The One Rule of Seraphic Saint Francis

by Fr Gregorio Tolosa da Napoli

Article prepared by Costanzo Cargnoni OFM Cap

Translated by Lam Vu OFM Cap

Table of Contents

The study of Capuchin literature, that is, the printed writings of the Capuchins, was indicated by the talented English scholar Cuthbert of Brighton as the main and irreplaceable gateway to gaining knowledge of the history and tradition of the Order, beyond archival documents.[1]

The reviewing of this bibliography offers countless surprises and reveals many illustrious characters who have remained unknown and who are of great significance and importance. One of these is Fr. Gregorio Tolosa di Napoli (c. 1520-1601), a prolific writer and great jurist, whom I came across when I was working on the work I frati cappuccini (The Capuchin Friars), and I published a few pages taken from his writings, including a small volume, poor in workmanship, but rich in content, entitled Regola unica del Serafico S. Francesco/Unique Rule of the Seraphic St. Francis.[2]

Based on this book, which is a commentary on the Franciscan Rule, beginning with a quick review, I now intend to focus on its meaning and importance.

Motivations and opportunities for this writing

When Gregorio Tolosa di Napoli compiled his commentary on the Rule, in 1588, later edited in Venice in 1589[3], Fr. Girolamo Errente da Polizzi Generosa Vallepiana (1544-1611) was minister, that is vicar general and he who wrote a commentary on the Rule in 1593 which encountered various difficulties because of criticisms made by the excessive intrusiveness of the Carinal. Protector Giulio Antonio Santori in the affairs of the Order.[4]

Fr. Urbano da Giffoni († 1591) was Provincial Minister of Naples and was noted in the ‘Breve notamento’ (Brief Notation) as a ‘holy friar’. He was Provincial in 1570-73, 1576-1578 and 1587, Confessor and Companion of the nuns of S. Maria in Gierusalem, and Guardian of the Concezione Friary in Naples which he built during his Provincialate. In the same ‘Breve notamento’ he is listed as a zealous friar in observing the Rule and “because of his good life he was almost always in the office of Guardian and Novice Master, and three times Provincial for seven years.” He died during his guardianship at Concezione Friary on July 2, 1591 at the age of 64. He is described as “rather pusillanimous and idiotic, he was nonetheless very diligent in fraternal matters and cautious in his actions”.[5]

This friar is mentioned with great esteem by Fr. Gregorio in his letter “to the Very Reverend Mothers, and Sisters of the Venerable monastery of Santa Maria in Hierusalem in Naples” at the end of January 1588. He attributes the act of having commissioned him to write this book for the benefit of the friars and nuns, to facilitate, as he writes, “the true observance of their promised Rule, which although it is clear by itself, nevertheless given that sensuality sometimes makes it give such a sense according to the simple letter of it, that it takes away the understanding according to the true intention of the institutor and reduces it to the sensual mode.”

An assistance therefore to the observance of the Rule with a more precise knowledge in having the text also includes “the Declarations made by Holy Pontiffs, that are not mistaken” and giving the sisters the “true copy of the Rule instituted by our Mother St. Clare … and a certain way of understanding the intentions of St Clare.” Therefore, one can sense a yearning for a new and reformed life guiding the drafting of the book, directly connected to the strong and decisive reforming spirit of the Capuchins and Capuchin Sisters in the true observance of the Rule according to the true intention of St. Francis manifested in the bulls Exiit qui seminat by Nicolò III and the Exivi de Paradiso by Clement V which Fr. Gregorio proposes with his original translation into Italian.

In his ‘discussion or declaration,’ he wanted to be verbose and expansive not because the sisters needed it, but because he knows that his writing will be in the hands of other Poor Clares and other Female Orders who, although not living in radical poverty, will have the opportunity to reflect on it. And he apologizes for the style used and the language chosen, having put aside “the New Neapolitan with its spelling and Tuscan language” in order to be able to write with more simplicity ‘in our natural Italian language’. His ardour prompted him to ask for prayers at the end of the letter “also for me, that just as I may find myself in the Order up to the point of my death, may I always carry out real and not fake actions that are worthy of a true Capuchin friar.”[6]

Even in his initial letter of dedication to the General Minister Girolamo da Polizzi, written two months later, at the beginning of April 1588 from the friary or ‘Monastery’, as he writes, of S. Maria della Concezione in Naples, he reiterates the desire to “give a clearer and more abundant light to my Observant Sisters of the Order of St. Clare, for the understanding of the Rule, instituted by your glorious Mother, which I found to be in conformity with ours by the institution of our Seraphic Father St. Francis. I will be certain to discuss them together with one another and at the same time it will help those M.R. Sisters, and bring some light to our brothers in discussing the Rule which to the honour of God, binds us and keeps us in the unity of this Order of ours: yes, I am obliged more to the fruit than to the words, with translation perhaps more clearer than the others.”[7]

Then addressing the readers in a sort of preface, he explains why he wanted to confront this effort, always driven by the reformist zeal that burns in his heart, referring to the Parable of the Good Sower who scatters his seeds broadly, with obvious reference to the thought of the bull Exiit qui seminat, interpreting the different places on which the seeds scattered “by the infinite and communicative divine charity”: some fell on the path, which are the human hearts depraved by diabolical suggestions; some fell on hard stone, which are the hearts of the stubborn infidels, rejected by the ploughshare of faith; some fell among the arid and prickly thorns, which are finally the greedy, whose hearts are continually torn apart by the greedy and insatiable appetite for riches. The first, however, that fell in the road, was oppressed and trampled on by evil affections and worldly desires; the second, that fell on the arid stone found no humour of gratitude whatsoever, withered away as it was unable to take root. Finally, the third suffocated by the inordinate anxiety and worldly worries. But the fourth and last, which is the meek and docile heart, humbly received it because of the fertile and good soil.”

