A detailed summary of
Pietro Maranesi OFM Cap
Le Costituzioni minoritiche: una identità in cammino
In Italia Francescana, n. 2, 2009: 231-266
Prepared by Gary Devery OFM Cap
Table of Contents
- 1. The question of identity: the institutional revision of around 1240
- 2. Bonaventure’s ‘Constitutions of Narbonne’ and their legislative tradition
- 3. The Observant Constitutions of John of Capestrano
- 4. The Capuchin Constitutions
- 5. Conclusion
The work of renewing the Constitutions is a dialectical exercise between the charismatic intuition and the juridical institution, between the ideal inspired by the minoritic life and the need to constantly translate this into concrete and adequate forms of the new contextual situations of history. For the minoritic Order, such a dialectic is expressed in the relationship established, almost from the very beginning, between the stable and unchangeable juridical text which is called the Rule, and its declension in the events of history by way of the diverse and, at times, divergent Constitutions. This dialectic hides an implicit presupposition: the Rule alone is not enough. Although the text of Francis contains the core identity for the inspiration of the Order, it has always needed to be accompanied by another document capable of specifying and articulating in a concrete way the general identity that is contained in the Rule. The many and diverse Constitutions of the minoritic Order tell of this complex reality of a continuing search for identity in the long unfolding of history, held in continuous tension between fidelity to the radical content of the Rule and to a generous and effective engagement in the needs of the people being encountered along the way.
The objective here is not to evaluate the proposals of change that have been put forward in our actual Constitutions. It is more simply an attempt to reconstruct the major outlines of the historical-ideality dynamics that have given life to the principal minoritic Constitutions that follow on from each other from 1239 until the first Capuchin Constitutions in 1536. Retracing this evolution will help us to listen again to the constant characteristics of the redactional processes that arose from the existential travails that combine the self-awareness of the ideal with the constantly new and unpredictable changes demanded by daily life. It is not possible here to reconstruct in detail such a complex and rich history that has given birth to a multitude of Constitutions in the first three centuries of Franciscan history. We want to more simply retrace four major stages, each tied to its own renowned Constitution, assuming them to be reference texts in the process of the development of the self-awareness of the minoritic Order. The first moment is in regard to the forty years between the death of Francis to the Constitutions of Bonaventure, a period in which the Order attempted to elaborate Constitutions without, however, ending up using them, that is, without enforcing them. Bonaventure is given the merit of drawing up the first Constitutions, known by the name of ‘Constitutions of Narbonne’, from the city where the General Chapter of their approval was held in 1260; from here began a second historical period of a broad and troubled series of Constitutions culminating in 1355 with the promulgation of the Farinerian Constitutions. The third stage will be marked by the Capestranensian Constitutions of 1439, a point of arrival of an extensive reform process carried out by the Observant movement in confrontation with the rest of the Order. The last stage is found with the promulgation of the Capuchin Constitutions in 1536, a text which, even if it finds itself within the formal structure of those of the Observants, is modified not only in the norms but also within the underlying tenor. The path that will be attempted between these texts will place in evidence some specific characteristics underlying the redactional process, in particular, it will allow the emergence of a surprising aspect: the pluriformity, at times even dissonant, of the Constitutions, as well as give an account of the struggle for an identity along this path, thereby also manifesting the vitality of an Order capable of putting itself each time back into the play for a revival and renewal of its own life.
The General Chapter of 1239, celebrated at Rome in the presence of Gregory IX, surely represents a point of both arrival and departure in the major outline of the evolutive process of the self-awareness of the minoritic Order. In fact, on that occasion the two conflicting spirits of the Order collide. They had already manifest themselves before the death of the Saintly founder. The clerical, intellectual and conventual spirit gained the upper hand over that still tied to the first experience of Franciscanism. The group of the northern European friars, with the Paris Master Haymo of Faversham at its head, were promotors of a strong cultural and pastoral engagement on the part of the Order in favour of the Church. This was contrasted with a group of friars of central Italy represented by the lay brother and General of the Order, Brother Elias. It was a bitter clash. By way of the strong pressure exerted by the northern group, Gregory IX, in the general assembly, deposed Elias of his charge as General Minister. The Master and priest Albert of Pisa was elected. His died after only a few months and was succeeded by Haymo.
The one who wins writes the history. The figure of Elias has been transmitted from sources that opposed him. Hence, it is not easy to understand well what were the motivations for his removal. One such critic was Thomas of Eccleston, who notes that Elias had many in his camp, especially the friars of the Cismontane provinces. It was an almost geographical divide in the Order: the friars of the northern provinces opposed Elias, while the Italian provinces supported him. It would seem that the conflict was born from diverse visions for the Order, one held by the clerical friars and university masters of the north, and that proposed by the friars of the south, especially central Italy, where there were more lay friars. It was probable that Elias represented a traditional vision of the Order that was not completely institutionalised and clericalized. His vision was still tied in some way to itinerancy and individual initiatives. In addition, perhaps to block this every stronger and evident process of evolution in the Order, Elias chose to personally and autonomously guide the now huge and complex minoritic fraternity, thereby making up for the already evident legislative inadequacies of the Rule, which was not incapable of managing a fraternal reality very different from the one for which it was written. The northern friars, well prepared theologically and canonically, therefore felt the urgent need to give precise structures and a simplified juridical framework to the Order, so as to escape the risk of personalisation in the management of such a huge and pluriform fraternity. This clerical and institutional line, by which it was attempted to “conventualise”, that is, to structure in an organic way and with a simplified juridical framework the functioning of the processes of government of the Order, won out in the General Chapter of 1239.
The decisions taken immediately after the removal of Elias were the fruits of the victory of this vision of the Order. The first novelty was the choice of the successor, Albert of Pisa, cleric and Master of Theology. From then onwards the General Minister would always and only be a cleric and often also a Master of Theology. The other important decisions of the Chapter were in the administrative organisation and management of the Order.
Within this organisational process there was also the important attempt to write Constitutions that in some way arrange particular aspects of the life of the friars, so as to eliminate every risk of personalisation in the direction of the Order itself and subjectivism in the personal and communitarian life of the friars. This precious detail comes only from Salimbene:
In that Chapter a great multitude of constitutions were drawn up, but in a disorganised manner. They were later put into order by Brother Bonaventure, General Minister, and he added a few of his own, determining at some points the penances.
This interesting detail regarding the drawing up “a great multitude of constitutions” in that General Chapter is part of a wider process in which the Order wanted to seriously question itself about some constitutive aspects of its own identity. Having overcome the centralism of Elias, the minoritic fraternity in the two successive General Chapters saw the need to internally confront two questions of great importance: how the Rule is to be interpreted and who was Francis. In the Chapter of 1241, the General Haymo of Faversham invited the various provinces to create commissions of expert friars to “note down those passages of the Rule on which doubts existed and transmit them to the General Minister”. It was a communitarian exercise that was to support and prepare for a Papal bull interpretive of the Rule. The request was taken up by a group of English Masters, but their text has not come down to us. Another group was that of the four famous Parisian Masters, Alexander of Hales, John of Rupella, Robert of Brescia and Odo Rigaldo, whose text gave life to the first commentary on the Rule, known by the name of “Commentary of the Four Masters”. The communitarian reflection led in November 1245 to the writing of the second Papal bull dedicated to the doubts in the juridical text (the Rule), issued by Innocent IV with the title Ordinem vestrum. The other important textual work was called for at the Chapter of 1244, when the new General Crescenzio da Jesi requested that the friars who had personally known Francis send him their recollections about the Saint; that material would then be given to Thomas of Celano as the historical basis for the preparation of a Second Life. The request was also accepted by the three companions of the saint, Leo, Ruffino and Angelo, who from Greccio, in 1246, sent a letter, attaching to it a series of memoirs in the form of a florilegium, in which they stated that they were not satisfied “to relate miracles, which demonstrate, but do not cause sanctity”, but also “to point out some striking aspects of his holy manner of life and the intention of his pious desires, for the praise and glory of almighty God and of the holy father Francis, and for the edification of those who desire to follow in his footsteps”. In 1247, the literary elaboration carried out by Thomas on the material furnished to him by the General gave life to his second biographical work entitled The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul.
With the impediment of Elias eliminated, the Order proceeded to a coordinated reflection in three wide areas of interest that between them were in some way convergent, giving life to a multifaceted text which directly connected with a conventualised and clericalized identity, and tending towards a strong cultural and pastoral commitment. Let us begin from the two inquiries that asked the friars to question themselves on the two closely connected themes: who was Francis (request of the Chapter of 1244) and how is the Rule to be interpreted that was born from him (request of the Chapter of 1241). It was a matter of rethinking and specifying the minoritic identity commencing from the two foundational references: the life event of Francis himself and the text from which this life event became a juridical institution and norm of life. To these two directions of reflection must be added the third, that operation that was consequent to the distancing of Elias, that is, the drawing up of “a great multitude of constitutions”. These sought to overcome that tendency towards authoritarianism and centring on the person of Elias as the leader into which the Order had fallen under his the leadership. It was necessary to give to the great minoritic fraternity precise and sure normative ordinances that enabled them to translate the general ideals of their vocation into practical and everyday choices, that the Rule left broad, and so at times, ambiguous. In this initial analysis of these two areas of reflection, the Order gave thought to the foundational references of its identity (resulting in the biography of Francis and the Papal bull on the Rule), while the series of constitutions (ordinances) were an attempt to take in hand the everyday living of the Rule and organise it in continuity with the model of the life of Francis and the too general dictates of the Rule.
