EVANGELISATION IN FRANCISCAN-CAPUCHIN TRADITIONS: From Earlier Rule (1221) to Capuchin Constitutions (1990)(1)

Benedict Vadakkekara

The two ways of carrying out Jesus’ mandate of evangelising the entire humankind as experimented and proposed by Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) have of late begun to be revalued by the Church. If the Poverello has for long been revered for his evangelical poverty, mystical orientation and spirit of universal brotherhood, now he is also looked up to as an “illustrious missionary” and his method of evangelisation is hailed for its efficacy as well as its relevance to the contemporary world. The scope of the present essay is to size up the way the Franciscan-Capuchin Order inherited and assimilated its founder’s evangelisation vision, and responded to it in the course of its history. The Order’s general legislation serves as its track record of its receptiveness of the evangelisation task as well as its response to it.

1. Innovation in Evangelisation by Francis of Assisi

The early Franciscan sources underscore the fact that the ecclesiastical authorities were initially averse to Francis’ giving origin to a new religious institute. Instead they wanted him to become part of one of the established and proven Orders. But Francis was convinced that he was being initiated into a new form of evangelical life that would have a radical orientation to evangelisation. It had taken Francis a long-drawn-out and disquieting search to discover it. The decisive moment came when he was listening to the Gospel during the Mass in the chapel of Portiuncula in Assisi. He felt that the Gospel was being addressed to him personally. In order to be doubly sure of what he thought the sacred text had actually meant, he went up to the priest after the Mass with the request to explain to him the passage. The priest’s clarification that “Christ’s disciples should not possess gold or silver or money, or carry on their journey a wallet or a sack, nor bread nor a staff, nor to have shoes or two tunics, but that they should preach the kingdom of God and penance”(2), further confirmed him that he was being inspired to take up a life that would conform to what he had just heard in the Gospel. His response was prompt: “This is what I want”, he said, “this is what I seek, this is what I desire with all my heart”(3).

Thomas of Celano describes the way this Gospel text impacted Francis’ life: “Immediately, he took off the shoes from his feet, put down the staff from his hands, and, satisfied with one tunic, exchanged his leather belt for a cord”. Earlier Francis “having changed his habit and rebuilt that church, moved to another place near the city of Assisi, where he began to rebuild a certain church that had fallen into ruin”(4). Julian of Speyer specifies that “the habit” he donned while repairing the churches was the one commonly used by hermits; Francis had “a staff in his hand, with shoes on his feet and a leather belt around his waist”. But “from this moment on he never used a walking stick, shoes, purse, or wallet. Accordingly, he made a very cheap and plain tunic, and throwing the belt away, tied the tunic with a cord”(5). Viewed from the angle of Francis’ external attire one can identify a three-phased internal evolution in the wearer: first, vested in “soft and flowing garments”, second, in the “habit of a hermit” and third, in coarse tunic with cord, and without staff, wallet and shoes. The “very cheap and plain tunic” that Francis chose for himself finally was corollary to the Gospel passage he had heard at the Portiuncula. As soon as he grasped the Lord’s design for him, he adapted his attire and went about preaching and proclaiming peace to everybody who crossed his path(6). One of the first fruits of his preaching was the change of heart of Bernard of Quintavalle and Peter Cattani and their decision to join him. On their jointly taking recourse to the divinatory consultation of the Bible (sortes biblicae), they joyfully exclaimed: “This is what we want, this is what we were seeking”. And Francis said: “This will be our rule”(7).

Francis and his brothers were inspired more by the itinerancy of Jesus and his disciples as pictured in the Gospel than by the evangelical ideal of “being of one mind and heart” of the Jerusalem community (Acts 2,42-47; 4,32-35). “Our cloister is the world” appears to have been the slogan of the Minorite fraternity right from its inception. Easy mobility and itinerancy characterised these friars. A testimony of 1216 reads:

With great profit, the brothers of this Order assemble once a year in a designated place to rejoice in the Lord and eat together; with the advice of good men they draw up and promulgate holy laws and have them confirmed by the Lord Pope. After this they disperse again for the whole year throughout Lombardy and Tuscany, Apulia and Sicily(8).

Their frame of mind was conditioned more by their commitment to humankind than by any spatial or territorial reality. The first decades of the Minorite experience shows that the evangelical brotherhood dilated out of the Umbrian region into the length and breadth of the Italian peninsula and then into the known world of those days, including the Iberian peninsula, the Middle East and the “Middle Kingdom” of China. Right from its inception the Minorite movement carried out itinerant preaching in the form of penitential exhortation, irrespective of the clerical or lay character of the members(9). The brothers used to address their audience as fellow-penitents and they were particular to employ an inclusive language, as the expressions like “we shall soon die” go to show.

When they were eight in strength, Francis “separated them into four groups of two each. ‘Go, my dear brothers’, he said to them, ‘two by two through different parts of the world, announcing peace to the people and penance for the remission of sins”. Here Francis is not seen in the role of the chief but as one among the group who also takes part in the venture. While Brother Bernard with Brother Giles left for Santiago da Compestela, “Francis with one companion chose another part of the world”(10). In going out into the wide world, the whole group believed that they were responding to the Lord’s words in the Gospel. Later while drawing up his last Testament, Francis would gratefully look back on those early years when the Lord kept inspiring others to join hands with him in giving shape to the Minorite Order(11).

A striking element in Francis’ policy of evangelisation was his conviction that the entire humankind is to be the direct beneficiary of the Gospel. Francis and his fellow-Europeans then viewed the entire world from their Mediterranean (media + terra: earth centre) perspective, according to which much of the ‘world’ we know today was then unknown to them(12). They were not in the know of the existence of the Americas, much of the African and Asian Continents, and the entire Oceania, as it was only subsequent to the discovery of the seaway from Europe to these lands from the end of the 15th century onwards, that Europe gradually began to get acquainted with them. Francis believed that the Lord was sending him and his brothers into the world. Their being just eight in number notwithstanding, the fact that two of Francis’ companions went to Santiago de Compostela is noteworthy(13).

In the same way, when the group grew to twelve, they proceeded to Rome to get the papal approval for their way of life. Although the permission of the bishop of Assisi would have sufficed for them to legitimately continue their way of evangelical life, they realised that if they had to include the entire world as the field of their service the only authority competent to sanction it was the pope. The wording of Innocent III’s approbation of their project is worth quoting here: “Go with the Lord, brothers, and as the Lord will see fit to inspire you, preach penance to all”(14).

However circumscribed their world map might have been, it had no direct bearing on the universal dimension of their call. Ever since Francis’ acceptance of his universal ministry he is seen only once vacillating. But on being reassured by his trusted friends Sylvester and Clare that he was on course, he was never to look back again. The considered view of his confidants was that he should not change the course of his life. “When the two brothers returned and told him God’s will as they had received it, he rose at once, girded himself and without the slightest delay took to the roads”(15). Francis wanted to give a radical orientation to his movement aimed at working for universal salvation, as it was the scope of both the Incarnation and the proclamation of the holy Gospel. What principally underpinned his evangelisation slant was his perception of the particular form of evangelical life that appealed to him. He wanted to follow in the Lord’s footsteps even to the point of shedding blood. The Poverello was firmly convinced that he could be a friend of Christ only if he loved those whom Christ had loved(16).

Thomas of Celano more than once alludes to Francis’ “burning with the desire for holy martyrdom”. The desire for martyrdom was based more on the yearning to conform himself to Christ than to fall victim to others’ sentiments of religious antagonism. He wished to save others because Christ shed his blood for them; he longed to lay down his life not so much to bear witness to his Christian faith as to respond to Christ.

That every person is a privileged object of God’s love instilled in Francis an intense concern and zeal to be wholly dedicated to bringing to fruition the universal salvation accomplished by Jesus on the cross. The early sources make mention of three of his attempts to go “to the region of Syria to preach the Christian faith and repentance to the Saracens and other Unbelievers”. The first attempt was “in the sixth year of his conversion” (1212/13) and it ended prematurely as he was only able to cross the Adriatic Sea and reach Dalmatia. He was unable to proceed any further because of adverse weather. On his returning to Italy, he began a second trip with Morocco as destination. This time he was on foot along with a companion. But when they reached Spain, he fell ill and had to call off his venture. The third journey was undertaken “in the thirteenth year of his conversion” (1219 spring/summer) at the peak of the fifth Crusade, “while bitter and long battles were being waged daily between Christians and pagans”(17). Viewed in their historical perspective, Francis’ attempts “to go among Saracens and other Unbelievers” reveal their full impact and significance.

