Evangelization work. The roots:
Difficult experiences – Regolamento
The most serious crisis, which affected The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer in the early stages of its existence refers to the years 1780-1793. It’s because during this period of time, the Redemptorists who lived in the Kingdom of Naples were obliged by so called Internal Regulations – Regolamento Ineriore. To understand the context of this happening let’s reach to the beginning of The Congregation of The Most Holy Redeemer. It was founded on November 9, 1732 in the Scala village located in the mountains reaching above the Amalfi Bay. It’s founder was St Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, from Naples. His first companions also hailed from Naples. First houses they built, in the Kingdom of Naples.
Our Congregation rules were approved by pope Benedict XIV in the Epistle Ad pastoralis dignitatis fastigium, published on 25 November, 1749. It was great joy for St Alphonsus and the whole Congregation. Redemptorists were then gathered on the first chapter of their Congregation in Ciorani in autumn 1749. They chose St Alphonsus to be so called president mayor – general superior of the Congregation. They approved these rules, and they gave great treasure to the Congregation – intercession of The Blessed Virgin Mary, by picking her to be the patron of this community.
But these moments of happiness were shaded by the awareness of the second important decision which was taken by king Charles IV, king of Naples. Redemptorists’ work in this country absolutely depended on his so called exequatur, which gives the permission to work on the principle of the Rule approved by the Pope. They waited for that to happen for about three years. On December 9, 1752 they received Charles IV decree which didn’t agree with Pope’s approval, but allowed the four already existing houses to stay in the Kingdom of Naples temporarily. It forbade the Redemptorists to earn different kinds of goods, and at the same time subordinates them under authority of Bishops of the dioceses, where their monasteries were situated.
It was a very hard situation. St Alphonsus understood it well as he was aware of the fact that one King’s notion or any reluctance of any officials would be enough to destroy the Congregation. That’s the reason, why he decided to move the congregation on the Papal State territory. First foundation on the Papal State territory in Sant’Angelo a Cupolo was established in 1755. The Pope Benedict was happy with it, and asked by Alphonsus, he tried to make king Charles’ issue his exequatur for the Epistle approving Redemptorists. Unfortunately the response was negative. Redemptorists’ situation living in Papal State was clear. They obeyed the Rule of Benedict XIV, but Redemptorists living in the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Sicily ruled by Charles IV wasn’t as obvious. It was known as rather difficult.
During such difficult times Pope Clement XIII appointed St Alphonsus as Bishop of the Sant’ Agata dei Gotti diocese. It was 1762. Alphonsus tries to convince Pope that he doesn’t qualify for such work. Eventually he yields to the Holy Father accepting the episcopal consecration going to Sant’ Agata dei Goti to wield authority, rule and serve diocese entrusted to him. But the important case of Congregation remains. Pope Clement XII didn’t want such young Congregation to remain without its founder, so he decided that Alphonsus still would be the general superior. There upon the vicar general has been appointed, so he could manage the Congregation in the name of St Alphonsus. Father Andrea Villani was chosen to become the vicar himself.
The story of the congregation is very turbulent. It’s expanding and new monasteries are being build, on Sicily, or Papal State for example. However the case of Congregation’s legal status in the Kingdom of Naples is still unsettled. St Alphonsus is getting old and is starting to get seriously ill. He practically gets blind. Meanwhile during the negotiations with the king of Naples comes the preposition of so called Regolamento Interiore – The Interior Regulations acceptable for both king Charles IV and the Congregation. The decision is made. St Alphonsus can’t lead the negotiations. His vicar father Villani isn’t able to do it as well. So Alphons confides this duty, basically giving them a free hand to make decisions, to two redemptorists, general consultors. It turned out that these two redemptorists didn’t measure up to this expectations. Some historians say that they betrayed. Anyway the problem is that they agreed to practically every suggestion of the royal clerks to get the approval. Maybe they thought that both, the founder father Alphonsus Maria de Liguori and the general vicar, father Villani didn’t really care about that Regolamento. They thought that the Pope’s regulation which they wanted to obey, was ruling, and Regolamento was just strictly formal for them to just peacefully exist on the Naples Kingdom. But the problem occurred when it turned out that Regolamento changed Congregation into sacerdotal association. The four vows: of chastity, poverty, obedience and presistance which redemptorists regularly followed were rejected. Instead they would only pledge chastity and obedience, totally omitting poverty, and there comes passage which adversely to the presistance vow says, that redemptorists can leave the Congregation at any moment. Next very important, and controverisal statement in Regolamento was that the authority of congregation comes under the management of the bishops. So there were nobody to coordinate and appoint the superiors, but bishops of the dioceses ruled the houses on their terrains.
The other case which shocked redemptorists was that Regolamento didn’t mention anything about chapters, which were supposed to gather every nine years according to Rule of Benedict XIV. There weas no, most important managing body in Congregation – there was no General Chapter. In a word Regolamento changed the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer diametrically. We can ask what happened after March 8, 1780, when these documents were published? What was the reaction of St Alphonsus and other Redemptorists? Of course they were indignant. Situation they found themselves in, was not only painful, but it turned out to be some kind impasse. They gathered on formal meeting that couldn’t have been called the chapter, in Pagani. There the Regolamento was accepted leaving 10 paragraphs which were absolutely unacceptable.
That’s how long, story began. Story painful for St Alphonsus, father Villani and many more redemptorists living on the territory of Kingdom of Naples. It’s because the Holy See didn’t approve such solution. There were some rules approved by Pope Benedict XIV already,and it was easy to say that if someone didn’t accept these rules, and instead obeyed to some rules created by Naples king they just were not the members of this congregation. That’s where belief came from that St Alphonsus died out of our Congregation. By the way, some important Vatican officials said so. Said that Alphonsus and all other confreres who obeyed this rule. Nevertheless they still tried to look for some agreement.
The Holy See on September 22, 1780 appointed new Superior for the houses placed in the Papal State. His name was Francis Antonio de Paola. De facto he became the second general superior simultaneously with Alphonsus. We need to remember that it was the time that St Alphonsus was going to die soon. August 1, 1787 he passes away. That leaves many difficult and unsolved problems, and Redemptorists are still looking for agreement. There comes a thaw in relationship between King and the Church and discussions about assigning concordat were started. Talks about overturning Regolamento for Naples part of the Congregation so they could accept Benedict’s XIV rule.
Final resolution of this crisis comes on so called reconciliation chapter, which takes place in 1793 in Pagani. The chapter chooses new general superior – father Pietro Paulo Blasucci and new stage of our Congregation begins. Experiences of those times are very rich. We can’t describe all of them here, but roughly speaking that’s how it all came about. We are grateful for every good that God gave us through these difficult moments to our Congregation.
Author: o. Mirosław Grakowicz CSsR
Translate: br. Michał Zieliński CSsR
Music: Follow That Dream by Luca Fraula