In this multi-pronged process of reflection, what did not come to fruition was the actual drawing up of Constitutions, or better to say, their actual entry into force for the entire Order. For the first two areas, as noted, it did arrive at two important texts being offered to the friars as new references for their life: the Papal bull of Innocent IV and the biographical work of Thomas of Celano. From this a question arises spontaneously: why was it that the Constitutions themselves, whose elaboration was begun in 1239, were never approved and diffused? As we have seen, the note regarding the elaboration of “a great multitude of constitutions” was noted only by Salimbene, offering two other pieces of information: they were composed “in a fairly disorganised way” and were taken up and reordered by Bonaventure who “added a few of his own”. These two additional pieces of information do not explain why the constitutions were not approved. It is only in recent years that it has come to light what these constitutions referred to by Salimbene were.
An historical clarification on these fragmentary and uncertain references by Salimbene was made by Cesare Cenci by way of a series of studies dedicated to the Constitutions which he identifies as “prenarbonensi”. His investigation has brought to light “fragments” of this ancient text, with the advancement of an historical hypothesis of layers of redaction, qualified as “vestiges”, with the work being carried out up until the end of 1254. While leaving aside the particular reconstruction of the redactional history of the “prenarbonensi”, the juridical fragments that came to light attest to a juridical-ideal struggle present in the Order from its very beginning, the solution to which will then in practice be assumed almost to the letter by Bonaventure. These historical findings make the question as to why these constitutions were not used in the life of the Order even more interesting. Perhaps the detail given by Salimbene of the “disordered” nature of these initial texts can in part explain the difficulty of their being used from the beginning. However, if it is true what Cenci believes, that of a continuing working on such texts for some years, it is odd that the friars were not able to establish a sufficiently ordered arrangement of the relatively brief material. The Order did not lack expert jurists capable of organising such a series of norms to accompany the Rule. However, it was precisely in this dynamic of accompanying and completing the Rule that perhaps can be found another motivation (the decisive?) to explain their reluctancy in using these juridical texts in the life of the Order. Were not these constitutions a type of commentary on the Rule? With such a series of norms affecting the daily life of the friars, would they not actually be by fact an expansion of the norms of the Rule that was supposed to be sufficient in regulating their life? Were not those attempts to give Constitutions to the Order in some way in opposition to the prohibition by Francis of not making any comment on the Rule? We can ask ourselves whether this was possibly the difficult that they had in implementing the effective use of those text composed in 1239 and worked upon several time without arriving at having the text approved.
The Dominicans, who took on the Rule of Saint Augustine, from the beginning of their institution felt the need for Constitutions that gave specificity and concreteness to an otherwise generic Rule and not at all adequate for their identity. Immediately after the approval of the Order of Preachers on the part of the Church in 1216, Dominic in 1220 had already styled the legislative text for his friars, taking as a model the Constitutions of the Premonstratensians; in 1228, seven years after the death of the founder, their own Constitutions were approved by the Church and promulgated for the internal use of the Order and remained in vigour without any significant changes until 1358. For the Dominicans, that second legislative text accompanying the Rule constituted an absolutely necessary juridical text, in as much as it articulated the precise choices for the daily life of the friars; for the Preaching friars, therefore, the Rule and Constitutions constituted two integral texts that did not enter into competition or in conflict with the ideal. Just as such, this was not the case for the Franciscans, for whom the Rule played a much more important role. Written directly by the Founder and with an absolute value of identity for the important choices of the friars, the approved Rule of 1223 was not only born as a reference text sufficient for regulating all the life of the friars but also, on the expressed desire of Francis, it was to be observed without commentaries and interpretations and, much less, without being amplified by extra norms. It seems to me we can suppose that the failure to promulgate the Constitutions dawn up in 1239 can be tied to a type of embarrassment that had marked the entire Order of accompanying the Rule with another reference text, an addition that perhaps was perceived as an act of infidelity to the uniqueness and absoluteness of the Rule.
Looking back on what can be observed in this first part of Franciscan history, what seems to emerge is a serious and important general question about the relationship between the Rule and Constitutions. In the self-awareness of the friars, the first text, the Rule, constitutes the unique reference for the identity of the Order in the first decades of its history; at the same time, however, this did not seem at all sufficient in giving concreteness in the daily living out of the general enterprise. Therefore, there arose inside the Order an ever increasing need to accompany the Rule with a complementary juridical text. Yet this very “necessity” became a sort of “scandal” and surprise as to the identity of the Order: was it possible that the Rule revealed by God to Francis was not sufficient to live the minoritic vocation? That embarrassing question, which the friars prevaricated upon until Bonaventure gave a positive response, effectively recognising the insufficiency of the founding text, can be held as one of the nerve centres of the difficult confrontation over identity inside the Order in the first fifty years of its history.
With the Generalate of Bonaventure, elected to leadership of the Order in 1257, the Constitutions became the juridical text that constantly and necessarily accompanied the Rule. Indeed, the intangibility of the Rule is contrasted with the constant changes and updatings that Constitutions undergo from their very beginnings. A fairly significant measure can be had by comparing the number of redactions of the Dominican Constitutions to those of the Franciscans up to the end of 1353: the Dominicans had only two successive redactions of 1228 texts, the Franciscans had more than fifteen reformulations. Not only was the text of the Constitutions immediately recognised as necessary to the self-awareness of the Order but they very quickly became also the measure of how difficult it was for the minoritic fraternity to find a stable structure inside of the many travails of identity that characterised the seventy years following the death of Bonaventure.
One can imagine without difficulty the surprise, along with the preoccupation, that struck Bonaventure when, a few weeks after the 2 February, 1257, he was informed at Paris that he had been elected General Minister of the Order of Friars minor in the turbulent Chapter that was being held in Rome.
As General Minister he needed to concentrate his efforts in two areas, diverse, but also interconnected. The first was in regard to the harsh and violent objections that, in those very years, were coming from outside on the legitimacy of the Order both in its rapport with the structure of the Church and regarding its claim to live evangelical perfection, having chosen poverty. The second area, instead, was concentrated on the equally grave and necessary reform of the internal life of the Order, to overcome the risk of a rift between the friars, divided over different ways of seeing and living in fidelity to Francis and his ideal.
Our interest in this case will concentrate only on the second area tied to the pastoral ministry carried out by Bonaventure as General Minister in favour of the Order, a task that would occupy him for the rest of his life, until his death in 1274 when, after being elected a Cardinal, he was participating in the important Council of Lyons.
In addition to sending a challenging programmatic letter in which the newly elected General drew up the objectives for the reform of the Order by intervening on the different lifestyles assumed by the friars that “tarnished the splendour of the Order”, Bonaventure immediately dedicated himself to drawing up the Constitutions. In this operation he obeyed to the deliberation that issued from the Chapter of 1257, in which it was finally agreed to give to the Order a juridical text to accompany the Rule. The possibility of effecting a reform of the Order, reconnecting with the ancient minoritic ideals and, at the same time, maintaining the commitment to the important pastoral and cultural services that were assumed for the benefit of the Church, necessitated a supplementary legislative text to the Rule capable of unifying the action of the friars within an objective measure ensuring equity for all. Therefore, from the start Bonaventure understood the high value of a series of norms that accompanied the Rule, not to substitute for it, but to allow it to be observed more faithfully. The prologue to his Constitutions expresses a precise clarification of the value the Franciscan doctor attributed to that juridical text for the life of the friars:
Since, as says the Sage, where there is no hedge, the property comes to be plundered, to guard unharmed the precious possession of the kingdom of heaven, where one enters through the spirit of poverty, it is necessary to enclose it with the hedge of discipline. Regular observance, in fact, does not constitute in the least a useless criterion of behaviour, not only for the fact that it favours concord, decorum and custody of the spiritual life, but, above all, as is most often the case, it maintains them along the course of substantial perfection and purity in the professed Rule. It is necessary that these observances be accurately known, so that, due to the darkness of ignorance, they do not fall into the pit of transgression.
The dominant idea in the text resides in the strict and necessary relationship placed between the Constitutions and the Rule. The norms are not only in function of an ordered and peaceful life of the friars, but, above all, represent for who faithfully observes them the concrete possibility of a “substantive” observance of the Rule. If one wants to translate in other words the expression used by Bonaventure it could be said that for the General Minister the norms of the Constitutions permit to the friar the reasonable place (the medium position) between two dangerous extremes that slither within the womb of the Order: strong spiritualism opposed to every development in the Order and laxity tending towards a comfortable and disengaged life. The Constitutions want to be the just measure offered to the conscience of the friar to allow faithfulness in the observance of the Rule: those who follow with attention and precision those norms can have the moral certainty of being maintained “along the course of substantial perfection and purity in the professed Rule”. In short, it deals with reconciling the simple but foundational dictates of the Rule with the great diversity of situations and commitments that burden the Order, so as to stabilise a secure practice in which the choices of the friars can be guaranteed to be in fidelity with the minoritic ideals.
On this text of Bonaventure, we want to develop only consideration around its formal aspects, adding at the end a brief consideration on some of its content.
