficio di Cristo. It was a campaign conducted against the background of the rise of dissident groups in Italian cities like Modena, Lucca, Naples and Venice. Morone’s induction into this group represented an important coup, given his status in the Sacred College and his initial appointment as one of the council legates. The approaching assembly was a key component in their hopes, and it was the Decree On Justification (1547) and the rejection of the Beneficio di Cristo, which signalled the defeat of their enterprise.[18]

Certainly, the weight of studies has gradually revealed a clearer picture of the extent to which the ideas and currents of thought associated with evangelismo were prevalent, not only among the elite, but more widely amongst the men and women of the towns and cities of northern Italy and also penetrating the religious orders.[19] Indeed, should the term evangelismo be applied to so wide a range of people? Are the groups of artisans turned up in studies such as John Martin’s on Venice to be classed alongside Contarini, the Viterbo circle and Morone? The category of evangelismo is arguably being asked to do too much. Others have tried to avoid the problem by utilizing a term some of the protagonists themselves used for the leading figures of the movement: the spirituali.[20] This raises the question whether spirituali and evangelicals are coterminous or whether the spirituali formed a smaller group with links to the wider current of evangelismo? Certainly, recent scholarship has tended to avoid the latter in favour of the former. However, judgments still have to be made about individuals. Perhaps we should speak of ‘Catholic Evangelism’ in order to delineate its supporters from their more obviously heterodox contemporaries like Ochino, Vermigli and Vergerio who chose exile, or from the shipwrights of Venice and shopkeepers of Modena? Part of the problem is the sometimes shifting reality of an individual’s religious trajectory as their life and career unfolded.

In dealing with the leading figures associated with evangelismo, a number of scholars (Firpo, Simoncelli, Fragnito) have argued for something of a power struggle at the heart of the Church between the spirituali including Morone on the one hand, and other more conservative churchmen: the so-called zelanti or intransigenti, such as Gian Pietro Carafa (Paul IV).[21] Their analysis of curial politics might be unfairly caricatured along the lines of moderates or progressives versus hardliners or conservatives: doves versus hawks. Some scholars tender criticism precisely in this way, arguing that such a thesis lacks subtlety. They argue that some of the old judgments about individuals are no longer sound or lack sufficient nuance, or that analysis along such lines risks projecting modern preoccupations and sensibilities back into the past. Instead, some utilize the term ‘humanist reformers’ as a category and Thomas Mayer has written of a larger ‘reform tendency’, which breaks down over the course of the middle years of the Cinquecento.[22]

Thus, it seems that for some, the category of evangelismo either needs to be shelved or has to be applied with more circumspection. Gleason, having seemingly been prepared to use the term in connection with Contarini, does not mention evangelismo in a later essay, adopting the usage of spirituali, and giving a definition that seems to claim them as essentially orthodox.[23] Mayer’s study of Pole was not greatly concerned with the issue of evangelismo and he has preferred to pursue his subject along other schematic and analytical channels. Nevertheless, evangelismo still rears its head in the scholarly literature and, despite criticism, the notions of Catholic Reform or of a Catholic Reformation certainly still have currency.[24]

Both Jedin and Jung saw evangelismo as a transitory phenomenon. Jung regarded it as important for a decade between 1532 and 1542, although she was aware of its antecedents and of aspects of its subsequent influence. Jedin saw evangelismo as part of the fluid religious state between the dawning of the Protestant Reformation and the hardening of positions on both sides, which came principally for the Catholic side with Trent: a component of his Catholic Reform sliding into Counter Reformation thesis.[25] Delio Cantimori argued for a more lengthy and complex chronology. The Italian accepted 1542 as a turning point for the movement, but regarded this date as the start of a middle crisis period running until 1560. This central period was sandwiched between a formative period and a second wave that lasted until about 1580.[26]

Thus, Jung’s chronology for evangelismo has come to be viewed as far too narrow with her choice of a start at 1532 as arbitrary. Cantimori’s more elaborate periodization has also been challenged, both in his choices of 1541/1542 and 1560 as watershed dates and in his choice of 1580 as the terminus ad quem. Indeed, establishing timeframes for many of the historiographical categories jostling for attention in this area is no easy task and precisely one of the difficulties recognized by O’Malley.[27] What relative weight should be attached to the rise of the Inquisition (1541/1542) or the Decree on Justification (1547), the election of Paul IV (1555) or the end of the council (1563)? Gleason has proposed another chronology and model that bears resemblance to a hybrid of Jedin and Cantimori. She argues for a period of pre-conciliar reform ideas and efforts until about 1540, followed by what she categorizes as two decades of ‘survival and defence’ ‐ equating to Cantimori’s first crisis period for evangelismo ‐ and then culminating in a ‘new era’ which she calls the ‘Tridentine Reformation’, taking over a term used by Eric Cochrane.[28]

