The Franciscan Order; a Victim of Its Own Success

Topics: Franciscan, Francis of Assisi, Popes Pages: 8 (3018 words) Published: September 14, 2005
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 our society." By 1221 the order had grown immense in popularity and size, and the Order was already starting to experience trouble in upholding St. Francis' ideals. Francis was able to maintain his ideals only by the use of his influence and reputation. Shortly after Francis' death on October 3rd, 1226 changes were rapidly being made to the various rules in the Order. As the Order grew and expanded Francis became more and more isolated from the group. At one point in time he was even quoted to have proclaimed himself dead to them. As the Order became larger, new rules were formulated to keep track with the ever growing number of friars. The main problem with the Order was its size. In the beginning when the number of friars had been small it was easy for Francis to keep strong ties and loyalty with the group. Likewise, it was simpler to impose the austere standards of poverty, humility, and simplicity on the smaller numbers of members. As the numbers increased into the thousands, these standards became harder and harder to deal with. During this time, when Francis was still alive, the Order was experiencing many different problems that directly affected what the Order had originally stood for. For example, when the group was small poverty was easy, however as the group grew it was felt that there was a greater need for security. Similarly, Francis was strongly against any kind of privilege, he felt that his order was lowly, without any right or claim to society, but as the Order grew, many learned holy men began to join who felt that they must exercise their ministry....

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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