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The Fraticelli ("Little Brethren") or Spiritual Franciscans were extreme proponents of the rule of Saint Francis of Assisi, especially with regard to poverty, and regarded the wealth of the Church as scandalous, and that of individual churchmen as invalidating their status. They were thus forced into open revolt against the whole authority of the Church and were declared heretical in 1296 by Boniface VIII.
The name Fraticelli is used for various heretical sects, which appeared in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, principally in Italy, that separated from the Franciscan Order on account of the disputes concerning poverty. The Apostolics (also known as Pseudo-Apostles or Apostolic Brethren) are excluded from the category, because admission to the Order of St. Francis was expressly denied to their founder, Gerard Segarelli. They had no connection to the Franciscans, in fact desiring to exterminate them. It is therefore necessary to differentiate the various groups of Fraticelli, although the one term may be applied to all.
Etymologically, Fraticelli is a diminutive derived from the Italian frate (plural frati), itself derived from Latin Frater 'brother', in Italian often shortened to Fra when referring to members of religious Orders.
Frati was a designation of the members of the mendicant orders founded during the thirteenth century, principally the Franciscans. The Latin Fraterculus does not occur in the old records which concern the Fraticelli. Etymologically the name Friars Minor (Fratres Minores) is equivalent to the diminutive Fraticellus. The ideal of the founder of the Friars Minor, Saint Francis of Assisi, was that his disciples, by evangelical poverty, complete self-denial, and humility, should lead the world back to Christ. The Italian people designated as Fraticelli all the members of religious orders (particularly mendicants), and especially hermits, whether these observed monastic precepts or regulated their own lives.
History and branches
The origin of the Fraticelli and the cause of their growth inside and outside the Franciscan Order must be sought in the history of the Spirituals. It must suffice here to note that in consequence of St. Francis's severe requirements concerning the practice of poverty, his followers divided into two branches, the Zelanti, or Spirituals, and the Relaxati, known later as the Conventuals. The popes of the thirteenth century intervened to bring about harmony between the two factions, and Gregory IX, Innocent IV, and Nicholas III gave in their Bulls authoritative explanations of the points at issue. But the differences were not fully adjusted nor was unity ever completely restored between the Spirituals and the main body of the order, the Community (Fratres de Communitate).
Angelo da Clareno and the first group of Fraticelli
The first Fraticelli group was begun by Brother Angelo da Clareno (or da Cingoli). Angelo and several brethren from the March of Ancona had been condemned (c. 1278) to imprisonment for life, but were liberated by the general of the order, Raimondo Gaufredi (1289–1295) and sent to Armenia, where the king, Hethum II, welcomed them. The local clergy, however, were less enthusiastic, and following popular agitations against them they were exiled from Armenia towards the end of 1293.
They returned to Italy, where in 1294 Celestine V, noted for his asceticism but whose pontificate lasted scarcely six months, willingly permitted them to live as hermits in the strict observance of the Rule of St. Francis. After the abdication of Celestine V, his successor, Boniface VIII, revoked all Celestine's concessions, and they emigrated to Greece, where some of them attacked the legality of the papal action. As the pope, through the Patriarch of Constantinople, caused active measures to be taken against them, they fled to Italy, where their leader, Fra Liberatus, attempted a vindication of their rights, first with Boniface VIII (d. 11 October 1303), and then with Benedict XI, who also died prematurely (7 July 1304). On his journey to Clement V (1305–1314) at Lyon, Liberatus died (1307), and Angelo da Clareno succeeded to the leadership of the community. He remained in Central Italy until 1311, when he went to Avignon, where he was protected by his patrons Cardinals Giacomo Colonna and Napoleone Orsini Frangipani.
Early in 1317 John XXII, pursuant to a decree of Boniface VIII, declared Angelo excommunicated and placed him in custody. He defended himself ably in his "Epistola Excusatoria", representing himself as a zealous Franciscan, but John XXII refused to admit his plea, Angelo being a Celestine hermit, and in the decree "Sancta Romana et universalis ecclesia" (30 December 1317) refused to authorize the congregation of which Angelo was head.
Angelo submitted temporarily, but in 1318 fled to Central Italy, where, acting as Minister General, he assumed charge of the congregation dissolved by the pope. He appointed provincials, ministers and custodians, established new friaries, arrogated all authority, issued pastoral letters, and received novices—in a word, he founded an independent Franciscan Order, the Fraticelli.