Indeed, what fate has befallen the council of O’Malley’s title? A feature of much of the recent scholarship has been concern with the activities of the Inquisition (Roman or otherwise)?[29] As well as the processo documentation in respect of Morone, we now have critical editions for the trials of a number of other figures with links to the spirituali or evangelism italiano: for example Pietro Carnesecchi and Bartolomé Carranza to name but two.[30] The importance of the Holy Office and the Index in shaping the development of Catholicism, particularly Italian Catholicism, in the Tridentine period has been thrust to the fore, and has tended to eclipse the Council of Trent as the dominant feature of the landscape.[31] However, the council has not totally lacked for interested scholars and there have been a number of recent additions to the corpus of studies related to the event that both provides a historiographical term, as well as lending its name to 400 years of Catholic culture.[32]

Transmission of lively faith – the kerygmatic, liturgical and service dimensions of the church

At this point I need to state my approach. I want to acknowledge the importance of the historiographical and interpretive problems, dealt with by the scholars quoted above in their particular works, especially Robinson. However, my approach in this course is more concerned with fundamental theology than history, while acknowledging there is no theology worthy of its name that is not immersed in history. Theology is always incarnated in time and place, history and culture.

We are concerned with the transmission of faith, a “viva fede”[33] to use the terminology of the mid sixteenth century Italy. “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Faith comes through the transmission of the living Word, Jesus Christ. This is the drama of every generation; this is the tension of every Christian and community, “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16).

In 2001, John Paul II, on World Communications Day, acknowledge the permanency of this transmission in every period of history, when he preached:[34]

In all cultures and at all times – certainly in the midst of today’s global transformations – people ask the same basic questions about the meaning of life: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life? (cf. Fides et Ratio, 1). And in every age the Church offers the one ultimately satisfying answer to the deepest questions of the human heart – Jesus Christ himself, “who fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his high calling” (Gaudium et spes, 22). Therefore, the voice of Christians can never fall silent, for the Lord has entrusted to us the word of salvation for which every human heart longs. The Gospel offers the pearl of great price for which all are searching (cf. Mt 13:45-46).

In 1 Corinthians 1:21-25, Paul states clearly the content of this proclamation – the kerygma:

21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

After the sanguineous drama of the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the event of the new creation took place. On that Easter morning, the risen Lord commissions Mary Magdalene to announce the good news to the brethren.[35] The risen Lord breathes his life-giving Spirit into Peter, the remaining college of apostles and the other disciples assembled on that Easter evening.[36] The nascent church goes forth in the power of the Spirit and begin to announce the Kerygma. What the risen Lord hands over to them, they begin to hand over to others. The Church is essentially missionary by her very nature. It is this transmission of living faith that is the drama of each generation. This was the drama of the accident waiting to happen that we are calling the Capuchin reform.

The kerygmatic dimension of a lively faith, to hold together the full tradition of the faith, requires two other essential dimensions, the liturgical (which includes prayer and devotion) and that of well-ordered service in charity to others. Pope Benedict XVI expressed this clearly in Deus Caritas Est, n. 25:

The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.

We have already explored this in our course on Theological Foundation of Capuchin Ministry to the Poor. Suffice here to make the connection.

Baptism makes us priests, prophets and kings, with no exceptions or exemptions. We are collaborators and co-responsible for the proclamation of the Word, the sanctification of the people of God and good governance of the Church. The sacrament of Orders confers called and chosen men from amongst the baptised to exercise this threefold ministry as an office within the Church. Priority is always given to the proclamation of the Word in this tripod, it being first amongst equals, since a tripod cannot remain standing on only one or two legs. It is this priority, the kerygmatic, that will be the chosen element to enter into our gaze at the Capuchin reform.

Contemporary analyses of the need for reform

Reform in the 16th century was being sought within all dimensions of the Church: hierarchy, consecrated life, laity and secular (Emperor, Kings, dukes, aristocracies of regions and towns, merchants, artisans, peasants and so forth). Let us look at three key primary texts to develop some sense of the problems perceived and the reforms being recommended. This will serve to give us other angles on the contemporary situations in which the Capuchin reform unfolds.

