ABOUT CONSTITUTIONS. . . We have no original manuscript of the Constitutions. We only have a very early copy. The Constitutions is no more than an extended outline. It was never approved nor promulgated, hence, it was never binding. In all probability, it is a reworked translation of a previous Latin outline by Fra Battista, the so-called “Primitive Constitutions.” It was a basic text worked on by the first Fathers toward a definitive text.
The available text consists of 19 chapters, but a close scrutiny points to several layers of composition. There is a conclusion at the end of Chapter 16; another one at the end of Chapter 18; and a third one at the end of Chapter 19. This is evidence that the text went through several writings and underwent multiple reworking.
A letter of Father Nicolò D’ Aviano, dated October 10, 1570 (even as the definitive Constitutions of 1579 were being redacted), informs us that three chapters of the Constitutions were without a doubt authored by Anthony Mary himself. They are Chapter 12: “Formation of Novices”; Chapter 17: “Signs of Deteriorating 17 Religious Life”; and Chapter 19: “Qualities of a Reformer.” In addition, Anthony Mary’s hand can be recognized, more or less, throughout the entire document.
The Constitutions is a document of laws. Hence, its literary genre is juridical. However, in Anthony Mary’s additions, the peremptory style turns exhortatory. We may even state that this change of style helps to locate Anthony Mary’s interpolations in the original text of Battista da Crema.
Index of the Constitutions
- Chapter I - On Church Functions
- Chapter II - The Three Vows: Obedience
- Chapter III - Chastity
- Chapter IV - Poverty
- Chapter V - On Food and Fasting
- Chapter VI - On the Care of the Sick
- Chapter VII - On Travel and Hospitality
- Chapter VIII - On Studies
- Chapter IX - On Community’s Spiritual Meetings
- Chapter X - On Prayer
- Chapter XI - On Accepting Candidates
- Chapter XII - On the Formation of Novices
- Chapter XIII - On Manifesting One’s Faults
- Chapter XIV - On Punishment and on the Correction of Discreets
- Chapter XV - On Electing Community Officeholders
- Chapter XVI - On Amending the Constitutions
- Chapter XVII - On the Signs of Decadence of the Religious Life
Chapter XVIII -Qualities of a Reformer of Religious Life and the Collaborators He Should Choose or, When He Is Unable to Find Any, How to Make New Ones
- Chapter XIX - On the Visitors
In the name of God we begin the Constitutions
of the Sons of St. Paul the Apostle,
along with additions corresponding to their Rules.
C O N S T I T U T I O N S
We want none of our brothers to be bound under penalty of either mortal or venial sin for transgressing anything contained in the following statements with reference to natural or canon law, except the one who does not keep the three vows and the commandments of God. Likewise, let no penalty be imposed on anyone but on those for whom it may be prescribed.
All year round Matins is to be recited at daybreak, followed by Prime. After Terce, Mass is to be celebrated. When Mass is over, Sext is to be said along with None in winter, but in summer None is to be postponed until after lunch. Vespers and Compline are to be said in the evening. All the Hours are to be recited slowly and accurately, without chanting and without organ, but (as far as possible) with total devotion.
No more than two or three Masses are to be celebrated besides the community Mass, at which those who were given permission may receive communion—though sometimes in case of necessity they may also be allowed to receive at one of the other Masses. Let anyone according to his disposition go to communion at least every Sunday1 and on Holy Days of Obligation. Likewise, confession is not to be put off for over a week; however, it may be made more often.
There should be only one bell, a small one but such that it may be heard all over the house. It should be rung at every Hour in the morning as well as at Vespers, two strokes each time, with the second one lasting only for as long as necessary for one to arrive on time from the farthest place of the house.
Our chapels are to be humble and poor: no sculptures, no carpets, and no silken drapes. There may be paintings, but not sophisticated ones; indeed, only those that may truly inspire devotion. Our chapels may have a bell tower, but it should be simple, and should not be higher than six feet above the roof.
No brother should accept a stipend for Mass or for any other religious service from anyone. Even without payment, but solely for God’s love, the brothers ought to pray for the dead or for anyone who may be in need materially or spiritually. For no reason should they accept alms to make a commitment to the aforesaid services, lest by chance they should begin an illicit bargaining, and this with the blood of Christ. Furthermore, should miracles happen sometimes in some of our houses, and because of these miracles alms are offered, we want that these alms be totally controlled by lay people charged with the task. They should not use them for sculptures, paintings, vestments, or any other unusual embellishment; rather, they should distribute them to Christ’s poor.
All the Hours and the Mass should be celebrated according to the Roman rite, and in order to accommodate our brothers rather than favor the laziness of lay people.
No one should attend the celebration of the Office of other communities, or participate in their processions, unless he is obliged by his spiritual and temporal Superiors. In such case, he should attend without vestments and follow under their cross and banner.
For no reason whatsoever has the Superior the right to bind anyone under penalty of grave sin without his Discreet’s consent and—even in this case—most rarely. It is a very bad sign to have to apply such measure. It would perhaps be a lesser evil to expel disobedient religious from the Congregation than to bind them with the precept of obedience.
Obedience must be voluntary, not forced. Indeed, religious should always be ready and well disposed to obey the desires of the Superior (even though they fear he might impose on them some kind of burden) rather than wait for a formal order.
Let anyone be instantly expelled from the Congregation if he is caught one time, I do not mean actually doing something indecent with words or writings or gestures or actions, but even simply suggesting that he intentionally considered any such matters.
Not only that, if anyone is found to be reluctant to progress in the virtue of chastity (by avoiding anything contrary to it) so that his body and mind—as far as he can—may not be stained by such things, he is to be sent away without hesitation.
Take care, though, to use prudence in this matter, lest you should expel someone whose soul is simply put to the test by the devil or by divine permission. You can be sure that such is the case when you see that he willingly refrains his tongue and shuns levity and idleness, and practices profound humility, and—as far as he can—joyfully desires true wholeness of body and soul. When, on the contrary, such signs are not present, there will be much to fear for his willful negligence.
Neither possessions nor annual revenues from money, clothes, provisions, or any other sort of things may be accepted for any reason whatsoever. Furthermore, were all such things left to us, directly or indirectly, in a will, they should not be sold, and not even the least profit be accepted from either the property or its interest—even if they were given freely and voluntarily—but everything should be left to their heirs or to whomever they want.
Our houses must be so poor as to be truly called huts rather than houses. They should not have any sculpture, or color except white. To defend ourselves from cold weather or humidity we may use mats and planks, but coarse ones, and not refined with fancy design or ornament. We may possess a vegetable garden, but not lands or fields or woods. Thus, if any wealthy persons or noblemen would like to build splendid houses and chapels for our brothers, we must never allow them, nor accept their offer. Let them live in their sumptuous mansions and give those things to whomever they please. It is already a shame for us to have houses, how much more to have mansions!
Only one should be in charge of the money. He must see to it that all the money be used within a month for the needs of the community or for almsgiving. If he fails to do so, the first time, he should fast on bread and water for three days; the second time, he is to be deprived of Holy Communion for a whole year, except on Easter, and should be separated from the rest of the brothers not only in all community undertakings but also in the community prayer and recreation. And for the entire year, once a week, he should fast on bread and water. Finally, if for the third time he commits the same fault, consider him as a proprietor and cast him out of the Congregation.
Supplies of wine and other provisions are not to be permitted for more than a month, nor are they to be renewed except two days before they are consumed. No one is permitted for any need whatsoever to borrow money or provisions, or to buy anything on credit, except perhaps to supply for the needs of a sick brother.
Our brothers are allowed to go door to door to collect alms, but for no more than a day’s need. And this in order that they may understand that such is poverty: having little and being content with simple and few things.
Our brothers must preserve and take care of the things that belong to the community—certainly not doing this out of greed but out of reverence, for they are, as it were, consecrated to the Lord—indeed to the point that anyone who by negligence causes some of these things, even the smallest, to break or rot, to deteriorate or get lost, may be almost considered committing a sacrilege.
In giving or lending to others, be generous and joyful.2 Never enter into dispute or argument with anyone on account of something that belongs to the monastery; rather, let him have it.
The furniture of the house should be so few and unpolished so as to look inferior to those owned by peasants. Our clothes may be made of wool, but one of low quality. Besides, our clothes must be tailored in such a way that any brother can wear them. It may be permitted to use animal hides, but not those of wild animals. Bed linen must be made of wool not flax. Likewise, no one, for any reason whatsoever, should use linen garments.
Let there be no discrimination in distributing food and clothing as far as possible, and let it be according to circumstances.