It is from this part that Fr Gregorio was motived to write this work: “This is the pious and holy Order of the Friars Minor, founded and rooted in poverty and humility by the sacred holy confessor of Christ, Francis, who sprouted from that true seed, then spread by his Rule to those sons in whom he produced for himself and for God, for his ministry and for Evangelical observance. These are those true sons who in humility and meekness, in the way taught by the Apostle Saint James, received within themselves the Eternal Word, the only Son of God Almighty, to save souls, inherent and instated in humanity nature, in the garden of the virginal womb. This is that pure and immaculate Order close to the Eternal God the Father, which, descending and deriving from the same Father of Lights (James 1:17), by the Holy Spirit, then inspired St. Francis and his followers. This is the one to whom the Apostle testified, that everyone should obey, humble and devoted to the one which Christ alone, with special favour, deigned to confirm with the stigmata of His Passion, willing that the founder was notably honoured and illustrated with such illustrious and eternal signs.”[8]

After this spiritual reflection on the transformative force of the Franciscan Evangelical life initiated by Francis, he returns to the reason for his work, saying:

“And the same with this, that with his lively zeal, the Holy Spirit has inspired me with this pen in my old Italian, which is not Tuscan, nor the correct modern Neapolitan way of speaking, in expounding it with brevity of words, conforming to the intention of the glorious founder and the declaration of the Supreme Pontiffs, so that the more one easily understands it, the more diligently one observes it, and it remains engraved and shines in the hearts of all; or rather, without straying at any point from its integrity, let it be of great profit in those who read it, and let it strongly inflame them, and may the ardent fire of Divine Love burn in them, from which, as from a living fountain, flowing from the source, form and being, may reform this man anew who is disfigured by sin, and enwrapped in the things of the world. To this may also be added the constant warning that we must depart from this world, hence the professed as well as seculars have to use these means by which they can attain their end for which they were created. With this writing I also want to make the precepts clearer to you, as well as the observances narrated in the first part discussing the section Viam ambitiose [The ambitous way], and the section on Licet [What is permissible].” To conclude with this exhortation, “Therefore Dear Reader receive this little work with great heart, read it with attention, study it with apprehension and carry it out with devotion, and pray to the Lord that He may preserve us in true and genuine Regular observance.”

From the references made in these dedicatory and introductory letters, it can be deduced that the author uses multiple legal sources with great skill and familiarity, and enriches his thought with numerous texts on spiritual life and devout practices. Thus, making his book a collection or manual of texts useful for the daily life of the friar and the sister. This is why on the title page, it says that this work is intended to be the second part of the Ecclesiastical Enchiridion which he also published in Venice in 1585, with a second edition in 1588 and a third in 1597. It is thus linked to that system of pocket editions of the Rule of St. Francis distributed at that time among the friars in different languages. It also contained many texts on spiritual and devout life, which Fr. Fidel Elizondo discussed at length in many of his studies.[9]

A characteristic way then is the fact that the author connects the various documents, (which he always reports with his Italian translation), as if they were a discourse that he carries on entering the document with his reflections or enhancing his reflections with the document, which always appears linked to his reasoning, almost his own way of reflecting, meditating and reasoning.

Introductory documents

Let’s do a quick reread of the various contents, from a bird’s eye view, to taste the different elements of his reasoning and style. After the introductory pages that already revealed the motives and intentions of his book, follows the translation of the Bull of Pope Honorius III on the Rule with the text of the Rule.[10] The Testament of St. Francis is then added to the Rule, in the style of the Capuchins.[11] Then he reports “the way in which one practices a profession.”[12] At this point the true ‘declaration of the Rule’ begins, and to remove any ambiguity in its observance, “because many have been deceived by the love of sensuality, giving that sense to the above-mentioned Rule, which corresponded most to bodily comfort, for this reason to remove any ambiguity and false interpretation, I wished to place the true declaration and determination of the Holy Roman Pontiffs, recorded in the Sacred Canons of the Canonical Texts, in the Tome, which is called the Sixth Decretal, and the Clementine, and the Book of Extravag. com. in the Title, de verborum significatione, in the Chapter Exiit. Exivi. Quorundam, and the Ad condito rem”.[13] And here he reports his vernacular translation of the bulls Exiit qui seminat and Exivi de Paradiso.[14]

Another document is added that is connected in the discourse: “Followed in the book of Extravagant in title, de verborum significatione, in chapter, Quorumdam, where the declaration of a particular detail of the Rule is placed, namely, that the friars clothe themselves in vile garments, and in §. Quo circa nos, in such a way it is answered, and “this is in the vulgare” and the text of this declaration is reported in Italian.[15] And he adds a reference to the Compendium of privileges, entitled Paupertas, at number 4, to say that Pope John XXII retracted everything that contradicted what Popes Nicholas III and Clement V had granted in chapter Exiit and Exivi.[16]

Here without any other introductory comment, he reports a Discorso nelle neccesità [Discourse in Necessities], which is a “Brief and useful compilation about the form to be observed by the Friars Minor in the procurement of the payment of their necessities, according to the abovementioned specifications of the Holy Roman Church, mentioned in said chapters of Exiit and Exivi.”[17] The discussion is very detailed and very radical, capturing all the different possibilities of the friars’ needs and alms and use of money. But the conclusion reiterates a clear desire for radical observance of poverty in these words:

“Be content in your necessities with a strict and poor sustenance, that in such a way you renounce dominion, so that you do not discard poor use; thus utilising, without controlling, thereby conserving poor and narrow use, so that you do not squander or leave behind the sustenance of life; so meet necessities, that you do not depart from strict poverty; two things are superfluous, when one is enough; the much, when the little is enough, the sumptuous when the vile is enough, the beautiful and curious when the poor and simple is enough, being that the superfluous is that which, having taken away the most, the rest is enough; thus necessity must be satisfied, that sensuality not be favoured”.[18]

In the opinion of Fr. Gregorio and the Capuchins of his time, these introductory documents give the right measure of observance of the Rule and poverty. He is preparing the ground for fruitfully reading and reflecting on the Rule of St. Francis, actually of St. Clare, because he begins to interpret the Prologue of the Rule of St. Clare, i.e. the bull Solet annuere by Pope Innocent IV, which also contains the text of approval by Pope Gregory IX, with which he approves the Rule of St. Clare, and is also available in Italian.[19] The complete text, in the vernacular, of the Rule of St. Clare follows.[20]

