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- The Coming of the Friars - 3/38 -


essentially moral, not theological, still less intellectual. The absence of anything like dogma in the sermons of the early Minorites was their characteristic. One is tempted to say it was a mere accident that these men were not sectaries, so little in common had they with the ecclesiastics of the time, so entirely did they live and labour among the laity of whom they were and with whom they so profoundly sympathized.

The secret of the overwhelming, the irresistible attraction which St. Francis exercised is to be found in his matchless simplicity, in his sublime self-surrender. He removed mountains because he believed intensely in the infinite power of _mere goodness_. While from the writhing millions all over Europe--the millions ignorant, neglected, plague-stricken, despairing--an inarticulate wail was going up to God, St. Francis made it articulate. Then he boldly proclaimed: "God has heard your cry! It meant this and that. I am sent to you with the good God's answer." There was less than a step between accepting him as the interpreter of their vague yearnings and embracing him as the ambassador of Heaven to themselves.

St, Francis was hardly twenty-eight years old when he set out for Rome, to lay himself at the feet of the great Pope Innocent the Third, and to ask from him some formal recognition. The pontiff, so the story goes, was walking in the garden of the Lateran when the momentous meeting took place. Startled by the sudden apparition of an emaciated young man, bareheaded, shoeless, half-clad, but--for all his gentleness--a beggar who would take no denial, Innocent hesitated. It was but for a brief hour, the next he was won.

Francis returned to Assisi with the Papal sanction for what was, probably, a draught of his afterwards famous "Rule." He was met by the whole city, who received him with a frenzy of excitement. By this time his enthusiasm had kindled that of eleven other young men, all now aglow with the same divine fire. A twelfth soon was added--he, moreover, a layman of gentle blood and of knightly rank. All these had surrendered their claim to everything in the shape of property, and had resolved to follow their great leader's example by stripping themselves of all worldly possessions, and suffering the loss of all things. They were beggars--literally barefooted beggars. The love of money was the root of all evil. They would not touch the accursed thing lest they should be defiled--no, not with the tips of their fingers. "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon."

Beggars they were, but they were brethren--_Fratres (Frères)_. We in England have got to call them _Friars_. Francis was never known in his lifetime as anything higher than _Brother Francis_, and his community he insisted should be called the community of the lesser brethren--_Fratres Minores_--for none could be or should be less than they. Abbots and Priors, he would have none of them. "He that will be chief among you," he said, in Christ's own words, "let him be your servant." The highest official among the _Minorites_ was the _Minister_, the elect of all, the servant of all, and if not humble enough to serve, not fit to rule.

People talk of "Monks and Friars" as if these were convertible terms. The truth is that the difference between the Monks and the Friars was almost one of kind. The Monk was supposed never to leave his cloister. The Friar in St. Francis' first intention had no cloister to leave. Even when he had where to lay his head, his life-work was not to save his own soul, but first and foremost to save the bodies and souls of others. The Monk had nothing to do with ministering to others. At best his business was to be the salt of the earth, and it behoved him to be much more upon his guard that the salt should not lose his savour, than that the earth should be sweetened. The Friar was an itinerant evangelist, always on the move. He was a preacher of righteousness. He lifted up his voice against sin and wrong. "Save yourselves from this untoward generation!" he cried; "save yourselves from the wrath to come." The Monk, as has been said, was an aristocrat. The Friar belonged to the great unwashed!

Without the loss of a day the new apostles of poverty, of pity, of an all-embracing love, went forth by two and two to build up the ruined Church of God. Theology they were, from anything that appears, sublimely ignorant of. Except that they were masters of every phrase and word in the Gospels, their stock in trade was scarcely more than that of an average candidate for Anglican orders; but to each and all of them Christ was simply _everything_. If ever men have preached Christ, these men did; Christ, nothing but Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. They had no system, they had no views, they combated no opinions, they took no side. Let the dialecticians dispute about this nice distinction or that. There _could_ be no doubt that Christ had died and risen, and was alive for evermore. There was no place for controversy or opinions when here was a mere simple, indisputable, but most awful fact. Did you want to wrangle about the aspect of the fact, the evidence, the what not? St. Francis had no mission to argue with you. "The pearl of great price--will you have it or not? Whether or not, there are millions sighing for it, crying for it, dying for it. To the poor at any rate the Gospel shall be preached now as of old."

To the poor by the poor. Those masses, those dreadful masses, crawling, sweltering in the foul hovels, in many a southern town with never a roof to cover them, huddling in groups under a dry arch, alive with vermin; gibbering _cretins_ with the ghastly wens; lepers by the hundred, too shocking for mothers to gaze at, and therefore driven forth to curse and howl in the lazar-house outside the walls, there stretching out their bony hands to clutch the frightened almsgiver's dole, or, failing that, to pick up shreds of offal from the heaps of garbage--to these St. Francis came.

