The Poor and the Perfect

The Poor and the Perfect: The Rise of Learning in the Franciscan Order, 1209-1310

Neslihan Şenocak
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Poor and the Perfect
    Book Description:

    One of the enduring ironies of medieval history is the fact that a group of Italian lay penitents, begging in sackcloths, led by a man who called himself simple and ignorant, turned in a short time into a very popular and respectable order, featuring cardinals and university professors among its ranks. Within a century of its foundation, the Order of Friars Minor could claim hundreds of permanent houses, schools, and libraries across Europe; indeed, alongside the Dominicans, they attracted the best minds and produced many outstanding scholars who were at the forefront of Western philosophical and religious thought.

    In The Poor and the Perfect, Neslihan Senocak provides a grand narrative of this fascinating story in which the quintessential Franciscan virtue of simplicity gradually lost its place to learning, while studying came to be considered an integral part of evangelical perfection. Not surprisingly, turmoil accompanied this rise of learning in Francis's order. Senocak shows how a constant emphasis on humility was unable to prevent the creation within the Order of a culture that increasingly saw education as a means to acquire prestige and domination. The damage to the diversity and equality among the early Franciscan community proved to be irreparable. But the consequences of this transformation went far beyond the Order: it contributed to a paradigm shift in the relationship between the clergy and the schools and eventually led to the association of learning with sanctity in the medieval world. As Senocak demonstrates, this episode of Franciscan history is a microhistory of the rise of learning in the West.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6424-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Prologue: The Challenges to the Historian
    (pp. 1-24)

    In the mid-thirteenth century, Matthew Paris, an English Benedictine monk, wrote about the early Franciscans:

    [They] carry constantly their books, indeed libraries, in sacks hanging from their necks. In time they built schools, afterward houses and cloisters, next large and lofty churches and offices, with the nobles bearing the expense. . . . Then, establishing schools of theology within their confines, lecturing and disputing, and preaching to the people, they carried much crop to the barn of Christ, “where the harvest is rich, but the laborers are few [Matt. 9:37].”¹

    Evidently, when he wrote these lines, Matthew Paris did not...

  6. Chapter 1 The Formative Years, 1219–1244
    (pp. 25-75)

    In September 1219, Brother Pacifico¹ arrived at the gates of Paris hoping to find a place in that city for his brothers in religion, the Friars Minor.² This arrival marks the beginning of a history to be told in these pages, the history of the rise of learning in the Order of the Friars Minor. The Friars Minor originated in central Italy, made up largely of laymen in pursuit of a penitential life in apostolic poverty and simplicity. Had Paris been just another settlement of this evangelical fraternity in France, perhaps Pacifico’s journey would not have special significance, but it...

  7. Chapter 2 Studying as Evangelical Perfection
    (pp. 76-143)

    The story told in the preceding chapter shows that by the time the leadership of the Order passed from Haymo of Faversham to Crescentius of Jesi in 1244, the backbone of an educational framework and the formation of an administrative culture that favored the pursuit of learning as a good and useful activity was complete. This speedy change in the value system as well as daily routine was not welcome to the entire Order. Feelings ranging from skepticism to bitterness were expressed in the written texts of the period after 1244: learning was compromising the quintessential Franciscan virtue of simplicity....

  8. Chapter 3 Beyond Preaching and Confession
    (pp. 144-188)

    The Franciscan theologians following John of Rupella had little trouble making a case for the advantages of study within the fulfillment of Franciscan vocation. However, these men had entered the Order at a time when it had already made the commitment to education and learning. An established intellectual culture awaited Bonaventure when he put on his Franciscan habit for the first time. Therefore their justifications for and defense of study cannot be accepted as the last word on why the Order had chosen to move toward the intellectual realm. The question of why the Franciscan Order, despite its lay origins,...

  9. Chapter 4 Paradise Lost
    (pp. 189-214)

    When scholars from Paris joined the Franciscan Order and, to the best of their conviction, integrated the study of theology into the Franciscan mission, they made a genuine effort to emphasize at every stage the importance and necessity of humility and charity. This was a significant part of the discourse of the Franciscan scholars who reflected on the Order’s association with learning. This emphasis on humility was there precisely to act as a counterweight to the general association of learning in the medieval world with prestige, respectability, and pride. However, the culture of the Order, which was affected by social...

  10. Chapter 5 The Educational System around 1310
    (pp. 215-242)

    Franciscan educational organization experienced rapid change throughout the thirteenth century paralleling the Order’s spectacular expansion in both recruits and new provinces, changes in the university curricula, and the diverse roles the friars assumed in the ecclesiastical world. This change was so rapid that a general description of the Franciscan educational organization in the Middle Ages would be confusing and misleading. What follows, therefore, is something of a snapshot of the educational framework around 1310, tracing the steps of a virtual friar from novitiate all the way to the master of theology in Paris. The choice of 1310 as the date...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 243-252)

    When Francis prohibited his brothers the ownership of individual and communal property, he did not just adopt a principle of the apostolic life as he understood it. He also tried to remove from the path of the friars one of the most common means by which people were ranked in society. People’s respectability and society’s valuation of them normally reflected the degree of their wealth and property. What the very early Franciscan Order aimed to be was a brotherhood in which all were valued equally and all saw one another as such. That is why there was no recruitment policy...

  12. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 253-270)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 271-272)
  14. Index
    (pp. 273-276)