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§ 71. The Franciscans.


"Sweet Francis of Assisi, would that he were here again!"

—Tennyson.


The Brethren Minor—fratres minores, or Minorites, the official title of the Franciscans—got their name from the democratic faction in Assisi, the Minores, whom Francis at a time of feud reconciled to the party of the aristocrats. Before the curia at Rome, Francis insisted upon the application of the name as a warning to the members not to aspire after positions of distinction.831831    Speculum, p. 76. Domine, said Francis, minores ideo vocati sunt fratres mei ut majores fieri non proesumant.hey spread rapidly in Italy and beyond; but before the generation had passed away to which Francis belonged, the order was torn by internal strife, growing out of the attempt to conserve the principles originally laid down by Francis. The history of no other order has anything to show like this protracted conflict within its own membership over a question of principle. The protracted dispute has an almost unique place in the polemic theology of the Middle Ages.

According to the Rule of 1210 and Francis’ last will they were to be a free brotherhood devoted to evangelical poverty and Apostolic practice, rather than a close organization bound by precise rules.832832    See Sabatier, S. François, pp. 80 sqq. Also Madonnet, Les Origines de l’ordo de Poenitentia, pp. 4, 21 sq. etc., who presents this feature of Francis’ society in its early days in a clear light.ed and went his own path. He builded upon a few texts of Scripture. From 1216, when Cardinal Ugolino became associated with the order as patron and counsellor, a new influence was felt, and rigid discipline was substituted for the freer organization of Francis.

At the chapter of 1217, the decision was made to send missionaries beyond the confines of Italy. Elias of Cortona, once a mattress-maker in Assisi and destined to be notorious for setting aside Francis’ original plan, led a band of missionaries to Syria. Others went to Germany, Hungary, France, Spain and England. As foreign missionaries, the Franciscans showed dauntless enterprise, going south to Morocco and east as far as Pekin. They enjoy the distinction of having accompanied Columbus on his second journey to the New World and were subsequently most active in the early American missions from Florida to California and from Quebec along the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes and southward to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Rule of 1221, by its lack of unity and decision, betrays two influences at work, one proceeding from Ugolino and one from Francis. There are signs of the struggle which had already begun several years before. The Rule placed a general at the head of the order and a governing body was constituted, consisting of the heads of the different houses. Poverty, however, is still enjoined and the duty of labor is emphasized that the members might be saved from becoming idlers. The sale of the products of their labor was forbidden except as it might benefit the sick.

The Rule of 1223, which is briefer and consists of twelve chapters, repeats the preceding code and was solemnly approved by the pope November 29 of the same year. This code goes still further in setting aside the distinguished will of Francis. The mendicant character of the order is strongly emphasized. But obedience to the pope is introduced and a cardinal is made its protector and guardian. The Roman Breviary is ordered to be used as the book of daily worship. Monastic discipline has taken the place of biblical liberty. The strong hand of the hierarchy is evident. The freedom of the Rule of 1210 has disappeared.833833    See Sabatier, Vie de S. François, pp. 273 sqq. last testament to the original freedom of his brotherhood and against the new order of things, the papal party did all in its power to suppress altogether.

The Clarisses, the Minorite nuns, getting their name from Clara of Sciffi who was canonized in 1255, were also called Sisters of St. Damian from the Church of St. Damian. Francis wrote a Rule for them which enforced poverty834834    This Rule has only recently been found and published in the Seraphicae legislationis textus originales, Quaracchi, 1897. See Robinson, pp. 76sqq. by Francis’ advice soon came to depend upon alms.835835    See Speculum, p. 181 and note.836836    Finally by Urban IV., 1263. See Potthast, II. 1515. Affiliated houses were erected at Burgos, Spain, 1219; Rheims, France, 1220; Prague, 1235, etc.

