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					             Recent Church Magisterium on Consecrated Life
       and the Constitutions of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin

                                    by Bro Paolo Martinelli OFM Cap
                                   (Translation of the Italian original text)


          Theological reflection directly or indirectly regarding the consecrated life has devel-
oped in many directions over the past 25 years. For example, we remember the development
of the reflection on the mystery of the Trinity– largely relegated in the past to a simple chap-
ter of Dogmatic Theology. Now this mystery is tending more and more to become the horizon
of all theological thought. Vocation, the sequela Christi and the evangelical counsels are also
being read in Trinitarian terms. Considerations on Christian revelation and the person of
Christ too have made notable progress, being translated in terms more existentially relevant
than in the past. Consequently the theology of vocation has experienced positive results from
the re-readings this perspective has proposed. The ecclesiology of communion, the seed of
which found its place in the reflection of the Council, has been deepened recently and its con-
sequences have been felt in the relationship between the various vocations in the Church. The
anthropological emphasis in theology has been consolidated and further clarified. Reflection on
the consecrated life has gradually accommodated these aspects. The consideration of the value
of history in the ambit of theological reflection has made many contributions as well. Among
these is a clearer understanding of the eschatological sense and consequently of the meaning of
the consecrated life which is a particular expression of that dimension.1 The epoch making so-
ciopolitical changes that have taken place in the past twenty five years have certainly compelled
a rethinking of many things: the old and new poverties, the phenomenon of globalization as well
as multicultural and intercultural societies have questioned and still pose questions for religious
life in the Church.2
        From the point of view of magisterial interventions it is necessary first of all to recall
various Synodal events.3 Particular reference should be made to the Extraordinary Synod in

1Cf. regarding the current state of theology G. CANOBBIO – P. CODA (edd.), Teologia del XX secolo. Un bilancio, 3
voll., Città Nuova, Roma 2003; as for its effects in the ambit of the theology of the consecrated life see the biblio-
graphy at the end.
2 Cf. S. ABBRUZZESE, «La vita consacrata nei mutamenti sociali dopo il Vaticano II», in P. MARTINELLI (ed.), Il
rinnovamento della vita consacrata e la famiglia francescana, EDB, Bologna 2007, 37-50.
3 The magisterium documents on the consecrated life have been compiled into a single volume in Latin and Ital-
ian: Enchiridion della Vita Consacrata. Dalle decretali al rinnovamento post-conciliare (385-2000). Edizione bilingue,
EDB - Àncora Editrice, Bologna-Milano 2001. For comments of the documents of the recent magisterium see the
bibliography at the end.

1985, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council. Then
there have been the successive Synodal assemblies regarding the various states of life in the Church.
In those assemblies regarding the vocation and mission of the laity (1987) and the formation
of presbyters (1990), and in the apostolic exhortations that followed,4 there has been no short-
age of important highlights for the consecrated life as well. Above all, however, the assembly
of the Synod of Bishops of 1994 explicitly treated the vocation and mission of consecrated
men and women in our time. The post-Synodal apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata [VC] of
John Paul II (1996) 5, while taking into account the contributions of the Lineamenta and the In-
strumentum Laboris, authoritatively presented the results of the assembly. Vita Consecrata
represents within the past ten years an indispensable reference point for all those who follow
the chaste, poor and obedient Christ. In a certain sense, this magisterial intervention – along
with the recent instruction from the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and
Societies of Apostolic Life Starting Afresh from Christ [RdC] (2002) – constitutes a synthesis of
the journey made thus far. Nonetheless it is good to remember the importance of other inter-
ventions made after 1982. These also constitute a significant contribution to the journey of the
consecrated life. Therefore, apart from the promulgation of the new Code of Cannon Law6
(1983), one should also remember the Congregation’s instruction Essential Elements in the
Church's Teaching on Religious Life of the same year. After almost twenty years since the
promulgation of Perfectae Caritatis this document seeks to highlight the constitutive elements
of the renewal. Particularly important too are the directives promulgated by the Congrega-
tion for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life: Potissimum Institu-
tioni of 1990 which elaborates its entire reflection upon the life of the evangelical counsels
within the context of formation. From a text such as this one can see a growing concern on
the part of the magisterium about the question of formation. This is not only a concern about
the theological identity of the consecrated life. There are also the difficulties that emerge from
persons who ask to enter an institute of consecrated life and who often are influenced by a
culture that is indifferent, if not contrary, to Christian values. In 1992 John Paul II promulgat-
ed the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This contains a theological synthesis of the consecrated
life.7 The document The Fraternal Life in Community has had a great influence. The Congrega-
tion for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life issued it on 2 Febru-
ary 1994. Composed via a long process, the document constitutes an analytical reflection on
fraternal life in relation to the anthropological developments of our time and to the insights
gained from the ecclesiology of communion. The fraternal life is seen as a specific subject of
the consecrated life in all its dimensions, ranging from formation to missionary commitment.

4Cf. JOHN PAUL II, the post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (30 December 1988) in AAS 81(1989)
393-521; the post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis (25 March 1992) in AAS 84(1992) 657-804.
5   Cf. AAS 88(1996) 377-486
6   Cf. Book II, part III on the consecrated life.
7   Cf. nn. 914-933 and 944-945.

Important in this document are the balanced affirmations concerning authority and obedience
in a time of individualism and democratizing trends. Concerning formation still, the 1998
publication by the same Congregation of the instruction of Attenta alle condizioni is also nota-
ble. It concerns the collaboration in formation between institutes. Apart from the already
mentioned texts related to the Synodal Assembly on the Consecrated Life, the more detailed
interventions made by continental synods should also be noted.8 The Jubilee itself and the pe-
riod after it have, without doubt, produced magisterial reflections with a certain relevance.
One thinks of, first of all, Novo millennio ineunte and its call back to the ‚high standard‛ of spi-
rituality required of the people of God for whom the religious should carry out an indispens-
able task of being a school of communion and holiness. As already mentioned, the Instruction of
the Congregation for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life Starting Afresh From
Christ takes up all the earlier reflections on the themes that are decisive to this day regarding
the quality of consecrated life: its theological – ecclesial identity, specific mission, formation,
the primacy of the spiritual life and the spirituality of communion.
          The vast quantity of interventions on the consecrated life by the Church magisterium
certainly shows the Church’s loving attention to her children called to follow in the steps of
the chaste, poor and obedient Christ. Nevertheless it is also indicative of a certain concern for
a way of renewal that is ongoing, though not without difficulties and questions. Faced with
this notable volume of material our work here must necessarily be precise. Despite the consi-
derable magisterial output in recent times, while important, relatively little can be included I
believe among the norms of the Constitutions. We will concentrate essentially upon Vita
Consecrata and from there, where necessary, we will refer to other documents. After outlining
the relative themes we will make a quick comparison to gauge to what degree these are
represented in our current Constitutions.

