Spiritual Writers prior to Council of Trent

Critical Analysis of Capuchin Spiritual Writings Prior to the Council of Trent

By Costanzo Cargnoni O.F.M.Cap.

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 III/1, pp.40-113. 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.

Table of Contents

CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF CAPUCHIN SPIRITUAL WRITINGS PRIOR TO THE COUNCIL OF TRENT

After attempting a general overview of certain aspects and characteristics of early Capuchin writings we are now in a position to go into a more detailed critical analysis by evaluating the works in terms of the historical context in which they were composed which was that of the Reformation and Counter-reformation of the Sixteenth and beginning of the Seventeenth Centuries. The writings we will consider here were written before the Council of Trent, and reflect many sources of influence, points of view and indications of what was to come in the future.

1. Bernardino d’Asti and his “Devout Prayers”

It was not by chance that Bernardino d’Asti, who had been very active in reform movements within the Italian Franciscan Observants during the early Sixteenth century, brought a very balanced vision of the spiritual life to the early Capuchins. This vision was very serene, interior, enflamed by charity and apostolic zeal and it had a profound influence on the first period of adjustment of the Capuchin Reform, bringing “minds” together to construct the legislation and the spiritual programme contained in the Constitutions of 1536 which became the guide of the spiritual life, the culture and the structure of the Order for more than four hundred years.

“In order to teach the friars (he) wrote some devout prayers, which he used personally and which contained a few exercises that could be used to develop mental prayer and these were put into print.”[1] The opening words in these ‘devout prayers’ contain an act of adoration of the Most Holy Trinity, which is to be contemplated as “infinite goodness” and “most warm delight”. The heading that precedes the first prayer indicates the objective of the exercise when it says that it is in the mystery of the Trinity that “we can see precisely the first and greatest commandment” of love.

The basic theme of these prayers is in fact love that is fostered in its Trinitarian, Christological, Marian and ecclesial character. This is where the profound meaning of “devotion” lies. The word “love” is used thirty times. The verb “to love” is used five times. On two of these occasions it is synonymous with “charity” and “delight”. The other sentiments come from this and run through all of Bernardino d’Asti’s spirituality. The conclusion of the first prayer clearly expresses the dynamics of love, and this becomes the plan for interior reform and apostolic commitment: “He strongly and inextinguishably enflames my heart with the fire of his most ardent love. This is the most perfect love which never subsides, but accomplishes great things. It destroys all kinds of vice and every vicious love. It never allows me to be separated from your love.” (n. 3743).

This is one of the traits that mark the specific spirit of the Italian spirituality of the sixteenth century. It stresses the importance of love for purifying, transforming and marking the steps in the journey towards God, which is the attainment of perfection and union. It fosters action and apostolate by turning men to God as his brothers. It advocates the divine, ardent and consummate love that is taught in the Dillogi of St Catherine of Genoa and the teaching of Blessed Camilla Battista Varani and passes on the experience of holy founders such as Gaetano da Thiene and St Phillip Neri. It is similar to the letters of St Catherine Ricci and St Maria Maddalena de’Pazzi as well as the content of the Combattimento spirituale by Scupoli and other ascetical authors. It is like the works that deal with spirituality such as the Directorium inflammande mentis in abyssum divini luminis, by the Observant Franciscan Antonio da Moneglia. It ignites innocent souls such as Aloysius Gonzaga. It uplifts the souls of converts such as Girolamo Emiliani and St Camillo da Lellis. Finally, it brought about a major flourishing of works on love and spiritual guidance.

The theme of the interior dynamics of the ascetical life gathered momentum through the influence of Neo-Platonist philosophy and the works of various humanists which developed abstract, but sincere, theories on the kind of love that is “unique, individual and concrete, unique, and which leads to ideal love and the love of God”. However it was among the mystics and the saints that it exploded and had its greatest expression. As we shall see in this review of spiritual text this is the only motive and the express aim that every author, even the most simple and uneducated, state as being their ambition.

In these “devout prayers’ what Bernardino d’Asis reveals most of all is a lifetime filled with an experience of prayer. However, it is not difficult to discover, beyond the various expression of emotion, that there is a genuine teaching or “theory” about the spiritual life that is based on “the fire of divine love” and the “most excellent sacrament” of the Eucharist. This is fed by a deep sense of humility and compassion, by contemplation of the mysteries of Christ and the divine favours as well as devotion to the Virgin, the angels and the saints, that is open to a Catholic and Apostolic interpretation, and is always at war with “every vicious kind of self-love, of the world or of the flesh and all of its delights and vanities,” (n. 3752) in the continual practice of prayer and of praise in its various forms.

Some words such as “mindare”, “ornare”, “illuminare”, “infinatemente”, become like steps along the spiritual road to God, while the continual use of superlatives and the insertion of paradoxical expressions reveal a style that is typical of practicing mystics. One could easily say that Palli is one of those spiritual directors who are simply just that. He does not set down a theory but immediately proposes an exercise, just as Christ did not ask his disciples to discuss prayer methods, but told them to offer an ardent prayer, which was in fact the Our Father. Nevertheless it is impossible not to be aware of how these prayers develop into a transparent, articulate and profound doctrine by means of their themes, objectives and certain words that reveal contemplative journeys and an intimate and personal experience of a mystical way of life.

We find a solid doctrinal, theological, ascetical and mystical basis for this in the rich testimony of the ancient chronicles in which the biography of Bernardino d’Asti is filled with “spiritual sayings” which echo expressions of divine love, of prayer, of the virtues of a genuine Capuchin friar,[2] that are worthy of an authentic master and witness to things of the spirit.

The length of time that he spent as the guide of the Order contributed not a little to making him very aware of the key spiritual issues, and he frequently spoke of them to the friars in his sermons, especially during Chapters and elections when it was also necessary to publically correct the abuses that had happened in order to protect the ideals of the Capuchin Reform. He would have suffered greatly as we can deduce form the chronicles mentioned above both because of the intransigence and the pride of Ludovico Tenaglia who, in 1535, did not want to accept correction concerning spreading his ideas of reform, and also because of the apostasy of Bernardino Ochino in 1542, for which he felt responsible to a certain extent, since by means of his moral authority, he had caused him to be elected once again as head of the Order at the General Chapter in Naples in 1541.[3]

2. Two unpublished text by Bernardino d’Asti

Two unpublished texts, which were not known until recently, treat of two matters: the election of superiors and their correction. There is a circular letter by Bernardino d’Asti, which researchers did not know about, that was sent on the occasion of a Provincial Chapter and which set out procedures for all elective chapters. Because we did not know about it in time we did not include in vol II of this collection. We reproduce it here for the benefit of our readers and to explain the spirituality of the Order.[4]

Letter of Father Brother Bernardino d’Asti Concerning the election

Firstly, I exhort you as strongly as I am able to decide to turn to God in humble and devout prayer and offer him your heart, begging his divine Majesty to deign to enlighten and enflame you with the fire of his divine love and enlighten you about the fathers who, for his honour and the welfare of your Province, you should elect as your father definitors and who as your vicar provincial etc.

Just as we recognise good trees by their fruit, as the Lord said,[5] it is the same with men, who can be called spiritual trees, and so can be recognised by their good fruit. Among the other virtues there are two that are most necessary for a genuine brother of St Francis (especially one who has to govern). These are the practice of humble and devout prayer and the practice of most holy poverty. It is certain that without these virtues a Capuchin friar cannot enjoy divine grace or posses any true virtue. The brothers and prelates should be much more virtuous and devout than their sons and subjects. You should consider carefully which brothers practice more virtue, especially the two virtues just mentioned. These are the ones that you ought to elect and to whom you should give your vote.

You should be careful before hell not to give your vote to any brother who appears to be prudent and wise but is not very devout or who is not a great friend of most holy poverty. Such a one will be sensual and a lover of false charity. Such a brother will incur God’s anger as a perverse son and as being destructive of the province and the observance of the Rule. Remember that it is not enough to elect good friars as definitors and vicar, but you are obliged under pain of eternal damnation to elect the best of all the friars etc.

Concerning correction

Sacred Scripture says that whoever rejects correction is foolish.[6] This is because admonishment is to sin what medicine is to illness: it heals wounds. Just as a person would be foolish and mad to reject medicine and remedies, one who does not gladly accept admonishment is ever more foolish.

What brings confusion into our whole life, what disturbs all order, is not accepting admonishment willingly when it is offered to us by those who care. We upset our friends when we do not accept the admonishment that they offer. It is certain that if you were to praise and thank those who admonished you that they would do the same to you. If you think that you do not need to be admonished you are making a great mistake.

You are not as great, nor as holy, nor as knowledgeable as was the great Moses. Nevertheless this great man, who was learned and wise and a holy friend of God and powerful in word and deed, patiently endured the advice and admonition that was given to by his father-in-law Jethro, who was an ignorant, impudent and barbaric person. Yet, as I have said, when this evil man had seen that Moses had done something disgraceful, had the heart to reprimand him without being concerned about him being so great. He reprimanded him in public and did not spare him. Nevertheless Moses did not become upset and did not underestimate being taught by such a man and accepted his counsel and was not embarrassed by the presence of his subjects when accepting such advice.[7]

Yet we who are so evil and worthless become embarrassed not only at being reprimanded but at being given advice and we become indignant and angry. Therefore let us learn from Moses who was not only undisturbed at the presence of such a large gathering but wanted it to be written down as an example for us so that we would not presume that we knew more than others, or glare at those who speak to us about events, times or places. Blessed Bernard told St Francis to always correct him.[8]

This text needs no commentary as it is so clear, lucid and resonates with the serene, profound, intense, spiritual style of the author.[9] Thus we have the possibility of working on three texts by Bernardino d’Asti that are certainly authentic, even with respect to their style: the circular letter Rallegratevi [10] which was written in 1548, the new circular letter Concerning the election and Concerning Admonishment, and the six Devout Prayers.

The emphasis on the use of the adjective “devout” requires explanation in the semantic context of this important concept, as does the meaning of the word “devotion” in early Capuchin spirituality. In fact it ought to be of important relevance when we consider the choice of superiors, who in order to be elected, had to possess these gifts to an eminent degree. “Fathers and brothers should be much more virtuous and devout than their sons and subjects”. Therefore a “devout brother” was the preferred candidate for being superior over one who simply appeared to be “prudent and wise” but perhaps was “not very devout”.

Devotion was always linked with humility, and both were linked with prayer. This was why prayer had to be devout while humble. These were the adjectives used by Palli. He used them to qualify prayer; “humble and devout prayer”. These adjectives appear in both of the circular letters.

Devotion was an attribute that was inseparable from prayer and it went step by step with poverty so that prayer and poverty became the inseparable signs of charity, the object of the journey of virtue and the fruitful culmination of the spiritual life.[11]

3. Francesco Ripanti da Jesi and Giovanni Pili da Fano

The “doctrine” of love as the final outcome of “humble and devout prayer” and of “most holy poverty” corresponds perfectly to the aspirations of the evangelical and Franciscan reform movement of the early Capuchins. It would also become a method of contemplation in the “Circle of Divine Charity” by Francesco Ripanti da Jesi and of a genuine treatise on the spiritual life, the “Art of Union with God,” “the most devout work” by Giovanni Pili da Fano. These two authors are good vantage points from which to observe complex links between ancient and contemporary trends and spiritual movements in Europe and local regions on which it is necessary to reflect more closely.

The atmosphere in which these writings were developed was an environment of reform which was initially linked with the Franciscan houses of recollection in so far as it cultivated a more intense practice of methodical mental prayer which was where spirituality found a fertile soil. It developed in Ripanti in an original manner and together the mysticism of Bartolomeo Cordoni di Castello (+ 1535) it showed a tendency towards illuminative quietism. Pili expressed it in a more balanced and eclectic way as he combined traditional spirituality with some of the authors of the devotion moderna within the mystical theology of the Observant Franciscan Henry van Herp.

This is a deep little topic that held great interest for Giusepps De Luca. When De Luca undertook research on “the love of God’ in a very serious manner he said that “in the first place one had to consider how love had been viewed across the ages and then, above all, how it had been actually lived out and perceived: what were the signs and the results”.[12] Some of these points will be touched on in our study.

a) The “Circle of Divine Charity” by Francesco da Jesi

The Circle of Divine Charity is a text about spirituality that was physically, but perhaps unintentionally, bound together with the mystical booklet composed by Bartolomeo Cordoni. It gathers and sets out all of the Franciscan theological, biblical, ascetical and mystical religious and spiritual experience of Francesco da Jesi. It contains “his” solution for the problem of the reform of the Church and the renewal of the Franciscan Order which were being debated at the time. Like many of his contemporaries he was convinced that the only way that a real reform could be launched was from a profound charismatic and contemplative experience in which the soul would be enlightened to understand the signs of the times by slotting in the desires of the spirit with the anxieties of the universal Church.

It is clear that this is based on the spiritualist tendencies within the reform movement. It came from a continuous personal search for divine intimacy that came to maturity during the years that Ripanti lived a life of recollection and contemplation in various Umbrian hermitages after he had been engaged in a period of intense active preaching before he finally entered the Capuchin Reform. Once he joined the Capuchins he intensified this, made it deeper and became its teacher and propagator.

It was in this “circle” that Ripanti managed to enclose the brothers following Ochino’s sad apostasy, saving them from a general change of direction and spiritual loss of bearings.[13] In effect the strength of his contemplative experience, when it became a genuine system and method of spiritual “illumination,” gave many religious new energy during the enforced period of pastoral inactivity and, as the early chroniclers say, it was the last brushstroke, the final touch of perfection for the Capuchin Reform in its charismatic period of adjustment as it tried to define its ideal and set up a plan of life.[14] In evident similarity to the spiritualist movement he called it ”the most perfect reform of my Christian brothers.”(cf. 5782)

The link with the mysticism of Bartolomeo Cordoni was deliberately fostered by Girolamo da Molfetta, a Capuchin preacher, and admirer of Bernardino Ochino when he published the work. He dedicated the Dialogo dell’unione spirituale, de Dio con l’anima by Bertolomeo Cordoni, which was printed in Milan in1539, to the disciples of Girolomo Mansi,[15] making use, it would appear to be the older, original manuscript of the treatise as has been demonstrated in an important study by Stanislao da Campagnola.[16] Actually this work by Cordoni had been published already in Perugia in 1538, a few month before the Milan edition, by a disciple of the Observant mystic Father Illarione Pichi, who had been allowed to intervene, as a theologian, concerning the more dangerous points in order to smooth over certain expressions that were seen to be too controversial. The additions that were made by Molfetta when he added a new chapter to the original fifty two solved many of the difficulties.

The first of these, and the most obvious, was the relationship of Cordoni’s spirituality with that of Ripanti’s. Is there real influence or dependence? Although we can say with certainty that Francesco da Jesi knew Bartolomeo Cordoni, it was no more than through a few of his disciples who later on became Capuchins and were his close friends.[17] Campagnola’s hypothesis that suggests that the Epilogo or Circulus charitatis divinae, together with the other work, Alcunae regule de la oratione, that were added to the Milan edition by Molfetta, might constitute the complete publication of the opera omnia of Cordoni,[18] in our opinion, is not sustainable, not only because in the Epilogo it states expressly that the “Circle” was composed by a Capuchin, (cf, n. 3782), but also because its style is completely different. Its division into theological and scholastic sections reveal an author who is familiar with the subtleties of theological knowledge. This is quite different from the preceding fifty two chapters that are composed in the literary style of a conversation free from scholastic pedantry, but filled with dynamic shared experience that is set out in words that are plain, fluent and expressed charmingly though sometimes borrowed from other authors.[19]

Therefore, we consider it as proven that the fifty fourth chapter is part of the text of the Circolo de carità divina by Francesco da Jesi. It would seem that there are no other works of spiritual literature that have this title. The only work that might suggest that the topic had been reworked comes a century later and was composed by Antonio da Francavilla a reform friar minor from the Roman Province.

1) Comparison with the “Circolo serafico” by Antonio da Francavilla

This work has the title: Circolo serafico dell’amore divino. It was printed in Naples by Francesco Savio in 1631[20] and was readily seen as a reproduction of the work of Ripanti. In reality it is completely different with respect to content although some of the images seem to have been taken from Ripanti’s Circle.

A more precise title that can be read in the presentation by the Minister General, Bernardino da Siena[21], on 16th September 1625 at the friary at Aracceli enables us to see the difference: Circolo serafico del divono Amore alle cinque santisaime piaghe di Gesù Cristo per essendarsi nelle tre vie, purgative, illuminative e unitive che concucono l’anima a Dio. [22] In practice the author is suggesting a method of devotion to the five wounds of the Crucified by means of affective prayers to each wound, set out in such a way as to arouse sentiments of humility, of weeping, sorrow and compassion as a way of purification. As the prayers become progressively more ardent their aim is “to teach the most correct, broadest, safest and surest way to enter his glorious wounds”.[23] The objective of the teaching of the “Seraphic Circle” is pure love, humility of heart, purity of intention, the resolution to praise and glorify God exclusively without wishing to know anything else since in doing this, so the author writes; one finds “and fosters the spiritual life.”[24]

The vision is no longer cosmic, universal, involving all of visible and invisible reality, but is narrowed down, intimate and devotional totally concentrating on the image of the one who was wounded and crucified The circular shape is not deduced from a philosophical, theological, biblical intuition or from the dynamic reality of the history of salvation, but it comes about from seeing the devout soul at the foot of the cross as a geometric symbol depicting all of the five wounds of the Crucified.

To gain an insight into the difference in the concept and perspective of this work it suffices to read the graceful and devout dedication of the work.

“Brother Antonio Francavilla, a sinner and poor little man, presents and consecrates, like a lost dove, these few feeble words to the most holy and loving wounds of Christ, the Saviour of the world. For five out a thousand reasons, O my most sweet and loving Saviour, your holy wounds ought to be offered to you in the Seraphic Circle of Divine Love. Firstly because, when drawing the circle the wound in the Side served me as the centre point and those in the hands and the feet served as the circumference. I cast my intellect and will over these and as the two of them came back to the beginning it saw a seraphic circle in which the abyss of all perfection is revealed.

As I know that the smallest spark or grain of sand by their nature seek the circle and the centre where they find rest and protection, so too I ought to allow these few sparks that have been kindled in my heart by the bellows of your grace to draw whoever has been called by my poor efforts into the circle of divine love and the centre of all perfection in your wounds.

