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The Franciscans in the Middle Ages

The Franciscans in the Middle Ages

Michael Robson
Series: Monastic Orders
Volume: 1
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 254
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  • Book Info
    The Franciscans in the Middle Ages
    Book Description:

    St Francis of Assisi is one of the most admired figures of the Middle Ages - and one of the most important in the Christian church, modelling his life on the literal observance of the Gospel and recovering an emphasis on the poverty experienced by Jesus Christ. From 1217 Francis sent communities of friars throughout Christendom and launched missions to several countries, including India and China. The movement soon became established in most cities and several large towns, and, enjoying close relations with the popes, its followers were ideal instruments for the propagation of the reforms of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. They quickly became part of the landscape of medieval life and made their influence felt throughout society. This book explores the first 250 years of the order's history and charts its rapid growth, development, pastoral ministry, educational organisation, missionary endeavour, internal tensions and divisions. Intended for both the general and more specialist reader, it offers a complete survey of the Franciscan Order. Dr MICHAEL ROBSON is a Fellow and Director of Studies in Theology at St Edmund's College, Cambridge.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-467-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. 1-9)

    St Francis of Assisi imitated Jesus Christ, his divine master, as closely as he could, abandoning his possessions for the benefit of the poor. His voluntary poverty was perceived as the recovery of an earlier strand in the Christian tradition, the belief that Christ and the Apostles had lived in simplicity and some physical hardship. As a symbol of this life of sacrifice the friars’ badge of identity was the cord around their waist; they were known as the cordati.¹ The cord’s three knots signified the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.² As the movement spread, friars reached almost every...

  8. Section One: The Thirteenth Century

    • CHAPTER ONE St Francis’s Vocation to Live and Proclaim the Gospel
      (pp. 10-21)

      Francis Bernardone was born in 1181 or 1182 in the Umbrian city of Assisi to the north of Rome. Steeped in its Etruscan and Roman roots, Assisi is perched on the slopes of Monte Subasio. The cult of various early saints was celebrated in and around Assisi. St Rufino, revered as the first bishop, was martyred not far from the city, beside the river Chiasco, near Costano, around 238. His body was initially buried there, but was brought to the church of San Rufino in Assisi. His cult flourished in the middle of the eleventh century and was stimulated by...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Initial Expansion of the Order
      (pp. 22-36)

      Francis’s vocation reflected contemporary aspirations for a clearer expression of Christian values. His literal response to the Scriptures injected a freshness and vitality into a society which was searching for new ways of giving authentic expression to its Christian vocation. Fidelity to the Gospel, an ascetical life and the pursuit of goodness, which had previously been perceived as the preserve of a spiritual elite residing in monasteries, were brought to the market-place and piazza by Francis². The friars’ fervour and dedication were rooted in apostolic zeal and a community life whose hallmarks were simplicity and cheerfulness. The striking levels of...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Poor Followers of St Francis
      (pp. 37-47)

      There was a strong correlation between the order’s poverty and its phenomenal rate of recruitment. Contemporary ideas about the simple life, rooted in the Gospel, were incorporated into the Rule.² While renunciation lay at the heart of the traditional forms of religious life, Francis imitated his divine teacher literally. The virtue which he and his disciples feminised as Lady Poverty became its most distinctive feature. Francis looked upon poverty as especially dear to the Son of God, although it was spurned throughout the world.³ Dante presents Francis as joined to Lady Poverty, who had been bereft of her first husband,...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Friars’ Ministry of Preaching
      (pp. 48-57)

      The order’s ministry was shaped by the canons of the Fourth Lateran Council, whose reforms they disseminated widely. The council was concerned with the extirpation of heresy, the recovery of the Holy Land and the renewal of the life of the Church at every level.² When the prelates assembled in November 1215, they approved remedies for a number of abuses. Heretical propaganda was to be countered by a reaffirmation of the articles of faith enshrined in the first canon. There was an urgent need for theologically articulate priests competent to engage heretics in debate. The link between preaching and the...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Preparation for the Apostolate
      (pp. 58-68)

      Francis shared some of the monastic reservations about theological study in the cathedral schools. There were, nonetheless, important changes taking place which impinged upon him. Friars working in northern Italy and southern France required a solid form of training, one fitted to stemming the tide of heresy. Proponents of heretical views were well versed in the explanation and dissemination of their propaganda. Good will and integrity of life alone were blunt instruments to deploy against such well-organised and highly articulate groups. The differing circumstances in the cities of Italy and France are reflected in the biographies of Francis and Anthony...

