1902 Encyclopedia > Franciscans


FRANCISCANS. The Franciscan orders include the three orders of the Minorites, and all the less important associations who trace their rule to Francis of Assisi. The three orders of the Minorites, or Franciscans proper, include

(1) the Minorite friars, properly so-called, under a succes-sion of generals of the whole order from the foundation;

(2) the order of the Poor Ladies or Poor Clares—the Fran-ciscan nuns; (3) the order of Penitent Men and Women, which includes (a) all those who dwell in Franciscan cloisters and keep the third rule, (6) those who live in cloisters of their own, keeping the third rule, and (c) the Tertiaries properly so-called. All these three orders of Friars, Nuns, and Tertiaries are more or less under the jurisdiction of the general-minister of the Franciscan order.

I. The Minorite friars, or the first order, are divided into two " families," Cismontana, or convents in Italy, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Syria, and Palestine, and Ultramontana, or convents in France, Spain, the Low Countries, Saxony, the Islands of the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, and the Indies—the one ruled directly by the minister-general, and the other by a commissary-general. Each family is divided into provinces ruled over by a pro-vincial. The Cismontane has sixty-six provinces, and the Ultramontane has eighty-one. A province is the union of a certain number of convents under a chief directly respon-sible to the minister-general. Besides provinces the order originally contained vicarates and custodia. The vicarates were a number of convents united together, but too few to be counted a province. The custodia were at first subdivi-sions of provinces, but since Leo X. the custodia are like the old vicarates, and are governed by a vicar or custos directly responsible to the minister-general. The convents of the order in partibns infidelium are governed by prefects. The minister-general is chosen in full chapter for a term of six years, and if he dies or removes to a higher office during his term, the " discreet perpetual fathers " choose a deputy for the remainder of the term. The minister-general is chosen from the two families alternately, and the chapter at the same time elects a commissary-general for the other family.

The rule originally prescribed by St Francis was very strict, and, rigidly enforced, would have made all the mem-bers of the order pious beggars. This was the founder's idea, but when the order became popular it was found that few of its members could act up to its requirements; and even in the life-time of the founder attempts were made to relax them. The relaxations sanctioned by the decrees of popes and by general usage were repeatedly fought against by small but zealous minorities, and these struggles gave rise to various divisions in the order. Since the time of Leo X. and his union bull these divisions have been re-duced to three,—the Observants, the Conventuals, and the Capuchins,—all of whom belong to the first order of the Franciscans; and they are the survivals of a much more numerous division. The Observants are supposed to keep the rule of Francis with some strictness, and they take the first rank among the Franciscans; their minister-general has pre-eminence. The Conventuals follow the rule of Francis with certain relaxations permitted by successive popes. Their general has to be confirmed by the great minister-general, but otherwise they are independent. Since 1528 the Capuchins have had an independent general under the minister-general.

1. The Observants.—The relaxation of the rule of Francis and attempts at reformation to the original simplicity and strictness date from the time of Elias, successor as minister-general to Francis himself. Some of these reforms were unsuccessful, and only resulted in small schisms condemned by the general and by the pope; others were successful, and resulted in the formation of separate congregations more or less independent, until they were all abolished or rather brought together under one rule by Leo X. The Caesarins were the followers of Caesarinus of Spires, who revolted against the relaxations and innovations of Elias. After varying fortunes the reformers were punished as rebels. They gradually returned to the ranks of the order, and ceased to exist separately in 1256. The Celestines were the followers of Peter of Macerata, who called himself Liberatus, and Peter of Fossombrone, called Angelus, from his frequent fellowship with angels. They taught and professed a life of the strictest poverty and solitude, and were permitted to live separately from the rest of the order by Pope Celestine V. in 1294. The permission was recalled by later popes, and after many struggles the Celestine hermits were reckoned schismatics and heretics (see CELESTINES). From them came the Fratricelli (see FRATRICELLI). The Congregation of Narbonne, the Spirit-uales, were mainly followers of Peter John de Oliva. They were really a branch of the Celestines settled at Nar-bonne ; but their special grievances were that their laxer brethren did not wear the clothes prescribed by Francis,-— their robes were too long and too rich, and their hoods too large,—and that they accepted presents of wine and corn during the vintage and harvest. After some struggles they forced on a controversy in 1282, and were finally condemned by John XXII. at Vienna in 1312. They refused to submit, and were pronounced schismatic in 1318. The Clarenins were a revival, in 1302, of the Celestine hermits under Angelus of Cordova. They fought for re-cognition and existence down to 1581. The Congregation of Philip of Majorca arose in 1308. They were refused recognition, but struggled on only to disappear among the fanatical schismatics of the period. The reform of John of Vallées and Gentilis of Spoleto was occasioned by a further relaxation of the rule in 1336, sanctioned by Pope Benedict XII. Their fight for existence lasted almost forty years.

