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Order of Friars Minor

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(Also known as FRANCISCANS.) This subject may be conveniently considered under the following heads:

I. General History of the Order;

A. First Period (1209-1517);
B. Second Period (1517-1909);

II. The Reform Parties;

A. First Period (1226-1517);
B. Second Period (1517-1897);

(1) The Discalced;
(2) The Reformanti;
(3) The Recollects, including a survey of the history of the Franciscans in the North, especially in Great Britain and Ireland (America is treated in a separate article);

III. Statistics of the Order (1260-1909);
IV. The Various Names of the Friars Minor;
V. The Habit;
VI. The Constitution of the Order;
VII. General Sphere of the Order's Activity;
VIII. The Preaching Activity of the Order;
IX. Influence of the Order on the Liturgy and Religious Devotions;
X. Franciscan Missions;
XI. Cultivation of the Sciences;
XII. Saints and Beati of the Order.

General history of the order

First period (1209-1517)

Having gathered about twelve disciples around him (1207-08), St. Francis of Assisi appeared before Innocent III, who, after some hesitation, gave verbal sanction to the Franciscan Rule. Thus was legally founded the Order of Friars Minor (Ordo Fratrum Minorum), the precise date being, according to an ancient tradition in the order, 16 April, 1209. His friars having rapidly increased in number and spread over various districts of Italy, St. Francis appointed, in 1217, provincial ministers (ministri provinciales), and sent his disciples farther afield. At the general chapter of 1219 these missions were renewed and other friars dispatched to the East, to Hungary, to France, and to Spain. Francis himself visited Egypt and the East, but the innovations introduced during his absence by some of the friars caused his speedy return in 1220. In the same year he resigned the office of general of the order, which he entrusted first to Peter of Cattaneo, on whose early death (10 March, 1221) he appointed Elias of Cortona. Francis, however, retained a certain supreme direction of the order until his death on 3 October, 1226.

Elias of Cortona, as the vicar of Francis, summoned the regular Pentecost chapter for the following year, and on 29 May, 1227, Giovanni Parenti, a jurist, was chosen as first successor of St. Francis and first minister-general. He has often been regarded as a native of Florence, but probably came from the neighbourhood of Rome. Gregory IX employed the new general on political missions at Florence and Rome, authorized the Minorites to lay out their own cemeteries (26 July, 1227), and charged them with the direction and maintenance of the Poor Clares (1 December, 1227). In 1228 and the succeeding years, Elias of Cortona laboured zealously at the construction of a church to be dedicated to Francis of Assisi, who was canonized by Gregory IX on 16 July, 1228. On the day following the pope himself laid the foundation stone of this church at Assisi destined to receive the body of St. Francis, and he shortly afterwards entrusted to Thomas of Celano the task of writing the biography of the saint, which he confirmed on 25 February, 1229. The translation of the saint's body from the church of San Giorgio to the new basilica took place on 22 May, 1230, three days before the appointed time, and Elias of Cortona, possibly fearing some disturbance, took possession of the body, with the assistance of the civic authorities, and buried it in the church, where it was discovered in 1818. Elias was censured and punished for this action in the Bull of 16 June, 1230. The usual general chapter was held about the same date, and on 28 September, 1230, the Bull "Quo elongati" was issued, dealing with the Testament of St. Francis and certain points in the Rule of 1223. Elias meanwhile devoted all his energy to the completion of the magnificent church (or rather double church) of S. Francesco, which stands on the slope of a hill in the western portion of Assisi, and of the adjacent monastery with its massive pillars and arcades. His election as general in 1232 gave him freer scope, and enabled him to realize the successful issue of his plans. As a politician, Elias certainly possessed genius. His character, however, was too ostentatious and worldly, and, though under his rule the order developed externally and its missions and studies were promoted, still in consequence of his absolutism, exercised now with haughty bearing and again through reckless visitors, there arose in the order an antagonism to his government, in which the Parisian masters of theology and the German and English provinces played the most prominent part. Unable to stem this opposition, Elias was deposed, with Gregory IX's approval, by the Chapter of Rome (1239), and the hitherto undefined rights and almost absolute authority of the general in matters of income and legislation for the order were considerably restricted. Elias threw in his lot with Frederick II (Hohenstaufen), was excommunicated in consequence, and died on 22 April, 1253. Albert of Pisa, who had previously been provincial of Germany and Hungary, was chosen at the chapter of 1239 to succeed Elias, but died shortly afterwards (23 January, 1240). On All Saints' Day, 1240, the chapter again met and elected Haymo of Faversham, a learned and zealous English Franciscan, who had been sent by Gregory IX (1234) to Constantinople to promote the reunion of the Schismatic Greeks with the Apostolic See. Haymo, who, with Alexander of Hales had taken part in the movement against Elias, was zealous in his visitation of the various houses of the order. He held the Provincial Chapter of Saxonia at Aldenburg on 29 September, 1242, and, at the request of Gregory IX, revised the rubrics to the Roman Breviary and the Missal.

After Haymo's death in 1244 the General Chapter of Genoa elected Crescenzio Grizzi of Jesi (1245-47) to succeed him. Crescenzio instituted an investigation of the life and miracles of St. Francis and other Minorites, and authorized Thomas of Celano to write the "Legenda secunda S. Francisci", based on the information (Legenda trium Sociorum) supplied to the general by three companions of the saint (Tres Socii, i.e. Leo, Angelus, and Rufinus). From this period also dates the "Dialogus de vistis Sanctorum Fratrum Minorum." This general also opposed vigorously the separationist and particularistric tendencies of some seventy-two of the brothers. The town of Assisi asked for him as its bishop, but the request was not granted by Innocent IV, who, on 29 April, 1252, appointed him Bishop of Jesi, in the March of Ancona, his native town. John of Parma, who succeeded to the generalship (1247-57), belonged to the more rigorous party in the order. He was most diligent in visiting in person the various houses of the order. It was during this period that Thomas of Celano wrote his "Tractatusde Miraculis". On 11 August, 1253, Clare of Assisi died, and was canonized by Alexander IV on 26 September, 1255. On 25 May, 1253, a month after the death of the excommunicated Elias, Innocent consecrated the upper church of S. Francesco, John of Parma unfortunately shared the apocalyptic views and fancies of the Joachimites, or followers of Jeachim of Floris, who had many votaries in the order, and was consequently not a little compromised when Alexander IV (4 November, 1255) solemnly condemned the "Liber introductorius", a collection of the writings of Joachim of Floris with an extravagant introduction, which had been published at Paris. This work has often been falsely ascribed to the general himself. its real author was Gerardo di Borgo S.-Donnino, who thus furnished a very dangerous weapon against the order to the professors of the secular clergy, jealous of the success of the Minorites at the University of Paris. The chapter convened in the Ara Coeli monastery at Rome forced John of Parma to abdicate his office (1257) and, on his recommendation, chose as his successor St. Bonaventure from Bagnorea. John was then summoned to answer for his Joachimism before a court presided over by the new general and the cardinal-protector, and would have been condemned but for the letter of Cardinal Ottoboni, afterwards Adrian V. He subsequently withdrew to the hermitage of Greccio, left it (1289) at the command of the pope to proceed to Greece, but died an aged broken man at Camerino on 20 March, 1289.

St. Bonaventure, learned and zealous religious, devoted all his energy to the government of the order. He strenuously advocated the manifold duties thrust upon the order during its historical development — the labour in the care of souls, learned pursuits, employment of friars in the service of the popes and temporal rulers, the institution of large monasteries, and the preservation of the privileges of the order — being convinced that such a direction of the activities of the members would prove most beneficial to the Church and the cause of Christianity. The Spirituals accused Bonaventure of laxity; yet he laboured earnestly to secure the exact observance of the rule, and energetically denounced the abuses which had crept into the order, condemning them repeatedly in his encyclical letters. In accordance with the rule, he held a general chapter every three years: at Narbonne in 1260, at Pisa in 1263, at Paris in 1266, at Assisi in 1269, and at Lyons in 1274, on the occasion of the general council. He made most of the visitations to the different convents in person, and was a zealous preacher. The Chapter of Narbonne (1260) promulgated the statutes of the order known as the "Constitutiones Narbonenses", the letter and spirit of which exercised a deep and enduring influence on the Fransican Order. Although the entire code did not remain long in force, many of the provisions were retained and served as a model for the later constitutions.

Even before the death of Bonaventure, during one of the sessions of the council (15 July, 1274), the Chapter of Lyons had chosen as his successor Jerome of Ascoli, who was expected by the council with the ambassadors of the Greek Church. He arrived, and the reunion of the churches was effected. Jerome was sent back by Innocent V as nuncio to Constantinople In May, 1276, but had only reached Ancona when the pope died (21 July, 1276). John XXI (1276-77) employed Jerome (October, 1276) and John of Vercelli, General of the Dominicans, as mediators in the war between Philip III of France and Alfonso X of Castile. This embassy occupied both generals till March, 1279, although Jerome was preferred to the cardinalate on 12 march, 1278. When Jerome departed on the embassy to the Greeks, he had appointed Bonagratia of S. Giovanni in Persiceto to represent him at the General Chapter of Padua in 1276. On 20 May, 1279, he convened the General Chapter of Assisi, at which Bonagratia was elected general. Jerome later occupied the Chair of Peter as Nicholas IV (15 February, 1288-4 April, 1292). Bonagratia conducted a deputation from the chapter before Nicholas III, who was then staying at Soriano, and petitioned for a cardinal-protector. The pope, who had himself been protector, appointed his nephew Matteo Orsini. The general also asked for a definition of the rule, which the pope, after personal consultation with cardinals and the theologians of the order, issued in the "Exiit qui seminat" of 14 August, 1279. In this the order's complete renunciation of property in communi was again confirmed, and all property given to the brothers was vested in the Holy See, unless the donor wished to retain his title. All moneys were to be held in trust by the nuntii, or spiritual friends, for the friars, who could however raise no claim to them. The purchase of goods could take place only through procurators appointed by the pope, or by the cardinal-protector in his name.

The Bull of Martin IV "Ad fructus uberes" (13 December, 1281) defined the relations of the mendicants to the secular clergy. The mendicant orders had long been exempt from the jurisdiction of the bishop, and enjoyed (as distinguished from the secular clergy) unrestricted freedom to preach and hear confessions in the churches connected with their monasteries. This had led to endless friction and open quarrels between the two divisions of the clergy, and, although Martin IV granted no new privileges to the mendicants, the strife now broke out with increased violence, chiefly in France and in a particular manner at Paris. Boniface VIII adjusted their relations in the Bull "Super cathedram" of 18 February, 1300, granting the mendicants freedom to preach in their own churches and in public places, but not at the time when the prelate of the district was preaching. For the hearing of confessions, the mendicants were to submit suitable candidates to the bishop in office, and obtain his sanction. The faithful were left free in regard to funerals, but, should they take place in the church of a cloister, the quarta funerum was to be given to the parish priest. Benedict XI abrogated this Bull, but Clement V reintroduced it (1312). Especially conspicuous among the later contentions over the privileges of the mendicants were those caused by John of Poliaco, a master of theology of Paris (1320) and by Richard Fitzralph, Archbishop of Armagh (1349). In 1516 the Fifth Council of the Lateran dealt with this question, which was definitively settled by the Council of Trent.

In the Bull "Exultantes" of 18 January, 1283, Martin IV instituted the syndici Apostolici. This was the name given to the men appointed by the ministers and custodians to receive in the name of the Holy See the alms given to the Franciscans, and to pay it out again at their request. The syndici consequently replaced the nuntii and procurators. All these regulations were necessary in consequence of the rule of poverty, the literal and unconditional observance of which was rendered impossible by the great expansion of the order, by its pursuit of learning, and the accumulated property of the large cloisters in the towns. The appointment of these trustees, however, was neither subversive of nor an evasion of the rule, but rather the proper observance of its precepts under the altered conditions of the ime. Under Bonagratia (1279-83) and his immediate successors Arlotto da Prato (1285-86), and Matthew of Acquasparta (1287-89), a learned theologian and philosopher who became cardinal in 1288 and rendered notable service to the Church, the Spiritual movement broke out in the Province of Ancona, under the leadership of Pietro Giovanni Olivi, who, after the General Chapter of Strasburg (1282), caused the order considerable trouble. The general, Raimondo Gaufredi (Geoffrey) of Provence (1289-95), favoured the Spirituals and denounced the lax interpretations of the Community, i.e. the majority of the order who opposed the minority, termed Spirituals or Zelanti. Raimondo even ventured to revise the general constitutions at the General Chapter of Paris in 1292, whereupon, having refused the Bishopric of Padua offered him by Boniface VIII, he was compelled by the pope to resign his office. Giovanni Minio of Muravalle, in the March of Ancona, a master of theology, was elected general by the Chapter of Anangi (1294), and although created Cardinal-Bishop of Porto (Portuensis) in 1302, continued to govern the order until Gonzalves of Valleboa (1304-13), Provincial of Santiago, Spain, was elected to succeed him by the Chaper of Assisi.