                             1. THEOLOGY OF THE EVANGELICAL COUNSELS

1. The aesthetic norm 9
        In the Church documents, particularly Vita Consecrata, its ample use of aesthetic lan-
guage in relation to the state of the evangelical counsels is striking. In so far as we know there
has never been so much reference in a magisterial text to ‚beauty‛ regarding divine life, the
person of Christ and the consecrated life.10 This is the fruit of a particular theological direction

8 Cf. The post Synodal exhortations, all in the name of the John Paul II, which contain passages relative to the
consecrated life: Ecclesia in Africa (25 September 1995), 94; Ecclesia in America (22 January 1999), 43; Ecclesia in Asia
(6 November 1999), 44; Ecclesia in Oceania (22 November 2001), 51-52; Ecclesia in Europa (28 June 2003), 37-38.
9   Trans.: literally ‚aesthetic canon‛
10For example, Vita Consecrata speaks of the beauty of being with Jesus (VC; Christ as the greatest
beauty (VC; the beauty of the Triune God (VC 16.20.111); the consecrated life as sign of the divine
beauty (VC 16.20.109); it affirms a relationship between obedience and beauty (VC 21); Mary is all beautiful, ‚tota
pulchra‛ (VC 28); the attraction and beauty of Jesus and the consecrated life as the basis of vocational pastoral

taken in recent decades11 that allows us to speak of a via pulchritudinis12 (a way of beauty) also
on the subject of the evangelical counsels.
          This aesthetic norm as such is missing in our Constitutions. The Constitutions only
refer to beauty incidentally with reference to Saint Francis (Const. 169,3). His sense of wonder
is also mentioned in this context. Aesthetic terms such as ‚fascination‛ and ‚amazement‛ are
also absent. ‚Splendour‛ occurs once (Const. 186,5). Nevertheless the Franciscan tradition has
made abundant use of the aesthetic norm in its theology and spirituality. 13 I believe that re-
course to the language of beauty may be desirable not only in deference to recent Church
teaching but also to genuine Franciscan spirituality itself.

2. The Trinitarian dimension of the evangelical counsels
          In the Church documents we find various emphases concerning this. Basically, the
entire first part of the exhortation Vita Consecrata has this focus. a) It underlines how vocation
is from the Father and leads to the Father; vocation is realized in one’s total conformity to
Christ and is brought about by the action of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who consecrates
(VC17-19). b) ‚The consecrated life thus becomes one of the tangible seals which the Trinity
impresses upon history, so that people can sense with longing the attraction of divine beau-
ty.‛ (VC 20). In this perspective, above all, Vita Consecrata offers a description of the evangeli-
cal counsels in relation to the nature of God as love. In this way chastity, poverty and ob-
edience are contemplated in connection with the relationships between the divine Persons
(VC 21). Fraternal life also possesses the same character of a Confessio Trinitatis. This theme is
also taken up in VC 41 and RdC 20.
         In our Constitutions one should note first of all that generally the mystery of the life
of the Most Holy Trinity as such does not find much space. The term ‚Trinity‛ appears only
in the formula of profession and in the conclusion. It is not uncommon for the Constitutions

activity (VC 64); it speaks of the beauty of the Church (VC 19); the search for divine beauty urges compassion
towards wounded man (VC 75); the beauty of fraternal communion (VC 41.101); the beauty of self donation (VC
64); one must be formed for the beauty of discipleship (VC 66); it speaks of the beauty of good works (VC 75),
and of the vocation to the consecrated life (VC 107). The observations may be complemented by highlighting the
use of many typically aesthetic categories in the text such as, for example, wonder, marvel, attraction, etc.
11 We find significant reference to beauty in the Fathers of the Church. In the eastern tradition in particular we
find ‚philokalia‛ (cf. VC, 19) or the love for divine beauty. In Medieval authors such as Bonaventure we find a
vast reference to beauty. The modern era has experienced a long period of the diminution of the aesthetic that
has been redressed only recently: cf. H.U. VON BALTHASAR, Herrlichkeit. Eine theologische Aesthetik. I: Schau der
Gestalt, Einsiedeln 1961.
12 This is obviously different from the misuse of the aesthetic norm recently introduced from nihilistic currents
as an alternative to the search for what is true. To the contrary, beauty is always presented here as the splendour
of the truth.
13We recall that not only Francis used expressions of the aesthetic norm, but that the theology of Saint Bonaven-
ture in particular is essentially interwoven with pulchritudo and is presented as ‚aesthetic.‛

to refer to the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity, nor are observations on the evangelical coun-
sels in reference to Jesus in His relationship with the Father. This is quite evident in chapter
IV and the presentation of evangelical poverty.14 There are also references along those lines in
regard to obedience in imitation of the life of Jesus (Const. 155,1; also 21,4). As for chastity,
the content is rather brief and no connection is made to the life of the Trinity. Reference to
conformity with Jesus in this is very slight. The Constitutions basically insist on the biblical
motive ‚for the kingdom of God‛ (Const. 21,2; 168-173). I believe the introduction of a more
Trinitarian vocabulary to the text of our Constitutions may be possible.

