Matteo da Bascio: The “severa riprensione”

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/1, pp.2105-2115. 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.

Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni OFM Cap

Capuchin spirituality took its first uncertain steps with the courageous choice of a new way of life by Matteo da Bascio (+ 1532). He promoted a scheme of Franciscan renewal, provided evidence of it being a charismatic gift, displayed the strength of a genuine founder and the dynamism of a new beginning that motivated and also provided an example of the essential elements of the Capuchin way of life for the future. He wanted to be an itinerant preacher who was liberated and poor, ready to serve the poor, the lowly, those affected by plague, and those who were ill and in need.

As a part of history, Matteo da Bascio’s life should be interpreted in the context of the contemporary understanding of what it meant to be a hermit. From a spiritual perspective it embraced all of the features that became the characteristics of the Capuchin Friars. He represented something that was new concerning the fundamental qualities of moral and penitential preaching, a way of preaching that was genuinely Franciscan, simple and concise, yet strong and effective, that prompted souls to radically change their individual lives, which was something which people appreciated very much.

He was an apostle who was simple and homely, in touch with people who came from the countryside, wandered through the streets, and who were in the squares and the marketplaces. He used words that fed the poor, not with bread, but with the word of God: as Mattia da Salò put it in his chronicle.

He made use of phrases that possessed rhythmical cadence that simple uneducated people, even children, could understand. He had a special love for the poor. He also made use of music, having the people “sing certain devout songs that made people long for heaven.” When the chronicler Paolo da Foligno was speaking about his apostolic catechesis among the people he related how he made use of certain “sudden bursts into verse because they made a deeper impression … and he also used other verses that were very unsettling, which, according to the circumstances, he would sing in a rough voice in order to frighten sinners.” (cf. MHOC VII, 99).

To those who would tell him that it would have been better for him to have given himself to contemplative life he would reply – according to Colpetrazzo – that “to rest in the gentle sleep of contemplation brings about a feeling of delight in the senses, but does nothing for one’s neighbour; whereas the life of a pilgrim does two things, makes provision for contemplation and for preaching.”

He was a preacher who was completely poor and who was animated by strong prayer. This is the “mixed life” that was later emphasised in the Capuchin Constitutions, which, however, still gave precedence to the contemplative element over the exciting element of apostolic dynamism.

When Matteo da Bascio was not preaching or occupied with teaching catechism to children or the people, or attending to the sick or to soldiers, or helping the poor in time of famine, he was constantly praying, especially at night. He was a living example of the mixture of the components that would make up Capuchin life. He was a prophetic model for great men who taught people how to pray, for countless catechists, missionaries and popular preachers, for those who gave heroic assistance to those who suffered from the plague, to the incurable and the sick, to those who had been abandoned and were dying, to those who had been sentenced to death as well as to those in the army and those who were military chaplains, to those doing social work and providing spiritual direction for fraternities and for members of church groups that provided charitable assistance.

In order to gain an understanding of the general thrust and logic of his itinerant preaching, we shall now quote from a very rare little work that was discovered by Giuseppe De Luca, containing the notes by an anonymous author, and which were printed probably immediately following the death of Matteo da Bascio. It contains a poem of twenty-seven verses as well as about forty choruses that add up to two hundred and twenty verses. The content makes up a unified whole. The content of these verses alternate between the basic topics of sermons, the Ten Commandments, the precepts of the Church, the capital sins, and the duties of one’s state. It is an catalogue of the predominant vices of various categories of people, particular states and the desires of conceited women, hypocrites, drunkards, servants, those who are envious, those who are powerful and lord it over others, lawyers, notaries, procurators, doctors and businessmen, wealthy farmers and masters that exploit their workers, those who are deceitful, craftsmen, magicians and fortune tellers, dressmakers, innkeepers, and, finally, those who are apathetic and wasteful.

