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Rule and Commentary

Fr. Raffaele Pazzelli, T.O.R.

Franciscan University Press -  Stubenville, Ohio - 2003        

                        Translated from the Italian By Nancy Celaschi, O.S.F.

Make your selections for the chapters on the left.


In 1983, Fr. Raffaele Pazzelli, TOR, one of the most recognized and well respected Franciscan scholars in the Order, published a historical introduction and commentary of The Rule of the Brothers and Sisters of Third Order Regular of St. Francis in Italian.


On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the approval of the Rule, the General Council of the Third Order Regular has decided to publish an English translation of this important text. It is hoped that it will inspire our friars and sisters to renew their dedication to the Rule and their commitment to religious life. In order to facilitate communication among the brothers and sisters, the publication also includes the addresses of the communities that are connected by our common profession of the Rule.

There are at least four commentaries which have been written about the Rule. Fr. Raffaele's is one of the most insightful because he was a witness and collaborator in all phases of the project which gave birth to the text. In addition, Fr. Pazzelli is the author of several books which deal with the spirituality of the friars and sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis. He is, without a doubt, one of the most competent scholars in the Franciscan family and is able to situate the spirit of the Rule in its proper historical and spiritual context.

Fr. Raffaele presents the key elements regarding the history and development of the content of the Rule in his introduction. The commentary is brief, but substantial and comprehensive and his insights are valuable and challenging. Every brother and sister would benefit from a thorough and meditative reading of the text.

My hope is that Fr. Raffaele's historical introduction and commentary will inspire numerous brothers and sisters to embrace the ideals that are contained in the Rule more fully.

Fr. Ilija Zivkovic, TOR
Minister General


After the Second World War (1939-1945) and the consequent rapid change of mentality and behavior which spread throughout all of society all over the world, even before the Second Vatican Council religious began to feel the desire for renewal, based on a return to their origins and a deeper knowledge of their charism. The Council documents, especially the Constitution Lumen Gentium and the Decree Perfectae Caritatis seemed to encourage those demands and even mapped out a practical road to follow.

In this new climate, the Rule of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, promulgated by Pope Pius XI in 1927, seemed inadequate to many of the men and women religious who followed it. In certain areas of that text the principles of Franciscan spirituality were not delineated well, or at least they were not explained in precise terms which corresponded to the desires of the new candidates. Thus the tertiary congregations began moving towards the preparation of new texts which, in time and with broader associations, became the draft of the Rule.

In 1965 25 congregations of Franciscan sisters in France and Belgium joined together in a project of writing a Rule for Sisters only, with the name of «The Rule of Life of the Franciscan Sisters. Composed of twelve chapters, it was published in 1972 and widely diffused. It was commonly known as «The French text».

In the same period (1967) the Franciscan Cooperation in the

Netherlands prepared a text consisting of six chapters, which was approved and adopted by the chapters of nineteen congregations of Dutch origin. Hence its common name, «The Dutch text».

A third document was prepared by German congregations. This «German text» had eight chapters. More than a rule, it was really a doctrinal compilation; later, at the International Franciscan Meeting in Assisi in 1979, it was revoked.

Lastly, the Fourth Interobediential Congress of the Third Order Regular, meeting at Madrid in 1975, prepared a rough draft of a future Rule, the «Statement of Understanding of the Franciscan Penitential Life», containing six chapters. It became known as «The Madrid Statement»

In retrospect we can say that the only negative aspect of these projects was their limited involvement, that is the lack of any serious attempt to work towards a common agreement and, from the beginning, to work on a single document that could serve the needs of all the congregations, both of men and of women, which followed the same Rule of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis. In fact, each group was going its own way, without even knowing or taking into account what the others were doing. When such anomalies were finally discovered, people did not show the strength or willingness to correct the situation, and this later produced some rather great difficulties.

Thus each project was independent, and sometimes based on different, if not opposing, principles. Only the hard work and patience of the international bodies which were constituted after the 1979 General Assembly in Assisi eventually succeeded in overcoming the differences and finally bringing about the beginning of an agreement.

The meetings in Assisi, 1976 and 1979

Among the various Rule drafts which were born, the French text quickly came to the fore. Its promoters convoked a first International Congress of Franciscan Sisters in Assisi in 1976. They were days of study and reflection. The representatives of the men of the T.O.R. noted two important anomalies:

1) it was intended only for Franciscan sisters, thus excluding the friars; this was contrary to the constant tradition of the Third Order, both Secular and Regular which, from the time of St. Francis until that day had always had one Rule for both brothers and sisters;

2) the project seemed to ignore the penitential spirituality which was always the characteristic of the Third Order, as the Franciscan study congresses on the penitential movement were just rediscovering at that time.

