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Order of Friars Minor
Abbreviation Franciscan
Formation 1209
Type Catholic religious order
Key people Francis of Assisi — founder
The Order of Friars Minor and other Franciscan movements are disciples of Saint Francis of Assisi. Painting by El Greco

The term Franciscan is most commonly used to refer to members of Catholic religious orders, founded by Saint Francis of Assisi. As well as Catholic there are also small Old Catholic and Anglican Franciscan communities. It can also be applied to ideals he inspired in many movements in the modern age.

The most prominent group is the Order of Friars Minor (commonly called simply the "Franciscans"). They seek to follow most directly the manner of life the Saint led. This Order--actually divided among three separate groups--is a mendicant religious order of men tracing their origin to Francis of Assisi. The three separate groups, each considered a religious order in its own right, are the Observants, most commonly simply called "Franciscan friars," the Capuchins, and the Conventual Franciscans. They all live according to a body of regulations known as "The Rule of St. Francis",[1]



The official Latin name of the Orders of Friars Minor is the Ordo Fratrum Minorum.[2] St. Francis thus referred to his followers as "Fraticelli", meaning "Little Brothers". Franciscan brothers are informally called friars or the Minorites. The modern organization of the Friars Minor now comprises three separate branches: the 'Friars Minor' (OFM); the 'Friars Minor Conventuals' (OFM Conv), and the 'Friars Minor Capuchins' (OFM Cap).[3]

The women who comprise the "Second" Order of the movement are most commonly called Poor Clares in English-speaking countries. The order is called the "Order of St. Clare" (O.S.C.).

The Third Order, or Third Order of Penance, has ten thousands of members, as it includes both men and women, both living in religious communities under the traditional religious vows, as well as those who live regular lives in society, while trying to live the ideals of the movement in their daily lives.

Anglican Franciscan First Order (brothers and sisters) are known as the Society of St Francis (S.S.F.), the nuns of the Second Order are called the Poor Clares of Reparation (P.C.R.), and Third Order (composed of ordained and lay members, both male and female, married and single, that pursue "ordinary" lives under a rule of life) are known as the Third Order Society of St Francis (T.S.S.F.).

The beginning of the brotherhood

A sermon which Francis heard in 1209 on Mt 10:9 made such an impression on him that he decided to devote himself wholly to a life of apostolic poverty. Clad in a rough garment, barefoot, and, after the Evangelical precept, without staff or scrip, he began to preach repentance.[4]

He was soon joined by a prominent fellow townsman, Bernardo di Quintavalle, who contributed all that he had to the work, and by other companions, who are said to have reached the number of eleven within a year. The brothers lived in the deserted lazar-house of Rivo Torto near Assisi; but they spent much of their time traveling through the mountainous districts of Umbria, always cheerful and full of songs, yet making a deep impression on their hearers by their earnest exhortations. Their life was extremely ascetic, though such practises were apparently not prescribed by the first rule which Francis gave them (probably as early as 1209), which seems to have been nothing more than a collection of Scriptural passages emphasizing the duty of poverty.

The Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Capella Sassetti, Florence

In spite of some similarities between this principle and some of the fundamental ideas of the followers of Peter Waldo, the brotherhood of Assisi succeeded in gaining the approval of Pope Innocent III.[5] What seems to have impressed first the Bishop of Assisi, Guido, then Cardinal Giovanni di San Paolo and finally Innocent himself, was their utter loyalty to the Church and the clergy. He was not only the Pope reigning during the life of St. Francis of Assisi, but he was also responsible for helping to construct the Church Francis was being called to rebuild. Innocent III and the Fourth Lateran Council helped maintain the church in Europe. Francis was called to a life of poverty and to the joyful freedom that comes when the corruptible treasures of this life are not the object of our life's energies nor the measure of success. Francis was called to a life of humility, showing forth in his nonviolence, peace, and respect for creation. Francis was called to a life of simplicity, and put all of his hope in Jesus Christ. Innocent probably saw in them a possible answer to his desire for an orthodox preaching force to counter heresy. Many legends have clustered around the decisive audience of Francis with the Pope. The realistic account in Matthew Paris, according to which the Pope originally sent the shabby saint off to keep swine, and only recognized his real worth by his ready obedience, has, in spite of its improbability, a certain historical interest, since it shows the natural antipathy of the older Benedictine monasticism to the plebeian mendicant orders. The group was tonsured and Francis was ordained as a deacon, allowing him to read Gospels in the church.[6 ]

The last years of Francis

Francis had to suffer from the dissensions just alluded to and the transformation which they operated in the originally simple constitution of the brotherhood, making it a regular order under strict supervision from Rome. Exasperated by the demands of running a growing and fractious Order, Francis asked Pope Honorius III for help in 1219. He was assigned Cardinal Ugolino as protector of the order by the Pope. Francis resigned the day-to-day running of the Order into the hands of others but retained the power to shape the Order's legislation, writing a Rule in 1221 which he revised and had approved in 1223. At least after about 1223, the day-to-day running of the Order was in the hands of Brother Elias of Cortona, an able friar who would be elected as leader of the friars a few years after Francis' death (1226) but who aroused much opposition because of his autocratic style of leadership. He planned and built the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi in which Saint Francis is buried, a building including the friary Sacro Convento, which still today is the spiritual centre of the order.

In the external successes of the brothers, as they were reported at the yearly general chapters, there was much to encourage Francis. Caesarius of Speyer, the first German provincial, a zealous advocate of the founder's strict principle of poverty, began in 1221 from Augsburg, with twenty-five companions, to win for the order the land watered by the Rhine and the Danube. In 1224 Agnellus of Pisa led a small group of friars to England. The branch of the order arriving in England became known as the greyfriars.[7] Beginning at Canterbury, the ecclesiastical capital, they moved on to London, the political capital and Oxford, the intellectual capital. From these three bases the Franciscans swiftly expanded to embrace the principal towns of England.