There are several sources of Minorite and non-Minorite origin including eye-witness reports that document Francis’ visit to Malik al-Kamil (1180-1238), the sultan of Egypt and supreme head of the Ayubid realm. The town of Damietta in Lower Egypt had already fallen to the crusaders in November 1219 and the sultan pitched his camp at al-Mansura, south of Damietta, in order to mobilise forces and to direct the military campaign against the invading crusaders. It was here in the camp of Malik-al-Kamil at al-Mansura that the meeting between Francis and the sultan took place. The visit did not directly yield any tangible result. Francis would be back in Italy from this Ultramarine trip in the summer of 1220.The crusaders would surrender on 27 August 1221, bringing the fifth Crusade to an ignominious end; Damietta would be given back to Al-Kamil and in return the captured crusaders would be released.

The sum-up of Francis’ visit to the sultan that Thomas of Celano offers substantially corresponds to the same event narrated in the other sources:

Before he reached the sultan, he was captured by the soldiers, insulted and beaten, but was not afraid. He did not flinch at threats or torture nor was he shaken by death threats. Although he was ill-treated by many with a hostile spirit and a harsh attitude, he was received very graciously by the sultan. The sultan honoured him as much as he could, offering him many gifts, trying to turn his mind to worldly riches. But when he saw that he resolutely scorned all these things like dung, the sultan was overflowing with admiration and recognised him as a man unlike any other. He was moved by his words and listened to him very willingly(18).

Francis had to cut short his stay “among the Saracens and other Unbelievers” and return post-haste to Italy to prevent his Brotherhood from imploding. Angelo Clareno describes how “those in authority” were then making the Order deviate from the right path and were persecuting “the fervent in spirit” for refusing to toe their line(19). It is anyone’s guess what precise direction the meeting between the sultan and Francis would have taken if the latter could stay on in Egypt. However, it is difficult to think that as far as Francis was concerned, his personal encounter with the sultan and the Islamic world could have just petered out with his return to Italy. As a matter of fact a close scrutiny of his Earlier Rule (1221) does reveal that the meeting with the sultan just did not leave him cold.

Francis’ consciousness of being sent forth into the wide world as evangeliser is not only found in the two editions of the Rule but also becomes the leitmotif in several of his other writings. He sees his whole life vis-à-vis his brothers and sisters the world over. He directly addresses everyone in the world who exercises authority over others. He wishes “health and peace to all mayors and consuls, magistrates and governors throughout the world and to all others to whom those words may come”(20). He has no doubts whatsoever about the worldwide extent of the area of his service: “Because I am the servant of all, I am obliged to serve all and to administer the fragrant words of my Lord to them” . He believes that he and his brothers are to be at the service of the entire humankind till “the confines of the earth”.

One of the noteworthy contributions of Francis towards revitalising the Church of his day was his becoming an instrument for making it rediscover its mandate to evangelise the whole world. For five long centuries, it had been the monastery, symbol of stability and solidity that had spearheaded the Church’s evangelisation enterprises. But the monastic system had its own limitations. Initially the call to be an evangeliser appeared as Francis’ “personal charism”, as it had dawned on him in a private manner during the Mass at the Portiuncula. However, the priest’s explanation of the Gospel text and the verbal approval by Innocent III appear to be emblematic of the Church’s role in the vocation of Francis.

Instead of entering into one of the then-existing religious Orders, he sought “an alternate way”. He is the first to found a religious Order with a Rule that speaks explicitly about the role of the members to participate in the Church’s task to evangelise the world. Francis’ going unarmed to the court of the Sultan of Egypt to bring him the testimony of love and charity was an “alternative” to the Church’s solemnly declared crusades against the Islamic world. With his Gospel vision and his perception of the universal range of the Church’s evangelisation task, Francis of Assisi has been qualified as the trailblazer of the Church’s modern evangelisation activities(22).

2. Innovation in Evangelisation in early Minorite legislation

In the days of Francis, evangelisation as an ecclesial activity was practically non-existent; and Francis had before him no tried and tested evangelisation models to emulate. The Church then seemed to have gone all-out to defend the borders of the Christian lands from the Islamic onslaughts and so it could not have been in a position to give leadership in the area of evangelisation. Though the text of the first Minorite Rule (Proto-Regula) orally approved by Innocent III is no longer accessible today, one can presume that it would have certainly contained the Gospel text that Francis heard at the Portiuncula and those others that the trio “were given” when they consulted the Bible. The Rule that finally gets the pope’s seal of approval was in fact an end product. The Proto-Regula, the various biblical insights, the annual chapter decisions, the diverse experiences of the brothers in their ministry, Francis’ encounter with the sultan (summer 1219-20), the martyrdom of the five brothers (January 1220), friars’ interaction with the Church authorities, and certain ambiguities in the area of apostolate must have all provided ingredients for the Earlier Rule (1221), especially for its 16th chapter(23).

The opening quote: “The Lord says: Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be prudent as serpents and simple as doves” is especially important inasmuch as it is suggestive of Francis’ mindset with regard to God’s word. When it comes to citing the Gospel, Francis makes it a point to change consistently the past indicative said (dixit) into the present indicative says (dicit). For Francis, God’s word is always actual and stands in existential relationship with the individual. It is the Lord who calls, and for the individual concerned, it immediately becomes the question of obeying the God who calls hic et nunc. The content of the call and the dispatching of the believer is emphasised in and through the use of the expression “Behold”. According to Francis, those who feel inclined to respond positively to the Lord’s mandate are under divine inspiration. Francis goes to great pains to remind the superiors not to ignore this aspect of divine inspiration that their friars may receive. In fact, this is the only instance where Francis asks his friars to take the initiative and request the superiors for permission to carry out their desire. In all other cases, it is the duty of the superior to guide the behaviour of the friars.

The expression “like sheep in the midst of wolves” points immediately to the risks to which the friar gets exposed when he opts to say yes to the call. The lot of the five young friars who had just suffered martyrdom in Morocco could not have been forgotten by Francis, in much the same way as the hostility and aggression he himself had undergone when going to meet the sultan. The friars, when carrying out the works of evangelisation, should expect to be at the receiving end of gratuitous violence and persecution. For love of Jesus and in imitation of him, the friars should “make themselves vulnerable to their enemies, both visible and invisible”. In fact it was his decision to become “a sheep in the midst of wolves” that finally gave Francis access to the cordoned-off camp of the sultan. He also saw the futility of the use of force by the crusaders and realised how it led to the hardening of hearts on either side. As violence begets violence Francis refused forthrightly to be its vehicle. Despite the measures of prudence one takes and one’s attitude of simplicity, one may fall prey to the antagonism and brutality of others. He cites Jesus’ words “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn 15,20) as the ultimate explanation for the suffering that could befall an evangelising friar.

Though within himself Francis was “burning with the desire for holy martyrdom” and was proud of the heroic love and selflessness of his five martyr-friars, he does not seem to have been approving of their provocative behaviour and their insult of the Prophet. Instead he explains at length to his friars the theological significance of the violence, the suffering and even the death that might come on one’s way if one chooses to go among the Saracens and other Unbelievers. Francis was fully aware of the fact that much bad blood had been created in the Christian and Muslim populations ever since the declaration of the crusade. “Therefore, be prudent as serpents and simple as doves”, he expressly stipulates for those who opt “to go among the Saracens and other Unbelievers”. Francis clearly does not approve of whatsoever recklessness and intolerance on the part of his friars. While they were not to be transmitters of the violence that surrounds them, they are to positively take up the role of shock absorbers by bearing with the violence in the society without reacting.

It is in the light of his own experience gained during his visit to the sultan and of the events surrounding the martyrdom of his five friars that Francis spells out the golden rule for his brothers to “live spiritually among” the Saracens and other Unbelievers.

One way is not to engage in arguments or disputes but to be subject to every human authority for God’s sake and to acknowledge that they are Christians. The other way is to announce the Word of God, when they see it pleases the Lord.

Francis qualifies these two ways as “living spiritually”. Acknowledging one’s Christian identity, being nonviolent in thought and action, and with humility relating oneself with others are, according to Francis’ line of thinking, authentic forms of evangelisation. He makes it clear that the announcement of the word of God is not always the perfect start; it should take place only when it has been discerned that “it pleases the Lord”.

Francis of Assisi was indeed very much down to earth when he took recourse to the then-current expression “Saracens and other Unbelievers” (Saraceni et alii infideles) in order to indicate the peoples who also needed to be targeted by his friars in their efforts to make known to the world Christ and his Gospel(24). At the time of Francis the appellative clearly signified in the Christian West a Moslem. The original nuance of being easterner was also retained in the new significance acquired by the term Saracen. Consequently the crusades came to be described also as the military campaigns undertaken by the Christian West against the Islamic East. The term infideles meant literally “those without faith” and it used to be employed especially with reference to Islam and Christianity. Originally it denoted a person of a religion other than one’s own, in particular a Muslim (to a Christian), a Christian (to a Muslim).