Gold is refined by fire and the eagle tests her young with the sun, so too I who do not know the value of these vigils, or whether they are legitimate or adulterous, present them to the furnace which your wounds have kindled, and to their divine splendour, since they were made for your glory may they be beneficial to your faithful. {….}

Therefore, I consecrate to your wounds this work that was composed under their influence, so that just as I began the Circle inspired by the wounds, so too you will draw me on to be perfect and competent. Make me always worthy of your Divine Mercy. Make me always live contemplating your wounds, so that I may merit joining my Seraphic Father Francis in contemplating the infinite circle whose centre embraces everything while not being embraced or restricted by any such limits.” [25]

The initial woodcut depicts the act of conformity: Francis is in front of the Crucified gazing into the sun as if to say that the Crucified is his sun and the light of any genuine Franciscan. This is how that Franciscan devotion was born. Thus Francesco da Francavilla developed a Christ centred affective devotion, whereas Ripanti immersed himself in the light of the Trinity by contemplating Jesus Christ, the God-Man, through the image of the cross where the act of most perfect love of God and of neighbour was born and consummated and where it took effect spiritually in communion with the visible and invisible Church and the entire universe.

2) The progress of symbolic icons and geometric mysticism

From ancient times the act of love has been depicted in the form of geometric circular figures. This is evident throughout a succession of generations including the Platonic and Aristotelian, the Neo-Platonic, Pseudo-Dionysian and Islamic Sufi systems, in Dante, the theory of Arias Montano, in the allegorizes of Lull, in the Diologhi d’amore by Leone Ebreo and the Cabbala. [26]

Without presuming that Ripanti would have been aware of the derivation of such symbols, it is most likely that he would have come to know of them from graphic images that were in common use at the time such as the one that represented the Most Holy Trinity in three circles superimposed on a larger circle on which the monogram YHS had been inscribed in the middle of the cross as in the incunable pamphlet Mons orationis (c. 1490)[27] He might have seen some of the works of Joachim of Fiore an edition of which was published in Venice about 1500. These works contained various images of circles that were interconnected to represent relationships within the Trinity or the interconnection of Bible stories and apocalyptic events.[28] There were also other similar editions and manuscripts.

What is more, it is possible that the concept of the circle might have had iconographic antecedents in Bernard’s monogram, which is a complete circle that contains the three letters of the name of Jesus with the crucifix or a cross which is the same idea as Ripanti’s.[29]

According to the Pseudo-Dionysius the circle was the symbol of infinite divine unity in Christian iconography.[30] It subsequently developed more meanings. The circle represented one aspect of “order”. Three circles put together represented the Trinity. In fact the triangle was the oldest representation of the Trinity. During the Middle Ages it became associated with the circle as the object, subject and matter of meditation. J. Beleth (+ 1201) wrote: “Per delta enim circulariter clausus divina figuratur natura, quae nec principium, nec finem habuit.” Henry Suso (1356) described the reality of the Trinity as three concentric circles. In the sixteenth century the circle was God’s halo.[31]

The symbolic iconography of the circle in the seventeenth century allowed the expression of the fundamental concept of the mystical teaching of Benet of Canfield as it depicted his method of living the spiritual life through the figure of the sun being a circle with two other concentric circles, adorned with many smiling faces, that gazed on the central point where God’s name was inscribed. A series of rays brought the circles to the centre which was all light with no rays. Under the circle Christ appeared in prayer in the Garden where he accepted a chalice from an angel. At his side there were three apostles asleep and at some distance there was Judas with the scribes. Finally the words appeared: Not my will, but your will be done. The sun represents the will of God. The souls (the faces) live in its light with joy. The three circles are the three phases in God’s will: exterior, interior and essential. These make up the three parts of the book, treating souls in the active life, souls in the contemplative life and those beyond this. The closer the circles come to God, who is at the centre, the more enlightened they are by his will. The eyes that are turned towards the centre stand for the pure intention of the souls who are completely conformed to God’s essential will.[32]

3) Decree of condemnation from the Sacred Office

There is a problem, not only with respect to iconography, but also, most of all, with a decree of the Sacred Office that was issued on 8th March 1584 and again on 29th January 1600 condemning the mystical writing of Bartolomeo Cordoni. It was published in a Milan edition (1639) and a Venice edition (1548). It would seem that this came about because of the addition of chapter 53, which in fact is part of Ripanti’s Circolo, [33]

The text of the Decree[34] only condemns the last chapter of Cordoni’s Dialogo which “etiam in mango folio aperto, alterius forsan auctoris opera, circumfertur impressus in utraque parte, altera quidem circulis referta, altera vero triangolo et quibusdam figures insignata ad assertum,[35] quemdam novum et insolitum orandi modum, quaedam non pauca contineri rectae fidei catholicae pauram concona, et quae sub quadam pietatis specie periculosis novitatibus viam aperire [….] quaeque per apertas conserquentias ad haereses hoc infelici tempore grassantes, et ad alias iamdiu damnatas dedecunt {…}.

From this text we can see that the Circulis charitatis divinae was circulated in a printed edition as well as in a large scroll which had illustrated symbolic images of triangles and circles and other shapes that graphically illustrated what was being taught in the text. This “large sheet” was not attached to the published edition of the Dialogo but was a separate publication that circulated among the friars and the spirituals as a poster on the wall. Perhaps Ripanti himself used it as a “teaching aid.” during his “lectures” to the friars on the method of contemplative prayer, as attested by Colpetrazzo, if it is true that the Circolo had already been printed in 1521, while Ripanti was still an Observant Friar Minor.[36]

In any case the decree regarded the two works as being the same and condemned them both placing them on the second level of the Index of prohibited works,[37] Thus Girolomo da Molfetta had unwillingly done something bad to Francesco da Jesi by publishing the Circolo together with Cordoni’s Dialogo. The Roman condemnation was also probably influenced by the fact that the Spanish Inquisition had already condemned the Dialogo in1559. Cordoni’s book had been translated into Spanish and was published in Barcellona in 1546 by Carles Amorós.[38] The negative judgement on the teaching in the Dialogo may have contributed to a distorted understanding of the Circolo, especially since Girolamo da Molfetta when including it as the last chapter headed it with the very ambiguous title: Epilogue to the entire exercise of union reduced to a very brief summary and wonderful technique, thus issuing a warning to theologians who would examine it.

This “apocryphal” heading might imply that the Circolo was nothing but the quintessence of the mystical teaching of Bartolomeo Cordoni and, thus the Dialogo would be its real source. Ripanti might have only reworked it and reproduced it in images having the features of “the circle of divine love” (and this would become “the wonderful technique”), which he set in a series of mental and affective exercises that he had performed for a long time. Perhaps this could have been the way that Girolomo da Molfetta’s understood it or his personal opinion according to which he found the Circolo a very suitable conclusion to Cordoni’s teaching that had similar theological and mystical richness.

The images of circles and triangles as representations of what transpired within contemplative souls must have struck the theologians in the Sacred Office as being very strange. To them the Circolo appeared to be a new method of prayer that was something, unusual, odd and strange and therefore dangerous, outside the spiritual tradition of the Church even, by implication, outside of its teachings, open to the Lutheran and Calvanist heresies and to the quietist spirituality of the Beghards and to the tenets of the ‘alumbrados” and adherents of the free spirit.

We are do not know which theological sensors were consulted other than the names of the members of the commission of Cardinals that met on 8th March 1584 which included Cardinal Giulio Santori, the Cardinal Protector of the Order. However we know that Girolamo Mautini da Narni was assigned by Anselmo Marazto da Monopoli in the last years of 1500 to examine Cordoni’s Dialogo which had reappeared in Venice in 1593 as having been written by “P. F. Bartolomeo della Città di Castello who was a Capuchin.” The condemnation was set out in a codex containing more than 200 pages. It identified 14 erroneous propositions which it defined as: “paradoxes of union”. However it did not examine Ripanti’s Circolo perhaps because it was not contained in that edition, or perhaps it did not want to denounce fellow friars or Mazari might have restricted his field of investigation only to Cordoni’s book.[39]

Mautini offers precious insights as to the meaning of this spirituality, which according to him is not very orthodox, is ambiguous and dangerous as it existed among the Capuchins. He defined the “doctrine of union” as being based on the false teaching that “the breathing of the holy Spirit” is at work in a soul that is united to God. That is why his supporters were known as “unionists” and judged to be “fanatical brothers”. They took “many of the reasons” behind this teaching from Father Evangelista Ferratina da Canniobio (+ 1595). Thus discussions continued among the friars, but the idea that “Father Canobio” was infested with this spiritual doctrine was a “complete abomination”. Girolomeo da Narni thought the same.

At this point the doubt remains and the problem is unsolved as to whether the Circolo which is “a novel unfamiliar method of prayer was actually founded on the doctrine of union”, since Mautini and Ferratina have defined Cordoni’s spirituality as being “paradoxical” Because of the difficulties associated with understanding the Circolo this subject has never been treated.

In the first place we may observe that the implications of certain expressions and words, the structure of the journey, the logic behind the language and the proposed objective are very important. In Bartolomeo Cordoni we have the literary device of the dialogue “where the conversationalists are Divine Love and the Soul as the Spouse and Human Reason” with direct dependence on “the Mirror of Simple Souls” by the Franciscan Beghard Margaret Porete (+ 1310). She described “the spiritual union of God with the soul” in a treatise on the spiritual life, as a journey that progresses in different ways and goes through different phases until it reaches the state of perfect divine love where the soul is completely in love with God and completely transformed into him,”[40]

The soul that wants to be united to God must firstly purify itself by means of “confession” and then by walking ‘the path of humility,” “by the path of faith”, “by the path of the Sacrament of the Altar”, “by the path of self-abnegation, that is by annihilation of one’s own will”, “by the path of infusion”, and most of all “by the path of love and loving affection.” In practice, the last way becomes the state of perfect charity in an annihilated life” and it is the kind of perfection that is striving for the infinite perfection of Divine Love.

The seven steps remind us of the “seven states of grace” of Porete, namely humble obedience, which is faithful to the commandments and the observance of the Evangelical Counsels in overcoming worldly biddings and in loving Jesus Christ as the perfect example for life. In the third state the soul is like a statue of goodness that comes about through the observance of obedience to God’s will and not being able to act unless with goodness and being unable to perform works other than the works of mercy. Next it comes close to a kind of contemplation, as if through spiritual exaltation. It becomes as if it were blind. It sees nothing but the love that surrounds it and fills it. It believes that it has arrived at the extreme limits of contemplation. But before it has achieved perfection it must pas through two more states that belong exclusively to liberated souls.

At first, having been enlightened, it sees its emptiness laid naked. It sees itself as being nothing as being marked with sin in its very essence. The more clearly it discovers itself to be nothing, the more clearly it sees God as being “everything”, the “all good.” It is then drawn to what is “everything” leaving its essential being of sin. Thus it wishes to return to where its desire came from, that is to God. Here it is transformed into the very essence of love by means of an extension and the action of “divine light,” and recognises mystical “emptying” in God that controls the special purification that prepares it for divine union. This is real passive purification in which the soul experiences that it is possessed by a strong desire for the one who is attractive and becomes cast into total obedience that involves action, resolve and judgement.

Thus it passes to the second last stage in which it is completely united with God and exists in God alone. The soul is completely annihilated. Nothingness it becomes everything and everything becomes nothing. This is the state of perfect freedom. Set free from the bonds of reason, without its own will, the soul rises to the contemplation of the Trinity after having passed through a purifying death to sin, nature and the spirit.

At this exact moment God, who is the one who is “Distant-Close”, begins to act giving the humble and annihilated soul a “glorified motion” that sighs in the final state of the beatitude of paradise which is supreme perfection. The annihilation of this soul and of its will in God the Father is like giving its will back to God and it makes it return to the state of purity, the state of innocence, to the paradise that Adam lost and in this way the consequences of Original Sin are cancelled. This union of wills implies the definitive abdication of the human will under the divine will. The human will acts no longer. It is only God, when he wishes, who is able to act, since it is he alone who is acting. The doctrine of the free spirit with its “mystical fatalism” and “quietist tendencies” corrupted the teaching on abandonment of one’s own will and gave all the followers of pure love a bad reputation. Indeed, almost always, this “apathy” of soul was joined to view that the body was incapable of suffering.[41]

The close relationship between Cordoni’s Dialogo and Proete’s Spechio has been well examined in certain recent studies and we shall not dwell on them any longer.[42]

Cordoni spent almost half of his Dialogo dealing with the “exercise of love” as a consequence of the soul’s union with God. Ripanti, instead, while echoing a few of the concepts that were also present in Cordoni’s Dialogo, concentrated his efforts on the way and method of arriving at making an act of perfect love as the fullness of the divine life in man. Obviously this is “his” method that had been gained by the experience of meditating for a long period of time. He maintained that it was centred on the symbol of the cross that displayed a continually fluid act of most perfect love that flowed from the unsatisfied thirst of the Crucified Christ, that was irresistible, arresting, “evidence of the most perfect love”, and which moved out in a circular fashion between Christ and the Most Holy Trinity and the Church enveloping all visible and invisible reality. The more one is united to Christ, the more one becomes part of this “circular movement” until he is totally transformed into love in a way that could not have happened except by means of the act of most perfect love of Christ. The soul always remains, from beginning to end, centred on Christ and on the cross. Christ’s humanity is not suppressed to make way for an abstract Deity. By their loving characteristics all the acts unfold in the vortex of the love of the Crucified and blossom in the mystery of the Trinity.

To achieve this Ripanti makes use of his extensive theological and biblical knowledge, especially, so it would appear, his familiarity with Scotus to describe the various stages and moments in contemplation. Using expressions that are heavily scholastic and that reflect his theological lectures, he attempts to enter into, so to speak, Christ’s Pascal mystery, the mystery of the Word Incarnate, true God and true Man, to discover the secret thoughts of love ad intra and ad extra, as he says, and to try to assimilate them, imitate them and share them as they are an “instrument of the Saviour and mystical member of Holy Church”. The perfect act of love, which God demands in the “first tablet” of the law, in the Evangelical Counsels, necessarily becomes an act of perfect love for neighbour. In radical ascetical tones Ripanti spells this out in the commandments of the “second tablet” and in the 14 works of mercy.

One can discover a similarity with Cordoni’s teaching in some of his terminology, such as “instrument”,[43] “exercise of divine love”,[44] as one can see. There are many other expression, for example “the way of humility” and when he suggests “nothingness”, “annihilation”, and “having nothing” (n. 3799),[45] but especially the perfect way of love that are different from Ripanti. However, the symbol of the circle as an act of love is missing from the Dialogue, while, as the author is not a theologian but only a mystic, good use is made of expressions that have been secretly taken from the Specchio delle anime semplici by Porete. As we have said these have not been counted properly and they lean dangerously towards the heresy of the free spirit and quietism.

5) The doctrine of Scotus and the “Circolo’ of Ripanti

On the other hand Ripanti was influenced by the doctrine of Duns Scotus who explains how pure love of God because of his infinite liveableness includes in the one eternal act the love of beings all that are capable of loving God, that is men and what serve them as a means for that love that is the universe. In the act of perfect love there are two objects. The first object is God alone. The second object is the things that are capable of loving God. In loving them we tend towards God. Thus God is not to be loved as one good among others, as bonum condiligendum (One good along with others). This is love that is based on the unity within the pure act of love for the multiplicity of created beings.

God wants the object to be reached in one perfect direct act. Next, he wants what is immediately connected to this end because he has predestined those he has chosen to reach this end alone. “Achieving” this is like performing a circular action, quasi reflectendo, by which he wants others to love the same object that he loves. This predestination means that he wants to have certain beings who love along with him that is beings who have the same kind of love as he has within himself… The first among those who were predestined was Jesus Christ, who is at the head of all loving predestination.

Thirdly, he wants to provide the things that are necessary for achieving this end that is the gifts of grace. Fourth, he wants to provide a universe for those who are predestined where things are good in such a way that is acceptable to the divine will. This is disinterested and pure love, because of the infinite amiability of the divine essence from which every kind of love is born and to which it flows back. Therefore, it is clear that love “of divine friendship” (amcizia divina) is part of this “loving exercise”, and, what is more important; it is more “excellent” than any other knowledge that we might subsequently have of God. This is why Ripanti calls is “suppremo culto divino” (“supreme divine worship) and considers it to be “infinitely precious and of immense value.” (n. 3778)

Christ’s primacy, his universal mediation and his place at the centre of the universe subjects all creatures, especially mankind, to the Incarnate Word, as body members are subject to the head. The fundamental reason why things are intrinsically good is that Christ was predestined to have the most perfect love that it was possible for a creature to have.

This is one of the lessons of the history of salvation. St Francis said that Jesus “was the marrow of Sacred Scripture and theology”. (n. 3780). For Duns Scotus the human capacity to love es natura sua is directed ad summum amandum, et quidem bonum infititum. Therefore the objective of the natural law is to love and serve God.[46] There is a similarity between natural law and the commandments of the Decalogue contained on the two Tablets. On the first Tablet two commandments state, in a negative manner, what their immediate object is. They are laws of nature in the strict sense since man cannot achieve his ultimate end, which is the Supreme Good, without loving him. If there is a God, he is to be loved. This is the rule of rules. The third Commandment, which is expressed in both a negative and positive way, is the same.

All seven Commandments on the second Table, the first in a positive way and the rest in a negative way, can be summed up in the precept of love of neighbour which comes from the love of God. Christ pushed love of neighbour beyond what is contained in the natural law. God’s excessive love wanted to adapt the means to the end. Christ is the only means by which to achieve perfect love for God who is the final end. This is where man’s free will and the initiative of God’s will come into the story. Thus Christ is “the mediator of divine and completely supernatural charity, the fullness of the love that God placed in man when he created him. The Son of God who was made man out of love, God made man out of love.”[47]

Starting from this Scotist vision which needs to be read and understood, Ripanti’s Circolo di carità divina, differs from Cordoni’s Dialogo, which is a mixture of spiritual texts taken from Ubertino da Casale, Ugo Panziera, Henry van Herp, and Jacopone da Todi together with Porete’s Specolo that conditioned the style and structure of the work.

