Mendicants: St. Francis and Church Reforms

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  • 0:05 Middle-Age Catholicism
  • 2:27 Early Mendicants
  • 3:15 Francis of Assisi
  • 3:55 Franciscans and Dominicans
  • 5:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

Catholicism spread throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. In response to growing power and separation from urban middle-class citizens, mendicants lived in poverty and reached out to the poor. This lesson explores the orders formed by the mendicants.

Middle Age Catholicism

As Christianity grew in popularity, the Catholic Church became more wealthy
Pope Gained Power

During the High Middle Ages (the 11th century through the 13th century), Christianity began to spread throughout Europe. The religion became popular in areas like Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia, Bohemia, Poland, Scandinavia, and Russia. It also spread to people who moved to areas where Christianity was already popular (such as the Vikings in Normandy or the Danes in England). As Christianity became more and more popular, the Pope and clergy gained more power and authority. Additionally, the Catholic Church amassed more wealth.

The Pope began to have more secular influence over the nobles and royals in the Middle Ages. In the 11th century, the Pope campaigned for a crusade to gain control of the Holy Land in the Near East. A crusade is a holy war. The Pope encouraged Christian soldiers to travel east to fight the Muslims. As flocks of crusaders arrived in these lands, they discovered manuscripts of ancient societies that were being preserved. These texts from ancient Mediterranean cultures, referred to as classical texts, contained writings of Greek and Roman scientists and philosophers like Aristotle and Plato. Before the Middle Ages, classical texts were only available to those who could read and write, which included mainly only clergy. Monks copied many of these texts in order to preserve them but not to spread knowledge.

Population in Western Europe had also increased and led to a demand for an increase in literacy to help with record-keeping. The Church could no longer meet the educational needs of the times, and learning moved into the secular community. Access to education and to the classics grew quickly. As people learned to reason and exchange ideas with each other, the Church saw a decline in its influence over them. Some scholars tried to merge classical knowledge with Church doctrine. However, many people recognized the abundance of wealth and power held by the Church as corruption. Some groups began to call for reform within the Church.

Many people viewed the wealth and power held by the Church as corruption
Many Saw Wealth as Corruption

Monastic orders during this time created their own independent communities. Monasteries owned large tracts of land and had a tendency to become very wealthy. Monasteries received gifts and donations from those hoping to be granted salvation from the monks.

Early Mendicants

The wealth of the Church caused people to feel as though they were becoming separated from the clergy. Urban cities began developing more quickly, creating larger numbers of homeless and sick people. Numbers became so large that the parish churches were no longer able to deal with them.

In response to the growing number of needy and a distaste for the wealth accumulated by churches and monasteries, mendicant orders began to form. Mendicants were monks who wanted to emulate the life and suffering of Jesus by living without any possessions. Mendicants gave up their homes in monasteries and all their possessions to live in the streets. From the street, they would hear confessions of people and preach. Many who felt distant from the Church formed a new connection with the mendicants in their area.

Francis of Assisi

Francis of Assisi was one of the best-known mendicants and formed the Order of the Franciscans
Francis of Assisi

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