3. The Christological foundation of the evangelical counsels: a way of special conformity
           In the Church documents one of the most recurring themes is that of the biblical
foundation of the consecrated life and the evangelical counsels. This is due to an open critique
in some sectors of exegesis regarding the traditional hermeneutics. Gradually going beyond
the simple concern to find ‚dicta probantia‛ for the consecrated life, while nevertheless justi-
fied, Church teaching has concentrated more upon the Christological event, or upon the per-
son of Christ himself in the concrete fulfilment of his mission, and upon the invitation to
leave all in order to set out and follow in his footsteps: ‚The evangelical basis of consecrated
life is to be sought in the special relationship which Jesus, in his earthly life, established with
some of his disciples. He called them not only to welcome the Kingdom of God into their own
lives, but also to put their lives at its service, leaving everything behind and closely imitating
his own way of life.‛ (VC 14). Therefore ‚the consecrated life constitutes a closer imitation and
an abiding re-enactment in the Church of the way of life which Jesus, the supreme Conse-
crated One and missionary of the Father for the sake of his Kingdom, embraced and proposed
to his disciples‛ (VC 22).
         In our Constitutions the affirmation that Christ and his invitation to discipleship
through conformity with him in his following are the foundation of the consecrated life ap-
pears to be substantially present) cf. Const. 2,3; 74,1; 87,3; 106,6, etc) even if without the same
insistence and clear meaning with which this emerges in Vita Consecrata.

4. Baptismal consecration, a new and special consecration, excellence of the consecrated life
         The Church documents, in particular Vita Consecrata, underline the category of the
‚new and special consecration.‛ They highlight how through the profession of the evangelical
counsels the consecrated life deepens baptismal consecration, of which it is not a necessary
consequence (VC 30). It also develops the grace of the sacrament of Confirmation, The In-
struction Starting Afresh From Christ affirms the nexus between baptism and the counsels that
underlines ‚the growing conscious awareness of the universality of the vocation to holiness

14‚Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who receives everything from the Father and in all things is in perfect commu-
nion with the Father in the Holy Spirit, was sent to evangelize the poor‛ (Const. 59,1). In the meaning of
conformity see Const. 59,4. See also Const. 14,4; 74,1.

on the part of all Christians‛ draws Christians closer together. This does not diminish the
meaning of the fact that ‚consecrated persons, thanks to a ‘new and special consecration’ have
as their mission that of making Christ's way of life shine through the witness of the evangeli-
cal counsels, thereby supporting the faithfulness of the whole body of Christ..‛ In such a way
all the members of the people of God can live ‚a common path in the following of Christ, in a
more authentic communion, in mutual respect, without being superior or inferior‛ (RdC 13)
and the objective excellence of the way of the counsels expressed often by Vita Consecrata (VC
18, 32, 105). Without a doubt the relationship between baptismal subjectivity and the profes-
sion of the evangelical counsels is a central theme in present debate.
         Our Constitutions clearly affirm the context of the universal call to holiness in per-
fect love according to various states of life (Const. 14,1). The vocation to religious life is pre-
sented as a ‚special grace‛ (peculari gratia) (Const. 14,3) that is embraced in order to derive
greater fruitfulness from the grace of baptism. On the other hand, there are no elements re-
garding the excellence of the consecrated life or a special or new consecration. The compara-
tive form – ‚to follow Christ more closely‛ – appears in the formula of profession. There is
reference to a more intimate consecration to divine worship (Const. 45,6). Keeping in mind
the present debate, it may be useful to fine-tune some of the affirmations in our Constitutions.

5. The eschatological dimension of the consecrated life
          The Church documents have affirmed the eschatological nature of the consecrated life
as a constant regarding that life even if the meaning assigned to this dimension has changed
over the course of time. From a reference ‚to the hereafter‛ its meaning today is considered in
terms that are more Christological and anthropological. Then it must not be forgotten that the
Second Vatican Council applied the eschatological dimension to the all the people of God (LG
VII). VC 26+ speaks of it in connection to the consecrated life with particular reference to that
virginal choice that produces a dynamic expectation with significant fruitfulness for the world.
        In our Constitutions the ‚eschatological‛ as such does not feature. The term itself is
absent. However, there is reference to future benefits and future times and to a ‚future
world‛. Some particular reference is also made to virginity (Const. 21,2; 168,3).

6. The anthropological relevance of the evangelical counsels and the challenges of our times
         In Church documents more recently the profound anthropological meaning of the
evangelical counsels has emerged strongly. Documents such as Potissimum Institutioni rec-
ommend as a pedagogical concern that attention be given to the anthropological aspects of
embracing the evangelical counsels. Vita Consecrata, however, presents the positive capacity
of the profession of the counsels to speak to the man of today, taking up the themes of the af-
fections, freedom and the use of things. The evangelical counsels also evoke the non-neutral
condition of man. He bears the wound of sin, expressed in his relationship with reality. Thus
the counsels appear to be a ‚spiritual therapy‛ (VC 87) for our time, pointing to God as abso-

lute good. VC speaks in greater detail of the challenge of hedonistic culture - the idolatry of
instinct – and the reply of perfect chastity as an experience of joy and freedom which also en-
courages the other states of life to live this dimension in all human love (VC 88).15 The profes-
sion of evangelical poverty replies to the challenge of that materialism which craves posses-
sions (VC 89): ‚Even before being a service on behalf of the poor, evangelical poverty is a value
in itself, since it recalls the first of the Beatitudes in the imitation of the poor Christ. Its prima-
ry meaning, in fact, is to attest that God is the true wealth of the human heart. < This witness
will of course be accompanied by a preferential love for the poor and will be shown especially by
sharing the conditions of life of the most neglected.‛ (VC 90). That characteristic obedience of
the consecrated life responds to the challenge of a concept of freedom without truth/morality:
‚In an especially vigorous way this obedience reproposes the obedience of Christ to the Fa-
ther and, taking this mystery as its point of departure, testifies that there is no contradiction be-
tween obedience and freedom. Indeed, the Son's attitude discloses the mystery of human freedom
as the path of obedience to the Father's will, and the mystery of obedience as the path to the
gradual conquest of true freedom.‛ (VC 91). In the Instruction Starting Afresh From Christ, con-
tinuing a reflection begun in LG 46, there is a strong affirmation that the profession of the
evangelical counsels lived authentically realizes the fullness of the human person, opposing
the dehumanization present in our cultures (RdC 13).
          In our Constitutions, in the anthropological area, we find the affirmation regarding
self-realisation as a proper element of one who takes up our form of life (Const. 18,1). Refer-
ences to the anthropological value of the ‚spiritual therapy/remedy‛ of the evangelical coun-
sels are lacking. As for poverty the Constitutions state that poverty frees us from avarice,
which is ‚the root of all evils‛ (Const. 67,1). As for obedience, no precise connection is made
with the anthropological value of freedom. The chapter focuses on various forms of Francis-
can obedience and upon the task of the minister (Const. chap. X). The Constitutions speak of
freedom instead in connection to chastity (Const. 168,2), referring to the undivided heart that
loves God and the brothers, becoming everything to everyone. Even if in a fragmentary way
and without a structured argument, reference is also made to the affections and chastity as
conversion from possessive love to a love of self-offering (Const. 171,1 et passim). Overall it
could be useful to insert something more in-depth about the anthropological value of the
vows, particularly in regard to chastity and the right ordering of the affections.