We will look at the opening address of the Augustinian, Egido of Viterbo at the Fifth Lateran Council (1512). We will read through the final section of the Libellus ad Leonum X (1513), the letter of two Camaldolese hermits to the newly elected Pope. Finally, we will also read through Consilium de emendanda ecclesia (1537) that involves Gasparo Contarini and other key reforms at the time leading into the Council of Trent. Contemporary analysis of the need for reform in the 16th century will manifest some key elements that we can then discern within the Capuchin Constitutions of 1536, such as, to give only one example here, renunciation of privileges and submitting to the local bishops as a reforming endeavour to work with bishops who both reside in their see and carry out a serious pastoral strategy.[37]

Socio-political and ecclesial context

The transition (late medieval to early modern) from predominantly feudal systems to the birth of the city-states and national powers was unfolding. Discovery was being actively promoted both in science and geographically in the “New World”. The mercantile production and trade were accelerating, and capital was becoming the new economic force and underbelly of politics. Urbanisation of population centres accelerated with the consequent development of new forms of welfare systems. The Papacy, after moving back to Rome from Avignon and the end to Western Schism, was re-aligning itself as a city-state and conciliarism was a lively question. The signing of the Treaty of Lodi and the formation of the Italic League in 1454 established a relative period of peace between the five principal states of the Italian peninsula (Milan, Venice, Florence, Naples and the Papal State). The forty-five years of peace finished with the beginning of the Italian Wars in 1494 that would endure until 1559. The wars would involve a large part of Europe, especially France and Spain. Meanwhile, by 1529 the Ottoman army was besieging the gates of Vienna.[38]

Egidio da Viterbo’s Address to the Fifth Lateran Council (1512)

It is five years before Pope Leo X will issue the bull, Ite Vos, and Martin Luther will publish his 95 theses on indulgences.

The Fifth Lateran Council opened in Rome on May 3, 1512. It had been delayed by three weeks due to the defeat of the Spanish-Papal army by the French League at Ravenna on Easter Sunday. This event in itself could serve as a paradigm of the state of Europe. Muslim armies growing in strength and becoming a direct threat to the secular powers of Christendom, while it rips itself apart in continual power struggles. The sanguineous battle at Ravenna on the most holy of days for Christians being an outstanding example, which as we see below is not lost sight of by Egidio of Viterbo.

Egidio (Giles) of Viterbo was the General of the Augustinian Order. He was a renowned scholar and preacher in Italy. He was called upon to give an opening address to the gathered assembly. He makes a dramatic appeal for reform. His description of reform found in the address is “to root out vice, to arouse virtue, to catch the foxes who in this season swarm to destroy the holy vineyard, and finally to call fallen religion back to its old purity, its ancient brilliance, its original splendor, and its own sources.”[39] His stated purpose of reform is that “men must be changed by religion, not religion by men… But celestial and human things, being subject to movement, long for renewal… restored in a continual renewal.”[40]

One of the necessary instruments of reform are Councils: “And as no living things can long survive without nourishment from food, so man’s soul and the Church cannot perform well without the attention of Councils.”[41]

His diagnosis: princes and nations of Christendom are warring against each other and against the hierarchical Church[42] out of “greedy desires for human things”,[43] “to the immense profit of Mohammed”. [44]

His prognosis: “But our weapons, to use the words of the Apostle, are piety, devotion, honesty, prayers, offerings, the shield of faith, and the arms of light [Eph. 6:13-17; Rom. 13:2],[45] … by the merits of the saving Cross and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which are jointly commemorated today, [the Church] is cleansed from every stain it has received and is restored to its ancient splendour and purity.”[46]

Let us now read and discuss Egidio da Viterbo’s Address to the Fifth Lateran Council.

Libellus ad Leonem (1513)

In 1526, after the Minister General John of Fano appeals to the Pope, accusing Lodovico and Raffaele Fossombrone of being apostates in seeking to form a fraternity with Matteo di Bascio, they seek refuge amongst the Camaldolese hermits at Massaccio. We know this from a first-hand account left by Paolo (Tomasso) Giustiniani (1476-1528), who was at that time the Visitor of the hermitage. [47]

Paolo Giustiniani is sympathetic to the Fossombrone brothers, as he too is a reformer. Giustiniani and Vincenzo Querini (1479-1514) were friends with Gasparo Contarini (1483-1542) in Padua, where all three studied at the university. Giustanini and Querini were Venetian nobles. All three remained friends, even after going their separate ways into public careers that took them to different theatres of diplomacy. From 1505 until 1510 they are meeting regularly, along with other likes minded laymen, at the residence of Giustiniani on Murano, Venice. They were seeking to reform their lives to the gospel as laymen. In 1510 Giustiniani enters the Camaldolese hermitage near Arezzo and a year later he is joined by Querini.[48] Together they set on a reform in which they “aimed to return the Camaldolese order to the purity of its original, rather strict, rule…”[49]

Giovanni de’Medici is a friend of the pair and he is elected Pope Leo X in March 1513. Giustiniani and Querini compose a reasonably lengthy letter to him to encourage him to set out on a necessary, timely and substantive reform of the universal Church. Their ecclesiology is universal as the reform encompasses Jews, pagans, Muslims, the separated Eastern Churches and in the final and longest section of the letter, reform of the Roman (European) Church.

