“Not long the period from his glorious birth,
When, with extraordinary virtue blest,
This wondrous sun began to comfort earth,
Bearing, while yet a child, his father’s ire,
For sake of her whom all as death detest,
And banish from the gate of their desire,
Before the court of heaven, before
His father, too, he took her for his own;
From day to day, then loved her more and more,
Twelve hundred years had she remained, deprived
Of her first spouse, deserted and unknown,
And unsolicited till he arrived.
But lest my language be not clearly seen,
Know, that in speaking of these lovers twain,
Francis and Poverty henceforth, I mean.”
— Dante, Paradiso XI., Wright’s trans.
High up in the list of hagiography stands the name of Francis of Assisi, the founder of the order of the Franciscans. Of all the Italian saints, he is the most popular in Italy and beyond it.
Francesco, — Francis, — Bernardone, 1182-1226, was born and died in Assisi. His baptismal name was Giovanni, John, and the name Francis seems to have been given him by his father, Pietro Bernardone, a rich dealer in textile fabrics, with reference to France, to which he made business journeys. Francis studied Latin and was imperfectly acquainted with the art of writing. He had money to spend, and spent it in gayeties. In a war between Assisi and Perugia he joined the ranks, and was taken prisoner. When released, he was twenty-two. During an illness which ensued, his religious nature began to be stirred. He arose from his bed disgusted with himself and unsatisfied with the world. Again he enlisted, and, starting to join Walter of Brienne in Southern Italy, he proceeded as far as Spoleto. But he was destined for another than a soldier’s career. Turning back, and moved by serious convictions, he retired to a grotto near Assisi for seclusion. He made a pilgrimage to Rome, whether to do penance or not, is not known. His sympathies began to go out to the poor. He met a leper and shrank back in horror at first, but, turning about, kissed the leper’s hand, and left in it all the money he had. He frequented the chapels in the suburbs of his native city, but lingered most at St. Damian, an humble chapel, rudely furnished, and served by a single priest. This became to his soul a Bethel. At the rude altar he seemed to hear the voice of Christ. In his zeal he took goods from his father and gave them to the priest. So far as we know, Francis never felt called upon to repent of this act. Here we have an instance of a different moral standard from our own. How different, for example, was the feeling of Dr. Samuel Johnson, when, for an act of disobedience to his father, he stood, as a full-grown man, a penitent in the rain in the open square of Litchfield, his head uncovered!
The change which had overcome the gay votary of pleasure brought upon Francis the ridicule of the city and his father’s relentless indignation. He was cast out of his father’s house. Without any of those expressions of regret which we would expect from a son under similar circumstances, he renounced his filial obligation in public in these words: “Up to this time I have called Pietro Bernardone father, but now I desire to serve God and to say nothing else than ‘Our Father which art in heaven.’” Henceforth Francis was devoted to the religious life. He dressed scantily, took up his abode among the lepers, washing their sores, and restored St. Damian, begging the stones on the squares and streets of the city. This was in 1208.
Francis now received from the Benedictine abbot of Mt. Subasio the gift of the little chapel, Santa Maria degli Angeli. Under the name of the Portiuncula — Little Portion — it became the favorite shrine of the saint and his early companions. There Francis had most of his visions, and there he died. In later years he secured from Honorius III. the remarkable concession of plenary indulgence for every one visiting the chapel between vespers of Aug. 1 to vespers of Aug. 2 each year. This made the Portiuncula a shrine of the first rank.
In 1209 Francis heard the words, “Preach, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. Provide neither silver nor gold, nor brass in your purses.” Throwing away his staff, purse, and, shoes, he made these Apostolic injunctions the rule of his life. He preached repentance and gathered about him Bernardo di Quintavallo, Egidio, and other companions. The three passages commanding poverty and taking up the cross, Mat_16:24-26; Mat_19:21; Luk_9:1-6, were made their Rule. The Rule meant nothing less than full obedience to the Gospel. The Lesser Brethren, fratres minores, for such came to be their name, begged from door to door, where they could not earn their bread, went barefoot and slept in hay lofts, leper hospitals, and wherever else they could find lodgment.