15In the ambit of the vow of chastity and sexuality the increasing contribution on the part of documents of the
Church magisterium must be recognised, not only in the area of affective maturity in the realm of vocation (cf.
for example, Potissimum Institutioni 13 and 39), but also in relation to a culture of relativism imposed in society
and in the understanding of the difference between man and woman. Cf. GIOVANNI PAOLO II, Uomo e donna li
creò. Catechesi sull'amore umano, Città Nuova, Roma 1985, 289-336, where he discusses the relationship between
sexual difference and the choice of virginity (John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them. A Theology of the
Body, trans., introd., and index by Michael Waldstein, Pauline Books and Media, Boston, 2006. Continence for
the Kingdom of Heaven, pp. 412-457; CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Letter to the Bishops of the
Catholic Church on the collaboration of man and woman in the Church and in the world (31 May 2004).


1. The consecrated life and Church, mystery of communion
         Church documents commend consecrated life to live a strong sense of ecclesial be-
longing and of sentire cum ecclesia (VC 46). Saint Francis is given as an exemplary figure. There
is no lack of affirmation concerning the meaning of the consecrated life within the mystery of
the communion of the Church, both the role of consecrated life within the universal Church
and its immanence within the local Church (VC 47-50). The document commends to conse-
crated persons a concrete involvement in the particular Church. However it also commends
to Bishops the need to value the unique contribution of consecrated persons. Dialogue is ne-
cessary. Furthermore the text recalls the document Communionis Notio (1992) of the Congrega-
tion for the Doctrine of the Faith which recalls the meaning of the special relationship of the
consecrated life with the Supreme Pontiff and the consequent place of the consecrated life
within the Church (CN 16). A charismatic structure such as religious life cannot be defined
except within the constitutive relationship between the universal and particular dimensions
of the Church.
         In our Constitutions the term ‚communion‛ occurs relatively often. Above all it is
used more in reference to that ‚fraternal communion‛ in which the friars ought to live their
existence and activity rather than communion on the ecclesiological level.16 Emphasis is also
given to the relationship of communion that should be had with the people of God (Const.
180,2). The term is also used in connection with the Eucharist (Const.48,2). The people of God
is seen as communion (Const. 8,1). The relationship of the friars with God and all persons
should be a relationship of communion (Const. 45,3; 54,1; 59,1). To me it seems that ‘commu-
nion’ is basically used as a synonym for relationship and deep sharing and does not appear to
distinguish it as an ecclesiological principle as such. The reference to the universal Church is
more reduced and essentially connected to the relationship with the Roman Pontiff (Const.
146,2; 182,4), to whom religious submission is due, as is to the bishops (Const. 181,4). Signifi-
cant are the passages indicating fidelity to the Church in thought, word and action (Const.

2. The place of the consecrated life in the Church
         In the Church documents we find significant emphases on the theme of the position
of the consecrated life within the Church. The ‚quaestio disputata‛ is put in the following
terms. Is the consecrated life a reality in the Church or a reality of the Church? The first affir-
mation is predicated on the indisputable ecclesial value of the consecrated life, though with-
out considering it to be indispensable. The second affirmation, on the other hand, asserts the
essential ecclesial character of the consecrated life. In general, two magisterium texts are con-

16Cf. Const. 3,1; 5,5; 17; 56,2; 79,2; 84,2; 94,2, etc. It should be lived in communion with other Franciscan realities
also (94) in various activities that can be done together.

sidered: 1) Lumen Gentium 44 expresses the position of consecrated life in this way: ‚Thus, the
state which is constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels, though it is not the
hierarchical structure of the Church, nevertheless, undeniably belongs to its life and holi-
ness.‛17 The discussion on this passage has highlighted the possibility of the conciliar text
both in a generic sense‛ (in the Church) and in a constitutive sense (of the Church). 2) Vita
Consecrata 29 has taken an unequivocal position: ‚The idea of a Church made up only of sa-
cred ministers and lay people does not therefore conform to the intentions of her divine
Founder, as revealed to us by the Gospels and the other writings of the New Testament.‛
Such an affirmation, while not analyzing the constitutive nature of the consecrated life in the
Church, its Christological foundation is affirmed to the point where the Church cannot be
thought of correctly if the consecrated life is excluded.
          In our Constitutions we find reference to ecclesiology in numbers 8-11. The heart of
the ecclesiology of Vatican II is clearly taken up. The Constitutions commend obedience to the
Supreme Pontiff and to the Hierarchy. They affirm the importance of the insertion of the
friars into the life of the particular Church. As for the place of the consecrated life within the
Church there is no mention.

3. Our specific identity in the Church: an order of brothers
         Regarding the identity of religious orders, dissatisfied with the present division be-
tween ‚laity‛ and ‚clerics,‛ the Church documents, especially Vita Consecrata propose a shift
from the expression ‚lay institutes‛ to ‚religious institutes of brothers‛ (VC 60). Thus the lay
character of non-cleric consecrated persons is not confused with the secular character of the
lay faithful. The document also raises the question of ‚mixed institutes‛ among which would
be our Order, for the sake of a greater fidelity to the original/foundational charism (VC 61).
          Our Constitutions clearly affirm that according to our specific charism we are, in all
effects, an Order of brothers (Const. 83,6; 115,6; etc).

