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§ 68. The Mendicant Orders.


For literature, see §§ 69, 72.


A powerful impulse was imported into monasticism and the life of the mediaeval Church by the two great mendicant orders,763763    Ordines mendicantium.. though not without a struggle.764764    The practice of mendicancy was subsequently adopted by the Carmelites, 1245, the Augustinian friars, 1256, and several other orders. In 1274 Gregory X. abolished all mendicant orders except the Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinian friars, and Carmelites. which they rendered in the first years of their career are not more than counterbalanced by their evil activity in later periods when their convents became a synonym for idleness, insolence, and ignorance.

The appearance of these two organizations was without question one of the most momentous events of the Middle Ages,765765    Wilhelm Kothe: Kirchliche Zustände Strassburgs im 14ten Jahrhundert, Freib. im Br., 1903, says the mendicant monks were distrusted in Strassburg from the beginning and the Dominicans had to remain outside of the walls till 1250, and their attempt at that time to build a chapel stirred up a warm conflict.. At the time when the spirit of the Crusades was waning and heresies were threatening to sweep away the authority, if not the very existence of the hierarchy, Francis d’Assisi and Dominic de Guzman, an Italian and a Spaniard, united in reviving the religious energies and strengthening the religious organization of the Western Church. As is usually the case in human affairs, the personalities of these great leaders were more powerful than solemnly enacted codes of rules. They started monasticism on a new career. They embodied Christian philanthropy so that it had a novel aspect. They were the sociological reformers of their age. They supplied the universities and scholastic theology with some of their most brilliant lights. The prophecies of Joachim of Flore were regarded as fulfilled in Francis and Dominic, who were the two trumpets of Moses to arouse the world from its slumber, the two pillars appointed to support the Church. The two orders received papal recognition in the face of the recent decree of the Fourth Lateran against new monastic orders.

Two temperaments could scarcely have differed more widely than the temperaments of Francis and Dominic. Dante has described Francis as an Ardor, inflaming the world with love; Dominic as a Brightness, filling it with light.


The one was all seraphical in Ardor,

The other by his wisdom upon earth

A Splendor was of light cherubical.766766    Paradiso, canto XI. Longfellow’s trans.


Neither touched life on so many sides as did Bernard. They were not involved in the external policies of states. They were not called upon to heal papal schisms, nor were they brought into a position to influence the papal policy. But each excelled the monk of Clairvaux as the fathers of well-disciplined and permanent organizations.

Francis is the most unpretentious, gentle, and lovable of all monastic saints.767767    Harnack says: "If ever man practised what he preached, that man was Francis." Monachism, p. 68. the elements of a Christian apostle, Dominic of an ecclesiastical statesman. Francis we can only think of as mingling with the people and breathing the free air of the fields; Dominic we think of easily as lingering in courts and serving in the papal household. Francis’ lifework was to save the souls of men; Dominic’s lifework was to increase the power of the Church. The one sought to carry the ministries of the Gospel to the masses; the other to perpetuate the integrity of Catholic doctrine. Francis has been celebrated for the humbleness of his mind and walk; Dominic was called the hammer of the heretics.

It is probable that on at least three occasions the two leaders met.768768    Karl Müller accepts the evidence which Sabatier gives. See Literatur-Zeitung, 1895, p. 181.erhoods in one organization. Dominic asked Francis for his cord, and bound himself with it, saying he desired the two orders to be one. Again, 1218, they met at the Portiuncula, Francis’ beloved church in Assisi, and on the basis of what he saw, Dominic decided to embrace mendicancy, which his order adopted in 1220. Again in 1221 they met at Rome, when Cardinal Ugolino sought to manipulate the orders in the interest of the hierarchy. This Francis resented, but in vain,

It was the purpose neither of Francis nor Dominic to reform existing orders, or to revive the rigor of rules half-obeyed. It may be doubted whether Francis, at the outset, had any intention of founding an organization. His object was rather to start a movement to transform the world as with leaven. They both sought to revive Apostolic practice.

The Franciscan and Dominican orders differed from the older orders in five important particulars.