If the message is terrifying and enflamed with the threat of hell, it ends up being sweet and friendly. The last three lines praise God’s mercy, the longing for Paradise, the fruits of love for the poor and of forgiveness. It stretches from justice to mercy. Thus it paints a picture of the social and personal life of the period against a background of failings and abuse like an “intense examination of conscience – says Melchiorre da Pobladura – that completely expresses the mentality and method of Franciscan preaching that is aimed at denouncing vice and teaching virtue in line with the few words that St Francis put in the Rule. In fact, moral and penitential preaching is what the early Capuchins preferred as it was in line with the authentic Franciscan tradition.”


5605 Go to hell you sinners,
Wicked people, to unending hell;
You who have poured scorn on what was good,
Being obstinate in committing what was wrong.

He whom the sky, the earth and the waters
Love, honour[1], adore and fear,
He who was born for ungrateful mankind
That was lost and without hope,
Was justifiably angry and irate with us,
Because we were so ungrateful.
Threatening those who were wicked,
Shouting at those who were woeful and evildoers:
Go to hell [2 n.n.]

The exalted divine power,
Which is holy, just, humble and merciful
Did not want to tolerate this
Nor to show respect for people like this;
At the end he cried out,
And challenges the wickedness of their sin,
And from all sides
He said to the wicked chorus:
Go to hell.

5606 Go to hell whoever who does not observe
What God commands and wants
He who has a wicked and arrogant mind,
Who does not believe, adore and honour
He who goes after dreams and fairy tales,
Witchcraft, magic and incantations,
All these go to hell
Into eternal and great suffering [2]
Go to hell.

Go to hell you scoundrel.
You wretch, you wicked and guilty fellow,
Who blaspheme each time that you are upset.
The Lord, who is your sweet God
He has been so merciful to you,
To whom you have been so spiteful
Loving and fearing false gods.
You have cursed and dishonoured me.
Go to hell.

Go to hell you who work
During festivals and Holy Days,
Who worship sin on those days,
Offering God a thousand insults and ridicule;
Hating him all the time,
And killing your brother;
Being uncouth, wicked and rebellious [3 n.n.]
To your sweet parents.
Go to hell.

5607 Go to hell you who are not
Faithful to your wife,
So that she has to remain frigid and alone,
While you are sleeping in the bed of another
When she needs something
There will be times when she is right
To stay away from you
And do something for another
Go to hell.

Go to hell you who deceive,
Good Lady, consider your husband
You who upset him by your evil way of life,
And make him shake his finger,
Concerning someone who has come to you with gold
And you have opened the door to him,
Leaving your face unveiled
Doing what a wife should not do.
Go to hell.

Go to hell you brutish people,
Who engage in that brutish action,
That is not natural.
Which makes a woman a whore.
May fire come down from heaven to destroy you,
O may you experience suffering,
Whether you are a man or a woman,
If you have slept in such wickedness.
Go to hell.

5608 Go to hell you who keep
What is not yours.
All who intend to rob and steal,
You will gain no profit in heaven;
Whoever purchases and keeps
What he knows to have been stolen [4 n.n.]
Anyone who intends to litigate[3]
To force creditors to pay.
Go to hell.

Go to hell all of you
Who pronounce false judgement;
You continually criticise
Good and holy people;
Yet you are lazy and sluggish
Set on defaming[4] everyone.
Whether they are good or bad men or women,
You should be called detractors.
Go to hell.

Go to hell you wicked women
Who titivate your face,
Something with which God had endowed you
With his merciful hands, you ruin;
You wear curls[5]
Earrings and beautiful necklaces.
You go around covered in cream,
Perfume and useless scents
Go to hell.

5609 Go to hell I say, O you women.
Who parade around
Wearing splendid, expensive dresses,
In carriages embroidered with gold.[6]
In order to be admired,
You adorn yourself with rubies
Bracelets and red furs, [7]
Adorned with gold, pearls and expensive jewels.
Go to hell.

Go the hell Pharisees,
False saints, hypocrites,
You are guilty to your teeth
In public you want to appear to be good,
You go down on your knees
Mumbling the Our Father
Bending[8] your neck, beating your chest
You are only looking for human praise,
Go to hell.

Go to hell you innkeepers,
Parasites, drunkards, gluttons,
You who take all hope away,
You deserve to be covered with blows.
To hell with you who are corrupt
You indulge in laziness.
To hell you who envy,
Into eternal heavy suffering
Go to hell.

