History of the Capuchin Order

History of the Capuchin Order

Just as Saint Francis began his life of poverty and humility in an age that was critical in the life of the Church, so the Capuchin reform began some three hundred years later in a similar time of crisis within the Church. Reform was necessary in the early part of the sixteenth century within the Church and within the Franciscan family.

One of these reformers was Matteo Bassi, one of the friars of the Strict Observance, who sought a life away from the call of possessions, position, and wealthy benefactors to spend a life as a hermit, with the externals of coarse habit, long hood (a capuce: hence Capuchin), as St Francis was reputed to have had, and bare feet. He had a cluster of companions of like mind and they were allowed by the Pope to become a distinct group in 1528, with oversight by the Conventual Master General. They too became caught up in the theological and ecclesiological difficulties of the time including the apostasy of the Vicar General, Bernardine of Occhino. They were denounced as heretics and only really became an established part of the Catholic Church and the Franciscan family with the accession of Francis Asino in 1543 as Vicar General.

From then on their reputation as men of God, as great preachers of the Gospel and as truly poor men increased and developed and they too spread across Europe. At their zenith there were 33,000 Capuchin friars in the world at the moment the figure is 10,500 in 1600 friaries throughout the world.

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