The Miracles of St. John Capistran

By Stanko Andrić | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
The road to Ilok

The origins of the Franciscan Observance

In the last decades of the thirteenth and the first of the fourteenth centuries the institutionalized order of the Friars Minor faced great internal strife and a reformatory movement. Under John XXIl's pontificate (1316–34), the would-be reformers, called Spirituals or Zelanti, were declared heretics and defeated; at the same time the remaining body of the Order, later to be called Conventuals, lost the papal protection which the Franciscans used to enjoy in the preceding century. With the help of Dominican theologians the pope rejected the concept of poverty as a virtue in itself. In return he was accused of heresy by such prominent Franciscans as Michael of Cesena, ministergeneral 1316–28, and William of Ockham.

The official defeat of the Spirituals did not mean their eradication. If they escaped the inquisitors' stake they survived under the protection of benevolent princes and also because their ideas infiltrated the Conventual milieu itself. The appeal exercised by the Spirituals was due to their embodying a nostalgia for the Order's beginnings. Their ideals included “absolute” poverty, asceticism, penitence, and a close observance of the founder's Rule. Victor W. Turner has applied his ingenious conceptual opposition of structure and communitas (or “social anti-structure") to analysing the origins of the Franciscan order: if it originated as a comnumitcis-type movement, this stage should have gradually been replaced by a well-defined structure and hierarchy, as “structureless communitas can bind and bond people together only momentarily” (Turner 1969, 140–54). However, at least in the Franciscan case the memory of the original communitas was constantly eroding the established structure. This memory was embodied in the Spirituals.

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