friars minor capuchin

Order of Friars Minor Capuchin

The Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (O.F.M. Cap; in England and Ireland, O.S.F.C) is an order of friars in the Catholic Church, among the chief offshoots of the Franciscans. The worldwide head of the Capuchins, called a minister general, is currently Father Mauro Jöhri.

Origins

The order arose in 1520 when Matteo da Bascio, an "Observant" Franciscan friar native to the Italian region of Marche, said he became inspired by God with the idea that the manner of life led by the Franciscans of his day was not the one which St. Francis had envisaged. He sought to return to the primitive way of life in solitude and penance as practiced by the founder of his order.

His superiors tried to suppress these innovations, and Friar Matteo and his first companions were forced into hiding from Church authorities, who sought to arrest them for having abandoned their religious duties. They were given refuge by the Camaldolese monks, in gratitude for which they later adopted the hood or capuccio worn by that order-which was the mark of a hermit in that region of Italy-and the practice of wearing a beard. The popular name of their order originates from this feature of their religious habit, and after this the Capuchin monkey and the cappuccino coffee are also named by visual analogy. In 1528, Friar Matteo obtained the approval of Pope Clement VII and was given permission to live as a hermit and to go about everywhere preaching to the poor. These permissions were not only for himself, but for all such as might join him in the attempt to restore the most literal observance possible of the Rule of St. Francis. Matteo and the original band were soon joined by others. Matteo and his companions were formed into a congregation, called the Hermit Friars Minor, as a branch of the Conventual Franciscans, but with a vicar of their own, subject to the jurisdiction of the general of the Conventuals. The Observants continued to oppose the movement.

The order's rules

In 1529, they had four houses and held their first general chapter, at which their special rules were drawn up. The eremitical idea was abandoned, but the life was to be one of extreme austerity, simplicity and poverty—in all things as near an approach to St Francis's idea as was practicable. Neither the monasteries nor the congregation should possess anything, nor were any devices to be resorted to for evading this law; no large provision against temporal wants should be made, and the supplies in the house should never exceed what was necessary for a few days. Everything was to be obtained by begging, and the friars were not allowed even to touch money. The communities were to be small, eight being fixed as the normal number and twelve as the limit. In furniture and clothing extreme simplicity was enjoined and the friars were discalced, required to go bare-footed without even sandals.

Besides the choral canonical office, a portion of which was recited at midnight, there were two hours of private prayer daily. The fasts and disciplines were rigorous and frequent. The great external work was preaching and spiritual ministrations among the poor. In theology the Capuchins abandoned the later Franciscan school of Scotus, and returned to the earlier school of Bonaventura.

The Capuchines

The Capuchines are Capuchin nuns. They were founded in 1538 in Naples. They lived according to the rules and regulations of the Capuchin friars, and so austere was the life that they were called "Sisters of Suffering." The order spread to France and Spain. A few convents still exist.

Early setbacks

The new congregation at the outset of its history underwent a series of severe blows. The two founders left it, Matteo di Bascio to return to the Observants, while his first companion, on being superseded in the office of vicar, became so insubordinate that he had to be expelled. The case of the third vicar, Bernardino Ochino, who became a Calvinist, 1543, and married, was even more extreme.

The whole congregation came under the suspicion of heretical tendencies and the pope resolved to suppress it; he was with difficulty induced to allow it to continue, but the Capuchins were forbidden to preach.

Expansion

In a couple of years the authorities were satisfied as to the soundness of the general body of Capuchin friars, and the permission to preach was restored. The congregation at once began to multiply with extraordinary rapidity, and by the end of the 16th century the Capuchins had spread all over the Catholic parts of Europe, so that in 1619 they were freed from their dependence on the Conventual Franciscans and became an independent order, with a general of their own. They are said to have had at that time 1500 houses divided into fifty provinces. They were one of the chief tools in the Catholic Counter-reformation, the aim of the order being to work among the poor, impressing the minds of the common people by the poverty and austerity of their life, and sometimes with sensationalist preaching, such as their use of the supposedly possessed Marthe Brossier to arouse the Paris mob against the Huguenots.

The activities of the Capuchins were confined to Europe. From an early date they undertook missions to non-Catholics in America, Asia and Africa, and was founded in Rome for the purpose of preparing their subjects for foreign missions.

A large number of Capuchins have suffered martyrdom for the Gospel. Capuchins were also active in inspiring the martyrdoms of others whose faiths they disapproved of, the most famous example being The St Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572 when 10,000 - 100,000 Huguenots were murdered, starting in Paris and then spreading to much of the rest of France.

