FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

7. History of the Franciscan Movement (1)

7.1 The Bull "Ite vos" of Pope Leo X in 1517 left the Franciscan Order divided into two separate families, the Friars Minor of the Regular Observance and the Friars Minor Conventuals.

St. Francis in ecstasy by Caravaggio

7.2. This division, in fact, did not solve all the problems regarding the unity of the Order. It is to be noted in advance that the Observant family was not a compact movement, and that, within it, the seeds for further divisions were already sown. The large family of the Regular Observance was also divided into the Cismontane and Ultramontane groups. Political factors, notably, the diplomatic manoeuvring of the Spanish crown, were to play an important role in the future of the Observant movement, particularly in the choice of the Minister General of the Order. The balance which the "Ite vos" tried to achieve in the alternate choice for Ministers General between the Cismontane and Ultramontane groups every six years was rarely respected. For whole decades, the office of Minister General was occupied by the Ultramontane (Spanish) group.

Ascertaining the stigmates
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7.3. We shall not enter into the tedious account of the successive Ministers General in the period between the "Ite vos" of 1517 and the "Felicitate quadam" of 1897, or the Leonine Union of the Friars Minor, except to name some of the most important figures. We will rather concentrate upon the various reforms born within and outside the Regular Observance, and upon the efforts towards union during the 19th century, when many of these reforms seemed anachronistic to the authorities of the Church and the Order.

1) The beginnings of reform within the Observance

7.4. The Spanish friars, under political pressure, asked for a National Commissary in 1521. Francisco de Angelis Quinones was nominated for the post. In 1523 he was also elected Minister General of the Order (1523-1529) during the General Chapter of Burgos. Before him, the Ministers Cristoforo Numai (1517-1518), Francesco Lichetto (1518-1520) and Paolo da Soncino (1521-1523), had been Italians. In 1529 Quinones became Cardinal and Paolo Pisotti (1529-1533) was elected General. He was an unpopular figure and had to resign under pressure from Paul III.

7.5. The Chapter of Nice elected Vincenzo Lunello (1535-1541). He worked hard for the continued reform of the Order. After him Giovanni Matteo de Calvi was elected General (1541-1547). The next General was from Portugal, Andreas Alvarez, known as Insulanus (1547-1553). The Chapter of Salamanca elected Clemente Dolera (1553-1557) and published new Constitutions, known as "Salmanticenses". The Ultramontane family, however, persisted in observing the Barcellona Constitutions. The next Generals were Francisco Zamora de Cuenca (1559-1565) and Aloisio Pozzo da Borgonuovo (1565-1571), during whose generalate Pope Pius V ordered the Amadeiti, Clareni and Reformed Conventuals to join the Friars Minor Observants. It was also during his generalate that the present basilica of St. Mary of the Angels (Porziuncola) began to be constructed. Christopher de Chaffontaines was Minister General from 1571-1579, followed by Francisco Gonzaga (1579-1587) during the time of Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590), a Friar Minor Conventual.

7.6. The Chapter of Valladolid elected Bonaventura Secusi da Caltagirone (1593-1600) and published the Valladolid Constitutions, which were accepted by the Cismontane family.

Ascertaining the stigmates (detail)
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7.7. After this rapid glance at the sequence of Ministers General during the 16th century, we shall now take a look at the successful attempts at reforming the same family of the Regular Observance. These reforms were the result of a general need of reform in the Church, especially in the period of the Protestant Reform and the Counter-Reform of the Council of Trent. The Franciscan Order had answered the call for reform during the Council of Constance with the Regular Observance of the 15th century. New reforms were born as a result of Church reform during the 16th century. They were mainly aimed at remaining under the direct obedience of the Minister General, but one, in particular, wanted to separate itself and become an independent entity outside the Observance. We are referring to the Capuchin reform.

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


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