Fitch, William Benedict (Benedict of Canfield)

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Capuchin Friar Minor, a spiritual writer who exercised an outstanding influence, especially on 17th-century spirituality; b. Little Canfield, Essex, England, 1563; d. Paris, Nov. 21, 1610. Fitch was the third son of William Fitch, Lord of the manor of Little Canfield by his second wife Ann, nee Wiseman. He was brought up a Protestant. He went to London to read law, being admitted to the Middle Temple in 1580. While a student he was much moved by a chance reading of The Book of Resolution by Robert persons, SJ, and was received into the Church, Aug. 1, 1585. He then crossed to France and entered the Capuchins in Paris, March 23, 1587. After finishing his novitiate, he went, apparently, to Italy to study theology, and was probably ordained there.

Back in France by 1592, from which date his spiritual teaching began to circulate in manuscript form, he was appointed novice master and, later, guardian at Orleans, remaining there until 1597, when, after being elected definitor, he moved to Paris. He was highly regarded as a director of souls, and was a prominent leader in spiritual and ecclesiastical reform.

On returning to England, in 1599, as a missionary, he was taken prisoner on arrival, and spent more than two years in captivity, chiefly at Wisbech. At the request of Henry IV, he was released and resumed his former active apostolate in France, again, holding high office in his society. In 1607, his name was included on a list of candidates considered suitable for the office of bishop in England that the nuncio in Paris, Maffeo Barberini (later urban viii), submitted to Rome. During these years he published his chief work, The Rule of Perfection (Paris 1609), and The Christian Knight (Paris 1609), a work written during his imprisonment in England. He died with a reputation for great holiness of life.

His spiritual teaching, contained mostly in the Rule of Perfection, a work printed in numerous editions in various languages, consists, essentially, in seeking perfection through conformity to the will of God.

He was a master of spiritual writing and his work influenced (among others) Madame Acarie (see marie de l'incarnation, bl.), Cardinal bÉrulle, and St. vincent de paul. His lack of clarity and precision led to criticism of his work, and during the quietist crisis The Rule of Perfection was put on the Index (1689). Most modern authorities, however, consider his teaching to be entirely orthodox.

Bibliography: optatus van veghel, Benoît de Canfield, 15621610: Sa vie, sa doctrine et son influence (Rome 1949). j. brousse, The Lives of Ange de Joyeuse and Benet Canfield, ed. t. a. birrell, from r. rookwood's tr. of 1623 (New York 1959). j. dagens, Bérulle et les origines de la restauration catholique, 15751611 (Bruges 1952). Lexicon Capuccinum (Rome 1951) 192193, gives a considerable bibliography. l. cognet, Post-Reformation Spirituality (New York 1959).

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