In all the Earlier Rule (1221) consisted of 24 chapters, while its contents would be recapitulated and reformulated into 12 brief chapters in the Later Rule (1223). The 16th chapter of the Earlier Rule with its original title would be assigned as the 12th chapter in the restructured regulation now called the Later Rule. The chapter’s original title, “Those going among the Saracens and other Unbelievers”, too passed over to the 12th Chapter of the Later Rule. The inclusion of this chapter in the Rule represents a watershed in the history of consecrated life. Thus the consecrated people came to be rightly recognised as potential agents of evangelisation at the service of the Church. Thanks to the intuition of Francis of Assisi, the Church could now count upon an army of energetic and resourceful collaborators in the field of evangelisation. History has vindicated Francis’ prophetic vision of the religious playing active roles in the Church’s various evangelisation activities. What had originated as a personal insight and innovation on his part would be formally recognised and accepted by the ecclesiastical authorities as something essential to the life and task of the Church.

In general the Later Rule is more precise, orderly and synthetic than the Earlier Rule. This observation applies particularly to its 12th chapter. The text reads: “Let those brothers who wish by divine inspiration to go among the Saracens and other Unbelievers ask permission to go from their provincial ministers. The ministers however, may not grant permission except to those whom they see fit to be sent”. Following this cautionary statement, the chapter passes on to the request for the appointment of a Cardinal Protector for the Order. And the chapter draws to its conclusion with a stock phrase about mitigating the Rule or violating its integrity.

A perusal of the two versions of the Rule suggests that initially more importance was paid to the inspiration “of going among the Saracens and other Unbelievers” than to the granting of permission for the same by the authorities of the Order. If in the Earlier Rule the minister is almost warned against denying permission to the would-be evangeliser, in the Later Rule the minister is asked to be particularly circumspective before granting it. This change of emphasis was very much visible at the Order’s chapter of 1221, where only 27 of the 90 friars who had volunteered for the Order’s undertaking in Germany were actually chosen(25). Evangelisation activity had by then become integral to the Minorite life, and greater attention was being paid to the selecting of the agents of evangelisation.

However the fact of the matter is that the two-phased method of evangelisation does not find its place in the Later Rule. Similarly the apparent precedence of personal inspiration over obedience in the Earlier Rule too disappears from the Later Rule. Thus it fell within the ordinary competence of the superiors to identify the right persons and grant them leave to go among the Saracens and other Unbelievers. As the Order was spreading fast it became evident that the friars too needed more discipline and better training. Honorius III’s bull Cum secundum of 22 September 1220 enforcing one full-year noviciate on the would-be friars was, to say the least, an indication that the liberty of movement of the friars in training needed to be curtailed in view of giving them a better training. Those entering the Order were in need of sufficient time to mellow. Jacques de Vitry (1220) speaks of the unsteadiness and light-mindedness of some of the itinerant friars:

This Order is multiplying rapidly throughout the world, because it expressly imitates the pattern of the primitive Church and the life of the apostles in everything. But to our way of thinking, this Order is quite risky, because it sends out two by two throughout the world, not only formed religious, but also immature young men who should first be tested and subjected to conventual discipline for a time(26).

But those friars who chose “to go among the Saracens and other Unbelievers” still seemed to enjoy certain freedom to adjust their religious observances and practices to the exigencies of their intended scope. In Seville the friars destined for Morocco adapted their dress in order to be favourably received in the Moslem territory. According to the Passio of the martyrs of Morocco, the initiative for the change of the habit had actually come from Lady Sancia(27). The bull Ex parte vestra of Honorius III (17 March 1226) dispensed the evangelising friars from the ban on handling money. If needed they could also change the form of the habit and accept usages not contemplated by the Rule, eg, wearing the beard(28). These exemptions are indicative of the priority that “going among the Saracens and other Unbelievers” enjoyed over other aspects of the Minorite life like practising asceticism, keeping away from the use of money, following poverty, and dressing meticulously in a specific manner. The presence and activities of friars in the Orient also occasioned the entry of persons from these regions into the Order. From 1220-1221 onwards there are references to friars of local provenance (eg, Luke of Constantinople) in the Order.

Collaboration with the local hierarchy has been one of the outstanding characteristics of the Minorite apostolates. When in Damietta Francis approached the papal legate cardinal Pelagius of Albano for permission to go over to the camp of the sultan; the martyrs of Morocco were in contact with the archbishop of Seville. The friars who were in the territories held by the crusaders too were in rapport with the local ecclesiastical heads. However in most cases the nature of the apostolate and the ministry of the brothers called for only a distant and presumed relationship with the local hierarchs since by and large the friars who were not priests far outnumbered the others both in the “Christian West” and the “Islamic East”. There used to be close rapport between the friars and the local populace. With great ease and spontaneity these friars used to identify themselves with the masses, as Jacques of Vitry testifies:

Indeed, people consider themselves fortunate if these servants of God do not refuse to accept alms or hospitality from them. And not only Christ’s faithful but even the Saracens and people in the darkness [of unbelief] admire their humility and virtue, and when the brothers fearlessly approach them to preach, they willingly receive them, and, with a grateful spirit, provide them with what they need(29).

The evangelisation activities of the friars progressively acquired the formal nature of an ecclesial function. As a matter of fact with the nomination of the cardinal “who would be the governor, protector and corrector of this fraternity” the Order entered into the trajectory of the Church’s supreme authority. It would be more in the name of the Church that the friars would assume the role of being bearers of the Gospel to new peoples. On its part the Church would gradually grant privileges and concessions to its friar-agents and set norms for them. The bond between the Order’s central authority and the Holy See is symbolised in the active presence of the cardinal protector at the Order’s general chapters. The first pontifical documents concerning the Order show a tendency for the Church to assume the role of “sending” the Minorite friars among the Saracens and other Unbelievers. Beginning from Francis’ days and throughout the 13th century the role of the Church authorities in sending the friars into the Orient becomes ever more evident.

The Church’s increased role in the evangelisation activities of the friars too impacted the relationship between the Order and the ecclesiastical establishment. With the convergence of the Minorite policies with those of the Church authorities, the space for the Minorites to have an alternate method of evangelisation got narrowed down. No one openly questioned the originality and the enterprising character of Francis’ idea of the two-phased way of evangelisation, but it just did not coincide with the strategies then vigorously followed by the Church. The mere fact that this method failed to find its way into the final text could as well indicate that it had few takers among the ecclesiastical high-ups. When issues like raising funds for the crusader campaigns, army mobilisation, and execution of a sustained military operation to make the crusade a success fully occupied the attention of the powers that be in Europe, it was quite natural that the alternate method envisaged by Francis should get sidelined.

The concern of Francis was more about responding to the Gospel than about addressing the political and social exigencies of the moment. Ever since his “leaving the world”, Francis had kept his eyes peeled for responding to the evangelical inspiration and for patterning his modus vivendi accordingly. His sensible and realistic method of evangelisation was besides a logical sequel to the policy of evangelical coherence that he had adopted for himself and his movement. His resistance to entering into one of the existing religious institutes and his reluctance to champion the crusade against Islam are manifest indications that he was looking more for alternate ways of responding directly to the Gospel than taking refuge in the security of following the beaten track. Perhaps one of the reasons why Francis’ evangelisation method did not find many patrons among the authorities was because it was not often seen as a direct response to the concrete exigencies of the day.

Though Francis demanded of his friars’ unconditional submission to the ecclesiastical authorities, he remained inflexible when it concerned the acceptance of privileges from them.

I strictly command all the brothers through obedience, wherever they may be, not to dare to ask any letter from the Roman Curia, either personally or through an intermediary, whether for a church or another place or under the pretext of preaching or the persecution of their bodies(30).

In his heart of hearts Francis seemed to have had the firm conviction that he and his brothers should steer clear of all privileges, concessions and exemptions in order to be “little ones” in the Church and the society. But with the passing away of the founder, his faint but clear alarm call got lost in the din of the ensuing internecine struggles in the Minorite brotherhood. As no consensual leadership in the Order was then forthcoming, it was in the normal course of events that the friars should tend to lean more on the ecclesiastical and political headship. They also began to accept uncritically offices in the Church. In some of the places where they had been present as itinerant preachers they were appointed as bishops. The prestigious diocese of Milan too had a Minorite as its bishop in the person of Leo of Perego (1241-1257). Between 1226 and 1261, that is, till the death of Alexander IV who had been the protector of the Order from 1227, there were 44 Minorite bishops who ministered in 47 jurisdictions.

