The Coming of the Friars
In the 13th century, the two most influential mendicant orders were founded: the Franciscans by St Francis of Assisi in 1210, and the Dominicans by St Dominic in 1216. The enormous success and popularity of the mendicant orders was mainly due to two reasons: the widespread criticism of the corruption and inefficiency of the Church establishment and the spiritual demands put forward by an ever increasing and articulate urban laity. Friaries were established in all the great cities of western Europe, and in the universities, theological chairs were held by Dominicans and Franciscans.
The wealth of monks and secular clerics, particularly those belonging to the higher ranks of the clergy, had brought disrepute to the Church, and more and more voices could be heard preaching the practice of austere poverty and a return to the simple life of Christ and his apostles. When the friars established themselves in the towns – and here often in the poorest localities – and brought religion to the destitute and outcasts of society, they satisfied a need which the parochial clergy could not cope with, yet, the friars not only responded to the new needs of the age, but also to its new ideas: religious, intellectual, artistic. A new intellectual era had begun with the foundation of universities and the scholastic movement, and the friars actively participated in these institution and discussion. In the end though, the orders grew richer and richer (many people left them their property in their wills) and many of the original ideas came to be betrayed by corrupt friars.
The term 'mendicant' as used in religion denotes a person who renounces the ownership of property and relies on the charity of others for his daily needs. In the Christian Church, the use of the term is restricted to a member of a religious order that, in contrast to the monastic orders, does not allow the ownership of property, not even in common, if taken in its strictest sense. In the 13th century, the two most influential mendicant orders were founded: the Franciscans by St. Francis of Assisi in 1210, and the Dominicans by St. Dominic in 1216. Friaries were established in all the great cities of western Europe, and in the universities, theological chairs were held by Dominicans and Franciscans. Because of this unchecked growth, the second Council of Lyons in 1274 decided to take necessary steps to suppress all orders except the ones named above.
St Francis was born in 1181 as the son of a rich merchant of Assisi, but in 1206 he surrendered all the material comforts of his home to become a beggar inspired by Jesus' words that one should give up everything and follow him. The Franciscan orders were officially accepted in the papal bull of Pope Honorius III. St Francis died in 1226 and was canonized by Pope Gregory IX, his close friend, two years later.
St Dominic (1170-1221) began his career as a Castillian nobleman and priest and he founded an order based on the principles of mendicant poverty, learning, and preaching. The order spread rapidly, focusing particularly upon university towns such as Paris (1217), Bologna (1218), and Oxford (1221). Among the many outstanding Dominican scholars one could name Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas. Dominicans were particularly active in combating heresy, so much, that the medieval Inquisition is often described as the Dominican Inquisition, although a minority was involved; from the 14th century onwards the order declined in importance.
|History, Middle English Period, Religious|