Let us return to the precious information that we have drawn from the Chronicles of Salimbene, where he refers to Bonaventure reordering the already existent laws, adding only a little to them. The comparison between the fragments of the pre-Constitutions of Narbonne and the text composed by Bonaventure confirms without a shadow of doubt the compilation-redactional character of the work carried out by the General Minister. In his work the saintly Doctor, on the one hand, takes up to the letter the preceding formulations, on the other, he offers to the material a precise structure, dividing the text into twelve chapters (called rubrics). The themes treated in the 12 rubrics do not follow, as instead one would have expected, the twelve chapters of the Rule. The twelve titles of the rubrics are: Prologue; I. The entering of Religious Life; II. The quality of the habit; III. The observance of poverty; IV. Religious Practices in our Houses; V. The manner of going about the world; VI. The occupation of the Brothers; VII. The correction of Delinquents; VIII: The Visitation of provinces; IX. The election of Ministers; X. The Provincial Chapter; XI. The General Chapter; XII. The Suffrages for the Deceased.
As well as this general division of the text, it is to be also noted another interesting aspect that, beginning from Bonaventure, characterised all the successive Constitutions: the imposition of an exclusively juridical form of the norms. The saintly legislator was never preoccupied with laying out any theological or Franciscan motivations to the diverse laws that would explain or establish their value; emblematic is the fact that there are practically no biblical citations nor the name and example of Francis. The legislative text presupposes the underlying spiritual motivations supporting them. Normally the redactor opens the different rubrics with a citation of a brief passage of reference to the Rule which categorises the general content of the legislative chapter in question. The reference to the passage of the Rule never becomes, however, a preliminary interpretation of the passage in question, from which the various norms are then organised; the precise juridical requests are in some way juxtaposed to the brief text at the beginning, and through these comparisons unfold a type of normative specification in which the passage is contained in a vague and indistinct way.
It is not easy to establish what were the general intentions that guided the legislative work of Bonaventure in his task of reforming the Order; generalising, it can be said that at the basis of Bonaventure’s work was the objective of translating into daily choices a strongly conventual vision of the Order, confirming and definitively stabilising an identity already affirmed in the development process of the first decades, that saw in the cultural and pastoral commitments its primary field of action. At the same time, the text reveals the will of the legislator to maintain the Order firmly bound and faithful to the minoritic ideality that saw in poverty the peculiar character of its self-awareness and of its way of being in the world. Therefore, it could be held that the interconnectivity between the two values, that of the cultural and pastoral commitment and that of fidelity to the minoritic vocation, constitutes the juridical solution of Bonaventure, that is, the middle way that ensured fidelity to the Rule and engagement with the wider Church.
Without claiming to enter into the details of the text of Bonaventure, we will limit ourselves to a brief presentation of three chapters that perhaps better than the others permit us to establish a preliminary idea of the middle way proposed by the General to his friars; in them are developed three great areas of the minoritic life: poverty (III), the manner of life within the friary (IV) and the external activity of the friars (V).
The subject treated in rubric III touches on the central question of identity for Franciscanism: poverty. Twenty-four articles are dedicated to it. Other than the prescripts to bridle and impede the handling of money (a. 1-14), precise norms are established to avoid what Bonaventure has already reproached the friars for in his circular letter on the danger of refinement and superfluity in the construction of the habitations (a. 15-19). One of the reoccurring questions in this chapter is in regard to the difficulty in harmonising the choice of poverty, as an absolute value, and the cases of necessity that oblige a departure from the general norm. The text also offers the occasion for a textual comparison with the relevant text of the pre-Constitutions of Narbonne:
|Prenarbonensi 70||Narbonenesi III 8|
|Nullum depositum servetur
in locis fratrum in auro vel
argento, gemmis seu quacumque re
aliqua pretiosa, solis libris exceptis.
[No assets are to be held in the houses of the friars
|a) Item nullum depositum servetur in locis fratrum in auro et argento, gemmis seu alia re pretiosa, solis libris exceptis,
[In the houses of the friars, no assets of gold, silver, gems or other precious commodities are to be deposited, with only books excepted,]
b) nisi aliquis necessitatis articulus emerserit, quem fratres non possent absque gravi scandalo declinare.
[unless some necessary item comes to hand, that the friars cannot refuse without giving serious scandal]
c) Et tunc de guardiani fiat licentia vel vicarii cum consilio discretorum.
[In that case with the permission of the guardian or the vicar and the council of discreets.]
d) Et si quis contrafecerit, tribus diebus in pane tantum et aqua ieiunet.
[Whoever does the opposite shall fast on bread and water for three days.]
From the beginning, the minoritic legislation absolutely forbade in the friary the presence of anything considered valuable, even if it was necessary. In the relationship between the forbidden and the exception for some necessity, the Narbonne text presents some new material in respect to that of the pre-Narbonne: while inserting the possibility of a derogation in the case where the refusal of the valuable object would cause grave scandal, a series of controls and verifications were imposed, managed by the community, before conceding the “permission”. To this was added the relevant penalty if this was contravened. In this article we find condensed all the spirit of Bonaventure: culture necessitates the use of valuable tools when they are books, nevertheless, this does not need to open the doors to the use of every other valuable thing; exceptions are possible only under the control of the entire fraternity which needs to intervene also with penalties to curb any undue individualism.
In the normalisation of the life within the friary, described and established in rubric IV, the point of reference for the ideal behind the legislative text of Bonaventure seems to be of Benedictine style, characterised by well-defined fasts (a. 1-9), periods of silence throughout the day (a. 10-15), norms determining the frequency of the tonsure throughout the year and the concrete procedure of applying the tonsure (a. 20-21). In this area, Bonaventure also intervenes in the sacramental life of the friars, establishing, for example, that Eucharistic communion is to be done on the feast days, while confession should be at least twice a week (a. 22-23). In all these norms nothing is said about the quality of fraternal relationships, nor is the text of the Rule in Chapter X utilised where Francis proposals that fraternal relationships be founded upon the reciprocal subordination of the friars one to the other. That of Bonaventure is for a community of strongly monastic type, which is the only way to manage such a large number of friars, to which it would be difficult to apply the evangelical vision held by Francis of fraternal life.
Rubric VI, dedicated the occupations of the friars, is the longest of all, with 29 articles. In it is found another important characteristic of the self-awareness of the Order, an element held also by Bonaventure to be decisive in the various activities of the friars: studies. After having dedicated the first 10 articles to the problem of work in general (a. 1-2), to the specifics of pastoral ministry, such as confession (a. 3-5), activity in the convents of nuns (a. 6), external commitments (a. 7-9) and preaching (a. 10), the remaining 10 articles are entirely spent regulating the primary activity of the Order found in intellectual and theological pursuit. Above all, he introduces a norm, absent in the pre-Constitutions of Narbonne, by which it is forbidden to teach to read one who is not capable in it (a. 11), then the attention is entirely given over to general studies in Paris (a. 12-22) to regulate both the access of the students to it and the lifestyle while there; the remaining articles are instead dedicated to the use of books in the life of the friars, as precious tools by way of cost (problematic therefor for poverty) and just as valuable in discharging their pastoral mandate (a. 23-29). That intellectual and theological work undoubtably represented the primary activity of the Order is demonstrated by the juridical precision with which Bonaventure normalises and favours the cultural centre of Paris and the general studies present in various places.
A large organisation, with great and grave responsibilities in society and the Church, needs to be assisted in its internal and external life by strong and secure legislation that guarantees a life substantially faithful to the Rule and, at the same time, that guarantees to the friars the discharging of the new pastoral and cultural demands imposed/posed by history. Perhaps with very pragmatic and disenchanted eyes, Bonaventure tried to guide his Order to a middle path of a life capable of bringing together the different spirits and, consequently, overcoming the lacerations caused by the tensions between the ideals and realities occurring in the minoritic fabric. The Constitutions of Bonaventure, strongly attest to the need of accompanying the Rule with another normative text, thereby constituting an updated translation of the ideality established in the fundamental text of the Rule, so important from the beginning but equally vague and incapable of embracing and regulating the life of an Order that had become so large and diversified in its pastoral and cultural commitments.
The minoritic Order in the seventy years that followed the systematisation by Bonaventure was not able to find a lasting solution to the difficult relationship between the minoritic identity and the pastoral and cultural demands. A significant indication of this malaise came from the great quantity of Constitutions produced from 1260 until 1354, a constant reworking that arrived at fifteen revisions between them, at times very different. The Order seemed like an insomniac who could not find the right position in bed to fall asleep.
It is neither here possible nor useful to give and articulated discourse on this material. For our purposes it is sufficient to just indicate their relationship with the Bonaventurian proposal, which, as a whole, remained the point of reference of the minoritic legislation for the succeeding two centuries. Keeping present this comparison we can distinguish three blocks of Constitutions: the first 8, those that followed on from 1325, are in direct continuity with those of Narbonne, then the following 2, born out of the most turbulent period of the Order, are strongly detached from the tradition of Bonaventure, and lastly the final 5, that conclude with the Farinerian of 1354, after which there is a return to the scheme of the first Constitutions of 1260. Let us retrace here in broad relief the great historical travail from the first minoritic legislation.