    • CHAPTER SIX Friars and the Papacy
      (pp. 69-81)

      The order’s hagiography and artistic tradition proclaimed Francis’s good relations with three popes, Innocent III, Honorius III and Gregory IX. These claims were confirmed by the way in which the friars became instruments of papal reforms throughout Christendom. They emphasised the strength of the partnership between the popes and the friars.

      The friars’ preparation for their ministry made them a dedicated and efficient body of men, whose ecclesiology was marked by a strong fidelity to the Church and the pope as the successor of St Peter. Gregory IX and the succeeding popes played a central role in promoting and channelling...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN St Bonaventure
      (pp. 82-94)

      Bonaventure personifies the friars’ commitment to the ministry of preaching, the study of theology and service to the universal Church. His seventeen years as minister general (1257–74) mark a crucial stage in the order’s development. He was the first friar to be raised to the purple on 28 May 1273, becoming cardinal bishop. During the last year of his life he devoted his energies to the preparations for the second council of Lyons, where he died on 5 July 1274.

      A native of Bagnoregio, Bonaventure, the ‘seraphic doctor’, enrolled in the faculty of arts in the University of Paris...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Order’s Role in the Church
      (pp. 95-107)

      The Florentine poet here recognises that, despite Bonaventure’s endeavours as a theologian, legislator, biographer and mystical writer, internal reflection and debate persisted among the friars. Lapses from the high standards of the order stimulated the clarion call for a radical renewal.

      The friars dispatched by the general chapter of 1217 to form new missions were more mobile than those who assembled forty years later to elect Bonaventure. The second and third generations of friars took their place within the constellation of religious communities, many of which were well established in the principal cities. They were beginning to settle on new...

  9. Section Two: The Fourteenth Century

    • CHAPTER NINE The Mission to China
      (pp. 108-118)

      Jerome emphasises the order’s contribution to missions in Morocco, India and China. The audacious enterprise of seeking to evangelise China, a region which would be sprinkled with the friars’ blood, was launched at a time when more information about the orient was reaching the west. Increased trade took Greek and Italian wines to China, a country visited by Venetian merchants during the thirteenth century.² Marco Polo reached China in 1271 and spent many years in the imperial service. The noble conduct of the Chinese entered popular literature.³ These contacts created opportunities for new initiatives by the western Church in general...

    • CHAPTER TEN The Growing Clamour for Reform
      (pp. 119-129)

      The increasingly fragile unity of the order was placed under a heavy strain in the 1290s when the first fissures appeared with the withdrawal of friars who placed themselves under the protection of Pope Celestine V. Two of the most influential spokesmen for the reformers were Ubertino da Casale and Angelo Clareno.

      Ubertino da Casale, who enjoyed contact with Angela of Foligno and Margaret of Cortona, was the leader of the reformers in Tuscany and Umbria. He had served as lector at Santa Croce in Florence alongside Peter Olivi for two years. His nine years in Paris gave him an...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN The Crisis under Pope John XXII
      (pp. 130-140)

      This quotation captures the friars’ changing relationship with the successor of St Peter and the vicar of Christ and summarises an extraordinary phase in the history of the order.

      Divisions within the order formed the prelude to the bitter struggle between the pope and the Michaelists, the followers of Michael of Cesena, in the 1320s. The repression of groups of reformers brought together Bertrand de la Tour, minister provincial of Aquitaine, and Michael of Cesena, the new minister general. The partnership between Pope Clement V (1305–14) and successive ministers general, improved the conditions and the aspirations of the Spirituals....

    • CHAPTER TWELVE The Friars and Their Neighbours
      (pp. 141-150)

      Civic authorities featured prominently among the friars’ friends and benefactors; some friaries regarded the local commune as their founders.² Such partnerships are illustrated by Louise Bourdua, who explains that the building of the basilica in Padua arose from collaboration between the friars, the commune, nobles, confraternities and the people of the city.³ One link between friary and commune was the celebration of St Francis’s feast, a day connected with gifts of alms. The civic statutes of Treviso ordained that the feast should be celebrated communally and that the podestà, bishop and his senior clergy should attend Mass at San Francesco.⁴...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Giovanni Boccaccio, Satire and the Friars
      (pp. 151-161)

