Twelfth Century Renaissance: How Francis and his Franciscan Brothers both Reacted and Benefited from its Development Analytical Essay

June 8, 2022 by Essay Writer


Many areas of Western Europe, particularly Italy, Germany and England had greatly advanced in various areas by the beginning of 12th century AD. For instance, there were advances in social organization, technology, education and economic systems (Haskins 73). The need to acquire new knowledge and develop institutions of leaning was rapidly increasing, especially in religion, theology and nature.

Most people were eager to learn religion, natural science and law in a different way. In general, people were tired of traditions and wanted a change in social and cultural aspects. In addition, people were easily accepting and embracing new ideologies. For instance, Italian cities and city-states such as Florence and Rome were changing due to the presence of scholars in philosophy, law and religion (Haskins 88).

Any person who was willing to instil some change in the social system was in a position to influence large numbers of people. In fact, great leaders during the 12 century were supported by a public opinion. The desire for change motivated leaders to inspire their societies in a significant way (Benson, Constable and Lanham 53).

All these aspects and changes in leadership contributed to the 12th Century Renaissance. The emergence of great religious leaders at the time is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the renaissance (Moorman 28). However, the emergence of St Francis of Assisi was one of the main forces that opposed change in various regions.

Francis and his followers (Franciscan Brothers) created a religious movement that greatly supported the way in which the church handled social, religious and cultural issues. They were advocating for spiritual life. In addition, they advocated for the ‘role and duty of poverty’.

In turn, this stand appeared to support the doctrines of the Church. Arguably, Franciscans reacted negatively to the people’s quest for change in Catholic leadership. However, they later benefitted from the 12th century changes as they sought to free their movement from the church’s political and social influence.

Economic and Social Features of the “Twelfth-Century Renaissance”

Changes in various aspects of Christianity had the greatest impact in the contribution towards social, cultural political forms. Barbara Tuchman, a historian argues that Christianity was a key pivot in medieval life “…because it governed all aspects of life such as birth, marriage, sex and death…” (Moorman 31).

The historian says that Christianity controlled the law, medicine, science, and politics (Benson, Constable and Lanham 64). In addition, Tuchman argues that being a member of the church was a compulsory for every person (Moorman 51).

Although the church was the dominant force that supported political and religious leaders, there were several efforts to change this system in the 12th century. For instance, the people were eager to see a church that was meant to care for them.

Thus, church leaders such as St. Bernard of Clairvaux became important figures of change during the 12th century because they were entirely dependent on public desire to change (Moorman 114). One of the areas that people wanted change was personal devotion to a common person, which had been a common aspect of the Catholic Church.

Apart from forced membership, the church also required the followers to regard the popes, monks and clerics as religious and righteous figures (Benson, Constable and Lanham 171). In fact, it appeared that these church leaders were “gods” in some way, which gave them political, social and cultural powers to control the society.

Similarly, political aspects of life were under the control of the church. Any person with ideas on how to liberate the society from the church’s monopolistic control received an overwhelming support from the public. For instance, King Henry II of England obtained massive support and political strength because he was willing to do what the people wanted (Haskins 133).

Apart from the religion, the concept of justice was in dire need for change. According Haskins (143), the Church controlled the concept of justice system because every aspect of the law was based on divine law. The world politics revolved around the church, which in turn controlled justice system.

The public was willing to change these aspects. It was during the 12th century Renaissance that the people of Western Europe, especially Italy, made great efforts in an attempt to free the judicial system from the divine law. For instance, Roman law was increasingly studied and revived. Gratian, a monk, became an important figure of change after he gave a summary of the laws of the church in his “Decretium Graiani”.

Finally, the desire for knowledge was on the increase during the 12th century. Thousands of people from across the social classes sought to know more in science, religion and law. They wanted to learn these aspects free from the influence and control of the church. For instance, 12th century scholars joined Latin classes, attempted to analyze the Roman law and the Catholic doctrine.

In addition, scholars attempted to learn and analyze Muslim faith and laws, Greek laws and other texts in order to compare them with Catholic laws. For example, Peter Abelard made significant influence in education and law because he developed ideologies that attracted people.

How did the Franciscans react and benefit from the changes in the 12th century?

Although the Franciscan brothers and their movement did not support the changes in the 12th century, they later benefitted from it in a manner that allowed them to spread their new ideologies, interact with the people and obtain support from both the public and the clerics (Senocak 192).

At first, Francis of Assisi himself reacted negatively to the changes the people wanted to see in the church, its leadership and control of social and political aspects (Sharp 126). For instance, with his group of about 11 followers, Francis travelled widely in Western Europe, where he preached the need to maintain the church traditions against the people’s desire for change.

For example, Francis preached in support of poverty among the Christians because he believed that Christians should devote their life (Senocak 136). He had a collection of scriptural passages from the bible and the church emphasizing on the duty of poverty. However, the Franciscan brothers did not provide a solution to problem created by superiority of clerics at the expense of the poor (Sharp 102).

Due to the ideologies that supported the church, the clerics, the pope and the monks to an extent that they were given food, housing facilities and other things (Sharp 96) supported the Franciscan brothers. For instance, Pope Innocent III considered the “Three Orders” developed by the Franciscans as a good tool for spreading his influence in order to deal with the 12th century religious renaissance (Senocak 224).

The pope thought that by supporting the Franciscans, he would persuade the people to maintain a status quo rather than calling for changes. In fact, the church considered the 12th century changes as a form of heresy.

Despite their support of the church and the status quo, the Franciscans later benefitted from the changes brought by the 12th century renaissance. For instance, the control of “the Order” became a problem to the Franciscans. At first, the Franciscans had received support from the church, which gave them certain political and religious powers in certain areas such as France and Germany (Senocak 216).

However, several followers disagreed on the role and duty of poverty. There were disagreements on how Franciscans should live and lead the church. In addition, Elias, one of the most powerful Franciscan leaders, assumed the powers to govern a centralised government in Assisi. He sought to re-interpret the role of poverty (Sharp 56). He built several houses for the members.

He was in constant disagreement with the Pope and Italian President Gregory IX. Eias was deposed and replaced by Alberta of Pisa (Sharp 29). Due to the influence of the Pope and the government in Franciscan leadership, it was clear that the Franciscans needed to advocate for change in church leadership in order to maintain their influence (Sharp 34).

Members increasingly saw the need to change the church and reduce its control on the politics and their movement. Since the 12th century Renaissance had succeeded in reducing the influence of the church on social, political and economic aspects of the society, the Franciscans benefitted from these changes in their efforts to reduce the influence of the Pope and the church in their movement.

Works Cited

Benson, Robert, Giles Constable, and Carol Lanham. Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006. Print

Haskins, Charles. The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007. Print.

Moorman, Humpidge. A History of the Franciscan Order: From Its Origins to the Year 1517. London: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2008. Print

Senocak, Neslihan. The Poor and the Perfect: The Rise of Learning in the Franciscan Order, 1209–1310. Cornell: Cornell University Press, 2012. Print

Sharp, David. Franciscan Philosophy at Oxford in the Thirteenth Century. London: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print

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