A powerful impulse was imported
into monasticism and the life of the mediaeval Church by the two great mendicant orders,1
though not without a struggle.2 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.
document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College)
The appearance of these
two organizations was without question one of the most momentous events of the Middle
Ages,3. 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 dAssisi 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
A Splendor was of light
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.5 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; Dominics 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.6 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
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.7
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 dAbrissel, d.
1117, had for his ideal to follow "the bare Christ on the cross, without any goods of
his own."8 " man," pauper Christi, and says that this "man,
poor in spirit, followed unto death the Poor Lord."9reacher, Vitalis of
Savigny, who lived about the same time, his biographer said that he decided to bear
Christs light yoke by walking in the steps of the Apostles.10o
follow closely the example of the Apostles, and they regarded Christ as having taught and
practised absolute poverty. Arnold of Brescias 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.11
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.12ed.13
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.14
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
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."15 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.16 a 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.17manded 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.18 19
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.20
21 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
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.22 In 1227 Gregory IX. granted his
order the right of general burial in their churches23 24
mass in all their oratories and churches.25 26
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
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,"27 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.28 intrusive insolence, but, as a rule, the popes were on their
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
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.
3 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.
4 Paradiso, canto XI. Longfellows trans.
says: "If ever man practised what he preached, that man was Francis." Monachism,
Müller accepts the evidence which Sabatier gives. See Literatur-Zeitung,
1895, p. 181.
does not mean that the Franciscans in their early period were idlers. They were expected
to work. Sabatier, S. François,
VIII. p. 138.
8 nudus nudum Christum in cruce sequi, Walter, Wanderprediger.
9 Pauperem dominum ad mortem pauper spiritu pauper sequebatur,
Walter, II. 44.
10 Leve jugum Christi per apostolorum vestigia ferre decrevit,
Walter, II. 83.
11 Walter, Wanderprediger Frankreichs, p. 168, has brought
this out well.
12 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.
13 "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.
So called in the bull of
Gregory IX., 1228; Potthast, I. p. 703.
15 See the quotations from the Speculum
andVita secunda of Celano, in Seppelt, pp. 234 sqq. Also Sabatier, S. François, ch.
16 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.
18 Chartul., I. 309-313, gives Humberts long letter.
19 Chartul., I. 381. See chapter on
20 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."
21 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.
22 The bulls are dated March 7 and 29. See
Potthast, I. 590. The same privilege was conceded to the Carmelites, April 9, 1229.
23 Potthast, I. 697, 721.
24 Potthast, I. 701, 706.
25 June 10, 1228, Potthast, I. 707.
26 See Potthast, Nos. 6508, 6542, 6654, etc.
27 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.
28 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 Williams 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 Williaims 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.
29 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."
Luards ed., V. 194.
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