They were to preach, but especially were they to exemplify the precepts of the Gospel in their lives. Living was the most important concern, more important than sermons and than learning. Learning, Francis feared, would destroy humility. To a woman who came to him for alms he gave a copy of the New Testament, which they read at matins, the only book in the convent at the time. The convent did not even possess a breviary. A life of good works and sympathies was what Francis was seeking to emphasize. In his will, Francis calls himself an illiterate, idiota. Thomas à Celano also speaks of him in the same way. The word seems to have had the double sense of a man without education and a man with little more than a primary education. It was also used of laymen in contrast to clerics. Francis’ education was confined to elemental studies, and his biographers are persistent in emphasizing that he was taught directly of God. Two writings in Francis’ handwriting are in existence, one in Assisi and one in Spoleto.
In 1210 Francis and some of his companions went to Rome, and were received by Innocent III. The English chronicler reports that the pope, in order to test his sincerity, said, “Go, brother, go to the pigs, to whom you are more fit to be compared than to men, and roll with them, and to them preach the rules you have so ably set forth.” Francis obeyed, and returning said, “My Lord, I have done so.” The pope then gave his blessing to the brotherhood and informally sanctioned their rule, granted them the tonsure, and bade them go and preach repentance.
The brotherhood increased rapidly. The members were expected to work. In his will Francis urged the brethren to work at some trade as he had done. He compared an idle monk to a drone. The brethren visited the sick, especially lepers, preached in ever extending circles, and went abroad on missionary journeys. Francis was ready to sell the very ornaments of the altar rather than refuse an appeal for aid. He felt ashamed when he saw any one poorer than himself. At this time occurred one of the most remarkable episodes of Francis’ career. He entered into marriage with Poverty. He called Poverty his bride, mother, sister, and remained devoted to her with the devotion of a knight. The story runs thus. Francis, with some companions, went out in search of Poverty. Two old men pointed out her abode on a high mountain. There Poverty, seated “on the throne of her neediness,” received them and Francis praised her as the inseparable companion of the Lord, and “the mistress and queen of the virtues.” Poverty replied that she had been with Adam in paradise, but had become a homeless wanderer after the fall until the Lord came and made her over to his elect. By her agency the number of believers was greatly increased, but after a while her sister Lady Persecution withdrew from her. Believers lost their fortitude. Then monks came and joined her, but her enemy Avarice, under the name of Discretion, made the monks rich. Finally monasticism yielded completely to worldliness, and Poverty removed wholly from it. Francis now joined himself to Poverty, who gave him and his companions the kiss of peace and descended the mountain with them. A new era was begun. Henceforth the pillow of the friends was a stone, their diet bread and water, and their convent the world.
In 1212 Clara of Sciffi entered into the horizon of Francis’ life. She was twelve years his junior and sixteen when she first heard him preach at the Cathedral of Assisi. The sermon entered her soul. With Francis’ aid she escaped from her father’s house, and was admitted to vows by him. He conducted her to a house of Benedictine nuns. A younger sister, Agnes, followed Clara. The Chapel of St. Damian was set apart for them, and there the order of Clarisses was inaugurated. Clara outlived Francis, and in 1253 expired in the presence of brothers Leo, Angelo, and Ginefro.
In 1217 Francis was presented to Honorius III. and the curia. At the advice of Cardinal Ugolino, later Gregory IX., he prepared himself and memorized the sermon. Arrived in the pontiff’s presence, he forgot what he had prepared and delivered an impromptu discourse, which won the assembly.
Francis made evangelistic tours through Italy which were extended to Egypt and Syria 1219. Returning from the East the little Poor Man, il poverello, found a new element had been introduced into the brotherhood through the influence of the stern disciplinarian Ugolino. This violent change made the rest of the years a time of bitter, though scarcely expressed, sorrow for him. Passing through Bologna in 1220, he was pained to the depths at seeing a house being erected for the brothers. Cardinal Ugolino had determined to manipulate the society in the interest of the curia. He had offered Francis his help, and Francis had accepted the offer. Under the cardinal’s influence, a new code was adopted in 1221, and still a third in 1223 in which Francis’ distinctive wishes were set aside. The original Rule of poverty was modified, the old ideas of monastic discipline introduced, and a new element of absolute submission to the pope added. The mind of Francis was too simple and unsophisticated for the shrewd rulers of the church. The policy of the ecclesiastic henceforth had control of the order. Francis was set aside and a minister-general, Pietro di Catana, a doctor of laws and a member of the nobility was put at the head of the society. This was the condition of affairs Francis found on his return from Syria. He accepted it and said to his brethren, “From henceforth I am dead for you. Here is brother Peter di Catana whom you and I will obey,” and prostrating himself, he promised the man who had superseded him obedience and submission.