Happy indeed shall we be, as long as our hearts are so firmly set in the desire for poverty as to wish not to be among those poor who have superfluous things but to be among those who lack even the necessary ones. And if some religious happen to complain about poverty, and would like the community to possess more, you will do well not to listen to them; rather, consider them as enemies of the poverty of Christ who willed to be deprived of nearly all the necessities of life.
Our brothers who enjoy good health are not allowed to eat meat, except on certain feasts or solemnities: Christmas and the two following days; Easter and Pentecost and the two days following each solemnity respectively; the Assumption and the Nativity of Our Lady; the Birth of St. John the Baptist; the Conversion and Death of St. Paul; and All Saints Day. On these days they may be allowed to eat meat, mostly to avoid pride and ambition, but this meat should only be boiled, and of one and small quantity. No one in our houses is to be permitted to keep malmsey, vernaccia, and other sweet wines, or to accept them from other people, except perhaps for the sick, when the doctor prescribes them as medicine.
Let no one accept, for whatever reason, things we do not use. For those we use, even though they were given to particular persons, they have to be distributed to all so that everyone can benefit from them. At table, let no one in any way offer some of his food to others except maybe to those who sit beside him. Where we have our own houses, no one is allowed to eat elsewhere unless he is strongly requested by a bishop or a civil authority to dine with him.
Fasting is to be observed and continued from All Saints Day to Easter. If anyone wishes to drink in the evening, let him have some bread also to avoid stomach weakness, but not during Lent or Advent, or on appointed Vigils. At such times, instead of bread, he may have some fruit. During the rest of the year we are to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, unless there are vigils during the week, in which case fasting on Wednesdays—particularly in summer—can be omitted.
Let everyone avoid, in every place, time, and age, eating anything— no matter how insignificant and how small its quantity—for the simple reason that it tastes good and delicious, for this is, as you know, is gluttony. And you can be sure that, if one becomes its slave, one will never make progress in the way of God; indeed, he will always be subjected to all the other passions as well.
Therefore, if you have not reached this degree, namely, of not taking delight in eating, at least, by all means, stop eating only for pleasure. Be always aware, though, that sometimes under the guise of necessity is hidden the poison of sensuality. Anyone who is able to control gluttony through temperance and overcome pride will unmistakably make progress. Because we eat and drink, we ought to consider ourselves unworthy of conversing with angels and many saintly people who are still with us. By the same token we should recognize that we are like animals whose only happiness is bodily pleasure.
Besides the usual daily meals in common—dinner and supper, and no more than these two meals— no one, except the sick whose appetite may need to be whetted, is allowed to snack, either occasionally or habitually, either with cheap or exquisite foods. This we do in order to restrain gluttony and to allow ourselves only what is necessary. Care is to be taken not to prepare food on a specific day more exquisitely or in greater quantity than on another day. According to the liturgical season, our brothers may be permitted to use as condiments butter, cheese or any kind of fat, oil, eggs, and small fish.
Take great care of the sick and diligently look after them. Indeed, in this matter of caring for the sick, the Superior should not be found negligent. And so, when he is in the house and is not sick himself, he is bound to personally visit everyday those who are in bed and are sick and, to the best of his ability, to comfort them and cheer them up with words and deeds.
Attend to them day and night, according to the gravity of their illness.
The sick may eat meat, but only when they do not have any appetite, or when some food do not agree with their stomachs or do not give them proper nourishment. When, at last, they recover their normal way of eating, stop giving them meat at all.
Nevertheless, if someone is sick but still has a fairly good appetite and a stomach which can handle ordinary food either by its own strength or by the help of the medicines prescribed by the doctor, he should not eat meat.
Our brothers are to sleep on straw or wool mattresses. However, the sick, when their illness requires it, may be allowed to use bedding made of wool or linen, as long as they are of simple, homespun quality. Our brothers may be permitted to go to public baths, but we should pay for it, not our relatives and friends.
Now, if anyone, on account of his weak body, finds that he is unable to observe the aforesaid rules, let him at least, first, abstain from things he can surely control: from grumbling, from anger and pride, from contempt, and from other things which do not demand bodily strength; then, he can practice spiritual works such as humbling oneself, having compassion toward others, meditating, teaching, and other similar things which require no great physical effort.
The brothers who are commissioned by obedience to travel are permitted to eat meals outside, but no more than two meals, and to eat any kind of food, but always according to the liturgical season.
Let no one deceive himself by saying that he cannot walk. But if he really cannot, he should not ride a steed or a handsome mule but any animal suitable for the purpose.
Our brothers are not to wear any gloves or boots at all; rather, in other people’s houses as in ours, they are to wear slippers. On arriving to their destination, they are to visit our church, or the parish church, to give thanks to God.
Before setting out on a journey, they have to recite the “Benedictus” with the antiphon and the prayer for travelers. Brothers, during your trip or elsewhere, avoid any distraction and curiosity, for if there is anyone that the devil usually overcomes, it is those who are distracted.
When traveling, you have to go at least by twos or threes, in order that you may be able to help one another either in your spiritual or material needs. To this end, you have to ask for your companions, and not choose them yourselves, so that you may not be ashamed or, for any reason, fearful to report any faults committed by your companions.
No one should go out of the house for any unnecessary reason, or (simply) just to go for a walk, but only for some urgent necessity. Everyone in the house or outside should take care to be recollected in the cell of his heart and strive not to leave it.
Receive the guests—be they of our community or your own, or of others—and assist them lovingly and joyfully. Treat them as you would your own confreres. But when, according to our Constitutions, we fast, at suppertime you shall serve the guests what they need, but always in accordance to our poverty and our customs. If they are not satisfied with what you serve and they complain about it, and they try to bring their own food, on no account should you allow them unless they are sick. In this case, you should provide for them as you would provide for our own sick brothers. But then again, if they are not satisfied with such provision, send them away kindly, for we cannot allow them to turn our houses into restaurants. After all, we have given them what is necessary.
Moreover, be firmly convinced that to overdo our customary hospitality in order to please our guests is to give in to gluttony—a vice that is inevitably associated with many other wrong things that we abhor and dislike, both in others and in ourselves.
Our brothers shall not be permitted to read books written by heretics and schismatics; nor shall they be allowed to study the so-called liberal arts and any empty, useless, and wordy poetry and philosophy. They shall study Sacred Scripture and relish it so avidly as to come to understand it fully, thus reaching its hidden senses, especially those which provide moral edification. Besides Sacred Scripture, they may read any Doctor approved by the Church and the books of the Church Fathers, provided that their writings do not disagree with the teachings of Sacred Scripture and the Doctors of the Church. But in a very special way let them find greater delight in reading those books which deal with the formation of good habits, the perfection of Christian life, and the true imitation of Christ, as, for example (according to what St. Benedict suggests in his Rule3): the Collationes by John Cassian; the Lives of the Church Fathers, especially those written by St. Jerome; John Climacus; Abbot Isaac of Syria; The Mirror of Perfection; The Mirror of the Cross ; On the Cantica of Blessed Bartholomew [of Breganze] O.P.; St. Bonaventure; The Letters and The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena; the books of our Father Fra Battista da Crema, and other books of that nature which, if they are well understood and put into practice, will surely lead us to perfection.
You should know that it is better to read a little and chew it over than to rush through reading too many subjects and authors, for this leads more to feeding our curiosity than to serious study. Therefore, we exhort and want everyone (insofar as one can) to delight in and work hard at acquiring that which may teach him how to write his own books (even though he may know just the first elements of literature) rather than gain a superficial knowledge in other people’s books. You will do that through a genuine imitation of Jesus Crucified, a total victory over yourselves, and a complete control over your own passions. Thus, you will gather such a great knowledge as to be able to win over the very philosophers. Certainly, even with no help from other people’s books, some, thanks to their native intelligence and other God-given qualities, have written books.
At table, you shall read some of the aforementioned books. Then, according to time and circumstances you can also read and explain to the brothers some books on good conduct or even on canon law.
No one, cleric or lay brother, shall absent himself from the community’s spiritual meeting which is to be done every day for at least an hour. Gathered together, you shall confer on how to root out vices, on how to acquire true and real—not imaginary—virtues, on the help and providence of God, and of the angels, on the snares of the devil, on the perfection of [Christian and religious] life, and on the height of virtue. You shall likewise talk over the causes and the occasions that bring about the decline of good habits and the origin of bad habits, and which signs precede them; and again which good effects are caused by good inclinations, and which evil effects may accidentally derive from them; which evil effects are caused by bad inclinations, and which good effect flow from them; which are the causes of spiritual fervor and lukewarmness, and their respective characteristics and main manifestations; and which are the causes of compunction, and of the barrenness of the mind, with its stability and instability. Thus, following this method, you will be able to, and you must, deal with many things. By carefully determining and defining them, you will derive great profit. Sometimes (whenever there arises a need for it), you can also take up as points for reflection the development of Christendom, the morals of our society, and anything directly concerned with the glory of Christ.