Development of the order after the death of Francis


Dissensions during the life of Francis

The controversy about issues of poverty, which extends through the first three centuries of Franciscan history, began in the lifetime of the founder. The ascetic brothers Matthew of Narni and Gregory of Naples, a nephew of Ugolino, the two vicars-general to whom Francis had entrusted the direction of the order during his absence, carried through at a chapter which they held certain stricter regulations in regard to fasting and the reception of alms, which really departed from the spirit of the original rule. It did not take Francis long, on his return, to suppress this insubordinate tendency; but he was less successful in regard to another of an opposite nature which soon came up. Elias of Cortona originated a movement for the increase of the worldly consideration of the order and the adaptation of its system to the plans of the hierarchy which conflicted with the original notions of the founder and helped to bring about the successive changes in the rule already described. Francis was not alone in opposition to this lax and secularizing tendency. On the contrary, the party which clung to his original views and after his death took his "Testament" for their guide, known as Observantists or Zelanti, was at least equal in numbers and activity to the followers of Elias. The conflict between the two lasted many years, and the Zelanti won several notable victories, in spite of the favor shown to their opponents by the papal administration—until finally the reconciliation of the two points of view was seen to be impossible, and the order was actually split into halves.

Development to 1239

When the General Chapter could not agree on a common interpretation of the 1223 Rule it sent a delegation including St. Anthony of Padua to Pope Gregory IX for an authentic interpretation of this piece of papal legislation. The bull Quo elongati of Gregory IX declared that the Testament of St. Francis was not legally binding and offered an interpretation of poverty that would allow the order to continue to develop. The earliest leader of the strict party was rather Brother Leo, the witness of the ecstasies of Francis on Monte Alverno and the author of the Speculum perfectionis, a strong polemic against the laxer party. Next to him came John Parenti, the first successor of Francis in the headship of the order. In 1232 Elias succeeded him, and under him the order developed its ministries and presence in the towns significantly. Many new houses were founded, especially in Italy, and in many of them special attention was paid to education. The somewhat earlier settlements of Franciscan teachers at the universities (in Paris, for example, where Alexander of Hales was teaching) continued to develop. Contributions toward the promotion of the order's work, and especially the building of the Basilica in Assisi, came in abundantly. Funds could only be accepted on behalf of the friars for determined, imminent, real necessities that could not be provided for from begging. Gregory IX, in Quo elongati, authorized agents of the order to have custody of such funds where they could not be spent immediately. Elias pursued with great severity the principal leaders of the opposition, and even Bernardo di Quintavalle, the founder's first disciple, was obliged to conceal himself for years in the forest of Monte Sefro. It must be noted that St. Clare of Assisi, whom St. Francis saw as a co-founder of his movement, consistently backed Elias as faithfully reflecting the mind of their founder.

To 1274. Bonaventure

A Franciscan Convent in Mafra in Portugal.

Elias had governed the order from the center, imposing his authority on the provinces (as had Francis). A reaction to this centralized government was led from the provinces of England and Germany. At the general chapter of 1239, held in Rome under the personal presidency of Gregory IX, Elias was deposed in favor of Albert of Pisa, the former provincial of England, a moderate Observantist. This chapter introduced General Statutes to govern the order and devolved power from the Minister General to the Ministers Provincial sitting in chapter. The next two Ministers General, Haymo of Faversham (1240–44) and Crescentius of Jesi (1244–47), consolidated this greater democracy in the Order but also led the order towards a greater clericalisation. The new Pope Innocent IV supported them in this. In a bull of November 14, 1245, this pope even sanctioned an extension of the system of financial agents, and allowed the funds to be used not simply for those things that were necessary for the friars but also for those that were useful. The Observantist party took a strong stand in opposition to this ruling, and carried on so successful an agitation against the lax General that in 1247, at a chapter held in Lyon, France—where Innocent IV was then residing—he was replaced by the strict Observantist John of Parma (1247–57) and the order refused to implement any provisions of Innocent IV that were laxer than those of Gregory IX.

Elias, who had been excommunicated and taken under the protection of Frederick II, was now forced to give up all hope of recovering his power in the order. He died in 1253, after succeeding by recantation in obtaining the removal of his censures. Under John of Parma, who enjoyed the favor of Innocent IV and Pope Alexander IV, the influence of the order was notably increased, especially by the provisions of the latter pope in regard to the academic activity of the brothers. He not only sanctioned the theological institutes in Franciscan houses, but did all he could to support the friars in the Mendicant Controversy, when the secular Masters of the university of Paris and the Bishops of France combined to attack the Mendicant Orders. It was due to the action of Alexander's representatives, who were obliged to threaten the university authorities with excommunication, that the degree of doctor of theology was finally conceded to the Dominican Thomas Aquinas and the Franciscan Bonaventure (1257), who had previously been able to lecture only as licentiates.

The Franciscan Gerard of Borgo San Donnino at this time issued a Joachimite tract and John of Parma was seen as favoring the condemned theology of Joachim of Fiore. To protect the order from its enemies John was forced to step down and recommended Bonaventure as his successor. Bonaventure saw the need to unify the order around a common ideology and both wrote a new life of the founder and collected the order's legislation into the Constitutions of Narbonne, so called because they were ratified by the Order at its chapter held at Narbonne, France, in 1260. In the chapter of Pisa three years later Bonaventure's Legenda maior was approved as the only biography of Francis and all previous biographies were ordered to be destroyed. Bonaventure ruled (1257–74) in a moderate spirit, which is represented also by various works produced by the order in his time—especially by the Expositio regulae written by David of Augsburg soon after 1260.