4. The relationship of the consecrated life with other vocations in the Church
         In Church documents we find interesting statements about the relationship between
the different vocations. Particularly worthwhile are the formulations in Christifideles laici18 and
Vita Consecrata (VC 16). In short, the ecclesiology of communion works in such a way so that
each state of life affirm its proprium as a special expression of that which, in reality, belongs to
all the Church. The special conformity to Christ and the explication of the eschatological di-

17‚Status ergo, qui professione consiliorum evangelicorum constituitur, licet ad Ecclesiae structuram hierarchicam non
spectet, ad eius tamen vitam et sanctitatem inconcusse pertinet‛. Cf. L. PIANO, «La posizione dei religiosi nella Chiesa
negli interventi dei Padri conciliari sullo schema ‘De Ecclesia’ al Concilio Vaticano II», in Seminarium 4 (1997)
18The formulation is best expressed by Christifideles laici in explicit reference to Church – communion and the
complementarity of the states of life (CfL 55).

mension of all the Church appears as the specific contribution of the consecrated life. Fur-
thermore in Vita Consecrata we find the affirmation of the objective excellence (VC 18; 32) of life
according to the evangelical counsels in so far as it indicates the most radical way of living the
Gospel on this earth (VC 31).
          The text of our Constitutions acknowledges very concisely the role of the laity in the
Church according to what the Conciliar texts affirmed (Const. 152,1). In the area of missionary
activity the Constitutions commend the recognition of the different roles and states within the
particular Churches (Const. 178,5). The priestly state is recognised in a specific way: it is dis-
cussed within the context of the obedience due to the hierarchy. It recalls the duty to honour
presbyters, along with all those who administer spirit and life, inviting collaboration with
them (Const. 9,5). Nevertheless there is no particular consideration as such about the identity
of the priesthood. To tell the truth, not even when the Constitutions speak about ‚priest friar‛
is there any discussion on the sacrament of Orders. They speak of the importance of the for-
mation of the friars who are candidates for the priesthood (Const. 39). The Constitutions only
hint at the figure of the priest friar, his characteristics and manner (Const. 149). Perhaps some
brief and concise precision on these themes could be included in the Constitutions.

5. Collaboration with the laity and with other ecclesial realities
          The Church documents recall that the charism of an Institute can be shared with the
laity. The venerable tradition of the Secular Orders or of the Third Order receives particular
consideration (VC 54). Also recalled is the relationship between consecrated persons and the
new ecclesial movements, with its richness and its risks (VC 56). Starting Afresh from Christ de-
lineates the fruitful possibility of mutual collaboration.
          Our Constitutions have affirmed collaboration with the laity along a number of lines.
The laity can be involved in collaborating with us via their specific competence (e.g. Const.
71,9). Furthermore, they can be welcomed into our Fraternities to share our spirituality
(Const. 89). There is a certain insistence upon the value of making our houses places of spiri-
tuality for lay persons and priests who wish to imbibe the charism of Saint Francis (Const.
95,9). In particular the Constitutions recommend the relationship with the Secular Franciscan
Order (Const. 152,2). There is a hint, though without any specific reference, to the possible
collaboration with the new ecclesial realities when the Constitutions speak of ‚associations of
the faithful who propose to live and announce the word of God and to better the world from
within‛ (Const. 152,1).

6. The theology of charism
          In the Church documents ample consideration is given to a growing reflection on
charisms, bearing in mind that the theme has been introduced only recently into Catholic re-
flection. VC 36 affirms the Trinitarian character of the theology of charism. The consecrated
life must live out the proper charisms with creative fidelity (VC 37). Furthermore, discussion

regarding the co-essential character of the institutional and charismatic dimensions of the
Church must be kept in mind. The document Mutuae Relationes had already affirmed this, if
only in a nutshell.19
         Our Constitutions express an awareness that the Holy Spirit generously bestows
gifts and charisms upon the Church. Their purpose is to renew and spread the Church her-
self. Among these is the charism given to Francis of Assisi from whom the Franciscan frater-
nity has arisen (Const. 8,1-2). The Constitutions clearly affirm that our apostolate, performed
in accordance with our charism, be exercised under the guidance of the bishop (Const. 9,4;
145,1). The reciprocity between institution and charism is implied but not developed.

                                   3. ON THE FRATERNAL LIFE

1. Fraternal relations and the spirituality of communion
         The Church documents read the fraternal life in a Trinitarian key. It is a participation
in the communion of the Trinity that makes the change in personal relationships possible (VC
41). The consecrated life is required to be expert in communion and in advancing of the spiri-
tuality of communion (VC 46). The document Starting Afresh from Christ has dedicated ample
space to the spirituality of the communion. This document develops some of the affirmations of
John Paul II in Novo Millennio Ineunte (RdC 28).
         Our Constitutions give much attention to fraternal life as an essential aspect of our
charism. Chapter VI is dedicated to the theme. Apart from everything said earlier about ‚fra-
ternal communion‛ (cf. 2,1), it must nevertheless be said that the reality of the Trinity as a
fundamental image of fraternity is absent from the Constitutions. The relationship of com-
munion nourished by the Eucharist is considered more in connection to Christ in his Paschal
Mystery, the fraternity and the Church, rather than within a Trinitarian perspective (Const.

2. The role of authority
         The Church documents intend to reaffirm the importance of this role. ‚In an atmos-
phere strongly affected by individualism, it is not an easy thing to foster recognition and ac-
ceptance of the role which authority plays for the benefit of all. Nevertheless, its importance
must be reaffirmed as essential for strengthening fraternal communion and in order not to
render vain the obedience professed. While authority must be above all fraternal and spiri-
tual, and while those entrusted with it must know how to involve their brothers and sisters in
the decision-making process, it should still be remembered that the final word belongs to author-
ity and, consequently, that authority has the right to see that decisions taken are respected.‛

 Cf. MR 34 the interventions of John Paul II and Benedict XVI in their meetings with the various ecclesial

(VC 43). Considering what Fraternal life in Community affirmed, one can see that the magiste-
rium is showing an interest in the more open ways of exercising authority, but is also con-
cerned about the risk of a loss of the authentic meaning of authority.
          Our Constitutions concentrate on the particular characteristics of authority accord-
ing to the charism of Saint Francis and they describe the approach that is proper to those cha-
racteristics (Const. 156).