In his encyclical of 1302, Giovanni Minio had inculcated the rule of poverty, and forbidden both the accumulation of property and vested incomes. Gonzálvez followed the same policy (12 February, 1310), and the Chapter of Padua (1310) made the precept still more rigorous by enjoining the "simple use" (usus pauper) and withdrawing the right of voting at the chapter from convents which did not adopt it. The usus pauper had indeed been a source of contention from 1290, especially in Provence, where some denied that it was binding on the order. These dissensions led to the Magna Disputatio at Avignon (1310-12), to which Clement V summoned the leaders of the Spirituals and of the Community or Relaxati. Clement laid the strife by his bull and Decretal "Exivi di Paradiso", issued at the third and last session of the Council of Vienne, 5 May, 1312. The prescriptions contained in the Franciscan Rule were divided into those which bound under pain of mortal, and those which bound under pain of venial sin. Those enjoining the renunciation of property and the adoption of poverty were retained: the Franciscans were entitled only to the usus (use) of goods given to them, and wherever the rule prescribed it, only to the usus pauper or arctus (simple use). All matters concerning the Franciscan habit, and all the storehouses and cellars allowed in cases of necessity, were referred to the discretion of the superiors of the order.

The Spirituals of Provence and Tuscany, however, were not yet placated. At the General Chapter of Barcelona (1313), a Parisian master of theology, Alexander of Alessandria (Lombardy), was chosen to succeed Gonzálvez, but died in October, 1314. The General Chapter of Naples (1316) elected Michael of Cesena, a moderate Conventual. The commission appointed by this chapter altered the general statutes of the rule of poverty. The Spirituals immediately afterwards rekindled the property strife, but John XXIII interdicted and suppressed their peculiar notions by the Constitution "Quorumdam exigit" (7 October, 1317), thus completely restoring the official unity of the order. In 1321, however, the so-called theoretical discussion on poverty broke out, the inquisitor, John of Belna, a Dominican, having taken exception to the statement that Christ and the Apostles possessed property neither in communi nor in speciali (i.e. neither in common nor individually). The ensuing strife degenerated into a fierce scholastic disputation between the Franciscans and the Dominicans, and, as the pope favoured the views of the latter, a very dangerous crisis seemed to threaten the Minorites. By the Constitution "Ad conditorem canonum" (8 December, 1322) John XXII renounced the title of the Church to all the possessions of the friars Minor, and restored the ownership to the order. This action, contrary to the practice and expressed sentiments of his predecessors, placed the Minorites on exactly the same footing as the other orders, and was a harsh provision for an order which had laboured so untiringly in the interests of the Church. In many other ways, however, John fostered the order. It will thus be readily understood why the members inclined to laxity joined the disaffected party, leaving but few advocated of John's regulations. To the dissenting party belonged Gerardus Odonis (1329-42), the general, whose election at Paris in 1329 John had secured in the place of his powerful opponent Michael of Cesena. Odonis, however, was supported only by the minority of the order in his efforts to effect the abolition of the rule of poverty. The deposed general and his followers, the Michaelites (cf. FRATICELLI), were disavowed by the General Chapter of Paris, and the order remained faithful to the Holy See. The constitutions prescribed by Benedict XII, John's successor, in his Bull of 28 November, 1336, and the name "Constitutiones Catarcenses" or "Benedictinae"), contained not a single reference to the rule of poverty. Benedict died in 1342, and on the preferment of Gerardus Odonis to the Patriarchate of Antioch, Fortanerio Vassalli was chosen general (1343-47).

Under Guillaume Farinier (1348-57) the Chapter of Marseilles resolved to revive the old statues, a purpose which was realized in the general constitutions promulgated by the General Chapter of Assisi in 1354 ("Constitutiones Farineriae or guilemi"). This code was based on the "Constitutioners Narboneses" (1260), and the Bulls "Exiit" and "Exivi", but the edicts of John XXII, being promulgated by the pope over and above the chapter, still continued in force. The great majority of the friars accommodated themselves to these regulations and undertook the care and proprietorship of their goods, which they entrusted to fratres procuratores elected from among themselves. The protracted strife of the deposed general (Michael of Cesna) with the pope, in which the general was supported with conspicuous learning by some of the leading members of the order and encouraged by the German emperor Louis IV (the Bavarian), for reasons of secular and ecclesiastical polity, gave great and irresistible impulse to laxity in the order, and prejudiced the founder's ideal. It was John XXII who had introduced Conventualism is the later sense of the workd, that is, community of goods, income and property as in other religious orders, in contradiction to Observantism or the strict observance of the rule, a movement now strong within the order, according to which the members were to hold no property in communi and renounce all vested incomes and accumulation of goods. The Bull "Ad conditorem", so significant in the history of the order, was only withdrawn 1 November, 1428, by Martin V.

Meanwhile the development of Conventualism had been fostered in many ways. In 1348 the Black Death swept devastatingly over Europe, emptying town and cloister. The wealth of the order increased rapidly, and thousands of new brothers were admitted without sufficiently close examination into their eligibility. The liberality of the faithful was also, if not a source of danger for the Minorites, at least a constant incitement to depart to some extent from the rule of poverty. This liberality showed itself mainly in gifts of real property, for example in endowments for prayers for the dead, which were then usually founded with real estate. In the fourteenth century also began the land wars and feuds (e.g. the Hundred Years War in France), which relaxed every bond of discipline and good order. The current feelings of anarchic irresponsibility were also encouraged by the Great Western Schism, during which men quarreled not only concerning obedience to the papacy, to which there were three claimants since the Council of Pisa, but also concerning obedience to the generals of the order, whose number tallied with the number of the popes.

Guillaume Farinier was named cardinal in 1356, but continued to govern the order until the election of Jean Bouchier (de Buco) in 1357. John having died in 1358, mark of Viterbo was chosen to succeed him (1359-66), it being deemed desirable to elect an italian, the preceding four generals having been French, Mark was raised to the cardinalate in 1366, and was succeeded by Thomas of Farignano (1367-72), who became Patriarch of Grado in 1372, and cardinal in 1378. Leonardo Rossi of Giffone (1373-78) succeeded Thomas as general, and supported Clemens VII during the schism. This action gave umbrage to Urban VI, who deposed him and named Ludovico Donato his successor. Ludovico was also chosen in 1379 by the General Chapter of Gran in Hungary at which, however, only twelve provinces were represented, was named cardinal in 1381, but was executed in 1385 with some other cardinals for participating in a conspiracy against Urban VI. His third successor, Enrico Alfieri (1387-1405), could only bewail the privileges subversive of discipline, by means of which the claimants to the papacy sought to bind their supporters more closely to themselves. Alfieri's successor, Antonio de Pireto (1405-21), gave his allegiance to the Council of Pisa and Alexander V (1409-15), a man of no great importance. With the election of Martin V (1417-31) by the Council of Constance, unity was restored in the order, which was then in a state of the greatest confusion.

The Observance (Regularis Observantia) had meanwhile prepared the ground for a regeneration of the order. At first no uniform movements, but varying in different lands, it was given a definite character by St. Bernardine of Siena and St. John Capistran. In Italy as early as 1334 Giovanni de Valle had begun at San Bartolomeo de Brugliano, near Forligno, to live in exact accordance with the rule but without that exemption from the order, which was later forbidden by Clement VI in 1343. It is worthy of notice that Clement, in 1350, granted this exemption to the lay brother Gentile da Spoleto, a companion of Giovanni, but Gentile gathered together such a disorderly rabble, including some of the heretical Fraticelli, that the privilege was withdrawn (1354), he was expelled from the order (1355), and cast into prison. Amongst his faithful adherents was Paoluccio Vagnozzi of Trinci, who was allowed by the general to return to Brugliano in 1368. As a protection against the snakes so numerous in the district, wooden slippers (calepodia, zoccoli) were worn by the brothers, and, as their use continued in the order the Observants were long known as the Zoccolanti or lignipedes. In 1373 Paoluccio's followers occcupied ten small houses in Umbria, to which was soon added San Damiano at Assisi. They were supported by Gregory XI, and also, after some hesitation, by the superiors of the order. In 1388, Enrico Alfineri, the general appointed Paoluccio commissary general of his followers, whom he allowed to be sent into all the districts of Italy as an incentive to the rest of the order. Paoluccio died on 17 September, 1390, and was succeeded by John of Stroncone (d. 1418). In 1414, this reform possessed thirty-four houses, to which the Porziuncola was added in 1514.

In the fourteenth centry there were three Spanish provinces: that of Portugal (also called Santiago), that of Castile, and that of Aragon. Although houses of the reformers in which the rule was rigidly observed existed in each of these provinces about 1400, there does not appear to have been any connection between the reforms of each province — much less between these reforms and the Italian Observance — and consquently the part played by Peter of Villacreces in Silos and Aguilera has been greatly exaggerated.

Independent also was the Reform or Observance in France, which had its inception in 1358 (or more accurately in 1388) in the cloister at Mirabeau in the province of Touraine, and thence spread through Burgundy, Touraine, and Franconia. In 1407 Benedict XIII exempted them from all jurisdiction of the provincials, and on 13 May, 1408, gave them a vicar-general in the person of Thomas de Curte. In 1414 about two hundred of their number addressed a petition to the Council fo Constance, which thereupon granted to the friars of the stricta observantia regularis a special provincial vicar in every province, and a vicar-general over all, Nicholas Rodolphe being the first to fill the last-mentioned office. Angelo Salvetti, general of the order (1421-24), viewed these changes with marked disfavour, but Martin V's protection prevented him from taking any steps to defeat their aim. Far more opposed was Salvetti's successor, Antonio de Masso (1424-30). The ranks of the Observants increased rapidly in France and Spain in consequence of the exemption. The Italian branch, however, refused to avail themselves of any exemption from the usual superiors, the provincial and the general.

In Germany the Observance appeared about 1420 in the province of Cologne at the monastery of Gouda (1418), in the province of Saxony in the Mark of Brandenburg (1425); in the upper German province first at the Heidelberg monastery (1426). Cloisters of the Observants already existed in Bosnia, Russia, Hungary, and even in Tatary. In 1430 Martin V (1417-31) summoned the whole order, Observants and Conventuals, to the general Chapter of Assisi (1430), "in order that our desire for a general reform of the order may be fulfilled." William of Casale (1430-42) was elected general, but the intellectual leader of Assisi was St. John Capistran. The statues promulgated by this chapter are called the "Constitutiones Martinianae" from the name of the pope. They cancelled the offices of general and provincial vicars of the Observants and introduced a scheme for the general reform of the order. All present at the chapter had bound themselves on oath to carry out its decisions, but six weeks later (27 July, 1430) the general was released from his oath and obtained from Martin V the Brief "Ad statum" (23 August, 1430), which allowed the Conventuals to hold property like all other orders. This Brief constituted the Magna Charta of the Conventuals, and henceforth any reform of the order on the lines of the rule was out of the question.