Bonaventure’s text was not only the most enduring and long-lived in the legislation of the first seventy years of the Order, but also remained the structural reference for a good part of all the Constitutions up to those of Capestrano. The first redaction, in which the text of Bonaventure was slightly expanded, did not take place until 19 years later, that is, with the Chapter of Assisi in 1279. After this followed a series of constant revisions in which changes were made to the specifications of the previous norms or new laws were added; overall, the reworking did not make any substantial changes to the content. The work of redaction up until 1325 was guided by a fundamental objective: constantly update the legislative norms of the Order to adapt to the new demands of the life of the friars. To offer an example of the way in which this development proceeded we can take up again the text offered above, to note the successive developments to the norms on the prohibition of possessing valuable goods in the friary. The update was made as early as the Chapter of Assisi in 1279 and then remained unchanged in the successive Constitutions:
|Narbonensi III 8||Assisi III 8|
|Item nullum depositum servetur in locis fratrum in auro et argento, gemmis seu alia re pretiosa, solis libris exceptis, nisi aliquis necessitatis articulus emerserit, quem fratres non possent absque gravi scandalo declinare.
Et tunc de guardiani fiat licentia vel vicarii cum consilio discretorum. Et si quis contrafecerit, tribus diebus in pane tantum et aqua ieiunet.
[In the houses of the friars, no assets of gold, silver, gems or other precious commodities are to be deposited, with only books excepted, unless some necessary item comes to hand, that the friars cannot refuse without giving serious scandal.
In that case, with the permission of the guardian or the vicar and the council of discreets. Whoever does the opposite shall fast on bread and water for three days.]
|Inhibemus districte, sub poena privationis librorum vel officiorum Ordinis aut poena aequivalentis, cui haec poena non competit, quod nihil permittatur deponi in locis fratrum in auro et argento, gemmis seu alia quacumque re pretiosa, solis libris exceptis, nisi aliquis necessitatis articulus emergeret, quem fratres absque scandalo declinare non posset.
Et nunquam fiat sine consilio discretorum et sine licentia guardiani vel vicarii, ita quod videatur ab ipsis quid et quantum recipitur, et cui et qualiter reddi debeat. Et sub scriptura hoc fiat autenctica vel sigillo reponentis, si habet, et semper cum protestatione quod fratres reponentibus nullatenus de custodia tenebuntur.
[With regard to anyone who does not comply, we strictly command that he be deprived of books or office in the Order or be subjected to a similar penalty, if he permits to be deposited in the houses of the friars gold, silver, gems or other precious commodities, with only books excepted, unless some necessary item comes to hand, that the friars cannot refuse without giving scandal.
Let this never be done without consulting the discreets or without the permission of the Guardian or Vicar, so that they may see what is being received and the amount and take responsibility for this. They should authorise this with their signature or by the use of a seal, if one exists, and always insist that the friars keep nothing for personal use.]
In their substance the norms remain the same, changing only the punishment to be inflicted on transgressors, prohibitions become much more severe, in fact, providing for the removal of their books or deprivation of office from the friars. In addition, the function of control by the guardians is further specified by which a detailed process is established for impeding them from every possible doubt in the permission to accept precious things in the friaries. The comparison of the texts makes it easy to see the relationship of continuity and development between the new Constitutions and their Narbonne basis.
Instead, there is a profound and radical transformation with the successive two Constitutions (those of Perpignan in 1331 and the Benedictine in 1336), that can be considered a second textual block in the evolutionary series of the juridical texts. John XXII ascended to the throne in 1316, it was during his eighteen-year pontificate that the Order reached the peak of its confusion in ideals and laws. It is at this time that new Constitutions were drawn up that were absolutely new in respect to the Narbonne tradition. It is enough to synoptically compare the titles of the different chapter headings to see how much the Perpignan Constitutions, issuing forth two years before the death of Pope John XXII, and, above all, the Benedictine Constitutions, of Pope Benedict XII, to see how far they depart from the structure developed by the preceding ones. They not only notably increase the number of chapters of the text, arriving at 20 for the Perpignan and to 30 for the Benedictine, but they also propose a new vision of the life of the Order of a radically monastic type. Such an evolution emerges most evidently in the Benedictine, revised under the influence of the Cistercian Pope, who, perhaps, hoped to resolve the internal problems of the Order by giving to it a Benedictine structure. A summary of the programmatic intentions of the Benedictine is found in the prologue, where is anticipated the objective ideals worked out in the text: divine office, silence, abstinence and scholastic studies, typical themes of monasticism, while forgetting that they are Franciscans.
In this context I want to go deeper into only one thing, the characteristic element of Franciscan life: poverty. Emblematic is the choice operating in these Constitutions is to eliminate chapter III on poverty and substitute it with three chapters (I-III) regarding typically Benedictine themes of the divine office, silence and abstinence. If it was the intention of the Pope to offer a “juridical” solution to the many travails of the Order by conferring on it a structure that was more Benedictine; in fact, his proposal substantially undermine the identity of the Friars minor.
The reaction of the Order was not long in coming. Although it was being shaken by strong internal crises, it immediately realised the extent of the distance between the monastic proposal of the most recent Constitutions and its own original identity. The following year, in 1337, at the Chapter held a Quercy new Constitutions were promulgated with which there was a return to the tradition established by Bonaventure in his Constitutions of Narbonne. Here we are in front of the third juridical block that, as well as the text of Quercy, was composed of another four Constitutions, those of Assisi in 1340, of Venice in 1346, of Lyon in 1351 and finally, the most famous and that remained in vigour for more than a century, the Farinerian, promulgated in 1354. The Order thus returned to its tradition established by those of Narbonne, taking up again the twelve chapters with the same themes and with similar solutions, recognising in that legislative tradition the most adept way for organising its own minoritic identity.
The long series of travails with the post- Bonaventurian Constitutions reveals a dual history of identity in development. In the first area, relating to the texts “faithful” to those of Narbonne, it is a question of developing and normalising juridical norms for an Order in expansion, stretched between two objectives that were not easily reconciled: fidelity to a fixed identity in the general form of the Rule, and the evolution of the concrete form on the basis of the new exigencies that were presenting themselves to the friars in their pastoral and cultural relationship with the world. In the second area, those of the Benedictine Constitutions, instead, was a question of a text that reformulated the self-awareness into something new, when it seemed that the original one had been lost. Overall the Constitutions of the first Franciscan century had, on one hand, to guide the strong and also turbulent development of a great Order and, on the other hand, slow the centrifugal distancing caused by the two major tensions [charismatic/juridical; ideal/concrete] within the Order and to heal the internal laceration that threatened its unity.
With the Constitutions of Saint John of Capestrano we enter into the third area of studying the service made by the Constitutions to the self-awareness of the Order. The text is at the centre of a major process of renewal connected with the Observant reform, representing a point of arrival in the development of its identity. Understanding the legislative work of Capestrano necessitates a dual study: first of all, we need to recall the facts that led to the drawing up of these Constitutions, so as then to proceed to the study of some of their peculiar characteristics.
Throughout the first half of the 15th century the constant effort between two battling groups inside the minoritic Order, that is, the Conventuals and the nascent but already established Observant reform, resided in the duty to save the unity of the Order. It was perceived by all as an inalienable value, lending itself to the search for a compromise and a mediation between the diverse and opposing identities unfolding between the two groups. A point of arrival in this process of conciliation was the juridical document promulgated by Pope Martin V in 1431, in which the pope issued new Constitutions for the entire Order. The work of drawing up this important text was entrusted to John of Capestrano. The primary objective was to write a text of compromise that would assist in a dialogue continuing between the two battling groups, for a possible affective and an effective reconsolidation of the Order. To the benefit of the Conventual side, the Observants would renounce having both a Vicar General and Vicar Provincials, thereby confirming the unique and effective authority of “Conventual” superiors; in exchange, to respond to the needs of the Observants, on the part of the Conventuals, they would adhere to the radical observance of the Pontifical declaration of Nicholas III, Exiit qui seminat, which was a sure reference for fidelity to poverty, against the many derogations lived in the huge convents. It, therefore, was an attempt at reform from inside the Order, maintaining its juridical unity obtained by means of a compromise between the differing needs of the two groups.
The attempt, imposed by the pope with the bull Vinea Domini, did not obtain the hoped-for results, so much so that in 1434 the Council of Basilea conceded again to the Observants the right to have their own Vicars with the power to govern their communities in an autonomous way; the concession was in fact the recognition of a formal separation from the Conventuals. Another attempt was the sadly famous Chapter of Padua in 1443, in which physical scuffles were arrived at during the discussions, manifesting the irreparability of the division between the two groups. Consequently, with a bull, Eugene IV forced the General of the Order to elect two Vicars for the Observants: John of Capestrano for the Cismontane Observants and John of Maubert for the rest of the world. The division was now recognised and formalised. It was in this context that Capestrano, at La Verna in 1443, began to write his Constitutions which obtained a dual result: it offered to the Italian Observants a formal text for referencing their identity and formalised their autonomy from the Conventuals.
The papal document which formally recognised the separation of the two groups, although formally still a single Order, was Ut sacra, and it requested that the Observants gather in Chapter in 1446. Guided by John of Capestrano, they turned to Pope Eugene IV, always largely in favour of their reform, asking of him a broader and more effective autonomy. The pope not only conceded to their request but entrusted John of Capestrano with preparing the bull. The next step was formally completed in the next Chapter of 1449 at which were approved the Capestrano Constitutions, composed six years earlier. The text constituted the point of arrival at an even greater autonomy on the part of the Observants from the larger family of the Conventuals. It was a juridical division guided in the final analysis by the intelligence and determination of John of Capestrano. Although the movement of reform was still formally within the one minoritic Order and under the authority of the General, in fact, the Observants, by means of the juridical work of John of Capestrano, had arrived at its formal independence and its own identity of life.
