Mendicants, Order of
Mendicants, Order Of also known as Begging Friars, is the name of several religious organizations within the boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church, intended to depend for support on the voluntary contributions of the laity. This sort of society began in the 13th century, and the members of it, by the tenor of their institution, were to remain entirely destitute of all fixed revenues and possessions. Innocent III was the first of the popes who perceived the necessity of instituting such an order; and though his far- seeing eye took in the possible dangers of fierce and ascetic enthusiasm, he nevertheless felt constrained to give those monastic societies making a profession of poverty the most distinguishing marks of his protection and favor. The peculiar state and circumstances of the time seem to have rendered such an establishment very essential for the preservation of the Church. The monastic orders then existing wallowed in opulence, and were by the corrupting influence of their ample possessions lulled into a luxurious indolence. They lost sight of all their religious obligations, trampled upon the authority of their superiors, suffered heresy to triumph unrestrained, and the sectaries to form various assemblies; in short, they were incapable of promoting the true interests of the Church, and abandoned themselves, without either shame or remorse, to all sorts of crimes. On the other hand, the "heretics" of the Church, the sects which had left its communion, followed certain austere rules of life and conduct, which formed a strong contrast between them and the religious orders, and contributed to render the licentiousness of the latter still more offensive and shocking to the people. These sects maintained that voluntary poverty was the leading and essential quality in a servant of Christ; obliged their doctors to imitate the simplicity of the apostles; reproached the Church with its overgrown opulence, and the vices and corruptions of the clergy, that flowed thence as from their natural source; and, by their commendation of poverty and contempt of riches, acquired a high degree of respect, and gained a prodigious ascendency over the minds of the 'multitude. In consequence, the great desire of the Church was the formation of a society composed of a set of men who-by the austerity of their manners, their contempt of riches, and the external gravity and sanctity of their conduct and maxims-might resemble those doctors that had gained such reputation for the heretical sects, and who might rise so far above the allurements of worldly profit and pleasure as not to be seduced by the promises or threats of kings and princes from the performance of the duties which they owed to the Church, or from persevering in their subordination to the Roman pontiffs.
The favors which the Mendicants received at the hands of Innocent III were extended to them likewise by his successors in the pontifical chair, as experience had demonstrated their public and extensive usefulness. But when it became generally known that they had such a peculiar place in the esteem and protection of the rulers of the Church, their number grew to such an enormous and unwieldy multitude, and swarmed so prodigiously in all the European provinces, that they became a burden, not only to the people, but to the Church itself. The great inconvenience that arose from the excessive multiplication of the Mendicant orders was first attempted to be remedied by Gregory X in a general council which he assembled at Lyons in 1272; for here all the religious orders that had sprung up after the council held at Rome in 1215, under the pontificate of Innocent III, were suppressed; and the extravagant multitude of Mendicants, as Gregory called them, were reduced to a smaller number, and confined to four societies or denominations, viz. the Dominicans, the Franciscans, the Carmelites. and the Augustines, or Hermits of St. Augustine (see each). As the pontiffs allowed these f bur Mendicant orders the liberty of travelling wherever they thought proper, of conversing with persons of every rank, of instructing the youth and multitude wherever they went, and as these monks exhibited in their outward appearance and manner of life more striking marks of gravity and holiness than were observable in the other monastic societies, they arose all at once to the very summit of fame, and were regarded with the utmost esteem and veneration through all the countries of Europe. The enthusiastic attachment to these sanctimonious beggars went so far that, as we learn from the most authentic records, several cities were divided or cantoned out into four parts, with a view to these four orders: the first part being assigned to the Dominicans, the second to the Franciscans, the third to the Carmelites, and the fourth to the Augustines. The people were unwilling to receive the sacraments from any other hands than those of the Mendicants, to whose churches they crowded to perform their devotions while living, and were extremely desirous to deposit there their remains after death. Nor did the influence and credit of the Mendicants end here, for we find in the history of this and the succeeding ages that they were employed not only in spiritual matters, but also in temporal and political affairs of the greatest consequence-in composing the differences of princes, concluding treaties of peace, concerting alliances, presiding in cabinet councils, governing courts, levying taxes, and other occupations, not only remote from, but absolutely inconsistent with the monastic character and profession. However, the power of the Dominicans and Franciscans greatly surpassed that of the other two orders, insomuch that these two orders were, before the Reformation, what the Jesuits have been since that period-the very soul of the hierarchy, the engines of the state, the secret spring of all the motions of the one and the other, and the authors and directors of every great and important event, both in the religious and political world.