This forced self-subordination of Francis offers one of the most touching spectacles of medieval biography. Francis had withheld himself from papal privileges. He had favored freedom of movement. The skilled hand of Ugolino substituted strict monastic obedience. Organization was to take the place of spontaneous devotion. Ugolino was, no doubt, Francis’ real as well as professed friend. He laid the foundation of the cathedral in Assisi to his honor, and canonized him two years after his death. But Francis’ spirit he did not appreciate. Francis was henceforth helpless to carry out his original ideas, and yet, without making any outward sign of insubordination, he held tenaciously to them to the end.
These ideas are reaffirmed in Francis’ famous will. This document is one of the most affecting pieces in Christian literature. Here Francis calls himself “little brother,” frater parvulus. All he had to leave the brothers was his benediction, the memory of the early days of the brotherhood, and counsels to abide by the first Rule. This Rule he had received from no human teacher. The Almighty God himself had revealed it unto him, that he ought to live according to the mode of the Holy Gospel. He reminded them how the first members loved to live in poor and abandoned churches. He bade them not accept churches or houses, except as it might be in accordance with the rule of holy poverty they had professed. He forbade their receiving bulls from the papal court, even for their personal protection. At the same time, he pledged his obedience to the minister-general and expressed his purpose to go nowhere and do nothing against his will “for he is my lord.” Through the whole of the document there runs a chord of anguish.
Francis’ heart was broken. Never strong, his last years were full of infirmities. Change of locality brought only temporary relief. The remedial measures of the physician, such as the age knew, were employed. An iron, heated to white heat, was applied to Francis’ forehead. Francis shrank at first, but submitted to the treatment, saying, “Brother Fire, you are beautiful above all creatures, be favorable to me in this hour.” He jocosely called his body, Brother Ass. The devotion of the people went beyond all bounds. They fought for fragments of his clothing, hairs from his head, and even the parings of his nails.
Two years before his death Francis composed the Canticle to the Sun, which Renan has called the most perfect expression of modern religious feeling. It was written at a time when he was beset by temptations, and blindness had begun to set in. The hymn is a pious outburst of passionate love for nature. It soars above any other pastorals of the Middle Ages. Indeed Francis’ love for nature is rare in the records of his age, and puts him into companionship with that large modern company who see poems in the clouds and hear symphonies in flowers. He loved the trees, the stones, birds, and the plants of the field. Above all things he loved the sun, created to illuminate our eyes by day, and the fire which gives us light in the night time, for “God has illuminated our eyes by these two, our brothers.”
Francis had a message for the brute creation and preached to the birds. “Brother birds,” he said on one occasion, “you ought to love and praise your Creator very much. He has given you feathers for clothing, wings for flying, and all things that can be of use to you. You have neither to sow, nor to reap, and yet He takes care of you.” And the birds curved their necks and looked at him as if to thank him. He would have had the emperor make a special law against killing or doing any injury to “our sisters, the birds.” Later tradition narrated very wonderful things about his power over nature, as for example the taming of the fierce wolf of Gubbio. He was the terror of the neighborhood. He ran at Francis with open mouth, but laid himself down at Francis’ feet like a lamb at his words, “Brother Wolf, in the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to do no evil to me or to any man.” Francis promised him forgiveness for all past offences on condition of his never doing harm again to human being. The beast assented to the compact by lowering his head and kneeling before him. He became the pet of Gubbio.