      A literary echo of many of the same charges made by Richard FitzRalph appears in Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, one of the great works of fourteenth-century literature. Written in the early 1350s, the Decameron is set in the Tuscan countryside where three young men and seven young women retire to await the passing of the black death. In their rustic retreat they amused themselves by recounting a hundred stories. A feature of these stories is the persona of the friar, who is moulded by contemporary criticisms. Although the narrators refer frequently to the mendicants generically, the Franciscans are singled out more...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN The Friars’ Churches
      (pp. 162-170)

      The order’s first churches reflected the friars’ modest role as new religious in the neighbourhood. As they increased in number, stature and reputation, the friars attracted large numbers to their churches. In some instances, there were three successive churches on a single site, culminating in a vast expansive structure. By the beginning of the fourteenth century the classical mendicant churches were under construction throughout western Europe, especially in the more substantial cities. The completion of the church might take a considerable length of time, sixty years or more. The solemn ceremony of dedication marked the end of the building phase....

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Communities of the Friars Minor Conventual
      (pp. 171-180)

      The order was divided into provinces, which were established or dissolved by the general chapters. A province consisted of a cluster of friaries in a geographical region. In some countries there were a number of provinces, France and Italy, and in others one, such as Ireland. Foundations reflected a strong urban thrust, although several houses were established in towns. The life of each province was regulated by the triennial general chapters and more particularly by the annual chapters of provinces and custodies (see below), which selected a team of officials. Chapters addressed matters of discipline, orthodoxy and disobedience and conducted...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN The Emergence of the Observant Reform in Umbria
      (pp. 181-191)

      Angelo’s vision of renewal is encapsulated in these words. He exercised a powerful influence on those who paved the way for the reforms initiated by John de Valle, the first of three friars who established the friary at Brugliano and created a platform for the revitalisation of the order in Umbria.

      Religious orders constantly seek a greater fidelity to their Rule. The friars did not escape the pain and division that visited the older orders. The friars’ critics were united in their observation that the movement had fallen seriously short of its lofty ideals. A persistent charge was that friars...

  10. Section Three: The Fifteenth Century

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN The Preaching of St Bernardine of Siena
      (pp. 192-201)

      John de Stroncone linked the reformers of Brugliano and Bernardine of Siena, whom he received at Colombaio in 402. Bernardine’s impact upon the fledgling community resembled that of Bernard of Clairvaux on the growth of the Cistercians. He preached in several regions of Italy and his visits are better documented than those of St Francis.

      Bernardine was born into the old and noble Sienese family of the Albizzeschi at the Tuscan city of Massa Marittima on 8 September 1380, the year of the death of St Catherine of Siena. His parents were Tollo degli Albizzeschi, podestà of the city, and...

    • CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Towards Division, 1400–1446
      (pp. 202-212)

      An anonymous biographer of Bernardine presented him as the providential instrument for the renewal of the order, which was perceived as having lapsed from the pristine fervour of St Francis.² New signs for optimism lay in the approximately twenty-five friaries in the Observant reform at the beginning of the fifteenth century. This figure was augmented greatly through the influence of Bernardine, whose preaching brought many to religious life. Julian of Siena testified that more than a hundred of his fellow citizens had taken the habit. One estimate was that Bernardine’s preaching had led more than twenty thousand to the religious...

    • CHAPTER NINETEEN Observants and Conventuals, 1420–1456
      (pp. 213-222)

      The Observants enjoyed papal favour and began to promulgate provincial statutes from 1448.² Their leaders, Albert da Sarteano (†1450), John of Capistrano (†1456) and James of the Marches (†1476), were influential figures, whose sermons attracted large audiences; they were connected with the foundation of new communities.³ Unlike Bernardine, all three travelled to other countries in response to the needs of the Church and the reform. Their growing influence was vital for the implantation of the reform on Italian soil and beyond it. They made the Italian movement one of the wonders of fifteenth-century Europe.⁴ The preaching of the Observant friars...

    (pp. 223-223)

    This study began with the vision and ideals of one of the most attractive saints of the Middle Ages and it ends with his followers’ bitter and painful division. The Observants and the Conventuals moved towards the formal and definitive separation which was effected by Leo X’s Ite vos on 29 May 1517. The formation of parties representing groups of friars appears in the earliest hagiography and it mars the historiography of the order. These positions became more polarised. By the 1290s differences of opinion could no longer be held in check, no matter how much the general curia lauded...

    (pp. 224-236)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 237-239)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 240-240)