The strife between the Observants and the Conventuals now broke out with such increased fury that even St. John Capistran laboured for a division of the order which was however still longer opposed by St. Bernadine of Siena. Additional bitterness was lent to the strife when in many instance princes and towns forcibly withdrew the ancient Fraciscan monasteries from the Conventuals and turned them over to the Observants. In 1438 the general of the order named St. Bernardine of Siena, first Vicar-General of the Italian Observants, an office in which Bernardine was succeeded by St. John Capistran in 1441. At the General Chapter of Padua (1443), Albert Berdini of Sarteano, an Observant, would have been chosen general in accordance with the papa; wish had not his election been opposed by St. Bernardine. Antonio de Rusconibus (1443-50) was accordingly elected, and, until the separation in 1517, no Observant held the office of general. In 1443 Antonio appointed two vicars-general to direct the Observants — for the cismontane family (i.e. for Italy, the East, Austria-Hungary, and Poland) St. John Capistran, and for the ultramontane (all other countries, including afterwards America) Jean Perioche of Maubert. By the so-called Separation bull of Eugene IV, "Ut sacra ordinis minorum" (11 January, 1446), outlined by St. John Capistran, the office of the vicar-general of the Observants was declared permanent, and made practically independent of the minister general of the order, but the Observants might not hold a general chapter seperate from the rest of the order. After the canonization in 1450 of Bernardine of Siena (d. 1444), the first saint of the Observants, John Capistran with the assistance of the zealous cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (d. 1464), extended the Observance so greatly in Germany, that he could henceforth disregard the attacks of the lax and time-serving sections of the order. At the Chapter of Barcelona, in 1451, the so-called "Statuta Barchnionensia" were promulgated. Though somewhat modifies these continued in force for centuries in the ultramontane family.

The compromise essayed by St. James of the March in 1455 was inherently hopeless, although it granted to the vicars of the Observants active voting power at the general chapters. On this compromise was based the "Bulla concordiae" of Callistus III (2 February, 1456), which Pius II withdrew (11 October, 1458). The Chapter of Perugia (1464) elected as general Francesco della rovere (1464-69), who was elevated to the cardinalate in 1468, and later elected pope under the title of Sixtus IV (1471-84). Sixtus granted various privileges to the Fransicans in his Bull "Mare magnum" (1474) and his "Bulla aurea" (1479), but was rather more kindly disposed towards the Conventuals, to whome he had belonged. The generals Francesco Nanni (1475-99), to whom Sixtus gave the sobriquet of Samson to signalize his victory in a disputation on the Immaculate Conception, and Egidio Delfini (1500-06) displayed a strong bias in favour of the reform of the Conventuals, Edigio using as his pleas the so-called "Constitutiones Alexandrinae" sanctioned by Alexander VI in 1501. His zeal was far surpassed in Spain by that of the powerful Minorite, Francisco Ximenes de los Cisneros, who expelled from the cloisters all Conventuals opposed to the reform. At Paris, Delfini won the large house of studies to the side of the reformers. The Capitulum generalissimum at Rome in 1506 was expected to bring about the union of the various branches, but the proposed plan did not find acceptance, and the statutes, drawn up by the chapter and published in 1508 under the title "Statuta Iulii II", could not bridge the chasm separating the parties. After long deliberations had taken place under generals Rainaldo Graziani (1506-09), Philip of Bagnacavallo (1509-11), and Bernardino Prato da Chieri (1513-17), the last general of the united order, Leo X summoned on 11 July, 1516, a capitulum generalissimum to meet at Rome on the feast of Pentecost (31 May), 1517. This chapter first suppressed all the reformed congregations and annexed them to the Observants; declared the Observants an independent order, the true Order of St. Francis, and separated them completely from the Conventuals. The General of the Observants received the title of Minister Generalis totius ordinis Fratrum Minorum, with or without the addition regularis Observantiae, and was entrusted with the ancient seal of the order. His period of office was limited to six years, and he was to be chosen alternately from the familia cismontana and the familia ultramontana — a regulation which has not been observed. For the other family a Commissarius generalis is always elected. In processions, etc., the Observants take precedence of the Conventuals.

Second period (1517-1909)

Christoforo Numai of Friuli was elected first General of the Reformed Order of Franciscans (Ordo Fratrum Minorum), but was raised a month later to the cardinalate. Francesco Lichetto (1518-20) was chosen as his successor by the Chapter of Lyons (1518), where the deliberations centered around the necessary rearrangement of the order in provinces and the promulgation of new general constitutions, which were based on the statutes of Barcelona (1451, cf. supra). Lichetto and his successors — Paul of Soncino (1520-23), who died in 1523, and Francisco de Angelis Quiñones (1523-28), a Spaniards, diligently devoted themselves to establishing the Observance on a firm basis. Quinones was named cardinal in 1528, and the new general, Paolo Pisotti (1529-33), unfortunately disregarding the ideal of his predecessors and failing entirely to grasp the significance of the reforms afoot at the time (for example that of the Capuchins), was deposed in 1533. In 1547 the Chapter of Assisi prescribed gray as the colour of the Franciscan habit, in accordance with the custom of the Observants and forbade the wearing in beards. At the General Chapter of Salamanca (1554), Clemente Dolera of Moneglia, the general in office promulgated new statutes for the cismontane family. On the preferment of Clemente to the cardinalate in 1557, Francesco Zamora, his successor (1559-65), defended at the Council of Trent the order's rule of poverty, which was then sanctioned by the council for the Observants and Capuchins. Under Luigi Pozzo (Puteus), the next general (1565-71), the Spanish Conventuals were united with the Observants by command of the pope, and a general reunion of the separated branches of the order seemed imminent. The two succeeding generals, Christophe de Cheffontaines, a Frenchman (1571-79), and Francisco Gonzaga (1579-87), laboured industriously for the rigorous observance and the rule of poverty, which was rather loosely interpreted, especially in France. Gonzaga reformed the great convent of studies at Paris and, in 1581, was appointed, in opposition to his wishes, Bishop of Cefalù (Sicily) and afterwards of Mantua, where he died in the odour of sanctity, in 1620. The process for his beatification is pending at Rome. Francis of Toulouse (1587-93) and Bonaventura Secusi of Caltagirone (Sicily, 1593-1600) were employed frequently on embassies by the popes, and revised the constitutions of the order, in which however, the alterations were too frequent. Finally at the Chapter of Segovia in 1621, the minister general, Benignus of Genoa (1618-25), approved the "Statuta Segoviensia" for the ultramontane family, with suitable additions both for the French and for the German-Belgian nation. Thereafter the latter nation adhered most perseveringly to the principles of these statutes; that their consistency in this respect has proved a source of prosperity, vigour, and inner strength is universally known.

About this period the so-called Counter-Reformation was bursting into vigorous life in the North and the order entered on a new period of strenuous vitality. The Reformation had dealt a terrible blow to the Franciscans in these parts, annihilating in many instances entire provinces. Supported now by the emperor and the Catholic princes, they advance to regain their old position and to found new cloisters, from which they could minister to their flocks. To bring into subjection the four rather lax French provinces which were known as the Provinciae confaederatae and were thenceforward always too much inclined to shelter themselves behind the government, the general, Bernardine of Sena (Portugal, 1625-33), obtained from Urban VIII the Bull of 1 October, 1625. The French, indeed, justly complained that the general of the order was always chosen from Italy or from Spain. The privilege usurped by the Spanish kings, of exerting a certain influence in the election and indeed securing that the general should be alternately a Spaniards and an Italian (but one from the Crown lands of Spain), was in contradiction to all Fraciscan statutes and laws. The Spanish generals, furthermore resided usually at Madrid, instead of at Rome, and most of the higher offices were occupied by Spaniards — an anomalous situation which aroused great resentment amongst the friars of other nations, especially France and in Italy, and continued until 1834. This introduction of national politics into the government of the oder proved as noxious to the interests of the Friars Minor as the established churches of the eighteenth century did to the cause of Christianity.

Generals Juan Merinero of Madrid (1639-45), Giovanni Mazzara of Naples (1645-48), and Pedro Mancro (1651-55) tried without success to give definite statutes to the cismontane family, while the "Constitutiones Sambucanae", drawn up by General Michele Buongiorno of Sambuca (1658-64) at the order of the general chapter, did not remain long in force. Ildefonso Salizanes (1664-70) and Francesco Maria Rhini (1670-74) were both raised to the episcopate. José Ximenes Samaniego (1676-82) zealously eradicated abuses which had crept into the order especially in Spain and France, and died as Bishop of Placencia in Spain (1692). Ildefonso Biezma (1702-16) and José García (1717-23) were appointed by papal Briefs. The next general was the famous Lorenzo Cozza (1723-27) who, as Custos of the Holy Land, had obviated a schism of the Maronites. He was created cardinal by Benedict XIII. At the Chapter of Milan (1729), Juan Soto was elected general (1729-36), and during his period of office had the statutes of the order collected, rearranged, and then published in 1734. Raffaello de Rossi (1744-50) gave the province (otherwise known as the custody) of the Holy Land its definitive constitution. From 1700 to 1723 no general chapter could be held in consequence of the continuous state of unrest caused by the wars and other dissensions. These disputes made their appearance even in the order itself, and were fanned to a flame by the rivalry between the nations and between the different reform branches, the most heated contention being between the Observants and the Reformanti. The domestic discipline of the order thus became very slack in certain districts, although the personale of the friars Minor was at this time unusually high. Benedict XIII vainly endeavoured in 1727 to cement a union between the various branches (Observants, Reformanti, Recollects, and Discalced). The general chapter of 1750, at which Benedict XIV presided and warmly praised the order, elected Pedro Joannetio of Molina (1750-56) — the only Discalced who has been general. Clemente Guignoni of Palemo followed (1756-62), and then Joannetio was elected general for the second time (1762-68), this occurrence being absolutely unique in the history of the order. Paschale Frosconi (1768-91) of Milan tried in vain on several occasions to hold a general chapter. During his long period of office, the Spaniards endeavoured to break away from the order (1774), and the evil effect of Gallicanism and Febronianism were being already universally felt, kings and princes suppressing many of the cloisters or forbidding intercourse with Rome. In 1766 Louis XV established in France the Commission des Reguliers, which, presided over by Cardinal de Brienne and conducted with the greatest perfidy, brought about in 1771 a union between the Conventuals and the French Observants. The former had but three provinces with forty-eight monasteries, while the latter had seven provinces and 287 monasteries. The French Observants, however, were always somewhat inclined towards laxity, particularly in regard to the rule of poverty, and had obtained in 1673 and 1745 a papal Brief, which allowed them to retain real estate and vested incomes. The French Revolution brought about the annihilation of the order in France.

In Bavaria (1769) and many other German principalities, spiritual and secular, the order was suppressed, but nowhere more thoroughly than in the Austrian and Belgian states of Joseph II and in the Kingdom of the two Sicilies (1788) then ruled by Ferdinand IV. On the death of Pasquale (1791) Pius VI appointed as general a Spaniards, Joachim Compan;y (1792-1806). In 1804, the Spanish Franciscans effected, with the assistance of the King of Spain, their complete separation from the order, although the semblances of unity was still retained by the provision of Pius VII, that the general should be chosen alternately from the Spaniards and the other nation, and that, during his term of office, the other division of the order should be governed by an autonomous vicar-general. During 1793 and 1794 the order was extinct in France and Belgium; and from 1803 in most districts in Germany; from 1775 on, it was sadly reduced in Austria, and also in Italy, where it was suppressed in 1810. The devastation of the order and the confusion consequent on it were deplorable. The generals appointed by the pope, Ilario Cervelli (1806-14), Gaudenzio Patrignani (1814-17), Cirillo Almeda y Brea (1817-24), and Giovanni Tecca of Capistrano (1824-30), ruled over but a faction of the order, even though prospects were somewhat brighter about this period. In 1827, Tecca published the statutes which had been drawn up in 1768. Under the Spanish general, Luis Iglesias (1830-34), the formal separation of Spanish Fraciscans from the main body of the order was completed (1832), but in 1833 most of their monasteries were destroyed during the Peasants' War and the revolution. The general Bartolomé Altemir (1834-38) was banished from Spain, and died at Bordeaux in 1843, Giuseppe Maria Maniscalco of Alessandira (1838-44) being named his successor by Gregory XVI. The pope also appointed the two succeeding generals, Luigi di Loreta (1844-50) and two succeeding generals, Luigi di Loreta (1844-50) and Venanzio di Celano (1850-56). The former, in 1849, named Giuseppe Aréso Commissary of the Holy Land. In 1851, Aréso opened the first monastery at Saint-Palais.