The last week of his life, the saint had repeated to him again and again the 142d Psalm, beginning with the words, “I cry with my voice unto Jehovah,” and also his Canticle to the Sun. He called in brothers Angelo and Leo to sing to him about sister Death. Elias of Cortona, who had aided the Roman curia in setting aside Francis’ original Rule, remonstrated on the plea that the people would regard such hilarity in the hour of death as inconsistent with saintship. But Francis replied that he had been thinking of death for two years, and now he was so united with the Lord, that he might well be joyful in Him. And so, as Thomas à Celano says, “he met death singing.” At his request they carried him to the Portiuncula chapel. On his way he asked that his bed be turned so that once more his face might be towards Assisi. He could no longer see, but he could pray, and so he made a supplication to heaven for the city. At the church he broke bread with the brethren, performing the priestly service with his own lips. On Oct. 3, 1226, to use Brother Leo’s words, he “migrated to the Lord Jesus Christ whom he had loved with his whole heart, and followed most perfectly.”
Before the coffin was closed, great honors began to be heaped upon the saintly man. The citizens of Assisi took possession of the body, and Francis’ name has become the chief attraction of the picturesque and somnolent old town. He was canonized two years later. The services were held in Assisi, July 26, 1228, Gregory IX. being present. The following day, the pontiff laid the corner stone of the new cathedral to Francis’ memory. It was dedicated by Innocent IV. in 1243, and Francis’ body was laid under the main altar. The art of Cimabue and Giotto has adorned the sanctuary within. The statuary of the modern sculptor, Dupré, in front, represents the great mendicant in the garb of his order with arms crossed over his chest, and his head bowed. Francis was scarcely dead when Elias of Cortona made the astounding announcement of the stigmata. These were the marks which Francis is reported to have borne on his body, corresponding to the five wounds on Christ’s crucified body. In Francis’ case they were fleshy, but not bloody excrescences. The account is as follows. During a period of fasting and the most absorbed devotion, Christ appeared to Francis on the morning of the festival of the Holy Cross, in the rising sun in the form of a seraph with outstretched wings, nailed to the cross. The vision gone, Francis felt pains in his hands and side. He had received the stigmata. This occurred in 1224 on the Verna, a mountain on the Upper Arno three thousand feet above the sea.
The historical evidence for the reality of these marks is as follows. It was the day after Francis’ death that Elias of Cortona, as vicar of the order, sent letters in all directions to the Franciscans, announcing the fact that he had seen the stigmata on Francis’ body. His letter contained these words: “Never has the world seen such a sign except on the Son of God. For a long time before his death, our brother had in his body five wounds which were truly the stigmata of Christ, for his hands and feet have marks as of nails, without and within, a kind of scars, while from his side, as if pierced by a lance, a little blood oozed.” The Speculum Perfectionis, perhaps the first biography of Francis, refers to them incidentally, but distinctly, in the course of a description of the severe temptations by which Francis was beset. Thomas à Celano, not later than 1230, describes them more at length, and declares that a few saw them while Francis was still alive. Gregory IX. in 1237 called upon the whole Church to accept them, and condemned the Dominicans for calling their reality in question. The first portrait of Francis, dating from 1236, exhibits the marks.
On the other hand, a very strong argument against their genuineness is the omission of all reference to them by Gregory IX. in his bull canonizing Francis, 1228. Francis’ claim to saintship, we would think, could have had no better authentication, and the omission is inexplicable.
Three explanations have been given of the stigmata on the supposition that Francis’ body really bore the scars. 1. They were due to supernatural miracle. This is the Catholic view. In 1304 Benedict XI. established a festival of the stigmata. 2. They were the product of a highly wrought mental state proceeding from the contemplation of Christ on the cross. This is the view of Sabatier. 3. The third explanation treats them as a pious fraud practised by Francis himself, who from a desire to feel all the pains Christ felt, picked the marks with his own fingers. Such a course seems incredible. In the absence of a sufficient moral reason for the impression of the stigmata, it is difficult for the critical mind to accept them. On the other hand, the historical attestation is such that an effort is required to deny them. So far as we know, Francis never used the stigmata to attest his mission.