More wonderful still!--to these outcasts came those other twelve, so utterly had their leader's sublime self-surrender communicated itself to his converts. "We are come," they said, "to live among you and be your servants, and wash your sores, and make your lot less hard than it is. We only want to do as Christ bids us do. We are beggars too, and we too have not where to lay our heads. Christ sent us to you. Yes. Christ the crucified, whose we are, and whose you are. Be not wroth with us, we will help you if we can."

As they spoke, so they lived. They _were_ less than the least, as St. Francis told them they must strive to be. Incredulous cynicism was put to silence. It was wonderful, it was inexplicable, it was disgusting, it was anything you please; but where there were outcasts, lepers, pariahs, there, there were these penniless Minorites tending the miserable sufferers with a cheerful look, and not seldom with a merry laugh. As one reads the stories of those earlier Franciscans, one is reminded every now and then of the extravagances of the Salvation Army.

The heroic example set by these men at first startled, and then fascinated the upper classes. While labouring to save the lowest, they took captive the highest. The Brotherhood grew in numbers day by day; as it grew, new problems presented themselves. How to dispose of all the wealth renounced, how to employ the energies of all the crowds of brethren. Hardest of all, what to do with the earnest, highly-trained, and sometimes erudite convert who could not divest himself of the treasures of learning which he had amassed. "Must I part with my books?" said the scholar, with a sinking heart. "Carry nothing with you for your journey!" was the inexorable answer. "Not a Breviary? not even the Psalms of David?" "Get them into your heart of hearts, and provide yourself with a treasure in the heavens. Who ever heard of Christ reading books save when He opened the book in the synagogue, and then _closed_ it and went forth to teach the world for ever?"

In 1215 the new Order held its first Chapter at the Church of the Portiuncula. The numbers of the Brotherhood and the area over which their labours extended had increased so vastly that it was already found necessary to nominate Provincial Ministers in France, Germany, and Spain.

* * * * * * *

While these things were going on in Italy, another notable reformer was vexing his righteous soul in Spain. St. Dominic was a very different man from the gentle and romantic young Italian. Of high birth, which among the haughty Castillians has always counted for a great deal, he had passed his boyhood among ecclesiastics and academics. He was twelve years older than St. Francis. He studied theology for ten years at the University of Palencia, and before the twelfth century closed he was an Augustinian Canon. In 1203, while St. Francis was still poring over his father's ledgers, Dominic was associated with the Bishop of Osma in negotiating a marriage for Alphonso the Eighth, king of Castille. For the next ten years he was more or less concerned with the hideous atrocities of the Albigensian war. During that dark period of his career he was brought every day face to face with heresy and schism. From infancy he must have heard those around him talk with a savage intolerance of the Moors of the South and the stubborn Jews of Toledo nearer home. Now his eyes were open to the perils that beset the Church from sectaries who from within were for casting off her divine authority. Wretches who questioned the very creeds and rejected the Sacraments, yet perversely insisted that they were Christian men and women, with a clearer insight into Gospel mysteries than Bishops and Cardinals or the Holy Father himself. Here was heresy rampant, and immortal souls, all astray, beguiled by evil men and deceivers, "whose word doth eat as doth a canker." Dominic "saw that there was no man, and marvelled that there was no intercessor."

It was not ungodliness that Dominic, in the first instance, determined to war with, but ignorance and error. _These_ were to him the monster evils, whose natural fruit was moral corruption. Get rid of them and the depraved heart might be dealt with by-and-by. Dominic stood forth as the determined champion of orthodoxy. "Preach the word in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort"--that was his panacea. His success at the first was but small. Preachers with the divine fervour, with the gift of utterance, with the power to drive truth home--are rare. They are not to be had for the asking; they are not to be trained in a day. Years passed, but little was achieved.

Dominic was patient He had, indeed, founded a small religious community of sixteen brethren at St. Ronain, near Toulouse--one of these, we are told, was an Englishman--whose aim and object were to produce an effect through the agency of the pulpit, to confute the heretics and instruct the unlearned. The Order, if it deserved the name, was established on the old lines. A monastery was founded, a local habitation secured. The maintenance of the brotherhood was provided for by a sufficient endowment; the petty cares and anxieties of life were in the main guarded against; but when Innocent the Third gave his formal sanction to the new community, it was given to Dominic and his associates, on the 8th of October, 1215, as to a house of _Augustinian Canons_, who received permission to enjoy in their corporate capacity the endowments which had been bestowed upon them. [Footnote: So "La Cordaire, vie de S. Dominique" (1872), p. 120. It was, however, a very curious community, as appears from "Ripolli Bullarium Praedicat:" I.i.]

In the following July Innocent died, and was at once succeeded by


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