Bellito notes that in the language used by the Camaldolese authors “the way forward is to go back and to restore past norms. Reform is an act of restoration that refreshes, but we do not find language of inculturation, accommodation, amelioration, augmentation, or application to changed contemporary contexts …. a rear-guard action instead of a vanguard effort to refresh the church by updating her ancient truths in new contexts. Hence, we find words connoting repair, restoration, correction, and fixing, instead of replacing, renewing, improving, or transforming”.[50]

Giustiniani and Querini believe reform takes place from a top to bottom approach. It begins with the action of the Pope, the calling of regular councils, reform of the Papal curia, both the function and lifestyle of the Cardinals, local Ordinaries, especially in the area of benefices and privileges, addressing residential absenteeism from the ordinary’s see, and the general ignorance of the clergy and religious. Bellito notes that on the local level of the Church the Camaldolese authors encourage Pope Leo X to address “a troubling tendency to superstition caused by poor preaching, catechesis and oversight”.[51] They recommend educating the clergy and religious to a basic level so that they can read and explain the scriptures to the laity. This would best be done in the vernacular.

Let us now read and discuss the final section of Libellus ad Leonum X.

Consilium de emendanda ecclesia (1537)

In preparation for a general Council that was scheduled to meet in Mantua in May 1537 but was then postponed by many years, Pope Paul III commissioned a group of men considered to be on the positive side of reform to prepare a report on the current abuses that needed addressing. The men were Gasparo, Cardinal Contarini, Gian Pietro Carafa, Cardinal of Chieti, Jacopo, Cardinal Sadoleto, Reginald Pole, Cardinal of England, Federigo Fregoso, Archbishop of Salerno, Jerome Alexander, Archbishop of Brindisi, Gian Matteo Giberti, Bishop of Verona, Gregorio Cortese, Abbot of San Giorgio, Venice, Friar Tommaso Badia, Master of the Sacred Palace. They prepared the report over a three month period from late 1536 and the report was presented to the Pope in March 1537.[52]

Let us now read and discuss the Consilium de emendanda ecclesia.

The hermeneutical key: Christ crucified

When all the various church reforms of the various institutions and members of the church of a particular era are amalgamated, the hermeneutical key is always Jesus Christ. It is the same with our own time; the Second Vatican Council document, Gaudium et Spes in article 22 describes the key:

The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come,[53] namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear […] Pressing upon the Christian to be sure, are the need and the duty to battle against evil through manifold tribulations and even to suffer death. But, linked with the paschal mystery and patterned on the dying Christ, he will hasten forward to resurrection in the strength which comes from hope.[54]

The theological tradition expands from Romans 5:14, through Ireneaus’ Homos capax Dei for whom “Christ is the treasure which was hid in the field […] His human nature could not be understood, prior to the consummation of those things which had been predicted, that is, the advent of Christ,”[55] Tertullian’s, De carnis resurrection 6, “The shape that the slime of the earth was given was intended with a view to Christ, the future man,” through the Second Vatican Council (especially GS 22) and into the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997), where Chapter One is entitled “Man’s Capacity for God.” At the centre is always our personal relationship by way of a “lively faith” with Jesus Christ crucified. This will remain the constant theme to be traced throughout the reforms of the 16th century and within the Capuchin reform in particular.

The reforms of the 16th century Italian peninsular and beyond were complex: involving the likes of Catherine of Sienna and other mystics, the Devotio Moderna, Erasmus and the humanists, Franciscan Observants, Camadolese, Ignatius of Loyola, Philip Neri, the Theatines, reforms within the Benedictines and Dominicans, etc. etc.

To attempt to trace a thread through these reforms and, at times, serious loss of Tradition, as occurs with the likes of Bernardino Ochino and Peter Martyr Vermigli, and situate the Capuchin reform within it is well beyond my capabilities! The approach of this course will be to attempt to contextualise important elements of the Capuchin reform into the wider social, political, economic and cultural dimensions of the reforms taking place in the Italian peninsular and beyond. This will be done by engaging with a very minimum of primary sources. From this it is hoped to establish a more fruitful annotated reading of the Capuchin Constitutions of 1536 and 1575 and reviewing the Rule of the Friars Minor (1223) and the Testament of St Francis (1226) by means of some primitive Capuchin commentaries. The hermeneutical key throughout will remain the crucified Christ.

While the hierarchy was seeking ways of reform, the Holy Spirit continued to vivify the members of the church on all levels. Various reform initiatives were taking place synchronously. In the following we will sample some of this variety, through the likes of Margaret Roper, Vittoria Colonna, Michelangelo and various Capuchins.