The international congress at Assisi closed without a well defined vision. The organizers promised to spread the various rule drafts for further study in view of another gathering in two or three years' time.

A second International Franciscan meeting was announced for October 1979, once again in Assisi. In the interim the representatives of the T.O.R. men repeatedly showed their willingness to collaborate, emphasizing the Order's primary interest in a single common project which would preserve the unity of the Rule for brothers and sisters.

The international assembly in Assisi marked the meeting and definitive merger of the various currents within the Third Order. It was clear to all that the line which had been adopted up to that point did not satisfy the needs of many people. At the end of the meeting, which voted to adopt the French text as a basic scheme for a new Rule, some important resolutions were drawn up for the continuation of the work: one of these invited «the collaboration and integration of the men's congregations into the study and drafting of one Rule; another added to the two «consultors of the international Franciscan bodies» of the Friars Minor and Friars Minor Capuchin who had assisted the French project from its very beginnings, a delegate or «consultor» from the Friars Minor Conventual and one from the male Third Order Regular.

The same meeting provided for the creation of two international bodies which would have the task of presiding over and promoting, from that time on, all the work concerning the Rule project. These bodies were: the International Franciscan Bureau (B.F.I.), composed of the General Superiors of six Third Order Regular congregations, and an International Franciscan Commission (C.F.I.), composed of nine members. The B.F.I. had the task of supervision and the ultimate responsibility for the entire project; the C.F.I.'s task was the practical organization of the work and determining the procedures for achieving a final document, involving all the congregations, men and women, of the Third Order Regular. The
«consultors» of the four men's Franciscan Families were part of both groups as counselors and experts, but without the right to vote.

The meeting at Grottaferrata, 8-10 March 1980

These resolutions were fully put into effect in the important meeting held at Grottaferrata (Rome) at which, for the first time, all the members of the B.F.I., the C.F.I., and the four «consultors» were present (1).

The meeting clearly determined the end and means of the future work in accordance with the directives given by the Assisi meeting in 1979:

a) there would be one rule, for both the friars and sisters of the Third Order Regular;

b) the text would contain the principle elements of Franciscan spirituality inspiring the various congregations of the friars and sisters so that each congregation could recognize itself in it. These fundamental values are four: poverty, minority, penance, conversion, and contemplation;

c) the basic text would continue to be the one voted on at Assisi, but it would be integrated and modified to respond to the demands of the new situation;

d) there would be constituted a Work Group with the task of redrafting the new document under precise directions from the C.F.I. It would be assisted by four Franciscan experts who were chosen and appointed: Jean-Franqois Godet, P. Francesco S. Pancheri, ofm Conv.; P. Jaime Zudaire, ofm Cap.; Bro. Bartolomeo Pastor-Oliver; T.O.R.(2)

e) all congregations, male and female, following the current Third Order Regular Rule would have to be notified about the work done from that point on, receive all the documentation and submit observations and proposals for the new text, on the congregational level.

It is clear that, in order to achieve this common view, it was necessary, if not a compromise, at least a mutual understanding between the two main currents within the Third Order Regular, represented by the «French text« and the «Madrid Statement».

Beginning with the historical fact of the variety of origins and characteristics of many congregations, some of which even had nonFranciscan beginnings, it was not possible to impose a single, limited viewpoint on all the congregations. Thus the backers of the French text had to admit and understand the reality and value of the «penitential tradition» within some congregations, especially those with more ancient origins, in continuous line with the penitents who followed Francis of Assisi. On the other hand, the defenders of the penitential line had to acknowledge that many of the modern congregations - and these are in the greatest majority - had their origins entirely outside the penitential spirituality, often in the shadow of the Friars Minor or Poor Clares, and could therefore not be compelled to accept the penitential spirituality as the sole constitutive element of the new Rule text.

This «bilateral understanding» was the only way possible for preserving the unity and uniqueness of one Rule for the entire Third Order Regular family.

The unity and uniqueness had to be seen by all as an end and good of utmost importance.

In the C.F.I. meeting which took place in Assisi on 11-12 June 1980 they drafted and established the particulars of the structure and tasks of the Work Group, composed of 10 members from various continents and representing various components of the Third Order Regular.

Their task was described as follows: starting with the basic schema (the text voted on at the 1979 Assisi meeting), they had to, in practice, redraft the text in the light of the observations and proposals offered by the congregations (who, in the interim, were already studying the basic text) and insert into it the spiritual contributions or essential points which were present in the Madrid Statement and the Dutch text, according to the guidelines established at the meeting at Grottaferrata. In order to be approved, each article of the new Rule would require an absolute majority vote, that is, two thirds of the vote, on the first and second ballot; the text would have to be re-worked between ballots if there was no majority; on the third ballot an absolute majority (one more than half) was required, in which case, however, the alternative form of the article would be presented to the C.F.I. for final decision.