The Tertiaries, or Brothers and Sisters of Penitence,837837    Frates et sorores de poenitentia.arisses being reckoned as the second, and received papal recognition for the first time in the bull of Nicolas IV., 1289.838838    See Potthast, II. 1856.s no doubt. They are called by Gregory IX. in 1228 the Brothers of the Third Order of St. Francis.839839    Potthast, I. 703. Nicolas IV., however, speaks of a rule given by Francis.cis included all classes of laics, men and women, married and unmarried. His object was to put within the reach of laymen the higher practice of virtue and order of merit associated with the monastic life. It is quite probable that Francis took his idea from the Humiliati, known as the Poor Men of Lombardy, Pauperes Lombardici, or perhaps from the Waldenses, known as the Poor Men of Lyons and also well known in Northern Italy in Francis’ day. The Humiliati had groups of laymen in the twelfth century living according to semi-conventual rules. In 1184 they were condemned by Lucius III. There seem to have been three grades, the lay Humiliati, who in the ordinary avenues of life observed specific ascetic practices; second, those who were living in convents as monks or nuns; and third, canons, who were priests and lived together in common. These three grades were sanctioned by Innocent III. in 1201 and were protected by later popes, as for example Innocent IV.840840    See the art. Humiliaten in Herzog, VIII. 447-449, by Zöckler who quotes H. Tiraboschi, Memorie degli Humiliati, 3 vols. Modena, 1766. Sabatier, Regula antique, p. 15, upon the basis of Jacques de Vitry and other authorities, says the Humiliati were at the height of their zeal and activity in 1220. He confesses that the Tertiary Rule, the Regula Antiqua, is probably in part a copy of the Rule of the Humiliati sanctioned by Innocent III. and says, "Perhaps we have heretofore ascribed an undue originality to the Franciscan movement."

It is possible that Francis’ first plan was for an organization of laymen, and that the idea of an organization of monks developed later in his mind. The division of the Franciscans into three grades was permanently established by the chapter of 1221.841841    See Walter Goetz, Die Regel des Tertiarierordens, in Brieger’s Zeitschrift, 1902, pp. 97 sqq.ters sets forth the required style of dress, the asceticisms they were to practise, and the other regulations they were to observe. They were to abstain from all oaths except in exceptional cases, provided for by the pope, to make confession three times a year, have if possible the advice of the diocesan in making their wills, receive to their number no one accused of heresy, and were neither to use deadly weapons nor to carry them.842842    VI. 3, arma mortalia contra quempiam non recipiant vel secum ferant. This most interesting statement was changed by Nicolas IV. in 1289 so that it read, "The brethren shall not carry arms of attack except for the defence of the Roman Church, the Christian faith, or their country, or unless they have authority from their superiors." The Humiliati received papal exemption from Honorius III. against going to war. See Sabatier, Regula antiq., p. 22, Note. husbands, and all who had families were enjoined to care for them as a part of the service of God (VI. 6).843843    The development of the Tertiary order is a matter of dispute. Sabatier has recently made known two rules of the Tertiary order; the first, found in Florence, the second which he himself discovered in the convent of Capistrano in the Abruzzi. To compare them with the Rule contained in Nicolas IV.’s bull, supra montem, 1289, the Rule of Nicolas has 20 chapters, the Florentine 19, that of Capistrano 13. See the table given by Walter Goetz, p. 100. Sabatier in his edition of the Capistrano Rule, Regula Antiqua, p. 12, puts it very close to the death of Francis, between 1228 and 1234. Les Règles, etc., p. 153, goes further and puts it back to 1221, thus making it the second Rule of St. Francis. At any rate, it must for the present be regarded as the oldest form of the Rule. Goetz, p. 105, while dating the Regula Antiqua much earlier than 1289, is inclined to regard it as a compilation. In 1517 Leo X. perfected the regulations concerning Tertiary orders and divided the members into two classes, those taking no vows and living in the ordinary walks of life and those who live in convents. The best general treatment of the subject is furnished by Karl Müller, Die Anf1nge des Minoritenordens., pp. 115-171, and Madonnet who gives a convenient list of the papal utterances on the Tertiaries, Les Règles, etc., pp. 146 sq.

To follow the history of the Franciscans from 1223, the stricter party, who sought to carry out Francis’ practice of strict Apostolic poverty and his views as set forth in his last will, were known as the Observants, or Spirituals, or Zealots. The party, favoring a relaxation of Francis’ Rule and supported by Gregory IX., were often called the Conventuals from occupying convents of their own, especially more pretentious buildings in cities.844844    The Observants looked to Portiuncula as the centre of the order, the Conventuals to the cathedral of Assisi. and far into the fourteenth845845    Ubertino da Casale’s interpretation of Francis’ purpose is given by Knoth, pp. 99 sq.r lives as martyrs for their principles.

The matter in dispute among the Franciscans was the right of the order as a corporation to hold property in fee simple. The papal decisions in favor of such tenure began with the bull of Gregory IX., 1230. It allowed the order to collect money through "faithful men" appointed for districts, these monies to be applied to the rearing of conventual buildings, to missions, and other objects, and to be held in trust for the givers. This privilege was elaborated by Innocent IV., 1245, and was made to include the possession of books, tools, houses, and lands. Innocent made the clear distinction between tenure in fee simple and tenure for use and granted the right of tenure for use. By this was meant that the order might receive gifts and bequests and hold them indefinitely as for the donors. This was equivalent to perpetual ownership, and might be compared to modern thousand-year leases. Innocent also made the tenure of all property within the order subject to the immediate supervision of the pope.

