The tomb of Cardinal Domenico Capranica (1400-1458) which he had built in the Chapel of the Rosary, next to the tomb of S. Caterina di Siena, in the church of S. Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
Of the Cardinal, Dr Ludwig Pastor History of the Popes Volume II, pages 488-495 writes:
"Capranica, or the Cardinal of Fermo, as he was styled from his Archiepiscopal See, was valued by the new Pope even more highly than he had been by Eugenius.
He accompanied Nicholas V. on his various journeys, and in the year 1449 was appointed by him to the important office of Grand Penitentiary, the duties of which he discharged in the most admirable manner.
Various difficult legations were, as we have already said, confided to him, and while fulfilling these he also gave proof of his genuine devotion to the Church by promoting the cause of reform wherever it was possible to do so.
In the Conclave after the death of Nicholas V. There seemed again a likelihood that Capranica would be chosen. During the Pontificate of Nicholas V. he had already been actively interested in the Turkish question, and under Calixtus III. He redoubled his efforts for the protection of Christendom.
The plague, which raged in Rome in the year 1456, drove almost all the Cardinals away, but he remained with the Pope. He fearlessly traversed the infected streets, strewn with the unburied corpses of its victims, as he went to confer with Nicholas on the affairs of the Church. He displayed equal courage of another sort in personally and freely remonstrating with Calixtus when favours were heaped upon his unworthy relations.
As we have already related, he steadfastly refused to acquiesce in Don Pedro's appointment as Duke of Spoleto. The enmity which he thus incurred induced him to withdraw more and more from public life, and he employed his time of retirement in pious exercises, as if foreseeing his approaching end.
In the last days of July, 1458, just at the time when negotiations regarding his election as Pope were going on, Capranica was attacked by a slight indisposition, which soon grew into a mortal sickness. His first care was to receive the Holy Sacraments, and to seek pardon from the Cardinals for any offence he might have given them.
Years before he had composed a little book, which we may really call a golden volume, “On the art of dying,” and all his thoughts were now directed entirely to eternity. He consoled the friends who stood mourning around his bed by reminding them that the death of those only is to be lamented who have never thought of dying until they saw that they could live no longer.
The ideal of what a Cardinal should be is certainly a very high one. Capranica may be said to have realized it.
All his contemporaries are unanimous in testifying that this great man united learning and piety in an uncommon degree. J His life was that of a Saint. His nightly repose was limited to four hours. Immediately on rising he recited the Hours, he then said or heard Mass, generally first going to Confession.
Before granting audiences he devoted several hours to the study of the Fathers, among whom he had a special love for St. Jerome and St. Augustine. No women were allowed to enter his apartments, neither religious women nor his nearest relations—not even his sister and sister-in-law were excepted from this rule.
The Cardinal of Fermo had built himself a palace suitable to his dignity in the vicinity of Santa Maria in Aquiro in Rome, but luxury found no place within its walls. His manner of life was remarkable for its simplicity; his dinner consisted of one dish. He hated court ceremonies, and in intercourse with others he was simple, short, and precise.
His ecclesiastical household was composed exclusively of men of worth; various nationalities found place in it. To those around him he was rather a careful father than a master. If he perceived a fault in one of his retainers he at once endeavoured to correct it. He could be vehement and severe in dealing with the vicious and idle, and was unsparing in his reproofs to prelates who forsook their churches and busied themselves at court.
Capranica was sterner towards himself than towards others. It is told of him that never, even in joke, did he permit himself to utter a falsehood.
He repeatedly asked his friends frankly to point out his faults to him. When his dead body was unclothed it was found that even in his last illness he had worn an instrument of penance. His liberality was so unbounded that he was often in pecuniary difficulties.
He frequently disposed of silver vessels and gave the proceeds, in secret, to the poor, who were required to promise that they would never let anyone know of his bounty.
He bequeathed all his property to ecclesiastical uses.
“The Church," he would say, "gave it to me ; I give it back, for I am not its master but its steward. I should, indeed, have reaped but little profit from the nights spent in studying ecclesiastical decisions if I were to leave the goods of the Church, which belong to the poor, to my own relations."
In Rome and in the States of the Church, Capranica zealously strove to settle the numerous feuds which existed.
If anyone would not be reconciled he used to take him into his room, and having bound him to secrecy, fall on his knees and implore him to make peace with his enemy.
He was a great lover of learning; his own attainments, especially in theology and in canon law, were considerable, and he counted among his friends both ecclesiastical and humanistic scholars.
His valuable library was open to all students. He was also the founder of the first of the numerous colleges in Rome.
In this institution, which still exists and bears his name, thirty-one poor scholars were to be received, of whom sixteen were to study theology and the liberal arts, and the remainder canon law. As his means were not sufficient to enable him to erect a building for this college, he received the students into his own palace. The constitutions, which he drew up himself, are in their way a model.''
Capranica was also an author. We have already spoken of his "Art of dying;" he also collected the Acts of the Council of Basle, wrote a work on the Turkish war, dedicated to Calixtus III., and for his nephews a set of Rules of Life, in which his beautiful character is reflected.
When in the second week of August the physicians declared Capranica to be out of danger, the joy with which the announcement was received by all friends of learning and all well-disposed persons may be imagined.
But a violent attack of fever came on in the night between the 13th and 14th, and by the afternoon of the latter day he was dead. A short time before he breathed his last he received the Holy Sacraments with such recollection and piety that he seemed to those who stood by like an angel from Paradise.
The last words which the dying man addressed to his friends were to beg the alms of their prayers, and to exhort them to continue to labour indefatigably for the welfare of the Church which he had loved so ardently in life.
" Two hours before his death,'' writes Otto de Carretto, the Duke of Milan's ambassador, " the Cardinal gave me his hand and said, 'God be with you; it grieves me to the heart that I have not been able before my departure to show to your lord and yourself the gratitude you deserve from me ; but God will repay you.' I," continues the ambassador, '" had no power to answer him. And so, my illustrious Duke, the wisest, the most perfect, the most learned and the holiest prelate whom the Church in our days has possessed is gone from us. His whole life was devoted to the exaltation of the Roman Church. He was the pillar of Italian peace and a mirror of piety and all sanctity. We all confidently expected soon to be able to honour him as Pope, for parties in general were agreed regarding his elevation. And now we must sorrowfully assist at his obsequies. Such is the world I So is every hope disappointed!"With these words, written an hour after Capranica's death, the ambassador closes the despatch from whose faded lines the warm heart of the writer still speaks to our souls.
The remains of the great man found a fitting resting place near the grave of St. Catherine of Siena in Santa Maria sopra Minerva. He was lamented by all. "Nothing but mourning and sighing is heard," wrote the ambassador of the Marquess Lodovico de Gonzaga on the 19th August, in reference to this calamity.
The Romans had, indeed, good cause for grief. Of all the cardinals of the Renaissance Age none but Albergati, Cesarini, and Carvajal can compare with Capranica. His sudden death was, in the existing state of affairs, the heaviest imaginable loss to the Church.
Two days later the Conclave began, and from it issued, as Pope, a cardinal distinguished alike as a statesman and an author, who had once been secretary to the Cardinal of Fermo."
His most lasting work was the foundation of the Seminary in Rome, now known as the Capranica.
In two speeches Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the college and the achievement of its founder.
In his address to the Seminary Community of the Capranica College, Rome on Friday, 19 January 2007, the Pope said:
"“I am pleased to welcome you just before the Feast of your Patroness, St Agnes. ...
Five hundred and fifty years have passed since that 5 January 1457 when Cardinal Domenico Capranica, Archbishop of Fermo, founded the College that was named after him. He bequeathed to it all his property and his palace near Santa Maria in Aquiro, so that it could house young students called to the priesthood.
The newborn institution was the first of its kind in Rome; initially reserved for young Romans and young men from Fermo, it later extended hospitality to students from other regions of Italy and of different nationalities.
Cardinal Capranica died less than two years later, but his foundation had already started on the way it has followed until today, undergoing only 10 years of closure from 1798 to 1807 during the so-called Roman Republic.
Two Popes studied at the Capranica: Pope Benedict XV, whom you rightly consider "Parens alter" because of the special affection he always felt for your house, and then, if for a shorter period, the Servant of God Pius XII. My venerable Predecessors, some of whom visited you on special occasions, have always demonstrated their benevolence towards your College.
Our meeting today also takes place not only close to the Memorial of St Agnes but also in the context of an important anniversary for your institution. In this historical and spiritual perspective, it is useful to ask what motives impelled Cardinal Capranica to found this provident work, and what value they still have for you today.
It is necessary, in the first place, to remember that the founder had direct experience of the colleges of the Universities of Padua and of Bologna where he himself had been a student, as well as those of Sienna, Florence and Perugia. These institutions had developed in order to house young scholars who did not belong to wealthy families.