The Reute text (1980) and the Brussels text (1981)

The work group (3) met from 1-10 September 1980 in Reute (Federal Republic of Germany); even in the midst of various kinds of serious problems, a new text was prepared. This became known as the «Reute text». The C.F.I. and the B.F.I. met from 11-13 September to examine it; they decided to send it to all the congregations for further study and asked them to submit any proposals or modifications. They were to be specific, citing reasons also; they were to be sent to the C.F.I. office by 15 April 1981.

In the interim, the two groups (B.F.I. and C.F.I.) which had the task of preparing the new rule draft continued their international meetings in order to map out the next steps, to coordinate the collating of the responses and proposals and to resolve the practical questions as they arose. The B.F.I. met at Rome on 8-9 November 1980 and the C.F.I. at Alassio (Savona, Italy) on 1-2 December 1980 and at Montpellier (France) 26-27 February 1981. The main objective of the B.F.I. from that time on was to prepare the future general assembly of the Third Order Regular congregations. Its guidelines were reduced to concrete and precise resolutions by the C.F.I. Among these it is well to recall here the idea of instituting a «solidarity» fund to take care of the expenses incurred at the coming General Assembly (both travel and lodging) for those General Superiors who would otherwise be unable to attend, thus reaffirming the equality of the vote of all general superiors, regardless of the size of the congregation. They also specified the role and procedure of the Work Group for their next meeting in which they would have to «redraft the Reute text, taking into account the observations and proposals of the congregations, to achieve a brief and concrete text of an inspirational nature, faithful to Francis' evangelical project».

The work group met at Brussels (Belgium) from 10-20 May 1981. 205 congregations had submitted observations and proposals. Having had some experience in Reute, the members of the Work Group rapidly went about their task, faithfully following the directives established by the C.F.I. This latter group met at Brussels on 21-22 May and carefully examined the new text; they found that it was truly imbued with a spiritual nature, it seemed rich and complete, supported by an internal logic, and was clear and coherent. It could be hoped that all the congregations could find themselves in this text, and that the discussion and approval of the text at the next General Assembly would present no serious problem.

It was decided to send the new text, now referred to as the «Brussels text» to the individual congregations so that the general councils (and the entire congregations, should they so choose), could study and discuss it so that the general superiors could bring the desires and vote of the entire congregation to the next general assembly.

Towards the General Assembly

The B.F.I. and the C.F.I. meetings after Brussels had as their main purpose the preparation of the general assembly. It was first of all confirmed that its primary goal would be to discuss the Brussels text and achieve a formal text to be approved by the assembly itself. They discussed the preparation of the procedural norms for the assembly. This was done in such a way that the assembly could appreciate their functionless and objectivity; it was, however, respectful of the freedom of the assembly in its decisions, but with characteristics of rigorous efficiency for such a large assembly. It was decided to hold both plenary assembly and small group meetings each day so as to facilitate the exchange of ideas. Longer periods of time were provided during the opening days for the presentation of the fundamental values of the text, and for the presentation of the individual chapters, so that the entire assembly might come to a deeper spiritual understanding of the Rule before beginning to discuss, emend and vote upon it. As per the voting systems to be used in the assembly, a triple process was suggested:

a) a,straw vote of pleasure or displeasure following the presentation of each chapter; this would lead, if necessary, to proposals for changes in the small groups;

b) an orientation vote on the basic text and any proposed amendments. Every orientation vote achieving a two thirds majority would be considered definitive;

c) a deliberative, final vote, article by article and chapter by chapter for those parts of the text which had not received a two thirds majority during the orientational vote.

The General Assembly was called to order on 1 March 1982 at the < Domus Pacis» in Rome; it was adjourned on 10 March.

This was undoubtedly the largest and most important general assembly of the men's and women's tertiary congregations ever convened in history. 192 General Superiors or Ministers (or their delegates) participated. Including the Work Group, the consultors, the outside observers, translators, secretarial and support staff, the number of participants was more than 260 in all, coming from 37 nations on all five continents. Throughout the preparation, planning, and actual time of the assembly, it was completely under the direction of men and women professing the Rule of the Third Order Regular.

The ten days of discussions, meetings and common prayer rapidly brought to maturation a process which had begun some time before, leading the participants to a much deeper and common understanding of the meaning of being part of the Third Order Regular. Historical and doctrinal points of view were gradually clarified and illustrated; there was a growing conviction among the participants that, even in the great variety of origins of the tertiary congregations, there was a treasury of basic common values which demanded the preservation of unity (the Rule) and yet allowed the continuation of a precious plurality (Constitutions). Once they had reached these convictions, a vital and essential point, the journey was rather easy, with evidence of true attention and sensitivity to the needs of particular traditions.

