Compendium of Church History - Notre Dame

Thirteenth Century
The Century of Saints Francis and Dominic

Religious Orders of the Thirteenth Century

The Franciscans, or Grey Friars (Friars Minor).
The Franciscan Friars, founded between the years 1204 and 1226 by St. Francis of Assisi, were the "providence of the poor." Their characteristic traits were Christian humility and self-sacrifice.

St. Francis was born at Assisi in 1182. In his youth he was a gay spendthrift, but a dangerous sickness made him take the resolution of renouncing the world and of devoting himself to God. This resolution was displeasing to his father, who in consequence disinherited him. Francis took refuge in a half-ruined church called "Our Lady of the Angels," which was given to him by a Benedictine abbot. This church he restored by means of alms, calling it Portiuncula (Little Legacy); here he built his first convent. Two years before his death, in 1226, St. Francis received the Stigmata, or the imprint of the Five Wounds.

The Franciscan rule was approved by Pope Honorius in 1223, and at the death of the founder the order counted its members by thousands.

The spiritual sons of St. Francis distinguished themselves by their learning and piety. Among these are:

  • St. Anthony, the wonder-worker of Padua.
  • Alexander of Hales, Irrefutable Doctor.
  • St. Bonaventure, Seraphic Doctor.
  • John Duns Scotus, Subtle Doctor.
  • Roger Bacon, Wonderful Doctor.

The Dominicans, or Black Friars (Friars Preachers).
The Dominicans were founded to keep alive the light of divine faith amid the darkness of error in the Middle Ages. St. Dominic, the instrument the Lord made use of to spread the gospel, was born in Old Castile, about the year I17o. His ardent piety and penetrating intellect made him renowned from his university days. Having received Holy Orders, Dominic was sent by Pope Innocent III to labor against the Albigensian heretics. Worthy and zealous men soon joined him, and the results of their preaching were marvelous. The devotion of the Holy Rosary, which St. Dominic always combined with his sermons, imparted efficacy to his words, and thus was established the Order of Preachers called after their founder Dominicans. St. Dominic founded sixty-five convents, grouped into eight provinces. He died August 4, 1221.

The Dominican rule was approved by Pope Honorius simultaneously with the approval of the Franciscan Order.

To the Dominicans the Church is indebted for:

  • St. Thomas of Aquin, the Angelic Doctor.
  • Durandus, the Most Resolute Doctor.
  • Albert the Great.

St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure.
St. Thomas, the chief ornament of the Dominican Order, became the wonder of his age. During his school days the saint concealed his learning so well that his fellow students called him "the ox." He composed a great number of works, in which the deepest learning is combined with the tenderest piety. His most learned work is the Summa; his most devotional work is the Office of the Blessed Sacrament, which he wrote for the newly instituted feast of Corpus Christi. St. Thomas died in 1274, on his way to the Council of Lyons.

St. Bonaventure did no less honor to the Order of St. Francis than St. Thomas to that of St. Dominic. Having been cured of a sickness by the prayers of St. Francis, he entered his order, and shortly after the death of the holy founder was chosen General. Pope Gregory X raised him to the dignity of Cardinal. St. Bonaventure died shortly after at the Council of Lyons, 1274. The deep, practical piety that characterizes all his writings has secured for him the title of the Seraphic Doctor.

Pope Innocent III, 1198-1216.
In the pontificate of Innocent III was secured the independence of the Holy See which his predecessors had striven so long to attain, and never has a pontiff held more absolute mastery over sovereigns of Europe than Innocent III.

His Influence.

  1. He arbitrated between the two claimants for the imperial throne on the death of Henry VI of Germany.
  2. It was at his instigation that Richard of England was set free from the captivity into which he had been trapped on his way home from the crusade.
  3. He obliged King John of England to accept Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury.
  4. He excommunicated Philip Augustus of France, and forced him to take back his lawful wife.
  5. He restrained the encroachments on the rights of the Church practised by the Kings of Portugal, Norway, Sweden, and Poland. The only unsuccessful enterprises undertaken by Innocent III were the attempt to win back Russia to the unity of the faith, and the Fourth Crusade.

In 1215, Innocent III convoked the twelfth General Council. After a pontificate of eighteen years this great Pope died in 1216. All historians acknowledge his genius, his learning, and his masterful character, but Protestants attribute to unbounded ambition his intrepid action with regard to European sovereigns.

