By Antonio di Pinerolo
Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni OFM Cap
Translated by Patrick Colbourne OFM Cap
Translator’s note: This translation is based on the introduction, text and footnotes which were published by P. Costanzo Cargnoni O.F.M. Cap. in I Frati Cappuccini: Documenti e testimonianze dell primo secolo, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, vol III/2, pp.3238-3240. The only additions to the notes made by the translator are references to Francis of Assisi: The Early Documents, edited by Regis Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., J. A. Wayne Hellmann, O.F.M. and William J. Short O.F.M. Conv., New York City Press, New York, London, Manila, for an English version of quotations from the Writings or Biographies of St Francis.
Among the catechisms that a Capuchin composed in the sixteenth century which served as instruments for extending the effect of their preaching this work by Antonio di Pinerolo is one of the most outstanding. It is not an outline of teachings but a “discussion” between a teacher and his pupil regarding “God’s presence in the Christian life” which is developed in thirteen chapters with splendid theological insight and pastoral know-how.
Beginning with the Baptismal commitments which are carried out through an unwavering profession of faith and by means of which, by the grace of God, we become children of the Father, the ‘discussion” deals with God’s commandments, the first three of which speak about the love of God, and the other seven about love of neighbour. The points that are developed emphasise the practical aspects of the spiritual life and interior observance and lash out against contemporary perversion in order to promote genuine Christian reform amongst ordinary people.
Two entire chapters are devoted to the life of faith which is the basis of Christian life and involves conformity to the life of “Jesus” in its spiritual features. At this point the simple catechism soars to the heights of mystical theology and immerses the soul which lives by faith in the love of God where “by knowing, penetrating, desiring, and acting it gives itself completely to God and, by withdrawing from itself, immerses itself in the love of God and is overcome with love for God.” This takes place through the merits of Christ’s Passion through which the grace of perseverance is granted to those who have become God’s friends by means of the prayer that Christ taught, namely the Our Father, as well as by the practice of virtue. The “discussion” sets out a wonderful commentary on the Our Father joining it with the need to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation “in order to become God’s children once again.” It outlines the benefit and the need of preparation and issues a strong warning about “confessori ribaldi (rogue confessors)” and inept confessors.
The final topic is the Eucharist which is portrayed as the spiritual nourishment of the Christian life because “it is the most direct, simple, and most pleasant way” to achieve union with God. Rather than stressing the theological doctrine on transubstantiation, it invites the reader to become involved in loving contemplation on the mystery of Christ’s love in the same way as St Francis: “joyfully considered Christ’s great love for us: relishing the taste of it; nourishing the soul with this and making a firm resolution to devote yourself to Christ who gave himself up for you and who gives you all that is good.”
Thus, the basic building blocks of this catechetical discussion are the commandments to love God and neighbour, the life of faith, the truths contained in the Creed, grace, and the works of mercy, as set out in the Our Father, and invoked in Confession and Communion.
In this very rare text, one copy of which was published in 1540 in Atatiana, and two others in Florence in 1543, some scholars have found some questionable doctrinal statements because it does not explicitly mention the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope or Church Hierarchy and the Sacraments, while placing great emphasis on faith as the means of cancelling sins, the reception of the Eucharist, meditation on the Passion and the sufferings of Christ as the way to make Christ present in the Christian life. This is more in accord with the line of thought of Bernardino Ochino than with that of Antonio da Pinerolo. Ugo Rozzo says: “Until proved wrong, we prefer to follow tradition. The doctrine of justification had not yet been defined in the way that it was in the Council of Trent. At the beginning of the sixteenth century evangelism and spiritualism were regarded to be essential elements of the reformist, penitential preaching of the early Capuchins. Later, because of this they were accused on following “the freedom of the spirit” movement.”
What was new was that at least a third of the discussion was devoted to the topic of Confession. This shows how from the very beginning the Capuchins tried to promote popular piety by teaching children the truths of the faith and the frequent reception of the Sacraments. It was a kind of preaching that challenged confessors to care for penitents. This emphasis on penance went further than what was being advocated by Castellino da Castello in his famous catechism which was being prepared in the school of Christian doctrine that he founded.