  1. John C. Olin, Catholic Reform: From Cardinal Ximenes to the Council of Trent 1495-1563. Fordham University Press, New York, 1990. pp. x; xii.
  2. Moreana XXX, 114 (June 1993), 115-119.
  3. Self-reform
  4. Robinson, Adam Patrick, The Career of Giovanni Morone (1509-1580): Between Council and Inquisition. 2012 by Ashgate Publishing. This edition quoted is published 2016 by Routledge, New York. Section quoted is pp. 3-11. I have included the excellent footnotes by Robinson, which also serve to give emphasis to the complexity of the studying the period, especially in that of nomenclature.
  5. John W. O’Malley, Trent and All That: Renaming Catholicism in the Early Modern Era (Cambridge, MA and London, 2000).
  6. O’Malley, Trent and All That, pp. 119ff.
  7. See Wolfgang Reinhard, ‘The Idea of Early Modern History’,’ in Michael Bentley, Companion to Historiography (London and New York, 2002), pp. 281-292. There has been both support and criticism for O’Malley’s thesis. In respect of the former, it is unsurprising to find O’Malley’s terminology taken up in a number of the essays in the Festschrift in his honour: Kathleen M. Comerford and Hilmar M. Pabel (eds), Early Modern Catholicism. Essays in Honour of John W. O’Malley S.J. (Toronto, 2001). On the other side of the fence, see Firpo’s comment in Inquisizione romana, at p. 27 n. 14 and Hillerbrand has recently quibbled with the notion that either ‘early’ or ‘modern’ are apposite terms, see Hans J. Hillerbrand, ‘Was there a Reformation in the Sixteenth Century?’, Church History, 72 (2003): pp. 525‐552 at 543‐545.
  8. See O’Malley, Trent and All That, pp. 83‐85.
  9. On evangelismo, see especially, Elisabeth G. Gleason, ‘On the Nature of Sixteenth-Century Italian Evangelism: Scholarship, 1953‐1978’,’ SCJ, 9, 3 (1978): pp. 3‐25; Susanna Peyronel Rambaldi, ‘Ancora sull’ evangelismo italiano: Categoria o invenzione storiografica’, Società e storia, 18 (1982): pp. 935-967; Anne Jacobson Sehutte, ‘Periodization of Sixteenth-Century Religious History: The Post-Cantimori Paradigm Shift’, JMH, 61 (1989): pp. 269-284, and William V. Hudon, ‘Religion and Society in Early Modern Italy – Old Questions, New Insights’, AHR, 101 (1996): pp. 783-804. For a recent overview of the Italian situation see Massimo Firpo, ‘The Italian Reformation’, in R. Po-chia Hsia (ed.), A Companion to the Reformation World (Oxford, 2004), pp. 169‐184. Indispensable for scholars interested in the Cinquecento is John Tedeschi (in association with J. M. Lattis), The Italian Reformation of the Sixteenth Century and the Diffusion of Renaissance Culture: A Bibliography of the Secondary Literature (ca. 1750-1996) (Modena, 1999), which also has an historiographical essay by Firpo, ‘La Riforma italiana del Cinqueeento: Le premesse storiografiche’, now reproduced in his ‘Disputar di cose pertinente alla fede’: Studi sulla vita religiosa del Cinquecento (Milan, 2003), pp. 11‐66. Of interest too are Adriano Prosperi’s “Riforma Cattolica, controriforma, disciplinamento sociale’, in G. De Rosa, T. Gregory andA. Vauchcz (eds), Storia dell’ltalia religiosa. L’età moderna (Rome and Bari, 1994), vol. 2, pp. 3‐48, and his historiographical ‘Introduzione’ in Maurizio Sangalli (ed.), Per il Cinquecento religioso italiano: Clero, cultura, societa. Atti del Convegno internazionale di studi. Siena, 27-30 giugno 2001 (2 volumes, Rome, 2003), vol. 1, pp. 13‐25.
  10. Eva-Maria Jung, ‘On the Nature of Evangelism in Sixteenth Century Italy’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 14 (1953): pp. 511‐527. On Jung’s article, see Gleason, ‘Italian Evangelism’, p. 3.
  11. Hubert Jedin, Papal Legate at the Council of Trent: Cardinal Seripando (translated from the 1937 original, Girolamo Seripando: Sein Leben und Denken im Geisteskampf, 2 volumes, by Frederic C. Eekhoff, St Louis and London, 1947). The term was used in connection with the reformist circle that gathered around the Bishop of Meaux, Guillaume Briçonnet in the 1520s.
  12. For Jedin on pre-Trent fluidity and the Catholic Reform movement see especially Trent, I, pp. 355‐370 and 410‐445. For his view on the historiographical issues see Riforma Cattolica o controriforma? (Brescia, 1957). See also Hubert Jedin and Giuseppe Alberigo, Il tipo ideale di vescovo seconda la riforma cattolica (Brescia, 1985).