These six attempts to return to the original rule of St Francis, and to follow in the letter and spirit his principles of a religious life, were all unsuccessful. The historians of the order ascribe the failures to the rashness of the refor-mers or their followers, but the real cause was the utter in-compatibility of the rule of Francis with social life in any form. Any thorough-going return to the primitive rule was impossible, but many partial reforms were attempted. The aim of each reformer was to reconstruct the society, or at least to found a small society, which would be so independent of the rules and officials of the Franciscan order as to be free from interference with their endeavours to obey the rule of Francis in their own way. Some of these re-forms achieved a very considerable degree of independence, and lasted for a long time. They were all, nominally at least, brought under the common government of the order by the famous union bull of Pope Leo X. Of these reforms the most important are the following :—

The Soccolantes (named from wearing a wooden sandal) were founded by Paul of Foligny in 1368, noted from his fourteenth year lor his enthusiastic piety. This is the most important, because it started with the principles of the earlier unsuccessful reforms, and succeeded because it professed unconditional submission to the pope. Paul and his companions showed all the idiosyncraeies of Francis their cells were full of frogs, and their beds of serpents; they rejoiced in ill health, and nausea at the sight of food was esteemed a sign of the complete mortification of the body. They obtained permission, and retained it against many attempts at deprivation, to live in independence of the ordinary officials of the order. Their reform became successful and spread, and when Leo X. issued his bull of union they were sufficiently numerous to impose their name (Observantes) on one of the great divisions of the reorganized order. At the first they held disputations with the Fratrieelli and Beghards regarding the principles of Francis, for these heretics with great justice declared that they were more true to the Christian ideal of Francis than the professed followers of the saint. The only argu-ment the Observants could adduce against their opponents was that Francis had made unconditional submission to the pope part of his ideal.

The congregation of Villacrezes was founded by Peter of Villa-crezes, in the convent of Our Lady of Salceda in Castile, about 1390. His principles were very like those of Paul of Foligny, but were even more strictly enforced. The brethren were obliged to wear the scantiest and coarsest raiment, and to content themselves with the barest necessaries of life. The independence of the congregation was finally secured at the council of Constance. (Cf. Mendoza, Hist, del Monte Celia de nuestra Sciiora de la Salceda.)

The Congregation of Collette, from the nun Collette, is noticed below.

The Congregation founded by Amadeus of Assisi obtained independence in 1469 and 1471 ; it was never very strong, laboured under suspicion of heresy, refused to submit to the bull of Leo X., and was finally suppressed by Pius V.

The Congregation of Philip Berbegal took its rise from attempts of Martin V. to reform the order in 1430. Nominally suppressed in 1433, it reappeared under another name (the Neutrals), obtained recognition, but was finally suppressed in 1463.

The Caperolani, or followers of Peter Caperole, were for a short time independent, and then were reunited with the Observants. Two famous preachers, Anthony of Castel St Jean and Matthew of Tivoli, held out and gathered around them a new congregation, which for long refused to submit itself to the order.

More important, however, than any of these reforms, save the first, were the series of national reformatory movements within the order, which produced in Spain the Bare-footed Friars under the leadership of John of Guadaloupe, in Italy the Riformati led by Stephen Molina, and in France the Recollets. These congregations arose to embody the reforms suggested by John of Puebla, and sur-vived Leo's bull of union. Lapse of time brought relaxations, and these led again to a reaction which produced the reform of Peter of Alcantara, who named his fellows The Brethren of the Strictest Observance. Peter obtained a species of independence for his con-vents. They were under the rule of the general of the order, but not of the provincials. From this congregation arose a further reform under John of Paschase and Jerome of Lanza, which, after some years of independent life, reunited with the congregation of Peter of Alcantara.