Determined resistance was offered by the Observants to these papal decrees, and they were persecuted by Elias of Cortona, who vigorously pushed the papal policy. But they were strong and Elias was deposed from the headship of the order by the chapter of 1227. He was reinstated in 1232, but again deposed in 1239. He espoused the cause of Frederick II., and died 1253.

One of the leading men of the wing true to Francis was Brother Leo, the author of what is probably the first biography of Francis, the Speculum Perfectionis, the Mirror of Perfection. When the project was bruited of erecting the great church at Assisi over Francis’ remains and Elias placed a marble vessel on the site to receive contributions, Leo, who regarded the project as a profanation of the memory of the saint, dashed the vessel to pieces. For this act he was banished, amidst tumult, from Assisi.846846    Sabatier, Speculum, pp. li sq.

It seemed for a while doubtful which party would gain the upper hand. The Observants were in power under John of Parma, general of the order for ten years, 1247–1257, when he was obliged to resign and retire into strict monastic seclusion. John was followed by Bonaventura, 1257–1274, the great Schoolman, who, in the main, cast his influence on the side of the Conventuals. The Observants became identified with the dreams of Joachim of Flore and applied his prophecy of a new religious order to themselves. These views became a new source of discord and strife lasting for more than a century. Bonaventura pronounced against the adoption of Joachim’s views by condemning Gerardo Borgo’s Introduction to Joachim’s writings. The Life of St. Francis, written by Bonaventura at the mandate of the General Chapter of Narbonne, 1260, and declared the authoritative biography of the saint by the Chapter of 1263, suppressed Francis’ will and other materials favorable to the contention of the Observants, and emphasized the churchly and disciplinary elements of the order. The Observants, from this time on, fought a brave but hopeless battle. They could not successfully wage war against the policy pushed by the papal court.

The report that Gregory X., through the acts of the council of Lyons, 1274, intended to force the order to hold property, stirred opposition into a flame and a number of the Observants were thrown into prison, including Angelo Clareno, an influential author. Nicholas III., in the bull Exiit qui seminat,847847    Potthast, II. 1746.ht. He insisted upon the principle that the pope is the ultimate owner of the property of the order. The bull expressly annulled St. Francis’ prohibition forbidding the order to seek privileges from the pope. The Franciscan general, Bonagratia, and his two successors, accepted the bull, but Peter Olivi, d. 1298, who had acquired wide influence through his writings, violently opposed it. Coelestin V. sought to heal the division by inviting the Observants to join the order of the Coelestin hermits which he had founded, and Angelo Clareno, who had been released from prison, took this course. It was opposed by Olivi and the Observant preacher Ubertino da Casale,848848    Ubertino, during seven days of rigid seclusion on the Verna, wrote the ascetic workArbor vitae crucifixae. See Knoth, 9-14.

And so the century in which Francis was born went out with the controversy still going on with unabated warmth. A somewhat new aspect was given to the controversy in the fourteenth century. The dogmatic question was then put into the foreground, whether Christ and his Apostles practised absolute poverty or not. In 1323 John XXII. sought to put a final stop to the dissension by giving papal authority to the statement that they did not practise absolute poverty. Thus the underlying foundation of the strict Franciscan Rule was taken away.

In another respect the Franciscans departed from the mind of their founder. Francis disparaged learning. In 1220 he reprimanded and then cursed Pietro Staccia, a doctor of laws, for establishing a Franciscan school at Bologna. On hearing of a famous doctor, who had entered the order, he is reported to have said, "I am afraid such doctors will be the destruction of my vineyard. True doctors are they who with the meekness of wisdom exhibit good works for the betterment of their neighbors." To Anthony of Padua, Francis wrote—and the genuineness of the letter is not disputed—"I am agreed that you continue reading lectures on theology to the brethren provided that kind of study does not extinguish in them the spirit of humility and prayer."849849    2 Lempp, Anthony of Padua, p. 439. university culture. In 1255 an order called upon Franciscans, going out as missionaries, to study Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, and other languages.