To 1300. Continued dissensions

The successor to Bonaventura, Jerome of Ascoli or Girolamo Masci (1274–79), (the future Pope Nicholas IV), and his successor, Bonagratia of Bologna (1279–85), also followed a middle course. Severe measures were taken against certain extreme Spirituals who, on the strength of the rumor that Pope Gregory X was intending at the Council of Lyon (1274–75) to force the mendicant orders to tolerate the possession of property, threatened both pope and council with the renunciation of allegiance. Attempts were made, however, to satisfy the reasonable demands of the Spiritual party, as in the bull Exiit qui seminiat of Pope Nicholas III (1279), which pronounced the principle of complete poverty meritorious and holy, but interpreted it in the way of a somewhat sophistical distinction between possession and usufruct. The bull was received respectfully by Bonagratia and the next two generals, Arlotto of Prato (1285–87) and Matthew of Aqua Sparta (1287–89); but the Spiritual party under the leadership of the Bonaventuran pupil and apocalyptic Pierre Jean Olivi regarded its provisions for the dependence of the friars upon the Pope and the division between brothers occupied in manual labor and those employed on spiritual missions as a corruption of the fundamental principles of the order. They were not won over by the conciliatory attitude of the next general, Raymond Gaufredi (1289–96), and of the Franciscan Pope Nicholas IV (1288–92). The attempt made by the next pope, Pope Celestine V, an old friend of the order, to end the strife by uniting the Observantist party with his own order of hermits (see Celestines) was scarcely more successful. Only a part of the Spirituals joined the new order, and the secession scarcely lasted beyond the reign of the hermit-pope. Pope Boniface VIII annulled Celestine's bull of foundation with his other acts, deposed the general Raymond Gaufredi, and appointed a man of laxer tendency, John de Murro, in his place. The Benedictine section of the Celestines was separated from the Franciscan section, and the latter was formally suppressed by Pope Boniface VIII in 1302. The leader of the Observantists, Olivi, who spent his last years in the Franciscan house at Narbonne and died there in 1298, had pronounced against the extremer "Spiritual" attitude, and given an exposition of the theory of poverty which was approved by the more moderate Observantists, and for a long time constituted their principle.

Temporary success of the stricter party. Persecution

Under Pope Clement V (1305–14) this party succeeded in exercising some influence on papal decisions. In 1309 Clement had a commission sit at Avignon for the purpose of reconciling the conflicting parties. Ubertino of Casale, the leader, after Olivi's death, of the stricter party, who was a member of the commission, induced the Council of Vienne to arrive at a decision in the main favoring his views, and the papal constitution Exivi de paradiso (1313) was on the whole conceived in the same sense. Clement's successor, Pope John XXII (1316–34), favored the laxer or conventual party. By the bull Quorundam exigit he modified several provisions of the constitution Exivi, and required the formal submission of the Spirituals. Some of them, encouraged by the strongly Observantist general Michael of Cesena, ventured to dispute the Pope's right so to deal with the provisions of his predecessor. Sixty-four of them were summoned to Avignon, and the most obstinate delivered over to the Inquisition, four of them being burned (1318). Shortly before this all the separate houses of the Observantists had been suppressed.

Renewed controversy on the question of poverty

Franciscan friary in Katowice, Poland

A few years later a new controversy, this time theoretical, broke out on the question of poverty. The Spirituals contended eagerly for the view that Christ and his apostles had possessed absolutely nothing, either separately or jointly. This proposition had been declared heretical in a trial before an inquisitor. A protest was now made against this decision by the chapter held at Perugia in 1322, as well as by such influential members of the order as William of Ockham (Occam), the English provincial, and Bonagratia of Bergamo.

John XXII aligned himself decidedly with the Dominicans, who combated the theory, and by the papal bull Cum inter nonnullos of 1322 declared the Franciscan doctrine of the poverty of Christ erroneous and heretical. In his bull Ad conditorem canonum of the same year, John forced the Franciscans to accept property and granted an exemption from the Rule which absolutely forbade the friars ownership of property. Appealing from this decision, Bonagratia, Occam, and Michael of Cesena were imprisoned at Avignon for four years, until they escaped by the help of the Emperor Louis the Bavarian. Supported by him, they carried on a literary war against the papal and Dominican denial of the absolute poverty of Christ and his apostles. The Pope deposed Cesena and Occam from their offices in the order, and excommunicated them with the Franciscan Anti-Pope Peter of Corvara (Nicholas V) and all their adherents. Only a small part of the order, however, joined them, and at a general chapter held in Paris (1329) the majority of all the houses declared their submission to the Pope. The same step was taken in the following year by the antipope, later by the ex-general Cesena, and finally, just before his death, by Occam.

Separate congregations

Out of all these dissensions in the fourteenth century sprang a number of separate congregations, almost of sects. To say nothing of the heretical parties of the Beghards and Fraticelli, some of which developed within the order on both hermit and cenobitic principles, may here be mentioned:

The Clareni

or Clarenini, an association of hermits established on the river Clareno in the march of Ancona by Angelo da Clareno after the suppression of the Franciscan Celestines by Boniface VIII. It maintained the principles of Olivi, and, outside of Umbria, spread also in the kingdom of Naples, where Angelo died in 1337. Like several other smaller congregations, it was obliged in 1568 under Pope Pius V to unite with the general body of Observantists.

The Minorites of Narbonne

As a separate congregation, this originated through the union of a number of houses which followed Olivi after 1308. It was limited to southwestern France and, its members being accused of the heresy of the Beghards, was suppressed by the Inquisition during the controversies under John XXII.

The reform of Johannes de Vallibus

Franciscan convent at Lopud in Croatia

This was founded in the hermitage of St. Bartholomew at Brugliano near Foligno in 1334. The congregation was suppressed by the Franciscan general chapter in 1354; reestablished in 1368 by Paolo de' Trinci of Foligno; confirmed by Gregory XI. in 1373, and spread rapidly from Central Italy to France, Spain, Hungary and elsewhere. Most of the Observantist houses joined this congregation by degrees, so that it became known simply as the "brothers of the regular Observance." It acquired the favor of the popes by its energetic opposition to the heretical Fraticelli, and was expressly recognized by the Council of Constance (1415). It was allowed to have a special vicar-general of its own and legislate for its members without reference to the conventual part of the order. Through the work of such men as Bernardino of Siena, Giovanni da Capistrano, and Dietrich Coelde (b. 1435? at Munster; was a member of the Brethren of the Common Life, died December 11, 1515), it gained great prominence during the fifteenth century. By the end of the Middle Ages, the Observantists, with 1,400 houses, comprised nearly half of the entire order. Their influence brought about attempts at reform even among the Conventuals, including the quasi-Observantist brothers living under the rule of the Conventual ministers (Martinianists or "Observantes sub ministris"), such as the male Colletans, later led by Boniface de Ceva in his reform attempts principally in France and Germany; the reformed congregation founded in 1426 by the Spaniard Philip de Berbegal and distinguished by the special importance they attached to the little hood (cappuciola); the Neutri, a group of reformers originating about 1463 in Italy, who tried to take a middle ground between the Conventuals and Observantists, but refused to obey the heads of either, until they were compelled by the Pope to affiliate with the regular Observantists, or with those of the Common Life; the Caperolani, a congregation founded about 1470 in North Italy by Peter Caperolo, but dissolved again on the death of its founder in 1481; the Amadeists, founded by the noble Portuguese Amadeo, who entered the Franciscan order at Assisi in 1452, gathered around him a number of adherents to his fairly strict principles (numbering finally twenty-six houses) and, died in the odor of sanctity in 1482.

