St. Camillus Resigns the Position of Superior General

rinunciaWe all know that at a certain point in his life St. Camillus resigned the position of Superior General of the Order which had been founded ‘by the crucified Christ and by the wound that had marked him for the whole of his existence’. The chroniclers have handed down to us a detailed picture of what happened during those days, emphasising the humility and the obedience of the saint but also drawing attention to an unpleasant episode when Camillus ‘celebrated’ this event which he had awaited with fervour. We offer to the reader a description provided by Camillus’ first biographer, Cicatelli, who used the following words to relate what happened:

‘Because of the great burdens which weighed upon the Institute, a significant number of religious went to the new Cardinal Protector, Domenico Ginnasi, whom Paul V on 2 March 1606 had given to the Institute. The Cardinal ascertained that the cause of the malaise and dismay ‘lay in being embraced too much by that holy man and in his excessive fervour’. He tied to remedy the situation, informing first of all the Supreme Pontiff about it, who had received direct communications on the matter. Paul V entrusted to the prudence and the ability of the Protector the delicate task of dealing with the matter and coming to an understanding with the Founder, summoning him to Rome from Naples where he was immersed in the exercise of charity. Ginnasi said clearly to Camillus that he had to stay in Rome to govern the religion with the help of the members of the General Consulta, without whom he could not take any decision. This observation displeased the Founder a great deal and he feared that this was ‘a very great persecution by the Devil’. Probably, from that moment onwards there returned to him the idea of resigning the position of Superior General which he had already expressed on other occasions and from which he had been dissuaded.

In September 1607 Cardinal Ginnasi, the Protector of the Order, called a meeting in Rome in his presence, in which Camillus also had to take part together with the members of the General Consulta and the Provincials, with the aim of studying remedies for the difficulties.

Camillus believed that this was a suitable occasion to decline all responsibility for the government of the Order and to make known his resignation. For this purpose he went twice to Paul VI who promised to deal with the matter with the Protector.

On the morning of 2 October the meeting began in the palace of Cardinal Ginnasi in the presence of Msgr. Seneca and all those who were taking part. After an introductory speech by the Protector, Camillus engaged in a ‘long disquisition about the Institute and the love for the poor which had led it to have so many hospitals, so many novices and to contract so many debts’. He ended by saying that ‘he had governed for twenty-four years and that being old, tired and not well he had gone twice to the Supreme Pontiff to resign his position as Superior General’. The decision was news to his religious even though some of them may have intuited it or foreseen it. The Cardinal, after some attempts to dissuade Camillus, declared that he had been authorised by the Supreme Pontiff to accept his resignation. Camillus then renewed his declaration and expressed his intention to ‘always be under the yoke of holy obedience as the least of them all’.

On the next morning Camillus communicated his decision to the community of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene and over the following days notified all the houses of the Institute of his resignation.

On 3 October the Diet proceeded to elect Fr. Biagio Oppertis as the Vicar General and the appointment was confirmed by Paul VI. Five other sittings then followed at which the major difficulties of that time were addressed. Many new orders were given about the central government of the Order, and in particular the Constitution which Camillus had had abrogated at the previous General Chapter was restored. It was ordered that in the future great care should be taken in contracting further debts, in receiving novices, and in taking responsibility for hospitals.

  ‘Then Camillus almost in pain because the Cardinal had not a long time ago shown the grace he then obtained, keeling down on the ground immediately with a great deal of humility said: just as he had resigned at the feet of the Supreme Pontiff so he again resigned at the hands of his most illustrious Lordship, and beseeched him to have instantaneous compassion for his old age and never want again in the future to allow him to be given another position in the government of the Order.

He protested again that he did not want in the religion any kind of privilege or prerogative again, but wanted always to be under the yoke of Holy Obedience as the least of them all.

After that first Congregation had ended, Camillus began that same evening to behave like all the other subjects and no longer went to sit in his usual place in the refectory but, rather, went to the dining all like all the other priests…’

‘Given that this resignation of his had been done with a great deal of contentment and comfort of spirit on his part, when the Fathers of the Diet reached Rome he with his own hands wanted to wash and kiss the feet of all of them. He did even more for them by taking up a butt of very good wine, saying that he had kept it for the last days of his government of the Order, and added the words of the Holy Gospel: ‘Lord you have kept the best wine until now’.