FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

6. History of the Franciscan Movement (3)

From the death of St.Bonaventure (1274)
to Michele da Cesena (1328)


2.28. During the Council of Lyon (1274) many thought that Gregory X wanted all mendicant Orders to accept property in common, like the old monastic Orders. This move would have contradicted what the Franciscan Rule states. Therefore, a group of friars from the Marches of Ancona decided to observe the Rule in a strict way. Their leader was Corrado d'Offida. These friars were directly involved in the transmission of the oral tradition of the "Actus S. Francisci et sociorum eius"and the "Fioretti", which were written towards the end of the 14th century. They were known as Spirituals, a name linked to the age of the Spirit predicted by Joachim of Fiore.

The apparition to the chapter of Arles
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The apparition to the chapter of Arles (detail)
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2.29. Many of these friars were humble and even saintly. Some, however, were militant against the institution of the Church and the Community of the Order, whom they saw as betraying the Franciscan ideal. Among them, the most famous were Angelo Clareno, Pietro da Macerata, Tommaso da Tolentino, Ubertino da Casale, in Italy (Marches and Tuscany), and Hugh of Digne, Pierre Jean Olieu (Pierre Giovanni Olivi) in Provence. Some are even authors of polemical writings, such as the "Arbor vitae crucifixae Jesu"of Ubertino da Casale, the "Historia septem tribulationum Ordinis Minorum" of Angelo Clareno, and the "Expositio Regulae" of Hugh of Digne.

2.30. The Ministers General after St. Bonaventure include Girolamo da Ascoli Piceno (1274-1279), who was then elected Pope in 1288 and took the name Nicholas IV. He gave the Rule "Supra montem" to the Third Order of St. Francis in 1289. Next in the line of Generals is Bonagrazia di S. Giovanni in Persiceto (1279-1285).

2.31. The General Chapter of Assisi (1279) asked for a new Cardinal Protector, in the person of Matteo Orsini. The capitulars also asked for a revision of the various papal interpretations on the Rule. Pope Nicholas III nominated a commission to revise this legislation, and on 14 August 1279 published the Bull "Exiit qui seminat". In this document the Pope distinguished between "usus juris" and "usus facti". The friars had no use of right upon any goods; all they had was the use in fact, which was to be moderate. The Order's property remained in the hands of the Pope, but the Ministers had the right to administer the use of goods. In 1283 Pope Martin IV introduced the figure of the "sindacus apostolicus", who was a lay person nominated by the Minister to administer the goods of the friars.

2.32. The Chapter of Milan elected Arlotto da Prato as Minister General (1285-1287). During the Chapter the writings of Olivi were examined. But after the Chapter of Montpellier (1287), the new Minister General, Matteo da Aquasparta, one of the Franciscan masters of Paris, sent him to lecture in Florence. Matteo was elected cardinal in 1289, and Raymond Godefroy was elected General instead. This practice of giving the cardinal's hat to Minister Generals was detrimental to the stability of the Order. In 1295 Godefroy had to resign, because Pope Boniface VIII suspected him of being a Spiritual. Giovanni Mincio da Murrovalle (1296-1304) was elected instead.

The liberation from prison of Pietro d'Assisi
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2.33. By now the Spirituals were causing real trouble in the Order. During the short reign of Pope Celestine V (1294), a group of Spirituals, whom Godefroy had sent as missionaries to Armenia in 1289, to defend them from imprisonment, returned to Italy. Pope Celestine V gave them permission to live in small hermitages and observe the Franciscan Rule without any papal interpretations. They changed their name to Celestine friars or Poor Hermits. Pietro da Macerata was their leader. Naturally they were persecuted by the Community, and also by the other Spirituals. They even went so far as to reject Boniface VIII as Pope. The natural result was their excommunication. When Pietro da Macerata died in 1305, Angelo Clareno took over the leadership of this faction.

2.34. The successor of Murrovalle was Gonsalvus of Valboa, from Spain (1304-1313), who had been one of Duns Scotus' lecturers in Paris. During his generalate Pope Clement V summoned him, together with Ubertino da Casale and other experts, to discuss the issues of tension in the Order. This move came as a result of the deliberations of the Council of Vienne (1311), which had discussed the issue of Church reform. Clement V, as Boniface VIII and Benedict XI had done before him, tried to solve the problem regarding the mendicant's deteriorating relations with the secular clergy as a result of their privilege of exemption from episcopal jurisdiction. He also addressed the issue of the tension between the Community and the Spirituals. On 20 November 1312 Clement V issued the Bull "Exivi de paradiso", in which the Pope dealt with the precepts and counsels of the Franciscan Rule, and also mentioned the various abuses in the Order regarding poverty. His hopes to ease tensions were short-lived. The Order was divided between the Community, which wanted the Order to have large convents, studies, papal privileges and the like, and the Spirituals, who wanted a return to the poverty and insecurity of the early days of the Order, but among whom there were elements tainted with heresy.

2.35. The downfall of the Spirituals was now imminent. Some of them fled to Sicily, and were excommunicated in 1314. After the death of Gonsalvus of Valboa, Alessandro di Alessandria was elected General (1313-1314). After his death, the Order remained without a Minister until 1316, because even the Church was without a Pope after the death of Clement V. In 1316 a new Pope was elected, John XXII (1316-1334), and a new Minister General, Michele Fuschi da Cesena (1316-1328). The final war of the Spirituals had begun.