His adherents professed themselves to be the original Friars Minor. They denied that John XXII was really pope, as he had abrogated the Rule of St. Francis, which, according to their doctrine, represented the pure and simple Gospel. They asserted that his decrees were invalid, all other religious and prelates were damned, and that the commission of mortal sin deprived priests of the sacerdotal dignity and powers. (These views were brought out in the trials to which the imprisoned adherents of Fra Angelo were subjected by the inquisitors, especially in 1334. In the processes of these trials and in numerous papal Bulls they are called, as a rule, Fraticelli seu fratres de paupere vitā or "Brothers of the Poor Life".)
As appears from the papal Bulls, the followers of Angelo established themselves in Central Italy, i.e., in the province of Rome, Umbria, and the March of Ancona, and also in Southern Italy (Campagna, Basilicata, and Naples). Fra Angelo enjoyed the protection of the Abbot of Subiaco although John XXII (21 February., 1334) commanded the guardian of the cloister at Aracoeli to imprison Angelo, "the demented heretic who styles himself general of the condemned sect of the Fraticelli". Equally unsuccessful had been a papal warrant issued for his arrest (22 November 1331), when he fled to Southern Italy.
Angelo died 15 July 1337, and the congregation, deprived of its leader, loosely organized to begin with, and hard pressed by the Inquisition, seems to have split into a number of groups each holding its own doctrines, though it is impossible to exactly determine their origin. In addition, after the controversy regarding poverty broke out (1321–1328), all the Fraticelli showed a stronger opposition to the papacy. (Angelo da Clareno was later venerated as a worker of miracles.)
Angelo was highly esteemed by the Augustinian Hermits, with whom he was on friendly terms, especially with Gentile da Foligno and Simone da Cassia, an ascetic writer of great repute. He corresponded with both, and, after the death of Angelo, Simone bitterly lamented the loss of a friend and spiritual adviser. It is likely that the Fraticelli whom Simone afterwards successfully defended against the Dominicans in the civil courts at Florence (c. 1355), where he was then preaching, were adherents of Clareno.
The same is probably also true of the Fraticelli in Tuscany, who about the same time were attacked in the sensational, though neither learned nor skillful, letters of the hermit Fra Giovanni dalle Celle, who even went so far as to use Fra Angelo as a pawn against his adversaries. The letters were answered by the Fraticelli, who by this time had separated themselves entirely from the Roman Church. They also had attained such power in Florence that they invited the "theologians" to public debate. The "theologians", i.e. the official clergy, did not respond.
On 13 October 1378, the priors of Florence enacted a statute against the Fraticelli; on 8 July 1381, the city council of Florence commanded them to leave the city in two days or face the tribunal of the Inquisition. They were respected so highly, however, that, when their expatriation was demanded by the city magistrates in the same year (14 December 1381), one of the councillors took a bold stand against the proposal.
Nevertheless, Fra Michele Berti, from Calci near Pisa, a member of the Ancona branch of Fraticelli, after preaching the Lenten course to his associates in Florence, was arrested 20 April 1389, as he was about to leave the city, and was condemned by the Franciscan Archbishop of Florence, Bartolomeo Oleari, to be burned at the stake. Berti died chanting the Te Deum, while his followers, unmolested by the authorities, exhorted him to remain steadfast (30 April 1389). To the end he maintained that John XXII had become a heretic by his four decretals, that he and his successors had forfeited the papacy, and that no priest supporting them could absolve validly.
Several followers of Clareno were in the territory of Naples in 1362. Louis of Durazzo (a nephew of Robert, King of Naples) maintained a number of Fraticelli in a hospital adjoining his castle, Monte Sant' Angelo, and attended their services. These Fraticelli were divided into three sects: those acknowledging Tommaso da Bojano, former Bishop of Aquino; the followers of the pretended minister general, Bernard of Sicily; and those who claimed Angelo da Clareno as their founder and acknowledged only his successor as their general. All three sects agreed in holding that the true papacy had ceased since the alleged heresy of John XXII, but the party of the minister general held it lawful to accept, in case of necessity, the ministrations of priests who adhered to the papacy.