With his juridical text John of Capestrano could finally offer a programmatic instrument to all the Observant friars in which they could find a focus for their minoritic identity. The first Observant experience, marked by pauperistic hermitism, was now transformed into a great movement, strongly engaged in preaching for the renewal of the Christian society. In this evolutionary process Capestrano had a determinative role, becoming in some ways the systematiser (founder) of the identifying intuition lived by Bernardine of Siena: with his Constitutions, the reform movement was decisive in being a stable place between the initial hermitism of the first Observants and the conventualism of the rest of the minoritic Order. It could be held that by means of his juridical work John of Capestrano was able to propose to his friars the convergence between the strict “observance” of the Rule and the decisive choice of pastoral commitment, demonstrating the possibility of a reconciling fidelity to poverty with the taking on of important services to the benefit of the Church and of Christianity.
Before putting into relief some important aspects of the solution of Capestrano in focusing the identity of the Italian Observants, it is necessary to recall the formal elements, useful for understanding the underlying atmosphere that dominate the text of the Capestrano Constitutions. Let us begin from an apparently secondary accentuation, which is the use of the first person singular on the part of the redactor in the formulation of the various norms. The “I” of John of Capestrano (“I say and I order” is the refrain the opens every chapter of his Constitutions) and undoubtably dominates the entire formulation, manifesting the “Capestrano” character of the text: with “his” Constitutions the Vicar General of the Italian reform movement proposes himself as the main “ideologist” of the identity of the “great Observance”. The second element regards the formulation of the text itself, in which John chooses to maintain the same division already adopted in the Martinian Constitutions, that is, to organise his norms according to the 12 themes of the Rule. The author links more clearly and explicitly the Constitutions to the Rule, actualising a dual operation in the eyes of the friars: The Rule remains as the text of referral for their life, and it is towards this that the Constitutions are addressed, however, also the opposite is true, that is, the foundational text that comes from Francis can be more faithfully observed only be way of fidelity to the new juridical norms. Lastly, another formal aspect of the Capestrano Constitutions is to be found in the strictly juridical style: as a good jurist Capestrano knows that the law cannot motivate but only be well formulated, and, therefore, as happened with all the preceding Constitutions, also in these Constitutions he does not introduce theological or spiritual motivation to justify or to render the norms more acceptable, while constantly sticking to formulations made exclusively of simple commands and prohibitions. The spiritual motivations are presupposed, while what constitutes the essential element is represented by clarity and by precision in the norms, a true help offered to the friars for a sure knowledge of the way to follow in being faithful to the Rule.
It is not possible to examine the entire document. We will limit ourselves to briefly underlining some central themes of Observant identity proposed by John of Capestrano.
Let us begin from the strategic theme in Franciscan identity: poverty. In the solutions given to this question are to be found the great choices adopted by the Observant Vicar to resolve the difficult relationship between fidelity to the Rule and the urgent needs imposed by contingent situations and by pastoral commitments. Regarding the prohibition of the use of money, together with reiterating what is said in the Rule, the legislator inserts the criterion of “necessity” that renders “legitimate” the acceptance of “pecuniary alms”, which, however, need to be integrally consigned to the lay procurator (to spiritual friends). In addition, all the material is regulated by reference to the bull Ordinem vestrum of Innocent IV, the interpretative text not only legitimate but necessary for a concrete comprehension of the Rule. In regard to the other problem relating to poverty, that is, the prohibition of whatsoever possession, established from chapter VI of the Rule, the distinction between dominion over and the use of the thing, it claims illicit the former but the latter as necessary so as to fulfil pastoral commitments.
Closely connected to these practical choices on poverty is the subject of preaching, addressed in Chapter IX of the Constitutions. It could be said that this represents one of the decisive characteristics of the Observants and of their self-awareness that differentiates them from the Conventuals and their engagement with the world. The juridical text of John of Capestrano brings to completion this identity. If preaching constitutes an absolute and principal value amongst the commitments that need to be discharged by the Observant friars, one can comprehend the preoccupation of the Observant Vicar to order in every Cismontane province the creation not only of a body of prepared professors, to examine the competence of the friars destined for preaching and confession, but also of structures favouring studies and the preparation of the students. For the Vicar, this subject played an part in the identity of the Observants, by which they had to judge their practical choices, also in the material of poverty, commensurate with the primary commitment of preaching and to its effectiveness for the benefit of the Christian faith. A true and radical choice of poverty should not impede preaching for the benefit of souls.
The final text to keep in mind for understanding the core identity expressed by Capestrano in his Constitutions is in chapter X, regarding the service asked of ministers in visiting and controlling the various fraternities. To them is assigned the hard but important task of ensuring a faithful and scrupulous observance of the juridical norms. Overall, the directives imposed by Capestrano to his Vicars in their service of guiding the friars allows us to catch a glimpse of an Observant Order of great proportions and with characteristics that in some way makes it closer to the Conventuals; and this was precisely the great task assigned to the vicars: to ensure a conventual life held in equilibrium between the hermitic lifestyle, already abandoned by the Observants, and that of the large communities of the Conventuals dominated by their monastic lifestyle. The observance proposed by Capestrano sought to obtain a conciliation between an effective fidelity to poverty and the assumption of the means to fulfil pastoral necessities. In some way, reading the many and particular norms entrusted to the ministers in chapter X to guarantee to them a true and precise control over the daily life of the friars, one sees with clarity the desire of the saintly legislator to have the Italian Observants follow a middle way in which is guaranteed not only as licit but also necessary the use of valuable tools (such as books and friaries) for an adequate pastoral service, ensuring, however, also their moderate use, without excesses in superfluity and refinement. In the final analysis, John of Capestrano had the certainty that a scrupulous observance of his normative text permitted the friars to realise their identity as Observants, having them follow a middle way between fidelity to Francis and commitment to service of the Church.
Therefore, the Capestrano Constitutions can be defined as a “programmatic” text: the legislator is not concerned so much with regulating the actual life lived by the friars so as to standardise it and render it homogenous for all, but rather, as the basis of a project to programme and guide the friars towards an identity. If, on one hand, with his Constitutions the great Observant ideologist helped solidify what happened over the last forty years in the development of Observant movement, proposing a model of reference in the figure of Bernardine of Siena, on the other hand, he wanted to influence the evolutionary process into favouring concrete choices that encouraged the affirmation of a “great observance” to the benefit of the whole of Christianity.
Also the Capuchin reform, born in 1528 with the bull Religionis zelus of Clement V, immediately recognised the necessity of writing Constitutions to establish and normalise their own identity in relation to the endeavour of returning to the pure observance of the Rule. A first brief text was composed by the very first group of Capuchins, with Ludovico of Fossombrone at their head, when gathered together in the hermitage of Albacina, in the same year as the pontifical approval of the reform. This was followed in 1535 by the definitive Constitutions, that were to remain in force uninterruptedly until 1968. Also, for the first Capuchins, despite their ideal to return to the “Rule sine glossa”, its true observance was not possible without the presence of another legislative text to establish the concrete modality of its application. To this initial consideration needs to be added another general remark: the proposed juridical-identity programme made by the Capuchins in their Constitutions is not fully comprehensible without laying it in direct and contrasting relationship with the characteristics of life assumed by the great Observants. The Capuchin text elucidates an ideality distant and basically opposed to the vision of a strong and “dominant” presence actuated by the Observants inside the Church and society. On the contrary, the Capuchins wanted to assume a new position that was marginal and minoritic in the world, without having to refuse pastoral contact with the people.
Before highlighting some choices establishing Capuchin identity, it is also necessary to dwell on the formal aspects of the juridical text, indicative of a great novelty characterising the Capuchin proposal. If on one side, the Capuchins take up the choice of Capestrano in following the 12 chapters of the Rule in organising their juridical text, on the other part, they introduce a new mode of proposing the juridical norms. While in all the preceding Constitutions the formulation of the text was strictly juridical, it was not accompanied by any spiritual foundation that explained the motives, instead, in the Capuchin Constitutions the legislators are always concerned about offering theological, Christological, Franciscan and also anthropological motives that constantly informed the different regulatory decisions. The command or prohibition, therefore, always arises from the perception of faith and from the historical memory of an event, that of Francis, the constitutive and foundational theatre of the Capuchin minoritic identity. In some ways the Capuchin Constitutions seem to recall to the friars that the law is nothing other than a human instrument for realising an effective existential and theological relationship with the mystery of God manifesting itself in Christ and then lived out by Francis. The law is not the life but emanates from it and leads back to it. Constantly remembering the mystery from which the Capuchin legislation flows and leads back to allows for the possibility of conferring on the law a true efficacy for an authentic spiritual observance of it, that is, for a free and joyful observance of the Gospel and the Rule.
Also for these series of norms we will not proceed in a systematic way. We will limit ourselves to a double series of insights that respectively reveal the identifying spirit underlying the Constitutions and the practical application in some choice examples.