It was, therefore, in the normal course of events that the process of the Order’s insertion into the Church’s administrative apparatus should be destined to gain momentum. In 1257 Bonaventure of Bagnoregio was elected the Order’s general minister and in 1273 he was nominated bishop of Albano and cardinal(31). In 1286 Jerome of Ascoli his successor as general minister too would receive the red hat. The participation of the Minorite friars in the administration of the Church would climax with the unanimous election of Jerome of Ascoli as pope on 15 February 1288. His spirit of obedience and a second election on 22 February, however, made him bow to the choice of the cardinals. He accepted the supreme pontificate and took the name of Nicholas IV (1288-1292).

Consequent upon the Minorites’ entry into the Church’s managerial setup they also began assuming the role of promoters and executives of the pursued policies of the ecclesiastical leadership. Some of them took up position in the forefront of the Church’s offensive and defensive strategies like anti-Islamic crusades, campaigns aimed at the eradication of heresies, and upholding papal interests against the intrusion of secular powers. John of Capestrano (1386-1456) came to be popularly hailed as the “Soldier saint” for successfully leading the Christian army against the army of Mehmed II, and raising the siege of Belgrade in 1456. The committed role of the Minorite friars in the promotion of the wellbeing of the institutionalised Church, their uncritical submissiveness to the ecclesiastical authorities and their own vested interests did not always leave them free to abide faithfully by the Gospel norms. The mushrooming of currents of reform in the bosom of the Minorite movement may be read also as indications of the rank-and-file protest in the Order against its embrace of positions of ecclesiastical and political power.

If with his radical decision to conform his lifestyle to the Gospel values Francis had developed for his brothers an alternate manner of being in the Church and of making their evangelical presence relevant for the Church and the society, now with their acceptance of offices in the institutionalised Church, they tended to get more and more merged into the social and ecclesiastical reality around them. Their official position in the Church’s hierarchical structure seemed to have compromised their interior freedom to be prophetic signposts in their surrounding world.

3. Evangelisation in Constitutions of Minorite Traditions

The newly acquired positions in the hierarchical structure of the Church did not as a matter of fact entirely block the Minorites from carrying out their task of going among the Saracens and other Unbelievers. In the decades following the death of Francis, scores of Minorites continued to be operative especially in the East, even though their presence in the Islamic East got vitiated on account of the crusades in course. The populace at large were unable to tell the crusading “Franks” from the Minorite “Franks”. Numerous friars became martyrs. But in some instances their activities began to yield results too(32). Before the 13th century was out, the Minorites were already at the ends of the then known earth. The diplomatic missions towards the East undertaken by the Minorites in the name of the pope too had a role of evangelisation. Some of the travel accounts of these diplomats came to be read widely and they also contributed to keeping alive in the popular memory the reality of the existence of other peoples to whom also the Gospel had to be made known.

The Minorite legislations go to show that the friars, true to their calling, took great pains not to lose sight of their mandate to carry out worldwide evangelisation. An examination of some of their Constitutions brings out the fact that by and large they all shared the belief that they were called to participate actively in the Church’s task of evangelising the whole world. The norms in the Later Rule, 12 meant for “those brothers who wish by divine inspiration to go among the Saracens and other Unbelievers” were accepted by them and they were reiterated in the respective Constitutions with diverse articulations. The various branches of the Minorite Order together have had between 1260 and 1932 a total of 60 constitutional texts, all of which directly going back to the Later Rule(33).

In most cases the Constitutions took shape as a practical way of addressing new situations. Right from its inception there have been polarisations based on ideals within the Minorite movement. The first of the major challenges that the Order faced was the one posed by the new initiatives championed by Matthew of Narni and Gregory of Naples; it was promptly nipped in the bud by Francis himself. Other currents linked to the practice of poverty, eremitism, asceticism, itinerancy and the like tended to get transformed into pressure groups. While all professed to hold the Later Rule as sacrosanct, the emerging orientations and undercurrents too needed to be accommodated. On the one hand the internal cohesion had to be maintained and on the other the factional divergences and excessively enthusiastic movements had to be contained. As the various attempts to achieve these goals in the first three decades following the death of Francis did not come up with the goods, the mainstream leadership got the general minister John of Parma to resign on 2 February 1257 at the chapter of Rome and handed over the reins of power to his hand-picked successor Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, the Order’s Parisian scholar.

Barely two months after the chapter, Bonaventure openly made known in a circular a comprehensive programme of renewal of the Order. He had the Order’s various legislations collected into Constitutions and these were formally approved in 1260 at the chapter of Narbonne, in France. With the promulgation of these Constitutions all the former legislations were declared obsolete and so the chapter decreed their destruction. The Constitutiones Narbonenses or Bonaventurae unfold in twelve chapters, corresponding to the twelve chapters of the Later Rule. They are sagacious interpretations and prudent applications of the Rule. Bonaventure was convinced that the Order could have a clear-cut identity only if he could coalesce the friars into a worldwide fraternity, formed around a common vision. Therefore he set about the task of compiling a new life of the founder, the Legenda maior, which would also prove to be a practical convalidation of the new Constitutions. In 1263 the general chapter of Pisa approved the Legenda maior as the unique authentic life of Francis of Assisi, a point of reference for all the friars. As the measures of reform and the attempts to give one common discipline to the entire Minorite movement did not go down well with certain factions, the chapter of 1266 held in Paris ordered the destruction of all the other versions of the Legenda anterior to the Legenda maior of 1263.

The entire Minorite Order had to pay a heavy price as it tried to build up cohesion and internal unity. There is no denying the fact that in the process numerous compilations which would have been viewed today as precious documentation, were ruthlessly destroyed. As it was believed that diverse perspectives and views would not be helpful for the maintenance of discipline and order in the movement, everything that bespoke pluriformity and diversity had to be mowed down and the dissenting voices too were to be silenced. The hardcore Joachimites (Spiritual Franciscans or Fraticelli) were sentenced to lifelong confinement. Even Bonaventure’s predecessor John of Parma did not escape the iron fist. He was spared “perpetual imprisonment” and allowed to retire to the hermitage of Greccio till his death in 1289, thanks to the intervention of the influential cardinal Ottobono Fieschi, the would-be pope Hadrian V.

Thus the Constitutions of Narbonne had come into force with a bang. The whole Order had now one revised code and one compactly theologised figure of Francis of Assisi as role model, both formally accepted and approved by the general chapter. The Constitutions of Narbonne would turn out to be the mother of all the Constitutions that would later take shape in the Minorite traditions. These Constitutions would invariably be prefaced by the Later Rule and the Testament. The updated commentaries and applications used to be presented under the respective headings of the twelve chapters. But now only the OFM Cap Constitutions maintain the classical division of the various thematic texts into twelve chapters. The OFM and OFM Conv Constitutions follow a more rationalised ordering of the subjects with their own internal divisions and subdivisions. True to the Minorite Rule, the section on “Those going among the Saracens and other Unbelievers” find their rightful place in all the Constitutions. A close analysis of these Constitutions casts light on the new geographical areas and the new pastoral situations in which the friars were being called to carry out their evangelisation activities.

The Constitutions of Perpignan (1331) have a chapter devoted to “those going among Saracens and other Unbelievers”. But here the specified scope of the undertaking is not that of presenting the Gospel to the people of other faiths but of leading back into “the Roman Catholic Church” those who “live among the Saracens” and have broken away from the Church “on account of apostasy, schism or heresy”. For the friars this was an altogether new task. They are to induce these wayward children of the Church to return home obediently and in the spirit of penance. The crusader campaigns and the expeditions of the friars had drawn the West’s attention towards the disarrayed Christian reality in the East. Doubtlessly, the wording of the constitutional text does not reflect today’s ecumenical sensibility834). The bull Pro zelo of Gregory IX is referred to as the rationale for this new evangelisation activity.

As the Order gained more and more experience in the area of evangelisation and created a tradition for itself in it, more pressing insistence came to be laid on the internal qualities of the friars to be sent into the lands of the people of other faiths. This emphasis on the superior quality of the evangelisation personnel would keep appearing in the new Constitutions to follow. According to the Constitutiones Benedictinae (1336), which had been projected by pope Benedict XII and formally accepted by the Minorite Chapter of 1337, a two-phased screening process had to precede the dispatching of friars “to the regions of people of other faiths”. While it was the provincial minister who had to verify the suitability of the candidates, the actual sending could be done only with the permission of the general minister(35).