Unsuccessful attempts to unite the order

Projects for a union between the two main branches of the order were put forth not only by the Council of Constance but by several popes, without any positive result. By direction of Pope Martin V, John of Capistrano drew up statutes which were to serve as a basis for reunion, and they were actually accepted by a general chapter at Assisi in 1430; but the majority of the Conventual houses refused to agree to them, and they remained without effect. At Capistrano's request Eugenius IV put forth a bull (Ut sacra minorum, 1446) looking to the same result, but again nothing was accomplished. Equally unsuccessful were the attempts of the Franciscan Pope Sixtus IV, who bestowed a vast number of privileges on both the original mendicant orders, but by this very fact lost the favor of the Observantists and failed in his plans for reunion. Julius II succeeded in doing away with some of the smaller branches, but left the division of the two great parties untouched. This division was finally legalized by Leo X, after a general chapter held in Rome in 1517, in connection with the reform-movement of the Fifth Lateran Council, had once more declared the impossibility of reunion. The less strict principles of the Conventuals, permitting the possession of real estate and the enjoyment of fixed revenues, were recognized as tolerable, while the Observantists, in contrast to this usus moderatus, were held strictly to their own usus arctus or pauper. The latter, as adhering more closely to the rule of the founder, were allowed to claim a certain superiority over the former. The Observantist general (elected now for six years, not for life) was to have the title of "Minister-General of the Whole Order of St. Francis" and the right to confirm the choice of a head for the Conventuals, who was known as "Master-General of the Friars Minor Conventual"—although this privilege never became practically operative.

Spread of the order in modern times

See: Franciscan Order in modern times

Distinguished Franciscans

Although surpassed in the number of prominent and influential historical personages who are associated with the Jesuits and Dominicans, the Franciscan order nevertheless boasts a number of distinguished members. From its first century can be cited the three great scholastics Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure, and John Duns Scotus, the "Doctor of Wonders" Roger Bacon, and the well-known mystic authors and popular preachers David of Augsburg and Berthold of Regensburg.

During the Middle Ages noteworthy members included Nicholas of Lyra, the Biblical commentator Bernardino of Siena, preachers John of Capistrano, Oliver Maillard and Michel Menot, and historians Luke Wadding and Antoine Pagi.

In the field of Christian art, during the later Middle Ages, the Franciscan movement exercised considerable influence, especially in Italy. Several great painters of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, especially Cimabue and Giotto, who, though they were not friars, were spiritual sons of Francis in the wider sense, and the plastic masterpieces of the latter, as well as the architectural conceptions of both himself and his school, show the influence of Franciscan ideals. The Italian Gothic style, whose earliest important monument is the great convent church at Assisi (built 1228–53), was cultivated as a rule principally by members of the order or men under their influence.

The early spiritual poetry of Italy was partially inspired by Francis himself, who was followed by Thomas of Celano, Bonaventure, and Jacopone da Todi. Through a tradition which held him to have been a member of the Franciscan Third Order, even Dante may be included within this artistic tradition (cf. especially Paradiso, xi. 50).

Other famous members of the Franciscan family include Anthony of Padua, William of Occam, François Rabelais, Alexander of Hales, Giovanni da Pian del Carpini, Pio of Pietrelcina, Maximilian Kolbe, Pasquale Sarullo, Mamerto Esquiú, Gabriele Allegra, and Mychal F. Judge.

The Clarisses or Poor Clares

For the history of the female branch of the order, founded in the lifetime of Francis, see Poor Clares.

The Third Order or Order of Penance

The Third Order has its origins in the movement of the Penitents. These were people who desired to grow in holiness in their daily lives without joining a religious order. Eventually, a religious order grew out of the Secular Franciscan Order and which later became known as the Third Order Regular.

Secular Franciscan Order

During his lifetime, many married men and women asked St. Francis to embrace his style of life, but of course, due to their secular state, they were not able to enter into the First Order or into the Poor Clares. For this reason, he founded a Secular order to which lay and married men and women could belong and live according to the Gospel. Nowadays, this part of the Third Order is known as Secular Franciscan Order and is numerous and spread around the world. The original Rule, given by St. Francis in 1221, was slightly modified during the centuries to be adapted to the changing times, and now the last one was given by Pope Paul VI in 1978.

Third Order Regular

Within a century of the death of St. Francis, members of the Third Order began to live in common, in an attempt to follow a more ascetical way of life. Blessed Angela of Foligno (+1309) was foremost among those who achieved great depths in their lives of prayer and service of the poor.

Among the men, the Third Order Regular is an international community of priests and brothers who desire to emphasize the works of mercy and on-going conversion. The community is also known as the Franciscan Friars, T.O.R., and was originally founded in 1447 by a papal decree that united several communities of hermits, following the Third Order Rule. They strive to "rebuild the Church" in areas of high school and college education, parish ministry, church renewal, social justice, campus ministry, hospital chaplaincies, foreign missions, and other ministries in places where the Church is needed.[8]

Following the formal recognition of the members of religious tertiary communities, the following centuries saw a steady growth of such communities, across Europe. Initially, the women's communities took a monastic form of life, either voluntarily or under pressure from ecclesiastical superiors. The great figure of this development was St. Hyacintha Mariscotti. As Europe entered the upheavals of the modern age, new communities arose, which were able to focus more exclusively on social service, especially during the immediate post-Napoleonic period. An example of this is the Blessed Mary Frances Schervier.

This movement continued in North America, as various congregations arose from one coast to another, in answer to the needs of the large emigrant communities, flooding in the cities of the United States and Canada.