In these spiritual meetings, definitely shun all manner of subtle discussions. Do not consider morals in generalities, but in concrete details. Do not discuss your topics academically as at the University of Paris, that is, purely in the abstract, but according to the oratorical method of the Church Fathers, with exhortation and persuasion, and always avoid overrefined words and fastidious style.
Do not be at all argumentative. And when you deem it fit, you will listen to what some of our untutored and simple brothers have to say, being careful not to make fun of them if they express themselves poorly, and not to the point; rather, we have to have compassion on them, and see ourselves in them, since what we have is not ours.
Any conclusions arrived at by the senior brothers—senior not so much because of their age but because of their praiseworthy life—shall be transcribed in a special book. If you deem it advisable, you may go over the same subject two or three times until it is well understood. After some time (if this seems useful to you) you can reread what had previously been written down and, if opportunity allows, you may add something to it.
Let it then be known to you, brothers, that by omitting these spiritual meetings, your spiritual life will suffer badly; on the contrary, if you continue to do them with great love and eagerness—and not just out of habit—you will make progress in everything.
For anyone seriously concerned about becoming proficient in the spiritual life, mental prayer is a must. You can, in fact, affirm without any shadow of a doubt that no one will ever make any progress if he does not dedicate himself to and delight in it, no matter how many psalms and other prayers he may mechanically recite all day long. You must know, brothers, that mental prayer is the food and nourishment of those progressing on the way to perfection. Therefore, if you do not feed your spirit with it, you are inevitably going to fail on the way.
Vocal prayer alone, especially if it does not lead us to mental prayer or does not partake of the latter, only makes us feel good superficially and is only a counterfeit of true prayer and true spiritual food. And you can understand this by observing that, when you neglect mental prayer, you remain the very ones you were before, namely, shallow in your conversation, negligent in your work, and imperfect in everything.
Therefore, let everyone endeavor, with tight lips, to pray mentally to God, and present Him one’s thoughts as a friend to a friend. Take note that exterior or vocal prayer has been devised in order that we, inspired by its taste and meaningfulness, may at last begin to learn interior prayer.
In your prayer, ask God for what you need and for what you would like to have more abundantly; for what He judges to be more useful to your dear friends and to the universal Church.
And in order that God may more easily hear your prayer, offer to Him the precious Blood of Christ and the merits of all the saints, and indeed the very love He has for humankind.
By so doing, you will finally be able to reach that state of prayer which has its origin in intention, devotion, and experience. This is the state of prayer which consists in always giving thanks to God.
When you have reached this point, you will know that your petitions have been granted even before making them. You will know that you have received more than what you have asked for. You will know that your prayers are always heard.
Certainly, brothers, there is a reason to wonder when someone among you would say: “I do not know how to pray mentally.” Do you want to learn how? Refrain your tongue from superfluous talks or even from necessary ones, and then you will begin to talk to with God as you talk with a friend.
Or perhaps someone else would say: “I feel no delight at the beginning of my mental prayer.” My answer is: Make sure to nourish your mind with thoughts of compunction as, for example, thoughts on the Passion of Christ, or on the sorrows of Mary, or on other similar things. But if even in this way you do not succeed in obtaining remorseful thoughts, persist in prayer and do not turn away from it even with just the intention of your spirit. Sooner or later, you will obtain what you desire, on condition, though, that you always humble yourselves and recognize yourselves unworthy of such a state.
Or you would say: “We would like to receive what we have asked for.” And I reply: Believe so, and you will receive that and greater things besides. And never stop asking, for no one will ever obtain what he wants if he does not persist. Furthermore, do you want your petitions to be granted? Conform yourselves to them. For instance, do you wish to have compunction? Cherish recollection. Do you wish to have humility? Embrace humiliation willingly, take delight in being mocked, and rejoice in inferior things. Do you wish to have patience? Desire tribulation and suffering, for where there is no tribulation and suffering, there can be no patience.
You would ask: "What should the mind ponder upon during prayer?" I would answer: on the admirable distinction of created things and their diverse beauty, on God’s infinite providence, on the sweet Passion of Christ; and on a thousand other things which are there, challenging the minds of those who are willing to consider them.
Mark this well, though, brothers, if you want to acquire easily the habit of praying mentally, read pious subjects and think of them; find delight in pondering continuously over holy matters.
Then, if you wish to understand why some of you are unable to carry the burden of religious life without the aforementioned fourfold prayer—the soul’s spiritual nourishment—look at those who neglect mental prayer. You will see how easily they fail in their duties and are full of defects. Therefore, we want, and we establish, that for at least two hours, between morning and night, we dedicate ourselves to prayer, without getting involved in any other activity. Besides those hours, we earnestly beg you to have your minds constantly concentrated on God, entertaining positive thoughts as you eat or do something else.4 You might ask: “How can the mind and the hand simultaneously do different things?” And I answer you: Do you wish to understand this? I do not say, “Look at it,” but, “touch it with your hands.” When you were in the world, even while eating or working, your minds were at times thinking of how to make some material gain, or how to take revenge, or thinking of some friends, or of something else. Well then, you have no other alternative but to do out of ingenuity and good will what you at other times used to do out of habit or negligence.
Before accepting into the Congregation those you think worthy, read to them or, should they be unlettered, explain to them, at least three times, our Rule and these present Constitutions.
But we strongly advise you and want you in no way to accept anyone but those who may be helpful to themselves and to others. Therefore, if there come some who are not endowed with great intelligence but have enough goodwill, and they ask to be accepted, by all means accept them; but do not admit them yet into full community life or into the community chapters. If, instead, they are intelligent but lack a very large dose of goodwill, do not accept them by any means. In fact, if they are good, they will make great progress; if they are bad, they will bring others or themselves to ruin.
You will certainly see, brothers, that what causes grumbling, lukewarmness, and divisions in communities or Congregations is none other than the lack of spiritual light in those of little intelligence, and the lack of spiritual fire in those of great intelligence. Scrutinize, therefore, the nature of both categories of candidates and understand it very well: whether they are “without light” or “without fire.” You will be able to discover this if you consider for a long time, not only for a day, what I am now going to say. It is better for you to accept few but disposed than many but indisposed. However, never judge indisposition by physical appearance or status but by inner motives. For this reason, you may also accept those who are weak or sick or old, or even peasants and other sort of people (except women), provided that they are full of spiritual light and fire.
See to it that those whom you want to accept take care first of their possessions, either by testament or by previous divisions and distributions, without leaving or giving anything to the monastery.
You must be quite wary. If someone who has outstanding debts, or is undergoing a punishment for some wrongdoing, would like to join our community, he ought to tell the whole truth in all sincerity. And if you ascertain that he has not revealed in all simplicity the above mentioned matters by no means admit him to the Profession. He can be admitted only after two years have elapsed since he revealed his lie, and only after he made due reparations for his offenses, and only after you have seen a sure proof that he has matured and gotten rid of his habit of lying and of his other bad tendencies. But if his lie is discovered after his Profession, we want not only the Congregation to be free from any obligation of paying his debts but also that he be dismissed without exception or delay from the Congregation.
But be prudent, brothers. Also those who seem well qualified and are desirous of being admitted must be examined and tested, to see if they are only a flash in the pan, or if they are altogether pretentious. They must be tested with all sorts of hardships and true humiliations, sometimes even telling them that they will not be accepted. And with these and other tests scrutinize them for a long period of time, just as the philosophers or the early Church Fathers did.
Thus, if you hear them complain, or see them becoming lukewarm and impatient, do not admit them. But even (in the case of) those you judge worthy to be admitted, or to make their profession, we do not want the Congregation to be under any obligation towards them—even after they have professed—should they deserve to be dismissed.
Let none of you, brothers, make his profession before the year of probation, nor before he is twenty-five years old. And should one’s profession be postponed, let him not tacitly consider himself already a professed religious, nor think he is bound to the Congregation except after his canonical and public profession, which is to be made with this clause, namely: that if he were dismissed from the Congregation, or ran away from it, he would not take advantage of, and indeed renounce, our religious privileges; and that he would not want the Congregation to be in any way obligated to him, but rather that he be simply left under the jurisdiction of the Ordinary.