About this period Benigno da Valbona introduced the Reformati into France, and in 1852 founded their first monastery at Avignon, while Venanzio as general laboured indefatigably for the resuscitation of the Observants in the same country, founding new missions and raising the standard of studies. In Russia and Poland, however, many monasteries were suppressed in 1831 and 1842, a general strangulation being afterwards effected by the ukase of 1864. In 1856, at the general chapter in the Ara Coceli at Rome, under the personal presidency of Pope Pius IX, Bernardino Trionfetti of Montefranco was elected general (1856-62). The monasteries of Italy were suppressed by the Piedmontese in 1866, during the generalship of Raffaello Lippi of Ponticulo (1862-69) and in 1873 their fate was shared by the houses of the previously immune Roman province. Bowed with grief and years, the general abdicated (1869), and, as a general chapter was impossible, Pius IX preferred one of the Reformanti Bernardino del Vago of Portogruaro (Portu Romatino) to the generalship (1869-89). This general did much to raise the status of the order, and founded, in 1880, an official organ for the whole order (the "Acta Ordinis Minorum"), which contains the official decrees, decision, and publications and also many works on canon law and ascetic theology for the discipline of the order. During his term of office the Prussian Kulturkampf expended the majority of the German Franciscans (1875), most of whom settled in North America, and the French monasteries were suppressed (1880), the scattered Franciscans reassembling in Italy. The Ara Coeli monastery, the ancient seat of the general's curia, having been sized by the Italian Government to make room for the national monument of Victor Emmanuel, the general was obliged to establish a new mother-house. The new Collegio di S. Antonio near the Lateran was made the seat of the minister general; it is also an international college for the training of missionaries and lectors (i.e. professors for the schools of the order). Bernardino also founded the Collegio di S. Bonaventura at Quaracchi, near Florence, which contains the printing press of the order, and is principally intended for the publication of the writings of the great Franciscan scholars, and other learned works. On the retirement of Bernardino in 1889, Luigi Canali of Parma was elected general (1889-97) and prepared the way for the union of the four reform branches of the order at the General Chapter of Assisi in 1895. The reunion is based on the constitutions which were drawn up under the presidency of Aloysius Lauer and approved on 15 May, 1897. Leo XIII completed the union by his Bull "Felicitate quâdam" of 4 October, which removed every distinction between the branches, even the difference of name, and consequently there exists today one single, undivided Order of Friars Minor (Ordo Fratrum Minorum, O.F.M.). On the resignation of Canali as general, Leo XIII, appointed Aloysius Lauer (4 Oct., 1897) of Katholisch-Willenroth (province of Kassel, Prussia), who introduced the principles of the union gradually but firmly, as it involved many changes, especially in Italy and Austria. On his death (21 August, 1901) Aloysius was succeeded as vicar-general by David Fleming, an Irish friar attached to the English province. At the general chapter of 1903, Dionysius Schuler, of Schlatt, in Hobenzollern, who belonged, like Father Lauer, to the province of Fulda (Thuringia) and had laboured in the United States from 1875, was elected general. He also devoted himself to the complete establishment of the union, and prepared the way for the general reunion of the Spanish Franciscans with the order. At the General Chapter (or more correctly speaking the Congregatio media) of Assisi on 29 May, 1909, the order celebrated the seventh centenary of its glorious foundation.

At present (1909) the order of Friars Minor includes among its members:(1) two cardinals: José Sebastiao Neto, Patriarch of Lisbon; created in 1883 (resigned in 1907); Gregorio Aguirre y García, Archbishop of Burgos, created in 1907; (2) six archbishops, including Burgos, created in 1907; (2) six archbishops, including Monsignor Diomede Falconio, apostolic Delegate to the United States since 1907; (3) thirty-two bishops and one prelate nullius (of Santarem in Brazil); (4) three prefects Apostolic.

The reform parties

First period (1226-1517)

All Franciscan reforms outside of the Observants were ordered to be suppressed by papal decree in 1506, and again in 1517, but not with complete success. The Clareni are dealt with under ANGELO CLARENO DA CINGOLI; the Fraticelli and Spirituals under their respective headings. The so-called Caesarines, or followers of Caesar of Speyer (c. 1230-37), never existed as a separate congregation. The Amadeans were founded by Pedro João Mendez (also called Amadeus), a Portuguese nobleman, who laboured in Lombardy. When he died, in 1482, his congregation had twenty-eight houses but was afterwards suppressed by Pius V. The Caperolani, founded also in Lombardy by the renowned preacher Pietro Caperolo returned in 1480 to the ranks of the Observants. The Spiritual followers of Anthony of Castelgiovanni and Matthias of Tivoli flourished during the period 1470-1490; some of their ideas resembled those of Kaspar Waler in the province of Strasburg, which were immediately repressed by the authorities. Among the reforms in Spain were that of Pedro de Villacreces (1420) and the sect called della Capucciola of Felipe Berbegal (1430), suppressed in 1434. More important ws the reform of Juan de la Puebla (1480), whose pupil Juan de Guadalupe increased the severities of the reform. His adherents were known as Guadalupenses, Discalced, Capuciati, or Fratres de S. Evangelio, and to them belonged Juan Zumárraga, the first Bishop of Mexico (1530-48), and St. Peter of Alcántara (d. 1562 cf. below). The Neutrales were wavering Conventuals in Italy who accepted the Observance only in appearance. Founded in 1463, they were suppressed in 1467. This middle position between the Observants and Conventuals was also taken by the Matinianists, or Martinians, and the Reformati (Observants) sub ministris or de Communiate. These took as their basis the decrees of the Chapter of Assisi (1430), but wished to live under provincial ministers. They existed mostly in Germany and France, and in the latter country were called Coletani, for what reason it is not quite clear (cf. SAINT COLETTE). To this party belonged Boniface of Ceva, a sturdy opponent of the separation of the Conventuals from the Observants.

Second period (1517-1897)

Even within the pale of the Regular Observance, which constituted from 1517 the main body of the order, there existed plenty of room for various interpretations without prejudicing the rule itself, although the debatable area had been considerably restricted by the definition of its fundamental requirements and prescriptions. The Franciscan Order as such had never evaded the main principles of the rule, has never had them abrogated or been dispensed from them by the pope. The reforms since 1517, therefore, have neither been in any sense a return to the rule, since the Order of Friars Minor has never deviated from it, nor have they been a protest against a universal lax interpretation of the rule on the part of the order, as was that of the Observants against the Conventuals. The later reforms may be more truly described as repeated attempts to draw nearer to the exalted ideal of St. Francis. Frequently, it is true, these reforms dealt only with externals — outward exercises of piety, austerities in the rule of life, etc., and these were in many cases gradually recast, mitigated, had even entirely disappeared, and by 1897 nothing was left but the name. The Capuchins are treated in a separate article; the other leading reforms within the Observance are the Discalced, the Reformati, and the Recollects. The Observants are designated by the simple addition of regularis observantiae while these reformed branches add to the general title strictoris observantiae, that is, "of the stricter Observance."

(1) The Discalced

Juan de la Puebla has been regarded as the founder of the Discalced friars Minor, since the province of the Holy Angels (de los Angelos), composed of his followers, has ever remained a province of the Observants. The Discalced owe their origin rather to Juan de Guadelupe (cf. above). He belonged indeed to the reform of Juan de la Puebla, but not for long, as he received permission from Alexander VI, in 1496, to found a hermitage with six brothers in the district of Granada, to wear the Franciscan habit in its original form, and to preach wherever he wished. These privileges were renewed in 1499, but the Spanish kings, influenced by the Observants of the province, obtained their withdrawal. They were again conferred, however, by a papal Brief in 1503, annulled in 1507, while in 1515 these friars were able to establish the custody of Estremadura. The union of 1517 again put an end to their separate existence, but in 1520 the province of St. Gabriel was formed from this custody, and as early as 1518 the houses of the Discalced friars in Portugal constituted the province de la Pietade. The dogged pertinacity of Juan Pasqual, who belonged now to the Observants and now to the Conventuals, according to the facilities afforded him to pursue the ideas of the old Egyptian hermits, withstood every attempt at repression. After much difficulty he obtained a papal Brief in 1541, authorizing him to collect companions, whereupon he founded the custody of Sts. Simon and Jude, or custody of the Paschalites (abolished in 1583), and a custody of St. Joseph. The Paschalites won a strong champion in St. Peter of Alcántara, the minister of the province of St. Gabriel, who in 1557 joined the Conventuals. As successor of Juan Pasqual and Commissary General of the Reformed Conventual Friars in Spain, Peter founded the poor and diminutive hermitage of Pedroso in Spain, and in 1559 raised the custody of St. Joseph to the dignity of a province. He forbade even sandals to be worn on the feet, prescribed complete abstinence from meat, prohibited libraries, in all of which measures he far exceeded the intentions of St. Francis of Assisi. From him is derived the name Alcantarines, which is often given to the Discalced Friars Minor. Peter died in October, 562, at a house of the Observants, with whom all the Spanish reforms had entered into union in the preceding spring. The province of St. Joseph, old peculiariities. In 1572 the members were first called in papal documents Discalceati or Excalceati, and 1578 they were named Fratres Capucini de Observantiâ. Soon other provinces followed their example and in 1604 the Discalced friars petitioned for a vicar-general, a definitor general, although many were opposed to the appointment. On Gregory's death (8 July, 1623) his concessions to the Discalced friars were reversed by Urban VIII, who, however, in 1642 recognized their province as interdependent. They were not under the juridiction of the ultramontane commissary general, and received in 1703 their own procurator general, who was afterwards chosen (alternately) for them and the Recollects. They never had general statutes, and, when such were prepared in 1761, by Joannetio, a general from their own branch, the provinces refused to accept them. The Discalced gradually established houses in numerous provinces in Spain, America, the Philippines, the East Indies and the Kingdom of Naples, which was at this period under Spanish rule. The first houses established in Naples were handed over by Sixtus V to the Reformed Conventuals in 1589. In addition to the above, a house in Tuscany and another in London must be mentioned. This branch was suppressed in 1897.

(2) The Reformati

The proceeding of the general Pisotti against the houses of the Italian Recollects led some of the friars of the Stricter Observance under the leadership of Francis of Jesi and Bernardine of Asti to approach Clement VII, who by the Bull "In suprema" (1532) authorized them to go completely barefoot and granted them a separate custody under the provincial. Both these leaders joined the Capuchins in 1535. The Reformati ate cooked food only twice in the week, scourged themselves frequently, and recited daily, in addition to the universally prescribed choir-service, the Office of the Dead, the Office of the Blessed Virgin, the Seven Penitential Psalms, etc., which far exceeded the Rule of St. Francis, and could not be maintained for long. In 1579 Gregory XIII released them entirely from the jurisdiction of the provincials and almost completely from that of the general, while in Rome they were given the renowned monastery of S. Francesco a Ripa. In the same year (1579), however, the general, Gonzaga, obtained the suspension of the decree, and the new Constitutions promulgated by Bonaventure of Caltagirone, general in 1595, ensured their affiliation with the provinces of the order. Although Clement VIII approved these statutes in 1595, it did not deter him, in 1596, from reissuing Gregory XIII's Brief of 1579, and granting the Reformati their own procurator. At the suit of two lay brothers, in 1621, Gregory XV not only confirmed this concession, but gave the Reformati their own vicar-general, general chapter, and definitors general. Fortunately for the order, these concessions were revoked in 1624 by Urban VIII, who, however, by his Bull "Injuncti nobis" of 1639 raised all the custodies of the Reformati in Italy and Poland to the dignity of provinces. In 1642 the Reformati drew up their own statutes; these were naturally composed in Italian, since Italy was always the home of this branch of the Friars Minor. In 1620 Antonio Arrigoni a Galbatio was sent by the Reformati into Bavaria, and, despite the opposition of the local Observants, succeeded in 1625 in uniting into one province of the Reformati the monasteries of the Archduchy of Bavaria, which belonged to the Upper German (Strasburg) province. The new province thenceforth belonged to the cismontane family. Arrigoni also introduced in 1628 the reform into the province of St. Leopold in the Tyrol, into Austria in 1632, and into Bohemia in 1660, and succeeded in winning these countries entirely over to his branch, Carinthia following in 1688. After many disappointments, the two Polish custodies were raised to the status of provinces of the Reformati in 1639. In the course of time, the proximity of houses of the Reformati and the Observants gave rise to unedifying contentions and the rivalry, especially in Italy. Among the heroic figures of the Reformati, St. Pacificus of San Severino calls for special mention. St. Benedict of San Fidelfo cannot be reckoned among the Reformati, as he died in a retreat of the Recollects; nor should St. Leonard of Port Maurice, who belonged rather to the so-called Riformella, introduced into the Roman Province by Bl. Bonaventure of Barcelona in 1662. The principal house of the Riformella was that of S. Bonaventura on the Palatine. St. Leonard founded two similar monasteries in Tuscany, one of which was that of Incontro near Florence. These were to serve as places of religious recollection and spiritual refreshment for priests engaged in mission-work among the people. Like the Discalced, the Reformati ceased to have a separate existence in 1897.