To understand the author’s intentions even better, the observations that preface his commentary on the Rule are important.[21] First of all, he notes that the approval of the Rule written by St. Clare took place three days before her death, which means there is no second Rule of the Saint. Even though the convents of the Second Order lived under different Statutes made by the Cardinal Protectors, not having knowledge of this Rule, they were motivated to ask Pope Urban IV “to grant a uniform way of living for all of their convents, as the Pope himself says in the so-called ‘Second Rule of St. Clare’” concluded in 26 rubrics by which the various statutes of the Cardinal Protectors are annulled, without however naming the Rule confirmed by Pope Innocent IV, but only the Statutes and way of life not made by the Saint. Therefore, the author seems to say, the first Rule, the true Rule written by the Saint, remains complete and approved. And this is now the focus of his talk, which is decisive in understanding why he wanted to speak of the “One Rule.” Here are his words:

“It should be noted that between the aforementioned Rule of St. Clare and St. Francis there is such a correspondence in meaning and words that each makes the other understood, and having to explain one, I am forced to explain the other; but since my main intention is to expound that of St. Clare, for this reason I will proceed first with her letter, except when almost the entire chapter of St. Francis contains the same as that of St. Clare; and then I will proceed with it; just as the first chapter of one names Poor Sisters, the other names Friars Minor; but they deal with the same thing; but as for the other chapters I will first deal with that of St. Clare; and once the chapter is finished I will resume the other one, calling on the expositors of the said Seraphic Rule, who have said such a thing in the said passage according to the style observed by the good memory of the P.F. Giovan Maria di Tusa, of Sicily, who speaking of it during his Generalate observed: But as for adducing from Exiit and Exivi, I have in practice seen, not only from simple friars, but also from friars who presume to be knowledgeable, they are without understanding in canon law, such that when it is said to them, this was determined by Exiit, or Exivi, over and above our Rule, they have valued it as if was said or determined by the cook, or another uneducated person.

Therefore, wanting to fix such a great error, I have changed the ordinary style of the Doctors, who only cite the beginning of the chapter and title of the book), and introduced this new ordering, saying: the Supreme Pontiff says this; being such that the esteemed Pontiffs given to such diligence of the study of illustrious and most able Theologians have determined according to the will of God and of Saint Francis what should be understood and observed in such a way. Theologians determined according to the will of God and of St. Francis, that it should be understood and observed in that way, so that the friar should not be called transgressors of his Rule, and that with greater devotion and reverence he may submit his sensual intellect to the arduous labours of the said Holy Apostolic See, in having eliminated the dangers of erroneousness in our Rule; and for this reason I will always remember his determination and I will call it in this term: says the Supreme Pontiff and with the favour and help of the Lord, and of our Father St. Francis, and our Mother St. Clare, I will begin, for those professed, who according to the Rule, without concession and dispensation want to live it ably.”[22]

He begins with the observance of the Gospel in the first chapter of the Rule. Here he reiterates the concept of the unity of the Rule:

“The rule – he writes – is life, that is, the straight path by which we have to journey to Heaven, through the naked and poor life that we have to observe, as St. Bonaventure says, of the Friars Minor and the Poor Sisters; he says it to both the friars and sisters, to demonstrate that they must be equal and not superior to each other; and for this reason St Clare says in the sixth Chapter. etc, and in the eighth chapter, one must diligently love and nurture his spiritual brother and sister, as he would wish it were done to himself.”[23] And citing St. Bonaventure, he adds that this is not “a Rule, it is a new life, but soon renewed and for this reason it is of great consolation to those who profess it, because they alone make profession of such a life, to which the Lord commanded the Apostles when he sent them into the world to preach.”[24]

Certainly they are obliged not to observe the whole Gospel, but only those revealed by Christ to Francis, and naturally to observe everything that is obligatory for all Christians, such as “pursuing the state and perfection of themselves, they are obliged more than anyone else for the perfection of this state, which they have assumed and taken, in which they have offered themselves to the Lord as a essential and integral sacrifice for the contempt and despising of all worldly things.”[25]

He then indicates that this observance of the Evangelical vows and counsels is stricter than in other religious, as well as the submission to the Roman Church which is stricter than in the Rules of other religious men and women, to the point that the Apostolic See “has sublimated this Rule to a more sublime state than other Rules of other religious since by declaring and expounding this Rule, it has caused it not only to be registered in the register of the Sacred Canons, that is, in the Canonical Texts, but also that it serves as universal law in defining reoccurring doubts, as seen in the Summae …”[26]

The explanation of the Rule, always done in parallel with that of St. Clare, proceeds based on all the indications of the bulls of the Popes and Canon Law, always highlighting the radicality of the Franciscan Rule that goes against all sensuality, even to the point of quoting the phrase of Navarro, that is, of the jurist Martín of Azpilcueta (†1586) who considers the observance of the Franciscan Rule as a bloodless martyrdom.[27] And also for the seclusion of the sisters, he is radical: “And as for wanting to know if my sisters of Jerusalem can move to another Order, this will be resolved in the following chapter, where I will discuss whether the Capuchin friars is a stricter Religious Order, where they can go with a good conscience out of respect for the strict poverty, to which they are obliged, and one will not find an Order more strict than for these friars, neither will be for these sisters.”[28]

He occasionally refers to his Enchiridion where he listed all the cases of excommunications. Then explaining the words of the Rule: “And if they believe all these things and want to observe them faithfully and firmly until the end,” he writes:

“St. Bonaventure says that from these words it is truly clear that those who are to be received into the order must be prepared for martyrdom; so that when he is inspired by the Lord to have to go and take martyrdom, as the last chapter of the Rule says, ‘be ready and persevere firmly to the end, because the reward is only given to those who persevere’; and from here it may be known, when the friar minor violates the fourth chapter of his Rule he resorts to paying for boats and ships to go to sea, and it is all the more harmful when he is about to go on holiday, to visit friends and relatives, and other voluntary journeys; and then for the sins of same transgression, God allows him to be taken by Turks, so that he may recognize his error, and turn to God, as would a true friar minor to follow the examples of those holy friars who voluntarily went among infidels to preach the faith and take Martyrdom; but this prevaricating friar not only does not take this opportunity to offer himself to God, but wants the Order against its observance to send him the ransom of hundreds of ducats, as if he were a great Lord, otherwise he is not only to renounce the profession as a Religious, but also as a Christian, and if he had been in world, perhaps he would not have been ransomed, and at what price, as much as an animal is worth for carrying wood…”.[29]