The "Poor Hermits" of Monte della Majella, near Sulmona, were also Fraticelli and adherents of Angelo da Clareno, and at one time afforded protection to the famous tribune of the people, Cola di Rienzi (1349). Fanatical as they were on the subject of poverty, they were, in accordance with ancient custom, sheltered by the Celestine monks in the nearby abbey of Santo Spirito. The origin of the orthodox Clareni, approved as true Franciscans by Sixtus IV in 1474, is unknown; nor is it clear whether they were "moderate" followers of Angelo who managed to remain within the bounds of orthodoxy or schismatics who, after breaking their communion with the papal authorities, retracted.
Fraticelli de paupere vita
Chronologically the second main group of Fraticelli were the Spirituals who fled from Tuscany to Sicily, and were surnamed at first the Rebellious Brothers and Apostates, but later the "Fraticelli de paupere vita". It is an error to apply the name Beghards to them.
When, in 1309, the differences between the Relaxati and the Spirituals had reached a critical point, Clement V cited representatives of both parties to appear before the Curia with a view to adjusting their disputes. The result of this conference was the Constitution "Exivi de Paradiso", enacted at the final session of the Council of Vienne (6 May 1312). This Constitution contained an explanation of the Rule of St. Francis along stricter lines than those of the Bull "Exiit qui seminat" of Nicholas III (14 August 1279), and justified the Spirituals in various matters. This proceeding, however, only provoked the Relaxati superiors to take energetic measures against the Zelanti.
Towards the end of 1312 a number of Tuscan Spirituals left their monasteries and took forcible possession of the monasteries of Carmignano (near Florence), Arezzo, and Asciano, putting the Relaxati to flight. About fifty, fearing punishment, fled to Sicily. Clement V, hearing of these events, commanded the Archbishop of Genoa and two other bishops to force them to return to obedience under penalty of excommunication. As nearly all disregarded this mandate, the prior of San Fidele at Siena, who had been commissioned to execute it, declared them excommunicated and placed their monasteries under interdict (14 May 1314).
Being also prosecuted by the Archbishop of Florence, the Spirituals made a solemn protest against the violation of the rule on the part of the Community or Conventuals (7 July 1313). As it soon became impossible for them to remain in Tuscany, they all fled to Sicily, where they were joined by numerous Zelanti from Northern Italy and Southern France. King Frederick of Sicily, brother of King James II of Aragon, admitted them after they had submitted their statutes to his inspection. Fra Enrico da Ceva was now their leader.
On 23 January 1318, Pope John XXII excommunicated them in the Bull "Gloriosam ecclesiam", specifying five errors, to wit: (1) they designated the Roman Church as carnal and corrupt, and themselves as spiritual; (2) they denied to the Roman priesthood all power and jurisdiction; (3) they forbade taking an oath; (4) they taught that priests in the state of sin could not confer the sacraments; and (5) they asserted that they alone were the true observers of the Gospel.
At this time they had adopted a close fitting, short and unwashed dress as their religious habit. John XXII (15 March 1317) admonished King Frederick to take severe measures against them. In a letter of the same date addressed by the cardinals at Avignon to the entire hierarchy of Sicily, special stress was laid on the fact that the fugitives had elected a superior general, provincials, and guardians.
Banished from Sicily, where, however, some remained till at least 1328, they established themselves securely in Naples. On 1 August 1322, John XXII issued a general decree against them, and after sending King Robert (4 February 1325) the Bulls specially directed against Ceva, on 10 May 1325, demanded their imprisonment at the hands of King Robert and of Charles, Duke of Calabria.
The pope had to repeat this admonition several times (1327, 1330, 1331) to proceed against the Fraticelli and had renewed (5 December 1329) the injunction laid down in the Bull "Gloriosam Ecclesiam". From this time onward the adherents of Ceva are hardly to be distinguished from those of the following group; they joined the Michaelites and used the same methods of attack against the papacy. The statement that some professed Mohammedanism may be based on fact, considering their situation and the local circumstances.
This third group of the Fraticelli derive their name from Michael of Cesena, their chief representative and natural leader. It must be premised that this name was in vogue during the fifteenth century and that the party it designated exerted great influence in doctrinal matters on the other groups as early as 1329.
Shortly after this period it becomes difficult to differentiate these groups with precision. The "theoretical" controversy about poverty carried on in the Franciscan Order, or rather, carried on against John XXII, gave occasion to the formation of this group. It is called "theoretical" to distinguish it from the "practical" controversy waged by the Spirituals relative to the practice of Franciscan poverty which they wished to observe, whereas the leaders in the present conflict were former members of the Relaxati party and sworn enemies of the Spirituals (1309–1322).
In 1321 the Dominican Inquisitor at Narbonne, John of Belna, declared heretical the teaching of an imprisoned Beghard of that region, who asserted that Christ and the Apostles owned nothing either individually or in common. The Franciscan lector, Bérenger Talon, defended the Beghard.
As he refused to retract and was threatened with punishment by the inquisitor, Bérenger appealed to the pope. The matter soon developed into a general controversy between the Dominicans and Franciscans; among the latter, Relaxati and Zelanti alike supported Bérenger on the basis of the Bull of Nicholas III, "Exiit qui seminat", which had defined the poverty of the Franciscans, both individually and collectively, as equivalent to that of the Apostles, and had therefore transferred to the Roman Church all their holdings in land and houses, as had already been enacted by Innocent IV (14 November 1245).
The prohibition of Nicholas III to discuss this point was revoked by John XXII in a new Bull, "Quia nonnunquam" (26 March 1322). On 6 March of the same year John XXII had submitted the matter to a consistory. The order was vigorously defended by the Cardinals Vitalis du Four and Bertrand de Turre (de la Tour), Archbishop Arnaldo Royardi of Salerno, and various other bishops, all Franciscans; other cardinals opposed their views, and the pope leaned towards the opposition. He also requested the opinion of Ubertino of Casale, a renowned Spiritual leader (1328), who, with a fine-spun distinction, declared on 28 March 1322 that Christ and the Apostles did possess property, inasmuch as they governed the Church, but not as individuals or as exemplars of Christian perfection.
This distinction, more subtle than real, seemed satisfactory to both sides, when the provocative measures taken by the chapter of the order destroyed all prospects of peace. Michael of Cesena, General of the Franciscan Order (elected 1316), a Conventual, as attested by various measures enacted by him with the approval of John XXII, convened a general chapter for 1 June 1322, at Perugia. Anticipating, on the advice of the Franciscan Cardinals Vitalis and Bertrand, the definitive decision of the pope, the chapter solemnly declared in favour of the "absolute poverty" of Christ (4 June 1322). This pronunciamento was signed by the general, Michael of Cesena, the provincial ministers of Southern Germany, England (William of Nottingham, not Occam), Aquitania, Northern France, and others, as well as by several renowned scholars. On 11 June the chapter solemnly published its decrees to all Christendom.
Indignant at these proceedings, John XXII, in the Bull "Ad conditorem canonum" (8 December 1322), declared that the Roman Church renounced all its claims to the movable and immovable properties of the Franciscan Order and therewith returned them; thus the pope revoked the Bull "Exiit" of Nicholas III and did away with the poverty which formed the basis of the Franciscan Order.
It is easy to understand the effect of this upon the Franciscans, particularly the Zelanti. In the name of the order Bonagrazia of Bergamo, a capable lawyer and up to that time a bitter enemy of the Zelanti, presented a daring protest against this Bull to the Consistory (14 January 1323). Although the pope thereupon revised the text of the Bull and reissued it under the original date, he incarcerated Bonagrazia and in the Bull "Cum inter nonnullos" (12 November 1323) declared heretical the assertion that Christ and the Apostles possessed no property either separately or collectively.
The controversy between the pope and the order soon took on a political character, the Minorites having been appointed counselors to Louis IV the Bavarian, King of Germany, who also was engaged in a conflict with the pope. After Louis IV (1314–1347) had defeated his rival Frederick, Duke of Austria, at the battle of Mühldorf (18 September 1322), and had invaded Lombardy to further the cause of the Ghibelline Visconti, John XXII ordered the whole question of right to the German throne to be brought before the papal tribunal and, on 8 October 1323, began canonical proceedings against Louis. In the Nuremberg Appeal (18 December 1323) Louis, curiously enough, had accused the pope of unduly favouring the Minorites, though this document was never published.
But the Sachsenhausen Appeal of the same King Louis (22 May 1324) was full of invectives against the "heretic who falsely designates himself Pope John XXII" for doing away with the poverty of Christ. This famous "Spiritualist excursus" is closely connected with the Appeal of Bonagrazia, and with writings of Ubertino of Casale and of Pietro di Giovanni Olivi. It is certain that it originated among the Franciscans who, under the protection of the king, aimed it at John XXII and his teaching, although Louis IV later denied all responsibility in the matter. The result was that Louis IV was excommunicated (11 July 1324) and, in the decree "Quia quorundam" (10 November 1324), John XXII forbade all contradiction and questioning of his constitutions "Cum inter nonnullos" and "Ad conditorem". The general chapter of the order, assembled at Lyon (20 May 1325) under the presidency of Michael of Cesena, forbade any disrespectful reference to the pope.
On 8 June 1327, Michael received instructions to present himself at Avignon, a command which he obeyed (2 December 1327). The pope having sharply reproved him in public (9 April 1328) for the chapter's action at Perugia (1322), he drew up a secret protest (13 April) and, fearing punishment, fled, despite the orders of the pope, to Aigues-Mortes (28 May) and thence to Pisa, together with Bonagrazia of Bergamo and William of Occam.
In the meanwhile other events of importance had occurred. Louis the Bavarian had entered Rome with a German army, to the great joy of the Ghibellines. Accompanying him were Ubertino of Casale, John of Jandum and Marsilius of Padua, the authors of the "Defensor pacis", which declared that the emperor and the Church at large were above the pope. Louis had himself solemnly crowned Emperor of Rome by Sciarra Colonna (17 January 1328), and on 12 May he nominated and had consecrated as antipope Pietro Rainalducci of Corvara, a Franciscan, under the name of Nicholas V.
The three fugitives from Avignon presented themselves to Louis and accompanied him to Bavaria, where they remained till their deaths. John XXII deposed Michael as general of the order (6 June 1328) and (13 June) appointed the Minorite Cardinal Bertrand de Turre vicar-general of the order to preside at the chapter to be held in Paris (2 June 1329), which Michael of Cesena vainly attempted to prevent, and brought about the election of Gerardus Odonis of Châteauroux, of the province of Aquitaine.
Obedient to John XXII, he induced the majority of the order to submit to the Apostolic See. Michael of Cesena and all his adherents, the Michaelites, were repudiated by the order. At the same time, by command of John XXII, papal proceedings were instituted against them everywhere. The Michaelites denied John's right to the papacy and denounced both him and his successors as heretics. In their numerous and passionate denunciations of the popes, especially of John XXII, they always singled out for refutation isolated statements of John in his Bulls. To the contention regarding poverty was added (1333) the question of the beatific vision of the saints, concerning which John XXII, contrary to general opinion, yet without intending to define the matter, had declared that it would begin only at the last judgement.
During this period the antipope, Nicholas V, had nominated six cardinals (15 May 1238), among them an Augustinian and a Dominican, and between September 1328 and December 1329, three other cardinals; also among the bishops whom he consecrated were members of the two orders mentioned above. After Louis IV had returned to Bavaria, Nicholas V, deprived of all support, took refuge with the Count of Donoratico. Finally, in his distress, Nicholas appealed to John XXII, cast himself at his feet (Avignon, 4 August), and submitted to honourable confinement at Avignon, where he remained until his death on 16 October 1333.
John, meanwhile, had taken steps against Michael and his followers. In accordance with his instructions (20 June 1328) to Aycardo, Archbishop of Milan, the proceedings against Michael were published in various localities. On 5 September 1328, John XXII commanded the imprisonment of Fra Azzolino, who was acting as Michael's vicar, and on 18 August 1331, the arrest of another vicar, Fra Thedino, who represented Michael in the March of Ancona. Prominent among the followers of Michael were the more or less numerous Minorites in the monasteries of Todi and Amelia (against whom proceedings were instituted in 1329–30), of Cortona (1329), and of Pisa (1330), where, however, they appeared openly as late as 1354, and at Albigano, and Savonna (1329–1332).
On 21 December 1328, John XXII graciously pardoned Fra Minus, the Provincial of Tuscany, while on 2 December, he had ordered the trial of Fra Humilis, Custodian of Umbria. Papal decrees reveal the presence of Michaelites in England (1329), Germany (1322), Carcassonne, Portugal (1330), Spain (1329), Sicily and Lombardy (1329, 1334), Sardinia, Armenia, and other places. John XXII and his immediate successors also issued numerous decrees against the Fraticelli in the March of Ancona, where the bishops and minor feudal barons defended them stubbornly and successfully in spite of papal threats; also in Naples and Calabria, where King Robert and Queen Sanzia exhibited special veneration for St. Francis and his humble followers. In the royal castle, where the chaplaincies were held by Franciscans, there resided Fra Philip of Majorca, a brother of the queen.
This Philip had (1328) petitioned John XXII for permission for himself and other Franciscans to observe literally the Rule of St. Francis, independently of the superiors of the order; the pope had refused. In a letter dated 10 August 1333, the pope was obliged to settle some doubts of the queen relating to the observance of "holy poverty", and the king had even composed a treatise favouring the views of the Chapter of Perugia (1322). The papal condemnations of the Fraticelli, therefore, had produced but slight results in the Kingdom of Naples.
On 8 July 1331, the pope admonished King Robert to withhold no longer the papal decrees against Michael of Cesena nor prevent their publication in his kingdom. Philip of Majorca, however, preached openly against the pope. It was due to the influence of the royal family that Fra Andrea of Galiano, a court chaplain at Naples, was acquitted in the process instituted against him at Avignon in 1338, as he still continued his intercourse with Michael of Cesena and with the fifty Michaelites who resided for some time under the king's protection in the castle of Lettere near Castellamare, but who later (1235) humbly submitted to their lawful superiors.
In 1336, "short-robed" Fraticelli still occupied the monastery of Santa Chiara at Naples, founded by Queen Sanzia, and were established in other parts of the kingdom; their expulsion was demanded on 24 June 1336 by Benedict XII (1334–1342). In 1344, Clement VI (1342–1352) found it necessary to reiterate the earlier decrees. Between 1363–1370, it at last became possible for Franciscans to take possession of several monasteries in Calabria and Sicily from which the Fraticelli had been expelled; but Gregory XI complained on 12 September 1372 that the "ashes and bones of Fraticelli were venerated as relics of saints in Sicily, and churches were even erected in their honour".
The records of a process (1334) conducted in irregular form against the Fraticelli of the Franciscan monastery at Tauris, who had been reported by Dominicans, show that they inveighed openly against John XXII and upheld the views of Michael of Cesena, although in their apocalyptic manner they declared that the order of the Friars Minor was divided in three parts, and that only those would be saved who would journey to the East, i.e. themselves. It is uncertain whether these were identical with the Fraticelli in Armenia, Persia, and other oriental localities, where all bishops were commanded by Clement VI to prosecute them (29 May 1344).
For a long time, the sect prospered exceedingly in the Duchy of Spoleto on account of the continual political turmoil. In a process instituted against a particular Umbrian group of Fraticelli in 1360, it is noted that Fra Francesco Niccolò of Perugia was their founder. They pretended to observe the Rule of St. Augustine, but were fanatical on the question of poverty and regarded all prelates as guilty of simony.
Salvation was to be found only in their supposedly perfect order. They imitated the Sicilian Fraticelli in their doctrines and methods of instruction. A letter is still extant which the Fraticelli of the Campagna (1353–1355) wrote to the magistrates of Narni when they heard that one of their number (Fra Stefano) had been cruelly imprisoned by the Inquisition of that city twelve or fifteen years before. In this letter, they petitioned the magistrates to liberate him according to the example of the cities of "Todi, Perugia, Assisi, and Pisa".
The Fraticelli enjoyed complete liberty in Perugia. They lived where it best suited them, principally in the country-houses of the rich. They became so bold as to publicly insult the Minorites (Conventuals) in the monastery of San Francesco al Prato. It appears that these Fraticelli had elected their own popes, bishops and generals, and that they were split into various factions. The Conventuals, as their one means of defence, called in Fra Paoluccio of Trinci, the founder of the Observants, and ceded to him the small monastery on Monte Ripido near the city (1374).
Fra Paoluccio was successful in his disputations with the Fraticelli, and when they had been clearly exposed as heretics, the people drove them from the city. It should be noted that these Fraticelli, and probably all the others of that period, were designated Fraticelli della opinione, perhaps on account of their opinion that the Roman papacy had ceased to exist with John XXII (1323) or Celestin V, and that they alone constituted the true Church. About this time, Fra Vitale di Francia and Fra Pietro da Firenze exercised a sort of generalship over the Fraticelli. They received protection and hospitality from rich and influential families in Apulia, around Rome, and in the March. One of their protectors was the knight Andreuccio de Palumbario, who sheltered them in his castle near Rieti, for which he was sharply called to account by Urban VI (4 May 1388). On the same day, the Benedictine Abbot of Farfa was reprimanded for a similar fault.
