The Franciscan Order; A Victim of its own Success Essay

The Franciscan Order; A Victim of its own Success Essay

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The Franciscan movement was a religious order that arose out of one man’s ideologies and beliefs. St. Francis of Assisi’s ideals of absolute poverty, obedience, humility, and simplicity were uncomplicated and basic, but during his life and even shortly after his death these ideologies were gradually shifting and causing a great amount of debate. The immense size of the Franciscan Order combined with the mass amount of popularity that the Order gained made changes in the ideology and objectives of Francis’ messages and teaching almost an inevitable necessity. Some could argue that in many ways the Franciscan Order’s original ideologies were a victim of the movement’s success. This is evident in the main rules of the Order, what the rules were initially like during the life of Francis, and what they became after his death.
     Saint Francis of Assisi was born in 1182 into a wealth family. His father was Peter Bernardone, a wealthy cloth merchant. Throughout Francis’ childhood he experienced many of the physical pleasures in life; however, gradually he began to have visions from the divine.
The first vision appeared when he was fighting with knights against Assisi’s enemies, the second during a night of merriment and celebration, and a third when he was praying at the ruined Church of San Damiano. During the latter vision, Francis heard a voice coming from the crucifix telling him to rebuild the Church. Francis sold many of his father’s assets and gave the money to San Damiano, but his father was unimpressed. Francis publicly denounced his father, striping naked and throwing his clothes at his father, saying that his only father from that point on was the divine.
For a time Francis wandered unsure of what to do, until he had his fourth divine vision on February 28, 1206. He realized that his true mission in life was the imitation of the life of Christ. Francis took to begging, and wandering from town to town, caring for those less fortunate than himself, and taking only what was necessary for his survival. After a time, Francis accumulated a small number of followers and soon realized that some rules would have to be formulated to govern his order. On April 6th 1209 the order began when Francis said, “He that will come after me, let him deny himself…This, my brothers, is our life and rule and that of all those who shall wish to join...

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... and also made the Order increasingly difficult to govern. This difficulty in governance often forced the Order to turn to the Pope for guidance, thus creating a dangerous reliance on the Pope and making the order submissive to a potentially oppressive and dogmatic power. Likewise, the popularity of the movement contributed to its size. The more popular the Order was the more people joined it. The popularity also contributed to the relaxing of the standards of poverty, humility and simplicity. Money and gifts were given to the Order, jobs with a degree of power and prestige were offered to members of the Order by the Pope, and many other circumstances. The Order itself had become a worldly institution rather than a wandering group of poor friars as Francis had intended. With such undermining of the original ideals and objectives of St. Francis, a split in the Order seems almost inevitable.

Final Word Count: 2971     
Sources/ Works Cited
Burr, D. Olivi and Franciscan Poverty: The Usus Pauper Controversy. Philadelphia; University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.

Moorman, J. A History of the Franciscan Order. UK; Oxford University Press, 1968.

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