Brothers and Sisters of Penance of Saint Francis

The Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis was a lay private Association of the Faithful founded in 1996 in the Archdiocese of St. Paul in the United States.

Franciscans International

Franciscans International [9] is a Non-governmental organization (NGO) with General Consultative status at the United Nations, uniting the voices of Franciscan brothers and sisters from around the world. It operates under the sponsorship of the Conference of the Franciscan Family (CFF) and serve all Franciscans and the global community by bringing spiritual, ethical, and Franciscan values to the United Nations and international organizations.

Franciscans around the world run schools, hospitals, Justice and Peace offices, shelters, and specialise in many services for the poor. Programs at FI bring grassroots Franciscans to the United Nations forums in New York and Geneva, influencing international human rights standards and bringing witness to human rights violations.

Ecumenical and Non-Roman Catholic Franciscans

One of the results of the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church during the 19th century was the re-establishment of religious orders, including some of Franciscan inspiration. The principal Anglican communities in the Franciscan tradition are the Community of St. Francis (women, founded 1905), the Society of Saint Francis (men, founded 1934), and the Community of St Clare (women, enclosed). There is also a Third Order.

Another officially sanctioned Anglican order with a more contemplative focus is the order of the Little Brothers of Francis in the Anglican Church of Australia.[10]

There is a young Order of Ecumenical Franciscans that started in the United States.[11]

Another U.S.-founded order within the Anglican world communion is the Seattle-founded Order of Saint Francis (OSF) an open, inclusive, and contemporary expression of an Anglican First Order of Friars. There is also an order of Clares in Seattle (Diocese of Olympia), where the OSF is officially headquartered.

There is also a small Anglican order called The Company of Jesus with both Franciscan and Benedictine charisms.

There are also some small Franciscan communities within European Protestant and Old Catholic Churches, and The Saint Francis Ecumenical Society – [12] Ecumenical Franciscan Society from Eastern Europe (Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and free Protestant members). There are some Franciscan orders in Lutheran Churches.

The masculine branch of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, the Evangelische Kanaan Franziskus-Bruderschaft (Kanaan Franciscan Brothers follows a franciscan traditon.

Two of the more ecumenical Franciscan Orders within the Anglican heritage are the Order of Servant Franciscans (OSF)[13] and the Conventual Community of Saint Francis (CCSF). The members of the Order of Servant Franciscans (OSF) are committed the process of becoming ministers of Christ's message of reconciliation and love, as demonstrated by the holy lives of Saints Francis and Clare.

Visions and Stigmata

Among the many Catholic orders, Franciscans have proportionally reported higher ratios of stigmata and have claimed proportionally higher ratios of visions of Jesus and Mary. Saint Francis of Assisi himself was one of the very first reported cases of stigmata, and perhaps the most famous stigmatic of modern times is Saint Padre Pio, a Capuchin, who also reported visions of Jesus and Mary. Pio's stigmata persisted for over fifty years and he was examined by numerous physicians in the 20th century, who confirmed the existence of the wounds, but none of whom could produce a medical explanation for the fact that his bleeding wounds would never get infected. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, his wounds healed once, but reappeared.[14] According to the Columbia Encyclopedia [15] some medical authorities who examined Padre Pio's wounds were inclined to believe that the stigmata were connected with nervous or cataleptic hysteria. According to [16] the wounds were examined by Luigi Romanelli, chief physician of the City Hospital of Barletta, for about one year. Dr. Giorgio Festa, a private practitioner also examined them in 1920 and 1925. Professor Giuseppe Bastianelli, physician to Pope Benedict XV agreed that the wounds existed but made no other comment. Pathologist Dr. Amico Bignami of the University of Rome also observed the wounds, but made no diagnosis.

Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

After an intense apostolic activity in Italy, in 1219 Francis went to Egypt with the Fifth Crusade, to announce the Gospel to the Saracens. He met with the Sultan Malek-al-Kamel, marking the beginning of a spirit of dialogue and understanding between Christianity and Islam. The Franciscan presence in the Holy Land started in 1217, when the province of Syria was established, with Brother Elias as Minister. By 1229, the friars had a small house near the fifth station of the Via Dolorosa. In 1272 the sultan Baibars allowed the Franciscans to settle in the Cenacle on Mount Sion. Later on, in 1309, they also settled in the Holy Sepulchre and in Bethlehem. In 1335 King Robert d'Angiò of Naples, and his wife, Sancia di Maiorca, bought the Cenacle and gave it to the Franciscans. Pope Clement VI, by the Bulls "Gratias agimus" and "Nuper charissimae" (1342), declared the Franciscans as the official custodians of the Holy Places in the name of the Catholic Church.

The [17] Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land is still in force today.


The Franciscans established the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum as an academic society based in Jerusalem and Hong Kong for the study of scripture. The Hong Kong branch founded by the Venerable Gabriele Allegra produced the first complete translation of the Catholic Bible in Chinese in 1968 after a 40 year effort[18]. The Studium Biblicum Translation is often considered the Chinese Bible among Catholics.

The early efforts of another Franciscan, namely Giovanni di Monte Corvino, who had attempted a first translation of the Bible in Beijing in the 14th century provided the initial spark for Gabriele Allegra's 40 year undertaking, when at the age of 21 he happened to attend the 6th centenary celebration for Monte Corvino.

See also




  • A History of the Franciscan Order: From Its Origins to the Year 1517 by John Richard Humpidge Moorman, Oxford University Press, Oxford, (1968) ISBN 0-19-826425-9; reprint: Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, IL (1988) ISBN 0-8199-0921-1
  • Franciscan Phylosophy at Oxford in the Thirteenth Century by D.E. Sharp, Oxford University Press, London (1930); (a more recent ed.: ISBN 057699216X)
  • Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages (3rd Edition) by C.H. Lawrence, ISBN 0-582-40427-4
  • The Spiritual Franciscans: From Protest to Persecution in the Century After Saint Francis by David Burr. ISBN 0-271-02128-4
  • Francis and Clare: The Complete Works By Ignatius C. Brady, Regis J. Armstrong, Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey, (1982) ISBN 0-8091-2446-7
  • The Fraternal Economy: A Pastoral Psychology of Franciscan Economics By David B. Couturier, Cloverdale Books, South Bend (2007) ISBN 978-1-929569-23-6
  • Francis of Assisi: Early Documents 3 Volumes. Edited by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM Cap., J.A. Wayne Hellmann, OFM Conv., and William J. Short, OFM. New York: New City Press. Copyright 1999, Franciscan Institute of Saint Bonaventure University, Saint Bonaventure, NY. ISBN 978-1565481107.
  • "The Franciscan Story" by Maurice Carmody, Athena Press Publishing Co. UK (2008). ISBN 1847481418 ; ISBN 978-1847481412


