Brother Francis of Assisi, led by divine inspiration and inflamed by an ardent love for Christ, chose for himself and his brothers a life of evangelical fraternity in poverty and minority, and, in few and simple words, presented it in a Rule. Innocent III approved this Rule and way of life of the lesser brothers viva voce, but Honorius III confirmed it by the Bull Solet annuere on the 29th of November, 1223. When he was close to death, the holy Founder left his Testament to the present and future brothers as a remembrance, admonition and exhortation,that we observe in a more catholic way the Rule we promised the Lord.
As years passed, Francis disciples had to accommodate their life, activity and legislation to the various needs of the times. This was done in General Chapters by way of Constitutions.
By the Bull Religionis zelus, published on July 3, 1528, Clement VII approved the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor. From the beginning this Order has been dedicated to the faithful, simple and pure observance of the spiritual patrimony of Saint Francis, the Founder, according to his Rule and Testament and under the magisterium of the Church, and to the transmission of these to future generations of brothers.
To renew this faithful observance, a Chapter of the Order celebrated in 1536 produced Constitutions which, when necessary, were later emended at different times and most especially to new prescriptions of the Church. This occurred, for example, after the Council of Trent, after innovations of other ecclesiastical laws brought about in the course of time, and after the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law at the beginning of this century. Our Constitutions have always retained the spiritual purpose and fundamental intent of Saint Francis.
Another event of the greatest importance for the renewal of the life and legislation of members of religious Orders was the Second Vatican Council, especially through the dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium and the Decree Perfectae caritatis.
By the Apostolic Letter Ecclesiae sanctae, published motu proprio on August 6,1966, Paul VI ordered the review of legislation for all religious Institutes. The criteria for such a revision of the Constitutions is found in the texts of the Second Vatican Council and in other later documents of the Church that especially include a continual return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original inspiration of the Institutes, while respecting the signs of the times, and the necessary connection between the spiritual and juridical element, lest the Constitutions be merely a text that is juridical or merely exhortatory.
Our special Chapter of 1968 duly reviewed the Constitutions, which were then promulgated for an experimental period. In the Chapters of 1970 and 1974 they were again somewhat revised.
In the General Chapter of 1982 they were so revised according to the norm of Ecclesiae sanctae II, nn.6 and 8, and according to the will of the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, made known by the Letter of November 15, 1979, that definitive approval could have been sought from the authority of the Holy See.
The same General Chapter, anticipating the new Code of Canon Law and amenable to the plan of the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes expressed on August 4, 1981, set up a capitular Commission whose duty was to revise the text in a contemporary idiom, and to adapt and make it agree with the prescriptions of the Code of Canon Law.
The General Definitory, turning its attention to the command of the General Chapter and having obtained the suitable faculty from the Holy See in virtue of the Letter dated November 12, 1982, took care to publish the definitive and authentic text of the Constitutions. This text had validity and was in force from March 25,1983, the day of the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, until the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life duly approved these same Constitutions.
When the Code of Canon Law was promulgated on January 25, 1983, the text of the Constitutions had to be adapted to it in some parts. For this reason, the Congregation gave to General Superiors and their Councils the faculty of promulgating provisional norms for those matters which, required by the new Code, had not yet been inserted into the text of the Constitutions, but which are to be set before the next General Chapter.
In the meantime, the text of the Constitutions, accurately emended, was sent to the Congregation and was approved by the same Congregation on December 25, 1986.
The General Chapter of 1988 sedulously examined and approved the propositions prepared by the General Definitory which had not yet been incorporated into the text of the Constitutions. It wished that, according to Code of Canon Law, they must be incorporated into the text of the Constitutions. The Congregation ratified this text by a Letter dated February 7, 1990.
Therefore, the present text of the Constitutions, rendered in Latin and definitively approved, must be considered authentic, and all vernacular versions must conform to it.