1902 Encyclopedia > Capuchins


CAPUCHINS. The Capuchin friars are one branch of the great Franciscan order, and their rule is in all essen-tials the same as that of the other friars minor, or Minorites. It was in the first decade of the 13th century that St Francis established his order ; but it was not till 1528 that a bull of Clement VII. erected into a separate order the disciples of a certain minorité friar, who had conceived that he was inspired to reform the practices of his order in some respects. This man's name was Mathew da Bassi, a Franciscan of the March of Ancona. The legend of the order states that, having seen a representation of St Francis wearing a square-cut pyramidal hood, he made a similar one for himself, sewed it on to his monastic habit and began to wear it. This was in 1525. This audacious innovation drew down on the author of it much blame, and some persecution on the part of his superiors ; but as usual in similar cases, that did not prevent others from following his example. Specially two brothers Ludovico and Baffaelle of Fossombrone, the first a priest and the second a lay brother of the Franciscan order, joined them-selves to Mathew, and underwent punishment from their superiors for so doing. They, however, obtained the countenance and patronage of the Duchess Cibo, a connec-tion of the then reigning Pope Clement VII. (Giulio de' Medici), and the wife of Giorgio Varano, duke of Camerino. That lady gave her proteges a letter of recom-mendation to the pope, armed with which they went to Rome, and, despite the fact that they were disobedient to their superiors and therefore had broken their monastic vows, obtained from the pope the bull known as Eeligionis Zelus, by which they were permitted to impart their hooded habit to any disciples who might be willing to join them, to live as hermits in wild and desolate places, to go barefoot, to wear beards, and to call themselves " Hermit Friars Minor." The populace, however, gave them a nickname which has supplanted the more formal one. " Cappuccio " is a hood in Italian ; and the diminutive " Cappuccino," formed half affectionately, half contemptuously, as is the Italian wont, means " little hooded fellow." When this bull had been obtained, a place for the first congregation of the new order was soon found in an abandoned convent at Colmenzone, near Camerino, given to them by the duchess. Disciples thronged to the " new religion," and three other convents were shortly built. Mathew, the disobedient monk who had rebelled against his superiors and abandoned his convent, had fully succeeded in the objects to which his ambition had prompted him. He had been made, of course, superior of the first convent, and, subsequently, when the " families" of his new congregation had multiplied, he became vicar-general, subject only to the general of all the Franciscans.

In 1538, in a chapter of the new congregation convoked at Florence—so rapidly had the order of Capuchins spread itself—the celebrated Bernardino Ochino of Siena was elected vicar general, ahd a second time in 1541. But having shortly afterwards fallen into heresy, and taken refuge in Switzerland, the society to which he had belonged, and on which his celebrity had thrown a lustre which has never since belonged to it, fell under grave suspicions of heterodoxy. The recently established congregation ran great risk of being dissolved, and its leading members were cited by Paul III. to Kome to give an account of their opinions. The Capuchins were forbidden to preach, and would have been abolished, but for a warm and eloquent defence pronounced in Consistory by the Neapolitan Cardinal Antonio Sanseveiino, which warned the Pope of the danger of "plucking up tares and wheat together!" This privilege was restored to the society in 1545 ; and the congrega-tion multiplied itself largely in Italy. Paul III. had forbidden them to extend themselves beyond the Alps ; but Gregory XIII., at the request of King Charles IX., revoked this decree, and permitted 1 them to establish convents in any part of the world. Gregory XIV. in 1591 forbade the Capuchins by bull to hear confessions and grant absolution ; but these functions were restored to them by Clement VIII. in 1602. Paul V. in 1619 gave the congregation the rank and status of a distinct order, gave their vicar the title of Minister General, relieved him from the necessity (which heretofore had marked the quasi subjection of the society to that of the parent Fran-ciscan observantive or conventual friars) of asking the confirmation of his election from the general of the Conventuals, exempted the Capuchin convents from the right of visitation previously exercised by the superiors of the elder branch, and conferred on them the much-valued privilege of carrying a cross of their own in all processions, instead of being obliged to walk after that of the elder branch. It is stated that at this time the Capuchins numbered 15,000 members. Urban VIII. was a notable protector of the order, and created his brother, who was a member of it, cardinal. It was mainly by him that the convent in the Piazza Barberini,—which has been from that day to the recent one when the generals of all the orders were removed from their convents, the residence of the Capuchin generals,—was founded. Benedict XIV. gave the order the privilege that the preacher of the Sacred Apostolic Palace should always be a member of their society.
The Capuchins have from a very early period of their separate existence had the reputation of being great converters of heretics and infidels. It is related that they converted a thousand Calvinists in Poitou alone to the orthodox faith. From an early period they specially dedicated themselves to the work of missionaries. Up to the year 1641 the Capuchins, though sending missionaries to all parts of the world, had never had a missionary college. In that year their general, Eugenio di Rumilly of Savoy, founded a college in Home for the express education of their members for the work of missions. In the first eighteen months after the foundation of this college thirty-six Italian Capuchins were sent to Hindustan and Brazil, and eighty Spaniards of the order to Venezuela.

The order at present maintains eighty-two missions, served (ac-cording to the latest accounts) by a few more than two hundred missionaries. They have twenty-three stations in Switzerland ; in the north of Italy, nine ; in the Levant, eleven. In Asia also they have stations at Beyrout, Gazir, Saida, Damascus, Mount Lebanon, and Aleppo In Georgia there are five stations, and four in Mesopotamia In the East Indies they have fourteen missions, seven in Africa, and four in South America. It is a result which might be expected from such a field of labour, that the Capuchin Martyrology is a specially extensive one.

The saints and martyrs of the order have been recorded by Father Charles of Brussels in two volumes, nnder the title of Flores Seraphicce. A Biblioteca clcgli scrittori Cappucini was printed in Venice in 1747. The history of the order has been written by Zachariah Boverius in Latin, Lyons, 1632-39, 2 vols, folio. A decree of the Congregation of the Index in 1651 ordered the sup-pression of this work on account of the absurd tales with which it abounds. A subsequent decree of the following year, however, per-mitted the publication of it on condition of certain emendations. The work has been translated into French, Italian, and Spanish. A continuation of the History of Boverius, by Father Marco of Pisa, was published in folio at Lyons, 1676. The curious reader may also consult the work of Giuseppe Zarlino, On the Origin of the Con-gregation of the Capuchins, Venice, 1579 ; also the Annals of Wadding; and Helyot's History of the Monastic Orders, torn. vii. ch. 24.

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