The sources used

The sources he uses in his commentary are not only the Canonical Texts and Bulls of the Popes and the Council of Trent, but also the exposition of St. Bonaventure, Bartholomew of Pisa and ‘the exposition of the Fathers,’ the Panormitano, that is, the canonist Niccolò of Tedeschi († 1445), ‘the exposition of Br Pietro Giovanni,’ that is, dell’Olivi, ‘the exposition of the serena conscientia,’ the Summa Angelica, that is, the Summa de casibus conscientiae of Angelo Carletti da Chivasso († 1495), the Summa Silvestrina by Silvestro Mazzolini da Prierio († 1527), the Summa Gaetana, by Card. Tommaso de Vio († 1534), the Summa Armilla of the Dominican Bartolomeo Fumo da Piacenza († 1555), the Summa Navarra of Martín de Azpilcueta (†1586), the Exposition of Brandolino, that is, of Bartolomeo da Brendola, reformed, the exposition of Brother Hugone, that is, of Hugh of Digne, the Summa Astense, i.e. Summa de casibus conscientiae of Astesano da Asti († 1330), the Four Masters, the Sermonario del Discipulo (Venice 1584), the Revelations of St. Bridget, Somma by Fra Bartolomeo Medina († 1580) Dominican.

Other sources are: the Neapolitan catechesis, Il Libro dei miracoli del Rosario della Madonna published in 1573, Iacopo de Valentia († 1490) in the sixth treatise above the psalms, the exposition of Br Giovanni di Valentia, Firmamentum trium Ordinum or Speculum trium ordinum, collections of many texts and comments on the Rule widely used in the early Sixteenth Century, the Chroniche of the Order in the vernacular, by Marco da Lisbona. In short, he demonstrates immense legal, literary and Franciscan erudition. However, it is right to observe how, unlike the first Capuchin commentaries on the Rule, it never reports direct references to episodes from the life of St. Francis as an explanation and example of observance of the Rule, but its logic is guided by the reasoning of the juridical sources. In this it reflects an evolution of the Order which towards the end of the Sixteenth Century accentuated legal and criminal legislation also due to the influence of Giovanni M. da Tusa, who Fr. Gregorio mentioned it as an example of analysis and explanation of the Rule in light of the legal sources.[30]

Curious and strong aspects of his argument

Other aspects are worth noting in this quick re-reading of his book. He has harsh words against those Novice Masters who coddle novices and do not really make them experience the harshness of the Order:

“When the Master of Novices makes friars as true observers and not false observance, he will be able to say with the prophet David: Lord, I will be made a partaker of all these who will always praise you with the true and regular observances. And on the contrary, Lord, I will share in all the punishments of the sins of transgression that these will commit, with deeds and with false words they have attenuated the seriousness of true observance according to the Rule, which we have promised not to live wrongly.”[31]

Another argument on which he insists is to demonstrate that the Order of the Capuchins is stricter than that of the Carthusians and if it is possible for the Friars Minor to become Carthusians, this applies only when they do not observe the Rule. Therefore, the Capuchins cannot switch to other Orders because it would be a relaxation and a failure to strictly observe the Rule. He then lists all the precepts of the Rule from chapter to chapter. He then makes the comparison between Carthusians and Capuchins: the former, when they travel from Naples to Rome, are provided with horses, servants and money; on the other hand, the Capuchins, when they travel, not only to Rome but also to Spain, “bring with them nothing other than the merit of holy obedience and that God will provide them on the journey.”[32]

If a Capuchin therefore wished to pass to “among the above-mentioned Carthusian Fathers, Camaldulensis, St Francis of Paula, as well as any other Order” it would be a ‘demotion from their profession’ and if they return, they must be received “under the obligation of the penalty of apostasy”. And this also applies to the sisters of the true observance of the Rule of St. Clare, who are in the Monastery of Santa Maria in Jerusalem.”[33]

On wearing footwear, he says that “the soles that in practice we wear, as our Constitutions allow, are not intended as footwear. And for this reason, when it happens that someone wants to wear footwear, they must not be allowed to leave the dormitory, since it could happen that both religious and laity who see such a friar with footwear, would judge that we are relaxed by having footwear, our profession being to go barefoot, and suffer bodily affliction, and at the same time they are escaping from it, not wanting to suffer a little to observe our regular observance, since a short time is required between now and death, and with this the laity would stop helping us with their alms.”[34]

On chapter III of the Rule he begins like this: “The Sisters who are literate, that is, those who know how to read, read without singing, that is, saying it in a loud voice, as the Capuchin Fathers of San Francesco di Paula do, and the Theatine Fathers of San Paulo, which they say devoutly, well punctuated and with pauses from step-to-step encouraging devotion.”[35]

Interesting are the reasons by which he explains the ‘Pater Noster’ Office (Office of the Our Father) of the lay religious:

“…the reason why St. Francis and St. Clare imposed such a short Office on the lay Sisters and lay Friars is what the Supreme Pontiff says in the chapters Exiit: it does not appear that the intention of St. Francis was that of the Friars and Sisters who attend to study and to the Divine Offices and Mysteries be obliged or have forced on them the effort and carrying out of manual labour, since spiritual labour is of greater importance than corporal labour. And for this reason, he imposed a short Office on the lay Friars and lay Sisters, so that they could have time to do the corporal exercises. And because it was the custom of our old lay Fathers and lay Sisters not only to say the ‘Pater Noster,’ but also to say as many Hail Marys. The reason is in imitation of the Office of the Clerics, in which always after the Office of the Lord, they say that of the Madonna. And also in the Crown that they say to the Lord, they say many Hail Marys, and in the Crown of the Madonna they say many Our Fathers. And also, because the Church, at the beginning of the hours, always says the prayer of the Lord, and then the Angelus salutation, and this is because the Most Holy Mother always stays together with her Most Holy Son. And for this reason, when praying it is fitting to pray to One and also to the Other. And so then the Mother prays to her Son for us. But first we must say the Our Fathers that the Rule imposes, as a precept, and then the Hail Marys are said for devotion.”[36]

Also very curious is the examination of conscience he suggests to the Poor Sisters, which reveals the social customs and trends of the time:

“You must confess [once a month] and accuse yourself”.

“How many times were you in the company of other young women of the world, and did you adorn yourself with worldly clothes, or dye [your hair] blonde, or make up your face in red and white? This is a lie of the Devil to blame God for not knowing how to make you as beautiful as you think he should have made you look, to the detriment of your soul”.