The Constitutiones Fr. Min. Conventualium Alexandrinae were approved by the solemn Assembly of Terni (1500) and confirmed by pope Alexander VI in 1501. Here the emphasis is on the qualities required of the friars going to the Holy Land and the Islamic countries. They should be friars of the better class, the more virtuous and dedicated ones of the Order, who, tried and tested in life, manners and doctrine, were to be in a position to edify both the Unbelievers and the Christian faithful.

Regarding the friars who should be despatched among the Unbelievers with the scope of preaching, we order that the general minister send no one, if he does not already have the attestation of the minister of the province. But such minister is obliged under obedience to issue an attestation worthy of trust, regarding the qualification of those who are to be sent. Hence let him first examine them about faith, doctrine, and with this aim in mind let him ask the attestation of the brother councillors and the council, who through obedience should give it true and entire, in such a way that no one suspected of error or superstition or bad conduct be destined [to go] among the Unbelievers. But the provincial ministers cannot give the permission to anyone to go there, without the knowledge and permission of the general minister(36).

The so-called Constitutiones Fr. Minorum Reg. Obs. Cismontanae Familiae or Capistra-nensis (1443) was prepared not by the Chapter but by John of Capestrano, the general vicar of the Cismontane Observant Family, in 1443, mandated by pope Eugene IV. These Constitutions insist on a long list of qualities for friars in order to be destined for a life among the Unbelievers.

And this suitability must be considered in the two aspects of man, namely, interior and exterior: in such a way that interiorly they be fervent in spirit, firm in faith, and upright and strong in the same; ardent in charity, watchful in prudence, correct in justice, firm in endurance, modest in temperance, humble in reputation, patient in hardship, benevolent in conversation (dealing); high-minded and detached from all human worldly ambitions, and totally inflamed in love of God and neighbour; in such a way that they may be disposed to suffer martyrdom principally to proclaim the divine glory of the power, the truth and the goodness, and to obtain the complete salvation of neighbours and Unbelievers. Let those who receive the permission be tested, therefore, in regular discipline, in such a way that having gone through a diligent examination, let them be found assiduous keepers of the Rule, under the vow of obedience, poverty and chastity; in the divine praises, in prayers, vigils, and fasts, works, in spiritual exercises, let those who blamelessly and commendably stand out, live almost dead to the world and living through God in long-standing perseverance. Externally, let them be healthy of body, strong, fit, and apt to withstand the labours, hardships, distresses, scourgings, mockeries, and equally every adversity and woes, in such a way that, rendered victors in all and through all, they may merit the crown of glory(37).

The last decade of the 15th century saw the Franciscan friars at the very forefront of the massive evangelisation initiatives undertaken in the wake of the discovery of the sea-route from Europe to the Americas (1492) and to the East Indies (1498). Juan Perez, the guardian of the Franciscan Observant friary of La Rábida near Palos, also played a key role in getting the sponsorship of the Spanish monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand for Christopher Columbus’ venture across the Atlantic. Perez had earlier been confessor to the queen. Columbus also befriended the Observant friar Antonio Marchena, a reputed cosmographer, then a member of La Rábida. These acquaintances have led some to suggest that Columbus could have had some Franciscan friars aboard on his first expedition. Be that as it may, it is known for certain that in 1493 two Franciscans accompanied Columbus en route for the Americas. It was in today’s Dominican Republic that the first two Franciscan friaries in the “New World” were erected and throughout the early 16th century the friars were engrossed in spreading the Christian faith across the continent, from the Caribbean to Mexico, to Central America, to parts of South America and the US.

The presence of Franciscan Observant friars too was conspicuous in the expeditions towards the East. Vasco de Gama who pioneered the seaway from Europe to India in 1498 was followed by Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500. There were eight Franciscan friars on board; after Cabral’s fortuitous “discovery” of Brazil, the armada set sail for India. The age-old rivalry between the Portuguese and the Arab traders showed its ugly head in the South Indian town of Kozhikode also, where on 16 November 1500 a bloodbath resulted in the death of several Portuguese including three Franciscans. After a punitive cannonade of the town Cabral hastily set sail for Kochi, where four friars settled down, while the fifth proceeded to Portugal to seek reinforcements. At Kochi the Portuguese built a fort, with a wooden church in it. In 1506 they were allowed by the local prince to construct in stone masonry and in 1516 the new church was dedicated to St Anthony of Padua. These friars of Observance ministered here till the Dutch captured Kochi in 1663. Franciscan Capuchos (Recollect friars) too began working in India in the first half of the 16th century.

The Franciscan family responded energetically and in strength to the demands created by the knowledge of the existence eastwards and westwards of Europe of large numbers of people who had not yet heard of Christ and his Gospel. The Constitutiones Fr. Minorum Reg. Obs. Ultramontanae Familiae (1621) contain in fact the special statutes for the friars labouring in these parts: Statuta generalia de Fratribus ad Provincias Indiarum pertinentibus and De Fratribus ad Indias transmittendis(38). One cannot but be struck by the high qualities demanded of the friars to be sent among them. While the stress is placed on the necessity of choosing “the best and the most committed friars of the Order, tested in life, manners and doctrine”, or “those chosen and sent… in such a way as to show to the world testimonies of their innocence and of Christian faith, practising every good work also in the midst of perverted and evil peoples as a great lamp, placed on the lamp stand”, those targeted by the evangelisation seemed to have been viewed as passive recipients. The evangeliser’s superior human and spiritual qualities might have been presumed to suffice to get the Gospel message across to the various peoples of other faiths.

4. Evangelisation in Capuchin Constitutions

The fact that the first piece of legislation of the nascent Order of the Capuchin friars does not devote any space towards the carrying out of evangelisation calls for a comment. It has been pointed out that though this first document is entitled “Constitutions”, the term “Ordinances” suits it better because of its incomplete character. The earliest appellative of the Capuchin reform movement is given as “Friars Minor called those of the Eremitical Life” and the intended scope of the initiative is “to observe fully the rule… and life” according to Francis of Assisi, “who founded his religion in highest poverty and scorn of the world and continuous prayer”(39).

“Even if the articles of which [the Constitutions] are made up are not placed in a logical order, they can nonetheless be regrouped around four fundamental themes, namely: 1. Poverty and asceticism, 2. Prayer, 3. Regular discipline, 4. Solitude and silence”(40). The nature of these themes go far towards explaining the rationale behind the absence of every explicit allusion to the 12th chapter of the Rule in the first Capuchin legislation. But the Constitutions of 1536, which bear a more comprehensive stamp unequivocally speaks of “the conversion of Unbelievers”. Faithful to the internal structure and division of the Later Rule, these Constitutions are also thematically grouped together into twelve chapters and the subject of evangelisation appears in the 12th chapter along with some sundry themes.

Without a doubt the 12th chapter of the Constitutions of 1536 fall back on the corresponding chapter in the Later Rule but here they clearly seek to update the Rule on the then-emerging world reality. While the subject is introduced with the words, “and because the conversion of the Unbelievers was very close to the heart of our Seraphic father”, the text asks the friars who are “inspired to go and preach” the faith among them, to present their request in a straightforward manner to their provincial vicars or their general vicar. The Constitutions then put forward before the friars an assessment of the world of the Unbelievers:

One could still make a difference between the quite, meek Unbelievers, persuadable and disposed to receive easily Christian faith, as those recently come across by the Spaniards and the Portuguese in the Indies, and among the Turks and the Hagarins(41), who usually with the use of arms and the infliction of torments sustain and defend their ill-starred sect.

With the sighting of hitherto unknown inhabitants in the lands eastward and westward of the Mediterranean, the seafaring peoples of Spain and Portugal had actually thrown open the wide world to the Church’s task of evangelising. It seemed that the Gospel was more fruitful in the “Indies” in the East and the West than among the populace of the Middle East. If at the time of Francis the expression “Saracens and other Unbelievers” represented the world to be evangelised, at the time of the birth of the Capuchin Order, the Church had a clearer picture of the world of the “Indies”, the Turks and the Hagarins. The subsequent revisions of the Constitutions will on the whole leave intact the section dealing with the evangelisation of the peoples of other faiths. With the Constitutions of 1608, the 12th chapter would begin straightaway with the part dealing with subject of “conversion of the Unbelievers”.