3. Enculturation and interculturality of the consecrated life
        In the Church documents there is very ample reference to enculturation (VC 80), ex-
pressing ever greater sensitivity to the theme of interculturality in reference to the migratory
movements and the phenomenon of globalization. To bear witness to a communion that is
possible within and between different cultures appears as a current task of the consecrated
          Our Constitutions treat the theme of enculturation in terms of ‚pluriformity in uni-
ty‛ (Const. 6). The theme of interculturality finds its primary expression in the ‚fraternitas‛
but the idea as such does not appear in the Constitutions. The only possible reference is the
experience of the International College of Saint Lawrence of Brindisi (Const. 43,5). I believe
that the revision of the Constitutions should take into consideration the fact that this intercul-
tural situation will be ever more crucial within society and the Church.

                               4. THE TASK OF THE CONSECRATED LIFE

1. The primacy of the spiritual life
         The Church documents have affirmed with growing insistence the specific task of the
consecrated life to be the deepening and promotion of the spiritual life (VC 93). Within this
perspective the Word of God is affirmed as the first source of all Christian spirituality (VC 94).
The importance of lectio divina and of communal meditation are also affirmed. Important too are
the Liturgy, especially the Divine Eucharist, the sacrament of Reconciliation, spiritual direction
and the holy rosary (VC 95). The Instruction Starting Afresh from Christ dedicates its entire third
part to the primacy of the spiritual life: 20-32. It deepens the themes proposed by Vita
Consecrata.20 Particular emphasis is placed upon the Eucharist because of its capacity to con-
form one to Christ and because every form of prayer is concentrated in the Eucharistic Litur-
gy (RdC 26).21 Consecrated persons are commended to offer themselves in accompanying
those in search of authentic spirituality (VC 103).

20Along the lines of Novo Millennio Ineunte, it concentrates on the contemplation of Christ (RdC 22-23) in its var-
ious forms: the Word of God (24), contemplative prayer (25). Starting Afresh from Christ adds the necessity of con-
templating the face of Christ also in times of trial when we share in the Paschal Mystery.
21   On this theme also see the recent Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis 67, 81.

          Our Constitutions contain ample elements identifying the primacy of the spiritual
life. There is also a reference to the idea that our houses may become centres of spirituality
(Const. 25,4; 52,2). From the linguistic point of view, the character of the primacy of the spiri-
tual life could be further highlighted perhaps in our legislative text, rather than remain scat-
tered throughout it.

2. Consecrated life and mission
          Church documents affirm the intrinsic bond between consecration and mission, the
agent of which is fraternal life (VC 72). A discernment of the signs of the times should always
be exercised. Thus the consecrated life can make its proper contribution in response to the
problems of today’s man. This implies a discernment in faithfulness to the Rule and Constitu-
tions in communion with the whole Church, elaborating and realizing new evangelization
projects for the situations of today (VC 73). The fundamental contribution of the consecrated
life to evangelization is ‚a life given totally to God and to the brothers, in imitation of the Sav-
iour who, for the love of man, became servant‛ (VC 75). Furthermore we also find the impor-
tance of the consecrated life in ecumenical (VC 100-101) and inter-religious (VC 102) dialogue.
         Chapter XII of our Constitutions is totally dedicated to mission, well exemplified by
the spirituality of the Saint Francis. Perhaps some reference to the missionary and witness na-
ture of religious life as such would be useful, as well as how this ought to be made present in
formation. The theme of inter-religious and ecumenical dialogue is almost absent.
        Within the context of mission the Church documents cite, as a sign of the times, the
importance of religious in the world of education (VC 96-97) and consecrated persons in the
world of culture (VC 98). The theme is virtually absent from our Constitutions.

3. Preference for the poor
         Recent Church documents amply recall the necessity to live a preferential option for
the poor and needy and of living a simple and austere life (VC 82-83). Starting Afresh from
Christ 24-26 deepens and details the necessary contribution on the part of the consecrated life
in favour of the poor. This emphasis of the magisterium also underlines the Christological
character of sharing, of compassion and of closeness with the poor and suffering according to
the meaning indicated in Matthew 25. In particular the document insists on the capacity of
consecrated life, according to its proper charismatic makeup, to be inserted within the partic-
ular contexts. This requires a readiness to abandon ‚the familiar‛ and established in order to
be open to new frontiers of dedication for the kingdom of God.
         Our Constitutions cover this point quite well. The theme of poverty, as both a per-
sonal and community commitment, receives ample space. It can be said that many of the in-
sights found in recent magisterial documents on the consecrated life have been anticipated in
our legislation. Perhaps some repetitions may be noted in the text of the Constitutions. The
Constitutions lack an explicit reference to the preferential option for the poor. This could be

added. It may also be worthwhile to illustrate the relationship with the poor in terms that are
more biblical, for example, compassion, nearness, sharing, etc – terms which are not found in
the text. Finally it seems good to me from the point of view of legislation to make the relevant
statements more essential, more incisive and cogent.