The order spread rapidly from Palestine to Ireland.850850    The Franciscans became guardians of the holy places in Palestine. In answer to my question put to a Franciscan in Nazareth, whether the Church of the Annunciation there was the veritable place where Mary had received the message of the angel, he replied, "Most certainly! We Franciscans have been in this land 600 years and have thoroughly investigated all these matters."eaujolais, a brother-in-law of the French king. The first successful attempt to establish branches in Germany was made, 1221, by Caesar of Spires, who had been converted by Elias of Cortona on his journey to Syria. He was accompanied by twelve priests and thirteen laymen, among them, Thomas of Celano and Jordan of Giano upon whose account we depend for the facts. The company separated at Trent, met again at Augsburg, and then separated once more, carrying their propaganda along the Rhine and to other parts of the country. Houses were established at Mainz, Worms, Spires, and Cologne which in 1522 were united into a custody. The year following four German custodies were added.851851    See Hauck, IV. pp. 378 sq.servant wing, and had to suffer severe persecution and was put to death in prison.

As for England, nine Franciscans, four of them clerics, only one of whom was in priest’s orders, landed at Dover, 1224, and went to Canterbury, and then to London. The account of their early labors on English soil, by Thomas of Eccleston, a contemporary,852852    All that we know about his life is gotten from his account of the Franciscans in England. He died about 1260. Eccleston gives the names of the nine first missionaries. Mon. Franc., pp. 5 sqq. Agnellus of Pisa stood at their head. Three of the clerics were Englishmen.e Black Friars. At Oxford they received a warm welcome. Grosseteste announced their advent with a sermon from the words, "They that sat in darkness have seen a great light." It was as if the door to a new religious era had been opened. Of their settlement in St. Ebbe’s parish, Oxford, it was said that "there was sown a grain of mustard seed which grew to be greater than all the trees." They were quickly settled at Cambridge, Norwich, Northampton, Yarmouth, and other centres. They were the first popular preachers that England had seen, and the first to embody a practical philanthropy.853853    Creighton, p. 107. rapidity. Sanitary precautions were unknown. Stagnant pools and piles of refuse abounded.854854    See the descriptions of Jessopp, Coming of the Friars, pp. 21 sqq., and Brewer’s Mon. Franc., pp. xv. sq.

Partly from necessity and partly from pure choice these ardent religionists made choice of quarters in the poorest and most neglected parts of the towns. In Norwich they settled in a swamp through which the city sewerage passed. At Newgate, now a part of London, they betook themselves to Stinking Lane. At Cambridge they occupied the decayed gaol.

No wonder that such zeal received recognition. The people soon learned to respect the new apostles. Adam Marsh joined them, and he and Grosseteste, the most influential English ecclesiastic of his day, lectured in the Franciscan school at Oxford. The burgesses of London and other towns gave them lands, as did also the king, at Shrewsbury. In 1256 the number of English friars had increased to 1242, settled in forty-nine different localities.855855   54 Mon. Franc., p. xli.hem. Most of the great English Schoolmen belonged to the Franciscan order. Eccleston describes the godly lives of the early English Franciscans, their abstinence, and their lightheartedness.856856    He tells a comic story of William de Madeley, at Oxford, who, finding a pair of shoes, put them on and went to matins. Going to sleep be dreamt he was attacked by thieves, and thrust out his feet to show that he was a friar. But lo! the shoes were still on, and starting up he flung them out of the window. Another poor friar, Gilbert de Vyz, so he relates, was badly treated by the devil. It happened at Cornhill. The devil at his final visit exclaimed, "Sir, do you think you have escaped me?" De Vyz picked up a handful of lice and threw it at the devil, and he vanished. p. 13. Robert Kilwarby, was sitting in the archepiscopal chair of Canterbury; to another Franciscan, Bonaventura, was offered the see of York, which he declined.

In time, the history of the Franciscans followed the usual course of human prosperity.857857    John L’Estrange says that, at the time they were falling out of favor, one English will out of every three conveyed property to the Franciscans. Quoted by Howlett in his Preface to Mon. Franc., II. p. xxvii. from their first estate. With honors and lands came demoralization. They gained an unsavory reputation as collectors of papal revenues. Matthew Paris’ rebukes of their arrogance date back as far as 1235, and he said that Innocent IV. turned them from fishers of men into fishers of pennies. At the sequestration of the religious houses by Henry VIII., the Franciscan convent of Christ’s Church, London, was the first to fall, 1532.858858    According to Gasquet, p. 237, there were sixty-six Franciscan houses. Addis and Scannell’s Catholic Dict., p.388, gives a list of sixty-four. The first house of the Franciscan nuns, or Poor Clares, was founded outside of Aldgate, London, 1293, and was known as "the Minories," a name the locality still retains. At the time of the dissolution of the monasteries they had three houses in England.



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