You know very well, brothers, that the spiritual growth or spiritual decline of Religious Orders depends on the good or bad formation and training of novices. Therefore, we establish and order you to train all novices, wherever they may come from, in only one place and under only one Master.
You may ask: “Why such a directive?” I answer: because different disciples instructed by different Masters might walk different and diverse paths of the spiritual life. And on account of such different formation, they might be unable to get along easily, to the point of having an unjust opinion of each other by the fact that one does not walk the way of the other. Hence, the result would be dissensions and divisions among them. Another reason for this directive is that there are very few people—rare indeed—so perfect as to lead others to the fullness of perfection. If the Master, then, needs some help, he is allowed—according to necessity and availability—to choose one or more companions under him and who are ready to follow his standards.
In order that the Master may be able to form the novices well, you must choose one who possesses the following qualities: he is to be a man of blameless and irreproachable life, full of common sense, well experienced in diabolic deceits and warfare, knowledgeable in all the subtle aspects of vices and virtues—in short, a man truly holy and gifted with many natural abilities. Such a Master will certainly mold his disciples into his own likeness. Do not believe that he would be able to help his disciples practice patience if he himself is ruled by anger, or humility if he is somehow vainglorious, or temperance or love for silence or any other virtue if he himself lacks them. For how can you expect someone to do something beyond his strength? Thus, if you see a good disciple come out of the hands of a bad Master, tell such Master not to pride himself on his disciple’s perfection; for it was not his ability but the power of the Holy Spirit that contributed to his disciple’s self-surrender to God.
The Master, therefore, of such perfection we have described above shall instruct the novices on the following subjects:
First (besides what has already been said and is yet going to be said about the three vows), the Master is to teach the novices how to break their will to the extent that it makes them sad if they follow their own will or happy if they do the will of others, provided that it is not explicitly evil. He is also to teach them how to please others at all times—even to their own displeasure—and to give up their own opinion about anything and everything, never presuming to use or simply utter these words: “This I want; this I do not want,” but rather, “I want what you want; I do not want what you do not want.” He is to convince the novices that if they ask God to break their will, and in this they persevere, He—I say—will certainly grant it, provided also that they act according to it.
He is to teach them to appreciate the lily of chastity so much as to think to commit spiritual adultery when they find themselves placing or having their love elsewhere: in things, in people, or even in themselves; for God is a jealous God who forbids loving anyone or anything outside of Himself.
He is to teach them to so greatly desire poverty that they would avoid saying anything like: “This is mine,” or keeping anything (how insignificant it may be) for themselves. He is to teach them to desire poverty so much that they would long to be deprived of even the most necessary things, knowing that, under the pretext of necessity, the tentacles of superfluity are expanded; for while nature is happy with little, greed is never satisfied in superabundance.
He is to teach the novices to take delight in mental prayer or meditation, the one we have mentioned above, exhorting them that they will never make any progress if they do not arrive at taking the utmost delight in this kind of prayer. Because how can one totally eliminate all other delights if such prayer do not fill his soul with new delight? He is to teach them also never to entertain fantasies and imaginations during prayer, and to never abandon prayer should they feel no fervor; on the contrary, when fervor comes upon them, they should renounce it, and consider themselves unworthy of it. He is to remind them to apply their minds to the meaning of the psalm rather than to its words.
He is to teach them to pray with fervor because the devil is always ready to besmirch drowsy prayers just as flies do with cold food; and such prayers are certainly displeasing to God. He is to exhort them to enter into God’s presence when they travel or do something else, always striving to purify their minds of any stain. He is to teach them to always persevere in prayer even if their prayers are not answered immediately, for they must know that as persevering and importunate people obtain what they ask for, so the lukewarm and the sluggish are certain to be granted nothing.
In these and so many other ways the Master is to lead the novices to the knowledge and familiarity with God.
He is to make them understand that humility, the mother and guardian of all virtues, will never abide in their hearts so long as they—after a long while, and with great love and keen desire—do not come to delight in persecutions, in mockery and humiliation. For as a matter of fact, anyone who tries to shun them will certainly remain lukewarm. Let them keep in mind, therefore, that there can be no humility without reproaches and mockery, and anyone who feels ashamed of them or who feels ashamed of associating with poor brothers, or of dressing poorly and living in humble dwellings, may as well abandon all hope of being able to achieve perfection as long as such shameful feeling lasts in him. Do you wish to flee from shame? Look for it, hold it, and embrace it firmly. And then it will flee from you, leaving you crowned and victorious.
Second, let the Master teach the novices how to make their confessions. First of all, they should avoid confessing mechanically or out of mere routine. And then, they should not tell the sins of other people since they will not have to make penance in their stead. They should not excuse their faults, but rather put greater emphasis on them, for they were indeed the cause of Christ’s death. Let the Master also teach the novices that by merely telling their sins, their sins will not be forgiven. They should also resolve never to commit these sins again and intend to do penance for them as much as they can. Let him tell them to confess everything they can remember, and then, after getting rid in earnest of their past faults, strive to avoid any future ones. Let him teach them that, once confession is made, they are not to give in to scruples, but at their Master’s assurance entrust themselves to him and believe in him firmly and completely. For they must know for certain that their holding on to scruples is due to their great pride which makes them believe in themselves and not in others. They should then be aware that because of their scruples they will either never gain perfection or, after a while, freed from their scruples and remorseful conscience, commit freely all the sins they want. Let the Master also teach the novices to confess modestly, feeling truly shameful in their hearts and before God, but totally unconcerned with outward shame. He must warn them, therefore, that in order to receive the absolution of all their sins, they have to avoid hiding any of them out of shame, reminding them that if a person shows the physician all his deadly wounds but one, he will die just because of that one. Let him teach them that mere confession of one’s sins is like the work of a farmer who prunes and cuts off the shoots and branches of a tree. (After all, he always has plenty to prune and cut). Instead, by plucking up its roots, the farmer will someday stop pruning, and with little effort will get the fruit of the soil free of briers. Thus, the penitents must insist in extirpating the roots of their vices. For instance: pride, the root of all sins,5 is uprooted by the profound humility of a person who thirsts for insults and hungers for contempt; the vice of gluttony is rooted out by that voluntary poverty which can hardly procure the common necessaries of life. It is absolutely the same with all the other vices. Therefore, the more you get rid of the causes and roots of sin—plucking them up and destroying them completely—the less you will suffer the thorns of your sins, and your consciences will not only be less soiled but also at peace (as far as this is possible here on earth), and you will harvest the fruit of a pure heart.
Third. The Master is to teach the novices to open their hearts to their Master without reservation, making it clear to them that anyone who mistrusts his Master is guilty of infidelity and of pride which makes him believe he is self-sufficient and is capable of self-direction. But mark this well, novices, that in no other way will you be more subtly deceived by the devil than by shutting your mouth. (For this reason, he is called the “devil mouth-shutter”). To this end the devil shows you some imperfections in your Masters so that you may not trust them nor manifest your consciences to them. And since you are still inexperienced in the spiritual warfare, he deceives you.
Again, the Master is to teach the novices never to judge anyone for whatever reason, for this would be to usurp God’s right.6 Let him show them that it is their own duty to consider everything as good, and since some things look bad, to interpret or consider them as good, or at least believe that they were done with good intentions. By acting differently, they would never attain simplicity nor would they be able to free their minds from fantasies. And so let him teach them that it is their duty, and it behooves them, not to believe in any way on what is evil (no matter who reports it) but, on the contrary, to believe on what is good. Thus, he is to assure them that by practicing the things mentioned above and those that will still be said in this book, they will become simple like doves and cunning like serpents.7
The Master is also to teach the novices to lay aside altogether all fear of anything —fear, I mean, that causes pain—and to keep in mind that the Lord, anytime He deems it expedient, may let them (whether they like it or not) be disturbed by various sufferings or by the devil himself, or by other bodily and spiritual tribulations. Let them therefore consider fear as unnecessary, for in their own strength they cannot overcome it. But even if they want and must fear someone, let the Master teach the novices to fear their greatest foe, which is close to them, that is, “their own self.” For who can harm us more, is it not ourselves? Therefore, let him make them understand—I repeat, make them understand and give them this as an unmistakable sign— that as long as they fear anything but themselves they have not yet achieved great perfection. For while they have such fear, they vainly think that, loaded down with many burdens, they can soar to the height of perfection.