5610 To hell with you who hold power,
Those who have the sceptre in their hand,
You who afflict those who are innocent,
And are found of profane evil.
The Lord who sees from afar
Can see you tipping the scales
And striking cheeks.
He will say: unjust and guilty men
Go to hell.

Go to hell you who change
Yes into no, and no into yes.[9]
You who assassinate people,
And rob all day long.
Solicitors, I say now,
Woe to you and to you lawyers,
Oh you notaries who are bogus and iniquitous,
I warn you procurators,
Go to hell.

Go to hell you murderers,
I warn you greedy doctors,
You rob those who are sick
By protracting the treatment to make money. [6 n. n.]
You often give them something
To make them sleep forever.[10]
To make more money,[11] and to do more damage.
You are prepared to do this. You conniver:
Go to hell.

5611 Go to hell you men who engage in trading,
Because gold has become your god.
You see no wrong in lying,
It is all that you want to do,
To lend at exorbitant interest and swindle.
I say that you too are bullies,
Wicked bankers, people who play tricks.
Go to hell.

Go to hell those of you who are always hoping for
Famine and shortages;
You who delight in floods and hail,
To increase your sales,
To take all that
A faithful Christian possesses,
So then when they buy fodder and grain,
They will have to spend more.[12]
Go to hell.

Go to hell you who live in the town,
Who kill, rob and cripple
Your poor neighbour who lives in the country.
Who is always in a state of anxiety because of you
Go to hell. Who are you deceiving?
You wicked scoundrel, is that you who are the master?
When you are not stealing, you evil greedy man,
You think that you have wasted your sweat.
Go to hell.

5612 Go to hell you craftsmen,
You who rob while you are going about your work.
You play the part of a workman.
How do you think that you can save yourself?
You too, unjust baker,
You who undercook the bread,
And never produce it at the correct weight!
Go to hell.

Go to hell you wicked tailor,
Even if the cloth is good if you do not change the length[13]
You will be sad for a year.
However you will see what you have gained,
When all of us appear before God,
When there will be no one to intercede
For someone who has been iniquitous and wicked.
Go to hell.

Go to hell you wicked innkeepers,
You who sell water instead of wine.
You who rob outsiders,
And even trick your neighbours.
When they pay you a quattrino.[14]
You ask for seven or eight
After you had paid a price
That was much lower.
Go to hell.

5613 Go to hell those who do evil
In thought and then regret it,
When they are old and frail:
He who is unable to commit a crime.
Such as these will still be punished and burnt.
Those who made up their mind to sin
Baratieri[15] as well as those who are playing.
Go to hell.

Go to the glory of paradise,
In the heavenly and holy kingdom,
You who have come away from vice
And show signs of virtue.
You who despise nobody,
Forgiving your enemy;
Those who out of their treasure,
Gave alms to poor beggars.
Sinners go to Hell.

5614 Therefore, do good to everyone,
If you want to go to paradise.
Be on guard against evil.
If someone is in hell and has been conquered
It is because God cheerfully
Rewards those who are good, and threatens the wicked.
He is very merciful, but can also cast aside,
As is just, those who do evil.

Go to hell sinners,
Those who are wicked go to the great hell.
Those who have scorned what is good
And been obstinate in error.


  1. Cole in a Latin expression meaning venera, onora
  2. Poetic expression for martiri
  3. Aspett’al piato that is to litigate, contest in court.
  4. A infamare
  5. Riccioli
  6. Ricamate d’oro a carrettate.
  7. Zibellini Red coloured furs worn around the neck.
  8. Biasciando that is biascando
  9. Cf. Mt 5:33, James 5:12; 2 Cor 1:17-19.
  10. That is give them medicine that will hasten their death rather than cure them.
  11. Scudi were a large amount of golden or silver currency in the seventeenth century.
  12. Per cavarlo a maggio fuori.
  13. Ub braccio is a unit of length.
  14. A small coin worth four denari.
  15. Those who hold the bank where there is gambling or who are dealers.