The first characteristic feature was absolute poverty. Mendicancy was a primal principle of their platforms. The rules of both orders, the Franciscans leading the way, forbade the possession of property. The corporation, as well as the individual monk, was pledged to poverty. The intention of Francis was to prohibit forever the holding of corporate property as well as individual property among his followers.769769    This does not mean that the Franciscans in their early period were idlers. They were expected to work. Sabatier, S. François, VIII. p. 138.

The practice of absolute poverty had been emphasized by preachers and sects in the century before Francis and Dominic began their careers, and sects, such as the Humiliati, the Poor Men of Lombardy, and the Poor Men of Lyons, were advocating it in their time. Robert d’Abrissel, d. 1117, had for his ideal to follow "the bare Christ on the cross, without any goods of his own."770770    nudus nudum Christum in cruce sequi, Walter, Wanderprediger.r man," pauper Christi, and says that this "man, poor in spirit, followed unto death the Poor Lord."771771    Pauperem dominum ad mortem pauper spiritu pauper sequebatur, Walter, II. 44.reacher, Vitalis of Savigny, who lived about the same time, his biographer said that he decided to bear Christ’s light yoke by walking in the steps of the Apostles.772772    Leve jugum Christi per apostolorum vestigia ferre decrevit, Walter, II. 83.o follow closely the example of the Apostles, and they regarded Christ as having taught and practised absolute poverty. Arnold of Brescia’s mind worked in the same direction, as did also the heretical sects of Southern France and Northern Italy. The imitation of Christ lay near to their hearts, and it remained for Francis of Assisi to realize most fully this pious ideal of the thirteenth century.773773    Walter, Wanderprediger Frankreichs, p. 168, has brought this out well.

The second feature was their devotion to practical activities in society. The monk had fled into solitude from the day when St. Anthony retired to the Thebaid desert. The Black and Gray Friars, as the Dominicans and Franciscans were called from the colors of their dress, threw themselves into the currents of the busy world. To lonely contemplation they joined itinerancy in the marts and on the thoroughfares.774774    Hergenröther says, "Chivalry reappeared in them in a new form. In happy unison were blended peace and battle, contemplation and active life, faith and love, prudent moderation and flaming enthusiasm." Kirchengeschichte, II. 369.ed.775775    "Of one thing," says Trevelyan, "the friar was never accused. He is never taunted with living at home in his cloister and allowing souls to perish for want of food." England in the Age of Wycliffe, p. 144.

A third characteristic of the orders was the lay brotherhoods which they developed, the third order, called Tertiaries, or the penitential brothers, fratres de poenitentia.776776    So called in the bull of Gregory IX., 1228; Potthast, I. p. 703.e. But the third order of the Franciscans and Dominicans were lay folk who, while continuing at their usual avocations, were bound by oath to practise the chief virtues of the Gospel. There was thus opened to laymen the opportunity of realizing some of that higher merit belonging theretofore only to the monastic profession. Religion was given back to common life.