                             5. QUESTIONS REGARDING FORMATION

1. The global meaning of formation
          In Church documents the theme of formation is one of those that has received major
consideration in recent years. These are documents that intend to clarify the identity, content
and methods of formation for the consecrated life. Vita Consecrata recognizes conformity with
Christ as conformity with his filial identity, as the meaning of all formation: ‚The primary ob-
jective of the formation process is to prepare people for the total consecration of themselves to
God in the following of Christ, at the service of the Church's mission. To say "yes" to the
Lord's call by taking personal responsibility for maturing in one's vocation is the inescapable
duty of all who have been called. One's whole life must be open to the action of the Holy Spi-
rit, travelling the road of formation with generosity, and accepting in faith the means of grace
offered by the Lord and the Church. Formation should therefore have a profound effect on
individuals, so that their every attitude and action, at important moments as well as in the
ordinary events of life, will show that they belong completely and joyfully to God. Since the
very purpose of consecrated life is conformity to the Lord Jesus in his total self-giving, this
must also be the principal objective of formation. Formation is a path of gradual identification
with the attitude of Christ towards the Father. If this is the purpose of the consecrated life, the
manner of preparing for it should include and express the character of wholeness.‛ (VC 65).22 In
this perspective the principle of filial conformity is proposed as a criterion to organize various
contributions, enabling an integral formation. Finally, there is a reminder concerning the care
to be taken for the formation of formators, using adequate structures. By way of precedent,
the document Potissimum institutioni already considered formative structures in detail.23

22‚While it is true that the renewal of the consecrated life depends primarily on formation, it is equally certain
that this training is, in turn, linked to the ability to establish a method characterized by spiritual and pedagogical
wisdom, which will gradually lead those wishing to consecrate themselves to put on the mind of Christ the
Lord.‛ (VC 68).
23 PI 6-18 considers the identity of consecration more precisely, with particular reference to the pedagogical as-
pects regarding the adoption of the evangelical counsels as one’s form of life, as well as the agents and contexts
of this formation (PI 19-30). Among these the document refers to the Holy Spirit and Mary, but also the Church,
the community, superiors, formators, and above all the personal responsibility of the person himself, the human and
Christian dimension, ascetism and questions regarding sexuality, as well as stages of formation (PI 42-71). The
document discusses formation beginning with its preliminary phases up to permanent or ongoing formation as
a single formative reality, while not failing to make some observations of vocational pastoral work.

         In our Constitutions there is no reference at all, in the context of formation, to the
theme of conformity to the sentiments of Christ. While the theme of the integral formation is
raised, the Constitutions nevertheless lack the criterion for the integration of the various
competences. Since the theme of conformity to Christ is central to our spirituality, an empha-
sis on the sentiments of the Son of God could be well integrated with what is already found in
the Constitutions. As for the formation of formators our Constitutions essentially say nothing,
even if our Order has promoted such formation, especially with the Franciscan Institute of
Spirituality (Antonianum) and the General Office of Formation. This formation deserves to be
valued adequately.24

2. Ongoing formation
          The Church documents recommend that initial and ongoing formation be closely
connected (VC 69-70). The fundamental dimensions are also recalled: the primacy of life in the
Spirit; the apostolic dimension; the cultural and professional dimension; the deepening of
ones proper charism in which to read every other aspect of one’s own journey (VC 71). The
instruction Starting Afresh from Christ deepens the importance of ongoing formation as the
need to form one’s liberty to be always ready to learn (RdC 15). A certain pedagogical thought
should also be remembered. This thought is shared ever more widely today and identifies
ongoing formation as the fundamental image of formation as such. Ongoing formation is that
continuous attitude of deepening one’s own life as vocation into which the person is led by
initial formation.
         In our Constitutions the bond between initial formation and ongoing formation ap-
pears a little weak and inadequately articulated. The elements highlighted by the magiste-
rium and by psycho-pedagogical reflection on the consecrated life in the last two decades
could also be succinctly included in our Constitutions.

3. Ratio Institutionis
         Church documents strongly urge ‚all the Institutes of consecrated life and Societies of
apostolic life to work out a ratio institutionis as soon as possible, that is, a formation pro-
gramme inspired by the charism of the institution in which the journey to follow to fully as-
similate the spirituality of the Institute is presented clearly and dynamically.‛ Today there is a
truly ‚pressing need‛ for this (VC 68). The ratio institutionis should also include a programme
for ongoing formation organised according to the stages of life.
        Our Constitutions speak of a ratio formationis (formation plan) (Const. 24,7) as the in-
strument that individual provinces or circumscriptions of provinces should formulate, but
nevertheless only in reference to initial formation. Giving heed to the instructions of the ma-
gisterium, and the need imposed by globalization and the increasing and inevitable intercul-

24   At this moment there is only a note in the Ordinationes 2/1.

turality of our fraternities, requires that the Order have a comprehensive, fundamental forma-
tion plan. This plan should also include ongoing formation. The circumscriptions and prov-
inces may draw from such a plan in order to adapt what has been said to their own situations.
In my opinion, this insistence needs to be accepted at the level of the Constitutions. Given the
present challenges, it would be opportune that the tasks of the general secretariat of forma-
tion be better clarified (Const. 24,4-5).

          As has been surely noticed, many of our important values have not even been
touched upon in this study. Here the aim has only been to indicate those themes treated in
recent documents of the magisterium dealing with the consecrated life and presented in a dif-
ferent way in our present Constitutions, or absent from them. In this way the aim has been to
offer a simple tool for a further, fruitful debate within our Order.

                                  SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Documents of the Magisterium

BENEDETTO XVI, «Discorso ai superiori e alle superiore generali degli istituti di vita consacrata
    e delle società di vita apostolica», (Monday 22 May 2006), in L’Osservatore Romano
    (lunedì- martedì 23 maggio 2006), 5.
BENEDETTO XVI, «Lettera in occasione della plenaria Congregazione per gli istituti di vita
    consacrata e le società di vita apostolica, (27 September 2005), in L’Osservatore Romano
    (Friday 30 September 2005), 5.
SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium (21 November 1964), in
    AAS 57 (1965), 5-67: EV 1, 284-456.
SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Perfectae caritatis (28 October 1965), on the renewal of reli-
    gious life, in AAS 58 (1966), 331-353: EV 1/702-770.
    tissimum Institutioni (2 febbraio 1990), in AAS 82 (1990), 470-532: EV 12/1-139.
    Fraternal Life in Community (2 February 1994): EV 14/345-537.
    struction Starting Afresh from Christ. A renewed commitment to the Consecrated Life for the
    Third Millennium (19 May 2002): EV 21/372-510.