(3) The Recollects (Recollecti)

(a) The foundation of "recollection-houses" in France, where they were badly needed even by the Observants, was perhaps due to Spanish influence. After the bloody religious wars, which exercised an an enervating effect on the life of the cloister, one house of this description was founded at Cluys in 1570, but was soon discontinued. The general of the order, Gonzaga, undertook the establishment of such houses, but it was Franz Dozieck, a former Capuchin, who first set them on a firm basis. He was the first custos of these houses, among which that of Rabastein was the most conspicuous. Italian Reformanti had meanwhile been invited to Nevers, but had to retire owing to the antipathy of the population. In 1595 Bonaventure of Caltagirone, as general of the order, published special statutes for these French houses, but with the assistance of the Government, which favoured the reforming party, the houses obtained in 1601 the appointment of a special commissary Apostolic. The members were called the Récollets — since Réformés was the name given by the French to the Calvinists — and also the Cordeliers, the ancient name for both the Observants and Conventuals. As regards the interpretation of the rule, there were rather important differences between the Cordelier-Observants and the Récollets, the interpretation of the latter being much stricter. From 1606 the Récollets had their own provinces, amongst them being that of St-Denis (Dionysinus) a very important province which undertook the missions in Canada and Mozambique. They were also the chaplains in the French army and won renown as preachers. The French kings, beginning with Henry IV, honoured and esteemed them, but kept them in too close dependence on the throne. Thus the notorious Commission des Réguliers (1771) allowed the Récollets to remain in France without amalgamating with the Conventuals. At this period the Récollets had 11 provinces with 2534 cloisters, but all were suppressed by the Revolution (1791).

(b) Recollection-houses are, strictly speaking, those monasteries to which friars desirous of devoting themselves to prayer and penance can withdraw to consecrate their lives to spiritual recollection. From the very inception of the order the so-called hermitages for which St. Francis made special provision served for this object. These always existed in the order and were naturally the first cloisters of which reformers sought to obtain possession. This policy was followed by the Spanish Discalced, for example in the province of S. Antonio in Portugal (1639). They had vainly endeavoured (1581) to make themselves masters of the recollection-houses of the province of Tarragona, where their purpose was defeated by Angelo do Paz Martial Bouchier had in 1502 prescribed the institution of these houses in every province of the Spanish Observants, they were found everywhere, and from them issued the Capuchins, the Reformati, and the Recollects. The specific nature of these convents was opposed to their inclusion in any province, since even the care of souls tended to defeat their main object of seclusion and sequestration from the world. The general chapter of 1676 ordained the foundation of three or four such convents in every province — a prescript which was repeated in 1758. The ritiri (ritiro, a house in which one lives in retirement), introduced into the Roman Province of the Observants towards the end of the seventeenth century, were also of this class, and even today such houses are to be found among Franciscan monasteries.

(c) The Recollects of the so-called German-Belgian nation have nothing in common with any of the above-mentioned reforms. The province of St. Joseph in Flanders was the only one constituted of several recollection-houses (1629). In 1517 the old Saxon province (Saxonia), embracing over 100 monasteries, was divided into the Saxon province of the Observants (Saxonia S. Curcis) and the Saxon province of the Conventuals (Saxonia S. Johannis Baptistae). The province of Cologne (Colonia) and the Upper German or Strasburg (Argentia) province were also similarly divided betwen the Observants and the Conventuals. The proposed erection of a Thuringian province (Thuringia) had to be relinquished in consequence of the outbreak of the Reformation. The Saxon province was subsequently reduced to the single monastery of Halberstadt, which contained in 1628 but one priest. The province of Cologne then took over the Saxon province, whereupon both took on a rapid and vigorous growth, and the foundation of the Thuringian Province (Fulda) became possible in 1633. In 1762 the last-named province was divided into the Upper and the Lower Thuringian provinces. In 1621 the Cologne province had adopted the statutes of the recollection-houses for all its monasteries, although it was not until 1646 that the friars adopted the name Recollecti. This example was followed by the other provinces of this nation and in 1682 this evolution in Germany, Belgium, Holland, England, and Ireland, all of which belonged to this nation, was completed without any essential changes in the Franciscan rule of life. The Recollects preserved in general very strict discipline. The charge is often unjustly brought against them that they have produced no saints, but his is true only of canonized saints. That there have been numerous saints amongst the friars of this branch of the Franciscan Order is certain, although they have never been distinguished by canonization — a fact due partly to the sceptical and fervourless character of the population amongst which they lived and partly to the strict discipline of the order, which forbade and repressed all that singles out for attention the individual friar.

The German-Belgian nation had a special commissary general, and from 1703 a general procurator at Rome, who represented also the Discalced. They also frequently maintained a special agent at Rome. When Benedict XIII sanctioned their national statutes in 1729, he demanded the relinquishment of the name of Recollects and certain minor peculiarities in their habit, but in 1731 the Recollects obtained from Clement XII the withdrawal of these injunctions. In consequence of the effects of the French Revolution on Germany and the Imperial Delegates' Enactment (1803), the province of Cologne was completely suppressed and the Thuringian (Fulda) reduced to two monasteries. The Bavarian and Saxon provinces afterwards developed rapidly, and their cloisters, in spite of the Kulturkampf, which drove most of the Prussian Franciscans to America, where rich harvest awaited their labours, bore such fruit that the Saxon province (whose cloisters are, however mostly situated in Rheinland and Westphalia), although it has founded three new provinces in North America and Brazil, and the custody of Silesia was separated from it in 1902, is still numerically the strongest province of the order, with 615 members. In 1894 the custody of Fulda was elevated to the rank of a province. The Belgian province was re-erected in 1844, after the Dutch had been already some time in existence. The separate existence of the Recollects also ceased in 1897.

Great Britain and Ireland.--The Franciscans came to England for the first time in 1224 under Blessed Agnellus of Pisa, but numbers of Englishmen had already entered the order. By their strict and cheerful devotion to their rule, the first Franciscans became conspicuous figures in the religious life of the country, developed rapidly their order and enjoyed the highest prestige at court, among the nobility, and among the people. Without relaxing in any way the rule of poverty, they devoted themselves most zealously to study, especially at Oxford, where the renowned Robert Grosseteste displayed towards them a fatherly interest, and where they attained the highest reputation as teachers of philosophy and theology. Their establishments in London and Oxford date from 1224. As early as 1230 the Franciscan houses of Ireland were united into a separate province. In 1272, the English province had 7 custodies, the Irish 5. In 1282, the former (Provincia Angliae) had 58 convents, the later (Provincia Hiberniae) 57. In 1316 the 7 English custodies still contained 58 convents, while in Ireland the custodies were reduced to 4 and the convents to 30. In 1340, the number of custodies and houses in ireland were 5 and 32 respectively; about 1385, 5 and 31. In 1340 and 1385, there were still 7 custodies in England; in 1340 the number of monasteries had fallen to 52, but rose to 60 by 1385. Under Elias of Cortona (1232-39) Scotland (Scotia) was separated from England and raised to the dignity of a province, but in 1239 it was again annexed to the English province. When again separated in 1329, Scotland received with its six cloisters only the title of vicaria. At the request of James I of Scotland, the first Observants from the province of Cologne came to the country about 1447, under the leadership of Cornelius von Ziriksee, and founded seven houses. About 1482 the Observants settled in England and founded their first convent at Greenwich. It was the Observants who opposed most courageously the Reformation in England, where they suffered the loss of all their provinces. The Irish province still continued officially but its houses were situated on the Continent at Louvain, Rome, Prague, etc. where fearless missionaries and eminent scholars were trained and the province was re-established in spite of the inhuman oppression of the government of England. By the decision of the general chapter of 1625, the direction of the friars was carried on from Douai, where the English Franciscans had a convent, but in 1629 it was entrusted to the general of the order. The first chapter assembled at Brussels on 1 December, 1630. John Gennings was chosen first provincial, but the then bruited proposal to re-establish the Scottish convents could not be realized. The new province in England, which, like the Irish, belonged to the Recollects, gave many glorious and intrepid martyrs to the order and the Church. In 1838, the English province contained only 9 friars, and on its dissolution in 1840, the Belgian Recollects began the foundation of new houses in England and one at Killarney in Ireland. On 15 August, 1887, the English houses were declared an independent custody, and on 12 February, 1891, a province of the order. At the present day (1909) the English province comprises in England and Scotland 11 convents with 145 friars, their 11 parishes containing some 40,000 Catholics; the Irish Province comprises 15 convents with 139 brothers.

Statistics of the order (1260-1909)

The Order of St. Francis spread with a rapidity unexpected as it was unprecedented. At the general chapter 1221, where for the last time all members without distinction could appear, 3000 friars were present. The order still continued its rapid development, and Elias of Cortona (1232-39) divided it into 72 provinces. On the removal of Elias the number was fixed at 32; by 1274 it had risen to 34, and it remained stable during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. To this period belongs the institution of the vicariae, which, with the exception of that of Scotland, lay in the Balkans, Russia, and the Far East. It has been often stated that about 1300 the Franciscans numbered 200,000 but his is certainly an exaggeration. Although it is not possible to arrive at the exact figure, there can scarcely have been more than 60,000 to 90,000 friars at this period. In 1282 the cloisters were about 1583 in number. In 1316 the 34 provinces contained 197 custodies and 1408 convents; in 1340, 211 custodies and 1422 convents; in 1384, 254 custodies and 1639 convents. The Observants completely altered the conformation of the order. In 1455 they alone numbered over 20,000; in 1493, over 22,400 with more than 1200 convents. At the division of the order, in 1517, they formed the great majority of the friars, numbering 30,000 with some 1300 houses. In 1520 the Conventuals were reckoned at 20,000 to 25,000. The division brought about a complete alteration in the strength and the territories of the various provinces. In 1517 the Conventuals still retained the 34 provinces as before, but many of them were enfeebled and attenuated. The Observants, on the other hand, founded 26 new provinces in 1517, retaining in some cases the old names, in other cases dividing the old territory into several provinces.

The Reformation and the missionary activity of the Minorites in the Old, and especially in the New, World soon necessitated wide changes in the distribution, number, and extent, of the provinces. The confusion was soon increased by the inauguration of the three great reformed branches, the Discalced, the Reformati, and the Recollects, and, as these, while remaining under the one general, formed separate provinces, the number of provinces increased enormously. They were often situated in the same geographical or political districts, and were, except in the Northern lands, telescoped into one another in a most bewildering manner — a condition aggravated in the south (especially in Italy and Spain) by an insatiate desire to found as many provinces as possible. The French Revolution (1789-95), with its ensuing wars and other disturbances, made great changes in the conformation of the order by the suppression of a number of provinces, and further changes were due to the secularization and suppression of monasteries which went on during the nineteenth centry. The union of 1897 still further reduced the number of provinces, by amalgamation all the convents of the same district into one province.

The whole order is now divided into twelve circumscriptions, each of which embraces several provinces, districts, or countries.