The study of the career of Francis d’Assisi, as told by his contemporaries, and as his spirit is revealed in his own last testament, makes the impression of purity of purpose and humility of spirit, — of genuine saintliness. He sought not positions of honor nor a place with the great. With simple mind, he sought to serve his fellow-men by republishing the precepts of the Gospel, and living them out in his own example. He sought once more to give the Gospel to the common people, and the common people heard him gladly. He may not have possessed great strength of intellect. He lacked the gifts of the ecclesiastical diplomat, but he certainly possessed glowing fervor of heart and a magnetic personality, due to consuming love for men. He was not a theological thinker, but he was a man of practical religious sympathies to which his deeds corresponded. He spoke and acted as one who feels full confidence in his divinely appointed mission. He spoke to the Church as no one after him did till Luther came.
Few men of history have made so profound an impression as did Francis. His personality shed light far and near in his own time. But his mission extends to all the centuries. He was not a foreigner in his own age by any protest in matters of ritual or dogma, but he is at home in all ages by reason of his Apostolic simplicity and his artless gentleness. Our admiration for him turns not to devotion as for a perfect model of the ideal life. Francis’ piety, after all, has a medieval glow. But, so far as we can know, he stands well among those of all time who have discerned the meaning of Christ’s words and breathed His spirit. So Harnack can call him the “wonderful saint of Assisi,” and Sabatier utter the lofty praise, that it was given to him to divine the superiority of the spiritual priesthood.”
The Canticle of the Sun
O most high, almighty, good Lord God, to Thee belong praise, glory, honor, and all blessing!
Praised be my Lord God with all His creatures, and specially our brother the sun, who brings us the day and who brings us the light; fair is he and shines with a very great splendor: O Lord he signifies to us Thee!
Praised be my Lord for our sister the moon, and for the stars, the which He has set clear and lovely in heaven.
Praised be my Lord for our brother the wind and for air and cloud, calms and all weather by the which Thou upholdest life in all creatures.
Praised be my Lord for our sister water, who is very serviceable unto us and humble and precious and clean.
Praised be my Lord for our brother fire, through whom Thou givest us light in the darkness; and he is bright and pleasant and very mighty and strong.
Praised be my Lord for our mother the earth, the which doth sustain us and keep us, and bringeth forth divers fruits and flowers of many colors, and grass.
Praised be my Lord for all those who pardon one another for His love’s sake, and who endure weakness and tribulation; blessed are they who peaceably shall endure, for Thou, O most Highest, shalt give them a crown.
Praised be my Lord for our sister, the death of the body, from which no man escapeth. Woe to him who dieth in mortal sin! Blessed are they who are found walking by the most holy will, for the second death shall have no power to do them harm.
Praise ye and bless the Lord, and give thanks unto Him and serve Him with great humility.
71. The Franciscans
“Sweet Francis of Assisi, would that he were here again!”
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. They 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. Innocent III. counselled him to take for his model the rule of the older orders, but Francis declined 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. Peter di Catana was made superior of the order, who, a few months later, was followed by Elias of Cortona. Francis’ appeal in his 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 poverty and made a will for Clara which is lost. The sisters seem at first to have supported themselves by the toil of their hands, but, by Francis’ advice soon came to depend upon alms. The rule was modified in 1219 and the order was afterwards compelled to adopt the Benedictine rule.
The Tertiaries, or Brothers and Sisters of Penitence, were the third order of St. Francis, the Clarisses being reckoned as the second, and received papal recognition for the first time in the bull of Nicolas IV., 1289. It is doubtful whether Francis ever prescribed for them a definite rule. Of the existence of the Tertiaries during his life there is no doubt. They are called by Gregory IX. in 1228 the Brothers of the Third Order of St. Francis. The Rule of 1289 is made for a lay corporation, and also for a conventual association from which latter, married persons are excluded. The purpose of Francis 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.
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. The earliest rule of the Tertiaries in thirteen chapters 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. Women, if married, were not to be admitted without the consent of their husbands, and all who had families were enjoined to care for them as a part of the service of God (VI. 6). The Tertiaries still exist in the Roman Catholic Church.
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. Now the one party, now the other was in the ascendant. The popes were against the Observants. The inward discord lasted throughout the thirteenth century and far into the fourteenth and was suppressed, rather than allayed, for the first time by Leo X., who separated the Franciscans into two orders. In the meantime Observants continued to agitate the scheme of St. Francis, and some of them laid down their 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.