    struction Attenta alle condizioni (8 December 1998), on inter-institute collaboration in for-
    mation: EV 17/1806-1895.
    Mutuae Relationes (14 May 1978), in AAS 70 (1978), 473-506: EV 6, 586-717.
    ligious Life (12 August 1980): EV 7, 505-541.
    January 1969), on the renewal of formation for the religious life, in AAS (1969) 103-120:
    EV 3, 694-747.
    gust 1980): EV 7, 436-504.
JOHN PAUL II, Ai religiosi. Catechesi del mercoledì 28 settembre 1994 – 29 marzo 1995, LEV, Città
    del Vaticano 1995.
JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata (25 March 1996), in AAS 88
    (1996), 377-486: EV 15/434-775.
JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Exhortation Redemptionis Donum (25 marzo 1984), in AAS 76 (1984),
    513-546: EV 9/721-758.
JOHN PAUL II, Lettera Apostolica Litterae encyclicae, a tutte le persone consacrate delle
    comunità religiose e degli istituti secolari in occasione dell’anno mariano (22 maggio
    1988), in AAS 80 (1988), 1639-1652: EV 11, 672-694.
PAUL VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelica Testificatio (29 June 1971), in AAS (1971), 497-526:
    EV 4, 996-1058.
PAUL VI, Motu Proprio Ecclesiae Sanctae (6 August 1966), in AAS 58 (1966), 758-787: EV 2, 696-
SYNOD OF BISHOPS, La vita consacrata e la sua missione nella Chiesa e nel mondo. Lineamenta (20
    November 1992), in Enchiridion del Sinodo dei Vescovi, II, 1989-1995. Edizione bilingue. A
    cura della SEGRETERIA GENERALE DEL SINODO DEI VESCOVI, EDB, Bologna 2006, 4374-4449.
SYNOD OF BISHOPS, La vita consacrata e la sua missione nella Chiesa e nel mondo. Instrumentum
    Laboris (20 Maggio 1994), in Enchiridion del Sinodo dei Vescovi, II, 1989-1995. Edizione
    2006, 4450-4625.

2. Literature on the renewal of the consecrated life

ABBRUZZESE S., La vita religiosa. Per una sociologia della vita consacrata, prefazione di Léo Mulin,
    Guaraldi, Rimini 1995.

     La vita consacrata nella Chiesa. Atti del 32º Incontro di studio (Borca di Cadore, 27 giugno-1
     luglio 2005), Glossa, Milano 2006.
BALTHASAR H.U. VON, Gli stati di vita del cristiano, Jaca Book, Milano 21996 (editions in
     German, French, English, Spanish).
BÖHLER H., I consigli evangelici in prospettiva trinitaria. Sintesi dottrinale, Cinisello Balsamo 1993.
BONI A., «La vita consacrata nel suo essere della Chiesa e non nella Chiesa», in Antonianum 73
     (1998), 679-694.
CANOBBIO G., «La vita consacrata nelle esortazioni apostoliche postsinodali. Dalla
     Christifideles Laici ad oggi», in Chiesa Locale, vita consacrata e territorio: un dialogo aperto, Il
     Calamaio, Roma 2004, 43-60.
CASTELLANO J., «Lumen Gentium - Perfectae Caritatis - Vita Consecrata: unità dinamica e
     novità di tre testi magisteriali sulla vita consacrata», in Informationes SCRIS 22 (1996) 1,
CENCINI A., Vita consacrata. Itinerario formativo lungo la via di Emmaus, Paoline, Cinisello
     Balsamo 1994.
DALBESIO A., E lasciato tutto lo seguirono. I fondamenti biblici della vita consacrata, EDB, Bologna
ETZI P., «Il concetto di consacrazione religiosa nel supremo magistero dal Concilio Vaticano II
     all'Esortazione apostolica post-sinodale ‚vita consacrata‛», in Antonianum 37 (1997), 571-
GARCIA PAREDES J.C.R., Teologia della vita religiosa, San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo 2004.
GONZÁLEZ SILVA S.M. (ed.), I frutti del cambiamento. A 40 anni dal “Perfectae caritatis”, Áncora
     Editrice, Milano 2006.
MARTINELLI P. (ed.), Il rinnovamento della vita consacrata e la famiglia francescana, EDB, Bologna
MATURA T., E lasciato tutto lo seguirono. Fondamenti biblici della vita religiosa, Qiqaion, Magnano
MONTAN A., «La vita consacrata nel mistero della Chiesa fra tradizione e rinnovamento. Dal
     Concilio vaticano II al codice di diritto canonico (1983)», in Lateranum 57 (1991), 515-576.
NERI F., «La ricezione del Vaticano II nell’Ordine dei Frati Minori Cappuccini», in P.
     MARTINELLI (ed.), Il rinnovamento della vita consacrata e la famiglia francescana, EDB,
     Bologna 2007, 167-183.
PARDILLA A., Vita consacrata per il nuovo millennio. Concordanze, fonti e linee maestre
     dell’esortazione apostolica «Vita Consecrata», LEV, Città del Vaticano 2003.
PIANO L., «La posizione della vita consacrata nella Chiesa. Risvolti ecumenici», in Studi
     Ecumenici 24 (2006) 627-638.
PIANO L., «La posizione dei religiosi nella Chiesa negli interventi dei Padri conciliari sullo
     schema ‘De Ecclesia’ al Concilio Vaticano II», in Seminarium 4 (1997) 804-834.
POLI G. F. (ed.), Supplemento al Dizionario Teologico della Vita Consacrata, Àncora Editrice,
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PONTIFICIA OPERA PER LE VOCAZIONI, Benedetto sia Dio [Nuove vocazioni per una nuova Europa. «In
     Verbo Tuo…»]. Documento Finale del Congresso sulle vocazioni al sacerdozio e alla vita
     consacrata in Europa, Roma, 5-10 Maggio 1997, in EV 16 1533-1706.
RAHNER K., «Sui consigli evangelici», in ID., Nuovi Saggi, II, Paoline, Roma 1968, 513-552.
RODRIGUEZ A.A. –CANALS CASAS J.M., (edd.), Dizionario teologico della vita consacrata, edizione
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ROVIRA J., «Principali contenuti dottrinali sulla vita consacrata nei documenti del Magistero a
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SALONIA G., «Il cammino della persona consacrata dal ‚Perfectae caritatis‛ ad oggi», in
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SCARVAGLIERI G, Vita consacrata e inculturazione, EDB, Bologna 1999.
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