These constitutional provisions notwithstanding, there were few instances of Capuchin friars “going beyond their native land” till the closing decades of the 16th century to preach the Catholic faith. Actually the partition of the world beyond Christian Europe in 1493 between Spain and Portugal by pope Alexander VI would have drastic consequences for religious institutes that did not have a base in the two countries. Since the Capuchin Order took its origin as a Franciscan offshoot in Italy, it, therefore, found itself on the wrong side of the track. To make matters worse, in 1535 emperor Charles V requested pope Paul III not to permit the Capuchins to strike root in Spain. In 1537 Paul III and in 1550 Julius II ordered them to confine themselves to Italy. It would be only in 1574 that these restrictions would be lifted by Gregory XIII and the Order would be permitted to spread to the lands outside the Italian borders. The general chapter of 1587 formally committed the Order to participating actively in the Church’s task of evangelising the world.

The first known instances of the Capuchin presence among the people of other faiths beyond Italy are found in the accounts of the ministry that the friars rendered among the Christian captives held in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) by the Berbers. From the second half of the 16th century onwards there were some Capuchin volunteers who dedicated themselves to the delicate task of ransoming Christian slaves. Some even chose to get captured as slaves in order to be with their brothers in faith and assist them spiritually. In 1570 Dennis Scotti of Piacenza, a two-time former provincial of Bologna and general definitor, was taken slave during his preaching mission in Algiers. He had to suffer much vexation and finally was swapped with some Algerians captured from a ship. The Capuchin friar Peter of Piacenza paints the stark reality of slavery in his letter of 20 April 1585 from Algiers: “I tell you the slaves in this city reach the number of 25,000; they are in very great misery, as they are denied the necessary food, are oppressed in various ways and are deprived of the spiritual helps for their souls, in such a way that, finding themselves almost in despair, many easily give up their faith”. The only way to escape those hardships was to apostatise and embrace Islam. The work of the Capuchins among the slaves won such recognition that Gregory XIII entrusted them, though temporarily, with the task of caring for the slaves in North Africa both materially and spiritually.

In 1550 there was a short-lived attempt on the part of the two friars John Zuaso of Medina del Campo and John of Apulia (of Troia) at preaching the Gospel in Istanbul, which had been captured by the Turks in 1453. The project came to a premature end in 1551 with the death of the two protagonists in Cairo. In 1587 Istanbul was again the destination of a team of four friars including the future saint Joseph of Leonessa. The same lot befell these pioneers too. Joseph, after suffering great atrocities, and a companion returned home in 1589. The years 1611-1615 saw a brief but successful move by the French Capuchins to reach out to Maranhão, situated along the east coast of Brazil, south of the Amazon. Claude d’Abbeville’s participation in this trail-blazing work and his elaborate documentation of it have made this venture a particularly significant one for studies on evangelisation. But when France and Spain (including Portugal in the Iberian Union) entered into an alliance through the marriage between Louis XIII and Anne of Austria in 1615, the French patronage of its Brazilian colony was withdrawn. And practically that signalled the end of the pioneering work of the French Capuchins in Brazil. It was not long before the Portuguese expelled the French from their Brazilian colony.

The creation of the Congregation of de Propaganda Fide in 1622 occasioned for the Capuchins the full opening of the door to the world of the peoples of other faiths. On 12 July 1622 the general minister Clement of Noto (1618-1625) placed the whole Order at the service of de Propaganda Fide. The Capuchin general minister would be the one competent authority responsible for the territories assigned to the Order for evangelisation (Jus commissionis). This arrangement for implementing the commission of evangelisation promptly appeared also in the Order’s Constitutions. According to the Constitutions of 1638, those friars who feel inspired to go and preach the Catholic faith are asked “first to take recourse to the Very Rev. Fr General” and it would be up to the general minister to decide about the suitability of the friars for the task. Here the provincial minister had no special role. But the Constitutions of 1643 made good this lacuna. The inspired friars are now “to take recourse first to the provincial minister, or to the Very Reverend Father General”. It is now the responsibility of the provincial and general ministers to determine if the volunteers for evangelisation are up to the task or not.

In order to better coordinate the Order’s evangelisation commitments the office of the Procurator for the Missions was created on 12 August 1858. But as it failed to achieve the intended scope, it was suppressed in 1884 and all the evangelisation projects were once again brought under the direct authority of the general minister. The Order’s evangelisation activities were reorganised according to the Statute of the Missions approved definitively by de Propaganda Fide on 17 July 1893. It would be only in 1909 that the Constitutions would be revised, even though a complete amended text had been prepared, printed and distributed among the members of the general chapter of 1896 but on procedural grounds it failed to secure the chapter’s placet. The section on evangelisation in the Constitutions of 1909 coincided in the main with the one in the unapproved text of 1896. For the first time since 1536 it made no mention of “the Indies” reached by the Spaniards and the Portuguese. However the general distinction in the disposition of the peoples to be evangelised remained:

One could easily differentiate the Unbelievers, quiet, meek, docile and disposed to receive easily the Christian faith, from those who are wont to sustain and defend their erroneous and pernicious sect with arms and also with very cruel persecutions.

The new text restated the decree of 7 December 1884 of de Propaganda Fide: all the territories assigned to the Order for evangelisation with all its personnel are subject to the general minister under the immediate dependence on de Propaganda Fide; despatching of friars into those parts, negotiations and all the issues concerning the personnel are to be handled by the general minister with the consent of his definitory. The problem of paucity of friars should not at all deter the superiors from setting aside their friars for the work of evangelisation. The Constitutions also reiterate the duty of everyone concerned to abide by the Statute of the Missions of 17 July 1893. But this clear reference to the Statute was absent in the unapproved text of 1896.

The promulgation of the 1917 Code of Canon Law called for the updating of the legislation of all the religious institutes. The revised Capuchin Constitutions were approved in 1925. In perfect tune with their previous editions, the 12th chapter of the 1925 Constitutions too regards evangelisation as a basic element of the Order’s charism and recognises that the individual friars may be divinely inspired to accept it. If so, they are to apply to the general minister through the provincial minister. As specified in the previous Constitutions, the friars are asked not to judge themselves to be fit for the job but to leave to the superiors the decision regarding their suitability. It is the general minister who sends the friar to evangelise. “All the evangelisation commitments entrusted to the Order and all the evangelisers who work there are subject to the general minister under the immediate dependence of the Sacred Congregation meant for evangelisation”. As in the case of the other revisions, the 1925 edition too reaffirms the duty of everyone, both superiors and subjects, to observe faithfully the Church laws and the ordinances of the superiors of the Order.

In 1966, in the wake of the Vatican Council II the religious institutes were asked by pope Paul VI to bring up to date their legislation. In effect this meant that the Capuchin Constitutions had to go through a process of out-and-out review. The amended Capuchin Constitutions ad experimentum were brought out in 1968. The section on evangelisation now consisted of 6 paragraphs (No. 174-179) and this sixfold division has come to stay to date. The Church’s new idea of evangelisation and its strategy for the same was the focal theme of the 3rd Plenary Council of the Order held at the Swiss town of Mattli in 1978. The new insights and perspectives that evolved at the PCO III were integrated into the Constitutions at the general chapter of 1982. The publication of the new Code in 1983 necessitated yet another revision. The subject of constitutional amendment was also on the agenda of the general chapter of 1988. The modified text was submitted to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life which issued its letter of approval of the Constitutions under the date 7 February 1990. The Vatican II had called for a review of not only the ecclesiastical legislations but also the Church’s administrative setups. Accordingly the Congregation de Propaganda Fide was renamed in 1967 as the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. The practice of the Jus commissionis was abrogated in 1969 and the emphasis now shifted from the monopolistic rights of the religious institutes to their generous contribution towards the work of implanting the Church locally.

The Capuchin Constitutions now show that the Order’s evangelisation activity goes back not only to Francis of Assisi but also to the very makeup of the Church. Francis’ contribution is seen as an “added momentum to those initiatives of the Church that are called missionary and through which the Gospel is proclaimed”. The 12th chapter does not make mention of either “the Saracens and other Unbelievers” or the peoples in the Indies “discovered” by the Portuguese and the Spaniards but speaks of “those who do not believe in Christ”. This change of focus is the result of a new mindset and a more realistically genuine worldview. When “globalisation” was far from becoming a buzzword, the Capuchin Order rightly foresaw the emergence of a new world-reality and anticipated it in its legislation. The 12th chapter offers a corresponding job description of the friars involved in the work of evangelisation: “Missionaries are those brothers who bring the Good News of salvation to all those in any continent or region who do not believe in Christ” (174). As it were on second thought the text adds: “We recognise, however, the special situation of those brothers who engage in missionary activity in the service of newly established Churches”. Since the whole world is the scene of evangelisation, the Constitutions interpret one’s call to go elsewhere to participate in the Church’s work of evangelisation as: “Brothers who feel they are called by divine inspiration to missionary activity in another region where evangelisation is more urgent should make this known to the provincial minister” (176).