About all these and other circumstances, dear novices, you have to consult your Master if you truly wish to leave the novitiate and begin to walk the way of your Masters.
Fourth. Let the Master teach the novices to grasp and appreciate the beauty of the interior man. Since man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God,8 the Master is to help them understand that the interior man has no lesser need of spiritual food than the exterior man has of natural food. Therefore, let everyone take heed: he who does not hunger for this spiritual food, indeed, he who does not anxiously seek it for his spiritual nourishment —seeking it, I say, in the reading of Sacred Scriptures, in the different exhortations, and in the community meetings—and who does not share it with others will then be accounted guilty of causing himself and others to die of hunger and misery. Again, let the Master teach them the beauty of the interior man, so that they may not think that they can enter the house of the Lord without the nuptial dress,9 that is, virtue in its fullness. Let him teach them also the vitality and frailty, the strength and weakness, the perfection and imperfection of the interior man, so that they may see whether they advance in perfection or lag behind.
Let him teach them how to know with whom to converse interiorly, making them aware that man’s enemies are often those of his own household,10 and that these are the ones who often counterfeit God’s voice. Let him teach them how to recognize on which thoughts they should stand firm, and what melodies the Holy Spirit plays within them. And, finally, let him teach them how to keep themselves recollected interiorly as well as exteriorly.
Fifth. The Master is to teach the novices not only how to keep their novitiate fervor but also how to increase it by reminding them that “not to go forward is to go backward,” and by warning them that one thing is exterior fervor and devotion, and quite another is interior fervor and true devotion. That is why they should know that God very often, for their own good, takes away this exterior fervor and devotion for various reasons, namely: that man may understand that this is not within his own power, it is God’s gift, and thus he must humble himself all the more; that man may learn how to grow interiorly and recognize sincerely that it is his own fault if he loses fervor and devotion; that man may learn to sympathize with those who seem to have no devotion; that man may learn to practice the virtue of discretion; that man may avoid distractions and anything that can cause them; that man may learn to understand whether in time of aridity he progresses less than in time of such exterior fervor or, rather, even without such fervor, he becomes all the more truly inflamed with divine fervor and experiences spiritual growth.
Hence, realize that, if someone loses fervor for being deprived of this exterior fervor, you cannot conclude that he never had true fervor, but simply that he is spiritually inconstant. And so be assured, novices, that if you apply yourselves to true devotion (which is a willing disposition toward the things of God) instead of seeking sensible sweetness, you will become once and for all so fervent as to be unable to limit yourselves in the things that are pleasing to God. Thus, adversities will not make you unhappy but glad, and you will set your minds so high that you will no longer care about earthly things. Learn, however, to look deeply into yourselves and see whether in time of aridity the seed of goodwill is still alive in you. If not, do not be afraid or fainthearted because of want of exterior compunction and (as they say) devotion, for God is with you more truly and more lovingly than with those who enjoy consolations of the heart.
Let it be clear to you, novices, that it is proper for persons with generous hearts to wish to serve without reward and to fight without remuneration and provisions for the journey. So, keep well in mind that, by so persevering, you will grow in spirit and fervor. These can only be increased through a renewed, firm, and constant commitment and a resolute assessment of one’s natural inclinations.
Sixth. Let the Master teach the novices to possess a true love and desire for total perfection. What would it profit them if they had many virtues but lack one? Indeed, what would it profit them if they possessed all virtues but do not care to reach their heights? Anyone who is in such spiritual state must acknowledge that he does not want to honor God as much as he possibly can. It is indeed a great shame for a servant of God to say: “It is enough for me to honor God thus far.” Climb up as high as you can, for you owe Him more than ever. Indeed, let none of the novices—or, for that matter, none of us brothers—ever think of having already made great progress, even though one may have such great desire for the aforementioned things, because the more we pay, the more we will remain indebted.
Indeed, you ought to keep in mind that the reason why we have to desire and seek the highest degree of perfection is not to become superior to others, but that we place ourselves under the feet of all. Many, by the very fact that they did not desire such perfection with great humility, while despising others for not following the same way, have themselves fallen into the bottom. Therefore, in the castle of perfection humility has to abide always, with its power for total self-abasement.
Seventh. Let the Master teach the novices to observe silence and other external observances (certainly according to what is consonant with religious life, and to the time and place where they are and the opportunities that they have) and to seriously consider the reasons why these observances have been established rather than make them the very purpose of their lives.
It is well known that there exist two kinds of faults.
One is something that we commit in the recesses of our hearts, or in secret places. For those guilty of this kind, what is the use of not showing things in the open when the Supreme Ruler to whom nothing is hidden does see them? This kind of fault is washed away through sacramental confession and a sincere contrition of the heart. But its root is plucked out by confessing it, definitely to those who know how to treat wounds with bistoury and ointment. Thus, let it be known to you, brothers, that anyone who does not manifest his spiritual illness either because he is ashamed or because he suspects that the doctors are incompetent or because he vainly hopes to confess it later on will, I tell you, inevitably fall again in the same fault and in other more serious and more visible ones.
The other kind of fault is one which is committed in the open where people see or hear it. You have to punish this kind of fault accordingly, taking into consideration the circumstances and the place where it was done, the scandal it has caused, and the other occurrences surrounding it. But by no means should you think or try to plan—as if you could—to lead anyone back to the practice of virtue by means of incarceration or bodily torture, because virtue presupposes man’s free will while the outward show of virtue makes one a hypocrite—a thing we abhor.
Hence, let anyone who sins openly likewise accuse himself openly and accept willingly the penance that will be imposed on him. Or rather, let him choose his own penance, so that any penance that will be imposed on him by others may appear lighter than what he thinks and judges he deserves. But if someone among you does not confess his fault and admit it openly, or rather he cunningly and deceitfully covers it up or hides it, warn him, and threat him with expulsion—which you will carry out according to our rules.
From all this you can conclude that it is expedient for those who are guilty of both kinds of faults to give a public account of their shortcomings, so that they may be mercifully and properly helped by the senior brothers.
Take note that once the Church Fathers, with great sighs and through voluntary imprisonment in jails with no doors and locks, healed those who confidently and very humbly recognized: “My fault does not deserve to be forgiven.” Others said: “Not only are we undeserving of forgiveness; you should actually cast us out of your presence.” Still others deplored their small failings more than those with big failings. And still others viewed themselves as partners of demons, and those who crucified Christ. Thus in these and so many other ways they chastised themselves, even depriving themselves with what was allowed.
These people did not speak like Cain11 or Antiochus,12 who said that their faults were greater than God’s mercy; rather, with so much honesty they spoke like Peter: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinner,”13 or like the Centurion: “Lord, I am not worthy, etc.”14 These people were righteous and sorrowful, but they were so weighed down by the burden of their sins that it urged them all the more toward the height of perfection.
Brothers, kindly and joyfully embrace these voluntary penitents, and urge them on in the Lord toward still better things, for their own good and the good of others.
Brothers, make sure that no jails or any form of torture exists in our houses, for we deem it superfluous to punish anyone among us who does not let himself be compelled by God’s love and the love of virtue, or by fear of divine or human judgment. Indeed, we have no intention of giving you laws of fear but only of pure love.
If then a brother does not amend himself after three warnings, at the fourth one, expel him definitely and permanently. With each of the three warnings, include the threat of expulsion. This practice is to be observed in regard to any fault or any willful negligence committed by someone who does not care to make progress.
All these matters are to be submitted to the judgment of the Discreets, who themselves will be judged before God and men as “indiscreet” and “destroyers of the religious life” if they allow its beauty to be stained by defects or grave negligence. The expulsion, in fact, is decreed not out of cruelty but out of great mercy, so that the offenders may not ruin the others with their poisonous influence. Keep this also in mind that we would certainly be considered quite presumptuous if we believe that those who are expelled cannot be saved outside the Congregation or will, in all probability, be condemned. Leave to them, brothers, both their goodness and their malice, for it is not our concern to judge them, praise them, or blame them. It is the concern of the Ordinary. To him we leave this matter. But if the expulsion is due to some grave fault, fully inform the Ordinary and leave the punishment to him.
Regarding the warning of expulsion, brothers, it does not matter at all whether the faults in question are big or small in the eyes of men, as long as they are willful or caused by willful negligence: for, indeed, Christ died for all of them. If, instead, someone has committed a fault only out of simple negligence or human frailty, punish him thus so that he may be properly corrected rather than be duly punished.