“How many times have you been negligent in thanking God, who has not given you as much penance for your vanity he has given to the one who only once made herself a blonde; and after such a long time served God, he permitted the Devil to take away all that God had done in her, and so he removed her hair with all the flesh, up to the bare bone of her head until it had all disappeared; and she survived for a short time and died in spasms of pain, as appears in our Enchiridion. And there is the other that is read in the second part of our Chronicles in the fifth book, in the Chapter 38, where a woman, who was confessing to the friars, and being greatly reprimanded by her confessor that she should not wear those pompous clothes, with spirit the woman said: I pray to God that if there is anything in me that displeases His Majesty, that He may make me lose it. And immediately that woman was covered with a shadow and was undressed, and a voice was heard by all that said: These are the sign with which I bring to those who serve me”.

“How many times have you envied your relatives, who are serving the world, and you wished that you could do the same, and you would have done it, and left the service of God?”

“How many times have you acted against poverty, to which the Rule obliges you? How many times have you gone against the vow to live without owning anything?”

“How many times have you determined after death to leave this to that one, and that to that other, given that you have a vow to God to live without property, not possessing anything, so how can you want to leave things and do this against you vow…”.

And he goes on to number 35 cases of conscience.[37]

Another examination of conscience is organized on the occasion of the weekly Local Chapter where both the Abbess and the other sisters humbly confess all public offenses and negligence; but focuses in particular on the negligence of the Abbess.[38]

Sagacious and ironic insights into daily life

He is very strict on the use of money which offends poverty: “by money we mean every type of coin used in spending, that is, the Ducato, Cianfrone, Carlino, Cavaluzzi and the like”[39] and he is also very severe when it comes to the possible use of money which the Rule allows for the sick and to clothe the friars.

Fr. Gregorio notes:

“What the friars must be aware of is that in not wanting to exhaust themselves by walking, they want to go by sea, by payment of boat-trips, then it is harmful when the Order sends him for the necessary communal service of his province, and he does want not want to suffer the delay of going by land, he finds the major superior, so that he can provide for him, and for this reason the Superior who sends him, telling him that regarding conscience it is the same as what was said about fasting, thereby saying that he can pay for such boat-trips. But having said he can go by sea, albeit he goes with the merit of holy obedience in form, to his satisfaction, it is only to go quickly without fatigue, in the caprice of see relatives, friends or distant churches or to change province, in his bad conscience of violating the Rule, resorting to money to pay for the boat-trips, in which those who concurred in allowing or helping him to find the said money carry the greater fault…”[40]

He identifies, however, “piously” another “necessity of congruity” in the Order,

“as one might say, there are thirty friars in the place, they want to eat and they have no more than two small bowls to eat with; although one could expect that after they have eaten the two, they would eat another two, so as not to have recourse to money; but because this is not in keeping with the dignity and congruence of the Order, to keep things well-ordered, it is therefore necessary for him to have recourse to money to buy as many plates or bowls as are necessary to ensure that the friars all eat together; and the same is true of mugs and jugs. But resorting to money to buy rosaries of paternostri (our fathers), and other similar things, to donate inside or outside the Order, this is prohibited due to the fact that the use of money is allowed for the true need of the friars, whose necessity is either true or rather is required by the friars to be congruent in beauty; it is true when he doesn’t have a tunic and he needs one, wanting to have is for the necessity of symmetry, that is, he has the tunic, which has begun to tear, and he is ashamed of wearing something that is falling apart or to avoid tiring himself in patching it, he wants the new one, this should not be given to him, because he is obliged to patch it…”[41]

It is also beautiful and expressive where he speaks about the silence that the sisters must observe; “but if the sister is vain, or a time-waster, she will talk about vain, ridiculous and useless things and she will not only stop going to the choir to say the Divine Office with the other spiritual sisters, but will also leave aside eating to be chatting with this one and that one.”[42]

In the case studies that he applies to the observance of the Rule, there are pictures of the daily life of the friars as happened in the friaries of the 16th century, but he also points out inappropriate behaviour, with witty, ironic and even cutting jokes, especially towards the learned and the superiors when they exaggerate in their roles, such as, for example, when workers are called to do some work on Sunday in the friary, not respecting the day of rest and perhaps provoking in them sins of blasphemy and the like,[43] or in the case of a gentleman, who has given so much alms to build the friary, he wants to be buried in the friary Church, with his “arms or insignia”, arousing the emulation of other benefactors who will also want to be buried there at the expense of poverty and on this subject he goes on at length for many pages.[44]

He also makes the case of those superiors who misappropriate the sermons of the friars: “and for this reason the subjects have always complained that these cunning superiors acting in bad conscience wanted to pilfer their sermons; Provision has been made by the major superiors against such cunning people who are stealing the works of this and that student, abusing and dishonouring the office, which is created to preserve peace and quiet among the friars.”[45]

And he adds in a strong and effective tone:

“woe to the subject who does not have confidence in the Superior, and woe to the Superior who does not have confidence in the subject, for they go like horses without a bridle and are troublesome to themselves and troublesome to the laity, so that what our ancient Fathers with their abstinence and good examples they have built, they destroy with bad example and thereby others are fatigued, and not intent on enjoy their labours, they fall into that number of the friars of whom St. Francis, execrating them, said: From you, Most Holy Father, and from all the celestial court and by me, a most miserable man, be cursed all those friars who with their bad example confuse and relax what the holy friars of this Order have built and do not cease to build…”[46]

“But alas there are some Guardians who when they are a little sick, get all the things they want, without the incentive of poverty, and stay where they are and cost whatever they want, are immediately served with great diligence and promptness, and the efforts that go into this are not known; and when the poor subject is sick, you will find no doctor, nor medicine, nor remedies, nor friars who can be found to serve him, and in their case it is as if they were among the Muslims and dogs, and infidels, because charity has been driven from the Order, and if they at least want know how to amend themselves, and to reduce memory of the wrongdoing, they could at the least assign them to the Sisters, and way of true and not false penance.”[47]

For the sixth chapter of the Rule he says:

“This chapter makes very clear both the following chapter of the Rule of the friars and the eighth chapter of the same Rule of St. Clare, and as this chapter makes known the true intention of the institutors, for this reason it must be engraved in the heart in gold letter, both by the sisters and by the friars, nor should the friars attach similar terms…”[48]

He talks at length about the reserved sins with detailed casuistry.

Mention of incidents in the Province and the Order

In the eighth chapter on elections, he cites a unique case history, namely “how in the year 1581 the friars of two places were deprived of their ‘voice’ because they won four ballots and did not want to agree to decide upon the Discrete, and were put under penalty because they should not have needed ten ballots.”[49]

Regarding the constitutions that are made in the general chapter Fr Gregorio makes some very curious and pertinent observations:

“any penal constitution and ordinances made by the general or provincial chapters, or by their superiors, however much it may be said and commanded to be perpetually observed, as constitutions made by consent of the chapter, they remain in force only as long as the office of the superior elected in that chapter lasts, and no longer; for which reason, when the chapter returned after his term, and in another Chapter the same Superior was re-elected again, in that domain such installations and constitutions were made, if in his new election he does not renew same orders, they have no more force of obligation; and so after two years that the Lord out of His mercy makes me live under this habit,[50] I have seen that when our General was elected for three years, and after the three years were over and he was re-elected again, the same General in his first three years observed a type of constitutions made in the manner mentioned above, and in his second three years he observed another new type of ordinances, and not the first. And this observance and custom is in obedience to the most liberal freedom of the Prelates in making constitutions against their subjects and this never prejudice these Prelates themseves, ad poenam talionis, [to the punishment of retaliation] very few transitory constitutions and ordinances are needed, so that, as we read in the book of examples, that such a defect, of commission or omission, even if it were the Father General, such penance should be done in public, and if he does not do it he should no longer be obeyed, and his office is understood to be finished; and so as not to lose this office, justice will carry the scales justly in every degree. Therefore, if this were not the case, there would not be people from a hundred provinces who would have as many precepts in ten thousand years as the Franciscan Order.”[51]

Another fact of his time is mentioned regarding the elections. Fr. Gregorio mentions the election of a Vicar,

“as happened in the past years in this Province, that same Vicar did not want to accept the office and wanted to resign … until his resignation was accepted by the Father General, and provided him with a commissioner; until, after a certain time, he had the election of the Discretes carried out again. This was noticed because in my time it occurred with great disturbance for some scholars, blinded by ambition, who wanted at that instant to have the same re-election re-run, and it failed.”[52]

Another item concerning the Province is reported:

“this is how it was practiced in the year of 1587 at S.M. of the Conception of Naples, that since the office of Commissioner came to a Father of the family of the same place, who was to assist at the Provincial Chapter, and it being understood that he was Commissioner and of the family of the same place, which were ninety seven voices, he was elected for local Discrete, so for the reasons stated, it was determined by our superior who had given him that office that he should not put himself forward for either being the Discrete or a Definitor; and so it was determined that he vacate the office of Discrete of the said place, given that he was commissioner, and he should not compete in having voice for becoming a Definitor. With this family divided as a Province, with such short notice neither Provincial or General could come to the chapter, at the second turn the same Discrete, being elected, and a voice of the said number, which should not have been called, the election was not valid.”[53]

For preaching, he cites an episode of

“a very spiritual father of ours: when asked if in his time he had preached flowery things and ‘fioretti’, as some people do, he replied that before he joined the Capuchins, for twelve years he had preached flowery things and ‘fioretti’, without bearing fruit, and lost the merit of preaching; and after that he started to preach the simplicity of Scripture, according to the intelligence of the sacred Doctors, without curiosity, it always bore fruit for the Holy Church.”[54]

And he adds:

“And for this reason we must leave aside every vain and useless question, opinion, and subtlety understood by a few; but according to the example of St. John the Baptist to preach Paenitentiam agite, approppinquabit enim Regnum caelorum [Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near]; and so observed the early Capuchins who preached in Italy, preaching with simplicity; but today many delight in preaching flowery things and ‘fioretti’, without bearing fruit and this is, because they want to preach to others and not to themselves; but to be a true preacher he must first preach to himself, and then in his preaching introduce examples and cases of conscience, that is, matters of restitution, both of possessions and good name, and remission and other matters necessary for the health of the soul, and the Summa deal with this at length, and introduce how they can work to go to Heaven, and how they can escape Hell, and escape the pains of Purgatory, and to stop speaking badly of Ecclesiastical people …”[55].

Also very interesting is the investigation that the Minister must carry out to ascertain whether a friar is worthy and has the qualities to be a missionary and when a friar is worthy of being considered a saint, that is, when one can know if from a friar after death we can hope for miracles,” making almost an examination of the characteristic virtues of the Capuchin, and for this reason he recalls, as a current example, the death of St. Felice of Cantalice which occurred in 1587 and the miracles he worked after his death, and this is one of the oldest testimonies.[56] But here too, he inserts a very ironic indictment against that miraculous devotional hagiographic mentality of many friars and the people of the time who exalt austerity as an expression of great perfection and so they parade among the people and when someone observes that penitent and austere friar “he is always in prayer and in ecstasy, they answer sophistically, that is, whenever we went to his cell, he was praying two palms above the ground; that is, according to their mind, it was that he was on his bed, which was two palms above the ground, but according to the mind of those who asked such a thing, they understood that when the friars went to the same cell, they found him doing prayer and he was in ecstasy two palms above the ground, and so nothing but confusion is expected in their death.”[57]

Other documents added to the text

Once the exposition of the Rule is finished, he published the Breve discorso circa l’osservanza del voto della Minorica Povertà [Brief Discourse on the Observance of the Vow of Minor Poverty], by Giovanni oda Fano.[58]

Then he lists:

The admonitions that inform the friars to do well, are twelve[59];

The things that teach the friars to shun evil are six[60];

The freedoms of the Rule are six[61];

There conditions of those to be received into the Order are six[62];

The conditions of those who come to the Order[63];

Cases for which according to St. Bernardino and others, the Friar minor is said to be the proprietor, either of temporal things [list of 43 cases] or of the will [10 cases].[64]

Then Cases in which the Friar Minor can and should have recourse to his Ministers, for not being able to observe the Rule spiritually, according to Ugo Ubertino Pietro Giovanni and Martino V (nine cases)[65];

Cases reserved for the Apostolic See (there are five)[66];

Cases reserved for the Reverend Fr. General (there are six)[67];

Cases reserved for Provincial Ministers, see above fol. 326 and following[68];

Pope Alexander VI[69];

Of the severity of Blessed Francis against the scandalous Friars and his kindness towards the good[70];

Twelve great harms that venial sins do to us[71];

The Supreme Perfection of the Rule of the Friars Minor consists of the six Seraphic Wings[72];

Praise of the Testament[73];

The Rule of the Friars Minor was instituted and ordained by Christ[74];

Alphabeto Aureo by Giovanni Taulero[75];

Twelve degrees of humility[76];

Seven Degrees of Obedience[77];

The excellence and greatness of the Order Collected by St. Bernard with the exposition[78];

Pope Gregory IX reports having heard from Blessed Francis that he had obtained three privileges from the Lord[79];

Blessed Francis said he had received three other privileges from the Seraphim when it appeared to him[80];

Documents of St. Bonaventure for young people[81].