The Constitutions speak clearly about the role of the friars in the task of establishing local ecclesial communities. They “should willingly listen to the members of the newly established Churches and dialogue with them, recognising that particular Churches have already acquired a preferred role in the work of evangelisation. In this way it becomes clear that they have come to serve those Churches and their pastors” (No 175). They are not only to be at the service of the particular Church but should also be perceived as being such. Implantation of the Order in the particular Church also forms part of the task of evangelisation (No 177). The theme of “the particular Church” also casts fresh light on the nature of the Catholic Church, which is a communion of various sui iuris Churches. Implantation of the Capuchin charism in a particular Church should be a source of enrichment for both the particular Church and the Order. Therefore, the restrictions on the implantation of the Order in a particular Church violate the spirit of the Constitutions and stifle the growth of both the Church and the Order.

And for the first time in the history of the Capuchin Constitutions the original contribution of Francis towards the Church’s evangelisation activities comes to be formally acknowledged:

As Saint Francis provided, missionary brothers can conduct themselves spiritually among people of other faiths in two ways: either, while being subject to every human creature for God’s sake, they give witness with great confidence to the Gospel life by their charity; or, when they see that it pleases God, they openly proclaim the word of salvation to Unbelievers that they may be baptised and become Christians (No 175).

With the incorporation of this passage from the Earlier Rule, 16, the Capuchin Constitutions have turned full circle(42).

Francis’ contribution to evangelisation was soon to receive yet another formal recognition from the Church itself. In 1984 the Secretariat for Non-Christians qualified Francis of Assisi and Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916) as “illustrious missionaries”, despite the fact that Francis is not known to have converted any Unbeliever and Charles is credited with baptising just a single Muslim youth(43).

Among the many examples which could be drawn from the history of Christian Mission, the norms given by St Francis of Assisi, in the Regola non bollata of 1221, are significant. The friars who ‘through divine inspiration would desire to go among the Muslims … can establish spiritual contacts with them [Muslims] in two ways: a way which does not raise arguments and disputes, but rather they should be subject to every human creature for the love of God and confess themselves to be Christians. The other way is that when they see that it would be pleasing to the Lord, they should announce the Word of God’. Our own century has seen the rise and affirmation, especially in the Islamic world, of the experience of Charles de Foucauld, who carried out mission in a humble and silent attitude of union with God, in communion with the poor, and in universal brotherhood(44).


The above survey of the Franciscan-Capuchin legislations on evangelisation goes to show that the Constitutions of 1990 have to a very great extent succeeded to recapture Francis of Assisi’s vision and strategy of evangelisation. At the same time they clearly evidence the collective effort of the Order to learn from its history and to read the signs of the times in the spirit of genuine humility and hope. The great thrust placed on establishing particular Churches among peoples of other faiths and joyfully being at their service effectively recapitulates the evangelical vision of Francis.

History has proved Francis right when he devoted nearly the entire second half of the Earlier Rule, 16, to the various forms of obstruction, including persecution, violence and death that his friars could face in their capacity as Gospel workers. Even in this day and age, indifference, suspicions, accusations, threats, hostility and even physical elimination happen to be all too often the lot of those who strive to “promote, in dialogue with Christian Churches and non-Christian religions, those changes that foster the coming of a new world”. If formerly violence, persecution and assassination were the tragic experience of the victim and his fellow-evangelisers, in today’s networked and globalised world, such experiences have far wider impact. Today the live TV coverage of the stab wounds that an evangeliser receives is flashed across the globe in seconds. And there begin days of anxiety and suffering for his family members, confreres, friends and well-wishers. The events connected with the hospitalisation, surgery, police investigation, autopsy etc turn into real-time personal experiences. In other words today the reality of suffering is far more widespread and participated than in the past. By offering a theological reflection on suffering and death, the Constitutions can help the evangelisers and their well-wishers to be mentally prepared to perceive and grasp the profound significance of failures, setbacks, rejections and even assassination that may occur in the evangelisation ministry. The Constitutions should help especially the friars to rediscover the actuality the second half of chapter 16 of the Earlier Rule.

By describing “missionaries” as “those brothers who bring the Good News to all those in any continent or region who do not believe in Christ”, the Constitutions show that the term “missionary” has already outlived its original denotation. The term is totally alien to both the Biblical and Franciscan traditions; it came to be used in reference to evangelisers in alien lands only from the beginning of the 17th century. But today it has got so closely wedded to colonisation that in many contexts it has acquired unhappy connotations like being an agent of a foreign power, being unpatriotic, being on the payroll of aliens, an exploiter of the poverty and misery of others. In certain ambiences killing a missionary does not seem to be a crime. A missionary is viewed as an alien, an importer of foreign values and practices into the midst of native populations.

The term “missionary” is so overburdened with the weight of history that it cannot any longer stand for those Christians who “while being subject to every human creature for God’s sake, give witness with great confidence to the Gospel life by their charity”. Therefore it may be opportune to look for another term that corresponds better with the present-day world reality. By adopting a biblical or Franciscan term, the Order can contribute towards the promotion of both evangelisation and inculturation. A case in point is the designation of the recently created “Pontifical Council for New Evangelisation”. Here there is nothing to suggest that the Gospel work is sponsored by some overseas agencies or emissaries. On the other hand the focus is on the people in Europe who are again going to be the privileged recipients of the Good News(45).


1. Three clarifications are in place here: 1) The expression “People of other faiths” replaces traditional ones like pagans, Saracens, infidels, Non-Christians, Non-Believers; 2) for reasons explained further on, the use of “mission” and “missionary” are avoided; and 3) the footnotes are limited principally to references to Franciscan-Capuchin sources while some select works are indicated at the end of the essay.

2. The early Franciscan sources herein cited are taken from the three-volume collection: Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, I: The Saint, II: The Founder, III: The Prophet, ed. R.J. Armstrong – J.A. Wayne Hellmann – W. Short, New York – London – Manila 1999-2001 (hereinafter abbreviated as Early Documents). Thomas of Celano, Life of St Francis, No 22, in Earlier Documents, I, 201.

3. Legend of the Three Companions, No 25, in Earlier Documents, II, 84.

4. Thomas of Celano, Life of St Francis, No 22, in Earlier Documents, I, 201-202.

5. Julian of Speyer, The life of St Francis, No 16, in Earlier Documents, I, p. 379.

6. Thomas of Celano, Life of St Francis, No 22, in Earlier Documents, I, 203.

7. John of Perugia, The beginning or founding of the Order and the deeds of those Lesser Brothers who were the first companions of Blessed Francis in Religion, No 10-11, in Early Docu-ments, II, 38; Legend of Three Companions, No 28-29, in Earlier Documents, II, 85-86.

8. Jacques de Vitry, Letter I (1216), in Early Documents, I, 580.

9. Francis of Assisi, Earlier Rule, No 21, in Early Documents, I, 78.

10. Thomas of Celano, Life of St Francis, No 30, in Earlier Documents, I, 207.

11. Francis of Assisi, Testament, No 14, in Earlier Documents, I, p. 125.

12. The New Testament authors who shared the Mediterranean perspective were under the impression that Jesus’ instruction to take the Gospel “to the ends of the earth” had already been realised: “This Gospel, already present among you, is bearing fruit and growing throughout the world” (Col 1,6); “Keep in mind the Gospel you have heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven” (Col 1,23); “our brothers scattered throughout the world” (1 Pet 5,9).

13. The visit to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in North-western Spain would often conclude with the pilgrims’ extended visit to the coastal town of Finisterre (“Fisterra” in Galician, from the Latin Finis Terrae, meaning “End of the Earth”).

14. Thomas of Celano, Life of St Francis, No 33, in Earlier Documents, I, 212.

15. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, The Major Legend of Saint Francis, 12, in Early Documents, II, 622-624.

16. Thomas of Celano, Remembrance of the desire of a soul, 172, in Early Documents, II, 358.

17. Thomas of Celano, Life of St Francis, No 57, in Earlier Documents, I, 231.

18. Thomas of Celano, Life of St Francis, No 57, in Earlier Documents, I, 231.

19. Angelo Clareno, The Book of Chronicles, in Early Documents, III, 399-401; see also Giordano da Giano, Cronaca, 11-15, in Fonti francescane, nuova edizione, a cura di E. Caroli, Padova 2004, 1532-1535.

20. Francis of Assisi, A letter to rulers of peoples, 1, in Early Documents, I, 58.

21. Francis of Assisi, Later Admonition and Exhortation, No 2, in Early Documents, 45; see also The second letter to the Custodians, No 6, in Early Documents, 60.