  13. Philip McNair, Peter Martyr in Italy. An Anatomy of Apostasy (Oxford, 1967).
  14. On evangelismo and Savonarola, see Simoncelli, Evangelismo italiano. On Erasmus, see Silvana Seidel Menchi, Erasmo in Italia 1520‐1580 (Turin, 1987).
  15. See for example, Firpo, Inquisizione romana, especially his comments at p. 27, and recently, Vittore Soranzo: vescovo e eretico. Riforma della chiesa e Inquisizione nell’Italia del Cinquecento (Rome-Bari, 2006), especially pp. 8‐10. See also Paolo Simoneelli, Reginald Pole; Evangelismo italiano del cinquecento: questione religiosa e nicodemismo politico (Rome, 1979); ‘Inquisizione romana e Riforma in Italia’, RSI, C (1988): pp. 5-125; and Paolo Prodi, ‘Controriforma e/o riforma eattolica: Superamento di vecchi dilemmi nei nuova panorami storiografici’, Römische historiche Mitteilungen, 31 (1989): pp. 227-2 37. Note the comments of Hudon, ‘Old Questions New Insights’, especially pp. 783‐789.
  16. Valdesianesimo so named after Juan de Valdés (c.1500‐1541), the Spanish thinker, whose religious outlook and its origin have been notoriously difficult to pin down. Valdés had links to the Alumbrado movement and when, at the end of the 1520s, his situation had become too difficult with respect to the Spanish Inquisition, he moved to Rome and a post at the court of Pope Clement VII. His circle of contacts increased and included the Gonzagas (both Cardinal Ercole and Giulia), Pietro Carnesecchi and Peter Martyr Vermigli. After Clement’s death in 1534, he moved to Naples. There he encountered Bernadino Ochino who preached a famous series of Lenten sermons. Valdés’ own spirituality seems to have deepened during these years and the noted Neapolitan circle gathered around him until his death. He wrote a number of commentaries and works of spirituality, later banned, not all of which have come down to us. See Hillerbrand, vol. 4, pp. 212‐214, Jose C. Nieto, Juan de Valde’s and the Origins of the Spanish and Italian Reformation (Geneva, 1970), and the works of Firpo, who believes the Spaniard’s contribution to the Reformation generally has not been fully understood: Massimo Firpo, Tra Alumbrados e ‘spirituali’: Studi su Juan de Valdés e il valdesianesimo nella crisi religiosa del ‘500 italiano (Florence, 1990); Dal sacco di Roma all’lnquisizione: Studi su Juan de Valdés e la Riforma italiana (Alessandria, 1998); and, in English, his overview, ‘The Italian Reformation and Juan de Valdés’, SCJ, XXVII (1996): pp. 353-364.
  17. Marcantonio Villamarino found his way to Morone’s household.
  18. Of Firpo’s numerous studies see particularly: lnquisizione romana, especially pp. 131-180 and 246‐261; ‘Il “Beneficio di Christo” e il concilio di Trento (1542-1546)’, in Cesare Mozzarelli and Danilo Zardin (eds), I Tempi del Concilio: Religione, cultura e società nell’Europa tridentina (Europa delle Corti, Centro studi sulle societa di antico regime, Biblioteca del Cinquecento, Rome, 1997), pp. 225-252; and ‘The Italian Reformation’.
  19. See for example, Susanna Peyronel Rambaldi, Speranze e crisi nel cinquecento modenese: Tensioni religiose e vita cittadina ai tempi di Giovanni Morone (Milan, 1979), or john Martin, Venice’s Hidden Enemies: Italian Heretics in a Renaissance City (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1993), for studies of the penetration of heretical thought in particular places. More generally, see Salvatore Caponetto, The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy (Kirksville, 1998), and Firpo, ‘The Italian Reformation’. Useful also is Agostino Borromeo, ‘Il dissenso religioso tra il clero italiano e la prima attività del Sant’Ufficio romano’, in Maurizio Sangalli (ed.), Per il Cinquecento religioso italiano: Clero, cultura, societa. Atti del Convegno internazionale di studi. Siena, 27‐30 giugno 2001 (2 volumes, Rome, 2003), vol. 2, pp. 455-485.
  20. See Gigliola Fragnito, ‘Gli “spirituali” e la fuga di Bernadino Ochino’, RSI, 84 (1972): pp. 777-813, now in Gasparo Contarini: un magistrato veneziano al servizio della christianità (Florence, 1988), pp. 251‐306, and Dermot Fenlon, Heresy and Obedience in Tridentine Italy: Cardinal Pole and the Counter Reformation (Cambridge, 1972).
  21. See especially Simoncelli, Reginald Pole, his Evangelismo italiano, and ‘Inquisizione romana e eresia’, and Fragnito, Gasparo Contarini, and ‘Evangelismo e intransigenti nei difficili equilibri del pontificato farnesiano’, RSLR, 25 (1989): pp. 20‐47.
  22. See for example William V. Hudon, Marcello Cervini and Ecclesiastical Government in Tridentine Italy (DeKalb, 1992), who feels his misunderstood subject should be classed as one of the ‘humanist reformers’ alongside Contarini. See also his comments in ‘Old Questions New Insights’, especially pp. 794‐796 and 802, and his recent reprise of some of the issues: ‘The Papacy in the Age of Reform’, in Kathleen M. Comerford and Hilmar M. Pabel (eds), Early Modern Catholicism. Essays in Honour of john W. O’Malley S.J. (Toronto, Buffalo and London, 2001), pp. 46‐66. Thomas F. Mayer, Reginald Pole: Prince and Prophet (Cambridge, 2000), also argues for more subtlety in assessing individuals. In partial response to some of this, see Massimo Firpo, ‘Note su una biografia di Reginald Pole’, RSI, CXIII (2001). pp. 859‐874 and his sharp comments, particularly in regard to American scholarship, in Soranzo, pp. 15‐16.
  23. ‘… men and women who desired a serious reform of the Church, and who responded to the Gospel message in a deeply personal way by embracing Pauline spirituality with its emphasis on metanoia …’. Elisabeth Gleason, ‘Catholic Reformation, Counterreformation and Papal Reform in the Sixteenth Century’, in Thomas A. Brady Jr., Heiko A. Oberman and James D. Tracy (eds), Handbook of European History 1400-1600. Volume II: Visions, Programs, and Outcomes (Grand Rapids, 1996), pp. 317-345 at 322. See her Gasparo Contarini: Venice, Rome and Reform (Berkeley and London, 1993).
  24. For example, Firpo, reluctantly, in Inquisizione romana, p. 24, or see Adriano Prosperi’s tentative question, ‘Evangelismo di Seripando?’, in Antonio Cestaro (ed.), Geronimo Seripando e la chiesa del suo tempo nel V centenario della nascita. Atti del convegno di Salerno, 14-16 ottobre 1994 (Rome, 1997), pp. 33-49, to which he gives a qualified yes. Mullett’s Catholic Reformation is an obvious example of the survival of this concept.
  25. Jedin, Riforma cattolica.
  26. See Delio Cantimori, Prospettive di storia ereticale italiana del Cinquecentro (Bari, 1960) and now reproduced in a new edition of Cantimori’s Eretici italiano del Cinquecento (Turin, 1992), pp. 419ff.
  27. O’Malley, Trent and All That, p. 120. See Schutte, ‘Periodization’, and Hudon, ‘Old Questions New Insights’, p. 787. Schutte has recently endorsed a view of early modern Italian Catholicism in terms of disciplining and confessionalization, with 1580 marking the starting line for this ‘process’: Anne Jacobson Schutte, ‘Religion, Spirituality and the Post-Tridentine Church’, in john A. Marino (ed.), Early Modern Italy 1550‐1796 (Oxford, 2002). Firpo situates evangelismo within the tensions and conflicts running through the Catholic world between the sack of Rome (1526) and the election of Pius V (1566), Inquisizione romana, p. 24.
  28. Gleason, ‘Catholic Reformation’. See Eric W. Cochrane, ‘Counter Reformation or Tridentine Reformation? Italy in the Age of Carlo Borromeo’, in John. M. Headley and J. B. Tomaro (eds), San Carlo Borromeo: Catholic Reform and Ecclesiastical Politics in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century (Washington, DC, 1988), pp. 31‐46. Cochrane argues that Counter Reformation is misunderstood as a category, burdened with too many negative connotations and proposes first ‘Tridentine Reformation’, as long as it is not confined to the council, but then at the last gasp seems to proffer the clunking ‘Age of Consolidation’. See also Hudon, ‘Old Questions New lnsights’, where he leans towards ‘Social Disciplining’ as a useful category whilst also backing “Tridentine Reformation’ on similar terms to Cochrane.
  29. Amongst the raft of scholarship, see for example Adriano Prosperi’s, Tribunali della coscienza: Inquisitori, confessori, missionari (Turin, 1996), and his L’Inquisizione romana. Letture e ricerche (Rome, 2003). In English there is Christopher Black’s recent overview, The Italian Inquisition (New Haven and London, 2009).