This ascetic and devout material reflects the tone and contents of the booklets of the Rule as small manuals of Franciscan spiritual life, which were very widespread at the time, but Fr. Gregorio does not confine it to the context of the Capuchin friaries and the monasteries of the Capuchin Poor Clares, but proposes a catechesis for the Christian people by offering a Compendium of Christian doctrine which is at the same time a manual of spiritual life exercises, a “spiritual exercise”, as it was then called, and then a series of warnings for the care of the sick, to prepare them to encounter with God.[82]

Commenting on this material, which extends for at least a third of the volume, would require another report, but it is enough to have mentioned it to say how it is above all in this part that his volume takes on the appearance of a true Enchiridion, including a multiplicity of more or less short texts that the author manages to connect together in a unified design of devotion and practice of Christian life.

Editorial misfortune and novelty of this text

And it is precisely in this last part that he inserts a series of litanies of the name of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the Angels that the Inquisitors did not like at the time and explains a manuscript note that we found in a copy of this volume preserved in the friary of Venice-Mestre: “Although the Rule of Capuchin Fr. Gregorio is not prohibited or suspended, nevertheless it is best not to read it, as this is the intention of our superiors. Corrected in some litany.”[83] The same reason that allegedly blocked a pamphlet by Fr. Silvestro da Rossano († 1596) on the Blood of Christ published in Florence in 1573 because of some unofficial litanies he included in it.[84]

A final observation to conclude: This writing which we have attempted to quickly present and interpret must be recognized as truly a novelty in early Capuchin literature which refers to the Franciscan Rule, because its commentary favours the Rule of St. Clare as united to the Rule of the Friars Minor in order to form a “single rule” as he himself writes in the title. The novelty lies in the fact that to find a printed commentary on the Rule of St. Clare one must go back to St. John of Capestrano († 1456)[85] and these commentaries are very rare in the Sixteenth Century. Indeed, if I am not mistaken, it seems to me that it is the only commentary on the Rule of St. Clare written and published by a Capuchin Friar in the Sixteenth Century. Another commentary on the Rule of St. Clare appeared in print in 1621 by Fr. Sante Tesauro da Roma, who was the Guardian of St Felice of Cantalice.[86]

The novelty then lies in the fact that the Capuchin Friars, in their reluctance to have relations with the Capuchin Sisters, here in Naples, they were almost forced to become chaplains of the Trentatré monastery, the first Capuchiness monastery with the foundress Servant of God Lorenza Longo, and this justifies and explains why Fr. Gregorio da Napoli wanted to prepare a commentary on the Rule of St. Clare, but intimately united it with that of the Friars Minor, as if to express the unity of a charism that inspired the Capuchin Reform and the parallel renewal of the Capuchin Poor Clares.[87]

