FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

6. History of the Franciscan Movement (6)

From the end of the Great Schism (1417)
to the division of the Order (1517)


6.73. The General Chapter of Forlì, in 1421, elected Angelo Salvetti as Minister General. His successor was Antonio da Massa Marittima (1424-1430). These years mark an interesting period in the history of the Order, especially regarding the spreading and organisation of the Regular Observance.

The apse of the Lower Basilica of Assisi
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6.74. Pope Martin V summoned a "capitulum generalissimum" in Assisi in 1430. This Chapter promulgated new Constitutions (called "Martianian"). The brains behind the Chapter were those of Giovanni da Capistrano, who wanted the Observant movement to remain united with the Order. The new Minister General, Guglielmo da Casale (1430-1442) accepted the principle of reform in the Order, particularly regarding the vow of poverty. But he soon went back on his word. On 23 August 1430 Martin V gave the Minister General the Brief "Ad Statum", in which he gave the friars permission, through procurators, to retain and administer any kind of property. This document marks the "magna charta" of Conventualism in the history of the Order.

6.75. When Martin V died, the next Pope, Eugene IV (1431-1447) was a champion for reform in religious life, and particularly in the Franciscan Order. He gave permission to the Observants to have their own Vicars. In 1431 the hermitage of La Verna joined the Regular Observance and in 1434 Eugene IV declared the Observants as the sole custodians of the Holy Land. In 1437 the Pope nominated Bernardine of Siena as Vicar General of the Observants in Italy. From now on the Franciscan Order was divided between the friars "sub ministris", that is, the Conventual family, under the Minister General, and the friars "sub vicariis", that is, the Observant family, under the Vicar General. But there were other distinctions as well. The same Observant family was divided into the Cismontane and Ultramontane branches (roughly north-west and south-east of the Alps). The French and Spanish Observants were still adamant in maintaining their independence. In 1439, during the exile of Eugene IV, an antipope was elected, Felix V, who was supported by the German provinces, who in turn elected Matthias Döring as their Minister General.

6.76. In 1442 Guglielmo da Casale died. The Chapter of Padua, in 1443, elected the Vicar General, Alberto da Sarteano, who was a reformer, but the Conventuals opposed him so much that he spontaneously resigned. Antonio Rusconi from Como (1443-1449) was elected instead. Giovanni Capistrano was nominated Vicar for the Cismontane Observant family and Jean Perioche Maubert for the Ultramontane family. The drift towards complete separation between Conventuals and Observants seemed inevitable.

6.77. In 1446 Eugene IV published the Bull "Ut Sacra Ordinis Minorum Religio", which sealed the future separation of the two Franciscan branches of the First Order. The Bull gave right to the Observants to elect their Vicars General. The Minister General had to confirm them, while retaining the right to visit all friaries of the Observants. No Observant could pass over to the side of the Conventuals. Conventuals were free to join the Observant reform.

6.78. In 1445 the Aracoeli friary in Rome was given over to the Observants. In 1449 Capistrano was re-elected Vicar for the Observants, and in 1450 Bernardine of Siena was declared saint. His canonisation was a boost for the cause of the Observants. Within the Observance itself, however, things were not so calm as might be expected. There were many friars in Spain, France and elsewhere, who were insisting that they be reformed, but not under the Vicars of the Observants, but under the direct obedience of the Minister General, who was always a Conventual. While the Cismontane Observants followed the Martinian Constitutions, the Ultramontane family adopted the Constitutions of Barcellona from 1451 onwards.

6.79. Under the direct influence of St. James of the Marches, on 2 February 1456 Callistus III published the "Bulla Concordiae", in an attempt to reconcile Observants and Conventuals. The Observants were ordered not to appropriate the friaries of the Conventuals.

6.80. In 1464 Francesco della Rovere was elected Minister General (1464-1469). He would later become Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484). The Conventuals were given the friary of Santissimi Apostoli in Rome, after having lost Aracoeli. As Minister General and Pope, Sixtus IV tried to favour reform in the Order, but his efforts met with little success. The Vicar of the Observants, Marco da Bologna, tried in vain to defend the cause of reform during a concistory, when there was pressure to abrogate the Bull "Ut Sacra Ordinis" of Eugene IV.