Chapter I of the Capuchin Constitutions of 1536 is manifestly programmatic for laying out the general characteristic elements of the Capuchin reform. Within eleven paragraphs emerge three fundamental areas. First of all, the particular vocation of the friars is established: to observe the “doctrine” of the holy Gospel (n. 1), so that “the friars may always keep before their mind’s eye the teaching and life of our Saviour Jesus Christ”; in this consists all the life of the friars. Therefore, the Constitutions want to remind the friars of this fundamental awareness before any particular decisions are made. This is the resolute basis of every choice of life because “all men are obliged to observe this teaching, especially Christians who have promised it in sacred Baptism. And we friars have an even greater obligation…”. The following of Christ, however, for the friars is mediated by the Rule that is the “marrow” or also the “mirror reflecting evangelical perfection”: by way of observing it, the observance of the Gospel is realised. Therefore, the Gospels and the Rule need to be read often and with devotion (n. 3-4). The attention then moves to the question of the methods and the interpretative instruments of the Rule (n. 5-6), the solution of which constitutes one of the first primary characteristics of Capuchin identity in relationship to the Observant movement. There are two hermeneutical principles to the spiritual reading of the Rule: without glosses on the text (n. 5) and utilising the Testament as the only interpretative instrument (n. 6). The third area, specifying the identifying centre of the young reform movement is the general characterisation given by the Capuchin’s as to their way of being in the world, establishing that they want to be serving “in the last place”. It is worth reading the paragraph in its entirety, seeing its importance in the context of the whole chapter:
Our completely saintly Father contemplated God in every creature, especially in man and particularly in the Christian, but above all in priests, most especially in the supreme Pontiff. On earth he is the Vicar of Christ our Lord and the head of the whole Church militant. Therefore, according to the apostolic teaching, and for the sake of the love of Him who emptied himself for love of us, Francis wanted all his friars to be subject to God in every creature. Because of this he called them lesser brothers and see themselves to be profoundly inferior to everyone in the church militant invited to the marriage feast of the most holy spouse, Jesus Christ.
The text constitutes a perfect example the theological and spiritual method in making the fundamental choices of the Capuchin life. This text is seeking to establish a resolute point of identity of the place of the Capuchin reform within the Church and society. It establishes that minority represents the central element of their identity by which the lesser brothers, in Francis, have their reference point to their self-awareness. It seems to me that with extreme efficacy, two biblical figures are splendidly combined within the text: that of the marriage of the Lamb to which all the friars are invited by their adhesion to the gospel, by this establishing the feast that will be the ultimate end to their life; however, they need to participate in it by choosing the last place, according to the prompting of Jesus. Therefore, one is lesser if he chooses the best place in participating in the marriage feast, that is, to enter into the feast of the kingdom, and the best place recommended by Jesus is that of being last, that of being marginalised, there where he himself, the Bridegroom, placed himself. Minority, therefore, is the characteristic element of the self-awareness of the friars who want to live in the world in service to the kingdom of God.
The paragraphs that follow are none other than a pluriform concretisation of this identity. The first and fundamental choice is represented by the refusal of privileges, establishing also the renunciation to the exemptions from the Ordinaries of the places. Here we are before another essential text of the novelty of the life chosen by the Capuchins:
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. This (kind of freedom) often disturbs the peace and gives birth to scandal in the Church of God. The humble Christ crucified came to serve us and became obedient even to the bitter death of the cross. Although He was not subject to the law He wanted to submit to it and pay the tax and tribute while being free. Hence to better conform ourselves to Him and to avoid scandal, the General Chapter renounces the privileges of being free and exempt from Ordinaries. With the Seraphic Father we accept being subject to everyone as the highest privilege.
The subsequent three last paragraphs constitute further applications of the choice of minority that signifies adhesion to a radical and unconditional obedience to priests “in all things” (n. 9), to subject themselves to “the Conventuals” (n. 10), and, finally, to renounce “all privileges which relax the Rule” (n. 11). Therefore, it was in minority, more than in poverty, that the Capuchins placed the centre of their identity and of their fidelity to Francis. The rest of the Constitutions, in their different legislative expressions, can consequently be read as articulations of this fundamental identity placed in minoritic identity. In the choice of minoritic marginalisation, of assuming the last place by refusing positions of power and domination, the Capuchins found the foremost way of living the Gospel in the following of Christ, humble and crucified, according to the model of life undertaken by Francis and proposed in the Rule. It is clear that in this rediscovery of a concept that more often than not comes to be eclipsed and overshadowed by “poverty”, the movement of reform wanted to react to the dominant position that the Observants had assumed inside of the Christian society in their apostolic and also political roles. From the centre to the margin of the society, such was the general movement that the Capuchins chose in living their vocation. Poverty would be nothing other than a concrete form of minority, a minoritic style that would condition also the apostolic style assumed by the Capuchins, free from every form of power and obtrusiveness.
We will attempt to listen to the concrete articulation of the minoritic choice on the part of the Capuchins in two strategic areas for the whole Franciscan movement: in the poverty of the places of habitation and in the way of formulating pastoral activity. The two themes, which we find treated respectively in chapters VI and IX of the Constitutions, as is to be noted in the Rule, offer precious clues on how the Capuchins have translated in precise choices a self-awareness that is clearly and determinately linked to minority.
1. In regard to the established norms in Chapter VI of the Constitutions, we will limit ourselves to looking at some choices regarding, in particular, poverty in the style in which the friaries needed to be constructed, an essential condition for demonstrating their minority within the society. Let us read the text that opens the chapter, in which is placed in evidence the ideals motivating the choices of poverty in which the friars are to live:
Our Seraphic Father Saint Francis pondered the most high poverty of Christ, the king of heaven and earth. When He was born He did not have even a small place in the inn for His dwelling, and He lived as a pilgrim, staying in the houses of others. And when He was dying He had no place to rest His head. Ruminating on how He was most poor in everything else and to imitate Him, Saint Francis commanded his friars in the Rule that they not have anything of their own. Thus unencumbered, like pilgrims on the earth and citizens of heaven, with fervent spirit, they might run along the way of God.
Two aspects become evident in the structure given to the Constitutions by the radical choice of poverty in the construction of friaries. The model of reference on which the ideal is based is once again paired: Francis and the poverty of Christ. Therefore, the choices to be made in the everyday life on the part of the Capuchins have these precise existential references, taken as tangible models at which to look in setting up and organising the daily life. To this theological basis, on which rests the juridical law, the Capuchins joined a second aspect that is extremely interesting: the interpretation made of the Rule that asks the friars to not possess “anything”. The request of Francis, according to the interpretation offered by the Capuchin legislative text, is not primarily of an ascetic motive, that is, to subjugate the flesh, neither is it purely imitative of the choice of poverty made by Christ and by Francis, rather, it is presented as the unique possibility of obtaining a condition of freedom in the following of Christ: “like pilgrims on the earth and citizens of heaven, with fervent spirit, they might run along the way of God”. It seems to me that the text affirms a truth of great importance in an anthropological context: poverty is a choice of agility and freedom; it gives that availability and facility to the friars not only to move around but to “run along the way” of life. Therefore, poverty is not a diminishing of the person, so as to curb his instincts towards sin or to purge his sins but is a freedom and growth of his humanity. In the final analysis it can be held that in the approach offered by the Capuchin Constitutions in the choice of poverty, predominates a type of humanism, the basis of which is found in Christology and in Francis.
To this theological-anthropological foundation of poverty follows a series of interesting normative choices to ensure the visibility of that freedom and agility also in the habitations. Let us note only a few things. The first regards the will to remain precarious in the places where they dwell. Every year the guardians are requested to “go first of all to the owner of the place. Thanking him for the place lent to the friars in the previous year, let them humbly ask him that he may deign to lend it to the friars again for another year”. If he concedes to this, they may be content to remain there, otherwise, after having thanked him, they are to live the freedom and joy of being without anything, going to another place: “let them leave without any show of sadness but rather with a joyful heart. Accompanied by divine poverty…”. To have chosen the freedom of heart with poverty does not only signify to have refused the possession of the place where they live, but also implies giving it a particular external physiognomy that translates the ideal of poverty into a concrete expression. Also, in this case, a reference to the ideal given by the first minoritic experience is given and by counsels proposed by Francis in the Testament:
Like pilgrims, after the example of the ancient Patriarchs, we will have to live in little huts, hovels and hermitages. Therefore we exhort the friars to remember the words of the Seraphic Father in his Testament where he forbids the friars from receiving in any way churches or dwellings built for them if these are not according to the form of most high poverty. Because of this it is understood that it is much less permissible for them to consent to build or have built sumptuous buildings.
Referencing the Rule of Francis as the ideal to be lived, translates into two concrete choices in the Constitutions in regard to dwellings, poverty and minority. Firstly, the dwellings are to be simple and modest, with precise measure given for all aspects of the building. This also holds for the churches: “The churches should also be small, poor and fitting. Nor should the friars want these to be big in order to be able preach”. Preaching can be carried out in churches of others: “As Saint Francis said, better example is given by preaching in the churches of others than in our own, especially if preaching in ours offends holy poverty”. Secondly, even the geography of the habitation in relation to the city is important; it should be around a mile and a half outside of the city; the motivation for this is interesting:
So that seculars may make use of us in spiritual matters, and we of them in temporal things, we order that our places not be taken up too far from the towns or villages, nor be so close so that we suffer detriment from them by too many visits.
The position of the friaries respects the choice of identity in how the friars live in the world: beside the people so as to be near to them in their needs, but not in the centre of the city, thus avoiding occupying places of high visibility and power. The poverty of the friaries also needs to reveal another important choice: that of minority.
