The Franciscans are a group of related mendicant religious orders within the Catholic Church, founded in 1209 by Francis of Assisi. These orders include the Order of Friars Minor, the Order of Saint Clare, and the Third Order of Saint Francis. These orders adhere to the teachings and spiritual disciplines of the founder and of his main associates and followers, such as Clare of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, and Elizabeth of Hungary, among many others.
In 1207 Francis felt the call to a life of preaching, penance, and total poverty. He was soon joined by his first followers, to whom he gave a short and simple rule of life. In 1209 he and 11 of his followers journeyed to Rome, where Francis received approval of his rule from Pope Innocent III. Under this rule, Franciscan friars could own no possessions of any kind, either individually or communally (i.e., as the property of the order as a whole). The friars wandered and preached among the people, helping the poor and the sick. They supported themselves by working and by begging food, but they were forbidden to accept money either as payment for work or as alms. The Franciscans worked at first in Umbria and then in the rest of Italy and abroad. The impact of these street preachers and especially of their founder was immense, so that within 10 years they numbered 5,000. Affiliated with them were the Franciscan nuns, whose order was founded at Assisi in 1212, by St. Clare, who was under the guidance of St. Francis. Clare and her followers were lodged by Francis in the Church of San Damiano, where they lived a severe life of total poverty. They later became known as the Poor Clares or the Order of St. Clare.
During the first years of the Franciscans, the example of Francis provided their real rule of life, but, as the order grew, it became clear that a revised rule was necessary. After preparing a rule in 1221 that was found too strict, Francis, with the help of several legal scholars, unwillingly composed the more restrained final rule in 1223. This rule was approved by Pope Honorius III.
Even before the death of Francis in 1226, conflicts had developed within the order over the observance of the vow of complete poverty. The rapid expansion of the order’s membership had created a need for settled monastic houses, but it was impossible to justify these if Francis’ rule of complete poverty was followed strictly. Three parties gradually appeared: the Zealots, who insisted on a literal observance of the primitive rule of poverty affecting communal as well as personal poverty; the Laxists, who favoured many mitigations; and the Moderates, or the Community, who wanted a legal structure that would permit some form of communal possessions. Something of an equilibrium was reached between these different schools of thought while St. Bonaventure was minister general (1257–74). Sometimes called the second founder of the order, he provided a wise, moderate interpretation of the rule. During this period the friars spread throughout Europe, while missionaries penetrated Syria and Africa. Simultaneously, the friars’ houses in university towns such as Paris and Oxford were transformed into schools of theology that rapidly became among the most celebrated in Europe.
Biography Date: c.1207 - Present
Biography References: ESL 164. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franciscans. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Franciscans
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