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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

Franciscans

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A religious order founded by St. Francis in the year 1209. Francis was the son of a merchant of Assisi, in the province of Umbria, who, having led a dissolute life, was reclaimed by a fit of sickness, and afterwards fell into an extravagant devotion that looked less like religion than alienation of mind. Soon after this, viz. in the year 1208, hearing the passage repeated in which Christ addresses his apostles, Provide neither gold nor silver, &c. Matthew 10:9-10 . he was led to consider a voluntary and absolute poverty as the essence of the Gospel, and to prescribe this poverty as a sacred rule both to himself and to the few that followed him. This new society, which appeared to Innocent III. extremely adapted to the present state of the church, and proper to restore its declining credit, was solemnly approved and confirmed by Honoprius IIi. in 1223, and had made a considerable progress before the death of its founder in 1226. Francis, through an excessive humility, would not suffer the monks of his order to be called fratres, 1:e. brethren or friars; but fraterculi, 1:e. little brethren, or friars minor, by which denomination they have been generally since distinguished. The Franciscans and Dominicans were zealous and active friends to the papal hierarchy, and in return were distinguished by peculiar privileges and honourable employments.

The Franciscans, in particular, were invested with the treasure of ample and extensive indulgences, the distribution of which was committed to them by the popes as a mean of subsistence, and a rich indemnification for their voluntary poverty. In consequence of this grant, the rule of the founder, which absolutely prohibited both personal and collective property so that neither the individual nor the community were to possess either fund, revenue, or any worldly goods, was considered as too strict and severe, and dispensed with soon after his death. In 1231, Gregory IX. published an interpretation of this rule, mitigating its rigour; which was farther confirmed by Innocent IV. in 1245, and by Alexander Iv. in 1247. These milder operations were zealously opposed by a branch of the Franciscans, called the spiritual; and their complaints were regarded by Nicholas III. who, in 1279 published a famous constitution, confirming the rule of St. Francis, and containing an elaborate explication of the maxims he recommended, and the duties he prescribed. In 1287, Matthew, of Aqua Sparta, being elected general of the order, discouraged the ancient discipline of the Franciscans, and indulged his monks in abandoning even the appearance of poverty; and this conduct inflamed the indignation of the spiritual or austere Franciscans; so that, from the year 1290, seditions and schisms arose in an order that had been so famous for its pretended disinterestedness and humility.

Such was the enthusiastic frenzy of the Franciscans, that they impiously maintained that the founder of their order was a second Christ, in all respects similar to the first, and that their institution and discipline were the true Gospel of Jesus. Accordingly Albizi, a Franciscan, of Pisa, published a book in 1383, with the applause of his order, entitled the Book of the Conformities of St. Francis with Jesus Christ. In the beginning of this century the whole Franciscan order was divided into two parties; the one embracing the severe discipline and absolute poverty of St. Francis, and were called spirituals; and the other, who insisted on mitigating, the austere injunctions of their founder, were denominated brethren of the community. These wore long, loose, and good habits, with large hoods; the former were clad in a strait, coarse, and short dress, pretending that this dress was enjoined by St. Francis, and that no power on earth had a right to alter it.

Neither the moderation of Clement V. nor the violence of John XXII. could appease the tumult occasioned by these two parties: however, their rage subsided from the year 1329. In 1368 these two parties were formed into two large bodies, comprehending the whole Franciscan order, viz. the conventual brethren, and the brethren of the observance, or observation, from whom sprang the Capuchins and Recollects. The general opinion is, that the Franciscans came into England in the year 1224, and had their first house at Canterbury, and their second at London; but there is no certain account of their being here till king Henry VII. built two or three houses for them. At the dissolution of the monasteries, the conventual Franciscans had about fifty-five houses, which were under seven custodies or wardenships, viz. those of London, Worcester, York, Cambridge, Bristol, Newcastle, and Oxford.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Franciscans'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/f/franciscans.html. 1802.

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