The Rise of The Mendicant Orders

There came a time when Medieval Christianity was at its highest point. However, the growth of cities, trade, and the monetary economy brought about changes that were not always welcome. This was also the time when the mendicant orders began and flourished. “Mendicants” refer to those who lived by begging. A forerunner of the mendicant orders was Peter Waldo, a merchant from Lyons who heard the story of a monk who practiced extreme poverty and was moved by it to devote himself to a life of poverty and preaching. His followers were thereafter called “Waldensians” who, along with him, were treated with derision due to their ignorance. Despite repeated condemnations, they continued preaching. Persecution then forced them to withdraw to remote valleys in the Alps, where they continued existing until the Protestant Reformation. At that time, they were approached by Reformed theologians whose teachings they accepted, and thus became Protestant.

The next mendicant movement was the Franciscans, which was very similar to the Waldensians. Francis, like Waldo, belonged to the merchant class. His true name was Giovanni. Due to his French lineage on his mother’s side and his father’s trade relations with France, not to mention his fondness of the songs of the French troubadours, his friends in his native Assisi called him “Francesco” or the little Frenchman. Hence, he is known today as St. Francis of Assisi, a name that the present Pope, Jorge Bergoglio, took his name from. A sister order for women was founded by St. Clare, a spiritual sister of Francis, and became commonly known as the “Clarisses” or “Poor Clares.” St. Francis died on October 3, 1226 in a chapel that he had rebuilt in his youth.

Another major mendicant order was St. Dominic de Guzman. Albeit twelve years older than Francis, his work as the founder of an order was somewhat later. He was born in the town of Calaruega, in Castile, to an aristocratic family whose tower still dominates the landscape. Dominic became the canon of the cathedral at Osma. Four years later, when he was twenty-nine, the chapter of the cathedral resolved to follow the monastic rule of St. Augustine. Despite living in a monastic community, the members of the chapter did not withdraw from the world nor did they set aside their ministry to the faithful. Due to Dominic’s concerns regarding heresy, he set out to teach and preach on orthodoxy. This he joined to a disciplined monastic life and rigorous study in order to make use of the best possible arguments against heresy. Officially, th Dominican order is called the “Order of Preachers.” From the beginning, Dominicans had seen poverty as an argument that strengthened and facilitated their task of refuting heresy. Their main objective was preaching, teaching, and study, and poverty was seen as a means to that end. A few years from their humble beginnings, the most famous and influential theologian of the West arose. His name was Thomas Aquinas, dubbed by the Catholic Church as the “Angelic Doctor of the Church,” whose monumental work was the Summa Theologica.

Both the Franciscan and Dominican orders spread throughout most of Europe. Soon there were other movements, or ancient orders that now followed their example.

Charlemagne and the Church


On Christmas day in the year of our Lord 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne and revived the ancient empire, now reborn under the aegis of the church, after a 324-year hiatus due to the “barbarian” invasions. Prior to his coronation by Pope Leo, Charlemagne, formerly known plainly as Charles, was only king of France. Thereafter, almost the entire Western Christendom, with the exception of the British Isles and a small part of Spain, was under the emperor’s rule.

Charlemagne tried to extend his rule to Spain expecting the aid of some Muslim leaders, which did not materialize. His rear was ambushed on his way back—an event that gave rise to the Chanson du Roland and other like it. As emperor, Charlemagne did not observe a separation of Church and State in that he appointed bishops just as he appointed civil servants, although always seeking men of worth. He likewise enacted laws relating to worship and other religious observances, including the collection of tithes as if the same were taxes. Charlemagne was a fan of learning. Albeit not being educated himself, he advocated the establishment of schools and the revival of those already existing. From Spain, he brought Theodulf and appointed him bishop of Orleans. Theodulf then ordered that throughout his diocese, there should be a school in every church open to all. Other bishops soon followed such a policy and this greatly aided in the revival of learning as an enterprise.

This openness to learning, manuscripts were copied and theological activity flourished. The great systematic thinker of that time was John Scotus Erigena, a native of Ireland who had fallen heir to the knowledge of antiquity that had been preserved in the Irish monasteries. He was well versed in Greek. His most famous work was On the Division of Nature. A significant controversy of that time was that with the “Mozarabs.” These Christians kept their ancient pre-Islamic traditions, including their form of worship. The conflict arose, when the Mozarabic Elipandus declared that, according to his divinity, Jesus was the eternal Son of the Father, but that, according to his humanity, he was son only by adoption. This led many to call Elipandus and his followers “adoptionists,” although there was a vast difference with what Elipandus taught and that of adoptionism. The latter claims that Jesus was a mere man whom God had adopted.

The crowning of Charlemagne put the papacy in an ambiguous position, on whether or not they are to meddle in secular civil affairs of the State. This period marked the decline of the papacy, as popes would succeed one after another in rapidity due to intrigues and even assassinations through poisoning. After the Carolingian Dynasty, numerous attempts at reform were instituted by some of the monastics and popes such as the monks of Cluny, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bruno (Leo IX), Hildebrand (Gregory VII), Urban II, Paschal II, Gelasius II, and Calixtus II.