A fourth feature was their activity as teachers in the universities. They recognized that these new centres of education were centres of powerful influence, and they adapted themselves to the situation. Twenty years had scarcely elapsed before the Franciscans and Dominicans entered upon a career of great distinction at these universities. Francis, it is true, had set his face against learning, and said that demons had more knowledge of the stars than men could have. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. To a novice he said, "If you have a psaltery, you will want a breviary; and if you have a breviary, you will sit on a high chair like a prelate, and say to your brother, ’Bring me a breviary.’ " To another he said, "The time of tribulation will come when books will be useless and be thrown away."777777    See the quotations from the Speculum andVita secunda of Celano, in Seppelt, pp. 234 sqq. Also Sabatier, S. François, ch. XVI.hing schools, and, in spite of vigorous opposition, both orders gained entrance to the University of Paris. The Dominicans led the way, and established themselves very early at the seats of the two great continental universities, Paris and Bologna.778778    For the relations of the mendicant orders with the University of Paris, see Denifle, Chartularium Univ. Parisiensis, I.; Seppelt, Der Kampf der Bettelorden an der Univ. Paris in der Mitte des 13ten Jahrh.; Felder, Gesch. der wissenschaftlichen Studien im Franciskanerorden bis c. 1250.r convent at Paris, St. Jacques, established in 1217, they turned into a theological school. Carrying letters of recommendation from Honorius III., they were at first well received by the authorities of the university. The Franciscans established their convent in Paris, 1230. Both orders received from the chancellor of Paris license to confer degrees, but their arrogance and refusal to submit to the university regulations soon brought on bitter opposition. The popes took their part, and Alexander IV.779779    Chartul., I. 285.manded the authorities to receive them to the faculty. Compliance with this bull was exceedingly distasteful, for the friars acknowledged the supreme authority of a foreign body. The populace of Paris and the students hooted them on the streets and pelted them with missiles. It seemed to Humbert, the general of the Dominicans, as if Satan, Leviathan, and Belial had broken loose and agreed to beset the friars round about and destroy, if possible, the fruitful olive which Dominic, of most glorious memory, had planted in the field of the Church.780780    Chartul., I. 309-313, gives Humbert’s long letter.781781    Chartul., I. 381. See chapter on Universities.

At Paris and Oxford, Cologne, and other universities, they furnished the greatest of the Schoolmen. Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, Durandus, were Dominicans; John of St. Giles, Alexander Hales, Adam Marsh, Bonaventura, Duns Scotus, Ockham, and Roger Bacon were of the order of St. Francis. Among other distinguished Franciscans of the Middle Ages were the exegete Nicolas of Lyra, the preachers Anthony of Padua, David of Augsburg, Bernardino of Siena, and Bertholdt of Regensburg (d. 1272); the missionaries, Rubruquis and John of Monte Corvino; the hymn-writers, Thomas of Celano and Jacopone da Todi. Among Dominicans were the mystics, Eckhart and Tauler, Las Casas, the missionary of Mexico, and Savonarola.

The fifth notable feature was the immediate subjection of the two orders to the Apostolic see. The Franciscans and Dominicans were the first monastic bodies to vow allegiance directly to the pope. No bishop, abbot, or general chapter intervened between them and him. The two orders became his bodyguard and proved themselves to be the bulwark of the papacy. Such organized support the papacy had never had before. The legend represents Innocent III. as having seen in a vision the structure of the Lateran supported by two monks.782782    Villani, V. 25, says, "This vision was true, for it was evident the Church of God was falling through licentiousness and many errors, not fearing God."783783    Bishop Creighton, Hist. Lectures, p., 112, says, "The friars were far more destructive to ecclesiastical jurisdiction than any Nonconformist body could be, at the present day, to the influence of any sensible clergyman." He is speaking of the Anglican Church.d wherever they went, and they were omnipresent in Europe, they made it their business to propound the principle of the supremacy of the Holy See over princes and nations and were active in strengthening this supremacy. In the struggle of the empire with the papacy, they became the persistent enemies of Frederick II. who, as early as 1229, banished the Franciscans from Naples. When Gregory IX. excommunicated Frederick in 1239, he confided to the Franciscans the duty of publishing the decree amidst the ringing of bells on every Sunday and festival day. And when, in 1245, Innocent IV. issued his decree against Frederick, its announcement to the public ear was confided to the Dominicans.

Favor followed favor from the Roman court. In 1222 Honorius III. granted, first to the Dominicans and then to the Franciscans, the notable privilege of conducting services in their churches in localities where the interdict was in force.784784    The bulls are dated March 7 and 29. See Potthast, I. 590. The same privilege was conceded to the Carmelites, April 9, 1229.ing his followers not to seek favors from the pope, was set aside. In 1227 Gregory IX. granted his order the right of general burial in their churches785785    Potthast, I. 697, 721.786786    Potthast, I. 701, 706. mass in all their oratories and churches.787787    June 10, 1228, Potthast, I. 707.788788    See Potthast, Nos. 6508, 6542, 6654, etc.