Furthermore, if in any case you find out that the Discreets themselves, under the pretense of piety—which is indeed impiety—have committed the same faults mentioned above, punish them in this way: never elect them again from then on to such office. If they complain, expel them from the Congregation. For just as the Superiors have the duty to care out of love for the subjects, so also the subjects have the duty to help the Superiors observe the rules faithfully, knowing full well what the Scripture says, “wickedness has come from those who pretended to govern the people,”15 and in another passage, “the cause of ruin are bad priests.”16
Now, in order that you may avoid such evils with all your might and not cause divisions or provoke conspiracies without a leader, we want that the Discreets be elected by the Superior and the professed religious who are present members of that community. After their election, all the other religious shall meet with the Superior in order to elect one brother—either from those present or from one of the Discreets proven to be truly zealous for the religious life—who will convene, when he thinks it necessary, all the professed religious for this specific purpose: to examine whether any of the Discreets or the Superior himself may have been remiss about, or may even be in favor of, those deserving expulsion or a warning of expulsion. When, through balloting with over half of the votes, you have ascertained the truth of their negligence or connivance, inform those concerned about the sentence of expulsion, as said above; for in no way are you to take into consideration any religious who are ill-disposed toward, and not truly zealous for, the religious life and the glory of God. Woe to us, when it may truly be said of us: “Lord, you have enlarged the nation, but have not increased the joy!”17 The one, then, so elected for this office by the religious may remain in it according to their will; and when he is removed, all the religious meet again—as indicated above—to elect another one.
The Superior is to be elected by all present voting members of the community. If some are absent, and are away only for a day, they have to be called together for a meeting. The one elected with more than half of the votes will be the Superior.
It is the same when electing the Discreets and the brother who is to convene the community for the purpose of correcting the Superior or the Discreets, the aforementioned guidelines must always be followed.
There may be two or four Discreets, depending on how large or small is the number of religious in the community. These elections will be conducted by ballot, while the other officeholders will be chosen by the Superior and the Discreets.
Whenever the Superiors and the Discreets deem it advisable to change, add, or subtract anything from the aforesaid matters, they may, by no means, do so without the approval of all the voting members of the whole Congregation. And if some of the voting members are absent, you should notify them in writing about what they have to do, and afterwards notify them again about what has finally been established.
We want any addition, subtraction, or change to take effect only after everything that was said so far, and that would be said later on, has been observed. Thus, if three-fourths of all the voting members reject the proposals being submitted, we want the whole matter dropped.
Therefore, if you do reach a conclusion which, however, appears to imply and does, in fact, imply a slackening of our religious life and of the rigor of this Constitution, we want you to be sure how to act with those who disapprove of such baneful decision.
First, in order that no one, especially the lukewarm, may contravene this present Constitution, we prescribe that the one, or the ones, chosen to correct the failures or negligence of the Superiors and the Discreets with regard to the correction and expulsion of confreres who committed an offense,18 be authorized, together with the Major Superior, to set the appropriate agenda at periodic community meetings in order to preclude any slackening whatsoever of our way of life.
Secondly, in order to guarantee that all our directives are acted upon more effectively, we solemnly prescribe that, first and foremost, such Corrector or Correctors be officially given one or two houses which they deem to be suitable for their purpose. In this house, or these houses, there should be a Superior, or Superiors—the most senior or the two most senior professed religious of the Congregation—who will assign in this house, or these houses, the professed confreres who do not consent to any slackening of our way of life, and appoint them as new community officeholders. This Superior, or these Superiors, is entirely free to remove any confrere who previously lived there.
Furthermore, we solemnly prescribe that this Superior, or these Superiors, may not be removed from their office, or the religious he, or they, assigned there—until the whole matter is definitely settled.
In case the matter is settled in favor of the lukewarm, or the relaxation of our rule, or in case the proper procedure was not followed, we prescribe that such Superior or Superiors and confreres who favor our present rigorous way of life keep the house or houses mentioned above, and that the rest of the confreres are in no way allowed to meddle or get involved in the concerns of the said house or houses.
If, by any chance, in other houses there are those who do not favor this relaxation of our rule, we want that they join— even without asking permission from their Superiors—the house or houses mentioned above, and those who favor this relaxation of our rule can in no way hinder them or interfere with them.
Mark this well, brothers, when such religious decadence occurs, many will rise and claim: “We too want to live according to the original rules.” But see if those who said this had indeed observed in the first place the rules they were supposed to observe. Otherwise, do not trust them, because in such a crowd there are only a precious few who are moved by a truly right intention. Some indeed would say they want to reform themselves, but actually they do not want to submit themselves to anybody, or to face any trouble. They only want to enjoy plenty of leisure and to associate with agreeable companions, or to have ample time to study or to do other similar things. But, certainly, these are not the true aim of reform. The true aim of reform can be recognized in this: when one seek only the pure honor of Christ, the absolute advantage of neighbor, and the true contempt of self which rejoices in being despised. If you find them in this frame of mind, receive them in your company, by this you will do what pleases God; otherwise, as previously stated, do not admit them. And in order to prevent the Correctors, or the Superiors, or the brothers from effecting such ill-intentioned separation, we prescribe that they should in no way separate, if previously in our Congregation they were found to be rebellious, ambitious, and greedy, or had been guilty of negligence or of scandalous behavior. If, on the other hand, these religious had previously lived a blameless life, we want no impediment to hold them back from separating.
We invoke God’s blessings upon you, who separate from the lukewarm, and we encourage you not to fear, even if you may not enjoy the support and sympathy of others, for the Apostles themselves were in the same situation. And the Holy Spirit will teach you everything,19 and will take care of you, since He is pleased with you, O little flock.20
Brothers, in making additions, subtractions, and changes—which will, in no way, slacken but lead the Congregation to greater rigor and stability—we want that the decision made by three-fourths of the voting members should prevail, as already said, so that the union of all concerned may last. Finally, brothers, take note that we want everything written in this chapter and in the entire present booklet of the Constitutions to be understood as is, literally. Thus, we want you not to add, subtract, or change anything whatsoever, except according to what was prescribed above.
In order that no one may be unaware of how and when laxity and lukewarmness grow, we want to demonstrate them with the following signs.
Remember, brothers, how the Religious Orders in the past were guided by the Holy Spirit; later, they lost their pristine fervor because of the many additions of laws and statutes made by those who did not possess the same spirit as their forefathers. That is why they introduced laws and customs that were as lax as they themselves were lax.
Given the fact that laxity and lukewarmness hate fervor, the lukewarm religious, according to their way of thinking and living, have never wanted to allow some fervent religious to part from them, claiming that union is good and separation is bad. But in our case, what happens is just the opposite; in fact, union is bad and separation is good. Thus, as St. Gregory says, “saints provoke strife, but through love.”21 Knowing this, St. Dominic, who belonged to another Order, withdrew from it and established a new Order. St. Anthony of Padua (who was already at this time with the Friar Minor), and many others, did the same, for they had understood that it was such a great evil to live with scorpions.22
Thus, the lukewarm religious, under the pretext of good union, do not allow the fervent ones to separate from them, for they consider it a shame that somebody may appear to be better than them. You must also know that the lukewarm religious do not allow such separation in order to cover up their stench with the good odor of the fervent ones, and thus they get temporal privileges by which they grow fat with earthly goods. But O you, who claim to be fervent, please, do not commit such an injustice, that is, to fatten God’s enemies with Christ’s patrimony!
Therefore, watch and hold your heads high,23 and when you see the following signs, escape with Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans, or else fire will burn you together with his brother.
The first sign is the multiplication of rules and precepts that bind under penalty of sin. Let it be clear to you that the observance of rules is meant not to make spiritual life harder but easier and to lead religious beyond the law, and not by force but by love. When these rules and precepts—rather precipices—are multiplied you will understand that obedience, the first solemn vow of religious life, is relaxed. Likewise, the constant change of places, of laws and ordinances by those who keep and break them, the necessity of constraining and obliging the brothers to be present at community gatherings, these and similar things reveal the same lax situation.
Furthermore, when you see some religious do what they want, or say, “I want this,” and “I don’t want that;” and when you hear Superiors sigh because they have no one to whom they could safely entrust some tasks;
—from these and other similar signs, you will see that obedience is perverted.
The second main sign is:
— when you see an ever increasing use of keys and strong locks, good safes, sturdy doors and gates, you can conclude that the love for poverty is lost, because these devices are indispensable only on account of the abundance of goods. For when one’s possessions are few and of little value, these devices are not needed and are indeed useless.
—when you hear some religious complain that they lack this or that, and for this reason their grumbling grows;
—and again, when you see some religious, in a suspicious and subtle manner, demand to see the account books, or when you hear them say “this is mine,” “this is yours;”
—then you can say that the second vow, the vow of poverty, is gone to ruin.