  1. The first circumscription includes Rome, Umbria, the March of Ancona, and Bologna, and contains 4 provinces of the order, 112 convents, and 1443 friars.
  2. The second embraces Tuscany and Northern Italy and contains 8 provinces, 138 convents, and 2038 religious.
  3. The third comprises Southern Italy and Naples (except Calabria), with 4 provinces, 93 convents, and 1063 religious.
  4. The fourth includes Sicily, Calabria, and Malta, and has 7 provinces, 85 convents, and 1045 religious.
  5. The fifth embraces the Tyrol, Carinthia, Dalmatia, Bosnia, Albania, and the Holy Land, with 9 provinces, 282 convents and 1792 religious.
  6. The sixth comprises Vienna, Hungary, Transylvania, Croatia, Galicia, and Bohemia, with 7 provinces, 160 convents, and 1458 friars.
  7. The seventh, which in numerically the strongest, includes Germany, Holland, and Belgium, with 7 provinces, 129 convents and 2553 religious.
  8. The eighth comprises France, Corsica, Great Britain, and Canada, with 7 provinces, 63 convents, and 975 religious.
  9. The ninth comprises Portugal and Northern Spain with 5 provinces, 39 convents, and 1124 religious.
  10. The tenth embraces Southern Spain and the Philippines, with 4 provinces, 48 houses, and 910 religious.
  11. The eleventh includes Central and South America, with 12 provinces, 97 convents, and 1298 members.
  12. The twelfth comprises Mexico and the United States, with 7 provinces (including the Polish commissariate at Pulaski, Wisconsin), 167 convents, and 1195 religious.

The total figures for the order are consequently (4 October, 1908), 81 provinces 1413 convents and 16,894 Franciscans. In 1905 the Franciscans numbered 16,842 and their convents 1373. For the second last decade of the nineteenth century the lowest figures are recorded, the figures announced at the general chapter of 1889 being: Observants 6228, Reformati 5733, Recollects 1621, Discalced 858 — that is a total of 14,440 Franciscans. That only the Recollects had increased since 1862 may be seen from the figures for that year: Observants 10,200, Reformati, 9889, Recollects and Discalced together 1813 — a total of 21,902 Minorites. The year 1768 gives the highest figures — about 77,000 in 167 provinces. In 1762, the Observants had 87 provinces, 2330 convents, and 39,900 members; the Reformati 19,000 members with 37 provinces and 800 convents; the Recollects 11,000 members, 490 convents; 22 provinces; the Disclaced 7000 members 430 convents, 20 provinces. Total, 76,900 Minorites, 4050 cloisters, 166 provinces. In 1700 the total was 63,400 Minorites, 3880 convents, and 154 provinces; about 1680, 60,000 Minorites, 3420 convents, and 151 provinces.

The various names of the Friars Minor

The official name, Fratres Minores (Ordo Fratrum Minorum — O.F.M.), or Friars Minor, was variously translated into the popular speech of the Middle Ages. In England the Friars Minor were commonly known as the Grey Friars from the colour of their habit. This name corresponds to the Grabrodrene of Denmark and Scandinavia. In Germany they were usually known as the Baarfüsser (Baarfuozzen, Barvuzen, Barvoten, Barfüzzen, etc.), that is, Barefooted (wearing only sandals). In France they were usually called the Cordeliers from their rope-girdle (corde, cordelle) but were also known as the Frères Menous (from Fratres Minores). After the fifteenth century the term was applied to both the Conventuals and the Observants, but more seldom to the Récollets (Recollects). Their popular name in Italy was the Frati Minori or simply the Frati. The Observants were long known in that country as the Zoccolanti, from their foot-wear.

The habit

The habit has been gradually changed in colour and certain other details. Its colour, which was at first grey or a medium brown, is now a dark brown. The dress, which consists of a loose sleeved gown, is confined about the loins by a white cord, from which is hung, since the fifteenth century, the Seraphic rosary with its seven decades. A long or short under-habit of the same or a different colour and trousers are also worn. Shoes are forbidden by the rule, and may be worn only in case of necessity; for these sandals are substituted, and the feet are bre. Around the neck and over the shoulders hangs the cowl, quite separate from the habit, and under it is the shoulder-cape or mozetta, which is round in front and terminates in a point at the back. The Franciscans wear no head-dress, and have the great tonsure, so that only about three finger-breadths of hair remain, the rest of the scalp being shaved. In winter they wear about their necks between the cowl and the habit the round mantle which almost reaches the knees.

The constitution of the order


During the lifetime of St. Fracis of Assisi, everything was directed and influenced by his transcendent personality. The duration of offices was not defined, and consequently the constitution was at first juridically speaking, absolute. From 1239, that is after the experiences of the order under Elias of Cortona, the order gradually developed a monarchical constitution. The chapter of definitors for the whole order (thirteenth century), the chapter of custodies in each province, the discretus sent by the subordinate convents to the provincial chapter, etc. are institutions which have long ceased to exist. To the past also belongs the custody in the sense of a union of several convents within a province. Today a custody signifies a few cloisters constituting a province which has not yet been canonically erected.

The present constitution is as follows: The whole order is directed by the minister general, elected by the provincial ministers at the general chapter, which meets every twelve years. At first his term of office was indefinite, that is, it was for life; in 1517 it was fixed at six years; in 1571, at eight; in 1587, again at six; and finally the twelve-year period of office was settled on by Pius IX in 1862. The general resides at the Collegio S. Antonio, Via Merulana, Rome. The order is divided into provinces (that is, associations of the convents in one country or district), which prescribe and define the sphere of activity of the various friars within their sphere of jurisdiction. Several provinces together form a circumscription of which there are twelve in the order. Each circumscription sends one definitor general, taken in turn from each province, to Rome as one of the counsellors to the minister general. These definitors are elected for six years at the general chapter and at the congregatio intermedia (also called frequently, by an abuse of the term, a general chapter), summoned by the general six years after his election. The general chapter and the congregatio intermedia may be convened by the general in any place. The provinces of the order are governed by the provincials (ministri provinciales), who are elected every three years at the Provincial chapter and constitute the general chapter. Their term of office, like that of the general, was first undefined; from 1517 to 1547 it was three years; from 1547 to 1571, six years; from 1571 to 1587, four years; since 1587, three years. While in office, the provincial holds every year (or every and a half) the intermediate chapter (capitulum intermedium), at which the heads of all the convents of the province are chosen for a year or a year and a half. The local superiors of houses (conventus) which contain at least six religious, are called guardians (earlier wardens); otherwise they receive the title praeses or superior. The provincial has to visit his own province and watch over the observance of the rule; the general has to visit the whole order, either personally or by means of visitors specially appointed by him (vistatores generales). The individual convents consist of the Fathers (Patres), i.e. the regular priests, the clerics studying for the priesthood (fratres clerici) and the lay brothers engaged in the regular service of the house (fratres laici). Newly received candidates must first make a year's novitiate in a convent specially intended for this end. Convents, which serve certain definite purposes are called colleges (collegia). These must not, however, be confounded with the Seraphic colleges, which are to be found in modern times in most of the provinces, and are devoted to the instruction of youthful candidates in the humanities, as a preparation for the novitiate, where the students first receive the habit of the order. No friar, convent, or even the order itself can possess any real property. (Cf. RULE OF ST. FRANCIS.)

The duties of the individual Fathers vary; according as they hold offices in the order, or are engaged as lectors (professors) of the different sciences, as preachers, in giving missions or in other occupations within or, with the permission of the superiors, without the order. The cardinal-protector, introduced in the order by St. Francis himself, exercises the office and rights of a protector at the Roman Curia, but has no power over the order itself.

General sphere of the order's activity

As a religious order in the service of the Catholic Church, and under her care and protection, the Franciscans were, according to the express wish of their founder, not only to devote themselves to their own personal sanctification, but also to make their apostolate fruitful of salvation to the people in the world. That the former of these objects has been fulfilled is clearly indicated by the number of Friars Minor who have been canonized and beatified by the Church. To these must be added the army of friars who have in the stillness of retirement led a life of virtue, known it its fullness to God alone, a mere fraction of whose names fill such volumes at the "Martyrologium Fraciscanum" of Father Arthur do Monstier (Paris, 1638 and 1653) and the Menologium trium ordinum S.P. Fracisci of Fortunatus Hüber (Munich, 1688), containing the names of the thousands of martyrs who have laid down their lives for the Faith in Europe and elsewhere under the heathen and heretic.

Like all human institutions, the order at times fell below its first perfection. Such a multitude of men, with their human infirmities and ever-changing duties, could never perfectly translate into action the exalted ideals of St. Francis, as the more supernatural and sublime the ideas, the ruder is their collision with reality and the more allowance must made for the feebleness of man. That an aspiration after the fundamental glorious ideal of their founder has ever distinguished the order is patent from the reforms ever arising in its midst, and especially from the history of the Observance, inaugurated and established in the face of such seemingly overwhelming odds. The order was established to minister to all classes, and the Franciscans have in every age discharged the spiritual offices of confessor and preacher in the palaces of sovereigns and in the huts of the poor. Under popes, emperors, and kings they have served as ambassadors and mediators. One hundred have already been nominated to the Sacred College of Cardinals, and the number of Franciscans who have been appointed patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops, is at least 3,000. The popes elected from the Observants are: Nicholas IV (1288-92); Alexander V (1409-10). Sixtus IV (1471-84) was a Conventual of the period before the division of the order. Sixtus V (1585-90) and Clement XIV (1769-74) were chosen from the Conventuals after the division. The popes have often employed the Minorites as legates and nuncios, e.g. to pave the way for and carry through the reunion of the Greeks, Tatars, Armenians, Maronites, and other schismatics of the East. Many Minorites have also been appointed grand penitentiaries, that is, directors of the papal penitentiaries, and have served and still serve in Rome as Apostolic penitentiaries and as confessors to the pope himself or in the principal basilicas of the city. Thus the Observants are in charge of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. As inquisitors against heresy, the Franciscans were in the immediate service of the Apostolic See.

Observing a much stricter rule of poverty and renunciation of the world than all other orders, the Franciscans exercised during the Middle Ages a most salutary social influence over the enslaved and unprivileged classes of the population. The constant model of a practical poverty was at once consoling and elevating. The vast contributions of their monasteries towards the maintenance of the very poor cannot be indicated in rows of figures, nor can their similar contributions of today. They also exerted a wide social influence through their third order (see THIRD ORDER). They tended the lepers, especially in Germany; the constantly recurring pests and epidemics found them ever at their post, and thousands of their number sacrificed their lives in the service of the plague-stricken populace. They erected infirmaries and founding hospitals. The Observants performed most meritorious social work especially in Italy by the institution of montes pietatis (monti de Pieta), in the fiteenth century, conspicuous in this work being Bl. Bernardine of Feltre with the renowned preacher. In England they fought with Simon de Montfort for the liberty of the people and the ideal of universal brotherhood, which St. Francis had inculcated in sermon and verse, and to their influence may be partly traced the birth of the idea of popular government in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

The preaching activity of the order

St. Francis exercised great influence through his preaching, and his example has been zealously followed by his order throughout the centuries with conspicuous success, evident not only in popular applause but in the profound effects produced on the lives of the people. At first all the friars were allowed to deliver simple exhortations and, with the permission of St. Francis, dogmatic and penitential sermons. This privilege was restricted in 1221, and still further in 1223, after which year only specially trained and tested friars were allowed to preach. The Franciscans have always been eminently popular preachers, e.g. Berthold of Ratisbon, a German who died in 1272; St. Anthony of Padua (d. 1231); Gilbert of Tournai (d. about 1280); Eudes Rigauld, Archbishop of Rouen (d. 1275); Leo Valvassori of Perego, afterwards Bishop of Milan (1263); Bonaventure of Jesi (d. about 1270); Conrad of Saxony (or of Brunswick) (d. 1279); Louis, the so-called Greculus (c. 1300); Haymo of Faversham (d. 1244); Ralph of Rosa (c. 1250). The acme of Franciscan preaching was reached by the Observants in the fifteenth century, especially in Italy and Germany. Of the many illustrious preachers, it will be sufficient to mention St. Bernadine of Siena 9d. 1444); St. John Capistran (d. 1456); St. James of the March (d. 1476); Bl. Albert Berdini of Sarteano (d. 1450); Anthony of Rimini (d. 1450); Michael of Carcano (Milan) (d. 1485); Bl. Pacificus of Ceredano (d. 1482); Bl. Bernardine of Feltre (d. 1494); Bernardine of Busti (d. 1500); Bl. Angelo Carletti di Chivasso (d. 1495); Andrew of Faenza (d. 1507). In Germany we find: John of Minden (d. 1413); Henry of Werl (d. 1463); John of Werden (d. 1437); author of the renowned collection of sermons "Dormi secure"; John Brugman (d. 1473); Dietrich Coelde of Münster (d. 1515); Johann Kannermann (d. about 1470); a preacher on the Passion; Johann Kannegieser, "the trumpet of Truth" (d. about 1500); Johann Gritasch (d. about 1410); Johann Mader; Johann Pauli (d. about 1530); whose work Schimpf und Ernst was a long favourite among the German people; Heinrich Kastner; Stephan Fridolin (d. 1498). In Hungary: Pelbart of Temesvar (d. about 1490). In Poland: Bl. Simon of Lipnica (d. 1482); Bl. John of Dukla (d. 1484); Bl. Ladislaus of Gienlnow (d. 1505). In France: Oliver Maillard (d. 1502); Michel Minot (d. about 1522); Thomas surnamed Illyricus (d. 1529); Jean Tisserand (d. 1494); Etienne Brulefer (d. about 1507). The following illustrious Spanish theologians and preachers of the sixteenth century were Friars Minor: Alphonsus de Castro (d. 1558); Didacus de Estella (d. 1575); Luis de Carvajeal (d. about 1500); John of Carthagena (d. 1617); St. Peter of Alcántara (d. 1562). Renowned Italian Franciscans were: Saluthio (d. about 1630); St. Leonard of Port Maurice (d. 1751); Bl. Leopold of Gaiches (d. 1815); Luigi Parmentieri of Casovia (d. 1855); Luigi Arrigoni (d. 1875), Archbishop of Lucca, etc. Other well-known French Franciscans were Michel Vivien (seventeenth century), Zacharie Laselve etc, and of the Germans mention may be made of Heinrich Sedulius (d. 1621), Fortunatus huever (d. 1706) and Franz Ampferle (d. 1646). Even today the Friars Minor have amongst their number many illustrious preachers, especially in Italy.