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, 1279, again made a clear distinction between owning property in fee simple and its tenure for use, and confirmed the latter right. 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, d. after 1330, who remained through much persecution true to the original principles of Francis.
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.” But Francis’ followers departed from his teachings and adapted themselves to the current of that wonderful thirteenth century, established schools in their convents and were well settled, before the century was half gone, at the chief centres of 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. It was introduced into France by Pacifico and Guichard of Beaujolais, 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. Caesar of Spires, the flaming apostle of the order in Germany, belonged to the Observant 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, is one of the freshest and most absorbing relations of English affairs in the Middle Ages. At Canterbury they were entertained by the monks of Feskamp, and at London by the 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. The condition of English villages and towns at that day was very wretched. Skin diseases were fearfully prevalent, including leprosy. Destructive epidemics spread with great rapidity. Sanitary precautions were unknown. Stagnant pools and piles of refuse abounded.
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. The Franciscans also gave an impetus to learning; they set up schools, as at Oxford, where Robert Grosseteste delivered lectures for them. 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. Less than fifty years after their advent, one of their number, 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. They fell 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.
72. St. Dominic and the Dominicans
Literature. — The earliest Life by Jordanus, Dominic’s successor as head of the order: de principiis ordinis praedicatorum in Quétif-Echard, who gives five other early biographies (Bartholomew of Trent, 1244-1251, Humbert de Romanis, 1250, etc.), and ed. by J. J. Berthier, Freib., i. Schw., 1892. — H. D. Lacordaire, d. 1861: Vie de S. Dominique, Paris, 1840, 8th ed. 1882. Also Hist. Studies of the Order of S. Dom. 1170-1221, Engl. trans., N. Y., 1869. — E. Caro: S. Dom. et les Dominicains, Paris, 1853. — A. T. Drane: Hist. of St. Dom., Founder of the Friar Preachers, London, 1891. — Balme et Lelaidier: Cartulaire ou hist. diplomatique de S. Dom., Paris, 1892. — J. Guiraud: S. Dom., Paris, 2d ed., 1899. — For titles of about thirty lives, see Potthast, II. 1272. — Quétif-Echard: Script. ord. Praedicatorum, 2 vols. Paris, 1719-1721. — Ripoll and Bermond: Bullarium ord. Praed., 8 vols. Rome, 1737 sqq. — Mamachi: Annal. ord. Praed., Rome, 1756. — Monumenta ord. fratrum Praed. hist., ed. by B. M. Reichert, Louvaine and Rome, 10 vols., 1897-1901. Vol. III. gives the acts of the general chapters of the order, 1220-1308. — A. Danzas: Etudes sur les temps primitifs de l’ordre de S. Dom., Paris, 1873-1885. — *Denifle: Die Constitutionen des Predigerordens vom Jahre 1228, and Die Constitutionen des Raymunds von Peñaforte 1238-1241 in Archiv für Lit. und Kirchengesch., 1885, pp. 165-227 and 1889, 530-565. — Helyot: Bel. Orders. — Lea: Hist. of Inquisition, I. 242-304, etc. Wetzer-Welte, art. Dominicus, III. 1931-1945. — W. Lescher: St. Dominic and the Rosary, London, 1902. — H. Holzapfel: S. Dom. und der Rosenkranz, Munich, 1903.
The Spaniard, Dominic, founder of the order of preachers, usually called the Dominicans, lacks the genial personal element of the saint of Assisi, and his career has little to correspond to the romantic features of his contemporary’s career. Dominic was of resolute purpose, zealous for propagating the orthodox faith, and devoted to the Church and hierarchy. His influence has been through the organization he created, and not through his personal experiences and contact with the people of his age. This accounts for the small number of biographies of him as compared with the large number of Francis.
