The “perfectio status religiosi” according to John Capistran. Andrea Bartocci

Talk to be presented in Weingarten, November 29 2018

John Capistran is an emblematic figure of the Franciscan Observance in the fifteenth century Italy. Son of a baron who came to Italy following Louis I. of Anjou, he obtained licentia in iure civili in 1412 in Perugia, where he served as iudex ad civilia during the following years, when the city was subjected to the king of Naples Ladislas I. of Anjou Durazzo. He was, therefore, involved in the political and social conflicts which characterized the decline of the Comuni and marked the affirmation of the lordships in central Italy. Following the occupation of Perugia by Braccio da Montone (1416), he was imprisoned and, according to his oldest biographers, this experience would have determined his conversion. In 1416 he took the Franciscan habit, and the next year he made his religious profession in Monteripido, one of the main branches of the Observance movement in Italy. He was, therefore, one of the protagonists of the project to reaffirm the regimen christianum in Europe, which the Franciscan Observants pursued in the service of the Papacy, while universalism on the political and juridical level was fragmented due to spreading of particularisms and the schism of the Western Church (1378-1417).

John’s literary production, which includes mostly unpublished treatises, letters and sermons, reflects his direct path to restore the papal primacy on the political level within the framework of an overall reform of the contemporary Church and society. Among his writings the unpublished Tractatus de religione stands out. He wrote it during one of his stays in the northern regions of the Kingdom of Naples, in the decade between 1431 and 1441. As a part of his Church and society reform project, a decisive role was to be exercised by the religious orders, and the Tractatus examines their status on the historical, spiritual and, above all, juridical level, in accordance with John’s university education. His statements concerning the identification of spiritual perfection and poverty are significant. In the second half of the thirteenth century Petrus Johannis Olivi could affirm in his Tractatus de paupertate that poverty is the via regia to achieve spiritual perfection. A century and a half later, John Capistran noted in his treatise that “perfectio spiritualis non in paupertate, sed in charitate consistit. Paupertas autem and similia sunt quaedam instrumenta conferentia ad amovenda impedimenta charitatis”. In relation to the identification of the perfectio spiritualis, therefore, John adheres to the famous John XXII’s (1316-1334) documents addressed to the Order of Minors, in which the role of poverty was reduced. On the other hand, with regard to the definition of poverty, John repeats the concept for which it can be identified in the absence of property. This concept widespread in the Order of Minors from the mid-thirteenth century and had been formalized by some popes (from Gregory IX to Clement V), but overwhelmed in the documents issued by JohnXXII. The comparative examination of the Rules of religious orders of the Latin Church allows John Capistran to conclude that only the Rule of Minors, as it provides for complete abdicatio proprietatis, regulates the highest form of poverty (altissima paupertas).

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