Most of these reforms were brought together by the bull of Leo X., and are merged under the general name of Observants.

2. The Conventuals included, at the time of Leo X., all the Franciscans who kept the rule in a relaxed form, and had not been influenced by the various attempts at refor-mation. They claimed to be the Franciscan order, and in fact at the time were so. Now they are only one of the great divisions of the order. An attempt was made after the council of Trent to reform the Conventuals, and a con-gregation of Beformed Conventuals was founded, but it did not exist very long.

3. The Capuchins exist as an independent congregation, and do not take rank with the Observants and Conventuals. They owe their origin to Matthew of Bassi, a Franciscan of the family of Observance, who had conscientious scruples about the shape of his hood or capuce. It was revealed to him in visions that St Francis had worn a long pointed hood, and he began to wear one of the revealed pattern. Others began to copy it. They were persecuted by their fellows, strove for freedom, and at length got it. In 1536 Paul III. formally recognized them under the title of Capuchins of the order of the Minorites, but ordained that their vicar-general or chief was to be confirmed by the general of the Conventuals, and that they were to march under the cross of the Conventual Minorites in religious processions. In 1619 Paul V. removed these restrictions. They now have their own cross and choose their own chief quite independently, and he is called general, not vicar-general. See CAPUCHINS.

II. The Franciscan nuns owed their origin to Clara, a noble maiden of Assisi. Born in 1193, she left her home in 1212, fled to the Portiuncula to Francis, and refused to return. The same year she gathered a company of ladies, including her three younger sisters, and founded the order of Franciscan nuns. The order spread rapidly through Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and Bohemia, In 1220 Cardinal Hugolin gave them a rule of life taksu from the rule for the strictest sect of the Benedictine nuns, with some special observances. Four years later Francis gave them a written rule, which was approved of by Gregory IX. and by Innocent IV.

The rule of Hugolin compelled the nuns among other things to fast every day, to abstain at all seasons on Wed-nesdays and Fridays from wine and soup, and to content themselves on those days with some fruits or raw herbs, to fast also on bread and water thrice a week during Lent and twice during Advent. They were also to keep perpetual silence, to be broken only by the permission of the superior, They were to wear two tunics, a mantle and scapulary, be-sides a hair shirt. The rule of Francis was not so strict; he did not oblige them to fast on bread and water during certain seasons, and there were other relaxations. These two rules gave rise to disputes and divisions, and Pope Urban IV. gave the sisters a third rule which was less strict than either. The result was that several convents adhered to the first and strictest rule ; that of the reform of Collette, a French sister, adhered to the second rule, that of Francis; while the large proportion of the nuns followed the new rule of Urban.
The Capuchin movement within the Franciscan order also affected the Minorite nuns, and the Capuchin nuns soon be-came a large and prosperous community. The only other important reform was that set in motion by Peter of Alcantara. The sisters who followed him are called the Poor Clares of the Strictest Observance. They take the vow of perpetual silence.

III. The Tertiaries consist of lay brethren and sisters in the Franciscan monasteries, confraternities who keep the third rule of St Francis, and men and women living in society who have taken the third rule. The Tertiaries of the begging monks have become so famous that many are disposed to trace their origin to Francis and Dominic, but the class of penitents existed in connexion with other and older orders. The third rule was intended to suit the requirements of all those who wished to live a higher religious life, and who could not from their circumstances embrace the monastic life. It is said that the origin of the Francis-can Tertiaries dates from Francis preaching at Canari, a small town near Assisi, where the whole population wished en masse to enter the Franciscan order and desert their life and duties in society. Francis refused to permit this, but to assist them framed a third rule to serve as a religious guide. Its provisions resemble the rules commonly found in pious books with which the present ritualistic movement has made us familiar, and the associations of Tertiaries may be compared with the guilds now found in connexion with many High Church congregations. These Tertiaries believed that they were imitating not Christ but his early disciples ; they had to spend some time in novitiate, and then vowed obedience to the third rule, which enjoined that they were to wear poor clothing of an unobtrusive colour, without worldly ornament of any kind. It forbade them to bear arms save for the defence of the church or their country. It prohibited attendance at fetes, balls, dancing parties, and the theatre. It forbade meat on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. It enjoined fasting at Lent and Advent, and at other times only two meals a-day. The hours of devotion and the devotional exercises were pre-scribed. Tertiaries were bound to attend mass and preach-ing at least once a month, to go to confession and holy communion at least thrice a year, and to attend the funerals of their fellows. This third order was very successful, but it is worth noticing that the common people, after the first burst of enthusiasm, seemed unable to distinguish the Tertiaries from the Fratricelli and Beghards, who professed a somewhat similar mode of life, and had been condemned by various popes.