Orthodoxy had no more zealous champions than the Franciscans and Dominicans. They excelled all other orders as promoters of religious persecution and hunters of heretics. In Southern France they wiped out the stain of heresy with the streams of blood which flowed from the victims of their crusading fanaticism. They were the leading instruments of the Inquisition. Torquemada was a Dominican, and so was Konrad of Marburg. As early as 1232 Gregory IX. confided the execution of the Inquisition to the Dominicans, but the order of Francis demanded and secured a share in the gruesome work. Under the lead of Duns Scotus the Franciscans became the unflagging champions of the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary which was pronounced a dogma in 1854, as later the Jesuits became the unflagging champions of the dogma of papal infallibility.

The rapid growth of the two orders in number and influence was accompanied by bitter rivalry. The disputes between them were so violent that in 1255 their respective generals had to call upon their monks to avoid strife. The papal privileges were a bone of contention, one order being constantly suspicious lest the other should enjoy more favor at the hand of the pope than itself.

Their abuse of power called forth papal briefs restricting their privileges. Innocent IV. in 1254, in what is known among the orders as the "terrible bull,"789789    Potthast, II. 1280. Innocent died a few weeks after issuing this bull and, as is said, in answer to the prayers of the mendicants. Hence came the saying, "from the prayers of the Preachers, good Lord, deliver us." A litanis praedicatorum libera nos, Domine.n except as the parochial priest gave his consent. Innocent, however, was no sooner in his grave than his successor, Alexander IV., announced himself as the friend of the orders, and the old privileges were renewed.

The pretensions of the mendicant friars soon became unbearable to the church at large. They intruded themselves into every parish and incurred the bitter hostility of the secular clergy whose rights they usurped, exercising with free hand the privilege of hearing confessions and granting absolution. It was not praise that Chaucer intended when he said of the Franciscan in his Canterbury Tales,—He was an easy man to give penance.

These monks also delayed a thorough reformation of the Church. They were at first reformers themselves and offered an offset to the Cathari and the Poor Men of Lyons by their Apostolic self-denial and popular sympathies. But they degenerated into obstinate obstructors of progress in theology and civilization. From being the advocates of learning, they became the props of popular ignorance. The virtue of poverty was made the cloak for vulgar idleness and mendicancy for insolence.

These changes set in long before the century closed in which the two orders had their birth. Bishops opposed them. The secular clergy complained of them. The universities ridiculed and denounced them for their mock piety and vices. William of St. Amour took the lead in the opposition in Paris. His sharp pen compared the mendicants to the Pharisees and Scribes and declared that Christ and his Apostles did not go around begging. To work was more scriptural than to beg.790790    In his treatise de periculis novissorum temporum, "The Perils of the Last Times," Basel, 1555, William has been held up as a precursor of Rabelais and Pascal on account of his keen satire. He was answered by Bonaventura and by Thomas Aquinas in hiscontra impugnantes religionem. Alexander IV. ordered William’s treatise burnt, and in the bull, dated Oct. 5, 1256, declared it to be "most dangerous and detestable," valde perniciosum et detestabilem. See Potthast, II. 1357. When an edition of Williaim’s treatise appeared at Paris, 1632, the Mendicants secured an order from Louis XIII. suppressing it. William was inhibited from preaching and teaching and retired to Franche-Comte, where he died. See Chartularium Univ. Parisiensis, I. Nos. 295, 296, 314, 318, 321, 332, 339, 343, 315, etc.r intrusive insolence, but, as a rule, the popes were on their side.

The time came in the early part of the fifteenth century when the great teacher Gerson, in a public sermon, enumerated as the four persecutors of the Church, tyrants, heretics, antichrist, and the Mendicants.791791    Matthew Paris in his résumé of the chief events of 1200-1250 has this to say of the decay of the orders, "These Preachers and Minorites at first led the life of poverty and greatest sanctity and devoted themselves assiduously to preaching, confessions, divine duties in the church, reading and study, and abandoned many revenues, embracing voluntary poverty in the service of God and reserving nothing in the way of food for themselves for the morrow, but within a few years, they got themselves into excellent condition and constructed most costly houses, etc." Luard’s ed., V. 194.



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