Domingo, or Dominic, was born 1170 at Calaroga, Spain, and died Aug. 6, 1121, in Bologna. His mother, Juana of Aza, is worshipped as a saint in the Dominican ritual. At seven the son passed under the priestly instruction of an uncle. Ten years were subsequently spent at Palencia in the study of philosophy and theology, and he is said to have excelled as a student. About 1195, he was made canon at Osma, which gives its name to the episcopal diocese, within whose bounds he was born. In 1203 he accompanied his bishop, Diego d’Azeveda, to France on a mission to secure a bride for the son of Alfonzo VIII. of Castile. This and subsequent journeys across the Pyrenees brought him into contact with the Albigenses and the legates despatched by Innocent III. to take measures to suppress heresy in Southern France. Dominic threw himself into the movement for suppressing heresy and started upon a tour of preaching. At Prouille in the diocese of Toulouse, he erected an asylum for girls to offset the schools established by the Albigenses, for the training of the daughters of impoverished noblemen. He was on intimate terms with Simon de Montfort, but, so far as is known, he took no active part in the Albigensian crusade except as a spiritual adviser. His attempt to establish a mission for the conversion of heretics received the support of Fulke, bishop of Toulouse, who in 1215 granted him one-sixth of the tithes of his diocese. Among the first to ally themselves to Dominic was Peter Cellani, a citizen of Toulouse, who gave him a house.
An epoch in Dominic’s career was his visit in Rome during the sessions of the Fourth Lateran Council, when he received encouragement from Innocent III. who declined to assent to the proposal of a new order and bade him adopt one of the existing monastic constitutions. Dominic chose the rule of the canons regular of St. Augustine, adopted the black dress of the Augustinians, and built the convent of St. Romanus at Toulouse. He was again in Rome from September, 1216, to Easter, 1217. Honorius II. in 1216 approved the organization, and confirmed it in the possession of goods and houses. An unreliable tradition states that Honorius also conferred upon Dominic the important office of Master of the Palace, magister palatii. The office cannot be traced far beyond Gregory IX.
The legendary accounts of his life represent the saint at this time as engaged in endless scourgings and other most rigorous asceticisms. Miracles, even to the raising of the dead, were ascribed to him.
In 1217 Dominic sent out monks to start colonies. The order took quick root in large cities, — Paris, Bologna, and Rome, — the famous professor of canon law at Paris, Reginald, taking its vows. Dominic himself in 1218 established two convents in Spain, one for women in Madrid and one for men at Seville. The first Dominican house in Paris, the convent of St. Jacques, gave the name Jacobins to the Dominicans in France and Jacobites to the party in the French Revolution which held its meetings there. In 1224 St. Jacques had one hundred and twenty inmates. The order had a strong French element and included in its prayers a prayer for the French king. From France, the Dominicans went into Germany. Jordanus and other inmates of St. Jacques were Germans. They quickly established themselves, in spite of episcopal prohibitions and opposition from other orders, in Cologne, Worms, Strassburg, Basel, and other German cities. In 1221 the order was introduced into England, and at once settled in Oxford. The Blackfriars Bridge, London, carries in its name the memory of their great friary in that city.
The first General Chapter was held 1220 in Bologna. Dominic preached with much zeal in Northern Italy. He died, lying on ashes, at Bologna, Aug. 6, 1221, and lies buried there in the convent of St. Nicholas, which has been adorned by the art of Nicholas of Pisa and Michael Angelo. As compared with the speedy papal recognition of Francis and Anthony of Padua, the canonization of the Spanish saint followed tardily, thirteen years after his death, July 13, 1234.
At the time of Dominic’s death, the preaching friars had sixty convents scattered in the provinces of Provence, Northern France, Spain, Lombardy, Italy, England, Germany, and Hungary, each of which held its own chapter yearly. To these eight provinces, by 1228, four others had been added, Poland, Denmark, Greece, and Jerusalem. Combined they made up the General Chapter. Each of the provinces was presided over by a provincial or provincial prior, and the convents by a prior or sub prior. The title and dignity of abbot were not assumed. At the head of the whole body stands a grand-master. Privilege after privilege was conferred by the Holy See, including the important right to preach anywhere and everywhere. The constitutions of 1228 are the earliest we possess, but they are not the oldest. They were revised under Raymund de Peñaforte, the third general.
