A Circular Letter of the General Minister 6 July 1548

by Bernardino D’Asti

Translated by Patrick Colbourne O.F.M.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 II. pp.831-833. 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, (1999) for an English version of quotations from the Writings or Biographies of St Francis.

Introduction by Contanzo Cargnoni O.F.M.Cap.

Castrogiovanni (Enna), 6th June 1548. – Bernardino d’Asti,[1] superior general to the brothers in his Order. This letter is regarded as the first circular to come from a superior of the whole Order. It contains a faithful complete and concise portrait of the spiritual outlook of the original Capuchins, based on the practice of brotherly love, prayer and total poverty.

Circular Letter

Reverend Fathers, Brothers and Sons, Greetings.

[Virtues as ornaments of the soul]

2416 Rejoice always in the Lord; again I say rejoice the Lord is near[2] and takes care of us continually.[3] Just as expensive clothes are an enhancement to the body and make it more attractive than before, so holy virtues are the expensive clothing and enhancement of the soul and make it truly more beautiful and confer such dignity and distinction on it that the sinful soul changes from being adulterous and a slave of the Devil to being the spouse of God, the greatest Emperor, our Lord Jesus Christ,  and queen and empress of the heavenly kingdom and empire.

[The primacy of charity]

2417 Charity and love are the most worthy and foremost of these virtues.[4] It is a very sweet and delightful virtue. However, carnal, worldly and beastly men pretend to be clothed with charity. We have to be cautious about them and run away from them as our great Master has warned us. He says that we shall know them by their fruit that is their actions.[5] Still I want to give you two examples or clues by which, when there is real charity in you or in others, you will recognise these people.

[Signs of real charity]

2418 When you see a Capuchin brother continually concerned about prayer and very zealous about most holy poverty being charitable towards his spiritual brothers and other neighbours, you may credit him with having genuine charity. However if you see one who is negligent about prayer, and who likes a lax life and an abundance of comfortable things and who proclaims and praises charity, run away from him and be suspicious of him. Do not believe that his charity is real charity, but more likely something material and love of the flesh and comfort, because charity does not exist in us without the other necessary virtues, especially without the two which have just been mentioned: prayer and poverty.

[Concern for poverty]

2419 Thus special continual concern for most holy poverty is the real sign of true rather than contrived poverty and the other virtues. If you see a Capuchin brother who does not practice or who is not zealous about the full observance of most holy poverty, be suspicious about his prayer life; be suspicious about his zeal for poverty. We have seen some brothers who appeared to have a degree of zeal for poverty and who subsequently changed their minds and turned back to a lax way of life. It is not up to us to judge them. However I believe that the main reason for their ruin was a lack of humble prayer.

[Poverty the basis of Capuchin fraternity]

2420 Whoever wants to be safe, as far as he can be in the present life, must do one or other of these signs. Be very sure that, just as a house can never stand up without foundations, neither can we stand if we lack the full observance of most holy poverty. This would bring about the ruin of our Congregation. Woe to those Capuchins who try to relax our way of life! They are not true Friars Minor of Saint Francis, but rather of Brother Elias. As the Apostle says, they are enemies of the Cross of Christ,[6] our God, and a destructive instrument for our Congregation.

[Prayer, charity, poverty]

2421 Therefore I exhort and beg of each one of you, as far as possible, to be very concerned about humble and devout prayer, begging the Lord from your hearts to bestow and increase and advance these holy virtues, especially most holy charity and poverty which, along with prayer, are most necessary and precious ornaments of the true lesser brother. Without them no Capuchin brother can be pleasing to God, or hope to enter the eternal marriage to the divine and heavenly spouse. May he bless and keep you always in his grace and in holy peace.

From Castrogiovanni, VI June 1548.

Yours,

The General of the Capuchins,

Br Bernardino d’Asti


Endnotes:

  1. Bernardino Palli d’Asti, one of the outstanding figures in the Order, established the definitive character of the way of life to the Capuchin reform. He exercised the office of superior general from 1535 to 1538 and from 1546 to 1552. See Lexicon cap.., 200s. and the analytical index of I frati cappuccini.
  2. Cf Phil 4:4-5.
  3. Cf 1 Pt 5:7.
  4. Cf 1 Cor. 13:13
  5. Cf. Mt 7:15ss.
  6. Phil. 3:18