The apparition to the bishop and to brother Augustine
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6.81. During the General Chapter of Urbino (1475) Francesco Nanni, known as Samson, was elected Minister General. He would remain in his office until 1499. He was moderate in his approach to reform, and on the whole favoured the Observants. But he was not pleased at all with the methods of the Franciscan Observant Cardinal Francisco Ximenes de Cisneros, Archbishop of Toledo, who had the authority of the Spanish king to enforce reform in all the houses of the Order in Spain.

6.82. An important reform was taking place in Spain at the time. In 1480 Juan de la Puebla entered the Order. After a short period in the hermitage of Le Carceri, he returned to Spain. On the Sierra Morena he founded the hermitage of S. Maria Angelorum. The Custody of the Angles depended upon the Vicars of the Observants. The future Minister General Quinones (1523-1527) came from this Custody. After Puebla's death in 1495 Juan de Guadalupe took over the leadership of the Custody and placed it under the obedience of the Minister General (Conventual obedience). His friars began to be called "fratres de capucio" or "discalceati". Later on they would be known as Alcantarines, when Peter of Alcantara entered this reform. There were other reforms in Italy, such as the Amadeiti, which were under the obedience of the Conventuals.

6.83. The General Chapter of Terni chose Egidio Delfini as Minister General (1500-1506). He also tried to calm the waters and encourage reform in the Conventual ranks, and requested the help of Pope Julius II (1503-1513) who had been a Conventual friar himself. He summoned a "capitulum generalissimum" in Rome in 1506. But his plans for union failed. The last Minister General before definite separation was Bernardino Prati (1513-1517). Matters had now come to the brink of public scandal, and separation was the only way out for the Order. Pope Leo X (1513-1521) saw that it would be carried out. On 11 July 1516 he summoned a "capitulum generalissimum" in Rome for Pentecost, 31 May 1517, in which all branches of the Order were obliged to attend - Conventuals, Observants, Amadeiti, Colettans, Clareni, Fratres de Capucio.

6.84. When the capitulars met it was soon clear that the Observants did not favour separation, but that they did not accept a Minister General who would not be reformed. The Conventuals, on the other hand, reiterated their legitimate right to observe the papal declarations and dispensations with a tranquil conscience. So Leo promulgated the Bull "Ite vos in vineam meam" of 29 May 1517. He proceeded to inform the Conventuals that they could exist independently, but had to relinquish the right to have the Minister General elected from their ranks. As for the reformed branches, the Pope ordered them all to unite together, drop all their names, and be simply called "Ordo Fratrum Minorum" (Order of Friars Minor). From their ranks a "Minister Generalis totius Ordinis Minorum" would be elected, for a six-year term, from the Cismontane and Ultramontane families alternatively. The reformed friars, however, continued to maintain the adjective Friars Minor of the Regular Observance until 1897.

6.85. On 1 June 1517 Cristoforo Numai from Friuli from the Cismontane family was elected new Minister General. Bernardino Prati consigned the seal of the Order.

6.86. On 14 June 1517 Leo X published the Bull "Omnipotens Deus" or "Bulla concordiae", in which he ordered the Friars Minor Conventuals to have a "Magister Generalis", to be confirmed by the Minister General of the Order. In practice this order was never enforced, because the Conventuals continued to exist as a fully independent Order, with their own Minister General.

6.87. Let us conclude our considerations with the words of Holzapfel: "The two parties, the reformed and the non-reformed, were so different in manner of life and in their attitude towards the Rule, that it was impossible for them to find place in a united society. If both parties were to be permitted to continue, complete separation was the only solution. Every sincere friend of the Order will deplore this fact, no matter to which family of the whole Order he belongs today. It would be unjust to identify the Conventuals of today with their regulated discipline with the non-reformed Conventuals of the 15th century, just as the Friars Minor of today have no cause to defend the mistakes made by the Observants of those times".

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


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