Influence of the order on the liturgy and religious devotions

St. Francis prescribed for his order the abridged Breviary then reserved for the Roman Curia. As this and the Missal were revised by the general, Haymo of Faversham, at the command of Gregory IX, and these liturgical books have by degrees, since the time of Nicholas III (1277-80), been universally prescribed or adopted, the order in this alone has exercised a great influence. The Breviary of General Quiñonez (1523-28) enjoyed a much shorter vogue. To the Franciscan Order the Church is also indebted for the feast of St. Joseph (19 March) and that of the Blessed Trinity. The activity of the Franciscans in promoting devotion to the Immaculate Conception, since Scotus (d. 1308) defended this doctrine, is well known. St. Francis himself laboured earnestly to promote the adoration of Our Lord in the Blessed Eucharist, and Cherubino of Spoleto founded a sodality to accompany the Blessed Sacrament to the houses of the sick. In 1897 Leo XIII declared Paschal Baylon (d. 1592) patron of eucharistic leagues. The Christmas crib was introduced and popularized by the order to which — especially to St. Leonard of Port Maurice (d. 1751) — is also due the spreading of the devotion known as "the Stations of the Cross." The ringing of the Angelus morning, noon, and evening, was also inaugurated by the Franciscans, especially by St. Bonaventure and Bl. Benedict of Alrezzo (d. about 1520).

Franciscan missions

St. Francis devoted himself to missionary labours from 1219 to 1221, and devoted in his rule a special chapter (xii) to missions. In every part of the world, the Franciscans have laboured with the greatest devotion, self-sacrifice, enthusiasm and success, even though, as the result of persecutions and wars, the result of their toil has not always been permanent. The four friars sent to Morocco in 1219 under Berard of Carbio were martyred in 1220. Electus soon shared their fate, and in 1227 Daniel with six companions was put to death at Ceuta. The bishops of Morocco were mostly Franciscans or Dominicans. In 1420 the Observants founded a convent at Ceuta, and here St. John of Prado died at the stake in 1632. This mission was entrusted to the province of S. Diego in 1641, and to the province of Santiago (Galicia, Spain) in 1860, after it had been constituted a prefecture Apostolic in 1859. In Oran, Libya, Tunis, Algiers, as well as throughout Egypt, Franciscans have laboured since the thirteenth century, and signalized their exertions by a glorious array of martyrs in 1288, 1345, 1358, 1370, 1373, etc. This mission was under the jurisdiction of that in the Holy Land. In 1686 Upper Egypt was separated, and became in 1697 an independent prefecture Apostolic. Lower Egypt continued its connection with the Holy Land until 1839, when both (with Aden, which was again separated in 1889) were formed into a vicariate Apostolic, in which state they still remain. In Lower Egypt there are now sixteen monasteries, controlling parishes and schools. In Upper Egypt, from which the Copts were separated in 1892, are eight monasteries with parishes connected.

In 1630 the Congregation of Propaganda sent Fathers Mark of Scalvo and Edward of Bergamo to Tripoli, and in 1643 appointed Paschal Canto, a Frenchman, Prefect Apostolic of Barbary — an office which still exists. The activity of this mission, like the others in these countries, is not so much directed to the conversion of Mohammedans as to the support and help of the Catholic settlers. Abyssinia (Ethiopia, Habech) was first visited by John of Montecorvino (c. 1280). Later, Bl. Thomas of Florence was sent thither by Albert of Sarteano, and Sixtus IV, after the other missions had failed, sent Girolamo Tornielli. Many missionaries were put to death, and in 1687 a special prefecture was instituted for the conversion of the Copts. This was reinstituted in 1815, and in 1895 a special hierarchy was erected for the same object. In 1700 Father Krump undertook the foundation of a new mission in Ethiopia, when in 1718 three missionaries were stoned to death.

The two Genoese ships which circumnavigated Africa in 1291 had two Minorites on board. Others accompanied Vasco da Gama. In 1446 the Franciscans visited Cape Verde where Roger, a Frenchman, zealously preached the Gospel. In 1459 they reached Guinea, of which Alphonsus of Bolano was named Prefect Apostolic in 1472. They thence proceeded to the Congo, where they baptized a king. In 1500 they went to Mozambique under Alvarez of Coimbra. The French Recollects laboured here during the seventeenth century, but since 1898 the Portuguese Franciscans have had charge of the mission. At the beginning of the sixteenth century Friars Minor settled in Melinda and on the Island of Socotra near Aden. In 1245 John of Plano Carpinis (Piano di Carpine) was sent by Innocent IV to the Great Khan in Tatary and penetrated thence into Mongolia. By order of Louis IX William of Rubruck (Rubruquis) proceeded thence through Armenia and Central Asia to Karakoram. The accounts of the travels of the last-mentioned historical and geographical renown. In 1279 Nicholas III sent five Franciscans to China, among them John of Montercorvino, who preached on the outward journey in Armenia, Persia, and Ethiopia and on his return journey in the same countries and in India. Having converted thousands and translated the New Testament and the Psalms into Chinese, he completed in 1299 a beautiful church in Peking. In 1307 Clement V appointed him Archbishop of Cambalue and primate of the Far East and gave him six suffragan bishops, only three of whom reached Peking (1308). (See CHINA, Vol. III, 669-70.) From 1320 to 1325 Odoric of Pordenone laboured in Persia, India, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Canton, Tibet, and China. In 1333 John XXII dispatched twenty-seven Franciscans to China, Giovanni Marignola of Florence following them in 1342. In 1370 William of Prato was sent as archbishop to Peking with twenty fellow-Minorites. The appearance of the Ming dynasty in 1368 brought about the ruin of all the missions. On 21 June, 1579, Franciscans from the Philippines penetrated to China once more, but the real founder of the new mission in China was Antonio de S. Maria (d. 1669), who was sent to China in 1633, and later laboured in Cochin-China and Korea. China was also visited in 1661 by Bonaventura Ibañez (d. 1691) with eight friars. Henceforward Franciscan missions to China were constant. In 1684 came the Italian fathers under the renowned Bernardino della Chiesa (d. 1739), including Basilio Rollo da Gemona (d. 1704) and Carlo Orazio da Castorano. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Italian Franciscans began missions in the interior of China — first in Shen-si, then in Shan-si, Shan-tung, etc.; numbers were martyred, particularly towards the close of the century. Despite the edict of persecution, Ludovico Besi began in 1839 a new mission to Shan-tung. The Franciscans continued to work persistently in most of the districts in China, where, in spite of persecution, they now hold nine of the thirty-eight vicariates. Every land, almost every province, of Europe and many divisions of America are represented in China by one or more missionaries. Of the 222 Franciscans at present (beginning of 1909) labouring there, 77 are Italians, 27 Dutch, 25 Germans, 25 Belgians, 16 French.

The first missionaries reached the Philippines in 1577 and founded the province of St. Gregory. Their leaders were Pedro de Alfaro (1576-79), Pablo a Jesu (1580-83), and St. Peter Baptist (1586-91), the first Franciscan martyr in Japan. From the Philippines they extended their field of labour to China, Siam, Formosa, Japan, Borneo. In the Philippines their activity was tireless; they founded convents, town, and hospitals; instructed the natives in manual labour — the planting of coffee and cocoa, the breeding of silk-worms, weaving; and planned streets, bridges, canals, aqueducts, etc. Among the best known Fraciscan architects may be included Lorenzo S. Maria (d. 1585), Macimo Rico (d. 1780), and a Joseph Balaguer (d. 1850). Here as elsewhere they studied the languages and dialects of the natives, and even to the present day continue to compile much sought after and highly prized grammars, dictionaries, etc. The occupation of the Philippines by the United States brought many alterations, but the missions are still under the province of S. Gregorio in Spain.

On 26 May, 1592, St. Peter Baptist set out from Manila for Japan with some associates, erected in 1594 a church and convent in Meaco, but on 5 February, 1597, suffered martyrdom on the cross with twenty five companions, of whom three were Jesuits. The missions of the Franciscans were thus interrupted for a time, but were repeatedly renewed from the Philippines, and as often the list of martyrs added to (e.g. in 1616, 1622, 1628, 1634, etc.). In 1907 some Franciscans again settled at Sappora on the Island of Yezo, thus forming a connecting link with the traditions of the past.

In 1680 Australia was visited by Italian Franciscans, who also preached in New Zealand, but in 1878 the missions were transferred to the Irish Franciscans. From 1859 to 1864, Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan was Bishop of Adelaide, and was succeeded by another Franciscan, Luke Bonaventure Sheil (1864-72).

In Northern Europe, which in the thirteenth century was not yet completely converted to Christianity, the Franciscans established missions in Lithuania, where thirty-six were butchered in 1325. The first Bishop of Lithuania was Andreas Vazilo. During the fifteenth century John, surnamed "the Small", and Blessed Ladislaus of Gielniow laboured most successfully in this district. In Prussia (now the provinces of West and East Prussia), Livonia, and Courland (where the Minorite Albert was Bishop of Marienwerder (1260-90) and founded the town of Reisenburg), as well as in Lapland, the inhabitants of which were still heathens, the Reformation put an end to the labours of the Friars Minor. Their numerous houses in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, which formed the province of Denmark (Dania, Dacia), and the provinces of England, Scotland, and to some extent those of Holland and Germany, were also overthrown. After the year 1530, the Franciscans could work in these lands only as missionaries, in which capacity they laboured there from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century and still continue to a certain extent.

A few words may here be devoted to those Friars minor who stood forth as fearless defenders of the Faith in the Northern countries during the Reformation period. The Franciscans and Dominicans supplied the greatest number and the most illustrious champions of the Church, and comparatively few yielded to temptation or persecution and deserted their order and their Faith. As in the case of the scholars, artists, missionaries, and holy men of the order, only a few names can be mentioned here. Among the hundreds of names from Great Britain may be cited: John Forest of London, burned at the stake in 1538, Godfrey Jones (d. 1598), Thomas Bullaker (d. 1642), Henry Heath (d. 1643), Arthur Bell (d. 1643), Walter Colman (d. 1645) whose heroism culminated in every case in death. Similarly in Ireland we find Patrick O'Hely (d. 1578), Cornelius O'Devany (d. 1612), Boetius Egan (d. 1650), etc. Among the most distinguished Danish defenders of the Faith is Nikolaus Herborn (Ferber), mockingly called "Stagefyr" (d. 1535); in France, Christophe de Cheffontaines (d. 1595) and François Feuradent; in Germany Thomas Murner (d. 1537), Augustin von Alfeld (d. 1532), Johannes Ferus (Wild) (d. 1554), Konrad Kling, (d. 1556), Ludolf Manann (d. 1574), Michael Hillebrand (d. about 1540), Kaspar Schatzgeyer (d. 1527), Johann Nas (d. 1590), etc. Between 1520 and 1650 more than 500 Minorites laid down their lives for the Church.