  • Schmucki, Oktavian (2000) "Die Regel des Johannes von Matha und die Regel des Franziskus von Assisi. Ähnlichkeiten und Eigenheiten. Neue Beziehungen zum Islam" (pp. 219–244) in Cipollone, Giulio (ed.). La Liberazione dei 'Captivi' tra Cristianità e Islam: Oltre la Crociata e il Gihâd: Tolleranza e Servizio Umanitario. (CollectaneaArchivi Vaticani, 46.) Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Vatican City.

External links

Official websites of the three branches of First Order
Official websites of Regular and Secular Third Order
Anglican Franciscan links
Non-denominational Franciscan links

Research resources

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

FRANCISCANS (otherwise called Friars Minor, or Minorites; also the Seraphic Order; and in England Grey Friars, from the colour of the habit, which, however, is now brown rather thangrey), a religious order founded by St Francis of Assisi. It was in 1206 that St Francis left his father's house and devoted himself to a life of poverty and to the service of the poor, the sick and the lepers; and in 1209 that he felt the call to add preaching to his other ministrations, and to lead a life in the closest imitation of Christ's life. Within a few weeks disciples began to join themselves to him; the condition was that they should dispose of all their possessions. When their number was twelve Francis led the little flock to Rome to obtain the pope's sanction for their undertaking. Innocent received them kindly, but with some misgivings as to the feasibility of the proposed manner of life; these difficulties were overcome, and the pope accorded a provisional approval by word of mouth: they were to become clerics and to elect a superior. Francis was elected and made a promise of obedience to the pope, and the others promised obedience to Francis.

This formal inauguration of the institute was in 1209 or (as seems more probable) 1210. Francis and his associates were first known as "Penitents of Assisi," and then Francis chose the title of "Minors." On their return to Assisi they obtained from the Benedictine abbey on Mount Subasio the use of the little chapel of St Mary of the Angels, called the Portiuncula, in the plain below Assisi, which became the cradle and headquarters of the order. Around the Portiuncula they built themselves huts of branches and twigs, but they had no fixed abode; they wandered in pairs over the country, dressed in the ordinary clothes of the peasants, working in the fields to earn their daily bread, sleeping in barns or in the hedgerows or in the porches of the churches, mixing with the labourers and the poor, with the lepers and the outcasts, ever joyous - the "joculatores" or "jongleurs" of God - ever carrying out their mission of preaching to the lowly and to the wretched religion and repentance and the kingdom of God. The key-note of the movement was the imitation of the public life of Christ, especially the poverty of Christ. Francis and his disciples were to aim at possessing nothing, absolutely nothing, so far as was compatible with life; they were to earn their bread from day to day by the work of their hands, and only when they could not do so were they to beg; they were to make no provision for the morrow, lay by no store, accumulate no capital, possess no land; their clothes should be the poorest and their dwellings the meanest; they were forbidden to receive or to handle money. On the other hand they were bound only to the fast observed in those days by pious Christians, and were allowed to eat meat - the rule said they should eat whatever was set before them; no austerities were imposed, beyond those inseparable from the manner of life they lived.

Thus the institute in its original conception was quite different from the monastic institute, Benedictine or Canon Regular. It was a confraternity rather than an order, and there was no formal novitiate, no organization. But the number of brothers increased with extraordinary rapidity, and the field of work soon extended itself beyond the neighbourhood of Assisi and even beyond Umbria - within three or four years there were settlements in Perugia, Cortona, Pisa, Florence and elsewhere, and missions to the Saracens and Moors were attempted by Francis himself. About 1217 Franciscan missions set out for Germany, France, Spain, Hungary and the Holy Land; and in 1219 a number of provinces were formed, each governed by a provincial minister. These developments, whereby the little band of Umbrian apostles had grown into an institute spread all over Europe and even penetrating to the East, and numbering thousands of members, rendered impossible the continuance of the original free organization whereby Francis's word and example were the sufficient practical rule of life for all: it was necessary as a condition of efficiency and even of existence and permanence that some kind of organization should be provided. From an early date yearly meetings or chapters had been held at the Portiuncula, at first attended by the whole body of friars; but as the institute extended this became unworkable, and after 1219 the chapter consisted only of the officials, provincial ministers and others. During Francis's absence in the East (1219-1220) a deliberate movement was initiated by the two vicars whom he had left in charge of the order, towards assimilating it to the monastic orders. Francis hurried back, bringing with him Elias of Cortona, the provincial minister of Syria, and immediately summoned an extraordinary general chapter (September 1220). Before it met he had an interview on the situation with Cardinal Hugolino of Ostia (afterwards Gregory IX.), the great friend and supporter of both Francis and Dominic, and he went to Honorius III. at Orvieto and begged thatHugolino should be appointed the official protector of the order. The request was granted, and a bull was issued formally approving the order of Friars Minor, and decreeing that before admission every one must pass a year's novitiate, and that after profession it was not lawful to leave the order. By this bull the Friars Minor were constituted an order in the technical sense of the word. When the chapter assembled, Francis, no doubt from a genuine feeling that he was not able to govern a great world-wide order, practically abdicated the post of minister-general by appointing a vicar, and the policy of turning the Friars Minor into a great religious order was consistently pursued, especially by Elias, who a year later became Francis's vicar.