By altering several elements of these models, he conceived of one that would be exclusively destined to training future priests, with preferential attention to less well-off candidates. Thus, he anticipated by more than a century the establishment of "seminaries" decreed by the Council of Trent.
However, we have not yet focused on the basic reason for this provident initiative: it was the conviction that the quality of the clergy depends on the seriousness of their formation.
Now, in Cardinal Capranica's time, there was no careful selection of aspirants to sacred Orders: they were sometimes examined in literature and song, but not in theology, morals and canon law, with foreseeable negative repercussions on the Ecclesial Community.
This is why, in the Constitutions of his College, the Cardinal imposed on theology students knowledge of the best authors, especially Thomas Aquinas; on law students, the doctrine of Pope Innocent III, and on them all, Aristotelian ethics.
Further, not content with the lessons of the Studium Urbis, he guaranteed supplementary lessons provided by specialists directly within the College itself.
This curriculum was integrated into a framework of integral formation centred on the spiritual dimension. It was supported by the pillars of the Sacraments of the Eucharist - daily - and of Penance - at least monthly - and sustained by the pious practices prescribed or suggested by the Church.
Great importance was given to charity, both in ordinary fraternal life and in assistance to the sick, as well as to what today we call "pastoral experience".
Indeed, it established that on feast days, students would serve in the cathedral and in other local churches.
An effective support in the students' formation was also provided by the style of the community itself, including strong participation in decisions concerning life in the College
Here we find the same fundamental disposition that was later to be made by the diocesan seminaries, of course, for the latter with a fuller sense of belonging to the particular Church; the choice, that is, of a serious human, cultural and spiritual formation, open to the requirements proper to the time and place.
Dear friends, let us ask the Lord, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy and St Agnes, that the Almo Collegio Capranica may continue on its way, faithful to its long tradition and to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.”
The next year Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday, 19 January 2008 said:
"“After celebrating its 550th anniversary in 2007, the Almo Collegio, which boasts an age-old history and a long tradition of fidelity to the Church and to her supreme Pastor, will commemorate in August the actual anniversary of the death of Cardinal Domenico Capranica (14 August 1458), who did a great deal for the birth of the Collegium pauperum scholarium, destined for the formation of well-trained men for the priestly ministry.
In approaching this anniversary, I gladly remember the exemplary and far-sighted figure of this Cardinal, who with determination and a practical sense knew how to support the desire for reform that was also beginning to make itself felt in Rome, and, a century later, was to contribute to determining the orientation and decisions of the Council of Trent.
He had the gift of clearly intuiting that the hoped-for reform was not solely to concern ecclesiastical structures, but mainly the life and decisions of those in the Church who were called to be guides and pastors of the People of God at any level.
Convinced of the importance of the spiritual dimension in the formation of future ministers of the altar and in the Church's mission, Cardinal Capranica not only did his utmost to establish the College, but he also desired to endow it with Constitutiones that fully regulate the various aspects the young students' formation.
Thus, he showed his attention to the primacy of the spiritual dimension as well as his awareness that the depth and consequent perseverance of a sound priestly formation crucially depend on a complete and organic educational programme. These decisions have even greater prominence today, given the many challenges that priests and evangelizers must face in their mission.
In this regard, on various occasions I have reminded seminarians and priests to cultivate a profound inner life, personal and constant contact with Christ in prayer and contemplation, and a sincere longing for holiness. Indeed, without true friendship with Jesus, it is impossible for a Christian, especially a priest, to fulfil the mission the Lord entrusts to him. For the priest, this certainly also entails a serious cultural and theological training which you, dear students, are acquiring during these years of study in Rome.
Actually, I would say that your formation process can receive a decisive impulse precisely from your stay in this City. The levels of experience and the contacts that it is possible to have here are in fact a providential gift and a unique incentive. The presence of the Chair of Peter, the work of the people and organizations that help the Bishop of Rome to preside in charity, a more direct knowledge of certain particular churches, especially the Diocese of Rome, are important elements that help a young man called to the priesthood to prepare himself for his future ministry.
Moreover, your Pastors have sent you to the City of the Successor of Peter in the hope that you will return later enriched by a pronounced Catholic spirit and with a fuller ecclesial sensibility of universal breadth.
The experience of communal life at the Capranica College among students from various regions of Italy and from countries of the whole world, enables each one of you, dear friends, to be thoroughly acquainted with the interweaving of cultures and mentalities that is typical of contemporary life. Furthermore, the presence of several who belong to the Russian Orthodox Church gives a further impetus to dialogue and brotherhood and nourishes ecumenical hope.”