On the Black and Caspian Seas the Franciscans instituted missions about 1270. The following Franciscans laboured in Greater Armenia: James of Russano in 1233; Andrew of Perugia in 1247; Thomas of Tolentino in 1290. King Haito (Ayto) II of Lesser Armenia, and Jean de Brienne, Emperor of Constantinople, both entered the Franciscan Order. Franciscans were in Persia about 1280, and again after 1460. About this time Louis of Bologna went through Asia and Russia to rouse popular sentiment against the Turks. The Franciscans were in Further India by 1500, and toiled among the natives, the St. Thomas Christians, and the Portuguese, who made over to them the mosque of Goa seized in 1510. The order had colleges and schools in India long before the arrival of the Jesuits, who first came under the Franciscan Archbishop of Goa, João Albuquerque (1537-53).

Since 1219 the Franciscans have maintained a mission in the Holy Land, where, after untold labours and turmoil and at the expense of hundreds of lives, they have, especially since the fourteenth century, recovered the holy places dear to Christians. Here they built houses for the reception of pilgrims, to whom they gave protection and shelter. Friars from every country compose the so-called custody of the Holy Land, whose work in the past, interrupted by unceasing persecutions and massacres, constitutes a bloody but glorious page in the history of the order. In the territory of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, reinstituted in 1847, the Franciscans have 24 convents, and 15 parishes; in Syria (the Prefecture Apostolic of Aleppo), to which also belong Phoenicia and Armenia, they have 20 convents and 15 parishes, while in Lower Egypt they occupy 16 convents and 16 parishes. As all these (with numerous schools) are included in the custody of the Holy Land, the total for the mission is: 58 convents, 46 parishes, and 942 religious. The Catholics of Latin Rite in these districts number 74, 779; of Oriental Rites 893.

Under the greatest difficulties and frequently with small fruit, in consequence of the recurrent devastating wars and insurrections, the Franciscan missionaries have laboured in south-eastern Europe. Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Bulgaria received many Minorites in the thirteenth century, about which period many of the order occupied the archiepiscopal See of Antivari, and in 1340, Peregrinus of Saxony was nominated first Bishop of Bosnia. In these districts the Fraciscans worked earnestly to reconcile the schismatics with Rome. Nicholas IV, himself a Franciscan, sent missionaries of the order to Servia in 1288, and another mission followed (1354) under Friar Bartholomew, Bishop of Trau (Tragori). In 1389, Bajazet I destroyed almost all these missions, while those which were re-established in 1402 fell into the hands of the Turks, who definitely took possession of Servia in 1502. In 1464 the courageous Franciscan Angelus Zojedzodovic, obtained from Mohammed II a charter of toleration for Catholics, and progress was also made by the Franciscan missions in Bulgaria, Wallachia, Moldavia, and Podolia. In Black Russia Nikolaus Melsat of Crosna with twenty-five friars began a mission about 1370, Moldavia being visited about the same time by Anthony of Spalato (and later by Fabian of Bachia and James of the March), but their work was interrupted in 1460 by the Turks, who in 1476 cast 40,000 Christians from these districts into prison. Boniface IX transferred the episcopal see to Bakau, Benedict XIV to Sniatyn. At the beginning of the seventeenth century Bishop Bernardino Quirino was murdered by the Turks, and, on the death of the last bishop (Bonaventura Berardi) in 1818, the mission in Moldavia and Rumania was entrusted to the Conventuals, who still retain it.

The Franciscans were settled in Constantinople as early as the thirteenth century. In 1642 this and the subordinate missions were united into a prefecture Apostolic, from which the Prefecture of Rhodes was separated in 1897. The former now occupies seven convents, while the latter has seven churches and houses. In 1599, the convents of the Albanian mission were erected into a province, which, on 9 October, 1832, was divided into five prefectures Apostolic (Epirus, Macedonia, Servia, Pulati, and Kastrati), which are almost entirely worked by Franciscans, and were on 31 January, 1898, placed by the general, Aloysius Lauer, under a commissary general, with the authority of a provincial. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was separated from the Bosnian province in 1847 and elevated to the rank of a province in 1892, the Franciscans were the first missionaries and pastors, and these countries are still almost entirely under the spiritual guidance of the order, practically all the bishops having been Franciscans. When it was proposed in 1886 to erect a see at Antivari in Montenegro, Simon Milinovic of the Franciscan Order was designated Archbishop of Antivari and Primate of Servia. In Montenegro the Friars Minor administer ten of the eleven parishes.

According to the statistics of 4 October, 1907, the present condition of the Franciscan missions, which ae distributed over the five continents, is as follows: Total number of Friars Minor, 4689, including 2535 priests, 620 clerics, 1396 lay brothers, and 138 novices. These are assisted in their work by 12,572 Franciscan sisters, chiefly members of the Third Order of St. Francis.

Cultivation of the sciences

The order has always devoted itself diligently to the cultivation of sciences, and, although St. Francis is to be numbered rather amongst the divinely enlightened than among the academically trained, he was neither a declared enemy nor a despiser of learning. to qualify themselves for the tasks assigned in ever-increasing numbers to their rapidly spreading order — which was revered by rich and poor, was employed by popes and kings on missions of every description, and was to labour for the social betterment of every section of the community — the Franciscans were early compelled to take advantage of every possible source of scientific culture, and, within thirty or forty years after their founder's death, they shared with the Dominicans the most prominent place in the revival of learning. This place has been retained for centuries with distinction and brilliancy, especially in the domain of theology and philosophy. A list of Franciscan scholars and their works would fill volumes, while many of their writings have exercised an abiding influence in the realms of science, on the religious life of the people, and on the whole human race. Mention may be made of only a few of the eminent dogmatic and moral theologians, philosophers, writers on ethics, historians, linguists, philologists, artists, poets, musicians, geographers, etc., whom the order has produced. Formerly Franciscans lectured in many universities, e.g. parish, Oxford, Bologna, Cambridge, Cologne, Toulouse, Alcalá, Salamanca, Erfurt, Vienna, Heidelberg, Fulda. We may here mention; Alexander of Hales (d. 1245); John of Rupella (La Rochelle) (d. 1245); Adam of Marsh (Marisco) (d. 1258); John Peckman, Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1292); Cardinal Matthew of Acquasparta (d. 1302); Johannes Guallensia (John of Wales) (d. about 1300); Richard of Middleton (de Mediavilla) (d. about 1305); John Duns Scotus (d. 1308), the most subtle of all Scholastics; William of Occam (d. 1349); William Vorrillon (Vorilongus) (d. 1464); Nicolas d Orbellis (d. 1465); Monaldus (d. about 1290); John of Erfurt (d. about 1310); Nicholas of Lyra (d. about 1340); the most influential exegete of the Middle Ages; David of Augsburg, mystic (d. 1272); Artesanus of Asti (c. 1317), author of the famous "Summa Casuum", called the "Artesana"; Nicholas of Osimo (d. about 1450); Pacificus of Ceredano (d. 1482), author of the "Summa Pacifica"; Baptista Trovamala de Salis (c. 1485), author of the "Baptistiniana", also called the "Rosella"; Angelo Carletti di Chivasso (d. 1495), author of the "Summa Angelica"; Dietrich (Theodore) Coelde (d. 1515), author of the "Christenespiegel"; Francesco Lichetti (d. 1520); François Feuardent (d. 1612), controversialist and exegete; Luke Wadding (d. 1658); Florence Conry (d. 1629); Anthony Hickey (Hyquaeus) (d. 1641); Pierre Marchant (d. 1661); William Herinex (d. 1678); Friedrich Stummel (d. 1682); Patritius Sporer (d. 1683); Benjamin Eubel (d. 1756); Anacletus Reiffenstuel (d. 1703); DeGubernatis (d. about 1689); Alva y Astorga (d. 1667); Jean de la Haye (d. 1661); Lorenzo Cozza (d. 1729); Amadus Hermann (d. 1700); Claude Frassen (d. 1711); François Assermet (d. 1730); Jerome of Montefortino (d. about 1740); Luca Ferraris (d. about 1750); Giovanni Antonio Bianchi (d. 1758); Sigmund Neudecker (d. 1736); Benedetto Bonelli (d. 1773); Kilian Kazenberger (d. about 1729); Vigilus Greiderer (d. 1780); Polychronius Gassmann (d. about 1830); Hereculanus Oberrauch (d. 1808); Ireneo Affò (d. 1797); Sancatntonio Cimarosto (d. 1847); Adalbert Waibel (d. 1852); Chiaro Vascotti (d. 1860); Gabriele Tonini (d. about 1870); Antonio Maria of Vicenza (d. 1884); Melchior Stanislaus of Cerreto (d. 1871); Petrus von Hötzl (d. 1902 as Bishop of Augsburg); Bernard van Loo (d. 1885); Fidelis a Fanna (d. 1881); Ignatius Jeiler (d. 1704); Marcellino da Civezza (d. 1906).

The Franciscans did not, like other orders, confine themselves to any particular Scholastic school (system). They were more attached to the teachings of Duns Scotus, perhaps, than to the School of St. Bonaventure, but there was no official compulsion in the matter.

Among the many naturalists, artists, and poets of the order may be mentioned: Thomas of Celano (d. about 1255), author of the "Dies Irae"; Giacomino of Verona (c. 1300), a precursor of Dante; St. Bonaventure (d. 1274); Jacopone of Todi (d. 1306), author of the "Stabat Mater"; John Brugman (d. 1473); Gregor Martic (d. 1905); the Croatian poet. Among the musicians: Julian of Speyer (d. about 1255); Bonaventure of Brescia (fifteenth century); Pietro Canuzzi; Luigi Grossi of Viadana (d. 1627); Domenico Catenacci (d. about 1791); David Moretti (d. 1842); Petrus Singer (d. 1882). Among the naturalists may be mentioned: Roger Bacon (d. 1294); the so-called Schwarzer (Black) Berthold (c. 1300), the reputed discoverer of gunpowder; Luca Pacioli (d. about 1510); Elektus Zwinger (d. 1690); Charles Plumier (d. 1704).

For writers on the history of the order, the reader may be referred to the bibliography, since the vast majority of the books cited have been written by Franciscans. In recent times — to some extent since 1880, but mainly since 1894 — the investigation of the history of the Friars Minor, especially during the first centuries succeeding the foundation of the order, has aroused a keen and widespread interest in the leading civilized lands and among scholars of every religious denomination and belief.

Saints and beati of the order

The number of Friars Minor who have been canonized or beatified, is — even if we exclude here as throughout this article, the members of the other orders of St. Francis (Conventuals, Poor Clares, Tertiaries and Capuchins) — extraordinarily high. In this enumeration we further confine ourselves to those who are officially venerated throughout the Church, or at least throughout the whole order, with canonical sanction. These exceed one hundred in number, the names, dates of decease, and feast of the best-known being as follows.



To these might be added long lists of Blessed, who enjoy a cultus sanctioned by the Church, but whose cultus is only local, i.e. limited to their native or burial-places or to the dioceses with which they were connected. If these be included in the reckoning, the number of saints and beati in all the orders of St. Francis exceeds 300.

At the present time (1909), the postulatura of the order at Rome, whose office is to collect evidence concerning the candidates for beatification and canonization, is urging the cause of about ninety members of the First, Second, and Third orders of St. Francis. This list includes some names belonging to later and even recent times, and it will thus be seen that the Order of Friars Minor never ceases to produce members whose holiness entitles them to the highest ecclesiastical honour — that of the altar. That the spirit of Jesus Christ, which St. Francis laboured so intermittently to revive in the world and instilled into his institutions still lives in his order to the glorification of the Divine Name, the great efficiency of the Friars Minor in our day is sufficient proof.


About this page

APA citation. Bihl, M. (1909). Order of Friars Minor. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Bihl, Michael. "Order of Friars Minor." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Beth Ste-Marie.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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