Below are some sources of the early Capuchin reform of the 16th century. Some remain in their original Italian or Latin, such as the letters of Cardinal Contarini, others have been translated into English.
♦ 1536 Capuchin Constitutions in modern Italian with footnote references to scripture and Franciscan sources
This letter has been translated from the text provided by Fr Cuthbert, The Capuchins: A Contribution to the history of the Counter-Reformation in Appendix II, n. 1. For the orginal Italian text download PDF.
The statement: “that the spirit of devotion not grow cold in the friars but burn continuously and ever more intensely on the altar of their heart” reflects the influence of Saint Bonaventure and his accomodation of Leviticus 6:12-16 in his authenticated minor spiritual works De perfection vitae ad sorores and De sex aliis seraphim.
The Rule and Testament of Saint Francis are a distillation of the prolongation in history of the following in the footsteps of the poor, chaste and obedient One. In the first Capuchin Constitutions (1536), this living according to the pattern of the holy gospel is not only after the example of Saint Francis but also Saint Cecila. The figure of the virgin Cecilia gives an important insight into the contemporary understanding of this particular way of following the Master.
Other sources of influence, contextual or informative
The Christian Alphabet of Valdés unfolds in the form a dialogue with Giulia Gonzaga in which the “Preacher” is referred to around 20 times. The “Preacher” is the Capuchin Bernardino Ochino who is preaching the Lenten cycle in Naples in 1537.
Juán Valdés (1490-1541) had a significant influence on the currents of reform in the Catholic Church of Italy in the 16th century, especially evangelical spirituality. Bernardino Ochino came within his circle of influence.The Hundred and Ten Considerations of Juán Valdés gives insight into his soteriology and evangelical spirituality.
An indication of the significance of “The Benefit of Christ’s Death” as one of the sources to be studied in appreciating the Capuchin reform is given by Michele Camaioni in his comments on the Capuchin Constitutions of 1536 (published in 1537). He notes that a more profound analysis of the 1536 Capuchin Constitutions (St. Euphemia) reveals them to be much more than just a juridical text or a spiritual comment on the Rule of Saint Francis. Such a study situates them in the tension of an unfolding evangelical-mystical spirituality of the first half of the 16thcentury. The Constitutions are revealed to be a treatise on Christian perfection and a work of piety reflecting the tonality of the language and complex vision of the religious sensibility of the period. These characteristics of the Constitutions can be seen to be the fruit of the relationships between the early friars, such as Bernardino d’Asti, Giovanni da Fano and, above all, Bernardino Ochino. The common theological and spiritual lexical sources of these relationships are to be found in the “The Benefit of Christ’s Death” and a form of mysticism that flowed from beguine and alumbrados sources, which these early Capuchins absorbed from the Franciscan spirituals and from heterodox sources, such as Margurite Porete’sThe Mirror of Simple Souls and the Franciscan Observants, Bartolomeo Cordoni’s, Il Dyalogo della unione dell’anima con Dio.
Note: This version attributes authorship to Aonio Paleario; this is now accepted by scholars today as erroneous; now generally accepted that the first author was a Benedictine from Mantua, Benedetto Fontanini (1495-1556), and revised by Marcantonio Flaminio (1498 – 1550).
Concerning the Relief of the Poor, provides a 16th century European glimpse into the situation of the poor and the communal endeavour to succour them. It helps to contextualise the situation in which the early Capuchins were preaching and working, even if Vivès is concerned with Belgium, while the early Capuchins were confined to the Italian peninsula.