By very quick progression, the pride and confidence of the Mendicants arrived at such a pitch that they had the presumption to declare themselves publicly possessed of a divine impulse and commission to illustrate and maintain the religion of Jesus. They treated with the utmost insolence and contempt the priesthood; they affirmed without a blush that the true method of salvation was revealed to them alone; proclaimed with ostentation the superior efficacy and virtue of their indulgences; and vaunted beyond measure their interest at the court of heaven, and their familiar connections with the Supreme Being, the Virgin Mary, and the saints in glory. By these impious wiles they so deluded and captivated the ignorant and blinded the multitude that they would not intrust any others but the Mendicants with the care of their souls. They retained their credit and influence to such a degree nearly to the close of the 14th century that great numbers of both sexes-some in health, others in a state of infirmity, others at the point of death-earnestly desired to be admitted into the Mendicant order, which they looked upon as a sure and infallible method of rendering Heaven propitious. Many made it an essential part of their last wills that their bodies, after death, should be wrapped in old, ragged Dominican or Franciscan habits, and interred among the Mendicants; for such was the barbarous superstition and wretched ignorance of this age, that people universally believed they should readily obtain mercy from Christ at the day of judgment if they appeared before his tribunal associated with the Mendicant friars. About this time, however, the Mendicants fell under a universal odium; but, being resolutely protected against all opposition, whether open or secret, by the popes, who regarded them as their best friends and most effectual supports, they suffered little or nothing from their numerous adversaries.
In the 15th century, besides their arrogance, which was excessive, a quarrelsome and litigious spirit prevailed among the Mendicants, and drew upon them justly the displeasure and indignation of many. By affording refuge at the time to the Beguins (q.v.) in their order, they became offensive to the bishops, and were involved in difficulties and perplexities of various kinds. They lost their credit in the 16th century by their rustic impudence, their ridiculous superstitions, their ignorance, cruelty, and brutish manners. They displayed the most barbarous aversion to the arts and sciences, and expressed a like abhorrence of certain eminent and learned men, who had endeavored to open the paths of science to the pursuits of the studious youth. and had recommended the culture of the mind, and attacked the barbarism of the age in their writings and discourses. The general character of the society, together with other circumstances, concurred to render a reformation desirable, and had the effect of bringing it about. Among the number of Mendicants are also ranked the Capuchins, Recollets. Minims, and others, who are branches or derivations from the former. Buchanan says that the Mendicants of Scotland, under an appearance of beggary, lived a very luxurious life; whence one wittily called them, not Mendicant, buf Manducant friars. See Jean le Rond d'Alembert, Hist. des Moines mendiants (Paris, 1768, 12mo; German by J. Scheubner, Nuremb. 1769); J. Gurlitt, Gesch. d. Bettelmenchsorden im 13 Jahrh. (Theol. Studien u. Kritiken, 1:109 sq.); Gieseler, Ecclesiastes Hist. 2:287 sq.; 3:46 et al.; Mosheim, Ecclesiastes Hist. vol. ii (see Index); Neander, Ch. Hist. vol. v (see Index); Milman, Hist. of Latin Christianity, 7:321-et al.; Hardwick, Ch. Hist. (Middle Ages) p. 252 sq., 320 sq. et al.; Mrs. Jameson, Legends of the Monastic Orders, p. 227 sq.; Lea, Sacerdotal Celibacy, p. 377; Chr. Review, vol. xx, Jan. (J. HW.)