As an introduction to the first Italian edition of the Salesian Constitutions, published in 1875, Don Bosco wrote a wide-ranging letter To the Salesians, to guide them in interpreting the rules and to infuse in them a correct idea of religious life. He later refined and extended it with the help of the master of novices, Fr Barberis, for the third Italian edition of the Constitutions (1885). It is a relevant document from a spiritual point of view. “One can think of it as a brief summary, the most complete one, of what could be called Don Bosco’s theology of religious life. Ideas flow together in it which had matured in him little by little, beginning from when he wrote the history of the Church and the Popes, then as he drew up the Constitutions and documents written to gain approval, further enriched by local and general conferences, instructions given at retreats in the late 1860s and early 1870s, and expressed in individual letters and circulars and in private advice.”
We find classic themes there of consecrated life drawn from the spiritual works of St Alphonsus, but reformulated in the light of personal experience: the importance of corresponding generously to God’s will, ways of guarding our vocation, the spiritual and temporal advantages of religious life, the significance of the vows and their practice, fraternal charity as a particular element of Salesian community, how to overcome our doubts about our vocation, faults to be avoided.
What emerges from this document are the efforts of the Founder to give his budding Salesian Society a more defined religious character, a “compact structure ad intra and ad extra, guaranteed in stability and continuity by pontifical authority and solidly gathered around the general and local superior.”
The second edition of this item—the one found here—indicates a broadening of themes and vision. Religious life is solidly anchored in its evangelical roots. Three new paragraphs are included: on the importance of following one’s vocation, on fraternal charity and on the monthly manifestation to the superior of the House.
Also emerging is his concern to shape a kind of consecration which is intimately connected with the specific mission and charism. We find above all a strong emphasis on obedience ordered to apostolic work and Salesian education which, according to Don Bosco, demands unity of direction and complete cooperative consensus on everyone’s part. From this perspective we also understand his insistence on the monthly manifestation, aimed at reinforcing solidarity and confident familiarity between superior and subjects in an atmosphere of fraternal charity and the tendency to perfection.
Reference time period: 1875 – 1885
Salesian Historical Institute, Salesian Sources 1: Don Bosco and his work. Collected Works, LAS – Kristu Jyoti, Rome – Bangalore, 2017, 844-871.
Istituto Storico Salesiano