2. The second area of great importance in which the Capuchins expressed their minoritic self-awareness was in preaching. In as much as such activity was very important for the good of souls, it was risky to the vocation of the friar minor. According to the Capuchin reform, by way of preaching and consequent to it, the movement of the Observants had lost the initial fidelity to Francis and had returned to the same position of the Conventuals from whom the first Observants distanced themselves.
The overall value given by the Capuchins to the importance of preaching is established at the beginning of the chapter IX: “According to the example of Christ, the teacher of life, the proclamation of the word of God is among the worthiest, most useful, exalted and divine offices in the church of God upon which the salvation of the world mainly depends”. In the successive 15 paragraphs emerge two general aspects of the proposed activity regarding the homiletics to which the friars are called: the way of preaching (111-120) and the necessity of theological preparation to fulfil this important task (121-125). On this second aspect, I have already written abundantly, outlining the moderate choice but also the conviction of the first Capuchins of the need to study so as to prepare oneself adequately for the pastoral mandate. In that study I concluded by noting that the Capuchins in their Constitutions wanted to reconcile and overcome the tension between two expressions of Franciscanism: from one side, the urgency of remaining faithful to the heart of the Franciscan experience in its characteristics of poverty, simplicity and devotion, and on the other part, the need for adequate intellectual and theological preparation to carry out the mandate of preaching.
Also in the regulation of the first area, that is, in the paragraphs dedicated to the way and content of preaching, the Capuchins wanted to remain faithful to their fundamental choice, to be lesser brothers in their pastoral approach. Among the typical aspects of the Capuchin form of preaching, one is particularly interesting in which is summed up the “novelty” of their approach, both in what differentiates it from the Observant tradition and in the desire to use it to confront the grave Protestant crisis that was exploding on the scene in those years. I am referring to the choice of being “evangelical preachers”. This, above all, implied the refusal of certain type of preaching that was almost theatrical and was exercised in that period by the great and famous preachers:
We direct preachers too not to preach idle chatter, flights of fancy, invented stories or other vain, superfluous, novel, useless or even pernicious notions. Rather, after the example of Paul the apostle, they should preach Christ crucified in whom are all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God.
This Christological choice of content was strictly tied to a successive specification that, in its social context, constituted an important response to the grave Protestant crisis:
… we enjoin and stipulate that in their preaching the preachers use the Sacred Scriptures, the New Testament in particular, and most especially the Holy Gospel, so that being evangelical preachers ourselves we may also make the peoples evangelical.
In Christ crucified and in the gospels the Capuchins found the Word and the words to say in their preaching; the simplicity of their speech was the measure of this fidelity to the dictate of the Gospel, meanwhile the fervour of heart was the definitive proof of adhesion and participation to that evangelical spirit:
Refined, embroidered and pretentious words do not go with the naked and humble Crucified, as do plain, simple, humble and lowly words instead, which are divine and ardent words full of love […]. Therefore we exhort the preachers to imprint Blessed Christ upon their hearts and to give themselves into His serene possession so that through the superabundance of love He may be the one who speaks in them, not only with words but especially through their deeds…
Therefore, the Capuchin lesser brothers were called also to translate their choice of minority into their way of preaching, free from pompous rhetoric, so as to be nourished by the simplicity and evangelical poverty of the crucified Word. In this choice of minority in their mode of being, they found not only fidelity to the model of Christ and Francis in their simplicity and authenticity of words in preaching, but they were also able to decisively immerse themselves in the novelty of the times, which required an overall renewal of the way of preaching that could free itself from flaunting rhetoric, so as to return to announcing by “Scripture alone” (“sola scrittura”).
In the course of our journey through some of the great Constitutions that arose out of the historical travails of the Franciscan Order, we have simply wanted to glance at some of the texts which are as precious as they are complex. Out of this I would like to draw together some general considerations, gathering together the observation made through this reading of the texts.
The first aspect is in regard to the strict and necessary relationship between the Rule and the Constitutions. The recognition of the need to complement the Rule with another juridical text, that developed the general elements for a more precise application as to the necessities of the Order, most probably constituted, at the beginning, a great burden and, perhaps, also a scandal for the friars. The Rule on its own was not enough to normalise their life and render it an experience that could be lived out together.
In this context developed the second element of the relationship immersed between the two texts giving identity to the friars in their juridical-spiritual function that favoured the minoritic life. In particular, on the part of the Constitutions of John of Capestrano, the author wanted to put in evidence the nature of service of his legislative text, tying the twelve chapters of the Constitution directly with those of the Rule. They, therefore, ideally present themselves as specific articulations of the dictates of the Rule of Francis, which, however, remains the foundation for the life of the friars. However, the general value of the Rule, the normative text of life, cannot be concretised and actualised without another legislative document that can give coherent expression to the Rule in the midst of the ebb and flow of history in the different transformations being undergone by the Order.
Therefore, the Constitutions, throughout the centuries, have been an attempt to give a concrete body and an actuality to an underlying ideality and to the overly generalised norms of the Rule. Such an objective has characterised their troubled redactional history. The repetition and overlapping of many Constitutions recounts in a summary fashion, the process of the continuous search for an identity (una identità in cammino) that has always needed to rearticulate and rethink itself within the changes of history.
The final consideration is in regard to the relationship between the Constitutions and the self-awareness of the minoritic Order. Between these two aspects there has been a type of circular hermeneutics: from the identity awareness to the legislative texts and vice versa. Normally Constitutions have force only if they arise from the beginning of the movement, that is, from the self-awareness of a particular type of life, being immediately at the service of the ideality of the particular life, defending it from every attack that threatens its fidelity, together with maintaining its adherence to that life in the midst of the changing circumstances of history. Instead, when a legislative text has wanted to create the life, establishing in anticipation the forms to be imposed in order to reform the minoritic identity, it was almost never able to have a truly effective influence on the self-awareness of the friars. In this regard it seems to me that the Capuchin Constitutions were the most interesting and mature text in revealing this process that goes from life to legislation. They not only intercepted and translated a strong drive for renewal but constituted a great legislative novelty, demonstrating that the norms are either the adherence to concrete existential models or, otherwise, have no efficacy. The figures of Christ and Francis, as effective reference points for precise choices, conferred on the various norms their weight of identity and their capacity to create the life to be lived out. Therefore, those ancient texts of the Capuchins recall an important truth: In the final analysis, it is not a question of observing the norms but, thanks to them, adhering to existential models that unites oneself to that life of the friars that becomes and effective participation in the feast of the Kingdom.
- TOMMASO DA ECCLESTON, Cronaca, 79: FF 2504. ↑
- SALIMBENE DA PARMA, Cronaca, 29: FF 2623. ↑
- TOMMASO DA ECCLESTON, Cronaca, 86: FF 2511. ↑
- TOMMASO offers some information on the work carried out by the English group: “the names of the members were Adam Marsh, Brother Peter, custos in Oxford, Brother Burford and another” (ibid.); he inserted a note regarding a strange request on the part of the group addressed to the General to whom they sent the work, “When some articles had been noted down, the friars sent them to the General in an envelope without a seal, imploring, in the name of the Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, to allow the Rule to remain as it was written by Saint Francis under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” (ibid.). The friars were aware that in carrying out an interpretive work on the Rule, they were going against the Testament, and in some way, they were afraid of what they were doing; this may indicate the reason there was initial reluctance to bring any Constitutions into force. ↑
- Cf. Expositio quatuor magistrorum super Regulam Fratrum Minorum (1241-1242), ed. L. Oliger, Roma 1950. ↑
- For the Italian text, cf. FF 2739/1-10. ↑
- Lettera di Greccio: FF 575. [FA:ED, vol. 2,67] ↑
- Ibid. ↑
- Cf. SALIMBENE DA PARMA, Cronaca, 29: FF 2623. ↑