6) Other theological and spiritual links and points of comparison

As well as the extensive influence of Scotus one finds that there are other doctrinal and spiritual links that are very important. For example there is the unpretentious presence of St Bonaventure’s thought. In fact the Seraphic Doctor uses the image of the circle to describe the action of God. He says that everything was created in the Word, and in the Word it returns to God. Ratzinger presents Bonaventure’s “circle” as having Christ as the centre of history: God –Outward Movement – Christ – Return Movement – God. [48] Here is the exact text: “Ut autem perfectissima esset figura universitatis linea curvata est in circulum, primis enim simpliciter Deus, ultimus in operibus mundi, homo. Cum ergo Deus factus est homo, Dei perfecta sunt opera. Ideo ipse Christus, Deus-homo, vocatus alpha et omega, id est principium et finis.”[49]

As God-man-world Jesus Christ forms a “circulis intelligiblis”(intelligible circle)” As a representative of the perfect man who is on a “journey”, the contemplative should always look on Christ as being the centre point of this circle. He should see him as representing the entire Church and therefore all of humanity. Christ alone can use the world as a “ladder” on which to stretch his arms out to men, his “brothers”, so that they may receive the merciful embrace of God the Father “medium, cum amissum est in circulo, iveniri non potest nisi per duas lineas se orthogoaliter intercestantes (since the centre of the circle may only be reached by the two lines that stretch across it and intersect},[50] the axis and centre of gravity of the world and of the cross. At the same time this gives meaning to both Christ and humanity. This should draw a person to the cross both in his mind (spiritually) and in his flesh (physically). The perfection and unique vocation of mankind can only be achieved by being “crucified”. The “Crucified Word” transfigures creatures by transforming them through the cross, which is the seal of Trinitarian love. This is the meaning of Ripanti’s powerful statement: that this implies “the recreation of my brothers to be perfectly conformed to Christ.” This entails that the “deformation” of the image that was caused by sin has been “reformed’ by following the road that is Christ crucified to the point where the “deformation” of the image is restored by the appearance of Jesus, the perfect Man and the image of God.[51]

The idea of the “intelligible circle” came from the works of the Pseudo- Dionysius. The whole of visible creation is focused on the human soul which is at the centre of the circle. The “appetitus” (“desirability”) of bodily creatures who are endowed with senses is an aspect – according to Bonaventure’s teaching – “of the deep vibrant order of what is in the “intelligible circle” which is a created reflection of the most perfect, uncreated life of the Triune God. The soul, which is the most noble of all forms, is the peak of all creation, and of the “intelligible circle” in which creation is situated and in which it returns to its origin.”[52]

The “reduction” (“return journey”) to God takes place in and by means of freedom of will. Thus man was really “in modo constitutus” (as he was created) was placed between God, the Creator, and created things where he was both (“egrussus”} moving away from created things and (“reductio”)[53] returning to God. Ripanti thus says that free will is the precious pearl that God has given thus making human nature just like his divine nature, (cf. n. 3813).

The only source that is quoted in the Circolo on two occasions is Dionysius the Areopagite. However, many other passages show the influence of Pseudo-Dionysius.[54] Other passages that might have contributed to the development of the symbol of the circle are to found in Jacopone de Todi who, among other things, in Lauda 90 sings:

Amor, amor, tu se’ cherchio rotondo

Cos tuto ‘l cor chi c’entra sempre t’ama.

Che to se’ stampa e trama – chi t’ama per vestir

Con il dolce sentire – che sempre grida amore.[55]

This symbolic image was also a part of the mystical experience of Saint Margaret of Cortona. Her Confessor, Fra Giunta, wrote that in a vision of Seraphim, while she was on her knees with love, “there suddenly appeared a great circle in front of her. Within the circle there was a angel on a cross resembling our Lord and Saviour.”[56]

There are various references to the teaching of Blessed Angela da Foligno who situates the basis of perfection on the cross and then develops her programme of love. “At one time I was inspired and drawn to consider the beloved when I was contemplating the divinity and humanity of Christ, [….]. It seemed to me that he wanted the soul to burn with the love that He had for us, with all the might of the soul.”[57] In B. Angela da Goligno we read: “a sublime circle, that contains love: at first as it comes to Christ, then, in Christ, ascends to God, and from this sublime height it returns down with more strength to creatures as love of them in God, which is a sign of the seal of the rectitude of divine love, by means of which the right measure cannot be wrecked, or capitulate under the violence of the snares of lust, so that then once the Supreme Being has been recognised and loved, the soul knows and loves how this affects it. According to what the Supreme Being wills, this cannot fail.”[58]

There is also an interesting connection with the Dominican mystic Giovanni Tauler and a wonderful page in his Istituzioni. The connection was not intentional since Ripanti would not have known about him.

“The more the spirit hungers for what is divine, the more God wants to fill his empty capacity for knowledge we have an infinite circle in which though the faculty of knowledge is full it is still hungry, and when it is full it overflows and seeks food everywhere, finding food it becomes bloated. Here we have the wonderful intelligible circle. God grasps the spirit, making it like himself and able to know him by means of a contemplative, supernatural light and allows us to comprehend intuitively by means of an intelligible circle that is by means of the cyclical understanding of the spirit.

Furthermore God is a, illuminated incomprehensible circle which includes within itself man’s immense spirit as if it were a dot. Man’s capacity for understanding is vaster than heaven or earth but is regarded as being so small in comparison with the extraordinary incomprehensible immensity of God so as to be hardly worth mentioning. Yet his created essence remains and it is only when he begins to reason that he becomes lost in the immense incomprehensible glow of the divinity. His humanity is infallibly linked to this enlightenment in a way that is more pure than the way that the air is penetrated by the light of the midday sun. Here indeed light and sun are intimately united and yet light does not deprive the air of its own nature. It only purifies it, clears it makes it better and transforms it. The same thing happens to man’s spirit. It becomes most purely enlightened and noble in God and transformed into the likeness of the divinity and yet with all this sublime illumination it does not forfeit the status of being a created being.

He recognises that he ought to honour God as the source of his being created out of nothing. He came from God by a natural process and returns to Him by a supernatural process. This is where he comes from. Here the spirit plunges into the bottomless sea of the divinity. . He can say God is within me, outside me, around me and everywhere. God is all of me and I am nothing without God.”[59]

Ripant’s Circolo, as a “perfect method of contemplation”, is a mystical treatise that comes from much reading, among which one cannot omit particularly the Arbor vitae by Ubertino da Casale as the source of many passages. However it is enough for us to note the following in which Ubertino deals with reformatio sexii status (the reformation of the sixth state) and explains the meaning of contemplatio Christi secundum quod homo (contemplation Christ as man) as well as Redeemer and Mediator. “We know this because of what he said. My name is new. He used the word new because the union of his human nature to a divine person and what took place in this is what constituted the whole of the redemption of the chosen ones. Note the deep meaning of his name as it demonstrates the perfect method of contemplation. He is the one who came from God into the city of the saints and, in Jesus Christ, brought them peace by two kinds of embracing so that a glorious circle was formed by God for the saints in the holy sacrament of the God-Man. See how this gives special clarity to the notion of God and his whole city, and special understanding and insight into the work of redemption and into whom Jesus Christ is.”[60]

All of this took place in Francis as Bartolomeo da Pisa says in De conformitate, “There were three movements in Blessed Francis: direct movement towards God, reflex movement towards neighbour through being considerate and a circular movement in both of these whereby he gazed on God and executed what God told him.”[61]

Undoubtedly Ripanti who would have read the Mystical Theology by Henry van Henry would have known the following passage that deals with the circle. “To love anyone forms a circle because love should have no end or measure, because according to Dionysius eternal love stretches out like a never ending circle going from good to better in an unending circle. The spirit of love is contained in this circle moving on into infinity becoming ever fuller and since it is reaching for fulfilment it is never satisfied and lives up to what is written: Whoever eats me will still be hungry. Whoever drinks me will still thirst.”[62]

The symbolic image of the circle can be found in many spiritual authors of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. . G. Bona wrote: “This admirable circle progresses from incipient love to love and develops by means of anagogic and enflaming aspirations”.[63] However, there is perhaps no one who expresses the profound meaning of the circular motion of the love of Christ and of the soul better than St Veronica Giuliani when she quotes these words as coming from the lips of Christ: “Love does not just remain in you, it draws you to me, so that when you come to me you see that there is no love in you, you do not know love and realising this you love me with pure love, because everything comes from me and I place it in you so that you will understand what love is as it accomplishes everything in you. In you there is neither love nor recognition of what it is, since what I place in you should return to me completely, and my love should draw you to me and return to me entirely.”[64]

Following this useful diversion, returning to the initial problem of whether Cordoni’s Dialoglo was the main source of Ripanti’s Circolo, we can reply in the negative for the reason just cited above and, most of all, because there is no link with Porete’s Speculum or with the doctrine of the “breath of the Holy Spirit” which is the basis of the spirituality of the “unionists” who were the followers of Bartolomeo Cordoni. Having set these things aside, as I have said above, we find some analogies and similarities in the final chapters where he describes the “state’ and the “exercise of love” and where perhaps to a certain extent he adapts the image of the “most solemn Mass” from Ubertino when he concludes the Dialogo.

“The beloved feeling as if he were almost Christ, takes on the office of the high priest Christ, as he has been completely transformed by divine clarity and love, and out of inestimable love for God and neighbour, celebrates with Christ and through Christ having altissimis affectibus (the highest affection) towards the living and the dead, for Turks, for Moors, for Saracens, and for all races, for the benefit of everyone, because it was instituted for everyone, and offers himself to God, together with all the Church militant and triumphant the supreme infinite treasure, that is the treasure of the Most Holy Trinity.”[65]

b) Arte della unione” by Girolomo Pili da Fano

The Circolo di carità divina was produced as a method of lofty loving contemplation, It presented its objective by repeating certain characteristic phrases such as “loving exercise”, “most perfect exercise”, ‘introductory art and method”, “method of perfection”, “most perfect method”, “wonderful method”, “method and art”, “introductory art”, “organised divine worship”, “right rule”, “sacred circular exercise”, “circular images in the present exercise”, ‘brevity” etc. these words emphasise and provide a structured method designed for determining the material for meditation, the activity of the three faculties of the soul, ejaculatory prayers and interior emotions. However this is just a rough outline, a quite short list that is sometimes difficult to understand. It was really a method for the cream of the crop among those who were educated and theologically sophisticated, in contradistinction to those targeted by Giovanni Pili da Fano who had presented a well set out manual concerning the path to perfection, and an explanation of the ascetical and mystical development of the spiritual life, in a practical manner, in popular language aimed at being useful for both the educated and the simple.

This manual is called: Operetta devotissima chiamata: Arte de la unione, la quale insegna unire l’amina con Dio, utilissima non solo a li Regolari, ma ancora a li Secolari spirituali et devoti. (Very devout little book called: The Art of Union, which teaches how to unite the soul with God, most useful not only for Religious, but also for Secular people who are spiritual and devout.) These words seem to echo the Dialogo by Bartolemoe Cordoni which stresses the concept of “the spiritual activity of God within the soul” as being his essential objective. In fact, once you have paged through this little book, with its ancient gothic script, one becomes aware of the notable influence of the mystical teaching that uses an unedited manuscript but never mentions the author.[66] An analysis of the sources used in composing this “most devout work” yields relevant results that are, to a certain degree, disconcerting but very interesting.

1) An analysis of the sources: the tradition, contemporary value and “Arte del ben pensiero” (Art of good thinking) by Pietro da Lucca

In addition to the Biblical and patristic sources, especially St Augustine, St Bernard, St Jerome and St Gregory, that were cited from works that were attributed to them rather than actually being written by them, Pili quoted Cassian, Anselm, Dionysius the Areopagite, the Victorines Richard and Hugo, Gerson and St Bonaventure. Such quotes were normally not from the original work, but were second hand and taken from other works that were not acknowledged. Only occasionally did he suggest some books that could be read in order to meditate on Christ’s Passion. On two different occasions he recommended the Meditazioni by St Bonaventure (pseudo) and “a small book entitled Arte del ben pensare.” By way of a summary of the practice of the whole of the spiritual life as proposed in his treatise he proposed the Stimolo del divino amore by St Banaventure (actually Ugo di Balma) and Giovanni Gerson, which also might have been “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis. He also referred to the Meditations by St Bernard and St Anselm and others. We imagine that he also made use of other devout spiritual authors who were popular at the time.

These titles reflect either the continuation or rediscovery of medieval spirituality, or a new application of this in a different environment, the so-called devotion moderna which was the inspiration for many reform movements that emphasised methodical mental prayer. However there was only one author, among the many authors who were expressly named, or who remained anonymous, that was a contemporary of Pili and he was the Lateran Canon regular Pietro Lucca (+ after 1522) who wrote Arte del ben pensare from which he may have derived an unacknowledged idea for calling his “most devout work” Arte de le unione.

There are a few pithy spiritual books by Pietro da Lucca the best of these is the one cited above: Arte del ben pensare, or better Arte nova del ben pensare e contemplare la passione d il nostro Signor Greù Cristo benedetto,[67] which appeared in many editions beginning with the first edition in Bologna in 1523. The author was an excellent preacher and spiritual director of many souls, among whom there was Blessed Elena dell’Oglio, his confrere Serafino da Fermo and a supporter, Battista da Crema.

The Arte nova was in fact born in the context of preaching a Lenten course in Venice “in our church della Charità” and was intended to be “a short concise conclusion” and a “spiritual testament” for his Advent and Lenten course in Venice. He explained this himself:

“I have once more arranged and set out the present tract in the common Tuscan idiom, nothing like Dante or Petrarch, but in words that are simple and pure, such as befit such a work. […] Therefore let all my devout Venetian listeners receive the present work with the pious sentiments with which I composed it and dedicated it to their name. When they recall all of the sermons, which number about two hundred, in the great city of Venice during three Lents and two Advents that we preached, the present teaching will serve as a recapitulation and short conclusion that will be my spiritual testament and memorable gift which contains the most worthy, honourable, useful and simple doctrine that one could find and is a sign of the heartfelt love that I leave and give then as I depart.”[68]

The work progresses in five main sections each of which is subdivided into two points or paragraphs with the objective of being a review of the traditional method of meditating on the Passion of Christ. In the first part, which mainly treats “twelve beautiful documents and presentations”, the author suggests important rules of discernment for those who write and preach about Christ’s Passion since often “they write or preach what is vain and puerile and what is not to be regarded or held to be true”[69] As an example he cited the Madonna who appears to be distressed at the death of Jesus, even when this is an oratorical exaggeration to incite emotion and weeping among the listeners. There are some “who are too curious in wanting to know the extent of the pain suffered by our most clement Lord on the harsh wood of the cross.” There are those who exaggerate saying: “the pain and suffering of our Saviour was greater and bitterer than all other pain put together, of all men, even the damned.” Some also say that from the first instant of his conception to his death Jesus always experienced pain and this is false and erroneous.[70]

Furthermore the author reveals that “some preachers are confused when they read in Sacred Scripture that, when the impudent Jewish dogs detained our Saviour violently in a brutal martyrdom that, as he was dying a cruel and violent death, he raised his soul to his Father, and yet they do not know how to explain how what is violent can at the same time by voluntary.” Such critical assessment also includes “many devout contemplatives or faithful listeners who do not know how to distinguish between “real and suspect history and what must be believed” and what is related “as something that is pious, probable and contemplative.” When this attitude is what prevails “in order for it not to become temerarious,” one needs to restrain “Christians who are not devout and who so not believe” from “deriding such innovation…”

However, at the same time, “simple people who are contemplating” need “ most of all to be careful that the enemy does not trick them”, because it can happen that he may sometimes reveal a hidden sin to them making them pass bad judgement on their neighbour, sometimes he arouses and puts sadness into innocent hearts, or makes them cry so rashly over the death of the Lord that their minds become so disturbed that they do not sleep because of how that makes them feel” and claim that they “have known someone like that because they are so simple,”[71] He adds a piece of extraordinary advice against false stigmata: “It seems to me that the time that was foretold has arrived when in nivissimis diebus abubdabit illusores etc. (in the last days there will be an abundance of those who will deceive). I confess to have known many to which such things have happened, a few of whom I believed were loved by the Lord God. I believe that out of ten people who experience such things that you would not find at least one who would not be in the circumstances necessary for such persons. It is only simple people who are easily overcome by such spiritual temptations who do not believe or rely on themselves but submit themselves to someone else’s judgement.”[72]

There is also a complaint against “many heretics, infidels and simple Christians” who “believe that our faith teaches that God suffered death and torment in his divine nature, such a thing is very wrong”.[73] This is like the error and ignorance that is evident in the work of certain artists who paint. For example, they paint “the thieves as not being secured to the cross with nails but with ropes”, or what is more common, “almost all popular artists like some educated men believe that the Our Lord’s breast was wounded by a lance and this is how they paint it, yet they know that he was not wounded in the breast but beneath it in the soft flesh between the pectoral bones.”[74]

The final observation “makes us understand the reason why the mental exercise of thinking about and meditating on the Lord’s Passion is so easy and beneficial, yet a few perform it without gaining any substantial benefit […]. The reason why so few ascend the pinnacle of the mount of contemplation is nothing but human error and negligence which consists of two things: the first is that they rarely begin the exercise of contemplating and meditating on the Lord’s Passion using the required method or system for such a noble and worthy undertaking […]. The second thing is … not remaining firm in their resolutions.”[75]

The other parts of the Arte nova describe “the twelve wonderful fruits” that come from “the twelve meditations and acts of meditation on the sacred and beloved Passion of Our Lord”. The enumeration includes “the twelve most pressing symbols by means of which every person no matter how rough and hard can easily be induced to weep with devout tears over the cruel and bitter death of Christ Jesus , our Blessed Redeemer.” By means of such meditation one comes to the final part which contains the history of the Lord’s Passion in twelve articles, following the text of the holy Gospels. Many pious meditations and affective acts of contemplation will be developed from these scenes in union with the loving tears of the Virgin Mary.”[76] The entire Arte by Pietro di Lucca should lead towards the most wonderful fruit which “loves divine and excellent union.” [77]

The method and active participation of the one who is meditating seem to perfectly coincide with Franciscan and Capuchin affective spirituality. Let us look at these short passages that must have influenced the content and style of Pili’s Arte de la unione. “When you go to meditate, it is good to select a solitary place and also to choose the suitable time for such an exercise since in the night after digesting food completely, or the early morning. It could also be, as some do, at the time for Mass. Finally with regard to time and place you choose what is most comfortable and suitable for you, where it is easiest for you to meditate and where you can more easily experience your Lord. You should prepare yourself for meditation. Thus you should read, or listen to the story and keep it in mind, selecting the main points and single them out. At the time of meditation do not consider them all at once but take them one by one slowly, dwelling on each one for a short time. Digest them well and think through them in the manner that we will describe below. Keep the Lord ever before your mind and imagine everything as if you had been present and taking part in everything.”[78]

The aspect of “experiencing” the Passion is also emphasised, even during the penitential exercise of corporal flagellation, which is also contained in the Capuchin Constitutions. “Take a good and hard whip and hit your flesh strongly think of how much greater was the suffering of the Saviour. Thus as you strike yourself bitterly think of the harsh scourges of your beloved as if they were being inflicted on your soul so that this will show your great love and willing desire.”[79]

Thus meditation on Christ’s Passion as it affected his human nature becomes a step towards thinking of it in terms of his divinity. “Here I am not speaking to you about the contemplation of his divinity, which is very high and difficult. I only suggest calling to mind the Lord’s humanity that is what took place according to his human nature, which were all visible happenings, and which resemble a ladder for rising up to what is incomprehensibly divine.”[80]

2) Three spiritual masters who are important sources of the “Arte de la unione”

He exhibits another facet of being in touch with what was contemporary, even if in a veiled way, without ever indicating his sources, when he literally dips his fingers into three masters who wrote about spirituality: Enrico van Herp (+1477), Garcia de Cisneros (+1510) and Bartolomeo Cordoni (+1535), the last of which we have already spoken about.

Pili’s ability to collect ideas enabled him to set out Herp’s mystical theology in a coherent and systematic way. Herp had merged Bonaventure’s ancient tradition,. that of the Victorines, of Gerson and of the North of Holland with the method of prayer that had been established at Montserrat by the Abbot Garcia Jimènez de Cisneros and with the glowing material in the teaching concerning mystical experience in Cordoni. His choice could not have been cleverer or more daring. We believe that it is precisely these three authors that can explain the whole subsequent development (after 1536) of Capuchin spiritual literature, and its different features as well as its ascetical and devotional outlook and the various ways in which methods of mental flourished as the journey of the mystic guided by theology and, ultimately, the continued increase and steep rise in mystical experiences.

The Arte de la unione was set out in three parts dealing with the purgative, illuminative and unitive ways. The purgative way was developed in sixteen chapters, the illuminative in two and the unitive in eleven. After these twenty nine chapters there followed a final summary entitled’ “A Marvellous Spiritual Exercise Dealing with the Three Ways Set Out Above, Which Is Developed and Imagined as Taking Place in a Palace.” It treats the various acts of the spiritual life in an ascending movement that is to be repeated each day. It is here that the original contribution of Giovanni Pili da Fano can be seen through the addition of a kind of small outline or manual of daily devotional exercises. The idea is to offers suggestions and it would seem that its logic inspired Molfetta to place the image of a circle at the end of Cordoni’s Dialogo in a similar way to how the symbol of a palace was placed here to serve as a summary and an all-inclusive representation of the Art of Union.

It might be helpful to measure the percentage of the occurrences of the three above-mentioned authors in the “most devout work of Pili.” Fifteen chapters are predominantly based on Henry van Herp, ten on Cisneros and five on Cordoni. That means that half the work came under the influence of Herp, one third came from Cisneros and a sixth from Cordoni. Basically these percentages show that Pili was more attentive to tradition than to novelty. He used tradition with great discernment, with the addition of explanatory words and clarifications when the meaning was theologically ambivalent.

It is also interesting to note that the mystic Cordoni was only used practically with regard to the purgative way. Herp and Cisneros are more obvious in the other two ways: the influence of Herp being more pronounced in the purgative way, (9 chapters compared with 4 for Cisneros), with both contributing equally to the illuminative and unitive ways (6 chapters each).

Therefore it is important to think about these choices and omissions since very important themes and thoughts arose from them which became relevant for the spirituality of the early Capuchins. From Cordoni’s Dialogo the early Capuchins mainly made use of the chapters that treated “the way of confession,” the “way of humility,” and “the way of faith,” completely omitting the “way of the breath of the Holy Spirit”.

With regard to the chapters that deal with the topics of “mortification”, “fear” and “intent’ and ,especially, in the unitive way, the teaching on ejaculatory prayer and introversion or the ascendency or rousing of the interior lowers faculties, the author drew on the Teologica mistica by Herp.

From the Exercitatorium by Cisneros, which he must have read in the Paris Latin version of J. Petit on 1511, or of Siviglia of 1534, the author took the pages that deal with the importance of “spiritual exercises,” methodical prayer for each day of the week, unitive love and the effects of divine love and details concerning the relationship between contemplative and active life.

3) Garcia de Cisneros

Giovanni da Fanos’ real intention seems to have been to insert the programme contained in the work of Garcia de Cisneros into the material contained in Cordoni and Herp, carefully sifting through it in such a way that it became available and helpful to simple people making a life of mystical love and divine love available to everyone.

What Cisneros had done for the monks at Montserrat,[81] he wished to adapt for the young Capuchin Reform and so he offered a deep insight into the constant practice of methodical prayer as an indispensable part of the spiritual formation of the friars. In practice it became the first manual of a genuine Capuchin school of piety and devotion, with detailed prescriptions relating to the time and places “of the study of prayer” indicating authors, texts and the precise circumstances to be followed in practice.

This study commences in the noviciate, which is the institutional symbol of the purgative way, where “beginners’ on the journey of the spirit are required to make a general confession. This suggestion which was made by Cisneros was accepted by Pili, who, however, was not speaking to novices only but also to “spiritual and devout lay people.” However, he says that “it is only expedient that you make a general confession if you wish to enter the most devout exercise of uniting the soul to God.” (n 3830) Nevertheless, this was demanded in the Constitutions of the Order at that time and it became common practice. It is significant that the importance of Sacramental confession was strongly emphasised for the spiritual life even though the Eucharist is not mentioned.

Novices, who are beginners, were then initiated to some pious considerations on material that led to fear, such as sin, death, the last things and the life and Passion of the Lord and of the Madonna.

As in the Exercitatorium by Cisneros these topics were spread out over a week, so as to come into the mind habitually. They were “exercised” after matins, by concentrating on sin on Monday, death on Tuesday, hell on Wednesday, judgement on Thursday, the Christ’s Passion on Friday Mary’s sufferings on Saturday and the glory of Paradise on Sunday. (nn. 3886-3901). Obviously these topics had to be taken up and committed to memory just like the formulas of vocal prayers. In the depths of the night, after the Office of readings had been celebrated, in a state of deep recollection, the brother went down on his knees and began meditating. He made a small sign of the cross on his forehead, lips and breast, invoking the Holy Spirit with the Veni Sancte Spiritus while repeating three times “Deus in adiutorium”, just like Cisnernos had told his monks to do. But here, following the Franciscan spirit, Pili added the preliminary invocation of the names of Jesus and Mary.

In developing the meditation many small points were suggested as a guide to developing the “proper order” of motives and affections. Due consideration was also given to the position of the body which ought to correspond to the inner dispositions according to their gradual progress from the “distracted life to a life of compunction” then onto a “superior life”. From here on passing into the illuminative way of life is easy, when slothful meditating has been overcome and the soul is endowed with God’s gifts that nourish prayer of praise and thanksgiving. These steps are also distributed over the days of the week: Monday the gifts of creation, Tuesday, “gratifificazione” (that is the reception of the grace of God), Wednesday, Vocation, Thursday, justification, Friday, “dotazione” (God has bestowed a dowry), Saturday, “gubernatione” (that is how God protects us) Sunday, glorification. (nn. 3905-3913).

4) Henry van Herp

If in the main points that he made Cisneros provided Giovanni da Fano with a practical and well laid out plan for methodical mental prayer, Henry van Herp presented him with the practice of mortification that ought to animate and nourish the purgative and illuminative ways as well as the practice of aspirations that joined the illuminative way to the unitive way.[82]

Herp starts from the incorporation of Christ, which is different from the imitation of Christ. This is the starting point for the devotion modern. It emphasises the development of the practice of the moral virtues. Herp starts from a mystical point of view that sees Christ as the centre of the spiritual life which deifies humanity but not by changing it essentially, but by a loving transformation. The soul which comes from the abyss of divinity, having been stripped of its human faculties, receives the action of God and of exalted spiritual faculties and by means of this supernatural union divine light breaks out and floods the will and the memory.

To achieve this objective the quickest way is by turning within, that is by searching for God in the depths of the soul. This requires the intense convergence of all the faculties in the inner space where the Trinity dwell. The path is studded with “twelve mortifications,” that are directed towards stripping the will of all affections that are not directed towards God. He hardly mentions corporal penances so as to mainly insist on interior functions, such as being hypersensitive, love of self and merely human motivation which are to be overcome entirely.

The first mortification begins with poverty as a privileged instrument for achieving perfection, not just in so far as it is external poverty, but most of all as inner poverty “by denying the emotions and not being too busy so as to be more free and emotionally naked to fly into the naked arms of him who was crucified, the beloved Jesus Christ.”[83] In a passage cited by Colpetrazzo, Francesci da Jesi also explains how the very strong conviction and spiritual option for poverty by the early Capuchins is in perfect agreement with the teaching of Herp.

“If external poverty is so important that whoever does not have it is lacking in spirit, what greater importance shall we attach to spiritual poverty, which consists in complete detachment from all earthly things? I tell you that a person can practice as much abstinence as he wants, give himself to prayer, give himself up to strict religious observance, go into the desert, but still in spite of all this be caught up in the drama of love of self or affection for worldly things and never have an authentic spirit. Therefore true spiritual poverty consists in not having affection for anything but God. This is what our Seraphic Father called lofty knowledge. However to come down to what is basic, I say that whoever has affection for family and friends, the little things that he uses, such as books and other things cannot love God perfectly. […]

You are obliged not to love yourself, indeed to hate yourself, and to love God alone. Therefore, be aware that you do not belong to yourself, but to God and therefore you need to give yourself to him so that he can do with you what will result in giving him more glory without having any concern about yourself. You should be resigned to the will of God, so that if the result of you going to Hell rather than going to Heaven would afford him greater glory you should be content of heart and pray continuously that he will glorify himself through you. You ought to desire nothing more than that God would be glorified in and through you. Therefore be aware that there is nothing more dangerous than the desire to be known as a saint and to act to gain a reputation for doing good, to flatter and serve others to obtain favours, to show off, to write letters to gain friends so that they can assist in promoting you in status, studies or in other useless matters. Furthermore I tell you most of all that to gain merit, to avoid hell, and, particularly, to go to paradise you should act out of love for God or all the good works will be lost.

In conclusion then real poverty consists in not having, not wanting and not desiring anything else but Jesus Christ and to want and desire everything that will make us love Jesus Christ.”[84]

Mortification of the sensual affections and all the other emotions ought to also lead to detachment from deliberate venial sin and its mind-set, since – as Herp wrote – “if we knew how many people perform great things in vain almost without any gain we would be bewildered because what often appears as something big in the eyes of men is repulsive to God.”[85] Whatever causes unrest, especially during prayer, should be mortified. The starting point and basis of the spiritual life is solitude, silence and “custody of the heart.” This “solitude” and “silence” are to be mainly understood as involving inner peace, and spiritual calm, freedom from flights if imagination and fantasy and thinking about what is odd and in being open to the loving promptings of God.

One image and one thought should always remain. This is the image of Jesus Christ, who is the splendour and radiance of eternal light and the unstained mirror. Through becoming conformed to him within and without, in the way that Herp set out, the early Capuchins discovered a programme and the perfect logic of Francesco da Jesi’s Circle.

“You shall carry the image of Jesus Christ in your lower faculties together with a loving desire to imitate him according to the way in which his humanity hung on the cross and the image of his superb humility, abjection, patience and meekness will be imprinted on you as well as all the other superb virtues that go beyond all human capacity. Take this image with you to every place, at every hour, in every word and deed, and into every undertaking, whether interior or exterior, in prosperity and adversity. When you eat dip every bite of bread into his wounds. When you drink think of what he drank on the cross. When you are washing your hands or your body, think of the blood that washed your soul. When you go to sleep, think of the bed of the cross and lay your body on the pillow of the crown of thorns. Thus such thoughts ought to nourish loving compassion and the desire to follow in his footsteps. Carry within the inner man the image of his superb charity because of which he created everything and how when he took on human nature he set an example of all the virtues, underwent a bitter death, prepared eternal life and offered his entire self. By doing this thoughts will be transformed into emotions and knowledge into perfect love, since love motivates the mortification of nature, the life of the spirit, the activity of the higher faculties and divine intervention and detachment from all creatures.”[86]

Another aspect of mortification involves bitterness or scrupulosity of heart. However, its summit is reached in the perfect abnegation of one’s own will by obeying. Here Herp was not afraid to raise his voice in a sharp reprimand to superiors. “First of all today it is not uncommon that those who command others are more inclined to be concerned with external matters rather than internal matters, and so become more of an impediment than a help to their subjects who are drawn towards the interior life. This gives rise to a degree of sloth and lack of mortification in many religious as superiors do not exercise their authority as required by the journey of the spiritual life.”[87]

“Rational nature’s highest freedom” consists precisely in the complete abandonment of one’s own will to the will of God, in imitation of the Crucified Jesus Christ who remained abandoned and stripped of all love and sense pleasure, except “pure, nude indispensable love”. This is “the greatest aspect of the life of Christ,” its greatest perfection, “status perfectissimus.”[88]

A deep psychological analysis clearly reveals the “twelve mortifications” that dig internally to uproot all the roots of egoism and sin and to prepare the way for the work of the Holy Spirit.

What follows is the development of the active life, the contemplative spiritual life and the highest type of contemplation. This follows the threefold division set out by St Bonaventure. It involves preparation, consolidation and progress. Its objective is to bring the soul to an internal exercise of love. Herp analyses the temperament of those who are over active who are satisfied to undertake external activities, to consider what is concrete, not going any further, not rising up to God or more helpful internal exercises. Because of their tireless external activities for God, instead of loving him with heartfelt worship, these people hold working for God closer to their hearts, even closer than the God for whom they are working.[89]

This inner sensitivity reflects the structure of the human soul which is concentric and set out in “three dwellings”, one of which is the heart, where all the inferior inner sense faculties come together, both the exterior (senses) and the interior (the via irascibilis, concupiscibilis, rationis inferioris), which need to be mortified and calmed by means of the moral virtues. The second or middle place or abode, or “dwelling” is the mind where the soul’s three higher faculties, memory, intellect and will, have their origin. It is by means of these that the soul is a spirit and united to the Spirit of God. It is prepared for this by receiving the fullness of grace and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which is the embellishment of the contemplative life. The third, supreme “dwelling”, which is at the centre, is the very essence of the soul where the supernatural contemplative life takes place. This goes beyond the entire capacity of the human mind.

From the cohesion that exists in the heart we pass on to unity of the spirit where the spiritual faculties become unified and the soul acquires the kind of freedom by which it enters into its centre through a process of increasing passivity with respect to God. Here begins the kind of contemplative life which is sharing in the life of the Trinity, being psychologically totally absorbed, though not ontologically, in the reality of the love of God.

Within this “anthropology”, which is similar to the teaching of Blessed John van Ruysbroeck, the ascendency of love comes into play, which requires purification of all the superior faculties.

The basic instrument of this ascendency is the concept of aspirations and unitive love. The former is the body of contemplation; the latter is the soul or the spirit. The first is based on the choice made by the lower faculties; the second on the higher faculties. Aspirations make the lower faculties single minded and purify the heart from vain images and thoughts. Whoever decides to walk the divine and mystical road needs most of all to practice affective aspirations, keeping many short prayers that are called ejaculations, ready in his mind, in order to arouse the state of desire. Such little prayers ought to fill the heart, but also continually blossom on the lips, addressing God as if he were present. They should be said as often as possible and in all situations, walking, standing still, “sitting, lying down or eating.”

Ordinary meditation ought to show the affectionate lover the way to go. However when the amorous lover is ablaze, meditation should disappear to make way for affective aspirations which are the first step on the unitive way. This requires that all the faculties are concentrated on God, even if this is dangerous, if not done in moderation. Such intensity and violent love is necessary. As with all the rest Ripanti often said as much in the Circolo. “You should incite this with all your power and might …so that it has maximum impact.” (n. 3918).

The tendency towards union with God is an exercise that needs to be repeated constantly. It is directly related to unitive love. The more intense and continuous the exercise of aspirations is the more the centre of gravity of spiritual activity will change over from the lower faculties to the superior faculties. Thus aspirations are the shortcut to introversion or spiritual ascendency. In the beginning the exercise should be accompanied with meditation and also when one does not feel the presence of grace. Then the soul will experience a healthy appetite for God in the heart. However, God soon takes back this grace and devotional feeling.

Another degree of the state of aspiration is spiritual inebriation in which the eagerness is explosive and yet a period of egoism is still present until divine light injects the desire to give up every desire for everything that is sweet and consoling and cast oneself into “the naked arms of unclothed divine love.” This “relaxation” opens the heart so much that it becomes wounded with love and the state of aspiration reaches its climax. The inner faculties are annihilated by now and almost completely replaced by those that are superior. However the soul needs to be very aware of God’s anger and carry out aspirations to the “naked presence of God,” offering perfect abnegation, mortification, self-abasement and privation by seeking “God himself, pure and naked, so that he may gain fruit from his immense charity alone.” (n. 3955). He should become like the Crucified Christ by contemplating with his mind’s eye “Christ’s divinity and humanity as in a spiritual mirror or image.” (n. 3958). Such unitive love is like a shoot on a vine, a drop of water in wine or iron in fire.

This is where Giovanni da Fano brings his reading and dependence on Herp to an end. He does not make use of the remaining twenty chapters that deal with the development of the contemplative life and the degrees of spousal union with God as One and Trinitarian. This is the mystery of the soul. He prefers to return to some practical observations made by Cisneros to confirm that contemplation presupposes love and therefore an exercise of preparation and purification which is very exhausting. In addition to this he wants to remind the contemplative that he should always be ready to come down from the mountain of contemplation to the humble valley of daily observance, manual work and the service of neighbour.

After abundantly drawing on the authors mentioned above, namely Cordoni, Cisneros and Herp, Pili resumes the entire journey of the ascetical and mystical life using the image of a palace just as Ripanti had used the image of a circle. This classical image anticipated and preceded both the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius which appeared twelve years later, and the “interior castle” of St Therese of Jesus which came thirty years later. The palace contains ten rooms with a bright hall and throne at the centre. The rooms represent the meditative recollection of the soul according to the topics set down for the purgative and illuminative ways.

It is precisely in this programme that he outlines, for the first time, a list of pious and devotional practices that became typical of the Capuchin spiritual tradition. Among these the following are of particular importance: meditation on Christ’s Passion, which became “the room” where a Capuchin brother spent the most time. The meditation on the glory of Paradise was another “room” where Pili recommended that more time be spent than in others. Christ’s Passion was spread over the days of the week together with the “mysteries” of the Madonna. Precise gestures and devotional postures were put forward and taught for entering the church, as preparation for meditation and for the celebration of the liturgy of the Hours, which were interspersed with various episodes of the Passion.

One gesture that was repeated frequently was the sign of the cross on the forehead, while saying the names of Jesus and Mary. These became a prayer that brought about effective freedom from and remedy for temptation. (n. 3986). There are interesting devotions such as the proposal to say five Our Fathers to the Trinity for enemies, the souls in Purgatory, for all sinners, family and friends: or to say seven Our Fathers in honour of the seven sorrows of St Joseph and finally Mary Virgin and Mother, who conquered heresy, was the refuge of the faithful, Immaculate and Sorrowful.

The word “devotion” has a special meaning in all the works by Giovanni da Fano that became an interior and exterior characteristic of the Capuchin friar.[90] It stands for the inner working of affectivity, sensitivity, heartfelt responses to spiritual things, the sweetness of charity, inner dynamism for every external work, readiness and willingness to perform charitable works and fervour in prayer. Whoever devotes their life to the spirit is devout. We note here the influence of the mystical writings of St Bonaventure and of the devotion moderna.

The best evidence that this is the real meaning of this word is when it is said that prayer ought to be said with heartfelt love, warmth, loving desire, with utter sweetness. These are all expressions that illustrate what Pili calls the “operetta devotissima,” which on the one hand tends to regard devotion as an expression of love for the saints and the Virgin, and on the other hand, especially in the chapters concerning the unitive way, tends to connect “pure love” to “the experience of grace”, “spiritual warmth”, “consolation” and “sweetness” which are not essential in perfect love, which is even ready to thank God also when deprived “of all experience of grace and devotion.” This would be the fundamental point of the mystical journey that would be repeatedly stressed by other Capuchin spiritual writers.[91]

The ascetical and mystical matters treated by the first three Capuchin spiritual authors that is Bernardino d’Asti, Francesco da Jesi and Giovanni da Fano, are the key to the rest of the spiritual literature developed within the Capuchin Reform during this first century of its history.

c) Other authors before the Council of Trent

In fact the authors that come after this either develop particular aspects of devotion such as meditation on the Passion or they specify certain practices that were meant to provide rules for the exercise of mental prayer, or they consider the meaning of spiritual life as an expression of and an image for the life of the individual himself. They also mention some of the accusations, tensions or tormenting allegations that in some way marked the Renaissance, the trials associated with religious reform, the search for unity and internal harmony.

In this context the Diologi sette by Bernardino Ochino and the Regule de la oratione mentale by his admirer Girolomo da Molfetta are significant. The Master and his pupil swing between two opposite positions. On one side there is the mysticism of Cordoni with traces of Alumbradism and of the Free Spirit movement that were connected with the Reformed Movement of Valdes and the Reformed Evangelical Movement. On the other hand there is traditional Franciscan spirituality with meditation of the mysteries of Christ following the style of Bonaventure and Bernard, the exaltation of the cross and the journey of love. This complex background turns these authors into witnesses to a spiritual crisis that in the context of the cultural upheaval that could enterer into the parallel phenomenon of contemporary style of art known as Mannerism.[92]

1) Girolomo da Molfetta and the “Regule de la orazion mentale”

Girolomo da Molfetta basing himself on the literary style of the “Canticle of Canticles” and of Qoèlet, along the lines of Bartolomeo Cordoni, introduced the topic of the espousals of the beloved soul who is in search of the Divine Spouse. The search ends in “stato de’ religosi” (state of a religious lifestyle) which is the “situation” where one finds the “Spouse Christ Jesus”. He does this while also bitterly criticising the manner in which at the time religious were living in convents, accusing them of formalism, egoism, worldly wisdom and pharisaic conduct. Instead there is another type of religious persons who really seek and find the Lord. He could be referring to the Capuchin Reform, but he could also be referring to that “divina religione” that Bernardino Ochino speaks of in the “Dialogo della divina professione”. (cf. nn. 4096-4111).

When the “place” has been found, he suggests the “method” for discovering union with the Spouse, by dictating “some rules for mental prayer” that favour the affective and devout path, teaching how to speak with God “mentally and spiritually.” In the language of Girolomo da Molfetta these two adverbs mean the same thing and explain one another. They indicate a “method” and an “order” that is valuable in prayer of petition as it assigns a sequence in the graces to be asked for beginning with what pertains to God and finishing with what pertains to the needs of people within the Church, and then going on to ask for the virtues which are the basis of Christian life and for the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Love of God, the Passion of Christ and truths concerning “the last things” are proposed as the subjects of mental prayer. The devotional aspect of prayer comes into its own when contemplating the mysteries of the life, death and resurrection of Christ (today they would be called “the Paschal Mystery”), by using a rosary consisting of thirty three beads for the Our Father, with the antiphon Iesus Crucifixus amormeus. In practice the Crucifix becomes the path to the love of God since it reveals this most clearly. The soul immerses itself in the name of Jesus where it finds all that is good, discovers Paradise, the Trinity, the choirs of Angels, the blessed spirits and all the sweetness of peace. Therefore, the Crucifix is the ladder to reach the love of the Most Blessed Trinity, which is the aim of mental prayer. (nn. 3992-4012).

This theme is an echo of the preaching and teaching that was greatly emphasised by Bernardino Ochino da Siena and it contains a wealth of refined enthusiasm in addition to what is contained in his sermons, (which will be dealt with in the next section), and in the classical Dialogi.

2) The “Dialogi sette” by Bernardino Ochino

Here it is possible to discover a real itinerary for a life in the spirit, an authentic treatise on Christian perfection which has an affinity with the radical spirituality that was typical of the “mature” thinking of Ochino. One also senses an evolution from those learned ethical humanist debates that go back as far as Petrarch and partially to the Florentine Academy, towards specifically theological late medieval teachings that were mostly confined to the environment of the Mendicant Orders and the beginning of Lutheran speculation. In fact Ochino personally participated in a theological spiritual debate within the Church in the context of the teaching of Augustine that was characteristic of a great part of Christian culture at the beginning of the sixteenth century. It showed itself as an anguished, dissatisfied, inquisitive religious experience that sought to taste and assimilate the new and sometimes critical innovations.[93]

His seven dialogues reflect this debate in which many trains of thought and opinions about spirituality came together and developed into a growing mystical hunger. In fact, the last dialogue is the summit of this ascent that took its first steps as an urgent proposal for renewal that was based on a firm decision “to convert immediately.” (Dialogue 5). This was motivated by the desire for genuine happiness.,(Dialogue 2), that can only be found in a man who desires what is interior, and it can be achieved only in a precise and well organised “realm of the soul” (Dialogue 3) by means of growing love for God (Dialogue 1). Such a conversion increases the journey of “flight from the world” which is an “ascetical pilgrimage” (Dialogue 6). It finds comfort and hope in the example of the conversion of the Good Thief on the cross (Dialogue 4) and ends up with a “divine confession” as a pure act of unitive love for Christ Crucified in the One and Trinitarian God. (Dialogue 7).

The humanist humus, which can be noticed because of references to ancient philosophers, and from echoes of discussion at Court about happiness and love, is cast aside by the impetuosity of the theology of the cross and of the one who was Crucified. This is always the central point of the discussion, the point of departure and arrival for one who is in love. It is also significant to note how the person in the conversation is always a woman, both because the author is dealing with Caterina Cybo Duchess of Camerino, (who is mentioned by name in three Dialogues), and also because it can refer more generically to the “Soul” or a “Woman”. In any case in mystical language the use of the feminine can express relationship and supernatural love more easily. Conversation between Master and Pupil only comes about in the third dialogue. This is quite different from the other dialogues and perhaps this was why it was regarded as being more traditional.[94]

An attentive and deep reading reveals that substantially Ochino intended to present a lively faith in the gifts that were conveyed by Christ crucified by means of which we have access to the love of God and gain the capacity to love God perfectly and in a spiritual manner. This is achieved by the application of a “method”, a “system”. He states this explicitly and links it to the exercise of mental and interior prayer as a means of achieving the union of love. In fact the anthropological analysis of the soul that is set out in the third dialogue emphasises the different psychological, rational and emotional stages and paints a practical and marvellous picture of the various interior activities that are at work in the exercise of prayer, the interaction of the various interior faculties and the tactics that are required to transform what is a theoretical value into an affective conviction and to transform a clarified rational concept into the flame of a loving choice and the fire of active charity.

According to Ochino the most difficult step is “the first step, which is that of making a start”, or making a decision, wanting to undertake the journey of love, not discussing it too much with the world and what the world wants but throwing oneself without restraint into the arms of Christ Crucified. Without “saying goodbye” to the world one cannot find God nor is it possible to be free from “internal discord or conflict”. He also makes use of a geometrical symbolic image to explain this concept. The soul which was made in the image and likeness of the Trinity cannot be satisfied by the world, just as a triangular vase cannot be filled by a round body, the corners (memory, intellect and will) will always remain empty. (cf. n. 4040).

In order to fill these empty spaces Ochino describes the relationship between the faculties of the soul. In analysing the relationship between the intellect and the will he sets out, with dramatic accuracy, the various steps in meditation for arriving at affectivity, which is the specific objective of mental prayer. He is not speaking about a reality that is just psychological or internal, for this requires ascetical purification through mortification of the senses and bodily members as well as of the feelings within the heart. (nn. 4043-4065).

Following such purification, the “pilgrim soul” becomes enlightened and more in love with God. Such enlightenment does not come from doctrinal speculation or vain, useless, unusual and sublime knowledge, since “speculation that is too literal and subtle impedes love and libido” (n. 4026).Creatures ought to be a “ladder” “that elevates us to divine beauty”. Devout books, the Bible, the lives of the saints, the conversation of virtuous people, “living example” enlighten and enkindle love, and, most of all, contemplating the words, the actions, the virtues and the perfection of Christ and believing in his love will move us. From this point the leap into unitive love is immediate. At this point the work of the intellect ceases and the will takes over on its own. Here the light is the flame of love because “we cannot understand God perfectly except by means of love.”

The conversation becomes intense. Cybo breaks in and expresses an idea of perfect love that contains a kind of spirituality that sounds like the theory of illuminism which was like the quietism of Porete. “You need not only to forget all creatures, yourself and all the subtle questions that the wise men of this world ask about God, but you must also let yourself forget about divine love and God’s divine perfection and about everything nor have your thoughts occupied in anything and put all your might into love. (n. 4034). Ochino corrects the implication and defends the necessity of having previous knowledge in order to love and this means (this is the beginning and the end) “to think of Jesus Christ and of what he suffered for love of me”. Without this happening first it would be impossible to love God. Indeed, what is more profound, to follow the example of the Good Thief involves remaining “in Christ’s memory”, so that Christ cannot forget you, and that means that you are saved, or remain in love, and are united to Mary’s faith as she stood at the foot of the cross.

This whole journey is brought to a conclusion by means of a summary phrase that is like a slogan. “Your Ladyship, try to carry out these exercises while annihilating yourself in transforming yourself into God, who was placed on the cross out of love for us and will grant this to you.” (n. 4043). This expression sets out in three phases the methodology of the entire spiritual journey set down by Ochino. It is rich in vast echoes of ascetical and mystical literature alluding to “exercising, annihilation, and transformation.” The first phase represents the active commitment that is a deliberate act of will to practice meditation and mortification and imitation under the guidance and example of spiritual masters and it requires continuity and perseverance. The second phase is commitment to passive asceticism which, in Ochino’s programme, is directly linked to transforming union, which is the outcome of this journey and its final objective. It is precisely during this phrase that the influence of the mysticism of Porete becomes evident in Bernardino Cordoni’s meditations.

The stage that is characterised by “exercises” disappears into two inseparable words “annihilation” and “transformation” which are repeated more than six times in the final dialogue concerning “divine profession.” This dialogue contains an explosion of ambivalence in which it is possible to detect the farthest point of Ochino’s Catholic period that contained Valdesian evangelism and a dangerous proclivity towards the reform spirituality of Luther and Calvin. In fact, the general impression given by this important dialogue is that this dialogue had been set down purposely in the customary traditional language that dealt with religious profession. This terminology makes the objective of the action the profession of the three evangelical counsels. By doing this the author could avoid certain historical, juridical and institutional issues such as the observance of the Franciscan Rule with its serious moral obligations, when these are compared with the practice of pure love, where faith is “alive, operative, loving, fervent and at a high degree of perfection”, which is all the work of God, “simple love of Christ”, without any human activity.

The final chapter of Margaret Porte’s Miroir des simples ames gives the same impression It is entitled “Comment caste Ame est professe en sa religion et comment elle a bien gardésa regle” (cap.137). It begins in the Latin translation that circulated in Italy, with a phrase that is the source of the inspiration for all that Ochino wrote. “Talis est in sua religione professa: et imlevit regolam suam. Quae sest regola sua? Hoc est quod videlicet risolvatur per anichilarionem in illud primum esse. ubi Armor acceperat eum”.[95]

However, there is a very important difference in that Porete proposes union with the divine archetype in the simplicity of the idea or primordial divine will, whereas, in a more Franciscan manner, Ochino, under the clear influence of Bonaventure and the Franciscan Spirituals as they were understood in the Capuchin Reform, but perhaps also after referring to the theology of Luther, saw “annihilation” as a necessary stage in being transformed into Christ, part of the process of becoming “divine”. “Annihilation in me, brings about transformation into Christ”. The person of Christ is the required “environment” for “annihilation”. Indeed, his open and wounded heart becomes the eternal dwelling place of the simple soul who has been “professed” in a divine religious way of life which consists of pure love without works, because he has passed works over as being his own so that they become the works of Christ alone. Christ’s side, within which the simple soul is hidden,” infused with the blood of Christ”, reveals God’s love. Christ’s Passion is a passion of love. Within it we learn, by placing ourselves on the wave of Christ’s soul, how to produce “an act of love for him that is as intense, sincere and pure as possible only to give him honour”: an act that is continuous and growing “infinitely”, indeed an act that is “infinite, eternal, continuous, gratuitous and supreme love.”

It is within this tension that the influence of Porete’s Specchio, and, even more, the Dialogo della unione spirituale di Dio con l’anima by Bartolomeo Cardoni emerge once again, together with echoes of the Circolo by Francesco da Jesi. “Divine profession” is an eternal promise to love, a desire to love God with the same love that the heart of Christ had for mankind. “I intend to love him forever with the love by which he was loved by Christ’s soul and to continue to do so forever.” This is opting for Trinitarian love and is thus immersion in the Trinity. “By means of love I opt to become intimate with and bound with my heart to the three Divine Persons, and to give up my whole self and all creatures and to live for God alone.” This is a desire to love since the soul having been transformed into Christ has become totally “divine” and thus its “unique activity is to sigh with love always just as the Father and the Son always breathe the Holy Spirit.” (nn. 4096-4111).This is the most extreme, splendid and ambiguous part of Ochino’s spirituality during his time in Italy.[96]

The exaltation of the Passion of Christ Crucified is also the subject treated by two other contemporaries of Ochino: Bernardino Ducaina da Montolmo and Giovanni Battista Galli Castellini da Fierenze, also known as “fra Battistone” because of his imposing physical appearance. He was a priest and preacher and a member of the Conventual Friars and very learned. The second one was a lay brother. Both were converts. The first joined the Capuchin Reform after doing studies and teaching theology and spending a short time with the Reformed Conventuals. The other was converted from a sad military life following a crisis of conscience that was brought about through the preaching of Bernardino Ochino at Florence.

3) Spiritual letters of “Battistone” da Faenza

Fra Battista was one of Ochino’s conquests. However, his spirituality even though it appeared to be a continuation of the theme preferred by Ochino, had a different approach and flavour. Its devotional aspect was that of the Counter-Reformation and was Baroque and centred on the veneration of a miraculous Crucifix that was situated and on display in the Capuchin friary in Florence. It seems to have been more like an historical “rerun” to promote the reputation, attractiveness and importance of the friary in Florence. The ancient wooden cross, which was about 80cm high, was very dynamic and devout. It stood in an “old place” above the high altar. It was moved from there into the choir of the new friary where it remained until it was solemnly put on display in the new church on 22 November 1643 when Antonio da Cesena was Minister Provincial and Guardian of the friary. While Don Pietro da Cremona, who was a celebrated Camaldolese preacher, was preaching the Advent sermons in the city, Battista da Faenza led a pilgrimage to the cathedral and, on the same day, Padre Teodoro da Guastalla did the same in the friary church.[97]

It is probable that the collection of the letters of Battista da Firenze dates from this time. They were written to people in Florence urging then to meditate on Christ’s Passion, following the example that he had set. The history of these letters is not clear and seems to have come to light quite late. What is certain is that a local popular devotion existed and that its origin was justified by means of a “legendary” episode and the religious experience of a convert which spread a commotion. Battista’s accomplishments were described in the various devout biographies that were written by the chroniclers of the Order as being the triumph the Christ’s grace over a great sinner and as being an example of most perfect conversion in the light of Christ’s Passion, and as a topic for sermons that would be most effective and popular.

His early biographers make no mention of the letter that he wrote to the people of Florence near the end of his life. Nevertheless we cannot reject the tradition. A manuscript edition that comes from after 1632 is to be found in city library at Imola. The text, which runs to 34 pages, and is set out in thirty three points or paragraphs appears to be ready to be printed. However it is clear that, following the most benevolent suppositions, the original text was much simpler and shorter and less burdened with quotations and more spontaneous. The only edition that is known up to the present is dated 1757. Because of this it seems probable that the manuscript has been reworked and revised. Considering the content and the quotations from authors one is clearly aware of the environment and “seventeenth” century approach, as well as the contribution of a preacher, both because of the abundance of quotations from doctors and sacred authors, and the crisp style and the well-ordered sequence of the story. It was announced at the start that the sequence of events had been adopted in order to demonstrate that meditation on Christ’s Passion “is pleasing to God and the Blessed Virgin and the Angels in Paradise and even helpful to souls in the present and future life.” One frequently sees this point in the religious literature of that time as well as in the spiritual writers within the Order. Here one notes especially the influence of Alessio Segala da Saló.[98]

However, without going into the particular details of internal criticism, it is better to conclude by emphasising certain aspects of this “spiritual summons” which become a call to all Christians. Here we have a particular fundamental method of meditation. The intellect “mulls over” Christ’s sufferings in order to arouse divine love in the heart. The will should “delve into itself” with “devout affection” in order to discover “the basis and root of the pure love” of Christ Crucified. The memory should recall a particular “mystery” concerning the Passion. This “sacred and devout exercise” will make you discover “through experience” the “sweetness” of the Crucified especially of the wound in the side which is the “nest of divine charity”, and the loving prayer Absorbeat will burst forth at this point. This is like the prayer of St Francis which was cited at the beginning by way of an example. This joins the miraculous cross in Florence to the one at San Damiano in Assisi.

Meditation becomes heartfelt contemplation “an act of gazing on and contemplating with devout and pious affection” which dwells on the cuts and wounds of Christ’s body. This contemplative gazing starts from “the bleeding head”, touches “the most chaste ears”, “the most holy mouth”, “his lips”, “divine cheeks”, “most holy tongue”, sees his “blood-soaked neck,” his “breast and back”, squeezes “his venerable hands”, kisses “his most holy feet” and finally rests on “the great wound in his side”, “that was wounded so deeply that the wound reached his own heart” … “the holy of holies of divine love.” (cf. nn. 4124-4139).

We see that the nucleus of the messages belongs to Ochino: the Crucified Christ reveals the love of God and purifies and saves mankind in his wounded heart and ignites it with love. However the garment is decorated with a style that is devotional and Baroque without the taste of the ambiguity and confusion of proposing justification by faith alone.

4) “Meditation on the Passion” by Bernardino da Moltolomo

What Bernardino da Moltolomo has to say is quiet different. He does not offer an exhortation but a brief method of meditation that is clearly based on personal experience of devout exercises such as the “devout prayers” of Bernardino d’Asti and the “spiritual rosaries” of Mattia Ballintani. It is a procedure that is something like “the stations of the cross” which the devout theologian and follower of Scotus used to practice during his long hours of mental prayer involving a precise “order and method” that left plenty of room for individual spiritual choice.

He divides Christ’s Passion and death into fifty small points or episodes by beginning with the Last Supper on Holy Thursday and ending with the moment when the Crucified Christ “gloriously gives up his spirit.” The “points” are always set out in two parts: first “contemplation” of the individual episode, which is always taken from the account given in the Gospel, then a very brief affective prayer, which fosters a spiritual interpretation and practical and devout implementation. The “method” is concise, condensed and very simple and people-friendly. However, it presumes a radical commitment to the interior life that is set out in the practical actions of initiation and preparation. Before advancing to the practice of the exercise, the author lists the conditions and spiritual prerequisites in powerful language that is filled with unction, following the style used by Bonaventure, which leads into the production of an image of ascetical bustle and contemplative concentration that is like what is contained in the Capuchin Constitutions of 1536.

It is a style of religious life which is totally committed to continuing the Franciscan tradition and which also shows that it has been partially influenced by contemporary devout movements, such as the devotio moderna which is clearly evident in the method of meditating. If the mind is not “purified” and “recollected” it cannot “taste the sweetness that is alight within it” since the objective is “to experience contentment in meditating on this exalted Passion,” and this is the fruit that comes from a purified heart and one that is conformed to the virtues of Christ.

Your strength will continue to grow when you discover inexhaustible motivation in the individual gestures, acts, words and events of Christ’s Passion. Every detail displays a virtue of “most sweet Jesus”, especially his “immense charity,” which the contemplative soul desires and seeks to imitate. Such conformity is born of lively thought and profound contemplation. In fact the various details are introduced with the verbs: contemplate, and on three occasions, think. The intensity of the vision requires not just intellectual involvement, but emotional and affective participation, by means of images that make the events almost physically present. Thus by continuing and persevering in this mental and spiritual exercise, the exterior and interior life becomes motivated by the image of Christ Crucified and his love which is the most frequently repeated reason given in the practical conclusions that are expressed in the prayers. For example; “O Jesus, Son of God, bind my heart so that I cannot love or wish for anything worldly, but only desire and love you completely.’ Another example “O Redeemer of the world and my Father, grant me the grace of being mentally crucified with you, enduring your sufferings in my heart, not just now, but etiam when I am standing, sitting, moving, speaking, and finally in all my activities.” Contemplation ends with a prayer of thanksgiving.

It should be remembered that in its brevity and simplicity of style, the text is part of a very beautiful expression of early Capuchin life and conceals a depth of doctrine and experience that was only revealed gradually through the faithful repetition and persevering excise that slowly came into practice, impressing the meaning of each word in the soul until it burst out as an immense prayer of interior life that was centred on Christ Crucified. (nn. 4112-4123).

5) “Speccio di orazione” by Bernardino da Balvano

The method of prayer that has just been mentioned and which was lived rather than described by Bernardino da Montomolo, was instead explained in detail and developed in a real treatise on prayer by Bernardino da Balvano (+ after 1564) . Because of public demand it was published following a course of sermons in the same year, by the most famous printer and publisher in the city, Pietro Spira. [99]The pocket edition is rather rare.[100] However it had notable editorial success which is a sure sign that it had interpreted and fulfilled a widespread spiritual need.

Its title partly explains its success: A Mirror of Prayer the Briefly Treats the Necessity and Helpfulness of Holy Prayer as It Ought to be Exercised Giving the Order and Rule that Is To Be Observed and its Fruits as Being Useful and Necessary for All Faithful Christians. Most of all it applies a stimulating image, that had been used in a long and ancient line of spiritual and moral literature, that of the Mirror. The metaphor of the “Mirror” immediately rang bells, and in the Middle Ages it also served to represent mystical union with God.[101] In our case the term is explained by the author himself. “Sancta ex pagina quidquid fere quod orantis est sparsim insertum in unum redigi, veluti in speculum, in quo quidemqiu prius tenebrarum caligine abiecti fuerant, luce clarius speculum possunt quid sit oratio ipse, quot eius species praeparationesque ipsius et conditiones, quamve necessaria et utilis. Orandi etiam videtur et modus. Eodem insuper et ad Deum et ad sanctos qualiter orations offerant, lucidissime cernitur. Unde et poterint oratores et imitari quod cupiant et fugere quod operet.”[102]

In practice this means that the book reflects the light of prayer as it shines in the word of God in Sacred Scripture as if from a mirror. This is how he means to be “an evangelical preacher.” His task was only to unite all that would be of interest to a person who was praying so that they could find input and discernment in the pages of the Bible. In this a Christian would enjoy a complete and precise vision of the exercise of prayer in accord with the order that the rules set down in the sacred text and a brief illustration of what he should do if he wanted his prayer to be ‘sacrosanct” and fruitful.

Some original and practical aspects

We find that there are some excellent passages that teach people the real practice of prayer, especially interior mental prayer. Here Bernardino da Balvano explains, over many pages, the four stages of prayer following the traditional monastic format: reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. However certain aspects of these pages are original and interesting and deserve to be considered here. [103] A basic concept which pervades everything is that Christian prayer has its origin in listening to the word of God and retaining it in one’s heart. The only prayer book is Sacred Scripture. The subject of prayer is the mysteries of Christ seen from and reaching their culmination in the Paschal mystery, Christ as God and Man, the mystery of salvation as this is revealed in the Bible.

Another subject that is repeated as if it were a chorus is inner affectivity, or the most intense tuning of the emotional sentiments of the soul as they engage in interior prayer of which they are its main fruit. Such harmony in the emotions develops into a strict apprenticeship or persevering exercise that adopts a system or method, model, example, form, or rule of prayer that demands the most perfect fidelity. The sketch of the journey of prayer is presented with perfect educational progression that explains cleverly what is analytical along with the sequence of stages just mentioned, making the topics that have already been presented reappear in different contexts so that they can be retained in the memory with enriched drive, specific activities and a new approach.

It is a real school of prayer for all Christians without distinguishing between clerics and laity, religious or common folk. As the gift of prayer is gratuitous, everyone has the right and the responsibility to “exercise,” to “try,” and to “prepare” to receive it. Bernardino da Balvano uses these words frequently and they balance what pertains to the will in contrast to passive cooperation with the activity of the Spirit. The exercise that is performed and the effort that this requires are at the service of the readiness and availability to have faith in God’s gift, which is love, and a state of quiet and peacefulness that is filled with sweetness and “supreme happiness”. Such Christian optimism is delightful even to modern sensitivity. It is also very necessary because it comes from a profound emptying and inner detachment as well as indifference to sensual pleasures and pride of heart.

Affectivity is linked with inner activity. This union is part of all the stages of prayer: in fact reading is interior, meditation is interior, prayer is interior and contemplation is unmistakably interior. . The first stage requires “attentive thoughtfulness” and “subtle comprehension”. The objective of interior reading is devotion and devotion arouses affectivity which produces inner warmth by means of meditation so as to achieve perfect prayer. Thus we come to understand that meditation is not yet perfect prayer. However interior reading is already meditation as it stimulates inner thinking on the mystery concerning Christ by visualising it “by means of the imagination”, as St Ignatius of Loyola said, and by introducing us ever more deeply into its meaning.

This approach progresses in stages from what is external to what is internal and to what is beyond and is intensive. One imagines “with an attentive thought in the mind as if seeing with the eye”. The person concentrates on the mystery “as if he were present and it was all going on around him”. He thinks, considers and “enters in” more deeply. He thinks about the mystery in the divine person of Christ in the violent context of his human suffering. Thus the soul becomes caught up in the meditation and experiences “inner warmth” that arouses the six internal emotions: love, hatred, fear, hope, sorrow and joy. This is a key moment in the prayer journey. These “pious affections” “inflame” the soul.

The author, who is writing this “to console those who are simple”, as an authentic “teacher on prayer”, takes time to teach them in a practical way how to develop the various emotions using the mystery of the scourging of the Lord as an example. He sets this out in a conversation between the soul and Jesus. The emotions blend with each other. At one time it is Christ, at another time it is God the Father, who tells the soul about his works of mercy and love. Sometimes the soul reflects on them comparing and contrasting them to his personal sinful behaviour in a very concrete way.[104] It is a continuous back and forth between Jesus and the soul. It is also a soliloquy or stage production of the mystery and the conversation of the various actors. However, it is just a psychological pause, an interval before going back into a more lively dialogue with Christ and listening to his “plaintiff voice,” rolling it up in the very beautiful sound of aspirations that proclaim praise and blessing, (cf. nn. 4155-4158).so that “the Lord Jesus may be engraved on the heart.”

By means of this combination of emotions the soul becomes “enflamed” and breaks out in “loving acts” that correspond to three types of prayer: oblation, petition and thanksgiving. These are the “fruits” of mental prayer that has been prepared by the “flowers” of the “emotions.” The “emotions” ripen the “fruit” but do not yet constitute perfect prayer. Bernardino da Balvano is implying that there are many who read and meditate, but few who go on to real prayer.

Prayer of praise comes before prayer of petition. This is the necessary “order”. It is a “rule and formula” that was taught by the “master of truth Jesus Christ.” The first act of interior and mental prayer is the act of love. “Let us begin praying to him with loving offerings.” (n. 4164) and with “a peaceful mind and pure love let us all place ourselves into his paternal hands, disposed and prepared to accept everything happily” (n. 4162). This is an essential component of prayer which is emphasised further on in very valuable words: “There are two ways to pray: one is to offer humble thanks: the other is to petition, which is inferior .to this When you pray do not ask for something immediately. [….] When you begin to pray, put aside, yourself, your wife your children and the world and move on to heaven, abandoning every visible and invisible creature and begin by glorifying the Maker of all, and while speaking about the glory, do not go here and there letting your mind wander.” (n. 4190).

Prayer of petition is “an enflamed and burning desire to ask for and obtain something” from God to be freed from the evil of sin and punishment and to receive graces in this life and in our homeland.

Thanking God is the third act of prayer which disposes us to receive more gifts as we affectionately recall divine gifts. These acts are also set out clearly by the use of examples. He gives us to understand that he is talking about an experience that does not come from books, but from practice, and if at first the soul finds this tedious with practice “it will feel very happy”. The example is developed in a conversation between Christ and the soul in which Jesus lists the events of his life, his mysteries, especially the sorrowful moments in his Passion, which is a proof of the author’s wish to meditate on this and a counterbalance for the erroneous behaviour of the soul. They are examples of very devout prayer with wonderful liturgical overtones.

This affective and interior exercise disposes and prepares the soul for the free gift of contemplation. The author deals with this briefly, but quite intensely in accord with his personal experience.

“Contemplation is a sweet experience and very gentle taste of the divine riches in which, the soul, that has been purified and warmed by an inner reading and sacred meditation, being lifted up on high, enjoys flashes of thought through frequent and devout prayer, becoming restful and tranquil, and gifted with wonderful sensitivity for the divine mysteries, it tastes supreme goodness. Just as the sun sheds light, warmth and makes the plants spring up and germinate, so divine contemplation enlightens the intellect with wonderful feelings, inflames the will with wonderful sweetness and makes them both function most perfectly, either more or less, according to their infallible wisdom and their human capacity, comprehending in a exalted manner and desiring ardently.” (n. 4179)

This is perfect prayer reaching the finishing line. This is prayer “that has carved on the heart the vivid thought of sweet Jesus and intimate love for him.” This is the objective of meditating on the mysteries of Christ. This is the goal to which all Christians are pointed and thus they ought to try “to be concerned about prayer, study the lessons that it contains and be fervent about holy meditation.” They ought to “perform all the acts of prayer with great love”, leaving the indescribable taste of contemplation to God’s loving decision.

By making many original points and hinting at some more complex matters, and by using the prevailing christocentric theme featuring Christ on the cross which he always linked with affective feelings, Bernardino da Balvano brought Christians, who were living at the height of the sixteenth century, back to the tradition of monastic contemplation as it was in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and as it had been presented in the Scala claustralium and the Scala Paradisi by Guigo II, which were often attributed to St Augustine or St Bernard. The method is based on four spiritual stages. “The reading searches for the sweetness in a holy life, meditation finds it, prayer asks for it, contemplation is sweetness itself and it produces joy. Reading stops at the crust, meditation penetrates to the soft centre of the loaf, prayer builds desire, and contemplation is overjoyed with delight at the sweetness that has been achieved.”[105]

Though the Specchio d’orzione concentrates at greater length on mental and interior prayer, setting out its four stages in strict ascending order up to the summit of contemplation, nevertheless it puts forwards many other practical lessons that make this book a true theoretical and practical handbook for every soul that embraces the spiritual life. It emphasises the importance of “mystical prayer”, which “is partly mental and partly vocal.” However, mental prayer is more important in the same way as the soul is more important than the body. He suggests going back to this type of prayer in moments of dryness, noting the value of ejaculatory prayer or aspirations of “joy”. (cf. n. 4182). However, concentration of the mind and the inner aspects of the heart ought to stand out more than the sound of the voice and the use of many words, which is almost an indirect quotation of the ancient Capuchin Constitutions.

To convince us of the need for prayer he cites the example of the life of Christ that is all prayer. “Whoever does not wish to err and the Christian who does not want to be damned should follow the guide and imitate Christ the safest leader on the way to heaven. What did the Lord do as frequently as pray; sometimes for an entire night, even after preaching very energetically for the entire day? However, it was during his Passion that he gave us a living example of this when he sweated blood because of his great anxiety. On the cross he cried tears and did not want to give up his spirit until he had prayed. Indeed as he was giving up his spirit he prayed: “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” Because of this he did nothing more often than pray devoutly and fervently.”[106]

To demonstrate the utility of prayer, the author referred, as he did for everything, back to the Bible.” There is nothing else to which the Scriptures invites us as often as to holy prayer, especially in what the Lord Jesus says and the apostle St Paul.”[107] However, remote and proximate preparation are also important, to use a traditional expression and there are six conditions for these respectively. The first condition is “correct faith in union with the Catholic Church”, that is “to adhere sincerely from the heart and to confess faithfully with the lips all that the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the head and mother of all Churches, believes”, then “reconciliation with one’s neighbour”, since one can pray only where there is pardon and peace, The third condition is a pure conscience, “frequently attending the divine sacrament of holy Confession” that effectively makes a person ready for prayer.

Another condition is moderation because “he who deprives himself discretely of exterior things for the love of Christ will receive interiorly the divine consolations of prayer more abundantly.” In Capuchin spirituality this is a basic principle and one of the main motives for a life of ascetics, penance and austerity. The fifth condition is the choice of “a hidden place away from noise, which is adequate and quiet.” Finally, it is basic to set down a time for prayer that is “suitable and appropriate” attaching special value to the two hours traditionally set aside by Capuchins even though continuous prayer remains the ideal. (nn. 4184-4187).

As one begins the exercise of prayer and practices it another six conditions are indispensable. Following Biblical imagery they are called the “maids of honour” who accompany the Queen within the King’s palace. They attend to “the demeanour or bearing of the body”, which include the external bodily movements or postures which ought to be in harmony with interior sentiments. After this come “right intention”, alertness of mind and concentration, and these are anchored once again on Christ’s mysteries. They are accompanied by complete trust, without doubts, that is “the trust that is based on hope,” However more than that what is needed is” profound interior and exterior humility,” and lastly perseverance, because “humble constancy is invincible.” (nn. 4188-4196).

Verifying the authenticity of prayer is fundamental for a spiritual director. The period following prayer reaps its fruits and if these are not present the tree is not good. This is a rule of discernment which, above all, depends on four signs or favourable conditions. “The first condition is listening to the divine word with reverence and attention, being prepared to observe it”. This is Mary’s blessedness: to listen and to hold, that is to preserve. The second condition is obedience to the divine precepts, observance of the commandments, putting the word of God into practice. The third condition is “having pity on the poor”, that is “showing mercy to those who are in need”, which was a basic option of Capuchin life. The fourth and the last condition is “modesty and ordering one’s life”, since if after praying one does not order one’s life by being mortified, silent, loving, amiable and affable towards one’s neighbour it means that prayer has only been “a joke”. (nn. 4197-4198).

Meditation on Christ’s mysteries

The most original part of the Specchio d’oratione is the presentation of Christ’s mysteries with their diverse causes, number, order, circumstances and consequent spiritual fruit. It is here that Bernardino da Balvano shows most clearly his personal experience of piety, not simply as an exercise for prayer, but also as an experience of devotion, most of all when, at the end, he proposes various Marian devotional practices and exercises in the form of prayers of intercession that are suitable for different categories of people. He joins these to the devotion to the Blood of Christ that he borrowed from Silvestro da Rossano and other Capuchins.

It is not easy to find spiritual writings that are as clear and profound and in touch with the word of God. The well thought-out succession and enumeration of Christ’s mysteries that is proposed here is accompanied by a clear theological vision of the history of salvation and, at the same time, continues a Patristic and Medieval spiritual tradition that is reset now in the latest technique of the devotion moderna. It is not just the presentation of a personal prayer experience, but is also part of a traditional educational method that has precise objectives that take into account the difficulties and problems that are associated with learning and retention and it explains things in simple words that are close to the word of God. It makes use of unambiguous and as well as unstated events that are both external and internal as it explains the art of Christian prayer. Precisely because it is a Christian art it is necessarily connected to and immersed in Christ’s mysteries and thus with the mysteries of God as they are being contemplated with living faith.

These mysteries are not limited to only the Passion and death on the cross but cover how Christ is the centre of all salvation history. They present the “whole Christ” as he is glorified in the kingdom of the elect, definitively brought to the Father. This is the only way to explain the Christian life and the necessary coherence of all the stages and acts of prayer. This settles the problems of concentration and attention during prayer in a very radical manner because it takes into account the range of options in the system as well as the ease of memorising in the same way as proposed by the devotion moderna. (cf. n. 4203).

The enumeration and description of thirty three mysteries is not original, but the selection of them and the way that they are formulated is new. In fact the titles of the individual mysteries are made up with two nouns and qualifying adjectives. The first adjective specifies the general nature of the mystery while the second specifies what is special about the mystery. Here are a few examples:

“The profound mystery of eternal choice

The happy mystery of the joyful birth

The painful mystery of the scourging

The glorious mystery of the happy resurrection.” etc.

It is an ingenious style that was common in the medieval scholastic tradition and in preaching and it was aimed at impressing things on the memory. The memory played an important part in this methodology, since, as the author says, “Order sets up memory, brevity arouses and strengthens it.” In this way the person “by committing the unadorned titles of the mysteries to memory” will be more easily assisted to meditate on them frequently each day, by applying the rules that have already been explained and compressed into a “short phrase” in these words: “Firstly commit well all the mysteries to memory and then the headings of the mysteries […] then frequently read the more extensive notes so that you will see what is involved and what has been done and the names of the participants so as to be able to turn them over in your mind. Also keep in mind the situation as an internal reading […] Then, placing yourself in a comfortable position for prayer, placing the mystery before your mind, as if you were present, start chewing on it with the teeth of strong consideration. […] Then you will be able to inflame yourself with emotion according to the rule and examples that were contained in the meditation. You will be able to warm yourself with some emotions as you feel the need. Thus having been well aroused within you will be able to fruitfully produce the actions over which you prayed. … As a sign that you are a servant say an Our Father and a Hail Mary for each mystery and offer those to the Lord as a faithful and continuous tribute and together with this offering offer yourself.” [108] Later we shall see how this methodology was used and applied by Mattia da Saló and many other Capuchin spiritual writers.

One of the most intense and doctrinally rich pages of this work by Balvano is the chapter that deals with the twelve fruits that can be gathered by meditating on the mysteries of Christ. (Ch. 29). The assignment of these numbers also has its basis in the Bible in the figure of the tree of life that was planted in the middle of paradise which produced fruit every month. It is in this context that we discover the definitive meaning of the title: Specchio d’oratione. In fact this symbolic image which was the inspiration of the book was repeated three times. “The Lord Jesus is the wisdom of the Father, the mirror without stain, the image of God. By contemplating his mysteries you will be enlightened by that wisdom. In that mirror you will contemplate and in that image you will understand what supreme divine goodness is.”(n. 4222). “Whoever wishes to escape from darkness and become perfect in a short space of time, let him grasp these mysteries by means of a mirror being prepared to control his whole life according to these mysteries.” (n. 4226). “There is only one road if you want to serve Christ, to suffer with him and follow his behaviour and that is to always keep his mysteries before you so that the soul can contemplate as much as it likes in the mirror.” (n. 4232).

Specchio d’oratione means to read, meditate, pray and contemplate Christ in his mysteries, until “by means of continual meditation” we have come to “have Christ together with his mysteries always engraved on our heart to the point of imitating his behaviour by means of ardent charity.” At that point the contemplative soul becomes a mirror of the mysteries of Christ, of the Gospel and an image of Christ. This is the simple, profound message of the experience and spiritual teaching of Bernardino da Balvano.


Endnotes:

  1. Cf. MOHC VI, 22.
  2. Cf. MHOC III, 180-194; VI, 17-35, 340-364.
  3. Cf. I frati cappucint, vol II 1384s, n. 3092.
  4. This text is contained in a small codex held in the Biblioteca Provinciale del Aquila, Cod 203. It came from the Capuchin friary at Montereale, in the Province of Umbria as reported in the Dichiaratione della regola raccolta dal Dialogo del R. P. frate Giovannida Fano del l’ordine dei capuccini. This codex must have been used by the Provincial Superiors since it also contains a Latin collection of obedience formulas which are very interesting, but which were unknown when the documents were put together for volume I (cf. sez, IV/4, 1593-1762. nn. 1620-1736). It also contains the text of the General Ordinances of 1544 and 1554. I wish to thank p. Pietro Zarrella, from the Province of Naples, for the courteous donation that he gave me of a photocopy of the codex. The transcription has been made adjusting the abbreviations and adding punctuation and capital letters but leaving the rest of the text as it was written.
  5. Cf. Prov. 12, 1.
  6. Cf. Ex. 18, 13-27.
  7. Cf. Ex. 18, 13-27.
  8. Cf. The Little Flowers of St Francis, AFED III, Chapter 3, p. 571.
  9. It is interesting to note how immediately after Bernardino d’Asti’s letter what follows are three pages concerning charity, headed De caritate. In these all the arguments that are given in Scripture in support of why the love of God is the fullness of the law as well as the various kinds of fraternal love are set out in scholastic fashion. The passage begins: Nota quod dilectio Dei dicitur legis plenitude tripliciter (Note that the love of God is said to be the fullness of the law for three reasons). Further on it continues saying: Nota quod propter sex devemus proximum dilegere etc. (Note that we should love our neighbour for six reasons).
  10. Cf. Vol. II831-833, nn. 2416-2412.
  11. On the concept and meaning of “devotion” see Stanislaus da Campigagonla, L’unniverso e la dimanica della “divotio” in san Francesco e in san Bonaventura, in Laurent. 30 (1989) 322-329.
  12. Cf. Lettura a un convegno di studi, di G. De Luca, Introduzione alla storia della pieta cit. 168.
  13. When Mattia da Salò became Commissary General after Bernardino Ochino had fled to the Calvinists he wrote in his Historia capuccina that Francesco da Jesi “visited the congregation on the one hand to restore peace and to diligently enquire whether any infection remained, and on the other to teach the friars the way to perfection and, especially, to teach them how to pray and contemplate, spending a long time in places where he assembled as many friars as he could so as to teach many at the same time.” Cf. MFOC, VI. 114.
  14. This is also one of Bellintani’s thoughts and he wrote: “Asti was well educated but Jesi was even better educated. Asti was spiritual, devout and given to very frequent prayer, but Jesi spent longer in contemplation, practised it well and had a special way of arousing the friars to do it so they would profit from it. Without any doubt, Asti was more qualified and already well-versed in being a superior both among the Zoccolanti and the Capuchins, something that could not be said about Jesi, who when he was among the Zoccolanti never wanted to be a superior. In spite of all this Asti was judged to be better than Jesi, because the congregation already held Asti in high regard and continued to do so. What was needed now was a person who only thought about the inner life who was able to inspire the friars with the Spirit of the Lord and his holy operation.” Cf. MHOC, VI, 116.
  15. The letter of dedication was published in volume II of our collection nn. 2572-2575.
  16. Stanislao da Campagnola, Bartolomeo Cordoni da Città di Castello e le due orime edizioni del suo “Dialogo,” in Boll. Deputat. Storia per l’Umbria 80 (1983) 89-152.
  17. Cf. C. Cargnoni Fonti, tendenze e sviluppi cit. in CF 48 (1978) 340-342.
  18. Cf. Stanislao da Campignola, Bartolomeo Cordoni, cit, 119.
  19. Alcunr regule presents no difficulties in comprehension which require a presumed depth concerning spiritual concepts. It is simply a devotional work that grew, as the title indicates, out of the preaching of Molfetta. Cf. below document 5, nn. 3992-4012.
  20. This is the exact library reference. Circolo Serafico dell’amore divino, Composot del molto Rev. P. F. Antonio da Francavilla dell’Ordine di S. Francesco di Min. Osservanti Riformato della Provincia di Roma {Slogr; Francesco col Crocifisso che guada al sole.} In Napoli, per Francesco Savio. Con licenza de’ Sup. 163, 14×7 cm., [18] + 237 pp. Copie nella Bilb. Valicalliana [S. Borr.III 243) e Nazionale 98. 3. G. 17) di Roma.
  21. Regarding Bernardino da Siena (+ 1632) cf. I. B. Bueno Felipe IV y le elección del R.mo. P. Bernardino de Sena, Ministro general de la Orden Franciscana, in AIA 33 (1830) 396-42,
  22. Cf. Circolo serafico cit. Napoli, 1631, 4.
  23. Ibid. 49.
  24. Ibid. 185-188. Avvertimenti intorno a questa dottrina del Circolo serafico del divino Amore. Amen.
  25. Ibid. – Following various prayers to the individual wounds and to all of then put together, with epilogue and colloquy (pp. 1-88), there follows other devout exercises. “A brief, concise, helpful and fruitful exercise to the five wounds of Jesus Christ to be said with devotion in front of the Crucifix.” (89-92); “Say firstly a prayer for the poor dead people and then enter into holy Communion with the five wounds of Jesus Christ.” (93-102). “Sermon on the Most Holy Sacrament on the topic: With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you.” (103-140). “The second part:” of the sermon (141-156), “Devout prayer to the Virgin Mary, to the Angels and to the saints before Holy Communion.” (157-162); “Prayer before Communion.” (165-168). “Prayer before Communion to the Virgin Mary”, “Outpouring of the heart after Holy Communion to the Most Sacred Virgin”, (169-183). “Very short exercise for each day of the week to acquire divine love.” (183-185) Praises to be said by the preacher with the people when the Cross is unveiled at the end of the Passion”. (189-192) “Then follows various devout poems to Mary, to the holy wounds, to St Dominic, to St Francis and one on the subject: Merciful Jesus, my God,/ Who are you, and who am I? etc..
  26. Cf. Manuel Morale Borrero, La geometria mistica del alma en la literature espaiiola del siglo de oro. Nota y puntualizaciones, Madrid 1975, see also D. Mahnke, Unemdliche Sphaere und Albnittelpunkt, Halle 1937; M. Hope Nicolson, The Breaking of the Circle, Northwestern University Press 1850; M. Th. D’Alverny, Le Cosmos symbolique du XIIe, in Archives d’historie doetrinale et litérarne du Moyen Age 28 (1953) 3181 Umanesimo e symbolismo, Atti del 4 Convegno internazionale di studi umanistici, A cura di E. Castelli, Padova, 1958; L. Han-lecoeur; Mystique et architecture: lè symbolisme da ccècle et dè coupole, Paris 1959; Emblemata Handbach zur Sinnbildkunst des XVI und XVII. Jh. Hg. von Arthur Heukel und Albrecht Schone, Stutgard, 1967 (v. Kreis}; Simboli e simbologia nel alto Medioevo (Settimane del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’alto Medioevo, XXIII, 3-9, aprile 1975(2 vol: Spoleto 1976; Georges Poulet Lei metamorphoses de cercle, Paris 1978; Lurker Manfred, Der Kreis als Symbol im Denken, Glauben und kinsterlischen Gestalten der Menschheit , Tùbingen, Rainer Wunderlich Verlag, 1981 (con. 64 ill); Gerard de Champeaux –Dom. Sèbastien Stereckx, osb. I simboli del Medioevo, trad. M. Gerardi, Milano, Ed. Jaka Book 1981; Wilfred Mersmann, Rosenfester und Himmelskreise, Mitenwald 1982 with 95 illustrations); Ladner Gerhart B. Images and Ideas in the Middle Ages. Selected Studies in History and Art, Roma, Edizionidi Storia e Letteratura, 1981.
  27. Cf. C. Cargnoni, Fonti, tendenze e sviluppo, cit. 345.
  28. So for example Psalterium decem cordarum “Venetiis in aedibus Francisci Bindoni et Maphei Pasini sociorum anno domini 1527, die XVIII mensis Marii,” or the published edition of Super Esaiam prophetam, Venice by Laçarum de Soardis 1517, die 27 iunii.
  29. Cf. Giuseppe Marchini, Un ivenzione di S. Bernardo in Attidel simposio internazionale Cateriniano-bernardiniano. Siena, 17-26 aorile 1986. A cura di D. Maffei e P. Nardi, Siena, 1982, 639-642.
  30. “In him divine Love shows excellently that it has neither an end or a beginning but like a complete circle that spins around going from Good to Good yet remaining Good on an impeccable orbit remaining always on the same course and following the same trajectory.”
  31. Cf. Oskar Holl, Kreis, in Lexiconder christlichen Ikonographie II, Rom (etc.) 1970, 560-562.
  32. Teaching by sacred and profane symbols really exploded in the seventeenth century, especially in France and the Low Countries. In this regard, we could quote many special works, for example, Otto Vaenius [van Veen], Amorum emblemata, Anvers 1608, id., Amoris divini emblemata, Anvers 1615; Hermann Hugo, SJ, Pia desidera, Anvers 1624; Maximilien Sandaeiis [van der Sandr] Theologia symbolica, Matence 1626; Jacques Masen, Speculum imaginum veritatis occulta exhibens symbola emblemata, hieroglyphica aenigmata…, Cologne 1650. Cf. Karl-Ludwig Selig, Emblèmes religlieux, in DSIV/I, Paris, 1960 605-610.
  33. N. Santinelli, the first modern scholar to be concerned with the Dialogo by Cordoni, states that in addition to the doctrinal rigidity of Paul IV and Pius V, there also existed the questions of “errors in the text of De amore, its steady future prospects and the poor reception of the Milan edition.” Cf. Il beatol bartolomeo Cordoni 1930, 102.
  34. The text is printed in P. Simoncelli, Il “Dialogo del unione spirituale di Dio con l’anima” tra alumbradismo spagnolo e prequietismo italiano per l’età moderna e contemporanea, 29-30(1977-1978) 600s. However it had already been published in Ĕtudes roamin, in Analecta iuris pontifici, II, Roma 1857, 26-32.,
  35. Simoncelli has erronemente.
  36. This ia what Bernardus a Bononia says, Biblio theca scriptorium Ord. Min. Cap. Venetia 1747, 90.
  37. The commission of Cardinals that met on 8th March 1584 in the presence of Gregory XIII consisted of Cardinals Giovanni Francesco di Gambara, Ludovico Maduzzo, Giulio Santoro, Giovanni Antonio Facchinerti, and Gianbattista Castagna. The second level of the Index included not only authors who were heretics or suspected of being heretics (these were on the first level) but particular books that were regarded as being dangerous because they contained unhealthy or suspect doctrine. The third level contained anonymous books.
  38. Cf. J. M. De Bujanda, Index de l’Inquisition espagnole (1551, 154, 1559), (Index des livresinterdicts, vol. VI}, Sherbrooke, Centre da la Renaissance, [1984] 427s 9n. 470).
  39. With regard to this see C. Campagnola, Bartolomeo Cordoni, cit. 126s. C. Campagnola, Fonti, tendenze e sviluppo cit. in CF 48, (1978), 366s.
  40. Cf. Bartolomeo Cordoni, Dialogo dell’unione spirituale de Dio con l’anima, Milano1539, 135r.
  41. Concerning “Miroir des simples âmes” by Margherita Porete cf. R. Guarnieri, Il movimento del libro spirito. Testi e documenti, in Archivio italiano per la storia della pieta, VI, (1965) 353708; J. Orcibal, Le “Miroir des simples âmes” et le “secte” du libre esprit” in Revue de l’histoire des religions, 176 (1969) 35-60; Michael G. Sargent , “Miroir des simples âmes” and the English Mystical Tradition, in Abendlädische Mystile im Mittelter. Symposion KlosterEngleberg 1984, Herausgegeben von Kurt, Stutgart [1986] 443-465.
  42. These studies, which have already been noted, were by P. Simonelli, Il” Dialogo dell’unione spirituale di Dio can l’anima” 565-601; C. Cargnoni, Fonti tendenze e svilupo cit, 336-379; Stanislao da Campignola, Bartolomeo Cordoni cit.
  43. Cf. Dialogo cit. f. 245r: “Soul. We need to know how by means of the power of being lovingly transformed into God the soul is united to everything and everything to the soul. The soul is in everything, yet how do these things come together in the action of the soul, how does the soul together with these things share in divine works if by doing this it has almost, to a certain extent, become an instrument of the glorious humanity of Christ himself, including his divine essence, and everything including all the creatures in heaven, on earth or in hell, as if the soul had become the strings of a divine musical instrument.”
  44. Our pleasure consists entirely in love. Like the Salamander it is heated by fire, is nourished, feeds and lives on that same fire. Whoever senses the smell of this fire takes flight from the crowd like ants flee from smoke and withdraw from and cut off the superficial cares of creatures so as to be able to be available to the Creator, since just as the smallest hair disturbs the eye so too a crowd will exterminate divine love very easily. The exercise of love is so noble that when the soul is involved in this very intimate conversation, having raised its loving attention to the supreme Good, without doing anything else it will be lifted up in a wonderful way and enlightened and instructed in the divine mysteries.”Dialogo c. 27 f. 135 v-136r. See also c. 33 f. 161v; c. 34 f. 165v: “How the exercise of love contains all perfection; c. 41 F, 196v How in the exercise of the love of God he is most highly praised, honoured and glorified by the soul; etc.
  45. Ibid. c. 17, 1 f. 61r Concerning the state of Nothingness and its evil circumstances and settings; c. 20 f. 67v How man, no matter how good and just he is, must consider himself to be infinitely nothing; c. 24 F. 104v How man can be united to God by the path of self-abnegation; c. 44, f. 218v How man by means of self-annihilation can find perfect peace and in that find God. etc.
  46. Cf, Ord. I 2 n, 130. II205s.
  47. For these and other concepts see C. Berubé, D l’homme à Dieu selon Duns Scot, Henri de Grand et Olivi, Roma 1983, especially 366-390 (Humanisme et vertus theologiles chez Duns Scot): cf. review by A Maierù, in CF 54 (1984) 191-195; Ambrogio Giacomo Manno, Il voluntarismo antropologico di Giovanni Duns Scoto, in Filosofia 34 [1983] 243-276; C. Balic, Ls s[iritualità de B. Giovanni Duns Scoto, in Vita Minorum, 32 (1961), 36-58, 108-118; A. Maranic, Il contributo di Giovanni Duns Scoto alla spiritualitù francescana, ibid., 31 (1960) 219-232; P Leon Veuthey, Desir naturel etincarnation, in MF 39 (1939) 529-533.
  48. Cf. J. Ratzinger, De Gesechichtstheologie des hl. Bonaventuris, Monaco-Zurigo 1959; P. Brezzi, La concecezione della storia in san Bonaventura, in Doctor Seraphicus 11 (1964) 39-54.
  49. Cf. S. Bonav., In native. Domini, II; ! Sent., d. 37, p. 1. a, 3, q. 2, concl.; IV Sent.d. 24, p. 1,a. 1, q. 1, concl. (Op. omnia IX, 109; 1, 684b, IV, 609a)
  50. Cf. S. Bonav., Coll. In Hexaëmeron, coll. 1, n. 23-24. (Op. omnia V, 335ab).
  51. Cf. Cosimo Reho, L’uomo exemplare nell’ Exaëmeron di S. Bonaventura, in MF 77 (1977) 328-366.
  52. “Hinc est quod vita aeterna haec sola est, ut, spiritus rationalis, qua manat a beatissima Trinitate et est imago Trinitatis, per modum cuiusdam circuli intelligibilis redeat per memoriam, intelligentium et voluntatem, per deiformitatem gloriae, in beatissimam Trinitatem”. (De mysterio Trinitatis, c. 8 Op. omia V, 115b).
  53. Cf. S. Bonaventura, Breviloqioum p. II, c. 4 Op. omnia V, 221b; Frederico da Poppi, Essenza e poresrà analogical del libero arbitrio in san Bonaventura, in Laurent. 6 (1965) 157s (the entire article 284-314); B. Madariaga, La “imagen de Dios” en la metafisica del hombre sugùn S. Bonaventura, in Verdad y Vida 7 (1949) 154-194, 297-335; Wilhelm Nysen, La contemplazione come gardo della conoscenza in san Bonaventura, in Contributi di spiritualità bonaventurana. Atti del Simposio internazionale (Padova 1974-1975, 55-75; W. Hülshuch, Die Theologie des Transitus bei Bonaventura, in San Bonaventura 1274-1974, IV, 533-565, concerning the Pseudo=Dionysian origin of the “intelligible circle” cf. A. Schaeler, The position and Function ofMan in the Created WorldAccording to St Bonaventure, in Franc. Studies, 20 (1960)263 and note.
  54. Where he says that in speaking about Christ, who is the absolute object of the circle, Christ must be “ponderato” (“considered”) in an “affirmative” and in a “negative” way according to Dionysius. (n 3817): and when he says the “circular movement” involves “desire according to Dionysius” (n. 3781) There is also another place where there is clear dependence on Dionysius. This is where Ripanti describes the kinds of love as “jealous and ecstatic love”. In fact, in the “Divine Names” IV, 13 we read: “But divine love is ecstatic, not permitting (any) to be loved of themselves, but of those beloved. they show this too, the superior by becoming mindful of the inferior, and the equals by their mutual coherence; and the inferior, by a more divine respect towards things superior. Wherefore also Paul the Great when possessed by Divine love and participating in its ecstatic power. says, with inspired lips. “ as a true lover, and beside myself, so he says, to Almighty God, and not living the life of himself, but the life of the Beloved, as a life excessively esteemed. One might make bold to say even this, on behalf of truth, that the very Author of all things, by the beautiful and good love of everything, through an overflow of His loving goodness, becomes out of Himself, by his providence for all existing things, and is, as it were, cozened by goodness and affection and love. and is led down from this Eminence above all, and surpassing all, to be all in all, as befits an ecstatic super essential power centred in himself. Wherefore those skilled in Divine things call Him even more jealous, as [being] that vast good love towards all beings, and as rousing his loving inclinations to jealousy, – as proclaiming himself jealous, – to Whom things desired are objects of jealousy, and as through the objects of His providential care were objects of jealousy, for Him. And, in short, the loveable is of the Beautiful and Good, and Love pre-existed both in the beautiful and Good, and on account of the beautiful and the Good, is and takes being.” (Translation of Divine Names Ch. 4, section XIII pp. 86-87, from John Parker, The Works of Dionysius the Areopgite , Forgotten Books, 2007).
  55. Cf, Le laudi, Firenze 1976, 309s.
  56. Cf. Fra. Giunta Bevegnati, Leggenda della vita e del miracoli di santa Margherita da Cortona. New translation from Latin with preface and notes by P. Eliodoro Mariani, O.F.M.: (Collano Bibliotheca Franciscana Santorum, vol. II) , Venezia 1978, 319.
  57. Cf. L’Autobiografia e gli scritti della B. Angela da Foligno, ed. M. Faloci-Pulignani, trad. M. Castiglione Humani, Città di Castello 1932, 27, n. 22, 73, n. 46, see now Ludger Their-Abele Calufetti, Il libro della beata Angelo da Foligno (edizione critica), Grottaferata (Roma) 1985, 152-214.
  58. Ibid. 434, L’Autobiografia cit. 357, n. 225, cf. A. Blasucci, Angela da Foigno, in MF 39 (1939) the entire article 79-108, 287317, 495-528, 593-634,
  59. Cf. G. Tauler, Divine istituzioni, c. 12: Opere, Introduzione, trad. E note di Bernardino de Blasio, Alba, 1977 691s.
  60. Cf. Arbor vitae crucifiae Jesu Christi lib. V, c. IV Jesus seraph alatas.For many other references see the notes to the text of the Circolo.
  61. Cf. De conformitate in AF V, Quaracchi, 1912 78, lines 25-27.
  62. Cf. Theologiae Mysticae D Henrici Harphii Theologi erudissimi …, Coloniae, Iohannes Novesiamus, MDLVI (1556) CXVIIva.
  63. Cf. G. Boma, Via compendiiad deum per motus anagogicos et orations iaculatores. Liber isagogicus ad Mysticam Theologiam, Romae 1657, in Opera omnia, Antwerpiae 1739, 63.
  64. Diario, VI, 189.
  65. Cf. Dialogo della unione spirituale, Milan 1539 I 250r.
  66. Cf. C. Cargnoni, Fonti, tendenze e svilupo, cit. in CF 48 (1978) 347-360.
  67. The front piece continues: Per il R. D. P. Pietro da Lucca, Teologo e Predicatore. Bologna per maestro Girolomo de Benedetti, 1523, a di ultimo ottobre, – 19 x 14 cm., 100ff., font, silografato/ There was also a Venice edition in 1535 by Aloisio de torti and another in 1543 by Francesco Bindoni. When Pili was compiling his Arte de la unione he would have used the Bologna edition of 1523 or the Venice edition of 1535 perhaps when he came to Venice and Lombardy to establish the new Capuchin Reform.
  68. Cf. Arte nova delben pnsare, f. 2r.
  69. Ibid. f. 3r.
  70. Ibid. f. 3rv.
  71. Ibid. f. 4, 3rv.
  72. Ibid. f. 8r.
  73. Ibid. f. 6v.
  74. Ibid. F. 5r.
  75. Ibid. f. 10v-11r.
  76. From “Proemio” ff. n.n.
  77. Ibid. F. 16v.
  78. Ibid. f. 36v.
  79. Ibid. f. 36r.
  80. Ibid. f. 29r.
  81. Cf. A. M. Albareda. O.S.B., Internr alla scuola di orazione mentale stabilita a Montserrato dall’abate Garcia Cisneros (1493-1510), in Arch. Hist. S. J. 25 (1956) 254-316.
  82. Cf. Canisius Kassen, L’oraison aspirative chez Herp et chez ses Prédéecesseurs, in Carmelus 3 (1958) 19-48; id., L’oraison aspirative chez Jean de saint Samsons, ibid. 183-216.
  83. Cf. Directorium aureum contmplativorum, c. 1, in Theologiae mysticae D. Henrici Harpii, Coloniae 1556, f. 138ra.
  84. Cf. MHOC III, 78 in the note.
  85. “O si agnoscamus quam multi frustra adsque ulla vel modica utilitate operentue msgna, profecto multum miraremur , quia saepe quod coram hominibus magum appatet , coram Deo foetet:” (Theologiae mysticae, lib. II, c. 3, ed. Cit. F. 139va).
  86. “Hanc imaginem amoroso desiderio imitandi portabis in exteriori homine tuo secundum humanitatem eius in crocependentem, imprimesque tibi formam suae abyssalis humilitatis, abiectionis, patientiae, mititatis et abyssales virtutes ultra omnium hominum capascitatem. Imaginem hanc accipe in omni loco, in omni hora, in omni verbo, in omni opera, in omni ocupatione, intus ac foris, in prosperis et adversis. Si comedis, intinge singual bucellas panis in vulnera eius. Si bibis, cogita potum quem in cruce potavit. Si lavas manus, vel corpus, cogita sanguinem quo animam tuam lavit. Si vadis domitum, cogita lectum crucis, et reclina caput tuum super cervical spineae coronae. Et in his cogitationibus debes nutrire amorosam compassionem et desiderium imitandi vestigial eius. In interiori autem homini portabis imahinem abyssalis charitatis suae, ex qua cuncta creavit, humanam naturam assumpsit, formam cunctarum virtutum deditamaram mortem sustinuit, vitam aeternam paravit, et seipsum totum promisit. Et hoc modo cogitationescommutabuntur in affections, et cognition in amorem perfectum, quia amor operator mortificationem naturae, vitam spiritus, operationem superiorum virium influxumque in Deum et separationem ab omni creatura.” (Theologiae mysricae,lib. II, c. 5 ibid. 140va).
  87. “Practicum temporibus istis, in quibus commuiter omne superiors qui alios regnt, magus as exteriora quam ad interiora proni sunt, ita ut valda parum aut nihil da internavita percipient, et ideo subditis suis qui a Deo ad internam viam trahuntur, potius impedimento sunt quam auxilio. Et haec est causa quare inter quosdam religiosos adeo magna acedio est et immortificatio , quia regimem suam non ordinant ut interna ac proficiens vita exigit.” (Theologiae mysricae,lib. II, c 12, ibid, f 144rb))
  88. Ibid. f. 145ra.
  89. “Idcirco intrinsccus minime illuminator, nec quid sit internum exercitium agniscit, sed in eo contentus est, quod scit et sentit se Deum quaerere et intendere non ficte videnturque sibi externa exercitia esso molto utiliora qualibet exercitatione interna. Et quia magis erercet opera externa propter deum, quam colet eum interiori affluxu dilectionis, propterea in corde eius magis depicta sunt opera quae propter deumperficit, quam ipse dues propter quem agit.” (Theologiae mysticae, lib. II, pars II, c. 13, ibid., f. 146ra).
  90. Pili used the term “devotion” and its derivatives more than thirty times.
  91. Regarding the words “piety and devotion “it would be instructive o read the article by Z. Zafarana, Pietà e devozione in san Bonaventura, in S. Bonavnetura francescano, Todi 1974, 129-137.
  92. Cf. Tibor Klaniczav, La crisi del Rinascimento e il mannerismo. Trad. Ital. di R. Scrivano, Roma 1973, se also M. DeCerreau, La Fable mystique, XVIe-XVII esiéle, Paris, 1982, 195, note 88.
  93. Cf. Segio M. Pagano-Concetta Ranieri, Nuovi docomenti su Vittoria Colonna e Regialdo Pole, Cità del Vaticano 1980, 87.
  94. Cf. B. Nicolini, D’una concseiuta edizione di un dialogo dell’Ochino, in id. Ideali e passioni nell’Italia religiosa del Cinquecento, Bologna 1962, 143-146.
  95. Cf. “Miiroir des simples âmes” di Margherita Porete, in Il movimento del libro spirito, Testoi e docu,emit, a cura di R. Guarnieri, (Arch. Ital. per la Storia della Pietà, vol. IV), Roma 1965, 634.
  96. A more detailed analysis of the Dialogur and of Ochino’s opinions after his flight can be found in Ugo Rozzo, Nouvi contribute su Bernardino Ochino, in Boll. Della Societâ di Studi Valdesi, N. 179 (decembre 1979) 51-83.
  97. This information was put together by the Capuchin chronicler Filippo Bernardi da Firenze in the unpublished Fondazioni dei cappuccino in Italia. This were published by Sisto da Pisa, Il convento dei Cappuccini a Firenze, in IF, 6, (1931)280-283. For more bibliography see Lexicon cap. 567s.
  98. Among the early Capuchin chroniclers the only one who presents a biography of Battista da Faenza is Colpetrazzo, but he does not mention the letter to the city of Florence. (cf. MHOC III, 504 508:) Boverio presents a lengthy devout biography but does not speak about this writing. (cf. AC I 588-594); In the Investigation into the friary at Florence carried out by Innocent X in 1650 there is no mention of the miraculous crucifix. (cf. I conventi cappuccino nell’inchiesta del 1650, I: L’Italia setentrionale , a cura di M. D’Alatri, Roma 1986 343s) which instead is mentioned by Filippo Bernandida Firenze in the diary of the travels of the Minister General Bernardino d’ Arezzo. “Quivi pure, in una capella, conservasi coperto un Crocifiso miracoloso, del quale si ha per tradizione che parlasse a fra Battsta da Faernza, cappuccino, ditto communamente Battistone, ome si racconta nel primo tomo de’ nostril Annali, sotto l’anno 1562” (cf. Phillus de Firenze, Itinera miistri generalis Bernardini da Arezzo (1691-1698) IV: Per Italiam in lucem edidit M. D’Alatri, Romae 1971 389.The first one to note the biographical item was apparently Dionisio da Genova in Bibliotheca Sciptorum Ordinis Minorum S. Francisci Capuccinorum, Genuae 1680, 277 which appears also in Leggendario cappuccino III, 124b. “Scrisse una lettera tenerissima piena di spirito del Signore alli suoi concittadini fr Battista nella quale con gran fervore gl’invita a venerare in ogni meliore modo e di singolare pieta la Passione del nostro Signore Gesù Cristo. La quale lettera é poi stata replicatamente in diversi tempi e in molte città data alla luce ad istanza e per consolazione delle pie persone, come si ha e si legge nelle nostre Biblioteche.”
  99. Cf. Bonifacio Achilla, Ancora su tipografi ed editori messinese nel secolo XVI, in Accademie e biblioteche d’Italia 47 (1979) 305-307. More bibliography in RSCI 34 (1980) n. 434.
  100. In addition to an incomplete copy in BCC, other copies can be found in the Public Libraries at Enna, and Regionale Centrale di Palermosegnalati da Bonifacio Achille, Gli Annali del tipografi messinesi dek Cinquecento,Vito Valentia 1977 n. 2.
  101. Cf. H. Grabes, Speculum, Miror und Looking-Glass. Kontinuitäl und Originalität der Spiegelmetapher in des Buchtiteht des Mittelalters und der englischen literature des 13. bis 17. jahrbunderts, Tubinga 1973.
  102. From Bernardino da Balvano’s letter to Vincenzo gara, Messina 6th My 1553, reprinted at the beginning of the Speculo di oratione.
  103. Recently Ottavio Schnucki undertook a study of these passages. La “Specchiodi oratione” del P. Bernardino da Balvano, O.F.M.Cap., in IF 65, (1990) 5-32.
  104. Here is one example among many. “You O rebel committed the sins, and my Son endured the scourges. You who are wicked and iniquitous go to sleep on peaceful and soft beds, and wear ornate clothing, and my dear Son Jesus stands naked in view of wicked people at the column! You, an unhappy person, stretched out your hands to shed blood, to inflict blows, to enjoy dishonest pleasure, and my Only Son was bound with ropes. You, ungrateful person, perform many unjust deeds against this one or that one for your own advantage, and my obedient Son has his blood taken away violently! You who are ambitious and want to climb high, seek glory, titles and vain praise, and my Wisdom is vilely disgraced! You who are proud, do not want to obey the just commands of your superiors, and my meek Jesus is bound and subjected to scourging! You laugh and sing in a dissolute manner, and my only Son begins to cry! “etc. See also “Imagine that the Lord Jesus, turned his severe face towards you and said in rather severe tones: You despise me for nothing, you see me bound to the column, and rejoice all day at my disgrace. I am bitterly scourged, and you enjoy so many comforts. My hands are bound with rope and you wear perfumed gloves and go to play. Filled and bloated with insults I endure hurtful words while you are full of questions about the smallest things. Like someone who is dumb I say nothing when I am hit again, while you use diabolical language to blaspheme violently against my Father, against me and all the saints. My eyes are already filled with tears, while you look on my disgrace with approval. My hair and beard are dishevelled and torn while you take no notice. I give off a bad odour while you are perfumed and spotless. I, who am the Lord of the universe, appear naked in front of pagans while you, who are most vain, have many rich, soft clothes in your house and allow so many of my poor people to go poorly dressed and almost naked.” Cf. Essempio dell’essercitio nella meditatione al timore, Cap. IX in Specchio d’orazione, Venezia 1564, ff. 29v-31v.
  105. Cf. Un itinerario di contemplztione, Antologia di autoricertosini. Spiritualità/Maestri, 2a serie, 14) Alba (Cuneo)Edzioni Paoline, 1981, 22.
  106. Cf. Della necessità dell’oratione, cap. 20.
  107. Cf. Della necessità dell’oratione, cap. 21.
  108. Cf. Del modo d’essercitare li misteri, cap. 28.