o At some period of their existence, when it is difficult to say, many of the Tertiaries began to practise the monastic life, and to take the vow of chastity in addition to the third rule. Convents of the third rule were in existence in the 15th century, and in 1433 brethren living under this rule were permitted to choose a general. The earlier bulls per-mitting such confraternities were at first generally addressed to penitents living in particular countries, and the divisions of the brethren take generally a local name. There were, for example, the religious penitents of the third order of St Francis of the regular observance in Italy, in Sicily, Dal-matia, and Istria, and in the Low Countries; these three were united in the congregation of Lombardy. There were besides the congregations of Germany, Spain, Portugal, and France. Congregations were also formed to observe the rule with complete and literal strictness. The Tertiaries included women as well as men, and these also began to take a special vow of chastity and live in cloisters. One branch of these includes the lay sisters in the ordinary con-vents of the Poor Clares, who devote themselves to menial work. Their foundress was Elizabeth of Hungary. Another branch was founded by Angeline of Corbaro, and has convents of its own. There are also the Grey Sisters, the Becollectines, and several other congregations, who live in cloisters under regular government, but practise the third and not the second rule. From the beginning of the move-ment the Tertiaries were charged to take special care of the poor, the sick, and the aged; and several confraternities, both of men and of women, have been formed, who live under the third rule, and devote themselves to hospital work.

Besides these three orders of Friars, Nuns, and Tertiaries, the Franciscans may also be said to include one or two orders of minor importance which trace their origin to Francis,—such, for example, as the Chevaliers of the Order of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, and the Archiconfraternity of the Stigmata of St Francis, but they are of minor importance.

The Franciscan soon became one of the most important of the mediaeval monastic orders, It had a peculiar charac-ter, and attracted minds of the sympathetic mystical cast. This led to its curious connexion with many of the mediaeval heretical sects. The Franciscan theology was also peculiar. It had the same Pelagian characteristics that distinguish the modern Jesuit theology, which has done little more than develop the Franciscan ideas on the immaculate con-ception, the doctrines of freedom and grace, &c. During the Middle Ages the Franciscans, however, furnished many strong opponents to the papal theology and ecclesiastical claims. The order has produced a long array of distin-guished theologians and churchmen,—Bonaventura, Alex-ander of Hales, John Duns Scotus, and William of Occam were all Franciscans. Wadding, the great historian of the Franciscans, has filled a folio volume with names of distin-guished members of the order.

Authorities.—Wadding, Annates Minorum, 22 vols, fol., and Brother Anthony's Supplement; Tossinian, Historia Seraphica; Dominic de Gubernatis, Orbis Seraphicus; Helyot, Histoire des Ordres Monastiques, vol. vii.; Marianus, Chronic. Observ. Strictior. et Reform.; Boverius, Annal. Fr. F. Min. Capucinorum; Brewer's Monumenta Franciscana; Hase, Franz v. Assisi, ein Heiligenbild, 1864; Mrs Oliphant's Life of Francis of Assisi ; Maclear's History of Christian Missions in the Middle Ages (where the mission work of St Francis has been well described, chap. 16); Mrs Jameson's Legends of the Monastic Orders as represented in the Fine Arts ; Milman's Latin Christianity, bk. ix. chap. 9. (T. M. L.)

Search the Encyclopedia:

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries