Page:A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages-Volume I .pdf/278

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and eloquence of Francis won the day, and finally the Rule was approved and the brethren were authorized to preach the Word of God.[1]

Even yet were they undecided whether to abandon themselves to the contemplative life of anchorites or to undertake the great work of evangelization which lay before them in its immensity. They withdrew to Spoleto and counselled earnestly together without being able to reach a conclusion, until a revelation from God, which we can readily believe as actual to a mind such as that of Francis, turned the scale, and the Franciscan Order, in place of dying out in a few scattered hermitages, became one of the most powerful organizations of Christendom, though the abandoned hovel to which they resorted on their return to Assisi gave little promise of future splendor. The rapidity of the growth of the Order may be measured by the fact that when Francis called together his first General Chapter in 1221, it was attended by brethren variously reported as from three thousand to five thousand, including a cardinal and several bishops ; and when, in the General Chapter of 1260, under Bonaventura, the Order was redistributed to accord with its growth, it was partitioned into thirty-three provinces and three vicariates, comprehending in all one hundred and eighty-two guardianships. This organization can be understood by the example of England, which formed a province divided into seven guardianships, containing, as we learn from another source, in 1256, forty-nine houses with twelve hundred and forty-two friars. The Order then extended into every corner of what was regarded as the civilized world and its contiguous regions. [2]

The Minorites, as in humility they called themselves, were so different in their inception from any existing organization of the

  1. S. Bonavent. c. ii., iii.
    This account is doubtless colored by the result and adapted unconsciously to the successive stages of a formal religious organization. At first, however, the brethren were not expected to abandon their ordinary pursuits. They were required to follow their regular handicraft, earning their livelihood, and not living on alms except in case of necessity. See the First Rule, as reconstructed by Prof. Karl Miiller, Die Anfange des Minoritenordeus, Freiburg, i. B., 1885, p. 186.
  2. Bonavent. Vit. Franc, c. iv. No. 10. — Frat. Jordani Chron. (Analecta Franciscana I. 6. Quaracchi, 1885). — Waddingi Annal. Minorum ann. 1260, No. 14. — Th. de Eccleston de Adventu Minorum CoUat. 2.