The entire Acta of the assembly were published, as well as a smaller work containing the principal presentations which formed the object of the considerations and discussions which led to the improvement and approval of the final text of the Rule.

This material, which can be easily examined, as well as the almost unanimous agreement reached in each article and chapter of the Rule demonstrate the great degree of unity - in both thought and intention - achieved by the men's and women's congregations of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis.

The text of the Rule voted upon by the assembly was quickly presented by the B.F.I. to the Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes.

 The Cardinal Prefect of that Congregation, His Eminence Cardinal Eduardo Pironio, with the date of 30 April 1983, announced to the B.F.I. and other interested parties that the new Rule had received the «solenne conferma pontificia» with the following letter:


Prot. n. Sp.R. 463/79 Rome, 30 April 1983

In the audience which the Holy Father deigned to grant me on 17 December of last year, he allowed me to present to him the new text of the «Regula et Vita Fratrum et Sororum Tertii Ordinis Sancti Francisci» approved by this Sacred Congregation with some modifications, asking him to be so kind as to confirm it with a solemn Pontifical Document dated the eighth day of that same month. The Holy Father kindly granted my request.

I am now happy to be able to communicate to you that His Excellency Archbishop Eduardo Martinez Somalo, Substitute of the Secretariat of State, in a letter numbered Protocol n. 104,237 and dated 21 April has transmitted the Brief «Franciscanum Vitae Propositum» with which the Holy Father confirmed the mentioned text of the «Regula», a copy of which is hereby sent to you, for your information, together with a copy of the «Regula» .

Rejoicing with all of the Franciscan families for this further sign of the Holy Father's kindness, I express my best wishes that the solemn pontifical confirmation may be an encouragement to live generously the religious consecration in imitation of the Holy Patriarch St. Francis of Assisi.

I use this occasion to express to you my pious esteem and humblest regards.

In Christ and Mary Most Holy,
Cardinal Eduardo Pironio, Prefect.

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1 The B.F.I. was composed of: Sr. Elisabeth Delor, Superior General of the Franciscan Sisters of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, President; Sr. Giovanna Achille, Superior General of the Alcantarine Franciscan Sisters; Sr. Alma Dufault, Superior General of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary; Sr. Eliska Pretschnerova, Superior General of the School Sisters of St. Francis; Sr. Christiane Wittmers, Superior General of the Franciscan Sisters, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary; Fr. Luis Cuesta y Nozal, Minister General of the Tertiary Capuchins of the Sorrowful Mother, representing the men's congregations.

The C.F.I. had the following members: Sr. Carmen Ciria, Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Spirit: Sr. Roberta Cusack, Executive Director of the Federation of Franciscan Sisters of the U.S.A.; Sr. Louise Dendooven, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, Coordinator; Sr. Maria Andrea Frech, Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi of Montpellier, treasurer; Sr. Ethelburga Hacker, of the Secretariat of German Franciscan Sisters; Sr. Bernadette Nourdin, Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi of Lyon, Secretary; Sr. Romualda Trinchera, President of the Movimento Religiose Francescane (Italy), Franciscan Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart; Sr. Augusta Visentin, Franciscan Missionaries of the Sacred Heart;

Brother Columban Keller, Missionary Brothers of St. Francis, representing the men's congregations.

The four «consultors» were: Fr. Bernardin Beck, O.F.M.; Fr. Fidele Lenaerts, O.F.M. Cap.; Fr. Candido Lorenzoni, O.F.M. Conv.; Fr. Raffaele Pazzelli, T.O.R.

All of these were in their respective positions from the meeting at Grottaferrata (1980) until the General Assembly in March 1982; there were no substitutions or changes.


2 The group of experts was not retained after the meeting at Reute (September 1980). Only Brother Jean-Francois Godet remained to guide the Work Group as its facilitator.


3 The work group was composed of: Sr. Margaret Carney, Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God, Pittsburgh, U.S.A.; Sr. Isabella Ciruzzi, Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Assisi (del Giglio); Sr. Elena Echavarren, Tertiary Capuchin, Saragozza, Spain; Bro. Paulus Hahn, O.S.F. from Bad Bergzabern, Federal Republic of Germany; Fr. Thaddeus Horgan, Atonement, Washington, U.S.A.; Sr. Ignatia. Bombay, India; Sr. Marianne Jungbluth, Eupen, Belgium; Sr. Marie Benoit Luchemet, Toulouse, France; Sr. Maria Luiza Piva, Santa Catarina, Brazil; Sr. Honoria Montalgo, Pasto, Colombia. All the members of the work group were present at Reute except Br. Paulus Hahn.

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