The history of „New” Redemptorist Constitutions – part one

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Roots – The history of „New” Redemptorist Constitutions – part one.


“Copiosa Apud Eum Redemptio” – “With Him is plentiful Redemption”. This slogan, which appeared at the beginning of our Congregation on the first coat of arms, is also present today in the first constitution of our renewed legislation. The Constitutions have replaced the old Rules and have more of our Founder’s spirit, even than the first Rule. So many Redemptorists look proudly at our Constitutions, moreover, it is believed that this is the first legislation to be submitted to the Holy See for approval in the context of aggiornamento, which means conciliar renewal. This is partly true. However, this is partly false. Well, it is not about those Constitutions, finally approved in 1982 and later, after the emergence of the new Code of Canon Law, confirmed in 1985. These are the Constitutions that are basically forgotten, and for many are unknown: the Constitutions of 1964. What are these Constitutions? Where did these come from? Let us allow ourselves a small historical flash.

One can only mention that Regolamento appears along the way, which was the cause of a great tragedy – the division of the Congregation, but also a very important Chapter in Scifeli in the time of the division in 1785. It was this who added new laws (and attention – it is not about the Constitutions but about Rules, that is the fundamental law). These made it possible to start educational work, i.e. work that was not included in the basic papal rule. These rules were not approved by the Holy See, because the Holy See believed that if the Congregation later reconciled, the Rules should not be different. There should be some base for reconciliation. And this Rule of Scifeli was not approved by the Holy See. But St. Clement, leaving Hübel northwards, first to Vienna, and then to Warsaw, establishing a Benonite community, left with these very Rules. On the basis of these Rules, he later developed the so-called The Warsaw Rule, which it provided for, also allowed for various activities, especially since it was not possible to undertake missionary activities. After explanations, this Rule was of course corrected, but an even more interesting rule is the so-called The Hofbauer Rule, or Imperial Rule, compiled by St. Clement with imperial officials in 1820, shortly before the permission to establish the first community at Maria am Gestade in Vienna. This Rule is a pastoral, apostolic rule – it also provides for the possibility of undertaking various activities. And note: this was the basis for the approval of the first Redemptorist community in Vienna. For several years, the Redemptorists in Vienna tried to live according to this Rule. Only later did Father Passerat, by making a certain reconciliation, unifying the legislation, recall the Rules that were in force in Italy, also with the Constitutions and – worst of all – also with all customs, including ascetic ones, totally alien to the northern, northern European world, but this saved the unity of the Congregation. However, it closed the way, which is very important and perhaps necessary for our legislation, especially the Rules, to correspond to the spirit of the time and the possibilities that are in a specific place. The next important step in shaping our Rules and Constitutions was the Chapter, as I mentioned, in 1855, later revised and supplemented by another important Chapter. After forty years of leadership of General Mauron in 1894, General Raus assumed the office. The next Chapter also supplements our legislation and this is how this thick booklet is published a year later – in 1895. On this occasion, let us realize what the Rules are and what are the Constitutions that then appear in our documents. Well, the Rules, written quite lengthily in this edition, because they are here in the original Latin, and also in Italian, take only a dozen pages. However, most of this book, leaving at the end various annexes, lists, catalogs, the majority of the book are the Constitutions. In the understanding of the Redemptorists, when they spoke of the Rule, they were talking about the whole: about what constituted the basis of our Congregation, and therefore the Rule, but also the Constitutions which the Congregation defined itself. This detail, this precision of expressions, perfection of almost all the necessary recipes of everyday life, led to a great rigidity. On the other hand, our Congregation in the 19th century, also from the legal point of view, was a good example for the Holy See and our rules, our solutions were given to the newly formed Congregations as a good example.

Another elements in shaping our legislation are the decrees about poverty. In 1909, this stiffening of our legislation, and also the disagreements between the South and the North, led to a sharp dispute over the understanding of poverty in the Congregation. In response to these disagreements, Pope Pius X in 1909 gives the Congregation a decree which from then on becomes inseparable from our legislation, is inalienable, must not be removed and is also found in our new Constitutions. Following the promulgation of Canon Law in 1917, a year later Pope Benedict XV confirms Pius X’s decree and gives a second decree, supplementing only with specific changes dictated by the new Code of Canon Law.

Finally, there are already major changes to our legislation at the beginning of the 20th century.