St Francis's attitude towards this change is of primary importance for the interpretation of Franciscan history. There can be little doubt that his affections never altered from his first love, and that he looked back regretfully on the "Umbrian idyll" that had passed away; on the other hand, there seems to be no reason for doubting that he saw that the methods of the early days were now no longer possible, and that he acquiesced in the inevitable. This seems to be Professor Goetz's view, who holds that Sabatier's picture of Francis's agonized sadness at witnessing the destruction of his great creation going on under his eyes, has no counterpart in fact, and who rejects the view that the changes were forced on Francis against his better judgment by Hugolino and Elias (see "Note on Sources" at end of article Francis Of Assisi; also Elias Of Cortona); Goetz holds that the only conflict was the inevitable one between an unrealizable ideal and its practical working, among average men. But there does seem to be evidence that Francis deplored tendencies towards a departure from the severe simplicity of life and from the strict observance of poverty which he considered the ground-idea of his institute. In the final redaction of his Rule made in 1223 and in his Testament, made after it, he again clearly asserts his mind on these subjects, especially on poverty; and in the Testament he forbids any glosses in the interpretation of the Rule, declaring that it is to be taken simply as it stands. Sabatier's view as to the difference between the "First Rule" and that of 1223 is part of his general theory, and is, to say the least, a grave exaggeration. No doubt the First Rule, which is fully four times as long, gives a better picture of St Francis's mind and character; the later Rule has been formed from the earlier by the elimination of the frequent scripture texts and the edificatory element; but the greater portion of it stood almost verbally in the earlier.

On Francis's death in 1226 the government of the order rested in the hands of Elias until the chapter of 1227. At this chapter Elias was not elected minister-general; the building of the great basilica and monastery at Assisi was so manifest a violation of St Francis's ideas and precepts that it produced a reaction, and John Parenti became St Francis's first successor. He held fast to St Francis's ideas, but was not a strong man. At the chapter of 1230 a discussion arose concerning the binding force of St Francis's Testament, and the interpretation of certain portions of the Rule, especially concerning poverty, and it was determined to submit the questions to Pope Gregory IX., who had been St Francis's friend and had helped in the final redaction of the Rule. He issued a bull, Quo elongati, which declared that as the Testament had not received the sanction of the general chapter it was not binding on the order, and also allowed trustees to hold and administer money for the order. John Parenti and those who wished to maintain St Francis's institute intact were greatly disturbed by these relaxations; but a majority of the chapter of 1232, by a sort of coup d'etat, proclaimed Elias minister-general, and John retired, though in those days the office was for life. Under Elias the order entered on a period of extraordinary extension and prosperity: the number of friars in all parts of the world increased wonderfully, new provinces were formed, new missions to the heathen organized, the Franciscans entered the universities and vied with the Dominicans as teachers of theology and canon law, and as a body they became influential in church and state. With all this side of Elias's policy the great bulk of the order sympathized; but his rule was despotic and tyrannical and his private life was lax - at least according to any Franciscan standard, for no charge of grave irregularity was ever brought against him. And so a widespread movement against his government arose, the backbone of which was the university element at Paris and Oxford, and at a dramatic scene in a chapter held in the presence of Gregory IX. Elias was deposed (1239).

The story of these first years after St Francis's death is best told by Ed. Lempp, Frere Elie de Cortone (1901) (but see the warning at the end of the article Elias Of Cortona).

At this time the Franciscans were divided into three parties: there were the Zealots, or Spirituals, who called for a literal observance of St Francis's Rule and Testament; they deplored all the developments since 1219, and protested against turning the institute into an order, the frequentation of the universities and the pursuit of learning; in a word, they wished to restore the life to what it had been during the first few years - the hermitages and the huts of twigs, and the care of the lepers and the nomadic preaching. The Zealots were few in number but of great consequence from the fact that to them belonged most of the first disciples and the most intimate companions of St Francis. They had been grievously persecuted under Elias - Br. Leo and others had been scourged, several had been imprisoned, one while trying to escape was accidentally killed, and Br. Bernard, the "first disciple," passed a year in hiding in the forests and mountains hunted like a wild beast. At the other extreme was a party of relaxation, that abandoned any serious effort to practise Franciscan poverty and simplicity of life. Between these two stood the great middle party of moderates, who desired indeed that the Franciscans should be really poor and simple in their manner of life, and really pious, but on the other hand approved of the development of the Order on the lines of other orders, of the acquisition of influence, of the cultivation of theology and other sciences, and of the frequenting of the universities.

The questions of principle at issue in these controversies is reasonably and clearly stated, from the modern Capuchin standpoint, in the "Introductory Essay" to The Friars and how they came to England, by Fr. Cuthbert (1903).

The moderate party was by far the largest, and embraced nearly all the friars of France, England and Germany. It was the Moderates and not the Zealots that brought about Elias's deposition, and the next general ministers belonged to this party. Further relaxations of the law of poverty, however, caused a reaction, and John of Parma, one of the Zealots, became ministergeneral, 1247-1257. Under him the more extreme of the Zealots took up and exaggerated the theories of the Eternal Gospel of the Calabrian Cistercian abbot Joachim of Fiore (Floris); some of their writings were condemned as heretical, and John of Parma, who was implicated in these apocalyptic tendencies, had to resign. He was succeeded by St Bonaventura (1257-1274), one of the best type of the middle party. He was a man of high character, a theologian, a mystic, a holy man and a strong ruler. He set himself with determination to effect a working compromise, and proceeded with firmness against the extremists on both sides. But controversy and recrimination and persecution had stiffened the more ardent among the Zealots into obstinate fanatics - some of them threw themselves into a movement that may best be briefly described as a recrudescence of Montanism (see Emile Gebhart's Italie mystique, 1899, cc. v. and vi.), and developed into a number of sects, some on the fringe of Catholic Christianity and others beyond its pale. But the majority of the Zealot party, or Spirituals, did not go so far, and adopted as the principle of Franciscan poverty the formula "a poor and scanty use" (uses pauper et tennis) of earthly goods, as opposed to the "moderate use" advocated by the less strict party. The question thus posed came before the Council of Vienne, 1312, and was determined, on the whole, decidedly in favour of the stricter view. Some of the French Zealots were not satisfied and formed a semi-schismatical body in Provence; twenty-five of them were tried before the Inquisition, and four were burned alive at Marseilles as obstinate heretics, 1318. After this the schism in the Order subsided. But the disintegrating forces produced by the Great Schism and by the other disorders of the 14th century caused among the Franciscans the same relaxations and corruptions, and also the same reactions and reform movements, as among the other orders.