The third main sign is:
—when you see our confreres, both young and old, engage in conversation and recreation, and yet do not show being happy and contented with them; rather, they fight and offend each other by their words and actions;
—when you see them chat idly or hear them talk about useless things; or when you see them take part in games or similar pleasurable diversions, or transgress the original guidelines concerning clothes, or take pleasure in caged little birds and potted flowers;
—then say that the pristine and spotless chastity has begun to lose its original splendor and is tarnished.
Frequent conversation with lay people, with agreeable friends, and with some nuns: this and other similar things point to the selfsame conclusion.
So, when the three vows have been tarnished or not entirely kept, you who claim to be spiritual, what do you have that is not in common with the lukewarm?
The fourth main sign is:
—when you see that they prepare more food than usual, or they try to satisfy their appetite with delicacies or even with worthless food;
—when you hear them complain about food and wine;
—when you see some sit around idly, waiting for the bell for mealtime;
—when you see those responsible for the collection of alms become importunate;
—when you see them wait for the cake to be served, or they help themselves with sweet and savory wines;
—in short, when you see similar signs, you can say that the devil has suspended the gluttons by the throat.
The fifth main sign is:
—when you see Superiors ask to be excused and to be forgiven of their faults but are themselves harsh with the faults of their subjects, refusing to accept their explanations;
— when you see that, because of fear, Superiors do not punish the faults of their subjects; instead, they flatter them;
—know then that righteousness and the fear of God have left them.
When again you hear many, especially Superiors, say: “It’s enough to do this, why think much about perfection!”, or when you hear them say: “Our Religious Order is lax;”
—when you see that Superiors are more concerned with cutting out the weeds of self-love and other passions rather than uprooting their roots;
—when you see Superiors and religious comply with the whims of lay people for fear of displeasing them; for instance, they allow them to have a religious service of their choice instead of the one prescribed for a certain liturgical solemnity; or they allow them to have the Mass celebrated in any common building, or even outside; or they give in to their wishes of making unnecessary additions in our houses or in our churches;
—when again you see that Superiors and religious do not encourage but rather discourage themselves and others to receive the Sacraments, or if they receive them, they do so only out of habit, or only to satisfy themselves, or to gain something;
—when you see that Superiors and religious give fruitless exhortations or pompous speeches and preach empty sermons because they are afraid of pricking people’s consciences, or when they talk of virtues and vices, they talk only in generalities and not in concrete details;
—when you see that in their spiritual conferences they treat the proposed topic on a speculative or argumentative level rather than on a moral and practical level; when you see that the elections of Superiors and officials are contentious, and disputes arise among them over degrees and honors earned; when you see that the number of religious ill-suited for the religious life increases, and they are not eliminated for fear that the Order may end;
—when you see these and other similar things—which would be too long now to enumerate—you know that religious life is deteriorating or has already deteriorated.
But you who want to be fervent keep yourselves from taking part in their corrupt and lukewarm deeds.
Qualities of a Reformer of Religious Life and the Collaborators He Should Choose
or, When He Is Unable to Find Any, How to Make New Ones
When you see and come to understand from the aforesaid signs that true religious life has been placed at the bottom and lukewarmness at the top, raise your eyes on high to God’s greater honor and your zeal for souls, and see if there is anything you can do to boost the true spirit of religious life.
But, first of all, consider the qualities a reformer must have as we are going to outline them here below; and if you see them in yourself, then without pride and presumption (for they can also be present), daringly exalt the Cross as mightily as you can above lukewarmness—all for the good of religious life. If, on the contrary, you find yourself unequal to the task we are about to delineate, be advised that the qualifications listed below are not meant to disorient you because of your inadequacy, but that you may be encouraged to become what you are not.
Mark this well too that any effort to reform the religious life is futile without divine grace, which promised to be with us even to the end of the world;24 and it is so ready to help us, that it would rather want to accuse us and prove us guilty of not having courage due to our unfaithfulness in undertaking great tasks than we accuse it of failing us.
First. Well then, keeping in mind what has already been said in the chapter concerning the Master of novices, you must learn by the virtue of discretion to choose the opportunities, the right moment and place, and the other conditions necessary to achieve the desired reform. And were all these not present, you should be able to create them, by preparing people qualified for the reform of religious life, and foresee all possible outcomes. It is necessary for the reformer to be so prudent as to be full of eyes in front and behind.25 Thus, by means of this virtue of discretion he will be neither too hasty nor too slow, but in due time he will certainly reach his goal.
Second. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, for against this undertaking many external and internal obstacles will arise and are apt to depress and choke weak souls. Indeed, many unseen demons, that is, the lukewarm, whose number is too large to be counted, will go against it. By their hypocrisy they have won over many earthly lords and spiritual leaders. While they seem to be good on the outside, inside they are like white-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones.26 Thus, with the help of these persons of distinction the lukewarm provoke cruel wars against the fervent. But such has been permitted by God so that in battle virtue may prove itself and shine forth ever more. I would even dare say that virtue without opposition has little or no value at all; whereas the greater the opposition, the more precious virtue becomes. Therefore, take courage and, at all cost, fear not the attacks of the noonday devil,27 well aware that malice cannot defeat wisdom. And so, by keeping little difficulties under control, you will overcome big ones and accomplish everything you want.
Third. It is necessary that you persevere in your undertaking. Many indeed begin with all their strength, but then give up, overwhelmed by the extent of the work. You must know that if you get tired because of the difficulties or the length of the work, you have already conceded victory to the enemy even before fighting. What good is it to begin well but not finish well? It is but a toiling in vain. If today you see everything go well for you, do not be elated. Tomorrow you will see everything turn against you. Still, be not disconcerted, but with perseverance continue your journey, and in due time you will reach the end. Changeable hearts are greatly displeasing to God because they are born and nourished by infidelity.
Fourth. You must be utterly and profoundly humble. They who do not consider reproaches as sweet food, or who do not drink scorn with pleasure, or who do not long for or possess humility, are not fit to reform religious life. There is no humility without long desired humiliations, for humiliations always go with humility. Through such humility, man realizes that he is an enemy of God, unworthy of his blessings and deserving to be despised by all. That is why a truly humble person is affable and pleasant to all, and therefore is highly qualified for the role of reformer. Compassion and tolerance for other people’s shortcomings are virtues that accompany a humble person and are extremely necessary to help those who are imperfect but are truly desirous to make progress.
Fifth. You must always be absorbed in God through constant prayer and meditation. Frequent prayer and meditation, after a while, will ultimately teach you to start to do something, so as to be able to lead others where they should go. Prayer will not allow anyone who wants to walk to fall into error; rather, it will successfully guide him, and anyone who wishes to make progress.
Since prayer and meditation enlighten the soul, no one, then, should presume to lead others if he does not pray and meditate. Prayer and meditation keep one steady before the throne of God; thus, he knows what he ought to do and what to leave aside.
Let no one think he can lead someone else if he himself is blind; otherwise, both will fall into a pit.28
Sixth. You need to have an absolutely good and right intention. Without it, you will never succeed in reforming religious life. In order to be a reformer, it is not enough for anyone merely to be good and straightforward in intention by natural inclination, and, I dare say, not even by the impulse of grace, unless it is grace at the highest degree. Only then, to such a person the right is given to assume the role of reformer of the religious life. There were many in the past who thought they could bring about reform, but not having this grace-filled, highly good, and right intention, they toiled without any result.
Have you ever seen some spurious religious groups (I am not calling them Congregations) made up of rotten eggs and spoiled butter? You must know that the members of such groups lacked the above said intention because some of them sought to unite with the reformers to become not their subordinates but their superiors; others sought to find comfort in companionship; while others sought to have the opportunity to study; and still others sought to show off by doing great things. Indeed, with many other intentions, they sought to unite with the reformers, but sought in vain.
Therefore, let your intention be right—for the pure honor of God and for the benefit of others. And in self-abasement, be firm and steadfast.
Anyone who lacks this absolutely good and right intention would do well to acquire it before undertaking the work of reform—because such kind of intention is well sustained with God’s assistance—so that his reform may last, at least for some centuries.
We could discuss here the reason why God allows the religious life to deteriorate, but this is not the task of our present considerations. Everyone can scrutinize for himself in the book of the supreme Providence, and will see at least this: that God, in certain historical turning points and in difficult times, providentially crowns various captains.
