« Captivity of the Jews Capuchins Caputiati »


CAPUCHINS: A branch of the order of Franciscans, founded in the third decade of the sixteenth century by Matteo di Bassi, an Observantine Franciscan. Repeated attempts had been made since the fourteenth century to restore the primitive strength and simplicity of the Franciscan rule, and one of these movements was concerned especially with the habit of the order. In connection with this attempted reform, Matteo was told by a brother mock that the cowl worn by St. Francis differed essentially from that adopted by his order.

Early History.

Matteo thereupon left his monastery of Montefalcone and hastened to Rome, where in 1526 he obtained permission from Clement VII. to wear a pyramidal hood and a beard, to live as a hermit, and to preach wheresoever he wished, on condition that he should report annually to the provincial chapter of the Observantines. Matteo's example was followed by his fellow Observantines Lodovico and Raffaelle di Fossombrone, both of whom received similar privileges from the pope; and the three, soon joined by a fourth, found a home with the Camaldolites and the duke of Camerino. Through the duke's influence, they were received among the Conventuals in 1527, whereupon Lodovico and Raffaelle returned to Rome and obtained from the pope the bull of May 18, 1528, by which they were permitted to preach repentance, have the care of souls, especially of abandoned sinners, and form a congregation with the privileges already granted them. They were freed, moreover, from the Observantines and placed under the control of the Conventuals, since their vicar-general must be confirmed by the general of the Conventuals, while they were to receive visitations from the Conventuals and were obliged in their processions to march under the cross either of the Conventuals or the parish clergy. The members of the new order speedily became conspicuous by their long beards and pointed hoods or capuches, whence they were termed Capuchins in ecclesiastical documents as early as 1536 (Capucini ordinis fratrum minorum or Fratres minores Capucini). Their first monastery was given them by the duchess of Camerino, but by 1529 they possessed four houses and in the same year their first chapter was convened. At the same time the rules of the order were drawn up, and thenceforth remained essentially unchanged.


The Capuchins were required to preserve the primitive service, to refuse all compensation for singing mass, to devote two hours daily to silent prayer, to observe silence throughout the day with the exception of two hours, to practise flagellation, to beg only what was necessary for each day, to provide only for three or at most seven days, and never to touch money. The use of meat and wine in strict moderation was allowed, but the friars were forbidden to beg for meat, eggs, or cheese, although they might accept them when they were offered. The habit was to be poor and coarse, and the brothers, who might ride neither on horseback nor in wagons, were required to go barefoot, sandals being allowed only in special cases. The monasteries, which were to contain at most ten or twelve friars each, 411were to be fitted in the most meager manner possible. In addition to the general, the Capuchins had provincials, custodians, and guardians, but no procurators or syndics. Elections were held annually, except in the case of the general, who was elected by the chapter triennially.

Since the Reformation.

The first vicar-general was Matteo di Bassi himself, but two months after his election in 1529 he resigned, and in 1537 returned to the Observantines. He was succeeded by Lodovico di Fossombrone, who failed of reelection in 1535 and was expelled for exciting dissatisfaction within the order. The next heads of the Capuchins were Giovanni de Fano and Bernardino Ochino. The defection of the latter to Protestantism in 1543 caused Paul III. to contemplate the dissolution of the order, and for a number of years the Capuchins were forbidden to preach. The result of Ochino's act was the transformation of the Capuchins into a rigidly ultramontane order which renounced all independent judgment in matters of faith and doctrine.

After the middle of the sixteenth century the spread of the order was rapid. Originally restricted to Italy, it was established in France at the request of Charles IX. in 1573, and in 1593 entered Germany, after having already been implanted in Switzerland. In 1606 it was in Spain, and thirteen years later was freed from the Conventuals and received its own general, as well as the right to march in processions under its own cross. The Capuchins, who then had 1,500 monasteries and fifty provinces, followed the Spaniards and Portuguese across the sea, and toiled valiantly for the Church in America, Africa, and Asia beside their great rivals, the Jesuits. In the suppression of the monastic orders in France and Germany at the end of the eighteenth century, the Capuchins suffered severely, and had also to endure much south of the Pyrenees. In the nineteenth century, however, they again prospered, and at its close numbered fifty provinces with 534 monasteries and 294 hospices. The twenty-five Italian provinces are officially suppressed, but retain a limited existence. Of the other twenty-five, Germany contains two, Austria and Hungary seven Switzerland two, Belgium and Holland one each, France five, Great Britain three, Russia and Poland two, and the United States two, that of Detroit with sixty-eight fathers and that of Pittsburg with sixty-five.

Capuchin nuns were founded at Naples in the first half of the sixteenth century, although, strictly speaking, they are a branch of the Clares. They now have a number of houses in France, Italy, Spain, and America, and are subject, when the nunnery contains the full number of thirty-three, to the jurisdiction of the general of the Capuchins, and in other cases to the bishop of the diocese in which they live.

Capuchin scholars have been authors of works of edification, practical exegesis, moral theology, and sermons. Among their most famous preachers have been Ochino, John Forbes, St. Laurence of Brindisi, Jacques Bolduc, Conrad of Salzburg, and Martin of Cochem. Father Joseph, the confidant and adviser of Richelieu, and Father Matthew, the noted temperance lecturer, were Capuchins.

(O. Zöckler.†)

Bibliography: Sources for the history are: Z. Boverius, Annales . . . ordinis minorum sive Francisci qui Capucini nuncupantur, vols. i.–ii., Leyden, 1632–39, vol. iii., by Marcellin de Pisa, 1676; Michael a Tugio, Bullarium ordinis fratrum minorum . . . Capucinorum, 7 vols., Rome, 1740–52; Ordinationes et decisiones capitulorum generalium Capucinorum, ib. 1851; Analecta Capucinorum, an annual, ib. 1884 sqq. Consult further: Heimbucher, Orden and Kongregationen, i. 279, 315–328, 359, 361–362; L. Wadding, Annales Minorum, 2d ed. by J. M. Fonseca, xvi. 207, 24 vols., Rome, 1731–1860; Helyot, Ordres monastiques, vii. 164–180; P. Lechner, Leben der Heiligen . . . der Kapuziner, 3 vols., Munich, 1863; A. M. Ilg, Geist des . . . Franz von Assisi dargestellt in Lebensbildern aus der Geschichte des Kapuziner-Ordens, Augsburg, 1876; K. Benrath, B. Ochino, passim, Leipsic, 1892; Currier, Religious Orders, pp. 244–248.

« Captivity of the Jews Capuchins Caputiati »
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