Activity in Europe and elsewhere continued until the close of the 18th century, when the number of Capuchin friars was estimated at 31,000.

Cimitero dei Cappuccini: The Crypt

The crypt is located just under Santa Maria della Concezione, a church commissioned by Pope Urban VIII in 1626. The pope's brother, Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who was of the Capuchin order, in 1631 ordered the remains of thousands of Capuchin friars exhumed and transferred from the friary Via dei Lucchesi to the crypt. The bones were arranged along the walls, and the friars began to bury their own dead here, as well as the bodies of poor Romans, whose tomb was under the floor of the present Mass chapel. Here the Capuchins would come to pray and reflect each evening before retiring for the night.

The crypt, or ossuary, now contains the remains of 4,000 friars buried between 1500-1870, during which time the Roman Catholic Church permitted burial in and under churches. The underground crypt is divided into five chapels, lit only by dim natural light seeping in through cracks, and small fluorescent lamps. The crypt walls are decorated with the remains in fantastic fashion, making this crypt a true work of art. Some of the skeletons are intact and draped with Franciscan habits, but for the most part, individual bones are used to create elaborate ornamental designs.

Visitors to the crypt should keep in mind the historical moment of its origins, when Christians had a rich and creative cult for their dead and great spiritual masters meditated and preached with a skull in hand.

"What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be."

Mark Twain visited the crypt in the summer of 1867, and begins Volume 2, Chapter 1 of The Innocents Abroad with 5 pages of his observations.

To the present day

Like all other orders, the Capuchins suffered severely from the secularizations and revolutions of the end of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th; but they survived the strain, and during the latter part of the 19th century rapidly recovered ground. At the beginning of the 20th century there were fifty provinces with some 500 friaries and 300 hospices or lesser houses; and the number of Capuchin friars, including lay brothers, was reckoned at 9500. In Britain there are currently six Capuchin houses, and in Ireland about a dozen. The Capuchins still keep up their missionary work and have some 200 missionary stations in all parts of the world—notably India, Ethiopia, and parts of the former Turkish Empire. Though "the poorest of all orders," it has attracted into its ranks an extraordinary number of the highest nobility and even of royalty. The celebrated Father Mathew, the apostle of Temperance in Ireland, was a Capuchin friar. Like the Franciscans the Capuchins wear a brown habit.

In the Imperial Crypt, underneath the Church of the Capuchins in Vienna, over 140 members of the Habsburg dynasty are buried. The most recent burial in the crypt was in 1989 for Empress Zita, consort of the last Austrian Emperor Charles I.

United States of America

The United States has six provinces throughout the country. The Province of St. Joseph, or Province of Calvary, headquartered in Detroit, Michigan was the first Capuchin Province to be established in the country. It was started by Fathers Francis Haas and Bonaventure Frey, two Swiss diocesan priests who eventually joined the Capuchin Order. The priests started St. Lawrence Seminary High School in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin, a school that is still owned and operated by the Capuchin Order. One of the friars of this community, Fr. Solanus Casey, was noted for the holiness of his life, serving as the porter of several Capuchin houses for decades, and is currently being considered for the third phase of the canonization process--that of beatification. This is important because Fr. Casey is in line to be the first American-born male Saint in Roman Catholic Church history. His tomb is in the St. Bonaventure Monastery, in Detroit, and is viewed by thousands every year. He was declared Venerable in 1995 by Pope John Paul II.

The other provinces are: Our Lady of Angels - Western America, based in Burlingame, California; Mid-America, based in Denver, Colorado; St. Augustine, headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to which Cardinal Sean O'Malley belongs, New Jersey, based in Union City, New Jersey; New York - New England, based in White Plains, New York. The latter has a sub-province under it which minsters in the Pacific, namely in Guam and on the Hawaiian island of O'ahu. There is a Vice-Province based in Dallas, Texas.

North American-Pacific Capuchin Conference

References

  1. There does not appear to be any modern general history of the Capuchin order as a whole, though there are histories of various provinces and of the foreign missions. The references to this literature can be found in the article "Kapuzinerorden" in Wetzer und Welte, Kirchenlexicon (2nd ed.), a general sketch on the subject.
  2. Shorter sketches, with the needful references, are given in Max Heimbucher, Orden und Kongregationen (1896), i. § 4j~ and in Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopedie (3rd ed.), art. "Kapuziner."
  3. Helyot's Hist. des ordres religieux (1792), vii. c. 24 and c. 27, gives an account of the Capuchins up to the end of the 17th century.

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