Seventh. You must always keep alive your resolution of ever going forward and pursuing an even greater perfection. Have you ever seen laws that are only punitive? With these laws, man will not make any progress, nor will he change altogether his bad habits, because on the inside he will always remain the same and will always be ready to do evil if punishment were eliminated. Moreover, have you ever seen laws that do not seek to reach perfect things? These laws, too, will fail, because “non proficere est deficere” —“not to make progress is to fail.” Therefore, if you continue to hold on to some of the aforementioned laws and ways of living, you can be sure that soon you will meet lukewarmness at your door. Do you really want, then, to reform religious life? Then try always to increase what you have begun, either in yourself or in others, because the height of perfection is limitless. So then avoid ever thinking that what you have begun is enough. Therefore, to you and to others: it is too little to change only the bad habits, more so to improve the good ones—unless you strive to lead them to the height of perfection; for only by doing this will you become a good reformer of religious life.
Eighth. It is necessary that you always trust in God’s help and come to know by experience that you are never to be without it. Spiritual things can be lived only by spiritual people. Thus, the reformer must be spiritual and holy, and through previous personal experience he ought also to know that God has never failed him in his needs and good resolutions. Although God, in order to appear more generous, many a time delays to give what we asked of Him; nevertheless, once we have prayed to Him, He grants our petitions, as He is wont to do.
Therefore, anyone who possesses the aforesaid virtues can take on the task of reforming religious life. He knows well who may be accepted or refused, who may be admitted right away or may have to wait for a while, who may be treated amiably or may be tested more harshly with humiliations before he is admitted, or who to retain and who to dismiss.
Moreover, O reformer, you are going to encounter much opposition; but you must trust all the more when they become heavy for you.
The very first ones to oppose you, as we have already mentioned above, are the lukewarm with whom you live, since they consider it a shameful reproach to find themselves with someone better than themselves. These religious readily call it “peculiarity” when someone unlike them wants to lead others to Christ. Indeed, this will be for you a battle most serious of all. To face it, it will be of much help to you if you change place and companions, or if you find people with influence and authority who are willing to foster and defend your work, or if you conceal your endeavors from the lukewarm, keeping up always, however, the purpose you have set out to do. Since there are few religious who are able and willing to help you in the work of reform—indeed, there are very few who truly want to bear the cross of Christ and share in its reproaches—be careful to choose for this work very few from among your previous companions or from among your confreres, for most likely many of them still continue to keep the ferments of the yeast of lukewarmness. Nevertheless, if from among them you know a few who are truly fervent and dis-creet, these—above all else—are the ones to be preferred. But if you do not find such religious within the original group, you have to look for others, without being too concerned if they are poor or old or sick, as long as they are, however, intelligent and of great determination.
Although it may be good to attract companions for this initial reform with some gifts, or with some signs and miracles; nevertheless, it is better to choose them for their irreproachable life and adherence to the sound doctrine of the one who calls them. In this way, you avoid choosing those whose goodness is worth little.
He who does not take into consideration those things we have said above must know that very easily, even from the start, lukewarmness will infiltrate, causing complaints and divisions among the religious, and furthermore causing the religious to rebel against their Superiors— usually in these and other ways lukewarmness will hinder progress.
Brothers, we have tried to bring out these few things to you. It is our hope that if you observe them or put them into practice, they would lead you to perfection, by helping you most of all to avoid lukewarmness.
To the praise and honor of Jesus Christ who died on earth and now reigns alive in heaven. Amen.
If sometimes it happens that there are Visitors, or a visit is made by the Visitors, let the Visitors be advised of the following: the specificity of any skill is always to aim at the goal and to obtain and fashion the means to reach it. Now, since our principal goal is: self-knowledge and self-mastery, the acquisition of Christian simplicity and kindness, the acceptance of humiliations, and the desire to love Christ—the Visitor or the Rector should then always aim at it.
Let him not be too concerned though—as long as he can lead the brothers to this goal—either through extreme poverty or by condescending to the weakness and capability of their generation, granting them—I would say—some, not many, of their little wishes.
Likewise, if it is expedient to give some orders, let the Visitor consider which ones would lead to the goal, without contradicting what was, and will be, prescribed in the Rule.
If at any time the Visitor needs to correct the defects of the brothers, let him be advised that the brothers should not be corrected by means of imprisonment or some other punishment. They should rather be helped in eradicating the roots of their defects.
For instance, when some complaints arise, there is no need to give similar rule such as: “If someone complains, let him do such penance;” instead, the Visitor or Rector should first examine whether there is a just reason for his complaints. Should he find none, he should simply admonish the brother;29 If the Visitor or Rector instead finds a just reason, he should enjoin the brother, and ensure such problem does not happen again. The Visitor or Rector should always keep in mind, though, that every time there arise some complaints, always—for certain—something is wrong, either in the cause or in the effect.
For instance, in cases when an order is given or accepted to increase fasting, vigils and silence, and to do other spiritual practices—which may really not be contrary to God’s precepts or the precepts of the Church, even though they entail greater observance— one should not be too concerned about making some changes, additions or subtractions, for these things are not in themselves the necessary means to reach the goal. The really necessary means are: one’s voluntary self-humiliation, one’s resolve to endure any pain and suffering like those of Christ and of the saints, and one’s willingness to forego one’s own feelings and opinions.
The Visitor should make an effort to introduce these and other similar things, and to orient minds toward them. In this way, he will be able to eradicate not only the vices but also their roots. For if their roots are not eradicated, these vices, even if they are cut, will grow again. The Visitor should then see to it that the vices are not only eliminated but that their roots are also eradicated. Moreover, he should endeavor not only to implant good morals but also to introduce them, and once introduced, to cultivate their roots. We mean that it is not enough to exhort the brothers to patience, humility, chastity and to other virtues simply because these virtues are useful to them. It should also be instilled in their souls the reasons why these virtues are to be in them. As for example: man must be patient, for he deserves to suffer more than he already suffers, since he has been the cause of Christ’s death, and because on his own he can never satisfy for the sins he committed.
Let the Visitor, then, diligently give the reasons why good morals should be implanted rather than merely say: “You must have this virtue.” For similar exhortations are incumbent upon the Superior, the Discreet and the Visitor.
It is as well his responsibility to make visits with the brothers; his visits should not be hurried or superficial but—if time and opportunity allows—it should be long, careful and considerate.
When he investigates, he should avoid using threats and commands; rather, he should ask and investigate with kindness and charity. With the simple ones, he should not ask questions that are subtle, so that he may not give them the impression that they are being scorned for not knowing how to answer, and that he may not waste his time trying to instill in their minds what they are unable to grasp. But if these simple ones want to say something, he should willingly listen to them.
Therefore, it is necessary that the Visitor is discreet, kind, affable, patient, and not disdainful towards anyone.
Let him ask each brother about the good and the bad of the monastery; he should believe more readily the good things rather than the bad ones. For the latter, he should try to remedy them.
His investigation should focus most of all on how the brothers are progressing or regressing in their spiritual life, or if they were able to keep diligently the written rules or have neglected them.
We forbid the Visitors and anyone else—as much as we are able, save charity—to pay visits to or receive visits from relatives and acquaintances or anybody from whom we cannot expect any spiritual help. We also forbid that on account of these visitations our monasteries are burdened with contributions and expenses. But brothers, for the Visitors, do provide for them, according to what we have proposed above regarding the sick and the healthy.30
Thanks be to God, Jesus and Mary.
Rev. Aug 15,2012
1. See Notes of Sermon III n.136, p. 225.
2. 2 Cor 9:7
3. The Rule, 42, 3 and 73, 5.
4. 1 Cor 10:31.
5. 1 Tm 6:10.
6. 1 Cor 4:4.
7. Mt 10:16.
8. Mt 4:4.
9. Mt 22:11–12.
10. Mt 10:36.
11. Gn 4:13.
12. 1 Mc 6:12.
13. Lk 5:8.
14. Mt 8:8.
15. Dn 13:5.
16. Lam 4:13.
17. Is 9:3.
18. See Chapter XIV On Punishment and the Correction of Discreets, p. 23.
19. Jn 14:26.
20,. Lk 12:32.
21. St. Gregory, Homilies on the Gospels 2, 54, 2 = PL 76, 1247.
22. Ez 2:6.
23. Lk 21:28.
24. Mt 28:20.
25. Rv 4:6.
26. Mt 23:27.
27. Ps 91:6.
28. Mt 15:14; Lk 6:39.
29. See Chapter XIV On Punishment and the Correction of Discreets, p. 23
30. See Chapter VI On the Care of the Sick, p.