The chief of these reforms was that of the Observants, which began at Foligno about 1370. The Observant reform was on the basis of the "poor and scanty use" of worldly goods, but it was organized as an order and its members freely pursued theological studies; thus it did not represent the position of the original Zealot party, nor was it the continuation of it. The Observant reform spread widely throughout Italy and into France, Spain and Germany. The great promoters of the movement were St Bernardine of Siena and St John Capistran. The council of Constance, 1415, allowed the French Observant friaries to be ruled by a vicar of their own, under the ministergeneral, and the same privilege was soon accorded to other countries. By the end of the middle ages the Observants had some 1400 houses divided into 50 provinces. This movement produced a "half-reform" among the Conventuals or friars of the mitigated observance; it also called forth a number of lesser imitations or congregations of strict observance.

After many attempts had been made to bring about a working union among the many observances, in 1517 Leo X. divided the Franciscan order into two distinct and independent bodies, each with its own minister-general, its own provinces and provincials and its own general chapter: (1) The Conventuals, who were authorized to use the various papal dispensations in regard to the observance of poverty, and were allowed to possess property and fixed income, corporately, like the monastic orders: (2) The Observants, who were bound to as close an observance of St Francis's Rule in regard to poverty and all else as was practically possible.

At this time a great number of the Conventuals went over to the Observants, who have ever since been by far the more numerous and influential branch of the order. Among the Observants in the course of the sixteenth century arose various reforms, each striving to approach more and more nearly to St Francis's ideal; the chief of these reforms were the Alcantarines in Spain (St Peter of Alcantara, St Teresa's friend, d. 1562), the Riformati in Italy and the Recollects in France: all of these were semi-independent congregations. The Capuchins, established c. 1525, who claim to be the reform which approaches nearest in its conception to the original type, became a distinct order of Franciscans in 1619. Finally Leo grouped the Franciscans into three bodies or orders - the Conventuals; the Observants, embracing all branches of the strict observance, except the Capuchins; and the Capuchins - which together constitute the "First Order." For the "Second Order," or the nuns, see Clara, St, and Clares, PooR; and for the "Third Order" see Tertiaries. Many of the Tertiaries live a fully monastic life in community under the usual vows, and are formed into Congregations of Regular Tertiaries, both men and women. They have been and are still very numerous, and give themselves up to education, to the care of the sick and of orphans and to good works of all kinds.

No order has had so stormy an internal history as the Franciscans; yet in spite of all the troubles and dissensions and strivings that have marred Franciscan history, the Friars Minor of every kind have in each age faithfully and zealously carried on St Francis's great work of ministering to the spiritual needs of the poor. Always recruited in large measure from among the poor, they have ever been the order of the poor, and in their preaching and missions and ministrations they have ever laid themselves out to meet the needs of the poor. Another great work of the Franciscans throughout the whole course of their history has been their missions to the Mahommedans, both in western Asia and in North Africa, and to the heathens in China, Japan and India, and North and South America; a great number of the friars were martyred. The news of the martyrdom of five of his friars in Morocco was one of the joys of St Francis's closing years. Many of these missions exist to this day. In the Universities, too, the Franciscans made themselves felt alongside of the Dominicans, and created a rival school of theology, wherein, as contrasted with the Aristotelianism of the Dominican school, the Platonism of the early Christian doctors has been perpetuated.

The Franciscans came to England in 1224 and immediately made foundations in Canterbury, London and Oxford; by the middle of the century there were fifty friaries and over 1200 friars in England; at the Dissolution there were some 66 Franciscan friaries, whereof some six belonged to the Observants (for list see Catholic Dictionary and F. A. Gasquet's English Monastic Life, 1904). Though nearly all the English houses belonged to what has been called the "middle party," as a matter of fact they practised great poverty, and the commissioners of Henry VIII. often remark that the Franciscan Friary was the poorest of the religious houses of a town. The English province was one of the most remarkable in the order, especially in intellectual achievement; it produced Friar Roger Bacon, and, with the single exception of St Bonaventure, all the greatest doctors of the Franciscan theological school - Alexander Hales, Duns Scotus and Occam.

The Franciscans have always been the most numerous by far of the religious orders; it is estimated that about the period of the Reformation the Friars Minor must have numbered nearly ioo,000. At the present day the statistics are roughly (including lay-brothers): Observants, 15,000, Conventuals, 50o; to these should be added 9500 Capuchins, making the total number of Franciscan friars about 26,000. There are various houses of Observants and Capuchins in England and Ireland; and the old Irish Conventuals survived the penal times and still exist.

There have been four Franciscan popes: Nicholas IV. (1288-1292), Sixtus IV. (1471-1484), Sixtus V. (1585 - I 590), Clement XIV. (1769-1774); the three last were Conventuals.

The great source for Franciscan history is Wadding's Annales; it has been many times continued, and now extends in 25 vols. fol. to the year 1622. The story is also told by Helyot, Hist. des ordres religieux (1714), vol. vii. Abridgments, with references to recent literature, will be found in Max Heimbucher, Orden and Kongregationen (1896), i. §§ 37-51; in Wetzer and Welte, Kirchenlexicon (2nd ed.), articles "Armut (III.)," "Franciscaner orden" (this article contains the best account of the inner history and the polity of the order up to 1886); in Herzog, Realencyklopridie (3rd ed.), articles "Franz von Assisi" (fullest references to literature up to 1899), "Fraticellen." Of modern critical studies on Franciscan origins, K. Miller's Anfcinge des Minoritenordens and der Bussbruderschaften (1885), and various articles by F. Ehrle in Archiv fiir Litteraturand Kirchengeschichte des Mittelalters and Zeitschrift fiir Katholische Theologie, deserve special mention. Eccleston's charming chronicle of "The Coming of the Friars Minor into England" has been translated into English by the Capuchin Fr. Cuthbert, who has prefixed an Introductory Essay giving by far the best account in English of "the Spirit and Genius of the Franciscan Friars" (The Friars and how they came to England, 1903). Fuller information on the English Franciscans will be found in A. G. Little's Grey Friars in Oxford (Oxford Hist. Soc., 1892). (E. C. B.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




  1. Plural form of Franciscan.


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