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Michael of Cesena: Wikis


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Michael of Cesena (Michele di Cesena or Michele Fuschi) (c. 1270 – November 29, 1342) was a Franciscan, general of that Order, and theologian, born at Cesena, a small town in Italy.


Early life

Of his early life little is known. Having entered the Franciscan Order, he studied at Paris and took the doctor's degree in theology. He taught theology at Bologna and wrote several commentaries on Holy Scripture and the Sentences of Peter Lombard.

The controversy over poverty

He was an advocate of Evangelical poverty, in which dispute he found himself ranged against Pope John XXII.

At the general chapter of Naples (31 May 1316) he was elected minister general and went at once to Assisi, where he convoked a chapter to consider the revision of the Constitutions of the order. Returning to Bologna, he issued the document, Gravi qua premor (21 August 1316), which, together with several other ordinances regarding the matter of poverty, induced John XXII to publish the Bull, Quorumdam exigit (7 October 1317) whose purpose was to explain the decretals of Nicholas III, Exiit qui seminat (13 August 1279), and of Clement V, Exivi de paradiso (6 May 1312). As it concerned the principal chapter of the Franciscan Rule, this action caused no little disturbance within the order.

The Bull was opposed by Michael and his party, who claimed that in adopting the strict poverty upon which Michael had insisted in his letters, they were following the example and teaching of Christ and the Apostles. Thus the controversy finally shifted to a speculative theological question: whether or not it was consonant with Catholic Faith to hold that Christ and the Apostles had no property individually or in common; and while in the famous dispute at Narbonne in 1321 the inquisitor, John of Belna, claimed that it was heretical, Berengarius of Perpignan declared it a Catholic dogma in perfect accordance with the decretals of Nicholas III and Clement V.

The matter having been brought before John XXII, a further attempt to settle the controversy was made by distinguishing between dominion and simple use, so that both propositions, Christ and the Apostles had no property, i. e., dominion of property, and Christ and the Apostles possessed property, i. e., the use of property, were true. In the Bull Quia nonnunquam (26 March 1322) the pope declared that he intended merely to explain the decrees of his predecessors, and excommunicated anyone who attempted to misconstrue the meaning of the papal Constitution Quorumdam exigit.

In June of the same year a general chapter of the order was convoked at Perugia and decided that to assert that Christ and His Apostles possessed no earthly goods was not only not heretical, but sound and Catholic doctrine. At the same time Bonagratia of Bergamo was commissioned to represent the chapter before the papal Curia, at Avignon.

Summons to Avignon

The controversy continued unabated until, in 1327, Michael was summoned to appear before the pope. The latter summoned him to Avignon in 1327 and Michael eventually agreed to go, after feigning illness and delaying. He obeyed a subsequent summons and was forbidden by the pope under pain of grave censure to leave Avignon. He was thus unable to attend the chapter held at Bologna in May of the following year (1328). Despite his absence and the protest of the papal legate, he was reelected minister general, the chapter deeming the charges against him insufficient to deprive him of office.

Michael managed to win over William of Ockham to his cause. Several prelates and princes wrote to the pope in Michael's behalf. In the following year, Cesena, Ockham, and a few other high-ranking Franciscans fled from the papal court. They had apparently wished to seek the protection of King Robert of Naples (who favoured their views), but a storm on the Mediterranean forced their galley back to the port of Aigues-Mortes, where they transferred to another ship manned by agents of Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor and were taken to Pisa.


At Pisa they were received by the party of Louis and were joined by a number of other schismatics. John XXII was declared to be deposed by the Emperor. Cesena was excommunicated by the Pope. Michael published a solemn appeal from the pope to a council (12 December 1328), posted it on the door of the cathedral.

In 1329 Cesena was deposed from the Franciscan leadership, now controlled by the Pope, and in 1330 left with his followers in the entourage of Louis, for Germany. The general chapter of Paris (11 June 1329), at which Cardinal Bertrand presided, had condemned the conduct and writings of Michael and all who took part with him against John XXII; and had elected Gerard Odon minister general of the Franciscan Order.

The pope issued the Encyclical Quia vir reprobus, warning the faithful against Michael; and the latter answered in his Ad perpetuam rei memoriam innotescat quod ego, Fr. Michael (25 November 1330) and in Christianæ fidei fundamentum, in which he accused the pope of heresy in the three Bulls, Ad Conditorem Canonum, Cum inter nonnullos, and Quia quorumdam. These and Litteras plurium magistrorum, and Teste Solomone which Michael wrote in his own defence, are contained in Occam's Dialogue.

Later life

The chapter of Perpignan (25 April 1331) expelled Michael from the order and sentenced him to perpetual imprisonment. He continued to struggle for his understanding of evangelical poverty for the rest of his life, and issued an Appeal against Benedict XII, who had succeeded John XXII, in 1338. He died in Munich, and was buried there in the Franciscan convent, the Barfüsserkirche.

He was officially rehabilitated in 1359. Michael de Cesena was one of the historical characters in Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose.


The story of Cesena's exciting flight from Avignon on May 26, 1328, and arrival at Pisa on June 8 is recounted in:

  • G. Knysh, Biographical rectifications in Ockham's Avignon period, Franciscan Studies 46 (1986), pp. 61-91.

References from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

  • Luke Wadding, Annales Minorum, ad an. 1316, nos. 3, 5, 10; ad an. 1328, nos. 6, 13, and passim; Scriptores Ordinis' Minorum, 259
  • Eduard Marcour, Anteil der Minoriten am Kampfe zwischen König Ludwig IV . von Baiern und Papst Johann XXII. bis zum Jahre 1328 (Emmerich, 1874)
  • E. Gudenatz, Michael von Cœsena (Breslau, 1876)
  • Analecta Franciscana (Quaracchi, 1897), IV, 470, 487, 488, 509, 617, 704, 705.

External links

Preceded by
Alessandro Bonini
Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor
Succeeded by
Bertrand de Turre as Vicar general

This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.



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