22. Daniel-Rops, La Chiesa è l’Occidente?, in Humanitas 11 (1956) 304.

23. Francis of Assisi, Earlier Rule, 16, in Early Documents, I, 74-75: The first part of the Earlier Rule, 16, reads: “The Lord says: Behold I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be prudent as serpents and simple as doves. Let any brother, then, who desires by divine inspiration to go among the Saracens and other Unbelievers, go with the permission of his minister and servant. If he sees they are fit to be sent, the minister may give them permission and do not oppose them, for he will be bound to render an accounting to the Lord if he has proceeded without discernment in this and other matters. As for the brothers who go, they can live spiritually among the Saracens and Unbelievers in two ways: One way is not to engage in arguments or disputes but to be subject to every human authority for God’s sake and to acknowledge that they are Christians. The other way is to announce the Word of God, when they see it pleases the Lord, in order that [Unbelievers] may believe in almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Creator of all, the Son, the Redeemer and Saviour, and be baptised and become Christians because no one can enter the kingdom of God without being reborn of water and the Holy Spirit. They can say to them and the others these and other things which please God because the Lord says in the Gospel: Whoever acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father. Wherever they may be, let all my brothers remember that they have given themselves and abandoned their bodies to the Lord Jesus Christ. For love of him, they must make themselves vulnerable to their enemies, both visible and invisible, because the Lord says: Whoever loses his life because of me will save it in eternal life. Blessed are they who suffer persecution for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they persecute you in one town, flee to another. Blessed are you when people hate you, speak ill of you, persecute, expel, and abuse you, denounce your name as evil and utter every kind of slander against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad on that day because your reward is great in heaven. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of them and do not fear those who kill the body and afterwards have nothing more to do. See that you are not alarmed. For by your patience, you will possess your souls; whoever perseveres to the end will be saved”.

24. The origin of the term Saracen goes back to the Greek Sarakēnós, probably derived from the Arabic sharqiyyin (Easterners). The ancient Romans used it to refer to the peoples inhabiting the eastward deserts beyond the Roman province of Syria. They were generally nomads and were distinct from the Arabs. But in the course of time the term came to be employed to designate the Arab peoples as such and later during the crusades, the word came to be indistinctly used by the western Christians to mark out the Moslem populations.

25. Giordano da Giano, Cronaca, 17-19, in Fonti francescane, 1536-1539.

26. Jacques de Vitry, Letter VI (1220), in Early Documents, I, 580-581.

27. The Passio of the five Martyrs of Morocco is given as Appendix, I, in Analecta Franciscana sive chronica aliaque varia documenta ad historiam Fratrum Minorum spectantia, III, edita a Patribus Collegii S. Bonaventurae, Ad Claras Aquas (Quaracchi) 1897, 579-616. It was Lady Sancha of Alanquer († 1229; beatified in 1705), second daughter King Sancho I of Portugal and Duke of Aragon, who got the friars to change their habit into secular dress in order to facilitate their entry into the Islamic territory.

28. Bullarium Franciscanum Romanorum Pontificum Constitutiones, epistolas, ac diplomata continens Tribus Ordinibus Minorum, Clarissarum, et Poenitentium, Studio et labore Joannis Hyacinthi Sbaraleae, I, Romae 1759, 26, No XXV “:... ob multorum salutem provido usos consilio interdum mutatis habitum, barbam nutritis, et comam;... urgens necessitas vos compellit caritative recipere, sed parce denarios, et expendere, tantum-modo propter cibum et vestes”.

29. Jacques de Vitry, Historia Occidentalis (c.1221/25), 12-13, in Early Documents, I, 584.

30. Francis of Assisi, Testament, 25, in Earlier Documents, I, 126.

31. In his Major Legend of Saint Francis, VI, 5, Bonaventure writes: “When the Lord of Ostia, the chief protector and promoter of the Order of Lesser Brothers, asked him whether he would allow his brothers to be promoted to ecclesiastical offices, he responded: ‘My Lord, my brothers are called lesser precisely so they will not presume to become greater. If you want them to bear fruit in the Church of God, keep them and preserve them in the status in which they were called, and do not permit them to rise to ecclesiastical prelacies”. See Early Documents, II, 572-573.

32. Roger of Wendover, Cronaca (Flores Historiarum), 10, in Fonti francescane, 2291.

33. Marinus a Neukirchen, Notae Constitutionum generalium primi Ordinis Seraphici series chronologica, in Collectanea Franciscana 12 (1942) 377-396, gives a complete list of the various Constitutions.

34. Constitutiones generales capituli perpiniani 1331, in Archivum Franciscanum His-toricum 2 (1909) 596: “… per apostasiam, schisma vel haeresim a christiani confessione nominis recedentes, inter Saracenos habitant, absolvere ac reconciliare per gratiam poenitentiae salutaris, si ad obedientiam Ecclesiae Romane in humilitatis spiritu duxerint redeundum”. Here the expression “in humilitatis spiritu” refers not to the evangelisers but to the separated faithful.

35. Bullarium Franciscanum, VI, 38: “Ante vero quam huiusmodi testimonium perhibeat, fratres mittendos de fide et doctrina, quam sequuntur vel hactenus secuti sunt, idem minister provincialis examinet diligenter: et nihilominus fratrum discretorum huiusmodi fratrum notitiam habentium requirat testimoniam et consilium; ac illi fidele testimonium et consilium dare per eandem obedientiam teneantur, ita quod nullus de aliquo errore vel de superstitiosa doctrina vel de mala conversatione suspectus ad partes huiusmodi destinetur”.

36. Chronologia historico-legalis Seraphici Ordinis Fratrum Minorum Sancti Patris Fran-cisci, I, Neapoli 1650, 206.

37. Chronologia historico-legalis Seraphici Ordinis Fratrum Minorum Sancti Patris Fran-cisci, I, Neapoli 1650, 110.

38. Chronologia historico-legalis Seraphici Ordinis, 666-673.

39. For the text of the Capuchin Constitutions till 1925, see Constitutiones Ordinis Fratrum Minorum Capuccinorum saeculorum decursu promulgatae, I: Constitutiones antiquae (1529-1643), II: Recentiores (1909-1925) (Editio anastatica), Romae 1980-1986.

40. V. Criscuolo, Le Ordinazioni di Albacina (1529), in I Cappuccini. Fonti documentarie e narrative del primo secolo (1525-1619), a cura di V. Criscuolo, Roma 1994, 140.

41. The appellative “Hagarins” goes back to the children of Hagar by Abra-ham (Gen chapters 16 and 21); the Jewish population referred to the Arabs as Hagarins.

42. In the present context one can also mention Art. 89 of The Rule, the General Constitutions, the General Statutes of the Order of Friars Minor, Rome 2010, which speaks ex-plicitly of Francis’ Methods of evangelisation.

43.The singling out of Francis of Assisi and Charles de Foucauld as “illustri-ous missionaries” is also significant, given the fact that the Church holds St Francis Xavier and St Teresa of the Child Jesus as the two patrons of missions. Presenting today Francis of Assisi and Charles de Foucauld as “illustrious missionaries” points to the Church’s new understanding of evangelisation.

44. Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, The official teaching of the Catholic Church (1963-1995), ed. F. Gioia, Boston 1997, 571. The Italian Episcopal Conference too underscores the relevance of Francis of Assisi’s Earlier Rule, 12, for evangelisation in today’s world.

45. Fur further reading: Hoeberichts J., Francis and Islam, Quincy 1997; Iammarrone G., Principi e contenuti fondamentali della teologia della missione cristiana e francescana, in Miscellanea Francescana 106-107 (2006-2007) 359-387; Lehmann L, Franziskanische Mission als Friedensmission, in Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft und Religionswissenschaft 3-4 (2008) 238-271; Merlo G.G., In the name of Saint Francis: history of the Friars Minor and Franciscanism until the early sixteenth century, Saint Bonaventure 2009; Nimmo D., Reform and division in the Medieval Franciscan Order. From Saint Francis to the foundation of the Capuchins (Bibliotheca Seraphico-Capuccina, 33), Rome 21995; Rifles-sioni sulle Costituzioni dei frati minori Cappuccini, I, a cura di C. Rizzati, Roma 1990; Vadakkekara B., Lo spirito di minorità nella vita missionaria francescana: dalla RnB, XVI (1221) alle Costituzioni cappuccine, XII (1638), in Minores et subditi omnibus. Tratti caratterizzanti dell’identità francescana. Atti del Convegno, Roma, 26-27 Novembre 2002, a cura di L. Padovese, Roma 2003, 255-272.