History does not conform to apologetics.
So says the American Jesuit, Robert Taft:
“It’s not true that at the beginning we had one Church centered in Rome, and then for various historical reasons certain groups broke off,” he said. “It’s just the opposite. At the beginning we had various churches, as Christianity developed here and there and someplace else, and gradually different units began to be formed.”
“That’s the reality,” Taft said, “and we have to accept it.”
So confirms the Capuchin order:
The Annuario Pontificio, the Vatican’s statistical yearbook, lists about 800 men’s orders in the Church, all of which have a story to tell. Precisely because Capuchins don’t call attention to themselves, however, several interesting elements of their tale are often lost.
The order was born in 1525 when a friar named Matteo da Bascio decided the Franciscans of his day had abandoned the initial vision of St. Francis of Assisi, and he wanted to get back to a strict observance of penance, prayer, and poverty.
That implied criticism didn’t sit well with other Franciscans, and with the support of influential Church authorities, they hounded Bascio and his initial companions, who were forced to take shelter from Camaldolese monks.
In 1528, the “Capuchins” (so named for the hood they wear with their habit) got papal permission to organize, but their problems were hardly over.
Within 20 years, Bascio had left his new order to return to the Observant Franciscans, while another early Capuchin leader, Bernardino Ochino, spurned the Catholic faith altogether to join forces with John Calvin in Geneva. Eventually Ochino’s support for polygamy and his rejection of the Trinity was too much even for the Calvinists, and he went into exile first in Poland and then in Slovakia.
The new order came under suspicion of heresy and narrowly avoided being suppressed, while for a time Capuchins were forbidden to preach. (This makes it a rich irony that since 1743, the Capuchins have had the privilege of supplying the official Preacher of the Papal Household; since 1980, that role has been held by the Rev. Rainero Cantalamessa.)