Mendicancy was made the rule of the order at the first General Chapter, 1220. The example of St. Francis was followed, and the order, as well as the individual monk, renounced all right to possess property. The mendicant feature was, however, never emphasized as among the Franciscans. It was not a matter of conscience with the Dominicans, and the order was never involved in divisions over the question of holding property. The obligation of corporate poverty was wholly removed by Sixtus IV., 1477. Dominic’s last exhortation to his followers was that “they should have love, do humble service, and live in voluntary poverty.” But the precept never seems to have been taken much to heart by them.
Unlike the man of Assisi, Dominic did not combine manual labor with the other employments of his monks. For work with their hands he substituted study and preaching. The Dominicans were the first monastics to adopt definite rules of study. When Dominic founded St. Jacques in Paris, and sent seventeen of his order to man that convent, he instructed them to “study and preach.” Cells were constructed at Toulouse for study. A theological course of four years in philosophy and theology was required before a license was given to preach, and three years more of theological study followed it.
Preaching and the saving of souls were defined as the chief aim of the order. Humbert de Romanis, its fifth general, declared that the end of the order was not study, but that study was most necessary for preaching and the salvation of souls. Study, said another, is ordained for preaching, and preaching for the salvation of men, and this is the final end. No one was permitted to preach outside the cloister until he was twenty-five. And for preaching they were not to receive money or other gifts, except food. As Vincent Ferrer and Savonarola were the most renowned of the Dominican preachers of the Middle Ages, so Lacordaire was their most renowned orator in the nineteenth century. The mission of the Dominicans was predominantly with the upper classes. They represented the patrician element among the orders.
The annals of the Inquisition give to the Dominican order large space. The Dominicans were the most prominent and zealous, “inquisitors of heretical depravity.” Dante had this in mind when he characterized Dominic as “Good to his friends, dreadful to his enemies,” “Benigno ai suoi ed ai nimici crudo.”
In 1232 the conduct of the Inquisition was largely committed to their care. Northern France, Spain, and Germany fell to their lot. The stern Torquemada was a Dominican, and the atrocious measures which were afterwards employed to spy out and punish ecclesiastical dissent, have left an indelible blot upon the name of the order. The student of history must regard those efforts to maintain the orthodox faith as heartless, even though it may not have occurred to the participants to so consider them. The order’s device, given by Honorius, was a dog bearing a lighted torch in his mouth, the dog to watch, the torch to illuminate the world. The picture in their convent S. Maria Novella, at Florence, represents the place the order came to occupy as hunters of heretics. It portrays dogs dressed in the Dominican colors, black and white, chasing away foxes, which stand for heretics, while pope and emperor, enthroned and surrounded by counsellors, look on with satisfaction at the scene. It was in connection with his effort to exterminate heresy that Dominic founded, in 1220, the “soldiery of Christ,” composed of men and women, married and unmarried. Later, the order called itself the Brothers and Sisters of Penitence, or the Third Order, or Tertiaries of St. Dominic. As was the case with the Franciscan Tertiaries, some of them lived a conventual life.
The rosary also had a prominent place in the history of the Dominicans. An untrustworthy tradition assigns to Dominic its first use. During the crusades against the Albigenses, Mary, so the story runs, appeared to Dominic, and bade him use the rosary as a means for the conversion of the heretics. It consists of fifteen pater nosters and one hundred and fifty ave Marias, told off in beads. The Dominicans early became devotees of the rosary, but soon had rivals in the Carmelites for the honor of being the first to introduce it. The notorious Dominican inquisitor and hunter of witches, Jacob Sprenger, founded the first confraternity of the rosary. Pius V. ascribed the victory of Lepanto, 1571, to its use. In recent times Pius IX. and Leo XIII. have been ardent devotees of the rosary. Leo, in his encyclical of Sept. 1, 1883, ascribed its introduction to the great Dominic, as a balm for the wounds of his contemporaries.” This encyclical represents Mary as “placed on the highest summit of power and glory in heaven … who is to be besought that, by her intercession, her devout Son may be appeased and softened as to the evils which afflict us.”
Leo XIII. paid highest honor to the Dominicans when he pronounced Thomas Aquinas the authoritative teacher of Catholic theology and morals, and the patron of Catholic schools.