- References to the three historical ‘digs’ carried out by Cenci to bring to light the different textual layers of the prenarbonense texts: C. CENCI, De Fratrum Minorum constitutionibus praenarbonensibus, in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 83 (1990) 50-95 [in seguito: Prenarbonensi]; ID., Fragmenta priscarum constitutionum praenarbonensium, in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 96 (2003) 289-300 [Fragmenta]; ID., Vestigia constitutionum praenarbonensium, in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 97 (2004) 61-91. He has unified all this material in his most recent volume Constitutiones generales ordinis fratrum minorum, I (Saeculum XIII) (Analecta Franciscana, XIII. Nova Series. Documenta et studia, I), Grottaferrata 2007; i testi sono così ordinati: “Fragmenta priscarum constitutionum praenarbonensium (1239)” (5-12); “Constitutionnum praenarbonensium particulae (1239-1254)” (1736); “Vestigia constitutionum praenarbonensium (1239-1257) (43-63). ↑
- On this, cf. P. MARANESI, La normativa degli Ordini mendicanti sui libri in convento, in Libri, biblioteche e letture dei frati mendicanti (secoli XIII-XIV). Atti del XXXII convengo internazionale. Assisi 7-9 ottobre 2004 (Società internazionale di studi francescani, XXXII) Spoleto 2005, 175-181. ↑
- On this aspect, cf. ibid., 181-191. ↑
- For a presentation of the notable events of his election, proposed by the outgoing General Minister John of Parma, see the work of A. C. CADDEI, Il beato Giovanni da Parma, 1208-1289: settimo Ministro generale dei Frati Minori dopo san Francesco, Villa Verrucchio 2004, 260-265. ↑
- On the multifaceted pastoral activity of Bonaventure to the benefit of his Order in his role as General Minister, cf. P. MARANESI, Bonaventura ministro generale di fronte all’Ordine francescano e alla Chiesa, in Doctor seraphicus 55 (2008) 17-65. ↑
- Cf. ibid., 18-32. ↑
- Cf. Lettera I, in: SAN BONAVENTURA, Opuscoli francescani/1 (Sancti Bonaventurae Opera, XIV/1), Roma 1993, 111-117. ↑
- [Sir 36:25] ↑
- Costituzioni generali dell’Ordine dei Frati Minori, Prol. 1, in: SAN BONAVENTURA, Opuscoli francescani/1 (Sancti Bonaventurae Opera, XIV/1), Roma 1993, 127. Per l’edizione critica del testo, cf. Costitutiones generales, 69-104. ↑
- A reasoned presentation of the redactional relationship between the fragments of the pre-Constitutions of Narbonne looked at by C. CENCI and the Constitutions of Narbonne was done by L. PELLEGRINI in his Introduction to the SAN BONAVENTURA, Opuscoli francescani/1 (Sancti Bonaventurae Opera, XIV/1), Roma 1993, 28-33. ↑
- Prologus; I: De Religionis ingressu; II: De qualitate habitus; III: De observantia paupertatis; IV: De forma interius conversandi; V: De modo exterius exeundi; VI: De occupationibus fratrum; VII: De correctionibus delinquentium; VIII: De visitationibus provinciarum; IX: De electionibus ministrorum; X: De capitulo provinciali; XI: De capitulo generali; XII: De suffragiis defunctorum. ↑
- Costitutiones generales, 32. ↑
- Ibid., 74. ↑
- On this rubric, cf. ibid, 240-246. ↑
- On this question, cf. P. MARANESI, Nescientes litteras. L’ammonizione della Regola Francescana e la questione degli studi nell’Ordine (sec. XIII-XVI) (Biblioteca seraphico-capuccina, 61), Istituto Storico dei Cappuccini, Roma 2000, 82. ↑
- A careful analysis of these articles can be found in in P. MARANESI, La normativa, 246-253. ↑
- C. Cenci for the thirteenth century has identified after Narbonne and those of Assisi in 1279 another four general Constitutions: those of Strasburg (1282), Milan (1285) and two of Paris (1292 and 1295) (for these editions, cf. Costitutiones, 149-364). The same author has worked on the successive Constitutions of the fourteenth century. We know for certain that there followed another two that maintain the tradition of the Constitutions of Narbonne: Assisi of 1316 (for this edition: A. CARLINI, Constitutiones generales Ordinis Fratrum Minorum anno 1316 Assisii conditae, in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 4  276-302) and Lyon of 1325 (the text was published in “Appendix” of the preceding article: A. CARLINI, Constitutiones generales, 527-536). ↑
- Constitutiones generales, 115. ↑
- On this see the broad and interesting analysis of G. MERLO, Nel nome di san Francesco. Storia dei frati Minori e del francescanesimo sino agli inizi del XVI secolo, Milano 2003, 252-276. ↑
- For the text, cf. S. MENCHERINI, Constitutiones generales Ordinis Fratrum Minorum a capitulo Perpiniani anno 1331 celebrato editae, in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 2 (1909) 276292, 412-430, 575-598. ↑
- For the text, cf. M. BIHL, Ordinationes a Benedicto XII pro Fratribus Minoribus promulgatae per bullam 28 Novembris 1336, in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 30 (1937) 332-390. ↑
- [Just as in the past in the sacred Order of Friars Minor the qualities of the practice of the prescribed sacrifice of silence, and abstinence in food were faithfully observed, and as we can see from a study of the sacred documents of the Order and how members of the Order emphasised this in their teaching as well as stressing that the love of God which is the source of all other virtues should rule and flower in the heart, along with the other praiseworthy practices of regular observance, let this now shine out in an exemplary manner so that they may be a mirror to others as to how to live and be an example of sanctity that they can imitate.] Ut igitur in sacro Fratrum Minorum Ordine quem ab olim gessimus et gerimus in visceribus caritatis, divinorum officiorum sacrificium debitumque silentium, ciborum abstinentiam, sanctimonia habitus observentur, studium quoque sacrae paginae in dicto Ordine vigeat, et personis eiusdem Ordinis ad hoc aptis insistendi disciplinis scholasticis commoditas ministretur, ac caritas Dei ex qua virtutes ceterae generantur, regnet et ferveat in cordibus eorumdem, ceteraeque laudabiles observantiae regulares sic exemplariter luceant in eisdem, ut sint etiam aliis in recte vivendi speculum et imitandae sanctitatis exemplum (Ordinationes a Benedicto XII, 333). ↑
- M. BIHL, Constitutiones generales editae in capitulis generalibus Caturci an. 1337 et Lugduni an. 1351 celebratis, in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 30 (1937) 128-157. ↑
- F. DELORME, Acta et constitutiones capituli generalis Assisiensis (1340), in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 6 (1913) 251-266. ↑
- F. DELORME, Acta capituli generalis anno 1346 Venetiis celebrati, in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 5 (1912) 698-708. ↑
- M. BIHL, Constitutiones generales editae in capitulis generalibus Caturci an. 1337 et Lugduni an. 1351 celebratis, in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 30 (1937) 158-169. ↑
- M. BIHL, Statuta generalia Ordinis edita in capitulo generali an. 1354 Assisii celebrato communiter Farineriana appellata, in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 35 (1942) 82-112, 177-253. ↑
- For all that follows see my study, Giovanni da Capestrano. Identità e sviluppo istituzionale dell’Osservanza, in Giovanni da Capestrano e la riforma della Chiesa. Atti del V convegno storico di Greccio (Greccio, 4-5 maggio 2007), a cura di A. Cacciotti e M. Melli (Biblioteca di Frate Francesco 6), Milano 2008, 16-33. ↑
- For G. HOFER, the text is to be considered a circular letter written by Capestrano at the beginning of his mandate. It was to outlay the guiding lines of his service as Vicar of the Italian Observants ((cf. Johannes Kapistran im Kampf um die Reform der Kirche (Bibliotheca Franciscana, 1), vol. 1-2, Roma 1964, 264-265); in the footnote 115 on page 265, on the other hand, the translator of Hofer’s wants to clarify that the text should not be reduced to “Rundschreiben”, that is, to a circular letter, but is to be considered in all respects as the “Ordinationes seu Costitutiones B.P.Fr. Joannis de Capistrano super Regulam fratrum minorum”. ↑
- For the text, cf. Chronologia historico-legalis seraphici Ordinis fratrum Minorum Sancti Francisci, vol. I, Napoli 1650, 102-111. ↑
- Cf. ibid., 105a. ↑
- In my study on John of Capestrano I make note of the middle way chosen by Capestrano in choosing this bull as the text of referral in the reading of the Rule, placing it as such between Quo elongati of Gregory IX of 1230 and Exit qui seminat of Nicholas III of 1279 (cf. MARANESI, Gionvanni da Capestrano: identità e sviluppo, 29). ↑
- «Et quia Praedicationis officium est substentamentum Fidei Christianae, lumen veritatis, schola virtutum, ruina vitiorum, via salutis, doctrina morum, camera sanctitatis, tribunal iudicii, cruciatus Demonum, clausura infernorum, ianua coelorum, confirmatio iustorum, reductio peccatorum, et instructio omnium rationabilium animorum, non imperito huiusmodi tam arduis et excellentioribus Privilegiis ab Ecclesia praedotatur» (Chronologia, I, 106a-b). ↑
- Cf. P. MARANESI, Nescientes litteras, 230-234; in this context there is also the important circular letter, written a few months after the Constitutions, entitled De studio promovendo, in which the Vicar wants to defend the importance of the studies against the perplexity that was perhaps fermenting within the Observants (cf. ibid, 272-279). ↑
- Cf. Costituzioni o Ordinazioni di Albacina, in I frati cappuccini. Documenti e testimonianze del primo secolo, a cura di C. Cargnoni, I, Perugia 1988, 179-225. ↑
- Cf. Costituzioni di Sant’Eufemia, in I frati cappuccini, I, 253-464. ↑
- Cf. what is noted in a general way in my Nescientes litteras, 291-294. ↑
- Costituzioni, I,1 (257). ↑
- Ibid. ↑
- For a summary of these historical connections to the role assigned to the Testament in the reading of the Rule, cf. what I have written in my recent volume L’eredità di frate Francesco. Lettura storico-critica del Testamento (Studi e ricerche, 1), Assisi 2009, 327-335. ↑
- Constitutioni, I,7 (264-265). ↑
- Ibid., 8 (265-266). ↑
- Ibid., 69 (343-344). ↑
- Ibid., 70 (345). ↑
- Ibid. ↑
- Ibid., 73 (347). ↑
- Cf. ibid., 74 (348-349). ↑
- Ibid., (349). ↑
- Ibid., (350). ↑
- Ibid., 77 (352). ↑
- Ibid., IX, 110 )406). ↑
- P. MARANESI, Nescientes litteras, 305-306. ↑
- Costitutiones, IX, 111 (410). ↑
- Ibid., 117 (417-418). ↑
- Ibid., 112 (411). ↑