The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to 1250

By Colin Morris | Go to book overview

18
FRIARS, BEGUINES, AND THE ACTION AGAINST HERESY

i. The Growth of The Friars

At the death of Innocent III, Francis of Assisi and Dominic of Caleruega were at the head of small religious fellowships. Dominic had about sixteen followers resident at a house in Toulouse as preachers in the diocese; Francis had a larger body of disciples in Umbria, living under the simple rule or 'intention' approved by Innocent in 1210. These two societies were to become the most innovative force in the thirteenth-century church.

There is much contemporary material about Francis, including his own brief reminiscences in the Testament and the two versions of his life written by Thomas of Celano in about 1228 and 1245. All these works bear the marks of controversies which began in his own lifetime, and it is hard to distinguish between accurate reporting, coloured recollection, and propaganda. The impact of Francis was so great that it is tempting to see him as radically original, especially as this is confirmed by his own belief that he had received a message from God which was to be carried to the whole of humanity: 'no one showed me what I ought to do, but the Most High himself revealed to me that I ought to live according to the form of the holy Gospel'.1 In this confidence he addressed himself 'to all Christians, religious, clerks and laity, men and women, all who live in the whole world'.2 Yet his message was also shaped by the society in which he lived. People were leaving the cities of Umbria to live as penitents in the wilderness, and the first stage in his ministry was to join their ranks: 'the Lord caused me, brother Francis, to begin doing penance in this way'.3 His conviction that he was called 'to live according to the form of the holy Gospel' had been anticipated by hermits and

____________________
1
Francis, Testament (SC 285, p. 206).
2
Francis, Epistola ad fideles, ii. 1 (p. 228).
3
Francis, Testament, 1 (p. 204).

-452-

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