On 14 November 1394, Boniface IX empowered the Minorites of Terra di Lavoro to take possession of the monasteries deserted by the Fraticelli. Martin V conceded the same rights to the Franciscans of the Roman Province (14 November 1418) and, on 7 April 1426, transferred to them as a special grant the monastery of Palestrina, which had been a stronghold of the Fraticelli. In the same year, Martin V nominated St. John Capistran (27 May) and St. James of the March (11 October) as inquisitors general to take action against the Fraticelli. These promoters of order among the Franciscans fulfilled the duties of their office strictly and energetically and succeeded in striking at the very vitals of the sect. In 1415, the city of Florence had formally banished the "Fraticelli of the poor life, the followers of Michelino of Cesena of infamous memory", and in Lucca five Fraticelli, on trial, had solemnly abjured their error (1411). Martin V also ordered the Bishops of Porto and Alba to take steps against all Fraticelli "in the Roman province, the March of Ancona, the Duchy of Spoleto and other localities" (7 June 1427).
On 27 January of the same year, Martin V permitted the Observants of Ancona to occupy the monastery of the Fraticelli at Castro l'Ermita as a first step in the campaign against the Fraticelli of that neighbourhood. On 1 June 1428, he commanded the Bishop of Ancona to enforce his rulings strictly in Maiolati, to put all suspects to the rack, destroy their village, separate the children from heretical parents, and disperse the elder population. A circular letter, which the Fraticelli addressed to all Christendom, proved ineffectual and their doom was sealed. John of Capistrano and James of the March burned thirty-six of their establishments or dispersed the members and also a number were burned at the stake at Florence and Fabriano, at the latter place in the presence of the pope.
St. James of March, commissioned by Nicholas V to proceed against them (1449), wrote the "Dialogus contra Fraticellos", which he first published in 1452, making some additions to it later on. According to this the main establishments of the Fraticelli were situated in the valley of Jesi, at Maiolati, Poggio Cupo, Massaccia, and Mergo. They had also constituted bishops in other districts where there were a sufficient number of adherents. They made frequent journeys for propaganda purposes, especially in Tuscany. Some dressed partly as Minorites, some as hermits, often disguising themselves for the sake of protection. Their doctrine was a résumé of their former sectarian errors: the whole Roman Church had deserted the true Faith since the time of John XXII (1323); they alone constituted the true Church and retained the sacraments and the priesthood.
A form of Fraticelli was also represented by Philip of Berbegni, a fanatical and eccentric Observant of Spain (1433), who attempted to establish a strict society de la Capuciola, but met vigorous opposition from John Capistran, who issued a dissertation against him.
Only once again are measures known to have been taken against the Fraticelli, viz., in 1466, when a number of Fraticelli from Poli, near Palestrina, and Maiolati were captured at Assisi during the Portiuncula celebration. They were imprisoned in the castle of Sant' Angelo and proceedings instituted against them. Their protector at Poli, Count Stefano de' Conti, was imprisoned, but they also received the protection of the noble Colonna family of Palestrina. Tradition also mentions that the Fraticelli established many other colonies and that they had an important centre in Greece, whence they sent out emissaries and where they sought refuge from the aggressive measures of St. James of the March. They generally held their reunions at night in private houses and half of the inhabitants of Poli are said to have been among their adherents. The allegation that their religious services were defiled by immoral practices cannot be proved. According to their doctrine, as contained in the "Dialogus", immoral priests incurred the loss of the powers of order and jurisdiction. They had also their own bishop, Nicholas by name.
During this period numerous pamphlets were published controverting the errors of the Fraticelli. While the campaign was going on at Rome, information was brought concerning another sect similar to the Fraticelli, which had been discovered in Germany; but though these visionaries, led by Brothers Johann and Livin of Wirsberg, found adherents among the Mendicants in Bohemia and Franconia, they cannot be considered as Fraticelli. In spite of all persecutions, remnants of the original Fraticelli still survived, but their strength was crippled and they thenceforth constituted no serious danger to the Roman Church.
- "Fraticelli". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-02-18.
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