  30. Massimo Firpo and Dario Marcatto (eds), I processi inquisitoriali di Pietro Carnesecchi (1557‐1567). Edizione Critica (2 volumes, Vatican City, 1998‐2000). In respect of Carranza, see the immense corpus of José Ignacio Tellechea Idígoras especially, Fray Bartolomé Carranza: Documentos Históricos (Madrid, 1962-1994); El Arzobispo Carranza y su tiempo (Madrid, 1968), and El processo romano del Arzobispo Carranza (1567-1576) (Rome, 1988 and 1994).
  31. See Firpo, Soranzo, p. 21. See also the comments of Prosperi about how the Inquisition does not feature in some of the older studies, ‘Riforma cattolica, Controriforma’, pp. 14‐15. Even a recent general work such as Raymond F. Bulman and Frederick J. Parrella (eds), From Trent to Vatican II: Historical and Theological Investigations (Oxford, 2006), can gambol through 500 years with barely a mention of the Holy Office. New work on the Index too and the Congregation of that name is emerging after the opening of the archives of the former Holy Office, see Gigliola Fragnito (ed.), Church, Censorship and Culture in Early Modern Italy (Cambridge, 2001).
  32. Two important recent overviews are, Alain Tallon, Le concile de Trente (Paris, 2000), and Adriano Prosperi, Il Concilio di Trento: una introduzione storica (Turin, 2001), the latter containing useful bibliographical suggestions.
  33. Le Prime Costituzioni (Roma – S. Eufemia 1536) in I Cappuccini Fonti Documentarie e Narrative del Primo Secolo (1525-1619), ed. Vincenzo Criscuolo, Roma 1994, Edizioni Collegio San Lorenzo da Brindisi, n.285 p. 190.
  34. Message of the Holy Father John Paul II for the 35th World Communication Day, Sunday, 27 May 2001, n. 2. As of 1 January 2019 available at
  35. Cf. Jn. 20: 17-18.
  36. Cf. Jn. 20:19-23; also, Lk. 24:36-49.
  37. 1536 Constitutions, Chapter 1: Let them seek to be in the last place according to his counsel and example, while considering that the freedom had in privileges and exemptions so as not to be subject to the Ordinaries, is not only close to pride, but also the enemy of that humble and minoritic subjection… Hence to better conform ourselves to Him and to avoid scandal, the General Chapter renounces the privileges of being free and exempt from Ordinaries…Chapter 6: We also direct that when the friars wish to take up some new place, according to the teaching of the humble Francis, let them go first of all to the Bishop or his Vicar and ask permission to be able to take up the place in his Diocese.
  38. Cf. Fabrizio Conti, Church Reform and Cardinals in Early Modern Italy: Suggestions from the Libellus ad Leonem X (1513) by Paolo Giustiniani and Pietro Querini, Annales Universitatis Apulensis, Series Historica 20, I (2016: 85-95, pp. 85-86.
  39. John C. Olin, Catholic Reform from Cardinal Ximenes to the Council of Trent 1495-1563), Fordham University Press, New York, 1990, p. 48.
  40. Ibid., pp. 48-49.
  41. Ibid., p. 49.
  42. Ibid., p. 53.
  43. Ibid., p. 57.
  44. Ibid., p. 57.
  45. Ibid., p.56.
  46. Ibid., p. 60.
  47. Cuthbert, The Capuchins, Sheed and Ward, London, 1928, Vol. I, p. 40.
  48. Cf. Elisabeth G. Gleason, Gasparo Contarini: Venice, Rome, and Reform, University of California Press, Berkley, 1993, pp. 9-11.
  49. Stephen D. Bowd, Reform before the Reformation: Vincenzo Querini and the religious renaissance in Italy, Brill, Leiden, 2002, p. 13; cf. Christopher M. Bellitto in Chapter 10: Language, Leadership, and Locations of Church Reform in the Libellus ad Leonem Decimum in Nicholas of Cusa and Times of Transition, edited by Thomas M. Izbicki, Jason Aleksander and Donald F. Duclow, Brill, Leiden, 2019, p. 146.
  50. Bellitto, p. 149.
  51. Bellitto, p. 152.
  52. cf., John C. Olin, Catholic Reform: From Cardinal Ximenes to the Council of Trent 1495-1563, Fordham University Press, New York, 1990, p. 114.
  53. Cf. Rom. 5:14. Cf. Tertullian, De carnis resurrectione 6: “The shape that the slime of the earth was given was intended with a view to Christ, the future man.”: P. 2, 282; CSEL 47, p. 33, 1. 12–13.
  54. Catholic Church, “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”, in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).
  55. Irenaeus, Adv. haer. IV 26:1