The Founding of the Universities

When men ceased to look upon war as the business of life, there arose a craving for intellectual culture. The Crusades were largely instrumental in bringing about this result, as the rough Western warrior, when brought into relationship with the Eastern enemy, often found himself inferior in learning and accomplishments.

All through the history of the church every monastery had its school, every bishop his seminary. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries these seminaries had an immense development. As the number of the pupils in the monastic schools increased, they overflowed into the town, and when the Pope, or an Emperor, or a King granted a charter, the school became a university and a regular course of lectures was given.

Principal Universities.
The principal universities were: Paris, Bologna, Oxford, Salamanca, Lisbon, and Rome.

Heresies of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries

The Petrobrusians were the followers of Peter, of Bruys, a silenced priest. He rejected infant baptism; he condemned churches as unnecessary; he denied the doctrine of the Real Presence, and maintained that no respect should be paid to the Cross.

The author of this heresy was thrown by a mob of infuriated Catholics into a fire which he had himself kindled for the purpose of destroying crosses and other pious images.

The author of this heresy was Arnold, of Brescia, who taught that salvation was impossible for any cleric holding property; and, therefore, advocated a complete separation between the spiritual and temporal powers. He was condemned at the Second Council of Lateran and sent into exile across the Alps. He returned to Italy in 1145. He was at length arrested and hanged, after which his body was burned, and the ashes cast into the Tiber.

The founder of the Waldenses is said to have been Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant of Lyons. His disciples were known as "the poor men of Lyons." They denied the authority of the Holy See, and taught that the Church was an invisible society, that laymen had the right to administer the Sacrament of Penance, and consecrate the Eucharist in case of necessity; they rejected the doctrine of Purgatory, and the veneration of the saints.

These heretics took refuge from persecution in Bohemia and Piedmont. In Bohemia they merged into the Hussites, and in Piedmont they are to be found as a distinct sect to the present day.

The Albigenses or Cathari were a mixture of they Manichaeans and the Gnostics, who sprang into existence in Southern France and Spain at the beginning of the thirteenth century. They denied the Incarnation and Redemption, and taught that the world had been created by an evil spirit, and held doctrines destructive of marriage and of order in Church and State.

St. Dominic preached against this heresy with great effect. Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, who favored the heresy, was excommunicated by the legate of the Holy See. The latter was assassinated by one of the count's followers. Pope Innocent III ordered a crusade against them, and the chief cities of the Albigenses easily fell to the crusaders. Simon de Montfort was the hero of this crusade, and the Council of Lateran conferred the county of Toulouse on him.

The son of Raymond VI became reconciled to the Church and the heresy died out soon after.

Councils of the Thirteenth Century

Twelfth General Council.
The Fourth Lateran Council in the year 1215 made an effort to reunite the Greek Church with the Latin Church. The true Catholic doctrine regarding the Real Presence was firmly established and the term "transubstantiation "was adopted.

Thirteenth General Council.
The First Council of Lyons in the year 1245 exhorted all Christendom to take up arms and to defend themselves against the incursions of the Saracens.

Fourteenth General Council.
The Second Council of Lyons in the year 1274 renewed and confirmed the doctrine of the Procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son. The union of the Greek and Latin Churches was established. This union was not permanent.

Pope Boniface VIII.
The struggle between the temporal powers of Europe and the Papacy began in the Pontificate of Boniface VIII, 1294-1303.

Boniface was the first pope to proclaim a jubilee. He defended the rights of the Church with dignity in accordance with the principles accepted since the time of Pope Gregory VII. To prevent a war between France and England, Boniface threatened to excommunicate the kings of these two countries, and Philip the Fair denied the pope's right to dictate in such matters.

In 1301, Pope Boniface wished to organize a crusade, and sent a special envoy to the King of France. This envoy was imprisoned and the Pope demanded his release and at the same time convoked a council of the French clergy to consider certain complaints against Philip the Fair. To defend himself Philip laid before the council many charges against Boniface. In 1303 Philip demanded the deposition and seizure of Boniface. Pope Boniface fled to Anagni, where he was made a prisoner, and was loaded with insults; but two days later the inhabitants took up arms, drove off the traitors, and restored the Pope to liberty. One month later Pope Boniface died at Rome.

The Glory of the Thirteenth Century.
The thirteenth century is one of the most glorious periods of church history. The piety of the religious orders, the learning spread by the universities, and the masterpieces of painters, sculptors, and poets make this century a golden age in the story of the world's progress.