2.36. John XXII was determined to control the upsurge of evangelism and Joachimite tendencies in the Franciscan Order. Some were even using the name Franciscan to hide their heretical tendencies. This was the case of the "friars of the free spirit", led by a certain Dulcino. Some of these heretics ended up burnt alive at the stake. Many others were imprisoned or exiled. In 1317 John XXII called a group of Spirituals from Provence to appear before him at Avignon, together with Angelo Clareno and Ubertino da Casale. As soon as they arrived they were imprisoned. Clareno was excommunicated, but Ubertino da Casale was spared after being defended by Cardinal Giacomo Colonna. On 7 October 1317 John XIII published the constitution "Quorundam exigit", which marks the official suppression of the Spirituals. Angelo Clareno rebelled against the Pope and fled to Basilicata, where he became leader of the Spirituals, who began to be called Clareni or Fraticelli. Clareno died in 1337, but the Fraticelli continued to exist until the mid-15th century. In the Bull "Sancta Romana" (1317) John XXII formally condemned the Fraticelli.

2.37. The Pope also wanted the Order to revise its doctrine regarding poverty. He did not agree with the doctrine of voluntary poverty, based upon the assertion that Christ and the Apostles were without possessions. The issue was to cause a great deal of trouble for Michele da Cesena during the Chapter of Marseilles in 1321. In 1322 John XXII commissioned a group of masters of theology and prelates of the curia to propose their views regarding the question of the poverty of Christ.

2.38. The answers of the commission varied. But the majority were against the theory that Christ and the Apostles did not possess goods, because that would have condemned the Church's own right for possessions. In 1322 John XXII issued the Bull "Quia nonnumquam", in which he hinted that the Pope had the right to revise decrees made by his predecessors. He was referring to the "Exiit qui seminat". This would have dealt a blow upon the Franciscan ideal of poverty, and Michele da Cesena was not prepared to give in easily to the challenge. During the Chapter of Perugia, in May 1322, the capitulars declared: "To say or assert that Christ, in showing the way of perfection, and the Apostles, in following that way and setting an example to others who wished to lead the perfect life, possessed nothing either severally or in common, either by right of ownership and 'dominium' or by personal right, we corporately and unanimously declare to be not heretical, but true and catholic". One of the Franciscan experts during the Chapter was Bonagrazia di Bergamo, who defended the thesis of the friars' "simplex usus facti" (simple use of necessities).

2.39. John XXII replied by the Bull "Ad conditorem canonum", which was affixed to the doors of the cathedral of Avignon on 8 December 1322. In it the Pope said that, although the Church reserved the right of ownership of the friars' goods, it had not interest whatever to own anything which they, in fact, used. In other words, the theory separating "usus" from "dominium" made no sense. The Church did not want to retain any possessions of the friars any longer. This decision naturally destroyed the very foundations of the Franciscan ideal of poverty. On 23 November 1323 the Pope issued another Bull, "Cum inter nonnullos", in which he declared it heretical to deny that Christ and the Apostles used their right to temporal possessions.

2.40. Tensions rose to uncontrollable proportions. In 1324 the emperor Louis of Bavaria sided with the friars and accused the Pope of heresy. John XXII replied with the "Quia quorundam", in which he ordered his views to be taught in the universities. In 1328 Michele da Cesena was summoned to Avignon to explain the Order's intransigence in refusing the Pope's orders and its complicity with Louis of Bavaria. Michele was imprisoned in Avignon, together with Francesco d'Ascoli, Bonagrazia di Bergamo and William of Ockham, one of the masters of the Oxford Franciscan school. Since the Chapter was due to be celebrated on 22 May 1328, the Pope sent Cardinal Bertrand of Poietto to preside it, and left the Minister General in prison.

A typical street in Assisi

2.41. The Chapter met in Bologna, with instructions to depose Michele da Cesena. The capitulars duly obeyed - by re-electing Michele! John XXII excommunicated Michele, together with Bonagrazia and Ockham, and nominated Cardinal Bertrand as Vicar of the Order until the next General Chapter.

2.42. In the meantime, on 12 May 1328, Louis of Bavaria had entered Rome and was crowned emperor. He declared John XXII a heretic and an antichrist, and chose the Franciscan Pietro da Corbaro as antipope. Pietro took the name of Nicholas V (1328-1333).

2.43. On 26 May 1328 Michele and his companions fled from Avignon. The group sought refuge in the court of Louis of Bavaria. The Pope addressed the Bull "Quia vir reprobus" to the rebel Minister General. Michele died on 29 November 1342, still holding the seal of the Order. Bonagrazia died in 1343, and Ockham died reconciled to the Church in 1349, and gave back the seal of the Order.

2.44. Less than half of the Ministers Provincial were present at the Chapter of Paris of 1329, in which Gerald Eudes (Odonis) was elected Minister General (1329-1342). Eudes was a personal friend of John XXII, and was definitely inclined towards the Conventual family of the Order.

© copyright FIOR-Malta
Text by Fr. Noel Muscat ofm


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