  1. “…it must be said that the critical study of Capuchin history is still in its infancy. One branch then of this study (in some ways the most important of all), the study, that is, of the works of Capuchin writers can scarcely be said to have been seriously begun. An adequately authentic history of the Capuchins cannot be written until the works of their greatest writers are rescued from the oblivion in which they have long been abandoned. It is not possible to know a people until one knows its literature.” Cf. P. Cuthbert, I cappuccini. Un contributo alla storia della controriforma. Translated from the English original of Fr. Arsenio da S. Agata Feltria. Faenza 1930, 508.
  2. Cf. Introduzione di Pietro Zarrella a: Gregorio Tolosa da Napoli, Insediamenti cappuccini in Napoli e Terra di Lavoro nel ‘500. “Lo registro delle scritture delle siti seu termini et confini deli nostri lochi». Napoli, Edizioni Athena, 1999, 18, nota 21.
  3. Here’s the complete title: Regola unica del Serafico S. Francesco, con la dichiarazione fatta da diversi Sommi Pontefici, et la Regola della Beata Verg. S. Chiara d’Assisi con l’espositione dell’una e dell’altra, con sedici Avertimenti per i Morienti, et altri devoti discorsi. Compilata dal Reveren. Padre F. Gregorio Capuccino, et da lui chiamata Seconda Parte dell’Enchiridion Ecclesiasrico. Very useful work for every spiritual person. With privilege. In Venetia, Appresso Girolamo Polo, 1589. Ad instantia de Giacobo Anello de Maria, Libraro in Napoli. 14 cm., [15], 633 [5] p. – An introduction with selected excerpts we have already offered in the volume I Frati Cappuccini. Documenti e testimonianze del primo secolo. Vol. I: Ispirazione e istituzione. Roma-Perugia 1988, 516-518, 959-996.
  4. On this topic and the 1593 commentary on the rule, condemned in 1596, and the new 1606 edition, with selected excerpts cf. I Frati Cappuccini. Vol. I, 518-526, 997-1121.
  5. Cf. Girolamo da Sorbo-Clemente da Napoli, Breve notamento de tutti li frati Cappuccini quali sono passati da questa vita presente in questa Provincia di Napoli (1563-1653). Edited by Pietro Zarrella (Biblioteca Storica Meridionale. Testi e ricerche, 6). Napoli, Edizioni Athena, 1995, 104; Mariano Parente, Sintesi storico-cronologica della Provincia dei Frati Cappuccini di Napoli (1535-2077). Napoli, Edizioni Cappuccini, 2009, 47s, 51s, 62.
  6. Alle molto Madri, et Sorelle del venerabile Monasterio di Santa Maria in Hierusalem di Napoli, 5 p. n.n.
  7. Al reverendis. In Christo Pad. Nostro, Pad. F. Hieronimo da Polizzo di Sicilia, Generale della Religione del Serafico Padre S. Francesco detti Cappuccini, 4 p. n.n. A recent study on the dependance of the rule of St. Clare on the Rule of the Friars Minor was done by Engelbert Grau , La Regola di Santa Chiara (1253) nella sua dipendenza dalla Regola dei Frati Minori, in Frate Franc. (Roma) 68 (2002) 241-297.
  8. A Lettori, 5 p. n.n
  9. Per es. F. Elizondo, Ediciones capuchinas de la regla franciscana publicadas en lengua italiana, in Coll. Franc. 50 (1980) 169-226; Id., Ediciones latinas de la regla franciscana publicadas por C. Plantin en 1589, ibid., 49 (1979) 5-74.
  10. Cf Regola unica, 1-13.
  11. Ibid., 14-19.
  12. Ibid., 19-20.
  13. Ibid., 20s.
  14. Ibid., rispettivamente 21-64 e 65-89.
  15. Ibid., 89-92.
  16. Ibid., 92.
  17. Ibid., 93-111.
  18. Ibid., 111.
  19. Ibid., 114-133.
  20. Ibid., 133-136.
  21. Ibid., 133-136.
  22. Ibid., 134-136.
  23. Ibid., 136.
  24. Ibid., 137.
  25. Ibid., 138s.
  26. Ibid., 144s.
  27. Ibid., 151.
  28. Ibid., 152.
  29. Ibid., 158s.
  30. Sul commento manoscritto del Tusa cf. I frati cappuccini. Documenti e testimonianze del primo secolo. Vol. I, Roma-Perugia 1988, 506-513, 799-885.
  31. Ibid., 168.
  32. Ibid., 181.
  33. Ibid., 182. – This argument had already been addressed in great detail by Fr. Gregory in his Enchiridion ecclesiasticum of the 1588. Cf. I frati Cappuccini. Documenti e testimonianze del primo secolo. Vol. I, Roma-Perugia 1988, 939-958.
  34. Ibid., 189.
  35. Ibid., 193.
  36. Ibid., 200s.
  37. Ibid., 205-213.
  38. Ibid., 235-238.
  39. Ibid., 245.
  40. Ibid., 255s.
  41. Ibid., 257s.
  42. Ibid., 265.
  43. Cf. Ibid., 274s.
  44. Ibid., 280ss.
  45. Ibid., 295s.
  46. Ibid., 301s.
  47. Ibid., 314s.
  48. Ibid., 277.
  49. Ibid., 355.
  50. Precious autobiographical hint which specifies the date of his investiture and profession in the Order. If he compiled this book in 1588, going back twenty-two years brings us to 1566, thus specifying what Fr. Zarrella states in the Introduction to the volume cited. Capuchin settlements, Naples 1999, 16: “We do not know when he entered the novitiate, nor who his master was, but we can say that he entered the Order a few years after 1565, since it appears that in 1570, he was already a Capuchin, present in convent of St. Eframo.”
  51. Ibid., 355-357.
  52. Ibid., 362, 363.
  53. Ibid., 369s.
  54. Ibid., 374.
  55. Ibid., 374s.
  56. Ibid., 423s. Il testo è riportato ne I frati cappuccini, Vol. I, 995s.
  57. Ibid., 420.
  58. La regola unica, 426-441.
  59. Ibid., 441s.
  60. Ibid., 442.
  61. Ibid., 443.
  62. Ibid., 443s.
  63. Ibid., 444s.
  64. Ibid., 445-452.
  65. Ibid., 453s.
  66. Ibid., 455s.
  67. Ibid., 456s.
  68. Ibid., 457.
  69. Ibid., 457s.
  70. Ibid., 458s.
  71. Ibid., 459s.
  72. Ibid., 460-465.
  73. Ibid., 465.
  74. Ibid., 465-469.
  75. Ibid., 469-472.
  76. Ibid., 472s.
  77. Ibid., 473-475.
  78. Ibid., 476.
  79. Ibid., 477.
  80. Ibid., 477.
  81. Ibid., 477s.
  82. About these texts cf. I frati cappuccini. Documenti e testimonianze del primo secolo. Vol. III/2, Roma-Perugia 1991, 3214-3216, 3346-3358 (= Compendium of Christian Doctrine), 3447-3423, 3449-3497 (Warnings for the dying).
  83. It is a note that dates back to 1635, reported by Arturo M. da Carmignano di Brenta, San Lorenzo da Brindisi, dottore della Chiesa universale (1559-1619), vol. I, Venezia-Mestre 1960, 380. However, Fr. Gregory mentions a second edition of his Unique Rule printed in Rome in 1593.Cf. P. Zarrella nell’Introduzione al volume cit. Insediamenti cappuccini, Napoli 1999, 20, nota 26.
  84. Cf C. Cargnoni, La devozione al sangue di Cristo in un opus olo censurato e finora ignorato di silvestro da Rossano, in Clavis Scientiae. Miscellanea di studi offerti a Isidoro Agudo da Villapadierna in occasione del suo 80° compleanno (Bibliotheca Seraphico-capuccina, 60). Edited by V. Criscuolo. Roma, Istituto Storico dei Cappuccini, 1999, 315-374.
  85. Cf. Declaratio primae Regulae s. Clarae. Auctore s.Ioanne Capistranensi. Ad Claras Aquas prope Florentiam (Quaracchi presso Firenze), Ex Typographia Collegii S. Bonaventurae, 1929; in italiano: La spiegazione della Regola di s. Chiara di s. Giovanni da Capestrano nel volgarizzamento di Antonio Bruni da Firenze. Firenze, Studi Francescani, 2012.
  86. Cf. Dichiaratione sopra la prima regola di S. Chiara secondo l’intentione del Serafico P. San Francesco istitutor di quella. Fatta dal M.R.P.F. Santi Romano Pred. Capuccino quale in molte cose può servire in commune alle altre Monache che non sono della medesima Reg. Venezia 1621.
  87. On the relationship of the Capuchins with the Poor Clares cf. Origini e primo sviluppo delle clarisse cappuccine (1535-1611), edited by Lazzaro Iriarte, in I frati cappuccini. Documenti e testimonianze del primo secolo, edited by C. Cargnoni. Vol. IV, Roma-Perugia 1992, 1733-2055.