The first reason for change for Redemptorists will always be apostolic, missionary reasons. The way of life of the groups that need to be reached are not those of the poor inhabitants of the countryside anymore, but most of all very developed cities. Earlier, Redemptorists, back in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century (we have such historical examples), were proud of the fact that in order to remain faithful to the Rule, they were relegating to other places where workers are and simply need to be taken care of in pastoral work. American Redemptorists, faithful to the tradition of St. John Neumann, deal with education, also run parishes, this also applies to mission areas; a different way of thinking and provisions in the Rule are needed to make this possible. Americans at that time, which will also be reflected in later years, use the nomenclature of “second founder” or “co-founder” when speaking of St. Clement. They look for certain patterns that would give them the opportunity to confirm their mission. And the Rules? And the Rules for Redemptorists have remained unchanged, holy and untouchable so far.

The driving force behind the upcoming changes and the replacement of the old Rule or the old Rules with new legislation – Constitutions – is the new General, Fr. Leonard Buys. He is a professor at our College in Wittem, a man of broad horizons, also personally brave, but not structured in such a way as to formally start the process of change.

After the premature death of Fr. Leonard, Fr. Wilhelm Boudreaux becomes General in 1954 at the Chapter. He’s an American, from the Baltimore Province. He has worked with the French-speaking minority and has also worked as a missionary in Brazil; he is a practical man and a man ready to take over the reform prepared by his predecessor.

The Chapter of 1954 deserves special attention – because it was decided to change the law of our Congregation. But how and in what direction to go? Well, there are some very important criteria outlined by the Chapter that must be taken into account. The first is the special nature of the Congregation. Until now, especially in the lecture on the spirituality and legislation of our Congregation, this conviction has dominated: there is one goal, the main and important one, characteristic of all religious institutes – that is self-sanctification. Only the second one is characteristic for individual Congregations, Orders, namely the specific apostolic goal in our case and it has always been in second place. Now the Chapter decides that the special character of the Congregation, that is a specific place or vocation in the Church, is to be the decisive element for the reform of our legislation.

The second thing is what Redemptorists are already doing: there is a problem with the parishes. And here comes the solution that parishes must be viewed in a missionary way, that is, we can lead them if the request for such work is made by the Church, and the missionary spirit must prevail in it. Another element is the need to open up to all possible ways of working, “spiritus apertus” – this concept was present at the Chapter of 1954. And finally, something about the way of life, namely the spirit of fraternal unity between fathers and brothers – so as not to create, as is the case with many other institutes, the first and second choirs. This spirit, this desire for our life to be an example of brotherly love between fathers, brothers and co-workers, this is our time, this is the Chapter of 1954. And finally, such an element of honesty in life, but also legal honesty, so that, God forbid, we do not fall into some legal formalism again. This legal spirit must also rely on a certain honesty to guide. The law is supposed to lead us to a mission, not to some closing. It was also decided that the creation of the Spiritual Directory, that is, an exposition of spirituality, as the Rules and Constitutions so far do not allow us to read and correctly interpret our spirituality. There are also two committees. First, under the direction of Fr. Kerry, this Commission is replaced by another Commission, in which Fr. Eduard Wünschel plays the main role.

It comes to the Chapter of 1963. It lasts two months: from February 3rd to April 3rd. A very important event occurs at the beginning of this Chapter. Well, the fruits of the work of Fr. Wünschl’s Commission are sent back. And the proposals contained in them will not be taken into account, just as at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council the council fathers rejected the theological schemes that had been worked out. It is the Chapter that is to start the work of creating completely new legislation. The old Rules will be replaced by the modern text of the Constitutions and the old Constitutions will be replaced by the Chapter Statutes.

Although the Chapter lasts two months, it is unable to complete the drafting of the Constitutions of our renewed legislation. That is why the Otto Viri Commission – Eight Men Commision – is established. Their task: firstly, to refine the text of the Constitution so that it could be submitted to the Holy See for approval; secondly, the Chapter Statutes (that was the name of the General Statutes for the entire Congregation at that time). Finally, the Spiritual Directory and Prayer Manual, and a few other documents. They will run out of time. They will accomplish the most important work: they will create the text of the Constitutions, which will be approved on February 2, 1964 for 7 years ad experimentum, and then, after being confirmed in 1971, they will officially become the legal basis of our Congregation and will be in force until 1982 as the official legal basis for completely new Constitutions. This is a text very important in our history, forgotten today and totally unknown to many young Redemptorists. The otto viri commission will end its activity after 3.5 years, when it turns out that in a moment Pope Paul VI will publish the motu proprio “Ecclesiae sanctae”, that is, very detailed and specific criteria and methods of reforming religious legislation. It will turn out that all this work and effort is not so much wasted, but must start over. The Redemptorists will be prepared, warmed up, with some experience, to prepare the most beautiful Constitutions of 1982. But this is material for another episode and for another meeting. Copiosa apud Eum Redemptio!


Author: Fr. Mariusz Chyrowski CSsR

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